Thanks to three round system, Gwent: The Witcher Card Game has an unique strategic depth. In this article we would learn about possible Round 1 objectives and measures to achieve them. Objectives are illustrated with meta decks examples from 2023 April Top16 Qualifier. The name of the player who used the list (rather than the original author) would be put in bracket next to deck name. All decks could be found here.
Various Round 1 topics were already discussed in other articles from Gwent Pro Tutorial series:
- Tempo & Reach – how Round 1 is won in elementary sense?
- Matchup Analysis – how R1 determines the final outcome?
- Bulldozer Strategy – how to build the deck to win R1 and the game?
- Weight Of Cards – what part of the deck naturally takes part in Round 1 gameplay?
- Understanding Carryover – how to effecitvely use carryover mechanic?
Enough references – let’s move on to defining Round 1 objectives.
The first thing to do when devising strategy in any game is assessing the current position. In Gwent at the start of Round 1 it would be matchup and hand quality. Based on this information, we define objectives for Round 1. These may later evolve depending on opponent’s plays.
Obviously, opponent would do the same. Objectives then become threats. Even if not directly realized, threats could force opponent to commit resources. Think of a game of chess, where threating a checkmate could help you to win a pawn.
Let’s move to basic Round 1 objectives. Measures would be written in bold as main points, while objectives would be listed below them. If objectives do not obey in your game (realizing them is not beneficial), then undertaking respective measures is not necessary.
Round 1 Objectives - Basic
- Win Round 1
- To play Round 2
- To avoid getting bled Round 2
- To get last say Round 3
- Not lose on even cards
- To not trade badly in Round 2 deep push
- To not lose card in Round 2
- To not suffer from forced short Round 3
- Win on even cards
- To dry out opponent in Round 2 (without losing card advantage)
- Establish carryover
- To have more points in R2 and R3
1) Win Round 1
The topic of how to maximize the chances of winning Round 1 already has been discussed in the Bulldozer Strategy article.
1a) To Play Round 2
Winning Round 1 is simply essential whenever the opposing deck is favoured in a long Round 3 (have a look at ‘How To Analyze Matchups In Gwent’ article). Then playing Round 2 could be the agent which turns around the table (more about Round 2 gameplay could be read in a dedicated triptych article: 1, 2, 3) . A competitive deck should either be favored in the long round in most matchups or able to efficiently win Round 1 and push Round 2. A deck incapable of achieving any of these objectives is non-competitive.
1b) To avoid getting pushed in Round 2
Negative of 1a. Deck is favoured in Round 3 and suffers from opponent taking control of Round 2, so winning Round 1 is just for the sake of prevention.
Decks with high-end cards scaling strongly with the round length are common in 1b) class. Such decks should have rich resources to contest Round 1. In case of engine decks, they also typically prefer blue coin (first say) in Round 1. Examples from Gwent 11.5 April Qualifier meta would be:
- Mobilization Reavers (Puzzle.Express)
Often played from blue coin to protect Reaver Scout with Stratagem and with a broad consistency package to secure Round 1 win. Reaver Hunters scale strongly (+2) with round length and Mobilization + Reavers combo is too crucial to risk it getting bled out.
- Arachas Queen Sabbath (Truzky)
An engine overload type of deck, relying on Witches’ Sabbath abuse and complex synergies spread over multiple cards. Idr, Vrans, Stalkers and Glustyworp scale strongly with the round length. Sabbath could put three engines on the board in one turn. The deck may succumb to shortening the round and bleeding Sabbath out, which has to be prevented.
1c) To Get Last/Second Say Round 3
Typical for powerful finisher vs retort matchups. The side winning Round 1 gets the last say in Round 3 after R2 drypass and could counter opponent’s finisher / deploy own finisher without answer.
Similar situation happens if at least one deck is strongly reactive and gets better targets to interact with if going second.
- Patricidal Fury No-Unit Svalblod (Puzzle.Express)
- Precision Strike Control (西猫羽翼)
Deck scales worse than PF with the round length (Svalblod is a few points on each alive opponent unit), so still may like to go for a bleed in Round 2 in a few matchups, for example trading Simlas with engines and establishing (double) last say for Gord.
2) Not lose on even cards
Losing on even cards leads to an uncomfortable position in Round 2. Being unable to match the opponent’s tempo in R2 means losing a card and opponent getting double last say in Round 3. Deep Round 2 push from the opponent could be even more disastrous – often they would be able to force out all cards from your hand, while having control on what is in their own. For more details I refer you once again to the Round 2 triptych article: 1, 2, 3.
