Burning Sensation

This is a post based on the competitive scene, focused upon joust.

Just as we arrive at the end of the second full cycle of datapacks for Thrones, FFG have delivered some juicy new spoilers for House Targaryen, to arrive midway through the third cycle, with ‘The Fall of Astapor‘ and the Watchers on the Wall deluxe:

Things are finally beginning to heat up in Essos, and it seems like a really good time to take a look at the state of House Targaryen.

Riches to Rags

In the books, House Targaryen was an all-powerful dynasty that crumbled from a combination of complacency, misrule and, ahem, inbreeding. One of the three strongest factions out of the core set, along with Baratheon and Lannister, the fortunes of the faction have been in relative decline since.

Out of our small group of players at the inception of Thrones 2.0, we initially diverged quite heavily in what factions we were playing, while Joel and George fumbled around finding their feet with 2-player ‘lifestyle’ card games in general, playing Lannister, Stark, Greyjoy (I know…) and Night’s Watch, I was drawn towards Targaryen and Martell. I loved the timing mechanics of Martell (and loved the House from the books) and the explosive closing power of cards like Doran’s Game and The Red Viper, but also recognised the brutal economic swings and terrible decision paralysis granted by Ghaston Grey. Despite this however, the initial tournament deck I settled on was a Targaryen deck, probably pretty similar to a lot of the other Targaryen decks out of the core set:

‘Ancient History’

House Targaryen
Fealty
Packs: Core Set (3)

Plots
1x Calm Over Westeros (Core Set)
1x Filthy Accusations (Core Set)
1x Heads on Spikes (Core Set)
2x Marched to the Wall (Core Set)
1x The Winds of Winter (Core Set)
1x Wildfire Assault (Core Set)

Characters
1x Littlefinger (Core Set)
3x Daenerys Targaryen (Core Set)
3x Drogon (Core Set)
3x Khal Drogo (Core Set)
2x Magister Illyrio (Core Set)
3x Rhaegal (Core Set)
2x Ser Jorah Mormont (Core Set)
3x Viserion (Core Set)
2x Viserys Targaryen (Core Set)
3x Braided Warrior (Core Set)
3x Handmaiden (Core Set)
3x Targaryen Loyalist (Core Set)
3x Unsullied (Core Set)

Locations
3x The Kingsroad (Core Set)
3x The Roseroad (Core Set)
3x Plaza of Punishment (Core Set)
3x Illyrio’s Estate (Core Set)

Attachments
3x Milk of the Poppy (Core Set)
1x Drogo’s Arakh (Core Set)

Events
3x The Hand’s Judgment (Core Set)
3x Dracarys! (Core Set)
2x Fire and Blood (Core Set)
2x Waking the Dragon (Core Set)

You can certainly argue if this is the ‘optimal’ Targaryen deck out of the core set (probably not), but in my opinion, it shows off the strengths of faction extremely well. Looking back, it looks pretty light on draw and consistency, particularly in the plot deck. The economy was fine, enhanced by Fealty, but certainly did not leave much spare.

This deck was all about Military claim, threatening Dracarys. It then leveraged a board advantage by repeatedly Marching them to the Wall, before using Winds of Winter as a finisher, preferably with multiple 2-claim Military challenges with Drogo. Marched was, and is still an amazing card for aggressive, Military-focused decks due to the powerful effect, great stats and initiative. However, in Targaryen it reaches another level, due to its synergies with two of the best core set cards for the faction, Viserys and Jorah Mormont. With Marched, you could hammer your opponent with Military claim, threaten with Dracarys (perhaps shrinking their board further) then, when you were ahead, you could March and ‘piece trade’ characters with them, only you would be getting the benefit of the effect of Viserys, or ‘resetting’ Jorah to be played out from hand again.

Molten Core:

In the previous article about Greyjoy, in addition to offending 83% of the Thrones community, I illustrated that, for a competitive player, the overarching reason to play a House as the main faction has to be high-impact loyal cards. While Greyjoy got as sparse a selection as the Iron Islands themselves, House Targaryen was gifted among the best cards in the Core set:

The instant I looked through the card list for Targaryen, Dracarys and Plaza of Punishment reminded me of Parasite and Datasucker from Netrunner:

This combination (presumably in no coincidence delivered together in the Netrunner core set) has been widely regarded as very powerful throughout the history of the game. Initially the Anarch faction (my preferred faction of choice) suffered through a lack of consistency cards. As that problem has been gradually resolved, the faction has ended up on top of the Netrunner metagame, and it eventually resulted in parasite being placed on the MWL, the A:NR restricted list. As you can see, these cards are highly synergistic, and are similar mechanically to the strength reduction mechanism in Thrones, almost ubiquitously described by the community (and hereafter in this article) as ‘Burn’. The initial ability on Dracarys of -4 strength would alone be an excellent, relatively low cost challenge maths trick. However, the ability of Burn to create a continuous kill condition if strength hits 0 or lower is an incredibly powerful removal effect, preventing duplicates from saving a unique character, as the game self-checks, and the Str 0 = Death condition is repeatedly achieved after each save. When you compare the potency of Dracarys to the other kill effects in the core set, for example Put to the Sword, it is clear that this loyal card is extremely powerful. It costs one gold fewer, is loyal, and thus can be reduced and played with Fealty alone. The triggering requirements are relatively trivial compared to the +5 Str win required for PTTS, you merely need a standing dragon or Daenerys to kneel. As such, the requirements are more mutable in the challenges phase, and ultimately are less easy for your opponent to cope with in comparison to the binary 2 gold or not for PTTS. Unlike Tears and PTTS, Dracarys has the terrifying benefit of being able to be used in any challenge type. Whilst a fantastic card in its own right, Dracarys looks even more dangerous when you consider it’s deletion effect on some of the lynchpin characters of other Houses, such as Tyrion Lannister, Nymeria, Arianne Martell, The Blackfish and of course, Melisandre. I can’t stress enough that this is a Faction-defining, probably game defining, card, and alone, would be enough to make a reasonable case for choosing Targaryen as your main House.

Plaza of Punishment is a similar card to Dracarys in that it provides a Strength reduction, in this case triggered by winning a power challenge, as well as instituting an additional Str 0 = Death condition. Having multiple mechanisms to reduce strength is obviously great, and the fact that this effect is tied to a location means that both the strength reduction and kill effect are present on the board, meaning your opponent has to play around them. The Strength reduction conferred by Plaza is not as threatening as Dracarys, and it will rarely threaten an important character without the aid of Dracarys itself. What Plaza does do is provide the ability to kill-off low Strength characters from a Power challenge. This is a highly effective way of stripping your opponent’s board of claim soak. When combined with the ability of Khal Drogo to make an additional military challenge, you can theoretically be threatening a functional 3 military claim a turn, which can be incredibly difficult for an opponent to answer. I like that Plaza of Punishment focuses on the Power challenge, as it spreads your opponents out more, in terms of worrying about what challenges matter in the turn. It can also affect gameplay in terms of order of operations. Often making a power challenge early as Targaryen can leave your opponent affected by a relatively bad decision tree, since if they do not win the Power challenge, you can either strip their board of a chud, or reduce the Strength of a more important character. Consequently, in further challenges you can potentially threaten to Dracarys the weakened character, or simply win the challenge more easily. I love cards that give you a strong benefit for what you want to be doing anyway, and Plaza does this so very well.

I’ve touched upon Khal Drogo in the above paragraph, and there’s not too much additional to say. He’s a decent body with renown that has a particularly strong effect if you build your deck for an aggressive Military strategy. Cards that subvert basic rules of the game  (one challenge of each type per turn) have the potential to be very strong. He can be particularly of benefit in Crossing decks, where the ability to make two challenges of the same type allows you extra flexibility.

