Hi! So, this is a bit new. It’s no secret I’m an avid player of GWENT: The Witcher Card Game – the standalone version of the game grabbed me from the first moment and still hasn’t let go over a year later! Recently, it’s actually been the one exception to how I’ve been playing games less than usual; whilst games such as Horizon Forbidden West still lie waiting for me, I’ve found time here and there to play a few matches of GWENT and keep up with how the game has been evolving.
Why do I love it so much? Well, for that, you can go to the article I wrote last year outlining 6 particular reasons. That post has actually been one of my most consistently read posts ever since I posted it, and combined with my continued playing, it got me thinking: my knowledge and love for GWENT puts me in a good position to make some more content about it. Specifically, I thought deck guides might be interesting!
This is especially because GWENT – in my opinion – is perhaps the most evident example of a card game that is about how you play as much as the deck itself. It’s so fast-paced, reactionary, and dictated by how you think ahead. So, a deck guide wouldn’t just be a case of me showing my deck list and clicking publish, job done; I’d need to explain my reasons for each card inclusion, describe how I change my approach depending on the faction I’m up against, and give some pointers on how to react to the smorgasbord of scenarios GWENT throws at you.
Therefore, here we are, with my first deck guide. If you have any thoughts on whether you like this idea (or not!), then I’d really appreciate you giving me some feedback. It’s a bit of an experiment! Maybe it’ll even get some of you to try GWENT… As a general point, I’m going to write this as if the reader has a basic understanding of the rules of GWENT. For more on said rules and how they draw you in, I’ll again point you to my previous post about the game!
Right then, let’s get into our first deck guide! I’m actually starting with a very recent creation – I’m going to save my signature Archers Unite deck for now…
Scraps Cost: 8,480
Card Count: 25 (17 Units/6 Specials/2 Artifacts)
Gold/Bronze Count: 13G/12B
Provisions Spent: 165/165 (Highest: 11)
Short Description: This deck focuses around the increased choice that “Runemage” allows; combining this with a toolbox of varied, unpredictable Nilfgaard/Neutral cards, it keeps both you and your opponent on your toes!
Why’d You Make the Deck?
Before I go into the card-by-card analysis, I’m going to run you through how the idea for this deck came about, and how I approached making it!
For most of my GWENT Ranked games, it’s been my aforementioned Archers Unite Scoia’tael deck that I’ve played with. I love that deck; but I have been searching for another deck that I’m happy going into Ranked games with, just to mix up that mode for me (the temporary modes are another matter, and I have plenty of tailored decks for those to hopefully share someday!).
When I saw the recent addition of a card named “Runemage”, my mind suddenly hit on an idea that could finally give me that second deck. In GWENT, some cards allow you to “create” a card that is brand new to the match, not starting in either starting deck (even though it is often a copy of a card from one of said decks). When this happens, you are given a choice of three cards, even if the card is to be taken from, say, the hand of the opposition player. This is understandable, to balance the power of such an ability.
If you play “Runemage”, however, your choices go up to five for the entirety of the rest of the game. This is an immediately intriguing concept, as now a card such as “Uma’s Curse” opens up 5 powerful Gold cards to you instead of three, just to take one example. Immediately I started thinking of which faction might be most suited to take advantage of such an increase in opportunity, and it didn’t take long to put my focus on the treacherous Nilfgaard faction. The cards in this faction are often focused on copying, disrupting, and afflicting the cards the opponent plays. Now, when I’m copying a card from their hand, deck, or elsewhere, I have five to choose from!
When searching cards with the “Create” keyword, I also found a lot of powerful Neutral cards with vary varied abilities. Actually, a lot of the high-provision cards here are Neutral, such as “Radeyah” or “Triss: Telekinesis”. That mix of Nilfgaard and Neutral cards makes this quite a difficult deck to go up against, in my opinion – even if the opponent realises the “Runemage”/Nilfgaard combo you’re going with, it’s going to be difficult for them to narrow down which high-provision cards you’re saving for late game.
