The dumbest multiplayer fight I’ve ever had

I like Duelyst [official site], which is a surprise. The world of collectible card games is a giant skip full of broken stepladders and dirty blankets, but every so often you find a perfectly serviceable coffee table. Duelyst is my coffee table. I’ve been playing for 60+ hours, bullying my way up the ranks with questionable tactics and ugly monsters. But yesterday, at the stroke of midnight, I fought the dumbest, most spectacular multiplayer match I have ever played, not just in Duelyst, but probably any game. My trouble is: how do I explain this to someone who doesn’t fight in this sleazy free-to-play arena of monsters and microscopic maths? How do I communicate to you just how intractibly stupid this game was? Let’s try using words.

To those unfamiliar with the game itself, Duelyst is a turn-based card game in which you and another foul human face off on a rectangular board of square spaces. You each summon minions and cast spells, aiming to kill your opponent’s general. The general is a healthy but offensively weak piece, like a tank that shoots eggs instead of explosive shells. It must die.

There are many types of generals, with their own magical skills and specialties. Some of them conjure painful shards of ice from the sky, others boost their demons’ morale to make them deadlier. The general I play as is a horrible gothic woman who magicks “wraithlings” into existence. These purple monsters are tiny, delicate and weak, like rats made of glass. They sport small wings, yet are entirely flightless. One or two of these ankle-biters is no big deal. Three or four is a nuisance. Five or six is a threat. Seven or eight is a choking, clawing horde of hateful little sulphuric farts that leaves you wondering how things got so out of hand.

My whole schtick is this “Abyssian” horde. I add more and more mini-monsters to the board, then I instantly boost them with a tricksy spell, making them taller and stronger. Less like rats and more like skeletal ghouls. If the cards needed for this tactic fail to materialise, I can throw out another minion, one who gets stronger with each creature’s death. Then it’s just a matter of throwing the rats at my enemy in a suicidal rush. The more deaths, the better. My gothic general is basically a chaotic necro-fascist. She has large shoulder pads.

At midnight, I was putting her through her paces. Winning a match here, losing a match there. A kitten came into the room and jumped onto my wireless router. Last week, my girlfriend adopted this cat after finding her walking the streets of San José as a flea-infested waif. I was dubious, because it was 8am when I was first confronted with this animal and I try not to make a habit of taking Central American felines with obvious brain damage into my home. However, the cat has remained. She jumped on my mouse hand and chewed my fingers.




The game shouted for attention, and I was thrown into a fight with a hulking green beast of a general.

This is one of the Magmar boys. Their tactic is normally to summon creatures who grow in strength with each passing turn. Like any good wine, they will slowly ripen and mature and gather flavour and subtlety, until they become a relentless killer. They just need to stay alive that long. The general often pumps himself up too, working on his glutes and triceps and downing strengthening spells as if they were protein shakes swallowed in single monster gulps at the gym. My opponent had a banner under his name. I hovered over it: “100 Magmar victories,” it read.

Meaningless. I would crush him like all the other slow, plodding hulks. I moved my general forward, ready to scrap for the centre ground.

But within a few turns I could see this was no ordinary Magmar gym bro. Turn after turn he would replace cards, each time drawing a new one from his deck. His special ability wasn’t to grow in strength but to have both players draw a card – a skill I normally like in my opponent because it often benefits me as well.

Not this time. What we had here was a digger. A player who was pawing away at his deck as feverishly as any dog looking for a buried femur. All the while we danced around each other, him mustering his Cabernet Sauvignon demons and me throwing rats at them until they dissolved, useless and corked. My girlfriend’s cat chewed on the router’s power cord. My opponent replaced another card. What is he digging for?

When he found the golden femur, I didn’t even notice. It looked like any other green beast these dim-witted hulks used in a fight. I didn’t even read the explanatory text of the card. I was focused on getting the rats into fighting shape. And the battle had already become troublesome. This scaly lizard weightlifter had life-giving cards that he chomped on like cereal bars, restoring huge chunks of health. Cards that dispelled my magical death-feasters. Minions with irritating forcefields that blocked the first attack they received. It was a deck built to frustrate. So when the Slithar Elder came out, I didn’t alter course. I kept picking up rats and throwing them into the fire, like a disgruntled sewer worker. Come at me bro, I’ve got glass rodents!

