Hey guys! Zedi here.
I’ve played a lot of card games in my time. From Pokemon TCG in the playground to a varsity push in collegiate Hearthstone tourneys, it’s fair to say I’ve made my way around the block when it comes to CCGs. None of them however have grabbed and enticed me the way Gwent has. Within my first month of playing, I hit pro rank using a homebrew Elf list for Scoia’tael. I learned a lot during those thirty days, and it’s fair to credit the speed at which I learned to my years of experience playing other card games. That being said, I had a lot of help on my climb, and despite my pre-existing knowledge of sequencing strategies, deck-building and card-tracking, it was important for me to ask questions, learn from more experienced players, and engage with the game at a very personal level before I was able to find success on the ranked ladder.
If you’re an ex-Legend Hearthstone player, a Magic: The Gathering enthusiast, or a Lulu-abusing Runeterra player looking to break into the Gwent competitive scene, then consider this guide your ‘one-stop-shop’ introduction to Gwent. In this guide, we’ll introduce some of the key differences between Gwent and other competitive CCGs, and discuss the ways you can best translate your previous experiences to success on the Gwent ranked ladder.
Gwent’s round-based gameplay makes it totally unique from other card games. While experienced players may be familiar with many basic concepts, such as tempo and “playing to your outs”, some of the more advanced strategies of the game may feel foreign to even the most well-versed card gamers out there.
The first thing you’ll notice when you load into the game is the layout of the board. One of Gwent’s pivotal mechanics is the ability to play your cards to one of two rows: melee or ranged. Since the game’s initial launch as a side-event in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, row placement has been a critical piece of Gwent’s strategy. Though the starter decks you have been provided for each faction (except Syndicate) are fairly uninteractive with your opponent’s side of the board, rest assured that the upper echelons of the ladder are filled with row-punishing techs, unit isolation mechanics, and disruption through row movement. We’ll cover these concepts more in-depth in a later section.
The next thing you’ll likely notice is that none of the cards in your hand have mana costs. “But Zedi,” you might ask, “how can this game be balanced then? Can’t I just throw all my best cards down and win the game outright?” Not so, I’m afraid. In fact, playing your best cards in the first round can be a risky endeavour that may lead you to a swift and inescapable defeat.
In Gwent, the name of the game is resource management. Each card you play comes with a cost. Since your deck should only pack a total of (25) cards and only one copy of each gold card, every time you play a card you’re committing a resource that, generally speaking, won’t be accessible to you in a later round.
At this moment, you may find yourself furiously navigating to the deckbuilder in an attempt to pack as many OP golds as you can into your deck… But wait. There’s something there…
The provision limit! That’s right. You need food to feed your army, and your big, beefy gold cards have quite the appetite for your provision space. In order to make space in your list for those greedy gold cards, you’ll need to pack more than a couple bronze cards to keep your provisions open. The best deck-crafters in the game are able to find strong synergies between their gold and bronze cards and squeeze as many points out of their bronze package as they can.
By this point, you’re probably eager to get deckbuilding and hop into your first match. Before you do, let’s take a look at the various factions in Gwent so that we can find the perfect fit for you.
For this section, we’ll take a look at each of Gwent’s factions including the elusive Syndicate faction, review some of their core cards and mechanics, and draw some comparisons to other familiar archetypes from your ‘used-to-be favourite’ card games.
Our first faction is an absolute graveyard smash to play. Monsters are widely considered to be the easiest faction to learn since their mechanics are fairly straightforward and they have a lot of high-tempo cards that can give you just the right amount of reach in a short round. A typical Monsters game plan revolves around using your Thrive cards to help you generate a point advantage early on so that you can end the game with your big finishers like Golyat and Ozzrel.
If you’re a fan of tall units, graveyard mechanics, and just generally being spooky, then Monsters is the faction for you.
Similar to… Warlock (HS), Golgari (MTG), Shadow Isles/Freljord (LoR)
Eredin Bréacc Glas by Lorenzo Mastroianni
Affan Hillergrand by Oleksandr Kozachenko
The imperial forces of Nilfgaard are cunning, deceitful and dashingly handsome. Nilfgaard is the strongest Control faction in Gwent, armed with a myriad of tools to take its opponents down. While Nilfgaard struggles to put its own points on the board, it excels at carefully dismantling an opponent’s strategy, locking and seizing enemy engines, poisoning tall units, and taunt spamming as your opponent’s point score crumbles to pieces. Common strategies for the faction include using Ramon Tyrconnel to lead an army of soldiers into battle while you bide your time for your ‘piece de resistance’, Masquerade Ball.
