Very strong finishers
Unusual win condition
Easy to play around
Vulnerable to being bled
The popular Scoia’tael streamer SirPumpkn recently came up with a unique deck idea that utilizes some interesting mechanics not seen in quantity since the far-flung days of closed beta control Scoia’tael, where Vrihedd Dragoons were one of the most loathed bronzes in the game. The core cards in this deck are obviously the six handbuff units (3x Vrihedd Dragoon, 3x Hawker Support). Both of these allow you to create huge round 3 finishers, and put more power into your future plays especially if the Dragoons stick on the board. The other important part of Pumpkin’s list is the “card advantage package”, including Ciri, Yaevinn and – potentially – Summoning Circle for another copy of your / the opponent’s spy. Additionally, the deck utilizes two scorch effects (Geralt: Igni and Scorch), and some bronze cards that allow you to setup for even better Scorch value in the bronze slots. The deck also offers some ways to deal with weather, and Alzur’s Double Cross to reliably be able to have access to Yaevinn for round 2. Obviously a handbuff Scoia’tel deck needs some units that benefit from being buffed, and represent a strong finishing play. For this purpose the deck includes Braenn, Aglais, and Ithlinne. Braenn directly benefits from handbuffs as each buffs doubles her swing potential, while the golden spellcasters find their value in supplementing their massive deploy effects with a gloriously buffed body - all three making for destructive, board-smashing final plays.
What makes this deck so strong is that it disables an unwritten rule of the current competitive Gwent: “It usually doesn’t make sense to go down two cards to win round 1”. This deck can afford to do so, because it has enough tools to catch up in terms of card advantage. Therefore it’s possible to play round 1 fairly low tempo, and still win it after the opponent passed, then get back the lost card advantage in round 2, bleed very deep into it and finish round 3 with whatever unit you decided to buff up. The major weakness of the deck is if the opponent knows about it and its gameplan. If he does not pass on you, even if he would receive 2 cards of advantage by it, and ends up winning round 1, he is able to bleed out the buffed unit himself. If the deck becomes more popular, and people learn better how to play against it, adjustments to the deck which would allow you to contest round 1 even when the opponent commits into it fairly hard might be necessary.
The deck which started it all, SirPumpkn’s Handbuff ST is the first successful iteration of the deck in this meta. It aims to generate a huge card advantage with Silver spy, Ciri, and Summoning Circle (commonly used on opponent’s spy) to play a high strength unit without the opponent having an opportunity to remove it from the game. This list wants a long round where Dragoons can work their magic by boosting the units into your hand. The tech choice of Stammelford’s Tremors, while lackluster in the majority of matchups, certainly helps against Dagon - the worst matchup for this deck.
No single archetype escapes the purview of the prolific Raikou, and Handbuff is no exception to the rule. Here, he decides to mix things up with a minor dwarf package with Pyrotechnicians which urges the opponent to stack the row, the latter being punished by Merigold’s Hailstorm. The gold changes also merit mention - instead of the default package of Aglais and Ithlinne, Raikou picks up an ambush package with Isengrim, Toruviel, and Sappers. The silver bamboozle staple represents a huge power-play in any round, and the latter gives you some opportunities to confuse and disorient your opponent, forcing them to play suboptimally. The ability to use Ciri to force a pass and then Renew her for card advantage is one of the deck’s main win conditions.