** Faction Identity:**

Identity is what makes a certain faction feel unique among the others, and distinguishes it from them. Faction identity in most cases is defined by three key components: recognizability, identification and synergy.

Those things can be achieved by the following elements in card design:

Visuals, which are quickly **recognizable **and in line with the general faction design and lore

–**Identification **through a known element within the Game, or from the cards role within the Witcher Universe

– **Synergy **between abilities, archetypes, and general faction aspects

Visually, the most basic example of faction identity are the faction colors. Players and Spectators alike quickly learn to identify that Northern Realms is blue, Monsters are red, etc. Aside from Skellige, these identifying colors were specifically chosen due to their place in the Witcher lore and universe.

The second visual queue of a faction are its leaders. They play a very important role for the faction identity through both mechanics and lore. Nearly every leader brings a unique archetype or strategy to a faction. King Bran, for example, is a pivotal piece in the Discard archetype within Skellige, and is unique in his ability to support this strategy. From a lore perspective, most leaders are key figures within the Witcher universe. The three Northern Realms options were all kings from various areas of the Northern Realms. Similarly, the Skellige leaders are the heads of clans on Skellige.

The Leaders the very important role in the Witcher lore and represent their specific region.

In most cases they have been Kings or had a similar position. Some of them have played an important role in the Witcher story or at least for their region.

We will go further with the leaders then talking about the factions in specific.

Problem-Child: Neutral Cards?

Neutral cards represent a unique problem when discussing faction identity and archetypes. Due to their ability to be placed in any deck, they are rarely tied to a specific faction or region. They also have to be balanced carefully. If they are too powerful, they become staple cards throughout the entire game, endangering the unique identities of each faction. This is why in many cases faction specific cards are allowed to be stronger than neutral cards. The neutral silver and gold cards contain some of the best cards in the game; Roach, King of Beggars, Geralt: Igni, and Yennefer: the Conjurer are seen through every level of competition. While giving strong cards to every deck evens the odds and can make balancing easier it is a dangerous path to take. High power neutral cards lessen the playability of faction specific cards, which endangers faction identity.

In my opinion, having unique factions and card design fitting to the Witcher lore is important for the game to thrive and expand. It draws in fans of The Witcher through familiarity, while providing a feeling of immersion for players both new and veteran to the franchise.

Creatures & Tribe-Tag´s

In the Witcher universe, most creatures and races can be slotted into one of the five existing Factions. The regions of Redania, Temeria and Kaedwin are combined in the Northern Realms faction, Dwarves and Elves join forces in Scoia´tael, and the Wild Hunt found its way into the Monster faction. Each card has to fit within the design of the faction it is created for, both in terms of lore and mechanics. Monster Cards for example have weaker units like Foglet and Nekker that individually are weak, but in groups are deadly. Stronger Monsters even in the Bronze slot have great base stats while maintaining their beastly flavor and lore.

All of the above mentioned races and region-based units are what we further on will refer to as “tribe“.

Tribe stems from “Tribal”, which is a keyword allowing a unit to synergize with other units of the same kind. Tribes are not to be confused with other directly game-impacting Tags like Resilience,Relentless, Fleeting and Permadeath. Dwarves and Elves are two such tribes that have been powerful throughout their time in Gwent, in large part due to their tribal synergies.

Currently, there are many unused tribal tags that contain huge potential in future card design for Gwent. Dryads, Mages and Vampires are tribes with strong presences in the Witcher lore. These tags are essential to the game because they embody the concept of faction identity. Visually, they are easily recognizable from their art. Fans of the Witcher universe will be able to identify many of them from their story ties and artwork. Mechanically, tribes are one of the strongest ways to create synergy within a faction. Tribal tags allow units and abilities to be above the normal power curve as long as they are used within the tribe. Mahakam Guard is a wonderful example for this situation. It provides above average stats for a bronze unit, but only when played within the Dwarves tribal archetype.

In The upcoming weeks we will cover this topic a bit more in depth for each faction individually and bring their faction-identity closer to you. Each faction has multiple archetypes that are tied together through several themes, with archetypes playing roles both big and small.

