A Few Thoughts on Pet Openings

Hi guys, its been a very long time since I last penned an article on opening theory (my old blog has tonnes of articles of this stuff). Anyway, today I thought I’d briefly talk about how some of opening theory has changed since the release of Shimzar.

Before we get into the analysis proper I want to briefly talk about a few opening principles in general, this will help with discussion later on.

“So what makes a good turn one play?”

In my opinion there are four basic components you should look for when making a turn one play (as Player One). These are:  

  • Are you able to secure a Mana Spring next turn?
  • Is your General able to claim the centre square next turn?
  • Is your General and/or 2-drop minion able to attack enemy units next turn?
  • Is my minion safe if I put it on square X? (e.g. think about stuff like Katara/Chakri Avatar vs Tiger)

These four basic principles govern the openings; the more of these points you can tick off the better the play is likely to be. A move that follows all/most of these points is likely to afford you a lot of strategical options on your following turn; and in strategy games flexibility is paramount.

Okay so with this framework in place let’s start looking at some opening moves shall we?

In the picture on the left its turn one of the game and Lilithe is wondering where to place a minion. There are three basic choices.

The Pink blob is what I call the ‘standard opening’ (sometimes also just referred to as “diagonal opener”). By dropping a minion on this square we have the ability to grab a Mana Spring next turn and/or attack the enemy should they lay claim to the central Mana Spring. Moreover, the General is also able to move two squares forward next turn to claim the centre. Thus, this opening checks most of the boxes.

The Yellow blob is what I call the ‘centre opening’. Just a few months ago this move was practically unheard of, The Scientist was probably the first player to popularise this opening when he won the ‘Tournament of Grandmasters’. Today this is a very popular square for Battle Pets. But, outside of pets this is rarely seen.

“What about the Green blob?”

Well, the green blob opening is a weird little thing I do sometimes, and much of today’s article when be discussing it (particularly in reference to pets).

When we look at the four bullet points above the Green Blob opener gets a score of 3 out of 4. It does not do a good job at grabbing Mana Springs, but it does offer more safety than the other two openings discussed so far; it offers your minion protection from threats via distance. For example, before patch 1.74 (which nerfed Kara BBS) you would often see this positioning employed to stop things like Bloodtear Alchemist + Maw Shenanigans. More recently, Tempo Argeon can punish the more standard openings in a similar way (e.g. Arctlyte Sentinel + Bloodtear).  

With this said, “safety” is of course relative to (a) the threats you are facing in a given meta and (b) how resilient your 2-drop is against those threats. For example, if you open in the standard way (pink blob) Azure Shaman is not as vulnerable to Maw + Bloodtier as Healing Mystic is (3 vs 4 life is the difference between life and death, in this particular case). In short, if you want to play the Green Blob because it is safer you should play it with a specific threat in mind.   

Okay, so that’s most of the introductory material dealt with, now we can move onto the main point of this article:

“What do we do with Battle Pets?”

The downside to playing pets is that we have very limited control over their movement and the attacks they make (the only control we have over them is our initial choice of what square to put them on!). The four opening principles outlined above promote flexibility above all else; we want the option to attack enemy General/minion(s), we want the option to grab Mana Springs, and so on. But these dastardly pets do not give us any options at all. In fact, it is our opponent that calls the shots; they decide if we get Mana Springs, they decide is our pets get to attack on not. Thus, when discussing pets in the opening we need a new set of paradigms and objectives by which we can evaluate success.      

To be fair, a lot of the playerbase has adapted to pets; most ladder players I’ve seen drop their Pets in the centre (yellow blob) rather than the go for a ‘standard opening’. And at first glance, it is easy to see why this opening is liked; the yellow blob represents the only square you can place a Pet where it can walk onto a Mana Spring, enabling you to ramp out a 4-Mana play. Again though, grabbing the Mana is not certain; the opponent can claim the centre for themselves or just turtle and let RNG does its thing.

The centre opening for pets is a reasonable choice, but there are a number of drawbacks to it which can be punished. And it is for these reasons I sometimes opt to play Green Blob with my pets.

There are a number of situations where I feel the green blob opening is a better for Pets compared to either the standard opening or the centre opening, but before I start with the explanation I would like to add mention a few caveats:

  1. The Green blob opening is arguably better than the centre opening IF you anticipate your opponent will Turtle (that is, position diagonally).
  2. Green blob opening is only better than centre opening when you anticipate your opponent will drop a minion on the central Mana Spring AND you expect your pet to survive the attack.

