Greetings fellow Gwenches and Gwentlemen.
My name is Easha Dustfeather, member of the Gwent community that is the Lodge of Sorceresses. With the rework of the starter decks and after positive feedback of my first deckbuilding lesson, I decided to write guides dedicated to players who just started their Gwent career and help them get a hang of the starter decks.
A specific deck within a faction. An archetype takes a deck type and builds upon it using specific game and card mechanics as well as synergies. While there are different ways to turn an archetype into a specific deck, all decks of an archetype revolve around a core set of cards that use these mechanics and synergies. These core cards are often what make an archetype strong or weak when matched up against other different archetypes, and this usually decides an archetype’s place in the meta.
In addition to an archetype, a deck usually contains smaller keyword or category packages synergizing just with themselves. Ronvid the Incessant in addition to the several Soldiers of the deck can be considered a package.
A card chosen for its strength against a certain matchup or mechanic, as opposed to synergy. A tech choice is a card used in a deck not because it is synergistic but because it can help against a specific matchup or card mechanic that is unfavorable for the deck. This is often done when a particular deck or card is popular or OP in a meta or when a player targets a specific deck or archetype during tournaments. An example is teching a row effect clear if row effects are widely used in the current meta.
Geralt of Rivia is a good option when your opponent plays tall strategies (high-power units like Old Speartip), whereas Dorregaray of Vole helps to keep an opponent’s engines in check (pink).
Reinforced Trebuchet, for example, does not have real synergy with the rest of the deck, but as it is rather cheap at 5 provisions, it is just played for its potential value. You can add it to many Northern Realms decks.
These can be used in all the starter decks, even though they are not included in all factions. You still have them available in the deck builder and thus can add them to your decks. You will use them pretty frequently in your first matches before you can replace them with stronger cards you will get from kegs.
Geralt of Rivia
The only legendary card in the starter decks. Even though it is rather expensive with 10 provisions, it counters tall strategies (playing few units with high power). Geralt will be worth a mere 3 points if you cannot find a target for it. Keep this in mind and do not damage your opponent’s highest unit with 8 or more power while having Geralt in your hand. If you do not expect your opponent to play a unit with that much power, better mulligan it away to avoid bricking.
Dorregaray of Vole
Locking an engine stops it from generating value. Good timing is important while using this card: If you Lock the first engine played by your opponent, you might regret it if you will face an even stronger one later. If you wait too long because you suspect a stronger engine, the one you did not Lock will already gain value. If your opponent does not play engines at all, Dorregaray’s 5 power is still solid.
A neutral artifact. It allows you to store points for a later use on the board. Play it first to keep the next engine that you play out of removal range or boost a unit to avoid Deathblow effects. Just be aware that an opponent might use artifact removal and deny you all of the remaining points of Thunderbolt. Despite this risk, it is a good proactive play, because normal damage is much more common than artifact removal. By playing an artifact first, you might force your opponent to play another card than intended, because there is no unit to target at your side of the board yet.
Lacerate punishes wide strategies and rowstacking (playing cards on only one row). The longer the round, the more value Lacerate can get. Therefore, you might want to mulligan it away in a short round. You can improve Lacerate’s value with cards that are able to move enemy units, like Vrihedd Dragoon in Scoia’tael. Row effects or cards like Reinforced Trebuchet are another option to force your opponent to rowstack.
2x Elder Bear
A plain and simple value card without effect and barely any synergy. It is one of the weakest cards in many starter decks and should be replaced as soon as possible.
2x Alzur's Thunder
With 5 points of damage you are able to remove pretty much any engine in the game at the risk of overkilling units with low power. Also mind that the card itself adds no points to your side of the board. Make sure you have an enemy unit as a target. If there is none, you will be forced to damage your own units.
The starter decks contain two faction-specific thinning cards:
Only Skellige’s Drummond Shieldmaidens are missing.
