The Witcher 3 guide: how to kick ass at Gwent
Gwent may be the hardest part of The Witcher 3.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt contains an optional card game called Gwent, which is tied to one of the longest and most difficult secondary quests in the game - Collect 'Em All.
This three-page article, part of our The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt guide and walkthrough, will take you through building an easy-win deck and using it effectively. Page 1 covers basic Foltest deck building and usage. Page 2 details some hot Gwent tactics. Finally, Page 3 provides some broad tips for mastering Gwent.
Note that Gwent as it appears in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and its expansions is not the same as in the standalone release, Gwent: The Witcher Card Game. If you're looking for help on the latter, see our Gwent: The Witcher Card Game guide.
Although The Witcher 3 has a hell of a difficulty curve, one of the most difficult challenges for new players is mastering Gwent.
There's an in-game tutorial that will teach you the basic rules, which you can view at any time by opening the Gwent menu in-game if you skipped through it during early missions.
So let's skip a rehash of that and start with six basic tips on collecting a deck, then go on to more detailed strategies.
How to build a decent Gwent deck
- Commit to Gwent lyfe
Gwent is a deck building game, so if you want to succeed, you need to do the legwork. You need to take every opportunity to collect new cards and fill out your deck before you face tough opponents. There are missable opportunities to obtain powerful cards you can't get anywhere else. You need to role play Geralt as a Gwent fiend, chasing NPCs across the landscape shouting "Gwent, anyone? Gwent? Gweeeeeeent?" and interrogating every merchant on the possibility of a game. Find a new town? Look for Gwent opportunities. About to leave a region? Look for Gwent opportunities. See a character with a name? Ask them about Gwent. Be unbearable. Your ultimate goal should be to collect every single Gwent card in The Witcher 3.
- Buy every Gwent card you can
Some merchants will sell you Gwent cards, especially innkeepers. Check with every single merchant; if they have a store, see if they will sell you a Gwent card. One of the most vital of these is the innkeeper at White Orchard; if you haven't got the cash, go out and fill in every question mark on your map, and rob every single house, until you can afford the cards. If you upset a merchant so you can't buy cards from them, restart your game. This is why we maintain multiple saves, people.
- Play every game of Gwent until you win
The cards you win are sometimes random, sometimes set, but every Gwent match, except some story ones, will reward you with a card. You have to win every single unique Gwent match, everywhere, to collect the whole set. Bet one gold and keep trying till you succeed - or just reload your save after a loss, if you can bear the wait.
- Do the Gwent quests as soon as you can
Some of the characters included in Gwent quests can die. Play Gwent with them as soon as you possibly can, in case you carelessly off them making story decisions. Most of their cards are recoverable, but not all - and there's at least one card that isn't available except during one particular mission.
- Don't despair if you can't win the tutorial match first try
Even if you buy cards and arrange your own deck, the game forces you to use set cards. It can be very hard to win. Don't worry. Finish the match and then have another go with your customised deck.
- Don't despair if you can't win against the Nilfgaardian Nobleman
This guy is deliberately overpowered to show you the error of your ways re: not taking Gwent seriously. He is supposed to scare you into trying harder from here on in, before you miss opportunities by being slack. If you follow my advice below you'll get him after a few turns; just keep trying and hoping for good luck with your draw, and his draw.
With that out of the way, let's talk tactics and strategies.
How to win Gwent matches with a beginner's Northern Realms deck
There's no one single way to win Gwent matches, but in the beginning, there's a very simple deck you can build towards that will get you through most early matches. I call it Foltest 2.
Foltest 2 is a Northern Realms deck that relies on the special ability of the second Foltest Leader card, which you can purchase from the innkeeper in White Orchard. This ability will cancel weather effects. The idea behind this build is to remove all weather cards from your deck, except perhaps one Clear Weather card, to give you a much higher chance of being dealt decent attack cards, such as your precious stock of Heroes.
In the early sections of the game, NPCs lean heavily on weather cards to change the course of battle. Building a very heavy attack line up of just one card kind - melee, ranged, or siege - will usually cause the AI to play the corresponding weather card to try and ruin your day. Keep building on that range, wait for the last possible moment, then use Foltest 2 to clear the weather effect, hopefully securing your victory.
This approach relies on you being able to front at least one decent attack group so you can lure the enemy into casting a weather spell on it. I say one, rather than two, because keeping two attack groups in your hand in the early stages is very hard - all your cards are a bit shit. Which brings us to:
Stacking your Gwent deck
You only need 22 Unit cards (including Heroes) to play a match, plus whatever Special cards (weather effects, Commander's Horn, Scorch, Decoy) you fancy. You can bring more, but every card you bring lowers the chances of your drawing a better one.