In other words, what I am saying here is that green blob opening is better for a pet like Rex than it is for a pet like Pax. I am also saying that your opening choice ought to be match-up dependant.

Implicit in the above statement is an important idea that relates to more or less any game you wish to master. Learning general principles is great but it will only get you so far. Masters meanwhile, have not only memorised all of the general principles they have also internalised the 101 exceptions/caveats to those principles. To use a chess example, knowing that “Rooks should be placed behind passed pawns” will help you beat your dad or your school teacher But if you know all the situations where this rule of thumb is incorrect you are probably a Grandmaster! In short, the devil is in the detail and you guys need to be acutely aware of that.

Okay, I went on a bit of a tangent there, let’s get back on topic!

Alright, let’s imagine you open in the centre (with Ooz) and the opponent responds by dropping a Lantern Fox on the Central Spring. The result of which will probably look a little something like this:

** Please note, this article has been on the back burner for a long time; when I initially started writing this article Lantern Fox had four health, hence the above picture.  A more modern example would be something like a Rex punching a Silverguard Knight. **

**An Even better example would be an Ooz crashing into a centre spring Sojourner.**

The Ooz smacks the Fox and on this occasion the creep tile has unfortunately been spawned under the General, not the Fox. This means that if we want to kill the Fox this turn we are going to have to use a card from our hand.

Normally we would like the General to run two-forward and smack that damn Fox silly with our face. But alas, the very fact the Ooz survived means that we are in an awkward position; The fox lives, we do not get to attack our General and we fail to claim the centre tile.

Now I want you to imagine the position pictured above but with the Ooze positioned one square down from where it currently is. Notice how much better this position is! The General can rush forward to smack the Fox which claims the centre and gets a confirmed kill.  

Okay so hopefully everyone reading agrees that Ooz one square down puts Lilthe in a better position. Now let’s work backwards; where could we have played Ooz on turn one such that the Ooz ends up on the square we want?

What if we played the Ooz in the ‘standard’ way?

Well, it turns out that if we play the pet in either the ‘green blob’ position or in the ‘standard’ way our pet will move forward one tile. In short, our opening choice will not make a difference in this particular case.

But what if our opponent makes a different play, what if they ‘turtle’, for example?

In the above position we can see two pets, Amu (played in the green blob position) and Ooz played in the standard position. Lyonar meanwhile has turtled with a Silverguard Knight. The Greenish circles represent all the tiles Amu might move to (presumably with a ⅓ probability). Likewise, the stripey circles represent all the tiles Ooz might visit (with ⅓ probability).

Notice that one third of the time Ooz may move and block the centre tile (the ‘stripey square’, in the above picture). Hopefully some of you remember that at the beginning of this article I said that one of the key aims of any decent opener is to give yourself the option of placing your General on the centre tile. Well, if you place a pet in the standard position there is a 33% chance you won’t be able to grab the centre. Amu’s placement meanwhile means that our General can always lay claim to the centre, regardless of whether the enemy Turtles up or grabs the central Mana Spring.

In short, there are two good reasons to consider opening green-blob instead of the standard position with pets. The first is the risk of cards like Maw or even Ephemeral Shroud messing with you. And, as just discussed the second reason is the risk that the opponent turtles and we can’t grab the centre.

If we open in the centre meanwhile (Scientist style) the risk is that we get punished by our Pet surviving some attack. I cannot tell you what to do, but I can make you aware of some of things you should at least consider when positioning your furry little pets.

Okay, so let’s wrap this little article up. Today I briefly outlined some of the basic opening principles for Player One and showcased why we need to rethink these strategies when the 2-drop happens to be a Pet.

However, perhaps the most interesting– and by far the most important– lesson on show here is the idea that there is no general principle that is always right and can thus be followed dogmatically.  Think for yourselves, explore your decisions in nitty gritty detail and sniff out all the glorious exceptions to all those general principles you would normally follow. If you can do all that then you are well on your way to being crowned Duelysts first World Champion.

UPDATES AND EDITS: Reddit users pointed out a few errors, these sections have now been removed. Added a new paragraph and a pretty picture explaining how the standard opening can backfire (Smash 4th Feb 2017)

Smash over & out!

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Sleepy