Guest Article: Closed Beta Overview
Part 2: The Top 5 Most Powerful and Meta-defining Decks in the Gwent Closed Beta *Written by guest-writer RandyOfCintra and GumGumFacePunch, we will be taking another look back at the closed beta and share a bit of our experiences from that time. *
In general, a meta-defining deck is one that prevents other deck archetypes from being played. At the very least, it forces them to take particular tech choices that weaken their own list in general, but are necessary to improve their winrate against the actual meta-defining deck enough that they can survive on ladder. In Ranked, your deck must be able to compete with all other popular decks if you intend to climb. It’s fine to have 1 or 2 matchups that don’t go perfectly for you, as long as the deck performs extraordinary well against certain other decks. One thing all the decks in today’s top 5 list have in common is that they had an incredibly high impact on the game throughout all ranks and completely prevented other decks from being commonly played.
Before we launch into the chief offenders, let’s take a moment to acknowledge the decks that didn’t quite dominate their respective metas entirely, but shaped their eras enough that they were a key threat to anyone on ladder. First among these is the Scoia’tael Control deck from last patch, the final update before Open. The reason why it didn’t quite make it on the list is that there’s a Scoia’tael deck from another era in it that surpassed it in raw dominance, but similar in terms of how it played – meaning controlling the board for the first two rounds, then delivering a massive unit as a coup de grace in the endgame. Another deck that immediately comes to mind is Skellige Discard, a deck that was prevalent over the entire period of the Closed Beta. Always strong and consistent, always a threat, but never quite powerful enough to completely define any of the patches we’ve seen, Skellige Discard has seen many forms over the past months: Ciri Dash, Morkvarg-Base-Strength, Queensguard, and more.
5) PFI “Poor Fucking Infantry” Foltest:
Coming in at 5th place among the most powerful and meta defining decks in the Closed Beta is the PFI Foltest deck. The deck was simple - you buffed Poor Infantries with the Mushroom of Mardroeme, so you could resurrect/Foltest them later, for an insane amounts of points. All the Mardroeme did was “Add/Remove 4 Base Strength to a unit”, so like an amped-up Shieldsmith all factions had access to, but without a body of strength attached to it.
The community member Pyrofox was the first to explore the synergy with Poor Infantry that the Mushroom card had, on the PTR before the patch even hit live. You had a silly amount of tools to resurrect the PFI with, like Field Medics, Nenneke, Shani, and Renew into Shani. You could achieve absolutely crazy value because a strengthened PFI (say, at 11 base strength) would spawn a second 11-strength copy of itself, and these would both go to the graveyard and be able to be rezzed again and again. In the final version of the deck it also had some solid deckthinning, utilizing cards like Last Wish (former effect: “Draw 2 cards, then Discard 2 cards”) etc. to make the deck quite consistent. After a short amount of time, where the deck crushed everything else on ladder, it fell of quite a bit, because people realized that all you need to do, to deal with the deck is teching in multiple Mardroeme cards yourself. Scoia’tael was able to deal with it quite handily since they always had better access to Special cards – you could use your Aglaïs for an additional Mardroeme if need be. While it had no place in the top ranks (Top 200 or so) anymore after only about three days after its appearance, it continued being very prevalent on lower and mid-levels of play, because it was very easy to play, while the opponent had to play in a specific way to counter the list – and if you did not bring the tech counters, you were in for a very rought time.
Madroeme was nerfed with extreme prejudice in the patches to follow, and was left at a quite mediocre state for the rest of the Closed Beta.
If you would like to see a gameplay example of this particular strategy, look no further:
4) Consume Monsters:
For most of the Closed Beta Monsters haven´t been the most competitive faction. There was weather monsters, which worked alright, but since it was rather easy to play around, more experienced players did not have much trouble against them and they never really did well in a ranked environment, because Scoia’tael usually was too difficult of a matchup and other less popular factions like Skellige also handled themselves really well against monsters, because of their various weather-immune units at that time. That changed all of a sudden with the Consume archetype getting many more tools to utilize, the Nekker rework, and the rework of the Monster passive. Instead of a random unit, the Monster passive was changed to always keeping the last unit played on the board, which led to huge carryover-units, because the Consume monster archetype could abuse this ability particularly well with Ekimmaras and Vran Warriors, easily attaining 30-strength individual carryover units.
Consume got Nekkers as an additional tool, to create even more carryover value, and have units in their deck growing in power over the course of the game. The result was dramatic – the Consume archetype became one of the most powerful decks for the rest of the Closed Beta, crushing much of the opposition. Its final form, assembled by Garunah – featured below – it could even compete with the oppressive Scoia’tael Control deck, which was a deck completely built to counter the greed of Consume Monsters. The change to Nekkers losing their “breedable” tag in the last patch of the Closed Beta didn’t affect the success of the archetype that much (you could no longer use a Monster nest to spawn 3 additional Nekkers), but the patch also gave opponents a good tech choice, with very little drawback – the reworked Cyprian Wiley (7 strength silver: Remove 3 Strength from an opposing non-Gold unit), who could banish an enemy’s Nekker and choke their carryover potential. While those changes definitely challenged the archetype, it managed to remain an extremely powerful deck, that was seen quite often all through the meta all the way up to the top of the ladder, and had a decent matchup against all other top tier decks.
