Gwent Arena Meta Update – January 10 2019 Patch

Welcome back to another Gwent Arena meta update. That’s right, all 11 of you Arena fans!

Jokes aside, CDPR has introduced us with an interesting balance patch on January 10, 2019. Nicknamed the Mulligan Update, it massively affects both game modes due to the new mechanics they put into the game in regards to redraws. However, many of the actual cards were not changed much, and the large volume of Provision Cost changes are generally inconsequential to Arena play.

This series aims to discuss how a particular patch impacts Arena gameplay – basically, the Arena equivalent of our Constructed meta updates. A disclosure – keep in mind that these are my personal analysis, so there may be some opinions thrown in there on what one should do with the changes.

Note that I only list relevant changes to Arena below, as Provision Cost changes do not matter much in Arena. Thus, Provision changes are not listed here as they are in the actual patch notes. In addition, the previous December 4 2018 patch changes affected Arena balance quite a bit – you can find my article on that here.

Also, starter cards (including starter leaders) as well as Thronebreaker cards are still not available as choices in Arena drafts. As usual, if these cards are changed I still talk about them, just in case one day they are allowed in Arena.

Without further ado, let’s dive in!

Mulligan/Redraw changes

  • Mulligan rules revised. Both players can now mulligan up to two cards before each round (third round included), except the player going first can mulligan up to 3 cards before the start of round 1. Number of mulligans available during subsequent rounds can change depending on number of cards drawn. See subsequent patch note for details.
  • Players draw a maximum of 3 cards at the start of rounds 2 and 3 up to the hand limit. For each card not drawn because player would have exceeded the hand limit of 10, the player receives +1 mulligan for that round.

How does the Mulligan/Redraw changes affect Arena?

The meat of the update. The provision changes for Constructed play as well as redraw rules are immensely impactful. In terms of Arena though, we have it a bit simpler – we don’t care about Provision costs! So without worrying about that, what do the new rules mean for Arena players?

Essentially it means more consistent Arena runs! Starting with the first change, both players can now redraw up to twice per round, no matter what (player going first in round 1 gets an extra mulligan for round 1). Previously, mulligans were based on your leader choice and players had to decide how much to use, as they only had a set amount to use throughout all rounds. In Constructed this meant some tough decision making both during deck building as well as during gameplay – in general though, mulligans were most valuable in the last round. Given the way the game works with the Provision system, it is easy to run into ‘poor’ draws and simply not have enough mulligans to deal with it effectively, leading to a lack of consistency depending on the leader and deck built. This was especially true if you had low redraws and had to decide whether or not to use up the valuable mulligans now, or wait until later rounds.

Now, you no longer have to consider ‘banking’ mulligans, and worrying about bad hands is now less of a hassle. Everyone having essentially 6 or more redraws throughout a match is an overall improvement for consistency.

It’s a similar situation for Arena, although arguably redraws are even more important because of the random nature of drafted decks. Previously in Arena, your leader choice was impactful based on their powers and their number of redraws. Some obviously had a huge advantage (such as Eithné) over others when it came to comparisons. As a refresher or for those unaware, Eithné is powerful in Arena since her ability provides an incredible amount of versatility that works well with nearly any Arena decks that may be drafted – namely, allowing the player to more easily set up favourable interactions or eliminate threats, thanks to her damage pings. She also had a whopping 3 mulligans which was the highest amount of redraws a leader could have in the previous patch.

While powers have been unchanged, the consistent number of redraws across all leaders improves Arena diversity and consistency. You no longer have to consider their number of redraws when picking a leader, and now only judge based on how their powers might help your drafted deck (remember, their Provision cost/bonus does not matter in Arena). This means if you get stuck with some poor leader choices, at least now you are able to have the same (high) number of redraws as your opponent, making it more likely you’ll stand a chance.

That said, powers have not changed in this patch, so those with strong powers like Eithné remain top picks, while weaker choices that rely on specific decks in Constructed play like Arachas Queen, remain weak picks.

The rise of…Usurper!?

