Why does Duelyst need so many powerful tools and "answer-or-die" threats?


Before someone busts a nerve, no this isn’t another nerf thread, though this is inspired by the many that have cropped up recently. I’d like to open up discussion on the existence of burst, incredible utility cards, and frustrating answer or die threats and why these elements are ACTUALLY HEALTHY for the game.

I’m NOT saying that we shouldn’t nerf/rework obviously broken cards, but we’ve more than enough discourse echoing across this vacuum of virtual reality that focus on perceived imbalances, so starting off a topic with a different mindset might be a good change of pace. This will be a looooong post though, so please bear with me.

Of course, this will be a personal opinion and some/all of it may be factually questionable, so feel free to correct me if I do swerve off into stupidity.

Now, let’s talk Magic: the Gathering, a fantastic game with a constantly evolving meta (that nevertheless does get skewed horribly and balancing is still an issue over 2 decades on… but I digress).

Modern Red Deck Wins decks in that game are optimised to win on turn 3 on the back of a goblin avalanche and face melting Lightning Bolts and Lava Spikes. Some Turbo Aggro variants even ran out-of-colour cards like Gitaxian Probe to hurt themselves and draw a card to keep momentum for longer games.

Two Standard metas ago, G/R Devotion had ridiculous ramp to drop overwhelming big beasties with built-in removal by turn four. Months later, Abzan Midrange rose to dominance by focusing on playing the best value on-curve drops, and those decks too had great all-around removal. The countless variations of Blue-centric control decks throughout the entire history of Magic are premised entirely on disallowing you from playing the game, countering everything you throw at them before either milling you to death or dropping something like an Ulamog or Emrakul.

During the original Zendikar release about 4 years ago, I piloted a non-meta mono-green Tribal Elves deck that played synergistic low-cost drops that together could potentially output damage five times greater than the opponent’s life total of 20. And every now and then a combo deck crops up where you sit there for 5 minutes engaging in an infinite combo and the opponent just stares at you dumbfounded while you play solitaire.

Several archetypes can do absolutely ridiculous things, but they tend to be unable to do the things that similar archetypes in Duelyst CAN. MTG’s aggro decks consistently run out of steam and have pathetic midgame, whereas Duelyst’s aggro variants have card engines and powerful midgame cards like Makantor.

MTG’s control decks are never fast and take time to set up their inevitable win con, while Duelyst control-skewed decks, like Fast Cass, can have a potent early game and even threaten at least some damage early, while having multiple alternate win cons and great sustain.

With MTG, you generally can either “go wide” (swarm) or “go tall” (big beasties) but competitive formats rarely have decks where you can do BOTH. On the other hand, the silent uptrend of Big Lilithe decks that are seeping into the S-rank meta prove that you CAN do both in Duelyst. These elements prompt some players to go as far as to say that Duelyst archetypes are no more than arbitrary namesakes and therefore meaningless.

On the surface, Duelyst’s balance is completely out of whack. But here’s why - in this game - I think aggro archetypes need a midgame comeback, why control-skewed decks need faster plays, and basically why Duelyst decks in general need cards that allow for such things:

Duelyst doesn’t have a sideboard.

For those who don’t know what a sideboard is, in MTG its a reserve of 15 cards than you can substitute with components in your main 60-card deck to mitigate bad match ups, to make it faster or more removal heavy and such and such (and you can only utilise the sideboard after concluding the first match with an opponent). The sideboard can exist in a game where the victor is decided over the multiple games, not in all-in-or-nothing one off matches such as Duelyst. Artefact Defiler, for instance, is worthless because its far too specific a tech card in a sideboard-less game.

If Duelyst went the MTG route of balancing powerful cards, with no sideboard, a few things could happen. Control-esque decks might cease to exist because you remove the massive tempo swing cards it utterly needs to sustain against turbo aggression. Dull the available card engines too much, and aggro decks become one trick ponies that completely stagnate past turn 4, regardless of the matchup. And on and on it goes.

Games like MTG can afford to run very archetype focused decks (aggro with no midgame potential, for instance) because the sideboard exists and the fact that the winner is decided in a best of three.

