DotP 2013 started out by raising the bar, in a big way. The starting 10 decks were all very versatile. We had a mill deck, a lifegain deck with an alternative win condition, an infinite combo, Garruk’s deck was on par with the rest of them, mono-black control, and Born of Flame is the red burn control deck that I wanted in 2012 but didn’t get with Unquenchable Fire. We had good aggro decks with tribal Goblins and Peacekeepers, and a quirky but fun comboish green deck with Yeva. Everything was great, and the bar of expectation was high for the expansion.
And for the most part, the expansion delivered. Grinning Malice and Sepulchral Strength were well designed and well received. People were worried about Aura Servants with Spiritdancers and Stalkers, but the deck was still in balance with the rest. Mindstorms has its share of positives and negatives, but I’ll talk about that more when I get into the 4 deck designs that were a big letdown. Overall, the expansion was still a success in my eyes. Yeah, there were some bugs and glitches, but not too many of them were game breaking.
Then we get to the deck packs, and we hit a slew of poor design choices. I’m not going to argue here about the promo cards, or the power level of the deck packs, but giving 15 decks 40 unlocks while the deck packs get 30 is just a poor design choice, and this was very poorly received by the community (and I’m sure the finance guys will be seeing it too when they see less people buying the deck packs). Instead, I’m going to focus on the design of 4 of the decks, the 4 that I think were the most poorly designed decks of DotP 2013, and I think it’s worth noting that none of these 4 decks are in the original 10. I’m not going to say anything about the power level of the decks in relation to the other decks, partly because I still say the decks are balanced and can hold their own in the field with the rest of the decks, and partly because I’m only concerned about the design of the decks.
Aura Servants: Not too many people really liked playing as or against Auramancer from 2012. Auramancer didn’t break the format, as some decks did have answers to it, but some decks did not. There are more answers to Aura Servants, and it’s power level was kept in check, but there are still decks that just can’t do anything about a Stalker with 4 auras attached to it swinging for the fences. Again, it’s not unbalanced, because there are decks that can totally shut this down, but the issue is that it’s just not fun. Most of the community here, from what I’ve seen, doesn’t like the aura heavy decks of Auramancer and Aura Servants. Personally, I don’t like being forced into playing an aura heavy deck.
My main issue with the design of this deck is the colors. Blue/White just does not scream aura heavy. Collective Might would have been much better to have an aura theme, and it could go well with the token theme with cards like Bramble Elemental and Fists of Ironwood. Regardless, I don’t think auras should be a theme that is forced upon the deck, but rather as a subtheme, so if someone does want to build that deck as aura heavy, they can, but those who don’t want to are not forced to. On the positive side though, an aura heavy deck did keep the decks feeling varied and unique, and in that respect, I can appreciate the design. However, I still think it would be best to make the auras a subtheme and not something that’s forced upon the deck.
Mindstorms: This is perhaps my favorite deck to win with, because winning with a combo like Spellbound Dragon and Time Warp has a very U/R feel to it. Outside of the winning combos, this deck is pretty poorly designed for a U/R deck. The 4 mana spot is very lacking (and this will be a theme that repeats itself), and contrary to what U/R is commonly known for, this deck has no 1-2 mana instants outside of the Mana Leaks. The deck still performs ok, but its design is very underwhelming. The real issue at hand is the shear amount of 5+ mana cards that were put into the card pool. There’s just no need for that much, especially at the expense of cheap instants that U/R is supposed to be known for.
Sky and Scale: Another underwhelming design. Not only does this deck share in the issue of lacking good options at the 4 mana spot, but there’s just nothing special and unique about this deck, and that’s my main problem with the design. What does this deck do that’s unique from the other decks? It plays creatures, it has a couple combat tricks, and it attacks. There’s some creatures with flying, and the Simic Sky Swallower with shroud. The only card I’m really excited about is Fable of Wolf and Owl, because the token production can get insane and quickly. But isn’t token production supposed to be G/W’s specialty? This deck left me wishing it was Ancient Depths 2.0, and I really think it should have been designed that way. Ramping into lots of 7+ mana cards would be something that the Simic deck would do that sets itself apart from the rest of the decks (PI can ramp a little bit too, but they also have early game beaters, and not a whole lot past the 6 or 7 mana cost to ramp into).
Another thing to note is the really devastating bug about Mystic Snake and Draining Whelk. I’m not mentioning it because to report a bug, I’m mentioning it because it’s not something that the developers will bother fixing in this game, which is just sad, unfortunate, and makes it seem like they don’t care about the customer base.
