Do you remember Duel Masters?

Who's the kid with the spiky hair? SHOBU! Flaming hand up in the air! SHOBU! It's Duel Masters!
Roy Willitts

Duel Masters, a strategic card game produced by Wizards of the Coast, is known primarily for it’s similarity to Magic: The Gathering. After the success of the Magic: The Gathering game the people involved at Wizards began a new project with distribution by Takara Tomy, something that would bridge the gap between Magic and Japan. That project was Duel Masters.

What is Duel Masters?

Magic popularized Trading Card Games to millions all over the world.

It was originally produced by a mathematics professor and game designer Richard Garfield who had a hand in also creating numerous other games like Netrunner, Vampire The Eternal Struggle, and Keyforge as well as the board games RoboRally and King of Tokyo.

Eventually, he began designing Magic in its original form as a student in the 1980s and began playtesting it with other gamers. He eventually got in contact with Wizards of the Coast to begin its commercial launch in 1993. By comparison, Duel Masters is a media franchise that spans TCG, anime, manga and a few video games. It was during its conception that it was associated with Magic and still is to this day.

Richard Garfield, the designer OF MAGIC: THE GATHERING
Richard Garfield, the designer OF MAGIC: THE GATHERING

The Duel Masters Manga

Duel Masters was originally a project handled by Wizard of the Coast and produced as a manga, a Japanese comic book to help Magic appeal more to the Japanese people. It was written by Shigenobu Matsumoto and was published by Shogakukan in the CoroCoro Comic magazine. Matsumoto is also an artist for the Duel Masters Trading Card Game as well as being the author of the Duel Masters manga and it’s designer.

It appears on the surface to look a lot like Yu-Gi-Oh! which appealed to both the West and Asian countries due to its similarity to Pokémon in some ways and an increased level of maturity surrounding the creature and card battles as well as the darker plot and characters.

The first page of the Duel Masters manga depicts a duel in a card shop between the series protagonist and a rival character
The first page of the Duel Masters manga depicts a duel in a card shop between the series protagonist and a rival character

Within the pages of these CoroCoro Comics, the characters in the Duel Masters manga initially only played the Magic: The Gathering trading card game, up until ‘Duel Masters’ a brand new game is introduced to do the characters in the manga.

The characters would play Kaijudo, or the Duel Masters game from there on to help the success of the newer physical game being produced as readers up until then would be familiar only with Magic.

A page of the Duel Master's manga, Shobu engages in a duel against Nac
A page of the Duel Masters manga, Shobu engages in a duel against Nac

Some people considered the game to be too easy and solely intended for kids labelling it as ‘baby Magic’ at least in the past, however, as time went on Duel Masters continually produced new sets for young and old alike.

Duel Masters as an Anime

Then you had the Duel Masters anime originally broadcasted on Toonami and aired back in 2004, the Duel Masters anime show focused on a boy with spiky hair called Shobu who could bring his various creatures on the cards to life in duels. His partner card is Bolshack Dragon which he often uses in his games.

Bolshack Dragon the iconic ace card of the series used multiple times by the series protagonist

The card game in the anime is called “Kaijudo” which comes from the combination of the word “kaijū”, meaning “monster” and “dō”, or “the way”. The full term of Kaijudo means “way of the monster”.

A Kaijudo duel in the anime is a card duel where creatures materialize and can be seen around players of the duel as each one is played complete with roars, screeches and screams.

There was even a set of morals that Wizards of the Coast created to go along with the game called the Kaijudo Code.

I make no excuses.
I don’t make excuses for a loss
My actions are my voice.
How I choose to play is how other players will see me
I have no enemies.
My opponent is just another player like myself, and I should be friendly towards them
My opponent is my teacher.
Playing with my opponent allows me to become a better duelist.
I need no deceitful tricks.
I don’t need to cheat.
My character is my sword. I won’t become a better duelist by cheating myself and my opponent.

I think not of quitting.

My courage is my secret weapon. My courage allows me to continue duelling.
I know not of defeat. I keep duelling and learning, whether I win or lose.
My experience becomes my strength. I learn to duel better, win or lose.

A page of the Duel Masters manga featuring several characters

Duel Masters as a Card Game

Duel Masters as an anime and a card game was not quite as popular as Yu-Gi-Oh! another successful card game and anime with the same idea. This was likely due to the lack of many interesting characters and situations as well as the plot going on with the Duel Masters show unfortunately, as well as some not so great CGI creatures being used for the creature card summonings.

If you have seen the show you can see how it was focused toward a younger audience in mind like Yu-Gi-Oh! was, but Yu-Gi-Oh! by comparison did an excellent job of entertaining you with situations outside of just card battling.

Yu-Gi-Oh! also had an impressive and memorable musical score, a great range of voice acting and included decent explanations of each move and card effect that was going on during the card games. It taught you how to play and did a good job of conveying information. Making things relatively clear for the younger audience getting into the card game and learning the rules. It also had a great cast of characters to engage with within the story as well as in the card game duels.

Duel Masters succeeds in a few of these areas but sadly not all of them.

While it is not often played or enjoyed in the West, as the English language game has long been discontinued and out-of-print, in Japan Duel Masters lives on and is next to Yu-Gi-Oh! in terms of it’s popularity.

