I’m currently on my second playthrough of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and one of the major differences between my second and first playthroughs is the fact that I’m playing Gwent. I’ll be honest, the first time I came across Gwent in White Orchard, I couldn’t care less. Especially when the rules didn’t truly gel and I lost that first tutorial match. I said, forget it. I’m here to slay monsters and see where this plot takes me.

Alas, some side quests are reliant on your Gwent skills, so my second time through, I made an active choice to play Gwent and see the side quests that I missed the first time through. And so far I’m glad that I decided to slog through the initial barrier to get to the rather unique quests that are dependent on those silly Gwent cards.

So, for this article, I decided to put down my recommendations for Gwent to alleviate the growing pains for those first few hours in the Gwent-centric game. I’m sure there are other strategies that work, but I’m just writing based on my play style and what I’m comfortable with. If you have other play styles, feel free to comment because I’m always willing to learn. So, without any ado, here are my recommendations for making Gwent your friend and opening up The Witcher 3 even more than possible if you’re just going through Witcher contracts.

So, what’s Gwent about anyway?

The game is pretty simple, to be honest. You play against a NPC, each having a deck that consists of Unit, Special, or Hero cards with one Leader card (I’ll get into those in a bit). Your deck must have at least 22 Unit/Hero cards in order to be a valid deck and limited to 10 Special cards. Each draws ten cards from their deck play through three rounds where the goal is to attain the highest point total two of the three rounds in order to win the match. But here’s the important part. You can only use the ten cards you drew initially. So no drawing additional cards from your deck (unless you have Unit/Hero cards with special abilities). That’s the thing that got me the first time around. I have a deck of cards, but I’m just relegated to winning two rounds with just ten cards? Pretty weird to wrap your head around, but that tailored the way I ultimately played the game and hopefully this will make your Gwent excursions more palatable.

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But to get back to the “highest point total” portion of the game. So let’s get into the Unit cards that contribute to this pivotal part of the game. There are three types of Unit cards, Close Combat, Ranged, and Siege. The Gwent board is divided into these three rows, the bottom portion being your game board and the upper three rows your opponent’s game board.

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Looks kind of confusing, but it really isn’t once you understand what all the labels mean. Working from left to right, the left column shows your Leader card chosen for your deck. This Leader card can be counted like a Special card that can be used once throughout the match. There are four Leader cards for each type of deck, and you get to choose this Leader card before the match. So, it’s like picking the eleventh card for your hand, but you have control over what that card will ultimately be.

Working our way to the black rectangles with the circled portraits, this contains four items you need to be cognizant of. The shield next to the circled portraits designates the type of deck your opponent is using as well as the type of deck that you’re using. There are four types of decks, each with their own special perk. The four types are Northern Realms (draw a card after winning a round), Nilfgaardian (win a round if it ends in a draw), Scoia’tael (decides who goes first at the beginning of the match), and Monsters (keep a random Unit card on the board after each round). These are nice bonuses, but based on your play style, you’ll lean on one deck after some time playing Gwent.

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Moving to the right, the number next to the three card symbol denotes the number of cards left in each player’s hand. So, looking at the above image, the opponent has nine cards left while Geralt has ten cards left. Pretty self explanatory. To the right of your cards in hand count are two red gems. These represent the rounds won. Every time you lose a round a gem shatters. When you lose two rounds, your second gem shatters and that indicates that you’ve lost the match. Just a fancy bookkeeping mechanic for keeping track of rounds won and lost. Finally, to the right of the round gems is your point total for the current round. In the above image, the opponent is winning four to zero because the opponent has placed a Ranged Unit card on the board worth four points while Geralt hasn’t placed any Unit cards on the board as of yet. You can tell who’s winning the round by the high count, but the board gives you a visual cue as well by placing a wreath around the winning score at the moment. A nice touch when you’re just glancing to the left since the majority of the time you’ll be paying attention to the main part of the board, the center column consisting of three rows each.

