Strategies and tactics are the core of winning a duel game. Depending on your class and your opponent's class, some strategies differ, while others are effective regardless. This area will feature general and detailed information on how to respond to various attacks and other scenarios.
As a beginner, there are some basic skills you need to master in order to play the game effectively. These are foundational and you will find the game frustrating without them.
- Accept the fact that you're going to lose nearly all your battles while you're learning to duel. This is an e-sport as much as it is a video game, and it takes some training to get the basics. You will have to work hard against a lot of great players in order to gain the skills to win against them.
- Unlock all your artifacts and character classes. Sometimes the fastest way to do this is in duel queue with another person because the games go quicker when you lose fast. You'll need all your artifacts available to be effective in battle.
- Claim your embers quickly. Learn to hear the spatial audio for where they spawn. Get them before they're shot and break the pillar. If the ember breaks but you land on the pillar an instant later, you'll still save the pillar from destruction. Keeping your pillars is important as it lets you move around more.
- The first ember spawns sometime within 8 - 10 seconds into Rounds 1 and 2, which is about enough time to fire off two fully charged primal attacks. On Round 3, the first ember spawns earlier, somewhere around 6 seconds from the round start, which is about enough time to fire off 1 fully charged primal attack. You can somewhat keep track of time in game based on number of primal charges.
- Generally single-spawn embers are 20 seconds between spawns; double spawns are 15 seconds between spawns, and triple spawns vary from 10-15 seconds between spawns. These numbers haven't been precisely verified across several games, but are a good starting point to understand game pace.
- Aim your primals reliably. Do as much target practice as it takes to consistently hit every ember spawn location and flying skulls.
- Learn to turn off your hand shield and let it rest in between shots, so it heals.
- Learn how to center-block with your hand shield. Learn how quickly it takes damage, and ways to get out of the line of fire before it breaks. A partially damaged hand shield can still be used occasionally while it's recharging. If you let it fully break, it has to fully heal before you can use it again, and that's a long wait.
- Learn when to shoot and when to either teleport or hold your fire so you don't take a lot of reflected damage that bounced off your opponent's shield.
- It's fairly safe to shoot when you have a full hand shield. It's not as safe if your hand shield is already broken! If your shield is dying, continuing to shoot will likely only hurt you more than your opponent, due to reflected damage (unless you also heard or saw your opponents hand shield break). You don't always have to be attacking! It can make sense to save your attacks for breaking embers and for use in combination with other attacks that take down your opponent's hand shield.
- Or, if there's not an ember about to spawn, you can unload your primal into your opponent, and then teleport out of the way of the reflected primal. This means in the next series of primal exchanges, your opponent has the weaker shield and will need to teleport before you do. This gives you the opportunity to hit them while their hand shield is broken, or use a spear or other attack while they're locked in place by teleport cool-down.
- If an ember is about to spawn, try to save your teleport so you can get to the ember quickly.
- Know how to cast every ember spell your character class has, and notice how long they take to cast. Most can be partially cast much more quickly and still be useful. Learn how to cast and how to cancel a casting without firing it.
- Spears and ember push attacks are meant to be used up close, where the other person doesn't have time to dodge, and when their teleport cool-down has them locked in one spot. Don't use them at useless times and don't waste your embers.
- Learn to quick-shield, which means casting an ember shield when it's barely charged. Sometimes your opponent will be right in your face with an ember push spell, and you'll need to block it very quickly with an ember shield. You can rehearse this in an empty Battle Duel queue. You can cast an ember shield the moment the progress circle shows up visibly; you don't have to fill the circle.
- Get really good at center-blocking primal attacks. To compete effectively against intermediate to advanced players, you should be center-blocking nearly all primals. Yes, that's hard. If you're a short player (less than 6 feet tall) you might also check out the wiki page on height issues, as it can help your shielding.
- Your hand shield and ember shield cannot block a spear. Teleport away or eat the damage. It's better to turn off your hand shield so that it doesn't get destroyed too; that way you can at least block primals immediately after. Arenas have destructible cover such as wooden trellises and stone by pillars; none of that will block a spear either. Only the indestructible arena landscape or an arena guardian can stop a spear from continuing forward. Spears are really strong, but slow enough to teleport away if it's used over too far of a distance.