Make sure to keep only one of them in your hand at any time to Summon the other one from your deck. If you fulfil their condition when playing them, you get a decent 6-point play which also thins your deck.
All of the starter decks to not reach the provision limit. While that makes those decks weaker by default compared to a deck which utilises all available provisions, it also allows you to make adjustments without worrying about provisions too much. Whenever you get a new card from a keg, ask yourself whether it could make a fine addition to your deck. You can replace a card you consider weaker with it and try it for a few games. Adding more expensive (and thus usually stronger) cards until you hit the provision limit should be the first way to improve your starter deck.
In the following paragraphs every faction’s starter deck will be discussed in detail while giving some suggestions on how to improve them. Do not expect a step-by-step guide but enough help, so you are able to make your own decisions.
“Driven by their primal instincts, the nightmarish Monsters will do anything, consuming their own kin included, to gain more power.” - PlayGwent.com
Monsters do not rely on cunning tactics or elaborate spells. Instead they overwhelm their opponents with their units – either through sheer numbers or by brute force.
Other mechanics which are not present in the starter decks are swarming strategies (Arachas Nest) or Vampires and their bleeding effects (Plumard).
The tags in the Monster faction are as diverse as the monsters themselves: Relicts, Vampires, Insectoids, Necrophages and Beasts roam the faction’s decks.
Even though Old Speartip: Asleep is the only big unit in this deck without an ability, Griffin with its 8 power can be counted as a big unit as well. Speartip is a considerable amount of tempo and should proc almost every Thrive effect on your side of the board. The high power of this unit also helps you to fulfil the condition of the Dominance effect of Wild Hunt Navigator, Nithral and Wild Hunt Hound. This can also be maintained by using the leader Eredin Bréacc Glas's ability. The Shield is only an added bonus for now, because the starter deck does not contain any engines worth protecting.
After you played your big units in one round, you can utilise their strength once again by Consuming them from your graveyard. This makes your graveyard a pool of pseudo-carryover. Ozzrel should preferably be used on Speartip, unless your opponents have a unit with higher base power in their graveyard. If tied, use your opponent’s unit to deny their potential graveyard interaction – if there is any. Ghoul can be used only on bronze cards in your graveyard, which makes Griffin its most efficient target.
Archespore is the perfect target for Griffin; you may lose the 2 power from Archespore, but thanks to its Deathwish effect, this loss is converted into 2 random points of damage. If you do not have Archespore available, destroy the unit with the lowest power on your side of the board with Griffin.
Nekker and Alpha Werewolf support this mechanic. By playing multiple Thrive units with rising base power one after another, you always proc the Thrive effect of the previous one. This can lead to a snowballing effect and will generate lots of value if you run more than one Thrive unit.
The only card synergizing with the Wild Hunt tag is Wild Hunt Warrior; the other Wild Hunt units rely on Dominance.
One of the biggest flaws of the Monster starter deck is its leader Eredin Bréacc Glas. There are no engines to protect with the Shield, while 2x3 points might enable a Dominance effect occasionally but feel bland. By replacing Eredin with Woodland Spirit, you gain 2 more points and an almost guaranteed Dominance enabler. The provisions it adds to your deck are the same, so no adjustments are needed in the deck builder. Woodland Spirit can be unlocked in the Reward Book for 10 reward points.
Another problematic aspect is the mix of archetypes: Many are showcased but only supported by a few cards. They do not form a viable deck together, which is why the suggested deck focuses on two mechanics: Big units which enable Thrive effects and Consuming units from the graveyard.
Start by playing the 1-point Nekkers. Ideally, you follow up with playing Drowners which also have the Thrive effect and, thus, will boost the Nekkers. After the Drowners, play the 3-point Wyvern and so on. Such a “Thrive chain” is the most point-efficient way to play them, but do not follow this chain at all costs. If the board state demands a different reaction to a card from your opponent, adapt accordingly. Just remember to play small units with Thrive early, followed by units with higher base power later on.
