Gwent: How to build and play a Northern Realms deck
This is the first of four in-depth articles where I will provide you with everything you need to know about how to play with each faction in Gwent, starting with the Northern Realms.
Bear in mind that I will not be going over the rules of Gwent. If you want to learn how to play, then you should check out Ford's guide.
The starter deck
By default, you are given a Northern Realms starter deck at the beginning of the game. And it's a pile of crap -- at least in comparison to how overpowered your cards will be in the late game. While it is more than capable of defeating the equally weak decks of innkeepers and blacksmiths, you are going to want to quickly improve it.
You will want to buy all the cards from the innkeeper in White Orchard, which will net you some powerful siege cards. Immediately replace your weakest cards -- such as Poor F*cking Infantry and Redanian Foot Soldier -- with the cards you purchased until you have 22 unit cards and 4 weather cards (1 of each type).
The starter deck will contain crap fodder like this, so just chuck 'em!
How to acquire better cards
First and foremost, many of the cards you will need can be won by simply beating merchants, innkeepers, and smithies in the world. Typically these NPCs have weak decks and can be easily beaten to obtain a random card. Incredibly, some of the Northern Realms' best cards can be obtained like this, so make sure to grind out some wins to bolster your deck.
It's also a good idea to head to the villages of Claywich (after rescuing the merchant) and Midcopse, as well as the Passiflora brothel in Novigrad. There you can buy strong Northern Realms cards -- such as the catapults -- directly from the traders.
It's common sense, but each time you get a stronger card you want to replace a weaker one, ensuring to always maintain the minimum 22 unit card requirement. You'll also want to make sure to complete every Gwent questline so you can grab amazing neutral cards that you are also going to need in your line-up.
The Northern Realms has 4 unique hero cards"
- Philippa Eilhart: obtained randomly by defeating Gwent NPCs.
- Vernon Roche: defeat Hadko the Card Prodigy at the end of Gwent: Velen Players quest.
- John Natalis: Defeat Ravvy during the quest 'A Dangerous Game'.
- Esterad Thyssen: Beat Dijkstra in the Novigrad bathhouse.
All of these cards can potentially be obtained about a third of the way through the game, and are among the strongest non-neutral cards in your deck.
The North's heroes
This is my recommendation for a solid, late game Northern Realms deck.
Total cards: 30
Foltest - The Siege Master (at higher levels weather cards are used less and less).
- 3x Decoy
- 1x Commander's Horn
- 3x Scorch
- 1x Clear Weather
Unit cards (22):
- Geralt of Rivia (15) - Neutral Melee Hero
- Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon (15) - Neutral Melee Hero
- Yennefer of Vengerberg (7) - Neutral Ranged Hero (Medic)
- Triss Merigold (7) - Neutral Melee Hero
- Villentretenmerth (7) - Neutral Melee (Scorch)
- Mysterious Elf (0) - Neutral Ranged Hero (Spy)
- Vernon Roche (10) - Melee Hero
- John Natalis (10) - Melee Hero
- Esterad Thyssen (10) - Melee Hero
- Philippa Eilhart (10) - Ranged Hero
- Catapult x2 (8) - Siege
- Trebuchet x2 (6) - Siege
- Ballista (6) - Siege
- Siege Tower (6) - Siege
- Dethmold (6) - Ranged
- Dun Banner Medic (5) - Siege (Medic)
- Prince Stennis (5) - Melee (Spy)
- Sigismund Dijkstra (4) - Melee (Spy)
- Thaler (1) - Siege (Spy)
- Kaedwini Siege Expert (1) - Siege (Moral Boost)
These cards are the best of the best - put them in every deck
All great Gwent deck builds must start with a leader. In this case we have King Foltest. There are four versions of this card, each with its own unique ability, but in my opinion there are only two worth considering:
- The Siegemaster - Double the strength of your Siege units, provided you haven't used a Commander’s Horn.
- Lord Commander of the North - Clear all weather effects from play.
