Strategy

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.