Nilfgaard is the perfect faction for players who enjoy playing reactively, responding to your opponent’s every move with malice and forethought. Lovers of mashed potatoes with thick gravy preferred.
Similar to… Mage/Rogue (HS), Azorius/Dimir (MTG), Ionia/Demacia (LoR)
King Foltest’s pride and glory know no bounds, and neither do his point totals. The Northern Realms faction is chock-full of boosts and engines. It excels at generating large amounts of points over the course of a round. If left unattended, the armies of Rivia will quickly grow out of control, and your opponents will find themselves scrambling to catch up. Nordlings aren’t merely content with being the biggest, baddest boys in the land. They want everyone to know it as well. Prince Anseis and the Bloody Baron will be quick to handle any unruly peasant-folk that get out of line.
Northern Realms is perfect for players who enjoy growing their units to massive strength, and then massacring their foes as they eat from the finest grapes across the land.
Similar to… Paladin/Priest (HS), Selesnya/Simic (MTG), Freljord/Demacia (LoR)
Queen Adalia by Diego de Almeida
Aelirenn by Lorenzo Mastroianni
The outcasts, the undesirables, the rebellious… The Scoia’tael are awfully resentful of their human counterparts, and will drive the ape-man into the sea with their sharp wit, clever traps, and teamwork! Scoia’tael’s unique Harmony mechanic makes your units stronger when you mix-and-match unit tags in your decklists. Your elves, dwarves, dryads and tree-folk work together in perfect “harmony” to elevate their point scores while simultaneously cutting their opponents down. If unit-based strategies aren’t your fancy, Scoia’tael also hosts a number of viable spell-based archetypes, proving once again that the non-humans are the most diverse faction around.
Scoia’tael is perfect for players that like to play a little bit of everything. With strong engine pieces, control tools, and massive finishing cards like the Great Oak and Harald Gord, you’ll have your opponents begging for mercy in both short and long rounds.
Similar to… Hunter/Druid/Shaman (HS), Simic/Izzet (MTG), Bilgewater/P&Z (LoR)
While the Nordlings and the Nilfgaardians continue their endless conquest for supreme domination, the Raiders of Skellige are happy to loot and pillage as they please. These bloodthirsty bastards have no shame in decimating your point score, even if it kills them. Self-damage mechanics, unit-punish, and deadly alchemical solutions will befall the enemies of An Craite and Svalblod. The warriors of Skellige will always get the last say (literally) and will dominate your board with big finishing plays like Morkvarg: Heart of Terror and Wild Boar of the Sea.
If you like lootin’, pillagin’, piratin’ and the like, Skellige and Cintra will stand ever together by your side as you hack and slash your way to victory.
Similar to… Warrior/Warlock (HS), Rakdos (MTG), Noxus/Shadow Isles (LoR)
Cerys an Craite by Grafit Studio
Adriano the Mink by Daniel Valaisis
Last but not least, the Syndicate represents a band of villains and thieves from across the land of Novigrad. The Syndicate play by their own rules, using points as well as coins to turn the tides of battle. Each Syndicate deck uses their coins in different ways to generate large amounts of points. It is the most complicated faction to learn, but it can be very difficult to deal with if piloted correctly. Cards like Saul de Navarette and Philippa Eilhart can represent massive point swings in the right situation.
If you like clicking lots of buttons, making big brain plays and earning quick cash FAST, then Syndicate is the faction for you.
Similar to… Nothing! The Syndicate are different in their own special way :]
Each faction has seven leader abilities for you to choose from when building a deck. Your leader ability provides additional utility to your deck. In many cases, decks are built around their leader abilities for maximum synergy.
A good example of this would be Scoia’tael’s Deadeye Ambush. This leader ability gives you (3) charges to spawn an Elven Deadeye into an allied row. If used in ‘just any’ Scoia’tael deck, this ability represents a total of (9) points. However, if we were to include cards such as Yaevinn, Vernossiel and Isengrim in our deck, those Deadeye tokens could represent significantly more value to our point total.