Usurper is an interesting case – previously, he remained a weak pick due to his low number of redraws. Even with his power to bring opponents down to his level by eliminating their leader ability, it often meant little since the opponent would frequently have more redraws than the Usurper player, meaning the playing field was never really even at all.

Now that Usurper has the same amount of redraws as everyone, he is potentially a viable pick! After all, Provision Costs don’t matter in Arena, and so he is literally ‘evening the odds’ by making sure both players don’t have any leader abilities to use at all! This appears to be useful if your other leader choices at the time simply don’t have decent synergy with your drafted deck. In that case, now Usurper looks enticing since you can bring everyone else down to your level!

However, I believe this should be a last resort option – you must think carefully if your other leader choices at the time will actually be less helpful than Usurper. After all, Usurper is the equivalent of no powers at all – he does not actually generate any value for you through damage or card advantage. Anytime Usurper is in play, it basically means no leader abilities for both players, which then means relying only on the decks themselves. Given the nature of Arena, this is very risky as you never know if your drafted deck can always defeat the opponent’s deck by itself.

An extra advantage for those who push their luck

In terms of the changes to extra redraws when you ‘overdraw’ beyond your hand limit, this is a welcome change overall. For both Arena and Constructed, this means card advantage can potentially play out differently.

Previously, you needed to go down to seven or less cards before advancing to the next round. This was a bit weird since dry passing earlier (Eight or more cards in hand) was often detrimental as you would ‘waste’ your draws into discards. Now, instead of worrying about throwing away potentially useful cards into the graveyard, you can build a larger card advantage by for example, winning round 1 early, dry passing round 2, and getting an extra mulligan or two for round 3, helping ensure you can actually play your last round effectively.

Of course this only applies to cases where round 2 is passed with a high number of cards already in hand, like eight or higher. Otherwise, it’s the same as before – if you win round 1 with four or less cards remaining, you’ll draw up to seven cards, where dry passing allows you to then start round 3 with up to ten cards. Hopefully by then a card advantage is gained or nullified by either forcing the opponent to start round 3 with one less card than you, or by evening the odds through forcing the opponent to have the same number of cards as you.

This is pretty subtle but significant. It may mean that going for control of the game by winning round 1 is even more important than before, since true dry passing is now a possibility in cases where round 1 is won early (such as five cards or more remaining in hand). If you manage to dry pass early, you are now rewarded with some extra redraws that could definitely come in handy.

Time will tell if this will be an impactful change or not. It’s already fairly rare to see players concede early in round 1 for Constructed play, and likely even rarer for Arena play. Still, it’s a nice reward for those who are able to grab it.

Relevant Card Changes

Neutral

  • Cooldown on Sihil raised to 2 turns.

I suppose we all saw it coming ever since the passionate community response towards Sihil starting many months ago, or even recently when the newly promoted director of Gwent exclaimed “F*** Sihil!” on a developer livestream.

Sihil may have had its Provision Cost reduced, but this pales in comparison to this simple yet massive cooldown nerf. Simply put, it is worse than it was before. Previously, it was easy to drop it down and start snowballing very quickly, by wiping out a 1 health unit on the same turn it was played, then a 2 health unit next turn, then a 3 health unit…etc. This was especially noticeable when using leaders like Eithné who could set up numbers for Sihil. With the cooldown nerf, the snowballing has been effectively slowed down, as it takes twice as long to reach the same damage values. I believe it is now far too slow for Constructed play and I predict it will drop down in popularity there.

In terms of Arena mode however, its powers remain the same. It can still build up immense amounts of damage and generate enormous value if it cannot be removed. The difference is that now it can’t build up every single turn, meaning if you want to get similar value to what it was before, it needs to be played much earlier, and it has far more of a reliance on needing to combo into stuff to ensure it actually snowballs (i.e you need to set up unit strength to get Sihil value). This obviously means more risks due to more chances for an opponent to counter it before it gets out of hand.