This is what it says on the card he played.

“At the end of your turn, summon a Slithar Elder Egg nearby.”

This is an expensive but dangerous card and I completely overlooked it. Basically, a lot of Magmar’s green beasts, including this solid nightmare, have a “rebirth” skill. That means they turn into eggs when they die (green, pulsating, repulsive), and unless the egg itself is destroyed, the whole monster comes roaring back to life at the start of Mr Motivator’s turn. Normally, this isn’t too much of a problem. The eggs don’t attack back, and they’re so feeble and squishy that even my wraith-rats can slap one dead in a single blow without suffering a scratch. But this Slithar Elder – he laid new eggs. And those Elders, once hatched, laid their own eggs. By the time there was five of them on the board, I had realised my error. These scumbags reproduced exponentially.

I had some hope still. The cards I needed had shown up, little glinting jewels in my mucky, rat-haired hands. The wraithlings had become the ghoulish jerks I needed them to be – five times as powerful than they normally were, and swarming over the board in huge numbers thanks to some more fetid necromancy I’d been doing in the meantime. In previous games, whenever I reached this stage I invariably won due to numbers and well-rounded strength. I may have been hurt and backed into a corner, but I wasn’t beaten. Our dancing had landed us on opposite sides than each of us started on, full reversal, and we’d both come close to death a few times already, and both scraped back our dignity and health. Despite it all, I felt confident. Look how many ghoulish shitbags I’ve got!

But bad things happen to good rat mums. Two bad things, in particular.

Bad thing the first:

This ridiculous monster came onto the field.

This is a sphinx who introduces a “riddle”. A small, itchy spell that stops you from replacing cards as long as you hold it. Essentially, this is like a tax you have to pay at the start of a turn. If I wanted to stick my hand into my bag of slimy monsters to get something fresh and goopy, I needed to pay the riddle tithe. But when you play the riddle it doesn’t disappear. Oh no. It just goes into your enemy’s hand, hot potato style. This riddle would plague both generals for the rest of the match, the pair of us serving it back and forth like the world’s worst tennis ball. Like a tennis ball, if a tennis ball could mug you.

Bad thing the second:

If my rat factory had a heart, it was that little girl up there with the hula hoop in the centre of it all. Every time something died, she made a new rat. Which I then turned into a bigger, deadlier ratman. She was a beautiful team player. Until that weightlifting murderer turned her into an egg.

My opponent killed this egg with dark magick, while his fertile Elders continued to poop out their own leathery young, through invisible ovipositors, and all of them probably on steroids, the shameless killers. With my rat nanny dead and buried, I was in a bad place. Many of my best cards had been played. The riddle with no answer passed back and forth. My girlfriend’s cat knocked over the wireless router and climbed into a tiny drawer, where she became stuck and had to be rescued, for the second time in two weeks.

I had one last hope: a blue flaming jackass called a Shadowatcher. This guy also thrives on death, becoming stronger with every disintegrating cadaver. He was right next to the enemy general and had seen so many deaths that he was ludicrously strong. Imagine a clay brick that gets heavier with every window it smashes. That’s the Shadowatcher. He was now less a brick and more of a skyscraper.

But he was also surrounded.

The egg bros tore him apart like he was a tub of whey protein. I now had seven cards left in my deck. The game turned. Eggs were laid, and eggs hatched.

And hatched.

And hatched.

You can’t speak to your opponent in Duelyst, apart from barking some pre-made text like “GLHF” or “Well played”. Partly this is because the developers want to avoid toxic behaviour – bratty foes slinging swearwords as well as rodents at each other. But you can make little faces at your counterpart. I often made this face.

I now had zero cards and no room to manoeuvre. My only ally was a dog-like creature that I couldn’t even control called a “Gor”. I was surrounded by detestable throbbing eggs. And my girlfriend’s cat, now free of her drawer prison, was viciously biting my ankles. So this is what it feels like, I thought. This is what it feels like to face the horde.

