Gwentfinity – State Of The Game And Balance Council Voting

Introduction

Gwent: The Witcher Card Game finally reaches the Gwentfinity state announced at the end of 2022 year. Game would no longer be updated with new content and cards wouldn’t be reworked. 

Nevertheless, there still would be monthly patches, restricted only to card balance issues – power and provision. These would be done by Gwent community through voting with Balance Council tool newly introduced in October Season 2023. This way Developers involvement and resource usage should be minimal, while the game could still evolve and refresh itself in a limited extent.

The perspective of community balance is exciting, both from gameplay and social experiment point of view. Would players be rational or rather driven by love/hate emotions? Would lobbying for particular changes and collective behaviour be effective, or players would rather take decisions on their own? How to design the voting system for the most sensible outcomes? To test the latter, we would have two Balance Councils before Gwent World Masters 5.

In this article I’d start from the analysis of current state of Gwent before the first Balance Council takes place. I’d look at all factions and various archetypes, trying to identify what is lacking or overpowered. Then I’d move to a short guide to Balance Council features. Finally I’d present my approach and votes I’d make in the first phase.

Archetypes And Balance

Monsters

Following MO decks are about meta level and do not require huge buffs:

Bit below meta level, but still fine:

Nekker Vampires (w. Unicorn+Chironex)
Koshchey Mourntart

Monsters are in a decent spot in Gwent 11.10, with many decks worth trying. None of them though possess a cutting edge and enough versatility – the average of Top5 fMMR scores on Monsters was the lowest amongst all factions in the September Season.

The main weakness of Monsters is no hard-to-counter abuse decks, like Erland Shupe in NR, Patricidal Fury Self-Wound in SK or Sesames Vice in SY. There is no need to fill this void though. In Gwent 11.10 my favourite Monsters deck are Ogroids, because of a mix control tools and pointslam opportunities – no other Monsters deck has such a spread of winnable matchups, yet many possess higher point potential.

Amongst unexploited Monsters possibilities, some, like Rat Swarm Beasts or Control Glustyworp Arachas Swarm are hard to improve in Gwentfinity; they simply lack enough fitting cards.

On the other hand, Ruehin +1 power boost (3=>4) seems promising and impactful – there was a Ruehin Necro Tome deck around when Dagon Infusion bug existed (persistent +2 on each consume), which says that consume archetype is not far from being played if only most important numbers get enhanced. Similarily, Slyzard +1 power boost could be a refreshing and impactful change, getting along with Ruehin boost and maybe making Consume Fruits a bit more playable (in second order, Desert Banshee, and consquently Haunt may get same +1 power change).

Mid-end Vampires cards deserve small buffs in a great deal. Vereena -1 provision buff could bring new control tool for rather solitare Nekker Vampires. Similarily it would be nice if Unseen Elder, Dettlaff Van Der Eretein, Katakan, Protofleder and Gael were good enough to see play in meta Vampire variants, but that’s second order of importance and late impact.

Wild Hunt Riders perhaps would be harmless at 4 provision cost even if autoinclude. Decks would become more consistent, while also Mourntart gets indirect buff. 

Nekker +1 power is a quality of life, but also opportunity buff to Ogroids and Thrive. A controversial one, because +2 per turn 4 power 4 provision engine could sometimes get out of control (remember Witch Apprentice / Imperial Marine at the release state). Also note than such 2 power Nekkers could be played in Fruits of Ysgith and instantly procs fruit. I’d rather hold back with testing these for less dynamic times. Similarily, -1 provision on Endrega Larva is considerable

In the long term, Harpy Egg +1/+2 power could bring some fresh air; it would indirectly improve Maerloorn and Necromancer’s Tome.

When it comes to nerfs, I think that Monsters do not deserve any. In the later stage maybe Incubus -1 power and Witches’ Sabbath +1 provision (only to discourage using binary decks).

