How to Think About the May Update
May 14, 2018 by lordgort
Gwent's last major update before it leaves beta, set to take place after Open #5 in late May, will divide Pro Ladder Season 5 into two stages. This article discusses the challenges and opportunities created by the mid-season update.
In mid-April, the Gwent Homecoming announcement put players on notice that the game would have its last major beta update in May, with later clarification that the update likely would take place after Open #5 late in the month, ideally on 22 May. Because this update will take place during Pro Ladder Season 5, it will split the season into two stages, pre-update and post-update.
This split and players' foreknowledge of it have created a number of interrelated consequences for the Pro Ladder experience. What are those consequences, and how can competitors use them to their advantage?
Effectively Known Change: Wardancer
The Gwent Homecoming announcement specifically called out Wardancer and the Create mechanic as two points the May update will address.
While the announcement gave no specifics about what will happen to either, Pro Ladder players have been put on notice for both. Alterations to a mechanic as widespread as Create is in Gwent are hard to predict, but the lone card called out, Wardancer, almost assuredly will be made worse, as it is an integral part of the "Coinflip Abuse" Scoia'tael decks dominating the Ranked Ladder metagame.
Wardancer creates points on the board that prevent drypassing and cannot be interacted with during the previous round (unlike, for example, resilient units). Merely reducing Wardancer's strength cannot solve the issues it creates, as even one point beats zero. Players can reasonably assume that redraw-phase Wardancer swaps will be eliminated in the May update, one way or another.
Based on the above assumption, Scoia'tael decks will be much stronger before the update than after. This creates a strong incentive for Pro Ladder players to earn their Scoia'tael faction Matchmaking Rating (fMMR) before the update, and players responding to that incentive will lead to an even higher proportion of Scoia'tael decks in the Pro Ladder queues.
This Scoia'tael influx, once predicted, can be exploited. Scoia'tael players can consider cards specifically to beat mirror matches. ("If Dol Blathanna Archer consistently kills off an opposing Wardancer and then an Elvish Mercenary or Elvish Scout, is it worth playing?") Non-Scoia'tael players can play decks built to feast on Scoia'tael's small bodies, such as Northern Realms Machines with Ballista.
Of course, Henselt Machines players have an additional incentive to get their Pro Ladder games in before the May update: the giant question mark hanging over Winch.
Unknown Change: Create Mechanic
From workhorse bronzes like Winch to wild build-around golds like Shupe's Day Off, Create cards have become unavoidable and controversial in competitive Gwent. The Gwent Homecoming letter promises a "new approach" to Create, but that could entail something as minor as nerfing a handful of commonly played cards or as major as temporarily banning all Create cards from competitive play.
While the future of Create is far more open-ended than that of Wardancer, players will still respond to uncertainty by playing Create-oriented decks before the patch. Decks likely to appear more frequently on the Pro Ladder due to this effect (with their commonly played Create cards in parentheses) include:
- Scoia'tael Coinflip Abuse Nova (Elven Scout, Doppler, Triss: Telekinesis, Isengrim: Outlaw)
- Nilfgaard Alchemy (Slave Driver, Black Blood, Dazhbog Runestone, Triss: Telekinesis)
- Henselt Machines (Winch, Triss: Telekinesis)
- Skellige Greatswords (Hym, Triss: Telekinesis)
- Shupe decks of all kinds (Shupe's Day Off)
Not all the above decks would be affected to the same degree by nerfs to the Create cards mentioned. Losing multiple bronzes (Scoia'tael) or a bronze and multiple silvers (Nilfgaard) would be worse than just losing nice-but-replaceable golds (Skellige), so the sharp Pro Ladder competitor will expect an uptick in Nilfgaard Alchemy and Henselt Machines as well as Scoia'tael pre-update and build decks accordingly.
Further Potential Changes
While the Gwent Homecoming letter highlighted Wardancer and Create cards for the May update, others likely will see adjustments, especially those in the Tier 1 decks of the Team Aretuza Meta Snapshot. For example, Viper Witcher, the build-around bronze of Nilfgaard Alchemy, might have its point value lowered or get the Doomed tag to disrupt its interaction with Ointment.
While only the Gwent development team knows exactly what will happen to various cards and their archetypes, past updates suggest any deck strong enough to compete with the Create-fueled Scoia'tael and Nilfgaard decks might also see one or more cards nerfed to compensate so that a new metagame tyrant does not immediately replace the old one. Skellige Greatswords comes to mind here.
Post-Update: Winners by Default
The above points revolve around the pre-update period and playing decks while they are still strong. What of the post-update period?
If major Create cards go by the wayside, the faction which never had a strong Create card to start with stands to gain. Monsters, unless it sustains nerfs to both the Consume and Deathwish archetypes, is poised to be the big winner of the May update. To a lesser extent, Skellige Axemen is poised to thrive, as it is strong, yet less popular than Greatswords and thus less likely to be nerfed.
Of course, like the pre-update influx of Scoia'tael and Nilfgaard decks, this projected rise in Skellige and Monsters is poised for exploitation. Greatswords, Axemen, Consume, and Deathwish are all engine-based decks, which in turn suggests a need for controlling builds of decks in all factions. Cards such as Muzzle will be strong tech choices in this period.
Post-Update: Will Something Get Broken?
Reducing cards' power is only one side of any update. Underplayed cards also get buffs. Usually these make little difference in competitive play. Sometimes they let new cards join the metagame. And sometimes, changed cards wind up absolutely broken. In September 2017, Restore had a rework that amounted to a staggering buff. Even after months of nerfs, it remains a key Skellige silver.
Source: "Restore" on gwent.wikia.com
It is easy to get caught up in subtle metagame shifts and miss out on potentially exciting new cards, so remember to explore all the update's changes. The next great Gwent deck might be one experiment away!