Duelyst Preview

Duelyst is a tactical combat / collectible card game based in a unique fantasy world with its own distinct pixel art style. There are currently over 300 cards between five unique factions, with a sixth on the way, and each card is fully animated with its own unique sound effects as well.

The game is currently in closed Beta but we’ve been given access to have a look at how it’s shaping up since it was successfully funded on Kickstarter, and to get an idea of how the game might look as it approaches wide release. Let’s jump right and see what Duelyst has to offer tactical gamers and TCG/CCG fans alike.


Duelyst has one of the most unique aesthetics we’ve seen in a strategy card game for a long time, drawing upon the art and feel of classic console RPGs through its distinct pixel art style.


In Duelyst, players each have a General from one of the game’s five factions and a “Squad” (your deck) of 39 other cards which must be either Neutral or of the same faction as the General. Generals themselves don’t actually have any special abilities but are otherwise a unit you move around on the battlefield, and they start off with 2 Attack and 25 Health each. The grid itself is currently a standard rectangle with no terrain except for 3 mana tiles that Generals will dash towards in the hopes of collecting, as they provide 1 extra mana (called Cores) when picked up.

Players have a starting hand and total hand size of 4 cards, and in the opening hand players are allowed a one-time mulligan of any of those 4 opening cards but must accept whatever else replaces them from their Squad. Hands are always refreshed at the start of a turn to 4 cards no matter how many you played in the previous turn. All cards are paid for with the colorless mana (Cores) that increases permanently by 1 for players each turn. You can also cycle one card in your hand per turn back to your deck for another draw.

Gameplay revolves around the General and playing cards of three types: Units, Spells and Artifacts. Units appear on the field with Attack and Health, as well as whatever other special abilities they might have. Spells have a one time effect, from buffing to removal to teleportation of Units around the field, while Artifacts stay in play and provide on-going effects like doing small amounts of damage to the enemy General when Spells are played and so on.


Keyword abilities are the most of the variance between Units, and they have them in spades. You’ll recognize many from other games under different terms, but some are unique as well. Here, Death Watch abilities trigger any time any a Unit (also called a Minion) dies.

The Generals are often thrown into the fray as well – both Units and Generals will attack back immediately when attacked, permanently reducing life points. The sole aim is to reduce the opponent’s General to 0 life points.

All of Duelyst‘s elements are incredibly simple and easy to learn. It’s once they’re put together into practice that the game really comes alive, especially as combat between Units is the main focus of gameplay. All of the Units are individually animated and have a lot of character so they’re really fun to play with, and the sound design is simply stellar as well.

Duelyst feels like welcoming a returning friend, because it is both immediately familiar as well as refreshingly new and exciting. I found myself right at home in Duelyst since it brought in so many aspects of other games I already play, and it feels like Duelyst rewards that knowledge and skill base that you bring with you. That said, I think it would be also incredibly easy for beginners to pick up as well because each piece of the puzzle is easy to learn on its own: it’s just the whole that will be difficult to master, but you’ll have a great time doing so.


The digital painted style of the Menu screen with the technological iconography really add an otherworldly, alien feel to the game’s aesthetic.

Modes and Features

Currently there is no single-player campaign implemented in the game, and not all of the multiplayer modes are live yet. So at the moment we have the ability to play a random opponent with a similar rank, or you can challenge a friend on your friend’s list. The online ranked mode starts you off at rank 30 and reduces in number the higher up you go. You’ll earn gold as you do this which can be spent on booster packs, which currently cost a very reasonable 100 gold each.

The Sandbox mode is essentially like a Pass and Play mode where you’ll control both sides. Being called Sandbox, I guess it’s touted as a way to test out deck builds, but I can see this being used to do local multiplayer matches as well which is a neat feature. There is a draft Arena mode to come as well and this is what excites me the most as I feel it is often the making of a digital card game these days – whether they have some kind of limited draft play mode or not.


The inclusion of card crafting is a great way to ensure that boosters are not the sole place to acquire cards. Players are usually very thankful for this in today’s digital TCG/CCG world.

Duelyst also has daily quests which help earn more gold, and there is a crafting mode which lets you make cards out of a crafting currency called Spirit that can be earned by “disenchanting” any extra copies you have of cards. This makes it easier to get the exact cards you need to build decks so it’s a very welcome feature for deckbuilding.

