Rapid Reaction: The Patch 3.1 Developer Video
How does a patch have so much impact that, as Jason Slama and Paweł Burza put it in CD Projekt Red's Patch 3.1 Overview Video, it feels less like a patch and more like a mini-expansion?
A sixth Syndicate leader? Potentially a big deal, but other patches have added leaders.
Tweaking 256 cards, including four leaders? Now we're talking!
Gwent moving to mobile? If we hadn't already heard of it, that would be the biggest news of all!
Renewal Through Change
As card games like Gwent mature and add expansions, old cards often get left behind. Card A is weak or sees little play in its time, a stronger Card B debuts in a future expansion, and there's just no reason for any competitive player to go back to Card A.
Through Patch 3.1, Gwent has taken an unusual approach. Because a digital card game, unlike a paper or paper-linked one such as Magic: The Gathering Arena, can change cards at will, Gwent can buff old cards to bring them in line with current standards, re-using assets such as art and animation instead of rotating them off into oblivion, as Hearthstone and others have done.
So instead of weakening the new Syndicate faction, particularly its strong bronze cards, Gwent has instead tried to bring up the other factions' cards to Syndicate's level, particularly the struggling Northern Realms. Whether or not this attempt ultimately succeeds, it's a player-friendly approach that I hope they keep trying.
Faction Identity Focus: Northern Realms
While most of the changes to cards in Patch 3.1 will be relatively minor, Northern Realms is getting particular focus to overhaul its faction identity. Jason Slama pointed out that Northern Realms had only one unique keyword, Formation, on fewer than half a dozen cards, which did not give Northern Realms a distinctive mechanical identity. Future updates will give more identity-focused looks to Gwent's other legacy factions.
Again, this is some smart, economical re-use of existing assets. And for people who are worried that this is a sign of cost-cutting on CDPR's part, there's a huge distance between "We can't spend any money, so let's scrape together what we have" and "We already have these perfectly good assets, and we're not throwing them away."
Quality of Life and Future Ambitions
Among the quality of life improvements mentioned:
- Improved search: Mr. Slama's example was searching for cards with the Mage tag without every card mentioning "damage" coming up.
- Improved filters for managing collections
- Faster keg opening
- Premium animations for Syndicate cards missing them.
- Syndicate leader Reward Trees
- At long last, spectator mode is on the horizon!
- Long-requested bug fixes, such as for the infamous Barnabas Beckenbauer
All these quality of life improvements could be considered aimed at existing players rather than new ones. That said, Gwent has ambitious plans for expanding its player base:
- Development for mobile platforms continues apace.
- The next expansion promises "I can't believe they did that!" reactions, according to Mr. Slama.
It's clear CDPR has shifted from "What do we want Gwent to be?" to "How do we get Gwent to make the company money?" I find this encouraging, as it means CDPR is finally happy with the base structure of Gwent and the expansion model.
Considering the drawn-out model of development for Gwent – Closed Beta in late 2016, Open Beta in May 2017, the troubled Mid-Winter update in December 2017, the Homecoming announcement in April 2018, and finally the official launch in October 2018 – it's gratifying to see expansions launching regularly (March 2019 for Crimson Curse, June 2019 for Novigrad, and projected September 2019 for the next one). A moneymaking Gwent is a Gwent that continues to get new content. Make that money, CDPR!
The Big and Small Pictures (JMJWilson23)
It is difficult to tell immediately the impact that the small subset of changes shown in the video will have on Gwent, but the high-level overview provided by the developers can provide some useful clues. One of the recurring themes of the presentation was the reduction of the number of removal units in the game as well as the lowering of damage amounts on many units. In their stead, high-damage effects will remain in place on special cards that provide no body on the player’s own side of the board.
This is a massive boon to engine-based game plans that too often were pressured heavily by opponent units that were able to trade up in points on their own units. Special cards will often trade down to engines such as Botchling that have (however small) an immediate impact on the board state, allowing the engine player to be more aggressive.
Additionally, this design change allows engine decks to be more resilient to bleeding from the opponent, as these small point gains from trading engine units into weak removal allow the engine player to get ahead on board and retain card advantage in later rounds. As a whole, this change in design philosophy stands to allow more diversified strategies to emerge, though it must be carefully monitored to avoid a swing too far in the opposite direction in which engine-based gameplay dominates the metagame.
The new Aedirnian Mauler: higher point value, lower damage.
