Through the Thorns of Top-64 Qualifiers to GWENT Open. Part 1

Written by renova- and edited by Sawyer1888 & Weevil89

Introduction

With the upcoming Open#2 we wanted to take a closer look on the qualified players, especially on the players coming from the CIS community (Commonwealth of Independet States).

If we look back two seasons and turn to the second qualifiers of the Season of the Bear in April, one may note an interesting tendency of the CIS players to snatch tickets to OPEN#2, because the winners of this particular top 64 qualifications were Russian players Akela114, representing GwentDetta, and BigKukuRUzina35 (also known as iluxa228), a Team Legacy player.

This trend continued in the Season of the Elf, taking place in May, which culminated in Team Phoenix’s Russian player Ch.ase qualifying for the GWENT OPEN#2 as well as Ukrainian Nik_r, the representative of GwentDetta. 
(You may also recognize, that in the most recent top 16 qualifier of the Season of Magic BigKukuRUzina35 could secure himself and again for the CIS community his next ticket for Open#3 already, which underlines their current dominance in the pro scene.)

Have you ever wondered what is behind the success of professional players? What decisions – both during the game session and in the process of preparing decks – allow them to become the best among the best?

In a series of three articles, we will try to explore these two sides of the game in more detail using the example of the top 64 qualifications from the Bear and Elf seasons. In the first two parts, we will talk with the winners to try to better understand how professional players think, how they manage tournament rulesets, as well as some particular in-game decisions. In the final part, we’ll dive into the stats of the top 64 qualifiers to see how much the meta can change in just one season, comparing the most played cards, bans, and favored factions for tournaments to also have an outlook on the upcoming OPEN#2.

Season of the Bear 2nd Qualifiers Winners Interview

Shortcut

In this article, we will go through different sets of questions. The first set deals with general information and some background facts about the players. In the second set, we will discuss deckbuilding strategies and the mentality behind certain in-game decisions. The article will conclude with some final advice from the pro players and their general outlook on the game. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

I began by chatting with Akela114 and BigKukuRUzina35 from the Season of the Bear qualifiers. We discussed their approach to choosing and changing decks during the tournament, as well as what kinds of controversial or entertaining moments they observed from specific matches of the tournament.

To refresh your memory, you can watch the VOD of the official cast of the final matches on TheOneChristo’s YouTube channel:
Winners bracket final Akela114 vs. John/Sally and Losers bracket final
BigKukuRuzina (Iluxa) vs. John/Sally

Sadly the video footage of the match between Akela114 and BigKukuRUzina35 is no longer available, so you have to rely on your memory and the insights of the players.

If you are interested in what decks they played, you can find everything here from the first day and the second day.

The main task for you today is to turn away from the current meta and go back to the past in order to better imagine the look of the Season of the Bear and prepare for similarly turbulent metas in the future. And even if you’re not interested in diving into the meta matching process, this interview is an opportunity to get to know the stars of Gwent and improve your understanding of the mindset of a professional player.

Meet the Qualified Player: Akela114

Name: Oleg Nikolaev 

Age: 25

City: Novosibirsk

 

Hobbies: Gwent

Favorite Faction: Skellige

Favorite Card: Knickers

Meet the Qualified Player: BigKukuRUzina35

Name: Ilya Lyapin 

Age: 19

City: Vologda

 

Hobbies: Football, LEGO, Computer Games

Favorite Faction: Northern Realms

Favorite Card: Priscilla

Chapter 1: General Questions

The first set of questions is devoted to impressions of the previous meta, the tournament, and Gwent in general.

How long have you been playing Gwent?

Akela114: Since summer 2017.

BigKukuRUzina35: For three years, starting with the Sihil meta in Homecoming.

What’s behind your nickname?

A: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling is one of my favorite literary works from my childhood. Akela is one of the main characters.

B: Nickname means big corn in Russian, and 35 is the number of the region where I live.

How do you assess the state of the Season of the Bear meta? 

A: Scoia’tael and Northern Realms were clearly inferior in strength to the other four factions. Monsters, Nilfgaard, Syndicate, and Skellige were at about the same level, but there is no need to talk about the variety of archetypes playable at a competitive level. In short, the meta was rather boring and monotonous.

B: The meta was quite balanced, with the exception of two cards in my opinion: Halfling Safecracker and Eist. As an improvement, I would suggest removing Counter: 2 for Eist, so that he could summon only one squad, and as for Halfling Safecracker, I would reduce its based power by at least 1.

Which faction did you score the most MMR last season? What helped to achieve this?

A: For the last two seasons, Skellige has been my top MMR faction. The Devotion Warriors deck has remained pretty much the same for a large number of seasons, so most matchups are fairly well researched, which affects the quality of the game and brings results.

