The State of Arena: The Good, the Bad, and the Future
May 16, 2019 by MrMax71
MrMax71, author of the Aretuza Arena Picker and veteran tournament player, breaks down the Arena mode of Gwent, takes a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the mode, and suggests improvements for a better player experience.
Arena was released on February 28th, 2018. Unfortunately, with how the core gameplay of Gwent worked at that time, the Arena release felt underwhelming compared to similar game modes from other CCGs. With Homecoming, Arena flourished from changes such as the rework of leaders and a smaller number of tutors. For example: By reworking how leaders operate, CDPR created more varieties of playstyle (e.g., Crach an Craite wants a longer Round 3, while Harald the Cripple prefers a short last round). This helped solve one of the key issues of pre-Homecoming Arena, which is that many players would dry-pass the early rounds and lead to most games playing out in a similar manner.
The recent Crimson Curse expansion provided another ray of goodness, even more variety with new mechanics and interesting cards such as Vivienne de Tabris. Yet, Arena has not seen a significant rise in popularity; you do not see people eagerly writing about it online, and even CDPR has stated their unhappiness with the current state of Arena. While Drafting modes in any card game generally do not reach the popularity levels of Constructed modes because Constructed is generally the “competitive” format, Arena mode in games like Hearthstone seems to be more “alive”, partly because there are Twitch streamers who exclusively play Arena (such as Kripparrian or TrumpSC in the earlier days of Hearthstone). With Gwent’s Arena now over a year old, let’s take a look on what is good, what is bad, and how things could be improved.
Drafting cards is core to the experience of an Arena mode and is always plain fun in any game. Creating synergies without the boundaries of faction restrictions, stumbling upon cards you did not even know existed since they are not played in Constructed, or simply knowing that you are not going to face the same ladder deck from a popular streamer for the seventieth time again – all are essential parts of the appeal of Arena. I even know several people, myself included, that like drafting more than actually playing. There is a good base for drafting in Gwent: In my opinion, getting offered four cards a pick is ideal and drafting 26 cards is fine too.
Despite the fun associated with the draft, there are several things that could be improved about the Arena drafting experience.
1.) Variance of golds and bronzes
The difference between gold and bronze cards is huge (for evidence, take a look at the difference in ratings in our Arena Picker). A deck with 7 gold and 18 bronze cards is going to have a hard time beating a deck with 18 gold and 7 bronze cards, no matter how skilled the pilot is. Gwent would probably benefit from putting a tighter range around the number of golds and bronzes offered in any draft. For example, having a 100% assured chance you are going to draft at least 10 golds and 10 bronzes (+ 6 cards of either) would make for a more balanced experience that would increase overall skill requirement for a good Arena run.
2.) Picking leaders at the end
One of the biggest potential problems with an Arena deck is receiving a bad leader. Out of 30 different leaders currently in Arena, I consider 10 of them fairly weak: Most of the time, this is caused by their synergistic nature and uselessness in decks without the associated synergies. Picking Unseen Elder or Eldain is almost never good, but they could be made more useful with a simple solution: Change the leader pick from the end of a draft to the start. In this way, you have a chance to draft synergistic deck from the beginning around a leader that fits it. My teammate Shaggy suggested an even more intriguing idea: In addition to "pre-picking" your leader at the start of the draft, you would have the option to also change your pick at the end of the draft if desired. This way Arachas Queen or Dana Méadbh would not be just extremely weak leaders, but they would have a realistic chance of being good and contributing to a more diverse Arena experience.
3.) A basic card offering algorithm
The algorithm determining which cards are offered in a draft seems relatively simple at this point in time, especially compared to other games. For example in Hearthstone, you are offered class cards more often. Besides that, there are so-called "baskets" of cards: Simply explained, these are cards that are grouped by a similar win rate. This leads to being offered three good or three bad cards instead of random three cards every time. Also in Hearthstone, classes with lower win and play rate are good cards shown more often and vice versa for classes with higher win and play rate.
Another simpler possibility is to have an algorithm tied to provision cost, so that each pick would show cards with relatively close provision costs to each other. I would welcome having something like this in Gwent. Of course, these changes would need to be tested and adjusted appropriately, so that the impacts of any new groupings are tolerable and not extreme. Nevertheless, finding ways to improve the existing card algorithm could be an important way to improve the current drafting process.
