What my first CCG Duelyst taught me about collectible card games

first_img <> 1/6Busting open some packs. 1/6The more cards the better. 1/6Not too shabby! Major lesson 3: CCGs are a lot like pokerCCGs have an element of luck to them, but play enough games against enough people and the top players with the top decks will rise to the top. After I improved slightly and started to understand the basics of Duelyst, I found this to be comforting: losing any given game didn’t mean you were bad at the game or you were just not a strategic thinker. Instead, there is very much an element of luck to drawing the right cards when you need them. This is easier to understand when playing than it is to explain, but I’d say Duelyst (I can’t speak to other CCGs) is about 20% luck given a match with two players at the same skill level and comparable decks.One of the most useful (and probably obvious) tactics I learned is that your General is a resource more than it’s a pool of hit points to protect. With a default of two attack and 25 hit points, the General is a big damage sponge more than anything else. When I first started, I assumed any damage to the General was bad and anything I could chip off of the enemy’s General was good. That’s not entirely wrong, but the fact of the matter is that you are frequently better off using your General to soak up damage so that you can better control the board and the game’s tempo. With these under control, you can do big damage in later moves.Major lesson 4: Board control and tempo wins matchesWhile James assures me that the above lesson is stunningly obvious to most people familiar with CCGs, it was an important one for me. Piecing together some of the basic tactics allow me to better understand the game and really progress as a player. One thing I can’t emphasize enough, and still am rather bad at, is simply knowing the cards really well. And not just your favorite faction, you have to know the other ones too.Here’s an example: You’re feeling pretty good about your impending victory against the Abyssian faction. Your General has 11 hit points, and he’s well-distanced from the fracas. The enemy General will be dead the next turn. You’re pretty smart, right? Then your opponent pulls out a Nightsorrow Assassin with Shadow Reflection and then uses a Void Pulse, and the match is over. Without knowing about that (very popular) combo, you never had a chance.Pain in the butt.Popular combos like that one are easy enough to recognize, but the thing is that you need to keep a lot of them in mind at any given time. I’ll skip any belabored analogies to chess, but any good player is juggling a lot of thoughts at once, and constantly doing all sorts of math to make sure his killing strike will actually kill you, or that an assassin isn’t going to prematurely end the match.This brings me to my next point, one which is particularly important to any sort of asynchronous gameplay.Major lesson #5: You need to pay attentionWith a 90-second timer and players who seemingly try to grind down opponents by taking the full 90 seconds each turn, it’s easy to switch out of the game and into any other application where you aren’t just waiting around. A few emails later and it’s your turn again, but then you never did all that math I just talked about, and all the tactics in your head have been replaced with meeting invites, spreadsheets, and email reminders from Slack. It can be tedious, but you really do need to stick with the match and follow along if you care about the outcome.Early on I wasn’t paying close attention and I wasn’t doing obvious trend-spotting. For example, after a few days of playing I noticed that a certain minion ability — Provoke — was surprisingly powerful. A minion with this ability forced any enemy characters around it to attack it before being able to move or attack anything else. I consulted James:Sal: You know “Provoke”? It’s super annoying, but I bet if used properly it could be something you could build a deck around.James: You’re so cute!Sal: Wha?James: You’re right. Hearthstone calls it “Taunt.”Major lesson #6: CCGs have common rules and conventionsWhile all CCGs aren’t the same, they seem to be quite similar to one another. So, those experienced with, say, Hearthstone, would come into Duelyst with a boatload of experience. The best Hearthstone players have already risen to the top ranks of Duelyst, actually. That doesn’t directly affect me, but it does mean there is a learning curve, and that racking up a long series of losses at the start of my CCG career shouldn’t be taken as a sign to go back to my comfort food of roguelikes.While experience is hard to compete against, I haven’t found that spending necessarily is. At my ladder ranking (currently 16), it seems like many players are still attempting to go free-to-play and have decks that have some high-value cards, but few have super-expensive tournament-level decks. This keeps things level, and means I don’t feel compelled to pour too much money into the game. That said, I did buy some packs (check out my pack-opening below) so I could build a competitive deck and finally get some wins. While a couple weeks of playing the game was infinitely more valuable than the money I spent, this has resulted in a better outcome for me and a progression up the rank ladder.Duelyst is still in its open beta, but I’m planning on sticking with it. It’s as fun and deep as I need it to be to sustain my interest, there is a considerable advantage to getting in early (in terms of building up decks and learning the card selection), and the developer has big plans for it. Plus, watching the game and the community grow has been enjoyable, just about worth the trade-off of playing a game through its beta, which can be punishing for any fan. The big question that remains to be answered is not if I’ll stick with Duelyst, but if I’ll stick with CCGs. I don’t play collectible card games, or at least I haven’t since I gave up Magic back in middle school. I was excited about the story beyond Hearthstone and the hype leading up to the release of the game, but then the launch came at a busy time in my life and I didn’t play it (I still have yet to try it). Then, a few weeks ago, James, knowing my love of all things pixelated, showed me Duelyst. I figured I’d give it a shot.To be completely clear, Duelyst was my first CCG experience (not counting Magic in middle school before my brain could even understand CCG concepts). This is a chronicle of my naïveté, growth as a player, and hopefully will bring about some shared learnings (or at least a few laughs).I’m highly suspicious of free-to-play (F2P) games. I assume that the game is free so that it can draw in as many players as possible and then, over time, the paywall is either going to get frustrating enough that I have to quit or pay, or the game will successfully find a way to extract more money from me than I would otherwise pay for a full game experience. The money isn’t a big deal for me in absolute terms, but paying out large sums for digital assets, which don’t exactly cost the developers much to sell after a point, seems annoying.Duelyst, I’ve found, is surprisingly generous in this respect. While my skill level was absolutely horrendous for my first week or two, often losing multiple games in a row, I was able to get level 20 (starts at rank 25, reaches down to zero) on the ranked ladder (where things start to get competitive) without putting a penny into the game. By then, the game regularly hands out large amounts of gold — at first through the practice grounds (solving one-hit kill puzzles) and then through daily challenges. This gold buys orbs (packs), which get cards that go into sweet, sweet custom decks. This is where James started to think it was cute that I was having epiphanies about basic CCG mechanics.Major lesson 1: You can’t win without custom decksCards are useful for decks, but they can also be deconstructed to craft other cards. This is useful if you are specializing in one faction (Duelyst currently has six) and want to build out your decks for them at the expense of the others. Disenchanting (aka “DE’ing”) is also useful because some epic and legendary (distinctions of rarity) cards are either not good or are only useful for very specialized decks. How does one know what to disenchant if you know very little about CCGs in general, and then have to learn Duelyst within that umbrella? You read a disenchanting guide.Major lesson 2: Everything in CCGs is documentedThis documentation is hugely important because, as I learned time and again, most of the decks you build on your own when you start will be terribly misguided, which means you’re going to suck. Maybe you’ll manage a victory here or there, but you’ll be repeatedly beat by players with more experience and better tactics, even if you have better cards. 1/6About to win 1/6About to win anotherlast_img

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