There is very little story content in the game so far, and I do hope there will be more of that to come because the factions have such interesting visual designs and each faction also has a beautifully illustrated crest that shows off their civilization’s character. You get the sense that the fantasy world here is deep and engaging, so I feel very teased  by these little elements and can’t wait to learn more about them.

Each General has a feature artwork in a somewhat manga-like style as well, which brings them to life even more. I love this mixture of art styles and it really adds to the Japanese RPG influences of the game.

Deckbuilding and Strategy

Let’s take a closer look at the factions and what strategies they excel at. There are five (with a sixth on the way): Lyonar, Songhai, Vetruvian, Abyssian and Magmar. Thematically it’s a bit hard to describe each of these, as they are quite unique in style which is actually a positive thing because it shows how original they are (and that’s rare in fantasy card games these days).

The factions are different civilizations within the game world, combined of peoples and creatures belonging to that civilization’s region. You can’t currently mix factions, so you need to draw upon the faction’s own cards in tandem with any other Neutral cards you might want to come up with to complete the deck.

The Lyonar Kingdom has a lot of low-cost cards, with the focus being on being able to buff small Units with combat tricks and attack multipliers. They do however have some large hitting Units as well. Their Units specialize in the “Provoke” ability that keeps enemy Units from moving away or attacking any other targets, and also “Zeal” which gives a stat boost if they’re within 1 square of your General. Meanwhile, the Songhai have a lot of tricky, assassin-type abilities that move Units around, gain benefits from consecutive spell casting and also like to use “Backstab” which doubles the damage a Unit deals if the target Unit is facing away from it.

The Vetruvian Empire is very control-focused, with lots of ways to neutralize the opponent’s threats, steal attack points from enemy Units and give them to your’s, and also playing Obelisks that create Units for you each turn. The Abyssian faction has a lot of death-focused abilities: there’s a lot of Unit removal effects here, but also abilities that trigger through “Death Watch” whenever any Unit dies. Lastly, the Magmar are very well rounded and borrow lots of elements from the other factions but also have a lot of “Opening Gambit” effects which are abilities which trigger when they enter the battlefield.

Overall, there are a few different strategies you can pursue within each faction, but hopefully these will expand more as the card pool gets larger. Maybe the possibility of dual-faction decks will be implemented in the future somehow also, as this is something I’d love to see and think would open up the strategy of the game even further.

This Lyonar Kingdom build I use is based around playing lots of low-cost Units and Spells with a focus on buffing combat abilities quickly and cheaply. I really like the high-stats focus of the Lyonar Kingdom and it’s one of the easier factions to learn to play at the start.

Final Thoughts

Duelyst makes no apologies for wearing its influences on its sleeve: you’ll equally find shards of games like Hearthstone and Final Fantasy Tactics quite openly here. However, rather than simply becoming a clone of other games, Duelyst appears to transmute these influences into something unique and rather special, in my opinion. The art style is what causes the most immediate impression here, showing off Magic: the Gathering-esque creatures but redone in a more console RPG style of art that is rare in the TCG/CCG genre.

As to how it plays, if you imagine Hearthstone as if it was played on a grid then you’re about 80% of the way to understanding how Duelyst is shaping up so far. A lot of the gameplay mechanics and features are very similar, which makes it easy for players of similar games to get into Duelyst. What is really hard to convey in text alone though is just how much adding a grid element to the spacial dimension of gameplay changes the whole feel. I think it’s a step in the right direction for the Hearthstone-style gameplay we’ve been seeing a lot more of lately.

Duelyst is cracking up to be a great game, even though the closed Beta is missing a lot of the features that are planned for the final release. Even in its current state, it’s an extremely enjoyable game so far and is fast growing a great community of players around it. If you’re at all interested in tactical combat games, or TCGs/CCGs in general, this is definitely one to watch closely this year as it moves towards an open Beta release.

For more screenshots, click here.

Visit the Duelyst Website

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Zac Phoenix
Author: Zac Phoenix View all posts by
Zac Phoenix graduated with First Class Honors in Philosophy, Religion and Ethics and has been playing strategy card games since childhood. He has a keen interest in the underlying mechanics and player interactions of trading card games, as well as tabletop game design in the digital space. He also designs card games in his spare time.

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