However, despite this nerf, it still remains a relatively strong card since it is an artifact card (artifact removal tends to be rare in Arena runs). I expect its popularity to drop a bit in Arena, but honestly because artifact removal is rare, it may still be just as valuable as another artifact like Mastercrafted Spear, and thus may still contend for top picks while drafting – just now it’s no longer an absolute must-have. If you have Sihil, you’ll need to be a bit more careful however since again the cooldown nerf means Sihil needs to be played earlier which is definitely a lot riskier than before. For everyone else though, this is basically a big hurrah as Sihil will be far less oppressive for those cases where you run into an opponent who drafted any number of Sihil cards.

Northern Realms

  • Botchling resets power when transforming
  • Lubberkin resets power when transforming.

In cases where Botchling is drafted, these changes are overall a buff since you can basically reset their strength whenever it is damaged. However, remember that resetting also removes boosts, so be wary of that.

Nilfgaard

Letho of Gulet ultimately had to be changed due to the changes to mulligans. As such, they have removed his ability and simply boosted his strength. He is now a simple vanilla card with 9 strength for 11 Provisions. In a developer stream the Gwent team did mention they have plans on reworking him later, and that this change is temporary.

Letho of Gulet used to be a hilarious (or annoying) tech card in Arena drafts. While not particularly useful in terms of score leads, being able to drop him in round 1 had a huge amount of potential against certain leaders and players who had yet to use any mulligans. Of course, this wasn’t exactly reliable and so often times other cards were chosen over him. Still, for you troublemakers out there, this card had its moments.

For now, Letho of Gulet is a simple vanilla card on the same power level as Primordial D’ao and Old Speartip: Asleep. This change actually buffs him immensely in terms of Arena play, as now you have a higher chance of running into a nice 9 strength card during your drafts. High strength units are valuable in Arena, so I expect Letho of Gulet to be just as popular as the other two 9 strength cards based on this simple merit.

Lastly, a few other changes are bug fixes to more obscure cases, which are welcome since the nature of Arena means a slightly higher chance of running into these specific cases. You can see the official patch notes for those bug fixes in detail.

Conclusion

Overall, the Mulligan update is huge. Although because few cards are affected directly, much of the impact comes in the form of player choices.

With the changes to redraws, the playing field for all leaders is now more even thanks to having the same number of redraws for everyone. Leader powers are now what you need to judge before picking them. As usual, some leader powers still remain very powerful and thus some leaders still remain top picks, such as Eithné. Others, like Arachas Queen, still remain poor choices due to reliance on specific synergies that are far more feasible in Constructed play.

The big upheaveal in terms of leaders is Usurper, who has suddenly jumped to from ‘not good in Arena’ to ‘decent leader choice’, maybe even a top contender! This is due to his weakness of having low redraws being removed outright, making him a viable pick if the other leader options presented don’t suit your drafted deck well. In my opinion however this should still be a last resort and he should only be chosen if your other leader choices truly would be worse than Usurper. After all, Usurper is basically the equivalent of no powers, as he does nothing to generate value through damage or card advantage, for example. If he gains popularity in Arena play, I suspect it would be more due to hatred of strong leaders rather than any actual strengths.

In terms of card changes, the big impacts here are the Sihil cooldown nerf, and the Letho of Gulet buffs. For Sihil this is a large nerf that means it will need to be played earlier to generate the same value as it used to do. Thus, Sihil is more likely to be vulnerable to counters before it gets a runaway lead, and is far more difficult to use. However, keep in mind Sihil is still strong in Arena due to lack of artifact removal. I expect some drop in popularity but not nearly as much as it will drop for Constructed play. For Letho of Gulet, he’s now just a simple 9 strength card which makes him valuable since high strength cards are always valuable in Arena. Until he is reworked, this change will make him jump in popularity for Arena play.

When you add on the other changes from the previous balance patch however, Sihil is just yet among the numerous previously powerful Arena cards have been nerfed, including cards like Ciri and Geralt: Igni. Arena is shaping up to be more consistent and even diverse with all these changes, so it’s exciting times for us Arena fans!

As for the near future, new leaders are incoming around the end of January 2019, so we can potentially expect new content to spice things up for Arena too. Potential is the keyword here, as there are many cards still excluded from Arena play and it is unknown if the new leaders will be added to Arena.



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