Every GWENT deck is supplemented by a choice of Leader Abilities from your faction. These are powerful and can be key to victory! So which Nilfgaard Ability works best here?
Well, it’s actually an easy choice given the concept of this deck. Only one Nilfgaardian ability has that magic “create” word that is powered-up by “Runemage”. This is “Double Cross”, where you can choose a card from the opponent hand to copy and play as your own. Once “Runemage” is played, you can choose one of five cards!
This ability is usually best saved for the last round, when the opponent is down to either 5 or 6 cards. This way, you are going to be looking at either their entire hand, or close to it! This is also the reason for including the 11-provision “Damien de la Tour” in the deck, who has the Order effect that refreshes your Leader ability. If you wait until the opponent has 5/6 cards, use “Double Cross”, then combine that with playing “Damien”, then you can potentially choose from the 4/5 cards in their hand the next turn too!
Also, you’ll know which cards they have in their hand and can plan which to play the next turn. I had one beautiful moment where my opponent had “Oneiromancy” (which lets you choose any card from your deck to play), and I got two turns of playing any card I liked from my deck! Pretty ridiculous stuff, and very satisfying. Players tend to save their best cards for late game too, so patience is usually best with this Leader Ability.
One word of caution though: if it is the second round and you see that you’re gonna need to win the round with some power plays, do not get too precious over “Double Cross”. If you need to win the round, and the opponent has played their last card, you won’t have the option to boost your field with one of their cards. Make sure you plan ahead!
The “Stratagem” card, which spawns for the player who goes first to balance the disadvantage of going before your opponent, can be quite important in the first skirmishes. So, it’s a key choice; in this case, I’ve gone for the Nilfgaard-only “Collar”.
In contrast to the Leader Ability, which basically picks itself, this part of the deck is much more open to player choice. However, when I create a deck, I’m always looking for how I can counter the opponent and stop them hitting their rhythm; a secret to GWENT is that most decks can be extremely powerful when not reined in with Locking (which stops card effects), Purifying (to remove statuses like Defender and Poison), and general removal power.
This deck is inherently unpredictable with some of the cards you spawn, but not all; the cards included in the deck actually give you much more planning ability than it initially seems. “Van Moorlehem Hunter” and “Alba Armored Cavalry” have locking effects, and are Bronze units that cards such as “Braathens” and “Artorius Vigo” can create extra copies of as required if you need more Locking late on. However, having the “Collar” Stratagem on your field gives you instant access to both Locking and a bit of damage in Round 1, which gives you a slight safety net from opponents that look to quickly overpower and panic you early game.
Card by Card
Right then, here we are; the 25 cards that make up the deck itself. We’re going to go through them card by card in order of provision cost, high to low. Along the way I’m going to give a quick description of the purpose each card plays in the deck! Thanks to The Voice of Gwent for their card generator, which I used to make the images below.
Aside from the utterly awesome art on this card, there are plenty of reasons for “Radeyah” to be included here. The provision cost is high, but “Radeyah” has a high base power of 8, as well as an answer for most situations. If you play them on the Melee row, you can create a copy of the “Collar” stratagem mentioned previously, which can Lock and deal 3 damage to an enemy unit. However, if played on the Ranged row, you get a choice of Neutral stratagems – which, after playing “Runemage”, becomes a choice of five! Through these Stratagems, you could draw a card of choice to replace a card in your hand, boost a fellow unit by 5, give a Veil to an ally, and plenty more. It needs to be noted that these abilities only activate if the deck has no duplicates, which is part of why there’s only one copy of any of the cards included in this deck. Gold cards can only be included once anyway, and there are enough options to fill out the bronze part of the deck, so it is a reasonable exchange to make for the powerful abilities of “Radeyah”.
