Swain Gnar Deck Guide

Among the new decks introduced by the expansion, Swain Gnar feels like one of the most refined and cohesive. Learn to pilot it with Den!

Hi everyone, den is here with the guide for Swain Gnar, which is one of my favorite decks in the early meta of Curious Journey.

It lends its roots to another Noxus-based archetype, Swain Teemo, which has disappeared in the last few months – just like the rest of the Noxus-based decks really. However, the current early-season meta is looking much better for the region.

There are a lot of board-based decks right now in the environment thanks to the arrival of Gnar and Galio, so Swain Gnar has been one of the early performers in the first week of the expansion.

Swain Gnar created by den β€’ last updated 1 year ago

Swain Gnar can be labeled either as an ‘Off-Tempo’ or a ‘Slow Burn’ deck and as such, it has two axes on which it approaches the game.

Being ‘Off-Tempo’ means that the deck is comfortable playing defensively for the first portion of the game, during which it will focus on containing the opponent’s board rather than developing its own. Then, it will switch towards a faster approach and the burn gameplan as we develop our power cards: both our champions, Teenydactil and The Leviathan.

Against slower opponents, the emphasis will be on reducing the opponent’s health through a ‘Slow Burn’ plan. Using our followers, Swain, and stuns – the deck is capable of pushing the required 20 damage fairly effectively.

Gnar and the Teenydactil are key to forcing answers out of our opponent’s hand. If they have to commit resources, they will be less likely to remove Swain and The Leviathan, which constitute your actual endgame.

In terms of the build, the deck can go many routes. Below, I’ll talk about the cards that I think are core and should be included.

Teenydactil is a cute-looking bird that is a great removal bait. And, when the opponent decides to leave it on the board, we get free damage every turn alongside a big unit that we can use to attack with. A solid 3-of in the deck.

Inventive Chemist is a big point of contention for the archetype – some deckbuilders are loving it, while others are cutting it entirely. I prefer it as a 2- or 3-of: the goal is to play her on turn 1, and have her landmark explode right on-time to activate Gnar and Teenydactil.

Wallop is the card I was low on initially upon release, but it really is a neat addition to the deck, at least in 1 or 2 copies. The stun and the damage the card provides have good synergies inside the deck, helping set up better board situations while enabling our Ravenous Flocks and Guillotines. It is also a Fast speed spell, which is a good change of pace from the Arachnoid Sentry, which people are used to playing around when facing our kind of deck.

Noxian Guillotine and Scorched Earth are still good as a 2/2 spread. With Bandle Tree being popular early on in the new metagame, going heavier on Scorched Earth made a lot of sense initially. But as time passed, I realized that the matchup was favored with or without Scorched Earth.

Spotted Toad is a pretty good card in the deck, but also a weird one sometimes. It is perfect with Ravenous Flocks and Guillotines, but also tempts you to go for greedy setups where you leave a bunch of opposing units at low health. This is something that can backfire, so I ended up with only 1 copy of the Toad.

Techs and Options

  • Loping Telescope
    Acting as a value engine, the card helps push for tempo in lategame situation or gain access to utility tools like Crescent Strike or Equinox to deal with the opposing tempo. Since I started playing the Inventive Chemist though, I felt like the deck was taking a more tempo-oriented direction and the 2-mana 2/1 stats were hurting the deck too much in its development.
  • Whispered Words
    A replacement for the second Wallop, this draw card would help if the metagame wasn’t as tempo oriented as it is for now. With Gnar, Pokey Stick, Conchologist and The Leviathan, I feel like the deck has enough fuel as is.
  • Minitee
    A card I’m still unsure about, as I usually tend to turn the corner around turn 5 or 6 and then focus on burning my opponent. I have seen some players cut a copy of The Leviathan to include it, which is something I would never do. In slower, resource-based matchups like Darkness or the mirror match, the card could have some merit though.
  • Treasured Trash
    A very good lategame card that I would personally favor over Whispered Words as a refill mechanic. It doesn’t feel like it is necessary to run it for now even though it could replace one copy of Teenydactyl.
  • Minimorph
    While it can bail you out, it is also generally very expensive. If you’re want to add another defensive option, you can run 1 copy.

General Tips

  • Know your role in a matchup
    Because Swain Gnar can either play as the agressor or the defender, being aware of how you win each matchup is key to boosting your winrate with the deck.
    If you’re the defender, try to pinpoint the moment where you can turn things with a big tempo play and work towards it.
    If you expect your opponent to be passive in the early turns, then look for early pressure that will later help you transition into the burn phase.
  • Master the Stuns
    Stuns can be used to activate a Ravenous Flock, to prevent an upcoming problematic attack or to remove a blocker and push more damage to the opponent’s Nexus.
    Arachnoid Sentry is basically a 2-for-1 play both on-offense, and on-defense – it stuns one unit, and can trade against a second one.
    Wallop is great against open-attacks when the opponent is looking to avoid the Sentry. If you have the attack token, look to use Wallop in response to the opponent’s spell – that way we can take advantage of the stun by attacking immediately on our next action.
  • Leverage Swain’s Fearsome keyword
    Swain is a key part of our gameplan, and he also is a pain to remove for a lot of opponents. With 6 points of health and an annoying keyword, Swain is a great offensive unit in the current metagame. Support him with removal spells and stuns in order to force your opponent into awkward situations. This will make them use more resources than they wish, and giving you more opportunities to stick The Leviathan later on.
  • Stay adaptable with your Gnar
    Everyone’s favorite yordle is extremely good in the deck. As a level 1 champion, he provides draw with a Pokey Stick, and as the Mega Gnar he is a great removal.
    Recognize which side of Gnar you need more in the moment and play accordingly. If you want to generate more value with Pokey Sticks, it’s better to play him on attack turns. Look to play Gnar on a defensive turn if you want use his level-up (which is easy to set up) to remove the enemy strongest unit with an open attack next turn.

