Deck Archetypes in Gwent

One of the hardest things for new Gwent players to understand about the game is deck archetypes. Deck archetypes are categories of decks that share similarities in how they are structured and how they win games.

If you’ve played other CCGs, you’ll need to change your perspective on deck archetypes for Gwent. The lack of a mana system and player life totals, as well as the one card per turn rule, means Gwent’s archetypes look completely different from other CCGs.

In Gwent, decks and archetypes can be boiled down to the point differential. How do you generate points, and how do you prevent your opponent from generating points?

Most archetypes have a mixture of cards that are intended to generate points and cards that are intended to interact with your opponent and disrupt their gameplan.

You can think of this as a spectrum: on one end, certain decks are almost solely focused on their own side of the board. On the other end, certain decks are almost solely focused on disrupting the opponent’s plays.

Archetype Spectrum in Gwent
Archetype Spectrum: On the left are decks that focus more on their side of the board. On the right are decks that focus more on the opponent's side of the board.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the deck archetypes of Gwent, including:

  1. How they win games
  2. How they match up against other archetypes
  3. An example deck to give you a feel for the archetype in action
  4. How to play the archetype
  5. How to play against the archetype

If you’re just starting out, the next section will give you some guidance on which archetype to choose. Beginners should start by learning how their deck works: what its powerful plays are, how it wins games, and how it is most likely to be disrupted.

From there, becoming great at Gwent means knowing the variety of archetypes and learning to both disrupt them and to anticipate and play around how they will disrupt your deck.

Which archetype should I play?

The best archetype for you likely comes down to personal preference. If you tend to play Gwent while multitasking, you may be well suited to archetypes focused on your side of the board, such as Engine Overload and Pointslam. If you want every matchup to play differently, Control is a great option.

For beginning players looking to learn to get better at the game, Midrange decks are an excellent option. Midrange balances you playing out your own gameplan with disrupting your opponent’s plays. The limited removal tools of Midrange decks means that you’ll learn which units of your opponent’s to prioritize dealing with and which ones you can leave alone.

Swarm can also be an excellent option for beginning players, since it has an extremely clear gameplan. Swarm can also help you learn about the importance of round control and what to do differently when you win Round 1 or lose Round 1.

Control

Control decks win by disrupting the opponent’s plays and reducing the value the opponent can get from their cards.

Control decks have a lot of removal (damage or destroy) and disruption (e.g., Lock, Purify, spies, etc.). They usually have few proactive plays, preferring to react to what the opponent is doing. Control decks also need a few high-point plays, since they cannot win on removal alone.

Matchups

Control thrives against engine-heavy decks, such as Engine Overload. They can struggle against decks that don’t care about removal and locks, such as No-Unit and Pointslam decks.

Example Deck

This Reckless Flurry deck can play a heavy control gameplan, often keeping opponents off the board entirely for the first few cards of each round. The Madoc + bombs package is the core of your control, and the 3 charges of your leader ability can combine well with the various bomb damage for flexible removal. The deck also includes both tall punish (Geralt: Axii and Junod of Belhaven) and wide punish (Lambert: Swordmaster and Gerd). The remainder of the deck is filled out with high-value cards to generate your own points.

Playing as Control

How you play your Control deck will be different every game. You need to know what decks and cards to expect from your opponent, so you can plan how to use your resources accordingly. Spending a 5-point removal card on a low-value target, then allowing a high-value target to stay on the board later, can lose you the game.

Control decks generally prefer red coin. If you are on blue as Control, evaluate how well you think you can disrupt your opponent’s game plan, especially in a long round. If you have the tools to disrupt your opponent’s game plan in a long round, you can pass early and give up round control.

Playing against Control

Against Control, one of the most important strategies is to bait out your opponent’s removal. If you have certain cards that can get lots of value if they stick on the board, try to play lower-value removal targets first.

Know what tools your opponent is likely to have to disrupt your gameplan, then plan around them. For instance, against Skellige you can expect cards that benefit from Bloodthirst like Gutting Slash and Djenge Frett, and you can time your plays to make getting Bloodthirst bonuses awkward. Often, your best bet against Control is to force them into awkward plays that don’t get enough value out of their removal.

