Welcome to my first post in the Gwent Arena update series! The…Wait what do you mean you don’t know what Arena is!? Everyone loves Arena, not just me right? Right!?
…Anyways, the purpose of these updates is to dive into any new balance changes and see their impact in Arena mode. It can be thought of as the Arena equivalent to our ‘meta’ updates for Constructed play.
Without further ado, let’s go over the changes we’ve had in that big December 4, 2018 patch! The most significant changes were to a few neutral cards that were previously amazing in Arena, as well as changes to redraws for leaders which spices things up. Overall, aside from a few previously good cards falling down in desirability, most of the card changes are minor and don’t matter too much. The leader changes in contrast, are significant. These changes are overall helpful in most cases and should lead to more consistent Arena runs.
Note: A reminder that starter cards, starter leaders, and Thronebreaker cards are missing from Arena. In other words, they never appear as choices and thus can only be used in Arena through special means like creation card effects. In case this is changed in the near future, I still talk about affected starter/Thronebreaker cards here.
- Previously valuable cards to draft have been nerfed significantly, including Ciri, Ciri: Dash, and Geralt: Igni. These cards are now more difficult to use and thus less consistent, as opposed to making top picks most of the time. Expect their popularity to drastically decrease in Arena runs.
- Rest of the card changes are minor. New card Hemdall is too situational to be useful in Arena.
- Leader changes are overall good for more consistency in Arena runs. The most powerful leader in Arena, Eithné, has finally been nerfed, although she still remains a top pick. 3 redraws for most leaders now means it’s easier to play Arena as other leaders if you are not lucky enough to draft the top leader picks.
New card added
- New card added: Hemdall
A legendary Skellige card designed with the hopes of encouraging Warrior usage, his ability states “Melee: Whenever an allied Warrior damages an enemy, boost self by the amount damaged.” In terms of Arena, it does not look to be a great card since it relies heavily on synergies. Made for constructed, not for Arena.
Simply put, the new card is not great in Arena.
- You can now see your remaining cards in your deck by right clicking the deck
An incredibly impactful change despite not really being huge in scope. This is extremely useful in Arena as otherwise you would have to rely on good memory or a deck tracker to know what was left in your deck. A much needed feature, it should help with Arena runs greatly so be sure to use it often!
Relevant card changes
Many changes were to provision costs, which do not matter in Arena. Thus, provision cost changes are not listed here.
- Xavier Lemmens: ability changed to “Deploy, Melee: Banish up to 3 cards in enemy graveyard. Ranged: Banish up to 3 cards in your graveyard.”
- Witcher Trio (Vesemir, Lambert, Eskel): each of their power changed from 4 to 3.
- Ciri: power changed from 6 to 4
- Ciri: Dash: ability changed to “After 5 turns, on turn end, draw a card.”
- Roach: power changed from 4 to 3
- Frenzied D’ao: power changed from 7 to 6
- Enraged Ifrit: Reach value removed
- Bomb Heaver: power changed from 4 to 3
- Geralt: Igni: ability changed to “Deploy, Melee: Destroy the highest unit(s) on an enemy row with a total of 20 or more power.”
- Wolfsbane: ability changed to “Damage all units with even power by 2, or damage all units with odd power by 2.”
- Iris’ Companions: power changed from 4 to 5
Numerous good neutral cards got hit with the nerf bat, significantly affecting Arena!
First let’s talk about the previously amazing Arena cards. Ciri in particular used to be fairly reliable: 6 strength was a lot, and it often made her a pain to remove as well which was great for attempting to get card advantage after passing to lose round 2. Ciri is now just 4 strength which makes her weaker overall and easier to remove so you can’t get that sweet card advantage for round 3 – this undoubtedly makes her less of a desirable pick in Arena.
Meanwhile Ciri: Dash is still strong if the opponent has no removal, but it’s safe to say that extra turn you have to wait means more time for opponents to react, and more time waiting before you might be able to get a clutch card draw in a middle of a long round. Importantly, that extra turn timer also means you have to play Ciri: Dash earlier too (minimum 5 cards remaining). Both Ciri cards are now weaker in Arena, with Ciri being rarer to pick unless there’s no good choices and Ciri: Dash still a risky card to pick, now made even riskier.
Frenzied D’ao is a big favourite in both play modes, so I’m not surprised it got nerfed, although it is a small one. It is now simply just ‘efficient’ for constructed mode rather than ‘super efficient’ due to its current strength to provision ratio. In terms of Arena, the nerf hurts but Frenzied D’ao still remains a strong pick due to being artifact removal (which tends to be valuable due to the rarity of picking up artifact removal) as well as having high strength.
