Beginner Guide

Bandit Gang’s Guide to Nilfgaard – Overview

Devious intrigues, aristocratic elegance, ruining everyone else’s day, these are the things that make Nilfgaard great.
Subjugate your opponents in style with the empire’s huge array control tools.

Table of Contents

Introduction

This guide will equip you with everything you need to know about Nilfgaard on your journey to Pro-rank. Know thyself and thine enemy and you will win a hundred battles. Whether it is cards, plays, concepts or deckbuilding, each part of this guide will progressively advance your skills from beginner to advanced levels. Though we advocate starting from the beginning, feel free to jump around as we made this to cater to a wide-range of skill levels.  Each following section will provide an overview on the topic and its purpose, and link to the guide. 

Part 1: The Starter Deck

Intermediate and advanced players may find subtleties here that aid in piloting other Nilfgaard decks. Certainly an essential read for beginners. Click here or the image below to learn how to pilot your Nilfgaard starter deck.  Particularly, round strategy, its most potent cards, and combinations. 

Up to date with new starter decks introduced in patch 8.5. 

Usurper Officer crop (Katarzyna Bekus)

Part 2: Beyond the Starter Deck

For beginners looking to upgrade their decks, read this guide. The list of must-have cards will ensure your scraps are well spent, while an off-meta and full-meta list will give you goals to work towards. Intermediate players may find key components that can help improve their decks, for instance consistency cards that are often underrated. For advanced players, the full-meta deck will serve well as a foundation for a climb to pro-rank.  

P.S. Updated to patch 9.0, click card images in the guide for their full text. 

Part 3: Concepts, Keywords and Leaders

The foundation to proper use of any faction’s cards and deckbuilding is recognition of its core keywords and concepts. This guide can help players of all stripe shortcut their way to combinations and custom decks. 

Part 4: FAQs

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

The Essential Guide to Every Word You Need in Gwent

Trained Hawk, illustrated by: Karol Bem

Newcomers to Gwent are often overwhelmed by the vocabulary of guides and instructions. Nobody reads glossaries, and for that reason we have curated terms and concepts with added details that will put you on the level in no time. Mastering these concepts will easily see you to pro rank and beyond. Links have been placed so if one encounters an unfamiliar term, one can easily refer to it lower down the guide, or find an explanation of it in a detailed article. Happy learning!

Note: This page is a fluid piece of work and will be updated to the best of our ability.  

Basic Gwent Terms

Artifact: A card that stays on the battlefield but does not have a strength value. This is the least common type of card. 

Bronze/Gold Cards: Gold cards usually play for more points and cost more provisions than bronze cards. You can add up to 2 copies of the same bronze card to a deck, but golds are limited to one copy. You can distinguish gold cards from bronzes by their golden border.

Provision Cost: In Gwent, every card is assigned a provision cost, roughly meaning how much of your deck’s total resources need to be used to put this card in your deck. It also represents the expected number of points a card will be worth in a game. Provision cost is roughly equal to the expected points a card will play for, with a small percentage on top.  For example, 4 provision cost cards usually play for 4-7 points, and 5 provision cost cards play for 6-8 points.

Red-coin/Blue-coin: Blue-coin means going first in the match, Red-coin means going second. These terms are not included in the game, but are well known among players in the community. See Coin Advantage for the implications of this. 

Special Card: A card that does not have a strength value, and is sent to the graveyard immediately after being played.

Summon: Summoned cards simply appear on the board without being played. Note that this does not trigger Deploy abilities. 

Tempo: The number of points played in a turn. A card is said to be “high tempo” if it puts a large number of points (roughly 8 or more) on the board in a single turn. For example, Old Speartip is high tempo, playing for 12 points in a single turn. Low tempo cards take time to output potential points.  For example, Engines and Scenario cards play for initially low points, and output more as they are procced over following turns. 

Unit: A card that has a strength value and stays on the battlefield. This is the most common type of card.

