This article is intended for players who are already familiar with Duelyst. If you are interested in learning what Duelyst is, or how to play it check out Counterplay Games’ website at Duelyst.com
S-Ranked player Smarmy here! Forums and the subreddit often contain questions asking why X card isn’t played very often and, with the release of Denizens of Shim-Zar, I thought I would make my first few articles on Numot Gaming about how I evaluate cards. It is important to note that these tests are not the be-all and end-all when evaluating cards. Some cards, such as Chakri Avatar, fail all these tests but are still very good.
In this article, I will be talking about using the vanilla test and looking at the worst case scenario. In the next article, I will be discussing analyzing a card based on how good it is in certain states of the game. So without further ado, let’s get into discussing the tests.
Test 1: The Vanilla Test
One of the most basic ways to evaluate a minion has been used in Magic: the Gathering community for years: the vanilla test. To use the vanilla test, simply pretend that the minion you are evaluating has no rules text and compare its attack and health to a minion that naturally does not have text, also known as a “vanilla” minion. If the minion you are evaluating compares well with the vanilla creature, there is a good chance that the card you are analyzing is a decent card. The vanilla test is especially relevant in Duelyst due to the large number of cheap dispel effects. These cheap dispel effects often make a minion’s base stats (attack and health) just as important as any effect it may have. Let’s look at some examples.
If we apply the vanilla test to the Vanar 2-mana minion, Crystal Cloaker. For two mana, you get a 2/3, whereas the only two-mana cost “vanilla”creature is Skyrock Golem, a 3/2. Since a vanilla 2/3 has as many raw stats as the 3/2, Crystal Cloaker passes the vanilla test. Furthermore, since it’s ability is all upside, it is likely a good card. In fact, a vanilla 2/3 minion is actually better than a vanilla 3/2 minion for reasons I will discuss in my next article.
What about the minion Chakkram? Remove all the text from Chakkram, and you have a 5/5 for 5 mana. Hailstone Golem is a vanilla 4/6 for four mana and has the same total stats but costs one mana less. Therefore, Chakkram fails the vanilla test, if only by one mana. On the other hand, there are cards like The High Hand that fail spectacularly. If you remove The High Hand’s text you are paying 5 mana and getting only 2 mana worth of stats.
The Low Hand
The vanilla test can be a powerful tool, but it also has some very significant weaknesses. If a minion’s rules text is all downside—an effect you would prefer the minion not have—it may pass the vanilla test yet be a weak card overall. For example, Chaos Elemental’s 4/4 staline beats out the vanilla Bloodshard Golem’s 4/3 but is generally a worse card due to its random effect. Hamon Bladeseeker is a decent card and passes the vanilla test with flying colors, but you still need to consider whether the 2 damage per turn is worth the extra stats — a result which the vanilla test will not help evaluate. A minion could also have a bad statline but make up for that by having a very powerful effect like Fireblaze Obelysk or Chakri Avatar.
While the vanilla test is useful as a first analysis step, it doesn’t give you the entire picture. The next step I usually take is to evaluate the worst case scenario for the card I am analyzing.
Test 2: Worst (likely) Scenario
A mistake new players often make when evaluating cards is to think only about how good a specific card will be in an ideal scenario. However, it is generally more important to think about how bad that card will be in a less than ideal scenario. For example let’s look at Deepfire Devourer—a card I often see discussed on the forums—in a Lilith deck.
In the ideal case, at 5 mana you cast your Bloodborne Spell, get good spawn locations on the wraithlings, and play Deepfire in the front lines sacrificing your two wraithlings. Next turn, you are attacking with an 8/8 frenzy which is usually enough to win you the game. In order for this to happen, you will need to both get lucky with the wraithling spawns and have your opponent leave the Devourer alone during their turn. This ideal scenario will not happen consistently enough every time you play Devourer to justify the resources spent, so let’s look at some less-than-ideal cases.
Take for instance the situation in which you cast deepfire at 5 mana after using your bloodborn spell, and your wraithlings may spawn behind you, spawn next to other minions you want to keep, or spawn separated from each other. If the wraithlings spawn behind you, you will need to play the Deepfire Devourer behind you as well to use its effect. Your opponent may then elect to simply step back in order to buy themselves more time to find an answer. Alternatively, your wraithlings may spawn next to already-developed minions, so that you can’t place the Deepfire Devourer in a good spot without killing a valuable unit. Finally, your minions may be separated so that you can only sacrifice one wraithling while still having the Devourer in a good location. This third scenario ends in you spending your 5 mana turn to produce a 6/6 frenzy in a desireable location and 1/1 wraithling. While much better than the previous two scenarios, a 6/6 is often manageable by the time your opponent is at five mana, even without a removal spell.
Even if you get the wraithling spawns you want, and produce a large Devourer, your opponent can have a dispel effect. In which case, you spent one card, 5-mana, and your Bloodborn Spell to put down a 4/4 minion that trades with many 3-mana minions. Even worse, your opponent can have cheap removal, such as Chromatic Cold, leaving you with nothing on the board while costing you an entire turn. The opponent can then use any leftover mana to develop minions on their own board. All of these unfortunate scenarios are very difficult or impossible to play around, making Deepfire Devourer a liability to play. This is an important distinction from playing Lantern Fox, for example, in which the worst case scenario (and maybe the only bad scenario) is having it taken by Zen’rui. The likelihood of your opponent having a Zen’rui is significantly less than any of the aforementioned Deepfire Devourer scenarios. In addition, Zen’rui can be played around in a number of ways, such as using Shiro Puppydragon or Mistdragon Seal to increase the Lantern Fox’s attack out of the range of Zen’rui whenever your opponent has access to 5 mana.
Fox and the hound
Some cards, such as Makantor Warbeast, are good even in their worst scenario. Since Makantor has rush, at its worst it is dealing 4 damage to a Minion or General. Minions with rush, opening gambit, or effects that trigger on the end of your turn will often fall into this category because they are affecting the board before your opponent can react. In contrast, minions with dying wish, movement effects, or effects that trigger on the beginning of your turn will need to have either a very strong effect or do well enough in the vanilla test before they pass the worst (likely) scenario test.
The results of the worst (likely) scenario test can be meta-dependant. For example, Inquisitor Korn can be found in almost any deck right now, so Hollow Grovekeeper fares much better than it would in a meta with fewer provoke minions. The worst case scenario of Hollow Grovekeeper is that there are no enemy minions to trigger its effect, and it is played as a vanilla 3/4. In a field full of Inquisitor Krons however, chances are that you will find a target for Hollow Grovekeeper’s opening gambit. The results can also be dependant on what deck you are playing. One of the worst case scenarios for Hamon Bladeseeker is having Sand Trap cast on, but that is much less of a liability if you are playing Kaleos and can guarantee the ability to move it around with your Bloodborn Spell.
Like the vanilla test, the worst (likely) scenario test has some failure points. By the very nature of the test, all the cheaper textless golems pass since, at their worst, your opponent needs to either use a removal spell or attack it with a similar mana cost-worth of creatures. This does not mean that they are good to throw in any deck. As a result, we need further refinement of the evaluation process, which will be detailed in How to Evaluate Cards: Part 2.