To elaborate: if you bring 26 cards to a match, including four cards with low attack power, you may draw all four of those low-powered cards, when you could have had four better cards. Why would you want that? Clear them out.
In my Foltest 2 deck, I don't ever carry weather cards; that way, I never draw a useless Biting Frost when I need just one tiny attacker to win the final round. This happens regularly, because I have tricked the AI into using all its best cards early on by throwing a round.
One of the most important tactics to master in Gwent is throwing a round. You can afford to lose one round if you can win the other two, and it's much easier to win the other two if your opponent has used up all their best cards. This is especially effective in the early sections of the game, when everyone has lots of bad cards, and NPCs frequently leave nothing but weather cards for endgame.
If you have some mediocre cards in your draw, chuck 'em out there alone and trick your enemy into piling on their best cards, then throw the round by passing. You'll have your best cards in reserve while they'll be left with three Bitter Frosts or whatever - which you can smack with Foltest 2, if you need to. Chances are you won't.
You can throw either the first or second round depending on your strategy and the enemy's tactics. (Remember that Northern Realms get an extra card when they win a round; if the enemy is also running a Foltest deck, this can be devastating.)
A more advanced deck
Northern Realms cards are by far the most common in the early part of the game, so Foltest 2 is easy to grow initially, but it also develops into a very powerful deck as you continue. Its key strength is Bond: cards that double their attack power when they combine - exponentially, when in groups of more than two. Look for Catapult, Crinfrid Reavers Dragon Hunter, Blue Stripes Commando. Combine with neutral cards like Commander's Horn and Dandelion for sensational multipliers.
Northern Realms also favours siege weapons, and you can put together a great collection, which is useful with another of the Foltest special abilities when you graduate past Foltest 2. The Dun Banner Medic is also a fantastic card thanks to its Medic ability; more on that shortly.
On this page I'll talk about some of my favourite tricks in Gwent, and how to counter specific enemy decks.
How to use Scorch
Scorch is an incredibly useful special card. When played, it kills the highest ranked card(s) on the board, transporting them to the discard pile. Keep a single Scorch in your hand, and use it to take out the key units in your enemy's line-ups, either when they've played their big gun, or for maximum chagrin, after they've passed and are confident in a win.
Note that Scorch does not affect Hero cards, and will also wipe out your cards if they are the same strength as those you're aiming for. Never play Scorch if you have the most powerful cards on the board - including those with artificially inflated attack power due to Commander's Horn, Dandelion and Bond.
You can use Scorch to take out huge numbers of cards; if the enemy has four or five cards with an attack power of six, and you haven't put down anything higher, don't wait for them to play an eight or ten; use Scorch and take out all of those nasties at once, sacrificing you own cards with a power of six if necessary.
Also watch out for the Villentretenmerth card; it has a melee attack power of seven, which is nice on its own, and a Scorch variant. If the enemy melee strength is ten and above, it will take out the enemy's strongest melee card(s).
How to counter Scorch
There are three ways to combat an enemy who relies on a nasty Scorch surprise in endgame (just like you do). The first is to trick them into using it early. Say you have two Crinfrid Reavers Dragon Hunter cards, and you want to Bond them and use a Commander's Horn. Scorch will knock that right out. Why not play your sole Catapult instead? Enemies love to Scorch Catapults. And now they have wasted their Scorch card, which cannot be retrieved by any means. Very few enemies carry two.
The second way to counter Scorch is to lean heavily on Hero cards, which are unaffected by Scorch, until you can lure the enemy into using it on something of middling value.
The third way to counter Scorch is to use Medic cards to retrieve what has been lost.
Using Commander's Horn
Commander's Horn is absolutely essential in later matches. Collect them. Love them. Keep them with you at all times. Remember they don't work on Hero cards.
Try to save your Commander's Horn use for the end of a round, to prevent the AI responding effectively to this threat. The exceptions to this rule are when you're trying to trick the AI into throwing a round, or when you want a cheap victory after it has already thrown a round.
Dandelion, found only as part of the tournament in Triss's secondary quest line, acts like a Commander's Horn for melee units only. It is entirely unique. Very special. Very worth the effort. Medic that shizzle.
How to use Medics effectively
More like "is there any way to use Medic ineffectively?" Unfortunately the answer is yes, so listen up:
First of all: you should never play a Medic in the first round unless you have been Scorched, because you waste its power: Medic only retrieves cards from your discard pile. Second of all: be aware that Medic cannot retrieve Special (weather, Commander's Horn, Scorch, Decoy) or Hero cards. Once they're gone, they're gone.
