Pavko Gale - The case of an underrated card
August 13, 2018 by Jamedi
Pavko Gale was introduced to Gwent in the Midwinter Update as a tribute to CD Projekt Red’s Community Manager, Pavel Burza. Despite his great potential, Pavko has perhaps been underrated by players, and has not been played frequently in popular decks. In this article, I’ll take a look at Pavko Gale, see what other cards he pairs well with, and try to figure out if everyone’s favorite Community Manager could potentially “leek” his way into the current metagame.
Pavko - The basics
While Pavko Gale’s original ability upon release – pulling a random item from your deck – was a bit too inconsistent for top-level play, after the Swap Update he received an interesting buff, making him able to choose which (bronze or silver) item to pull from your deck and play along with Pavko. Despite this buff, Pavko is still not commonly used in competitive Scoia’tael decks, as his power has been obscured by the presence of two more popular silver cards in the Scoia’tael faction, Éibhear Hattori and Barclay Els.
Pavko can achieve a high value for a silver card, with two potential drawbacks or costs. The first cost is that Pavko is a “build-around” card, meaning that you must devote additional deck space (in this case, running complementary items) for him to achieve value. In addition, Pavko can brick if all items have already been played from your deck, making him a disappointing five-point silver.
However, if Pavko successfully pulls an item, he can be quite strong. Next, let’s talk about the items that could synergize well with Pavko.
A tutor is often only as good as the card that it pulls. We can examine each of the cards with the item tag to determine which ones might be good enough to be used with Pavko. Let’s start with bronze items.
- Elven Blade is a 10 point removal, which can be quite useful against engines such as An Craite Greatsword or Redanian Knight-Elect. Elven Blade is less useful against Scoia’tael opponents since it cannot hit elves: However, keep in mind that it can still get some value if they run dwarves or Aglaïs (who is not an elf). The best case scenario occurs when you remove an engine, making the card worth far more than the standard 10 points of damage.
- Swallow, the counterpart of Elven Blade, is a 10 point buff for a single unit. It is easy to target, and represents a proactive play. However, it is worth only 10 points in all cases.
- Shrike and Petri's Philter either provide you with 12 points of removal or buffs spread across 6 units. While these offer more immediate value than either Elven Blade or Swallow, it is often hard to achieve full value with them due to the relatively high number of targets required.
- Crushing Trap is an ST exclusive item that does 6 points of damage to the units at the end of a row, similar to Milaen’s ability. This represents 12 points of removal if the two units at the end of the row are at least 6 points of strength. It is relatively easy to get full value on this card, but it can be countered by positioning low value units at that positions, or by placing self-healing units such as An Craite Greatsword on the ends of the row.
- Mastercrafted Spear and Wyvern Scale Shield are two items whose value depends on the strength of a bronze or silver unit in your hand. Since ST generally does not run particularly tall units, these are typically niche items at best (although they are used in some types of Ocvist Handbuff decks).
- Dimeritium Shackles lock a unit and deal 4 damage (if it is an enemy). Prior to the Gold Immunity Patch, this item was used to demote gold cards to silvers. However, in the current meta, it’s not good enough to be included in any deck, offering only 4 points plus the denial of an engine even in the best case scenario.
- Thunderbolt boosts up to three units by 3 points, also providing them 2 armor. Since ST doesn’t have any mechanism to get points from armor, this point is typically worth 9 points at best, with a potential exception in cases where the armor soaks damage (such as against weather).
After the evaluation of bronze cards, we can conclude that among bronze items, the best ones to use are most likely Elven Blade or Crushing Trap. With these two cards, Pavko’s value goes to 15-17 points in the best case scenario. On the other hand, the other bronzes are really conditional, which forces us to additionally alter our deckbuilding process.
Now it’s time to evaluate silver items:
- Morana Runestone, one of the five runestones spread across the factions. Runestones used to only create silver faction units, however, since the last patch runestones also pull from a pool including all of the faction’s bronze units, which makes them less valuable and usually too RNG-dependent for competitive decks.
- Pit Trap and Dragon's Dream are cards that punish row stacking. Pit Trap, which deals three damage to any cards that enter a row, is a more tempo-oriented option providing with immediate damage. While Dragon's Dream is more powerful – dealing four damage to any cards in a row - you need to combo it with another special card to activate its effect. As these cards are only useful for long rounds and require a specific board state, achieving high value with them is a difficult task.
- Mahakam Horn is a particularly interesting option. When playing it, you choose from one of two effects: strengthening a card by 7 points, which lets us develop carryover in the form of a more powerful resurrection (such as Renew or Paulie Dahlberg) at the cost of a low tempo play; or creating a bronze or silver Dwarf. The second option often provides a reasonable amount of tempo and value, especially if we play a dwarf-oriented deck, with the worst pull (considering it has 3 options) likely to be something such as Yarpen Zigrin (8 points, but carryover if used on early rounds), and the best ones cards such as Cleaver at the start of a round, Paulie Dahlberg if you have any strengthened Dwarf in your graveyard, or an additional Barclay Els. Most of the times (due to the possible options) it will spawn at least 12 point Dwarf, which represents a relatively high floor for a create card.