The selection of Northern Realms leader cards (inc DLC on the far right)
As I mentioned, your siege weapons are your greatest asset, and King Foltest The Siegemaster allows you to double your siege attack points at any time in the match, without having to draw a Commander's Horn.
Secondly, the Lord Commander of the North ensures you are protected against the weather card Torrential Rain, which will decrease all of your siege units' attack to 1, rendering them all but useless. It's up to you which one you would prefer to use, just ensure to adjust your deck accordingly before you start the game (i.e. adding a 'Clear Weather' card if using The Siegemaster).
By playing through the game you will steadily acquire the strongest neutral hero cards (Geralt, Ciri, Mysterious Elf, etc.) and these are going to form the basis of every deck.
As for Northern Realms specific unit cards however, you are going to want to stack your deck with all the siege cards possible. Your catapults have the 'Tight Bond' ability, so if you play both of them together, they will have a combined total of 32 points! The Trebuchets, Ballista, and Siege Tower all have an attack value of 6, which is better than all of the other standard cards in your deck.
Your selection of siege weapons is vast
You also have access to several cards with special abilities -- 1 medic card, 3 morale cards, and 3 spy cards. Your medic is another siege card with an attack of 5. Use her to revive unit cards from the discard pile, and utilize the Decoy special card to do it more than once. The Kaedweni Siege Expert cards have the morale boost ability, which increases the attack of all your siege units by 1.
Most importantly, the Northern Realms have the three most powerful spies in the game. By giving your enemy attack points, you are allowed to draw 2 cards. Your spies, unlike Nilfgaard's, all have low attack values, so they do not boost your opponents score as much. Use these in the first round to draw a large force of heroes and siege weapons, and you will be unstoppable in the second and third rounds. Collect the Mysterious Elf hero card to add the best spy to your deck.
You have the best spies but only one medic. Use her wisely
Finally, we come to your special cards: Decoys, Commander's Horns and Scorch. Decoys allow you to re-use enemy spies and your medic card. Horns will double the attach value of your siege weapons if you elect to not use Foltest The Siegemaster. Scorch cards are simply good at destroying your enemy's best cards.
In the late game, weather cards are not as effective, but it may be a good idea to have a 'Clear Weather' card just in case.
Special cards can turn the tide of any battle when used correctly
As I touched upon in the build, the Northern Realms have far and away the best siege units in the game. You have access to more siege cards than any other faction, and they are your greatest offensive capability (not counting heroes). When you combine this strength with the Siegemaster's ability, spy cards, and your strong heroes, you have a very versatile deck indeed.
The key to winning with with the Northern Realms cards is to use your spies early so you can draw plenty of heroes, siege, and special cards. This way, conceding the first round to your opponent is completely fine, because you will have way more material than him for the second and third rounds. They will most likely give up the second round without much of a fight, allowing you to unload your siege weapons in the third, doubling their attack power with Foltest's ability. Remember to redraw cards at the start of the game if necessary, so you have a balanced hand that will last three rounds.
Since you only have one medic, utilize your Decoy cards and re-use her to bring back cards destroyed by Scorch or discarded after the first round. Remember: you can revive an enemy spy using your medic if you are in desperate need of some new cards. You can also use your decoys to steal enemy spies for an extra draw or re-use Villentretenmerth's Scorch ability. Also make sure to use Scorch to weaken the enemy score. Do this before you buff your own units, or you will only destroy your own card/s.
Your lone Kaedwini Siege Engineer is an easy target for a redraw if you have few other siege units in your starting hand. However, he can also add some crucial firepower to your back row, which sometimes means the difference between winning or losing.
Aside from that, you also have the ridiculously powerful Neutral Hero cards to help bolster your attack. You would do well to try and bait your opponent into using their strongest cards early on so you can unleash Geralt and/or Ciri later in the match.
You now have all the knowledge you need to succeed with the Northern Realms. Maybe you completely disagree with my build and strategy tips, and that's okay! Hopefully most of you found this helpful. Let me know how you would play a Northern Realms deck -- I would love to hear about your best strategies.