“Welcome home and welcome back,” were the words spoken by an incredibly excited McBeard, after opening shots of Warsaw, the CD Projekt Red studio and the eight competitors of Gwent Open #8 threw us back into the world of Gwent Masters for the first time in nearly six months.

The first competitive event since Gwent was released at the end of October 2018, the first competitive event of 2019 and, perhaps most pertinently, the last Open of this Gwent Masters circuit, fans of the game from all over the world gathered on Twitch to watch kams134, kolemoen, Green-Knight, proNEO3001, alessio1996, wangid1, TailBot and Team Aretuza’s very own Molegion fight it out for a prize pool of $25,000 and a coveted spot in Gwent Challenger #5, perhaps the best chance of qualifying for the game’s series finale, the Gwent World Masters.

With a peppering of Crimson Curse-related news throughout the tournament, as well as the surprising announcement that the tournament casters would have access to an early version of Gwent’s spectator mode, coming to the public some time in the future, we were ready to take a look at how the bracket had fallen for the players.

 

Bracket

The randomly drawn bracket was fascinating, with three major tournament veterans falling into the same semi-final bracket, meaning at least one incredibly strong and incredibly popular player was destined not to make it to the final. The first half of the bracket was more inexperienced, with kams134 vs wangid1 causing a polarising split between popular and expert opinion. While 68% of the Twitter poll predicted kams134 to be the winner of the match, experts quietly contemplated the idea that wangid1 was being very much underestimated.

Still, after the bracket was released on Friday evening, the analysts were quick to suggest that no matter who would win that match, Molegion would make short work of them in the semi-final, the likely kolemoen vs TailBot semi-final would end in kolemoen’s favour and based purely on experience and previous record, kolemeon would pull out a victory in a tight final match against Molegion.

With the bracket analysed and the announcement that the tournament would be played with a regulated coin flip, we were ready to step into the quarter-finals.

 

Day 1 - The Quarterfinals

The quarter-finals saw some incredibly close games and a wide varieties of different decks and different leaders from all of the competition. Kams134 and wangid1 took us into series 1 with an interesting leader pick each, kams134 running Ardal aep Dahy for Nilfgaard instead of the more popular Morvran Voorhis and wangid1 selecting Monsters’ most unpopular leader, Arachas Queen. Though kams134 went into the series as the popular favourite, it was wangid1 that won out, with kams134’s strategy of targeting wide decks not paying off and Geralt: Yrden, which he ran in all four of his decks, failing to find value. 0-2 down going into Game 3, he finally faced off against wangid1’s Arachas Queen Deathwish deck, but in a close game that saw kams134 use most of his point-slam finishers to survive Round 2, it was wangid1 that progressed to the semi-final by a single point with a 3-0 victory.

Team Aretuza’s Molegion surprised many by bringing Filavandrel and Adda to the tournament. He opened strong with an expert piloting of Filvandrel against Gernichora, navigating a tough Round 1 and 2 to masterfully control the boardstate in Round 3 with Yennefer: Conjurer and Pavko Gale, ruining the point-slam value of TLG’s Green-Knight. He followed this up with an insurmountable 20-point lead in the third Round of the Midrange Nilfgaard mirror and a stunning 59-point swing using Tainted Ale, Sabrina Glevissig, Princess Adda and Hubert Rejk in the last turn of game 3. This wrapped up the only inter-team match of the Open 3-0 in Team Aretuza’s favour and secured Molegion a place in the semi-final against wangid1.

Molegion makes the most spectacular display of the tournament with Hubert Rejk

Any match featuring kolemoen is likely to see him the favoured player, and this proved the case once more as he arrived in the third series against alessio1996 with 85% of the @PlayGwent Twitter poll suggesting he would take a victory. Those that thought kolemoen would dominate might have been surprised when alessio1996 managed to steal a key victory against the Gwent veteran in the first game, shutting out kolemoen’s Meve Engine Overload with his own Brouver Control deck. From there we returned to scheduled programming as kolemoen executed two clinical and calculated games with Brouver Shupe and Engine Overload beating Gernichora and Midrange Morvran in succession. 1-2 down, alessio1996 chose to take another crack at the Midrange Morvran deck against kolemoen’s Morvran Shupe, and kolemoen proved why he’s considered one of the best in the game, shutting down alessio1996’s wide strategy so well that discarding Commander's Horn once it had been put back in the deck by Assire var Anahid was both mathematically unlikely, and also unnecessary.

Finally, the fan favourite TailBot took on another veteran of the game, proNEO3001. This was another match in which Twitter expected a player to dominate, with TailBot taking 82% of the poll. Game 1 was close, TailBot allowing proNEO use of two Commander's Horns and still winning by a single point. He was on course for a second victory in game 2 until a significant misplay saw proNEO play Vincent Meis on an Assire var Anahid TailBot had chosen not to boost to return the 1-point victory favour and pull back 1-1. proNEO became his own worst enemy in Game 3 of the series by bleeding himself out against TailBot’s Henselt Draug list, running out of finishers to give his opponent an easy victory and in an unbelievable Game 4 that saw TailBot enter Round 2 a card down but Round 3 a card up, the veteran had more than enough value in hand against proNEO's Eredin Imlerith deck to win the series 3-1, though it must be said that TailBot’s Traheaern var Vdyffir had found and removed Imlerith early in the game.

