Beginner's Guide to Deck-building

Gwentlemen as a group have been behind some of the strongest, most innovative and popular meta decks: Dunkoro’s Knight, Swim’s Roach’Tael, Pyrofox’s/NubSh1t’s PFI and Swim’s “True(er) King Eredin”. All of these played a crucial role in defining their respective metagames, but how does one build such a deck?

Deck building is one of the skills integral to being a good tournament player and while the same applies to the ladder it does so to a lesser extent. While the process of deck building might vary from player to player a good deck has to satisfy some key attributes we will talk about in the article.

Netdecking is okay. Don’t believe people who say it’s not.
~ Rysik

Where to start?

Deck building usually starts with theory crafting and some research. Some of us have our teams, friends, and competitive channels; others do it on their own. Regardless of the approach, a solid theoretical background is very important. Before a deck can function in a meta it has to function in a vacuum.

Building a deck generally starts in one of the two ways: Top down or bottom up.

“Top down” method should only be used by experienced deck builders. It basically means that you target the decks in the meta you wish to counter and then choose the necessary key tech cards and build the core of your deck around them. While this method can work it’s a lot harder to do efficiently than the other approach. This method can be effective in a meta game heavily saturated by one deck type.

“Bottom up” method, on the other hand, starts with the deck’s core. You choose key cards you’d like to build around, a game plan if you will, and add the tech choices later on. This allows for a much greater consistency and synergy within the deck.

It’s also really important to note that net-decking is ok. Before you can build your own deck you need to understand how and why other decks work. You need to understand their core mechanics, their tech choices, and why they work together to form the deck. Once you do you can try changing the tech choices to better benefit you, but be careful – make sure you understand exactly what the changes are targeting and how they will affect your match ups.

I prefer a core that can use the same cards for multiple purposes and thus is pretty hard to disrupt… I mean, Northern Realms Baron is kinda my kid by now.
~Dunkoro

The Five Commandments

These five commandments are given to thee by the Pantheon of Gwentlemen. In all seriousness, these are the five general rules you should consider when building a deck:

Consistency: You should be able to reliably draw key cards of your deck and not simply rely on the luck of the draw. The combos should be simple to execute, powerful, and not easy to disrupt.

_Metagame: _Your deck should have a positive overall win ratio against the meta. Negative matchups (<50%) should only happen when compensated for or when the matchups are very rare. Meta is very rank and time dependent and once you feel comfortable with it you should tech your deck against the meta game you are facing.

_T_*he Balance of Value & Control:* There are different proportions of value versus control that can work in a deck, and it’s on you to find the right balance of the two. Too many value cards will leave you helpless against combo decks and disproportionately greedy decks. Too little value and you will often sit with dead removal cards in hand and little to no power on the board.

_Synergy:_ A common beginner mistake is to only pack your deck full of powerful cards and rely on that raw power to win you the game. A good deck builder ensures all the cards in his deck synergize well. That is especially true with tech cards; an Elven Mercenary pulling a Scorch on an empty board can be devastating to your game plan.

_Multiple win conditions:_ Decks need to have a clear game plan but should that plan be interrupted, be it by a bad draw, opponent removing a key part of a chain, or even your own misplay, it should have a plan B. In other words, build several angles of attack.

Deck size

The standard meta deck is primarily defined by the minimum card limit which is set at 25; a maximum of 4 golden and 6 silver cards coupled with a minimum of 15 bronze cards.

I hate resorting to clichés (no I don’t, I love it) but deck size does matter. The most basic thing to remember at this point is to keep the silver and golden slots maxed-out and to keep the total card count at 25. If you feel like your deck works better with more than 25 cards your feelings betray you. The lower the card count the higher the consistency of the deck. In theory, if the minimum card limit would not exist your optimal deck count would be equal to the number of cards you can draw and thin out of your deck over the course of a three round match.

The only disadvantage of excessive thinning is its ability to backfire. The Mill archetype gains card and value advantage by making the opponentoverdraw.

Core

The core of the deck consists of the cards that are integral to the deck’s functionality. They define your strategy and provide most of your strength value.

Deck thinning

First, we have to ensure the deck has at least some card thinning; this is where things get a little complicated. Based on the archetype of your deck, your faction, and your game plan, you need to choose the correct thinning mechanism. An example of a great deck thinning synergy are the Emissaries, especially when chained. It synergies exceptionally well with the rest of the deck and can provide incredible tempo swings in one turn.

An example of a poorly chosen deck thinning mechanic would be Foglets in a “Wild Hunt” archetype. As the deck utilizes Wild Hunt’s synergy with the frost weather cards, Foglets, while providing free thinning, require you to run additional fog cards.

There are three special categories of deck-thinning cards we need to consider: Spies, Tutors and “digging” cards. These are heavily defined by a variable called tempo.