Reckless Flurry Decklist
Example Control Deck: Madoc Reckless Flurry

Midrange

Midrange decks have a mixture of cards that disrupt the opponent and cards that put points on your side of the board. Midrange decks look a lot like Control decks, but with less of a focus on winning through disruption and more of a focus on winning through point generation.

Midrange decks thrive on their flexibility. They may not be able to deal with all of their opponent’s cards, but they can prioritize removing high-value targets while developing their own gameplan.

Midrange decks are very common, and they’re generally a strong candidate for beginners looking to improve their game. Playing a lot of a Midrange deck will help you learn what targets to prioritize, when to focus on disruption vs. point generation, and how to best use your resources.

Matchups

While Midrange can do well against most decks, decks that can output a ton of points like Engine Overload are often difficult to win against.

Example Deck

This Midrange Pirate’s Cove deck has a mix of control tools, pointslam, and powerful engines. Like most Midrange decks, it plays very flexibly. Removal like Professor and Whoreson Junior can be used whenever, even in Round 1 if necessary to secure round control. The deck’s engines are also flexible, as you can often afford to drop Saul de Navarette or the Bleinheim Brothers in early rounds.

Playing as Midrange

Playing Midrange effectively requires understanding both your own gameplan and your opponent’s gameplan. Midrange decks generally have several removal tools, and using those tools most effectively is extremely important. For instance, as Scoia’tael, knowing when to use your Nature’s Rebukes and when to save them will help you increase your win percentage.

Gaining round control is always helpful, but it is particularly important against high-powered point generation decks like Engine Overload and Pointslam. You generally won’t be able to disrupt your opponent’s entire gameplan, so breaking up their combos by controlling the pass is very valuable.

Playing against Midrange

If baiting out the opponent’s removal is helpful against Control, it’s even more helpful against Midrange. Midrange decks usually have several removal and disruption tools, but they won’t have enough to control your entire gameplan.

Many Midrange decks prefer either long rounds (because of key engine cards) or short rounds (because of high-value pointslam). Forcing a Midrange deck into medium round lengths, especially if your deck thrives in those rounds, can overpower them. If you’re bleeding your opponent in Round 2, you can also force them into an awkward position where they either have to commit powerful engines against a possible pass or hold them back and risk losing a card.

Pirate's Cove Decklist
Example Midrange Deck: Pirate's Cove

Swarm

Swarm decks win by adding a large number of units to the board (known as swarming), then playing cards that benefit from having a lot of units (known as swarm pay-off).

Swarm decks generally have a healthy balance of swarm cards and swarm pay-off, and they often have flexible space for utility cards to help improve certain match-ups.

Matchups

Swarm has good matchups against a lot of archetypes, though any deck can improve their matchups against Swarm by adding row punish cards. Swarm can struggle against some Control decks, especially ones that can efficiently eliminate smaller units. Swarm tends to not go tall on its units, so it does well against Control decks that primarily include tall punish.

Example Deck

Arachas Swarm mixes cheap and efficient swarm cards (Arachas Nest and Spontaneous Evolution) with powerful swarm pay-off cards (Yennefer of Vengerberg and Triss: Telekinesis). The deck tends to use Crimson Curse and cheaper swarm pay-off like Bone Talisman to win Round 1, then finish off the game with its ability to quickly swarm and drop a very high-value Yennefer. Control tools like Korathi Heatwave and Parasite can be flexibly played to disrupt your opponent’s gameplan or kill damage engines that can control your swarm.

Playing as Swarm

An ideal starting hand for a Swarm player is a mixture of swarm cards and swarm pay-off. If you have a lot of swarm pay-off, it’s best to keep your weaker swarm pay-off cards, since you want to save your most powerful swarm pay-off for a Round 2 push or Round 3.

As a Swarm deck, you should usually push to win Round 1. Round control is crucial, since you can control when to swarm heavily and when to play your most powerful pay-off cards. Without round control, you may find your opponent breaking up your most powerful combos by passing after you have swarmed and before you have been able to take advantage of that swarm.

Know what length of rounds your deck prefers. While some Swarm decks love long rounds, others have too many units and can run out of board spaces in a 10-card round. In either case, round control will help you play to your deck’s strengths.

