Having undergone several transformations over the years, Gwent has seen a myriad of changes. Its first conception back in early 2017 is a distant memory. A laundry list of fixes and adaptations to the fundamentals of the game have dragged the supporting card library through a drastic, and sometimes turbulent evolution towards balance.
To create thriving card game, engaging gameplay is one of the main targets that a developer wants to ace. In the same vein that no one wants to invest in a boring game, there is an equal aversion towards games that are vastly imbalanced. In a game where your main tools are acquired through purchasing or earning card packs, being left out in the rain while the rest of the world dances circles around you with their over-tuned cards is enough to doom a game’s longevity. Balance is what keeps the competitive player hunting, and the casual player locked in.
Through Gwent’s immense fluctuations in the past two years, nerfing cards has been the primary way to edge closer to that impeccable balance that seems impossible to nail. With countless rounds of nerfs, tweaks, adjustments and re-works, some cards have been left in the dust, seemingly just art to throw onto the scrap heap.
It is important to set some guidelines, seeing as there are some choices that are much more obvious than others.
First, the card must retain its basic functions and gameplay spirit. That is to say, complete reworks aren’t eligible. For example, Ointment used to be a tremendously important card in old-school Wicther decks, however the card’s mechanics have been drastically changed and thus sees no play.
Second, cards that have been removed from the game are not eligible. They’ve already paid the ultimate price, no need to embarrass them here. (We miss you, Radovid)
Third: Leaders aren’t eligible… even if Dagon is now a magical weather stick.
#5: Mastercrafted Spear and Wyvern Scale Shield
Nerfing can hit a card for many reasons. A combination of cheap accessibility and over-powered stats is a common symptom. Other times some cards are just aggressively oppressive, dodging your opponent’s methods of dealing with it while playing handsomely into a smothering strategy. The Mastercrafted Spear and the Wyvern Scale Shield were two peas in one hell of a degenerate pod.
The two artifacts come as a pair, both seeing the nerf hammer multiple times. They were relatively cheap cards to budget into a deck design, while having nearly no setbacks to worry about. Being constant irritations for your opponent, they took the King Leonidas strategy of non-commital Gwent play: “Give them nothing, but take from them everything.” This dynamic duo ushered in a widespread hatred for artifacts, reviving the dark cloud of boring dystopia that plagued Gwent back in its most uninteractive metas.
These two cards changed several times, seeing increases to provision costs, and their abilities limited to four charges. While many celebrate the ultimate snuffing out of these two headaches, their current renditions have vanished from all meta reports, and are hardly worth their weight in scraps. It might be time to rethink these cards, though I’m sure it is better to let sleeping artifacts lie.
While the Mastercrafted Spear and the Wyvern Scale Shield wrecked havok through a grotesque meta, Sihil held court over them all. The king of the artifacts, some would say. Supported by an arsenal of spears, foul ales, damage spells and potions, Sihil surgically devoured any offering placed in its destructive path. Again, vastly out-valuing the removal played in the game, artifact swarm choked Gwent from the Ranked ladder to the casual meta. When left unchecked, this dandy of a sword would chew through the battlefield and celebrate a last-say victory. For those with particularly dark souls, Sihil has backed up by Caretaker which brought the fun right back from the dead.
Sihil went through the standard rounds of provision adjustments, eventually succumbing to the crushing blow that yanked it out of standard meta rotation. What was once an exorbitantly expensive artifact that could fling fury every turn was now reined in to a cooldown count of two. No longer did this card have a chance to deliver some hurt every turn.
The card’s current version has reset the provision cost to a reasonable 11, however this card now requires a full round of ten turns to even approach playability. It has been relegated to a Round 3 impact card that has a ceiling of 15 value. 15 for 11 seems like a dream, but that implies that you lost Round 2, your opponent is giving you a 1-strength unit to kill on turn one, and continues to feed in the exact proper succession. Even with a supporting cast of specialized damage, your Sihil will rarely even clear the 10-point value that an 11-provision card should hopefully grant. It’ll be a long while until someone pulls this sword out of the stone.
