Positioning 341: Offensive Theory

This is article is not a retrospective and although I had several notes typed up on how I wanted this article to take shape I had not put pen to paper prior to today. Therefore this article will likely be a little rougher than its four predecessors, because it has not had the benefit of a year of reflection and discussion. I would like to precursor this article by saying that we are getting into topics that are not wholly formed even in my own mind. The course code 341 is used by some institutes to denote inorganic and theoretical chemistry, and I felt that it served as a subtle hint that we were leaving behind the world of absolutes. It also implies that I am on the cutting edge of positioning theory in Duelyst and I suppose that could be perceived as arrogance, hopefully my peers will forgive my presumption.
What you are about to read is more akin to a chess strategy like the Sicilian, the Giuoco Piano, the Ruy-Lopez, etc. but for Duelyst. With the word strategy comes a lot of implication, the most important of which is that I am certain that this is not “perfect” it is rather how I would play.  Essentially you are reading the “GGH Offense” for Duelyst.

Positioning 341: Offensive Theory

Reference Sheet
Reference Sheet

Before we jump into the theory lets make sure our established verbiage is still in place so that we can limit any miscommunication. As you may have noticed in past articles we may change our point of reference. When we do we consider our current point of reference to be position five with positions one through nine surrounding it as seen in our reference sheet. Although not used as often now that you have internalized them we will still refer to the positioning of generals as stances, and to the positioning of generals in conjunction with minions as maneuvers. Finally, I failed to mention this prior but when I talk about degrees of freedom I am talking about the combination of movement and attacking options available to a unit.

To understand my theory of offense we will start by braking it into three components. The first of these components is where do we want and not want the defending general to be and why? The second part is a rule of thumb that I came up with to help break one of the most common bad habits that leads to losses. Finally, we will get into the specifics of how to manipulate our opposition into the desired position by varying our maneuvers rather than using continuously offensive ones.

Where do I want my opponent and why do I want them there?

Take a moment and consider, where on the board is the most defensible position? If you had to stand on only one tile and never move while you were behind where would you choose to stand?

You would probably choose to stand in the corner. As players we sort of know intuitively the “safest” position on the map is in the corner. We often take it for granted and answering, “why is it that the defender has such an advantage while in the corner?” doesn’t seem entirely necessary. But answering that question reveals a lot about what makes something a good offensive move, by revealing what elements are important to a harried opponent that needs to play defensively. So before we get into the offense lets take a critical look at what makes the corner the best defensive position.

There are two reasons why the defender has a major advantage in the corner. The first is fairly simple, it is because there are only three tiles from which their general may be attacked from. This translates to a limitation of the number of attackers that can actually attack the defending general, and also a limitation on the number of tiles the defending general needs to place minions in order to keep the opposition from attacking them.

Attacker's Influence
Example #1
Defender's influence
Example #2

The second part of why the defender has an advantage is a little more difficult to understand, but it has to do with how combat flows. When an attacker takes position onto a tile that is next to the defending general that minion exerts little influence, and if they move into that location they are reducing their degrees of freedom (See Example #1). Alternatively if a defender is played on one of those three tiles they exert as large amount of influence and as they move out of the corner they will gain degrees of freedom (See Example #2).

As an example let’s say we pin our opponent into the Northwest corner and have a minion at position nine relative to them(see the two examples above).
The attacking minion can at most influence three defender tiles. However, a defending minion placed at that same position could influence seven tiles instead. The attacker’s minion in this scenario has little influence while the defender’s minion has great influence and this unbalancing of “what” the attackers and defenders can do when played at the same positions is the driving force behind the ability for defenders to make comebacks from the corner.

