Not too long ago, I had the distinct pleasure of casting my very first Duelyst tournament, the Newlyst to Duelyst Cup. For those that weren’t aware of it, the event catered to players fresh to the game. It had an eligibility requirement and placed limits on playable cards to create an environment where newer players could feel like they weren’t walking into a lion’s den of veterans with finely tuned decks.
While I was blown away by some of the deck strategy and skill that I saw, there were also understandably missteps that folks consistently made throughout the day. The participants were, after all, necessarily new to the game.
I’d like to use my inaugural article to address one of the more common mistakes I saw throughout the day: first turn misplacement of minions by the second player.
I saw the following scenario play out frequently during the tournament: Players going second would calmly walk two paces forward and plop down a minion on the mana tile in front of them seemingly without any hesitation and without any use for the mana. This, young padawans, is not always correct.
Now, this isn’t a totally egregious mistake. It’s certainly not “wrong” in the sense that, say, walking up and attacking a Silvertongue Corsair with your General is wrong. It is, however, a mistake insofar as there are substantially better strategic options available. And that’s just what we’re here to discuss! What luck!
Before offering up some solutions or advice, it’s important to understand the root cause of this behavior. My assumption is the following: players use up the mana tile in front of them for fear that, if they don’t, they’re letting their opponent steal if from them. “Might as well deny them that ability,” you say to yourself.
To an extent, that’s a smart attitude to have. If you’re in a position where you can take a mana tile but don’t plan on using the mana, shouldn’t you take it anyway just to make sure your opponent gets it? Sure! Of course! But you’re missing one important thing: You aren’t denying them anything!
The Why Not
(Let’s assume for the scenarios below that your opponent played a 2-drop contesting a nearby mana tile on their first turn. Also, keep in mind that these examples really only pertain to the second player deploying out a single threat or otherwise making a play where he doesn’t use the mana he’s taking from playing a minion on the tile).
Hypothetical Scenario #1 – Your opponent has a 2-drop and a 3-drop in hand. In order to cast both of these, they will need to take not only the mana tile their two-drop is contesting, but also a second mana tile. That’s easy enough for them to do; there are two mana tiles available, namely the ones you didn’t take yourself.
Oopsie doodle! Your opponent has used the mana from two mana tiles and your decision to take the one in front of your General didn’t stymie their plans at all. In fact, all you’ve done is denied yourself access to the mana tile. Bonk! Had you placed your minion off to the side (ignoring for a second the exact placement), you could’ve used your second turn to potentially take the last remaining mana tile, regardless of where it was.
Hypothetical Scenario #2 – Your opponent has a 4-drop. He moves his General forward and plops his beefy 4-drop right in between you, your minion, and the last remaining mana tile. Yikes! Not only is your opponent primed to take the last remaining tile with either their General or their 4-drop minion (which, btw, is likely substantially larger than yours), both you and your minion are awkward prevented from reaching the tile without some sort of assistance from your hand.
Hypothetical Scenario #3 – Your opponent plays a minion on the tile which their minion is adjacent to. They then moves forward their General and minion which inconveniently trade with yours, and they cap their turn off with blocking your access to the final mana tile. There are myriad ways this scenario can play out, and it’s particularly easy with the ubiquity of cards like Primus Fist and Bloodtear Alchemist. Ultimately, the result is the same: they’ve got two dudes on the board, you have none, and they’ve blocked your access to the final tile.
There’s an important take away here: that valuable mana tile in front of your general is right in the middle of the fray, able to be attacked by just about anything the opposing player wants to attack it with. The easiest way to prevent this is simple: don’t place your minion where the opponent can get it.
Ok. I hope these few short examples have illustrated the downsides of just plopping down a minion in front of you out of fear that an opponent will nab your precious mana tile. Don’t get me wrong; that will likely happen. But by positioning your opening minion not on that mana tile, you can put yourself in position to parry your opponent’s opening salvo by ideally putting yourself in a position to take that last mana tile or, at the very least, preventing your opponent from getting it on the following turn.
A minor caveat to consider before we move onward. In the vast majority of cases, it’s fairly difficult for an opponent going first to nab all three mana tiles on their second turn. It’s not impossible though. Lilithe can do it fairly easily with Wraithling Swarm, and an extremely lucky hand from a very aggressive deck (i.e. one with multiple one drops) can as well. Keep these scenarios in mind as possibile reasons why you might want to stray from this advice although the latter scenario might be difficult to assess that early in the game. With that out of the way, it stands that the vast, vast majority of the time, an opponent going first will have to leave one of the three mana tiles unclaimed.
So what do I do!?!
I’ll start off by saying that this question is a little more nuanced than simply “Do X.” There are, believe it or not, a ton of potential options, some of which don’t even entail walking two steps forward! I’m going to save an incredibly detailed breakdown of all the potential options for a later date (perhaps next week?). I will, however, offer up alternatives for you to ponder.
First, we’ve got what I like to call the “come and get me” placement.
Here, you’ve placed your minion in a position that both (a) cannot be attacked by opposing forces, (b) is near the two mana tiles that are unlikely to be taken, and (c) is still in close enough to the action to threaten to pounce on whatever the opponent plays nearby. In terms of frequency, I tend to place my turn-one, 3-mana minion here more often than not.
Second, we’ve got the “splitter gambit”. (BTW, I’m just making these names up off the top of my head. Feel free to suggest better ones.) It’s ideal if you’ve got a great 5-drop you’re looking to drop next turn.
By positioning like this, you’re giving your opponent a Sophie’s Choice. Your opponent will almost certainly want to prevent you from getting 5-mana next turn, so he’ll need to take the top-most mana tile. But here’s the pickle: if he elects to take the bottom most tile with his minion, he’ll be splitting his forces up, leaving you to swoop in and take the center of the battlefield. Strategically speaking, splitting his forces like this isn’t some huge tactical blunder on his part, but its certainly not super wise either. True, he doesn’t necessarily need to take the bottom tile, but not doing so will prevent him from playing a 4-drop or a 3-drop + 2-drop combo.
These are just two potential options that I’d recommend trying in lieu of willy nilly taking the middle mana tile without using the mana. I’ll try to follow up with a more detailed guide next week (or, you know, whenever I feel like it).
The aforementioned housekeeping stuff
I’ve got a bunch of fun ideas planned for future articles already. I’ve got some deck specific ones envisioned, some strategy ones, you name it! Literally! Even though I’ve got some ideas for what I want to write about, I’ve been getting a lot of requests for specific content and, while I have some plans on what to the future of the column holds, I’d like to accommodate folks’ requests. What are you interested in reading about? Top tier decks? Strategy articles? Gauntlet-related pieces? Let me know and thanks for reading!