How to play and win at Gwent (witcher 3 card game)

Gwent is awesome. I've probably spent more time playing Gwent than doing actual quests. I’m writing this post for the purposes outlining my strategy for my own clarity and also for the hope that this will be helpful to others. I would appreciate critiques on where you think I get something wrong or am missing something important, and I will assume you know basic rules of the game already. I'm going to break down the strategy of Gwent by each round. I do this because the strategy varies drastically depending on what the goal is for that round.


win all gwent cards

Round 1:

The first round is very important. You need to build an advantage from this first round. If you finish this round while behind, you will likely lose the game. The first part of the round is choosing two cards to replace. Generally these will be your weakest unit cards. You can also replace duplicates of spells if you feel they won’t be useful, or synergy cards that don’t have the other component. After that the round starts and there are two main advantages you can get in the first round.

Winning:

Winning the round gives you initiative and flexibility in the coming rounds, with the option of forfeiting the second to gain an advantage.

Card Advantage:

Having more cards than your opponent. Card advantage is probably the most important concept in Gwent. In this game you do not passively draw cards so your resources are mostly limited to your starting hand. This means you have to conserve your cards as best you can. Having card advantage gives you several benefits.

The overall strength in your hand is probably stronger
You have more options each turn than your opponent
You don’t have to commit your more threatening cards to a round
Your opponent is forced to commit larger resources or pass before you do

With these concepts in mind you can formulate a strategy for the first round.

Delay committing resources:

A card in hand is stronger than a card in the field. Playing a card to the field increases your strength in that round, but reduces your card advantage. A card on the field is already committed to a round, and cannot be played later when it might be more useful. A card on the field is also susceptible to a variety of counters such as scorch (destroy all cards with the highest attack on the field) or weather effects that make its strength in the round decrease.

Avoid over committing:

Contrary to what you might think, having a stronger side is usually not advantageous. If your strength is higher than your opponents, that either means you’ve committed more cards to the round, or you have committed better cards than your opponent, leaving you with little threats in the later rounds. This also gives your opponent the initiative to pass. If you are ahead on the field than that means you are probably behind in the hand and will struggle taking one of the next two rounds. On the other hand if you are behind on the field, you force the opponent to either commit more to the round, or to pass. If the opponent passes while they are ahead, you can then formulate the most efficient strategy to win the round without fear of being countered, or just choose to forfeit the round due to the advantages you already have.

So how do you do these two things when you are forced to play cards every round?

Play your weaker cards first:

First this helps avoid over committing. Second it plays around scorch and sets you up to play scorch if the opponent plays several threats with the same strength (great against monster decks).

Play cards that draw cards:
These cards are godly and you should have as many of them as you can fit in your deck. Think about it, it both increases your card advantage and delays committing any resources to the round for another turn. The card on the field you give to the opponent is essentially worthless in comparison as it can be handled by weather effects or just forfeiting the round when your opponent over commits.

Play hero cards:

These cards are not affected by special cards and so cannot be countered. You are committing a card to the field, but it is probably necessary to do so anyway at some point, and you are not playing into any counters.

Play decoy:

Decoy replaces a card on the field with the decoy, meaning you don’t lose card advantage. It also allows you to feint by over committing to draw out weather effects and then reversing it. Decoys are also the only counter to card draw. If the opponent plays a card that draws him cards you can decoy it and play it next turn. Essentially you gain on card advantage and delay committing to the round for two turns. These are your best decoy targets so if you feel like your opponent has card draw you should wait it out before playing decoy.

Play weather effects:

These cripple the opponent’s side of the field either forcing him to commit more, passing, or playing clear weather.

Round 2:

So hopefully at this point you have built an advantage by either winning with a similar number of cards or losing with significant card advantage (2 cards at least). Your strategy changes depending on which of these routes you have taken.

Winning the first round:

Congratulations you won the first round, but the war is still not over. If you go first in round two, it’s probably best that you just pass right off the bat. If your opponent is not Nilfgaardian Empire or Northern Realms they will have to commit at least one card to the second round to win meaning you gain an extra card advantage. On top of that, your opponent will go first in the third round meaning you have the initiative in countering his plays. If you go second, you can still pass for the card advantage, or you can play it to win it right then and there. If you choose this route then skip to round three strategy because you are trying to win it all in two rounds (keep in mind you still have the option to forfeit the round if the opponent over commits). The last option is to half commit into this round. If you have some cards that you feel won't be useful in the last round feel free to play them in order to force the opponent to commit more resources. Like if you still have a 2 strength unit, go for it and they might have to play a 4 or 5 strength unit to beat it and you have gained another small advantage. Or if you have a decoy, play a large threat and then decoy it next turn and pass. Decoys aren’t very effective in the last round, and this will force your opponent to commit even more cards to this round.