Yennefer Of Vengerberg to 9p is a controversial option to boost Arachas Swarm Nekker. As this card sees no play, I’d advocate this idea.

Nilfgaard

Following NG decks are about meta level and do not require huge buffs:

Bit below meta level, but still fine:

A casual 6-card round in Nilfgaard mirror
Nilfgaard is by far the most popular Gwent faction on pro rank in every season (from gwentdata.com)

In spite of only 4th best high-end average fMMR score (first graph of the article), Nilfgaard was as always the most popular faction on Gwent Pro Ladder. No wonder that the black faction is the main point of interest for most of the playerbase. Patch 11.10 butchered the Cultists archetype by reworking Affan Hillergrand, so that he could be played from the deck only when 4 flanking soldiers are present on the board. Cultists are no more; they are countered too easily on the competitive level and would be run only by memers who like to see big numbers and don’t mind instant conceding whenever The Eternal Eclipse gets countered before Chapter 1 is triggered. Personally I hate this change because along with Cultists most of their cards like Deacons, Master of Ceremonies or Initiates become dead slots.

Reading through Reddit and other Gwent media, NG seems like the main offender. Jan Calveit makes them too consistent, Soldiers like Imperial Marines or Ard Feiann Light Cavalry get out of control too easily, Battle Stations are unconditional 48 for 11 if played into double Marine,  Assimilate (always) plays opponents cards for more points than them, Torres 1st form is too high tempo and unfair because of possibly stealing three golds with no counterplay, Enslave leader ability is too strong – how I’m even supposed to play my wholesome Reavers?!, Stefan Skellen is over 20 points with just two Assimilate engines on the board and kills everything, Vilgefortz is too versatile, so are Slave Drivers – they could lock everything with Alba Armored Cavalry when needed. Oh and Nauzicaa Sergeants – unconditional 10 for 6 with annoying +2 armor, often used to tank damage.

Have I forgotten something? Right, Aristocrats – pure evil. Unlimited Thirsty Dames – unconditional 30 for 5, Alba Pikeman & Deithwen Arbalest combo – each impacted bleed shreds your guts, Masquerade Ball killing best unit while spawning unconditional 30 points Dame, Philippe killing one unit per turn, Joachim De Wett bringing unconditional 38 for 5 Dame on the board. Coup de Grace replaying Joachim for unconditional 41 for 10 with Echo. And third time with Rosa And Edna…

I hope you detected a pinch of irony in the community anti-NG sentiment overview above. Nevertheless it is hard to argue with some of these points and it is easy to understand frustration when facing decks like Soldiers or Enslave with unoptimized, casual deck and gameplay. Main Nilfgaard decks deserve small, reasonable nerfs – especially Renfri Soldiers deck I played last season to 2693 mmr seems just too solid in every aspect. I’d like to see it nerfed by power rather than provision, because it is still the most harmonious and relaxing Renfri deck I’ve ever run.

The problem is that nerfing all cards mentioned above at the same time would lead to a balance disaster. At the competitive level NG is okay balanced, as last season data shown. 

Let’s forget about Syndicate, which avoided deep enough nerf in Gwent 11.9. Nilfgaard was the 2nd best faction in Top2500, but only 4th in Top100. Playing against Nilfgaard is often counterintuitive, requires experience and good enough deck to not lose consistently to perfect hand guaranteed by Calveit.

So I argumented why better not to hurry with NG nerfs in the balance council. How about buffs to this faction?

Sandor de Baccala buff to 9 provision seems like a good way to unleash new Golden Nekker decks – midrange Abduction or better Cloggers.

Similar idea, but amongst Neutral cards would be Living Armor provision buff to 9 cost. While helping mostly Dwarves Golden Nekker with Mahakam Marauders, such change is also an attempt to make memes with Alchemists (5 power 4 provision NG card) more rewarding in a GN deck. 

