How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

You'll need a brand new strategy for Duels of the Planeswalkers, the casual "video game" version of the Magic the Gathering card game. Luckily, our ultimate Planeswalkers guide will tell you when to counterspell, when to summon a massive elder thing, when to reanimate a demon corpse, and how to lay waste to your opponent.

Duels of the Planeswalkers is available on Xbox, Playstation, Steam and iPad. Even if you're already familiar with this game, you're about to get a whole lot more familiar. I've unlocked every card in all 20 currently available decks. I've tried every strategy and combination, earned every achievement, and basically learned this game inside out.

The first thing you need to do is make sure you've unlocked all the promo cards. Wizards releases promo codes at various events, and each code unlocks one card in every deck. You can find all ten codes fairly easily – this list at gamefaqs will get the job done. The promo cards are among the best for each deck, so grabbing those will increase your deck-building options right off the bat.

The best way to improve your Duels of the Planeswalkers win ratio is to spend some time using all of the decks, even the ones you don't really like. Whether you play against human opponents online or against the AI, understanding what the deck you're facing can do and what cards it's likely to have available will give you a huge advantage. Magic players call this, "Knowing the metagame."

For general deck-building advice, make sure your deck is focused. With the number of cards available, each deck can be built in different ways. Get rid of cards that don't fit the plan. Also get rid of any spells that cost more than six mana to cast, unless the deck is specifically designed to play more expensive spells. There are a few exceptions, but this is a good rule of thumb.

Finally, use 25 lands. A few decks can get away with 24 or 23 if built correctly, but every other deck wants a lot of mana. There are very few really fast, aggressive deck options – all of these decks tend to require a lot of building up resources and grinding out card advantage over a lot of turns. Yes, it sucks when you draw your ninth land that you don't need, but not as bad as not being to play anything in your hand because you can't draw your fourth land.

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Firewave

This is my least favorite deck, but it gets a lot more fun when you add Sulfuric Vortex and Furnace of Rath. With most decks, you would preserve damage dealing spells to eliminate creatures, rarely targeting your opponent directly. This deck, however, wants to force through as much damage as quickly as possible. It doesn't really have fast creatures (although Kiln Fiend can come through sometimes), so you can't always be as aggressive as you'd like, sometimes holding back until you have enough mana for a huge game-ending play. I've found Final Fortune to be very good in this deck, despite the risk. You need to find the right moment to use it, but it's won me lots of games. This deck's weak point is an inability to draw cards. You need to maximize the number of cards you destroy for each one of yours spent. A Cone of Flame or Flames of the Firebrand that takes out two or three creatures can help even the odds. Don't forget about your various Phoenixes, which can frustrate opponents and make a delightful "SCREEEEEE!" sound whenever you bring one back from the graveyard.

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Masks of the Dimir

This deck is all about card advantage. You want to draw more cards than your opponent, and make her discard from her hand. Eventually, the imbalance of resources will get you the win. Make sure you cut all the terrible seven and eight mana creatures. Build an edge on the battlefield with cards like Last Gasp and Hands of Binding, then push through with a few key flyers. Moroii can give you an early edge, but this deck has no way to gain life, so be careful with them. Necropolis Regent is your finisher. One solid attack with her on the board will probably make your victory inevitable.

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Enter the Dracomancer

I tried several different builds and strategies with this deck, but there's no sense in trying to ice skate up hill. This deck wants to be a dragon deck, and it works best if you just let it be a dragon deck. Remove almost every creature that isn't a dragon (Bloodbraid Elf is a notable exception, a card so good it should be played in any deck it can legally be played in, and Ogre Battledriver is excellent too). Use three copies of Dragonspeaker Shaman. Throw in Crucible of Fire. Rely on Cultivate and Explosive Vegetation to accelerate your mana and let you play those huge dragons on turn five or six. Don't worry about Dragon Fodder – you'll use Savage Twister and Jund Charm to sweep away your opponent's smaller creatures anyway. The only hard part is imagining just how surprised your opponent looks when you play Hellkite Overlord with a Battledriver in play.

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Hunter's Strength

It's a mono-green deck, full of forests and green spells and lots of creatures. You've got Nature's Lore to give you a mana boost, but those seven and eight-drops are going to be a challenge to cast consistently, so use them sparingly. There are some great cards in here, though, like multiple copies of Rancor, a very useful Green Sun's Zenith, and the underrated Bellowing Tanglewurm. Unfortunately you have to rely on the janky Prey Upon to have any chance of destroying your opponent's creatures. So just make sure your creatures are bigger than his creatures. Failing that, Overrun will win you enough games that you'll eventually start to feel a little guilty when you do it.

