It. Finally. Happened.
won with a Duel Decks! I did it! You might remember Duel Decks: Sorin vs. Tibalt, where I fumbled horribly and struggled to eke out a win, only to fail repeatedly. Well, with this new Duel Decks, I went 3–1 against R&D's Kelly Digges. Kelly is an R&D editor, ex-DailyMTG.com editor, and designer behind this latest Duel Decks. And I crushed him 3–1 in our games!
The second Duel Decks each year provides an exciting gateway into our new setting—this year it is into Theros, our top-down look at the tropes and concepts of Greek mythology. For that reason, the idea of a Duel Decks which faces Heroes off with Monsters makes perfect sense. Monsters like Polukranos, a terrifying mythic rare Hydra that is something your opponent must answer.
In a game where I wielded the Monsters deck, Kelly and I were swinging giant haymaker plays battling for dominance in our game. Just as Kelly was getting the upper hand with Anax and Cymede in play, I knew I had to respond, so I cast Crater Hellion to clear his board. On Kelly's turn, he plays his own Sun Titan, using Sun Titan's ability to return Anax and Cymede to the battlefield. On my turn, with Polukranos in hand and eight mana on the board, I swung into him. Kelly's hand was empty so he was playing off the top of his deck, but I had Polukranos and a Beast Within in hand, so I knew that I could cast Polukranos to take over the game. Sure enough, we traded and I played Polukranos, but luckily for him he topdecked one of the few relevant (and aptly named) removal spells: Smite the Monstrous.
That interplay is among the most epic and most relevant ideas of just what these decks do against one another. Rather than an aggro vs. control sort of matchup, these two decks bring a straight-up battle for dominance on the battlefield, often locking horns in epic battle.
With these two cards we get our first look at new mechanics in Theros, so let's stop and take a look at each of them. First up: heroic.
Heroic refers to a group of similar abilities that occur after the heroic creature is targeted by a spell. So if I were to enchant Anax and Cymede with an Aura, that would trigger its heroic ability. Or if I were to target it with a combat trick, not only can I perhaps save Anax and Cymede, but I could turn the entire battle in my favor by also boosting my other creatures. Heroic is especially powerful because the effect still happens even if the heroic creature is killed in response to the spell, or if the spell targeting the heroic creature gets countered!
Polukranos, World Eater | Art by Karl Kopinski
On Polukranos, we get to see monstrosity. Monstrosity is a new keyword action that appears on the monsters of Theros and is defined as giving the creature the ability to become monstrous only once per game (unless it somehow leaves play and comes back—but it can't between these two decks). But assuming you do it when the time is right, Polukranos is a terrifying creature for the Heroes to try and face down.
Both of these keywords are in Theros and they help exemplify the namesakes of this deck. Don't think you know all the tricks these new abilities hold, though; surprises remain in the mythic world of Theros.
Kelly is really an awesome guy and while I get to talk to him a fair bit, it is a rare joy to get to sit down and play Magic against him. He's a very thoughtful player (read: slow); where I'm eager to crash into combat every turn, he is much more methodical in his game play. Thankfully, this methodical game play allows me to ask him questions about the two decks, such as the Heroes deck.
Duel Decks: Heroes vs. Monsters
Each deck has three new cards from Theros as well as a handful of cards with new art set on Theros, such as the new Sun Titan in the Heroes deck. One thing I noticed is that even though red and white don't normally generate card advantage, the presence of scry in the Heroes deck goes a long way to helping the deck function, as it allows you to peek at future draws and put extra mana or uncastable spells to the bottom of your library. Dropping a turn-one New Benalia allowed me to check my first draw for the game. Casting Magma Jet to remove an early monster and also scry 2 always felt rewarding.
The Monsters deck has cycling rather than scry. Even though the two decks share red, they don't share any cards other than the basic Mountain. Cycling, as well as landcycling, helps Monsters ramp and get the steady mana its needs to enable it to drop its big monsters.
Duel Decks: Heroes vs. Monsters
Even though each deck has three cards from Theros, beyond that Kelly had to work within the restrictions of non-Theros cards to build up the themes of each deck. And in doing so, he also had to be careful to avoid crossing too closely to previously visited Duel Decks. For example, Heroes vs. Monsters treads awfully close to the previously released Knights vs. Dragons. For this reason, you'll find the Monsters deck contains no Dragons. Instead, it relies on things like Polukranos to be the monsters.
Since Polukranos deals in +1/+1 counters, Kelly found the Monsters deck benefited from the original Gruul mechanic: bloodthirst. What bloodthirst says is that if you've dealt damage to your opponent this turn, you can then cast this creature and it comes into play with some number of +1/+1 counters. That means the Heroes might come to regret letting that pesky Orcish Lumberjack through the ranks.
There are a lot of fun card choices in each deck. Kelly told me his metric for whether a card worked in the Heroes deck was to see if the card fit into the following sort of Mad Lib: "The Blank heroically Blanks."
Sun Titan | Art by Karl Kopinski
So, for example, "The Armory Guard heroically stands its ground" feels like it works. While "The Master Decoy heroically decoys the enemy" could work but it just feels less heroic. By the way, those Armory Guards do hard work in this deck. Their 5 toughness is larger than just about any non-monstrous creature your opponent could drop unless he or she gets a bloodthirsted creature.
A few other exciting cards in both decks really caused some fun play. The Monsters deck has Fires of Yavimaya, which may not be familiar to new players but is definitely a card not to be underestimated. In a game against Kelly, he used his Fires of Yavimaya to try and pump his blocker and kill my Armory Guard, but I had my own answer and used Moment of Heroism to save it and cause a sizeable life swing in my favor. Had it died, though, I was also holding the often-forgotten Miraculous Recovery to bring it back from the graveyard.
There's an interesting bit to the Heroes deck that also highlights a difference in era. Kelly talked to me about how the Greek idea of a hero tended to be a bit more... ruthless... than today's modern vision of hero. So a card like Undying Rage and Kamahl, Pit Fighter felt awkward to me initially, but with this explanation they feel even more on-theme than before.
Fires of Yavimaya | Art by Izzy
I really enjoyed playing both of these decks. They are both aggressive decks meant to be fighting and making swings that could easily come out of Hollywood for the battle scenes they create. You're going to love these new decks and seeing some of the new card art!
Be sure to come back in the coming days and weeks as we begin to reveal more and more of this fall's set, Theros!
Deck Design and Deck Development: Chris Millar, Kelly Digges and Sam Stoddard
Twitter Hashtag: #MTGHVM
Languages Available: English, Japanese
Release Date: September 6, 2013
Patrick "Trick" Jarrett joined Wizards of the Coast in 2011, taking over the reins as DailyMTG.com editor-in-chief. He oversees the daily content while also working to develop larger web projects for Magic.