Auckes, Serrit & Letho witcher trio deserves a buff, but what should it be? I have no doubt the only underpowered of these cards is Serrit and he drags his colleagues down. In my opinion in the current state of Gwent the trio is already not far from being played in decks like Calveit Shupe. +1 power -1 cost on Serrit (to mimick Auckes stats) would make the trio instantly competitive in Calveit decks.

Rience is destined to see more play one day… -1 provision could help to make it real for Hyperthin, or even some Calveit decks.

Northern Realms

Following NR decks are about meta level and do not require huge buffs:

A bit below meta level, but still fine:

Deep in the sea:

  • NR Witchers
  • Uprising Swarm
  • Cursed Adda
  • Blue Stripes Swarm

Top3 decks from the first category is what sees play at high competitive level in tournaments. The common denominator of these decks with respect to the rest is the presence of strong and concise pointslam core, mostly in the form of powerful finisher. Priestess and Erland Shupe are straight up carryover abuse decks – in my opinion nerfing Mutagenerator to 7 or even 8 provision is fine to incentivize more diversed deckbuilding. Still, no matter provision cost, the card would be imbalanced; the possibility of getting +5 carryover or more per turn is just unhealthy. 

Renfri Priestess on the other hand is more of a ‘good value’ and combo deck, where no card is broken alone, but Renfri ‘play a bronze from hand’ curse and ‘play lowest provision unit from deck’ enables massive finisher.

In terms of possible buffs, NR is a great playground; almost every card outside Top3 decks is a candidate for improvement of stats. Let’s concentrate on potential instant gamechangers though and buffs to classical Uprising swarmy playstyle which is the most lacking in NR right now in my opinion.

Griffin Witcher Adept boost to 5 power is an interesting idea to support NR Witchers. It brings +3 value to each spawned Witcher Student, not to forget about low power Witchers played from hand. GWA becomes even harder to remove (Tourney Joust no longer works) and overall probably the best 4p card in the game. Controversial change; I wouldn’t try it yet before Masters, maybe for one season in 2024.

Kaedweni Revenant +1 power buff would produce a 4p bronze with extremely high ceiling and improve cards like Draug or Forbidden Magic. Given that Draug is a possible pick from Temple Of Melitele, i’m also not a fan of this change yet.

Dun Banner +1 power is another possible gamechanger. That’s a kind of risky change because of possible abuse with King Foltest. The card would be roughly balanced alone, but possibly exploited in a way similar to Blue Stripes Commando (and also better in direct comparison).

Similarily, Blue Stripes Commando could undergo -1 provision buff, which would be just cute, or +1 power, which would put Blue Stripes as an archetype back in the competitive menu, with Foltest, Roche:Merciless and possibly Triss: Meteor Shower as a payoff.

Aretuza / Ban Ard Students +1 power => I’m definietly not a fan of such a change yet; well piloted Alumni are still stronger than you may think.

Poor Fucking Infantry (PFI) +1 power is a no brainer; PFI were too easy to remove and not even worth it pointswise. 

Kerack Frigate +1 power – another chance for Uprising swarm and way better idea than -1 provision, which would make KF a Mutagenerator payoff target. Strong up!

Ronvid The Incessant / Vissegerd / Sabrina Glevissig=> -1 provision with no double thoughts.

The Witcher Trio: Eskel, Lambert, Vesemir deserve a +1 power boost in my opinion – 3×4=12 points is about a good Incubus value, but costs 8 provision more. As Iris Von Everec got reworked since NR Witchers seen play last time, this change may cast more of a fresh breath than we think. A quality of life change to accompany it would be Selective Mutation to 5 cost (or even 4 in two patches?).

Skellige

Following SK decks are about meta level and do not require huge buffs:

Bit below meta level, but still fine:

Many Skellige decks were playable in Gwent 11.9, but the top position – Patricidal Fury Self-Wound was definitely superior on competitive level. What is peculiar, this Skellige archetype limits many of the other, especially ones reliant on Rain (Renfri Beasts/Rain Nekker), Damage (Pirates, Warriors) or Swarm (Crow Messengers…).