Schedule…

Faction-Identity #1: Introduction and explanation~ 02.05

Faction-Identity #2: Skellige ~ 09.05

Faction-Identity #3: Nilfgaard ~ 16.05

Faction-Identity #4:Northern Realms ~ 23.05

Faction-Identity #5: Scoia´tel ~30.05

Faction-Identity #6: Monster ~ 06.06

The concept of Gwent is very simple. You play your cards if your total strength at the end of round surpasses that of your opponent you win, otherwise you lose. That description is as truthful as it gets, but it’s not very accurate. There are a series of intricate details, interactions and mechanics that turn Gwent from a simple game of “War” into the well thought out strategy game that we know and love.

Card advantage, Value, and Control are some of the terms you’ve probably heard about before, and you can read more about in our previous articles. This one will discuss a concept I find the most game defining and important of them all ~ Tempo.

“Tempo is the term describing the pace at which one is able to produce value on the board.”

The definition itself is pretty vague and hard to understand, so let’s start from the very beginning. In Gwent, players work with limited resources, that are interconnected and rather complex:

Card advantage/Disadvantage and Coin Flip:

At the start of round 1 each player begins with 11 cards in hand. The options to procure additional card are very limited, so each player has to make the best use of them. The player that plays the first card (from here on out referred to as OTP, on the play) is immediately put at a 0.5 card disadvantage to the player who goes second (from here on out referred to as OTD, on the draw). There are several options available for each player to gain card advantage over his opponent, mostly related to either null or negative tempo plays – terms I will explain later in the article.

Turn Pass

Most players don’t realize how important and powerful the pass is when done correctly. Gwent is a game of decision. Unlike CCGs that use a form of mana system, every single play has to be weighed out against the potential plays your opponent can make to catch up or surpass your position on the board. A turn pass when you have card advantage and your opponent can’t catch up with a single play turns your odds of winning significantly in your favor.

Maria Lonyuk - Witcher Modern** **

Rounds

Some of the biggest mistakes I see players make are not using rounds efficiently. Each player is essentially given one round he can use as a resource. One can go about doing that in several ways; either procuring card advantage giving up the tempo in that round or making the opponent commit precious resources of his own to win the round. Either way, choosing the correct round to give up, or recognizing a lost round on the fly are two of the most essential skills acquired through nothing but practice.

Value

Ultimately, rounds in Gwent are won by the person with highest strength value on the board. All other resources are simply means to an end. By using the aforementioned resources correctly, you are the one entering the final round with most value or ways to come by it. A good player knows how much strength he is able to produce relative to his opponent at any point in the game, and is able to make decisions that put his power potential above that of his opponent.

As you can see, each of these resources is connected to the others, and the concept that binds them all together is tempo. Every play you make in the game is a tempo swing – The impact of a play relative to strength balance on the board. As such, a tempo swing can be either null, negative or positive.

Gwent doesn’t use mana. In Gwent, cards cost tempo. You need to play high tempo impact cards to pay for the low tempo plays, or give the opponent card advantage.
~ Swim

Most of the plays we make in the game are positive tempo swing, plays that either match, surpass or close the gap between your and your opponent’s board value. Normally, positive tempo swings require us losing a minimum of 0.5 card advantage.

Negative tempo swings are usually plays that trade our tempo for one of the other resources, such as card advantage or removing a key unit on your opponent’s side. Cards that cause it are usually very hard to use correctly but hold tremendous potential. Knowing how to use those are one of the key attributes of a good decision making.

Null tempo swings are not very common in Gwent. Those are plays that don’t influence the immediate board value. Spells that dig for other cards, certain cards with symmetric effects and in a way, passing the turn, are a few examples of these. They share the power potential with negative tempo swings but are arguably even harder to use.

** **

The Pendulum

Card advantage is undeniably extremely powerful in Gwent, and it seems like the general consensus of card advantage is it being the be all and end all when it comes to winning the games. I disagree. While card advantage is often the deciding factor when it comes to winning games, I believe it’s not the cause but the symptom of a much different concept – Tempo. In order to explain how tempo works, I will present you with Gravez’ Tempo-Pendulum Theorem. To understand the analogy, imagine yourself holding the position on the left.