Card Functions

Brick: When a card plays for less than its intended value. For example, Geralt of Rivia is said to be bricked if your opponent doesn’t control a card with 9 or more strength and it cannot activate its ability.

Control: Cards designed to disrupt the opponent’s strategy, usually through damage or locks e.g. Alzur’s Thunder. Damages a unit by 5 and can remove an engine from the board. Most greedy cards start with 5 or less strength, so standard removals reliably control them.

Engine: Cards that potentially play for more points the longer they stay on the battlefield. Some engines are more threatening than others. In general, if an engine puts out more than 1 point per turn, it is considered threatening. Nekkers are engines, since they are boosted by 1 point every time you play a unit with higher strength.

Finisher: A type of pointslam that plays for more or less points depending on the board state, and is most effective when played at the end of a round. For example, Geralt of Rivia is often used as a finisher, since at the end of the round the opponent is most likely to have a high-strength unit.

Greed: A card (or strategy) is considered greedy if it can play for many points, provided the opponent does not answer it with control cards. Engines are generally considered greedy cards, though they can also function as control if they deal damage over time. The Beast is a popular greedy card from the Monsters faction, while Assimilate is generally a greedy strategy/archetype

Pointslam: Cards that play for a high number of points with minimal risk. For example, Old Speartip is a pointslam card since it plays for 12 points with no downside.

Pre-Condition: Cards that help fulfil other cards’ conditions. For instance, Impera Brigade requires that a Soldier card be on your side of the board to trigger its deploy ability. Thus, a Soldier on your side of the board serves as its pre-condition. 

Tutor: Cards that plays/draws cards from your deck. Tutors can be units, special cards, or artifacts. For example, Oneiromancy is a special card that plays any card from your deck. Tutors often have limitations on the types of card that they can be played. Thus, they brick if there is no card of the required type in the deck.

Key Gameplay Concepts

Bleed: Players who win round control may choose to play deeply into round two to force their opponent to play good cards at sub-optimal times. This process is called bleeding. Not to be confused with the status that damages a unit by 1 at the end of its turn. Click here for a guide on this key practice. 

Blue Coin Abuse: Less common than Red Coin Abuse, this refers to the advantageous use of Stratagems in particular decks in combination with certain cards. For instance, Crystal Skull on Griffin Witcher (in NR Witchers) and Ciri: Dash (in Keltullis decks) are known for this type of abuse.

Card Advantage: If one player has more cards than the other at the start of round 3, they are said to have gained card advantage. Card advantage also guarantees last say, and usually results in winning the game.

Carryover: Some cards can be played in one round and generate points in another round, generating what’s known as carryover. There are several forms of carryover, including handbuff (Circle of Life), deck buff (Allgod, Erland of Larvik), resilience (Ciri: Nova), graveyard setup (Derran), and deck manipulation (Maxii Van Dekkar).

Coin Advantage: Blue coin is considered a disadvantage because if you pass while behind in score, your opponent will almost always gain card advantage. Conversely, a player with Red coin has the option to play extremely low tempo cards and focus on generating carryover. Stratagems help reduce the advantage afforded by Red coin, giving a small point boost to the blue coin player. Click here for a reminder on what coins mean. 

Devotion: A deck fulfils the Devotion requirement when it contains no neutral cards. Certain cards are stronger when their Devotion requirement is met, such as Viraxas. Others, for example, are unusable without it, such as Aen Elle Conqueror, who destroys himself if the condition is not met. Devotion decks tend to have powerful abilities but often lack consistency and/or control.  Note that (non)-devotion status of a deck can often give away its composition. 

Disloyal: Disloyal cards can only be played on the opponent’s side of the board and have “Spying” status. While the unit plays for negative points, these cards usually have Deploy effects that offset their negative initial value. Currently, most Disloyal cards belong to the Nilfgaard faction.