Sove seems a bit too strong and impactful pointslam play. It made Self-Wound go for a kind of ‘good stuff’ build rather than developing value from complex synergies. Decks like Rain or Pirates explicitly lack this kind of card – that’s archetype weakness, which couldn’t be alleviated by simple +1 power / -1 provision buffs. These archetypes are best buffed by shaping meta in a proper way.

A pure pointslam card is Cerys An Craite into Drummond Shielmaidens. +1 power for Cerys seems reasonable, while +1 power for Shieldmaiden seems like a way to set the world on fire (Lippy decks) and in my opinion shouldn’t be applied yet.

Another cool but underplayed card is Artis. +1 power boost on this card would make it harder to remove and better pointslam value, while incentivizing unusual deckbuilding.

Otkell is a card printed in the recent Heritage expansion with great point potential, but also severe restrictions. Otkell could act as a powerplay in short round, so rivals Sove in a sense, but is way more hazardous and unstable. -1 provision would make investment in Otkell more feasible.

When it comes to Golden Nekker 10=>9 candidates, Magic Compass is the main possible gamechanger. Having Compass GN decks back in the menu is controversial – personally I see both pros and cons. What is sure, such change would unlock huge deckbuilding potential, but also may overshadow everything else in Skellige, especially in the long run.

Cerys: Fearless is a decent card already, but buffing her further would promote classical Self-wound over PF Hybrid with Sove. 

Heulyn is the 2nd candidate and Arnaghad to support Golden Nekker Witchers is the third. Arnaghad is a bit controversial, because it also unleashes better threat overload in GN decks.

Tuirseach Skirmisher -1 provision is a simple way to support Discard, which is underplayed now. I don’t think it is a priority though, and playing vs 8 point stratagem (Mask of Uroboros) didn’t use to be fun. 

Also please, just like in the case of Alumnis, don’t boost Preachers to 5 power to improve Alchemy!

Drummond Queensguard would be very interesting at 5 power! With Berserk:3, it would require 2 points of self-damage to trigger, which mitigates by a lot its effective power (Berserk:4 would have been too strong and too high ceiling perhaps). Fresh air and new deckbuilding challenge!

Crowmother +1 power is a popular pick; i’m neutral when it comes to this change – Crowmother has own issues as expensive carryover card which has to be found early. +5 carryover for R2/R3 could be really impactful, which would increase variance. Perhaps I like Provision boost direction more – variance and tempo abuse are less prevalent then. At 9 provision Crowmother could join Crow Messengers Spam Golden Nekker decks, but of course would be less impactful than 5 power one. 

Scoia'tael

Following ST decks are about meta level and do not require huge buffs:

Bit below meta level, but still fine:

Scoia’tael seems like a faction where everything is clear and the gap between good and bad cards is vivid. Yet still sometimes proper conjuction of good cards could surprise – so was with Guerilla Schirru Milva deck used by Cat_Burger to win recent Top16 Qualifier (stats & decks). Three players finished September Season with 2640 fMMR on ST, and each of the decks was different: Renfri Dragons, Symbiosis and Deadeye Ambush Elves. Some other players had very good scores with Dwarves. While not very competitive, I personally enjoyed a Dwarfs+Constructs hybrid shown me by my teammate Xiwer.

Handbuff, Movement and ‘Spellatael’ seems like the main direction for buffs. Filavandrel +1 power, Gezras +1 power and Saesenthessis:Blaze +1 power are obvious picks for high-end. Filavandrel change would improve a lot its floor and could be combined with Bountiful Harvest 6=>5 prov cost. Alzur -1 provision would support Spella’tael. 

Cleaver’s Muscle +1 power buff is a popular pick. Would be irrelevant for the playablility of card itself, but impactful for Novigrad Justice (I already played it in my Dwarves) and also Cleaver in Syndicate. 

