Unrealized Potential – Witch Hunters
This is the first in what I hope to be a series of articles about the various archetypes and leader abilities in Gwent that don’t see play. The goal here is to learn exactly how bad they are, on a scale from meme-worthy to unplayable, and what strengths they might have despite their weaknesses. If, like me, you often find yourself lost when trying to figure out how powerful newly released cards are, this series should help you learn about how all of the various card sets in Gwent fit together. To be clear, I generally won’t talk about entire decks, but will instead assess a group of cards that might be included in a deck.
Considering the buffs they received recently, I thought it was a good time to address Syndicate’s Witch Hunter package. To those who aren’t familiar with this package (and considering most of these cards have never seen competitive play, I don’t blame you), the Witch Hunter package consists of nine cards with the ‘Witch Hunter’ tag. Of these nine cards, Moreelse is the only card most people would be familiar with. Also, I’m including Slander in this set, as I can’t imagine anyone running a full Witch Hunter package without at least one copy.
Note: to make this simpler, I will assume one coin = one point. I know it’s normally more complicated than that, but it’s close enough in most cases.
Deploy: Damage an enemy unit by 4.
Tribute 6: Destroy it instead
Like I said, straightforward removal, and easily the most versatile card in the set. It’s worth noting that in order for this card to play for ideal value, it must remove a target big enough to justify spending six (or five with Off the Books) coins. In this meta, that’s not so hard.
Deploy (Melee): Destroy an enemy unit with Bounty
Tribute 5: Boost self by that unit’s base power.
The man who reads books before he burns them, another fairly strong card. It’s worth noting that he does not require a tribute to destroy a unit, only a bounty. Graden can get a great deal of value without the tribute, but is also a hard counter to cards with high base strength such as Greatsword and Yghern. He runs into trouble if you either don’t have a bounty or your opponent has a means to purify your bounties, and can brick violently.
Fee 3 (Melee): Place a Bounty on an enemy unit.
Now we see the cracks start to appear. Eight for eight is less than impressive when some bronzes are getting the same points for four provisions, but the continuous bounty procs can generate a decent amount of coin under the right circumstances, even if those circumstances aren’t common. Mediocre, but not terrible.
Deploy: Boost all allied Witch Hunters by 1.
Tribute 3: Boost all allied Witch Hunters in hand, deck, and on the battlefield by 1.
Surprisingly strong. She plays for extremely low tempo, but carryover of any kind is at a premium. More on her later.
Deploy (melee): Lock a unit
Deploy (ranged): Purify a unit
Utter trash. Lowering his provision cost was a good idea, but after removing his intimidate ability the card just has no reason to exist. Lock is not worth playing a five strength card for seven provisions, especially when witch hunters have so much other removal.
Witch Hunter Executioner
Fee 1: Give an enemy unit Bleeding for one turn.
If it has a Bounty, damage it by one instead.
The provision buff to this card has done a lot to help. Witch Hunter Executioner is ok, generally capable of removing a minor engine as long as you can get a bounty to stick. Normally the card is removed after that, but if it isn’t it can single handedly prevent your opponent from developing any other engines if you have more bounties. Bricks without bounty, but not as badly as Graden.
Mediocre. It does what it sets out to, but it plays for extremely low tempo.
Deploy: Place a Bounty on an enemy unit.
Place a Bounty on an enemy unit.
The low tempo of this card is almost more of a strength than a weakness. Slander is a friend of the red coin, allowing you to set up a combo without giving your opponent a target. Solid card, even if it is just a worse fisstech.
Total Provisions – 66
So, the Witch Hunter package is based around control and explosive tempo swings. It delivers on a lot of that; Graden and Moreelse are both strong cards. Additionally, Tamara offers a unique dimension to the classic tempo deck by offering carryover. The cards are also pretty cheap, and don’t take up that many provisions. In theory, the Witch Hunter package seems like a decent addition to any deck that needs provision efficient control tools.
So why is it so bad? Well to begin with, bounty is inherently awkward to play. You need to apply the bounty, kill the card, and then spend the coins you receive. That is potentially three turns before you get the full value from your cards. Second, the cards are all very combo based. If you run out of bounties, Graden and Witch Hunter Executioner brick. If your opponent plays cards you aren’t able to remove, Witch Hunter plays for a pitiful four points. As a result, Witch Hunter tempo is very inconsistent. Sure, Graden can be devastating, but that’s all for nothing if your opponent passed after the turn you played a Witch Hunter.