Not all decks and factions have packages making ambitious Round 1 objectives real. Not losing on even cards from the blue coin sometimes is everything we could hope for.
To achieve this we need to have more points than the opponent after 3 cards played, including stratagem value. Then after the pass the opponent gets round control – both R2 push and long round 3 are possible. Bleed is best resisted by midrange decks with a mix of pointslam and control; to withstand a long round even more control would usually be needed.
Perfect examples of this humble strategy in Gwent 11.5 are most Nilfgaard decks with Jan Calveit:
- Enslave 5 Shupe (西猫羽翼)
Running an inferior bronze package and some combo cards (Unicorn + Chironex, Milton + False Ciri + Sangreal), Enslave 5 Shupe barely ever could hope for a hand capable of contesting Round 1. Moreover, with each card played, the point gap would probably become narrower. The safest strategy is to play decent tempo bronzes + Jan Calveit and opt for a pass at 7 on blue coin.
If got out of Round 1, Calveit guarantees a strong repeatable hand in Round 2 with enough value and control tools.
While losing round 1 on even is an uncomfortable position in general, as long as the objectives 2a)-2c) do not apply, sometimes losing on even cards is the best decision to take. What often happens is hard commitment from the red player (commonly known as czongo or helicopter mode) after which the blue player has to decide whether to mirror commitment or not. Worst what could happen is playing golds for suboptimal value while still losing on even cards. One has to assess how likely it is to lose on even and sometimes just give up, probably trading only bad cards in the next moves and passing on 5 or earlier.
3) Win On Even Cards
To win on even cards the deck needs both a strong Round 1 engine/control package and huge tempo. These are characteristic for Bulldozer decks – I could only recommend you to read the dedicated article.
Tempo vs Engine/Control is the key. Take for example two Monsters decks: Overwhelming Hunger Deathwish (TLG_Qnerr) and White Frost (L1ttlePe4rL). The first one could immediately threaten to win on even cards with Dagon:Promised and Brewess:Ritual. The trade off is little engine play and control tools. While many points ahead after opening plays, Deathwish would have to work hard to not let the opponent keep up when going deep into the round.
On the other hand, White Frost plays strong and reliable engine cards, but the only huge tempo play is the turn when Winter Queen is summoned. The threat of win on even would naturally occur only deeper into the round. Moreover, going really deep into the round is not necessarily beneficial for this type of deck, as Frost weather effect is an engine itself – shortening Round 3 could be bad.
Examples above are a model of what could be called short- and long- legged decks.
4) Establish carryover
The objective of Round 1 is to put the player in the best possible position for Round 2 and Round 3. The direct way to do it is with positive and negative carryover cards:
Positive Carryover – deckbuff, handbuff, resilience, developing graveyard, own deck manipulation, thinning…
Negative Carryover – mill, clog, banishing cards (also from opponent graveyard), denying opponent’s carryover…
(read more about carryover topic in the dedicated article).
If basic objectives 1.-3. do not apply, then the only thing in Round 1 which matters is the amount of carryover both decks could generate. Such a situation would occur quite often; in Gwent 11.5 almost every deck runs one or more carryover cards, even if unconscious about this fact.
- White Frost – Tir ná Lia
- Deathwish – Giant Toads, Dagon: Promised, Succubus…
- Arachas Swarm Sabbath – AQ + Sabbath + Urn of Shadows combo; Hive Mind…
- Enslave 6/5 – Jan Calveit, Buhurt setup for False Ciri
- Imperial Formation Double Madoc – Letho:Kingslayer
- NG Renfri – Traheaern Var Vdyffir, Renfri blessings (Kindness, Humility…)
- NR Knights – Vandergrift, Squires order
- NR Mobilization Reavers – Locations (often Temple of Melitele), Wagon, sometimes Hen Gaidth
- ST Precision Strike – Vanadáin + Alissa, Hen Gaidth, Gord setup
- ST Guerilla Harmony – Dana 1st form, Lake Guardian setup
- SY Bounty Nekker – Conjurer’s Candle, Ignatius setup
In three of archetypes brought to Gwent 11.5 April Top16 Qualifier the carryover element is even more visible:
- Ursine Ritual Self-wound (Kerpeten96)
- Imprisonment Cultists (Kerpeten96)
Eternal Eclipse Deacons infuse cards in the hand and in the deck with the Cultist category. These infusions are so precious that the Cultists archetype even runs 2xTeleportation to redeploy Deacons. Then the 1st chapter of The Eternal Eclipse scenario infuses every Cultist with great engine effect.
