by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 1st November, 2018
We already covered the basics of Gwent along with the most important changes that arrived with the Homecoming update. And we have to say again that Homecoming really improved the game and made it fun as hell again and gave it back that chess-like charm it had back when row mechanics were a thing (and they are a thing again, so that's great).
Today, we will present each playable faction along with each leader, discuss the general strategy of each faction, and at the end of this article, you'll find an awesome video containing 14 (fourteen!) decks that are all pretty strong, courtesy of Swin one of the best Gwent streamers. And that's the second great change that came with Homecoming; each faction has at least one powerful deck that is great for ranked play, something we haven't seen in more than a year! Let's start with Scoia'tael.
As in old Gwent, Scoia'tael is characterized by relatively weak units that come with nice abilities like high damage or strong synergy abilities. The current state of the faction gives Scoia'tael at least two viable decks, one based on good old control with Eithne and the second being a boost deck that should overpower enemy forces by pure numbers. The third deck strategy is playing dwarfs, but they are too weak at the moment to offer a deck strong enough for ranked play. You can experiment with dwarfs though because the fact that there isn't a powerful dwarf deck at the moment doesn't mean you can't build one; Gwent is an extremely dynamic place at the moment with new decks coming out on a daily basis so feel free to create something new. We also have lots of cards with movement synergy, but it looks like no one made a competitive deck that includes movement, so feel free to experiment with this strategy. And finally, Scoia'tael faction also utilizes lots of trap cards making trap decks possible and fun to play. They are decently powerful but traps usually have to be combined with some other archetype and cannot be used as the main strategy in a deck.
As with all other faction, Scoia'tael has four leaders. Eithne is the most powerful one at the moment, by far, but we reckon she's going to be nerfed with the first update. Eithne comes with a powerful ability to deal one damage to an enemy unit, which can be repeated three times in a round. The ability resets each round, meaning you can deal up to nine damage per one game. But the issue is that, along with certain artifacts, Eithne is just too powerful because you can setup immensely powerful Schorches (special card that destroys all strongest units) and Epidemics (destroy all weakest units). She comes with 3 mulligans (4 when you start first, remember that this works for all leaders), which is too much for such a powerful leader. At the moment, she's the only leader that requires serious modification.
Next, we have Francesca, which comes with the power of playing any special card from your graveyard. The ability can be played once per match. She allows two mulligans and we would like for the number to increase to three in the next patch. Filavandrel is the best leader for boost synergy decks because he has the ability to boost all of your units in hand by 1, which is fairly powerful. The ability can be played once per match. He also comes with four mulligans, which is just right. And finally, we have Brouver Hoog, a leader who was basically the only choice for dwarf decks in the old Gwent. Now, he has the ability to move a unit to the other row for up to three times per match. He boosts the unit by two if it is an ally and damages it by two if it is an enemy. Solid power but not utilized because there are no strong movement decks at the moment. Brouver comes with 3 mulligans. Now, let's move to Northern Realms.
This faction still relies on a strong soldier and machine presence but compared to the old Gwent armor decks are completely wiped because armor mechanic is no more. That's a shame because armor decks were extremely fun to play and were able to achieve huge point swings. Now that armor is no more the most powerful trait of each Northern Realm deck is amazing potential for pulling off powerful combos. Alongside Monster faction, Northern Realms feature the best synergy between its cards.
The two main Northern Realm strategies are machine synergy with lots of cards capable of giving new charges to units (some abilities use charges when used, and the charge count is always limited) and the usage of various soldier cards for pulling off synergy combos. Machines are more popular at the moment because they offer more power in general but playing soldier combos is also fun and soldier decks require a bit more skill and can be highly competitive.
Now, as every other faction Northern Realms comes with four leaders in total. King Foltest is the best Northern Realm leader at the moment because he comes with the ability to boost a friendly unit and give it Zeal, and the ability can be used up to three times per match. The ability is great because many Northern Realm units have to wait a turn before they can use their ability and by giving them Zeal, Foltest allows them to use their ability immediately after being played, which can turn the tide of the game if used at the right moment. King Foltest comes with 4 mulligans in total, which is great.
