Gnurrgard brings us another installment of his Gametalk analysis as he takes us through the common stages that we see between the various patches Gwent has experienced over the last year.
We face the final hours of a long and memorable patch, a time of Dagons, a time of Brans. And this is the perfect time to ask ourselves: “How did we end up here?” We will look at the lifecycle of a format and its various phases. This article is heavily inspired by the Chapter “The progression of a format” in Patrick Hoban’s Book “The Road Of The King” (A book I can highly recommend to any card game fan) but here I will try to focus on Gwent and Online CCGs. I’ll also list example decks for the format that happened between September 5th (Scoia’tael hotfix) and September 29th (Agile update) for every kind of deck that I will talk about.
Disclaimer: This is not identical to how every meta unfolds – rather, it’s a pattern that has been noticed in a lot of formats.
Phase 1: The Honeymoon/Experimental Phase
A new patch is out and everyone is hyped and trying out new interesting cards and decks. There are not many sources for decks to copy, so many people try their hands on deckbuilding themselves. This leads to decks often being very greedy, as people don’t have a reference point to build their decks or simply aren’t that experienced in deckbuilding. During this phase, some decks stand out and perform well: Tier 1 decks and some “false prophets”.
False prophets are decks that look Tier 1 early in the patch but in the later stages of the patch fall to Tier 2. These are often decks that are pretty easy to build (think reveal NG), so they are immediately pretty refined. These decks fall down to Tier 2 or sometimes even Tier 3 because while being easy to build may be a benefit early on, it makes the deck predictable and sometimes unable to adapt to new challenges. If a deck doesn’t have the inherent power level to afford getting that stale, it will drop off. These decks then get attention from the broad playerbase, which leads us to the next phase.
Tier 1: Raikou’s Temerian Radovid deck
False prophet: Calveit Spies, Full-Armor Henselt
Phase 2: The Concentration Phase
Because some decks have performed well during the experimental phase due to an inherently high power level, they get attention from the players and get copied. This leads to a high concentration of these decks on the ladder and probably some great ladder results for the Tier 1 deck(s). The “false prophets” still work reasonably well, but it becomes apparent that they are outclassed by the actual Tier 1 decks in the aspect of sheer power level. This is where the first complaints about the Tier 1 deck pop up, which then brings us to the next phase.
Phase 3: Relative Deckbuilding
People get sick of losing to the same deck every time, so they try to come up with counter strategies to capitalize on the high representation of the Tier 1 deck. This results in the winrate of the Tier 1 deck dipping and a counter deck taking a high rank, possibly even number 1 on the ladder. While people try to fight off the Tier 1 deck, usually at the end of this phase, a late bloomer may pop up. This is a Tier 1 deck that went undiscovered for the first part of the format but has a high inherent power level. Small side note: If a deck is immune to relative deckbuilding, it’s an indicator of a Tier 0 deck.
Counter-Deck: Redrame’s #1 Axemen
Late Bloomer: Spella’tael
Phase 4: Reverse Relative Deckbuilding
The winrate of the Tier 1 deck has dropped due to counters emerging. But since the deck’s power level is so high, that is not enough to push it out of the meta. Instead, players adapt the deck to its counters while keeping the strong core intact. This is done through patching up prior vulnerabilities or including techs for its counters. The winrate of the Tier 1 deck rises again.
Revamped Tier 1 deck: Henselt with Stennis finisher
Phase 5: Format Ceiling
The end of the format. The best decks have been figured out, even lower ranks have caught up to the current meta. People are bored as they see the same decks over and over again, complaints pile up and deckbuilding creativity approaches a lowpoint. This time period should be kept as short as possible, but it’s still important that it is reached at some point. Otherwise the format is left unsolved, which is not only unsatisfying, but also may lead to wrong decisions in game balancing, as the meta didn’t have a chance to correct itself. After this period, a patch is needed to shake things up by introducing new cards or making card changes to keep the game fresh.
In my opinion, this period was slightly missed in patch 9.10. A prime example for that is the Skellige deck Swim brought to GwentSlam #1, which was arguably a tier 2 deck that hadn’t seen any play until that point. Additionally, Raikou’s Dagon deck with Nekker Warrior was pretty new at that point. These two decks carried over to after the hotfix hit. As we enter a new patch, keep this cycle in mind, and tune your deckbuilding accordingly!