Swim’s infamous “Dorf” deck is actually not a dwarf-themed deck at all. It is more of a melee-stack-deck, which used the insane full-row buffs of the bronze Hawker Healer to buff up resilient units and therefore was able to create enough strength, that removals or weathers did often not matter all that much. One thing you need to keep in mind with the “Dorf”-deck is that Mahakam defenders gained resilience at the end of every round, so if you played them round 1, and the opponent never managed to remove them, they would stick on the board until round 3. Hawker Healers, Zoltan: Animal Tamer and Commander’s Horn used to buff the entire row, instead of only a few adjacent units as they do now. The 3 Witchers, Vesemir, Lambert and Eskel allowed the player to bring powerful tempo and deck-thinning in Round 1 to create even more targets for these row buffs. After the “Dorf” deck was discovered the meta in that patch developed around it quite a bit. Everyone started teching in stuff like Coral/weather with Geralt Aard, and harsh control effects like Alzur’s Thunder and bronze Frosts to shut down the Mahakam power. Dorfs slid back a bit, but remained one of the strongest and most popular archetypes on that patch. Dorfs was easily one of the most meta defining decks in the history of Gwent – for it not only shook the meta to its roots, but the game as whole. The reaction of CDPR to this method of playing the game was to remove almost all buffs/effects that had an impact on an entire row and limit them in their ceiling (Commander’s Horn, Clan Heymaey Skald, Zoltan: Animal Tamer, Hawker Healer, and many more). These changes were also logical moves for the Positioning Patch which followed the Dorf meta, but it is clear Dorfs made them reconsider bronzes that had been unchanged for almost the entirety of the beta, such as Hawker Healers, who had been unaltered and unseen for the most part before Dorfs took over.
2) Scoia’tael Ciri Dash:
This was maybe the single most powerful and oppressive deck in the history of Gwent – the Ciri Dash Scoia’tael. It was unequivocally the peak of Scoia’tael, which, though it almost always found a way to be the best faction over the course of the various patches of Closed Beta, was effectively the only faction run at top tiers in this meta. The basic mechanics of the deck was playing Elven Mercenaries into First Lights (Rallies), with Blue Mountain Commandos, to replay the Mercs to play more Special cards and thin the deck at an absurdly consistent rate. This would occur while also buffing either Olgierd or Roach with Mardroeme, or denying strength from our #4 in the top list – PFI, which existed in the same patch cycle.
Ciri Dash was the win condition, because the meta in that patch revolved around who was able to put the most Golden value on the board in Round 3. We actually see a lot of Round 3 Gold power in the current patch of Open Beta, but the difference here is that popular Gold cards like Triss and Iorveth could actually damage or kill other Gold cards, so it could come down to card advantage and whoever able to get full value from their Golds that dealt Gold Damage. People tended to not spend a lot of Golds into the first two rounds, but save them for Round 3, which was a clash of Golden value, and whoever had the most and used them for full value usually won the game. Scoia’tael did really well in that kind of meta, because they still were able to create quite a bit of card advantage from all the tools available to them. This was back when Decoy was an auto-include in basically every deck since it returned any non-Gold unit to your hand without immediately replaying it, and the nonhumans also had access to Yaevinn and the Scoia’tael faction ability. All of this with the fact that Scoia’tael had almost no downsides at all, and even could have carryover value at this time, definitely make it a worthy #2 in this ranking, even though it was initially developed as a counter to the power of the PFI rather than an initial meta-defining list on its own.
And at last, we come to the most absurd, the most infamous deck of them all: the “Promote Cheese” deck, an archetype prevalent very early in the Closed Beta. It peaked around end of November, right before the new patch hit, which eliminated the archetype into non-existence. Eventually the most refined version of this deck was the version which 6 Gwentlemen were running in the Passiflora Tournament. All of them did really good in that tournament playing the exactly same deck, and Gumgumfacepunch eventually won the tournament with an oppressive 13 – 0 streak. The mechanic of the deck, was trying to either get your opponent to pass early in Round 1, and then you just played whatever sticky unit you drew, and buffed it up with Blue Stripes Scout, Kaedweni Siege Support and potions. The tricky thing was promoting the unit at the right time, before the opponent could scorch or Gigni it. With the way old Promote worked, the buffed strength was converted to base strength, making for massive cross-round potential. The deck was completely dominating the casual-meta at that time (Ranked did not yet exist). The strongest advantage of this deck, aside from the Promote mechanic creating a huge, effectively indestructible unit, was probably the fact that you had so many threats you were able to buff and promote, such that your opponent, even when playing a removal-deck, had almost no way to remove all buffs and threats: Olgierd, Roach, Botchling, Ocvist in their older forms were incredibly powerful with this mechanic.
One of the ongoing issues with the game of Gwent, that the developers still wrestle with in every patch, is the power of carryover, because Gwent is ostensibly supposed to be a game, where you should be able to “lose a battle, to win the war”, meaning you intentionally can give up a round, if you get enough advantages from it, to take the other two. However, this concept gets nullified if decks have access to too much carryover value, and can just mindlessly keep playing cards into a round (or even game) that’s already won. This is one of the challenges brought about by the evolution of Gwent from a minigame in The Witcher 3 to becoming a standalone – The Witcher 3 Gwent was extremely simple, but did not have the same sort of diverse carryover mechanics we see across many cards in standalone Gwent. The Promote Cheese deck exemplified the worst potential outcomes of carryover run amok, but in the end it taught the developers a valuable lesson, that helped them strive towards a better balance, where carryover value is both a possible and practical play for the player, but not a game-breaking auto-win strategy.
The game has been heavily standardized since the early days of Closed Beta and we are unlikely to see the same extremity of broken decks which emerged at various points in the past, but they remain excellent examples to learn from, both in terms of deckbuilding potential and game design.