In the Introduction to this series, we discussed some basic strategies for replacing cards in your opening hand. In brief summary, our current opening hand contains a 2-mana Healing Mystic to summon on Turn 1, a 4-mana Primus Shieldmaster to potentially summon on Turn 2 and Ephemeral Shroud as a flexible answer to any minions with powerful effects - it has all of the basic tools that we should need in the first few turns.
But while all of that information is extremely useful, it's ultimately there to provide context for the main topic of this series - explaining the five most important terms in competitive Duelyst. In this article, we'll be using the first two turns of this replay to explain our first essential term - positional advantage.
The rest of the essential terms - board control, card advantage, tempo and burst damage are still crucial considerations when choosing how to start the game, but in this particular replay, the first two turns happen to provide the best example of positional advantage. I'll discuss each of the other terms separately, to spread the content evenly across the series and keep each article reasonably short.
I'll also be using T2k5's deck tracker script in this game, which I strongly recommend using - you can find out more about them in our Useful Tools & Websites page.
With that said, let's get the ball rolling.
Turn 1 - Player 1
With our first two replaces, we swapped the least relevant cards in our hand for expensive minions (Stormmetal Golem and Necroseer), neither of which I'm especially happy to see on Turn 1. In particular, Stormmetal Golem isn't going to be useful for at least 3 turns, so I have no need to keep it in my opening hand.
While it's possible that we could accelerate out Stormmetal Golem using one or more mana springs, it would be completely impractical. Not only would that be gambling on being able to keep my opponent away from the mana springs for another three turns (which would require us to be hugely in the lead), but I'd be sacrificing the opportunity to use the mana springs earlier to start casting 4-5 minions instead.
With my current hand, I'm planning to use one of the mana springs to summon my 4-mana Primus Shieldmaster on Turn 2. If I can prevent my opponent from moving towards the mana spring that I didn't capture on Turn 2, it's quite likely that I'll be able to capture another mana spring on Turn 3 - but rather than saving that mana spring for Stormmetal Golem, it would be better to use the mana spring immediately to summon my 5-mana Necroseer and get stronger minions on the board sooner rather than later. The earlier that you use the mana spring, the more turns you have to use the stronger minions that they helped you to summon - we can exploit the mana springs without gambling on whether we can summon Stormmetal Golem on Turn 4.
Since we aren't going to be summoning Stormmetal Golem within the first few turns of the game, it's time to replace it - we want to search for cards that will help us to create the largest short-term lead possible.
That'll do nicely.
Windblade Adept is the most powerful Turn 1 minion in the deck, as well as being one of the best in the game. As long as it's within melee range of our general, it can one-shot most other 2-mana minions and still survive, which means that we can restore it back to full health using Healing Mystic and then use Windblade Adept to kill something else as well.
Once our opponent starts summoning more powerful minions (often with 4-6 health), Windblade Adept hits hard enough to let us kill those minions using our general and a suicidal attack from Windblade Adept. While some 2-mana minions are stronger in particular circumstances, Windblade Adept has all of the flexible, no-nonsense oomph that you could possibly ask for.
As normal for Player 1, I've moved my general two spaces to the right and placed my minion diagonally between my general and one of the mana springs in the central column. There's absolutely no difference between placing your minion near the top or the bottom on Turn 1 - I just put mine at the bottom because it involves the least mouse movement.
From this position, my general has the most freedom of movement on Turn 2 - it can move forwards into the centre of the map or diagonally towards the other mana spring. Similarly, my Windblade Adept can either move diagonally onto the mana spring or forwards to attack my opponent's units - this position leaves me with as many opportunities to respond to my opponent's moves as possible.
Unless Player 1 chooses to summon a Battle Pet or wants to keep a minion with Ranged or Blast as far away from their opponent as possible (which I'll discuss in a different series), this is the opening move that you'll usually see Player 1 make.
Turn 1 - Player 2
On the other hand, my opponent makes about the worst move that it was possible to make - summoning a Putrid Dreadflayer directly onto the central mana spring, then letting the additional mana go to waste.
Because Player 2 has more mana to work with, they have a much wider range of strong opening moves available than Player 1 - they can move forwards and use the central mana spring to summon a pair of 2-mana minions, as well as summoning a single 3-mana minion without claiming the central mana spring or simply moving their general diagonally and avoiding the centre of the map altogether. But with this particular opening move, my opponent has sacrificed all of Player 2's natural advantages.
Many new players often claim the central mana spring as Player 2 even when they aren't going to use the mana, under the impression that they're denying the mana spring from their opponent. Although this is sometimes correct if you especially want to prevent your opponent from summoning minions in the centre of the map (especially minions with Provoke), it's Player 2 who usually loses out on mana from doing so.
I'll use a diagram from one of my other series (What's In a Mana Cost?) as a visual aid. If Player 2 summons a 3-mana minion directly above the central mana spring, then Player 2 can access two different mana springs on the following turn - their general threatens to claim the central mana spring, while their 3-mana minion threatens to claim both the central mana spring and the topmost mana spring.
