GUIDE: Hybrid Handbuff + Dwarves (4K+ MMR)


-- 6,200


Hi, everyone!


My name is Daniel and I’ve been playing Gwent since just before the Weather Patch (June/2017). I play mainly Nilfgaard, as it is my favorite faction, and I finished last season in the top 750 – with 4.5K+ MMR – using my GrandSPYmaster Deck. 🙂

Since the Saovine Patch I’ve been exploring different ways to build a consistent Scoia’tael deck featuring Dol Blathanna SwordmasterDeploy: Damage an Enemy by this Unit's Power. as win condition, and I’m pretty satisfied with the results so far. Understand though that this is a work in progress, so keep checking back for regular updates. 

This version differs a lot from the standard handbuffing lists you see out there. In comparison to those versions that focus a lot more on elven bronzes, I figured that dedicating some slots to dwarves makes the deck a lot more consistent and less vulnerable agains high tempo archetypes.

My goal here is to share the knowledge I’ve gathered playing Gwent so far and engage into healthy discussions with whoever is interested, so we all can improve as players!

I’m not sure I was able to explain myself as well as I wanted to, so excuse me if it gets to confusing some times and help me improve it!

I’d also like to state that English is not my native language and I don’t practice it very much, so forgive eventual misspellings and grammatical flaws.


Let’s get to work!




– Amazing finishers;

– Strong tempo plays (aside from hand- improving cards);

– High consistency;

– Unique gameplay;

– Not really counterable;

– Fun as hell. 🙂



– Usually gets out valued in longer rounds (no snowballing potential);

– Lack os regular carryover or Yaevinn can make it harder to regain card advantage sometimes;

– Takes a lot of experience to understand how to control it’s rhythm (hard to explain kkk)

– Vulnerable to hard carryover archetypes like Nekker army.



The concept is all about buffing Swordmasters in hand in order to win a medium-short Third Round with very high value plays. To do this we are forced to play a few very low tempo cards – Elven Mercenary > Quen Sign, Hawker Supports and even Francesca herself – that require the player to be very smart with tempo management to avoid getting too far behind.

On the other hand, the dwarven side of the deck provides very strong tempo  – 13+ points plays – that allows it to not only keep up with the opponent after playing handbuffing cards (low tempo) but also get a good lead to create card advantage. And that unique dynamic that mixes immediate value with handbuff carryover is what makes this deck quite hard to pilot effectively, but also very distinct and fun.

At this point what I want you to realize is that this deck does not have a point generating dynamo core like Spy Nilfgaard or Swarm Northern Realms. It also does not benefit from longer rounds like weather based decks. Instead, it shines in medium-shorter rounds in which you can play 1-7 points cards without getting too far behind or just overwhelm the opponent with 13-16 points every turn. To effectively exploit this idea, you must understand what kind of deck your facing in every matchup and how to create the perfect window for a pass in First Round.

Translating it all in terms of game plan, you pretty much going to lose First Round (:)) and there is a simple explanation to that: it tends to be the most disputed round, so players invest hard on it – basically everything that is not their win condition – and hardly pass before the first 7-9 turns, unless you are very far behind. So, instead of wasting your power cards – that are very strong, but not snowballing – in a long round where they will eventually be out valued, it’s just way better to save them while you do as much handbuffing as you can without being forced -2 card advantage.

And there are 2 ways of losing round one profitably: the first one is by going full handbuffing, or almost, and passing quickly; the second is by playing a bit of handbuffing (one or two cards) and then going hard on tempo to get ahead and then passing. The first is better suited for when you win coin flip, the second for when you lose. Either way, your goal is to do at least some handbuffing – while the opponent commit important resources – before getting out of the round in a situation that forces the opponent to go 1 card down. Once you get used to the impact of every card, it won’t be hard to do it at all.

Then we go to Second Round, which is very simple: go for tempo. Play what you must to stay ahead every turn, and if it is not possible, try to fit a handbuffer if it doesn’t mean falling behind too hard.

If done right the game will go for a short Third Round with at least even cards in hand, but every single play you’ve got is worth 13-20 points. Seizing victory from there shouldn’t be hard.




Dol Blathanna SwordmasterDeploy: Damage an Enemy by this Unit's Power.: CORE. one of the defining cards of this deck and the great finisher. With minimum buffing – exempla: one Support and the Quen – it’s already worth 18 points, which is insane. You must have at least one in hand from the beginning, and if it does not come in the opening hand you Francesca for it.

Hawker SupportDeploy: Boost a Unit in your Hand by 3.: CORE. Simples card that complements the Swordmasters. It’s way better then Vhrihedd Dragoons since the buff is instant and targeted. Not much else to say here.

Elven MercenaryDeploy: Look at the top 2 Bronze Special cards from your Deck. Play 1 and shuffle the other back.: CORE. A tutor for Quen.