If you have read the sections above, you’ll recognise this name! “Damien de la Tour” can really turn the tide in your favour, being able to re-enable your “Double Cross” Leader Ability. If pulled off right, this can mean two turns of playing a card from the hand of your opponent! I will say that “Damien” is often a magnet for enemy Locking and copying cards – the first being disappointing, the second potentially being a more serious issue. Pick your moment carefully for “Damien”; the potential payoff is high.
The Witcher‘s best sorceress (don’t attack me) makes an appearance! “Triss: Telekinesis” benefits from the ability of “Runemage”, with a potential choice of five special cards to choose from once played in the Ranged row. “Triss” tends to be better later in the game, once you have an idea of the special cards in the opponent deck – then you’ll be able to plan out which you might be able to make use of. If the answer is none, then playing a special card from your own deck (such as “Imperial Diplomacy”) is an option too.
“Braathens” is one of the cards suited to being played early in a round, instantly getting multiple cards onto your side, and setting themselves up for Assimilate boosts too. The Deploy ability allows you to play either “Duchess’s Informant”, “Emissary”, or “Mage Infiltrator”. These offer copying, boosts, and damage respectively, making “Braathens” a nice toolbox option. Also that card art is very cool, eh?
Some of the “Create” cards in this deck can be predicted to a degree, but “Uma’s Curse”? This is definitely more of a leap into the unknown! Playing this card gives you a choice of 3 (or 5, after “Runemage”) Gold cards from the entire game to play. These can be literally any Gold card, so you might get an incredible card that turns the tables, or find yourself with some synergy-dependant cards that just won’t work. That risk is mitigated, though, by the increased choice after playing “Runemage”. A selection of 5 gold cards is almost certainly going to offer a strong play to make. Speaking of…
Here they are, then: “Runemage”, the card that sparked the idea for this deck in the first place. From the moment this card is played, you get to choose from 5 cards instead of 3 whenever you activate a Create effect, including that of “Runemage” themselves. This makes so many of the cards in this deck more effective and reliable! Due to the set-up nature of this card, you will ideally draw and play it as soon as possible in a game – hopefully, you get it in your starting hand! As a bonus effect, “Runemage” also allows you to create one of the “Runestone” cards; each of these Create a Bronze faction card from the factions they are associated with. I usually select the “Dazhbog Runestone” (which is in this deck separately, too), as it creates a Nilfgaard card, which is more frequently useful alongside the other cards in this deck. When creating Bronze cards from the other factions, it is easy to get options that don’t synergize with your other cards – especially early in the game. I really like playing the “Kingslayer” card when it is an option through “Dazhbog Runestone”, as that card lets you Banish the top card of the opponent deck. This can be some really effective disruption to the opponent, limiting their options just as you’re expanding your own!
Once you stop looking at the ingenious art design for this card (especially the Premium animated version), you’ll realise that it fits very well with the theme of this deck. Depending on the row that “Lydia van Bredevoort” is played in, you can either Create a Special card from the opponent faction, or play a Special card from their graveyard. The latter allows you to pick and choose more readily, but if there is a lack of good options, you can go for the more random selection of cards that the former offers. Along with a decent 5 Power, “Lydia” is a strong play.
Along with “Uma’s Curse”, “Bribery” is a Special card with the potential for big gains when played right. The option of 3 cards from the opponent deck can be a lottery, but after “Runemage”, it is much more likely that the selection will include 1 or more of their most powerful cards. The effect can be devastating! If you have the time in a match to wait and work out the sort of cards the opposing deck may contain, that can help to plan out the use of “Bribery”.
“Artorius Vigo” (including those adorable pigs) has a very similar effect to “Braathens” from earlier. The lower provision cost comes with a lower base power than “Braathens”, but the Assimilate effect remains, allowing Artorius to gradually boost through a round if left unchecked. If you can get multiple Assimilate cards going at once, it can really snowball, as we’ll touch on more with later cards! Instead of creating a Disloyal unit like “Braathens”, “Artorius” creates a 1-power Bronze unit from your deck. With 9 in the deck, this gives a 1-in-3 chance of the card you’re after – but after “Runemage”, this becomes a more than 1-in-2 chance! I find this useful when, for example, needing to Lock enemy units with either “Alba Armored Cavalry” or “Var Moorlehem Hunter”, or Purify a unit with “Imperial Diviner”.
