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.
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.
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.
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;
- Does my opponent have a win condition I need to bleed out in round two?
- Does my opponent prefer a long or a short round three?
- Is my hand good enough that my opponent will have to play an extra card to defend the bleed?
- 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.
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.