The leader is the only card a player is guaranteed to see in a game of Gwent. This article presents a three-prong model for understanding what leaders do and how to choose them for best effect.

From the beginning of a Gwent game, each player knows the opposing leader. Depending on the leader, experienced competitors often can make assumptions about the opponent's deck:

"Arachas Queen? Consume deck."

"Harald the Cripple? I'm facing Axemen."

"Morvran Voorhis? Gotta be Reveal."

Other leaders are harder to pin down:

"Jan Calveit? Could be Alchemy, could be Soldiers..."

"Crach an Craite? Am I against Greatswords or Veterans?"

"Filavandrel? What in the world..."

 

Synergy, Value, and Leverage

Why do players react so differently to Arachas Queen and Jan Calveit? Arachas Queen is primarily a synergy leader. Unless a deck is running Deathwish cards such as Nekker or D'ao that give bonuses for being consumed, Arachas Queen is just a seven-point play. Dagon (eight points plus the Fog or Rain) is a better choice by default.

On the other hand, Jan Calveit is a value leader. He adds five points to the board and offers you your choice of the top three cards in your deck to play. He doesn't care if those cards are Alchemy spells like Mahakam Ale or units like Sentry. This makes Jan Calveit a flexible choice, if weak at supporting specific plans. He is the Dandelion: Poet of leaders.

No leader is purely "synergy" or "value." Arachas Queen guarantees seven points, while Jan Calveit, because he does not shuffle the deck after looking at the top three cards, provides information for cards such as Joachim de Wett. The boundary between synergy and value can get blurry as well; Harald the Cripple is notorious for synergy with Tuirseach Axeman and Derran, but as long as the opponent has ten points of unarmored power on one row, Harald the Cripple will always deliver sixteen points of value.

The third and rarest element of a leader's potential abilities is leverage. If synergy is about enacting a deck's plan, leverage is synergy's evil twin, disrupting an opponent's plan or giving information about it. The purest example of a control leader is Unseen Elder, who has a low base value and zero synergy with one's own deck, yet can Drain a single big unit to punish an opponent's choice of that strategy.

More commonly, leverage will combine with synergy or value. For example, Eithné combines synergy (reusing a Special card) with leverage when it recasts Artefact Compression to disrupt an opponent's plan. The other combination, value and leverage, appears in Northern Realms. King Radovid V combines incidental strong value (up to fourteen points) with the disruptive leverage offered by two lock effects.

For players building their own decks, curious why an existing deck plays its leader, or wondering why certain leaders see little play, a brief review of all leaders and their elements follows.

 

Monsters

Arachas Queen, as mentioned above, is a dedicated synergy leader. There is no reason to run Arachas Queen outside a deck looking to exploit the Consume mechanic.

Dagon is primarily a value leader that also offers synergy opportunities. Running a single Foglet in a Dagon deck is a common choice, providing incidental value and a card's worth of thinning from the deck, while more dedicated synergy picks such as Ancient Foglet are not as popular.

Eredin Bréacc Glas is a synergy leader that can provide appreciable immediate value. Seldom seen outside dedicated Wild Hunt decks, Eredin can deliver fifteen points, no questions asked, simply by Spawning a Wild Hunt Rider. A more common, more synergistic line is for Eredin to Spawn a Wild Hunt Navigator to copy a Wild Hunt Hound and play Biting Frost, thinning two cards from the deck and putting twelve points on the board, plus whatever value the Biting Frost might accumulate.

Unseen Elder, as mentioned above, is the purest leverage leader in Gwent, though its leverage is far more useful against decks with a single large unit than those with many small units.

Whispering Hillock is mostly used for synergy in Imlerith: Sabbath decks, though it can also have value and leverage aspects based on which Organic cards its Create ability provides. Mandrake theoretically fills all three roles, though a "pure value" Cordial play on the Hillock is the worst-case scenario. Mandrake is not a guaranteed card from the Create ability, however, and the strong possibility of getting dealt three weak-for-the-situation Organic cards makes it unpopular for high-level play.

Monsters leaders and their primary and secondary elements:

Leader Primary Element Secondary Element Secondary Importance
Arachas Queen Synergy Value Low
Dagon Value Synergy Low
Eredin Bréacc Glas Synergy Value High
Unseen Elder Leverage Value Low
Whispering Hillock Varies Varies Varies

 

Nilfgaard

Emhyr var Emreis is a synergy leader. His ability, like a Decoy in reverse, is meaningless without a useful unit to return to hand, hence why he is seen most frequently leading decks such as Spies (to pick up Ceallach Dyffryn) and Handbuff (to return the Mandrake-strengthened Nilfgaardian Knight to hand).

Jan Calveit, as mentioned above, is a value leader with slight synergy elements. Occasionally players can exploit knowledge of the remaining two cards on the top of the deck, but beyond that he simply offers bonus points and a chance to find a crucial card missing from the hand.

Morvran Voorhis is a synergy leader with appreciable leverage aspects. Without cards that exploit the Reveal mechanic (Imperial Golem, Fire Scorpion, etc.), Morvran Voorhis is merely a seven-point play...that also reveals four cards in the opponent's hand, a unique information-gathering ability among leaders.

Usurper has the potential for synergy, value, and leverage, depending on what leaders appear with the Create mechanic. Generally seen leading Spies decks as a guaranteed spy for those synergies, Usurper nonetheless suffers from Create's ever-present danger of a bad set of three choices (King Henselt, Bran Tuirseach, and Eithné in a Spies deck? Yikes), making it hard to plan a deck around the leader.

