by David "ImpetuousPanda" Nolskog
”GWENT Champions” is a brand new series of articles that will offer a sneak peek into the life of the most accomplished GWENT players, highlighting what exactly it takes to finish a Pro Ladder season as the highest ranked player in the world. “GWENT Champions” will include a detailed look at the player’s background, an in-depth breakdown of their season success, and a glimpse into the player’s thoughts on the game and it’s future.
This past week saw the culmination of the “Season of the Dryad”, the ninth competitive ladder season in GWENT Master’s Season 2 circuit. Although many may quickly write off the season due to the lack of consequence regarding qualification for major tournaments, there are a few key storylines that were wrapped up this season. The first, a short one, saw a nearly definitive roster of participants locked in for the World Masters Championship at the end of the year, including “kams 134”, “Saber97”, “Pajabol”, and “GraveshGravesh” joining the already cemented Open Winners in “Tailbot”, “Wangid1”, and Demarcation”, with a final spot still in the air depending on the winner of Open #4 later this month. The second story, and the focus of the article, will highlight the transformation and newly found competitive confidence of this past season’s champion, Bart933!
The Time To Shine
Bartosz “Bart933” Ułan’s story in GWENT begins like many others, his initial experience with the Witcher and then subsequently GWENT’s standalone version had him hooked, and transformed him from a shooter fanatic who craved the fast paced action of titles like Call of Duty and Battlefield into a card-slinging maestro who began to dominate the ranked ladder all the way back in the Closed Beta days. Although the twenty-one year old has been around GWENT for a while, and found great success in this newly found genre of gaming, he never truly dedicated 100% of his efforts into competing at the absolute highest level. “In Season 1, even though I was qualifying for all the official tournament qualifiers I was mostly just playing ranked and I didn’t even compete in these qualifiers, I was only spamming one or two decks on ladder and didn’t really have the urge to be competitive. Pro Ladder was essentially just a good environment for me to test my decks on, nothing more” Bart explained.
As Season 2 of GWENT Masters began, Bart was one of many polish players that could be found in the top spots of the Pro Ladder, season after season. Although for some household names like “Tailbot” and “Kams” competing in GWENT was essentially a full time endeavour, for Bart it was more of a hobby he balanced alongside his ongoing studies in Law and Administration at the University of Wroclaw. As the year 2020 slowly drifted into disarray due to an unforeseen global epidemic and the standard summer vacation months arrived, Bart suddenly found himself with an unparalleled amount of free time on his hands. As you can expect considering this article’s existence, Bart funnelled a large portion of this time into GWENT, and developed an entirely different and very intense approach when it comes to competing on Pro Ladder. During this three month period Bart elevated his playrate considerably, tallying 1,000+ games of GWENT per season, and although the results were questionable during the first two months where he only managed a “Top 20” finish, he culminated the experiment with an incredible first place finish and an impressive 10,725 MMR score, the second best in Season 2’s history behind Demarcation’s 10,751 MMR in the “Season of the Elf”.
The Famous Polish Hospitality
It’s no secret that Poland is one of the strongest countries when it comes to GWENT esports, an incredible array of superstar calibre players should be expected considering a vast portion of the player base would naturally hail from the country where CDPR and the Witcher franchise were created. Despite the fierce competition between all top competitors on the ladder, there seems to be a deep-seated camaraderie between poles, and natural friendships have been formed between them. Although the phrase “famous polish hospitality” jokingly originates from the strongest non-polish players ending their ranked season sandwiched between the top polish ladder players such as Tailbot, Pajabol or Kams, it seems a true less tongue in cheek meaning is also applicable. “Everyone knows each other from polish players, I especially talk a lot with Pajabol and Kams about the game. Before any qualifiers we also discuss what to ban and what to bring, I think the polish community is very friendly and I think there are a lot of pros to being polish, you can get a lot of advice from some of the best players in the world.” Bart explained. Bart confesses there isn’t really a central well-organized discord server of any kind exclusive only to the most competitive of polish players, but more a community-wide friendliness and openness that fosters a positive environment for growth as a competitive player.
