Resist to the Last

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

At the start of the third cycle, House Martell appears to be a little in the doldrums. While I think the game is currently in a really good place, with most factions having some decent decks (or at least having extreme relevance as a banner, like Kraken), the reality is some factions will be weaker than others at any single point in time. Right now, Greyjoy and Martell are in a prison shank-fight at the bottom of the pole, with both factions having cards causing the other severe issues. Martell had the upper hand pretty much constantly since the game’s release, but Sea Bitch is a huge problem for some of Martell’s strongest cards, notably Ghaston Grey, so Greyjoy (or at least Banner of the Kraken) have gotten some good shots in recently.

Let me read that card again…

The recent War of the Five Kings survey reinforced my opinion that the community struggles to evaluate Martell cards (and the faction as a whole) effectively. In a vacuum, there is no way that the  cards the House received are worse than the dross that Targaryen, Baratheon, Greyjoy, and particularly Lannister ‘gained’ in the second cycle. While Martell did receive a couple of true stinkers, notably Tower of the Sun and The Greenblood,  and a few that currently look a bit over costed (Venomous Blade and Arys Oakheart), the rest of the pool was very solid indeed. Perhaps people were either disappointed by the lack of any true powerhouse cards, or too focused on 1st edition to realise the viability of Martell’s second cycle card pool. While I don’t agree with much of Brandon’s card evaluation, I think his analysis of the problems House Martell currently faces are pretty much spot on, which I will also touch on later. There were a lot of cards in the second cycle which will see play in particular deck shapes, and you can build a lot on those kind of workhorse cards.

The difficulty the community has had with assessing Martell has presented itself pretty much from 2nd edition’s release. They were widely regarded as the weakest faction from core (and hilariously in those reviews, Greyjoy, rather than Lannister Targaryen or Baratheon were regarded as the strongest), yet it was a Martell-Tyrell build that took home the first Worlds for Second Edition:

Sam Braatz’s Worlds Winner

House Martell
Banner of the Rose
Packs: Core Set (3)

Plots
1x A Clash of Kings (Core Set)
1x Calling the Banners (Core Set)
1x Calm Over Westeros (Core Set)
1x Marched to the Wall (Core Set)
1x Naval Superiority (Core Set)
2x Summons (Core Set)

Characters
1x Littlefinger (Core Set)
3x Varys (Core Set)
1x Rattleshirt’s Raiders (Core Set)
3x Areo Hotah (Core Set)
3x Arianne Martell (Core Set)
2x Maester Caleotte (Core Set)
1x Obara Sand (Core Set)
3x Desert Scavenger (Core Set)
3x Greenblood Trader (Core Set)
2x Left (Core Set)
3x Margaery Tyrell (Core Set)
2x Right (Core Set)
2x The Knight of Flowers (Core Set)
3x Garden Caretaker (Core Set)
3x Olenna’s Informant (Core Set)

Locations
3x The Kingsroad (Core Set)
3x The Roseroad (Core Set)
3x Ghaston Grey (Core Set)
2x Sunspear (Core Set)
3x Blood Orange Grove (Core Set)

Attachment
3x Milk of the Poppy (Core Set)

Events
3x Tears of Lys (Core Set)
2x The Hand’s Judgment (Core Set)
3x Confinement (Core Set)

This deck leveraged a the strong low cost curve characters of the faction bolstered by Margaery to make them relevant; the ability of Martell to utilise Tears of Lys highly effectively, particularly since Confinement allowed the targeting of strong core set cards such as Tyrion and Melisandre, who were otherwise immune. It also used the tricksy nature of Arianne and the threat of Ghaston Grey to manipulate the challenges phase. Arianne into Olenna’s Informant is one of the most powerful swings available in the game, even now, particularly on a Clash of Kings turn. Arianne also enables the deck to leverage resets well, in the limited environment of the core set, Varys. The video linked above is a beautiful example of the deck firing on all cylinders.

01104

Mistress of ruses

Arianne is a kind of hybrid economy/efficiency/challenge maths confusion effect that has proven time and again to be one of the strongest factors available to Martell. The number of ways you can use the action varies from the relatively simple, such as protecting her from a reset (yours or your opponent’s), blocking a or making a challenge, only to generate a pseudo-stand effect by putting in another character ready for involvement, or simply muck with your opponent’s challenge analysis in terms of what you can defend/make and at what strengths. At her best, you can generate splashy plays and large swings with cards such as the Informant, the in-faction Areo Hotah and Spearmaiden if your opponent lets their guard down.