A 2-player starter deck set featuring Light, Fire and Nature Civilization cards inside. It includes a mini-comic, an exclusive Rothus, The Traveler premium card, 1 quick-start guide, 1 Rulebook, 2 playmats and a booster pack of DM-01 Base Set, the first set of the Duel Masters game
A 2-player starter deck set featuring Light, Fire and Nature Civilization cards inside. It includes a mini-comic, an exclusive Rothus, The Traveler premium card, 1 quick-start guide, 1 Rulebook, 2 playmats and a booster pack of DM-01 Base Set, the first set of the Duel Masters game

The Various Rules of Duel Masters Duels

How Duel Masters is played starts with your deck of cards, the minimum size for a Deck is exactly 40 cards. If a player draws all of their cards they lose the game. At the start of each game, you untap and draw a card much like in Magic.

Duel Masters has 5 ‘Shield cards’ instead of ‘Life’ in Magic. You have to break the opponents’ shields in the game with subsequent attacks. When a creature attacks and isn’t blocked you choose one of the other players’ shields then that player must put the broken shield into their hand. Sometimes this leads to a ​’Shield Trigger’ which means when the card as a shield is broken and sent to the hand that card owner can use the card for no mana cost. When all shields have been taken away from a player one final attack from a creature is enough to defeat them.

When a creature attacks it becomes tapped, turned to its side on the right (same when tapping for mana) and an opposing player’s creature can block the attack if they can by tapping a creature with the “Blocker” ability this counts as blocking. Usually when 2 creatures battle, they compare their power number, the creature with the lowest power is then put into the discard pile. If both creatures have the same amount of power they are both discarded. If an effect prevents the creature with the lower power from being destroyed then both creatures remain tapped.

You draw 5 cards at the start of the game for the shields and keep them face-down, then you draw an additional 5 instead of 7 when you play Magic, to begin a game of duel masters as your starting hand.

Here is a rules sheet included with the Duel Masters game, it shows you where to place your shield cards, your mana, your battle cards and your deck

How do I play Duel Masters?

Cards in the game have different ways to be played for example in Magic there are creature cards that require summoning using enough mana.

In the top left corner of the card is where you can see how much mana is necessary for activation. You need to pay the cost to activate it. Any action aside from storing up mana requires this resource of mana.

Any card in Duel Masters can be used as a source of mana. At the bottom middle of each card, you see how much a card is worth when played for mana. There are no lands in Duel Masters and the game is designed around using any card in your deck as a mana source. So you can decide which cards in your hand you want to use as Mana cards and which you want to use as Creature or Spells. You play one card in your mana area once per turn and may only use that mana once each turn.

Shobu's hand and surrounding card appear to flicker with flames surrounding him as he engages in an epic card duel in Duel Masters
Shobu’s hand and card appear to BE SURROUNDED with flames as he engages in an epic card duel

You can see on the card if it’s a creature or a spell card by looking at the bottom left if you see numbers at the bottom left then it’s a creature and that is their Attack Power, otherwise, it’s a spell card with some sort of effect when activated. Much like Magic, creatures can also have abilities and effects depending on the card.

Its up to you as the player to decide how you want to play and activate your different cards for your strategy to win. Duel Masters begins with a build-up of mana steadily, then as the game progresses into later stages you can begin seeing more powerful creatures and expensive devastating spells being used.

You can attack an opponent’s creatures only as long as they had attacked during the previous turn, meaning they were tapped much like in Magic. A creature with the higher power wins the engagement whilst attacking. So it is up to you to decide whether or not you want to attack your opponent’s creatures, set up your own defensive creatures, attack their shields or activate a useful effect.

The Duel Masters legacy

Shobu of Duel Masters is surrounded by a member of each civilization. Light (Urth), Nature (Mighty Shouter), Fire (Rothus), Darkness (Deathliger) and Water (Aqua Sniper) respectively. Civilizations are the 5 powers of Duel Masters mirroring the 5 colours of Magic.
Shobu is surrounded by a member of each civilization. Light (Urth), Nature (Mighty Shouter), Fire (Rothus), Darkness (Deathliger) and Water (Aqua Sniper) respectively. Civilizations are the 5 powers of Duel Masters mirroring the 5 colours of Magic.

The original version of the game ran from March 2004 with the Base Set to December 2006, the last set to be printed in English was the 12th set Thrash of the Hybrid Megacreatures.

Then in Japan, the popularity and printing continued steadily, and today it’s still popular in Japan and one of Japan’s favourite niche TCGs.

However in the West, people just found Magic: The Gathering to be more compelling and more appealing what with the art direction on the cards, intricate rules, plethora of cards and some iconic characters such as the Planeswalkers and Eldrazi cards.

As Duel Masters came to an end with it’s final booster box set in the West, the game continued to be produced and loved in Japan.

Did you ever play or watch Duel Masters? If you do end up watching it in English, prepare for some goofy jokes!

Shobu excitedly draws his much-needed card at an opportune moment! In the English dub version of the anime, he was voiced originally by Joshua Seth, famous for playing tai in Digimon Adventure

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