How to win a game of Gwent? Well, there are many ways. The most straightforward is to close your eyes, keep slamming cards on the board and just win because of having more points than opponent.
This direct, ‘smorc’ or ‘bulldozer’ approach may be naive, but at the same time is the simplest, possibly successful strategy. Therefore it deserves to be respected and studied in more depth. The topic of R2 push and bleeding technique was already discussed in Gwent Pro Tutorial triptych:
- Bleeding & Pushing or How To Play Round 2?
- Types Of Bleeds And Pushes In Gwent
- Defending The Bleed In Gwent And Final Tips
In this article we would analyze the deckbuilding aspect of bulldozer strategy. How to design the deck to launch successful assault and how does it works in meta decks? (Gwent 11.2)
- Win Round 1
- In Round 2:
a) Straight 2:0
b) Push out opponent’s win condition and win R3.
First Step - Win R1
The crucial, sine qua non part of the plan. Preparation Team of the deck must be strong and oriented on winning R1 and gaining round control. Winning R1 and getting favorable R2 length is in general easier from blue coin, which means that red coin resources are the main point of interest for Bulldozer Strategy.
Blue usually has ~5p tempo advantage thanks to stratagem like Tactical Advantage or Djin’s Lamp. To win Round 1 red must be able to close this gap, sooner or later, which simply requires having more points in cards in R1. Also some flexibility between Execution and Preparation teams is needed; otherwise playing R1 to reasonable depth is impossible.
To win R1 red would usually need more progressive development curve than opponent. This could be achieved with well scaling engines and control tools directed against similar engines played by opponent. As shown in ‘Pointslam vs Engines’ chapter of the Gwent Pro Tutorial, engines start to outvalue respective pointslam after just about 3/4 turns in the current meta state, while Bulldozer have to be ahead in the final outcome.
Bulldozer of pointslam type has to be accompanied by control then, while engine type needs to have good tempo to not let blue leave R1 with two cards up.
While first few moves may be devoted to engine/control skirmish, R1 doesn’t usually go very deeply and soon (6 cards and below) pointslam becomes best option to threat win on even and make opponent give up the round.
Bulldozer is happy to invest resources in tools like Roach or Knickers, as winning R1 is the backbone of the strategy and winning on even brings great additional benefits (better bleed and a kind of carryover for R2 – remember Ciri:Nova visualization).
On the other hand, the investment must be balanced. If Roach is enough to successfully threat win on even in the meta, don’t play Knickers. Remember that you would have to play the deck from blue coin 50% of time as well.
- Strong bronze engines and point generating packets
Bulldozer needs to make points in R1 – as many as possible, as cheaply as possible, usually not relying on interaction with opposing deck. Strong bronze engines like Enderga Larva, Witch Apprentice, Antherion are perfect examples of cards generating points. Spending a bit more provision in bronzes to get better scaling is still more efficient than commiting gold cards, possibly used in Execution Team.
Of course, not only bronze engines are option. Dorregaray is an example of control tool (‘anti-engine’) – effectively a bronze analogue of Antherions etc. if meta is engine heavy, while Immortals + Damned Sorceress are model example of point generating package relying on a gold card.
- Short round sink
Blue may not accept defeat even when already down in points on even cards. It is great then if shortening R2 benefits Bulldozer somehow so that blue effectively pays for every card played in R1.
- Slip to 5 And Carryover Balance
Sometimes it becomes clear that blue loses R1 on even cards just after 2/3 first plays. Nevertheless blue may play on and stop only around 5 cards (possibly trading weak bronzes for strong, getting Knickers out etc.).
Strong engines and tempo tools deployed by Bulldozer are shielding for carryover play in such case. This type of situation is way more prevalent with Bulldozer played from blue coin. Keeping carryover option in hand or not may be a mulligan decision dependent on particular matchup. There are also cards like Mushy Truffle, with flexibility of being played as tempo or as carryover depending on circumstances.
Able to consistently win R1 from red coin, Bulldozer could suffer from giant provision waste in Round 1 if too many investments were made for the purpose of winning R1.
One of main objectives for a valid Bulldozer strategy is then using tempo and strong engines as shielding for carryover plays on blue coin. Classical examples are Operator into Self-eater in Relicts deck or Squire/Vandergrift in Knights. Fruits of Ysgith shields 5p tempo Operator play, while Immortals + Sorceress secures R1 win in Knights deck.
4th turn is usually optimal moment for carryover play; could be a bit earlier or later dependent on opponent’s attitude. 4th turn guarantees some carryover in case of immediate pass, while securing good tempo / development curve with earlier cards.
