If you search the net for the term “rank 40 in Magic Duels” then you’ll come across threads filled to the brim with decklists; cards and strategies that players have created for Magic Duels: Origins. As the maximum rank attainable in this digital CCG’s core Versus mode, labelling a deck as “rank 40” indicates both its quality and reliability when dueling in the game’s competitive scene, presumably because it has helped get its player to the top rank in a season.
At this point I should clarify that I have not yet achieved rank 40 myself – think of the post title as an attempt at positive reinforcement – though it is a goal I want to at least try and accomplish before the year is out. As someone who has frequently expressed disinterest in competitive multiplayer games, that proposal may come as a surprise, but I can remember the exact moment when I decided I wanted to achieve rank 40 in a season and it was the day that Magic Duels was officially cancelled.
Yes, eleven months after I had finished grumbling about the game in my 1 year review, Wizards of the Coast had taken the industry’s chilly reception to heart by ceasing support for Magic Duels entirely and vowing to make their next effort (MTG Arena) the real deal instead.
Those who opened their wallet for the ‘freemium’ game over its short lifespan must surely have felt the sting from that announcement and I imagine those who put in countless hours of coin grinding couldn’t have been too thrilled either. As someone who very casually plays Magic Duels for the laid-back daily quests and custom deck-building, I wasn’t really fussed and as my review kinda pointed out; you could see that the game wasn’t really going anywhere in its current state.
Another thing that the cancellation brought though was a halt to the game’s season structure. Before, when a new expansion set was released, a player’s current rank would be recorded on their profile before being reset back to zero in preparation for the new wave of cards and subsequent shift in meta. For true competitive junkies, this meant the opportunity to play with a fresh deck of all new strategies with new creatures, concepts, and keywords borrowed from the corresponding real world Magic: The Gathering expansions.
The fact that Amonkhet will be Duels’ final season means that a player’s rank is no longer in danger of being reset and it affords them ample time to climb the ranks without the added time pressure threatening to wipe everything away. For someone who owns their own business and can only just about keep up with an hour’s play every other evening, this prospect allowed me to seriously consider the idea of trying to win a few competitive games with the ultimate dream of being a one-time “rank 40er”; all without spending a penny.
Like my various experiments with Civilization: Beyond Earth, maybe delving into Magic Duels’ competitive scene mere months after its death is akin to picking through the bones of some doomed empire. You could witness the repeated use of Fatal Push and think it the equivalent of discovering a coded message in an ancient cave drawing or something. “This is where players would have constructed their decks, children, and here is the screen that rage-quitters would have first seen following combat tricks…”
Getting back on track, it’s worth mentioning that the ranking system in Magic Duels is very simple. Winning a ranked duel against a random opponent increases your rank by one whereas losing a match under the same circumstances decreases it by the same digit. Therefore, any player wanting to get a rank of 40 must achieve a consistent win ratio and the only way to do that (other than simply playing well or getting absurdly lucky) is to construct a strong deck of equally strong and synergetic cards.
Like many paupers at the beginning of their Magic Duels career, I was faced with the daunting task of acquiring enough booster packs to cobble together an effective deck. As someone who was never going to spend real money, this meant a potentially long grind of quests and battles to see a collection anywhere near competitive. However, I was lucky to get involved with Magic Duels soon after Stainless Games had re-balanced the card pools and coin rewards. A few AI battles every 3 days would result in a healthy intake of coins and when Shadows Over Innistrad was discounted in the fall of 2016, I had amassed a small fortune ready to acquire to my first complete set of spells.
I will wait until part 2 to really explain what I did with those cards, but it’s safe to say that since hitting the competitive scene, I’ve started to gain more of an understanding for how constructed Magic: The Gathering really works. Reaching rank 40 requires a lot more than just good cards and careful play, it requires a mental resolve that I’ll wager only a small percentage of players really possess.
I’ve reached rank 20 at the time of writing, which I’m told is about the average rank for a solid deck. The competition between ranks 15-20 was a lot stronger than I expected, so it surprises me that this is “average” in any sense of the word. Achieving a 50% win ratio at rank 40 will never be the same as achieving a similar win ratio at rank 20 because the competition is going to be a lot more intense the further up you go.
Like I said, achieving rank 40 requires a calm mind as well as a steady (and preferably stacked) hand, so it’s too early for me to tell yet whether I have what it takes to do it. I don’t know how many parts there will be to this play journal, I just know I need to write something down now in order to stay motivated and hopefully make this happen. Whether I post thirty entries culminating in a victory speech or abandon it after three due to boredom or lack of skill, it should at least be an interesting jaunt into new territory.
Join me for part 2 where I’ll provide an update on my quest for rank 40 as well as an in-depth look at the deck that I hope will get me there.
Continue to Part 2