Last Say: Whoever plays the last card of the match is said to have last say. This is important as it allows you to play a tall card without worrying about whether the opponent has a tall punish, or play your own tall punish without worrying that your opponent will play a taller unit. 

Proactivity: Proactive cards are able to play for full or almost full value even when there are no other cards on the board. For example, Svalblod Totem is a proactive card common in Skellige decks. When deckbuilding, always make sure to include some proactive cards to avoid awkward situations when one is starting first in a round, especially when Blue coin. 

Reach: Reach is the number of points you can play in a single turn. Reach is most important to keep track of in round 1 on Red coin. This ensures that should Blue coin pass first, you can win with equal cards left and hence card advantage as they must play a card to win round 2. Similarly, if you are being bled in round 2, catching up in one card will maintain card parity. Reach is roughly equal to the highest tempo card playable, plus your leader ability. Do account for your own and your opponent’s engines. Ideally, one achieves reach without using your leader ability.

Reactivity: Some cards interact with other cards,  playing for no value on an empty board. These cards are reactive. For example, Alzur’s Thunder is a reactive card. Having too many reactive cards in your deck can cause you to struggle when making the first few moves of a round.

Red Coin Abuse: Red coin abuse is a tactic employed by some decks where only reactive damage cards are played, making it difficult for the opponent to develop their board while also forcing the opponent to use up proactive cards. Another form of Red coin abuse involves out-tempoing the opponent in round 1, usually allowing the player to pass while out of reach, gaining card advantage in the process. This tactic is often used by Lippy Gudmund decks in conjunction with Cerys an Craite.

Risk: A card’s risk is roughly its immediate strength contribution minus its provision cost, excluding its (conditonal) effects. E.g.  Geralt of Rivia is strength 3, provision cost of 10. This card is quite risky as the difference in minimum points value and provision cost is high. Conversely, Aen Elle Conqueror is very low risk, with 7 strength and 4 provision cost. Generally, a mixture of high and low risk cards prevents control-heavy opponents from preventing your cards from playing for their value. If you take too little risk, you may lose to greedy opponents who play riskier cards and manage to fulfil their conditions. Almost all decks have some control. Thus, it is best to play riskier cards when your opponent runs out of control options.

Round Control: Whoever wins round 1 gains round control as it grants them the option to play as long or short a round 2 as they wish. This may be to lengthen round 3 if one has many engines, or shorten it if one has higher tempo cards, and/or to bleed the opponent of their more useful cards.

Row Punish: As the name suggests, these are cards that punish the opponent for placing too many units on the same row. Lacerate, for instance, damages all units on a row by 2. To avoid getting hit by row punish, spread your units on different rows as necessary.

Standard removal: Because most engines in the game start at 4 or 5 power, standard removal is defined as any card that damages within this range. If an engine is boosted to 6 or more strength, it is said to be out of standard removal range. There are, of course, exceptions to this, such as Whoreson Junior.

Tall Punish: Cards that gain value by targeting a single enemy unit with high power. Geralt of Rivia is an example of tall punish. Avoid tall punish by distributing boosts evenly among units, bleeding the opponent, using a Defender, and putting less high base power units in your deck to begin with.

Tempo Pass: Tempo passing is a technique where a player commits a large number of points quickly in round 1 and passes, exceeding their opponent’s reach. This forces the opponent to play multiple cards to catch up, preventing them from bleeding in round 2. A tempo pass forces a long round 3, and may also force your opponent to use their leader to maintain even cards.

Thinning: In general, you want to have access to your high-end gold cards by the end of the game. Thinning cards remove cards from your deck, improving the chance of drawing your gold cards in round 3. Thinning is provided by tutors as well as cards that can be summoned from the deck, such as Wild Hunt Riders. In general, all tutors provide thinning, but not all thinning comes from tutors. Check out an analysis of this here

Trading Up/Trading down: This refers to the situation where after an exchange of two cards, one player has more (or less) resultant points. This manifests in two ways:

In the points themselves:

For example, if a Northern Realms player plays Temerian Drummer (Which boosts the unit to the right by 1 at the end of its turn) and then their opponent destroys it with Alzur’s Thunder, the Northern Realms player would have traded up by 1 point, as the Drummer has a 1 point boost still on the board.

