Positioning 202: Conservative Combat (Retrospective)

Truthfully positioning 202 came about because of the voices of protest at the time that the article was being written. Some players at the time were saying that Duelyst had “de-emphasized” the importance of positioning in the game, that the cards you elected to play were what really mattered. At the time I still felt that positioning was critical to Duelyst and I wanted to address directly some of the ways that positioning was critical in relation to the cards that people were complaining about.
As I wrote this article I began to think that for many Duelyst players they learn the positioning aspect intuitively and because of how they learned it their positioning decisions became “the only correct” option in their mind. This has the effect of players not recognizing their own skill. At the time I did not know how to address this to other players, but today I can say that one of the easiest ways to notice how much you have grown in Duelyst in terms of your positioning skill is to go back and watch a bronze replay. If you don’t pay attention to the cards that are being played but rather to the positioning decisions you will discover that you would have never made most of those decisions. As you develop If you go back and watch silver and gold level play you will find that it is similar, but with less mistakes. This development of when and how to position correctly becomes critical to developing skill in Duelyst.

As always I hope that you enjoy the article,

Positioning 202: Conservative Combat

Reference SheetAlthough in today’s lesson we will not use the reference sheet as much we will be talking about various forms of removal and occasionally talk about the specific positioning that is good against them. Because of that we will take a brief glance at the reference sheet and note that today our general will be at position five for all of the examples.

In today’s article we are going to discuss how to play against your opponents removal in Duelyst. Removal is any spell, creature, or artifact that your opponent uses from hand to take your minions off the board. The most critical factor in learning how to play against removal is the ability to anticipate it. If you can not anticipate what removal may be played then naturally you can not position against it. In an effort to help us remember what can be played we can start by categorizing them. Then mentally you will learn to run over this mental checklist on critical turns. We will get deeper into when you should and should not play around removal in the conclusion of this article, but for now you will need to learn how to recall what can be played.

Area of Effect Removal(Aoe)

Area of effect removal is one of the most common forms of removal in Duelyst. Additionally, it is one of the more interactive forms. The removal is inherently position based and often it is tempo positive. The upside of being tempo positive has the side effect of making it popular across multiple deck archetypes because it can easily be used both offensively and defensively.

A very important part of the balancing for these removal options is that they are heavily position based. A Makantor or holy immolation that was gifted perfect position could wipe eight creatures off the board, and then survive as a powerful threat that your opponent must deal with. With the most basic of positioning you can easily reduce these power effects to simple one for one trades with a damage upside.

Aji finalYou may recall the bait and switch positioning that we discussed in the previous lesson. If you examine that positioning, you will notice that in order for a card like Makantor or holy immolation to hit both creatures it would need to be positioned at position five where our general is standing. This is the most basic of defenses used against cards like Makantor. In the past I have heard players argue that “there is no way to avoid Makantor,” and while they are “not wrong” they are being defeatists. There is nothing wrong with a card being powerful, powerful cards are needed to make decks “good.” If we wanted to play minions back and forth at each other and decide games by who drew the best creatures we should go play magic (Siege Rhino will always love your even if I don’t). You should not consider yourself attempting to “avoid” these powerful effects, but rather as trying to minimize their effectiveness. If leading into my opponents six mana turn I elect to play a vertical or horizontal trap instead of a bait and switch then I have intentionally allowed my opponent to get extra value out of their powerful play. In these situations playing with finesse becomes important.

Lets talk about a couple of other examples and how they can differ and adjust what we do:

Bone Swarm and Grasp of Agony are still examples of area of effect removal, but as is reflected by their cost we (the opposition) have much control over their placement and impact. Hopefully you can begin to postulate how you might play around these spells, and the solutions become very dependent on the board state. In general, however, it boils down to don’t put vulnerable minions next to your general if you can avoid it when playing against an aggressive Vetruvian list. In the case of Grasp of agony don’t surround a weak minion with a bunch of three health and less minions. I wanted to mention these two cards in particular because we are going to talk about them in the conclusion a well.