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Avacyn's Glory

A lot of the decks in DotP 2014 have a tribal theme. This is the human tribe's deck, relying on one of the oldest strategies in Magic – the white weenie deck. Worst name for a deck in the history of decks having names. Basically you're going to chuck a bunch of weak, pathetic human creatures onto the battlefield, then use their various synergistic synergies to synergize each other all the way to the bank. This deck is actually very well constructed, with perhaps the best creature removal spells in the game (Path to Exile and the incredibly versatile Oblivion Ring), a host of low-cost, high-power humans (Champion of the Parish, Elite Inquisitor, Mentor of the Meek), and a few kick-ass angels to provide air superiority – including the epically awesome Baneslayer Angel. Just make sure to trim away most of the 6-or-more mana spells so you can stay focused on your human mob. Goldnight Commander doesn't look too sexy next to Deathless Angel, but Goldnight will win you more games.

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Mind Maze

It's the blue deck! Full of islands and blue spells. This time there's an illusion tribal theme. Most of the illusion creatures are much larger than they should be for their casting cost, but have the "sacrifice this if it's targeted by anything" drawback. Not too difficult to see through these illusions. Luckily, there's a nice loophole that lets you overcome this. Lord of the Unrealphantasmal im gives all illusions Hexproof, so they can't be targeted by your opponent, thus eliminating the drawback. Of course, Mr. Lord himself can still be targeted, since he is not an illusion. He's just Criss Angel. However! You also have Phantasmal Image, an illusion which becomes a copy of another creature while still remaining an illusion. Thus, make your Phantasmal Image copy Lord of the Unreal, and he gives himself Hexproof. It's like Criss Angel staring at himself in an untouchable mirror. And really that's all you need to know about this deck. (Ok, Snapcaster Mage is incredible, Cryptic Command is great, and Force of Will is one of the most powerful Magic cards ever created. Use those too).

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Deadwalkers

This is the Liliana Vess deck, therefore it is the best deck. It's a zombie tribal deck with control elements. You'll use your annoyingly resilient zombies, like Gravecrawler and Geralf's Messenger, to grind down your opponent's life value. Just when she thinks you're almost dead yourself, you'll suddenly rise up (in life total) thanks to a timely Tendrils of Corruption or Corrupt. If things get out of hand, Mutilate can clear the field, and Grave Pact lets you take advantage of your creatures' tendency to not stay dead while your opponents' probably do. Eventually a Grave Titan or Mikaeus, the Unhallowed will hit the ground and shift things irrevocably in your favor. It might be tempting to run with cards like Endless Ranks of the Dead or Rise of the Dark Realms. Don't. You have better options that don't depend on specific situations to be useful (although Endless Ranks is a really fun card, so go ahead and use that if you want).

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Chant of Mul Daya

This is a serious, hardcore, totally dedicated ramp deck. It does literally nothing except dump huge amounts of land onto the battlefield very quickly so you can cast ludicrously massive creatures like Avenger of Zendikar and Artisan of Kozilek. You have virtually no way of dealing with anything your opponent plays other than All is Dust, which at times feels like using a hydrogen bomb when you just need a mouse trap. Grazing Gladeheart and Pelakka Wurm can often gain you enough life to string out the game until your kaiju get rolling. Unfortunately, your creatures are all highly vulnerable to just about any creature removal spell, and you have no way to draw extra cards except a single Harmonize. Fierce Empath can be useful, giving you extra chances to find the high heat you need. Eye of Uginprimev will also let you grab as many monsters as necessary once you've got 15 or so mana on the board. Luckily you can fetch it up with Primeval Titan, so the single copy turns up more often than you'd think.

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Sliver Hive

Hey, another tribal deck. This one is the "New Coke" slivers introduced in this past summer's M14 Magic set. You're going to roll with three colors here to get access to all the slivers you need. Basically, play with tons of slivers, don't use things that aren't slivers. Battle Sliver, Bonescythe Sliver, and Thorncaster Sliver are the ones that will win you games, along with the head sliver in charge, Megantic Sliver. You're going to eat it to cards like Damnation and Day of Judgment fairly often. You could try to avoid this by enchanting a few slivers with Indestructibility, but honestly that's a terrible idea. You might be tempted to mess around with Armageddon, hoping to gain battlefield advantage before wiping all lands out. In practice, however, this deck tends to come from behind, playing its strongest slivers late and swinging for a big attack or two. That doesn't jive with a slivergeddon strategy.

