Photo by Thomas Tischio © Tempo Storm
I recently had the pleasure to talk to one of my favorite gaming personalities - the illustrious Trump! He had a lot of interesting thoughts about the past, present and future of Gwent and also talked about his experience at the Gwent Challenger.
Hi Trump! For those who don't know as much about you, could you talk a little bit about your background and experience with card games?
I've played Magic: The Gathering since invasion, starting in high school and ramping it up with MTGO… I started playing Hearthstone right from the closed beta, so it's been over 3 years now. Altogether I probably have almost a decade of card game experience, across a lot of different games.
So you're definitely a veteran and you've recently started dabbling in Gwent, playing quite a bit over the past two weeks. So the first thing I want to know is, overall, what do you think about the game... Do you love it?
Yeah, I really like the game... Taking two weeks off to play Gwent and participate in the Challenger was a lot of fun, and very challenging. It really spurred my competitive spirit and made me put on my thinking hat.
Trump's thinking hat
I heard you also took part in some early alpha testing, before the game was even announced, and asked by CD Projekt Red to provide your feedback on the game. What was the game like at that time and do you feel like your feedback has had an impact on the game’s evolution?
I do think that my feedback had a lot of impact. The great thing about CD Projekt is that they encouraged us to give as pointed feedback as we could - and, certainly, we did. The game at its alpha release was very similar to Gwent from The Witcher 3, and was horrifically imbalanced as a result. We're talking about one power spies, bronze decoys, etc.
The game has come a long way since then. And not just that, but also a lot of the cards have become a lot more interesting. There were originally a lot more vanilla cards, and cards that did similar things. Now, every faction seems to have its own identity and with the changes announced for open beta I feel like it's only going to get better.
When we talk about Gwent, the comparison with Hearthstone, the market leader in online CCGs, is inevitable. What do you think are the most important differences between the two games?
Well, it's really hard to talk about that, because the games are completely different. I think the most important difference is that Gwent has made a lot of headway in being generous with their pack giving - you can essentially get 2-3 kegs a day through just playing the game. The move to make the last card you open a choice between three is also very good. And it's been announced that in the open beta they're going to have around 5 hours of individual content in order to unlock all the leaders - that should be a lot of fun and will help people get started off faster.
On the other hand, what Hearthstone has going for it is the strength of the IP - there are a lot of Blizzard fans out there. It was also the first in the market, and it's a very streamable game because of its artwork and animations.
A lot of players argue that one of the main draws of Gwent is the relative lack of randomness. Would you agree with this sentiment?
Gwent does a very good job of not including many cards that have random effects. Yet it is still a random game - sometimes you draw the better hand and sometimes you draw the worse hand.
"There are two extremes - in Hearthstone people complain that there's too much randomness, but with Gwent... you have to make sure not to go too far in the opposite direction, because then matches would become too similar"
The power levels of the cards do differ because of the bronze, silver and gold system. That said though, Gwent's making some efforts to remedy that. One of the big things that CD Projekt has pointed to is that in round 3 a lot of matches come down to the card you draw. However, the addition of a mulligan at the start of rounds 2 and 3 is going to help out quite a bit.
And… I understand that Hearthstone has introduced a lot of random components, but that doesn't necessarily make the game more or less random. A lot of the game is still based on the order you draw your cards in. I think Gwent does a very good job in appeasing people who don't want a random game while still making every game very different. There are two extremes - in Hearthstone people complain that there's too much randomness, but with Gwent… you have to make sure not to go too far in the opposite direction, because then matches would become too similar. In most Gwent games right now you draw around 80% of the cards in your deck and it does become a little bit same-ish.
You were one of the pro gamers selected by CD Projekt to go up against four qualified players in the Gwent Challenger tournament recently - a grueling best-of-5 single elimination tournament. And you started preparing less than two weeks before it started! You began, naturally, with the top rated deck on the front page of GwentDB - JJPasak's hidden roach. How did that work out for you?
[Laughs] Man, that was a good time, I had previously looked at the meta snapshot and noticed that this hidden roach deck was nowhere on it. And I was taking it easy at the beginning, wanted to put on a good show and jumped straight into a very tricky deck… and boy did that backfire.
You quickly improved and started taking the game - and the tournament, very seriously. Can you talk me through how the rest of your twitch-chat fueled preparation went?
While Francesca excels at hiding a horse under her dress, green snakes are another matter...