A fascinating Day 1 of the Gwent Open #8 of 2019 closed with a touching message of thanks from Gwent’s game director, Jason Slama, thanking the community for sticking with the game through what has undeniably been a very tough period, as well as thanking the development team for their continued and unbelievably hard work. With the public favourites stumbling, if only ever so slightly, into what would no doubt be an amazing second semi-final match between TailBot and kolemoen, and Molegion set to face wangid1 for a spot in Gwent Challenger #5, Day 2 of the Open was teed up to be a spectacular affair.

CD Projekt Red’s Recap of Day 1

 

Day 2

The Semi-Finals

As the sun rose on Day 2 of the tournament, the tension ratcheted up with it and the players prepared for the prize pool’s deeper pocket and, of course, that coveted Challenger ticket, in what must have been some of the hardest matches of their gaming careers.

Seeing the writing on the wall if Molegion was allowed to play another 59-point swing with Adda, wangid1, again unfavoured according to popular opinion, banned the cursed princess of Temeria for the first semi-final series against Team Aretuza’s representative. The series became a story of perfect draws and near-perfect execution from both players, with a close but clinical display from Molegion to take Game 1 with Filavandrel and a tied game 2 that eventually went in favour of wangid1’s Brouver Shupe, surprising every viewer and expert who expected Molegion to take another 3-0 sweep.

Game 3 represented the first major upset of the tournament as wangid1 found victory with his Arachas Queen Deathwish against Molegion’s incredibly strong Crach Horn list. With both players on top form, Round 1 went long as Molegion forced wangid1 to play his entire hand. Molegion powered ahead in a tense Round 3, but sequencing was key as wangid1 played beautifully around Molegion’s tall removal to deny value on both Geralt: Professional and Hym as he lined up the perfect Deathwish finish, forcing Molegion out of the game at 34-13.

In Game 4, cracks in Molegion’s calm demeanour began to show as Morvran Shupe took on Midrange Morvran. In his make-or-break game, the tiniest of misplays was severely punished as he used Leo Bonhart on Auckes, forgetting that Letho of Gulet was sitting in wangid1’s hand for 1 more point of value. Even after a 30-point combo from Hanmarvyn's Blue Dream onto wangid1’s Chironex, wangid1 continued to play brilliantly, catching up and finishing a single point ahead of the player so cruelly denied the Challenger ticket in Gwent Open #6. Molegion fought valiantly in a gruelling semi-final, but was sent home at the last hurdle again. Wangid1, popularity growing quickly amongst viewers supporting the underdog, was through to the final.

Titans clashed in the second semi-final as kolemoen took on TailBot in what could have made an excellent final match. With both players thinking multiple turns ahead, the rope saw a lot use, going down to the wire on numerous occasions. Each game was back and forth, but the popular opinion that TailBot would win (60% to 40% on the Twitter poll) looked to be in serious doubt as kolemoen eked out a victory with Morvran Shupe against TailBot’s Henselt Draug then gave a masterclass in proving why Bran Tuirseach spent most of the tournament being banned, humbling Woodland Giants by pushing 25 points ahead of the go-to point-slam deck in Round 3. TailBot’s comeback came against Meve Engine Overload as he beat it twice in a row, first with Henselt and then with the control tech built into his Woodland Giants, another game that went down to a single point. As was so often the case in the tournament, Nilfgaard proved to be the weak link in TailBot’s plan as his Midrange Morvran was slowly dismantled by kolemoen’s engines. Though the game was close, kolemoen ended Round 3 with slightly more power in hand and TailBot was left with no good way of sequencing his plays, letting kolemoen breathe a sigh of relief as he ended the series 3-2 to go through to the final.

kolemoen makes Woodland Giants seem shamefully weak

 

The Final

Going into the 11th hour of the tournament, kolemoen was favoured at 74% to take the final series. Enter wangid1, who continued a fantastic display in game 1; a story of sequencing. Both queued Brouver Shupe and raced to line up the better Sheldon Skaggs. Kolemoen pulled the trigger first, choosing Shupe: Knight with a 4-point boost on his Wolf Pack. Wangid1, though, once again held faith in Shupe: Hunter and random weather effects, again finding Dragon's Dream for 9 points after Brouver Hoog damaged for 6 to catch up 19-19 with two cards left. With wangid1’s Unicorn already on the board, kolemoen was forced into blinking first with Sheldon, taking only 11 points as wangid1 found 14, and a winning start to the final.

