A Wizard Duel (also Wizard's Duel or Wizardly Duel) is when two (sometimes more) characters with magical or magic-like powers (spells, usually) battle each other using them. A trope found mostly in Fantasy, though it may apply to characters with magic-like powers of other genres.
If both the heroes and villains have a wizard on their side, you can be assured this will happen at some point. Usually at or near the story's climax, probably because such a battle tends to be visually impressive. Of course, if the main protagonist of the series is the sorcerer, then it happens all the time. The battle doesn't have to be between enemies; it can occur between friends or rivals, a master and his apprentice, and so on.
Sometimes, there are specific rules that have to be followed in the duel, especially if both characters belong to a special caste or organization. Of course, if one of the participants is dishonorable, expect him or her to cheat.
If such rules prohibit direct attacks on each other, or the work's demographic would make violence inappropriate, or the duel is just more of a friendly rivalry than an all-out fight, the participants may limit themselves to ostentatious spell contests instead; "any fish you can summon, I can summon bigger", if you will. This kind of duel goes right back to The Bible, if not earlier.
Curiously, one trick rarely used is to magically silence the opponent. This may be because it would make the duel too easy...or because an unspoken assumption of the setting is that it would not actually work. (Not all magic depends on dramatic incantations, and as long as the caster isn't physically prevented from speaking in the first place an invocation's effectiveness rarely seems to be depend simply on how loud it is.) One exception is in Role Playing Games, where Silence spells are fairly common.
A subtrope of Duel to the Death, though it doesn't necessarily have to be fatal, and frequently ends when one side (for any reason) is unable to continue the duel. If the magic users are specifically using Voluntary Shapeshifting spells to get the upper hand, it's a Shapeshifter Showdown.
Anime and Manga
- Just about any fight that's happening on Fairy Tail.
- In Mahou Sensei Negima, wizardly battles handle mostly like an Action RPG. In particular, Invoked spells can be held for 20 second, simple spells can be thought, and some spells can be activated within another spell already active. This makes for some interesting strategies for piling spells atop eachother, leaving the only limitation up to the magic-users magic pool.
- Gash Bell is about a series of Wizard Duels to decide the next ruler of the "Demon World", thought the real magic is in the humans' Mamodo partners, they just activate it by reading from spellbooks.
- Unsurprisingly since the main characters are mages, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha has quite a few. The big, decisive battles for the seasons are often such, such as Nanoha vs Fate and Nanoha vs Vivio.
- Umineko no Naku Koro ni has Beatrice vs Virgilia and Battler vs Beatrice, which was more like the bloodiest, most spectacular debate the world has ever seen. End of the Golden Witch has similar debates, only some of them even have laser scythes and summoning angels. It doesn't even have to be a real debate, bickering over candy is enough of an excuse to break out all the spectacular spells and summons in the Umineko world.
- When debates involve ghost dragons, flying stakes, and red laser swords we can sufficiently count them as Wizard Duels.
- especially considering Umineko can be argued as being in the fantasy genre. Magic makes up a very large part of the series. Whether it's real or not is an important concept of the game Beatrice and Battler play.
Collectible Card Games
- Marvel's Doctor Strange is all about this trope.
- As is his DC Comics counterpart, Doctor Fate.
- Battles between the upper-level mutants in the Marvel Universe tend to play out this way, especially when uber-telekinetics, powerful energy projectors or Omegas are involved. Fights between ultimate enemies and heroes empowered at the last second to fight them also become as spectacular. There are even occasions where both sides have weaknesses that they try to avoid or exploit and the outcome is decided when someone gets lucky with the 'rules'.
- In Stephanie Brown's Batgirl series, when Stephanie unintentionally insulted the bonnet-making-craftmanship of a witch in Limbo Town she is challenged to a standard duel, to be conducted per the guidelines set in Alchan's Book of the Damned, Third Edition, Twice Removed. Stephanie opens the duel with "accio fist," though she admits afterwards that "accio face" would be the more accurate description.