- You can assemble the spear by doing the first two strikes while you're not visible to your opponent and then the third strike the moment they pop into view (especially if they're sufficiently distracted to not hear the first two rings). This helps ensure that they don't know the spear is coming and they're on teleport cool-down so they can't jump away (and no shield is enough to block a spear), guaranteeing you land damage.
- Learn how to assemble every Arena Guardian in under 6 seconds. You're vulnerable while assembling it; you might need an ember shield while you're learning. Later on you'll need to sometimes be able to do it quickly without shielding first.
Intermediate goals are about learning to plan your attacks more effectively and take control of the map sometimes. This requires more fine control of your primals, shielding, and combination attacks.
- Learn to curve your primals. Aim your fire a little to the side of your target, and watch it curve closer. If you're too far to the side, it won't lock on to the target. If you're too close, you won't get much curve and it'll be trivial to block. Anarchist can curve fireballs. Kineticist can give trash a spin and a curve. Electromancer can wobble their hand side to side or up and down to spread out the bolts. BlackJack, you don't have any curve available; those knives fly very straight. Drifter curves work like Anarchist fireballs.
- Learn to control the speed of your primals, if you are anarchist, drifter, or kineticist. Find the slowest you can throw a primal. Find the fastest you can throw it. This lets you mix it up during battle for different kinds of interactions. Anarchist, holding your wrist steady and giving a tiny push with you arm will let you throw a slow ball. On the other hand, flicking your wrist will throw a fast ball. Drifter, you throw a slow ball by barely pulling back your slingshot, and a fast one by pulling it back several inches (you don't have to go too far). Kineticist, try the Anarchist techniques. EM and BJ don't get speed control.
- Experiment with holding your hand in different positions and angles as you work your primals and ember attacks. Some classes have variations you only discover with practice, such as anarchist can throw a fireball with their hand sideways instead of up-and-down like usual. Blackjack can turn their giant blade on its side. Depending on the angle you're aiming at, sometimes that's a more reliable aim or closer to the curve you need for an extreme angle or height.
- Learn how to throw ember attacks fast and slow if your class allows for it. A wrist flick or a fast push can make skulls or lightning balls move quicker. Skulls (and airplanes) can be thrown up or down for interesting timing and angle effects, rather than just straight ahead. Explore what each class can do and which ember attacks can be curved or timing adjusted, even if it's not the class you usually play (you'll eventually face it in battle and should understand its capabilities).
- If you're playing kineticist, you'll be able to throw more frequent primals by memorizing the location of every piece of throwable debris on every arena map, so you can point at which one you want. There are also ways to throw them before they even reach your hand. All classes have more subtle things to memorize, too, like how to curve their push attacks and where to find cover from incoming fire.
- Learn the arena layouts well. Figure out where you can get partial cover and for how long. Figure out where to hide to assemble a guardian.
- Learn how to assemble every Arena Guardian in under 4 seconds. You should be getting faster at these now.
- Learn the behavior of every Arena Guardian and how to beat it quickly, or how to play effectively against your opponent while ignoring the Guardian. (Sometimes your nearly-dead opponent is the easier target.)
- Memorize how many primal hits each artifact takes to kill, such as the Burner and the Airplanes. Memorize what it takes to split a skull, how close you can let it get, and how to herd them around the arena and crash them into things. Understand what your ember shield can and cannot block.
- Start putting together combo attacks. Combo attacks usually include some form of breaking the hand shield, dealing damage from one or more sources, and making teleport impossible or costly, all in a few seconds. There are many possible combinations, and these form the advanced strategies in use. Here are some examples.
- A cthulu's grasp which punishes teleports combines with a skull, lightning ball, or spear that forces teleport, creating a tricky situation for your opponent. In the moment when they're panicking between skulls and cthulu, sometimes you can create a spear and they won't notice the noise. Teleport in close beside or behind them and they won't have time to dodge. Many other combinations are possible. Attention is a limited resource, and keeping someone busy makes it slower for them to respond to ember spawns and less likely to notice sneaky things you're setting up.