Another Shupe's Day Off mirror followed as kolemoen queued Brouver into wangid1’s Morvran. A key moment came as wangid1 tried to punish kolemoen for commiting to Round 1, with Traheaern var Vdyffir once again finding gold and leaving wangid1 with the choice to discard Sheldon Skaggs or Ithlinne Aegli. Wangid1 went for the obvious finisher and let kolemoen keep Ithlinne, only for it to be used to protect a Mahakam Defender that allowed kolemoen to tie up the game 26-26. On the replay, kolemoen repaid wangid1’s Brouver Hoog movement strategies from Game 1 by setting up an 18-point Lacerate combination to go 32-16 ahead on the second attempt.

Yet more Shupe followed in Game 3 as Nilfgaard met in the mirror once more. There were some head-scratching plays from both competitors, with wangid1 using a Round 1 Lacerate and kolemoen responding with a Round 1 Chironex, seeming to sense that wangid1 was likely to dig for it with Traheaern later. With a quick pass from both players in Round 2, wangid1 opened Round 3 with a standard Nilfgaardian Knight that saw looks turn into scowls as kolemoen played Shupe: Mage, trying to find a 12-point Seize and instead having to settle for 8-point removal on a non-engine. Kolemoen continued into the round playing as well as ever, but that single decision stood out as wangid1 failed to find full value with both Chironex and Gimpy Gerwin, but kolemoen’s Slave Infantry still was not enough to take the win. Advantage was with wangid1.

With kolemoen on the ropes, wangid1’s faith in Arachas Queen was justified as it queued into Meve Engine Overload. Kolemoen pushed the deck to its limit, forcing all 10 cards out of wangid1’s hand, but in doing so gave up the round. For a few brief moments, it looked as if wangid1 would go for the 2-0 with an early Germain Piquant, but kolemoen answered with Ocvist and wangid1 chose to get out of the round. With limited answers in Round 3, kolemoen sequenced as well as he could, but wangid1 shut down his engines with Drowner and Cyclops, playing into the Deathwish mechanic to set up his finisher as he went. Ending the tournament in style, wangid1 played out his last Arachas Drone for a 23-point swing on Glustyworp as seven Arachas Drones were consumed and spawned, crowning himself Gwent Open #8 champion with a surprising and phenomenal 3-point victory.

wangid1 takes an unsuspected victory with the most unlikely of leaders, with Arachas Queen winning him Gwent Open #8

 

Analysis by JMJWilson23

It's not always that we can look back at an event and deterministically say that the player who played the best won, but for Gwent Open #8 that sentiment appears to be near unanimous. Wangid1 brought a collection of interesting decks that were difficult to target effectively (see Arachas Queen and Shupe), meaning he had no preferred path through the tournament, and played them expertly on his way to a dominant victory. The highlight came in the final Arachas Queen vs Queen Meve game, where he deployed the exact number of drones necessary to exceed the 5-strength Order unit left in kolemoen’s hand to take round 1. Trading Germain Piquant for Ocvist in Round 2 and denying kolemoen’s main answer to Glustyworp was also spot on. Truly next level plays.

As always, much of the tournament hinged on the ability to win against a competitor's weakest decks and this goes a long way to explain the eventual finalists. The worst performing leader was by far Morvran Voorhis, appearing in 7 out of 8 players’ lists. These decks didn't have the power to win any matchups other than mirrors and niche cases (Molegion's Nilfgaard deck may have been slightly favored vs Big Monsters and perhaps wangid1's Arachas Queen Deathwish but really this matchup was a toss up), so the player who won the NG mirror advanced from each series. The finalists both brought Shupe for Nilfgaard, giving them a higher power ceiling than their Midrange opponents, helping them to win mirror matches and therefore advance to the finals. In the final, wangid1 won the mirror, and unsurprisingly won the whole event.

 

Conclusion

The Gwent Masters circuit has certainly returned in style in 2019, with eight fantastic players, 29 incredibly brutal games of Gwent and a surprising but thoroughly deserving winner. As an additional treat, it has set Challenger #5 up to be a thrilling tournament, with TailBot, kolemoen and of course wangid1 joining Damorquis, Adzikov and Freddybabes to leave only the Challenger #5 Qualifier spots, one of which will be taken this coming weekend, on the line.

While post-Homecoming Gwent might leave some room for improvement in the viewing experience, as we can’t see the small decisions that take place early in the game but decide the match, this tournament had a good mix of tight, high-level play and spectacular swing moments to keep newer players and experts alike guessing. As JMJWilson23 writes in his analysis, it is refreshing to have a near-unanimous view that the best player won the tournament, particularly when that player was completely written off by so many time and time again.

With Crimson Curse just around the corner, spectator mode giving the casters so much more freedom and Gwent Challenger #5 and the World Masters on the horizon, we are at the home stretch of our first Gwent Masters circuit, and this reporter at least believes that competitive Gwent is in no better place for such a spectacular finale.