With the start of Gwentfinity, the mechanics of Gwent: The Witcher Card Game become set in stone. This is a good time to revisit basic concepts which lie foundations to the game we love.
In this article we would look at the concept of leader ability, how it works and impact the game. We would start from abstract, game design aspects and then move to more practical topics, like main criteria of leader ability power.
The list of current leader abilities on gwent.one.
Leader Ability - Definition And Mechanic
- Leader Ability is an extra source of points to be spent at will in any round. Some leader abilities also have a passive part – added value to cards from specific category (Arachas Swarm, Nature’s Gift, Mahakam Forge…), benefits from the board state (Onslaught, Imposter…) and so on. Fruits Of Ysgith is a unique, quasi-passive ability, where a thriving fruit token is usually spawned by player at the start of each round and that’s where agenda ends.
- Leader Ability adds another dimension to the game; not only cards, but also leader ability value has to be maximized on the deckbuilding and gameplay level
- Leader Ability is an additional tactical resource. It is possible to convert leader ability to other advantages.
- Leader abilities in general improve red-coin (i.e. going second) player reach in Round 1, making greedy blue coin strategies less oppressive than in an imaginary world of cards only.
- Round potential value = hand value + leader ability value
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Imagine that you play a pointslam deck vs an engine deck with powerful finisher going tall. Let’s say that your leader ability offers 12 tempo, while opponent’s 6 (used to protect engines). You have an answer to finisher, but not enough answers for opponent’s engines which would snowball in a long round.
Then the tempo advantage of leader ability could be converted to a safe point gap to maintain last say during Round 2 push.
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Imagine that Blue has point advantage over Red. The difference would require playing two cards after pass, but leader ability could help to close the gap after just one card. In order to prevent such scenario, Blue would have to prophylactically use leader ability. Such decision however means commitment, which improves red chances in later rounds.
Leader Ability - Raw & Effective Power
- Raw value of pure pointslam leader abilities (Blood Scent, Invigorate… => 12 points) could reach an extra gold card level, while for some control/synergistic abilities it would be an extra bronze card value (Imprisonment… => 6 points).
- Control/synergistic leader abilities rely on effective rather than raw value – they depend on the opponent’s engine/control tools.
- Control/synergistic leaders tend to scale better with round length, while pointslam are better suited for short rounds.
- In a midrange (all-round) deck, the character of leader ability and the type of cards played should be matched to remove weaknesses.
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Imprisonment shutting down two +1 per turn engines in a long round 3 is worth 3+10+3+9 = 25 effective points – twice as much as Blood Scent raw pointslam! From the opposite pole, Shieldwall protecting a +2 per turn engine from damage would also be worth around 25 points (6+18 = 24). That being said, if the opponent plays no engines / no damage to protect engines from, both leaders become underwhelming.
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As a consequence, pointslam leader ability may like to trade self with synergistic/control rather than go for a long round. For example, Precision Strike in a midrange deck usually would like to trade self with Arachas Swarm in a synergistic swarm deck; cards in PS deck depend less on leader value than in Arachas Swarm.
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Pursuing the Imprisonment example, the leader ability is good in a long round and conditional on the board state. We need then to supplement this leader ability with a deck made of unconditional pointslam. It could be either strong high-end pointslam core (remember Renfri Triss Imprisonment made by Puzzle.Express?) or a very strong bronze package to force long R3, combined with pointslam engines. That’s also the reason why Enslave 6 at some point completely replaced Double Cross as the competitive Assimilate leader – seize provides control, which is lacking in the Assimilate archetype.
Leader Ability - Provision Cap
- Leader abilities vary with respect to available provisions – that’s the only way to balance them in the Gwentfinity. Stronger leader abilities in general have less provision available, but there are exceptions.
- In practice, leader effect is always primary and provision cap secondary factor when assessing a leader ability.