Also do not boost your own Thrive units. This will just make it more difficult to play a unit with higher base power. Damaging enemy Thrive units is not advised in the same context.
Your leader ability should be used rather late in the game as a finisher and only right before you intend to play the targeted card. If you want to use it earlier, use it on Werewolf if you can. Its Immunity makes it hard for your opponent to interact with the points granted by your leader’s ability.
“Nilfgaard relies on diplomacy and subterfuge to disrupt enemy strategies and decimate their opponents.” - PlayGwent.com
The strategies of Nilfgaard are as diverse as the provinces of the Empire. The cards are usually control-oriented, even targeting your opponent’s deck, hand and graveyard. They also rely on Deploy effects.
The most common tags of the faction are Human and Soldier, while there are also Machines, Witchers and Mages.
In contrast to the other starter decks, it is rather difficult to split this Nilfgaard list into packages, but there are still synergies to be explained:
Emhyr var Emreis should be used on your high-value Deploy abilities like Auckes, Serrit or Sweers. The chosen unit is healed before it is boosted, which means that you can bring damaged units back to your hand to get even more points from Emhyr.
Just like all engines, Nauzicaa Sergeant should be played early. Alba Pikeman should be kept a little longer until your opponent played some units on the Melee row for them to damage. Therefore, you should also play Emissaries into your opponent’s Melee row so the Pikeman can damage them. Nilfgaardian Knight's drawback can help to sustain your Pikeman longer. If your opponent does not play more units into the Melee row and Pikeman would end up killing the units there and, thus, not have any target to damage, boost an enemy unit in the Melee row before it dies.
With its Reach of 1, Alba Spearman has anti-synergy with Pikeman.
Auckes and Serrit should always be played together. They shine if you have the other one in your hand. If you do not, their individual effects are rather unimpressive.
The drawback of Nilfgaardian Knight's effect can be nullified if you are going first and your opponent has no units on the board to boost yet. It can even work in your favour: Boost a unit and use Treason on it or target a unit with at least 6 power to enable Geralt of Rivia. If you already have a target for Geralt, boost the tallest target even further because it will be destroyed anyway.
Use your Lock from Auckes and Alba Armored Cavalry on engine cards you cannot kill. Sweers can even steal low-power engines so you can benefit from them.
Use Slave Infantry on the weakest units on your side of the board. The transformation is irreversible, so do not transform a card you want to replay using your leader. They can also be used to counter Spying units with a negative effect like Cow Carcass or Sabrina Glevissig.
Because the starter list does not contain too many synergies between cards, it is easy to make adjustments:
If you want to invest more scraps, you can craft Roach, Assire var Anahid and Letho of Gulet.
However, with Assire you are able to put Roach from the graveyard back into your deck. It is then instantly Summoned back to the board. You can also disrupt your opponent’s graveyard strategies with Assire in niche situations, like shuffling a tall Monsters unit back, so cards like Ghoul get less value. When playing a mirror match, you can use Sweers on your opponent’s Roach to disrupt this combo.
The Assire-Roach-combo fits in many Nilfgaard lists and so does the Witcher trio. Adding Letho the latter grants you yet another control option.
“Armies of Northern Realms boast impressive numbers, some of the deadliest engines of war, and truly inspiring commanders.” - PlayGwent.com
Northern Realms decks excel in long rounds thanks to the powerful engines available to the faction.
Other Northern Realms tactics revolve around using Shields to protect engines (Cintrian Artificer) or tribal synergies around Spectres (Sabrina's Inferno). They are not part of the starter deck.
The most common tags of the faction are Human and Soldier, while there are also Machines (the various siege engines), Spectres, Mages and Knights.
While not every Order card has Charges, every card with Charges bears the Order keyword. When it comes to Charges, cards with this keyword are divided into two sub-categories:
A healthy balance between those two categories is important for a Charge deck, which is one flaw of the Northern Realms starter deck, as it could use more Charge-takers.
