Gwent Open #6: Molegion vs Damorquis - A competitive Aretuza experience
The Quarterfinal Draw
ProNeo against Konsiu, Molegion against Damorquis.
Not knowing that ProNeo brought Veterans over Greatswords (although I had my suspicions), I felt pretty sad about getting matched with the only person who didn't bring Greatswords or Consume, especially since I knew my line-up was horrible against my teammate. My Biting Frosts get countered by his Moonlights, my anti-Consume Alchemy has no chance against his Soldiers, and my Spellatael has no good matchups.
Only my Crach an Craite deck would be decent against his decks, and my Eredin Bréacc Glas against his Soldiers since he didn't run Vanhemar, yet I knew he would ban one of them. Since Molegion brought Shupe Eithné and my decks were designed with the idea of a Shupe ban, he knew exactly what I would ban and could prepare for the matchups. I, on the other side, was unsure if he wanted to ban my Eredin or Crach and needed to practice more strategies.
Of course, before the tournament, all the players chatted and exchanged leaders without revealing too much. Somehow everybody expected me to bring Imlerith: Sabbath. (What a reputation to live with!) To me, the matchmaking in this Open was like rock, paper, scissors. I was the rock with my counter-Greatswords and Consume lineup and Molegion the paper with his soft targeting line-up.
With my hard counter line-up, the whole purpose was to face Greatswords or Consume and 3:0 that deck. Instead I got to experience the whammy of hard targeting: getting matched with Molegion running neither. I didn't see any chance to win, though I thought I might sneak something through on red coin.
Apart from the Open veterans and newcomers, this event had another great thing to offer: the Team Aretuza meetup in Warsaw, with six more Team Aretuza members meeting me and Molegion. After the seeding, we split in groups to support me and Molegion equally in preparation for Saturday.
I counted on Gwent2Town to engineer my victories. In the hotel we practiced some games and playstyles with Gvuardya and Kolemoen. Control versus control. Hard targeting versus soft targeting...with no targets. Unfortunately, Molegion's line-up not only ran stronger decks but also soft targeted Alchemy with decks like Shupe, Soldiers, Boons, and untargetable Werewolfs in his Sabbath deck, plus a Cockatrice to reset units buffed by Mahakam Ale or Swallow.
The first practice matches looked pretty grim. I realised that for me to win, three things need to happen:
1. I needed to queue smarter than Molegion and find the matchups I had a shot to win. (Sequencing Strategy)
2. I needed to play to my win conditions in every matchup, even if they were not intuitive. (Gameplay Strategy)
3. I needed Molegion to brick in some game or not draw perfectly; otherwise I couldn't win. (RNG Strategy)
With my team I tried to identify the matchups that I wanted. I created a spreadsheet with the most important notes on playstyle for each matchup: win and loss conditions, cards to play around, passing spots, and more.
In Molegion's lineup, Soldiers seemed to be the weakest deck against my lineup. Since he was on Blue in the series, it was very likely he would use Soldiers as one of his blue coin decks. Knowing that he mostly practiced his Crach on red coin, I assumed he would pick it on red and pick his Sabbath Whispering Hillock deck on blue.
Crach Control has a very good matchup against Consume and Greatswords, but it can really struggle on blue. With Greatswords the opponent can often push Control Crach out of Round 1 at some point, which results in Control Crach going first in Round 3. Apart from Hym's create function, this deck offers no proactive plays in Round 3, which is why you would like to avoid going first there at all costs and would rather queue the deck on red.
With me running no answers to boons apart from Biting Frost, Molegion would feel comfortable queueing Sabbath on blue. His plan would count on forcing me out of Round 2 after a dry pass with the synergy of Moonlights and untargetable Werewolfs, having various removals and resets in his deck.
With Molegion soft targeting Alchemy, my decision to queue Alchemy on blue was controversial at the time. In hindsight, this was the best decision of my series. Both of the games I lost with Alchemy could have been won if I did not drypass after winning Round 1. Underestimating the long round power of my opponent's decks, I made a severe mistake drypassing the game with Alchemy versus Greatswords and also threw the game with Alchemy on blue against Whispering Hillock. Running a version teched for Consume was really bad for me in the Crach game, yet proved useful in the game versus Hillock.
