I can has tactical cards?

World_Monolith_Aestaria.jpgYo dawg, I heard you like card games and tactical games!

Well Counterplay Games put tactics in your cards so you can card while you tactic! Welcome to the world of Duelyst friends!


Duelyst is a digital card game produced by Counterplay Games. It was originally kickstarted to be something slightly different but has morphed into what some would describe as “Hearthstone tactics”. What exactly does that mean? It means that instead of merely playing cards onto the board you are literally playing them onto a gameboard, a 9×5 game board where your general gets into the thick of it and throws down with abyssal monsters, living sandstorms, creatures of ice and snow, animated armories, and essentially immortal dinosaurs. Got your interest yet?

How exactly does one tactic?


As mentioned Dueylst is played on a 9×5 gameboard. Players begin with their general in play (a “hero” that has 2 attack and 25 health). The goal is to eliminate your opponent by reducing them to 0 health. Sounds pretty familiar if you’ve played Hearthstone or many other cards games, digital or physical. However, the game board introduces a number of unique traits. Minions and generals can move 2 spaces orthogonally or 1 space diagonally, then they may attack (attacking first will prevent you from moving). Movement is key as there are numerous factors that influence where the correct position is besides simply getting into range to smash face. One example are the three mana tiles that exist on the board from the start of the game. Each mana tile provides a one-time shot into the arm of your mana pool not unlike the coin from Hearthstone. Similar to Hearthstone and many other modern card games you will automatically acquire 1 additional mana each turn so these temporary ramps from mana tiles can let you accelerate into something a turn early, or if you can pressure your opponent and take multiple tiles in a single turn maybe jump the curve even further. Unlike Hearthstone however, either player can access these resources and could theoretically snatch all of them up. Although the layout on the board can make that difficult, it isn’t impossible or even really that uncommon if you plan ahead!

Mana tiles are as one would imagine an obvious source of conflict throughout each game. Properly setting up a formation to ramp on specific turns is an important skill within games of Duelyst. Sometimes you’ll be trying to deny that one time buff to prevent Lyonar_Crest_Midshot.jpgkey plays from happening too soon, sometimes you are protecting them to ensure you can get to a mana threshold a turn or two early. Resource battles aren’t the only features provided by the board though. Many cards interact with both positioning of minions or even can transform the very space that something is standing on!


Watch where you step…

Like any other game Duelyst sports its own set of keywords. “Provoke” functions similar to taunt as it forces enemy minions in nearby tiles to attack the provoker first. “Frenzy” allows a minion to strike all surrounding enemies as opposed to only a single target. Each ability naturally forces both you and your opponent to carefully consider whether you should cluster minions or go for a spread offense. Factions tend to lean into certain effects and your game plan will vary from matchup to matchup. That Makantor Warbeast on 6 mana really makes you want to staircase your minions, whereas a Vetruvian opponent means maybe you have to make a conga line with your army to avoid a blowout Star’s Fury.


While single cards are one thing, some entire strategies are based on impacted the board and not just in a “deal damage to that guy” sort of way. The Abyssian faction comes equipped with shadow creep. Through various means they can create a caltrops sort of effect. Any enemy that ends the turn on a shadow creep tile takes 1 damage. Coupled with effects that reward pings, you can really make your opponent think carefully about where they tread. On the more static side, the Vetruvian Imperium makes extensive use of structures. The minions cannot move but at the start of your turn will (typically) produce a 2/2 dervish with rush (rush is the Duelyst version of ferocity/haste/charge) that will fade away at the end of the turn on a random nearby space. Naturally there are tons of dervish buffs including was to make the transient dervishes permanent. Dervishes and the dervish generating obelysks can be card advantage machines chewing through your opponent’s cards for “free” or go face and end the game in a hurry. Those are the obvious advantages despite the structure itself being unable to move. The high health that the obelysks come into play with ensures they are likely to survive and can also be used to try and cut your opponent off restricting their movement and ultimately their options as a result.

Other factions can cheat the movement rules, some minions or spells provide ranged, or airdrop, or flying, or other mechanics. Each of these can spawn archtypes that focus on that particular idea or at the very least directly impact how each individual game plays out.