 

B: Last season before the qualifier, it was an elves scenario deck. A great number of successful matchups and the effect of surprise helped a lot, since no one else played it.

In terms of preparing for the qualifications, Akela admitted that he hardly prepared. He noted that usually he just brings ladder decks to the tournaments with a couple of changes. At the same time, BigKukuRUzina35 always discusses strategies with teammates. In preparation, he came up with an idea to counter both NG and SY.

What are your general impressions of the qualifications, what do you remember the most?

A: Naturally, the most memorable was the decisive final match, which earned me the opportunity to take part in the Gwent Open tournament.

B: I really liked my games, although they is always room for improvement. I also remember the games with TailBot [probably, he meant ToBliat, Kappa], were very nerve-racking.

How can you explain that during the qualifiers, at least twice, the eminent players lost after two wins three times in a row on SY?

A: Syndicate is bad on blue coin (going first). At the same time, for the game against SY on red (going second), the opponent can pick up a good matchup, having three decks in stock. Also, the deck is very dependent on drawing well in each round.

B: I have not seen these games, so it’s hard to talk about them. Personally, I think that Syndicate has at least three bad matchups: Skellige, Arachas and Nilfgaard, so I don’t see anything surprising that such comebacks happened.

What determines the choice of stratagem for the deck? 

A: The choice of a stratagem depends both on the specifics of the deck  and on the expected lineup of the opponent (if you plan to play against SY or BG, for example, Crystal Skull would be a good choice).

B: Personally, my choice was based on matchups with NG and SY, so I mostly chose Crystal Skull to combat the opponent’s poisons.

Have players tried to sharpen decks against specific factions, such as Syndicate, which was very powerful in that meta? All of BigKukuRUzina35’s decks, except for Symbiosis, were geared towards games against both Syndicate and Nilfgaard. Akela took a different approach: he didn’t sharpen the lineups for any specific decks, but at the same time tried to add 1-2 cards to the decks, which gave him an advantage in mirror matches.

What mindset did you build on the blue / red coins in the final matches?

A: Consider the last game against John丶Sally.

For the first match, I took Skellige. My build plays pretty well on blue coin against Syndicate and, as I thought, against Scoia’tael. It is also relatively easy to secure round one and last say, which is crucial in this matchup. 

For the second match, due to my Arachas Swarm deck being banned, Syndicate looked like a good option. But from my opponent, I expected to see Skellige or Nilfgaard (because of its favorable matchup against both MO and SY).

As a result, after two games I was left with Skellige and Syndicate. SY is clearly good for the second match, and Skellige, as I said earlier, for the first one, so the picks for the remaining matches did not cause difficulties

B: When I chose a deck based on the coin, I began by asking myself what deck my opponent was most likely to choose. This would often lead to less predictable decisions, such as taking Symbiosis on red coin, so the matchup was still favored. I think it’s much better to catch a good matchup with the “wrong” coin than a bad matchup with the right one.

Have you realized any mistakes you made during the qualifying games, or anything you could have done better?

A: There were certainly mistakes. For example, in the game against iluxa228 (NG – SK), I did not pay attention to the fact that he removed the Joachim de Wett I had played in the first round, with Hjalmar an Craite. I only realized it when I tried to execute the normal Cantarella combo and it led to several subsequent misplays. 

B: The most glaring mistake was in the first match with lNeverHooD. In the second round, I played Korathi Heatwave into Jacques de Aldersberg, my entire leader ability and Talisman in order to reach the third round on even cards, although if I had played Triss instead, then I would have been able to keep the leader ability and comfortably play Spontaneous Evolution into a leader charge. As a result, the match ended as a draw instead of a victory.

Chapter 2: Personal Questions

In this part of the article, we will learn from the players what was behind their choice of decks for the tournament, as well as analyze in detail with the interviewees several controversial or curious moments from specific matches with various players in the final stage of the qualifiers. 

Perhaps the most amusing thing would be to analyze the answers of Akela and iluxa in their battle against each other and see the opinions for the same match from both sides – so let’s start there.

Deckbuilding: Akela114

You can find Akela’s decks by clicking the factions buttons

What was the basis for choosing a faction ban on the last day of qualification?

A: My lineup was weak against Arachas Swarm and Geralt: Yrden, so the original plan was to ban this particular deck.

Why did you choose the Portal version of the Monsters Deck for the tournament? 

A: I chose the deck for red coin matches. Knickers and Portal create some useful tempo. Portal also makes it possible to gain a large number of points in a short round, which is useful in some matchups.

What are the advantages of MO versions with Location, but without Yrden, which is considered by many to be an autoinclude card for the Arachas Swarm?