In the most likely scenarios, Bulldozer would play 6-9 cards in R2 with first say. When last card gets deployed, opponent would still have 2 cards left, which means double last say. It often makes cards like tall / green punish less effective in 2:0 Bulldozer decks as opponent may hoard tall targets for two last plays.
To 2:0, Bulldozer simply needs more points than opponent in R2; the advantage must be worth more than extra card. Any weak or conditional card in hand (techs…) could instantly spoil 2:0 strategy.
As said above, R2 is usually mid-length. In such scenario, engines and setup tools still play for more than pure pointslam in first few turns. Powerful engine opener is called for – Damsel in Distress scenario is a typical example. To achieve 2:0 in most cases Bulldozer has to win engine skirmish; Pointslam itself wouldn’t be enough. About half of R2 cards should be engine/control/setup and the rest pointslam/payoff.
The most important part though when it comes to engine play is to not trade down in points. Round is a bit shorter, which means that it is harder to compensate for forcing an answer with other engines (weak overload effects); trade-up on just one or two engines means most likely failure of 2:0. That’s why Damsel in Distress is a good example – it is borderline impossible to trade up in points against it. On the other hand card like Vysogota of Corvo may be powerful engine, but too easy to answer. Full 10 cards round accompanied by other threats is better for such cards.
What could be viewed as overtutoring in normal midrange decks, in Bulldozer may look differently. There is ~80% chance to find a single card during full Gwent game, but only ~66% in a 2 rounds game. If you need two strong cards in R3, there is ~64% chance of getting both of them without tutor. In R2 it would happen in less than 50% of games.
Tutors effective point value is very high in R1 and drops during the game when more and more golds are found. Excessive tutoring is considerable in Bulldozer decks to project the power very fast, while opponent may suffer from lack of consistency at the same stage.
With active R2 plan, consistency of the deck is very important. Something like a thinning pair wouldn’t achieve a lot. Strong tutoring (paragraph above) and interchangability of cards are consistency tools called for. Combo decks, relying on a strict 3 or 4 cards combination barely ever make a good bulldozer; there are exceptions, but then even more extensive tutoring is needed.
Interchangability in this context means that many cards could obey similar functions in R2 push and got similar power; if strong gold engine from Execution Team got missed, then there are other similar golds or maybe even strong bronzes as replacement. Overall, 2:0 Bulldozer without strong bronzes is inconceivable, be it for R1 win or consistency in R2.
- Exemplary 2:0 Execution Team
Strong Opener + 1x / 2x Tutor + 1x Replacement (Rpl)
2x Follow-up Openers + 2x Rpl
1x Control Tool – 1x Rpl
4x Pointslam or Payoff late round plays – 3x Rpl
The card mostly deserving tutoring is obviously the win condition; here we assumed it is Strong Opener. Obviously the more universal tutors the better for replacement value.
While we focused on 2:0 only, in case of failure the ET should also perform decently in a short R3. In fact, planned 2:0 barely ever works but for particular matchups or heavily unbalanced meta (Relicts after release…)
Push-Out Win Condition
A timid, half-orc version of Bulldozer, not going for 2:0 in every game is distinguished by higher tempo and less progressive development curve. This way passing in R2 without losing card advantage is very likely, possibly with less commitment than in 2:0 bulldozer going all-in from the start.
- In the Exectution Team the limitation is the presence of strong proactive plays in the given faction, and strong, trading-up engines/payoffs are necessary for 2:0 bulldozer (unless there is heavily unbalaced pointslam).
- Preparation Team is crucial – if you can’t design PT consistently winning R1 in an economic way, give up on Bulldozer idea.
- Most reliable Preparation Teams are usually concise bronze packages. For example in Monsters it would be:
White Frost (Aristocrats, Crew, Ancient Foglets, Winter Queen + leader)
Relicts (Self-eaters, Witch Apprentices +Megascopes)
Vampires (Nekkurats, Fleders, Garkains)
– While Bronze packages are most consistent, sometimes Golds are also useful for PT
Brewess: Ritual in Deathwish (shielding Giant Toads with tempo and thinning deck)
Melusine in Skellige – providing engine value and big carryover possibilities at the same time
The Manor’s Dark Secret in Thrive MO – protecting and developing value from otherwise vulnerable and slow thrive enignes.
Saskia: Commander – thinning the deck and shielding carryover plays; often single-handedly forcing round control.