Arianne and Tears of Lys continued to be centrepiece strategies, as Martell decks evolved into strip-and-kill attrition-based strategies, with the release of the icon removal attachments and particularly Nymeria. Flo Ridas utilised Arianne to bring in the community derided (notice a pattern here?) House Florent Knight to great effect, providing another point of attrition.The flexibility of Arianne’s action allowed you to put HFK into play at the most inopportune moment (whether that included challenges, marshalling, dominance etc), potentially removing claim soak to open up better targets in military challenges, or enabling a game changing Marched:

Flo Ridas – Portland Spring Tournament Winner (26 people)

House Martell
Banner of the Rose
Packs: From Core Set (3) to Calm over Westeros

Plots
1x A Noble Cause (Core Set)
1x Calling the Banners (Core Set)
1x Confiscation (Core Set)
1x Marched to the Wall (Core Set)
1x Summons (Core Set)
1x The Winds of Winter (Core Set)
1x A Song of Summer (Wolves of the North)

Characters
1x Littlefinger (Core Set)
1x Varys (Core Set)
2x Areo Hotah (Core Set)
3x Arianne Martell (Core Set)
3x Desert Scavenger (Core Set)
3x Greenblood Trader (Core Set)
2x House Dayne Knight (Core Set)
2x Left (Core Set)
2x Margaery Tyrell (Core Set)
2x Right (Core Set)
3x The Knight of Flowers (Core Set)
1x Garden Caretaker (Core Set)
2x Olenna’s Informant (Core Set)
3x Nymeria Sand (The Road to Winterfell)
1x Syrio Forel (The Road to Winterfell)
1x Knights of the Sun (Calm over Westeros)
1x Quentyn Martell (Wolves of the North)
3x House Florent Knight (Wolves of the North)

Locations
3x The Kingsroad (Core Set)
3x The Roseroad (Core Set)
3x Ghaston Grey (Core Set)
2x Blood Orange Grove (Core Set)
1x Tourney Grounds (Wolves of the North)

Attachment
3x Attainted (The King’s Peace)

Events
1x Put to the Sword (Core Set)
3x Tears of Lys (Core Set)
2x The Hand’s Judgment (Core Set)
3x Vengeance for Elia (Calm over Westeros)

These decks threatened the opponent’s board in multiple ways, making the challenges phase a nightmare, especially under the threat of Vengeance for Elia. The above deck uses Tourney Grounds to fund the events, but by the time of the release of First Snow of Winter, it was Tyrion alongside Arianne providing the dynamo:

Prague Regionals 2016 Winner – 58 people

House Martell
Banner of the Lion
Packs: From Core Set (3) to True Steel

Plots
1x Calling the Banners (Core Set)
1x Confiscation (Core Set)
1x Marched to the Wall (Core Set)
1x Wildfire Assault (Core Set)
1x The Long Plan (Taking the Black)
1x Trading with the Pentoshi (The Road to Winterfell)
1x The First Snow of Winter (No Middle Ground)

Characters
1x Littlefinger (Core Set)
1x Rattleshirt’s Raiders (Core Set)
1x Ser Jaime Lannister (Core Set)
3x Tyrion Lannister (Core Set)
3x Burned Men (Core Set)
2x Lannisport Merchant (Core Set)
2x Areo Hotah (Core Set)
2x Arianne Martell (Core Set)
3x Desert Scavenger (Core Set)
3x Greenblood Trader (Core Set)
2x House Dayne Knight (Core Set)
3x Palace Spearman (Core Set)
2x The Hound (Taking the Black)
3x Nymeria Sand (The Road to Winterfell)
2x Ser Ilyn Payne (True Steel)
2x Tyene Sand (True Steel)
1x Quentyn Martell (Wolves of the North)

Locations
3x The Kingsroad (Core Set)
3x The Roseroad (Core Set)
3x Ghaston Grey (Core Set)
3x Blood Orange Grove (Core Set)

Attachments
2x Attainted (The King’s Peace)
2x Imprisoned (True Steel)

Events
3x Tears of Lys (Core Set)
2x The Hand’s Judgment (Core Set)
3x Vengeance for Elia (Calm over Westeros)

