WARNING: Wall of Text Ahead. Do not operate heavy machinery while reading this post. Void where prosecuted. All writes reversed. This warning brought to you by Mini-Jax. Mini-Jax: The Donut That Bites Back!
Tempo is a hard enough concept to describe in a simple game like Hearthstone where positioning is almost nil. In Duelyst, there’s an entire second layer to tempo. But I’m getting ahead of myself. In order to properly talk about tempo, we have to start with a more fundamental concept: the value chain.
The Value Chain
Cards start in your Deck. By Drawing, you move them to your Bar. By Summoning, you move them to the Board. By Moving, you bring them (when necessary) to the Fight. And by Swinging, you deal Damage. The ultimate goal, of course, being to build 25 Damage on the enemy General. (Spells, naturally, have effects on all stages of this chain, but 99% of games are won by minions on the board, with spells as elements that swing, but rarely win, a game.)
So the Value Chain looks like this:
Deck –Draw-> Bar –Summon-> Board –Move-> Fight –Swing-> Damage.
So, how does this relate to Tempo? Simple enough — the deck that currently ‘has the Tempo’ is the deck that is moving cards down the value chain more effectively than the opponent. There’s a lot of writing on the Interwebs about how Tempo is basically “the initiative” — the player who is on the offense, deciding which minions Swing at what rather than the one being swung at against his will — but the truth is that, if you’ve moved your cards down the value chain more effectively than your opponent, you will be that player.
In Hearthstone, this is simply a matter of “establishing greater board presence” followed by “having a board presence that resists your enemy’s attempts to remove it,” which is why Paladin (Shielded Minibot, Muster to Battle) and Mage (Flamewaker, Frost Bolt) are the Tempo classes in Hearthstone — one whips out phenomenal hard-to-remove minions, the other removes minions cheaply enough to put down other minions at the same time. But in Duelyst, there’s an entire second layer to tempo — board position.
See, in Duelyst, it’s fully possible to have a huge board presence that is simply irrelevant because it’s too far away from the fight to Swing at anything. Or, more often, it’s fully possible that the player that is “on the offense” — that in Hearthstone would fully be “the one with the Tempo” — is forced because of clever positioning or Provoke or other factors to attack inefficiently.
In Hearthstone, there is no ‘retreat.’ In Duelyst, there are entire factions (at least one) that can barely win a fight without retreating. So in Duelyst, a big part of Tempo is being able to play your minions in such a way that they are — and remain — relevant to the fight. This is why pinning your opponent to the side of the board with a Bonechill Barrier and two Snowchasers is often a game-winning move for a Vanar. It’s also why Songhai can win games by running away just as often as it wins games by charging face — because the simple act of moving your General can stall out your opponent’s Tempo for a couple of turns, and that’s sometimes all Songhai needs to whip out a lethal combo. Which means that there are a couple of layers of depth behind Tempo decks in Duelyst that there simply aren’t in Hearthstone.
How to Build a Deck with Tempo in Mind
In Hearthstone, a ‘tempo’ deck is simply one that is devoted to maximizing board presence. Every card should be oriented toward either accelerating your own board presence or destroying your opponent’s board presence. No draw, no face-only DD spells, no dinking about. Just build a big, sticky board and crush face.
In Duelyst, because of the draw-2 and Replace mechanics, you can afford to be just slightly more loose with your focus. For example, you can run a pair of Scion’s Second Wishes in a Tempo deck, because the likelihood that you’ll see both at once is slim, and even if you do (and you don’t want to cast them yet), you can Replace one. In fact, it’s beneficial to your Tempo to have access to a few (1-3) draw effects, because Tempo decks tend to run lots of lower-cc minions and thus run out of steam much faster than decks that play 5+cc minions regularly.
But unlike Hearthstone, merely drawing and playing a unit isn’t enough to guarantee that it’s relevant to the fight, because placement is also a concern. If you drop a Flash Incarnationed Unstable Leviathan on Turn 5 and then get it Daemonic Lured to the other side of the board, you just effectively failed to summon that unit until turn 7 or 8. That’s why it’s also beneficial to your Tempo to have access to just a couple of mobility effects when they’re convenient. If you’re Songhai, you run Mist Dragon Seal. If you’re Lyonar, you run like 1 or maybe 2 Magnetism. If you’re Vanar, you run Hearth Sister. If you’re Vetruvian, you run Scion’s Third Wish so that moving a minion instead of removing it becomes a lethal mistake. (You don’t ever run Astral Phasing.) If you’re Magmar or Abyssian…well, you could run Ghost Lynx, but more likely you just suck it up and hope you can lure the opponent toward the middle of the board.
