I’ve always been a fan of casual kitchen-table style Magic and appreciate what Wizards has aimed to do with the Duel Deck series. On the one hand the decks give newer players the opportunity to try out a smorgasbord of cards from across the game’s history; on the other hand the Duel Deck series offers hardcore players access to reprints of decent cards, often with new art. My interests tend to fall in between these categories – I love battling with basic thematic decks for funsies, and I love having solid reprints for my EDH decks.
I have played with nearly every pair of Duel Decks since their inception with Elves vs Goblins (which I viewed as a remake of the great battles my best friend and I waged during Onslaught block when we first learned to play the game), and my generally impression of them has been mixed. In every set there is one really solid deck with complex mechanics and card interaction that supported extended playability. But usually the other deck seemed like a hastily thrown-together pile of cards that barely matched a them. For example, the Coalition deck in Phyrexia vs. the Coalition was a 5-color domain deck that brought a few Invasion Elder Dragons to the party, while the Phyrexia deck was a basic stack of black Urza’s block reprints. In the Knight vs. Dragons set, a powerhouse of green and white Knights annihilated the mono-red Dragon deck, usually just by playing Silver Knight and/or Loxodon Warhammer. The Dragons were mostly barely-limited-playable fire-breathing dragons like Dragon Whelp, and had not-really-combo cards like Voracious Dragon with hardly any ways to make goblins to eat.
I’m not really complaining about getting a sweet new-art foil Bogardan Hellkite or Phyrexian Negator from those decks to spiffy up my EDH decks, but they just didn’t seem evenly-matched for a product that was designed to be battled. Then again, if each set has a complex deck and a simple deck, it allows for everyone to be able to pick up a deck and get it on regardless of skill level.
But then comes Speed vs Cunning, the newest set in the Duel Deck series. Really I picked this up today at my local game store because I wanted to build a red-black-white deck with the new Khans of Tarkir clan leader Zurgo Helmsmasher, and I was enticed by the included copies of the new tri-lands, another copy of Lightning Helix, and an alternate art Impulse. (Yes I know I basically paid 18 bucks for 6 dollars worth of cards, but that’s not the point here!) My buddy Zach was in the store at the time, so we sat down and battled a bunch of games.