Siege Support can only target Machine allies, whereas Prince Stennis is unrestricted and also protects the Charge-taker with a 2-point boost. Use Siege Support and Stennis preferably on Siege Towers, as you get 2 points per Charge. Lyrian Arbalest should be played early to receive Charges from your other Order units.
Avoid playing an Order unit as your last card unless you have the option to give it Zeal.
This package synergises well with your Order/Charge engines and helps to keep them alive. An engine with 4 power is much more difficult to remove than one with only 3. Try to avoid boosting units to 8 power or higher to play around Geralt of Rivia; spread your boosts more evenly instead. Anna Strenger is your most potent boost card which can generate lots of value, especially when paired with Tridam Infantry.
King Foltest's leader ability should be used on Blue Stripes Commando. Destroying the first one will brick the second one still in your deck, so avoid this risk by spending one of your leader Charges. While usually used on cards with Order effects, Foltest can be used in niche situations for the boost as well, like re-enabling Anna Strenger.
The Northern Realms starter deck offers two different playstyles with either Boost or Order/Charges. With just a few adjustments it is possible to create two more specialised decks instead of one hybrid version.
Two Siege Supports have been removed from the Boost deck, because they support the Charge archetype and thus did no longer fit into the new deck. They were cut for two staple gold cards in many Northern Realms decks:
To make room for the afformentioned two gold cards, Botchling and Ves, 2x Tridam Infantry were cut due to their lack of synergy with the new deck.
Now you should have a more healthy balance between the two categories.
"Led by elves, dwarves and dryads, these guerilla fighters are supremely agile masters of ambushes, traps, as well as support.” - PlayGwent.com
Other mechanics which are not present in the starter deck are, for example, Poison (Forest Whisperer) or decks built around tribal synergies. There are decks with mainly Dwarves, Elves or Dryads or a mix of them that benefit from the Harmony mechanic with cards like Dryad Fledgling.
Apart from the already mentioned most common tags, Scoia’tael also has Humans, Dragons, Treants and a Gnome among their forces.
The main aspect of the Scoia’tael starter deck is the handbuff mechanic, not in the least of which is due to Filavandrel aén Fidháil as the leader. Its ability is obviously stronger the more units you hold in your hand. That does not necessarily mean you have to use your leader right at the start of the match. You'll draw more cards in Round 2 and 3, giving you another chance to use your leader ability effectively. Just do not use him too late with only a few cards left in hand. Try to get as many of these cards as possible which rely on being boosted (in hand) before using it: Sheldon Skaggs), Mahakam Marauder, Elven Wardancer, Mahakam Defender.
Play your Mahakam Defender engines early to get more value from them, the same goes for Pavko Gale. You can play Marauders later, just make sure to use them before Round 3. There won’t be a 4th Round where you can benefit from their Resilience. Dwarven Agitator should be used on either Defenders/Marauders or on Sheldon, as it will turn every point of handbuff into 2 points of value by additionally damaging an enemy unit. If those are not available, just make sure they do not brick.
Your top priority should be killing engines. Milaen with 4 points of damage is your highest damage dealer in the deck, unless you have boosted Sheldon Skaggs. Do not hesitate to use Dwarven Skirmishers to kill engines. The 1 point you miss from its ability is worth it when it kills an engine that would have gained much more value if left unchecked.
Caution is advised to not accidentally brick Geralt of Rivia. It is a waste of points to damage a target the Witcher would destroy anyway.
The two Vrihedd Dragoons can be used to interrupt the row-locked ability of an engine or move enemy units into the Melee row to enable Dwarven Skirmisher. You can also use them on your own units to save them from row effects.
Incinerating Traps are the only Trap cards of the starter deck, so it won’t be hard to guess what the card face down on the board will be. Without that surprise aspect, they are rather weak. They can be easily countered by playing a unit with low power to activate the Trap and avoid its full 5 points of value and they do not have synergy with the rest of the deck.