Similar to Frenzied D’ao, Bomb Heaver is weakened but is still useful due to being able to destroy artifacts. However Bomb Heaver is a Thronebreaker card and thus does not exist as a choice in Arena mode currently.
Geralt: Igni has received a pretty significant nerf, as it now requires a higher condition before being able to be activated. In terms of Arena it can still be a good card due to the higher presence of units. But this is an overall clear nerf to its power since this raised condition makes it more difficult to use especially at times when you need it.
Now for the less important Arena cards.
Xavier Lemmens hasn’t changed much for Arena purposes. He has been nerfed to now only banishing up to 3 cards instead of all cards in a graveyard. Due to the random nature of Arena you don’t really need to expect decks built around graveyard synergy, and thus Xavier still remains a weak niche card in Arena.
Wolfsbane now affects all units including your own, which nerfs it significantly for Arena purposes, especially if you were lucky enough to draft Eithne or some sort of ability to manipulate numbers. Since you are likely to have high number of units in Arena, and boards tend to be filled with them, you’re likely to hurt yourself just as much or more than your opponent with Wolfsbane. It’s now an inconsistent and unsafe card for Arena.
Enraged Ifrit and Iris’ Companions received buffs, but this hardly matters in Arena since both cards remain mediocre unless there were no other good choices. That said Enraged Ifrit in particular is more reliable now that it no longer has Reach.
Nerfs to Roach and the Witcher trio (Vesemir, Lambert, Eskel) don’t matter in Arena since they usually are ignored in favor of better card choices. As mentioned before, starter cards, starter leaders, and Thronebreaker cards are still missing in Arena, so you can’t pick any of the Witcher trio cards anyways!
- Eredin Bréacc Glas: Leader ability changed to “Boost a unit by 3 and give it Immune.”
- Arachas Queen: number of redraws changed from 1 to 2
- Caranthir Ar-Feiniel: power changed from 4 to 3
- Alpha Werewolf: power changed from 5 to 4
- Forktail: power changed from 5 to 4
- Wild Hunt Warrior: ability changed to “Deploy: Damage a unit by the number of Wild Hunt units you control.”
Arachas Queen receives a huge buff in the form of an extra mulligan at last! However, this does not matter much since she still remains a weak leader pick in Arena as she is designed to work with specific decks.
Since Eredin is a starter leader he is not yet a selectable choice in Arena. If this ever changes, the nerf to his boost is a bit of a bummer but the real reason to use him is his ability to grant Immune to a unit, which could easily be one of the strongest leader abilities in Arena. If he ever becomes available, certainly consider grabbing him if you have cards that could give crazy value when protected.
The rest of the unit changes are minor since these units are rarely used in Arena. Caranthir is a niche card that could be useful if he is picked up after you know what most of your cards are. Alpha Werewolf remains an okay choice, but now is just a tad weaker (though Thrive can make up for it). Forktail can deal considerable damage although often times it hurts you just as much as the opponent – having weaker power just makes it more mediocre. Wild Hunt Warrior remains weak in Arena.
- Wild Boar of the Sea: power changed from 5 to 4
- Gremist: power changed from 2 to 3; ability changed to “Order, Ranged: Play a bronze Alchemy card from your graveyard.”
Wild Boar of the Sea is still a niche Arena card (though has potential when combined with a leader who can deal damage like Eithne or Crach an Craite), and now it provides less power. Gremist is still a niche card since he just requires too much conditions to use (need Alchemy cards chosen, then need to play Alchemy cards so they go into graveyard).
- King Foltest: number of redraws changed from 4 to 3
- King Henselt: number of redraws changed from 2 to 3
- Rivian Pikeman: conditional damage amount changed from 3 to 2
- Prince Stennis: number of charges given changed from 2 to 1
- Damned Sorceress: Reach value changed from 2 to 1
- Sabrina Glevissig: damage amount changed from 3 to 2
3 redraws is now the highest base number of starting mulligans, so these NR leaders have been balanced accordingly. Foltest is a starter leader and thus is not selectable in Arena mode currently, although if this changes he would be a weak choice, mostly valuable for having 3 mulligans over his weak power of adding Zeal to units.
Henselt is now improved thanks to being buffed to 3 redraws, although he’s still situational/inconsistent. His power is situational in Arena and only works if you were lucky enough to both draft multiple copies of a unit in your deck, and also not have said copies in your hand. That said, while it’s inconsistent, when the stars align and you have multiple copies of a good card, Henselt’s power can be powerful.
