Positioning 342: Reading Your Opponent

Foreword-

Good evening Duelyst friends, I have been a bit reticent over the last couple of weeks, and I promise that despite the public silence there is a lot going on in the background. However, I can not entirely lay the blame of delaying this article on my personal life. This might well be the hardest one I have had to write so far. This article will dive so deep into the realm of theory that Lasker and Seigen are probably going to come outside with a pair of pitchforks and tell us to get off their lawn. The problem with this article is that we are going to leave the board behind, and now I am going to try and pour my mind onto paper for you so you can understand what I have started to do intuitively after several thousand games. As soon as I first put pen to paper on this article and looked at what I initially had to say I thought, “people are going to think you are nuts.” But I said I would write it and I am going to forge ahead and hope you all don’t have me committed for talking about mind reading(insert maniacal laughter).


Positioning 342: Reading Your Opponent

If you are reading this article and you skipped the previous five you might be in for a doozy of a ride. I will reference positioning maneuvers by the names I gave them and expect you to know what scenario this places you in. In the foreword I jokingly talked about mind reading, which is actually what we really mean we talk about getting a read. We don’t mean of course that we actually hear the thoughts of our opponent in spoken words, but we do “read” our opponent’s mind. We have through intuition determined how they believe the game will be played out. This article and the skill set it is talking about is well past where I would expect someone to get into S-rank. I would expect someone who has mastered the knowledge from the 100 and 200 level positioning guides to be able to make it into Srank (perhaps with some difficulty). Someone who easily understood the methodology I discussed in 341 or who had developed their own could make it to Srank easily each month. As an aside I compared notes with Alphacentury after I wrote positioning 341 and he has a different philosophy on how it its best to end the game I am hoping he will write his down one day. If you easily understand what I am going to try and relay here you are probably burgeoning on being one of the top competitive players.

Watching some of the top players stream you might hear them make muttering comments to the effect of “if I do this, they should do this…” or they might just get really quiet for a minute. Then they usually hold that silence until about half way through their opponent’s turn. Usually right up until the moment their opponent makes some revealing play. If you watch some of us stream you’ll see this is usually when Rhacker gets closer to the screen and has to push his hair out of his face or I tend to press on my forehead or cup my chin. What’s happening is that it is that critical turn that we are just not sure about. Almost immediately after that turn the streamer will go back to being our usual semi-chatty selves. Why is the tension suddenly out of us? Because the game is no longer in flux, I usually have a pretty good idea of how things are going to turn out from that point forward. Not because the board state is suddenly clear or that there is a clear winner on the table, but because from that turn on I have a pretty good idea of what is in my opponent’s hand. I can usually carry that intuitive knowledge right up until we start playing off the top, if the game goes that far.


Metagame meets player habituated responses

“That’s great that you can do that GGH, we already knew you were odd, how does this help us?” To try and explain why this happens consider that in Duelyst players cycle cards a lot, or at least they should be. But what are they looking for? Initially they are looking for their cards that allow them to compete for the tiles, a pair of two drops or maybe a three drop. But that ends immediately after the first turn. What happens after that? If you thought, “they look for their four drop” you are mistaken! Most of the time they already have their four drop in hand. What they look for after that is a pair of things. They are looking for either a card that has caused them to win against your deck list in the past or they are looking for their own end game cards. Because Duelyst is heavily tempo oriented this great chain of events that players intentionally try and orchestrate plays out fairly consistently. This is where things get very interesting. Did my opponent find their good counter card, or will they be playing one of their own bombs? Should I hide this minion behind my general to avoid dancing blades, if I do it will play right into blood tear plus holy immolation… How is it that some of the top players seem to have a sixth sense about how they will need to play?

A good portion of developing that sixth sense is knowing what their opponents are likely to be playing. As an example of metagame knowledge we could say that there are very few top players that are running both holy immolation and dancing blades right now. When playing against any Lyonar most players have learned to play around blood tear plus holy immolation when their opponent will have their five mana turn, and we have learned to play around makantor when our magmar opponents have their six mana turn. We sort of think of this as “a standard operating procedure” when playing against those factions, but really it is a learned response to the typical behavior of those decks.

We can abuse this repetition players develop against matchups by building around it and by knowing what cards they are going to be looking for. As an example I got asked on more than one occasion, “why my version of Reva Wanderer played Hamon Bladeseeker?” I’ve answered it on many occasions but it is worth repeating for this lesson as well, “to see if they found their removal.” I know they are going to look for it, it wasn’t any secret that I was playing wanderer. I wanted to do this so that they could not make a developing play and then have a developed board on the turn after I played wanderer. If they where going to use point removal to clear wanderer I needed them to do it two turns in a row. I put Hamon in there to test for their removal.


Pace of Play

Another part of this sixth sense is paying attention to the pace of play your opponent has. A high level player is often going to have multiple lines of play available too them and if one is a clear “best line” of play it is because they know what they want to follow it up with. An experienced player is not going to windmill slam their Blood of Air on a Hammond Bladeseeker against a wanderer deck unless they have another way to deal with wanderer on the following turn. They will give some thought to other lines of play if that is their only point removal available to them at the time. They will consider if they can body block the hammon this turn and then use the blood of air to clear the wanderer and then use the damage from the blood of air’s wind dervish to clear the already damaged hammon. This will have great appeal if they are at high health and are confident they can take the damage if they are mistaken about body blocking. There is a lag while they process their options. If however they have two blood of airs sitting in hand there will not be a lot of lag. They may still replace, but they have already mentally tabulated that one blood of air is for Wanderer the other is for “whatever threat not wanderer that my opponent plays.” People plan and when you are playing into their plan they are going to play faster then when you are not playing into their plan. The pace a player maintains reveals a lot about how they think the game is going. Besides metagame knowledge the opponents pace of play is the strongest clue you have about what resources they have available. This is also why you see long pauses and frequent roping when two upper level players who know each other get matched against one another. They know intuitively that it is dangerous to “ride the rails” and play as your opponent expects the match to go.


