After Nationals, I had a month with no upcoming tournament, which is unusual for me. Given the fact that Magic is my job, I try to play only when I need to practice for something so I don’t get burnt out. Because of this, I didn’t want to play much. I’d play the occasional Draft or Standard league, but nowhere close to the 8 hours per day I’m used to. I had to decide what to do with all of my free time. Luckily, my roommate and Pro Tour champion Stanislav Cifka had something for me. He told me to play a new card game called Gwent.
Since then, I have to admit that I may have been spending way too much time on it. Just as my favorite writer PV did for Hearthstone and The Elder Scrolls: Legends, I’ve got an introduction to the game specifically geared toward Magic players.
Gwent is an online card game made by CD Projekt RED (CDPR for short), the company that brought us the famous gaming series The Witcher, and Gwent was a mini-game within The Witcher 3. It was popular enough that CDPR decided to make a standalone card game.
You don’t need to know anything about The Witcher to play the actual game. Like both Hearthstone and TES:L, it’s a collectible card game but not a trading card game. The game is still in open beta, but it’s in the later stages and I don’t think much will change before the full release. The game was developed for Windows, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. There is no mobile version of the game yet.
Gwent is free to play and you can download it here. You can also spend money if you want to beef up your collection quickly. The game has good reward system, so it’s not hard to build up your collection, but more on that later.
As of right now, the game has only one play mode, which is like Constructed in Magic. You build your deck and you go to battle. You can either play a casual game, ranked ladder, or (if you qualify), the Pro ladder. There is a series of challenges, but so far nothing like Limited in Magic. There is also no Story mode, but there should be one coming up soon with Thronebreaker, which should be a lengthy single-player campaign with a captivating story.
Gwent is a turn-based game and each player can play only one card per turn. One match is divided into three rounds. If you take two of the rounds, you win the match. Every turn, each player can either play a card or pass the turn. If they don’t have a card in hand, they pass automatically. When both players pass, the round ends. To win a round, you need to have more power on board than your opponent does.
The big difference between Gwent and other card games is that there is no mana system. There is also no combat—you just play cards and in the end whoever has more power wins. Like in Magic, there are creatures (called units) and spells. But as in Hearthstone, there are no instants. On your opponent’s turn you do nothing but wait.
At the start of the match you draw 10 cards. After that you can mulligan away up to three cards. There is a mechanic called blacklist, which means that if you mulligan a card, you can’t draw a copy of that card in this mulligan phase again. This is very useful, because there are some cards that you actively want in your deck instead of your hand.
For example, one card says “when you have 5 or more Elf allies, play this card from your deck.” After the 1st round ends you get to keep cards in your hand, draw two extra, and mulligan once. After the second round ends you keep cards in your hand, draw one extra, and mulligan once. Mulligan is voluntary, so if at any time you’re satisfied with your hand you can just keep it.
Each player can put units in either of three rows on their side of the board. Some units are tied to a row and can be placed only on that one, but most of them are flexible and can be placed anywhere. There are cards that punish stacking one row, but there are also cards that punish spreading out your units. Therefore you have to be careful when placing units on the board.
The game has five factions: Nilfgaard, Scoia’tael, Northern Realms, Skellige, and Monsters. They’re like colors in Magic, but when building a deck you’re limited to one of them. There are also some neutral cards that you can use in every deck.
When building a deck, you start by picking a leader, which is a unique card that you always start the game with in your hand. I’d compare it to Hero Powers in Hearthstone. Leaders are visible to both players and each factions has three of them to choose from. When you first start playing the game, you have to go through a bunch of challenges to unlock all of the leaders.
Each deck has a minimum of 25 cards. Of those you can only play 4 gold cards (rare in Magic), and 6 silver (uncommon). You’re allowed to play as many bronze (common) cards as you want. As in Magic, there is a limit to how many copies of the same card you can play—three for bronze and one for gold/silver. There are some cards that only interact with bronze and silver cards, which is a nice unique touch.
Building a Collection
When it comes to building a collection, there are four important resources. Here’s what they are and how to get them.