- Shinji and Warhammer40K had a spectacular battle between Shinji and Kaworu. True, no actual magic was involved - but Shinji's godlike expertise with psychics and AT-field manipulation was utterly awesome.
Films -- Animated
- In the Disney version of The Sword in the Stone, Merlin and Madam Mim hold a Shapeshifter Showdown, complete with cheating and creative twisting of the rules. They actually use the words "Wizard's Duel".
- Subverted in Wizards. Avatar and Blackwolf plan to have one, but Avatar simply pulls out a revolver and shoots Blackwolf instead. They did play it straight in the backstory, complete with Shapeshifter Showdown. Avatar won.
Films -- Live-Action
- At the end of Willow, a duel takes place between Fin Raziel and Queen Bavmorda.
- Egg Shen versus Lo Pan in Big Trouble in Little China.
- There's one in Conan the Destroyer, although it's less impressive than most. (The duel, not the movie, although that is also true of the movie.)
- Dumbledore versus Voldemort in Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix.
- In In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, Merrick duels with Gallian as a distraction for Farmer's infiltration. It pretty much involves multiple swords dueling in mid-air, while the two magi are talking. Muriella does this later with Gallian with a flame spell, providing Farmer another distraction to move in for the kill.
- Yoda and Palpatine's battle in Revenge of the Sith is half lightsaber-fight and half this trope.
- The film version of Night Watch has Anton and Zabulon on a rooftop... dueling with a sword and a halogen lamp instead of spells. To be fair, though, Zabulon at that point would've wiped the floor with Anton if it came down to a standard Wizard Duel. The books didn't have any, which is surprising for a book series about modern-day wizards.
- There are a large number of CG-heavy Wuxia films that are all about this in addition to Wire Fu and good old martial arts. Conspicuous CGI abounds and storylines tend to be melodramatic ExcusePlots to set up apocalyptic battles between champions of good and evil.
- Gandalf versus Saruman in the first The Lord of the Rings film. Does not happen in the book.
- Though he does battle the Witch King (to a draw) on Weathertop in Fellowship of the Ring, seen from afar by the hobbits.
- Obviously used multiple times in Harry Potter, but they start off relatively mundane and steadily get more and more epic as the series progressed.
- A silencing spell is used at least once in Order of the Phoenix, but the opponent is able to cast spells all the same: in Half-Blood Prince is explained that experienced wizards can do magic without talking.
- Fairly frequent in the Deryni works, and usually to the death.
- Cinhil vs. the priest who poisoned his infant son, in a spur-of-the-moment affair.
- Cinhil vs. Imre subverted when Imre kills himself.
- Alister Cullen vs. Ariella fatal for both combatants.
- Donal vs. Sief Mac Athan, also spur-of-the-moment when Sief realizes he's been cuckolded by his king.
- Brion vs. the Marluk
- Kelson vs. Charissa, played straight (including throwing down the gauntlet) after a slight delay.
- Kelson/Morgan/Duncan/Arilan vs. Wencit/Lionel/Rhydon/Bran Coris subverted by "Rhydon" revealing himself to be Stefan Coram after poisoning himself and his side.
- Kelson vs. Conall, to clear defeat only. Kelson had no wish to give Conall an honourable death in combat.
- Liam-Lajos/Kelson/Matayas/Morag vs. Mahael/Teymuraz/Branyg, prompted by Mahael's attempt to Mind Rip Liam during his investiture.
- Discworld Wizards occasionally duel, but due to the nature of magic on the disc, it is discouraged, as "there are still places where nothing grows" due to wizard duels, and the whole thing with the Dungeon Dimensions. There's a general analogy of "magic-as-nuclear-weaponry", with talk of standoffs, "First Use of magic", and mutually-assured destruction - "it's hard to tell which greasy smudge was the winner".