Daenerys is an interesting character. Alone she looks perhaps a little over-costed, but the Insight and ability are obviously stellar. The ability in particular is mathematically very strong in general, helping your other characters push challenges through if you wish to keep Daenerys aloof for defence or dominance, however, it also opens up Strength 5 characters to Dracarys, of which there are plenty of powerful options you’d love so set light to. Additionally, if you play your cards right, though more awkward to set up, you may even manage to snipe a Strength 3 character with Plaza of Punishment. Daenerys has the ability to become so much more through the conferred Stealth, Renown and probably most importantly, the stand effect of her hatchlings. Though obviously a combo card, Daenerys has the ability to be one of the most efficient character cards in the game. Particularly before the release of Valar, getting her out with the three dragons was not massively challenging, and would present a terrible difficulty for your opponent to overcome. Whilst greater inclusion of resets in the metagame weakens any combination based around characters (and strengthens those based around locations, see Night’s Watch and Table and Chair clock decks), the unique nature of the dragons allowed them to dodge First Snow of Winter at times and there’s always the underrated (and possibly best card art in the entire game) Fire and Blood. Prior to the release of Close Call, this event was one of the only ways to return characters from the dead pile, and is particularly efficient with hatchlings. Nevertheless, having Insight on a character so easily able to make multiple challenges is highly desirable. It will be very intriguing to see future versions of Daenerys (as indeed there must be in the pipeline), and see whether they can stand up to this core version.

Viserys is not a sympathetic character in the books, in fact he’s rather repellant, but he holds a magnetic attraction in the LCG. For a start, he’s a 1-coster. The only other faction to have a 1-cost character outside of the faction reducers in core set was Night’s Watch. This instantly gave Targaryen a helpful boost in flexibility during setups, especially since Viserys was a card you were happy to run more than one copy of. The reason you were so happy to slot him into decks was the effect. Removing attachments is a required ability in Thrones, and alongside Confiscation, Viserys is one of the best and lowest cost ways of doing so. That the ability fires whenever he leaves play, rather than when he is killed means there are multiple ways to trigger it, such as Marched and First Snow, as well as just military claim. You can often trigger the effect multiple times a game. The additional important effect of having high quality attachment hate in your draw deck is that you can afford to drop Confiscation (often mandatory) from your Plot deck. Since plot deck slots are probably the most precious resource in Thrones, this is a a boon to the Targaryen faction that is difficult to understate.

In addition to these fantastic loyal core set cards, Targaryen acquired some other great loyal cards in the first two cycles:

Pot of gold is one of the dumbest cards I’ve seen designed for a game. While I love the fluff of giving the character being crowned the King trait, it obviously doesn’t make up for the fact that this card is just really poorly designed. The requirements to activate Dracarys are one thing, and allow for interesting levels of bluffing (see below), and your opponent to preserve their characters by playing cautiously and protectively, the ability to delete a 4 Strength character in marshalling is just absurd when combined with the dead pile mechanic, especially when it wrecks whole strategies, such as Melisandre. The fact that this card is ‘limit 1’ in a deck shows that the designers knew it was too strong, and decided to balance it through this limitation. Let’s not beat around the bush. If a card is too strong to have a full playset of copies in a deck, it’s too strong. Don’t print it. Certainly don’t try to balance it by making it HIGHER VARIANCE. This card is fucking stupid and if you’re playing Targaryen, you should absolutely be playing it in every deck. It will hand you wins you don’t deserve, and for tournament play that’s great. You can go grab a choc ice or something and chill out before your next round while your opponent is left wondering how the hell this card got through playtesting.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, are the other two loyal cards pictured above, reducing variance through draw effects. Doreah is just really good. Two cost bicons with Insight (even if conditional) are bound to see play. Funeral Pyre is a really interesting card. In a game so hampered by lack of draw, anything that says ‘draw three cards’ is worth a look at. The requirement to trigger this event is actually relatively challenging and timing sensitive, even in a faction where kill effects are the norm, but the upside is obviously extremely high. This card provides yet another awesome use for Viserys (seriously, you’d never have known from the books he was such a diligent workhorse), and is probably pretty matchup dependent. It’s good versus houses like Stark with lots of Lords and Ladies. Perhaps this card is better off in a banner build where you can trigger it off effects like Wildfire Assault, losing your own characters in order to guarantee the draw, or we may need to wait for more Targaryen Lords and Ladies (if they come). Probably even better now Valar Morghulis is in the metagame.

These loyal cards are backed by some extremely efficient non-loyal faction cards:

Illyrio Mopatis is an efficient character, boosting Targaryen’s intrigue presence. His ability is always useful to have, but was exceptionally relevant in the core set metagame, where Baratheon Kneel decks were one of the other exceptionally strong (and fully formed) archetypes out of the box. Jorah is a wonderful character, extremely efficient at two cost for Strength 4 and two aggressive icons, as well as having Renown (to a point). Jorah is great for set up and allowed Targaryen decks to put on very high pressure early on in games. Extremely flexible, you can just treat him as an ultra-efficient chud and spend him for Military claim when he is out of use if you set him up or draw him early. Conversely, you couldn’t really find a more efficient character late on in games and trying to close out. As discussed above, like Viserys, Jorah has excellent synergy with cards such as Marched to the Wall, and First Snow of Winter, which allow him to be reset and played out again.

Mirri saw a lot of play, but principally outside of Targaryen main decks. In Targaryen, I saw her popping up occasionally in Crossing builds, where she could take advantage of the Strength boost from the agenda on the 3rd challenge, though these seemed strictly inferior to the straight power-rush equivalents. Obviously the interrupt effect is extremely threatening. With Mirri in play, you can threaten to shrink your opponent’s board with the natural effect of Military claim, but also the opportunity for targeted kill on Intrigue and Power. As discussed about Dagmer in the previous article, the lack of ability to take a bodyguard in a Valar metagame has curtailed Mirri’s excesses somewhat, as has the necessity to keep up as best as you can on power versus clock decks. It’s very hard to justify replacing the claim on your power challenge when the Wall is garnering your opponent two power a turn, or the Chamber of the Painted Table module is creating a three power swing away from you every turn, especially when these decks often don’t care about the lives of specific characters. That said, ignore Mirri at your peril. At some point, conditions in Thrones will shift, and she’ll step back out onto centre stage, threatening as ever.

Fealty accusations: Bluffing with Dracarys:

Any faction with a relatively high number of strong loyal cards will benefit from the economic windfall of Fealty, but because Dracarys is loyal, Targaryen gain probably the most of any faction, along with Stark. People quickly realised that being able to threaten Dracarys from zero gold was strong. The event is so dangerous that simply kneeling Fealty would force your opponent to play very conservatively, or risk getting their Tyrion/Melisandre/Arianne/Nymeria cooked. This could lead to the Targaryen player acquiring power through challenges their opponent cannot risk opposing, or easier Win by 5 triggers, primarily PTTS. Dracarys itself can mess with maths enough to potentially enable an unexpected Swording, though this requires copious gold in the challenge phase, enough that your opponent should rightfully be very wary.

The release of Beggar King however gave Targaryen an interesting economic option unique to the faction. While this can easily add a further economic boost to Fealty decks such as the one that made the finals at Worlds this year, the interaction with Summer Harvest opened up the doors for the potential of Targaryen-Kings of Summer decks, getting the most out of Aggo. Overall though, no matter what agenda you use, Beggar King requires that to utilise it effectively, you need to build your plot deck to have consistently lower gold than your opponent’s. In this case, you can receive a one gold, or regularly 2 gold from the attachment. It helps the Beggar King significantly that plots tend to have a inverse correlation between gold value and strength of the effect. As such, with this attachment, you can afford to run multiple high-impact low gold plots such as Blood of the DragonFamine, and Valar Morghulis without the tempo hit they normally apply. As the game progresses and more of these sorts of plots are released, the more value Beggar King will gain. It is currently one few cards yet released that are worth talking about as an ‘economy package’ and is almost certainly the best card Targaryen received in the second cycle.