This deck keeps the board small in order to make military claim as relevant as possible, harnessing the power of multiple resets in the plot deck. Particularly it leverages The First Snow of Winter to create a massive swing turn  where claim soak is removed and it can push through an effective military challenge (preferably with a critical PTTS) followed by an impact Marched. Nymeria and Imprisoned aid this strategy, as do strong Lannister ambush characters such as The Hound and Burned Men. The ideal situation is to use Tyrion to pay for these effects or Arianne to put them into play, kill a major character and then march another one, trading a good character for some expendable clansmen. In a truly ideal situation you can utilise the ability of Ilyn Payne to make it very difficult for the opponent to reestablish their board allowing the snowball to continue. Of course, the first snow turn can make you vulnerable as well, but the deck has the threat of Vengeance for Elia on the small board, as well as the further protection of Hotah, who alone can cause a major military swing. Of course, Martell can derive additional utility from First Snow, where you can bounce cards with strong enter play effects like the aforementioned Hotah and Greenblood Trader to reap their effects a second time. Stark ‘fun police’ decks provided an important limiting factor on this particular deck shape, but it remained viable for a long time, and is decent enough even now. Valar Morghulis has provided the opponent a good way of stopping the snowball in its tracks, weakening this deck somewhat, as has the the rise of decks that don’t care about the lives of individual characters such as Night’s Watch Wall decks. Martell, due to their strong intrigue presence and interest in taking the game later should benefit from this newly introduced reset too, but it may take some more draw and economy cards to be released for the faction before they can manipulate it as strongly as Tyrell.

The variety of different deck shapes that Martell has generated over the course of Second Edition so far has been really interesting, and is largely a result of their unique mechanics, and variety of themes.

Highly Thematic

Unlike most of the other factions in the game at the moment which are stuck with one or two, Martell are blessed with numerous themes which often bleed into each other. It is this variety and synergy that makes me love the faction, bolstered by the fact they are my favourite House from the books.

Read and react

There are a number of cards available to House Martell which reward going second. Taking individual card abilities out of the equation for a second, this is inherently stronger for Martell than the ‘Go first’ theme is for Greyjoy, purely because going second is much, much better than going first in Thrones in general. Whilst there are many cards which heavily benefit from going second including many of the ‘lose to win’ cards (see below), there are some that explicitly require  going second:

Not much to say about the Palace Spearman, other than it is an extremely efficient First Snow-resistant body when going second. Sadly not an army, as I found out to my chagrin when I picked some in draft. It is part of an incredibly competitive 4-cost slot in Martell. The main competition is Knights of the Sun, which have a weaker icon spread, but are good for closing out the game, but there are good unique 4-costers in Martell too, such as Myrcella and (in certain decks) Trystane.  Myrcella also strongly benefits from going second. It bears repeating, the strength of this slot in Martell makes them able to strongly leverage First Snow of Winter.

Whilst the efficiency of many of Martell’s 4-cost characters is clear, Quentyn on the other hand, typically looks quite overcosted for a character whose raison d’être and ultimate fate is normally to die. The body is mediocre for the cost, though much better when going second, with one additional strength and stealth. Stealth is decent on smaller boards created by resets, but one of the better ways you can leverage Quentyn is killing him in your own reset, either Valar Morghulis or Wildfire Assault. Wildfire is better (and more thematic), since it has a higher initiative, letting you go second and benefit from higher strength on the targeted kill effect. Any other strength pump effects such as Doran, Dawn, and out of faction effects such as Widow’s Wail of course also boost Quentyn’s utility. Quentyn’s presence on the board can curtail your opponents’ military challenges, under the threat of losing their own characters of importance. It’s worth noting of course that many of the best targets for Quentyn are probably strength 4 (requiring going second), such as Tyrion, Melisandre and opposing Nymerias, though there has definitely been some character strength inflation over the first two cycles, limiting Quentyn’s effectiveness.

Unlike the other cards discussed in this section, where their effectiveness is maximised if going second, for Sunspear to have any effect at all, you must go second. This necessitates you building a plot deck with a large focus on initiative, where otherwise you may have prioritised plot effect or gold. Sunspear is a really hard card to evaluate. I’ve played with it a lot (and tested with it even more) since the core set was released, but the amount of times I’ve managed to trigger it have been pretty limited. That said, when I do have it on the board, I rarely regret it. It causes quite a lot of consternation among opponents, and often can really disrupt their game plans. For a start, I’ve found it dramatically reduces the number of throwaway challenges people aim your way, particularly Military and Intrigue. There becomes a little sub-game of nerve when Sunspear is on the table, requiring your opponent to decide which challenges to make, and in what order. The Sunspear player on the other hand, has to decide whether to use Sunspear or not. If you elect not to use it, they may not make any more challenges, and you will derive no direct benefit. It is my opinion, that in most cases you should elect to use Sunspear on your opponent’s power challenge (if they make one at all). Assuming both players are on one-claim plots, the opponent needs to be able to successfully make AND defend a power challenge to avoid losing ground to you with Sunspear on the table. Of course, in reality there are other factors, such as unopposed power and renown, but the core power challenge mechanic becomes unbalanced in your favour. In most cases, challenge viability evaluation and cost-benefit analysis becomes extremely convoluted with this card, which results in a pseudo-Calm Over Westeros effect, where the opponent chooses which challenge they do not instigate. If House of Dreams comes back, this is definitely a location I want to try with it.