Characteristic feature here is that these golds are independent on other expensive cards and often support bronze play.
- Some leader abilities have the benefit of threating win on even from the red coin without much commitment (Fruits of Ysgith, Nature’s Gift…)
- There is no space for too many decks of Bulldozer type in the meta, because some PTs are stronger than others.
- There are some cheat cards like Witches Sabbath or Lippy Gudmund enabling heavy commitment to win Round 1.
- Aerondight provides perfect backup and good control value for Bulldozer decks. It goes especially well with high tempo variants, with less ambitious development curve. Other echo cards are also very often useful – guaranteed topdecks lets you play down to zero cards with decent topdecks assured. In good circumstances, playing Aerondight is like playing two gold cards for the price of one.
- Tall finishers go better with push-out strategy rather than 2:0. They couldn’t be countered in a short round with last say, while in long round against double last say they are obviously prone to counters, even two-step ones, like Poison.
- Bulldozers, especially 2:0 ones, are not extremely different to main meta decks. After all they have to use best ways of generating points, which are usually characteristic for Tier 1 and Tier 2 members.
Meta Examples (Gwent 11.2)
- Redrame’s Deathwish Yghern
At the moment I write this article, Redrame is at 2650 in 82 games (81.7% wr) with his take on Deathwish. Impressive score. The deck includes Yghern buffed from 13 to 15 power in the 11.2 patch. The expense is running no Succubus package (Succubi, Dol Dhu Lokke, Kayran) and no hard control (Heatwave).
Is this deck a bulldozer? Yes, it is and we could identify great number of characteristic features.
Preparation team relies on Brewess: Ritual, Dagon:Promised and Yghern. Early Yghern enables Aerondight stacking from red coin without commiting leader charges. Dagon is flexible; could be played in R1 for carryover / better contest, or kept for R3 abuse if opponent lacks control. Finally Brewess:Ritual is the powerhorse of R1, bringing 20+ points on red coin and 30+ on blue with Urn of Shadows stratagem.
Brewess tempo shields Giant Toad carryover play, especially from blue coin – classical feature of good bulldozer playable from both coins.
Dorregaray and Toad Prince are helpful for engine vs control skirmish (remember development curve discussion – Deathwish has no own engines, so needs to control opponent’s ones fast in order to not get outscaled deep into the round).
Execution team is lead by Aerondight, Dettlaff: Higher Vampire, Arachas Queen and Ozzrel. Aerondight and Ozzrel give a hint that the deck is rather about push-out than straight-up 2:0. Dettlaff is a model example of strong proactive play, putting pressure on opponent in the push-out strat in R2.
Finally we could see double tutoring: Royal Decree + Alzur’s Double Cross. Charateristic feature of bulldozer decks having to find crucial pieces early to project power (overtutoring).
List above as played by the January Midseason Top16 Qualifier winner Mistikal (check out decks and stats here). Classical NR Knights were MVP of the Qualifier with 20 wins in 27 games.
Preparation team is lead by Immortals + Damned Sorceress + Knight Errant combo. Thanks to overtutoring (Oneiro, Lady; AA is a value card but also works as echo tutor), there is only 5% chance to miss Immortals in R1. On red coin using leader on Knight Errant from Amphibious Assault is a great source of tempo, setting up +6 points per turn on the board. If not disturbed, Knights could very effectively threat win on even.
Strong, efficient engines mentioned above lead the way for carryover tools. Squires order passes for the next round. Vandergrift is a resilient card with Grace effect. These possibilities along with Aerondight stacks make Knights even more often picked from blue than red coin.
In R2 strong tutoring again makes it highly unlikely to miss Damsel in Distress opener (<5%). It is one of the most powerful opener cards in the game, reaching 50+ points in the long round mostly thanks to Chapter 1 effect.
While engine part of the deck would maybe like long R3 more than R2 assault, there are many reasons to push in this particular build. Aerondight, Vandergrift and Amphibious Assault echo are obvious, but there are two more. Knights in general prefers first say, which lets them react to opponent threats after setting up the board. Secondary, many provisions were invested into overtutoring; Knights are more consistent than most other decks in R2 and could project higher power. On the other hand in long R3 normal midrange decks would probably outvalue Knights in terms of effective provisions in hand.
Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed this long analysis as much as jamming cards in a bulldozer deck.
I would like to wish you good luck on designing own Bulldozers using the knowledge provided, but be prepared that the task is really hard and not even possible in many factions at satisfying level.
More articles to follow soon, stay tuned 😉