Note: One should consider potential points when trading removal for engines. 

In the provision cost of the cards

This type of trading occurs when a higher provision cost card is used to negate a lower provision one, or vice-versa. For instance, if Korathi Heatwave at 10 provisions was used to banish a threatening engine like Anna Strenger worth 7 provisions, or if Spores at 4 provisions resets a 9 provision Ozzrel to 1 power. In these cases, it is about how many points you are denying from your opponent, rather than the single-turn provision to provision trade.

Bad Cards

In Gwent, some cards are considered bad cards. These are cards that struggle to play for as many points as one would expect based on their provision cost. A general rule for finding bad cards is to consider the following when designing a deck:

  1. How does the card fit into my strategy? Will it function as an engine, control, or point-slam?
  2. What is the risk associated with the card?
  3. How easily can the card’s value match its provision cost?
  4. Are there similar cards that play for more value?
  5. What is the chance that the card will brick?

Gwent Slang

Archetypes: A set of cards and leader combinations that execute particular concepts or strategies. Check out our Archetype Guide for analysis. 

Elder Bears: High cost cards that are easily shutdown and therefore play for as much points as an Elder Bear, a relatively poor 6 provision 6 power card.  For example, Stefan Skellen and Vysogota of Corvo

Meta: The most common decks one will face. The meta (or meta decks) refers to the most powerful and popular decks. While powerful and popular are not necessarily equivalent, they are generally related. 

Package: A set of cards within a deck that may complement each other and work independently. For example, Nilfgaard has: Spy, Assimilate, and Aristocrat-Ball packages that can be swapped in and out of decks. Low-unit decks often make use of the Madoc package, which consists of Madoc and 4-5 Bomb cards.

Meme: Meme decks are generally (significantly) weaker than meta-decks and can mean several different things along a spectrum of strength/weakness. Our series on memes gives the full low-down and see the best options in our Bandit Gang Meme Snapshot

Pro: Contextually indicates reaching Pro rank (Rank 0), or Professional, referring to players who regularly fit for spots and compete in official tournaments. 

Shortforms: Gwent, like any game, has many shortform terms for its cards. Examples include: Blood Eagle = beagle, Alzur’s Double Cross = ADC, Amphibious Assault = AA. 

Smurf: Refers to returning/veteran players with new accounts or old accounts at a low rank who thus play far better than their true rank and have better cards than their peers. It can also refer to when an individual finds a particularly effective deck and climbs the ladder quickly with it. 

Gwentonomics 101

“What are all of these different currencies on the top of my screen?”  “What kegs should I buy with ore?” “What cards should I craft with scrap?”  “How do I get more kegs, ore, or reward keys?”  These are the types of questions that all players new to Gwent have asked themselves at one time or another, and today we will be the White Wolf of Hierarch Square and talk about the economy of Gwent.  

The Currencies

Before we can dig in, we need to define the terms.  In Gwent, there are five main currencies.  These are Reward Keys, Gold Ore, Scraps, Meteorite Powder, and Kegs.

Reward Keys: Reward Keys unlock nodes in the Reward Book.  These nodes can reward players with all the other resources, as well as unique cosmetic upgrades.  Keys can be obtained from daily quests, journey progress, completing contracts, and a set amount awarded at the end of each season, depending on your rank.  

Gold Ore: Ore is used for purchasing Kegs from the shop.  Each keg is worth 100 ore.

Scrap:  Scrap is used to create cards.  The going rate is 800 scrap for a legendary card, 200 scrap for an epic card, 80 scrap for a rare card, and 30 scrap for a common card.  Scrap is primarily obtained through reward nodes and milling duplicate cards.  