A: I expected to see Skellige and Nilfgaard at the tournament, and Geralt: Yrden is bad against these factions. Yrden is good against Syndicate, but this deck can win without it since the main objective is to counter the key engines of the deck. The only bad matchup that I expected to see in the opponents’ lineup was Arachas with Yrden, which I banned.

Skellige decks in the tournament looked mostly the same. The main differences are in the choice of cards for 10 provisions. What can you say about your Morkvarg and Tyrggvi? 

A: Tyrggvi is an example of a card for mirror matches. Morkvarg is not replaceable against Syndicate, Nilfgaard, or Northern Realms.

Why did you add Professor to your deck before he became so popular the following season?

A: Professor is a good value card that allows you to postpone Tunnel Drill placement and significantly increase its value. It is also a nice control option which allows you to take care of some pesky engines. 

Many players made some changes to their decks after the first game day, but you left your MO and SY intact, changing only Slave Hunters to Alba Armored Cavalries in NG. For example, for many players, Whoreson Junior, who almost no one had played before, became a godsend, and by the second day the number of players playing him had grown even more.

A: Whoreson Junior is a great card, but may not do well against Skellige. Players who planned to ban this deck got rid of this problem and built a lineup against other decks. Nonetheless, Whoreson Junior, in this case, is a great inclusion.

Speaking of Alba. What matchups / cards did you add these soldiers to against?

A: Against Skellige. The key task in this matchup is to deal with your opponent’s engines. Whoever does this better wins the game.

Deckbuilding: BigKukuRUzina35

You can find iluxa’s decks by clicking the factions buttons

A deck with Jacques, Sir Skewertooth vs an option with Whoreson Junior, Sigi Reuven. The first version is more standard, but Whoreson Junior made an appearance almost everywhere. How do you explain this?

B: Whoreson Junior turned out to be unusually good: he opposes Nilfgaard very well and, together with Dip in the Pontar, is able to destroy any unit with 6 power or less. He also serves as a spare Tunnel Drill against Arachas Swarm and very effectively copes with Cleaver in a mirror match. The only bad matchup for him is obviously Skellige due to the lack of boosted units.

What is the advantage of building a SY deck without the Flying Redanian? Is it (not) needed?

B: I often felt a shortage of coins in the deck, so in the end I decided to remove The Flying Redanian, which made it possible to add both Sigi Reuven and Triss: Telekinesis. In my opinion, The Flying Redanian is not impactful enough for 9 provisions, plus it is not always possible to play it in round 3.

On the first day, you played Arachas without Yrden, but with Curse of Corruption, Wild Hunt Riders, Location. What did the choice of the version of the Monsters deck depend on on both qualifying days?

B: On the first day, I knew that I would only play against Syndicate and Nilfgaard, so I decided to remove Geralt: Yrden, which cannot be left in hand against Nilfgaard because of the Double Cross ability. Instead, I added Curse of Corruption that performed essentially the same function. On the second day, Arachas Swarm was added to NG and SY, so respectively, I was forced to use Yrden in the Arachas Swarm deck so I wouldn’t auto-lose mirror matches.

Skellige decks in the tournament looked almost exactly the same, the main differences being in the choice of 10-provision cards. What can you say about the choice of Morkvarg and Hjalmar?

B: Morkvarg is indispensable in matchups with Syndicate and Nilfgaard, since he counters Cleaver and many important NG engines. The same can be said about Hjalmar an Craite. Given the inability to pull Morkvarg out from the deck, he sometimes saved me in matchups against Syndicate and could counter Cleaver if we didn’t draw Morkvarg. He is also very strong against NG.

Was Symbiosis the cool option? How did Scoia’tael, which most players did not take to the qualifiers, cope with the then dominant NG and SY?

B: Syndicate was definitely the worst matchup for Symbiosis due to the huge number of removal cards. Conversely, Nilfgaard was a very favorable matchup because I could easily counter poisons and double Joachim with Dryad’s Caress. In addition, NG lacked answers to the Symbiosis engines, and Double Cross is weak as a leader ability in this matchup. Crushing Trap was taken exclusively for a matchup with Arachas Swarm.

What was it like to be the only person not to qualify with Nilfgaard on the second day? What was the reason for this?

B: As a true patriot of Temeria, I have no moral right to take Nilfgaard to a tournament and generally play this faction representing nasty decks with a bunch of nasty mechanics and stupid cards.

Map_temeria

Games: Akela114

Akela114 vs BigKukuRUzina35

In the match against iluxa228, you only lost the NG vs ST matchup. Don’t you think that the resources given away in the first round (Braathens, Vigo, Joachim, Roderick, Coupe de Gras, Menno) were a bit excessive? Yes, of course, against Scoia’tael you want to have a round control and get the last say, and yet, perhaps you should have saved more golds for the third round?