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Guardians of Light

Finally, a non-tribal deck. This mono-white deck has an enchantment theme, although it's sort of a half-assed theme compared to the Enchanter's Arsenal deck they put out later. You best bet is to wring card advantage out of auras cast on Kor Spiritdancer, then hope you can get the kill before your opponent draws a Doom Blade and erases all that advantage in one fell swoop. It can be tough to balance playing enough enchantments to make the theme work and enough creatures to actually put the enchantments on. Never run fewer than 20 creatures. True Conviction makes a great finisher is you have even a couple of creatures in play, and Celestial Mantle is one of the better ways to gain ridiculous amounts of life if you're chasing that achievement.

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Sword of the Samurai

This deck can be a lot of fun to play if you enjoy a challenge, because it's terrible. The samurai all have the Bushido ability, which gives them a power and toughness boost whenever they block or are blocked. The problem is they're almost all 1/1s or 2/2s, so your opponent will happily let them through unblocked, then hang back until he's built a force of superior creatures that can attack through the wall of Bushido. The upside? Awesome equipment. This deck gives you access to Umezawa's Jitte, Sword of War and Peace, and Sword of Fire and Ice. It is quite difficult to lose a game with Jitte in play, and the swords can both swing the momentum of a game with a single attack. Stonehewer Giant and Godo, Bandit Warlord make it more likely you'll find them (you can hedge your bets with Steelshaper's Gift as well). In fact, Godo is often this deck's win condition, since his multiple attacks (with him carrying the Jitte he just fetched for you) end things with great alacrity. Zealous Conscripts is another instant tide turner as well. This is the deck to get the "Control Five Legends" achievement with, by the way.

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Sylvan Might

This is the elfiest elf deck in elfland. It's literally just elves and forests. The elves make the other elves more badass. Non-elves are not invited. You will occasionally find a bunch of your elves eat a Flames of the Firebrand or a Mutilation, so Lead the Stampede and Sylvan Messenger are around to restock your hand with more elves. Your most clutch play is to drop a Joraga Warcaller, then use Immaculate Magistrate to put a bunch of +1/+1 counters on him, making all your elves huge. I find Ezuri, Renegade Leader highly useful, and Beastmaster Ascension is tons of fun in this deck. I also refuse to run anything that costs more than four mana in this, allowing me to play 23 land. That helps create the high elf-to-not-elf ratio we're looking for.

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Hall of Champions

Hall of Champions is a 3-color deck that relies on the Exalted mechanic, which boosts a creature as long as it's the only one attacking. This isn't the strongest deck, but it has some powerful plays that can end games out of nowhere. First, get rid of all the overly expensive cards like Iridescent Angel and Empyrial Archangel. Focus on playing the best Exalted creatures possible, making sure they can survive into the mid-game. You need a critical mass of them so that your sole attacker each turn is a real beast. Your finisher is actually an enchantment, Finest Hour. Because Exalted benefits last until end of turn, the second attack will stack more Exalted boosts on top of the ones from the first attack, assuming the creature survived. You'll often attack with a 14/14 with Lifelink or something crazy like that. You also have the highly versatile Bant Charm – getting rid of creatures with it dodges regeneration, indestructibility, and effects that trigger when a creature dies (like Keiga, the Tide Star for instance). Behemoth Sledge, Rhox War Monk, and Battlegrace Angel give you lots of opportunities to gain life. Mirror-Sigil Sergeant, while not really fitting the deck's theme, can often win games on his own by just relentlessly making copies of himself.

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Lords of Darkness

This mono-black demon deck is, obviously, the best deck for getting the "control a bunch of demons" achievement. It's a deck that does great harm to itself at times, knowing that ultimately it will harm the opponent slightly more. It's a traditional strategy with black decks, to trade life for other resources, typically drawing extra cards. You can mitigate the life loss somewhat with Tendrils of Corruption and Corrupt. What's particularly interesting is that you can build this as a control deck. With Damnation, Mutilate, and No Mercy, opponents will have a tough time building a strong force, and you have Diabolic Edict and Doom Blade to take care of any stragglers. This allows you to play your bigger, stronger demons, which easily crush any opposition. Bloodgift Demon keeps the cards flowing, while Reaper from the Abyss oversees a steady parade of creatures straight into your opponent's graveyard. If you really want to be clever, play with all three copies of Heartless Summoning. Yes, it makes your creatures weaker, but it allows you to play them two turns earlier, and enables this deck to use huge demons like Demon of Death's Gate and Rune-Scarred Demon, which might otherwise be too expensive to get into play.