“Well played,” I said, as I passed back the fucking riddle. “Well played.”

I died in two blows. And thus ended the dumbest, strangest multiplayer match I have ever endured. I was proud, because I had defended myself until there was only a single space left on the board, until neither player had any cards left. It had been a brutal back and forth – the longest game I’d played in all my time with Duelyst, but also the most bizarre, with the most pleasingly overwhelming finale.

I turned off the computer and finally went to bed.

My girlfriend’s cat lay in the corner, like a sleeping wraithling.


  1. Landiss says:

    Excellent writing.

    • gtdp says:

      Agreed, that was a cracking read – never played a collectable card game in my life, still thoroughly enjoyable. More of this please!

      • Viral Frog says:

        I had absolutely no interest in Duelyst until I read this article. Extremely well written and engaging. And now I have a new game to stand in the way of me and my insane back log.

    • Aetylus says:

      Too right. This is why I read RPS. I particularly like “I felt confident. Look how many ghoulish shitbags I’ve got!”

  2. Lamb Chop says:

    Brendy, you have the best words.

    Get yourself a shadowdancer and undulate to the dying screams of flightless ratlings in a frothy mixture of wine and shattered yolks. Make an omelette of his children and feed it to him from afar.

    • kwyjibo says:

      Shadow Watcher is rubbish and you should get yourself Shadow Dancer.

      Try Cryptographer instead of Horn of the Forsaken.

      • TheDandyGiraffe says:

        Yeah, basically get any other Deathwatch card… Shadowdancers (precisely for situations like this – just tuck yourself into a corner and enjoy the massacre, it doesn’t mean whose minions die, as long as they die), Deathfire Crescendo, Soul Grimwar… Shadow Watcher might be viable in silver, but it’s much worse than all the others.

  3. kwyjibo says:

    Your precious Variax just got nerfed, and so did the green monster’s Gaze.

    link to

    • TheDandyGiraffe says:

      Finally! I mean, I play abyss swarm and even I’m happy about the Variax nerf (although I wish they did it the other way – by making it a dispellable effect).

  4. Canadave says:

    I liked Duelyst, but kind of drifted away from it because Abyssian decks seemed to be the most common, and I find them annoying as hell to play against, win or lose. So now you know how it feels, I guess.

  5. geldonyetich says:

    My own reason from drifting away from duelist comes from a wholly rational fear that it’ll eat too much time. MOBAs, card games, and MMORPGS each are massive singularities in their own ways. I’ve not time enough for one, let alone many!

  6. BlueTemplar says:

    Great read!

    But these kinds of shenanigans are really nothing out of the ordinary in Magic The Gathering. A monthly magazine even had several pages dedicated to a puzzle where you had to win when everything seemed lost using some kind of trick like that.

    A combo-control deck that prevents the opponent from playing effectively in various ways then kills in (often) one turn when the right cards and mana are present is one of the deck archetypes.
    You would probably love a classic one that makes an infinite amount of 1/1 squirrels! ;)

    • ramirezfm says:

      That magazine was The Duelyst. The puzzles could be devious. MTG was so cool. UW control! Mono B Necro! Ohh, great times :p

      • BlueTemplar says:

        Actually, it was Lotus Noir (“Black Lotus” in French)… which is still being sold – but they don’t do puzzles anymore it would seem :(
        But they probably got the idea from The Duelist.

    • jon_hill987 says:

      I see your infinite 1/1 Squirrel Creature Tokens and raise you Engulfing Slagwurm, enchanted with Lure. I wiped out the largest army of Saprolings with that once. Everything seemed lost but I had my Slagwurm on the board and topdecked Lure.

      • BlueTemplar says:

        link to
        Since that combo allows for re-making an infinite amount of squirrels at will, you’ll only be able to survive one extra turn.

        Actually, that’s pretty much what happened to me the first time I encountered this deck : after picking up my jaw from the floor, I proceeded to survive one more turn by wiping all the infinite amount of squirrels by a 1 power Earthquake:
        link to

        • jon_hill987 says:

          Worse, on looking at the Squirrel combo it seems they would come in tapped (or rather you tap them to spawn the next)! I could not even force them to block on their first turn leaving them free to attack. Obliterate it is then.

