The hunt for good synergies already starts with the very first pick. The drafter needs to anticipate which cards will likely be offered later on. Tips and tricks for the early draft phase will be explained in chapter preemptive drafting.

Introduction

The Aretuza Arena tier list gives valuable advice how Arena veterans compare one card to another during draft. For the first few picks, one can fully rely on the tier list and do reasonably well.
However, an Arena tier list does not know which other cards have been picked so far. Obviously cards strengths vary a lot with the amount of synergy they can provide with the other picked cars. E.g. most players have learned already, that Imlerith:Sabbath is even better if it is paired with Stefan Skellen.
So later in the draft, it becomes very important to understand the card rating provided by the tier list and adapt the ratings according to the overall draft plan and specific cards that have already been picked.

However, the hunt for good synergies already starts with the very first pick. The drafter needs to anticipate which cards will likely be offered later on. Tips and tricks for the early draft phase will be explained this first two chapters of basic and advanced preemptive drafting. In the last chapter I will explain the pros and cons of reactive cards versus power plays.


Basic preemptive drafting

In this articles context, preemptive drafting means to make use of the players experience in Arena and their knowledge about the available card pool. These two factors combined allow to make more sophisticated decisions, compared to looking at only the 4 offered cards per pick.


Fishing

A good example of preemptive drafting is fishing for Shupe’s Day Off. Long before Arena veterans know whether they will get the single most powerful card in draft, they adapt to its existence. All they need to do is avoiding picking any duplicate cards.


Handbuff

There is a huge number of 2 card combos in Gwent. A common strategy is pairing units that deal damage based on their strength with cards that boost the strength of units. The damage boost can be applied in the deck or when played on the field.

Damage dealer Strengthen or Boost cards
Imlerith:Sabbath
Seltkirk of Gulet
Champion of Hov
Braenn
Elven Swordmaster
(Ihuarraquax)
(Ice Troll)
Stefan Skellen
Dandelion
Royal Decree
Hawker Support
Decoy
Joachim De Wett
Vrihedd Dragoon
Vrihedd Neophyte
Siege Support
King Foltest

 

Most of the damage dealers (except Ihuarraquax and Ice Troll) are pretty good on their own. Also most of the listed Strengthen or Boost cards are solid. It is a completely fine strategy to pick cards from any side of the table above and hope to get a matching combo piece later on in the draft.
If both pieces of the combo can be played out, the result is a significant point boost compared to cards of similar rarity alone. This is especially useful that big play can be saved for round 3.


Advanced preemptive drafting


For the next section, let us quickly introduce two terms:


Situational cards

Many cards in Gwent grant extra value, if a certain condition is met. The Arena tier list is estimating the risk and reward ratio for the reader and provides a ranking based on this. Sometimes the condition is very harsh and partly out of the players control. e.g. With the absence of silver spies, Venendal Elite solely relies on units being revealed in the opponent's hand. He will stay a 1 point body in almost all games, so it is not worth taking the risk.


Tutor cards

Some cards allow to search the library for a card with a certain tag. e.g. Barclay Els is searching the library for a card with the Dwarf tag. Others will pull a random card with a certain tag. All these cards will be referred as tutors in this article.
The Arena tier list assumes that if a tutor card is picked as the very first pick, the drafter will have plenty of time to find a card with the necessary tag later on. So although Barclay Els is a situational card like Venendal Elite, it is more valuable. This is because the condition is not reliant on the opponent, but on the drafters picks. So the risk/reward ratio is far better.

Note that a part of the benefit of a tutor card is thinning the deck. If a tutor pulls a bronze card out of the deck, is increases the quality of the remaining deck.


Preemptively picking card tags

As we know which tutor cards exist in the draft pool, we can maximize synergies by preemptively picking good tutor targets. So even if one does not have the matching tutor right now in the deck, it makes sense to pick a good tutor target over other cards of roughly the same evaluation.


Premium tags

 

Premium tags Tutor target examples Tutors
Dwarf Dwarven Skirmisher
Dwarven Mercenary
Barclay Els
Brouver Hoog
(Dwarven Agitator)
Cursed Toad Prince
Striga
Archespore
Tuirseach Bearmaster
Skjall
Hym
Machine Dimun Warship
An Craite Whaler
Vrygheff
Item Petri’s Philter
Shrike
Swallow
Thunderbolt
---
Bloody Flail
Elven Blade
Tormented Mage
Heymaey Protector
Magne Division
Pavko Gale
Kiyan
Deathwish Archespore Maerolorn

 

The 5 tags above are considered as premium tags, because they enable extremely powerful silver units. Assuming these silver tutor cards have been picked later in the draft and can be played out in a game, they will each grant 4-5 extra points for free and are thinning the deck. So Maerolorn, a card that is normally considered as far below average is now becomes as powerful as the card rated as the best silver in the draft pool, Roach.
All the tutor targets are decent on their own and will work without the 2nd piece of the combo if needed.
As I am writing this article, as a further bonus, all these 5 silver tutors are also in the Create pool of their corresponding faction. In case that only the tutor target but no matching tutor ends in the deck, the premium tag also enhances the choice of the create cards e.g. Runestones.