In Duelyst, the game needs to balanced in such a way that it accommodates various archetypes that feel very different to play from one another, while at the same time making sure these multiple archetypes can generally compete in all-or-nothing singleton games.

I’m not denying that this game has some balancing issues, though remember that games like this one are monumentally difficult to balance and probably impossible to approach a state of equilibrium where all decks are good and viable.

But powerful tools like Holy Immolation, Aymara Healer, Mandrake, Makantor, Dioltas, Grandmaster Zendo and even incredible utility cards that can be used in multiple ways need to exist precisely because Duelyst can’t afford to NOT include cards that disallow decks to comeback or make plays at any stage in a match, given that it is a sideboard-less game.

Apologies for the long post. Please do post your counterpoints, expand on the discussion or even just vehemently insult my stupidity or potentially misguided thoughts. I would love opinions from all corners of the thought spectrum. Thanks for taking the time if you did read! XD

TL;DR: I believe Duelyst needs these perceived “ridiculous cards” and powerful multi-purpose tools as it allows multiple archetypes to have in-built solutions to deal with a wide pool of decks in this all-in-or-nothing, sideboard-less game.


Duelyst got fundamentally changed in ruleset right before official launch,So you are seeing a slow redesign on fly of what faction are supposed to be.For example Magmar wasnt really a swarm faction before.You can see duelyst slow trying to emphasize what should be a weakness (siphon energy nerf) or taming aggro faction who should run out cards at some point (mana vortex). Sometimes it is adding stuff we thought was fundamental supposed to be weakness of the faction ala frostburn and Vanar.

I don’t think we have even really begin see what duelyst really will be yet the first expansion was clean up class archetypes and second expansion looks to be a clean up of bbs.I think they are doing a pretty solid job when actually look at what is happening.They changed from 2 card draw to 1 card draw and from no bbs to having bbs and basically 2 archetype per factions.This expansion should start “the real duelyst” the reason some stuff doesn’t make sense is because duelyst was another game ask anyone who played when you could draw two cards a turn.


But if every faction has multi-purpose tools that allows them to deal with every other faction, doesn’t it kind of kill the idea of factions having their own identity, their own strengths and weaknesses? Really strong faction defining cards obviously do exist in the game, but I never considered them to be these multi-purpose tools who’s job is to deal with multiple archetypes at once, I just think of them as individually strong cards and their versatility being a part of why they’re considered strong in the first place. You don’t put Holy Immo in your deck thinking of all the archetypes it’s good against, you put it in simply because it’s generally a very useful card. Or maybe it’s just me with my half assed game mentality.

Anyway, I do agree with you. Such strong cards need to exist. Fighting broken with broken is fun and interesting, and broken cards need to exist in order to prevent certain factions from having too much of an edge over others, while at the same time not going overboard with it in order to preserve the faction identity.

I think the game is currently at a really good spot when it comes to all of this. There is lots of strong cards, there is lots of ways to play around them and faction’s strengths and weakness are still apparent.


Duelyst needs more powerful comeback cards compared to other TCGs because it snowballs harder than other TCGs. Reason for this are the mana tiles. That is also the reason why even control decks in Duelyst have to run turn 1 drops because they cannot afford to leave the tiles for the opponent and let him accelerate and snowball quicker. In my opinion the mana tiles are a completely rotten design and root of many of Duelyst’s problems - from the hyper fast aggressive meta to the lack of deck identity. If it were up to me the mana tiles would be replaced with some other incentive that does not affect tempo like an extra card draw.


Another fundamental difference to MtG is not being able to play on your opponent’s turn. Unspent mana in magic is bluff potential, while in duelyst it is wasted.

Therefore, this powerful cards must exists to both reset the board state while functioning as development during your own turn.


I think this is largely dependant on how these tools have been/will be implemented or designed. Neutral minions are a good example of how faction identity could potentially be eroded by putting tons of incredible utility tools or options that is accessible by all factions.

On the flip side, every faction possessing several potent tools that can deal with multiple situations and decks yet at the same being wholly unique and still having upsides and downsides is certainly possible. To a certain degree it already is a reality, so I agree with you that “the game is currently at a really good spot when it comes to all of this.”