Pace of Play relating to replacing cards

Is your opponent replacing before anything else? This seems silly because we always tell people “replace before you do anything else.” But the reality is that even the top end players do not do that. Top end players are playing during your turn by planning out their turn based on their current hand. Once it is their turn if your opponent has a line of play they think might be good you will often see them play it out mentally before they ever replace. Why does this happen? It is because they are triple checking which cards they are going to use. They don’t want to accidentally replace a card that is part of their play. So they will go through what they think they will do and make sure that a card is not part of their plan on this turn or the next before deciding what to replace. This is only going to happen if they have some of the cards they want. Now that becomes even more free information, did my opponent replace quickly? If they replaced quickly it means they did not have the card they thought developed their board position the best on this turn, and they also did not have a card they thought was best against your current board state. This is a lot of free information if you are paying attention to your opponent. I think this is probably one of the biggest reasons I feel like I never play as well while I am streaming, some of my attention is diverted to the stream chat during my opponents turn and I miss a lot of the small details my intuition would normally take in.


Positioning to get a read

The final piece I want to cover on getting a read is about your positioning. This is one of the more subtle things I have noticed and it goes hand in hand with a bad habit some players even at the top have. You want to be doing as much of your thinking as possible on your opponent’s turn. As soon as you have made your last play you should be passing the turn. I see a lot of players especially at the top end pause for a moment to consider the board state before passing the turn, and I think they miss out on this last element because of that lag. If you get into the habit of executing your final few moves rapidly and then passing the turn you may begin to notice a processing moment as your opponent takes in the results of your last few plays during the first few moments of their turn. This is another of the best reads you can get from your opponent. If you play Aji you may see their mouse circle the minion or they may hover over it for a moment or in some other way process why that minion was placed there. You will never see this happen if you are reviewing the board before passing. Why did they hover over it or circle it? If they are another top end player it is not because they didn’t know what the card was, they are mentally processing why you played it were you did. Why does it take them a moment to process the back lined minion?  Because they didn’t have the removal you are playing around in their hand at that moment. If they had been planing on playing that removal the positioning would seem entirely natural to them, in fact they would have been specifically watching to see if you would play around it. If they were planing on playing the removal their processing would be in binary “yes you played around it or no you didn’t.” If you are playing around something that wasn’t a line of play they were considering they have to take the added mental step of placing themselves in your shoes for a moment to understand the play, and if you are being attentive you can easily pick up on this tell.

You may also remember way back in positioning 102 when I talked about the scouting maneuver and to pay attention to how your opponent treated the play. I made the comment that if they viewed it as a pushing move they saw themselves as the defender or if they treated it as a pulling move they saw themselves as the aggressor. By now I am hoping that you can draw a lot more conclusions from the maneuver than you could in the past. For example if they reposition their general in front of the minion but attack your general instead of the creature you can probably guess that they are expecting to clean that minion up with a board clearing effect. You can take it one deeper and deduce that because they repositioned into a prime position to attack that minion that they are securing some effect like makantor or holy immolation as opposed to a positioning ignoring effect like plasma storm or tempest. An even deeper line is that they may be setting up for you to account for that minion as part of a body block because they have damage based removal for it, but potentially not for whatever else you might play. In effect they may be trying to get you to count on a minion they know they can remove. And with that I start getting into bluffing which will be a big part of what I want to talk about in the last of the positioning guides.


Well guys you made it to the end of the 300 series. I have one more lesson I want to write, and I guess we will call it 400 something. In the last positioning guide we are going to talk about stuff I barely understand and am not certain of myself. Some of the things we will talk about in that lesson are not tried and true I don’t know if they work they are just things I have been exploring in rare circumstances. Because the circumstances are rare I don’t get a lot of opportunities to see if they are good methodologies or not. Maybe someone else will come along later and educate me on their success levels or lack there of. Much the same as getting a degree we started out with stuff I viewed as so basic it was a little difficult to write because “duh” then we moved on to the meat of the series in the 200’s. The 300’s started getting into theory stuff that while I am not sure it is perfect it is stuff I am confident in. The last article will get into stuff that is largely speculation. I may end up proven wrong, but I think the last article will be easier to write than this one. Positioning 342 will probably be the most difficult to write because it dealt a lot with intuition or learning to play with your gut. In essence learning to make important game decisions by drawing conclusions from extremely limited information. This can be accurately rephrased as learning how to make unscientific decisions. Western culture loathes making unscientific decisions, but I can say with a high level of confidence that making intuitive decisions is significantly better than rejecting data you “can not be certain of.” Do you know that your opponent lingered over a card because they had to take a different mental track “no” but your estimation based on making that assumption will produce better overall results than making decisions based only on that information which you can be certain of. Additionally, I have found that it is a skill that seems to develop with practice. So in what seems to be a trend for these articles I encourage you to go out and play some Duelyst. Pay attention to the pace of play and start noting when your opponents tempo changes. It wont be but a couple dozen games and you start getting a feel for what pauses are significant and which aren’t.

As always much love and I look forward to chatting with you guys on the forums,
-GGH


Can’t get enough of GGH and his antics? Follow the positioning GOAT on these sites as well:
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Twitch – https://www.twitch.tv/goodguyhopper
Discord – https://discord.gg/ZzjMD52

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