Quen SignChoose a Bronze or Silver Unit in your Hand. Give all copies of it in your Hand and Deck a Shield and Boost them by 2. Units which already have a Shield cannot be chosen and aren't affected.: CORE. Provides 12 total points spread across the 3 Swordmaster while also giving them that sweet shield that helps a lot in some matchups.

Dwarven AgitatorDeploy: Spawn a base copy of a random different Bronze Dwarf from your Deck.: CORE. If you run at least 1 set of dwarves it represents 2 free points that separate decent plays from the strong ones. It also makes 2 bodies at once, which helps with Toruviel.

 Dwarven SkirmisherDeploy: Damage an Enemy by 3. If it was not Destroyed, Strengthen self by 2.: just a consistent good value dwarf to be copied by agitator. Also helps setting up Iorveth kills and sometimes even take out key units. Can be replace of any 10+ bronze dwarf – like Dwarven Mercenary or Pyrotechnician.

Vrihedd SappersAmbush: After 2 turns, at the start of your turn, turn this Unit over.: is a third target for Isengrim so that you never see him dead in your hand because you already drew the silver ambushers . It can also confuse opponnents quite often forcing them to play around an imaginary Morenn or locking a ghost Toruviel. Sappers is an important deckbuilding choice and I strongly advise you to not neglect his usefullness. Also note that Isengrim > Sappers is a 16 points play, which is far from bad for a gold card. Remember that ambushes can’t be targeted, so Sapper makes a decent proactive play for Third Round.



Barclay ElsDeploy: Play a random Bronze or Silver Dwarf from your Deck and Strengthen it by 3.: CORE. very strong tempo card – 16 or 18 points – that also thins you a card. Best target for Hattori.

HattoriDeploy: Resurrect a Bronze or Silver Scoia'tael Unit with Power less than or equal to this Unit's.: CORE. basically another Barclay, resurrecting the silver dwarf (16/18+3) or the Agitators (13+3). Make sure you always have a decent target for him in graveyard. With buff from Support, can resurrect Toruviel or even Morenn with some help from Iorveth. Excellent card.

ToruvielAmbush: When your opponent passes, turn this Unit over and Boost 2 Units on each side by 2.: part of the Isengrim package, provides good value (14) and some mind pressure over the opponent due to the ambush factor. Few thing are more satisfying the winning the round with that amazing voice line – “I LIKE the way you DIE, human”!

MorennAmbush: When an Enemy is played (except Leaders), turn this Unit over and Damage that Enemy by 5 before its Deploy ability resolves (but after it gains Armor).: another part of the Isengrim package, with decent value (12) and that insane mind pressure. A well placed Morenn sniping a low strength unit before it’s deploy triggers is just so rewarding and powerful. Just be careful not to play her in a situation that allows the opponent to just pass without flipping her up.

Marching OrdersBoost the Lowest Bronze or Silver Unit from your Deck by 2 and play it.: CORE. gets you the Mercenary, or a tempo dwarf if Merc was already played/drew, being a strong card in both cases.

ScorchDestroy all the Highest Units.: CORE. Your ace in the sleeve and counters the core cards of strong and commom archetypes like Impera Brigades, Far Seers, Unseen Elder, Protectors etc.



IorvethDeploy: Damage an Enemy by 7. If it was Destroyed, Boost all Elves in your Hand by 1.: CORE. Strong tempo (14), strong disruption and handbuffing. Just every aspect of this card fits the deck extremely well.

IsengrimPlay a Bronze or Silver Ambush card from your Deck.: almost core, and by playing him Toruviel and Morenn must be played too. Few cards in the entire game can match the value this guy provides (pull Morenn = 19 points + utility/ pull Toruviel = 21 points).

Royal DecreePlay a Gold card from your Deck. If it is a Unit (but not an Agent or Double Agent), Boost it by 2. Shuffle the others back.: increases consistency and allows you to better abuse the power of you golden elves.

RenewResurrect a Gold Unit.: the deck runs 2 very strong gold cards, and replay any of them is always very impactful in the game.



Mahakam PyrotechnicianDeploy: Damage a random Enemy on each row by 3.: with two targets it is as good as Skirmisher and with three targets it represents 14 points (16 with Agitators), which is a lot for a bronze. Definitely an option, but I preffer Skirmisher’s consistency.

Dwarven MercenaryDeploy: Move a Unit on another row to this row on its side. If it's an Ally, Boost it by 3.: is worth 10 points while Skirmisher is worth 11, so it is close. Mercenary moves and buffs and it has defensive apliccations (messing up that Iris can be key, for example). Skirmisher damages, setting up Iroveth’s snipes and, sometimes, better scorches. My personal preference is Skirmisher, but Mercs is very decent.

Mahakam AleDeploy: Boost a random Ally on each row by 4.: if you want a second special card to prevent Elven Mercenary from being dead in you hand, Mahakam Ale is a solid option, requiring only three targets to be woth 12 points. Running it also enables resurecting Merc as an option with Hattori. On the other hand, being stuck with both Quen and Merc in hand is easly avoided if you mulligan smartly, so it is almost never a real problem. Can replace Sappers.