Grid Based Removal

Grid based removal is also area of effect removal, but it has the added effect of being a targeted ability that we can not position to prevent only to minimize. What I mean by this is that while we are playing against a card like Makantor we may play a minion in a location that would be ideal for Makantor to be placed. In this way we can minimize its impact, however against these cards adding a sacrifice card to a specific location will not minimize the impact, rather we must simply position around these potential plays reducing their effectiveness to a one for one where possible. In the past cards like shadow nova and sun bloom simply encouraged you to use the bait and switch maneuver even more, and I even made the statement one time that “kinetic equilibrium hits a 3×3 area and is therefore very difficult to position around. So much so that it is often more detrimental to play around than simply allowing it to hit all of your minions.” At the time I essentially promoted players to not play around the card because it was low impact and very difficult to avoid. For the most part I think people agreed with me, however Aperion’s claim is not low impact at all, and simply trying to play as if they do not have it can easily result in a loss. Positioning around a card like Aperion’s claim requires a great deal of mental discipline. You are going to have to be willing to surrender a card and to relieve some of the pressure you are applying to your opponent. In order to get two minions to escape the full impact of Aperion’s claim you will need to place a minion close to your opponent that is aggressive enough to warrant Aperion’s claim and then move back one space and place your second minion so that it is three squares away from the first. If you do this you can reengage your opponent the turn after Aperion’s claim using the minion to knock down any defender they might have played and then reengaging with your general. Aperion’s is very difficult to play around, but turning it into a seven mana kill one minion and heal one health can make it so tempo negative that your opponent will not want to play it unless they have to.

Magic Numbers

We sort of hinted at cards that there was little you could do to prevent them being played when we talked about grid based area of effect removal. This makes a nice lead into talking about “magic number” cards. As we also hinted at above the trick to playing against those cards is to reduce their effectiveness low enough that the opposition receives little benefit from playing them. I started calling these cards magic number cards because it helped serve as a mental alarm if I was considering playing multiple creatures that shared common traits. For example if I was looking at a play that considered playing multiple creatures with two or less health I might give consideration to what the board looks like if I forced my opponent to play breath of the unborn. If I concluded that it was likely they would I might deviate my attack plans to include minimizing the impact breath’s heal effect had. Or if I was considering playing a three and a two cost minion I might give caution to the possibility of playing into plasma storm, again adjusting my attack pattern or line of play to minimize the impact of that card. The critical part about playing around cards like these is that you have some mental alarm that goes off when you are considering a line of play that makes you vulnerable to them. If you can develop that mental alarm then you will rarely play into them so deeply that it will cost you the game. And this lead to the personal development of the mnemonic magic numbers. Although I have internalized much of the information  since starting to use it over two years ago I used to ask myself “what are the magic numbers for this game” before each game I played when competing in tournaments. This mental notation helped me keep track of what cards I may need to play around and when the critical turns they might be played were.

General Centric Removal

All of the weapons in the game qualify as general centric removal, and for the most part these is not a lot you can do about these types of removal. Obviously you can back line creatures that you do not want to have attacking anyways but aggressive creatures are going to have to be placed in threat of these removal options most of the time. You can build a phalanx that prevents the opponent from getting their general into proximity with your attacking minion if you need it to attack only one time, but again on the following turn it will be in danger of being effected by these types of removal. Largely this is completely okay however, and this is because for the most part these removal options are tempo negative for your opponent. They often add little or no board presence, and when you are the aggressor they rarely alter your plans. Finally it is of note that the reason general centric removal is often not favored is because the simple adjustment of playing more than one creature on a turn is strong against general centric removal. So instead of playing a six mana body you could select a line of play that includes a four mana body and a two mana body and that would be more difficult for them to deal with.