Blood of my Blood: Synergy within and without:

Targaryen seems to be a House strongly reliant upon synergy. If the key card that draws players to the faction is Dracarys, the deck starts to take shape very quickly. In order to fulfil the requirements to play this signature event, you need a critical mass of Dragons and/or Daenerys on the board. I haven’t tested this absolutely thoroughly, but I feel you probably want at absolute minimum, 7 of these cards in your deck. If you’re running 7 dragons, well, you might as well run Daenerys too, since she is an excellent all-round character and gains so much from the Dragons you’re already playing. If you’re running Daenerys and Dracarys and dragons, Plaza looks extremely tempting as a support piece, and so on, and so forth. This core set ‘core module’ is one of the reasons many Targaryen main House decks don’t look a huge amount different to those that were developed early on in 2.0’s life cycle. While this internal synergy is pretty self-evident just by reading the cards, it didn’t take players long enough to identify the synergy between Khal Drogo and Jaime Lannister:

‘Smash Bros’

House Targaryen
Banner of the Lion

Plots
1x A Noble Cause (Core Set)
1x Calling the Banners (Core Set)
1x Calm Over Westeros (Core Set)
1x Counting Coppers (Core Set)
1x Filthy Accusations (Core Set)
1x Marched to the Wall (Core Set)
1x The Winds of Winter (Core Set)

Characters
3x Ser Jaime Lannister (Core Set)
1x The Tickler (Core Set)
3x Tyrion Lannister (Core Set)
2x Lannisport Merchant (Core Set)
3x Daenerys Targaryen (Core Set)
2x Drogon (Core Set)
3x Khal Drogo (Core Set)
2x Magister Illyrio (Core Set)
3x Rhaegal (Core Set)
3x Ser Jorah Mormont (Core Set)
2x Viserion (Core Set)
2x Viserys Targaryen (Core Set)
2x Braided Warrior (Core Set)
3x Targaryen Loyalist (Core Set)
1x The Hound (Taking the Black)

Locations
3x The Kingsroad (Core Set)
3x The Roseroad (Core Set)
3x Illyrio’s Estate (Core Set)

Attachments
2x Seal of the Hand (Core Set)
1x Widow’s Wail (Core Set)

Events
1x Put to the Sword (Core Set)
3x Tears of Lys (Core Set)
3x The Hand’s Judgment (Core Set)
2x Treachery (Core Set)
3x Dracarys! (Core Set)
1x Fire and Blood (Core Set)

Marrying two of the three strongest factions in the Core Set together would probably be called sensible decision making, rather than a stroke of genius, but ‘Smash Brothers’ decks took Core Set synergy to a logical conclusion. Pretty much all the good loyal Targaryen stuff described above has been squashed into this list, including the Daenerys/Dragon/Dracarys module, and it has been supplemented by the best red cards Lannister gold can buy. At heart, this deck was looking to exploit the synergy between Drogo and Jaime to gain as much Renown as possible in a turn in multiple Military challenges, where Jaime (and Drogo, if he got the Arakh present in other variants of this build) didn’t have to kneel. It was no slouch elsewhere however, backed up by Tyrion and Daenerys. Tyrion’s gold producing effect allowed for huge synergy with Illyrio and powered threatening events like PTTS and Tears of Lys, as well as Dracarys of course. This was a deck at the time with answers to basically everything, and almost no weaknesses.

Over time though, the metagame shifted, and as Lannister got some truly outrageous cards in the first cycle (whilst Targaryen received comparatively little), this deck shape morphed heavily into the infamous ‘Lanni-Dragon’ build, which put up savagely consistent results at Regionals and Nationals in 2016:

Lannister Banner Dragon- 2016 NAC Championship Winner

House Lannister
Banner of the Dragon
Packs: From Core Set (3) to True Steel

Plots
1x A Noble Cause (Core Set)
1x Calling the Banners (Core Set)
1x Confiscation (Core Set)
1x Summons (Core Set)
1x The Winds of Winter (Core Set)
1x Wildfire Assault (Core Set)
1x Trading with the Pentoshi (The Road to Winterfell)

Characters
3x Rattleshirt’s Raiders (Core Set)
1x Grand Maester Pycelle (Core Set)
2x Ser Jaime Lannister (Core Set)
3x Tyrion Lannister (Core Set)
3x Tywin Lannister (Core Set)
3x Burned Men (Core Set)
3x Lannisport Merchant (Core Set)
3x Magister Illyrio (Core Set)
2x Ser Jorah Mormont (Core Set)
1x Viserion (Core Set)
3x Targaryen Loyalist (Core Set)
2x The Hound (Taking the Black)
2x Ser Gregor Clegane (The King’s Peace)
2x Wildling Scout (No Middle Ground)
3x Mirri Maz Duur (Calm over Westeros)
2x Ser Ilyn Payne (True Steel)
1x Mance Rayder (Wolves of the North)

Locations
3x The Kingsroad (Core Set)
3x The Roseroad (Core Set)
2x Western Fiefdom (Core Set)

Attachments
3x Milk of the Poppy (Core Set)
1x Widow’s Wail (Core Set)

Events
2x Put to the Sword (Core Set)
2x Tears of Lys (Core Set)
3x Treachery (Core Set)
2x Nightmares (Calm over Westeros)

Gone is the none-kneeling synergy of the loyal Drogo and Jaime. Instead, this build leans heavily on the strategy of ‘good red cards’, the absurd economic advantage granted to a player simply by electing to play Lannister as a main House, and a few critical synergies. This economic advantage is most obviously shown by the incredibly high cost curve of this deck, yet the fact that it can happily afford to play PTTS and utilise the ability of Magister Illyrio. In this deck, Illyrio’s stand effect was incredibly strong, when the characters you were standing were of the calibre of Tywin and Tyrion. You could really abuse Mirri here, as not only did you have easily enough economy to play her out, but Tyrion’s gold generation allowed for her to be stood and used twice in one challenges phase, or to ambush in the Hound (or Widow’s Wail). The interaction between Mirri and the Hound is kind of silly, as when his forced reaction triggers upon winning a challenge in which Mirri is also participating, he returns to hand, leaving Mirri’s ‘attacking alone’ requirement to fire in the C phase of DUCK. You could even do really silly things with Illyrio like stand Ilyn Payne in marshalling with all that spare Lannister gold to incredibly pressure your opponent’s board state. This was an exceptionally aggressive deck with a horrific amount of kill potential, and a fine line in Renown, if (somehow) the attrition and targeted kill game fell through. The deck hasn’t appeared to have survived the introduction of Valar Morghulis into the game due to its high cost curve, or perhaps people are just sick of playing it. Either way, this deck was metagame-defining, one of the titans of the first two cycles and first year or so of the game. Targaryen was still highly competitive, but main House decks were just less efficient than playing aggressive, heavy kill effects out of Lannister.

Missing Pieces:

We’ve basically had to wait a cycle, but the Bloodrider module is complete:

Regardless of the individual cards themselves, this set is a little odd. For a start, since Aggo was released in Wolves of the North, he is an evergreen card, whilst Rakharo and Jhogo (or at least, these incarnations) will rotate. Secondly, Jhogo is loyal, which means that you probably aren’t very likely to use them in a banner, since you can’t export the full package. These cards aren’t massively exciting. They’re decent enough characters, they probably aren’t impactful enough that you want to use them as 3x in a deck, unless you REALLY love the bloodrider theme. Aggo is probably the best of them, as he synergises heavily with Targaryen-Summer decks to get the most out of the strong economy of summer plots, or the Summer Harvest-Beggar King synergy. His free conditional stand is generally excellent, and gives Targaryen a plethora of ways to make Baratheon players sad, along with the stand from Illyrio and Daenerys (with Rhaegal). In this case, potentially getting to abuse Rakharo’s intimidate in two different challenges is very appealing. It’s important to note that Aggo can use this benefit himself, which makes him the best of the three in isolation, which is good when resets will often break up these three musketeers. For Family Honour helped this with the release of a ‘vanilla’ bloodrider to turn on the others and give them a strength boost, as well as a consistency card to support the module. Blood of my Blood is quite expensive, but as a tutor it puts the card into play for a round, and the character is only returned to hand rather than discarded like some of the Lannister jumper events, so this card doesn’t seem horrific. Best use probably to find Aggo using spare gold from a summer plot in order to get use out of his ability. It’s hard to slate tutoring, even if it’s a little inefficient.