Meteorite Powder:  Meteorite Powder is a currency tied to cosmetics.  Its most common use is to upgrade cards to premium versions although, occasionally, the shop will sell cosmetics such as leader skins, coins, and game boards.  Meteorite powder can be obtained through reward nodes and milling duplicate premium cards.  

Kegs: Kegs contain a random assortment of cards.  The fifth card is guaranteed to be at least a rare card, and you are given a choice between three selected cards of that rarity.  There are various kegs available to players. The most recent expansion keg will contain only cards from the most recent expansion; faction kegs will only include cards from that faction, and ultimate kegs can include any card.  Kegs can be purchased with ore, awarded from nodes in the reward book, or obtained through Journey progress.

Efficiecy Efficiency Efficiency

This guide will assume that your goal is to quickly build a competitive deck or two that will help you climb the ladder.  Thus, this guide will focus on how to obtain and spend your resources efficiently to make your account as competitive as possible and as quickly as possible.  

As an aside, Gwent is a very free-to-play friendly game (at least compared to its competition).  Players will get more than enough resources from playing the game for just an hour or so per day.  With that in mind, choosing to do something just for fun, such as crafting a card of your favorite character, will never set a player back too far. Second, I come from a background in roguelike games and, as such, I never hoard resources.  While there are arguments for hoarding, such as preparing for a new expansion or prestige level, worrying about hoarding will severely stunt a player’s progress towards creating a powerful deck.  I would only consider hoarding resources after you have a competitive deck or two that you enjoy playing.  Circling back to an economics framework, value now is worth more than value later!

Which Kegs Should I Buy With Ore?

Our goal with buying kegs will be to get a good deck as quickly as possible.  To this end, a new player should start out by buying faction kegs exclusively for their chosen faction.

The ideal strategy to get a good deck quickly is as follows:

  1. Buy faction kegs for your favorite faction. 
  2. Once you have all the bronze cards, keep buying faction kegs so you can get scrap. 
  3. Use that scrap to craft missing pieces for the deck you want to build.
  4. Once you have all the bronze cards of a faction and a deck you are pleased with, you can move onto another faction and repeat the process.  

In terms of identifying the deck that you wish to work towards, there are many available resources here at Team Bandit Gang and other competitive teams that showcase some of the best decks currently available.  Having one of these top-tier decks in mind can streamline your crafting process even further. Even if you don’t have a particular deck in mind, you can still focus your crafting on cards universally useful in multiple decks for your faction or in general.  Again, there are excellent resources available here on Team Bandit Gang explaining what cards are must haves for each faction.  

A caveat about this approach is that it is concerned with generating a competitive deck as quickly as possible.  If your goal is to collect all of the cards, it will be faster to switch to buying kegs from a new faction as soon as you have all of the bronze cards. Milling cards for scrap is somewhat inefficient—for example, a duplicate legendary card mills for 200 scrap but costs 800 to craft.  The reason we want a lot of scrap is that it can be used to craft specific cards. When we are angling for a particular deck, crafting cards that are missing gives the best odds of finding it quickly.  

How Do I Get Scrap?

There are two main ways to get scrap: purchasing it with reward keys from the reward book or milling cards in your collection.  Because Gwent is more free-to-play friendly than most other collectible card games, you will not be put in a position where you need to mill your entire existing collection to get enough scrap to buy the current flavor of the month meta deck.  Many players will have near-complete collections after only a year or so of regular play!  As such, generally speaking, you should only mill duplicate cards, even when you are starting.