- In Sourcery, the Sourcerer Coin walks into the great hall and challenges the most powerful wizard to a duel. Even at this point in the series when Klingon Promotion is common, they use mundane traps rather than magic because of the enormous quantity of defensive spells they all have. But because Coin is about ten they find the challenge amusing, and one of the wizards eventually decides to demonstrate some magic, casting a very difficult but useless spell that creates a tiny garden in the palm of his hand. Coin asks why it isn't bigger, enlarges the garden so they all fit inside, dismisses it, and then obliterates his opponent instantly.
- Not actually a fight, but Ged's attempt to outdo a schoolyard rival with flashy demonstrations of magic led to tragedy in A Wizard of Earthsea.
- The Dresden Files has institutionalized this , in which one of the acceptable forms for a formal duel is a contest of "energy", meaning solely magic. Harry though, tends to do various other interesting/crazy/insane things to win fights. In the first book Storm Front Harry's greater strength and experience gave him an advantage he needed to make up for fighting on Shadowman's home turf. The only formal magical duel he's been in was in Changes in which he fought the ancient vampire Arianna Ortega. She was put at a significant disadvantage by this, because as a vampire she was unaccustomed to purely magical combat.
- There are also duels of will, where two supernatural individuals attempt to exert their will over a medium. In Death Masks, Harry ends up in a duel with Red Duke Julio Ortega where the two participants attempt to will a mote of mordite (instant kill-anything stuff from beyond the borders of reality) towards one another.
- The laws of magic the setting tend to mean that any informal duel between good and bad human practitioners is going to handicap the good one. While the evil sorceror is going to be throwing fireballs with gusto, a good-aligned wizard, like Harry, can't try and kill the other one with magic lest he break the first law. Meaning on those few occasions Harry's up against someone who's not an acceptable target (such as in his confrontation with the Shadowman), he's forced to find another way to subdue the enemy. Harry being Harry, this occasionally involves his .44.
- The battle between Allanon and The Dagda Mor in The Elfstones of Shannara. It's a Wizard Duel that also doubles as High Altitude Battle, since Allanon's on a Roc, and the Dagda Mor on a Bat Out of Hell. Also, The Isle Witch vs The Morgawr in The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, and Rimmer Dall vs everybody in the conclusion to The Heritage of Shannara.
- Ctuchik vs Belgarath in Book 3 of The Belgariad. It is awesome. There's also the confrontation between Sephrenia and Otha in The Elenium, it's spiritual successor.
- The Finnish national epic, The Kalevala, has a strange example. A Hot-Blooded young sorcerer seeks to dethrone an Old Master. Their magic doesn't seem to have a distinction between "insight into" and "power over," so when the old man goads the youngster into showing his stuff, the youngster launches into a recitation of agricultural facts like he was a Poor Richard's Almanack. Some of his knowledge is pretty impressive, such as the birth of iron, but the old man goads him until he boasts of having helped to plow the oceans and forge the sky. He then becomes Too Dumb to Live by not backing down when the old man goes "Funny, I would've remembered seeing you there." The battle that follows is entirely one-sided.
- There's an earlier example of the "magical competition of oneupmanship" variation in Exodus, with Moses and the Pharaoh's priests.
- Given an interesting twist in the Inheritance Cycle. Since deadly spells activate instantly, if two mages were to meet in battle they would just kill each other simultaneously. However, mind-reading is a pretty standard ability for those that practice magic. Thus, when two magic-users meet they attempt to read each other's minds and discover what the opponent's spell will be so that they can neutralize it and come away from the duel alive. Defending your mind and attacking your opponent's at the same time is difficult; doing both while sword-fighting is even harder.
- In the final book, Carn and an Empire magician enter a wizard's duel. Carn manages to gain the upper hand, and the enemy magician panicked and tried to cast a death spell. Carn is incinerated, but before he was killed, he managed to get one last spell out, which drained the enemy magician of all the water in his body, causing him to crumble to dust.
- The evil master vs. Karmic Trickster Pumphutt in Krabat.
- Quite a few examples in The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Quick Ben Delat gets into a few himself, including one where he blows away both Korbal and Broach in a matter of seconds.
