This article is intended for players who are already familiar with Duelyst. If you are interested in learning aboutDuelyst or how to play it, check out Counterplay Games’ website at Duelyst.com
Smarmy here! If you missed “How to Evaluate Cards: Part 1” in which I wrote about using the vanilla test and looking at the worst likely scenario, check it out here. In “How to Evaluate Cards: Part 2”, I will be discussing determining at what state of the game a given card is good, and how to align that card with your deck’s game plan. Once again, the method I discuss in this article is heavily influenced by strategies used in the Magic: the Gathering community, especially Brian Wong’s Quadrant Theory.
The States of the Game
The core idea of Quadrant Theory is that you can put almost all board configurations that you encounter into one of four states: (1) Developing — Both players are developing; (2)Ahead — You are ahead on board; (3) Behind — You are behind on board; or (4) Parity — The players are at parity. In Duelyst, there is a fifth common board state: Topdeck. Topdeck involves an empty board where both players have only one card in hand, and each player is playing off the top of their deck. The more of these states in which a particular card is useful, the likelier that card is good. More importantly, by figuring out the situations in which a card is good, you can make sure the card you are evaluating has strengths that align with the particular strategy of your deck.
State 1: Developing
This state takes place at the beginning of the game. The exact goals of players and how long developing lasts will differ depending on what decks you and your opponent are playing. Aggressive Faie decks, and other aggro decks want to control the center of the board. Abyssian swarm decks want to build their minion count. Control decks want to keep the board as clear as possible. Creep decks want to start covering the battlefield with shadow creep. Spellhai wants to set up Chakri Avatars and Bloodrage Masks. The thing all these examples have in common is that they are setting up for the deck’s late-game plan. Aggro decks want to keep their opponents retreating. Swarm decks want to benifit of deathwatch triggers. Control decks want to survive until the late-game. Etc.
While oftentimes how good a card is in the Developing state of the game depends on a particular deck’s strategy, there are some cards that are almost universally good. Crystal Cloaker, for example, can be a very aggressive opening play, but it also has good attack and health for its cost (i.e., passes the vanilla test). Therefore, Crystal Cloaker trades well with most other early plays and can slow down the game long enough to reach late-game. Crystal Cloaker is even a Vespyr, so it synergizes well with the Vesper Vanar decks.
Another example of a card that is almost universally good is Lantern Fox, which presents a solid starting threat for any Songhai deck from Spellhai to the Arcanyst based lists. In contrast, Gor is an anemic start for any Abyssian deck that is not focused around destroying its own creatures. In the right deck, however, Gor is the ideal start. Spells and artifacts are generally at their worst in the Developing state. Of the five states, the Developing state varies the most from deck to deck.
State 2: Ahead
The Ahead state occurs when you are completely dominating the board, and your opponent is retreating. Your opponent may find it difficult to keep a minion on the board and, if they do keep control of a minion for more than one turn, they will be using that minion to trade away with your minions rather than damaging your general. While cards that are good in the Ahead state do vary somewhat from deck to deck, the actual benefit of those cards is much more consistent than in the Developing state. The variation comes from how often a deck plans to be ahead. Control decks, which play from behind for most of the time in the majority of games, will rarely run cards that are strongest in the Ahead state. In contrast, Aggro decks plan to be ahead most of the time, so these decks tend to run mainly cards that perform well in the Ahead state.
Cards that reward you for keeping minions on the board for multiple turns are generally best in the Ahead state. Divine Bond, for example, does next to nothing if you can’t keep one of your creatures at high health until your next turn. However, if your Ironcliffe Guardian doesn’t take much damage on the turn after it is played, Divine Bond will allow you to close out the game quickly. Similarly, Venom Toth will only do one or two damage in most scenarios but, if your opponent has threats closer to them that they have to deal with, a Venom Toth can do a significant amount of damage. Cards that deal direct damage to generals, such as Flameblood Warlock, are usually good in this state too because they force your opponent to play more defensively. Finally, cards that enable a player to close out the game relatively quickly (e.g., minions that have a much higher attack than health) are usually at their best in the Ahead state.
State 3: Behind
The Behind state is (not surprisingly) the opposite of the ahead state. Behind occurs when your opponent is dominating the board, and you are retreating. Instead of your opponent, you are the one who finds it hard to keep minions on the board until your next turn. Cards that are great in the Behind state are typically good in the Behind state regardless of what deck you are playing.
The caveat is that there are many decks, like aggressive Faie decks or Magmar aggro, that generally lose if they are behind. For this reason, these decks don’t play many cards that are exclusively good in the Behind state. In contrast, Control decks play in the Behind state the majority of the time in most matchups, so they are usually happy to play cards that are best when Behind.
