Merchants of Ofir: Impressions
December 16, 2019 by JMJWilson23
CDPR delivered a huge surprise for the community when they dropped a brand new expansion without warning on December 9th, 2019. This comes on the back of a Roadmap developer stream which laid out the team’s plan for the coming year. The expansion then gives us another chance to explore some fresh new content in 2019 before kicking off 2020 by ushering in Season 2 of Gwent Masters and the beginning of the next expansion cycle. What does this shiny new piece of content have to offer? And how do we think it will shake out? Read on to find out our first impressions on the final expansion of 2019: Merchants of Ofir.
New Card Type: Stratagem
Merchants of Ofir (MoO) introduced a new type of card for the first time since the inception of Gwent: Homecoming when artifacts were added to the game. Such an addition is in line with Jason Slama’s commitment to add 1-2 broad new mechanics to the game with each expansion if possible. This time around, we open up the design space of a previously unexplored core game mechanic: Tactical Advantage.
Strategems are non-interactable (they cannot be removed by your opponent) Order cards that are selected during deckbuilding, and start a Gwent game on the board if you go first. Otherwise, they make no appearance in the game by default. Each deck has exactly one stratagem, which will remain on the board until it is used. Each has a different effect that works with different kinds of deck. There are a number of neutral stratagems, as well as one built specifically for each faction.
Players now have the opportunity to choose from one of seven neutral stratagems or one specific to each faction with which they start the game if that player goes first. The player’s stratagem of choice only loosely supports their strategy, as we can not be sure of going first in every game, but it does open up the possibility for more varied gameplay. With additional options aside from the classic Tactical Advantage, we are also afforded the opportunity to avoid some cards which previously abused going second, such as Leo Bonhart and Villentretenmerth, whose point floors were enhanced due to the nature of boost coming from Tactical Advantage.
I fear that such a limited selection of options will mitigate the impact of stratagems overall. Early returns indicate that most decks will simply transition to using Magic Lamp or stick with the tried and true Tactical Advantage due to the point value of these cards. Some experimentation will surely arise with such options as Aen Seidhe Sabre and likely one or a couple other stratagems will find a home in specific decks, but in general, the impact will not be strongly felt in my opinion. Despite my tempered expectations toward the immediate effects of stratagem options, their inclusion in the game does generate additional design space in the game moving forward and I am excited to see which interesting designs CDPR are able to implement in the future.
The Big Addition: Scenarios
The other major new addition with the expansion was the implementation of a new take on artifacts. Each faction received a powerful artifact called a scenario which provides incremental benefits each time the player completes a condition.
Scenario: A type of progressable artifact that rewards players for completing objectives.
A scenario is a special type of artifact that triggers each time the player completes the objective described on the card, with rewards that change on each proc. Each works with a different faction archetype and encourages archetypal deckbuilding.
Reference Siege for an example of the format of these cards. “Build-around” cards such as these form the basis of whole archetypes when the payoff is strong enough, which it appears to be from the look of these cards. It remains to be seen how competitive scenarios will become, but their existence in the game provides ample opportunity for experimentation on a somewhat smaller expansion by effectively forcing us to revisit previously underused card pools.
One of the weaknesses of the scenarios is the fact that they can be destroyed with artifact removal, thus making them prime candidates for combinations with our leader ability. If our leader can play multiple cards in a turn, we can progress the scenario to at least Chapter 1 on the same turn we play it to effectively minimize the value of opposing artifact removal. It remains to be seen how popular these cards will be and how much artifact removal will be seen on ladder, but the dynamic between the two is something to be mindful of when we consider building a deck centered around a scenario.
In terms of power level, all of the scenarios seem quite strong when they are allowed to go off. Looking beyond the cards themselves and instead focusing on the synergies present with the enablers and rest of the card set, we can find which are the most likely to be played. The Nilfgaard scenario (Masquerade Ball) possesses perhaps the weakest set of cards to trigger its Chapters, but the payoff is quite strong as we gain a useful engine in Thirsty Dame and also proc our Assimilate effects multiple times. A deck will likely emerge surrounding this scenario in due time. The other major candidate for play that I see is Haunt from the Monsters faction. With the new version of the Death's Shadow leader ability, we can progress Haunt to Chapter 1 immediately, which provides us with two Consume units immediately. One of the problems with Deathwish decks in the past was a lack of efficient means to trigger all of our Deathwish effects and Haunt should help to rectify this in some way.
The expansion brought with it 70 new cards, including some potential meta-shifting additions. Aside from the aforementioned scenarios, some factions will most likely look extremely different to their states before MoO. Nilfgaard fans in particular will likely be happy with the new pieces available to them. Vincent Van Moorlehem is another powerful control tool that is flexible and can almost always play for great value. Alongside this is the addition of more incentives to use the Poison mechanic in Nilfgaard, such as Van Moorlehem's Cupbearer and cards like Thirsty Dame that benefit from the opponent gaining a status (i.e. Poison). The other faction that seemed to benefit the most from the expansion was Scoia’tael, which received the powerful duo of Etriel and Muirlega. These cards slot perfectly into the existing Harmony deck which now has free spaces after the nerf to the Munro Bruys package. The rest of the factions seemingly lag behind a bit in terms of their expansion cards, but only time will tell which cards from the expansion truly leave a mark on the meta.
Neutral cards will serve as major players in this expansion. One of the cards that has everyone talking is Matta Hu'uri, which represents a powerful tutor ability. It grants us the ability to draw our highest-provision card with 6 extra points while extending the round by an additional card. The 6 points from Matta Hu’uri are then offset by the 4-provision card drawn by the opponent. We will see the value of an average competitive 4-provision card in this meta, though it is likely to roughly break even with the 6 points from Matta Hu’uri. Thus, the card is essentially a less flexible Royal Decree that is delayed, but one that does save us a provision in our deck and provides some other benefits such as extending the round and potentially disrupting some opposing combos (i.e. Portal).
The other big time neutral card introduced with MoO is Radeyah, which is a better incentive to utilize a purely singleton deck than Shupe's Day Off. This card will surely appear in some factions, with or without the inclusion of Shupe’s Day Off. Not only do we have the ability to double-dip on our own faction specific stratagem, we can also simply Create a neutral one that will most of the time make Radeyah play for a straight 13 points. Factions that lack strong and highly synergistic decks will likely resort to Radeyah Highlander decks to gain additional power.
After a series of hints and teases, the sudden drop of Merchants of Ofir certainly caught us off guard and shook up the game considerably. While the number of cards in the expansion is the fewest of any yet, some of the cards will change the way we are likely to play the game. I for one am excited to see which of the scenario cards end up seeing high-level play in their respective faction since they will represent the first time we see a completely new archetype in quite some time.
In general, the changes put in place seem to set a foundation for the future by smoothing out some areas of the card pool and opening up additional design space that the team can revisit with future expansions. The foresight and planning going into this expansion is perhaps the best news of all as we look to the hopefully bright future Gwent has ahead of it in the coming year.