The Bloodriders all have the Dothraki trait, and thus fit into that nascent module too. Crone of Vaes Dothrak is inherently pretty janky, and not very good value as two gold for a single Strength 2 Intrigue, especially compared to the potential utility and icon spread of options such as Handmaiden. On the other hand, Dothraki Outriders is more intriguing. As ever, the pillage effect probably isn’t worth worrying about, though with the Crone you can achieve a weak Gregoresque effect, which is not nothing. It’s the potential efficiency of dropping this card with a significant cost reduction that interests me. To do so, you need a good number of Dothraki in your deck and in play, and that is far more difficult since the release of Valar, when boards are more temporary and often artificially smaller as people are playing around the reset and holding characters back. You probably want low cost Dothraki to be released that do more for you than Crone and Braided Warrior though. Braided warrior is a good cost-to-strength ratio, but with its single icon, has seemed to get squeezed from decks of late. The required set up to get Outriders to feel efficient is quite high, and they will often stick in your hand when you would prefer them to be almost anything else. They compare quite unfavourably to King Robb’s Host, a card that was badly misjudged by the community and has found a place in certain strong decks. Granted, this deck shape probably doesn’t survive post-Valar release, but the strong power transfer effect and ability to dupe the host make it currently a much better card than the Outriders, especially if you have the economy to support it. Whichever way you look at it, the Dothraki trait doesn’t seem particularly worth worrying about with regards to deckbuilding at the moment.

House Targaryen’s affinity for attachments was made clear early on in 2.0, with Viserys in the core set, and the release of Merchant Prince and Vaes Dothrak in Taking the Black. Other enabling cards released since have included Pyat Pree and Xaro Xhoan Daxos:

Pieces are coming together to enable a heavy attachment-based strategy, how strong this strategy becomes is yet to be seen. I’m unsure if Merchant Prince, even if you can get an attachment on it, is a strong enough card to build a deck around. The best attachment to put on it is Noble Lineage. In this case the closest comparator seems to be Shadow Tower Mason, which is an exceptionally strong card, but with a different attachment, you aren’t getting the Power icon on the Merchant Prince. The Mason is incidentally powered up by cards you want in your deck to compliment your main strategy, which is what makes it so good, and at 2 cost, isn’t bad for the price even when a monocon. The vulnerability with Merchant Prince to First Snow could end up with you having to dump a lot of cards to reserve.

Pyat Pree and Xaro Xhoan Daxos both have interesting effects for attachment based decks, on the same body. Pree costs one gold more, for arguably the weaker effect, though of course he synergises with events (so Dracarys) too. I think it’s going to be quite hard to get significant work out of Pree, since the partial tutoring effect is directly correlated to the margin by which you win a challenge, and thus, in most cases, can be at least partially controlled by your opponent. Daxos on the other hand is cheaper, and provides quite a significant economic saving. The difference  here, is while both require attachments (and events in the case of Pree), Daxos is highly specific. He requires unique attachments, the lower cost the better, that you want to put into your deck, but you aren’t likely to be marshalling multiples of the same unique attachment. There are some decent unique attachments in the game, for example Seal of the Hand, and obviously in Targaryen a functional cost reduction on Crown of Gold, or getting money back from The Beggar King is great, but this leads us to the current problem with the attachment theme: the quality of the Targaryen attachments is somewhat dubious. With the exception of Pot of Gold, the rest of them are pretty tough to justify including in large numbers in a deck. Of course, as the card pool expands, who’s to say there won’t be a gamebreakingly good unique attachment that synergises with Xaro Xhoan Daxos, or simply a threshold number of playable unique attachments to get good work out of his ability? In an ideal world, you’d like to use Daxos to repeatedly play Pot of Gold, but thank goodness that there currently isn’t enough consistency to recycle it over and over. If I were to go out on a limb and suggest a card that would justify XXD, it’d be a low cost unique attachment, probably strength reducing without the terminal restriction. This is the kind of card you’d like to see early and often, and would repeatedly marshal to benefit from the ability. Alternatively some sort of cheap unique attachment with a strong ‘when marshalled’ ability that you could return to your hand by letting the character die through military claim, or through some jank like Weapons at the Door. It’d have to be AMAZING to run that plot though. Of course, when a deck exists that wants to run lots of attachments (or a card exists facilitating attachment recycling back to hand), Vaes Dothrak becomes a perfectly viable card for attachment hate, whereas right now, it is heavily outclassed by Viserys.

For a faction based around a key event, there have been some excellent supporting cards released:

Shadowblack Lane is really powerful for Targaryen as a semi-tutor for Dracarys, as well as other powerful events such as Fire and Blood. Street of Steel on the other hand can help dig for the Crown or weapon attachments, and may thus be more useful when Targaryen’s attachment theme is more fleshed out. Both Shadowblack and Street of Steel require faction card kneels, and so are a lot more useful outside a Fealty deck. These cards are further enabled by Isle of Ravens, which can recycle the Dracarys moderately efficiently, or even (bleugghh!) Crown of Gold, as well as Tourney Grounds. Tourney grounds is a solid economy card anyway, if you’re interested in playing a lot of events. It also provides an alternative to the Fealty reduction for Dracarys, allowing you to bluff and threaten from with no gold saved even without the agenda discount, and so works well with the locations requiring a faction kneel. All of these locations are only one gold, and are solid in set up. None of these on their own are game changing, but they’re solid options for a faction that contains specific high-impact cards.

Feel the Burn:

The new cards previewed give a strong incentive to revisit the burn package:

Both of the new Targaryen burn cards look potentially highly effective and are loyal, which is what any House needs to make it more attractive as a choice for primary faction. As a character alone, Grey worm seems extremely efficient. 5 Strength bicon for 6, except he’s functionally Strength 8 when attacking. This ability cannot be switched off with Milk. FFG have been careful to avoid too much easy synergy with Plaza by making sure he hasn’t got a Power icon, and cannot get one through Noble Lineage. His burn effect is very strong at cutting large characters down to size for Dracarys however, and potentially triggering ‘Win by 5’ conditions like PTTS and Relentless Assault. The fact that he has an Intrigue icon grants some good synergy with The Rains of Castamere agenda, and I expect to see people doing some significant testing with that combination when these cards are out. With Astapor as well, there are clearly going to be enough Strength reduction cards that Targaryen players are going to be able to make challenge maths a real headache for opponents. We appear to be seeing ‘burn for control’ rather than more ‘burn for straight kill’ which is probably a good thing for the game. The Str 0 = kill effects currently still only number four:

Obviously these additional strength reduction cards will heavily boost the playability of Blood of the Dragon, as well as combine well with Unsullied and a stood Daenerys. Blood of the Dragon is looking poised to become the auto-include terrifying Targaryen plot your first-edition veteran always warned you about (in the short breaths between moaning about the lack of Valar). Astapor is pretty interesting use of the Bestow mechanic, and I look forward to playing around with it to work out what the optimal gold investment is. Thematically it’s quite amusing that one of the best ways to get this card up to speed is going to be to Trade with the Pentoshi. There are strong rumours of further location hate coming in the upcoming cycle, and within Fall of Astapor itself in the form of ‘Lay Siege’, which appears to punish Contested locations. How much investment to place in Astapor was a difficult decision for Daenerys in the books, and I expect it to be no different for Targaryen players in the game. There’s tension between Grey Worm and Astapor and the third new burn card, Weirwood Bow in that while the Targaryen cards are loyal, and thus benefit from Fealty, the Bow is neutral, requires specific characters to be attached to and thus struggles to fit in Fealty decks. The bow itself looks highly effective, particularly in combination with Plaza, and is an attachment, so partly fits in with that aspect of the House. The one gold cost is fairly low, the bows work in multiples, and are knelt themselves, so can all be placed on a single character if required. The effort required to get this card to work efficiently seems to be pretty much up front at the deck building stage. To use the card you either need to use banner of the Watch, or include a proportion of Wildlings in your deck (which may increase the utility of the non-constricting  agendas like Rains over Fealty). The current quality of the Wildlings in the game is alright, and they look to be gaining a big boost from the Night’s Watch big box. It’s worth noting with the mid-cycle releases of Thrones big boxes, these packs may well end up releasing at very similar times. Banner of the Watch got a lot more exciting with the release of the bonkers good Qorin Halfhand, who already has some synergy with Illyrio’s stand effect and Drogo’s extra military challenge, as well as the Strength reducing effects present within Targaryen.