Starting with three very solid faction-specific golds in the form of Milaen, Sheldon Skaggs and Ida Emean aep Sivney you already have a very solid foundation with this deck. By tweaking only some bronzes, the deck’s power can already be significantly improved.
Because of their flaws explained earlier, the Traps should be replaced. Luckily, two very solid replacements are already at your disposal:
Elder Bear is a filler card and should be replaced. Hawker Smuggler for 80 scraps provides an ongoing handbuff effect matching the deck’s synergy. One Elven Wardancer has been cut to make room for a second one. The Smuggler’s ability is row-locked and works only on the Melee row. If they should get moved to the Ranged row by your opponent, Vrihedd Dragoons can be used to revert that.
“The warriors of Skellige embrace the glory of battle and draw strength from death and wounds sustained in combat.” - PlayGwent.com
Skellige mainly revolves around damaging friend and foe alike.
There are additional mechanics which are not part of the starter deck, for example gaining power whenever an enemy unit is damaged (An Craite Greatsword) or Discarding cards (Tuirseach Skirmisher).
The most common tags are Human and Soldier, while there are also Machines (the different ships), Cultists, Beasts and Pirates.
The Skellige starter deck heavily focuses on damage and the Bloodthirst mechanic. Your leader Crach an Craite's ability helps to enable Bloodthirst effects and so does An Craite Longship. As an engine, it should be played early to affect as many enemy units as possible. Lacerate can be used early to damage several units and enable Bloodthirst or later to gain more value from its effect.
Once you have damaged a few enemy units, you can start playing your Bloodthirst cards like Dimun Pirate Captain. Giant Boar and Brokvar Archer become stronger the longer the round goes on and should be used late to maximise their value. While it is usually better to leave the enemy units damaged but still alive, enemy engines should be destroyed nonetheless before they are able to generate lots of points for your opponent.
The selfwounding cards Dimun Light Longship and Heymaey Spearmaiden are the preferred targets of Heymaey Herbalist. The latter can also be used to keep your An Craite Longships alive. As your only engine, they will be the main target of your opponent’s removal.
As there is only Freya's Blessing in the starter list, it can hardly be considered a package, yet. Running rather expensive 7-provision bronze cards without real synergy is usually not advised, but here it is just a minor downside: Consider this card a flexible toolbox card after Round 1 has ended. With a graveyard full of options, you can adapt to the board state and resurrect whatever bronze unit you need again. If there is a long round, resurrect An Craite Longship. If you need healing, choose Heymaey Herbalist. Remember to always consider your graveyard when you have this card in your hand.
Because of the many damaging cards in the deck, it can be difficult to find a proactive play which does not need an enemy unit to find full value. Keep this in mind during your mulligan and keep at least one card that can be played on an empty board if you must go first in a round.
The Skellige starter deck is already a very solid list. However, here are a few cheap suggestions to improve it:
Both Heymaey Spearmaidens were removed. The card itself is not very good and only finds value if Heymaey Herbalist is used on it. You can still use Herbalist on your other cards, whereas Spearmaiden does not have a backup use.
Elder Bear is an overall mediocre card and has been removed.
One Brokvar Archer and Gutting Slash were removed. Gutting Slash’s issue is that you do not get any points on your side of the board when using it, while Archer’s effect may be useful, but only shines after a lot of setup.
These are the replacements:
You improved the starter decks, won some matches and gathered scraps but are unsure on what to spend them? Check out the Top Cards to Craft guides for the Base set and Crimson Curse to improve your starter decks even further. If you want to take the next step, try to build your first own deck with the help of this budget deckbuilding guide. But whatever you decide to do, never lose your curiosity, stay open-minded, dare to experiment and learn from the mistakes you make. There is no guide to success, so experiment with the new cards you get from kegs and pave your own way to an entertaining Gwent experience.