The next leader is King Henselt and he isn't as popular as in old Gwent when got that super powerful ability. Now, he comes with the ability to play a copy of an allied unit that is already present on the board, to boost it by 4 and to give it Zeal. A great leader power, but the fact it can be used just once diminishes its usability. Henselt comes with 2 mulligans that further diminishes his overall power as a leader. Princess Adda has the ability to damage a unit by 8, which isn't really useful. The power can be played just once per game. She comes with 3 mulligans. Overall, Adda is one extremely weak leader at the moment. And finally, we have King Demavend III, which can give 1 charge to any unit every two turns, making him a pretty interesting leader to play with machine decks. Demavend comes with 3 mulligans. Let's continue with Nilfgaard.
Nilfgaard was one of the most powerful factions in old Gwent. Their spy decks were constantly among the most powerful competitive decks throughout the course of both closed and open beta stages, with receiving a major nerf only towards the end of the closed beta period. Sadly, with Homecoming update, spies are basically removed from Nilfgaard. Sure, you still have some spy cards but there aren't enough of them to base your entire deck on spies. While this is deeply saddening, the good news is that despite basically removing spy archetype Homecoming kept Nilfgaard highly competitive faction.
The most powerful decks in this faction are based on card reveal and while they are a bit on the RNG side, they can be highly consistent and they offer immense power without requiring from players to think for one minute before every move. The second deck strategy for Nilfgaard is the witcher archetype. Yes, Gwent finally got enough new Witcher cards that players can create whole decks based around Witcher archetype. While a huge chunk of witcher cards are neutral cards, Nilfgaard is the only faction that includes additional witcher cards making it the only faction capable of having competitive witcher decks. These decks aren't extremely powerful but they are extremely fun to play.
Now, the most powerful leader here is probably Jan Calveit. He kept his ability to look at the three top cards from your deck and to play one and despite the fact that the ability can be used just one per match its power is huge. Calveit comes with 2 mulligans. Next, we have Emhyr, who also kept his old ability to return a card from the board to your hand and then playing any card (including the one you returned) from your hand. The ability can only be pulled once per match but it is still extremely powerful especially because of the fact that now you can use it on gold cards, allowing players to pull off some crazy plays (like playing Geralt Igni two time in a row!).
We then have Morvran Voorhis, who is the main choice for each reveal deck. He can reveal a random card from an opponent's deck and then boost an ally by 3 (if the revealed card is bronze) or by 4 (if the revealed card is gold) and the ability can be played once per round, which makes it pretty strong and extremely useful for reveal decks. Because most units in reveal decks depend on reveal mechanic you can use the leader ability to chain two or more combos in one move, which is perfect for finishers and great tactics for moves that secure you first round win. Morvran comes with 3 mulligans, making him an excellent leader, especially for decks based on reveal mechanic. And finally, we have the Usurper, who comes with one highly interesting ability. Instead of having an active ability Usurper blocks the opponent's leader ability for the whole course of the game. This can be really effective against certain leaders but the fact that he comes without a single card mulligan highly limits his usability. Let's move on to Skellige.
Skellige was a pretty powerful faction during Gwent closed beta. Their swarm and Axeman decks were immensely powerful. After a few patches the faction lost its huge power and for a long time Skellige decks were fun to play but they lacked that potent kick that would launch them to tier 1. But before Homecoming got announced they were given a huge influx of power by introducing Greatswords, and they remained the most powerful decks through the remainder of open beta. Luckily, Skellige received massive changes with Homecoming which removed that awful Greatswords archetype but added a couple of fun and powerful strategies.
The main strategy of Skellige is still card discards; these decks are much more powerful than in old Gwent and they offer a couple of alternative synergies that mean there are many different discard decks that are fun to play but not follow one main archetype. The next archetype is based on bears but they aren't brain dead bear decks of the past. Instead, they are solid during the first two rounds and they keep a couple of powerful boost combos for the last moves in the third round that allows them to play units which are given immense boosts thanks to lots of bears in the player's graveyard.
Skellige decks also run froth swarm strategy with lots of Bloodlust-based (they can play their abilities only if one of their allies on board is damaged) combos and with lots of units who either swarm the board with small units or play duplicates when damaged. The final combo is based on swarming one row with lots of small units followed by playing a couple of golden froths that boost each unit on a row by 2. And finally we have the pirate archetype which is based on many pirate units that are found in this faction and while fun, they aren't very powerful.