Milling duplicate cards can be completely automated.  You will see a gear icon at the top of your card collection. Clicking it will lead to the auto-mill settings.  It is recommended that players select “Resource Focused” from the three options available.  This setting will automatically mill any duplicate cards that you have while favoring premium versions of those cards.  There aren’t many reasons to choose the other settings unless you specifically want premium and non-premium copies of the cards.  There is (almost) no gameplay difference between a premium and a non-premium card.  The only deck or archetype that finds using premium and non-premium cards worthwhile is Nilfgaard Assimilate because premium cards can be used to differentiate between Duchess’ Informants created and those in the starting deck. Still, we are really getting into the weeds here, and unless you are playing assimilate Nilfgaard, I wouldn’t worry about it.  

How Should I Spend My Reward Keys

The short answer to this question is that… there isn’t a right or a wrong way to spend your keys.  Generally, you will want to favor ore and kegs over meteorite powder and scrap.  Early on, purchasing faction kegs will be the most efficient way to build up a strong deck in the shortest amount of time, and ore will allow you to do that. 

It is essential to be aware that several gold cards are available from the reward book, and if you plan on including them in your deck, it is worth picking those up.  The notable gold cards available in the reward book are the Witcher Trio in Premium- Vesemir, Lambert, and Eskel– found in the Year of the Wild Boar main tree, and the location cards from the Way of the Witcher Expansion- Gorthur Gvaed, Dol Dhu Lokke, Haern CaduchKaer Seren, Salamandra Hideout, and Stygga Castle– each found in their respective faction subtree on the Way of the Witcher tree in the Year of the Wererat tab.

People have done the math for players with pure optimization in mind and calculated which trees offer the most efficient conversion of keys into ore.  /u/EvD92 did the math on Reddit and put together a handy spreadsheet.  His work can be reviewed here.

However, from my experience, what trees you invest in does not particularly matter.  In general, I find Gwent to be generous enough with Reward Keys, Ore, and other resources that I have never felt strained for keys when unlocking whichever reward tree nodes that I pleased.  As such, if there is a cosmetic item that you would like, such as a new leader skin for your favorite leader, unlocking that with your reward keys won’t set you back far enough to make any noticeable difference to your progress.  How you spend your keys is significantly less important as compared to how you spend your ore.  

How Valuable Is Meteorite Powder?

Meteorite Powder is a comparably rarer resource obtained from reward nodes and milling premium cards used exclusively for cosmetic upgrades.  Players can also purchase meteorite powder for money in the shop, and Meteorite Powder is one of Gwent’s primary monetization strategies.  From a competitive standpoint, Meteorite Powder doesn’t make a difference. Your leader skin, game board, or whether or not your cards or premium will not have an impact on your ability to win games.  That said, I think we all want to be pretty on some level, and upgrading the cards of your favorite deck to the premium animated versions or unlocking cool new leader skins, coins, card backs, and game boards can be immensely satisfying.  

How you approach Meteorite Powder is entirely up to you,  since meteorite powder is purely cosmetic and everyone has different tastes and desires for what cosmetics they prefer.  I prefer saving it and buying leader skins and game boards when they appear in the shop.  

What is the Most Efficient Way to Spend Real Money?

If you want to spend real money on Gwent, either to get ahead faster or to purchase unique cosmetics to support the game, there is nothing wrong with that.    That said, there are a few pitfalls in the shop.

First, when looking at ornaments available for sale, the shop will sell for money some of the cosmetics available in the seasonal reward trees.  If you want those particular cosmetics, you can get them by spending reward keys in the appropriate seasonal tree.  It is always worth double-checking that there isn’t a way to get a particular cosmetic without spending money.

Second, you will generally be better off buying Faction Packs than Kegs from the shop when starting.  For example, you can purchase the Skellige Faction Pack for $6.99, and it will get you 5 Skellige kegs, some nice cosmetics, and Harald an Craite (a strong gold card that is important in many of the best Skellige decks).  Compared to buying Skellige kegs directly from the card keg menu, you get significantly more bang for your buck with the Faction Pack.  

Finally, most players will agree that the most value for dollar comes from purchasing the premium Journey.  However, the Journey is another article for another time.

Conclusion!