So, whilst Targaryen has not received the best of new cards across the first two cycles, this set of spoilers has me excited to build decks for the faction again. The fact that these new cards are loyal, puts them in a far better spot as a main faction than Greyjoy, though they’re almost certainly weaker as a Dragon banner than Banner of the Kraken. There are going to be some tough decisions to be made by players as to which agenda to run with Targaryen, with Fealty, Rains, Crossing and Summer all looking like potentially viable options. Daenerys’ strength is growing, and the Lords and Ladies of the Great Houses of Westeros should beware.

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Finally some joy? Tyrion’s Chain

This article, like most of mine, is written from a competitive play point of view.

People that know me, know I believe Greyjoy is the worst faction in AGoT 2.0. Bleak, depressing artwork, dull colour palette in the frames of cards, and a stupendously boring, one-trick-pony play style are all strong reasons to avoid this, most GREY of factions. Barely relevant in the books, barely relevant in the competitive meta game.

Up until now, I’ve considered Greyjoy to be a bad player trap, in that they have a lot of cards which seem to attract casual, non-discerning players with bad card evaluation skills, as well as players that are mechanically weak at the game. Anecdotally, the worst players I end up playing in tournaments are pretty regularly playing Greyjoy decks. I first started to notice this at the Bristol Regional last year, where I witnessed numerous (and sometimes hilarious) misplays by Greyjoy players, as well as firsthand experience in one game of awful card evaluation skills. I saw a player who shall remain nameless, playing Greyjoy-Crossing make a first challenge with Fishwiskers, only to see his character get wolfed down by his (much) more experienced opponent, who also had Robb Stark on the board. He laughed it off, but it was the first of many incidents which slowly began to form a pattern in my mind.

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Later in that same event, I was paired up against a different Greyjoy-Crossing player, who by the end of the game was visibly a bit frustrated. I’d spent the entire game stripping his intrigue icons with my Martell deck, preventing him from ever making an intrigue challenge. Consequently, he’d spent the entire game unable to trigger his Crossing challenge, with one of his challenges always being hampered by the negative strength from his agenda. His one reprieve during this entire game, where he perked up a bit was when he’d got to combine the use of Snowed Under and Ahead of the Tide to…do nothing of any impact on the game. At least he’d got his combo off…

The first of these is just a funny anecdote. Anyone can make a misplay in a tournament (except Ryan Wood) and learn from it. The second situation though, was much, much more severe, and actually began to push me down the path to eventually writing this article.

Why does Greyjoy appeal to new/bad players?

I think this is relatively straightforward. They have an obvious, aggressive play style with little subtlety. New players I’ve found (including myself when I began to play) definitely seem to overvalue the Military challenge compared to Intrigue and Power, and as such typically end up playing Greyjoy, or Stark. This isn’t massively surprising I suppose, killing your opponent’s stuff is good right? Well, it’s ok, but due to the mechanics of the claim system, you’re very rarely killing characters your opponent cares about. What you really want to be doing, is killing people that matter, which, to be fair, Greyjoy got pretty early on with the Seastone Chair, creating a kind of ‘pack 1 apogee’ for the faction. However, if you overestimate the strength of certain parts of the game, it’s kind of zero-sum, and you end up undervaluing other aspects. In this case, as far as I’m concerned, the other aspects (Intrigue and Power challenges) are more important to AGoT. New players and bad players tend to have a critical thing in common, and that’s poor card evaluation skills.Building good, tournament quality, decks for card games is hard, and it’s even harder when you can’t tell what is worth putting in a deck and what isn’t. People with poor card evaluation skills are unlikely to tease out the understanding that the Greyjoy card pool is comparatively weak…

Why are Greyjoy so bad?

Regardless of what I believe in terms of players, and the factions they are attracted to, discussion of this situation initially needs to focus around the card pool.

Iconography and Character Assassination:

The initial reason (in terms of competitive game play) I have avoided Greyjoy like the plague since the core set was released, is they are not a balanced faction in terms of icons. Greyjoy as a faction have very weak access to intrigue icons. All of the factions on AGoT 2.0 are thematically weaker and stronger in different challenge icons, but in my opinion, being weak in intrigue is the worst lot to draw:

  • Greyjoy: Strong in Military and Power, very weak in Intrigue.
  • Stark: Strong in Military and Power, very weak in Intrigue.
  • Night’s Watch: Strong in Military and Power, weaker in Intrigue.
  • Baratheon: Strong in Power, ok Intrigue and Military.
  • Targaryen: Relatively balanced across the board. A little weaker in Intrigue.
  • Tyrell: Relatively balanced across the board. A bit weaker at Military.
  • Martell: Strongest at Intrigue and Power, a little weaker at Military.
  • Lannister: Strongest at Intrigue and Military, weaker at Power, though probably the most balanced spread out of the core box.

Why is being weak at Intrigue so much more of a liability than being weaker at Military or Power? There are two main reasons:

  1. Susceptibility to Tears of Lys. Out of the two neutral kill cards (along with Put to The Sword), this one is absolutely the stronger. It is cheaper to play, meaning that it is less of a burden to save the money after marshalling. It is also a lot less to a telegraph than holding two gold. Secondly, the difficulty required to trigger the reaction is far lower, than the ‘win by 5’ requirement on PTTS. Thirdly there are the dumb rules templating benefits of poison tokens.
  2. If you are weak at Intrigue, you will very quickly end up losing cards from your hand. This means you are at more risk of losing pieces you require for specific times (typically events, and in Greyjoy’s case, their saves), as well as characters saved for marshalling in the future. This is particularly bad, with the entry of Valar Morghulis into the 2.0 game, meaning you cannot splurge all your cards onto the board and play from there. It means you will normally be on the losing side of the good old fashioned term, card advantage, and will be more susceptible to the high variance in AGoT 2.0 (as far as FFG card games go, anyway) as you enter A Game of Topdecking.

Three out of 4 of Greyjoy’s best (but mediocre as far as the overall game goes) characters out of the core set (Theon, Asha, Balon) are highly susceptible to Tears of Lys, due to lack of that all important Intrigue icon. When you contrast this to House Lannister, and House Martell, who have Intrigue icons on every one of their key pieces in the core set, you end up looking very sub optimal. Obviously other houses have key characters without intrigue icons, but they also have far better ways to protect themselves. Baratheon has an Intrigue icon on Melisandre (its lynchpin character), has Selyse to deliver Intrigue icons to those that need them, and can kneel large threats at will. The Night’s Watch don’t care who dies, as long as they do their duty and defend The Wall first. Stark notably have Catelyn to prevent the card being played (and received a similar effect in Winterfell, very early on). Tyrell have enough of an Intrigue presence to maybe prevent some of the challenges going through, as well as Highgarden. Targaryen at least have Fire and Blood.