For instance, one could argue that Magmar’s answer to ranged pressure is rush minions. Maybe it isn’t as reliable as some other answers (such as Star’s Fury that’s imo a multi-purpose tool as well, genuine removal, etc.) but its a form of answering such a threat, yet doubles as a lethal enabler and a potent body on the board.

Rush minions wouldn’t be generally considered a “multi-purpose tool”, but its an example I’ll use to illustrate the point that different factions can and will have different ways of dealing with different things. Some are better than others, some are worse, and that’s okay in the name of diversity, balance and faction identity.

Likewise. As an example, I don’t put in Saberspine Tiger + Thumping Wave thinking that it needs to be there because that’s my best counter to a dropped Mechaz0r as the Keeper Vaath archetype can’t afford to play dispel minions and/or Crossbones, I play it because its good and has synergy with the deck. =p

Ultimately, the main point I was trying to convey was that having cool powerful tools in every faction and as many archetypes as reasonably possible is healthy for the game even though these tools may be considered broken in other games, because Duelyst is a different creature entirely that needs such cards to keep the all-or-nothing singleton match style fun and competitive.


Good write-up.

I don’t think that the lack of a sideboard is the reason why Duelyst plays the way it does though. I think it has more to do with the available card pool, a Mana system which guarantees you that you’ll quickly reach the 5-7 Mana portion of your deck no matter what, the focus on minions and the fact that something like Generals exist as an entity on the board. In Duelyst, you can’t just hide behind your minions and stall out the game until you make it to your superior late game.

The biggest weakness of every deck is always in play: its General. Unlike M:TG where you can just hide behind defensive creatures to stall out the game, Duelyst doesn’t offer you those kind of plays. The board is finite and there are plenty of ways to force through damage.

On the contrary, there are barely any defensive cards that let you rebound from a disadvantageous board state. There’s not a single unconditional mass removal spell in the game. And only a handful of denial-type cards. Duelyst is played with minions and minion-centric strategies kind of out-rule any sort of pure control-type deck.

I think the reason why Duelyst is so fast-paced isn’t because of big swingy cards, but because of its overall design. I’m way out of my depth when it comes to designing card games, but here’s my attempt!

Limited card draw – most of the card draw is symmetrical, so on average both players draw a very comparable number of cards throughout the game. The control player can’t just win by starving out his opponent.

Limited ways to get ahead of your opponent in terms of resources – every player gets one new Mana crystal per round and tops out at nine. A control player has no way to “out-resource” his opponent because both sides (most of the time) get the same amount of resources per turn. The Mana Tiles reward early aggression and make it even harder for someone who tries to forego the early-game for a better late-game.

Limited hand size – similar to the Mana System which tops out at nine, hands are limited to six cards, presenting another glass ceiling to what the control player can accomplish.

No rebound cards – Duelyst offers almost no cards that are essential to control decks: denial. No Counterspells that allow you to answer the opponents threats with a smaller Mana investment, no mass removal to re-install a balanced board state and almost no hand disruption/spot removal to efficiently deal with problematic cards.

I think the way the game is set up, active play is much stronger than re-active play. Big swingy cards accelerate on that type of game-play, but don’t enable it in the first place. Nor are they required. I think they’re mainly there to distinguish between the different factions, to give players something to play towards, to make gameplay more interesting and (let’s not forget that) to give players an incentive to invest money into the game.

Then again, I might be completely wrong. Game design is hard. Balancing 200+ cards probably even harder.

On a side note: keep in mind that we’re basically playing Vintage. If you walk into a random M:TG Vintage tournament the games you will see are vastly different from those in Standard or Modern.

I’m curious to see if they’ll ever introduce some type of formats (though the card pool seems too small for that yet). Maybe something like Block-constructed (i.e. only the last expansion). Or something like Pauper, which puts a restriction on the Spirit cost of your deck or the number of Epic/Legendaries that you can play.