In the Behind state, you generally want to see cards that slow down your opponent, “trade up” (the concept of “trading up” will be discussed in a future article), or remove multiple creatures. Cheap, high health minions are usually at their best when in the Behind state. In addition, minions that are resistant to removal— either by having some protection from spells such Sandhowler or by affecting the board regardless of removal, such as Repulsor Beast— are often good in the behind state. Cheap removal leaves you enough mana to follow up by developing your board and, resultantly,can help you get out from Behind. A simple, fairly accurate litmus test to see if a card is good in this state is the following question:
Does this card either greatly detract from my opponent’s board or add to my board while subtracting from theirs?
If the answer is yes to either, the card you are evaluating is almost certainly good when behind.
State 4: Parity
The Parity state almost always occurs in the midgame. During the Parity state, both players have some board presence with neither player being obviously ahead. In most matchups, Parity involves fighting over the center of the board, so cards that provide a lot of board control are at their best at Parity. Because having control over the center of the board is so important, almost every deck wants some plan for playing in the Parity state. Even the more spell-based decks, such as Spellhai, want to have some control over the center, so they have a line of retreat and can buy some time to set up their kill.
The best cards in the parity state either break parity in your favor during the turn in which the card is played, or they create a situation in which parity will be broken if your opponent doesn’t have an answer for that particular card. The former category(cards that break parity immediately) not only contains many cards that are also good in the Behind state— such as the aforementioned Repulsor beast — but also contains cards that are conditionally good— such as Zen’Rui or Hollow Grovekeeper. These cards are generally disastrous (or at the very least, useless) to draw if you are behind on board and don’t have a target for their opening gambit. If you are at parity however, they are simply a low stat creature at worst; whereas their best case breaks parity solidly in your favor. The latter category(cards that force your opponent to have an answer) contains many cards that are good when ahead —such as Venom Toth or Dark Nemesis— as well as cards that create massive advantage if left alone but don’t necessarily end the game particularly quickly—such as Silithar Elder or Owlbeast Sage. If a card is good in both the Ahead and Behind states, it is almost always going to be good at Parity too (and likely just good in general).
State 5: Topdeck
The final state of the Quintant is the Topdeck state. As mentioned earlier, this state occurs when both players have exhausted their resources and have an empty or near-empty board. Like the Behind state, most cards that are good in the Topdeck state are good regardless of which deck you are playing. Also, like the behind state, there are many decks that never plan to be topdecking and have probably already lost if the game gets to this state.
Cards that replace themselves (e.g., Grincher) or cards that continuously draw cards (e.g., Sojourner) are very good in the Topdeck state. Since topdecking almost always happens late in the game, mana isn’t usually a constraint. Furthermore, anything that lets you play more than one card per turn will go far to helping you win. Cards that continuously create some sort of board advantage, such as Pandora or most minions with Grow, are also ideal in the Topdeck state. Your opponent will need to have a removal spell to deal with these threats. Since they are only seeing a maximum of two cards per turn (the one they draw and possibly whatever they replace it into), it is unlikely that they will have the necessary cards to remove the minion.
In contrast, cards that require you to have some board presence are at their worst in the Topdeck state. For instance, Greater Fortitude not only puts very little pressure on your opponent late in the game but, if your opponent draws any removal, Greater Fortitude allows your opponent to use one turn worth of draws to take out two of your turns.
Putting Quintant Theory into practice
Now that I’ve gone over the five states in Duelyst’s quintant, I’ll show some examples of how to use game states to evaluate cards. I will be using a scale of 1-5 for each state, with a score of 1 meaning I might as well have drawn nothing, and a 5 meaning you will never be unhappy to see this card in this state. Let’s start out with Deepfire Devourer— a minion I discussed in my previous article.
Deepfire Devourer is too expensive to be played in the first few turns. Even if the Developing state is unusually long lasting, Deepfire Devourer wants to have some board presence before it is cast.
Deepfire Devourer will often be a 8/8 if you play it while ahead which will end the game quickly. However, Deepfire Devourer does open you up to losing a lot of ground if your opponent happens to have a cheap removal spell and a follow up play.
You don’t particularly want to be killing your own minions when behind, and a 4/4 isn’t going to slow down your opponent very much.
Parity: 2 ½
While Deepfire Devourer does break parity in your favor if your opponent can’t deal with it, you risk both destroying your own minions and breaking parity in your opponent’s favor if they can remove this card. In other words, playing Deepfire Devourer in Parity is high-risk, high-reward.