Point being is that the board isn’t simply where things exist when they are in play. The board is an essential part of the gameplay.  This melding of card game and board/miniatures game provides a really distinct take. Given the way movement works you can block your opponent from encroaching on an important minion forcing them to have a spell or rush minion to get the job done. On the flip side you can aggressively push your opponent into the corner. Just like in fighting games, having your back against the wall isn’t usually where you want to be. Minions can only be played in a space adjacent to a friendly card (unless they have the keyword airdrop) so if you are surrounded (top, bottom, left, and right) you won’t be able to move, but if you are completely surrounded (the 8 spaces around you are filled) you won’t even be able to play a minion unless you have a friendly somewhere else on the board or a way to remove one of the enemies blocking your path.

In case you want to talk a walk on the meme side you can explore battle pets. While not hugely competitive in most cases battle pets are AI controlled minions. Battle pets are often larger than minions of a similar cost because they will act on their own at the start of your turn charging towards the nearest enemy and attacking. While not a hugely popular mechanic from Denizens of Shim’zar, battle pets still represent a distinctive idea that impacts movement. Battle pets work in a fairly predictable manner and that pushes your opponent to create the appropriate formation to respond to your threats.NecroticSphere.png

Each game you play you’re always going to think back about how you could have taken a different line of play, positioned in another way to block or pin more effectively, or as we will discuss in the next section: cycle different cards to change your options.

There’s something to be said for consistency

In a world where RNG is frequently cited as a feature and not a bug, it can be refreshing to be provided alternatives. Card games do inherently have some luck. It’s tough to get away from that when you start with a set of randomized cards. Some games even thrive as a result of it, but if you prefer actually having a good chance of seeing specific cards (and getting rid of situational cards) Duelyst may have an answer for you.

GrandmasterZendo.pngOnce per turn a player may replace a card in their hand by shuffling it into their deck and drawing a new one. At the start of the game you can mulligan away 2 cards, so you can sort of think of this as a perpetual once per turn mulligan. This provides a subtle but extremely powerful way to sculpt your hand! If you know you want to include certain tech cards you can always count on the fact that if you see them in the incorrect matchup, away they go! Veterans of the WoWtcg may have a familiar feeling regarding this. It was not uncommon to have some cards in your deck geared towards a specific matchup and if you ran up against something else well, then those cards are just resources. In this case Duelyst goes a step further and allows you to ship them back into your deck for a fresh new card. A lot of math changes and you now can make the reasonable assumption that you are likely to see cards as the game progresses.

Normally you want to replace early in a turn. That isn’t always correct despite the allure. Sometimes card draw or token generation may influence a replace decision. The additional strategic layer is a welcome one. There is a myriad of ways in which Duelyst allows you to bluff and outplay your opponent.

Glittering gold is my spirit animal

Vanar Snowchaser.png

Duelyst ultimately doesn’t eschew all of the now traditional free to play digital game offerings, instead it improves upon them. Similar to competitors, gold is the primary in game currency and you can use it to purchase packs. Naturally you can alternatively use real money if you’d prefer. Spirit is generated when you crunch down cards and it can be used to craft some cards whereas gold is generated when you complete quests and play games. Plus, there are monthly rewards for achieving certain ranks on the ladder and of course prizes for finishing well in the gauntlet. At this point in time there are 4 Duelyst sets: The base set, Denizens of Shim’zar, Rise of the Bloodborn, and most recently Ancient Bonds. Spirit orbs are the packs for Dueylst providing a number of cards to add to your collection, but there are some notable details that we’re about to get into. Specifically, the first 2 sets and the last 2 sets behave a little differently.

The base set contains some starter cards that you’ll unlock as you level up that faction in question. Cards contained in this set can be crafted via spirit or spirit orbs that are purchasable with gold or cash. Denizens was the first expansion and takes a similar path. Of note however is the drop rate for the various rarities changed (lowered) in Shim’zar compared to the base set. Overall there’s not much to note here as anyone who has played collectible card games before will be very familiar with how cards are acquired in this fashion, and digital card game players will recognize the crafting process. Quirks do exist though and present themselves with RotBB and Ancient Bonds. These two sets are 300 gold for orbs instead of only 100, the increase in price is because you get playsets of the cards you get out of the pack. Instead of only a single copy that you’d typically get in a pack you’ll get 3 copies of whatever card you open! Further, you can’t get duplicates out of these packs. Every single time you open a pack you’ll get 100% of the copies of the card you get and every pack thereafter will only provide you with new cards. This makes completing the set immensely easier. You still get the thrill of opening a pack as the contents are randomized, but there’s no risk of getting stuck with the same exact cards over and over again.Magmar Crest.png