Okay, now the center column that I talked about previously. Here’s where your Unit, Hero, and Special cards go. Again, working from left to right, you’ll notice each row has a square box to the left with a horn symbol. This is where the Special card Commander’s Horn goes. This card doubles the point total of any row it’s placed. Moving to the right, you’ll see the three rows, each with a different symbol. Don’t fret, this just means that a certain type of Unit/Hero card can go in each row. The sword symbol means only Close Combat cards can go in this row, the crossbow symbol means only Ranged Combat cards can go in this row, and the catapult symbol means only Siege cards can go in this row. Each row has its own point total to the left, which helps in deciding where to place a Commander’s Horn to make the most of its doubling point ability.

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Whew. Okay, still with me? Because we’ve gone through the majority of the board. All that’s left is the right column which shows how many cards are left in your deck. In the image above, the opponent has thirteen cards left while Geralt has eighteen cards left. But, you might be asking yourself, why does that even matter if you can’t draw cards from your deck? Glad you’re paying attention. There’s a way to draw cards from your deck, which we’ll talk about now as we discuss certain deck mechanics.

Deck mechanics? This seems really complicated.

I touched on a small component of deck mechanics when I discussed the four perks for each type of deck you have to choose from when playing opponents. Now we’re going to look at the abilities that affect the board state. First off, let’s look at Special Cards.

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Commander’s Horn:

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We talked about this above when talking about the center column of the Gwent board. This is the card you put down in that square slot to double the score for a particular row. So, technically, if you have three of these cards, you could hypothetically put one in each row and double the point count for each row. Sounds good, but keep in mind that if that’s the case, you only have seven cards dedicated to contributing to point count. Still, it’s a powerful tool if you use it at the right time in the match.

Weather Cards:

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If you look at the right panel in the shot above, there are four weather cards. These are Biting Frost, Impenetrable Fog, Torrential Rain, and Clear Weather. The purpose of the first three is to drop the point total of each Unit card to one instead of the point total listed on the card instead. So, if you look at the left panel, you see three Close Combat cards based on the sword symbol. If you were to play these cards on the board, you’d have a point total of eight. However, if a Biting Frost was played by your opponent, each point total gets reduced to one resulting in a point total of three. Sure, it doesn’t affect the Redanian Foot Soldier, who already has a point total of one, but the other two cards drop from five and two to one instead.

Weather cards can swing a match depending on what’s on the board at any one time. Biting Frost works only on Close Combat cards, Impenetrable Fog affects only Ranged cards, and Torrential Rain only affects Siege cards. Therefore, if you see your opponent is leaning on Siege cards, a well-timed Torrential Rain can swing point totals in your favor as long as you’re not playing a majority of Siege Unit cards.

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Clear Weather is self-explanatory. Play this card and all weather effects will be cleared off the board. Again, if you’re playing one of these in your deck, that’s one less card dedicated to point total, which dictates the win condition of each round.

Decoy:

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The purpose of this card is to replace a Unit card on your side of the board with this card. Sounds weird, because why would you want to take points off the board? I thought the same thing too when I started getting into Gwent, but this little card can win matches for you if you understand when to use it. I’ll be talking about this card in more detail when I get to tips to playing Gwent.

Scorch:

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If you’re a Red Deck Wins Magic player, you’re going to like this card. This is your burn spell, which destroys all cards with the highest point value on the board. The plus is you can take out multiple cards as long as they share the same high point value. So, if your opponent has Unit cards with point totals 1, 2, 8, 10, and 10, and you play a Scorch card, the two ten point total cards will be removed from the board. The drawback is if you have any 10 point cards on your side, those get destroyed as well. Therefore, the strategy is, you only play this card when you know its effect will only affect your opponent’s side of the board and not yours.

Spy:

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If you’re still with me, you’ll notice this is a Unit card with a point value of five. It’s also a Close Combat card given the sword symbol. However, the eye symbol on this card means it’s a spy card. This means that if you play this card, it ends up on your opponent’s side. That means you’ve given your opponent a point total of five. Bummer of a downside. However, the upside is you get to draw two cards from your deck. If you realize the potential of this card, you want as many of these in your deck because this is one of the few abilities that allow you to draw cards from your deck.