Applying force – placing a unit on your side of the board- pushes the pendulum away from you, while your opponent placing a unit pushes it towards you.

We’ve already established that the OTP player is immediately served with a 0.5 card disadvantage. In return, he gets to swing the pendulum from the equilibrium first. A player properly prepared to start the game can use it to his advantage. Unfortunately, the OTP/OTD are decided after the mulligan has happened, so it is incredibly important the players prepare their hands for both possibilities.

A sketch of a tempo pendulum. Negative board position – Low, tempo equilibrium and positive board position – High, are represented as related positions of the pendulum swing.

The “High” and the “Low” are the terms I’ve chosen to describe the tempo pendulum’s position within a game. The person on the high is the one that holds the strength advantage on the board over his opponent, meaning the pendulum’s position is in his favor. The person who is on the low faces the pendulum from the opposite position. In a vacuum, each player should strive to end his turn on a High, making sure his opponent has to play another card to push the pendulum past the point of equilibrium.

A positive tempo swing is represented as a movement of the pendulum swing towards the opponent. Ideally, our plays put us over the point of equilibrium, putting the opponent at a tempo disadvantage. Our potential for it is referred to as "reach".

In a vacuum, the ideal time to pass the turn is when you have card advantage and are on the high at the start of your turn. In that case, the opponent has to invest a lot of resources (namely card advantage) to push the pendulum and win the round. Theoretically, these decisions are rather simple to make, but a lot harder to execute in an actual game.

One of the possible openings for an OTP player is to start the game off with a significant power swing to the extreme of a pendulum. Round one, the cards that offer such extreme power plays are Crones and Witchers, but there are more options available with a further developed board. The goal of a player is to swing the pendulum far enough towards the other player, that he can’t push it back in a single turn, and pass.

The problem is, a player can only swing the pendulum so far, and so many times before they run out of resources and are left at the mercy of the opponent. Therefore it is crucial to never let it go too far off the point of equilibrium unless we have an assured way to swing it back (i.e. Weather) or we intend to pass.

Passing the turn effectively resets the pendulum, and puts the winning player on the high. In a balanced game, this player now has significantly fewer resources to use but has the advantage of not caring which side of the pendulum the round ends in, while the losing player has to guarantee the pendulum ends on the opponent’s side. As such, the winner of round 1 is free to use his spies and use his less valuable resources to try and regain resource advantage. The other one to make the best use of his and win the round.

A negative tempo swing pulls the pendulum towards us. Ideally, we execute negative tempo plays when they do not sway us over the equilibrium point.

The card advantage is still only second to the tempo when it comes to resource importance. As I have established earlier, a well-informed player will be able to play his last card with a board set up to endure further plays from his opponent. To me, a good player is not only one that secures his wins through card advantage, but one that can promptly assess when committing to a round, that will net in card disadvantage, will procure him a victory at the end of round 3.

Cards

There are a few cards that have intricate ways of providing and interacting with tempo, that I would like to discuss into further detail.

As I’ve mentioned before there are a few incredible proactive tempo plays. Witchers and Crones are two sets of muster units that are individually weaker than an average silver unit but play the other two from the deck as part of their ETB effect. The Witchers saw some play even before the changes (patch 0.8.60), but Crones were a huge liability as their 7/7/7 strength distribution was very vulnerable to Geralt: Igni and Scorch.Since then, Crones were changed to 6/8/6 strength respectively, for a total of 22 power swing in a single play. Witchers are only slightly worse at 5/5/6 strength, but are neutral and therefore available to all five factions. In addition to their immense power, both sets of cards provide a significant amount of deck thinning, which makes them very lucrative in the current meta.

There are a few cards that offer a small tempo push the turn they are played, but serve as an investment for the turns to follow. Rot Tosser, my current favorite, is one of such cards. At measly 4 STR, it provides little immediate value, but its projectile, the premium grade, dry aged Nilfgaardian Beef, has a huge potential for the next turns. Cow Carcass destroys the lowest strength unit on the row in which it’s placed when the two turn counter wears out. The timer gives the opponent only one turn to react, and another turn for you to set up an optimal play before the Carcass goes off. Cards like Black Infantry Arbalest and Myrgtabrakke are excellent to set up the row for a maximum impact and a large swing in your favor. On the other hand, if the opponent manages to respond properly, they can severally stump your tempo, so they are best used on the high, or with a round advantage. Rot Tosser can also be used to nullify a negative tempo play (Rot Tosser into Cantarella).