Tempo is an interesting concept. If value and control are two types of cards, as defined by Swim, then tempo is their key attribute. In Gwent, at any time you and your opponent both have a certain amount of strength on the board. Tempo is the impact of a play relative to strength balance on the board. It’s very important when deciding when to pass or if and when to use Decoy on a spy.

Tutors are cards like Marching Orders, Alzur’s Double Cross, and Brouver Hogg. When you play them you effectively thin your deck by one, gain considerable tempo, and further increase the consistency of the deck. They are incredibly strong in decks that are built to use them to their full potential and will become only more powerful should the amount of deck thinning be reduced.

Spies have the exact opposite effect. Played on the opponent’s board the spy will trade your tempo for card advantage. They are very important in decks that focus on control but find their home in most value decks as well.

Value

Although most “good” deck thinning cards provide a significant amount of value, it’s good to play a few strong units and/or spells to synergize with it. Each faction has several archetypes that each build its value in a different way. It’s important to ensure the value cards will stick (plan ways to stutter unit’s strengths, avoid row stacking, provide weather clearing…)

Another way of adding value to your deck are buffs. They generally separated into base strength buffs (strengthening), which are better for decks running resurrects or units that reappear on the battlefield, and green strength buffs (boosting), which can be strong on weather immune units but are more susceptible to various reset units and Dimeritium Bombs. Commander’s Horn, Mardroeme and Thunderbolt Potions are some of the more popular ones.

Control

Finally, the core of the deck should in most cases involve some form of removal or wounding effects. These, although very meta dependent, should be a part of every deck’s core. Choosing which removal to run can sometimes be fairly difficult, but as a general rule of thumb, units with “Deploy” removal effect are pretty good. That is meta dependent, but a lot of the most valuable golden cards pack a form of control or removal giving you the best of both worlds. Geralt: Igni and Aard, Villentretenmerth, Coral, and Woodland Spirit are only a few of them.

Tech

The second segment of the deck is awkwardly named “Tech”. The term is somewhat inaccurate as every single card in the deck is a tech card so a more appropriate word might be flex. These are the cards that are not integral to the core deck’s synergy and can be replaced based on personal preference or to target a specific deck. In the lower part of the ladder tech choices should be limited to as few as possible as teching is a fairly advanced skill. It takes a lot of finesse, knowledge, and ultimately a lot of trial and error. That is possible at the top as the meta is pretty stable and you know what to expect from your opponents. In the lower ranks the meta game is extremely diverse and volatile so teching towards one specific deck might be unreasonable.

Teching is complex shit.
~ Swim

Once you’ve decided what decks to tech against the first thing you have to establish is who the proactive and who the reactive player is in the match up. That will help you choose the correct form of removal and disruption to deal with your opponent.

So what cards to use? The removal in the tech segment should target key units of your opponent. Myrgtabrakke, Alzur’s Thunder, Triss Merigold, and Mardroeme are only a few of them. Lacerate is incredibly potent at punishing swarm decks that tend to overextend or stack a single row.

Don’t ever put a card into a deck thinking that you’re smarter than everyone else who tells you it’s bad…
~Dunkoro

Testing

The deck is now complete and it’s time to test it in battle. If you’ve built a deck to advance on the ladder you should probably play a game or two in casual first just to see if you’ve missed anything important (it happens to the best of us). If the deck performs well the best thing to do is to pit it against players of your own skill on the ladder. If possible, try to restrain from changing the deck for at least 10 games as it’s really hard to judge your matchups on a low number of games. Generally, ladder tech is all about the contemporary meta build and your matchup against it. You are often better off playing a deck you enjoy and are good at than switching to a favorable deck with which you are not proficient.

When testing a build for a tournament most of the things stay the same. You should play as many games as possible before deciding on a change and you should do it with a variety of other players. The issue with playing in closed groups is something called “inbred meta”. When you tech your decks against the same pool of people you may end up with skewed results, and have a deck which is under-prepared for the actual tournament. It is usually beneficial to use a few “surprise” cards in your deck for the same reason; even though your opponents are familiar with your deck list they might not be able to respond accordingly.

Make sure to keep track of all your matchups during the initial testing of the deck: your opponent’s decks, on the play/on the draw, win ratio… It’s also advisable to keep little notes of what you could have done differently to win a game or what play caught you on the back foot and reflect on it after every few games.

F*** B******, GIT GUD SCRUB!
~ Ruben 

Nikita Volobuev

Conclusion

Deck building is a horribly complex thing. You shouldn’t beat yourself up if you are not great at it. The reason competitive players form teams is to complement each other’s skills, build and test their decks together, and ultimately gain an edge over their opponents.

GwentDB, Gwentify, and similar pages open similar experience and knowledge to everyone else and it would be a shame not to use it. Be it as a source of inspiration, information, or simply to try out a deck list you find. You should take every advantage you can get.

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