Timeless Beginnings

Hi, I’m Blatm and I’m one of the designers that worked on the Timeless Beginnings expansion. This devlog will be about my personal motivations for wanting the expansion to head in the direction it does.

A lot of what I felt would be well suited for this expansion came from the preexisting context, i.e. my view of Duelyst 2’s year-long history as well as the state Duelyst 2 was in at the time of the expansion’s release.

Leading up to Duelyst 2’s launch, a lot of work was put into polishing the core set, laying a solid foundation for the game, and I think we did a good job of this. However, I’ve always felt that the game was a bit light on strategic diversity, in that many of the most powerful ways to play the game could broadly be described as midrange, and felt more similar to play with and against than necessary. Over the course of 2023, this impression of mine was slightly exacerbated for two main reasons.

First, there were many balance changes over the course of the year that directly or indirectly nerfed some of the more distinct-feeling strategies that existed, further homogenizing the meta. Some examples that come to mind are Bloodrage Mask, Twin Fang, and Lady Locke. While I think most players are supportive of the nerfs these cards received, they did reduce the already relatively low level of strategic diversity present in the game.

Second, the game was relatively static all year. While there were naturally ebbs and flows in the meta, there were fewer opportunities to discover strategies that felt completely new than I would have liked. For instance, it’d be very reasonable to claim that midrange Lyonar with Sunriser was the strongest deck for at least half the year, and innovation was largely confined to the level of specific card choices, i.e. tuning existing decks.

Immediately prior to this expansion’s release, my impression of the game is that the issue of lack of strategic diversity was severe enough that it was becoming somewhat hard to coherently categorize and describe meta decks. There were some decks that genuinely felt like completely unique strategies, and had salient monikers like Spellhai and Walls to match, but a large majority of the ladder nevertheless seemed to me like indistinct astrategic midrange decks with one’s favourite cards. Some of the top performing decks leading up to this expansion were greedy lategame decks that preyed on the general absence of decks with focused gameplans.

Given this historical context, one of my primary objectives for Timeless Beginnings was to create and support novel-feeling strategies. I think other players are also looking for the game to feel new and different. My greatest concern with this expansion would be releasing it and having the game feel the same as it’s always felt. The foundation the core set laid was good, but this very moment I think the situation calls for change.

My plan for fostering strategic diversity was to give factions things they can do that feel very unique, that in part define those factions, and that one must deliberately consider when playing against them. I wanted cards that encourage creative and innovative deckbuilding, not just cards that fit snugly into existing midrange shells. Playing with and against e.g. Cataclysm or Synchronic Abomination decks should feel new and different, and it should be unclear how to best build around those cards.

I had many other more specific objectives for Timeless Beginnings too. There are too many to enumerate fully here, but I’ll give a few examples.

Ancestral Vessel was created mostly because I wanted Vetruvian to get a solid and well-rounded 2-drop. Historically they’ve relied very heavily on neutral minions; disappointingly often a Vetruvian board would have no faction minions on it at all. Existing low-cost Vetruvian minions are almost all niche in some way, fitting into one specific linear archetype and nowhere else, so both for the sake of variety and to give this card the best chance to achieve what I want it to achieve, I looked to make it versatile. It was still important to make it feel a bit quirky in a Vetruvian way, and to synergize with some of what Vetruvian is already doing, so it was designed to work in Obelysk decks and play well with Portal Guardian.

Bubblesmith came about because I wanted Vanar to get some form of damage mitigation in a way that felt sufficiently Vanar-like. Healing and damage mitigation is a critical component of many well-rounded decks, and Vanar had to turn to neutrals to get that healing, decreasing minion diversity across the game as a whole. However, it’s essential that the six factions continue to feel distinct and unique, so giving Vanar healing outright would definitely be a mistake. Bubblesmith provides the sorely-needed damage mitigation while avoiding the pitfall of blurring faction boundaries. Moreover, I wanted to support what Vanar was already doing, so the card was made to play well with Glacial Elemental and Aspect of the Wyrm.

Augury exists in part because I wanted to widen the range of effects that would feel Lyonar. The faction is at risk of being pigeonholed into generic midrange, with only removal, healing, and buff spells available to it. Furthermore, without making deliberate efforts to give new types of effects to Lyonar, this pigeonholing seems likely to get worse, as it’d be even more tempting to view any potential novelty as being more at home in some other faction. Card selection in the style of Augury is a mainstay of other card games, but was hitherto totally absent in Duelyst. It feels fitting to me in Lyonar because it simultaneously supports the aspect of consistency so crucial in the faction’s solid midrange strategies, while also creating potential for the faction to develop some more unique strategies, which will in turn make it easier to further broaden the range of effects available to Lyonar.

Many cards from this expansion constitute partial progress towards some larger goal that’ll be furthered by the remainder of the Timeless expansion. The 21 cards we’re releasing now were designed in conjunction and concurrently with the next wave, but I’d rather not spoil too much about what’s to come right now.

As a non-example of a goal, for this release I did not prioritize finely tuning the power levels of the cards. My sense is that the playerbase’s desire for new content was extremely high, so I wanted to these cards out as soon as possible. Given that, by design, it’s unclear how to most effectively build around these new cards, it would have taken me many weeks to assess the power levels of these cards significantly more accurately than I do now, and I really don’t think people want to just wait around while only I get to play with the new cards for these weeks.

My judgement was instead that the best course of action was to aim the overall power level quite high, with the expectation that balance changes to some cards would be likely to come relatively quickly after the expansion’s release. I wanted to aim high since, given this primary goal of meaningfully changing how the game feels to play, it’s a very bad outcome if the cards are too weak to make an impact. Conversely, the metagame shortly after release is virtually guaranteed to be extremely chaotic, and I’m expecting that, given the historical context, players will be excited for the first little while more or less independently of the state of balance in competitive play.

In the immediate future I hope players will enjoy doing wild things with the new cards, and I’ll aim to quickly address any serious power level issues in excess of this desire to make the game feel different than it has. Slightly longer-term, the second wave of the Timeless expansion is planned, and with that I’d like to again significantly change how the game feels to play, but by bolstering decks that are a bit more well-rounded and reactive, more akin to what has existed in Duelyst 2 historically but while being more distinctive. Essentially, in context, Timeless wave 1 is designed to be as much of a reprieve from a stale year-long meta as possible, and the environment it creates is something I view as inherently and deliberately transient and ephemeral. By orienting the game towards something to be enjoyed in context, as opposed to something more abstractly crafted whose value is ostensibly inherent, I feel much more like the game is a joint community project, and I personally really like that.