The most significant impact for NR cards is Sabrina Glevissig, since this was a decent removal option in Arena depending on if you had a way to trigger her deathwish. The nerf hits hard and makes her less of a reliable card. The rest of the NR card changes apply to less desirable cards in the first place, so not much changes with them.
- Filavandrel: number of redraws changed from 4 to 3
- Eithné: Leader ability changed to “Order: Damage a unit by 1. Charge: 4.”
- Dol Blathanna Bowman: power changed from 3 to 2
- Milva: power changed from 4 to 3
- Blue Mountain Elite: now has Reach: 1
- Dol Blathanna Bomber: power changed from 3 to 2
- Sheldon Skaggs: power changed from 2 to 3
- Half-Elf Hunter: Reach value changed from 1 to 2
- Malena: now has Zeal
This is probably the most impactful change to Arena – the long awaited nerfs for Eithné! Now that she no longer has 3 charges per round, she has been brought down to other leaders’ levels and is no longer as overtuned. That said, while Arena runs will now be more consistent when playing as other leaders, Eithne is still one of the best selectable leaders for Arena. Her power still does the same thing – that is, pinging damage and manipulating numbers. This is insanely versatile and helps out with practically any Arena deck since it makes conditions far easier to attain to get better value out of many cards. The other leaders (except Filavrandrel) remain decent picks if Eithné is unavailable, as Francesca can situationally be good with certain Special cards like Ragh Nar Roog, while Brouver Hoog
Filavrandrel has been adjusted down to 3 redraws like almost all the other leaders. Fairly big nerf since his power is not too impactful in Arena.
Many ST units have been nerfed appropriately, making them less overtuned for Arena play. This is quite noticeable with some like Blue Mountain Elite. Overall though these changes are minor and don’t change much in terms of desirability of these cards.
- Morvran Voorhis: Leader ability changed to “Order: Reveal a random card from your opponent’s deck and boost an ally by 2. Charge: 3.”
- Emhyr var Emreis: number of redraws changed from 2 to 3
- Usurper: number of redraws changed from 0 to 1
- Deithwen Arbalest: damage amount changed from 2 to 1
- Daerlan Soldier: power changed from 4 to 3
- Hefty Helge: power changed from 2 to 3
In terms of leader changes, Morvran has been buffed to be more flexible with his boosting power since you can now decide when to use it instead of always having to use it once per round. Overall still a weak leader for Arena but at least he has 3 redraws.
Emhyr is a starter leader and thus is not selectable in Arena mode currently. Assuming this changes someday, he has been adjusted to 3 redraws which is a buff. While his power is technically situational, usually you’ll find at least a few cards that can utilize his power well. Thus he would make for a decent pick if better options are not available.
Usurper has finally received a long waited buff of getting a redraw! However, he still remains a very poor pick in Arena since he is best built with specific decks in mind. While being able to disable enemy leader abilities sounds useful, it does not really even up the playing field due to the opponents almost always having more redraws than you, and he doesn’t help you at all with setting up your own plays.
The rest of the Nilfgaard units have had minor nerfs, but these don’t matter much due to how weak these cards are in Arena.
Overall, Eithne is no longer nearly as crazy overtuned in Arena as she once was, and the leader adjustments have made it so it no longer feels nearly as bad if you’re stuck playing as a different leader. In the end though, leader desirability hasn’t changed much – Eithne still remains a great top pick, while Usurper and Arachas Queen still remain poor choices in Arena due to the nature of the powers and lack of redraws. The ‘decent’ leaders have had mostly buffs, with some having a lot of potential based on what cards you drafted (for example, Morvran Voorhis). These changes make Arena runs more consistent since leaders are now more on an even level.
In terms of card changes, the most significant impacts were the nerfs to Ciri, Ciri: Dash, and Geralt: Igni, as these cards used to be amazing in Arena and are now far weaker – expect them to drop in popularity. Meanwhile Frenzied D’ao, a staple in both game modes, is 1 strength weaker but is still an amazing pick in Arena due to lack of artifact removal and still providing a lot of strength. The nerf to the Northern Realm card Sabrina Glevissig makes it less powerful, although it was already a situational card based on your ability to trigger her deathwish (usually leader powers). Other than that, most of the card changes were minor and affected less popular Arena cards.
Looking to the future, the eventual big patch for January 2019 will introduce many big changes to Gwent. New leaders are incoming, alongside huge changes to mulligans/redraws which will definitely impact Arena significantly. However, I’m still wondering if they will ever allow base starters and Thronebreaker cards in Arena.