More on that later in the article. Let's jump into my notes on the matchups, which I prepared the morning before the tournament.
Blue, Alchemy versus Sabbath:
Triss: Telekinesis into Blood Moon
Black Blood kills Ghoul and Ozzrel
Beware of Miruna into Spy combo
Spy early after tempoing out (Dandelion: Poet combo)
Sweers the Siren, deny boons from Reconnaissance
Red, Spellatael versus Soldiers:
Triss: Telekinesis into Mardroeme on Slave Infantry
Mardroeme replayable with Sage on next copy
Keep two copies of Sentry in hand, play around Sweers
Beware of Vicovaro Medic into Sage into Mardroeme on Sentry; play Sages late
If denial strategy works, pass early
Play around Geralt: Igni
Play around offensive Vilgefortz (don't thin to zero; keep a bronze in the deck)
Blue, Alchemy versus Control Crach:
Open round with big tempo play
Mandrake Birna Bran, benefit from created point gap and keep the card
Play around Mandrake and Coral
Sweers Dimun Corsair if possible
Red, Eredin Sabbath versus Sabbath:
Generate two-card advantage in Round 1 with a clever Sabbath timing at the beginning or with a Biting Frost spam
Keep one Ice Troll to counter Miruna (perfect value)
Dump Drowners proactively until you can remove boons with Wild Hunt Hounds.
Leave one row open with no units, ideally the opposite one to where you deployed the Biting Frost
This way you can play Spy to counter Miruna, moving her to an empty row and into a Biting Frost effect
Imlerith: Sabbath into Werewolf in Round 1 is ideal
Red, Crach versus Soldiers:
Use Vaedermakar immediately
Draw full denial (Coral, Artefact Compression, and Muzzle onto all copies of Slave Infantry)
Use Restore early to keep the eight-point Dimun Pirate Captain in hand, safe from Assire var Anahid
Set up a good Geralt: Igni, ideally on triple Slave Infantry
Match 1 (Red Coin): Eithné Spellatael versus Whispering Hillock Sabbath
Queuing my Eithné first, I expected either Soldiers or Whispering Hillock. I was really glad to see the latter, since my practice matches against Soldiers weren't too promising. Interestingly, this was the only matchup which I did not practice before (since I was not sure if Molegion might ban Eredin, I also needed to practice several games with Crach and didn't manage to prepare more matches in that time). At the start of the game, after his drypass, I took some time to think about what would be crucial in this matchup and wrote it down:
Resets: Whispess: Tribute into Mandrake, Cockatrice, Whispering Hillock into Mardroeme or Mandrake.
Sabbath: Have an answer to Imlerith: Sabbath.
Miruna: Beware of the dangerous "Miruna / opponent passes / play spy and win without losing the card" plan.
Boons: Force out two boons and pass, counter the last one with a possible Triss: Telekinesis into Blood Moon, or Isengrim: Outlaw into Ida Emean aep Sivney create.
Additionally I decided to keep track of my bronze spells, three copies of Swallow and two of Alzur's Thunder. Since Sages banish the copy, I did not want to miss out on anything. I did the same thing in all of my Alchemy games and can recommend this practice to anyone who is not used to playing without a deck tracker or who would like to be safe.
My hand in Round 2 had two problems: a bricked Royal Decree, which I was not too worried about, and both Farseers in hand, a big problem. I would have liked to pull a Farseer with Alzur's Double–Cross, which would have allowed me to kill the Imlerith: Sabbath with Alzur's Thunder from Elven Mercenary.
In this case Molegion traded extremely well, not only removing a Farseer that later would have become a 20-point bronze but also forcing me to use Ithlinne Aegli for double Alzur's Thunder on his Imlerith: Sabbath, which had 7 points from being pulled from Royal Decree and three armor. This effectively made Imlerith: Sabbath a 38-point gold in the game!
This hurt not only in terms of value but also tempo, threatening a situation in which I would not get my card back. After I realised my opponent would play the round without committing more boons and would play bronzes of comparable power to mine, I decided to go for the Moonlight-countering strategy. My idea was that if his bronzes could not synergize with a boon on board, he would fall back in points and be forced to commit some resources in Round 2.
My goal was to avoid being Mandraked twice last round from Whispess: Tribute and possibly from Whispering Hillock, losing that way. Also, a long Round 3 was not an option due to the boon snowball potential.
