A few weeks ago we proposed that in order to win a match of Gwent you usually need to win round 3. In order to do that, you need to maximize the resources you have available to you including card advantage, card quality and carryover.
Last time we discussed the disadvantages of going first, and how it can make your plays less effective. We left off on a very important question: How valuable is it to win round 1?
In order to understand how good a particular round 1 outcome is, we must consider what it will allow you to do in round 2. If you’ve won round 1, you’re in the driver’s seat, can decide when to pass, and how long round 3 will be. If you’ve lost, your fate is in your opponent’s hands.
Round 1 Outcomes
For now, suppose that carryover does not exist. How would you rank the outcomes of round 1? Would you prefer to lose 1 card up or win one card down? For most situations, the ranking of common outcomes (from best to worst) is as follows:
- Win at equal cards
- Lose 2 cards up
- Win 1 card down
- Lose 1 card up
- Win 2 cards down
- Lose at equal cards
This ranking suggests that the difference between winning and losing round 1 is valued at between 2 and 3 cards, which seems rather drastic. But this is because winning round 1 gives you the option of…
The Round 2 Dry Pass
Passing immediately at the start of round 2 (after winning round 1), which forces your opponent to play exactly one card in order to win the round.
After winning round 1 one card down, you can dry pass, which will leave you at card parity and going second in round 3. If you lose round 1 one card up, your opponent can dry pass and leave you at card parity but going first in round 3. As we have established, going second is almost always better than going first. That's why winning round 1 a card down is generally thought of as being better than losing 1 card up. Additionally, if you win round 1 you are not obliged to dry pass if you can concoct a better outcome, and can control the length of rounds 2 and 3 by choosing when to pass. Your opponent can almost never pass in round 2 without risking you overcoming their point values and winning the match 2:0.
Dry passing guarantees getting one card over your opponent, which is usually the best result you can achieve in terms of card advantage for that round. However, in some circumstances you are incentivised to do something different:
The Round 2 Bleed
Playing out the round in such a way as to maximise your card quality for round 3 relative to your opponent’s. More simply - playing cards that are worse than your opponent’s in round 2.
Generally, while bleeding, your goal is not to win the round, but rather to ditch your worst cards. Your opponent will follow suit, playing the worst card that allows them to stay ahead (and not lose card advantage). As long as playing your worst card is worse than your opponent’s worst card, bleeding is probably a good strategy.
Some other reasons for bleeding instead of dry passing include:
Your opponent’s cards scale with round length
By dry passing, you're allowing for the longest possible round 3. This can be a problem if your opponent has a lot of cards that scale with round length (like Drought, Merigold's Hailstorm, Kaedweni Siege Support). If your opponent has a lot more of those cards than you do, it can be beneficial to shorten the last round's length, even if this comes at the expense of card advantage
You have access to other ways to gain card advantage
Playing a spy (if your opponent doesn't have a counter spy) in round 2 after a round 1 win allows for the same benefits as dry passing (your opponent using 1 card more than you this round), but also allows you to bleed, if you believe that the worst cards in your hand are worse than your opponent's. This allows you to improve your card quality for the final round. Of course, if you can play the spy at little cost in round 3 (for instance by killing it with Menno Coehoorn), it is probably better to dry pass instead.
Your opponent has more carryover into round 2
Your opponent having carryover does a very good job of preventing the dry pass - if you pass, your opponent can also pass, and win the round, thus not giving away any card advantage. In fact, your opponent having more carryover alters our entire 'Round 1 Outcomes' ranking, possibly making it more beneficial for you to lose round 1 up a card rather than win it down a card!
The Round 2 Tempo
Playing some high point cards and passing while in the lead.
In some matchups, particularly when your deck requires a lot less setup than your opponent’s, it can be correct to play a sequence of powerful high point cards before passing, leaving your opponent at a deficit that requires multiple cards to overcome. This can also be a good strategy if your opponent’s plays at the start of round 2 are particularly low tempo, as they attempt to establish carryover (with Nekker) or card advantage (with Frightener) instead of focusing their resources on winning the round. By playing high tempo you are essentially trading card quality for (potential) card advantage, which can be a very good deal for decks that have last-play reliant finishers (like Succubus).