… and NR Shupe would be presented later on.
Round 1 Objectives - Secondary/Special/Advanced
- Tempo Pass
- To get favored long Round 3 with first say
- To get space for carryover plays in Round 2
- To get double card advantage to defend Round 2 push better
- Manipulate Round 2 / Round 3 Length
- Longer to get better engine value
- Short to deny opponent’s engine value
- Force Trades
- To get effective carryover for later rounds
- Peel Out The Weakest Cards
- Improving hand quality for Round 2
- Improving Round 3 topdeck quality
1) Tempo Pass
Forcing the opposing deck to go two or more cards down to Round 2 could have various benefits. Tempo pass circumstances could arise spontaneously during the round, or be planned at the deckbuilding level already at 7 cards from the blue coin.
- Overwhelming Hunger Deathwish (TLG_Qnerr)
Played from the blue coin, Deathwish could generate a huge amount of tempo in the first turns with the Brewess:Ritual + Urn of Shadows combo. Tempo pass at 7 cards would keep Dettlaff + Arachas Queen combo intact for Round 3 (1a. in many matchups) and Giant Toads to be played at no risk in Round 2 (1b.)
- Golden Nekker Pirates with Discard (outdated)
When drawn, the Discard package with Coral, Birna Bran, Morkvarg and Skirmishers could generate formidable tempo, especially if combined with the Mask of Uroboros in Round 1. As Roach and Knickers are also included, GN Pirates tempo burst used to be hardly matched by most decks. GN Pirates could have forced a long round 3 by tempo pass at 7 cards. Then in spite of massive provision commitment in Round 1, Compass into Endless Voyage was often enough to wipe out opponent’s board and win the game in many matchups.
The possibility of tempo pass is probably still underexplored in Gwent. There were various interesting ideas in the past, like forcing the opponent to go down to 4 cards in Round 1 and then getting the card advantage with Kambi in Round 2 after drypass. Or straight up dropping enough tempo to win on even cards from blue coin, like the old Mya-Mon Radeyah Eist Lippy deck used to try.
2) Manipulate Round 2 / Round 3 Length
Not only Round 1 result, carryover and the amount of commitment from both sides matters. Round 2 and Round 3 lengths are also often an important factor, especially when one side has engine advantage (read more here).
Shortening R2 is directly possible only from the red coin by keeping the reach and threatening beneficial Round 1 win.
Elongating R2 is a technique for the blue coin player mostly, adding enough tempo to force out the opponent early instead of more natural development.
3) Force Trades
Using the threat of an unfavourable Round 1 outcome in order to make good trades. Just like in chess, a threat could lead to indirect benefits.
Forcing trades scenario often arises spontanously during the game when opponent plays suggest that they may possess an awkard hand. Then applying some unusual, extra pressure may be beneficial.
4) Peeling Out The Weakest Cards
An aspect of Round 1 which is often overlooked by many players. Getting rid of the weakest cards improves average hand quality for later rounds. It is especially important for Round 2. If left with a couple of weak cards in hand after R1, it is very likely that unlucky topdecks would double down on your hand quality and make you prone to R2 all-in push.
An aware player should try to control the reach and peel out the hand in the best possible way if other objectives couldn’t be realized.
Peel Out is especially important in decks heavily polarised with respect to provision cost of cards and could be pursued from the red-coin without the risk of losing on even cards.
- Pincer Maneuver Shupe (JaimeOneHand)
Huge polarisation combined with Mutagenerator carryover incentives keeping the reach and playing as many weak 4p cards as possible in Round 1.
Remember that each measure is twofold – preventing it from being realized by opponent is also an objective. The stronger opponent is, the better they define their objectives and the more prophylactic thinking is needed.
For example with an awkward Round 1 hand we want to avoid Forced Trades chains on the blue coin. With very strong Round 1 hand we may want to prevent opponent’s ‘Peel Out’ in order to have better 2:0 chances. And so on.
Hope that you enjoyed the lecture and it brought you more insight into Round 1 objectives, also from the deckbuilding perspective. As you could see, Round 1 gameplans are really varied in Gwent 11.5 meta, with various strategies represented by different decks. Feedback always welcomed! Stay tuned!