#3: Unicorn and Chironex
Squeezing out the maximum value from your cards is a sure-fire way to win rounds of Gwent. Translating your provision cost budget to potential points is a delicate balance of reliable play, and rewarding combos. The Unicorn and Chironex were the poster-horses for juicing as many points as possible out of a reasonable amount of provisions. These two cards have been peanut butter and jelly for a long time, appearing in an outstanding percentage of competitive decks. With play-rates as high as this tandem, the nerf hammer was definitely looming.
Providing players with their choice of tall removal or significant point protection, they were a safe pick to stretch provision value to the limit. Today, however, the ponies have been put out to pasture. Sitting at a combined provision cost of 18, they individually produce 14 points of potential swing assuming they never get to see each other on the battlefield. Should they have the pleasure of holding hands in battle, the point translation doesn’t quite add up. Topping out at a 17-point ceiling, the risk doesn’t approach the reward. Looking at current bonuses applied to Bonded units, the point value drastically outweighs the provision cost. In the case of Unicorn and Chironex, however, a bad gold card merely gets upgraded to “pretty good”. In today’s control heavy environment, it is even less likely to see one of the horses survive the turn, significantly devaluing this once valiant pair. Perhaps giving them some kind of shield would inspire some more confidence for our horny steeds.
#2: Geralt: Igni
It can sometimes be hard to watch as the nerf cannon sets its sights on a beloved staple of the game. Having survived many rounds of adjustments, Igni always seemed to claw back into relevance as players found new ways to create intimidating boards. The sweeping destruction that Igni brought was devastating to players who neglected to play around it. The threat of Igni loomed, as players struggled to taper their row’s point values to avoid the fiery witcher.
These days, however, the only time we ever hear his name mentioned is by Twitch chats hoping to conjur him into a streamer’s hand, or by the streamer himself confidently reminding the world that “it’s never Igni.”
Sure he appears in the occasional clipped video where someone set out to ruin people’s day on Ladder, but this card has comfortably taken a sabatacal after so many seasons of haunting competitors. The truth is that in a game that looks to maximize points, there are much more reliable and budget-friendly choices to punish big cards. The 2-strength body barely compensates for the circumstances that make Igni a viable threat. With Geralt of Rivia requiring a much more digestible requirement to activate, why would you put your faith in a card that costs more, is a smaller body, and banks on the hope that your opponent will be kind enough to donate to your highlight reel? The 20-point threshold is already a fairly sticky situation to navigate, let alone the faith that your opponent will contribute enough neatly aligned bodies to incinerate.
The truth is that this card got outpaced by the versatility of Geralt of Rivia. The 20-point activation fee requires your opponent to row stack favourably, wherein a simple Lacerate us a cheaper, more reliable card. I can see Igni making a return with a provision correction to Geralt of Rivia’s numbers, but until he gets some help, he is just that boogeyman we sometimes hear stories of.
#1: Witcher Trio
How the mighty have fallen. While I can see why the Witchers were given the sharpest of axings, they were pummeled into a fine paste that even devoted fans can’t digest.
I’m not naive enough to think that these cards weren’t problematic. I remember in the earliest days of Homecoming debating on stream with some viewers that these cards were auto-include in pretty much all decks. They provided thinning, and potent, distributed point presence. They had it all. Needless to say history agreed with me, because they went through the shredder multiple times.
The adage that “thinning is winning” put these cards to the forefront of deck-building strategy. They were always expected to be in every deck we faced, and that in itself is enough of a reason to get a rework. Unfortunately, though, the haircut they got was a little too close for comfort, and they’ve disappeared from the meta. Their current cumulative cost of 24 provisions laughs at the measly 6 points of presence they provide. Compared to other self-thinning cards like Mahakam Volunteers or Impera Brigade, the cost of thinning is vastly out of wack, even if it is a 3-for-1 exchange. The bang is just not there, even with the pretty buck you just spent.
Attempts have been made to rescue the iconic trio from oblivion. Decks centered around a Witcher synergy will shoe-horn them in, but ultimately they are the first on the chopping block. Frankly, there are better ways to slam points or to thin your deck. As long as these heroes stay neutered, they’ll remain retired. Press F, friends.