Ithlinne -1 prov would support Handbuff, also in Golden Nekker Variants. Same -1 prov change for Aglais would be a funky pandora box change – could we withstand Golden Nekker Aglais finisher?

Amongst less obvious changes which I’d support: Triss: Butterflies could get +1 power or -1 provision buff. Handbuff synergy with very strong neutral high-end card which is Renfri calls for efficient tutors, and Triss: Butterflies fits there perfectly. Perhaps that’s the change I’d support most; likely +1 power version, so that keeping Triss in R3 as a tutor is less of a punishment. 

Mahakam Volunteers could get 5=>4 provision cost buff in the current state of the game. Still only decks running Dwarves could trigger them. It becomes a payoff for swarmy Dwarves, playing above power vs provision curve, while useful thinning tool for decks like Renfri Handbuff or Control ST, probably running just a small Dwarf package. 

Hawker Smugglers could get +1 power boost, so that they are harder to remove, but still require some provision investment. Not a high priority on my personal list though.

Neutral Witcher Trio buff to 4 power, mentioned already in NR section, may also revive… ST Witchers archetype someday. How about a game of Renfri Handbuff Witchers with Iris Von Everec and 6 base power Gezras?

Syndicate

Following SY decks are about meta level and do not require huge buffs:

Underexplored:

  • Crimes Cleaver
  • Crimes Tags Collusion
  • Congregate Swarm
  • Self-Poison
  • Tatterwing SY
  • Yago Jackpot
  • Passiflora 
  • In Search Of Forgotten Treasures Hoard
  • Firesworn Scribes Abuse
  • Igor Townsfolk (or other target)

Beacuse of Lined Pockets / OtB Vice and preceeding Bounty Nekker dominance in the Syndicate faction, it is hard for me to assess the power of sub-meta decks. After Ixora nerf, apparently Vice is no longer as powerful as before; main netdeck got less than 40% winrate in Top16 September qualifier (stats). Many of SY archetypes (Igor Townsfolk, Passiflora, In Search Of Treasures Hoard) are greedy, rather solitare, long round abuse decks – something I’d boost with caution.

As nerfs are no longer so compulsory (for example a poll if to nerf Open, Sesame! or not roughly splits Polish pro community in a half), let’s concentrate on buffs again.

Cleaver Muscle 5=>6 provision was mentioned before – good support for Cleaver Crimes SY

Fallen Knight 4=>5 power is a bit risky, but surely refreshing indirect way to buff Firesworn/Crimes decks based on Congregate.

Pulling The Strings 6=>5 provision cost – makes the card playable again as a payoff in Crimes Tags and also rolling Open, Sesame! from Shady Vendor becomes less frequent. Controversial one; surely the card would be slower than at times it used to be oppressive – Shady Vendor no longer has Blindeye tag – but would it be slow and fair enough? In my opinion, worth to give it a go. Also extra reason to play Pirate’s Cove.

Magpie +1 power or -1 provision: card has unique effect and prepares powerplays later in the round. Would be great to see Magpie not only in Masters Finals. 

Casino Bouncers 5=>4 provision or 4=>5 power – 7 for 4 or 9 for 6 with thinning sounds better than 7 for 6 with thinning.

Sea Jackal +1 power boost would affect also Pirates’ Cove leader ability and Hoard or Jackpot decks. Very impactful change for just a +1 power.

Mutant 3=>4 power – How to set the world on fire using just one +1 power in Syndicate? That’s the way. In spite of Mutant becoming absurdly strong engine, I’d like to see such change in action someday for deckbuilding reasons. By the way, Mutant has Salamandra tag and could often be instantly copied with Mutagens for full value.

