By Alex Sprackling
Many players, particularly those new to card games, underestimate the considerable difference between playing the ladder and competing in tournaments. Not only that, but whether ladder players make great tournament players has divided the community on many occasions.
While many GWENT competitors utilise practice partners in private games, climbing to the top of the ladder is still an achievement in its own right. There is, however, a tournament approach that, while almost impossible to work on the ranked ladder, can only be achieved through a flawless knowledge of the meta. Additionally, this is brought about through hundreds of ladder games.
“Targeting” is often considered to be an all-in strategy for tournaments; its effectiveness stems down to the bracket you are placed in. But what is it exactly? On the surface, it seems rather one-dimensional – though therein lies its effectiveness. Targeting is building your decks around defeating only one specific archetype or faction. While this may sound impractical, the conquest format of GWENT tournaments makes this a viable strategy. After all, you have to secure a victory with each of your decks to advance. Therefore, targeting a deck you think will be a popular choice can prevent your opponent from beating you.
Let’s use Open #4 champion SuperJJ as an example. This is a player notorious for his targeting, which he achieves through a solid knowledge of the meta and previous experience in competing. He’s also one of the many players who joined GWENT after a long standing in Hearthstone. Since then, he has appeared at three Open tournaments and was also the invitee at a GWENT Slam. SuperJJ knows the difference between competing on the ladder and competing in tournaments, and this is something he’s used to his advantage.
An Craite Greatsword – Greatswords are currently dominating the meta. Will Challenger #3 see any players target them?
To Mill or to Counter Mill?
Going back many seasons to Gamescom 2017, we saw SuperJJ compete in the first GWENT Open. This was just before the gold immunity change came to GWENT and the ladder was still experiencing a surge in Mill Mania, brought on because of MegaMogwai’s victory in Gwentogether. SuperJJ acknowledged Mill’s dominance against hyper-thin, efficient decks – something most competitive deck builders strive for – and predicted that it would be a popular sight in the tournament.
Therefore, he brought decks with thirty or more cards, even a 37 card Foltest with triple Bloodcurdling Roar to counter Rot Tossers. Initially, his prediction was correct – multiple competitors had Mill in their line-up – but he fell victim to the luck of the bracket. None of his opponents had brought Mill, leaving SuperJJ with larger, inconsistent decks that proved to be his downfall. Shaggy went on to win Open #1 by defeating J0rah in the final and both of them had brought Mill.
Overall, was SuperJJ right to target Mill? Arguably, yes. But players don’t decide who they face off against and, if you’re aiming to target (excuse the pun), this is a fate you must be prepared for. It’s safe to assume that, if he’d made the final, SuperJJ would probably have defeated Shaggy because of his targeting alone. That’s where the risk/reward comes into this tournament strategy.
Sunny with a chance of Clear Skies
Despite his bad luck, SuperJJ has proved loyal to the process of targeting and we’ve seen him take this approach in every tournament since. His next GWENT Masters appearance was at GWENT Open #2, where he’d decided to target decks running lots of weather. Unfortunately for him, this didn’t work out; nobody brought decks dependant on weather remaining on the board. SuperJJ was left with decks crammed full of low tempo weather clears and the semi-finals saw Freddybabes eliminate him.
No Meals for You
His next appearance would be at Open #3. This time, he’d opted to target Consume Monsters, a powerful deck at the time and still the case now – but easy to counter. Deciding to bring this archetype is a high roll in itself; if you aren’t countered, Consume’s insane power can easily overwhelm most decks in the game. However, popular counters to this deck like Mandrake and Coral are common techs in tournaments. It could be argued that this made SuperJJ’s targeting easier than past attempts, for even cards like Artefact Compression are solid control cards capable of fitting in most decks. Combine that with various Special tutors like Whispess: Tribute and Nature’s Gift, and SuperJJ’s anti-Consume line-up held its own against most other decks, too. His targeting paid off because he was able to win the tournament.
In a short-lived set against Kolemoen, the runner up of Challenger #2, SuperJJ was able to secure one of his games in just a few turns, showcasing the raw power of targeting. Kolemoen was unable to keep a single Nekker on his board to follow up with a Nekker Warrior as they all fell to the likes of Muzzle, Artefact Compression and Eithné to resurrect one of SuperJJ’s many counters. Fortunately for the casters, Kolemoen spared us his nightmare and conceded the game early. SuperJJ’s next opponent, GameKing, had also brought Consume and we saw him meet a similar fate, despite a valiant effort to come out on top.
Arachas Queen – All In Nekker Consume is a powerful deck but easy to target.
In conclusion, deck targeting is a high risk/high reward approach to tournament play. Some of the risk, however, is negated only by your knowledge of the game. If you’re convinced many of your opponents will bring a specific deck, then hard targeting it might be a good idea. But you must be prepared to not run into the archetype you’re targeting. Controversial as some make it out to be, you are playing a card game and there will always be an element of luck! Therefore, you might be better off playing decks you’re comfortable with and including a few soft counters to combat your biggest threats.