In the event of your opponent having more carryover into round 2, high tempo plays can sometimes allow you to gain card advantage (which passing immediately won’t), if your opponent can not keep up. Bear in mind that your plays will have to overcome the difference in carryover, as well as the cards your opponent responds with in order for card advantage to be gained.
The Round 2 2:0
Knocking out your opponent in the first two rounds, instead of waiting for the third.
In rare circumstances, it can be correct to push for a 2:0 knockout rather than taking the game to round 3. This requires very specific conditions, such as not having any cards in deck, or having cards that are awkward to use in a short round, combined with the carryover to make them work this round (for instance, if you have 4 lesser golems on the board, a Commander's Horn in hand and not enough units to make it useful next round). Another reason to 2:0 is if you suspect your opponent has a suboptimal hand (if they drew something they don’t want to play, like Udalryk or Clan an Craite Raider
However, the threat of 2:0 can force your opponent to play suboptimally and overextend into the round, particularly if their cards are heavily synergistic. Further, a bleed or tempo strategy can often transition into a 2:0 if your opponent spends too much establishing carryover rather than committing points into the round, or if they fail to answer threats like Impera Brigade and Drought. In some respects, the 2:0 strategy is quite similar to the tempo strategy.
- After winning round 1, your round 2 objective is: to maximise your chances to win in round 3. You do this by making sure you have more resources (card advantage, card quality, etc…) than your opponent.
- Dry Pass when it provides you with card advantage and if you want a long round 3.
- Bleed when you want to shorten round 3 or believe that your worst cards are worse than your opponent’s.
- Tempo your opponent out if they can’t keep up, and/or if you value card advantage over card quality.
- Go for a 2:0 only in rare circumstances.
- Transition between strategies as needed. The optimal strategy may change depending on what your opponent does. It is always better to revert to a superior strategy than to see a mistake through to its bitter end.
A Tale of Incomplete Information
These strategies seem quite simple on the surface - just choose the one that allows you to maximise your own resources while minimising your opponent’s! However, it’s not really as easy as that, as your opponent’s primary resource (the cards in their hand), as well as both players’ draws and mulligans in round 3 are not open information (reveal shenanigans aside). How can you tell what you should do when any given strategy you choose might also be good for your opponent?
Optimize your draws/mulligans
Setting up round 3 involves optimising your deck too. Example: if you have drawn a Clan an Craite Raider and need to mulligan it away in round 3, it is often beneficial to either play it (when bleeding) or get rid of any other cards that you would be obliged to mulligan from your deck (such as other Raiders).
Understand what your opponent could have in round 3
It is often the case that players save some of their best cards for last, especially if a bleeding strategy is employed. In a settled metagame, you will often know what those cards are - usually silver or gold finishers that provide a lot of points without relying much on setup or round length. Examples include: Joachim de Wett, Woodland Spirit, Dol Blathanna Protector, Dijkstra. Using a deck tracker can help in this endeavour, as it will give you a summary of how many high quality cards your opponent has played, and thus what they could still be holding on to.
Watch their plays
Every play your opponent makes can imply something about the rest of their hand. If you are bleeding your opponent out, and they play one of their powerful gold cards, it could imply that the rest of their hand is filled with even better cards, or they need to set up a round 3 Renew, or a number of other things, depending on the exact situation. This is hard to master (and perhaps deserves its own article), and you’re never going to get your reads to the point where they’re 100% correct, but it is nevertheless worth thinking about.
Round and Round
So, now that you know what winning round 1 allows you to do, you should have a pretty good idea about how valuable it is to win round 1, in any particular matchup. How much does your deck gain from being able to choose the length of rounds 2 and 3? How well can it employ, or deal with, the strategies described above? There is only one way to answer these questions - go play some Gwent!
Past installments in our Gwent Concepts series:
- Gwent Concepts: Going First
- Gwent Concepts: Card Advantage
- Gwent Concepts: The Mulligan 'Bug'
- Gwent Concepts: Mulligan and Blacklisting
- Gwent Concepts: Thinning
I love feedback almost as much as I love Gwent. Please leave your comments or suggestions below or send me a message on twitter at @AychGwent!
Next time on Gwent Concepts: “What are my options when I lose round 1?” you might ask. You might ask, and I shalt answer!