- Older Than Feudalism example: In the Egyptian tale "Prince Khaemwase and Si-Osiri," the story-within-the-story features a duel between an Egyptian wizard and an Ethiopian wizard at the royal court in Memphis. The effects are quite dramatic: starting fires, manipulating the weather, creating flying boats, turning into invisible geese, causing humungous blocks of stone to materialize in midair, etc. Though Egyptian, this tale only dates to the 1st century CE.
- In Septimus Heap, the Bottomless Whirlpool of Bleak Creek was created during a Wizard Duel long ago.
- The duel between Finrod (Galadriel's big brother) and Sauron in The Silmarillion "which is renowned" (though neither character is technically a wizard, Middle-earth having a strict definition of that term, they're both powerful magic-users). It consists of the two of them singing Songs of Power at one another, and though most of 'The Silmarillion is prose, it goes into poetry for about a page to describe it. Unfortunately, Sauron wins "and Finrod fell before the throne".
- Played with in Counselors and Kings. Heroine Tzigone has both wizard magic and Anti-Magic powers, so even though she's only an apprentice she thinks she's got a duel with a Smug Snake archmage in the bag. Unfortunately, it turns out that while he can't hurt her directly, he's fully capable of, say, summoning a giant air elemental and telling it to pick her up and drop her. She winds up having to goad him into breaking the rules (and by extension forfeiting) in order to win.
- In the Codex Alera, pretty much everyone in the dominant human society has Elemental Powers, and they also have a formalized duel for settling disputes called the juris macto, so among the upper ranks magical duels are fairly common (magically-assisted sword duels are also popular). Subverted in a fight between two Canim ritaulists in the final book, where the older and more powerful ritualist One Hit Kills his younger, more ambitious rival by forcibly expelling his guts from his body before he can so much as cast his first spell.
- In Castle Roogna of the Xanth series there's an interesting version. Given that the Magicians of the setting each only have ONE type of spell, it's hard to have a simple face-to-face duel. Instead the 'good' Roogna (can alter spells) must finish building his castle before a certain deadline, meanwhile the 'evil' Murphy (bad luck magic) tries to skew events so the castle never gets finished.
- In Spellbinder, one of these is held between Regent Correon and Spellbinder Ashka. Slightly subverted, as the Spellbinders employ advanced Lost Technology rather than magic, but since they don't really understand how any of it works, the power suits that Correon and Ashka blast each other with are treated as magical.
- When Meemy first arrives in Mahou Sentai Magiranger, he challenges the heroes to one, besting each of them in their own magical specialty, and then becomes a giant so tall that their Humongous Mecha form only reaches the tops of his feet.
- Another Merlin example, the famous Wizard has a Magic Duel with a Dark Fairy Goddess at the end of the "Merlin" Movie Miniseries.
- This is basically the entire point of the family wizard tournament in Wizards of Waverly Place. It's a magical duel for control over the families wizarding powers.
- Dungeons & Dragons has this, in certain settings and circumstances. Although informal fights between spellcasters are usually quick.
- The greatest way of doing this was the popular Disintegrate spell, which blows you to powder unless you pass a Fortitude save - and mages suck at Fort saves. The spell itself has become known as "wizard for 'fuck you'." In 3.5 it was nerfed to 2d6/level instead of insta-kill, which is nasty, but not guaranteed to kill equal-level characters even on a failed save.
- In 2nd Edition D&D, the High-Level Campaigns supplement had alternate rules for staging a duel between arbitrary types of spellcasters, mostly to avert the standard rules' tendency for the wizard who'd won initiative to blow the other duelist away in a single round. Based on converting spells to actions in Rock-Paper-Scissors game (Attack - Defense - Attack/Defense - Leech - Missile) with clashes between action tokens, their speed being determined by the original spell's range (so even a touch spell still may reach the other side of the arena - unless the duel ends before that or it's "shot down" by defenses). Characters can move and are affected by the spell (if a token gets through and wins contest), but effects are not real and matter only until the duel ends.