I rolled Ida Emean aep Sivney from Isengrim: Outlaw's create and Fogged the boon. After the Fog was answered with the second Moonlight, I played Triss: Telekinesis into Blood Moon to counter it.
Since Molegion only ran three copies of Moonlight and no Nekurat, I knew his potential to answer my hazards was limited. He didn't find access to another Moonlight, so I prolonged the round in order to be less vulnerable to resets in Round 3 and force him to commit better cards in case he had dead draws like Adrenaline Rush in hand. In hindsight, I wonder why Molegion didn't search for Miruna with Iris' Companions, which would have forced me out if he played the Spy first.
In Round 3 I had a very strong hand after thinning my deck, and even though he lowrolled the leader, in the end it would not have mattered against my hand.
It felt good to take the match, since it was a matchup I didn't practice and I also saw few opportunities to find a victory with my Spellatael in another matchup.
Match 2 (Blue Coin): Calveit Alchemy versus Control Crach
Dandelion: Poet in Alchemy became the MVP in the Open for me, allowing me to push Round 1 for a considerable time. In this particular match, I had to start with Triss: Telekinesis and missed the Reconnaissance for Vicovaro Novice. The plan was to tempo out, Mandrake Birna Bran, and then I would not be worried about trading my units against his in a long Round 3.
I pushed Round 1 as long as I could. I decided to drop the Sweers in the end without a good target, since I just wanted to win the round to not be bullied by Birna Bran. Usually I would have preferred to hit a Dimun Corsair with it and potentially deny Restore into a machine resurrect as a finisher. Playing around Coral and Mandrake as well as I could was key to my decision-making. At one point the Mandrake on the Triss: Telekinesis would have been 20 points. Since Molegion did not take this opportunity to pressure me, I had a read that he did not have it in his hand.
After winning Round 1 I drypassed, since I assumed my hand quality would even beat Birna Bran, especially since my opponent had to go first in Round 3, which is a bad thing for Control Crach. But I waited with the Artefact Compression too long; had I played it first, my opponent would still be forced into a value-losing play. The fact that I could not Mandrake Birna Bran in Round 1 benefited him in the end, since she did outvalue me by a small margin.
Artefact Compression proved to be a horrible card in this matchup, making only eight points, and any other silver from standard Alchemy decks would have won me the game. That is the price of targeting, however, and I was willing to pay it going into the Open. Molegion drew poorly in this game; he had access to all Dimun Pirate Captains, on one hand, but also drew mainly bronzes, which eventually made him give up Round 1 and points for Round 3 due to him going first.
Underestimating the power of Birna Bran and my opponent's Restore points lost me this game. The correct play was to push Round 2 a bit and keep my golds for a short Round 3 without Birna Bran. I passed because I was afraid to lose the card, but I am not sure if I could have kept it while pushing Round 2; by missing a good proactive play in Round 2, I could have been easily punished with my opponent's Restore.
Match 3 (Red Coin): Eredin Sabbath versus Calveit Soldiers
After I found a win with Spellatael, I assumed that Molegion would queue Soldiers on blue next. He practiced Soldiers on blue coin in preparation and it was a good deck to play on that coin. My idea was to queue with Eredin Sabbath into it for two reasons:
1. Biting Frosts would deny him big value in the long rounds, since he did not run Vanhemar.
2. The only counters to Imlerith: Sabbath would be Mardroeme spam, which I could deny with Mandrake, or an offensive Vilgefortz, which would give me double card advantage, since I played on red and that would benefit a Miruna play a lot.
He tried to deny my Imlerith: Sabbath early with a Joachim de Wett, but paid a high price for such a risky play by pulling a dead Vicovaro Novice. As soon as I found a spot where Imlerith: Sabbath survived, I deployed him on board. Having Adrenaline Rush in my hand, I was able to take Imlerith: Sabbath to the next round and to strengthen him with Mandrake. When Molegion played Jan Calveit and showed clear disappointment about the three options, I knew he didn't have Vilgefortz in his hand and I would win the game. Imlerith: Sabbath kept doing his work and, in the end, Molegion was forced to give up the round.
I was very happy about bringing Imlerith: Sabbath to the tournament, since it was in line with my targeting strategy and my deck did not solely rely on him.