A very peculiar card when it comes to tempo is Villentretenmerth, aka. Borkh. Borkh is a 6 strength golden unit that destroys two largest units on the battlefield after 3 turns. Borkh is interesting because he has a tempo-limited window of use, and has a large impact on both, the player that uses him and his opponent. Borkh is a bad card to use when you are on the low end of the pendulum, as he offers a fairly small immediate tempo swing, and the opponent can simply pass the turn should he see it’s his best choice. That said, he can be used to scare the opponent into passing early, saving other precious resources for later rounds. When ahead on the tempo swing, Borkh can be extremely difficult to overcome by the opposing players, as his larger swings are at the threat of being voided by the dragon, and it puts him under immense pressure.

Spies are a very interesting type of cards when it comes to tempo. They provide a card advantage to the player who casts them, at the cost of severe negative tempo swing. Spies should be avoided playing during the rounds we intend to win, as the card we are looking for would have to provide an average of 12 strength only to put us back at the pendulum position before the spy was played, disregarding any potential play our opponent has made. Therefore, the best way to use spies is when we can easily remove them (A Borkh/Cow Carcass going off the following turn), when we do not plan on winning the round, or when the card we are looking for (or in some cases, are guaranteed to draw) has the ability to provide an enormous tempo swing in your favor (commander’s horn, double weather cards…). A good player will acquire significant advantage by punishing bad spy plays by either passing or following up with a large tempo swing in his favor, leading to an easy 20 plus value swing in his favor.

A separate category I would like to mention is resilient units – units that remain on the board at the end of the round. These cards are fairly risky to play, as their resilience is usually offset by lower base strength, and extremely rewarding when properly protected. With the weather changes, it is not unusual for the player running them to start the next turn with a significant advantage over the opponent, effectively preventing the tempo pendulum to reset to its equilibrium point.

The Monster passive works in a similar way. It transfers the last unit played on your side of the board into the next turn. The upside of this ability is the fact you can choose what unit to transfer over to some extent, which is really strong if your last played card is an Ekimara or something similar. On the other hand, the opponent can use somewhat mitigate his losses by passing after a lower strength unit has been played.

Another peculiar card is the Nilfgaardian Knight. The 10 strength bronze unit, reveals a card in its owner’s hand as part of his ETB effect. It essentially trades information for tempo, making it a rather lucrative choice for the control decks.

It’s important to note that the most extreme tempo swings logically come from mass buffs or removal. Single target removal, unless as ETB effect strapped on a unit, will more often than not help you reach equilibrium at best. As such it should be carefully used on key units of the opponent, making sure not let the tempo pendulum too far out of your control. An intricate way to abuse that is baiting out a bad tempo play in form of a single target removal, using a seeming powerhouse of a card like Ocvist, and punish the play for it the turn after.

Daria Savchuk - Fairplay

Conclusion

Tempo is an interesting and extremely difficult concept to write about, in part due to its definition changing from player to player. The way we perceive and use tempo can differ immensely even between the best of players, and I am certain there are some out there reading this shaking their head in disagreement of the things they’ve read.

While playing each turn in Gwent may appear simple, it is anything but. A player may use one card from their hand per turn until they either pass or run out of resources. However, many complex concepts are found within this simple-looking situation. One of these concepts is key to becoming a better player: card advantage.

Unlike other card games, your ability to draw cards in Gwent is limited to your opening hand, two cards at the beginning of round 2, and one card at the beginning of round 3. This puts high importance on creating situations where you have more cards than your opponent. A simple way of viewing this is that more cards equal more points, but almost as important is that possessing card advantage allows you to have the final play of the game.