- Drifter can combine birds (which encourage teleporting away) with mines (which limit the safe spots to land on) to trap their opponent. A fully cast mine is partially invisible, so they may not even notice it before teleporting on top of it. Combine this with some heavy primals. The person may lose their hand shield, take damage from a couple birds, take damage from a mine (or two), and then get hit with the drifter's heavy primal damage in addition before their hand shield has recovered. In battle, this happens very quickly, giving the player very little chance to defend and few options. It can deal heavy damage quickly, once the drifter has saved up enough embers to pull it off.
- Kineticist can throw a heavy primal object to break a hand shield and immediately hit them with the debris scatter push attack (both attacks landing simultaneously), guaranteeing massive damage from the push because there's no hand shield to protect from it. This can be accomplished the moment someone comes into view, which also ensures they're on teleport cool-down and can't jump away, and likely don't have time to ember quick-shield because they didn't expect the combo. To defend against this, keep a distance from kineticists and be especially cautious about when you can't see them while you're teleporting.
- There are also passive defenses; for instance, the Burner gives you a second clear spot if Cthulu's Grasp is cast, making Cthulu largely ineffective. A common answer is to ensure the Burner is dead before pulling out Cthulu's Grasp. Anarchist can attack the Burner with fireworks even if the fireworks don't manage to take out an ember or damage the opponent.
- Keep track of your ember count and your opponent's ember count. Start anticipating ember spawn timing (20 seconds with single spawns; 15 seconds with double spawns; 10-15 seconds with triple spawns, although these numbers haven't been double-checked).
- Try not to use up your last ember on attacks; it's important to be able to quick-shield when heavy attacks come in.
- Know when to play defensive and stay safe, and when to spend embers with an overwhelming series of attacks. Some classes do better if they wait until later in the game when they have an ember advantage.
- Learn how to deal with triple-ember push attacks, especially when you're at an ember count disadvantage. When your opponent has 3 embers and you only have 1, they can do a lot to hurt you if you aren't prepared to respond. An example response would be to hand shield the first push attack; teleport away for the second; and ember shield against the third. That requires only 1 ember to defend against 3 ember attacks. However, you may take damage while your hand shield is down. Other variations may be possible depending on where you're at in teleport cool-down when the process begins.
- Start learning how to stack primals. Hide a second fireball behind a reflected first fireball, making it harder to center block and more likely to break your opponent's shield. Learn to match the speed of reflected primals, both slow and fast, so you can choose what moment your attack lands compared to the other reflected attacks. Exhausting your opponent's hand shield will generally also exhaust your primals (leaving you nothing to deal damage with after the shield is gone) unless you get clever about the timing and stacking of reflected shots and added shots.
Polishing and Improving
As you grow competent in duels against intermediate players, you'll still be thinking about how else you can improve and start to take on top players. There's always room for polish.
- Combine slow and fast primal attacks from different pillars to toast your opponent's hand shield a moment ahead of landing slower heavy damage. Learn how to hide extra primals in the reflected primals and time it correctly for extra damage.
- Study how to land damage after breaking a hand shield, how to break the shield reliably, and how to efficiently use ember attacks for both breaking shields and landing damage. Watch for opportunities to break the shield just ahead of landing artifact damage or other heavies.
- Discover or design combo attacks, and learn to keep up the pressure from primals even while your other attacks are taking effect.
- Refine your aim and speed control on primals.
- Refine your hand shield understanding for every combination of classes and attacks.
- Work on center-blocking practically all primals damage and reduce the incidental damage you get picking up embers or casting ember spells. Eliminate those moments of openings.
- Use gaps in time to prepare quick shields (that you might not use) and ember spells (that you might not use) when they are appropriate to the battle in progress. Know how to cancel a casting and switch directions and when to do so. Use the time to do something useful.
- Make sure you know how to deal with both left-handed and right-handed players. The patterns differ a bit.
- Check out past tournament videos and recent streams to discover more techniques, combos, and things you didn't realize were possible. Note when the video was published as the game might be played on an older version and then see how those same players changed tactics or choices at later times and may have gotten better or worse.
- Start to identify what combos produce guaranteed damage that your opponent can't instantly squirm out of.
- Know when you're leaving yourself open to attacks. Notice when your attention gets too involved in your attack pattern and makes you miss a cue that you're going to need to defend. Don't let your confidence make you blind to what's actually happening.