Greyjoy’s saves (until the release of Iron Mines) must be held in hand until exactly the right moment, which is difficult when your hand is constantly getting wrecked because you can’t win an intrigue challenge to literally save your character’s life. In the metagame of the first cycle, where kill effects were ubiquitous, and Tears rained supreme (joyous down the cheeks of Lanni players, salty as fuck down the cheeks of Greyjoy fans), Greyjoy was a very bad place to be. But wait! What about those fabled Iron Mines? Well, would you rather use an Iron Mines to save some average at best Greyjoy nobody, or Tywin or Tyrion fucking Lannister? It’s not Greyjoy loyalists’ fault that the Twin Terrors of the core set are so much stronger than anything they can put on the board (even now); that’s the designers’ fault for baking significant balance problems into the evergreen part of the game from the very start. It IS Greyjoy players’ faults if they want to play competitively and don’t recognise that they’re very likely hamstringing themselves before they even set foot in an event venue by bringing a suboptimal deck. There’s a reason Joel calls it ‘Banner of the Iron Mines’. If you desperately need to play Greyjoy, because, like Richard Walker, you can’t get enough of tentacles, Banner builds were where it was at. This leads us neatly into the next section.

Card Pool or Card Puddle? Or, to quote Wamma: ‘Arse is the Old Way’

Out of the core set, and effectively still to this day, a Greyjoy player’s strategy has been as predetermined and inflexible as the Old Way itself:

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While not a core set card, this is it, this is all you’ve got. Unopposed challenges, facilitated by stealth. This is your modus operandi.

The problem is, you can only stealth one character a challenge, unless you commit multiple characters with stealth to the same challenge, which suggests overcommitting. Alternatively, the opposing character has stealth themselves, in which case, you’re shit out of luck.

The problem here of course, starts with the fact that your opponent will ALWAYS know your game plan. From the moment you put down your house card, a savvy opponent will know exactly how you are going to have to play, and be prepared to deal with it, likely because they’ve seen it a thousand times before.

Your strategy, defined and constrained by the incredibly shallow, linear, puddle of cards you’ve been able to select from is to rush to gain as much power as possible in the small board of the early game while applying as much military pressure as you can, then hope your opponent overextends/hasn’t smashed your hand too badly so that you can reset (traditionally Wildfire, but now also Valar) and try and play the early game all over again, hoping you are close enough to victory to squeak it out. You’re a rush and reset deck, only without the traditional card advantage of those style of builds. You have to hope that your opponent can’t outpace you (Stark, Night’s Watch wall builds, Baratheon dominance), outmuscle you (Tyrell, Lanni, Stark), outlast you in the reset stakes (also likely to be Tyrell due to economy and card advantage, or Lanni, based on economy), control your early game too much for you to recover (Martell, Baratheon kneel) or simply murder your vulnerable characters (Martell, Lanni). Mostly all these things will happen, simply because the other player has a deck full of cards of higher power level and impact than what are available to the Greyjoy player. It’s also worth noting that the Crossing agenda, which is a great aid to a rush strategy, is, in my opinion, weaker in Greyjoy than elsewhere due to the faction’s unbalanced icon spread.

Pretty much the entire card pool Greyjoy players have been given has pushed them in this direction, and the cards simply haven’t been good enough. Initially hampered by a constrained plot selection out of the core set, many Greyjoy players initially had to settle (or were convinced that the plot was simply highly effective) for terrible plots such as Sneak Attack. I used to see a lot of Greyjoy players play this plot for the money, initiative and two claim. I tried it out, but it was always confusing to me why you would play a plot that hampered yourself so badly by limiting you to one challenge. Yes that challenge has 2 claim, yes, your opponent may be able to tap out to defend it, without the fear of being severely punished in another challenge type. It was always weaker than it looked, due to the early prevalence of the plot Calm over Westeros. Calm is still a great plot now, and still sees play, particularly in stall decks, and most notably in a lot of Tyrell decks as it can be used as an opener to mitigate the weaker initial board position of setting up The Arbor. Back in core set days, this plot was not only used for it’s excellent flexibility and opening strength and security, but also as one of the best economy plots in the core set, with the added bonus of not being susceptible to Naval Superiority. The ‘best’ impact of Sneak Attack for Greyjoy players was a turn one 2-claim Military challenge, when their opponents’ boards were most vulnerable, leading to a snowball victory (though hampering them in the long run with low reserve). The ubiquitous play of Calm made these aggressive military decks a dicey prospect at best. Sam Braatz negotiated his way through a field full of heavy military decks (often Targ and Greyjoy) to pull off the ultimate vindication of people like me, who suspected that more subtle play would carry the day. I’ll say that I was enthralled watching Braatz take the Greyjoy deck to pieces, as it showed me that there was more depth to AGoT 2.0 than I’d initially been seeing as our group of 2.0 scrubs learned the ropes of the game together. The so called ‘worst’ faction out of the core set dominated one that the talking heads had anointed one of the strongest. In fact, the best use I found for Sneak Attack in those early days was for the Night’s Watch, letting them go second, defend The Wall, and maybe get off a two-claim if the opponent pressed too hard to try to kneel The Wall.

Cards in hand?

Stealth is a good ability at helping you avoid specific defenders, but it doesn’t really help you making unopposed challenges outside of small board situations because most of the time your opponent will have more than one copy of each challenge icon. Finding an opponent who’s willing to let you make a lot of unopposed challenges is generally going to be quite hard, unless they’re running Crossing, in which case the race is on (hint: they’re probably still faster). Asha is as vulnerable to Dracarys as she ever was, and her partner in crime, Theon looked a lot less enticing due to Ward in the Stark-heavy metagame of mid-2016. Stark are similar to Greyjoy, in that whether they’re good or not, you’ll always find some at a tournament due to their straightforward brute efficiency play style, and because inexplicably a lot of people seem to like them from the books (these people are probably all Dog lovers). They played the Game incredibly poorly, and their House was destroyed as a result. Probably should’ve invested in some Intrigue icons I suppose. These non-loyal Greyjoy characters are ok, but are not worth building a deck around, in the same way that some of the others are, notably loyal characters such as Tywin, Catelyn Stark or Daenerys. The rest of the Greyjoy loyal cardpool cannot hold a candle to cards such as:

The best reasons to play a House as your primary deck choice have to be excellent loyal cards. Greyjoy’s best loyal cards are:

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We Do Not Sow is a truly excellent card. Reasonably costed, with a requirement that is hardly too onerous (especially with the Stealth available in faction), it performs some critical functions very well indeed. Attachment removal in Thrones is primarily handled by the workhorse plot Confiscation, with a little help from Rattleshirt’s Raiders. Targaryen, on the other hand, got the fantastic Viserys, which was a solid part of their strength out of the core set, whilst Baratheon, rather unfairly, ended up with Maester Cressen in addition to their embarrassment of riches. Removing attachments, most commonly the ubiquitous Milk of the Poppy was (and in many ways still is) a crucial requirement. Rattleshirt’s is a mathematically weak card (4 cost, monocon, 3 str), but provides an effect so necessary, that it sees play regardless. I struggle to believe anyone would turn down the opportunity to cut Rattleshirt’s for copies of WDNS. Whilst Confiscation has decent stats, every competitive player is desperate for plot deck slots, and would love the luxury of freeing one up by dropping it. The fact that WDNS is also currently the strongest location control effect available means it truly is an all-star card.