Another important difference to MtG is that, in MtG, you can play cards of any colour providing you can build a manabase to support it. Need to answer artifacts in your mostly Blue deck? You probably find a Green, White or Red card. Need to kill Planeswalkers easily? There’s likely a Black spell for it. Most decks don’t just stick to one colour - mono Red aggro is usually the common exception. Worth noting too that there is overlap in theming too. White can do swarm well by efficiently making 1/1s and 2/2s. Red can swarm too, but it usually does so in a more aggressive fashion. Green can swarm, but it often requires synergetic plays to get the most out of it (eg: that W/G Tokens deck from a few months ago).

But it’s hard to talk about MtG in the abstract since for every “rule”, there are exceptions due to how long the game has been around.

Like HS, Neutral cards pull some of the weight in addressing a weakness in a faction, but you obviously don’t want each deck to become mostly Neutral cards either.

The replace mechanic makes it easier to justify playing off-strategy or “suboptimal” cards and it can compensate for the lack of sideboarding to an extent. The comparison of deck size and the lack of need for land-like resource cards means decks in Duelyst have more space and flexibility and have no chance of bricking because of mana flood/drought. In Duelyst you know you will get to X mana eventually, but that’s not a given n MtG if you draw badly.

Finally, most decks in Duelyst can choose to go face or to trade; the mechanics of MtG don’t make that so easy to choose between on a turn by turn basis. This means you want flexible cards, and that even less flexible cards have far more flexibility on any given turn than their MtG analogues.


Why do I think Duelyst needs powerful tools and answer-or-die threats? I think it’s simply the support that fast, aggressive decks have that force this mentality. We currently have a meta where threatening 10-15 damage is normal. In a game which gives each player 25 health to start, it feels like 15 health is rather low. OVER HALF of your health remaining, and you could be vulnerable to lethal. That’s scary, and without as much defensive card support, the path most people take to deal with these aggressive decks is the path where you try to out-aggo your opponent. Slower, defensive decks don’t have nearly as many options as faster, aggressive builds.

And it seems like decks are tiered based on their speed (Cassyva being the exception). Argeon is at the top this season. Spellhai was at the top prior to the last patch. They are/were the fastest decks of their times. The meta seems to be dictated by which deck is fastest. And more offensive cards are being added to the game than defensive ones. I sometimes worry that games will be determined by who can play their threats first.

In summary, I think the number of offensive cards vs defensive cards is a little out of proportion. There have been great improvements to the game since it was first created, and I think we’ve almost found that perfect balance of variety in the game. Just a LITTLE bit more defensive support would be my thought.


@ezekeel - Duelyst needs more powerful comeback cards compared to other TCGs because it snowballs harder than other TCGs. Reason for this are the mana tiles. That is also the reason why even control decks in Duelyst have to run turn 1 drops because they cannot afford to leave the tiles for the opponent and let him accelerate and snowball quicker. In my opinion the mana tiles are a completely rotten design and root of many of Duelyst’s problems - from the hyper fast aggressive meta to the lack of deck identity. If it were up to me the mana tiles would be replaced with some other incentive that does not affect tempo like an extra card draw

I really like this idea. As it stands, there are a lot of games where if your first turn draw just aren’t up to par, you have to play extremely defensive at higher ranks, the mana tiles become this bonus you give up, trying to weather a storm, which most of the time, won’t be possible due to the advantage.

It forces people to take 9, 11, or 13-14 one to two drops minimum, depending on archetype, and you see less 3 and 4 drops as a result.


If you need 10+ cards to play on turn 1 because missing it knocks you out of the game, that’s because you want the game to end as soon as possible and are not geared for later turns. That’s down to your goal, not down to missing your first turn, which actually is not that severe. If it were, then getting whatever you play removed would be even more devastating, because 4-cost cards are several times more impactful than 1- or 2-mana cards.

As far as control decks having 1 mana cards being indicative/symptomatic of a fast game - occupying spaces on the board is fundamentally the only thing stopping you from being surrounded and losing immediately. It is fundamentally required to occupy spaces in some way or another.

Saying “slow” decks have cheap cards to be aggressive early is a misrepresentation of a complex set of concepts - and also not true. My favorite deck right now plays 12 cards (all masks or spells which do not, at that point, have targets) that can come out on turn 1, and none of them affect the board state. Additionally, the other thing closest to control doesn’t need to do it either - Cassyva has a single minion that is better suited to fighting than to generating creep, but is still included only for its status as a creep generator. Eliminating a mana tile and passing t1 from Cass is as good a play as any, and does not include generating a body.