“Spies” are a great way to generate card advantage in Gwent. While “spying” is a tag for any disloyal unit, the term “spy” commonly refers to a disloyal unit that allows you to draw a card (as a reference to the original Gwent minigame in the Witcher 3). Normally playing a card each turn reduces your hand size by one. However, playing a spy will keep your hand size the same it was at the beginning of the turn. This effectively gains you a one card advantage, as your opponent still has to play a card for their turn. Keep in mind that if you play the spy after your opponent has passed, you don’t gain any advantage! You are basically redrawing a card.

When to play Spies:

1) When losing a round

This is the easiest situation to play a spy. Most commonly you’ll do this in round 2 after having won round 1. Since your opponent is required to win the round, giving them a meaningless unit in exchange for a card is appealing. You still have to be careful, however; by playing a spy, your opponent is given a window of opportunity to play their low-tempo cards while staying ahead of you in points.

Even though points don’t matter as much in round 2, staying ahead of your opponents score does. By staying ahead of your opponent, you will be able to win the round after they pass without wasting additional resources to beat them. If you can afford it, bluff the fact that you have a spy by playing your other useless cards in round 2 to bait your opponent into using stronger cards for fear they will fall behind. Similarly, you can play your spy in round 1 if you find yourself in a tight spot and have to forfeit the round. This allows you to create card advantage out of an otherwise poor situation. Your opponent will be inclined to pass when they see you play the spy, otherwise they will mostly likely end up having 2 cards less than you do. This creates some interesting situations where you can still win round 1 after playing a spy if you have a card in your hand that is a big tempo swing.

A great example for that is the Cantarella+Treason combo. Cantarella is the “spy” unit for the Nilfgaard faction and Treason is a Nilfgaard Special card that allows you to move a “spying” unit from the opponent’s side to your own and add 8 strength to it. While Cantarella loses 6 strength in the exchange due to her ability, it’s still a 26 power swing that also gives you card advantage.

2) Extending a round when ahead

Many decks need to win the 1st round to have any chance of winning the 3rd. Usually, these decks can create a large point gap between you and your opponent. Even while far ahead however, there is a chance you don’t want to be the first one to pass, as your opponent could take the round in one card (weather, for example). In those situations you can slow the game down by playing a spy. You close the gap in points, but you remain far enough ahead to make sure you win the round while maintaining card advantage. This is preferable to being slowly bled of your strong cards that you would prefer to hold for the following round.

3) In response to a Spy

Even though spies are great cards, you can still top-deck them in unfortunate situations e.g. in round 2 when you’ve already lost round 1. In these situations you can find a window to play your spy out when your opponent plays theirs, such as the scenario described above. You shouldn’t lock yourself in a situation where you keep your spy in round 3, as that’s when they are weakest. Even though those free 12 points your opponent is giving you are tempting, it may be correct to trade them back for an additional card. By doing so you maintain even card advantage while ensuring you are not stuck with a spy in the final round.

4) Scorch Protection

This is a niche situation which will not always be relevant, but with Scoiatel’s current popularity it’s worth mentioning. We’ve all been in situations where we had a great combo to play but have to worry about Scorch. With their high strength, spies will often be the strongest unit on the board and can “block” the opponent from playing Scorch.

So should I include a spy in all of my decks?

Sadly, no. Spies used to be auto-include some patches ago, but since they were nerfed to give your opponent an average of 12 points, you still have to consider if they have synergy in your deck. Keep in mind, that in Gwent you can also generate card advantage by staying ahead of your opponent and passing whenever the gap between you and your opponent’s score if big enough that they would have to waste more than 1 card to catch up to you. Before including a spy in your deck, think of your gameplan and evaluate if card advantage will help accomplish it. Being the one that plays last is very useful if you have control elements in your deck like Scorch, Geralt:Igni, or weather effects, but is less useful when your win condition is to outvalue your opponent.

In conclusion, “spies” are very valuable cards that you should think twice about before including or excluding in your deck. They can be tricky to play; choosing the incorrect moment to play one might actually lose you the game. Before dismissing the card from your deck, play a few games with one in your deck and try to recognize if you are in any of the above situations, and how playing the spy may or may not have helped you. Giving your opponent strength points doesn’t feel easy, but sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the road to victory.

Editor’s note – Aya is a contributing writer to Gwentlemen; she can be found at ( twitch twitter )

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#container {
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