Muster:

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Here’s a Unit, Closed Ranged card with a point total of three. However, the two helmet symbol gives this card the Muster ability which allows the player to play all cards from both your deck and hand with the same card name that turn. So, the way this works, you put down a Dwarven Skirmisher worth three points. Once you do this, any Dwarven Skirmisher Unit cards in your hand and in your deck get placed on the board in the same turn. Therefore, instead of playing one card that turn, you may be able to play anywhere from two to five cards that turn depending on how you construct your deck. Again, the hypothetical. You’ve got two Dwarven Skirmishers in your hand and one in your deck. You play one Dwarven Skirmisher. Immediately, the other two Dwarven Skirmisher cards are placed on the board, resulting in a higher point total instead of just the three points for playing one card. Powerful trick if you build your deck correctly.

Medic:

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Another Unit card, this one is a Siege unit with a power of five. However, this card is special because of the heart symbol, because this means that this unit can be played and, once played, can retrieve any Unit card from your discard pile to be placed on the board. This is a very handy ability because of cards like Scorch that take your highest point card off the board. Play a medic, and voila, your high point card is back on the board. Having multiple medics is also beneficial, because a medic can pull another medic from the discard pile, and once that second medic is played, it can pull an additional Unit card from the discard pile. This multiple medic trick can also be used if you have Decoy cards, because the medic ability triggers each time it comes into play. Just a really versatile card if you have the tools needed to exploit its ability.

Hero:

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And here’s a Hero card. Note that there is a distinction between Unit and Hero cards. Even though this Hero card is a Closed Combat card with a power of ten, the main difference between a Hero and Unit card is that Special cards do not affect Hero cards. So, it cannot be removed from the board by Scorch or Decoy, and it cannot have its point total reduced to one by Weather cards. That’s a pretty great trait. However, this also applies to Commander’s Horns. The point total cannot be doubled. So, be aware of when you play these cards in a match.

Tight Bond:

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The handshake symbol denotes that this Closed Combat Unit card with a power of three has the Tight Bond ability. This means that if you play another Impera Brigade Guard in the same round, the point total for each Guard doubles. So, instead of two 3 point Guards, you now have two 6 point Guards. This effect stacks, so if you play three of these Guards, the point total triples, yielding three 9 point Guards. This is a great way to get a high point count, but very susceptible to Scorch, since Scorch targets the highest point total card(s). Therefore, there’s a good chance if you’ve got three Guards out and a Scorch comes out, it’s very likely you’re losing all three. So, there’s some strategy involved in when to play Tight Bond cards in a match.

Morale:

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Here’s a ten point Ranged Unit card, but with the Morale ability denoted by the plus symbol. This means that when you play this card, every other card in the row will get a +1 to its point total. And just like Tight Bond, this effect stacks. So, if you have three Morale cards in the same row, that means that each card gets +3. Be aware though, if you only have one Morale card in the row, the drawback is each card gets +1 except the Unit bestowing the Morale ability. Therefore, to get the most out of this ability, you want to play more than one Morale unit for each Unit type to get the full effect of this bonus.

Well, that sounds very complicated. I dunno about this...

Hold on, friend. Here comes the part of the piece you’re going to like. Deck tips for winning practically every Gwent match you come across. Again, these are just my suggestions based on my play style. There are other viable styles which I’m glad to discuss in comments, but sticking with this deck and this strategy, you’re practically guaranteed to win each match. There’s one deck that you’ll have to play more strategically than others, but we’ll get there when we get there. Now, onto the tips!

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For the early game, stick with a Northern Realms deck:

The reason for this is because your Northern Realms deck will have the most cards needed for a valid deck. You’ll collect more cards along the way for each type of faction, but as a solid start, use Northern Realms because you’ll have access to one Spy and one Medic card.

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Buy every Gwent card from Merchants and Innkeepers, no matter what:

Even if you’re not going for the trophy/achievement, be a card hoarder. Be on the lookout for Decoys and Commander’s Horns. These are the Special Cards that will be a solid strategy for your Northern Realms deck. The Decoys are key because Nilfgaardian decks will play Spy cards on you for days, allowing you to Decoy them off the board and play them back on your opponent to nullify the card advantage your opponent would have gotten. Also remember the Medic trick. If you’re playing a Monsters deck, feel free to Decoy your Medics off the board and reap the rewards of pulling cards from your discard pile more than once. And Commander’s Horns are nice for the late game after your opponent has gone through their Scorches and Weather cards, so they’ll have no answer for you doubling a point total for a row. Fun times.