If you’d prefer, $20 gets you the entire set in one shot. I opted for this for Rise in an effort to support the game, whereas for Ancient Bonds I bought all the packs with in game gold to give that method a try. The concept of selling the sets in this fashion isn’t a unique one in the card game space, but it is certainly one that is welcome and hopefully will be more widely adopted. The unfortunate part is that you cannot craft cards from these sets whereas the base set and the first expansion allow you to turn unwanted cards into desired ones. Can’t have everything, and at this time it is unknown what format the next set will follow. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Gold gets you packs (or gauntlet runs) and spirit crafts stuff. Stuff is relevant because it isn’t just cards that you can make. You can craft maps, which while still 9×5, change the background you are playing on. Aside from maps you can craft additional emotes. For some reason in Dueylst the emotes do not feel so bad mannered. They aren’t simply text (although a few of those do exist), they are instead stylized faces of the generals and select minions showing a variety of emotions ranging from laughs to frustration to crying to confusion and many in between.

But wait! There’s more!

Duelyst piles on the customization since you can get prismatic cards that add a little flair to the look of your collection and while the cards are in play. You can even upgrade your generals to another level. It doesn’t add any gameplay effects but they are instead a different skin providing the general with new armor or weapons granting them a whole new look. Then there are card backs and profile icons. You’re offered a lot of options to make your Dueylst experience tailored to your preferences.

The cherry on top is you get a free common every day simply for logging in. At worst, it’s a free 10 spirit.


There are monsters out there

Duelyst also offers PvE content. Periodically they will release bosses, which when defeated the first time, grant players some in game rewards. Each boss breaks the rules of the game in a variety of ways. Each is multi-faction so you really need to be prepared for anything. Bosses don’t stop there. They’ll use regular cards, but will frequently begin the game with minions in play, extra attack or health, or even game bending (maybe even breaking!) bloodborn spells or powers.

Bosses aren’t the only way to interact with Duelyst outside of the competitive sphere. Within your collection there are lore entries explaining the background of the generals and teaching players about the world. The codex gives us additional history lessons expanding the universe. As a lore person in many games I appreciate the inclusion as it would have been easy to skip. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone but there are some really cool concepts within the Dueylst world.

For starting out you can dive into solo challenges that will boost your gold reserves as well as serving as a tutorial to get you acclimated to the game’s flow.

Gauntlet offers the limited experience for those who prefer to that to the constructed grind. You’ll select a general and then dive in selecting cards as you go. Once you’ve completed building your deck you’ll try to rack up as many wins as possible before you are defeated 3 times maxing out at 12 wins.


Lastly there is a new format that was introduced for the 1 year anniversary. Currently it is replacing gauntlet but it remains to be seen how this format will exist in the future. Once you jump into the rift you’ll be assigned a start deck based on the general you choose. You can then level up your deck for a pseudo-RPG feel. Selecting a card in your deck gives you the opportunity to replace it from a “pack” of 6 cards. You can then upgrade your deck over time. Sounds pretty similar to just starting out in the game right? Well here’s the catch: the cards you’re offered could be from any faction so you could end up with a multifaction deck (and you probably will) allowing for previously unseen interactions to occur. Want dominate will in your Abyssian deck? Now’s your chance!

How ‘bout them tournaments?


The Duelyst World Championship (DWC) just recently concluded and there are rumored changes in the future to how the structure will look for year 2. The important part is that events will be continuing. Unfortunately, there are no in client tournaments but that doesn’t stop someone from competing. Ladder climbs provide the traditional experience, however via 3rd party sites there are several tournaments that players can test their skills in. The official Duelyst site has a calendar that assists in keeping everyone updated about the goings-on for competitive scene: https://news.duelyst.com/events/

Sounds good, where do you get started?

Glad you asked! You can find Duelyst here: https://duelyst.com/ or on Steam! I honestly haven’t had as much fun playing a card game (digital or otherwise) since the World of Warcraft tcg. It’s a great game and I definitely recommend giving it a try, it is pretty friendly to people just starting out, sports some jaw-dropping artwork both in and out of game, and the gameplay itself is fantastic. 


Note: Card images and artwork taken from the Duelyst Press and Art kits.

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