Some other changes are less significant but can also breathe some life into bronze diversity. Removing the Reach mechanic is an instant buff to many bronze units that were too risky to see play, considering the downside of finding no useful target. Along with this change, the developers mentioned that more units will receive rowlocked abilities. This is a whole new potential avenue for interacting with some engines aside from direct removal, as the opponent can move the card from its preferred row and shut down its effect. It remains to be seen how many Order cards and engines will receive the row-lock treatment, but it is something to bear in mind moving forward.
In terms of more explicit changes, Northern Realms was the main focus. The cards shown represent only a small cross-section of the total changes to even this faction, but they highlighted some of the concepts nicely. Across the board, these cards are on a much higher power level compared to current Northern Realms cards. We can glean that there aren’t really any new “archetypes” that are being pressed with these cards, which is in line with the statements made by Ostry. Rather, the changes are intended to enhance existing archetypes while offering some new support packages.
Several boosting cards in line with a midrange-type gameplan seen with Queen Meve in the past (Dun Banner, a buff to Anna Strenger, Keira Metz) show a commitment to fleshing out this archetype that has been left behind by greedier strategies required to compensate for Northern Realms’s weakness in raw point output.
In addition, the way the Charge archetype plays out has been tweaked slightly. Now, there is more diversity in the units selected for this type of deck, including Machines which act as receivers of Charges and enablers, such as the return of the Crew mechanic in a slightly modified form. It remains to be seen whether these archetypes will be buffed enough to usurp the Northern Realms decks we see on the ladder currently, but preliminary indications are pushing them in a much stronger direction.
Card Spotlight (Argeiphontes)
Dun Banner (3 power / 5 provisions)
Whenever Dun Banner receives a boost, Summon a copy of it from your deck to this row.
Dun Banner provides some nice thinning for Northern Realms, bringing it more in line with the other factions. The boost condition is easily satisfied by Queen Meve or one of the boosting engines like Lubberkin, Anna Strenger, or the newly revealed Temerian Drummer ("Every allied turn, on turn end, boost the unit to the right by 1."). While not the splashiest card in the faction, the consistency the card provides will be much appreciated in the new Northern Realms.
Roche: Merciless (5/11)
Roche is an exciting new addition to the Blue Stripes package, netting 11 points immediately as long as its Order is used, but also allowing you to potentially thin two more Blue Stripes Commandos from the deck for an enormous 19-point tempo swing. This can be combined with Blue Stripes Scout and Reinforcements to create a couple more Commandos and Princess Pavetta to shuffle them all back into the deck for a massive Round 3 play. If you don't want to commit to the dedicated Blue Stripes deck, the card is still powerful enough to see play with two Blue Stripes Commandos just as a thinning package, essentially giving the deck a third Commando.
Keira Metz (7/10)
The new Keira Metz is the stand-out card of the spoiler video. With just two 4-strength units on the board, the card plays as 9 points immediately and promises 15 points over 4 turns without any additional boost synergies like Tridam Infantry. While there is a setup cost and opportunity for the opponent to interact, removing two units from the board is costly and leaves the opponent vulnerable to stronger engines in the faction, especially with the overall nerf to damage cards. Expect to see Keira boosting many units on patch day.
Foltest's Pride (6/8)
Foltest's Pride has been changed from a niche King Demavend III Charges win condition to a powerful engine. Finding two Soldiers should not be particularly difficult, and meeting that condtion lets the Siege Engine play for 8 points immediately and 2 additional points every turn. At 6 power, the unit is tough to remove in one turn even in the current meta, let alone after the damage nerfs. If Foltest's Pride is the benchmark for new Northern Realms engines, enigne decks have a very bright future.
Lyrian Landsknecht (3/5)
Lyrian Landsknecht showcases the new Inspired mechanic, which seems to be inspired by one of the best designed Formation cards in the Crimson Curse expansion: Prince Anséis. By offering a more powerful ability in exchange for forgoing Zeal, Formation can provide a real choice for players. In Landsknecht's case, the boosted version is so much better than the non-boosted that you're likely to go for the boost every time. However, much like Anséis, Landsknecht can be comboed with a Zeal giver like Ves or a boost giver like Queen Meve to get both Zeal and the upgraded ability. Overall, Inspired is an excellent addition to Northern Realms, offering interesting play patterns and solidifying the faction identity.
"Professional hobbyist" lordgort makes his money helping others enjoy their leisure, whether as an auction catalog writer, copy editor for a Magic: The Gathering strategy site, or game show contestant (lifetime winnings: $5000). A Magic columnist for seven years, in 2018 he turned to Gwent, swiftly reaching the Pro ranks. Off the clock, he relaxes by writing and editing Gwent articles and contributing to Aretuza Academy. A longtime game show fanatic, he appeared on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in 2018.