Scr4

A: This matchup is very difficult, Nilfgaard is going through the bleed quite hard, so I decided to take the first round and fight my opponent in a long round 3. Despite the obvious overcommitment of resources, in my opinion the decision was correct.

In the same match, having played Gorthur Gvaed in the second round on eight cards before the pass, you gave iluxa one of the poisons, despite the fact that you spent only one optional one (with Artorius Vigo) in the first round. The Location showed your opponent many good cards and given that ST has no problems with purify and has a veil from Shaping Nature, wouldn’t an additional poison be superfluous? And in general, the knowledge that you can have a maximum of two poisons in your hand (one of which is an optional defender cleansing), does it provide more freedom to your opponent in some situations? Or did you just want to make it difficult for your opponent to find use for an essentially useless 4-provision card?

A: In this match, poisons are almost impossible to realize, so giving Fangs to the opponent, in my opinion, was a good decision.

Games: BigKukuRUzina35

Against all the opponents who brought SK, you banned this particular faction. Did you see it as stronger than the same considered tier-1 NG and SY, or were just your specific variations of decks sharpened as much as possible against most popular versions with a pre-planned SK ban? For example, the same Whoreson Junior added by you on the second day is very useless against the Skellige warriors.

B: Exactly, my decks were sharpened for matches against Nilfgaard, Arachas and Syndicate, and against Skellige they had bad matchups.

Akela114 vs BigKukuRUzina35

You can watch this match here.

For what purpose did you keep Defender in the ST game against Akela’s NG for so long? We might think that you wanted to benefit from a poison or Joachim, but in the end you threw a veil on the Hamadryad before Figgis was placed, but did not wait for Joachim. Was this an attempt to protect Gezras the next turn in case the opponent did not find the purify?

Scr1

B: I did not want to spam the back row ahead of time, as Akels could throw spies there.

After a drawn SK against MO match, during a replay, Akela managed to find Portal in the first round, and that time you failed to pass on 7 cards while maintaining the point advantage as it was a game before. In the end, you decided to use Eist + your leader ability. What are your thoughts on this line of play?

Scr2

B: Yes, I made a desperate move and overestimated my capabilities in a long round.

In the same match, did you not consider leaving the opponent’s Arachas Drones on the board so they might fill their board?

B: It would have been the right decision, but I didn’t think of it.

In the  NG vs SK match, you gave life to a swordsman for a very long time, whom the enemy pulled out of your deck with the help of Experimental Remedy, which ultimately absorbed a lot of damage, in fact, devaluating it due to the ability to heal. Wasn’t it worth killing him at the very beginning to exclude such a risk, or in this case there would not be enough control over other engines?

B: Akela didn’t have any warriors in his graveyard, and because of it he couldn’t replay my Harald. That’s why I didn’t kill a Greatsword.

The final SY mirror match, of course, could not help but be remembered for the third round. At the end of the round you, having no other spenders, chose not to spend 8 coins with Tunnel Drill, even though Sigi Reuven was waiting to be played next. To bluff like this, of course, you need to have a will of steel, so I must ask you: in the end, was it worth it?

Scr3

B: As the final score showed, no. But I didn’t think I would lose a game by only 7 points with a whole bank of unspent coins.

 

Final Word

What advice can you give to less experienced players looking to take higher positions in the ladder?

Akela114: To achieve the best result, in my opinion, you need to evenly wager on all the factions that you have chosen (such as the top four decks for a given season), experiment with decks for the first half of the season and, if possible, play the maximum possible number of games in the final days.

BigKukuRUzina35: Thoroughly analyze your games, concentrate on the game as much as possible, do not blame your defeats on bad draws, and always think whether there was a line of play that could have won a game from a seemingly losing position.

Conclusion

Today we were able to lift the veil on how professional Gwenters reason when considering the choice of decks for tournaments and making certain decisions during their games, and get closer to the esports scene more generally. By developing analytical skills, training, and learning from the experiences of the Gwent oldies, we hope you can improve your level of play and climb the ladder more successfully.

Never give up and go for your dream, not forgetting that behind every great victory there is a huge amount of work and perseverance, as well as a sea of practice and mistakes.

Many thanks to both Akela114 and BigKukuRUzina35 for participating in the interview, and to Sawyer1888 and Weevil89 for helping out with the edits. Most of all, thank you to you, the readers, for taking the time to read this article. 

In the next one, we will conduct a study in which we will try to establish what changes have occurred in the competitive scene of the Season of the Elf compared to the meta of the Season of the Bear and, if the opportunity arises, talk with the winners of the last top 64 qualifiers.

All the best and every success in Gwent!

renova-

 

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