  7. Shinard says:

    Rule No# 1 of CCGs: If you don’t know what a card is doing there, kill it before you find out.

    Thanks for the great read!

  8. April March says:

    That final screen in which almost every space in the board is either a Slithar Elder or one of their eggs is truly a thing of wonder.

    Grandmaster Variax (which I always misread as Grandmother Variax) is way, way too powerful. The power curve of Abyssian decks seem to be struggle, struggle, plays a card that might as well say “Win the game”. (See also: Obliterate.) What I’m saying is that you were the bad guy, Brendan, and your loss was a victory for us all.

    (Just so you know I’m not prejudiced against gothic lolitas or Disgaea cosplayers, Abyssian is pretty much my main faction. I fiddled a lot with a swarm decks, and I’m very happy now with a deck I call “Cannon Fodder” that uses the wraithlings to control the board as support for ranged attackers. It works quite well and actually won me a mirror match against Variax – my opponent was surrounded by more buff monster than a Chuck Tingle character, but had absolutely no recourse against a single ranged attacked, that I admittedly had pumped to 10 attack. The best part was that they had a card that could have saved them – a Daemonic Lure – but had used it early in the game to move a Rock Pulverizer I had placed near their general to a corner… allowing me to place the ranged attacker that killed them right next to it, where it was safe.)

    Also, you could have neutralized the Elder quickly if you had an Ephemeral Shroud. Or, like, read the bloody card text. Get your game together, Brendan.

  9. sandineyes says:

    You really took in a cat off the streets? I hope you had it checked out by a vet at least? I know they are cute, but even under ideal circumstances if they bite you and break the skin, you can die from the resulting infection.

    • Ejia says:

      Ah, I suppose we really are living in one of those darkest timeline whatsits, if death by infection is an “ideal circumstance”.

    • Landiss says:

      1) Isn’t it obvious that taking the cat to vet would be the first thing everyone does in such situation?

      2) You are exaggerating a lot. What sickness could exactly a stray animal like that have? Most likely cat-specific vermins, which in general don’t feed on humans. Other then that, what, rabies? I think that’s highly unlikely and it’s also curable. To protect against infection you just need to wash the cat and trim its claws. Cats are in general very clean animals, although a young one left alone in the street could not be able to take care of that properly.

      • Vatec says:

        It’s called Pasteurella multocida (link to If you’re bitten in soft tissue, e.g. the web between your thumb and index finger, within 24 hours half your hand will be bright red and flexing nearby fingers becomes extremely painful. Within 48 hours, the tendon sheathes near the infection site start turning into tissue paper. Wait any longer to treat the problem and you might need (extremely expensive) surgery.

        Sure, it *could* spread to the spinal cord and brain, causing meningitis. But if my experience is any indicator, you’ll be crippled by the pain long before that happens. Unless you let your cat bite your ear, nose or throat, in which case I’d recommend heading straight to the ER, just to be safe.

    • literarylottie says:

      As Landiss says, taking a rescued cat or kitten to get checked by the vet is the first thing any person with even a cursory knowledge of animals does.

      Also, while it’s true that if you’re bitten by a strange cat and it breaks the skin, you should get the wound checked by a doctor, telling someone they’re going to die from the resulting infection is extremely melodramatic. Seriously, I used to volunteer at a shelter and work with stray and feral cats, and have been bitten more times than I can count, and I never, ever got an infection. My vet tech friends tells me it happens, but it’s rare – you’re much more likely to get an infection from a dog bite (flesh-eating bacteria, anyone)? Literally hundreds of millions of people own or otherwise interact with cats on a daily basis – how many do you know that have died or become seriously ill from it?

  10. TychoCelchuuu says:

    Pictures of the cat plz.

  11. Brendan Caldwell says:

    Please see

    link to

    my tweets

    link to

    for cat updates

  12. Ghostwise says:

    “Chaotic necro-fascist” could be the big ideology for the XXIst century. It has a ring.

  13. Gomer_Pyle says:

    Splendid article!