Assuming they’re not already in your deck for other reasons (i.e. Mist Dragon Seal, Scion’s Third Wish), you now have at most 5 deckslots taken up: 3 draw effects and 2 mobility effects. Your other 34 cards should be efficient minions and efficient removal, tilted fairly strongly toward minions, and adhering to a fairly low mana curve. I’m not going to offer any specific advice because every faction, playstyle, and individual deck is and should be different, but I’ll tell you this much: I never ever ever build a Tempo-style deck with less than:
- 12x 2-drops
- 8x 3-drops
Striking the Mana Balance
In Hearthstone, there are Tempo decks that run cards up to 7 and 8 cc (Boom and Fordring). But in Hearthstone, you only draw one card per turn. In Duelyst, you draw 2, and you cap out at 9 mana. Because your goal is to move down that chain to the “swing at face” point as quickly as possible, you want to keep casting everything every turn (even when you do play the occasional draw card.) But you also want to be able to get as close to spending all of your cores as possible every turn, because unspent cores essentially amount to ‘wasted Tempo potential.’
This means that you generally want a Tempo-oriented Duelyst deck to peak out around 5cc, with a few 4cc as well so that you can, optimally, drop a 4cc and a 5cc card on 9 mana. Mostly, though, you want 2- and 3-drops so that you have a high chance of dropping something on turn 1, and because 2- and 3-drops together can easily fill up your first five turns (2-6 cores) with 2 cards per turn with no net card loss (and thus no effective punishment for overextending.)
(Sidenote: This is the major reason why it’s so hard to balance board clears in Duelyst. In Hearthstone, the dramatically higher hand size means that Tempo decks benefit by not playing cards once they’ve achieved a modestly reasonable board. In Duelyst, Tempo decks basically have to overextend, because if they don’t, they reach the point where their hand is full on the third turn, tops. This means that board clears are very nearly as devastating to Tempo-oriented decks as they are to Face-oriented decks, which in turn makes them very difficult to position in a space where they can be relevant without being OP. Adding another 1-2 slots to the Action bar would go a long way toward making Control decks more conceivable and toward allowing Tempo decks to refrain from overextending in the face of a board clear — which would, in turn, make it more reasonable to have decent board clears. The fact that right now literally every AoE except Holy Immolation does 2 or less damage is just…sad.)
The Best Cheap Tempo Minions
The makings of good cheap tempo minions are simple:
- It should have good, if not great, stats for its cost. (1cc: 4 stats; 2cc: 5 stats, 3cc: 7 stats, 4cc: 9 stats, 5cc: 13 stats. Generally speaking, tempo decks don’t want to cast minions above 5cc because it’s too easy to love titanic amounts of board presence to a single removal if you invest in an Dragonbone Golem or an Archon Spellbinder.)
- Those stats should be geared toward either a more-or-less even distribution, to ensure a good balance between resisting removal and successfully removing. Exception: sufficiently cheap cards (1-2cc) can be heavily skewed towards attack for the purpose of enabling a ‘trade up,’ taking out his 3-4cc minion with your 1-2cc minion so you have come cc left over to play other things.
- If it has a secondary effect, that effect should either remove the opponent’s cards, move them backwards along the value chain, or accelerate your own cards’ progress down the value chain.
- It should be independently strong, and if it’s going to combo, the combo should take it from ‘independently strong’ to ‘freaking amazing.’ For example, Primus Fist is independently strong at 2/3 for 2, and Orb Weaver is independently strong at 4/4 for 3. Together, they can create 15 for 5, which is a HUGE pile of stats for the cost.
This means that the Basic and Common high-Tempo Neutrals are:
- 1cc: Maw
- 2cc: Healing Mystic, Primus Fist, Jaxi
- 3cc: Saberspine Tiger, Bloodshard Golem (cheapest creature that is immune to both Plasma Storm and Tempest/Breath of the Unborn/Mana Burn)
- 4cc: Hailstone Golem, Thorn Needler
- 5cc: Brightmoss Golem, Dancing Swords
Honorable Mention goes to Rock Pulverizer, Helm of Mechazor, and Ash Mephyt. (I know Ash Mephyt gets a bad rap, but it’s amazing how much stronger it feels now that Plasma Storm and Tempest have been nerfed!)
So if you’re going to start learning the Tempo game early on in Duelyst, you’d do well to pack your deck with several of those and then put in other high-tempo faction-specific minions like:
- Lyonar: Windblade Adept, Silverguard Knight (high stats for cost),
- Songhai: Jade Monk (solid stats w/useful special), Phoenix Fire (cheap spot removal)
- Vetruvian: Bone Swarm (cheap AoE), Starfire Scarab (cheap repeating AoE).