- Black Blood allows you to either create a bronze necrophage or vampire (boosting it by 2), or destroy a bronze or silver necrophage or vampire already on the board. Frequently seen already in Calveit Alchemy, this card has gained popularity since the last patch since spies are not doomed and stay in graveyards. You have a 50% chance to get any particular target card from Black Blood: Often, the best outcome is getting a Ghoul, which represents a 19 point play if used to eat a spy. The worst pulls are generally in the 10-11 point range. Overall, if used in R3 (with a populated graveyard) we can expect Black Blood to represent an approximately 15 point silver on average.
As we can see, there are two silver items whose value is superior to other silver cards. These cards are Mahakam Horn, which requires a specific deckbuilding path, and Black Blood.
After examining all items in the game, we can conclude that Pavko can be useful if we use him in combination with Elven Blade, Crushing Trap, Black Blood, and/or Mahakam Horn. With all of these items in a deck, his likely value oscillates between 15 points and 24 points.
We can now compare this to the aforementioned Scoia’tael cards, Barclay Els and Éibhear Hattori. Barclay is often used in two ways: To pull Cleaver in a deck with no other dwarves, and to pull a bronze dwarf in a dwarf-heavy deck. Focusing on the latter option, Barclay will usually pull an 11-12 point bronze dwarf to provide 16-17 points of average value.
On the other hand, Éibhear Hattori’s value is slightly harder to estimate, as it depends on populating a graveyard. In a good scenario, he can replay Barclay with an additional three-point body, averaging 19-20 points of value. In other scenarios, he may have to resurrect other targets such as Elven Mercenary or Sage, often for around 12-13 points (providing 15-16 points of total value).
Overall, we see that Pavko is quite competitive with both Barclay and Hattori in terms of raw points. Now it’s time to compare it with other tutor cards that we can use in Scoia’tael: Isengrim: Outlaw and Vesemir: Mentor. Both cards are golds, which makes them makes their deckbuilding cost higher than Pavko’s.
- Vesemir: Mentor has almost the same points value on his body, 6 points, as Pavko does. However, instead of pulling items, Vesemir: Mentor is tied to another category of cards, alchemies. Since Pavko offers only one point less for the downgrade from a gold card to a silver, he compares well with Vesemir: Mentor, as the deckbuilding requirements imposed by each are similar.
- Isengrim: Outlaw has a significantly worse raw points value as a tutor (2 points), but his ability gives you two choices: Either pull a bronze or silver special from your deck, or create a silver elf. The non-existence of a possible brick situation makes Isengrim a really flexible card with lower downside. In addition, the category of specials is significantly broader than items or alchemies (most of which are also under the broader heading of specials), meaning that Isengrim has a much broader “draw pool” to work from. Perhaps the most we can conclude is that Pavko and Isengrim are designed for different purposes. Pavko is often a raw points play, whereas Isengrim is often included as a way to tutor out important control spells such as Artefact Compression.
Overall, we can conclude that Pavko Gale is an intriguing and potentially powerful card that compares well with other options in Scoia’tael deckbuilding. This card has fallen under the radar due to the existence of 2 powerful “staples” in Scoia’tael decks, Barclay Els and Éibhear Hattori. We should consider what a Pavko Gale deck might look like, to and whether he could be a viable pick for competitive Scoiatael decks.
Succesful deckbuilding with Pavko
While Pavko’s popularity is still relatively low (14% among Eithné players according to GwentUp data), we have seen different deck builders including Pavko and succeeding with him in the deck:
- Haiku is one of the first people that popularized Pavko Gale deckbuilding. His Eithné Black Blood deck showed how powerful this card can be when used right. Using Marching Orders for Pavko (once Elven Mercenary are thinned out of the deck) gives consistent access to Pavko and the deck’s win condition in almost every game. Elven Blade is a great card against engine decks, and further control is provided by including Artefact Compression with Isengrim: Outlaw and Eithné as leader.
- Shinmiri combined the strength of Pavko with Mahakam Horn. Building from an existing dwarf deck that he played at high ranked ladder, he added Pavko Gale and Mahakam Horn to achieve two purposes: grants an additional high-tempo win condition, and also provide potential carryover utility if we decide to include Renew instead of Muzzle.
- I have developed another deck with Pavko, using Ciri: Nova as an alternative win condition. This deck combines the strengths of both decks above, including both Black Blood and Mahakam Horn to give more flexibility to Pavko.
Pavko Gale is a powerful card, which has not been played much due to several reasons.
It requires a specific deckbuilding, as we need to include items in the deck for him to tutor. Building an “item package” for Pavko doesn’t necessarily synergize with other key ST archetypes such as Dwarves or Elves, and is even anti-synergistic with Shupe decks (since adding more special cards lowers our probability of finding Shupe's Day Off with Yaevinn).
Notably, the strongest items to pull with Pavko are silver cards, which restricts are deck given the popularity and strength of other Scoia’tael silvers. The existence of Barclay Els and Éibhear Hattori makes this difficult, as both offer more synergy with key bronze and silver unit archetypes and achieve a similar point value to Pavko.
However, the upside of Pavko in a correctly built deck is hard to ignore, and he is starting to see more play at the higher levels of Ranked and Pro Ladders. Perhaps the smuggler will find a spot in the next Tier 1 Scoia’tael deck to emerge.