Conditional Removal

Duelyst is full to bursting with conditional removal spells, and truth be told these cards almost all fall into other categories as well. In fact their are very few unconditional or no downside removal spells in duelyst. The recognition that “your opponent is going to make plays” and that you can not “stop” those plays only minimize their effectiveness is what can lead to you developing strategies that adjust your lines of play based on what you think your opponent might do. If you have a good estimation that your opponent is playing dancing blades than a simple adjustment is to position a critical minion behind your general. There are any number of things that the opposition may do that can still allow them to trigger dancing blades on that target, but you will have made it more difficult for them and forced them to expend more resources. Again, I can not emphasize this enough you have to confound not prevent your opponent’s plays. In our example card sunset paragon some of you might already be thinking it is the same positioning as playing against Makantor and that is perfect you are starting to recognize how to play against these cards. Although by no means comprehensive the below marquee will include a few tips and tricks on playing against various conditional removal.

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Playing against removal can be a little daunting and one of the worst things that I hear often is “is they didn’t have that…” We all enjoy winning, but you can not really expect your opponent to roll over and die for you. Your opponent is going to play cards most of them good cards (In fact there are very few “bad” cards in Duelyst). What is going to separate the competitors from the uninstalls isn’t their ability to select opponents who are playing questionable cards or even their ability to have an opponent not play certain cards (those are things that can not be done in duelyst) but rather the ability to minimize the impact of the cards they suspect their opponent is likely to play.

I wanted to talk specifically about bone swarm for a second because it is one of the high variance removal spells that serves as a great example that there is not a clear line of your always play around it or your don’t play around it. When you are looking at a card like bone swarm you need to consider it turn to turn. Playing around bone swarm is not difficult but it can cost you the game to play around it. A minion may not be in position to attack the enemy at a critical time or your may walk yourself into other removal like lost in the desert. Alternatively if you ignore it it might very well setup a sweep of your board. This becomes about finding balance between the two. The question of “how bad is bone swarm for me in this situation?” becomes of critical importance. Another important question is “how bad can things get if I play around it and they don’t play it or don’t have it?” The only real challenge is when these two collide where it is very bad for you if they do have it and you don’t play around it or very bad to screw up your positioning to play around it. In this final case it is my personal opinion to make them have it. Believe it or not I went through a phase where I tried to play around everything, I know hard to believe right? The end result was that I tanked my win percentage because I stopped forcing people to play their removal. It made me keenly aware that those removal plays are significantly worse plays then laying creatures onto the table. Lets do this thought experiment for a moment. Assuming your opponent did nothing what is scarier for them a wingblade adept or a holy immolation? In this isolated case you can tell well the wingblade adept would do six damage to them while the hold immolation would only do four. Creatures even the most basic two drops represent a lot of damage potential. Four drops often represent the potential to do anywhere from a third to half of the opponents health in damage. Many five mana creatures could outright kill and opponent on their own. Believe it or not creatures are absurdly powerful in Duelyst, and while we often get fixated on the cards like holy immolation that turn the game around or flip the tempo it is important to remember that it is the board state that has made those cards as strong as they are. Four damage for four mana is not all that impressive, but let it hit multiple targets and it starts to look like an overpowered card.

This was a tricky article to write because it is a middle ground article. You don’t want to play heavily into high impact removal cards, but you also can not afford to play completely around those cards to the point that you lose by never making them play them. The best way to learn to play around removal is to first learn that you can not prevent it from being played, rather you have to learn how to mitigate its impact through careful planning.

Well guys, as always thank you for reading. I hope that you enjoyed the article. This is the last of the retrospectives for positioning. Originally, the series was going to be seven articles long, but life happened and I ran out of time. I still have a lot of notes for the next three articles, and they start getting into a lot of “theory” about how to play the game. While I can say that everything I have talked about up to this point has been pretty well grounded in fact the next three articles will start talking a lot about my opinions and what I have come to believe is accurate. The next article on positioning will start the 300 series and while I look forward to penning it, I am still excited to discuss this article first. In positioning 201 a reddit member named -Escapist-, left me thinking about the general withdraw maneuver I had touted, and how it could be improved. That was an awesome interaction, and I wanted to put down my appreciation here as well.

Looking forward to talking with you guys more,

Can’t get enough of GGH and his antics? Follow the positioning GOAT on these sites as well:
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