Balance Council

Useful links:

Features:
  • One player could vote up for 12 balance decisions
  • The cards to balance are chosen by voter, but restricted to 4 brackets: Power Increase | Power Decrease | Provision Increase | Provision Decrease.
  • In each bracket up to 3 cards could be chosen
  • Cards are ordered in priority in the bracket – top card (three golds stars) gets 3 votes, bottom card only 1 vote.
  • Votes are gathered and summed from all Gwent players who took part in the Council. The system is designed to work monthly.
  • One card couldn’t be modified twice in the same patch – only the option most voted for would obey.
  • Top15 changes most voted for in each bracket would be applied to the game, proven that min. of 50 votes is exceeded.
  • Even if the threshold is not exceeded, at least 3 most popular changes in each bracket would be applied.
  • Summing things up, one patch could modify up to 60 cards, which is a huge number; none of the official patches comes close. One half, possibly 30 changes would be nerfs, likely to current meta cards (because what else?)
  • Leader Abilities are included in balancing – provision increase / decrease could be used to tweak their power.

My Thoughts And Approach

  • Entering Gwentfinity, Gwent: The Witcher Card Game is in a good spot balance-wise, confirmed by ladder (GwentData) and tournament winrate stats.
  • So we have a healthy patient and an unknown disease called Balance Council. The main rule should be ‘primum non nocere’ or ‘first do not harm’. It means we shouldn’t go for very risky buffs but even more imporantly, shouldn’t overnerf current meta decks.
  • The pool of 30 nerfs to use means roughly 5 nerfs to crucial cards in top meta decks. For the sake of comparison, official Gwent balance patch would contain of 1, maybe 2 nerfs to crucial cards of 1, maybe 2 top meta decks. 
  • The only way to avoid overnerfing with such numbers is not voting at all in the nerf brackets (perfectly fine!), or using gimmicks. I really hope the number of negative changes gets reduced in the system.
  • Gimmicks could mean nerfing power of Disloyal units (but soon all irrelevant Disloyal units would be at 1 power), or choosing some dummy, unplayable cards and collective vote for these cards to block mainstream from nerfing meta. Desperate resort, which hopefully wouldn’t be necessary.
  • Another way to avoid nerfs when it comes to +1 provision is buffing leader abilities.
  • I presented many controversial and impactful buffs in the factions overview, which doesn’t mean that I plan to vote for all of them; my approach is rather conservative. We also have to respect pro players who would play Gwent World Masters on a community-driven balance patch. Second side of the coin: better be brave now than a patch later.
  • Some cards needing collective +1 power +1 provision treatment (or reverse) would likely never reach the sweetspot.
  • Democracy is cool when controlled, so I welcome Shinmiri’s Balance Council Coalition initiative and wonder how much influence it would really have amongst whole Gwent playerbase.

My Votes

  • +1 power

Buffing trio via Council Voting is problematic – here I’ve chosen the oldest Witcher – if you’d like to buff the trio please consider voting for the same one. Long and harsh process, which likely would have no impact on World Masters meta, but I think trio buff would open new interesting possiblilites in a big spread of decks. Second comes Drummond Queensguard, which I’d really like to see in action and Muscle to improve Crime Syndicate

  • -1 power

Rainfarn -1 power will improve an underplayed card, same goes for Kraken. Still both wouldn’t see play. I don’t want to block nerfs with cards like Lara Dorren even if it would be more effective; Lara is balanced with current numbers. Similarily placing Scapegoat at 1 power would nerf (not really existing) Tatterwing SY.

  • +1 provision

I picked mainly leader abilities in order to avoid overnerfing. Provision buff to Uprising is nice, because it doesn’t help Melitele at the same time.

  • -1 provision

I picked Nilfgaard card as main in order to compensate for multiple NG nerfs I predict. I don’t really encourage you to copy this approach (getting Sandor to 9p would be interesting though) – there are many fancy possibilities mentioned in the article and too few votes to use.

Closure

That was a really substantial article and I’m happy to take a break now ;-). Hope it brought some light into the current state of the meta and whole Balance Council environment.