Losing the first round:

Hopefully you have a significant card advantage because you are going to need it. Your goal in this round is to win it by committing as little as you can. If your opponent passes, play your smallest unit and end it. Even better if you have a medic and your opponent played card draw in the first round you can bring that back up this turn and get card advantage with little loss. Otherwise you are probably going to have to invest in a lot to win this round. You can’t afford to lose this round, which means you cannot pass first. In this case the strategy plays similarly to the third round strategy, you just have to make sure not to over commit and that you have enough reserves to finish them off in the third round after all is said and done. That is why you need the card advantage here because to win this round you will likely lose 1-2 card advantage.

Third (or last) round:

Ok so now it’s down to the wire, there’s no more passing. It’s an all-out war until one of you runs out of cards. At this stage you hopefully have card advantage; the further ahead you are from your opponent the easier it will be to make them commit cards first. At this point the units don’t matter all that much, they will all have to come onto the field in this round anyway. What is important is the order you play your units and the spells you have in reserve. If you have a clear weather, avoid playing it for as long as you can, try to bait out their weather effects first by playing unit cards. If you don’t have one, then there’s nothing you can do to stop it and you have to accept that some of the board will probably be hit. Also keep scorch in mind. You do not want to have several units with the same strength, if you do, wait for your opponent to play a more powerful card first or play that card yourself. Medics are great cards to have in this situation as they can quickly put a strong presence on the board, and you can usually avoid weather effects that are on the board as well. Decoys are not very useful here so you should try to play them out earlier. They are only useful in tandem with a medic, or if your opponent plays card draw.

Deck Building:

The first important point is which faction you go with. I personally like Northern Realms because the extra card you get has so much value, the other abilities just don’t seem to compete to me. Then put in all your card draws. Put in all your medics. Put in all your heroes. Then go for good synergy cards (at least 4 strength by my standards). Then put in your best of the rest. Do not go over 22 unit cards. There aren’t that many good cards to choose from, so putting in extra cards that are worse will just reduce the chances of drawing your good cards. This is compounded by the fact there is no passive card draw. I can’t imagine a scenario in which you would want more than 22 units in your deck. Special cards are a bit trickier. It’s a balance between consistency of card draws, and flexibility and strength of the special cards. Each special card could potentially turn a game a round, or could sit in your hand completely useless. But without them your game is completely at the whim of the opponent. You need to be able to counter their special cards. Of the weather cards I feel like biting frost is the most useful. It’s almost a necessity against monster decks and most decks have a strong combat presence. It also hits most of the card draw cards. There are arguments to make for the others as well, but I don’t feel they are as useful as consistently. Clear weather is also a game changer card that consistently wins me games at the end of the third round. Decoys are great if played correctly they have a lot of flexibility and can be used to make feints or to draw cards. If they end up in your final hand they become a dead card though. Scorch is interesting, because it can be a game changer or completely useless. You have to play according to it, but in most cases you can take out a large amount of strength on the enemy side with it. I find it to be useful enough that I would rather draw it than most of my unit cards. Commander’s horn is almost always worth it as well.

I currently run: 2x biting frost, 1x clear weather (would put 2 if I had another), 2x decoy, 2x scorch, 2x commander’s horn.

Final thoughts:

Wow that was a lot of text. There are still a lot of nuances I didn't go over in detail like feints and trying to read opponent cards. I also didn't put much focus on close combat vs ranged vs siege. I did this because I feel card strength is much more important than the location. Just try to disperse it a bit or have a clear weather waiting. I also didn't go over all the combos and synergies which you should be able to figure out by playing. I hope some of you found it helpful. I am interested in what you guys think about how I laid this out, and about some of the decisions I’ve made regarding deck building. Thanks for reading. [Credits: Im_thatguy]

Gwent cards Map Locations (click to enlarge)

Gwent cards in Velen Map
Gwent cards in Velen Map
Gwent cards in Novigrad Map
Gwent cards in Novigrad Map
Gwent cards in Skellige Isles Map
Gwent cards in Skellige Isles Map