I’m a product of the 1990’s, and though I was born in the 80’s, nothing has shaped my existence quite like the decade of Vanilla Ice and action hero one-liners. One of my all time favourite action movies, possibly the pinnacle of the silver-screen boom, is True Lies with Arnold Schwarzennegar. He didn’t need a movie like this to ascend him to action hero royalty, but it basically gave him carte blanche to pump out some pretty cookie-cutter movies that followed the same script. One of those movies was 2002’s Collateral Damage, which was as paint-by-numbers linear and predictable as any Lippy deck.
This is one long preamble to say that when a card becomes too much of a big time impact player in the genre, it can really leave a lot of wreckage in its wake when trying to bring it back down to earth. There have been a few cards out there that have moved the needle on how a certain faction is played, and in the follow up attempts to correct some of these miscalculations, the landscape becomes a smouldering mess. The collateral damage is often terrible to behold.
When a new card begins to shake the meta, the turbulence will leave more than a swarm of whiny reddit posts and Twitter fodder. Beyond the scope of an unpleasant experience, over-tuned cards leave casualties in their wake when they are examined and adjusted. In reality, simply fixing a card is often not enough, or frankly not achievable. Complete deletion of the card mechanic is sometimes the only cure.
The most recent transgressor in this regard is Mammuna. Everyone knew this card would be good, but she flew under the radar, hidden beneath the wings of more flashy threats such as She Who Knows, and Bloody Mistress. In the shadow of taller units that had significant point ceilings, it wasn’t until Relict lists were finely tuned, and there were relatively no bad options for the card to connect on. Even a bricked Mammuna would punch above her weight. She was a sneaky force that only got major respect after cards like Bloody Mistress and She Who Knows lost a bit of their lustre to control environments.
The real tragedy, however, isn’t that Monsters were effectively pigeon-holed into a Relict direction given their obscene power level. The tragedy is that cards like Mammuna became grotesque in conjunction with Caranthir. This is where the problem lies when it comes to fine tuning cards to be reasonable. The collateral damage done by these behemoths affects beautiful specimens like Caranthir, which was an innocent bystander merely holding hands with a monster of a card.
In reigning Mammuna’s power level back to conceivable reality, the balancing went beyond tinkering with the sheer numbers and abilities. Let’s be perfectly fair and clear: when a card’s ability is changed, it isn’t being balanced, it is being reworked. So how, then, does a card like Mammuna get addressed, yet retain a clearly over-the-top effect?
Have you ever watched a movie and witnessed a scene where some random goon gets the absolute piss kicked out of him, and all he was doing was parking the boss’s car, or something? He merely showed up for work at the club, and the hero walks in with a fist full of vengeance and takes out a week’s worth of aggression on the poor guy. That poor scrub is Caranthir. If you want to get at the top dog, you’ll need to lay waste to a lot of poor souls along the way. Like any 90’s action movie, you don’t go after the boss right away. You need to beat up some henchmen on your path to justice. You go after the associates, and send a message up the chain of command. In this case, it was Caranthir who took the roundhouse kick to the teeth in order to ensure that another card could maintain a comfortable seat atop the mountain.
We’ve seen this a few times before with varying degrees of justification. Prior to Caranthir getting clipped, it was the Overwhelming Hunger ability that got neutered as a result of an overly ambitious Viy that was running the table. Overwhelming Hunger was a competitive option for Monster players to play for tempo and cheeky swings of control. Cards like Miruna, Manticore and Werecat were threatening options to drop and pop in one foul swoop, offering versatility and reliability of three leader charges. The deck was a ladder mainstay, and versatility in the builds offered fine-tuning to ensure it had some personal flair when you built it yourself.
Then Viy. A card I revealed myself many moons ago.
The spirit of Viy needed to be upheld, and the identity of the card was never going to be tampered with. Once again, slight adjustments to provision costs weren’t enough to smother what was a fairly straight forward deck that had a scary ceiling in terms of point generation. Even hard-teching against it wasn’t good enough. With three sure-fire ways to rescue Viy from a barren board state, it would always be threatening.
Queue the firing squad. Unfortunately, the erratic gunfire hit our precious Overwhelming Hunger ability the worst. Though Viy decks took a hit from the wave of cool downs, the true victim here was the deathwish archetype that took it on the chin. The objective of reigning in Viy resulted in an entire other archetype struggling to keep up. The collateral damage sprayed wide on this one, and didn’t quite recover. Though Viy managed to survive after that salvo of nerfs, Overwhelming Hunger couldn’t keep up.
There are, however, examples where nerfing the support cards was necessary. The most prominent is Renew. With each new expansion we are witnessing some spooky power levels when it comes to gold cards. Build-around golds have always existed, but seeing certain cards reappear is nightmarish. With each expansion, new cards are printed that leave us with that same feeling of “at least I don’t have to see that card more than once a game”, letting their impact resonate in only one round. There was a time, however, where Renew was free of any provision restrictions. That, I think we can all agree, was going to break things wide open.
Imagine a scenario wherein you saw Keltulis in two rounds, without any options to answer her. Geralt: Yrden returning to break your heart, or another Artaud Terranova creating a mess. In certain cases, these peripheral nerfs are needed to keep the game in check. Keeping Renew on a leash gives more latitude for card design, giving a simple answer to the question “What if it’s played twice?”
I want to pour one out to Caranthir, and all the other cards and abilities who had to soak up some developer ire as a result of another card’s misgivings. I only wish that moving forward, no more cards will have to pay for the sins of high-octane gold card shenanigans.
A haphazard discovery of random Star Wars CCG cards sparked Flake's interest in card games in the late 1990s. Since then, Flake has had a hand in dozens of titles over nearly two decades of slinging cards. From the classic mainstays such as Magic: The Gathering, to newer titles like Flesh and Blood, Flake has competed, succeeded, and enjoyed (mostly) every moment of the journey.
Flake's career path led him through stints as an amateur comedian, MC, radio host, and performance flair bartender. Ultimately, he has found his joy as an esports broadcaster. Having worked for such companies as Blizzard Entertainment and CD Projekt Red, Flake's knowledge of the medium spans a myriad of landscapes.
With an encyclopedic knowledge of 90's pop culture, and enough Star Wars facts to annoy the most dedicated Sci-Fi nerd, Flake leads with love, and truly believes that you're not losing if you're learning.
Callonetta’s foray into card games was a slow burn. As a submissions editor by day and a gamer by night, she became passionate about The Witcher. This led her to delve into Gwent during Closed Beta as a way to stay attached to the lore, which then blossomed into a near obsession with connecting people who played the game. When she isn’t moonlighting as a butler for her dog, she spends much of her time fostering relationships within card game communities, with a recent passion for Legends of Runeterra at the forefront. Her goal is to bring people closer together who share a love of games and to push content that can aid the casual player. With Team Aretuza, she hopes to continue creating spaces for players to unite, while providing exceptional content to those who love playing card games.
Brandon 'gulox2' Parker may be a video game player for close to 35 years, but has jumped into the CCG and content creation realm for the first time with Gwent.
A player since open beta, gulox2 (that's 'gulo times two', for accuracy) has played a prodigious amount of Gwent, with Skellige being his faction of choice. At time of writing, he has over 7,500 lifetime wins for the faction of pirates and brigands (making him the de facto and self-proclaimed King of Skellige). In his time away from the Isles, he enjoys other video games, actually getting outside and taking walks, and reading for his monthly book club.