Match 4 (Blue Coin): Calveit Alchemy versus Whispering Hillock Sabbath
Playing Alchemy on blue in this matchup required me to push tempo in Round 1 and bait hazards. What really hurt Molegion here was my Sweers on two of his Sirens, killing two Moonlight tutors. Dandelion: Poet proved very useful in going on blue with Alchemy, generating three targets for Mahakam Ale if pulled by Vicovaro Novice (Vicovaro Novice, Roach, and Dandelion: Poet).
After winning Round 1, I made a huge mistake by not pushing Round 2. My fear of my opponent being able to keep up with my tempo to the end and then playing Miruna into a Spy and going one card up into Round 3 was what kept me from playing. However, only one Moonlight was able to generate a lot of value in Round 3, which eventually led to Molegion beating me by a single point.
At the end of Round 3, seeing the Cantarella on the top of my deck is what lost me the game with the standard gameplan. Seeing an Alzur's Double–Cross from my opponent into Iris' Companions in Round 2 led me to the assumption that his plan for Round 3 was to play a Spy and then Miruna. I needed to keep a piece of removal as my last card in that case. Another read I should have done when he did not consume the highest unit in his gaveyard, unfortunately that skipped my mind. If I realised this, the offensive Vilgefortz was the only logical choice.
My plan to Vilgefortz offensively felt very risky in that moment because I feared the Spy into Miruna. The right play would have been to keep Vilgefortz until the very end and Vilgefortz his big Ghoul. It turned out Molegion successfully baited me into throwing this match, which I could've avoided by playing more calmly. Him having at most a 12-point card in his deck, Alpha Werewolf played into Moonlight, would have won me the game with the offensive Vilgefortz play.
However, I got in a bad spot in the first place because of not playing Round 2 to bait out the Moonlight and deny long-round potential for my opponent. Since I eliminated the Sirens with my Sweers, I already knew that playing a Moonlight could only be done from hand and would be a low-tempo play. Therefore, I should not have been worried about losing the card.
Match 5 (Red Coin): Calveit Alchemy versus Calveit Soldiers
For me to win this matchup, Molegion had to brick. He did brick with his leader, didn’t find the Ointment or Reconnaissance from Triss: Telekinesis, and didn't hit his target with Vilgefortz. I admit it was pretty unlucky, and I felt sorry for my teammate there. After all, Gwent is still a card game and some elements come down to luck. Last Open, I got extremely unlucky with rolling a 7% into the worst Slave Driver targets, three utter bricks, and later not getting a Spy or Alzur's Double–Cross with King Henselt and getting the two worst topdecks in the last moments of the game. This time, Fortuna blessed me.
After a usual drypass of Soldiers against Alchemy, I tried to get rid of way too many bronze Alchemy cards in my hand. I was hoping for a strong hand with four golds to beat a mediocre hand of Soldiers with five cards. However, after his bricked five-point Jan Calveit, I saw the opportunity to not lose the card and took it.
I Spied very early in the round, since I had Sweers in hand. My idea was to play Cantarella early, play Sweers, and put my opponent's Cantarella into his graveyard. (Sweers does work with silvers as well!) Then I could have pushed my opponent forever and likely won the game with a hand full of golds. However, Molegion anticipated my intention and immediately Spied back, giving me no room for such a luxury.
In the end, I took the match by two points. It was an extremely exhausting, intense, and high-level series and I think an interesting one to watch as well.
I would like to thank everyone for supporting me on Twitter, on Twitch, and in personal messages. Your belief in my ability to win means a lot to me and I am thankful for having such a great community standing behind me! A shout-out also to my teammate Molegion, who is a great player and even better friend. It was an honour to battle you in Gwent Open #6!
Damorquis qualified for three consecutive Gwent Opens and holds the title of Gwent Challenger #4 champion and Challenger #5 runner up. His passion for The Witcher universe and his real-life knowledge of behavioral economics helped him develop Team Aretuza, the strongest Gwent esports team in the world. Currently he focuses a career in management consulting and will compete in Gwent's biggest tournament so far Gwent Masters in 2021. His extensive tournament preparation often results in ambitious, innovative decks that catch even the best opponents by surprise, and his highly disciplined approach to gaming, always looking for mistakes and areas to improve, provides his unique edge against the competition.