Every deck needs a bit of removal and/or pure damage, to help stop the opponent putting together all the moves and combos they’re planning. “Treason” is a handy and sometimes brutal example of that, damaging any units on either side of an enemy units by the Power of the latter unit. You need to watch the development of the opponent board to decide the best moment to strike with this – if done at the right instant, you can potentially make huge impacts.
As is often the case with Nilfgaard decks, there’s a lot of Assimilate cards that can boost over time to reach very high Power numbers. “Glynnis aep Loernach” is all about this – their Assimilate boosts them by 2 whenever a card that wasn’t in your starting deck is played, which means they can quickly climb to those higher numbers. This immediate threat makes them a big draw for enemy Locking and removal cards, similar to “Damien de la Tour”. Because of this, I often try to balance when I play “Glynnis” – it’s got to be early enough to get the optimum amount of boosts, but late enough that the opponent is out of ways to stop them. Relatively early in the final round is a good pick.
This artifact card gives you a choice of either 3 (or 5, after “Runemage”) bronze units from the entire game to play. It ties into the theme of the deck, and also activates any Assimilate effects on your field whilst you’re at it, as well as counting as a Deploy ability to boost “Nauzicaa Sergeant”. Still, “Summoning Circle” is one of the more unpredictable options in the deck due to the sheer amount of choice. It is not as essential as other cards I have talked about to this point, so feel free to switch it out at the beginning of rounds to try and get different cards into your hand.
Mentioned previously during the section on “Runemage”, this Special card is similar to Summoning Circle, except that it draws the potential card choices from the entirety of the Nilfgaard faction. Again, this is a card you can afford to swap out in the beginning of rounds – but if you do end up with “Dazhbog Runestone” in your hand, it’s far from a disaster, being a solid support play.
We’re now at the bronze cards of the deck, which offer a lot of the aforementioned toolbox versatility that cards such as “Braathens” and “Artorius Vigo” draw from. “Alba Armored Cavalry” is a solid 5 power card (complete with 1 point of armor protection) that offers a no-fuss Locking ability. It’s important to have Locking available in your deck, and this card contributes to that aspect here!
It’s quite clear how crucial Locking can be to shut down opponent effects, but the value of having at least one Purify card in your deck is underrated. I think this is because it’s easy to initially consider removing status effects from a card as a pure healing effect, but actually, it is most important for ensuring you can counter any Defender cards in the opponent deck (which stop you targeting any other units). “Imperial Diviner” not only has that Purify ability, but has Assimilate too, meaning that they can continue to actively boost over the game after they’ve been played.
“Duchess’s Informant” is one of the three Disloyal cards in this deck. Being played on the enemy side of the field can disrupt the way the opponent builds their field, and then the ability to copy an enemy bronze unit furthers that. Ideally, you’ll be able to copy one for more than just raw power rating; for example, a handy Deploy effect can be very useful depending on the card! Also, this is yet another way to activate any Assimilate cards you have on your field.
This might seem an unusual choice, but there are multiple reasons for the relatively new “Vial of Forbidden Knowledge” being in this deck. With so many high provision cards, this has to be offset by finding a good set of 4-cost (which is the lowest available) cards to reach the 25 card minimum. The “Vial” pairs well with “Combat Engineer” for a low-cost combo that can deliver early-game momentum without playing your highest-cost cards. As well as this, in the situation where the opponent also has “Vial” in their deck, then the resultant effect of being able to look through each others’ deck makes predicting the effects of cards such as “Bribery” easier.
It’s a Nilfgaard deck, it’s about creating cards, and it’s about copying opponent cards. So, when it comes to picks for 4-provision cards, “Imperial Diplomacy” is a no-brainer. Creating a card from the opponent faction boosts any of your Assimilate cards, and can have various advantages depending on, well, the opponent faction!