This polish hospitality was a large reason in the creation of a mostly Polish esports and content creation team, “Team Elder Blood”, which Bart933 has represented since it’s creation, even before then on it’s precursor, MyEsports. Bart joined forces with the team’s manager “KissAndRun” alongside a few other polish competitors and content creators, and his contributions come mostly as consultations regarding the meta for the team’s meat snapshot. Team Elder Blood is also the force behind an incredibly creative and original community GWENT event, Falka’s Rebellion, which will feature a series of tournaments with unusual rulesets and restrictions starting this weekend!
Season of the Dryad
This past season of competitive GWENT was a tricky one, as the stakes involved shifted dramatically and thus the entirety of the season can be deemed “less competitive” as a result. Due to the final qualifiers being played this month, and the ladder finish requirements being taken from the “Season of the Draconid”, the final results in this past season mattered only for a select few in the running for the GWENT World Masters spot via Crown Point qualification. The start of the season also saw the introduction of new leader abilities, shifting the meta landscape considerably.
“At the start of the season I always start with the factions I’m sure will be the strongest, that way I won't waste any time. Since the Master Mirror expansion Northern realms and Skellige have clearly been the best factions, so it’s an easy decision. This season started pretty good, I finished 2,500 almost every faction after placements and only really had big problems with NR at the start, but that was mostly because I was being stubborn by continuing to play Uprising NR even after the release of the new Shield Wall leader ability which has proven to be stronger. Even though I think Uprising is better in a lot of the matchups, in the mirror it’s very binary and you almost can’t win it so I had a very hard time because Shield Wall was being played so much.It took me around eighty games to even hit 2,500 but after switching to Shield Wall it became much easier, after 150 games or so I had finished with nearly 2,700 fMMR on NR. I think a big reason why it was easier is because the season wasn’t as competitive, only a few players really cared about this season, although I did play many games against top players like Saber because we were the only two players really caring about winning the season. I also played a lot against a few more competitors such as Green-Knight, Pajabol and Kolemoen, but I guess most others were having a vacation so there was a lot of farming more “casual” players” Bart explained. As expected, many of the fiercest competitors on the Pro Ladder this season were those who still had the GWENT World Masters qualification on the line.
“With Scoia’tael I had probably the easiest time at the start, I got to 2,600 fMMR in 60 or 70 games, but after that I tanked to 2,500 and it took me like 200 more games to even climb +20 fMMR. At the start I was playing symbiosis to 2,600 and it was working out the best, but then I got baited by the guys at TLG who were saying that Symbiosis was very bad so then I started trying out different ST decks but it wasn’t working at all and I ended up wasting a lot of time tanking MMR in the middle of the season. I switched back to Symbiosis and then was able to climb the last bit of fMMR to 2,619 fMMR.” Bart recalls. During the middle of the season Bart thought that Tailbot would end up winning the season anyway, as his placement match winrate was even better than Bart’s at 75% and Tailbot historically is the player with the best winrate performance on ladder. This also coincided with Bart’s issues with Scoia’tael, and for a few days he had made no progress at all in regards to his total fMMR score. Despite this, Bart still had a lot of room for improvement for several factions, including Syndicate and Skellige.
“In the last two days of the season I was able to climb about 150 fMMR, and I was most scared about Syndicate as near the end there were a lot of opinions from other pro players that Syndicate didn’t seem too strong. I played Hidden Cache Passiflora, although I know a few other players like Green-Knight hit a pretty good score with Blood Money, but I think Hidden Cache suits my playstyle better as it incentivizes bleeding and many times I would simply 2-0 my opponent. In the end it went incredibly well, I managed to win 16 games in a row and climb from 2,550 to 2,653 and once I lost a game I switched to Skellige. When I started queuing for a match at 2,710 fMMR they were probably the longest queues I ever had, I had to wait on average around 15 minutes to find a match. It took me the whole night to play around ten games with Skellige, but I was also watching Pajabol’s stream during his final push as well so it was entertaining. In the end I managed to achieve a final score of 2,755 for Skellige, breaking the record for highest single faction score which was previously held by Wangid.” Bart retells.