Pay attention to sequencing and understand how you can get the most value of each card in your swarm deck. Swarm decks tend to produce a lot of points, but they do so via synergy more than raw point output. Poor sequencing or inefficient use of your cards can lead to you struggling to catch up to your opponents.

Finally, be aware of common cards that can punish your swarm (known as row punish), and time your swarm pay-off appropriately. If you spend resources filling an entire row just to have your opponent Crushing Trap or Gerd it all away, you’re in a world of hurt.

Arachas Swarm Decklist
Example Swarm Deck: Arachas Swarm

Playing against Swarm

Since round control is particularly important to Swarm decks, it can be a huge advantage to win Round 1 against Swarm. A strategically timed Round 2 push, in which you disrupt your opponent’s ability to both swarm and pay off that swarm in Round 3, can win you the game.

On red coin, it’s generally good to play a long Round 1, even if you end up losing, because you will reduce the swarm deck’s ability to go into an ideal Round 3.

On blue coin, if your deck has the tempo to keep up and not lose on even, you can also push for a long Round 1. If your deck is likely to lose on even in a long Round 1, then you should play as long as you can without losing on even and retain your most powerful plays for a possible long Round 2 push.

If you win Round 1, you should usually push Round 2. You can push until your opponent has swarmed but not played swarm pay-off, then pass to a Round 3 where they may not have the swarm tools to win.

Don’t be afraid to go a card down in an all-in Round 2 push, especially if you have a strong short Round 3. A swarm deck with 4 cards in Round 3 is unlikely to be able to outpoint a strong 3-card Round 3 from most decks.

Engine Overload

Engine Overload decks play a large number of units that generate more points over time (known as engines). These decks rely on the fact that all except for the most control-focused decks won’t be able to remove these engines.

Matchups

Engine Overload decks fare poorly against Control decks, since engines are generally weaker than other units if they are dealt with. Against decks with few or minimal control tools, such as Pointslam, key engines surviving can win you the game.

Example Deck

This Devotion Passiflora list has enough engines that most decks will struggle to remove them all. Passiflora Peaches provide cheap engines that can bait out removal, allowing more powerful engines like Lieutenant Von Herst and Saul de Navarette to stick. This version is more versatile to respond to other decks, though some versions of Passiflora decks lean even more engine-heavy, including cards like Dire Mutated Hound and Imke.

Playing as Engine Overload

By their nature, Engine Overload decks generally prefer long rounds so that their engines can gain power over time. As such, you should generally shoot for a long Round 1 win, followed by a dry pass into a longer Round 3.

In the mulligan, keep bronze engines and lower-provision gold engines. Your goal is to win Round 1 as cheaply as possible. Ideally, you also want to draw out some of your opponent’s removal to clear the way for your more powerful cards in Round 3.

Before playing Engine Overload, look at your deck and evaluate which engines are best if they stay on the board and which engines are weaker. Combined with the knowledge of what removal tools your opponent’s faction has, this will allow you to sequence properly.

Against most decks, you should play out your weaker engines first, since they will often be removed. Try to time your stronger engines so that they make it awkward for your opponent to remove, such as playing them when a Syndicate player has an empty bank.

If possible, play your engines as early as possible in the round. Most Engine Overload decks have some Special cards and non-engine units, and those should be saved to the end of the round unless you have to respond to an opponent’s threat.

Passiflora Decklist
Example Engine Overload Deck: Passiflora

Playing against Engine Overload

Round control is key against Engine Overload decks. While they will always get one long round in the game, if you win Round 1, you can control when that long round happens. Even if you cannot win Round 1, you should generally push as far into it as possible, since every card after 4 in hand shortens the length of Round 3.

If you win Round 1, you should almost always bleed against Engine Overload. You can often play a medium length Round 2, keeping a few key cards in your hand for Round 3 and getting some powerful engines out of your opponent. Don’t be afraid to lose a card with a long Round 2 bleed. Most Engine Overload decks will struggle to beat a good short Round 3, even up a card.

If you are facing an Engine Overload deck, decide in advance which engines you will prioritize removing. If you use your removal tools too quickly, it’s quite likely that your opponent will stick powerful engines and win the game.