This is not a card I have found gets played too often in this deck, often being switched out to get other cards into your hand. However, when used well, “Obsidian Mirror” can get some really fun combos going. The key here is to copy cards with passive effects, such as cards that boost over time or damage enemy units each turn. “Obsidian Mirror” can also be played through “Triss: Telekinesis”, so keep that in mind.
An ideal first play of the match, “Nauzicaa Sergeant” pairs well with the high amount of Deploy cards within the deck. It’s a low-cost early move that can boost to high numbers quite quickly. I have found that I really like beginning the match by playing “Nauzicaa Sergeant” and then following up with “Runemage”, the latter boosting the former and leaving you well set-up for the remainder of the match.
Earlier, in the “Vial of Forbidden Knowledge” section, I mentioned how it and “Combat Engineer” form a nice low-cost combo. When played with an artifact such as “Vial” or even “Summoning Circle” on the field, “Combat Engineer” becomes an efficient 7 power play. Be careful, though, as if there is no artifact support, “Combat Engineer” just becomes an ineffective 4 power card that isn’t a very strong play on their own.
“Illusionist” is a decent 4 power card, with the ability to copy a unit from the enemy graveyard. Due to the lack of duplicates in the deck (because of including “Radeyah”), the Bonded ability is only going to activate if you manage to get another “Illusionist” onto your field through other means. Like with “Obsidian Mirror”, this card works best in the context of this deck when copying cards with passive effects that can assist you over time.
Here is another card mainly included for the Locking ability. There are some slight differences to “Alba Armored Cavalry”, but the main use remains the same, for shutting down the effects of opponent cards. The option to cause a Bleeding effect is a good option to have too, if you really do not need any Locking. Again, this card can be called upon by the likes of “Artorius Vigo”, which is very helpful!
Of the 3 Disloyal cards in the deck, “Emissary” is probably the least crucial, as it lacks the disruption potential of “Duchess’s Informant” or “Mage Infiltrator”. However, they’re still a key option, especially when playing, say, “Braathens” on the first turn of a round. With no enemy units on the field, the other two Disloyal units have nothing to work with, but the boosting power of “Emissary” offers a solid alternative. This is definitely one of the cards I attempt to switch out from my starting hands, though.
The final card of the deck, and the third of the three Disloyal cards I keep mentioning! Whilst “Duchess’s Informant” copies and “Emissary” boosts, “Mage Infiltrator” brings the pain, delivering up to 6 damage split across two units on the other side of the field. If you can take out a unit or two through this, then “Mage Infiltrator” moves back to your side, reversing the 1 power you would otherwise be giving to the opponent. This card is particularly invaluable against Elf decks, which often swarm the field with units that have a base power of or around 3 – notably, the 3 power Elven Deadeyes that are so key to powerful cards such as Vernossiel. Against these decks, you can use “Mage Infiltrator” smartly to keep their field in check, utilising the likes of “Braathens” and “Artorius Vigo” to deliver those doses of 3 damage as much as you can.
The main card I’ve been thinking about making space for is “Oneiromancy”. This staple card gives you more reliability, as it can guarantee two guaranteed plays from your deck that aren’t dependant on you drawing the cards you are after. It may well be especially valuable in a deck with such inherent inconsistency! However, it currently has been left out, as it’s high provision cost would mean taking out at least one of the more powerful cards in the deck. I’m currently going without that reliability, in order to have more variety in my toolset of unpredictable moves.
Without repeating myself too much, the wild plethora of options is perhaps the main thing going for this deck. You can end up really taking control of the game and surging into a big lead if you start getting the combos right, all emphasised by the extra choice the “Runemage” provides.
As is my personal preference in GWENT, this is a bit of a toolbox deck, with answers for any situation if played right. Removal, Locking, and more is all baked into the deck list, with more potential in the cards you create along the way.
