In about 2007 or so, Cartoon Network quietly began to air a new show on its Toonami block. Duel Masters was on the surface another cartoon along the lines of Pokemon or Beyblade, where the plucky boy with a lot of heart sets out to be the champion at his improbable brand of sport, inspired the legacy of his absent father and helped by his lovable sidekicks. It’s a familiar and somewhat ridiculous formula: fortunately the show was always fully aware of it and was more a wacky self-parody than anything else. At that time there was simply no other cartoon that took itself less seriously; additionally the game was faithfully represented on the show and seemed pretty interesting. A small but significant number of people wanted to try playing it themselves, and got some cards from abroad. Soon, local retailers cottoned-on and began to stock booster packs, and so the Dhaka Duel Masters scene got its roots.
Initially there were just scattered groups of friends playing and trading cards amongst themselves, but as the years went by the contact between players grew until it was possible to organize Duel Masters tournament, the first of which was held in 2009. In December of 2012 Sayeed Mohammad Muntasir, Saiyed Nur Mohammad Areff and Rubab Al Islam Sami organized a second tourney. According to Rubab: ‘We didn’t know there were so many regular players. 40-50 people responded.’ 32 players finally participated in the tournament which was held at Saad Musa Center over a period of two days, and there are plans to organize another one this year. For a somewhat obscure and underground hobby, that is quite a fine turnout. It stands in contrast to the Pokemon card game, which in Dhaka was only collected and hardly ever played. How has Duel Masters retained its popularity?
According to Rezwanul Islam, it’s because there’s a great deal of tactical depth in the game. ‘How you build your deck, how you decide your next move. Its kinda like a turn-based strategy coming from a gamer.’ The cards are divided across five Civilizations, each offering unique playstyles. The Light Civilization favours a defensive strategy, whereas Water is sneaky and debilitates opponents. Players enjoy choosing exactly which cards and civilizations suit their playstyle the best. Aside from being intellectually satisfying, for Rezwan there’s the element of nostalgia: ‘It has the feeling of being a kid again. I mean how much fun can playing trading cards be, right? But it has this feeling when you play with friends.’ Rubab also points out the attractive artwork on the cards as a factor, being above usual trading card game standards. The game’s sense of humour also helps: card packets tend to have names like ‘Stomp-a-Trons Of Invincible Wrath’, which kind of makes me want to buy one right now.
If you do want to buy one right now, you may or may not have some trouble. Wizards of the Coast officially discontinued the game some years ago, but local retailers can still get some every now and then. Places known to stock the cards are the Gulshan 1 DCC Market, the shopping mall formerly known as Rifles’ Square, Shaheen Complex, and various complexes in Uttara such as Rajlaxmi. If you do get them, a booster pack costs 30-40 BDT and contains 10 cards. 4 such booster packs are enough to make a deck to start playing with (ready-made decks can also be bought but these are not recommended.) Having bought your cards, you’ll want some people to play with. The Dhaka community tends to hang out at www.tradecardsonline.com, so you might make some contacts there; or, you could ask around. It could well turn out that you know a few players already.