OBS: Full Moon PotionBoost up to 6 random Allies by 2. and OverdoseDamage up to 6 random Enemies by 2. do basically the same thing as Mahakam Ale, but are way less reliable. You can run them if you do not own Ale, but Ale is definitely better.

First LightSpawn Clear Skies or Rally.: finds the same purpose as Ale in being a good target for Elven Mercenary. It has a strong RNG factor, which can be problematic, but on the other hand it doubles as the weather clear this deck lacks. Can replace Sappers.

Vrihedd BrigadeDeploy: Clear Hazards from the row on your side and move a Unit to this row on its side.: since we tend to go for medium-short rounds weather is not that problematic, but having a clear in hand is always a safe option. If you do want a weather clear I recommend going for First Light, but Vrihedd Brigade is decent too. Can replace Sappers.

DecoyReturn a Bronze or Silver Ally to your Hand, Boost it by 3 and play it.: decoying Agitator (14 points), Barclay (17 to 19 points) or Hattori (17 to 24 points) is very very strong. If you’re not going for tempo you can also decoy Hawker Support, but it is not the best option. Very strong option.

Ida EmeanDeploy: Spawn Impenetrable Fog, Clear Skies or Overdose.: silver mages are always a decent option and Ida can fit in this deck. Weather clear, weather spawning or 15 points: those are the modes. 

IrisDeathwish: Boost 5 random Units on the other side of the Board by 5.: absurd 22 value (25 from deathwish – 3 from own body) that this deck can proc easily. Good option. 

Yarpen ZigrinWhenever a Dwarf Ally is played, Boost self by 1. Deploy: Gain Resilience.: decent value in medium-long rounds and provides carryover, which can always be key. Decent option.

CiaranDeploy: Toggle a Unit's Lock and move it to this row on its side.: the meta does not really call for a lock as a must have, but if you truly belive you need one, go for it.

OBS: there are really good silver options, especially Decoy, but I consider my list very impositive in terms of silvers. Barclay and Hattori are just too strong to be cut out. Marching Orders is necessary to Quen the Swordmasters reliably, and if Mercs was already played/drawn it gives very strong tempo (15+). Scorch is strategically crucial in a lot of very common matchups (like Spell Scoia’tael and Tuirseach Skellige). If I was to replace a silver card it would be the ambushers, but it would mean replacing Isengrim too and I’m not confortable with this idea.

IthlinneDeploy: Play a Bronze Spell, Boon or Hazard card from your Deck, then Spawn a copy of it. Shuffle the others back.: also known as Double Quen in this deck. Decent, but not optimal, especially because I do not run Dragoons and there is no other good target besides Swordmasters. Mercenary does Ithlinne’s job very well without committing a gold slot. Also, Merc is the prioritaty card for Marching Orders while Ithlinne competes with the 2 power dwarves, some compromising consistency. Can replace Renew.

MuzzleMove a Bronze or Silver Enemy with 8 Power or less to the opposite row.: a no brainer in most decks in the current meta, but outclassed by Isengrim and Iorveth in this deck (Renew and Royal Decree are basically Isengrims and Iorveths). Nonetheless is representes potential 16 points and disrupts some key cards like Morkvarg and Impera Enforcers. Can replace Renew.

EskelDeploy: Destroy a Bronze or Silver Enemy that is not Boosted.: is basically a Muzzle, but a little bit worse. Can replace Renew.

DroughtApply a Drought Hazard to all opposing rows. Drought Hazard: Every turn, at the start of your turn, Damage the Lowest Unit on the row by 2.: nets cheap wins if it is not countered, but provides 0 value if it is. Better then Ragh Nar Roog in this deck because you want the opponent to go as tall as possible for you to Scorch. Suboptimal in this deck since we do not have a way to punnish row stacking – unless you run Dol Blathanna Trapper.

AglaisDeploy: You may Resurrect a Bronze or Silver Special card from your opponent's Graveyard.: huge value if the opponent has played a decent special card, mediocre if he/she has not. Good card that can replace Renew, but I don’t find it to be consisten enough.


1. Running 1 Mercenary and 1 Marching orders seems better then dedicating a gold slot for Ithlinne. It’s more consistent and saves you a slot for high value gold cards.

2. I experimented a lot with more elven focused lists and I can say this version is a lot better. It’s not perfected yet, but it’s been working very well so far. I already made it to 4 K MMR and getting to 4.25 seems just a matter of time. 

3. Similar versions of this deck can be run with both Brouver and Eithné – even though Fran synergizes better overall. The Eithné version seems promising and I will write more about it soon

4. Believe when I say this deck can be very effective but takes a lot of experience and decision making, and that’s what makes it so interesting and fun to play.




(coming soon…)



This deck  has been performing quite well so far and is very unique in some of it’s choices. Nonetheless, expect a few changes in the future, since I seek to master it. 🙂

Will dedicate some time to write the “coming soon” sections soon.



Hope it helps!

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