In other situations, it may be more valuable to consider the provision space offered by your chosen leader ability. Nilfgaard’s Lockdown for example is a highly effective control tool against decks that are reliant on their leader abilities. However, Lockdown only adds (10) provisions to your deck’s provision total, while most leader abilities add around (15). This means that you will likely have to squeeze in a few suboptimal bronzes into your deck to meet the provision limit.
I encourage you to explore all of the leader abilities and get familiar with them. Some abilities, such as Monsters’ Force of Nature and Scoia’tael’s Invigorate are very easy to use and synergize with your starter package quite well. While you won’t see these abilities being used much higher up on the ranked ladder, they’re a decent place to start while you work on developing your card collection.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s talk about gameplay.
Unlike most CCGs, the objective of Gwent is to score more points than your opponent in a Best-of-3-rounds scenario. As you play your units, spells and artifacts, they will contribute points to your point total shown on the right side of the board. Players continue to alternate turns, playing one card at a time each, until both players either pass or run out of cards.
In order to close out the game, players will look to preserve their best cards for the final round, and sequence them as efficiently as possible for maximum value. The player that wins the first round typically has an advantage here, since they will have the opportunity to exhaust their opponents resources in the second round, or pass early and preserve their strongest cards for a longer third round. Different deck archetypes perform better in short or long rounds. For example, engine-based decks generate points each turn, and thus gain more points in a (10) card round than they would in a (4) card round.
The other advantage of winning the first round is the ability to secure “last say”. This term describes the ability to play the final card in the game, meaning that your opponent will be unable to respond to it. Decks that typically seek to gain “last say” are decks that have strong unit finishers, such as Harald Gord and Ozzrel.
When the game starts, each player will draw (10) cards and have the opportunity to mulligan away individual cards. At the beginning of each round thereafter, players will draw up to (3) cards to a maximum of (10) total cards. For example, if you only play two cards in the first round before deciding to pass, you will only draw (2) cards at the beginning of the second round. Since you do not draw at the beginning of each turn, the length of the final round is determined by how many cards each player commits in the rounds prior. It is common to see players passing in the first round at either (7) or (4) cards, since they will easily be able to regain a full hand of cards as they move into the final round.
Your ability to gain round control may often be influenced by the coin toss. At the beginning of the game, a coin is flipped to determine who goes first. Unlike other CCGs, going first is a disadvantage in Gwent, since the second player (red) will always have the ability to pass without conceding card advantage. The first player (blue) will receive an additional mulligan and the ability to use their deck’s stratagem (ie. Tactical Advantage). This card will appear in the center of the melee row and can be activated on any turn during the first round.
On your turn, you may choose to play your cards on either the melee or ranged row. There are many factors that may influence your decision. Certain cards have abilities that are locked to a particular row, such as Pavko Gale or An Craite Longship. In other situations, your opponent may have a particular response in their deck that affects your unit placement and sequencing. Nilfgaard, for example, has the ability to play Assassination which does increased damage to isolated units. If you suspect your opponent is using Assassination in their deck list, you may choose to stack your units onto the same row to prevent them from being easily removed.
Lastly, your leader ability can be activated from the left-side of the screen at any time during your turn. Be warned that using your leader ability, like all other Order abilities (see entry in Glossary) does not consume your turn, meaning that you will have to play a card from your hand as well. If your leader ability has multiple charges, such as Rage of the Sea, you are able to use all (3) charges in the same turn, should you so choose.
The objective of the game is fairly straight-forward. At the end of the final round, the player with the highest point total wins. It is up to you however to give yourself the best possible chances of achieving this. Learn your deck’s win condition and plan your strategy accordingly. Each match-up requires a different approach, and each game, a different play. Do your best to learn these skills early on, and your climb up the ranked ladder will be smooth and steady.
By now, you should have a decent understanding of Gwent’s unique features and factions. As you play, you’ll encounter new cards and mechanics. You’ll likely adapt to these mechanics as you go, and if you’re ever stuck wondering how you just lost your whole board of Elves to Geralt:Igni, you’ll always be able to review the play history on the left-side of your screen (you can also right-click cards while they’re on the board to get a detailed view with keyword descriptions).
That being said, if you’re interested in getting a headstart learning some of these mechanics, I’ve included a number of examples below for your perusal.
I hope you enjoyed reading this transition guide to Gwent. The concepts and techniques introduced in this article will have you well on your way to pro rank. If you’re interested in learning more about Gwent, be sure to check out the many other awesome articles and deck guides on the Bandit Gang website. Now, go forth and conquer!