It is debatable whether this is a “strength”, but still, I’ll say this: I think that this deck improves your skills as a player, even if you lose games. With so much choice, and also the ability to see the options the opponent has with the “Double Cross” Leader Ability and the “Vial of Forbidden Knowledge” card, you really have to stay on your toes to think up the optimum moves within the turn time limits. With so much choice, there usually is a path to victory in there somewhere – you just have to work it out… Therefore, you might end up kicking yourself a few times, but it may well make you a better GWENT player.
Weaknesses? Well, basically, you could potentially look at a lot of those strengths in a different way. You don’t necessarily go into each game knowing your win condition! There is always the potential of not getting the card choices you need, too – especially if you do not draw “Runemage” early enough to bolster your options.
Furthermore, I find that if you go against decks that focus heavily on removal, then it hurts the boosting effects of your Assimilate cards such as “Braathens”, that get a +1 whenever you play a card that isn’t from your starting deck (which is often!).
Playing Different Factions
A big part of GWENT is tailoring your play to each of the different factions of deck and their different playstyles. This deck is similarly effective against most of the factions; however, the Syndicate faction can be tough to go against, as the cards you duplicate from them often need other Syndicate cards with them to work most effectively. This can leave them a bit isolated on your field, unable to use their abilities, unless you are able to copy multiple together.
Going against other Nilfgaard decks is an intriguing match-up; sometimes they have similar intentions to you, and it really becomes down to outsmarting your opponent and playing the right card at just the right moment to create a momentum. If cards start getting copied, watch out when “Damien de la Tour” is played. If multiple of these start getting onto the field, it’s important to ensure you are the player to make the most of the situation.
My general playstyle is to emphasise the final of the 3 Rounds, ensuring I get to it with at least an equal amount of cards in my hand as the opponent, and enough of my high provision cards remaining with which to build a strong field. With this specific deck, I usually do this by going quite strong in the first Round, making the opponent either commit strong cards or Pass the Round. Then, I’m in control of the way the second and third rounds begin.
This approach can offset some of the inherent unreliability of the deck. Furthermore, with so many options in the deck, there is room to spread the powerful plays across the match, instead of saving up for just one Round.
Summary & Example Match
“Nilfgaard’s Choice”, as I have named it, is a really enjoyable deck to play with, due to the differing situations it presents to the player. It isn’t just for fun, though – a lot of powerful potential is within if you time your moves right!
To show an example of a winning outcome, I have included a recording of one of my matches below (against another Nilfgaard faction deck) that you can take a look at. It’s a good example, as I draw “Runemage” in my starting hand! There’s no talking, so you can focus on the game itself.
In Round 1, you’ll see how this deck can take cards that the opponent plays and copy them to your own advantage. If you look closely you’ll see how I’m constantly looking at different cards around the various areas of the field – you really need to be paying close attention to everything going on to find the best plays!
Round 1 has emerge on top by building a strong field, but then I do not immediately pass Round 2; instead I play some low-provision cards that draw out cards such as “Geralt of Rivia” themselves! By doing this before passing to Round 3, it takes away some of the options the opponent was preparing. You’ll see when I am swapping out cards for Round 3 that there are still strong cards such as “Radeyah” and Triss: Telekinesis” that I am at risk of not drawing, such are the range of options in this deck.
In Round 3, the various cards in the deck come together well to earn a close victory. You’ll see I end up not actually playing “Damien de la Tour” in time to use the Order effect; this is purposeful, because if I did, the opponent could have just Locked and copied them with their Leader Ability. In this case it is better for me if neither player gets to use the ability than if the opponent did!
Hopefully this video is helpful and compliments this text guide well. If these Deck Guide posts are something I continue doing, I may well start doing narrated videos!
When I started this, I didn’t necessarily know it was going to be such a long article! I have had a lot of fun putting this together. I have no idea how much people are going to take from this, but if you would like more, then as I said previously: please let me know! Have an amazing day!