General mulligan tips:

  • Inventive Chemist and House Spider are the two cards we are always happy to see. I tend to favor House Spider over Conchologist for early tempo, but the latter is a decent keep as well.
  • Gnar usually is a keep, unless you’re facing an agressive deck and have no early game.
  • Swain is a keep against decks weak to Fearsome – notably Bandle Tree and Galio decks. Otherwise, consider the strength of the hand for the first few turns.
  • Arachnoid Sentry and Ravenous Flock represent a huge tempo swing. Unless you’re against a heavy control deck like FTR, this combo usually is a keep.
  • Teenydactyl is a keep if you also have an Inventive Chemist.
  • Damage spells should be kept based on the threats we expect from the opponent, see the matchup section for this. Flock usually is the spell we can keep most of the time unless you want to actively start burning the opponent from the get-go.


Mulligan for: Ravenous Flock – Arachnoid Sentry – Wallop – Guillotine – Early units.

  • Eventually, the opponent runs out of cards if you can deal with their threats. Taking on the defensive role is totally fine if you have removal.
  • All Pantheon’s removal requires a unit on the board to be usable. As such, favor removing their board before developing yours to limit the impact of cards like Single Combat or Concerted Strike.
  • Guiding Touch is a key card for the opponent to heal a unit back to full health and deny a Ravenous Flock or a Guillotine. Be mindful of the card when using your removal
  • Stunning a unit can buy you a lot of time, especially if it is a Taric or the unit Yuumi is attached to when defending. On attack, the opponent not going wide gives you great stuns to remove important blockers.

Mulligan for: Swain – Early curve – Death Hand if already some curve to kill the Bandle Mayor.

  • If you play a list with multiple Scorched Earth, you can take the match rather slow and build a very solid board. Otherwise, we are playing for Swain and The Leviathan.
  • Both decks are looking to establish early tempo to then leverage it into safely advancing their win condition. Wrestle for the initiative, it will make the rest of the match much easier.
  • Gnar is difficult to use because of Buster Shot, trying to bait it out with Teenydactyl can be a good thing. Just hope they didn’t draw it rather than slowing down to play around it.
  • Spotted Toad can be an MVP against this sort of swarm decks, if you have him in hand, feel free to trade down and leave several units at 1 HP on the board.
  • Poppy and Gnar should be removed (or at least stunned before attack) on sight, these are the 2 highest priority threat for our opponent as it grants them more tempo or resources.

Mulligan for: Early units – Arachnoid Sentry + Flock (removes Ziggs) – Poison Dart – Gnar with good hand.

  • Because we can also turn to a burn deck ourselves, the sole focus should be on leveraging the board to our advantage. Once that is done, we should be able to win the damage race without sweating too much.
  • The first 4 turns are the key to the game. If you manage to navigate those and come out on top, you can then ignore a lot of what your opponent does and play the aggressor.
  • Be careful when your opponent is attacking. If they are on odds, you want to answer Ziggs and their 1-drop. If they are on evens, the threats will be Stone Stackers and Gnar mostly.
  • Swain requires a ton of resources from your opponent to remove it and they don’t have too many Fearsome blockers. Feel free to slam him onto the board if you aren’t under pressure or if there’s no clear punish to it.

Mulligan for: Early units – Arachnoid Sentry – Poison Dart (especially if the opponent attacks on odds) – Flock – Gnar with good hand.

  • This matchup is a war of attrition between their units and your defensive tools. As Lurk doesn’t draw cards, they rely on Rek’Sai creating Lurkers to refill eventually, and if we can punish it with a Stun to prevent her level up, the game usually ends in our favor.
  • Stunning is a key part of slowing down the mid- and late-game of Lurk. If a stun can prevent the opponent from Lurking for the turn, you should definitely take it.
  • Gnar is very hard for Lurk to deal with because of Quick Attack, leaving only Pyke’s spell as an option on turn 4.

Mulligan for: Inventive Chemist – Arachnoid Sentry – Flock – Death’s Hand – Gnar.