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Dodge and Burn

This a classic "counterburn" deck. Your goal is to generate card advantage both by destroying multiple enemy creatures with a single spell, or by just drawing a ton of cards. In the late game, Future Sight and Charmbreaker Devils will keep your hand stocked with spells and plenty of mana to cast them. But quite often you'll find yourself with a squad of Kiln Fiends out and a few burn spells to clear the path of blockers, and you'll just swing for 16 damage on turn four or five to end the game. This deck has an interesting mix of counterspells available – don't overlook Remand, which seems like treading water, but can give you a huge tempo advantage. I'm not really a big fan of Pongify, but it puts really huge creatures in range of your burn spells, so it can be useful. Don't try to be too clever with this deck. You can sit there all day with six mana open waiting to cast Draining Whelk on a huge spell when you could have just been winning the game with Char the whole time.

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Unfinished Business

It's a reanimator deck, and a pretty damn good one. You can live the dream with a turn one Putrid Imp, then on turn two discard Demon of Death's gate and play Exhume. Your opponent might have a Path to Exile at the ready, but she might not, and you'll wrap that game up pretty damn quick. Failing that, you'll want to make sure your build has the following ingredients: ways to chuck huge creatures into your graveyard (the aforementioned Imp, plus Oona's Prowler, Hidden Horror, and Sift), ways to bring huge creatures from your graveyard back into play (Exhume, Rise from the Grave, Living Death), and huge creatures, whose shambling, stitched together corpses will batter your opponents' life totals (Tidespout Tyrant, Rune-Scarred Demon, Sphinx of Magosi, Keiga, the Tide Star). You can pick whatever mix of bombs you like best, but I like creatures that do something interesting other than just smashing face during the attack phase. There's a lot of other fun stuff you can do in this deck, too. River Kelpie cranks out card advantage. Body Double lets you duplicate a bomb that's in your graveyard, while still leaving it in your graveyard for Exhume to target. Decree of Pain keeps the slate clean in the early game, and Diabolic Tutor ensures you have exactly what you need.

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Bounce and Boon

I find this deck insufferably annoying, both to play with and against. The idea is that your creature do cool things when they come into play, and then your other creatures bounce them back into your hand, so you cast them again and get another use of whatever that cool thing was. This ranges from gaining a little life (Lone Missionary) to destroying every tapped creature (Sunblast Angel) to creating a mini army (Captain of the Watch). Bouncing and recasting Duplicant is a good way to whittle down your opponent's forces. You want to play Cathar's Crusade as soon as possible – it will quickly make all your creatures enormous. Other key bounce targets include Blade Splicer, Stonehorn Dignitary, Solemn Simulcrum, and Cloudgoat Ranger.

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Enchanter's Arsenal

This is a serious enchantment deck. There are so many cards that allow you to draw cards when you play enchantments that fairly often you will find yourself drawing most of your deck and having to discard at the end of your turn. It can get ridiculous. Many of the enchantments are auras, and they suffer the drawback of losing you two cards if your opponent destroys the enchanted creature. For this reason, the best auras in the deck are Rancor and Spirit Loop, which keep coming back to your hand (and allowing you to recast them and draw more cards). Your non-aura enchantments are generally pretty safe, because there are relatively few ways of destroying enchantments in any of the decks. Creature removal (or effective removal) enchantments like Journey to Nowhere and Pacifism are clutch, while Sigil of the Empty Throne will often serve as your win condition. It cranks out an army of 4/4 angels without much effort. I also really like playing Martyr's Bond in this – no one can destroy your stuff without destroying some of their own stuff.

How to conquer Magic the Gathering's new Duels of the Planeswalkers

Up to Mischief

It's another tribal deck! This one is focused on faeries. I'm disappointed that they made this deck mono-blue instead of black and blue, since that would give everyone a chance to play with the incredible Bitterblossom. Alas. This plays a bit differently than other tribal decks because the faeries never really get that huge. You do have Scion of Oona to boost them, but for the most part you'll be attacking with 2/1s and 3/2s. The upside is that every creature in the deck flies. This also a deck that works so much better if you go first, mainly because of Spellstutter Sprite. The tempo boost of countering your opponent's turn two play while dropping a creature of your own is huge. This deck also gets a ton of mileage out of the Cipher cards, like Hands of Binding and Last Thoughts. Since you have so many flyers, it's easy to get combat damage through and get multiple free castings out of them. Sower of Temptation and Vendilion Clique are extremely powerful cards as well. Because so many of your creatures have Flash, you'll end up doing a lot of your playing on your opponent's turn. This can include your draw step if you play with Psychic Possession. Multiple copies generate card advantage quickly, and they completely shut down huge parts of other decks' strategies (imagine the demon deck playing Harrowing Journey when you've got a Psychic Possession in play. You both draw three cards, but only he pays three life).