- Kegs: These are the same as boosters in Magic. They include five cards. You get four of them randomly, and then you can choose the fifth from between three cards. The choice can be complicated when you start playing, so you can use this tool to determine which one to pick. You can buy kegs using real money. 15 kegs costs $20.
- Ore: You can use ore to buy kegs as well. The math is pretty easy: 100 ore = 1 keg.
- Scraps: This is like dust in Hearthstone. Each card costs some amount of scraps to create. The difference is in rarity. Bronze costs 80 (30 for some), silver costs 200, and gold is 800. You can also mill the cards, which is basically like selling them back from some value. You can get 10 for bronze, 50 for silver, and 200 gold. You can see that selling back isn’t very profitable, so be careful. I have sold a card I needed by mistake, so don’t be like me.
- Meteorite powder: This is similar to scraps, but it turns your standard cards into premium ones. I’d compare this to foils in Magic. Premium cards have cool effects. Instead of being steady, the card picture starts moving and some of them are pretty funny.
There are five ways to get these resources.
- Daily rewards: Every day you get rewarded for winning rounds—not full matches, just rounds. It starts at two rounds won and scales up to 66 where you get bunch of meteorite powder. The rewards differ. The best one is likely 100 ore for six rounds won, which is enough to buy a keg.
- Level rewards: As in other games you get experience for every match you play. At the start you level up swiftly, but it slows down after a while. I’ve been playing for a couple of months and I’ve reached level 58. At level 10 your reward is that you can start playing ranked.
- Rank rewards: As with experience, here you can also level up your rank. There are 21 levels in Gwent, and the reward for reaching the highest level is juicy—you get 10 kegs and a fancy border that you can use while playing. For leveling up, Gwent uses the Matchmaking Rating (MMR) system, which is similar to Elo. It’s pretty simple—you get points for winning games but you get points taken away if you lose. At the start you get lots of points for winning, but once you get close to rank 21 it becomes harder and harder.
- Season rewards: This is the same as ranked. The difference is that you don’t get the reward once you reach the level, but at the end of the season (every two months). Here the rewards are substantial—you get 20 kegs, 1000 scraps, and 700 meteorite powder for level 21.
- Good game rewards: This is my favorite. After every game a button appears saying, “send a good game.” If you click it, your opponent gets rewarded some tiny amount of scraps.
Even though the game is in open beta, CDPR has already established a pro scene. Gwent Masters is a series of tournaments leading up to Gwent Worlds. To facilitate this, CDPR introduced the Pro ladder. This is special ladder that’s a level above the normal ranked ladder. To qualify for this, you need to reach level 21 on the normal ranked ladder. What’s different is that the Pro ladder is locked for two months (duration of the season). In that time it’s impossible to enter the Pro ladder unless you qualified in the previous season.
In the Pro ladder, players can accumulate Crown points. These points help you qualify for the tournaments. The first tier of tournaments is called Open. It’s a tournament for eight people with a prize pool of $25,000. To qualify, you have to be among the eight people who have the most Crown points in the past two months.
The second tier of tournaments is called Challenger, which happens every four months. It’s again an eight-person tournament, this time with a prize pool of $100,000. To qualify, you either have to either win the previous Challenger, make it to the finals of an Open, or accumulate lots of Crown points. This all leads up to Worlds, which happens in January of 2019 with a prize pool of $250,000. Again, it will be played by eight players—a mix of Challenger winners and players with the most Crown points.
As you can see, the Pro ladder is critical, because getting a lot of Crown points is very valuable. One interesting part of it is that the MMR on Pro ladder is your combined MMR of the best four out of the five factions. This makes the metagame more varied, because you can’t just play the best deck to get to the top.
That’s all from me today—I’ll leave you with what I think are the best decks for each faction. You can draw inspiration from them and it might help you to pick the correct cards from kegs!
Monsters: Amazing deck list by yours truly!
Gwent is an amazing game, so if you want to try something new, I’d encourage you to give it a try!
Image credit: playgwent.com