4) No reroll penalty
The 150 ore cost for an Arena ticket is a very generous price compared to other CCGs, where Drafting often costs around 150 of the in-game currency, with that currency being much harder to farm. Unfortunately, with the huge savings of ore from the open beta and no way of spending if you own the entire Gwent collection, you can simply spend ore to re-roll drafts until you get a dream one and crush every opponent. Although this is probably not the biggest issue in the long run, putting a 5- or 10-minute cooldown for starting a new draft after breaking contract would help eliminate this problem. If that seems too harsh, giving worse rewards for a contract break might be a good solution too.
Currently, Arena gameplay is not boring one bit: You get to see many cards that are generally unplayed in Constructed because of their provision costs (e.g. Dandelion: Poet) but are brilliant to play in Arena (which has no provision limitation). In addition, Arena enables certain multi-faction synergies that you cannot normally find in Constructed. And most importantly, Arena provides a break from the standard grind of ladder: When firing up an Arena game, you can take a break from worrying about losing ranks or MMR, and simply relax and have fun with a game of Gwent.
After drafting an Arena deck in Gwent, you cannot make any changes to it for the entirety of your run. You are required to play every card that you drafted in your deck. While this is a relatively standard feature of a draft mode in a card game, there might be room for Gwent to innovate in this area and create a better Arena experience.
For example, I heard a very intriguing suggestion a few days back about overdrafting and cutting cards in Arena mode that would allow for an RPG-like element to the game. In this proposal, after winning a game, you could add a card to your deck (from a random four cards offered) and you would get to cut a card from your deck in return – or, you could choose not to add or cut anything. This mechanic would make your deck better the more games you win, bring a "feel of progress" into Arena and create some exciting showdowns in the later rounds between powerful decks.
You might be thinking “What? Rewards could be bad?” Certainly not! Gwent is the most free-to-play card game and rewards for playing Arena are not bad at all. You receive a guaranteed keg for every run, up to 400 ore, and scraps and meteorite powder in smaller amounts - although from my experience you never get meteorite powder from 9-win runs.
1.) Kegs are only Classic
After finishing an Arena run, you always get a guaranteed classic keg. With the Crimson Curse expansion out and another coming up, I think it would be a good idea to include expansion kegs as a possible keg reward. In addition, while you get a guaranteed gold card for any 9-win run, the rewards do not differ based on the number of losses it took to get there. I think that having a premium gold card instead of a regular gold card as the reward for a perfect 9-0 run would be an awesome incentive, getting players excited about achieving a 100% win rate.
2.) Daily rewards are not satisfied in Arena
This one is just difficult to understand: Wins in Arena do not count as daily wins, so you cannot get reward points for winning 6 rounds, 18 rounds etc., nor do you get any minor rewards in-between as well. I do not think winning games in Arena is so much simpler to the point that you do not deserve to get any daily rewards. With my changes suggested above, you would have balanced competitive games throughout the Arena, and not allowing Arena games to count for daily quests just gives the impression that CDPR does not value the players’ time spent in Arena as much as they do time spent on ladder.
3.) Lack of Arena-specific incentives
Currently, you have one avatar and three titles that are Arena-exclusive. That is truly not a lot, and it is easy to see how Arena would benefit from adding more avatars, titles, or even a special board. One can easily envision an Arena reward tree where you would use Arena-specific reward points for acquiring these additional cosmetics.
IV. Arena events and cards
Events that change up the standard Arena ruleset are surely awesome; I love them and think they should be seen more often, perhaps even on a weekly basis (like tavern brawls in Hearthstone). Continuing to expand and build upon the potential Arena variants would be great for the mode: For example, The Elder Scrolls: Legends sometimes has a special Arena (Sheogorath Arenas) where players face very random scenarios every game. While they are super RNG-heavy, they are also great fun. With Gaunter O'Dimm being the face of the Gwent Arena, it seems like there is room for having this kind of a crazy Arena format as a temporary event. Like I suggested above, these events also provide great opportunities to have special rewards such as exclusive titles, borders or even a special board.
Another possibility of making Arena more attractive is to introduce a few Arena-exclusive cards similarly to Hearthstone (which has 9 cards that can be played only in Arena).
In the end, Gwent gameplay differs so much from other card games that it makes it a unique game, and naturally, this carries over to its Arena mode. That said, there are things to improve on, especially in drafting and the reward system, and hopefully CDPR considers implementing some of these improvements, even if they are adopted from other games. Nevertheless, the base of Gwent Arena is very solid, and in my opinion, it is a good mode that does not receive the attention it deserves. You should definitely try out if you have not. It is truly better and more fun than it seems!