In what promises to be the biggest update since the launch of the open beta, the Midwinter patch will introduce over 100 new cards, coming out in… mid-late december-ish (Burza was explicitly told to not use the word soon, but managed to remain as vague as possible). You can find all 60 reveal cards here, here and here. In this article I’d like to discuss some of the highlights.
Note: Point values are subject to change, so I’ll mostly focus on card effects for the time being.
Spawn: A New Discovery
The RNG is upon us! CDPR keyworded spawn in order to avoid using the word random! Fill a row with pitchfork-armed Peasant Militia!
Don’t worry, this is most definitely not the beginning of the end for Gwent. In fact, the game has always had a significant amount of randomness involved. However, the amount of control players have over the randomness transforms Gwent from a game of chance, to a battle of skill. It is possible to pull a lowly Blue Stripes Commando with Prince Stennis, unless of course, you thin them out of your deck beforehand or choose to deckbuild differently. The spawn mechanic is no different, for the most part. It balances out randomness by giving you a choice out of 3. Most of the ‘Spawn’ cards shown draw from a very limited card pool, allowing you to engineer game states that maximize their effectiveness by minimizing variance.
This contraption gives you the choice of 3 different bronze Machines, out of: Ballista, Battering Ram, Catapult, Reinforced Ballista, Reinforced Siege Tower, Reinforced Trebuchet and (non-reinforced) Trebuchet. The great philosopher Swim once said: “If only we could figure out why Catapult is here, maybe then we can figure out why we are here”. Well, if Catapult was 2 points stronger, we’d know - it’s here on important Tempo business. The options that Winch gives you are never terrible - at worst you have to settle with the 5th best machine (+2). And you can often engineer a board position to maximise the value from cards like Battering Ram and Trebuchet. The fact that you are given a choice of 3 machines further offsets the randomness, as you can often choose one that suits a specific situation (not all matchups have easy Battering Ram targets). Another interesting interaction is with Henselt, as Winch will sometimes allow you to pull 3 machines out of your deck instead of just two. In that specific scenario RNG might rear its ugly head.
Both of these unwelcome guests have a vitally strict constraint on their spawn effect. Isengrim is a little concerning, as his effect will grow in variance with the size of the cardpool. Nevertheless, for now he seems, dare I say it, quite consistent (as long as you engineer a slightly favourable boardstate/deck for his effect). I am slightly worried that these cards give players the chance to grab an additional spy, like Yaevinn (“Coinflip losers hate Hym!”), but this is somewhat offset by the fact that spies are quite situational, and these spies are never guaranteed.
Perhaps the most RNGevil spawn effect is veiled behind the cutest card art. By the time the update releases there will probably be around 100 different gold cards in the game, which is a huge number to draw from, so consistency is pretty much thrown out the window. Now, at present, this card is quite underpowered, as the expected value of the best of three golds is inferior to including a real card in your deck and playing it how and when you need it. And yet… I am worried. If this card (or a card like it) ends up being powerful enough to see play despite the drawbacks of randomness it will hinder Gwent from remaining a game of skill. (In CDPR’s defense, as it stands right now, this is a fun casual card, and nothing more, like our good friend Avallac'h: The Sage
The new leaders are… interesting. Previously, leader cards almost always increased a deck’s consistency, providing players with a powerful effect they can build around. That is not the case with these, and they showcase some of the problems with the spawn mechanic. They give players access to cards from other classes, which is fun, but not necessarily balanced, especially as more and more cards are introduced. Also, drawing from a pool of both bronzes and silvers exacerbates the variance of these random effects. Don't get me wrong, I am still a fan of spawn, but some of her revealed cards might be taking it a step too far.
I really hope they come up with a new name for the various ‘versions’ of spawn…
Glimpses of What is to Come
New game mode?Luigi hinted that Isengrim: Outlaw and other spawn cards are made with the new game mode in mind, which I think suggests that draft might be coming (as spawn would fit it splendidly).
Agility for all?The agilipocalypse may be finally upon us, for there are no row indicators on the new cards!
Row length limits?Peasant Militia fills a row with peasants. So it either crashes the game (which sounds a little too powerful for a bronze card), or there is some kind of limit on the effect. Boulder pretty much confirms that some kind of hard cap is coming, the size of which we can only guess (for now).
Deckbuilding restrictions or challengesViper School Witcher and Ciri: Nova care about cards in your initial deck. I’m looking forward to more of this type of effect!
Feeling like stealingThe ability to play with your opponent’s cards brings a lot of interactivity to Gwent. I am glad that CDPR is making more cards that allow you to do just that, with Shilard, Portcullis and Slave Hunter.
Cause for Concern
Striga and Vincent vary in power depending on what factions and archetypes you face. These types of cards have always existed in Gwent (Geralt: Igni for example), but factions have never been explicitly called out, like on Striga. Let’s hope CDPR releases these cards in moderation, rather than moving the game towards more polarising matchups.
With Expired Ale being introduced last patch, and now Cadaverine Venom, I am concerned that wordiness and somewhat confusing abilities might increase Gwent’s barrier to entry. Attracting new players is extremely vital to the health of the game (in order to offset, or better yet, exceed, natural attrition), and thus CDPR must be careful to not add too much comprehension complexity to Gwent.
Too Powerful, Too Conditional
How many times have you looked at Alzur’s Thunder in your hand and wished it dealt a little more damage? Well Spear has been given the all clear, and instilled fear into the mind of many an (un-Quenned) Farseer. The problem with a card like this is that it exacerbates the the randomness inherent in Gwent’s draws by being very powerful if found in the opening hand and sometimes useless when drawn later. Cards that are powerful, yet doubly conditional (Spear requires a high power card in hand and are target) are the biggest culprits of this.
December’s shaping up to be a very exciting month for Gwent, with more previews, the second Challenger, and a new patch all very much on the horizon. See you next livestream!