Nilfgaard leaders and their primary and secondary elements:

Leader Primary Element Secondary Element Secondary Importance
Emhyr var Emreis Synergy Value Low
Jan Calveit Value Synergy Low
Morvran Voorhis Synergy Leverage Low
Usurper Varies Varies Varies

 

Northern Realms

King Foltest is a value leader through and through, adding pure points to the board and all future non-Spying unit plays. Occasionally players will build King Foltest decks with a synergy element, as in the "40-Card Foltest" decks that use Hubert Rejk as a finisher.

King Henselt, by contrast, is a near-pure synergy leader. Without another unit on the board, he will only ever be a three-point play, yet he can be devastating when he plays multiple cards in Henselt Machines, several of which, such as Battering Ram, add a minor leverage component.

King Radovid V, as mentioned above, is primarily a leverage leader, thanks to his double lock, with a secondary value element. Fourteen points in addition to the double lock is nothing to sniff at!

Princess Adda has elements of value and synergy, but her mechanic of Creating a Cursed unit makes her hard to use effectively. As a value leader, she is not as strong as King Foltest, and while her Create effect guarantees a Cursed unit, the Cursed synergies with Northern Realms are weaker than King Henselt's with Machines.

Northern Realms leaders and their primary and secondary elements:

Leader Primary Element Secondary Element Secondary Importance
King Foltest Value Synergy Low
King Henselt Synergy Leverage Low
King Radovid V Leverage Value High
Princess Adda Varies Varies Varies

 

Scoia'tael

Brouver Hoog is a value and synergy leader in near-equal measure with light leverage elements. By guaranteeing access to a non-Spying silver unit or bronze Dwarf, Brouver Hoog can pile on raw points or pull a synergy card, such as Sheldon Skaggs in a Movement deck. Silver choices such as Cleaver and Ida Emean aep Sivney can also become leverage choices, their damage disrupting an opponent's synergy.

Eithné is a synergy-derived leverage leader, as described above. Without Special cards to reuse, Eithné is meaningless as a leader. Yet the ability to reuse Artefact Compression and similar spells gives Eithné devastating leverage against dedicated synergy decks while also opening up the possibility of using her as a finisher, for instance by reusing Alzur's Double–Cross for a huge Dol Blathanna Sentry.

Filavandrel combines value and leverage with the ability to create a silver Special card. As seen with other Create leaders, however, Filavandrel's limited set of options and frequent "three bad choices" results make it a weaker option than others in the faction. This is particularly noticeable in Scoia'tael, where Eithné already exists to re-use a Special card the player specifically chose to put in their deck, not just a random one.

Francesca Findabair is a near-pure synergy leader. When played without any cards in hand, Francesca represents just seven points. On the other hand, the ability to Swap into a key card at any time, no questions asked, has made Francesca into a powerhouse in the past.

Scoia'tael leaders and their primary and secondary elements:

Leader Primary Element Secondary Element Secondary Importance
Brouver Hoog Value Synergy High
Eithné Synergy Leverage High
Filavandrel Leverage Value Varies
Francesca Findabair Synergy Varies Low

 

Skellige

Bran Tuirseach is a synergy leader who can be built around for value or even a hint of leverage. Without cards that care about the graveyard, Bran represents a measly two points, the lowest of any non-Spying leader. Depending on the deck, however, Bran can discard An Craite Raiders for value, Tuirseach Skirmishers for resurrection synergies, or Morkvarg and Wolfsbane for leverage across turns or even rounds.

Crach an Craite is a synergy-value leader who can be built around for light leverage. Not only does Crach search out the deck's highest non-Spying bronze or silver unit for excellent value, when built around, it can consistently find and strengthen a key synergy card such as An Craite Greatsword. Players choosing to make Morkvarg their highest unit can add a touch of multi-round leverage.

Eist Tuirseach is a value-synergy leader. Because it Spawns rather than Creates a Clan Tuirseach Soldier, it offers a wide range of guaranteed options. Still, in most properly built Skellige decks, Crach an Craite represents more points, and in Axemen, the major archetype where a fourth copy of a card Eist can spawn would be the most useful, Harald the Cripple provides a far more valuable synergy. That said, it would only take a slight increase in Eist Tuirseach's base strength for it to become a more viable option.

Harald the Cripple is a synergy leader with a strong value component. While the base rate of sixteen points (assuming ten points of power on an opposing row) is nothing to scoff at, Harald the Cripple's true strength is in combination with Tuirseach Axeman and Derran, where each copy can represent another ten points of power off Harald the Cripple.

Skellige leaders and their primary and secondary elements:

Leader Primary Element Secondary Element Secondary Importance
Bran Tuirseach Synergy Value Low
Crach an Craite Synergy Value High
Eist Tuirseach Value Synergy Varies
Harald the Cripple Synergy Value High

 

Homecoming Hope

The Create and Spawn leaders added in the Midwinter Update of December 2017 have shown themselves to be weaker than their existing counterparts (the Filavandrel-Eithné comparison in Scoia'tael is particularly notable) and have seen little play. Further, not all factions have access to a leverage leader, most notably Skellige, and certain factions' leverage options are narrower than others.

Especially for Pro Ladder players who must compete with a variety of factions, the ability to move between value, synergy, and leverage options (as Northern Realms allows) can keep Gwent fresh and exciting. If the Homecoming updates rework the leaders to provide a variety of strategic options without obvious underperformers, it would go a long way toward improving the health of the game.