Coinciding with the start of open beta on May 24th, a massive new update is hitting Gwent as well. While a couple of my favorite cards in the game have been ruthlessly reworked, everything we’ve seen so far suggests that this new update will revitalize the game, give players more choice and, ultimately, make the game incredibly fun. It this article I’d like to elaborate on some of the reasons why I think the changes in the new patch herald a bright future for Gwent!
Emphasis on meaningful gameplay choices
Deploy: Play a Bronze Special card from your Deck, then Spawn a copy of it.
Sid Meier once said that "a game is a series of meaningful choices". It seems that the team at CD Projekt has taken that sentiment to heart, and are designing more and more cards that provide the player with decisions and flexibility during gameplay. The positioning patch had already enlarged the realm of player agency, and the team just continues to expand on it, with changes such as Ithlinne allowing you to play special cards from your deck and Elven Mercenary becoming an Emissary for spells.
The new weather cards allow players to choose a row to affect, enabling them to better adapt to their opponent's strategy. Madman Lugos now combines thinning, removal, and graveyard setup, and the optimal discard target will change from game to game depending on the board state. And these are just a number of examples, out of the (relatively) few cards that were showcased on stream.
Why is this important?
Simple yet meaningful choices built into individual cards increase strategic complexity, allowing for a higher skill ceiling without alienating newer players.
Exploring new types of player interaction
One of my favorite match-ups to play in the early days of the positioning patch was Discard Skellige against Control Nilfgaard. Both of these were definitely tier-3 archetypes, but the amount of interaction and counterplay that match-up exhibited was second to none. Whilst my opponent could steal my key resurrection targets with Vicovaro Medics, I was able to use his emissaries to find my valuable bronzes, but had to be careful to not run out in case of a Cahir. I could kill Rot Tosser cows or block them with medics, but Clan Brokvar Archers often proved to be very finite. Udalryk and Xarthisius threw a couple more wrenches into our respective plans. But most importantly, for me, I was always having fun in this match-up, regardless of whether I won or lost.
Deploy: You may Ressurect a Special card from your opponent's Graveyard. Effort: Weaken self by 4.
So where am I going with this? Ah yes… In the new patch CD Projekt has added a number of new ways to interact with your opponent, some of which explore never before seen avenues of design. Take Summoning Circle for instance. It creates such an interesting tension between the prospect of getting a solid amount of value by copying a good bronze or waiting for that key silver, but risking it potentially becoming stranded in your hand. You can try to power up your summoning circle - for example by buffing a unit as a potential Ekimmara or Combat Engineer target, but your opponent can always play around the card by baiting it out or simply holding on to their best unit. This card has so much flexibility and play potential, and it's only the tip of the new patch iceberg.
Looking further, Aglais, Donar and Treason are some of the cards that have been changed to allow players to use their opponents' cards to their advantage. The Guardian can punish decks that thin relentlessly in an attempt to find their silvers and golds. Most of these cards also further reaffirm the previous point, giving the player a meaningful choice whilst simultaneously injecting Gwent with a little more variety. There are so many ways to interact with your opponent in this game, beyond just the standard (and overemphasized) unit destruction. I love it.
Why is this important?
Exploration of new types of interaction showcases the depth of Gwent’s design space and reaffirms the idea that CDPR is not afraid to experiment.
Removal of faction passives and the addition of an extra round 2 and 3 mulligan to each faction
In the current patch, the passives range from plain (Skellige, Northern Realms) to comparatively underpowered (Nilfgaard) to game-defining (Scoia’tael, Monsters). Further, only the Nilfgaard and Monster passives really provided players with meaningful choices (this is starting to become my catchphrase…). It also seemed extremely hard to balance these abilities, as they had very few knobs that could be tweaked, and as such any tweak would result in drastic changes to the faction. The passives were interesting, sometimes fun, but my enjoyment of the game never hinged on their existence, and thus I am not saddened by their removal.
But the more important component is the introduction of an additional one card mulligan at the start of rounds 2 and 3. Essentially, every faction now has the Nilfgaard passive instead of their own, and this has some interesting gameplay and deck building consequences. It allows players to potentially hold onto muster units like Arachas, removing the necessity to play them in round 1, to a degree. More importantly, it allows more situational cards (such as Dimeritium Bomb) to be run, which can be mulliganed away when drawn in unfavorable match-ups. And of course, this increases deck consistency, giving players a couple of extra chances to draw their key silvers and golds. These are all overall good changes that should mostly increase deck consistency and game diversity.
Why is this important?
Some of the faction passives were hard to balance and restricted design space, while the additional mulligans will increase player choice and allow for more situational cards to see play.
Blurring the lines between archetypes
Deploy: Choose a Bronze Enemy or a Revealed opposing Bronze Unit and move all copies of it from your opponent's Deck to their Graveyard.
The notion of a linear archetype refers to one that focuses around one central idea. This could be a specific unit type, like spies or dwarves, or even a victory condition, like depleting your opponent's deck by milling them with Nilfgaard.
It turns out that many of Gwent's archetypes, especially those that revolve around huge combos, like consume Monsters and Henselt promote decks, are fairly linear. I am glad to see that the game is slightly moving away from that, at least in the Nilfgaard faction. One of the most linear archetypes in the current version is Emhyr reveal and the coming patch greatly expands the interactions available between cards in the archetype and even some of those outside it.
I especially like the new Sweers, who can now also target revealed cards. This could enable him to see play as a control element in a reveal deck, milling those key Priestesses of Freya, and will provide a little bit of utility to the revealing done by Tibor in a dedicated mill deck. The other linear deck in Nilfgaard is John Calveit's spies, and, with the rework of the Calveit ability and Treason, spies will go back to being a powerful supporting cast rather than an exclusive archetype to build towards.
We haven't seen all of the new cards, so it's too early to judge how the drastic changes will affect these (and other) archetypes, but what was shown on the stream makes me optimistic that CD Projekt is aiming to make Gwent decks a little more modular and a little less linear.
Why is this important?
The move towards cross-archetype synergy helps enable a spectrum of decks and will hopefully increase variety on the ladder.
Improved new player experience
CD Projekt went all out, and listened to many different community requests with regards to the new player experience. The starter decks have been revamped, and will now include a full set of 6 silver and 4 gold cards. This allows new players to not feel hopelessly behind the rest of the game’s population, and promotes more meaningful deck building in the early stages, which no longer boils down to replacing your worst bronze with that shiny new gold you just opened.
This is further compounded by the rewards for winning the new single player challenges, which will allow new players to unlock each leader for free. This will also help diversify their early casual matches by halting the endless stream of Crachs and Eredins. These single player challenges also serve as a natural continuation to the revamped tutorial, fulfilling yet another common request.
Why is this important?
CD Projekt continues to be very generous, and they understand the importance of a good new player experience for the longevity of the game (while at the same time still taking the needs of the veteran player base into account).
I am so excited for open beta and the new patch, which will fan the dormant embers of Gwent and metamorphose them into a raging inferno that will engulf you and I in a whirlwind of deckbuilding, strategy and fun!