Exclusive Interview with ‘Mabinogi Duel’ Developers

Read our review of Mabinogi Duel here!

Here at TradingCardGames.com, we have graciously been given an exclusive interview with Dong-Gun Kim, Director at devCat Studio (of NEXON Korea).

Mr. Kim’s team are the developers of Mabinogi Duel, a hugely-anticipated mobile TCG expected to launch globally later this year. The Closed Beta that happened back in March and was extremely popular, with many players eager for more.

Read the interview after the jump!


QUESTION: With such a large card pool of over 1000 cards at launch, how extensive has your play testing and balancing been?

As you know, balancing cards in a trading card game (TCG) is a truly challenging task. We’re going through tons of balance tests now to polish the game’s card balance before launch. Luckily for us, all our team members also play the game, so they are also proving to be wonderful testers to help us with balance testing.


QUESTION: Will balancing be an on-going process even after players have cards in their collections? Could we see players’ cards changing after release in order to fix balancing issues, such as in Blizzard’s Hearthstone?

We will make sure users don’t suffer from any possible inconveniences while playing the game. The same applies to changes in game balance as well. In case we do have to make changes to card balance after launch, we’ll try our best to compensate players for such inconveniences. However, there might be some inevitable and unlikely cases in which we may have to balance overpowered cards, or strengthen some weaker cards, possibly by adding other cards which can create synergy.

Editor’s Note: This is fantastic to hear, as I personally agree with retroactively changing cards in digital games if it results in a much more healthy, robust meta-game. Of course, some players may be upset to know that their prized, powerful cards may be changed after they’ve pulled them from packs, but I feel this is a sacrifice worth making if it means we get a more balanced, dynamic meta as a result.


QUESTION: In your testing, has there been deck “archetypes” showing up such as tempo, aggro, control, etc.?

The types that we call “aggro,” “control,” and “combo” might be the most basic archetypes. Among them, Generation 1 – the first batch of cards planned for launch in the game – mainly work with a combo-based style, resulting in lots of users using this type of deck. The basis of the combo strategy is slashing the enemy with huge blows, before summoning your deck’s finisher to finish your enemy off. We believe such a simple combo strategy would even work for newcomers to the trading card game genre.

We believe there should be plenty of archetypes in the game, but at the same time, we believe that balance among such archetypes is important. Hardcore TCG players tend to set up more of a control type of deck, but we’ve placed hurdles in the way of creating such decks in Generation 1. This is to avoid newcomers facing control decks right away, which they may find too challenging to defeat consistently and leave the game in frustration. If you’ve constructed your own awesome archetype during the beta, you’ll get the chance to test it out in PvP against players from all over the world!

Editor’s Note: This is an interesting decision to make, given that a lot of hardcore TCG players were immediately drawn to the game as they were interested in the less random, more strategic aspects of gameplay that the game offers. However, it is an understandable decision if we consider the developers’ wider goal here, which is to draw in as big a player base as possible upon launch. Control often confuses and frustrates newer players who don’t understand the higher level strategy required to play around control decks. Fans of control (myself included) will have to hang tight for future sets before we can fully explore the control strategies that will hopefully be available.


Players of the Beta were instantly hooked by the game’s addictive gameplay and have been crying out on social network sites for the game to be released as soon as possible.

QUESTION: With such a small amount of cards in a players’ deck, how can players be prepared for countering a range of possible deck strategies while also focusing on playing their own?

Having a smaller amount of cards in your deck definitely means more challenge in setting up your strategy – including which cards you’ll use for attack, and which you will use for defense, and how you deal with your opponents’ decks. We believe all those challenges and variety will make the game more fun, more varied, and less predictable. We wanted it to be less likely that players can find a single, unstoppable deck archetype that can beat any other kind of deck, and limiting deck size helps in this regard.

Editor’s Note: It will be interesting to see over time how the smaller deck size affects a player’s ability to be prepared against a range of deck types that they might come up against. This will be something that we’ll just have to see how it works before we can make a judgement call on whether the deck size is too small or not.


QUESTION: We saw some footage from a tournament in South Korea and that was very exciting – what are the developers plans for competitive play? Can we expect to see in-person tournaments as well?

It’s a little too early to talk about the future of tournament play – but we definitely hope to expand competitive gameplay beyond just the basic player-versus-player (PvP) modes in the game. Several members of the devCAT team are longtime fans of card battle games and veteran tournament players, and we can’t wait to start putting together some serious competition of our own!

Editor’s Note: This is an exciting indication of where the game might go, if it manages to drum up enough player support. For those who missed it, you can view the mentioned videos on the devCat Studio YouTube account below. (Note that the videos are, obviously, entirely in Korean, but the matches are still worth watching!)

QUESTION: How will a free-to-play distribution model work for players with limited funds to put into the game? Will they be at a significant disadvantage competitively?

An excellent question. And we feel the answer is “no” – free players will not be at a significant disadvantage. While paying players can use their funds to purchase card packs, this is by no means the only way to acquire new cards, since players can also acquire new cards for free through regular play. We want to make sure Mabinogi Duel has a large, vibrant player community, so our goal is to develop and balance the game in such a way that non-paying players can be competitive with everyone else.

Editor’s Note: This is extremely good news to hear, but it will remain to be seen just how slow the card acquisition is for free-to-play players. Hopefully it feels fair enough that free players will happily endure the slower grid, while players who are willing to pay can speed up the process by buying more packs.


QUESTION: With the randomized Charge mechanic, does this punish three-color decks over using two colors by spreading your chances of getting the right resources you need for a three-color deck?

