by Alex “sprackles” Sprackling
Imagine for a moment that you are the Lady of Time and Space herself, Ciri, and you’ve just travelled back to November 2016. Would you recognise the GWENT you’ve devoted hundreds of hours to? While it’s enjoyed a loyal following, there are many popular players that weren’t around during the very early days of Closed Beta. This was back when there wasn’t even a ranked mode and a “pro ladder” was the stuff of a Dragons Dream. The archetypes that made up the various factions have been through months of evolution – something which we recently covered in “5 Gwent cards that defined the past” – but with everyone gearing up for Homecoming, let’s take a more in-depth look at how the factions have changed.
Faction passive: All Gold units are boosted by 2 when played.
It’s worth noting that faction passive abilities defined how we used to play GWENT. It was the launch of Open Beta that saw them removed from the game. Even so, the Northern Realms faction hasn’t strayed from its high-tempo roots. Previously, it’s faction passive of boosting Gold units was what defined it. Combine that with Henselt’s old ability of promoting 7 adjacent units and this was one of the most feared decks on the ladder. Nowadays, Henselt is still a force to be reckoned with but for a different reason. His muster ability to play all copies of a bronze machine or Kaedweni ally has made him a super-tutor capable of swarming the board at a moment’s notice.
Faction passive: At the start of rounds two and three, all units are strengthened by one.
If there’s any faction that has come a long way, it’s Skellige. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is a matter of opinion, but the faction began life with a focus on self-wounding but has gradually drifted away from its roots. When Clan Warcrier was just a special card that doubled the strength of all damaged units, it wasn’t uncommon to see it generate massive point swings, even at the expense of affecting your opponent’s side. Open Beta saw the special become a unit and its ability was toned down to only boost the strength of two units by half. Despite various new tools, the Warcry archetype fell out of favour to the silver special Restore, which now defines the faction. The Veteran archetype, a favourite of many Skellige purists such as Ashlizzle, is also seeing a lot of play and is based around the Turseach Veterans, a bronze unit that, in many ways, is a rework of Skellige’s Closed Beta faction passive.
Faction passive: The player may choose whether to go first, second or let the coinflip decide.
Whether they were playing high tempo or control, Scoia’tael’s faction passive was a dominating force. Being able to control the coin-flip would always lead to some crazy mix-ups, but it was the early days of Ambush units that we can’t forget. In Closed Beta, locking face down cards was impossible. Old Schirru would negate the next played special card and end that players turn while destroying the highest opposing units. This single card is what made Control Scoia’tael an oppressive archetype. Open Beta also saw a variant of control with the early days of Spell Scoia’tael, playing a special heavy strategy in R1-2 before dropping 20+ strong Protectors in R3. Nowadays, the archetype has shifted to higher tempo with Mahakam Ale and Farseers, but a few a control cards like Alzurs Thunder remain.
Faction passive: At the end of every round, the last played Monsters unit remains on the board.
There was no faction passive more despised than Monsters. Capable of insane carryover, the last played Monster unit would remain on the board until the next round. This empowered the Consume archetype and allowed you to play a Vran Warrior to consume the biggest unit and bring those points with you to R3. In the final of GWENT Challenger #1, Lifecoach showcased how powerful this ability was and entered R3 against Noxious with a 25+ head start. Nowadays, Consume Monsters is still a powerful deck, but easily countered.
But it’s the Celaeno Harpy that’s seen the most change. Previously one of the most powerful bronze cards in the game, its ability to spawn two 3st units when its token eggs were destroyed or sent to the graveyard gave Monsters a smaller but still powerful version of its Closed Beta faction passive. Before the nerf, it wasn’t uncommon to see 3 Celaeno Harpies in every Monsters deck you queued into. Because what’s not to love about 18 points of carry-over?
Faction passive: You may redraw one card at the beginning of rounds two and three.
Many new players may not realise that the glorious Nilfgaardian Empire is actually the youngest faction in GWENT. It wasn’t added until early 2017. However, its impact on the meta was ground-breaking and introduced Vicovaro Medic to the game, a 1st unit that resurrected a bronze unit from your opponent’s graveyard – or as it became known, “the Bronze Caretaker” – and to this day still leaves Skellige players paranoid. Despite the addition of the Viper Witchers, Nilfgaard’s gameplay hasn’t strayed too far from its roots. It still relies on a diverse range of disloyal units like Rainfarn and Emmisary to tutor for its core cards. That said, we’re glad to see Jan Calveit lose his Closed Beta ability to move all disloyal units to your side of the board. It would give the modern Spy archetype a R1 finisher that would be a bit too powerful!