I know that was lengthy but from this we can say with certainty that we do not want to “corner” our enemy. Would we perhaps rather place them on the wall, but not the corner? In order to maintain contact with an enemy on the wall we are going to have to move minions into positions along the wall as well. Once we do this we lose half of our movement options and our opponent can easily body block our minion by moving away and placing their defenders between our minion and their general(See example from Sabaki Maneuvers). Wall Withdraw finalOffensively maneuvering into the wall is not nearly as bad as cornering the opponent, but it does place greater offensive limitations then it does defensive ones. So the wall is not exactly where we want to be either. From this you may conclude that you would want to be in the very middle of the battlefield. Because I feel that I have already drawn out the points of what you don’t want to do I will shortcut this last one by saying that being in the middle of the board is better than both the wall and the corner but that it is also not ideal for us because it offers the most degrees of freedom to our opponent. In short it would be difficult to pin them down so that we can “alpha strike” them if we spent all of our time in the center of the battlefield.

From the above breakdown of where we do not want our opponent we can conclude that what we want is the most limitation to our opponent’s degrees of freedom, while maintaining maximum degrees of freedom for our own units. We want this unbalancing of options while also eliminating their ability to “borrow” into one of the corners, and from maneuvering along the wall for multiple turns. I am hoping that you noticed the problems with forcing our opponent onto the wall were all problems on the subsequent turns. Attention to detail will reveal that those disadvantages are about the body blocks that will follow once your opponent is maneuvering along the wall. On the turn that the opponent moves their general against the wall that is the timing window that is most optimal for us to kill our opposition. Here is a screenshot revealing the ideal positions for your opponent to be at the start of what will be their last turn:

ideal final position
Bullseye, where we want our opponent to stand.

In our example above we want to get our opponent positioned on the target symbols (red or green). We want them to be on these locations because with a two minion play we can limit all of their two square movement options, and additionally because even if they remove one of those minions they can not gain access to the corner of the battlefield. Now exactly where you want the “strong” minion or the “weak” minion depends heavily on how possible you think it is that the game could turn against you. If you think it is unlikely that the momentum will flip you would want your minion that is least likely to be removed to be on position C (closer to the corner). Alternatively, if you think there is high probability the game could turn around then you would want your least likely to be removed minion to be at position B. In both cases if you are confident that you are leading and about to close the game you would want your general at position A.

Position X
Position X with Sente

Briefly let’s talk about position X and why it is inferior to the target symbols. If your opponent is at position X playing minions on positions two and eight relative to our opponent takes away their movement options that allow them to move two spaces(See Example of Position X with Sente played). However, the removal of either minion has the same result of giving the the options to vertical twice to the opponent. On our target signs the removal of either minion gives them the option to move two spaces as well however one of those removal options does not run them into a wall but rather runs them back out into open space. Depending on the flow of the game we may want the opponent to run to the wall or towards open space and we can influence that decision by what order we elect to place our minions in. From position X we are unable to influence their removal decisions. Therefore we exert more influence on our opponent’s future plays by maneuvering them onto the target signs than we do from maneuvering them on position X.

Three offensive maneuvers in a row is a sure way to lose (“Three Aggro Four Me”)

When I first started playing Duelyst I initially jumped straight to platinum on the first day. One of the things I noticed was that as I moved our of silver was that players positioning was becoming more cohesive. I didn’t have to guess at what they where thinking I understood by how they where maneuvering how they believed the game was going. Throughout gold and platinum a unique thing happened players seemed to have independently discovered Sente and Atari and played them almost exclusively. I began to notice that if I bide my time and let them play aggressively three times in a row I could always blow them out with a swing play. In my head I would sometimes say, “Three aggro Four Me.” On the second week I was playing Duelyst I got into S-rank mostly by feasting on the overly aggressive players in platinum whose positioning was good but not refined. They had learned that something worked, but not why it worked. With this in mind lets turn our attention to why a sequencing of a triple offensive maneuvers can end in disaster. I would like to note that over the last two years of playing duelyst the triple offensive maneuver is still how your average Duelyst player learns to play coming out of silver and gold.

I will start by reminding you that we established in Positioning 201 that the offensive maneuvers Sente and Atari are vulnerable to the common momentum flipping removal. And while that is a major weakness we will only make note of it for now instead focusing on how even if our opponent does not play a powerful removal we will still end in a poor position.