Berserker Rage: I recently said this was the second worst designed deck in my opinion, but now I think I’m going to retract that and say it is the worst designed deck. The card pool is more narrow than Mindstorms. The deck will perform well, no doubt, but it’s just boring and uninteresting. What’s the theme? Play efficient creatures, give them trample/haste, and swing. Pack Instinct already has a trampling theme, so this is more or less, PI’s trample theme + red. This deck probably has the most throwaway cards and vanilla(ish) creatures. 4 Gruul Scrappers, Centaur Cousers, Bloodrock Cyclops, Silverback Ape, and I didn’t even list them all. Not only is this wasted design potential, but it makes it look like very little time was spent designing this deck. These card slots could have been used to give the deck more deckbuilding variety so not everyone will be playing the same generic, narrow, trample beatdown lists.
The worst offense in this deck for me comes from Shivan Wurm, and the lack of enters the battlefield effects. Sure, you can return the Hydra or the Hate Seed to refresh their counters, but those aren’t practical uses for a turn 5 Shivan Wurm considering both creatures need mana to actually convert those +1/+1 counters into something else. The whole point of cards like Shivan Wurm is to take advantage of the effect of returning your own creature back to your hand to re-use creatures with an enters the battlefield effect (Flametongue Kavu would be a good example). The designers really dropped the ball on this deck, and that’s very saddening.
Grim Procession: I don’t consider this deck poorly designed, but I wanted to comment on it here. I was hoping the Orzhov deck would be Dark Heavens 2.0, and that’s exactly what it is, so I’m not going to complain. In fact, I would encourage DotP 2014 to have a Dark Heavens 3.0. The deck is well designed and well received. We like playing the big bombs this color combination has to offer. Yeah, most of the good cards in this deck we’ve seen before in Dark Heavens, Exalted Darkness, Grave Whispers, and Obedient Dead, but this is a good formula for B/W decks, and that’s why I’m not disappointed by this deck. I would much rather have Dark Heavens 2.0 than something that I wished was Dark Heavens 2.0 (Exalted Darkness). For 2014, if you do make Dark Heavens 3.0, it would require only a little design and tweaking, adding in a few new cards from the tried and true formula, and this would give you more time to spend on design for those color combinations that really need it (U/R, R/G, U/W).
The bar was raised at the release of DotP 2013, and I’m not going to lower that bar of expectation for 2014, despite poor design choices and lack of community support that progressed with this game as time went on. I do fully intend to buy all deck packs this game will offer, since I am a bit of a completionist, but 2014 is going to have to be really special for me to buy it. Below isn’t a wishlist, or even a list of demand, but it’s a list of requirements, what it’s going to take for me to purchase 2014.
1. The return of archenemy. Playing as the archenemy was the most fun way for me to unlock cards against the AI. I didn’t even care if it took me 30 minutes just to unlock 1 card as opposed to being about to unlock 7 card in that time by grinding encounters. It was fun. Planechase is ok, but I really don’t care if it returns or not. It can be fun, but there are some planes/phenomenon that are just too volatile to the game, like the one that shuffles everyone’s permanents back into their deck and then the top X cards of your deck that happen to be permanents get put into play. If you only get 1-2 lands, you’re pretty much screwed unless you got your awesome creatures.
3. Control over our land ratio. It’s a known problem that adding mono-black cards to a B/W deck will decrease the number of swamps you have and increase the number of plains. Just give us control of our land ratio.
4. At least 27-30 decks total, with 30-40 unlocks each. I know there’s been “more decks in each new version of DotP,” but it’s only been 2 decks more than the previous version. That isn’t impressive to me, or something to really brag about. If you want to boast about the number of decks, give us LOTS of decks.
5. All 10 2-color deck combination, and most, if not all, 3-color combinations. Each deck should also be unique, varied, and balanced.
I know the last 2 are asking for a lot, and I can be forgiving if we don’t get exactly that with 2014. But given the high standard that the initial 10 decks of 2013 set, followed by the progressive downslide as we’re going into the release of the 2nd deck pack, I don’t foresee myself buying 2014, at least not until all the dlc has been revealed. I can make exceptions for some of this stuff if 2014 really knocks my socks off. I find it unfortunate that it’s come to this, because I have enjoyed the DotP series, and I think it has a lot of potential, but that potential is just being wasted on poor design decisions.