Euron is a good character, whom I think the community has been slow to appreciate. Solid value at 7 gold for a Str 6 tricon, including that all important intrigue icon. Euron has Renown, but it’s the effect that has really been undersold. I’m generally of the opinion that you can find efficient characters across the factions of the game at this point, but it’s a mixture of truly unique effects (and synergies with your deck), combined with the depth of a character pool which really define whether a player should consider playing the faction. Euron’s effect is certainly unique. In practice, metagame aside, you can normally expect it to provide a decent amount of economy in your game, if you can keep reusing your opponent’s Kingsroads. Often you may find more experienced opponents elect not sacrifice the Kingsroad at all while you have Euron in play, but at this point, you can be heavily limiting their own economic options, which is obviously not nothing. Currently probably 90% of decks or more are running the Kingsroad, as it is a part of the basic economic package available to all factions in the game with the exception of Night’s Watch (Roseroad, Kingsroad, In faction reducer location, in-faction reducer chud,  Ocean Road). As the game progresses, we will start to see more economy locations, which may render the Kingsroad obsolete, or at least far less common. If this occurs, then the baseline effectiveness of Euron will fluctuate as a function of the amount of Kingsroad that sees play, combined with other critical locations yet to be released that have a sacrifice effect. With the exception of lucky pillages which generate hard locks (and who doesn’t enjoy watching a Tyrell player’s Arbor or NW player’s Wall get stolen!) about the best other location you can expect to steal regularly is Ghaston Grey. Obviously since this location is loyal, whether you can see it will depend on the amount of Martell played in the metagame. However, the card is strong enough to be basically a guaranteed 3-of in any Martell deck, and if you can steal it and use it, you are likely to be able to repeat the process! While an efficient character, the value of Euron therefore seems at least partially metagame dependent, compared to someone like Tywin, Renly or Robert.

In my opinion the final loyal card worth discussing is The Seastone Chair. While another unopposed requirement, quite the scary effect. People exploded with rage all over the AGoT 2.0 Facebook group when this one was spoiled. I find this card to be quite difficult to evaluate. On the surface, obviously the repeated targetable kill attached to a location (and thus harder for your opponent to control) initially seems pretty good. Dig a little deeper though, and the card may not be as good as it seems. While in my discussion above about ‘We Do Not Sow’, I described the requirement of an unopposed challenge to be a pretty low bar to set. However, once you’ve installed this card, you’d better fucking believe your opponent is going to try like hell to avoid giving you an unopposed Military challenge if they have a vulnerable character. Unlike WDNS, this card can only be triggered from one challenge type, so stretches your opponent less thinly. It also requires a Faction Card kneel, which is a non-trivial cost, particularly when Fealty is such a powerful economic agenda. In the future, it seems highly likely that other good effects will be fighting tooth and nail for that faction kneel cost. Let’s compare this to Put to the Sword, which seems like the most obvious comparator: The economics of PTTS are a lot worse than this, requiring 2 gold (and a copy of the one-use event) each time you wish to trigger it. Whilst theoretically PTTS has an advantage of being held in hand, and thus a surprise, it’s debatable how surprised your opponent can be when you swing with a suspiciously large Military challenge and 2 gold carefully saved… Of course, the nature of PTTS means your opponent has to respect it at all times when you could theoretically threaten the conditions to play it, and they will have to contort themselves to defend it, even if you were bluffing. There is no bluffing element to the Seastone Chair per se, but your opponent will have to respect it every military challenge, and contort their board in slightly different way to protect themselves from that effect. PTTS allows you to target anyone, whereas the Seastone Chair has a fairly major drawback of not being able to target characters with attachments. When the card was originally released, this was not a massive problem. Not many attachments saw play, and the main thing you had to worry about was not accidentally Milking someone you wanted to kill! However, with the release of negative attachments like Fishing Net, this card started to look anti-synergistic, and with the release of Valar, however, Bodyguard has become very common in the metagame as people struggle to adjust. People are more careful about only deploying critical characters once they have a save/duplicate available, have built decks more resistant to losing specific characters (including the appearance of the plot Close Call) due to the deeper character pool now available in the game as a whole,  and are generally more sanguine about losing unique characters. The final factor to note is that the Seastone Chair, unlike PTTS is a Claim Replacement Effect. This means you rarely get the big swings associated with a well-timed PTTS, and also occasionally run into factors such as Vengeance for Elia. The repeatability on the Chair does allow for some interesting prison-style situations, where you can repeatedly kill their biggest military icons, and then stealth past others to keep firing it every turn, though this seems somewhat difficult to achieve. While I’m firmly on the fence about the Seastone Chair, I’ve seen it do enough good work to consider it a viable reason for wanting to be in Greyjoy as a main House. At the moment though, the proportion and relative strength of passive power gain ‘Clock’ decks such as Night’s Watch and Table and Chair in the game as a whole, both of which don’t massively care about the lives of their characters make targeted kill decks seem pretty weak at the moment.

If these are the three best reasons to be in Greyjoy main faction, it’s a bit of a problem. Two of the three are cards aimed at dealing with locations, which is a pretty specific strategy. Even in a location dominated metagame like the one we see at the moment, I’m not convinced that they’re enough to justify the rest of the weak state of Greyjoy’s card pool.

The Row of Shame: Or ‘Jorg! Get the Bell!’

It is my opinion that the Greyjoy card pool is generally pretty weak to mediocre. As such, any further releases that are sub optimal are especially painful for the faction. Baratheon and Targaryen have had their fair share of total shit in the first two cycles, but are able to subsist mostly based on the strength of their core set cards. To a lesser extent the same is true of Lannister, but Lanni had three of the strongest 5 cards in the core set (Tywin, Tyrion and Treachery, forever known from this point on in this blog as ‘The Three Ts’), a game plan that synergised with another exceptionally strong card (Tears) , which they were almost completely immune to due to their surfeit of Intrigue icons. Whilst the second cycle has delivered almost nothing of value to Lannister, they got plenty to be excited by (or disappointed by if you were on the other side of the table) in the first cycle, and a solid big box release too. Poor Greyjoy, the first cycle delivered some solid but unspectacular cards, but of recent, their barren islands delivered the set of ‘goodies’ shown below. No wonder they have to raid others, when their own offerings are so poor:

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Look at this wall of shame, of which the pinnacle of embarrassment is Ours is the Old Way. A card pretty much unanimously panned by the community. I’ve never been a fan of the theory that bad cards are printed so that good players can distinguish themselves through superior card evaluation skills, and it’s doubly crippling for the LCG model when crap cards slip into the card pool, since it grows slowly and the pace of rotation is so slow. The fact that Ahead of the Tide is taking up an evergreen slot is not good for Greyjoy in the slightest. I know I can sleep safe at night though, knowing it’ll never rotate. It’ll always be available to waste a slot in my binder and to trick bad card evaluators into wasting a deck slot. Many of these cards are damaging, simply by not being a copy of Nightmares or Milk of the Poppy, a useful trigger event like PTTS or Superior Claim that accelerates your win conditions or even something Greyjoy might want to run like Little Bird or Appointed to shore up their critical Intrigue woes. I’d like to clarify that I think it’s much better to just run a faction that has a better icon spread than to try and plaster over the cracks in your strategy by giving up vital draw deck slots. I generally prefer to maximise and play to my strengths in a deck, rather than cover weaknesses. Some of these awful cards are prohibitively costed versus the dubious strength of the effects (notably OITOW). Unless you like cards with suspiciously lewd art, Bless him with Salt will never make the cut over cards like The Kraken’s Grasp which have more generally applicable and useful effects, are more mathematically efficient and already struggle to find slots in decks. Helya is anti-synergistic with one of Greyjoy’s main options for helping their unopposed strategy (Fishing Net) and so actively helps your opponent. Attachments aren’t as common as they used to be, currently, since one of the best decks this Store Champs season is Night’s Watch, where most of the characters have No Attachments. I don’t necessarily hate Dagmer since the tournament scene is full of location heavy decks, but with Valar back in the metagame, other, better, high cost characters like Mirri have struggled to remain in the game since they can’t take a bodyguard. Dagmer doesn’t have natural stealth, and actually punching through a Military or Power challenge through the Night’s Watch with Dagmer alone is going to be pretty difficult. In any case, you can’t take the Wall, and you’re almost certainly going to want to be pressing Power challenges for actual claim to try and stay with the power gain of the NW player, rather than wasting a crucial power challenge on a claim replacement effect in that matchup. Dagmer might be better in the Table and Chair matchup, but is seems likely that he’ll just get knelt out if the opponent thinks there’s a chance you might take a critical location. In any case, the Red Keep and Baratheon’s natural Power icon surfeit makes Power challenges quite difficult to push through against them. He’ll probably just get milked anyway.