  • Scouts is the most annoying of the tempo decks because it has plenty of must kill units early in the game. Miss Fortune and Durand Sculptor should be removed asap once they’ve hit the board.
  • Early on, we should definitely focus on removing the board rather than developing it. A good turning point for us is levelling Gnar so we have a persistent removal engine and can spend our mana on units more freely.
  • Scouts want to go wide during turns 1-4, and then curve out their bigger units on 5 and 6. If possible, we want to keep Guillotine for the bigger units and use Flock, Death’s Hand and trades in the the early game.
  • Toad can be a big MVP here as the opponent cannot play Ranger’s Resolve to answer its damage AoE. Be carefull when investing a lot of mana and tempo into it, however.
  • Swain is a great unit to play, especially if you have several in hand and gain access to more Ravenous Flocks. Apart from Brightsteel Protector and Vanguard Sergeant, the opponent needs to block him with champions or invest Sharpsight.

Mulligan for: Inventive Chemist – House Spider – Swain – Gnar – Ravenous Flock – Teenydactyl with Inventive Chemist – Arachnoid Sentry with Flock.

  • Depending on your hand and decklist, you can act either as a defender or the aggressor in the mirror match. I’d prefer playing agressive early on to start getting some damage in, I feel it increases the pressure that our later threats put on the opponent in the lategame.
  • The whole goal of the mirror match is to force out removal on dispensable units. In theory, removal should be saved for Gnar, Swain and The Leviathan, so every time you see a Scorched Earth or a Flock being used on something else, it increases the chances of a premium threat sticking to the board.
  • Hand-reading is particularly important in this matchup. If you get a read that your opponent doesn’t have a specific removal, go for it and create a situation that will be as punishing as possible.
  • Try to play Gnar at the end of a defensive turn to be able to open attack before the opponent could play Arachnoid Sentry.
  • Do not attack with premium threats when they can get easily blocked, as it would allow Ravenous Flock and Noxian Guillotine to be used.

Mulligan for: Inventive Chemist – House Spider – Death’s Hand – Ravenous Flock – Arachnoid Sentry – Gnar – Teenydactyl (with Chemist). Swain and The Leviathan can be kept with a good hand.

  • Darkness is one of the few decks we can’t beat in a one-for-one battle, so we are forced to take on the aggressive role from the get-go here. Early on, the only unit we take care of is Twisted Catalyzer (hence the Death’s Hand keep), the rest will likely die in trades.
  • Both champions are must-remove on the spot, good thing is that both are removed by Ravenous Flock.
  • Ixtali Sentinel is the problem for your burn plan. Stunning it is a viable plan as we just want to prevent it from striking.
  • We have a good density of threats on turn 4 and 5, which should be a high point for us. Then we want to remove problematic units on 6 and 7 so we can slam The Leviathan without a Veigar or Senna on the board.

Mulligan for: Early Pressure – Gnar – Teenydactyl – Arachnoid Sentry.

  • Timelines is a deck that is totally fine with waiting until it gets into its comfort zone in the lategame. We have to start burning early on and using our Stuns aggressively.
  • Because of Buried in Ice being in the deck, we can’t really wait and build a great board while relying on Swain to stun the opponent. We need incremental damage through the whole game.
  • The Leviathan is difficult to rely on as the opponent plays 3 copies of Aloof Travelers, and is therefore likely to discard it. A copy of Treasured Trash can be great for this matchup to compensate for that.
  • Because of the Icevale Archer, take open attacks with a big unit (Gnar, Terrordactyl, Giga Gromp) if you know it will touch the opposing Nexus for a good chunk of damage. The opponent plays Three Sisters as well, but that isn’t something we can do so much about.

Closing Words

In a metagame that is still evolving on a day-to-day basis, decks like Swain Gnar that can adopt several roles depending on the matchup tend to perform well. Especially when piloted by good players, capable of adapting on the fly and switching gears at the appropriate time.

With a shell already in place, thanks to its Swain Teemo predecessor, the deck quickly found its core and important cards. There are some fluctuations among the lists, but overall it is already one of the most refined archetypes in the current environment.

Still, one can’t really say that Swain Gnar is dominating the ladder, mostly because it’s held back by difficult matchups into control archetypes and value-oriented builds. As time passes, we can see that Trundle Timelines and Darkness are getting more popular, making Swain Gnar struggle.

I personally really liked playing the deck, and it carried me through the Platinum ranks on my early climb towards Masters. I would recommend the pick if you enjoy off-tempo archetypes and want to learn the intricacies of controlling the pace of a game. It should end up somewhere around the top of Tier 2, but overall I believe the deck should pass the test of time and stay relevant for the weeks to come.

As usual, if you have any questions about this guide, feel free to join the RuneterraCCG Discord and tag me there or leave a comment down below. You can also find me on Twitter or coaching at Metafy.

Good game everyone!


Den has been in love with strategy games for as long as he can remember, starting with the Heroes of Might and Magic series as a kid. Card games came around the middle school - Yugioh and then Magic. Hearthstone has been his real breakthrough and he has been a coach, writer, and caster on the French scene for many years now. Although it took him a bit to get into Legends or Runeterra, his EU Seasonal Tournament win was the perfect start to get involved in the community. He now coaches aspiring pro players and writes various articles on the game. Find him on Twitter at @den_CCG!

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