This weakness is somewhat mitigated with the inclusion of Tamara. Playing a Witch Hunter for five points instead of four doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s often the difference between winning or losing r1. In my experience, Tamara is the glue that holds the Witch Hunter package together. She helps to smooth over a lot of the issues they experience, but she creates issues of her own. First, while she helps boost the tempo of other cards, she only plays for four points herself. Fortunately she’s a proactive play as long as you have the coins, so she can be played early enough in r1 that you have time to catch up on tempo before your opponent can pass. That being said, she does leave you on the back foot right off the bat, which is a hard sell for any deck.
Her second problem is her deckbuilding constraints. The power of Tamara’s ability is based on the number of cards in your deck with the Witch Hunter tag. Seeing as there are only eight other cards in the game with the Witch Hunter tag, running Tamara demands that you include (almost) all of them. Now, some of the cards are good enough that Tamara’s buff is enough to nudge them from mediocre to solid. Witch Hunter is a good example of this. Assuming bounty is worth about three points (which seems like a good enough estimate when including the cost of killing the unit it’s applied to), Tamara brings Witch Hunter from a conditional seven points to a conditional eight, which is decent. In other cases, specifically Kurt and Caleb, the card is still of questionable value even when buffed by Tamara. In short, when building a deck with Tamara, you may be forced to include some cards that are less than competitive.
Finally, her third and arguably biggest problem is consistency. If you don’t draw Tamara, every Witch hunter you play in r1 will reduce her future potential. In other words, you’ll likely lose r1 and also be stuck with a bricked card in your deck. This makes any deck that includes the Witch Hunter package depend a lot on highroll. The release of Oneiromancy helps mitigate this, but there is a clear difference between games that you have access to Tamara and games that you don’t.
So, we’ve outlined the issues of the Witch Hunter package, now let’s talk about the kind of deck it would be included in: https://www.playgwent.com/en/decks/d57cd90768751370dca4c2f63cdc33f1
I’ve tested this deck a fair amount, and it performed a bit better than I expected. I suspect that this had more to do with Off the Books being an underrated leader ability (and for that reason it will be the subject of the next article in this series), but this still means the Witch Hunter package is not completely in the dumpster. To be clear, this is not a *strong* deck, just stronger than I thought it would be. If you don’t have the scraps to spare for a meme **please for the love of god don’t craft this deck.** Anyway, as you may have noticed, I included every Witch Hunter except Kurt, who is irredeemably bad. Caleb feels a bit meh sometimes, but the added consistency he provides with his additional bounty(s) is not entirely unwelcome.
Bounty presents a unique deck building challenge, as it both requires you spend coins to remove the unit it’s attached to via fees and tributes, but it can also leave you with a lot of excess coins afterwards. For this reason, it’s a good idea to include a fair amount of coin sinks such as Jacques and Street Urchins. Whoreson’s Freakshow is especially good at this, as he doubles as a coin sink and a removal tool. Jaques and Savolla (the leader charges are enough to pay his tribute) offer the deck a brutal one-two punch in a short r3, and Adriano offers an affordable tempo swing in r1, great for a post Tamara comeback. Since Witch Hunters are largely removal based, it’s important to support the archetype with robust pointslam to take advantage of the space they create.
Final verdict? Witch Hunters are a lot closer to viable than I thought. They are inconsistent and awkward to play, but they are capable of gigantic tempo swings and present a real threat to their opponent. They are extremely provision efficient, allowing you to support them with greedy cards like Professor and Oneiromancy. Frankly, I don’t think it would take that much support to make them viable. Even printing one decent bronze with the Witch Hunter tag would improve Tamara’s value, and could maybe save you from having to include cards like Caleb and Kurt in your deck. The clunkiness of bounty is inherent to its design, and while it does represent a major liability, it’s important to remember poison managed to overcome similar problems. Bounty has massive upsides, and if synergistic cards are printed I have no reason to doubt it could be competitive.
Considering the archetype was recently buffed, it’s clearly on CDPR’s mind, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Witch Hunters included in a tier two deck within the next year. The decklist I linked to is functional, if not viable for laddering, and I encourage you to give it a shot if you have the scraps to spare. You might not win a lot of games, but if the Witch Hunter archetype does eventually get support, you’ll be the best player on launch day. And if stomping scrubs who haven’t figured out a coherent decklist yet is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.