As for this, this is inherently true of any game. The strategy that wins before any other strategy has a chance to win is the best one, period. Cassyva was also always capable of winning quickly; it just has a hard timer in Obliterate.

I think duelyst is on the right track, and the game will always be leaning towards aggressive styles because the generals can damage one another - if a permanent source of damage doesn’t encourage aggressive play, I don’t know what does. However, that doesn’t mean other styles can’t or won’t exist. They absolutely will; the tools for them exist in the game already. Whether they become more visible/common is what remains to be seen.


I really like your breakdown and perspective of Duelyst’s overall design, and it hammers the point that Duelyst is the way it is for far more reasons than simply just one or two. I completely agree, though I’m sorry that the poor phrasing of my original post seemed to indicate otherwise. XD

To clarify, I’m not trying to imply that the developers went, “We have no sideboard. Okay, let’s make super cool powerful cards to compensate! Weeeee!” And I certainly believe that there is more than one reason to why powerful cards (that can be considered broken in other similar games) are good for Duelyst.

Regardless, I decided to mull over one particular aspect of the game - which is the fact that outcomes are decided in a single match and not in something like a best of three - by juxtaposing Duelyst with MTG’s sideboard component. The underlying theme of the post is how the “one match decides the game” element greatly influences the power level of cards in Duelyst. The sideboard talk is merely used as rhetoric.

I do agree that it’s impossible for control players to outsource aggro variants mana-wise since resource acquisition is largely symmetrical. In fact, aggro decks are hypothetically more likely to outsource the control player in the early game because he/she is better equipped to contest mana tiles early on.

Though despite this and the limited hand size, not having access to the kind of denial cards in other similar games as well as card engines that are easily accessible to aggro, I think control-type decks have a better chance to be viable than it seems.

The hand size issue is mitigated by cards like Rite of the Undervault and that a deck size of 40 is relatively small, which heightens consistency and allowing control decks a better probability of getting the tempo play/removal/etc it needs, when it needs it.

Having a weaker early game and therefore less potential of contesting the mana tiles is mitigated by powerful removal like Plasma Storm and potential equalisers like Aymara Healer. There’s very little unconditional removal in Duelyst, true, but the removal already available is potent enough to generally stifle early game aggression. Which is why Vet truly hates Plasma Storm and Natural Selection. =p

I haven’t played MTG in over 6 months so my knowledge is slightly out of date or hazy, but back then MTG was very creature/minion oriented, and control decks had trouble making the top 8 of grand tournys. Despite this, the deck that won the World Championship last year was Abzan Control that played control-oriented creatures and backed by a stream of good removals and denial. It wasn’t even playing Blue cards, the most control-oriented colour in the game. Minions and minion-centric strategies don’t necessarily rule out proper control archetypes, it merely changes it’s face.

Depending on how Duelyst develops and what new cards come out, I think the game is actually very, very close to seeing a dangerously oppressive control deck emerge. Magmar, for instance, already has access to decent heals, very strong removal despite its conditional nature and powerful minions. Imagine if you gave the faction just one more potent removal that you could happily slot in without subtracting any other removal from the deck. That would likely create a control archetype that can answer even ridiculous plays and still potentially win.

I recently fought a Big Lilithe deck that throughout the course of the game cast THREE Nether Summonings and three Vorpal Reavers. Thanks to the summoning, by the time I lost I had faced 5-6 Vorpal Reavers and my own Taygete. The opponent ended up closing the game with a Revenant. Still, I lasted around 12-15 minutes with the removals, sustain and midgame potential I already had access to and could somewhat pressure the opponent throughout. Imagine what the deck could do with an extra removal.


I think that was me. Amazing top decks ftw


I think it’s quite simply the intended design of the game. CPG wants a fast, swingy, exciting game. That kind of requires a high baseline powerlevel, and cards like holy immo or mantakor to turn things around. I also doubt that we’ll ever see real control or fatigue decks. The slowest we’ve had was Magmar more than a year ago, and even these games didn’t go anywhere close to fatigue.


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