With that in mind: Medic cards are terrific. If you have used a card with Bond in round one, and you suddenly turn up its partner later in the game, you can retrieve the first one and play them both. You can get back a foolish mistake. You can shove just one more unit into a Commander's Horn line. It is excellent all round.
Combining Medic and Bond to counter Scorch
Oh yeah, we're getting fancy now. How's this: you play two cards with Bond, maybe with a multiplier on top of that. The enemy, quite sensibly, uses Scorch on it. But it was all a cunning trick! You immediately play two Medic cards, retrieving the Bonded pair, knowing that the enemy cannot scorch it now. How d'ya like them apples? Answer: they don't like it one bit. This makes me very happy.
Countering Muster and Medic
When you first start coming up against Monsters and Scoia'tael decks, it is terrifying. These decks are heavy with Muster cards: when played, they pull every matching card out of the players deck, and put it into play.
The key thing to remember here is that Muster cannot pull from the discard pile. Try to trick the enemy into using its Muster cards early on, and then throw the round. Boom! They're all gone, and it has very little left to draw on.
The Monsters deck has three separate Muster families, which makes it especially dangerous, as you'll face a Muster in every round, if you're unlucky, and the Leader abilities that provide free Commander's Horn mean things get way out of hand. Later in the game you will be powerful enough to survive one Muster attack; trick your enemy into using two Muster families in your thrown round, then power through the last Muster attack with Scorch (especially effective on the Crones) or high powered cards.
The Scoia'tael deck also makes use of Muster. It is less terrifying, but this deck also has several Medic units. The combination is a horror, but you can apply the same tactics.
Using Spy cards
If you face a very tough enemy, it's worth trying a Spy approach. Stack your deck with Spy cards, and trick the enemy into playing a bunch of cards, while you refill your hand. Throw the first round, and power through the next two.
Depending on how stupid your opponent is, and whether you have some low powered cards to sacrifice in between spies, you may be able to get the AI down to so few cards that it will throw the second round no matter what, which is hilarious.
If your enemy is bright enough to throw the first round almost immediately, why - win it! Thanks for the easy round, newb. Then go balls out on the next one, since you only have one more round to win.
Countering Spy decks with Decoy and Medic
The Nilfgaardian deck is full of Spy cards, and on those rare occasions you meet an AI who knows how to use them, they will hand you your arse on a platter. Don't break your control pad in frustration: stack your deck with Decoy cards. When the enemy plays a Spy, play a Decoy, then play the Spy yourself. If you're lucky, they'll run out of Spy cards before you run out of Decoy cards.
In the second round, you may want to use a Medic card to retrieve any especially good Spy cards you couldn't get with Decoy (Thaler, for example, is definitely worth retrieving, and both Sigismund Dijkstra and Vattier de Rideaux are not bad) to grab even more cards. Trample your Spy-favouring foe. It's almost laughable how quickly this punctures them.
I have three final notes on Gwent for your attention.
1. The AI is stupid
Gods save me from ever having to play Gwent against a real human, when I have trained against a foolish robot. The AI only very rarely figures out what tricks you are using against it. If it does, just have another go; it very likely won't do it again, even if it gets the cards. This is why we save before every match.
When the AI does get clever, its very, very occasional flashes of brilliant cunning (pretending it has run out of Muster cards, for example; throwing out a Hero to lure you to commit and then throwing the round, for another) are like lightning: hit like a ton of bricks, but over very quickly, and unlikely to strike again.
You can use the AI's stupidity against it. If you lose a match because the AI used its leader ability, why, switch to the leader with the ability to cancel leader abilities. The enemy will be baffled; it cannot adapt to this turn of events. Remember: Gwent is a single-player puzzle, not a live game.
2. There are better builds in your future
Northern Realms: Foltest 2, the deck I suggest using, is a fine, flexible build which you can use to win right through all the Gwent matches available in Act One (except the High Stakes quest) with a bit of luck and persistence. The same goes for the tactics I've mentioned here.
However, there may be better plans when you have enough cards to make them work. Why not try running your own Muster, Spy or Medic-and-Muster deck? Maybe you want to focus on Agile decks combined with weather cards? Maybe someone will find a use for Morale cards outside of the first three matches??
This guide is just a bunch of ideas to get you into the game and get you thinking about it; you'll need lots of high powered and neutral cards, as well as an understanding of varying tactics, for the High Stakes quest and the toughest opponents.
3. I am rubbish at card games and yet I am the lord eternal of Gwent
If I can do it, you can do it. Just look at me use Spies to trick this Skellige guy into using up a bunch of cards before throwing the round and trampling him with my hand of 13 (one card extra for Northern Realms faction wins) packed with Commander's Horn cards, twin Medic cards, a great Bond set up, three Hero cards, an emergency Scorch and defence against all weather cards. Owned!