One of the great things about Gwent is that compared to other CCGs on the market or other mobile games in general, it is infrequent that a player will feel truly starved of resources.  This guide makes recommendations as to how to spend resources, but it should be considered relatively informally.   If you invest reward keys or kegs inefficiently, it won’t set you back too far.   Any player who sticks with the game, plays for the daily login and quest rewards and progresses through the journey will accumulate enough resources to have multiple competitive decks within a few months of playing.  So get out there and play some Gwent!  

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

Like a Stuck Pig (The Strategy Of Bleeding)

Wait, What’s that picture of Blood Moon doing up there!?  Not that kind of bleeding!  

One question that I hear time and time again from players new to Gwent is, “when should I ‘dry pass’ and when should I ‘bleed’?”  It can be challenging to give a concise answer to that question because the answer is contingent on various factors ranging from what deck you are playing, what deck your opponent is playing, what happened in round one, and what cards are in your hand.  This guide aims to open a discussion to clarify the different options players have available in round two.

The Terms

Before we can dive in, let us define some terms.  Gwent is a game that is played in a best-of-three format.  When a player wins the first round, there are generally two strategies that they may employ, “dry passing” and “bleeding”.

Dry Pass:  A dry pass simply refers to passing immediately in round 2 without playing any cards.

Bleeding:  Bleeding is generally a catchall term for playing cards in round two, usually with the goal of “bleeding out” essential combos that you don’t want to deal with in round three. 

Card Advantage: Card advantage means having more cards than your opponent at the start of a round.  In Gwent, each card can represent many points, and it can often be difficult for your opponent to make up the points from an extra card.

Last Say: Last say means playing the last card of the round; this is generally coveted because you can deny your opponent the opportunity to counter a potentially game-winning combo.   

Dry Passing

The dry pass is a popular round two strategy because it carries the least risk and can give you a guaranteed advantage.  Card advantage and last say are precious from a tactical standpoint, and dry passing will often guarantee one (or both) of these.  

Most of the time, the player who wins round one will be a card down, simply because the opponent can choose to pass if they don’t think they can win the round or otherwise want to conserve the other cards in their hand.  In this case, a dry pass will fix the card disadvantage (since your opponent will have to play a card to win round 2) and guarantee the last say (since your opponent won the round, they have to play first in round 3.)

In rarer cases, a player may “win on even.”  A player wins on even when they win round one with the same number of cards as their opponent.   In this case, a dry pass will force the opponent to play round three a card down and give double last say (your opponent has to play first because they won round two, and because they are a card down, you will play your final two cards unanswered.)

Dry passing is a popular beginner strategy because it has tangible benefits that you can generally guarantee and, in general, is the safest choice.  

Bleeding

Compared to a dry pass, choosing to play into round two carries genuine risks.   You have to play first, usually a card down, and you might even end up giving your opponent the last say and card advantage over you for the final round of the game.  So why would a player give up the guaranteed benefits of a dry pass?

Well, bleeding allows you to throw a wrench in your opponent’s game plan, so it can be quite useful.  If you think about most games of Gwent, there are cards that you want to hang onto. Cards that you depend on to win the game.  If you are bled, you could be forced to play those cards in round two, whether you want to or not.  The person being bled typically cannot pass until their opponent does. This is because if they lose round one and round two, it’s game over for them. So if you are bleeding someone, and you are behind, you can keep playing, and they have to keep playing cards as well, whether they want to or not

Bleeding is a common tactic against decks like Blaze of Glory Skellige with Eist or Lined Pockets with Tunnel Drill.  These cards represent huge point swings with relatively little opportunity for counterplay.  Bleeding can force the opponent to commit these combos in round two to stay in the game.

Bleeding is also frequently effective against decks that depend on a long round.  Decks like Nilfgaard and Eldain Trap decks thrive in a long round.  Bleeding in round two shortens round three, so if you are playing a deck with a solid short round- you can give yourself an advantage by bleeding your opponent and creating a round length more favorable to your deck.