Bart’s choice of factions is not too surprising, with most players deeming Northern Realms, Skellige, and Scoiatael as the strongest options, with Syndicate lagging closely behind. Bart also believes Monsters can be a competitive option, but certainly a non-devotion option with neutral removal such as Heatwave, especially considering the perplexing nerf to Auberon in the last patch. Nilfgaard lags much further behind for the majority of pro players, and this is especially the case following the recent nerf to the Masquerade Ball scenario. Bart confessed he doesn’t have any real secrets in regards to what decklists he chose to play throughout the season, and that his success comes down mostly to piloting and his very intricate knowledge of matchups and sequencing. “One of the changes I made very early was swapping out War Elephant for Falibor in NR, as I thought War Elephant could sometimes be a bit clunky and I liked Falibor in some situations. Especially against Syndicate, a lot of players would go into a long Round 3 and they could cheese a win thanks to Azar by denying a lot of value from Anseis. I think this decision was a big reason why I was able to quickly hit 2,700 fMMR with NR and a lot of players followed my decision after this.” Bart said.
The Drive To Compete
Although the Season of the Dryad has a few asterisks associated with it which Bart himself acknowledges, his breakout performance and champion calibre results have changed his mindset and proven if he gives it his all he can truly perform on par with the best players in the world. “I feel that even though this season wasn’t fully competitive and I fully agree on it, and it was probably the reason I was able to hit this number one spot on ladder, I feel I was also evolving with my gameplay skills a lot during the last three months which I had as vacations and could spend a lot more time on GWENT. Before these months I played around 500 games per month due to having to spend time on my university studies, but I was able to double that during these summer vacations and it helped me improve a lot.” Despite there still being two major tournaments to play for Season 2 of the GWENT Masters Season, the qualifications for both have pretty much been set in stone and for a grand majority of competitive players the stakes have diminished considerably. Although Season 3 hasn’t been officially confirmed, Bart aims to apply what he’s learned in the past few months and become a more consistent and focused competitive player in preparation for a possible new season in the GWENT Masters circuit. “Of course I am waiting for Season 3, I think that looking at my performance during these vacations and because I’ve played so many games, I have really improved. To become a better player I think you have to spend a lot of time on it, only a “chosen one” is able to be incredibly skilled without ever playing a lot of games” Bart laughs. “My goal now is to be more focused with the games I play and try and improve my winrate, to hit a similar score in future seasons but with a much lower amount of games. Now I feel much more confident than I used to be, a few months ago I didn't even have this competitive mindset and I was mostly just playing casually on Pro Ladder. My performance this last season improved my mindset and lot and changed my perspective on the game. I’d love to also qualify for some tournaments in the future, although hopefully once things return to normal and I can play in the standard tournament experience in CDPR’s studio.”
Although Bart’s journey at the forefront of GWENT’s competitive scene has come to a halt for now, the action is far from over for diehard GWENT esport fans around the world. As previously mentioned, Team Elder Blood’s Falka Rebellion Community Tournament will take place this weekend, with a very diverse set of rulesets and restrictions guaranteeing a truly memorable and unique GWENT experience. GWENT Open #4 is also just around the corner, with the last GWENT World Masters spot at stake and an incredible and varied list of participants, including tournament veterans Demarcation, Kolemoen, and Wangid; returning players Magpie and Wlastelin; and much anticipated tournament debuts from Pajabol, Gravesh and LeGooha. Don’t miss out on the action, GWENT Open #4 will take place on October 24th-25th and can be viewed on CDPR’s Twitch Channel.