- The Dawn of the Emperors boxed set, a supplement for Mystara, included an Alphatian spell called Duel-Shield. It traps two wizards in an impenetrable force-field sphere, allowing them to battle each other to (always) the death, without risk to bystanders or porperty. Alphatian law forbids all dueling except inside a duel-shield, so wizards there only risk it if they really, really hate each other.
- Forgotten Realms likewise allows for 'mageduel' within a magically enclosed area, although here the same magic also keeps them nonlethal. It's devised and policed by local gods of magic, so that participants (and magic as such) can show off without the counterproductive parts where wizards get killed and viewers are too busy running away to enjoy the show. Of course, wizards still duke it out "for real" all the time, formally or spontaneously.
- Al-Qadim has "Sorcerous Duel" - rather abstract contest in magical power manipulation - much like in HLC later, but fairly simple, with spells converted into uniform points of appropriate types: Attack - Defense - Drain - Fortify.
- Mage: The Ascension (and its spiritual predecessor, Ars Magica) feature the rite of Certamen, a tradition by which two wizards engage in a duel to resolve their problems.
- Mage: The Awakening carries on the tradition as the Duel Arcane, wherein each participant chooses one Arcana to serve as sword, and another to serve as shield. The Duel takes place in a magically created arena so that their sword and shield Arcana manifest as flashy illusions to attack and defend with. Most Duels will have the combatants attack one another's willpower first and eventually moving on to actual physical damage. The Duel Arcane is the preferred method of resolving disputes in mage society, since it is quick, has no collateral damage, and will probably leave no lasting harm on participants (duels to the death are rare, if they are even legal). Occasionally, mages engage in less traditional duels.
- Warhammer Fantasy has these in spades, both in the background and on the tabletop. The spellcasting system in the game means that your wizards are essentially in a constant duel with your opponent's wizards throughout the battle, with his wizards attempting to thwart and dispel the spells of your side and vice-versa (although a lot of the damage tends to accrue to the army the wizard is accompanying rather than necessarily the wizard himself). The 2011 Storm of Magic supplement takes this up to eleven by introducing a range of super-powerful spells and cantrips for more direct wizard-to-wizard duelling and scenarios which are won by occupying magical node points with your wizards and denying them to the opponent. Magical duels to the death are almost innumerable in the background books, but the most prominent example of the (usually) non-lethal kind is probably the octannual ritual duel between senior Imperial College Wizards for the honour of becoming the Supreme Patriarch of all the magical colleges for the next eight years. The goal is to be the first wizard to grasp the Patriarch's staff of office at the centre of the ritual duelling chamber.
- The background to the comedy spin-off Fantasy American Football game Blood Bowl plays this trope for laughs. The reason each team is only allowed one wizard on their coaching staff, who is only allowed to cast one specially pre-approved spell during the game, is because wizard Blood Bowl fans supporting rival teams tend to get so out of hand in their excitement that before this ruling was introduced a game of Blood Bowl could often degenerate into a wizard's duel. Which is not what the other fans turned up to watch.
- While frowned upon by the faculty of Academagia, it is possible to duel other students. There are even specialized dueling actions, skills, and spells.
- Used as the penultimate boss fight in Blue's game in SaGa Frontier. The winner absorbs the loser's magic and personality, giving them the ability to master opposing schools of magic. During the battle, every other turn, a different type of magic becomes more powerful.
- In Gensokyo the very basis of Spellcard Duels is to resolve conflict amongst the land's residents in a nonlethal way, with magic missiles/bullets - and lots of them.
- It can be made lethal too, as happened in extra stage of Imperishable Night. We only know it's lethal because it killed Huziwara no Mokou. (Un)fortunately, Mokou is immortal. It might also have happened earlier in the final stage versus Kaguya and Eirin, who are also immortals.
- In the even more ancient days of Gensokyo, there was no regulation for Spellcard Duels. It's highly implied that the regulation is enforced to prevent the (relatively) already cramped sealed-world from collapsing entirely.