If Player 1 moves their general forwards and summons a minion on the central mana spring, then Player 2 can still move their 3-mana minion onto the topmost mana spring on Turn 2 and use the additional mana to summon a 5-mana minion. But if Player 2 summons their minion on the central mana spring as a 'denial strategy', then Player 1 can still move diagonally and claim the topmost mana spring - it's extremely rare that Player 1 will be able to claim all 3 mana springs in a single turn. so the only player who's been denied from using the mana springs is Player 2.
What makes this even worse is that Putrid Dreadflayer has Flying - my opponent could have summoned Putrid Dreadflayer near the back of the map before moving their general, then flown their minion across the map on Turn 2 to capture any of the mana springs or attack any of my units. Since Putrid Dreadflayer is only a 2/4 minion, any run-of-the-mill 2/3 can kill Putrid Dreadflayer with the help of a general and survive - this would be the worst place to put Putrid Dreadflayer in any circumstance, but especially when I have a 4/3 Windblade Adept that can kill it single-handed instead of a 2/3 minion.
I'll continue this discussion in the other series and explain the pros and cons of different opening moves, but suffice it to say, this was a very bad decision by Player 2. And once we've explained some key terms (positional advantage and board control), you'll understand exactly how badly my opponent messed up.
Turn 2 - Player 1
After drawing Hailstone Golem at the end of Turn 1, I have a pair of powerful 4-mana minions that I could potentially summon on Turn 2 - I could move Windblade Adept onto the mana spring to accelerate up to 4 mana, then move my general into the centre of the map and summon one of my 4-mana minions in my opponent's face. But just summoning the largest possible minion doesn't create the largest advantage here. Since our opponent has allowed us to remove their Turn 1 minion for free, we're going to take the opportunity and punish them for it.
After moving both my Windblade Adept and my general forwards (so that Windblade Adept stays in Zeal range), I used Windblade Adept to destroy Putrid Dreadflayer, then summoned Healing Mystic and restored Windblade Adept to full health. By placing my minions diagonally between Player 2's general and both of the mana springs, I've prevented Player 2 from walking up and summoning minions onto either of the mana springs - on the other hand, my general and both of my minions are in position to capture both of the remaining mana springs.
There are several reasons why this particular move is powerful, but for the moment, I'm just going to focus on the first of our five important terms - positional advantage.
As the player with a positional advantage, I can remove several of my opponent's best options without 'spending' any additional resources - simply blocking my opponent's movement will force my opponent to make weaker moves, creating a 'free' advantage over my opponent.
Positional advantages are the soul of competitive Duelyst - when both players could theoretically summon minions that are equally powerful, cutting off your opponent's best options and controlling the board using the position of your units is how you win against less-skilled players with equally powerful decks. Good positioning will prevent your opponent from reaching your fragile minion or walking away from your front-line minions, as well as forcing your opponent into situations that can be punished by particular card effects - each faction has a unique range of card effects that can punish different mistakes in positioning.
In this particular situation, not only is Player 2 unable to summon minions onto either of the mana springs, but they also have few options to prevent us from using both mana springs on the following turn. Even if Player 2 kills one of our 2-mana minions, we can still capture both of the remaining mana springs using our general and the other 2-mana minion. Our opponent could keep us away from one of them by summoning a minion above or below our general (preventing our general from walking through that minion onto a mana spring), but we'll almost certainly be able to access the other mana spring.
Although positioning is such an enormous part of the skill ceiling in Duelyst, I don't want to go too in-depth about positioning around particular cards in this article. In a future series, I'll share some of the most relevant positional tricks for the ladder - how to position around Dancing Blades, Makantor Warbeast and Opening Gambits such as Hollow Grovekeeper and Ephemeral Shroud - but I don't want to pack too much detail into this article and scare away the players who would benefit from this series the most.
Anyone looking for a solid crash course on positional tricks should read these articles by GoodGuyHopper (Positioning 101, 102, 201 and 202). They're an excellent first stop for anyone who's new to positioning in Duelyst, and I can't recommend them strongly enough.
Now, let's see how my opponent responded.
Turn 2 - Player 2
In response to my move, Player 2 moved their general forwards and placed Hailstone Golem between my general and one of the mana springs. It's not the worst possible move in the world - although it would have been much better to place Hailstone Golem above my general instead (away from Windblade Adept), it prevents my general from walking directly onto the bottom-most mana spring. It forces me to deal with the Hailstone Golem before it can attack my Healing Mystic or a similar minion, since it could potentially chew through several of my cards if it survives long enough for my opponent to choose what it attacks.
The problem isn't that the move is bad, per se - it just isn't enough for Player 2 to gain control of the board.
Next Monday, I'll go into more detail about the importance of board control - what board control means, why it's important and how you can gain board control in an average game on the ladder. I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading my article, and have fun playing Duelyst!
On Turn 1 Mystic, we aim to teach new players how to climb to Gold Division as soon as possible, then from Gold Division to S-Rank as soon as you're interested and have time.