One Trick Longship

While the main, overarching ‘Unopposed’ theme dominates the Greyjoy card pool, the sub-themes of mill and location hate also proliferate, along with other factors such as ‘go first’, ‘saves’ and ‘strength pump’. Of these, the location hate theme seems particularly worthy of discussion, due to its alignment with the location heavy decks dominating tournament season. If you look at the Greyjoy card pool, they are swimming in viable location destruction compared to all other factions. We Do Not Sow, Euron, Lordsport Shipwright (which I think is up there as one of the faction’s absolute best cards, and one that can truly compete with other factions’ best and brightest) and Newly Made Lord comprise about half of the game’s location hate for draw decks, in addition to the often difficult to trigger Put to the Torch, horribly over costed Pyromancers and Milk of the Direwolf. The forthcoming ‘Scaling the Wall‘ could well expand this, and finally there is the much maligned, but playable (metagame dependent) plot Political Disaster. I don’t understand why Political Disaster didn’t have the caveat of ‘cannot be saved’ like Wildfire Assault. The mechanics of the dead pile makes ‘cannot be saved’ much more punishing to characters, yet that plot has it, whilst locations can be rebuilt, and the location reset doesn’t have it. Scaling the Wall looks to require a significant investment in the ‘Wildling Module’ and it looks likely to directly compete with Banner of the Kraken if you really feel you need heavy location hate in your deck.

The difficult question becomes, if location hate is the thing Greyjoy are best at, how much do you put in your deck? It’s really hard to justify running all these options. Whilst they may do good work versus Night’s Watch, they’re often quite weak versus much of the rest of the field. I’d personally look at sticking with Lordsport Shipwright (it has an Intrigue icon!) and We Do Not Sow. The point I’m attempting to make here is Greyjoy have a lot of their good cards tied up doing the same (quite niche) thing, yet you cannot afford to really run them all, making a strength of the faction in some ways a weakness, for the moment, anyway.

Light on the Horizon?

Luckily the last pack of the second cycle, Tyrion’s Chain, has brought some reinforcements:

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The notable omission in the previous section was the newly released Sea Bitch, which I think is so strong, it deserved to be discussed separately. Much of this article has been ragging on Greyjoy pretty hard, and rightly so, the card pool is pretty miserable, but fair is fair, it’s important to take note when times might be a changin’, especially with the forthcoming Greyjoy Atman:

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It remains to be seen how strong this card is in Thrones, but in Netrunner in the past it’s been both a lynchpin of decks, as well as an almost ubiquitous 1-of tech card. The effect is flexible and strong.

Whilst Sea Bitch is another card added to a card pool that already has lots of similar effects, with the exception of We Do Not Sow, this is the strongest of the lot. Economically efficient at 1 gold, and preemptive, in that you can deploy it and leave it threatening on the table, investing that gold long before that critical turn where you might need it for something else The biggest strength of this card is the fact it can be used mid-challenge. This can lead to some pretty savage swings, for example, taking an opponent’s Iron Mines to save your own character, or taking their Iron Mines simply to prevent them using it themselves, taking a Lannister player’s Tower of the Hand to ensure one of their bounced in characters is killed etc.. The biggest swings with this card can be generated by taking a Martell player’s best card, Ghaston Grey (potentially getting to use it, then stealing it with Euron from their discard!), or stealing three power from them by using their own Boneway. Considering Martell are a faction that Greyjoy struggle very heavily against, this card is going to be extremely beneficial for Greyjoy players. This card may well encourage people to start running location hate to protect their own locations, rather than just to deal with those of their opponents, or running maximum Nightmares (if they weren’t already). This card is going to see a hell of a lot of play (non-loyal), and people better get used to playing around it as soon as possible, from the deck building stage all the way through to actual challenge by challenge decisions.

Esgred is just a really efficient card that basically supports Greyjoy’s mono-strategy, with the added bonus of a free power if (for some reason) you want to downgrade her into the other version of Asha. Intrigue icons with stealth are powerful, and a tricon with super stealth is certainly nothing to sniff at. If she sees a  lot of play (and I suspect that she will, again, non-loyal) I may consider moving back towards Targaryen, who will just parasucker her down with Plaza and move on with their lives.

So, with this excellent pack for Greyjoy, what does it mean for the faction as a whole? Well, realistically, not a lot. Sensible players will still not be playing Greyjoy as their House. Both of these cards (and Wex Pyke too) are non-loyal, which means it’s business as usual, you’re better off just running a banner and getting access to all the loyal goodness in your own main faction of choice (these days, probably Tyrell, Lannister or Night’s Watch). I fully believe that Sea Bitch however, has strongly improved the Kraken banner, which wasn’t awful to begin with. Iron Mines, Esgred and Sea Bitch, along with Lordsport Shipwright and Victarion lend some solid options and great location control to any faction. As such, I expect to see a lot of Kraken banner as we move towards regionals season.

Disclosure: The Author enjoys playing fun factions like Martell, and Sea Bitch is like a massive slap in the face to his favoured faction.

Dramatis Personae

Whilst this will be a blog primarily focusing on Thrones (and other FFG card games), it’s highly likely it will touch on board games, typically of the dry, heavy, euro (read BEST) variety.

One of the best things about the FFG LCGs, and board games in general are the strong communities they develop, and the social aspect. As such, it seems prudent to at least provide a record of the various miscreants and fellow travellers that will likely be mentioned on this site:

The Author:

Runs Thrones and some of the Netrunner events in Reading, UK. Will probably end up running the L5R ones too, in all likelihood. Used to run Conquest events until Games Workshop interfered. Is a well known arsehole, and so mostly plays Martell.

George:

One of Reading’s other Thrones stalwarts, Thrones is George’s first major foray down the rabbit hole of FFG card games. He seems to be enjoying it. George loves building his own decks, often full of jank. Perennially friendly, George is the kind of player that is always at the heart of a community. George also plays boardgames. I’ve only ever seen George lose his grip on his easygoing personality once, during an ill-fated game of Dark Moon. (Don’t play it, it’s awful. You may as well just play Battlestar Galactica. It’s a much better game and takes about the same length of time.)

Joel:

Joel is the best Thrones player in Reading, and a constant thorn in the side of UK Nats 2016 champion Ryan. Whilst not playing any competitive card games before, after a series of relentless beatings from the author, Joel got good. If there was a Rocky montage, I missed it, but I suspect it contained a lot of heavy shuffling and listening to Banter Behind the Throne. Joel is an efficient player, and thus only plays what’s good – mainly Lannister, never Greyjoy. Joel is my partner in crime for the new Arkham Horror LCG, which is great, as I don’t have to try and beat him. Joel also plays boardgames. Joel is responsible for the best Thrones meme in the UK, Joelface:

joelface

Joel also plays board games.

Nilo:

Nilo is my long suffering work wife. A competitive Pokemon TCG player (I know, I’m working on it), Nilo got burned badly by Conquest, buying in just before FFG pulled the plug. Nilo and I play a lot of games together, currently including  a Malifaux: Through the Breach campaign run by…

Nahum:

Has a cat. Used to work with Nilo and I. Loves miniatures games and RPGs, Nahum tempted me back into roleplay with an interesting setting and a totally diceless system. Seriously, fuck dice and their totally unnecessary randomisation. Just lazy design. Heavily impressed by Nahum’s smooth, smooth GMing. Nahum also got burned by the demise of Conquest.

‘Dodgy’ Phil:

‘Dodgy’ Phil and I love pretty much all the same games, only he doesn’t play any lifestyle games like the FFG LCGs. Phil is my primary opponent in ultradry, heavy eurogames, and we’re normally very well-matched. Phil normally wins, but the margin of victory is low, but consistent. Phil’s modus operandi is to play a positive game, bargaining with positions where both players benefit (only he always seems to come out slightly ahead). In games, Phil needs his head to be held firmly underwater until he is no longer a threat, even if it’s a detriment to my own strategy, or he’ll inevitably win. Not dodgy in the least.