The Power of Suboptimal Plays and Card Advantage

What I like about Duelyst the most is how you can ensure many wins by making careful plays and putting your opponents into difficult situations. However, not everything can go your way as bad draws do exist like most other CCG. That’s when making suboptimal plays (or doing nothing at all) is something we need to do to win games. Sometimes, it’s incorrect to just play at least one card every single turn, and other times we need to make plays that we usually don’t want to do. In this article, I’ll be showing examples of how card advantage is important to have in most games and how making suboptimal plays can win you games.

Card advantage

I was at 0-2 during the November qualifiers against Zezetel, and he played Reva as his last general. I wasn’t getting good results with Argeon, so I decided to play Reva.

I made a decent opener by playing Katara towards the bottom mana tile. I ended the turn with 5 cards in my hand, leaving me with plenty of options to counter his first turn.

After Zezetel replaced his Heaven’s Eclipse into Ki Beholder, he realized that he didn’t have a clean answer to my Katara. However, he had a few options to choose from. He could have:

  • Develop a Ki Beholder and pray that I can’t snowball with my Katara and/or remove his Ki Beholder
  • Play Tusk Boar and Mist Dragon Seal to kill my Katara
  • Remove my Katara with a buffed Tusk Boar after developing his Chakri Avatar.

I think he should’ve went with just a buffed Tusk Boar killing off my Katara as this would’ve left him with more options for the following turn and a better time to develop a hard-to-answer Chakri Avatar.

As you can see in this picture, the odds of me drawing into answers to his 2/3 Chakri Avatar are high enough so that he won’t cause any further damage to me in the near future. I can also ignore the Tusk Boar since the buffs on it will disappear before returning to Zezetel’s hand. From there, I was able to threaten his general’s life by slowly developing threats on the board and forced him to spend resources with neutralizing them. Eventually, I secured my victory as Reva.

The reason why I often avoid putting all my eggs into one basket recklessly is that it can backfire very easily if my opponents can answer my premature threats. Often it’s better to strike whenever the best possible opportunity reveals to me.

In game 5, I didn’t have a powerful turn one play, forcing me to play Slo early.

Zezetel however had good options to choose from. His best option was to develop a Katara on board and kill Slo with Tusk Boar (battle pets will attack the closest enemy when the owner’s turn starts). I’d also replace either the Chakri Avatar or the Four Winds Magi as they don’t have much usage in the first 3 to 4 turns.

He instead replaced Katara into Juxtaposition, played Tusk Boar to hit Slo, placed Chakri Avatar in the general’s face and inner-focused the Tusk Boar to kill slo off. Not only was that a sub-optimal play, but he doesn’t have many good options to play for the next few turns. However, I didn’t have any great plays after replacing L’kian.

Suboptimal play

This is one of the few scenarios I had to face when my card draws weren’t in my favor. I had a few options: play nothing and hope that I can kill of his threats with Slo and Holy Immolation, play Slo to at least take less damage from the Chakri Avatar, or develop Slo and L’kian.

One of my biggest mistakes I’ve made was just playing Slo since not only may I not be able to play a decent 4 drop (playing L’kian on turn 3 can mill me a card) but I also don’t have a good board to contest with Zezetel, and he could play a Lantern Fox and gain card advantage. While I could play nothing, my biggest fear is taking too much damage on his 2nd turn. Accelerating into L’kian on turn 2 would probably be the best play to make as I can simply give myself more cards to use (possibly another Slo) and that I don’t have to worry about him playing at least 2 spells a turn.

Despite his low card advantage, he was able to reduce my general’s HP to 9 by turn 6. I knew that he was running Spiral Technique in his deck and I didn’t want to risk dying on his turn. I also knew that playing an Ironcliffe guardian alone won’t help soften the damage with the heartseeker unanswered. While I do value Martyrdom the most as removal, I knew I have to heal myself by sacrificing the Ironcliffe guard to live for at least 1 more turn.

Turns out that he didn’t have Spiral Technique in his hand, but he would be able to answer my Ironcliffe Guardian with Onyx Bear Seal and reduce my health to 2. He only attacked me and ended his turn, leaving me at 16 HP.

The next turn, I was able to draw into Aegis Barrier and Grandmaster Zir, allowing me to eventually win 3-2 against Zezetel.


The moral of the story is to know when to use cards for each turn you play. The right choices will help secure victories and it’s always good to have plenty of options in all stages of the game. And don’t be afraid to make plays you don’t usually want to do. Sometimes less-optimal plays become the best plays to make.