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Triple Aggro Best Case
Example #3

In order to understand why three offensive maneuvers in a row will result in bad positioning let’s start by taking a look at the best case scenario for a triple aggressive maneuver (See Example #3). In example #3 we have somehow flipped the momentum and are now chasing our opponent back across the board. We have the fortunate luck of harrying our opponent all the way back across the board playing Sente three times consecutively at positions marked A, B, and C. You will probably notice that the last movement results in putting our opponent at position X on their side of the board. While not the worst position it is still not our best option and we did this by exposing ourselves to all of the best removal in the game for three consecutive rounds. Additionally remember that this example is a best case scenario for triple offensive maneuvers. If you would like to explore on your own pick various starting points and play triple offensive maneuvers. If you do you will find it never ends up well. The only exception to this rule is when our opponent starts already on one of the bullseyes. We could then play triple offensive maneuvers and the third one would place us in our ideal position. All of the other scenarios you can play out will result in your opponent getting onto the wall earlier than we would like or result in their having access to the corner. What I am getting at is that all of our theory has built up to this point and shows us why blind aggression will place us in a bad position. If we play with blind aggression we will lose the positioning battle. That does not mean we will lose the match, but it does mean that if the tempo swings back into the opponent’s favor they will already have the positioning advantage. The positioning advantage is the friction that resists changes in momentum from cards being played. When your opponent plays strong cards your positioning advantage is what leaves you with the options to respond rather than the game being now dictated by your opponent.

How do I get my opponent to maneuver into the target position?


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Trying to make screen shots that feel natural is always a little challenging, but I think that you can see from the above sequence how I used the Aji positioning to make my opponents best option to move to the target position. Additionally because I am in Aji at the that time a bigger removal spell from the opponent would not make much sense. So I have given them strong motivation to position and maneuver as I would like. If you examine step #3 you will see that at that time I could have done some serious damage by using lion in conjunction with holy immolation at that time. However by holding and playing patiently I was able to draw my opponent into the position I wanted, and then the holy immolation was available on the critical turn when I needed to lock my opponent in. Obviously, in a real game there is going to be a lot more going on and I wouldn’t have skipped playing anything on Step #4, but I feel like this does a good job of demonstrating that Aji can be used to break up your aggressive maneuvers thereby protecting you from blow out removal and can even be offensively more effective than its more aggressive counterparts by manipulating your opponent into repositioning and taking damage for you.

Guys thank you very much for reading through my theory of how to play the offensive side of Duelyst. I know that what I have essentially given you as an objective of where you should be trying to position your opponent on the turn before you kill them and a demonstration of how you can use the maneuvers we have learned in the past to help get them into that position. I hope that along the way I made some points that made you consider why we do certain maneuvers, and will help you develop past the play aggressive maneuvers when ahead and play defensive maneuvers when behind. Although I mostly talked about how all of this applied to playing offensively reading between the lines can tell you what you should be trying to do defensively as well. I have plans to write two more articles for this series, but they get even deeper into the theory and I would like to see how this article is received and what discussion comes from it before committing to them.

As always I hope you enjoy the read and look forward to talking to you soon,

P.s. –
I recently received a private message asking me why I have not discussed maneuvers involving more than two minions. That is a phenomenal question with a flat answer. I didn’t want the directness of the response to stunt the line of questioning. So if my questioner is reading this know that it is a great question that shows you’ve been putting thought into these lessons. I have not talked about positioning with more than two minions because no matter where you are on the battlefield if you are going to place more than two minions offensively you will be able to place the minions in such a way that all options for the opponent’s general are eliminated and essentially dictating to them what they need to do and/or where they may move.  Placement of more than two minions that is not entirely offensive will be a combination of a defensive and offensive maneuver. This goes back to one of the initial theorems that there are only a few moves you can make at any given time because all others are mirrors.

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