The current patch has one of the most diverse metas in Gwent’s recent history. Every faction is playable at a high level and has at least 2 decks that can be considered Tier 2 or higher. However, in a recent discussion I had with a friend, I argued that in my opinion, one-deck metas are the best ones, at least in terms of skill. As he asked me to elaborate that statement, I answered with exactly what I will tell you in this article.
Quick disclaimer: This article is written purely from a competitive point of view. It’s about wanting the better player to win as often as possible. Diversity is not only good, but also absolutely necessary for the health of a game as it makes the game more fun and exciting. I like Spy NG mirrors as much as I liked Miracle Rogue mirrors in Hearthstone, but these games can get real stale real fast.
What is a one-deck meta?
A one-deck meta is a period where there is a single deck that has a significant advantage over all other decks in terms of power. I’d argue that the Dagon meta at the end of Season 1 is a strong example of such a meta. Now you may argue that Bran Discard existed, but it had a bad matchup against Dagon.
We will only consider regular ladder here because tournaments, as well as pro-ladder, are designed to be played with multiple factions.
What factors decide a game?
We want to show that the skill factor is more pronounced in a one-deck meta. Let’s define skill as the degree of control a player has over the outcome of a game. To assess this, we first break down the four factors that decide a game:
– Matchup (not controllable)
– Luck (not controllable)
– Technical play (controllable)
– Tech cards (controllable)
We will evaluate each of these factors and how important they are in a one-deck meta.
The term “matchup” describes the inherent advantage (or disadvantage) one deck can have over another when facing off against each other. More precisely, it is the win percentage Deck A has against Deck B if played by equally skilled players.
When there is only one T1 deck, it should be favored against most other notable decks. This means that you should only lose to these decks if you are unlucky or if you simply played worse than your opponent. The matchup of a deck against itself is theoretically always 50%. In a multi-deck meta, however, the range of matchups is much wider. Simply by queuing into a good matchup, you theoretically gain an edge before the game has even begun.
Verdict: Matchups are a non-factor in one-deck metas.
Luck is comprised of all the things that neither player has control over, like the coin flip, draws, or random effects. These things should even out after a large sample size of games. Additionally, luck is a factor in every meta, regardless of whether it is one-deck or multi-deck. It is simply a matter of how the game is currently designed.
It should still be noted that the luck factor must not be too big in the mirror, as it can invalidate the skill factor. For example, if we had an extreme scenario where the mirror is 100% in favor of the person going second, the skill factor would be completely removed from the equation.
Verdict: Luck is a factor that is inevitable in card games and is not influenced by the number of viable decks. As long as it’s not the biggest factor in determining a game’s outcome, we have to accept it.
Technical play is everything that happens during the game and can be controlled by the player, such as the mulligan, sequencing plays, positioning, and passing. It’s what most people regard as the “skillful” part of the game. The environment of a one-deck meta has no impact on the actual gameplay. Moreover, since you’ll play a lot of mirror matches, many of games are a direct comparison of who plays the mirror better, so the same skills are required for both you and your opponent.
A simple example for that is found in a Nilfgaard Spies mirror match.
Player A uses his Emhyr to play Ceallach and pick him up again because that’s what you do in every other matchup.
Player B knows the matchup and uses his Emhyr to play a card and pick up an emissary that Player A placed on his board.
When Player A replays the Ceallach, he gains +0 points and a spy on the opponent’s board. Player B, by picking up and playing the Emissary, loses 4 points because he took away 2 points from his board while giving them to his opponent. However, in picking up the Emissary he denies his opponent a spy while gaining one for himself. This means that from now on, his opponent will get 2 fewer points for every engine played. Since both players play with the same cards (and Nilfgaard Spies is a deck that usually plays all of its cards) Player B gains a significant advantage just by knowing this small nuance.
Verdict: The importance of technical skill is not diminished by the circumstances of a one-deck meta.
Tech cards are cards that you put in your deck not to support your own strategy, but to increase your odds of winning against a certain deck that you are targeting. In a one-deck meta, you will almost always want to tech for the mirror.
The downside of tech cards is that you weaken the matchups that the tech cards don’t work against. For example, teching Mandrake increases your chances against consume significantly, but is often useless against Veteran decks. In a meta with many decks, tech cards often increase the luck factor in getting the right matchups. The key is to find the right tradeoff between teching and supporting your own strategy. When Dagon dominated the ladder at the end of season 1, Maggo built a deck specifically to win the mirror matchup by including cards like Yennefer and Old Speartip while removing cards like Succubus that were run in the more common lists. This left the deck with no real answer to tall units, thus weakening his Dwarf matchup immensely. However, since dwarves were rarely seen at that point and had lost a lot of popularity over the course of the season, he gladly took that tradeoff.
Verdict: Finding the right tech cards is part of the skill of being a deckbuilder. It requires knowledge of the meta and a feel for what to tech against and how strongly to tech against it.
By eliminating uncontrollable factors, such as the matchup, we put significantly more emphasis on the other factors. A non-controllable factor still remains in luck, but luck is something that is present in every meta (it’s also one of the reasons we play card games instead of chess) and should even out after enough games. Some of you may wonder: “Why can’t we say the same for matchups? Don’t they even out too?” This is a fair point, but matchups do have a much higher variance than simple RNG. The sample size required to let matchups even out is just not realistic for most players to grind.
So let’s take another look at our 4 factors after evaluation:
– Matchup: Non-Factor, we only have good matchups or mirrors
– Luck: Has nothing to do with how many decks are in the meta. It is a matter of game design.
– Technical play: Has more importance due to many mirror matches
– Tech cards: Deckbuilding is a skill and teching correctly means a correct evaluation of the tradeoff between inherent power and countering strategies.
As you can see, one of the non-controllable factors has been eliminated, while two skill factors have become more important. The matchup factor being gone also naturally puts more emphasis on the other factors. So as long as the Luck factor doesn’t outweigh the other two by a wide margin, we can conclude that one-deck metas are more skill intensive than others.