Magic The Gathering: Heroes vs. Monsters Duel Decks Review

The introduction of a Greek Mythology adaption by the Theros block has given a great opportunity to explore the idea of epic, monstrous beasts facing mighty heroes and you’ll probably not be surprised to hear that the Heroes vs. Monsters Duel Decks play upon this theme beautifully.

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Pitting the mighty Sun Titan giant against the Polukranos, the legendary Hydra, Heroes vs. Monsters presents two balanced for battle decks that play very differently.

The Heroes

The [mtg_card]Sun Titan[/mtg_card], back from the 2011 core set with all new artwork, leads the Heroes. This deck draws its cards from some 20 odd expansions, mixing some lovingly selected complementary cards that date back as far as 1996 – such as [mtg_card]Miraculous Recovery[/mtg_card] which has ditched its original artwork for a very Theros-themed, Spartan-inspired warrior. Also making a comeback from 2001 is [mtg_card]Auramancer[/mtg_card] which could be essential for keeping your powerful Aura enchantments in play.

Heroes focus on hitting hard, and hitting fast, ramping up their offence in the late game using enchantments and the all-important Sun Titan himself, who brings back permanents ( petty much anything that’s not a cast and discard spell ) when he enters the battlefield and on each attack. These return straight to the battlefield, so if you’ve just sacrificed [mtg_card]Ordeal of Purphoros[/mtg_card] you could bring it straight back into play on your Sun Titan, repeatedly. Cards like this reinforce the offensive theme of Heroes, you need to hit hard and fast before the Monsters can mount an insurmountable late game retaliation.

The Monsters

The all-new [mtg_card]Polukranos, World Eater[/mtg_card], borrowed from the new Theros expansion, is the late-game hard-hitter that sets the tone for the Monsters. It’s not without a catch, though, when Polukranos becomes Monsterous it will hit for X damage ( where X is the number of 2 or more additional mana you choose to trigger its Monstrosity ability with ) divided amongst any number of target creatures. The catch is that those creatures mount a counter-offensive, dealing damage back to Polukranos equal to their power. It’s a subtle touch, but this mechanic is beautifully thematically placed within Theros, and the setting of Heroes vs. Monsters.

Backing up Polukranos are a balanced spread of suitable cards dating as far back as 1995. [mtg_card]Orcish Lumberjack[/mtg_card] comes charging in from Ice Age and helps reinforce the mana-ramping strategy behind the Monsters. In fact, it’s a fine example of just how far back into the depths of MTG the deck designers have plumbed for cards that fit. Krosan Tusker, from 2002s aptly-named Onslaught, also helps plumb the depths of your library for those much-needed mana cards.

[mtg_card]Zhur-Taa Druid[/mtg_card] also makes an appearance from Dragon’s Maze, and [mtg_card]Satyr Hedonist[/mtg_card] from Theros. Both solid mana building cards which you can drop early.

As you might have guessed, the Monsters focus on building a brutal offensive slow and steady. The big, hard-hitters such as [mtg_card]Conquering Manticore[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Deus of Calamity[/mtg_card] aren’t going to come out early, and you’ll need to focus on building your mana reserves quickly and effectively to get the big guns in play and use Polukranos’ Monstrosity.

From your spells a little [mtg_card]Dragon Blood[/mtg_card] will boost your already powerful creatures into opponent-crushing behemoths, and [mtg_card]Destructive Revelry[/mtg_card] will strip off those pesky auras and enchantments.

Overall

If you’re a beginner, and all the above just went right over your head, all you really need to know is written in a handy player’s guide included with the Duel Decks. Heroes hit hard and fast, and Monsters focus on getting mana into play so they can bring out the big guns. If you’re playing with a friend, spouse or sibling you can swap decks to get a feel for a completely different strategy. Playing these decks should also give you a great insight into the depth and breadth of strategy available in Magic The Gathering, and hopefully give you some inspiration for building your own decks.

Because you’ve got two decks out of the box, a Duel Deck is great for you and a spouse or a sibling to get started playing some competitive Magic throughout the winter months.

Once you’ve got comfortable with Monsters vs. Heroes, or if you’ve got a little extra cash to splash for a wider and more enjoyable gaming experience I strongly suggest picking up Face The Hydra. This Challenge Deck will give you the opportunity to face up against a video-game-like encounter cooperatively, and is a great deck to bring out if you’re not terribly competitive, or have just had a streak of losses and want an opponent who isn’t such a smug winner.

Playtest

Heroes vs Monsters proved to be very entertaining during play-testing, and reasonably balanced too- although I think the Heroes have a slight edge due to their faster pacing and fodder spam. The decks are both far from being serious, and seem to toss in a myriad of different cards and mechanics with a focus on simply being fun rather than leveraging a few select cheese plays.

Heroes seem to spam the playing field with fodder, and Monsters can throw down the likes of [mtg_card]Crater Hellion[/mtg_card] and mop them up in an instant. Heroes can then delve into their freshly packed graveyard and resurrect low cost fodder with [mtg_card]Sun Titan[/mtg_card].

The likes of [mtg_card]Figure of Destiny[/mtg_card] show how far Heroes vs Monsters goes to be on-theme and fun, this card is a stupendous long-shot but very entertaining to have in play.

The Monsters side of the duel decks loves to play with complex, sometimes confusing counter mechanics and we saw [mtg_card]Crowned Ceratok[/mtg_card] come into play a few times, just never when it was able to do any good. Similarly [mtg_card]Volt Charge[/mtg_card] does crazy things with counters, and it cropped up a few times with deadly effect. These complex interactions can soon turn something like [mtg_card]Gorehorn Minotaurs[/mtg_card] into a complete and total pain. Its not a nice thing to witness powered up to 6/6 with Trample. Since I was playing Heroes I’ve also learned to hate the Monsters [mtg_card]Satyr Hedonist[/mtg_card].

Overall we found Heroes vs Monsters entertaining to play and they’re a great set of decks to simply keep on hand for some relaxed friendly games, or to use against the Face The Hydra deck. They’re also rife with a smattering of interesting cards, some of which were something of a nostalgic trip for my opponent and tutor Ben. I will certainly keep my eye out for future Duel Decks, and will probably keep them in their original configurations too… although I’ve got my eye on [mtg_card]Sun Titan[/mtg_card] as a substitute for the Theros “Inspiring Heroics” event deck, along with a couple of Enchantment Creatures.