Duelyst Openings: Dance of the Mana Tiles

Positioning in Duelyst is a game in itself. Even without the stats or effects of each card, positioning can win or lose games. Not playing a card is actually an acceptable play (albeit negative tempo-wise) in Duelyst. That said, let’s discuss some potential openings and and their continuation.

Where the magic happens

Why is positioning important? Well for most situations, cards cannot do anything unless they are completely beside other cards. Isolated cards (not all but most) are useless which is why cards such as Repulsor Beast, Daemonic Lure, and Hearth Sister are played even though they have lower stats on average.

The center is where most of the battle happens. Other than the fact that players are incentivized to go to the center due the mana tiles, center is simply the most optimal position because it’s where cards’ effective and potential reach is maximized. Effective reach is the 8 tiles directly around the card. Potential reach is the other tiles it can possibly reach and affect later when it eventually moves, including its “future” effective reach.

Red is where the unit is. Yellow is its effective reach. Blue is its potential reach.

Any position that gives the maximum effective and potential reach is an ideal position. Any positioning that minimizes your opponent’s reach is to your advantage. As you move to the side of the board, you get less and less reach available.


Maximum reach means flexibility for more potential plays in the next turns


This contributes heavily to the flow of the game. This is important to remember, especially during times when you need to get to far areas of the board (i.e. when your opponent plays a jaxi). This makes the 3 center tiles, ideally the strongest position in the game since they are the only ones with maximum reach.

The three tiles that have maximum reach by default

Ok reach is good, but what has this got to do with opening and why is opening important? Opening is optimising your reach to gain board advantage. Most of the time, he who controls the board, controls the game. Thinking about the opening allows you to setup advantages later in the game while your cards have the maximum reach and flexibility as possible. Sound good? Let’s continue.

In most cases, you have 2–3 units during openings both of which are important in positioning.

Bad openings.

It’s pretty obvious so let’s just get this out of the way. Anything running towards the corner are usually bad openers except for ranged/blast minions and those that generate prolonged value (Abyssal Crawler, Spell Jammer, etc). Generally, you would want to take hold of the center tiles to gain maximum reach.

Typically bad spots for opening the game in red spots

Good openings

On turn 1, the best opening would be placing your minion in any of the 3 vertical tiles near middle while your general is in the farthest middle tile possible.

General in red. Cards in yellow. Center tile should be most effective in theory.

Of the 3 tiles, the center tile should be most effective since it gives you potential access to 3 mana tiles and it has the most reach of the 3 yellow tiles.

Most players, though, opt not to take that position since the second player will most likely take the middle mana tile anyway. Plus, taking any of the other two tiles, opens you up to a potential 4 mana play (by walking your minion towards the side mana tiles, whichever side you leaned into).

Other players prefer a more defensive position than the center tiles.

Defensive Turn 1 play

This is position is usually for minions that have a high risk to be removed/dispelled early (Aethermaster, Katara, etc.). Being away from the center ensures they are alive on to the next turn (even from dispels) while keeping within proximity of the mana tile. It can bait out tigers early, as well, for easy trading with your General. This is normally a weaker play as compared to the center tiles but completely acceptable for control decks.

Second player responses

There are a lot of potential responses by the second player on those plays. Let’s tackle the most common ones.

One would be playing two 2-drops by taking the center tile, then placing the other minion in beside the weak side (where the enemy minion is not in) mana tile .

First player minions are yellow. Second player minions are green

This develops reach, gets the center mana tile, and blocks the side tile, making it harder for your opponent to get the side tile without clashing with your minion. Assuming the minion near the tile won’t simply die on one General hit, this is one of the best responses.

A corollary to this would be, instead of placing the second minion diagonally, would be placing it vertically.

Defensive response corollary

The reasoning behind it is the same without the blocking of the mana tile. It also adds defense for the side minion. It wont die easily in two hits since the General would be blocked by his own minion if they need to both attack. There are times when this play is the best. I merely favour previous one due to potential blocking for faster opponent decks.

This next position is less optimal than the first two in most cases, but would still be acceptable. This is still placing a 2-drop in the center mana tile, but instead of placing the minion on the weak side, you play it on your opponent’s strong side.

Brawl time!

This is more for initiating early trading. I commonly see this in Vetruvian decks when playing Obelisk into Pax. The Obelisk (in the center tile) is protected from early trading while Pax is just ready to go. I don’t like this much since the upper tile is very open and can be blocked by the opponent for later use.

On to less ideal responses

Playing a 2-drop/3-drop in any of the 3 center tiles.

On to any of the green tiles

This happens when you don’t have two 2-drops (or a 3-drop and a 1-drop) in the early game. This still develops the maximum reach available while being in a good distance to your enemy and the other tiles. In play, it looks like this

Finally some real game image!

In this scenario, you might be thinking “I have no more cards to play after this but should I or should I not take the center mana tile?” This is a contemplation whether you should reserve the mana for a bigger play later or deny your opponent with the mana entirely. The answer would always be dependent on how strong your potential play is and whether the other player would benefit greatly from the mana tile. If he’s a faster deck, remove the tile no matter how strong your play is.

This next position is a bit unorthodox. Completely surrendering the center reach for a higher probability of getting a mana tile either by your minion or your general. I would suggest doing this if you have a very good 5 mana play,when you cannot trade effectively to the enemy minions or the card you are playing generates long-term value.

A bit unorthodox but nonetheless effective

Remember these are more guidelines than rules. There is no substitute for knowing your deck very well for knowing what the best opening is. Keep playing and see how your opponent opens with his minions and always think about the reason why. Better yet, keep on experimenting on your early plays and see where you gain the most tempo and board advantage.

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