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Get Spy cards as soon as possible:

You start off with one Spy in the Northern Realms deck, and card advantage is a must if you want to succeed at Gwent. For the Northern Realms deck, there are three additional Spy cards you can add to your deck, one being a Hero card. They are as follows.

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Sigismund Dijkstra:

You can pick this card up by beating the Bloody Baron at a game of Gwent. You can find the Baron at Crow’s Perch in Velen.

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Thaler:

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You won’t be able to access this card until you make your way to Skellige. You’ll have to play and beat the Innkeeper at Kaer Trolde to get this card.

Avallac’h:

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Again, you won’t have access to this card until you get to Skellige. Start the Gwent quest, Skellige Style (you can start this by playing Crach at Kaer Trolde or Ermion right after the quest Echoes of the Past by choosing not to go with Yennefer) and you’ll be directed to an alchemist named Gremist. You’ll have to do a quest for him before you can play him, but it’s worth it to get access to this Hero Spy.

With these three additional spies, you’ll be well on your way to winning Gwent matches easily. Always try to get at least one spy in your opening hand because the additional draw will most likely net you another spy card. The thought process here is as follows. If you’ve got a hand with three to four spies, you want to play them all the first round. Also, with Decoys in hand, you can stave off card advantage by taking your opponent’s spies and playing them back on him or her. In any case, you’ll have such a card advantage at this point, it’s probably for the best to lose the first round and go all in the second and third rounds to win the match. Remember, just because you lose a round doesn’t mean you’ve lost the match.

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Use the Clear Weather Foltest Leader card:

This is going to be your go to leader card. There are times when it’s beneficial to switch out the Clear Weather Foltest for another leader, but all in all, having a Clear Weather in hand is going to be what wins a round. Try and save the ability for the second or third rounds since you’re playing the Spy game first round and will forfeit that round anyway. Having a Clear Weather for the later rounds is beneficial, especially for the next bit of advice.

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Get the Tight Bond cards as soon as possible:

For Northern Realms, there are four types of Tight Bond cards: Poor Fucking Infantry, Blue Stripes Commando, Crinfred Reaver’s Dragon Hunter, and Catapult. For the early game, you’ll probably lean on Poor Fucking Infantry and Blue Stripes Commando, but try and replace the Infantry cards with Dragon Hunters and Catapults since these have point totals of 5 and 8 respectively instead of Infantry’s point total of 1. Multiplying a 5 by three cards is much more beneficial than multiplying a 1 by three. As usual, you’ll find these cards from Merchants and Innkeepers, so be vigilant as you scour the world.

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Get as many Decoy cards as possible:

So far I’ve found three in the world, but that seems to be sufficient. Remember, Decoy cards can be used to play your opponent’s spies back against them as well as working well with Medic cards by pulling them off the board to allow you to play them again, as well as pull another card from your discard pile. Again, buy them as soon as you see them pop up in a Merchant or Innkeeper’s stock. You won’t regret it.

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Monster Decks are going to wreck you unless you come prepared:

If you stick with Northern Realms, Nilfgaardian and Scoia’tael decks will be a pushover if you subscribe to the above tips. However, Monster decks play at least two Scorch cards (three if they have Villentretenmerth) and have at least four Muster groups to exploit. Given this, I recommend switching out all of your decoys with Biting Frost and Impenetrable Fog weather cards since most Monster decks will be playing a heavy Close Combat/Ranged game. Try and bait your opponent into playing their Musters and Scorches in the first round so you can save your Commander’s Horns and Tight Bond cards for the remaining rounds to win the match. Monster decks and Scoia’tael decks have a Unit ability to swap between either playing a Unit card in Close Combat or Ranged, but if you have Biting Frost and Impenetrable Fog in your hand, this ability will be useless for your opponent.

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Play as many Gwent matches as possible and customize your deck to your liking:

Like I said earlier, these tips are based on my play style, but if you’d rather go more Medic heavy, feel free to look into building a Nilfgaardian or Scoia’tael deck. If you like the Muster mechanic, try and collect as many Monster or Scoia’tael cards as possible. This is just a brief primer to get you into the world of Gwent. There are growing pains, but hopefully this post will aid you in the early game as you work toward becoming the Gwent Master you’ve always been. Have fun!