While it doesn’t generate continuous advantage or replace itself, a 6/6 or 8/8 frenzy puts a lot of pressure on your opponent if they can’t remove it. The Topdeck state is definitely where I think Deepfire Devourer is at its best.
Conclusion: Deepfire Devourer is a card that you only want to play when you are ahead of your opponent, but does nothing for you early game. Also, remember that it takes one turn to have any payoff when you play Deepfire Devourer late in the game. Aggressive decks, which always want to play from Ahead, have better finishers than Deepfire. Other deck archetypes probably want cards that are better when even or behind.
Dancing Blades is too expensive to be played while developing most games and, even if you can rush it out with flash reincarnation or a similar spell, Dancing Blades needs to be near the opponent’s creatures for its Opening Gambit to have any effect.
Dancing Blades has a sizable body, and the ability to deal damage to your opponent’s minions on the turn it comes out can free up your other minions, so they can keep pressuring the opponent’s general.
Dancing Blades has enough health that it can survive many of the cheap removal spells in Duelyst and, even if your opponent does have removal for it, Dancing Blades’ Opening Gambit will likely take one of the opponent’s minions out with it. Four attack means Dancing Blades will likely trade with any creature your opponent throws at it. Sometimes you may not be in the right position to get value off the Opening Gambit, though.
Three damage onto one of your opponent’s minions, combined with a large body, will often break parity in your favor. Your opponent having multiple creatures on the board means you will likely find a target for the Opening Gambit.
Dancing Blades has 4 attack and 6 health. It isn’t something you are excited about topdecking but isn’t something you will replace either.
Conclusion: While bad in the Developing state, Dancing Blades is above-average to good anywhere else. Therefore, it is a pretty good card for any deck that is not super aggressive.
Developing is the state in which you want to see this card. Crystal Wisp will let you rush into late game but at the cost of likely letting your opponent have control of the mana tiles due to Crystal Wisp’s 1/1 body. Crystal Wisp also usually doesn’t pay off until two turns after you play it.
Ahead: 1 ½
A 1/1 isn’t going to help you retain control of the board, nor is it going to close the game out. In the Ahead state, Crystal Wisp could be useful if you are trying to keep ahead until you can end the game with an expensive card, but a Provoke minion would likely be better in that specific scenario.
A 1/1 won’t do anything to slow down your opponent. Your opponent isn’t really punished for ignoring Crystal Wisp either, so it is unlikely that Crystal Wisp will die to give you an extra mana until your next turn.
Parity: 1 ½
Crystal Wisp’s dying wish could pay off later in the game, but your opponent will likely use the 2 mana you spent playing a 1/1 Crystal Wisp to cast something that affects the board much more, at which point they will attain an advantage.
Mana isn’t usually an issue by the time you are in the Topdeck state, and a 1/1 is not threatening.
Conclusion: Crystal Wisp is bad. You only ever want to see it while developing, and even then it is unspectacular. Unless I were building a very strange deck, I would not play this card.
Plasma Storm is too expensive to play when developing and doesn’t do anything on an empty board.
If you are ahead, you probably won’t need to destroy a lot of your opponent’s creatures, and Plasma Storm doesn’t help end the game more quickly. It could serve as an expensive removal spell for something like Nimbus though.
Plasma Storm has the potential to destroy a large number of your opponent’s minions and, if your opponent got ahead early, most of the minions should have 3 or less attack. If you are behind, you won’t have many minions to lose to Plasma Storm.
Parity: 3 ½
While Plasma Storm does kill your own minions, you should be able to shape the board so it hurts your opponent more than it hurts you, thereby breaking parity in your favor.
Plasma Storm might be able to kill a big threat like Pandora, but most of the time you will be happier with any sizable minion
Conclusion: Plasma Storm seems to be very good in decks that expect to be behind or at parity most of the time, like control Vaath decks. Plasma Storm probably shouldn’t be played in aggressive Magmar lists.
As you can see, the Quintant Method is much more powerful than the two tests I discussed in “How to Evaluate Cards: Part 1”. The biggest strength of the Quintant Method is that it can be used to determine whether a card is good in a specific game plan rather than just good in general.
The biggest downside of the Quintant Method is its difficulty. While the Vanilla Test can be done in a glance and the Worst Likely Scenario test takes only a bit of thought, the Quintant Method takes much more significant effort and time. Therefore, the Quintant Method may not be possible without playtesting with the card first.
For instance, it is easy to see that Chakri Avatar is good when developing and bad when topdecking, but it is nearly impossible to tell how Chakri Avatar will perform in the other states without testing it out in a few games.
Thanks for reading,