- Eternal Darkness pits a supernatural spellcasting monster called a Black Guardian against Peter Jacob, who is in fact a normal human who realized his capacity for magic only about an hour before the fact, so this counts.
- Although many parts of Undying came off as kind of generic, the battle against Keisinger in Oneiros was, in my opinion, the best wizard duel I've seen in a game. Both of you have an identical and sizable array of spells (with the exception of flight, yours is limited, his isn't,) which you've painstakingly acquired through the length of the game, you're both flying around at the top of a ziggurat floating in his insane pocket dimension, ducking behind columns, using shield counterspells and charging up blasts of lightning and fireballs to cast at each other with distinct gestures for each hand in first-person.
- In Fire Emblem, duels between sages tend to not be all that impressive, as they have extremely high magical resistance. However, in a battle between a sage and a physical unit..... Except in the 4th game where offensive magical units have generally mediocre magic defense but can use extremely powerful magic or have skills making their power ridiculously high when activated (Tiltyu's wrath ability can double her 40ish power, and her daughter can double 50ish power on characters with a maximum of 30 resistance).
- Irenicus in Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn has a few cutscenes where he combines this with a Curb Stomp Battle, dispatching multiple enemy wizards in a manner of seconds. There are also several spells usable in game that are specifically designed for wizard duels, most notably the ones that protect the user from spells and the ones used to remove those.
- There is also a part in the tavern in the Drow City where your party mage can participate in such fights. Finally, Edwin apparently tried this with Elminster in the epilogue, but lost and got turned into Edwina again.
- In Dissidia Final Fantasy the vast majority of characters on Chaos's side specialize in magic, and Terra is the only warrior of Cosmos that does, so many of her battles turn into this. Several of her comrades also use magic, but she's the only one who does so exclusively. Her cutscene battles with Ultimecia and Kefka also sorta count.
- If you're playing as a Magic User in Quest for Glory III, you get to engage in one of these against the shaman of the Leopardmen. It ends badly when the shaman, enraged at being outclassed, summons a demon to possess him. You can either fight him normally or use a Dispel potion to cancel the possession, which makes a bigger impression with the Leopardmen, as well as winning the shaman's thanks for saving him from his impulsiveness.
- In the Legacy DLC of Dragon Age II, a mage Hawke will briefly engage in a magical duel with Corypheus before killing him.
- In Mass Effect 2, one of the latter loyalty missions features Justicar Samara and her daughter Morinth engaging in a biotic duel to the death. However, though Samara is the more experienced of the two, Morinth is equal to her in terms of sheer power; as such, after blasting each other against walls and battering each other with furniture, they end up caught in a Beam-O-War that can only be resolved by Shepard taking a side and attacking one of them.
- If you let him, Niftu Cal tries to engage the mercenary Captain Wasea in one of these. Unfortunately, since Niftu Cal is a) a Volus merchant with absolutely no combat experience, and b) tanked up on drugs that have him believing that he's a "biotic god," the confrontation is hopelessly one-sided: he fires one biotic blast that misses Wasea by a good twenty feet, and promptly gets smashed off his feet by Wasea's riposte.
- The duel between Redcloak and an Azure City cleric in Order of the Stick, #456. With lots of special effects.
- More recently, V and Xykon threw down with a slightly higher special effects budget.
- Arcanists get all the perks...
- V sorta got into one much earlier in the strip, with Zz'dtri of the Linear Guild. It wasn't a particularly impressive battle, though, as Zz'dtri was able to effortlessly counter anything V could throw at him.
- More recently, V and Xykon threw down with a slightly higher special effects budget.
- Wizard Duels are a staple of The Wotch comic, and tend to be marked by high mobility. Those wizards aren't about to stand and get spells hurled at them - they move.
- El Goonish Shive has Terra vs. Magus match, which seems to be a friendly (if rather Hot-Blooded) contest of skill rather than genuine attempt to fry each other. And a fight (with magic and weapons) here (some spoilers).