Brief Summary of Build
Everyone knows two things about Axemen:
1. They have a horrible short round.
2. As long as you can kill the Axemen, you'll be able to beat the Axemen deck.
Thankfully, neither of these things are true. If they were this deck would be pretty terrible.
A lot of Axemen decks are extremely all-in on Axemen, playing cards that are only good when you have active Axemen that manage to live until the end of the round. Cards like Skellege Storm and Avallach are only good in games you should already win. When your Axemen live, you easily win by 30-50 points with no problems. So you build the deck to be able to win when things go wrong.One way of doing this is to play copies of Priestess of Freya so that you can rebuy your copies of Axemen. Unfortunately, this doesn't really help against decks with a LOT of answers, or weather clears. Decks like Eithne Scorch, or Henselts lining up your Axemen can just wait until the end of the long round and kill off all your Axemen at the same time, making the revived Axemen only worth 10-12 points. Freya also sucks in the short round. Freya for Axeman is often a 7 point play in a low card round 3, since you'll often need to do it as your first play in the round so that your Dimun Warship can get value once your opponent plays a card,
The other way of doing it is to just play a bunch of good cards. Which is the way this deck attempts to tackle the problem. Whale Harpooners are insanely powerful. Even if your Axemen die, you can guarantee that your gold weathers get great value as long as you have Harpooners. Dimun Corsair is at minimum a 14 point play when it buys back Dimun Warship. 15 if it gets pulled out by Dimun Pirate Captain. Hell, if you Restore the Pirate, you've assembled a Ciri Nova split among 3 cards that grows Axemen 4 times.
So if you read my Reddit thread, or talked to me at all during the LAN, you might recall the pretty controversial opinion I was stating, "Axemen is the best deck in the game." There are a few reasons for this. For one, you have, by a huge margin, the best long round in the game. To explain why this is so important, I'm just going to quote the opening paragraphs of my tournament report:
Gwent is weird. It's a 3 round game where going into rounds 1 and 2, one player is always the aggressor, and one player has to defend the aggression. The only real difference between rounds 1 and 2, besides the panic button pass opportunity for the attacker, is that in round 1, if the defender is ever passed, the attacker can grab a favorable pass, while in round 2 the attacker needs to stay ahead until the defender passes to get the favorable result. On the other side of things though, there's not really a way for a defender to exit a round "favorably" just "not unfavorably." Fortunately, this doesn't really matter as much in the round which actually determines the result of the game, round 3, where instead of fighting over a whole card's worth of points in a future round, you're only fighting over who gets last play. While last play definitely matters, it's a significantly better situation to be in to simply not have last play than to be a card down going into round 3.
Using this logic, rounds 1 and 2 should optimally for both players just never happen. If your deck can't compete in a long round it probably just isn't playable. There's a huge reward potential if your opponent plays the round, and you get to punish them as the round 2 attacker. If you manage to pass your opponent and stay ahead in round 2, maybe trade spies with your opponent or whatever, you're going into round 3 up a card. Which in most reasonable cases is an easily won game.
If your deck is unable to dry pass in either round 1 or round 2, you're losing a ton of matchup equity both when you win and lose coin flips, as you can be forced into the unrewarding position of the defender.
The really important bit there being, "If your deck can't compete in a long round it probably just isn't playable." Unless you're playing an incredibly dedicated hard counter deck (moreso than you're probably thinking), nothing in the game beats Axemen in a long round. Thus, Axemen always get to force their opponent into the role of defender for a round, and always get to go into round 3 up a card given optimal play from their opponent. Hell, if they don't draw their silver spy, you can trivially be up 2 cards going into round 3 if they aren't extremely careful. Now, this in and of itself isn't enough. Obviously you still need to be able to win a low-econ round 3. Getting a 3v2 card advantage is great, but if your 3 cards are combined only worth 35 points, and your opponent has Ciri Nova and a 15 point silver, you're still going to lose. So you need a reasonably powerful short round plan too.
Thankfully, you have a Ciri: Nova of your own, and it doesn't even take up a gold slot! Your leader is a solid 16 point play, and you very rarely need to use him in the long round. Dimun Corsair is a 14 point play by himself. Your short round is probably a few points worse than most decks, but who cares? You're always up a full card!
idk, just play the deck. It's good. It's a free climb to GM as long as you can tolerate playing this deck well for extended periods of time. I certainly can't, way too exhausting. There are so many decision points, and you need to constantly stay vigilant to not line things up for Scorch. Managing your cards so you have the best cards for the short round, while playing around weather clears and small spot removal is incredibly tiring. It was super sick for a tournament where you only play 1 game with it every hour or two, but I certainly can't ladder with it for more than a game or two at a time.
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