- Abyssian: Grasp of Agony (cheap AoE), Gloomchaser (stats + # of bodies)
- Magmar: Young Silithar (stats), Phalanxar (stats!), Adamantite Claws (cheap repeating removal)
- Vanar: Fenrir Warmaster (stats!), Cloaked Creeper (stats), Snowpiercer (cheap repeating removal), Hailstone Prison (return something expensive for a big Tempo boost).
Then, add some solid faction removal spells. There are almost no bad removal spells in Duelyst, at least from a tempo perspective. Ghost Lightning possibly the worst. Oh, wait — there’s Deathstrike Seal. Yeah, you don’t want to use a ‘removal’ that is going to cost you more cards than it costs them, and frequently, Deathstrike Seal is something you slap down on a minion that is otherwise worthless so it can trade into their Emerald Rejuvinator or whatever. That’s strict card disadvantage. Compare that to killing the same creature with your creature plus a Twin Strike — you draw a card to compensate for the Twin Strike, and you get a spare 2 damage on their other creature at the same time.
Optionally (but it’s a good idea), add in just a few cards that allow you to draw, preferably immediately and preferably while doing something else at the same time and/or being free:
- Lyonar: Lionheart’s Blessing (free, draws immediately if you attack just after casting it)
- Songhai: Killing Edge (draws while adding HUGELY to board presence, but conditional)
- Vetruvian: Scion’s First Wish (cheap, adds to board presence while drawing)
- Abyssian: Rite of the Undervault, sadly, is the best they have, but you could also go Magmar style without any real
- Magmar: Just play a slightly higher curve than other Tempo decks and let the D2R1 do it’s job.
- Vanar: Cryogenesis (draws while removing enemy board presence — win/win!)
- Neutral: Don’t even bother with Void Hunter.
Also note the single card in the game that serves as both mobility-enabling and as a draw effect:
- Lyonar: Arial Rift (Airdrop anything, draw a card, dirt cheap)
And (only if there are open deckslots after everything else is accounted for) you run one or two of the mobility-developing cards mentioned earlier (Magnetize, Mist Dragon Seal, Third Wish, Hearth Sister).
What About Buff Spells?
In general, Tempo decks want to avoid buff spells. Buff spells are removed when the creature ‘wearing’ them is removed, which makes it super-easy for your opponent to use one card that he has moved down the value chain to remove two cards that you have moved down the value chain — and your cards have usually moved even further down the chain than his one, since removal is cast from hand and creatures have to swing from a relevant place on the board. That’s just too much of a setback to invest in.
UNLESS, that is, your buff spell comes with some other usefulness attached. For example, Scion’s First Wish also acts as a draw effect. Scion’s Third Wish stands in for a mobility effect and an AoE removal. Diretide Frenzy stands in for an AoE removal. And buffs like Shadow Reflection and Saberspine Seal can easily be used as finishers — you don’t need to worry about tempo if your current action is going to win the game! Just keep the finishers to a small amount — 1, maybe 2 — or you’ll end up in the same situation as with Deathstrike Seal, above.
Conditional Cards and Tempo
Also, buff spells are conditional: they’re worthless if you don’t have a minion to cast them on. Tempo decks loathe conditional cards, because they’re difficult to move down the value chain. This is why War Surge isn’t a good Tempo card — because if your opponent is effectively keeping your board clear, you’ll never cast it, and it’ll just sit there like dookie in the street. Stinking. Compare this to Razorback, where the stats for Razorback if cast with just one other creature in play are 9 for 4 — not quite ideal, but good enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to put a Razorback or three in a strong Tempo deck. (Similarly, Divine Bond is not a good Tempo card. Sorry, Lyonar.)
Weaknesses of Tempo Decks
Tempo decks feel strong, like barreling your opponent down in a freight train. But they aren’t without their weaknesses. Tempo relies a lot on momentum, and if your opponent ever firmly shatters that momentum (What do you mean, Makantor Warbeast!??!), it can feel nearly impossible to get it back. Also, Tempo decks rely on board control to keep the opponent from hurting you, not packing a lot by way of healing because those cards don’t contribute to the Tempo effort. This means that decks that just kill you from the hand (What do you mean,Triple Nightsorrow Assassin?!!?) can finish you off despite your apparent immanent victory. Don’t let those moments get you on tilt — this is Duelyst. Everything is OP.
Wow, that was hella longer than I had expected. Hopefully, y’all have a better understanding of the idea of Tempo, and how to keep Tempo in mind while you’re building a deck in the game of Duelyst. Next time, I’ll have a fun post — a set of 1000-spirit Mechaz0r! decks for every faction and some advice on what makes a good Mechaz0r! deck.
Until then, keep on Duelying!