- There is no universal provision to points converter, because different factions and archetypes benefit to different extent from extra provisions. Usually the extra provisions wouldn’t impact the choice of crucial high-end cards (these define archetypes and decks) but would improve 4p bronzes and weak golds, possibly opening some space for tech cards. Extra provisions then would mostly impact deck power in R1/R2 and provide more versatility. R3 peak power would be impacted only if extra provisions improved Top10 best long round cards in a given matchup (but consistency would always be better). In general, the better low-end options in 5-8 provision range are with respect to 4-cost, the more valuable provisions.
Leader Ability - Card Coupling
- Leader abilities help to develop value from some cards, which otherwise would be conditional or underwhelming.
- In Gwent 11.11. (but since long ago and probably till the end) the power gap between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cards is higher than between various leader abilities. It is strong cards that define the meta and leader abilities only come second to accompany them. For example, Pincer Maneuver used to be weak, impopular ability, but immediately became the main pick when Travelling Priestess got released. Similarly, Mutagenerator and Temple of Melitele make Pincer Maneuver best leader in the Erland Shupe deck. At the moment of writing this article some players even consider provision nerfing this 4 raw points worth leader ability.
- An extreme case of leader ability + card coupling is when a card has to be used with the whole leader ability in the same turn to develop good instant value. Examples are Force of Nature + Koshchey, Call of Harmony + Quarixis or Imposter + Vanhemar. Such coupling is very troublesome when defending bleed; one has to commit both crucial card and leader, or play the crucial card for underwhelming value.
Leader Ability - Charges & Carryover
- If we imagine a contest between two leader abilities, it is possible that one is worth significantly more points in a short round than the other. Then there is a limit in which the better pointslam leader wins everytime whenever Round 1 is won and Round 2 push is deep. To avoid it, worse pointslam leader ability should then compensate with a strong short round pointslam core.
- Some leader abilities are capable of accumulating carryover. The only direct carryover leader is Blood Money – damage gets increased for each killed unit with bounty in the earlier round. But there are also indirect opportunities. Precision Strike could accumulate carryover via cards buffing Brokilon Sentinels. Deadeye Ambush with Angus Bri Cri (+Heist). Northern Realms could gain extra leader charges with Radovid. It even gets deepened with Radovid: Judgement – at Devotion and extra provision price, we get a stronger leader and also add +1 damage payoff to each extra charge gained with vanilla Radovid.
- Leader carryover is in general more flexible than carryover located on a card. With on-card carryover in hand, we cannot play the last card in R2 bleed, while leader carryover has no such limitations.
Leader Abilities - Strength Criteria
Leader ability strength criteria in order from the most to least important (Gwent 11.11):
- Supports ‘good’ cards.
- Helps to counter meta cards / strategies.
- Good raw value / high provision cap.
Examples (Gwent 11.11 - November 2023)
- Arachas Swarm used to be very underwhelming (~Tier 3), but then one crucial card: Hive Mind got added to the game in the Claw&Dagger expansion. This card is designed exactly to be exclusive for Arachas Swarm and rise its power level. In short, the card is worth 4 bronzes minus 4 points with strong one-turn combo / overload possibilities for 10 provision. Immediately the 1st point became satisifed and Truzky’s Arachas Swarm Sabbath deck became staple of tournament play.
- Uprising is the leader ability with the highest raw value ceiling of all: 3 (charges)+4 (Lyrian Scytheman)+8 = 15 points. Moreover in the October Season 2023 in the first community patch, Uprising provision cap got buffed to 166. In spite of all these advantages, Uprising seen no play. There is no good high-end swarm cards available, nor control tools to compensate for Uprising weaknessess.
- Precision Strike doesn’t host good cards as closely as some other abilities, but provides body and extends removal range. As strong engines are staple of late Homecoming Gwent, Precision Strike excels in the 2. point. At the same time, raw value of PS is very good: 11 points if running 2x Brokilon Sentinel.
Hope you enjoyed this general guide on leader abilities on mostly abstract, but also practical level for Gwent 11.11.
More detailed articles to follow.