King Bran is the first Skellige leader we're showing. He has the ability to discard a card and then draw one card, which can be used once per round. On top of this, each time you discard a card, King Bran will damage a random enemy by one, which can be pretty useful in discard-heavy decks. Despite the fact that King Bran comes with only one mulligan, he is a pretty powerful leader. Next, we have Harald the Cripple. He can damage random enemy units eight times, which can be used once per match. While the ability is pretty random and while it has to be used in full (you can't divide damage done, you have to use all eight damage points at once), it can be pretty useful in decks based on Greatswords (which now receive one point boost each time an enemy on the opposite row). Harald comes with 2 mulligans.
Crach and Craite is an interesting leader for bloodlust-based decks because he can damage any unit by one every second turn, which is a powerful ability because it allows Bloodlust-based units to use their abilities without any problem. He is also used in golden froth-based swarm decks because those usually run Bloodlust cards as a mean to win the first or second round because golden froth swarm combo is usually reserved as wincon for the third round. Crach comes with 4 mulligans, which makes him an extremely good leader for certain decks. And finally, we have Eist Tuirseach, who can play a warrior from your own graveyard, which isn't really strong play especially because it is limited to one usage per match. Eist comes with three mulligans which makes him the least powerful leader in Skellige. And finally, let's talk about monsters.
Monsters lived through some heavenly and through some atrocious times during the times of old Gwent. We all remember that atrocious weather deck that destroyed practically any other deck in the game and that pushed CD Projekt into completely altering weather mechanics. After the Homecoming update, each weather effect is limited to four turns after which each weather (except Ragnarok) disappears from the board making weather pretty bad, so no more weather monsters.
Also, consume monsters decks that made havoc during post-Midwinter update times are also out of sight since most consume abilities and synergies are removed from the game. Nevertheless, Monsters have some pretty powerful decks. The most powerful of them all is based on Deathwish abilities and it is at the moment probably one of the most powerful decks in Gwent alongside Eithne control and maybe a couple of swarm golden froth decks. It is based on many different Deathwish units (Deathwish abilities are activated after a unit leaves the board or can be activated with some special cards and units that force activate these abilities) with the Unseen Elder or Eredin as leaders. Eredin is especially powerful because it gives a unit immune (it cannot be targeted by abilities and special cards) and boosts it by 4 and when you combine his ability with redesigned Ge'els card that triggers Deathwish ability each time Deathwish unit is placed on the board you get one ultra-powerful combo that works for the remainder of the round and is a perfect way to secure round 1 win.
The second powerful Monsters deck is based on swarming the board with small and cheap units and then using Zoltan and Golden Froth to boost them. This works rather well and is pretty consistent especially when backed up by a couple of powerful units that can consume units from the graveyard and get boosted by their power. The third archetype is a control archetype led by Woodland Spirit. This one is based on lots of artifact cards, lots of special cards and a handful of consume and immune units such as werewolves, Ozzrel, and Ghoul.
When it comes to leaders we have Eredin, who can boost a unit by 4 and give it immune once per game (making the strongest combo in the game when combined with Ge'els) and who comes with 3 card mulligans which makes him an extremely strong leader, especially for Deathwish archetype. Next, we have the Unseen Elder who can activate an ally's Deathwish ability once per round and who comes with 2 mulligans. If you use a Deathwish-heavy deck but do not play Ge'els you can use the Unseen Elder. Woodland Spirit is capable of boosting a unit in your hand by 8 once per game. This can be an excellent tactic when playing a control deck. You simply destroy opponent's units, boost your own immune unit by eight and play it last. Woodland Spirit comes with 3 card mulligans. Finally, we have Arachas Queen, and she is capable of spawning an Arachas drone each time an ally is destroyed. Powerful ability in theory but in practice, it isn't really effective. The Queen comes with just 1 card mulligan making her a low-level Monster leader that isn't used very often.
Okay, now that we covered each faction and presented their strategies, leaders and most powerful deck archetypes it is time to show some decks that are powerful enough for effective ranked play. And since Swim already posted a YouTube video presenting whopping 14 decks, each being pretty effective we thought that it is best to leave you his video below because he explained each deck in detail and made sure you know how to play each of the 14 decks after you construct them. The good thing is that no matter your favorite faction you will find a cool deck because each faction is represented with at least two decks.
And finally, be free to use one of the 14 decks shown in the Swim's video but do not remember that the game and its meta are extremely dynamic and that new decks appear on a daily basis, and lots of them are really competitive. This means that you should definitely experiment. Try to build your own deck or use some of the decks shown in the video as the basis for your own unique deck.