Finally, bleeding can cause your opponent to make misplays or otherwise play inefficiently.  As we noted above, your opponent will have cards that they will try to avoid playing and conserve for round three.  Those cards will frequently not be played optimally and instead used only as a last resort.   This change of focus can cost your opponent a significant amount of points and may even cause them to lose round two.  A great example of this might be your opponent playing Masquerade Ball when they no longer have enough aristocrats in their hand to trigger the whole scenario.   Sometimes this can result in a 2-0 victory.

To Bleed or Not to Bleed? That is the Question.

Many factors decide whether bleeding your opponent in round two is the best strategy.  Some of these considerations include knowledge of the opponent’s deck, what cards were played so far in round one, and what your hand looks like in round two.

Knowledge of your opponent’s deck is one of the most critical considerations, and so possessing some meta knowledge is essential.   We talked about a few of the decks that bleeding is often a good strategy against above, but there are also decks where bleeding is exceptionally dangerous.  Monster Viy decks and Skellige Lippy decks have devastatingly powerful short rounds.  In general dry passing ensures the longest round three possible and is frequently the best tactic against these decks.

Aside from knowledge about how your deck matches up with other decks, you also need to consider the state of your hand going into round two.  There will be cases where your hand is not in a position to bleed.  You might have essential combo pieces that you want to save for round three, and you might just have a bad hand that you want to mulligan away.  The decision of whether to bleed the opponent thus will often be a game-by-game decision.

My rule of thumb is essentially to look at my hand and ask myself these four questions;

  1. Does my opponent have a win condition I need to bleed out in round two?
  2. Does my opponent prefer a long or a short round three?
  3. Is my hand good enough that my opponent will have to play an extra card to defend the bleed?
  4. Do I have a plan to win a short(er) round three?

These are your primary concerns when deciding to bleed.  Moreover, bleeding is frequently the default strategy for several decks.  Viy, Lippy, and Northern Realms Witchers – strong point slam decks that excel in short rounds –  will generally want to bleed their opponents.  

Using Northern Realms Witchers as an example, long rounds are frequently dangerous because cards like Yrden potentially ruin the matchup. Most dedicated engine decks are often able to outvalue the Witchers throughout a long round three.  On the other hand, a short round has significant advantages for the Witchers.  The deck possesses some very powerful point slams, such as the Witcher Trio (Lambert, Vesemir, and Eskel) playing for 15 points if correctly set up with Erland and Vesemir: Mentor.  Bleeding with this deck can not only force a short round on decks that would beat it in a long round, but it can also potentially draw out counter cards like Yrden in round two.  As a result, Witchers will generally prefer to bleed, and vice versa; they are generally more difficult to bleed.

Viy is another deck that will almost always want to bleed.  Viy has possibly the most potent short round three in the game.  Viy decks will not generally lose any real value by playing cards in round two due to Viy’s unique ability to return to the deck and increase power every time it is killed or consumed.   Playing against Viy, unless you have a hand that is capable of a 2-0 against the centipede, usually you will want to force as long of a round three as possible so that your engines have an opportunity to outvalue Viy.  

Conclusion

I suppose that this is just a way of saying “just go with your gut.”  Bleeding is a high-risk, high-reward strategy, and sometimes pursuing it will lose you the game.   I’ve won games I should have lost because my opponent was too greedy in round two and tried to 2-0 me, and then was defeated in a short round three.  I’ve also had games where I tried to bleed out a win condition, and the opponent was able to successfully defend the bleed and force me to go into round three a card down, sealing my fate. 

The ladder does not punish losing players heavily because Gwent does not have any form of demotion.  The best way to learn how to bleed your opponent and apply pressure is to practice—work on getting a feel for your deck and what your hands can do. Think about the considerations we discussed above, and don’t be afraid to try pressuring your opponent in round two.