Valuable tags

 

Valuable tags Tutor target example Tutors
Alchemy Petri’s Philter
Shrike
Swallow
Thunderbolt
---
Mahakam Ale
Vicovaro Novice
Vesemir: Mentor
Organic
Arachas Venom
Mardroeme
Heymaey Herbalist
Whispess: Tribute
Spell Alzur’s Thunder Tormented Mage
Yennefer: Enchantress
Special Petri’s Philter
Shrike
Swallow
Thunderbolt
---
Mahakam Ale
Bloody Flail
Elven Blade
Elven Mercenary
Síle De Tansarville
Triss: Telekinesis
Insengrim Outlaw
Eithné
(Dragon’s Dream)


The 4 tags above are considered as valuable, but not as good as the first 5 ones for these reasons:

  • Alchemy, Organic and Spell tag enable only a single gold and a single bronze card.
    • Compared to the premium tag tutors, the bronze tutors grant less bonus points. On average there are fewer bronze than silver cards offered in draft which reduces the chance of getting the full 2 piece combo. So overall the risk/reward ratio is worse for bronze tutors.
    • The gold cards have higher potential if paired with a silver card.
    • Alchemy and Special tags share the same 4 potion cards as the Item tag. As any potion enables the tutors for the all 3 tags, there is no need to preemptively pick other Alchemy or Special cards with an inferior tag combination.
  • The Sage card is inferior and was not listed because it needs an Alchemy or Spell card in the graveyard, which is a harder condition and does not thin the deck.

How many combo pieces to draft?

  • The draft focus should be on one card of each premium tag first. The 2nd copy of a same tag is not as valuable as an additional tag.
  • As soon the deck has the full combo (both tutor + a tutor target), additional tutor targets of the same tag can be picked for additional consistency.
  • Don’t pick a 2nd tutor of the same tag before you also have a 2nd tutor target.


Reactive cards versus power plays

Damage and Locks

Many Arena players rate reactive cards slightly higher than pure bodys. E.g. an Alzur’s Thunder for 9 effective points is more valuable than a Griffin or Alchemist, when the deck does not have synergy cards for them.
Besides Spells and Specials, many small and medium sized units that deal damage when played are considered as reactive cards.
The reasons why the reactive cards are rated higher than plain vanilla units:

  • First, reactive cards provide answers to the opponent’s so called engine cards that develop value over time. To kill popular engine cards like Vrihedd Dragoon or Odrin 7-8 damage are needed. Also Lock cards like Morvudd count to this category of reactive cards.
  • Second, removal is less board commitment than a big unit. Playing small bodies with removal attached can make the enemy removal harder to use. Playing medium sized units keeps the allied side of the board out of Scorch and sometimes even out of Geralt: Igni range. Units that deal 4-6 damage like Tuirseach Hunter count to that 2nd category.
  • Third, small removal with less than 4 damage can enable other important cards:
    • Lining up the biggest opponents unit for a Scorch
    • Damaging an opponent's unit to enable Vabjorn
    • Removing small boosts to enable Eskel: Pathfinder
    • Disrupting opponents Redanian Knight-Elect
    • Lining up odd or even unit strength for Sihil

Reset

Another kind of reactive cards allow to reset an opponent’s boosted unit to its base strength and heal wounded allied units.
Typical examples are Mandrake, Peter Saar Gwynleve, Mardroeme and Cockatrice.


Flexible cards

Flexible reactive cards like silver mages are the powerhouses in Arena. Dethmold combines a 4 point body plus 9 point removal for a combined 13 effective strength. This may not be the highest effective strength for a silver unit. But the ability to disrupt 4 potential strategies with a single card makes it premium. So an allied silver mage may counter:

  • enemy weather
  • enemy engines
  • enemy boons like Full Moon and Golden Froth
  • long round strategies by applying weather on the enemy board

Power plays

Although reactive cards are considered stronger on average, the player needs to be careful not to overdraft reactive cards. A deck that consists of mostly reactive cards has following weaknesses:

  • Reactive cards are a bad choice for opening a round on the blue coin. This means for at least 1 round per game, a decent body is needed.
    • A good strategy is to start a round with at least 10 points on the board. Otherwise the play can get countered by Olgierd von Everec or Morkvarg and allow the opponent to pass with 1 card up and carryover.
    • If drafters make sure to have at least 2-3 plays with 10 base strength in the deck, they can avoid situations where they need to waste a card swap to find a non-reactive card.
    • The better the gold and silver cards of the deck are, the more the focus should switch towards bronze beatsticks.
  • Consume cards like Toad Prince, Ghoul and Monster Nest benefit from having a big body in the hand or graveyard.
  • Madman Lugos and Leo Bonhart benefit from big units.
  • Healing cards like An Craite Armorsmith or Yoana and defensive Reset abilities work best on cards with big base strength.

 

Conclusion

There are many different viable strategies in Arena. I hope I have inspired you with my thoughts about preemptive drafting. For discussion and feedback, join the #Arena-Discussion Team Aretuza on Discord or contact /u/Merano on Reddit. Stay tuned for more thoughts on Adaptive drafting in the next part of the series.

Thanks to Henno, Slothland and Danman233 for the discussion and feedback on the article. Thanks to kachna96 for the help with layout.

Have fun in Arena,

Merano

 


Glossary

Tutor cards, Tutor targets

Reactive cards

Situational cards

Preemtive drafting

Card tags