By Gnurrgard, December 28, 2018
As we all know, Homecoming established profound changes to Gwent’s game mechanics. Two of the most controversial alterations were the introduction of a hand limit and an increase in card draws per round. Gnurrgard returns for his second guest article, in which he explains and analyzes the intricacies of Gwent’s new card draw system, details its benefits and flaws, and offers suggestions for its inevitable adjustments.
Gwent's Current Card Draw System and How to Fix It
With the Homecoming update in October 2018, CD Projekt Red fundamentally altered the rules and mechanics of Gwent: The Witcher Card Game. In particular, the introduction of a hand size limit and the increase of card draws in Round 2 and 3 from two and one (2/1) to three and three (3/3) had a huge impact on the game. It’s important to understand how card draw in every round affects the game differently. In this article, I will analyze how card draw between rounds and the hand limit interact and then discuss which card draw ratio is optimal.
Why Homecoming Started with 3/3
The card draw changes in Homecoming were made to address several issues of Beta Gwent:
- Drypassing Round 1
- High point finishers in a short Round 3
- High tempo openers forcing people to match the tempo or lose card advantage
While these are design choices I like and CDPR succeeded in implementing them, they brought a lot of problems on their own. In the recent Roadmap stream, game director Jason Slama acknowledged the flaws of the new system and said they are currently experimenting with different card draw ratios.
How Card Draw Between Rounds Affects the Game
The cards drawn in Rounds 2 and 3 heavily influence the game in different ways. Because of the newly implemented hand size limit, every card you draw after your 10th will be discarded instead of being added to your hand. Should you have more than 7 cards in hand, you will lose card advantage going into the next round.
Round 2: The more cards drawn in Round 2, the longer you have to play into Round 1. It is effectively a window where you are locked out of passing. This means that you can set up low-tempo engines and artifacts in Round 1 without being punished by a pass.
Summary: Increasing Round 2 draws gives players more breathing room in setting up engines, but it also makes low tempo plays less punishable.
Round 3: The minimum length of Round 3 is a "hard pass cap" based on the number of cards drawn in Round 3. In reality, however, you will not go down to zero cards in Round 2 most of the time. Additionally, if Round 1 ended early, the number of cards drawn in Round 3 affects how long you have to play into Round 2.
Summary: Increasing Round 3 draws makes it harder to play for card advantage, but it also helps prevent topdeck finishers.
Round 2 + Round 3 draws: This sum is the number of cards you must play into Round 1 so as to pass for card advantage (a "soft pass cap"). After you pass in Round 1, under December 2018 rules, your opponent can go down to 4 cards without losing card advantage. If your opponent goes down 2 cards with 3 or fewer cards in hand, they likely lost card advantage for the whole game.
The sum of both draws + 1 is also the number of cards you have to play to not go into a 10-card Round 3.
Lastly, the number of total draws is the minimum length of Round 3 should Round 2 be drypassed.
Summary: Increasing the number of draws favors long round decks, since it becomes increasingly harder to efficiently break up rounds to deny their synergy. Reducing the total amount of draws opens the "passing window," the time frame in which you can punish your opponent by getting out of the round, either by gaining card advantage or by breaking up the rounds such that long round decks cannot set themselves up in the subsequent rounds.
Thoughts on Drawing 3/3
I like the hard pass cap. It makes super tempo openers less impactful and allows slower strategies to develop in the first Round. 3 cards drawn in Round 2 is a good number, although I think 2 also works. Even after 2 cards, your opponent doesn’t want to pass against a long round deck due to minimum Round 3 length.
Conclusion: Round 2 draws are fine at 3 but could be 2, depending on how we want to change total draws.
I never found topdeck finishers to be a problem in Beta Gwent, but I can see where it is one for other people. There is no decision to be made with one card alone, only a matter of who drew more points.
Conclusion: If possible, have more than 1 draw in Round 3, as this prevents one card topdeck scenarios and artificially lengthens the round, allowing synergies to play out.
The minimum length of Round 3 is my problem with the current system. Against a long round deck, even if you should empty your hand Round 1, you go into a 6-card Round 3 if they win and drypass Round 2. This reduces the effectiveness of strategies that bleed Round 1, such as Beta Gwent's Discard and Veterans decks. Additionally, lowering the total number of card draws also makes it easier to bleed Round 2, since you can reach your desired round length with fewer turns expended in Round 2.
As I said, I like the hard pass cap in Round 1. What I don't like is the soft pass cap following it. Passing is most effective Round 1 after both players have 5 cards in hand. That window is too small for what I consider the hardest skill to master in Gwent, and I would like to see it have more importance. Widening the pass window also helps alleviate the disadvantage of going first in Round 1. The fewer turns you have to play, the more significant Tactical Advantage becomes.
Conclusion: Both the minimum length of Round 3 and the soft pass cap in Round 1 are symptoms of the total card draw, which must be reduced. Of course, any changes must be careful not to weaken long round decks too much. Shortening the third Round by 3 cards might be too harsh. I think 4 total draws is a good number. The question is how to allocate them.
Edit: The total number of mulligans should be increased to make up for the lost consistency from reducing card draws.
Possible Card Draw Ratios
3/1 (three in R2, one in R3):
- A lot of breathing room for early game tempo.
- Passing matters for card advantage after 6 cards in Round 1, after 9 cards in Round 2.
- Topdeck finishers are relevant.
- Minimum length of Round 3 after a drypass in Round 2 is 4 cards (usually more, likely closer to 5 or 6).
- With 4 total draws, a short round deck would have to stay in Round 1 until down to 1 or 2 cards in hand to be favored, which deserves to be rewarded.
2/2 (two in R2, two in R3)
- Same as 3/1, but with less breathing room Round 1 in exchange for no topdeck scenarios.
2/1 (two in R2, one in R3)
- Basically the state of Gwent’s Beta, but with a hand limit, so no drypasses.
- Less breathing room in Round 1.
- Topdeck scenarios.
- Long round decks are unfavored.
3/2 (three in R2, two in R3)
- Breathing room Round 1
- No topdeck scenarios
- Long round decks might still be too favored.
2/1 represents a step backwards to the problems we had in Beta Gwent where big finishers were king and long round decks could usually only execute their strategy in one round.
Looking at these ratios, I think either 2/2 or 3/1 is the right ratio for card draw. They still allow players to set up in Round 1, give a sufficiently sized window for passing, and should move the average number of turns in Round 3 to a point where both long and short round decks can win (5 to 6 turns). This means that both long and short round decks have an objective: move that number in their favor when facing each other.