Pointslam

Pointslam decks focus on powerful high-point plays, often with minimal or no cards that interact with the opponent’s board. Unlike Engine Overload decks, they tend to put out a lot of points in relatively few turns, though they can need time to set up the right conditions.

Matchups

Poinstlam decks often perform well against Control, since they lose little value from having their cards removed. Pointslam can struggle against decks with strong long rounds, such as Swarm and Engine Overload.

Example Deck

Ever since its introduction in Way of the Witcher, Viy has been the Pointslam deck to beat. Viy decks care little about what their opponent is doing, including only a Spores and perhaps a Natural Selection. This deck’s cheap Thrive engines mean that it can get a lot of points out of its low-provision slots. The deck can be slow to build up tempo, but it can also play long into Round 1, then take advantage of round control to manipulate a short, high-powered Round 3.

Playing as Pointslam

Most Pointslam decks are flexible on round length, so they can be open and adjust to matchups. As a Poinstlam player, you’ll often have the tools to win one long round, but not two long rounds. Try to anticipate which round your opponent will want to play long, and save your engines and other long-round cards for that round.

Usually, your goal is to overwhelm your opponent with a few high-powered plays in a short Round 3. Pointslam decks will beat almost any other deck in a short Round 3, often having 40+ points on 3 cards.

It’s important to hold on to your short Round 3 power plays, but you may need to use them strategically in earlier rounds. Some “finishers” can be helpful to hold on to to close a large gap quickly in a Round 2 bleed, or to force an extra card from your opponent when you are the one bleeding.

Playing against Pointslam

If you’re playing against Pointslam, you should almost always try to position for a longer Round 3.

While you want to win Round 1 to secure a long Round 3, be very careful about playing too far into Round 1 if you cannot guarantee a win. Pointslam decks have very powerful short rounds and can often quite easily 2-0 you if you play a long Round 1 and lose.

If you don’t have the tools to win Round 1, it can often be better to pass early in the round, especially if you can play long enough to get a few solid cards from your opponent. If you pass after playing 3 cards and go into a 10-card Round 2, your opponent will often have to either not get their card back in a long Round 2 bleed, or keep even cards and go into a medium Round 3.

Many Midrange decks prefer either long rounds (because of key engine cards) or short rounds (because of high-value pointslam). Forcing a Midrange deck into medium round lengths, especially if your deck thrives in those rounds, can overpower them. If you’re bleeding your opponent in Round 2, you can also force them into an awkward position where they either have to commit powerful engines against a possible pass or hold them back and risk losing a card.

Viy Decklist
Example Pointslam Deck: Viy

Niche Archetypes

No-unit decks are a type of Control deck that tries to play as few targetable units as possible in Round 3. These decks play Immune units, artifacts, and Special cards in Round 3 in order to make your removal cards worthless. Your biggest strategy against No-unit is to secure last say, since then you can deny a strong finisher like Harald Gord.

The remaining 3 niche archetypes are almost exclusively Nilfgaard, the faction of the niche archetype.

Mill decks attempt to win via card advantage by reducing your deck size to nothing, known as “milling” your cards. Mill decks prey on inexperienced players. Their low tempo means they are fairly easy to beat if you always push to win 2-0.

Hyperthin decks try to thin out their deck so that hyperthin pay-off cards like Yennefer: Divination and Triss Merigold can consistently get value. Hyperthin’s provisions are usually invested in thinning cards, so pushing tempo can make their plays very awkward.

Clog decks win by filling their opponent’s deck with worthless cards, such as copies of low-strength tokens. They generally finish the game out with Kolgrim. When facing Clog, keep your high-powered gold cards in hand (since your later draws will be less consistent). Make sure to save an answer for Kolgrim if possible.

Conclusion

If you’re learning Gwent, my suggestion is to start with one archetype and learn its ins and outs. If you continually switch decks and archetypes, you’ll likely slow down your learning significantly.

Once you find an archetype you like, try out a few decks of that archetype. Different decks in each archetype play somewhat differently, though they will have a lot of their gameplan in common. In most metagames, each archetype will have a one or two top-tier decks. Learning archetypes well enough to know their matchups can help you counter the current meta.

Happy Gwenting!

~LawAndOtter