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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.