The three-resource deck is the most basic, and arguably the strongest deck. The fewer colors you have, the less randomness you have in your deck, so you might have a firmer strategy – but at the same time, you would face more difficulty at the end of the game due to a lack of resources. However, I think it can be amazing to build up a strong deck that only has a single color. It’d be difficult, but would be truly interesting at the same time. I look forward to seeing how creative players can be with their deck composition!

Editor’s Note: Mono-colored decks were my favorite to experiment with during the Beta — how about all of you? Did you create a single color deck that worked well? Tell us about it in the comments below!


QUESTION: Will we see more cards utilizing the digital space in a way that would be impossible with a physical card game? Can you tell us about some cards that will do this?

This one’s an interesting question! Since we’re at the early stage of launching the game, we tried to make the card mechanics feel like actual physical playing cards during a game. However, as Generations progress, we hope to add some more interesting features which physical cards cannot provide – for example, there could be cards that change shape or text continuously during a battle.

Editor’s Note: Hopefully the developers can take some notes from Cryptozoic’s HEX: Shards of Fate regarding the creative use of the digital design space for some truly crazy effects. However, I am intrigued by Mr. Kim’s ideas here about cards changing shape or text during battle. We’ll have to see what they have in mind as the Generations are released!


QUESTION: The drafting method of deck creation was a pleasant surprise in the Beta. We’d never seen anything like it before. What was the inspiration behind this drafting mode?

We’ve been discussing with our team how newcomers could easily create a deck while having fun – and we thought of holding cards in video poker games! This is possible since decks in Mabinogi Duel consist of 12 cards. During the testing phase, we included the full 12 cards, including mismatching colors. However, we are planning to remove some cards in the launch version. Players will have to really put on their thinking caps to build better decks!


The drafting mode resembled a poker slot machine in a delightful way that we hadn’t seen used in a card game before.

QUESTION: Many players have expressed a concern about the way in which the multiplayer modes online focus heavily on automated deck matches and playing against AI. Are there any plans to implement live online tournaments with real players on both ends of a match?

Of course, playing with real players is more exciting. However, we’re trying to approach this carefully due to some other issues. One of the most common problems with online games is when users leave the game in the middle of a real-time battle (“rage-quitting”). This is always a bad experience for everyone involved and our current system helps mitigate this issue. The game’s Soul Link features lets you play with your friends nearby, but if we’re friends, it’s not going to matter as much whether we win or lose, right? We do value real-time battles online. We hope to include real-time battles (internet duel mode) in the future, and real-time arenas when we’re ready.

Editor’s Note: We understand Mr. Kim’s response to the question and hope that it will satisfy the many Beta players who despaired over the lack of a truly online PvP mode. I think there will be a benefit to playing with the current system as well, especially regarding the reasons that Mr. Kim states.


QUESTION: How will the rarity system of cards work in terms of the rare cards’ “drop rates”? How difficult will it be for collectors to get a complete collection at each level of rarity?

Rare cards will, by definition, be harder to find, but maybe not impossible, thanks to Soul Link. Unlike most other card battle games out there, Mabinogi Duel has a trading feature that lets you swap cards with other players in your vicinity. So save up those extra cards and hit up your friends to trade!

Editor’s Note: We’ll have to wait and see exactly what the rate of rare cards appearing in packs is, and whether this will be affected by whether you are earning the packs for free or paying for them.


QUESTION: Can you tell us about any extra game modes or features that we didn’t see in the Closed Beta?

We have tons of new stuff coming. As you know, we intended to update the game regularly with “Generations,” which will be major content updates patterned after the update system in our massively multiplayer online (MMO) game Mabinogi, which was part of the inspiration for this game. Generations will bring with them tons of new cards, story content, and possibly more new game modes. Stay tuned.


QUESTION: Are there any plans to create any physical card games linked to Mabinogi Duel, either as a direct port of the mobile game into physical cards or a new TCG using the same intellectual property?

That’s a really interesting idea. If Mabinogi Duel takes off and becomes a huge success, a physical, tabletop version of the game would be a really cool direction to go in. It may be a bit too early to say if we’ll end up going in this direction, though.

Editor’s Note: Hopefully this question planted a seed which will grow into an exciting reality in the future. Remember guys, if this happens in the future, it started right here with us. 😉


QUESTION: Are there any plans for a PC/Mac version of the game? If so, will the servers be cross-platform?

Currently, we’re focusing on the mobile versions of the game for iOS and Android. It’s part of NEXON Korea’s major push into mobile gaming – as you know, Mabinogi Duel is the first new mobile game we’ve announced as part of this new initiative. However, in the future, we do hope to allow players play across platforms, but at the moment we don’t have detailed plans for cross-platform support. We will try our best to deliver our game to as many as users possible.

Editor’s Note: This is exciting news for the game’s future as PC/Mac players were keen to not be left out of the action — could we even see a release on the current generation of consoles, too? Fingers crossed.


QUESTION: When can we expect to see the game launch, after the very successful and popular Closed Beta? Has the game been delayed, as we were expecting a May launch?

We are focusing on having a solid, balanced game experience first and foremost, so we will launch Mabinogi Duel when we feel the game is ready. We’d also like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to everyone who participated in beta for your valuable time and feedback to help us make this the best game we can. Thank you!

I hope all of our readers join me in extending a heartfelt 감사합니다 (‘thank you very much’ in Korean) to Mr. Kim for spending his invaluable time responding to our questions regarding Mabinogi Duel.

Did you enjoy this article? Like!  

Zac Phoenix
Author: Zac Phoenix View all posts by
Zac Phoenix graduated with First Class Honors in Philosophy, Religion and Ethics and has been playing strategy card games since childhood. He has a keen interest in the underlying mechanics and player interactions of trading card games, as well as tabletop game design in the digital space. He also designs card games in his spare time.

We Recommend

Bonus Featured Games