Like any Gwent player, I made a lot of very basic blunders, publicly on stream. Learned a bunch of decks - over twenty archetypes, either by playing them directly or by playing against them. It was really fun to just have another learning experience - I really love the initial part of the game where you get better quickly. Unbeknownst to people I did manage to hit rank 15, peaking at around 4000 MMR. I could've gotten higher, but I was practicing decks that I would play in a meta where I would always ban Scoia'tael.
Let’s talk a little bit about the Challenger itself. I believe it’s fair to say that you exceeded everyone’s, and your own expectations, managing to get two wins out of Fion56 before ultimately losing the match 3 to 2. You put up a fierce fight in every single game. How did you feel about your performance overall?
I know that on paper it seems pretty good that I even managed to take 2 wins off of Fion. I'm really proud of my fellow pros, and very surprised that all of them managed to beat the Challengers. That actually brings a bit more shame to me on not being able to defeat Fion and I know that if I had even more preparation and if I was more familiar with the game I would have won. Which highlights the skill cap of Gwent. There are a lot of plays from both the Challengers and the Pros that could have been better. Even during the tournament, a lot of the pros were talking about 'man I could've done this differently…'. Sometimes the game is about who makes fewer mistakes.
I think it was an amazing result, considering you had only really started playing Gwent two weeks prior. From behind the screen, the tournament looked awesome and I found myself on the edge of my seat during most of it. As someone who got to experience all of that in the flesh, did you think they organised a good tournament?
Oh yeah, that was one of the best kickoff tournaments I've ever seen. Clearly, they have taken a lot of notes on best practices in the past, since their first tournament is pretty much on par with Hearthstone's tournaments 2-3 years into the scene.
Favourite card in the game?
Most fun deck you've tried?
[Laughs] I actually really like the hidden roach deck
Most inherently overpowered mechanic in Gwent right now?
Being able to keep a 50 power monster
Which card do you think the Gwent community currently underrates?
From watching Lifecoach with his Poor Infantry, I feel like that's a card that almost everyone overlooked
Team Triss or Team Yen?
Definitely Yennefer, I value sophistication over wildness
After your preparation period, meeting lots of Gwenters at the Challenger and your acquaintance with the devs, what do you think of the Gwent community?
Well, I'm a frequent visitor of reddit, so that's where I'm most familiar with communities. And comparing the Hearthstone and Gwent communities, I've got to say that the Gwent one seems to really excel at giving off a positive vibe. Whereas, about 3 months ago, right before the most recent expansion, Hearthstone had a very negative community. Even now, as the game of Hearthstone is in one of the best spots it has ever been in (in terms of metas) people still find things to complain about. And when I was streaming Gwent I got a lot of support from many of the people who played Gwent; they encouraged me and gave me suggestions. I even ended up with a practice group of Gwent players for the Challenger. So… I really like the Gwent community.
I know overtaking Hearthstone is a herculean task, but do you think Gwent has a place as a strong number 2 in the online CCG market?
Sure. I actually think that on the current trajectory Gwent will be a strong number 2. From talking with a lot of the guys at CD Projekt Red I know that they understand that they're not necessarily here to topple Hearthstone. There can be two very strong card game showings. If LoL and DotA can coexist, why not Hearthstone and Gwent?
What can Gwent still learn learn from other CCGs?
I think they're doing a very good job of learning ‘best practice’ in games, but it will take time to implement that into Gwent. What I really respect about the creation of Gwent is CD Projekt's continued insistence that they're looking to release a good game rather than release a game that is 'on time'. It’s already past when people expected the Gwent release date to be, and there's still a lot of things that the devs are looking to implement. I really look forward to the single player, that's going to draw in a lot of people. CD Projekt Red is known for their excellent work in having decisions matter, and Gwent is probably going to be one of the first card games where there will be a major story component in the campaign.
"What I really respect about the creation of Gwent is CD Projekt's continued insistence that they're looking to release a good game rather than release a game that is 'on time'."
Are you planning to keep following Gwent, streaming it, participating in future tournaments?
When open beta rolls around and the new changes come out I am definitely going to be trying out a bunch of stuff. I will be creating a series of Gwent videos in order to ease people into the game, with one video on each of the faction basics, and just one overall 'Welcome to Gwent, this is how the game goes' video.
Definitely looking forward to those! Finally, any shoutouts?
I wanted to shout out my Gwent practice crew after I won the first match, I had them all memorized… Unfortunately I didn't win so I'll just mention them here instead. I'd like to thank everyone who helped me prepare: Delta65, ImpetuousPanda, Aych, Crokeyz and Garrett_023.
Trump can be found on YouTube and Twitter, and of course his stream on Twitch!