Many other cards in the Martell pool benefit from going second (and will be dealt with in the next section), but the direct requirement to go second is relatively unexplored in the card pool as yet. Hopefully it will be fleshed out further in future.

 Take everything from them

One of the ways Martell scheming and trickery has been expressed in the game is through challenge icon manipulation. Mostly this is negative, stripping icons from your opponent’s character, but it occasionally it is positive, such as in the case of Edric Dayne and The Prince’s Plan.

This mechanic originated in the core set with Maester Caleotte and Confinement, but it came fully into its own with the release of Nymeria. At its core, the icon manipulation mechanic represents the ability to cause a net swing in challenge strength between the two players. There are added potential benefit of potentially inhibiting your opponent from making or defending a particular type of challenge at all, with all the positives that entails. Nymeria is the strongest of these effects, creating an X+4+Y swing in strength, where X is the strength of the character whose icon she has taken, and Y is the combined strength of other Sand Snakes who lacked that icon you currently have marshalled. Nymeria’s action is flexible and repeatable, and you can change it every turn to suit the current circumstances. Truly a powerhouse of a character. She rewards careful play, especially when you have incomplete information about potential ambushed in characters in the challenges phase.

Confinement is a fine card, but struggled to find spots in decks once the icon stripping attachments (Imprisoned, Attainted, Condemned) started to see play. Its main benefit is it’s a surprise, and can affect characters with ‘no attachments text’, principally Armies and Night’s Watch, though frequently armies are too strong to be targeted. The icon stripping attachment suite have the advantage of being more permanent effects (as well as non-terminal), and all have seen play and all have utility. Imprisoned probably saw the least play, but was a strong solution for The Mountain, and allowed for extra leverage in pushing through PTTS and Spearmaiden. The current metagame makes Condemned arguably the strongest, due to the critical nature of power challenges versus Clock decks, though it is bad vs Night’s Watch, and suffers from Cressen like the others. Historically Attainted probably saw the most play, since it was a strong facilitator for Tears and Tyene (especially versus Lannister), as well as helping strongly in the Rains matchup (either for you if you were playing it, or curtailing your opponent’s intrigue strength). It’s hard to fit a lot of these into your deck, so it’s important to pick the one which complements your strategy, or must hinders you likely opponents’. It seems likely that the presence of these in decks will rise and fall inversely with the popularity of Night’s Watch and Baratheon. Maester Caleotte is the shit, I love him to pieces. He provides a method for both stripping icons and punishing an opponent for winning their challenges. He is the ultimate chump challenger for a crossing deck.

While there is a strong initial payoff for icon manipulation as discussed above, any further ways of punishing it are extremely attractive. The aforementioned Tears of Lys and Tyene were at the heart of Martell strategy for much of the first part of the game’s existence. Spearmaiden provided the punishment in Military builds. The Prince’s Pass provides both a mechanism for stripping icons, but also an inherent payoff for having done so in discarding the character from play, which makes it potentially a very strong card. It’s main ‘issue’ is that it competes for deck slots with Ghaston Grey (more of an embarrassment of riches, rather than anything else). I think the extreme strength of Ghaston has unfairly overshadowed this card, which is genuinely great in its own right. It’s at its best with further icon removal support, but it provides a Caleotte effect (for any challenge you are defending, including Military, which Caleotte cannot help with) which cannot be removed via the character-based resets. It’s also less of a liability if your opponent is playing Sea Bitch. The interesting new space that the Pass opens up (characters with no remaining icons) will hopefully be explored further in future.

Get ahead before you get a headstone

Deriving a benefit from losing challenges (‘lose to win’) is one of the unique themes of Martell, and these benefits come in diverse forms:

Thrones is an inherently snowbally game, and digging yourself out of a losing position can be very difficult. In a game you are naturally going to lose some challenges, probably quite a few. If you’re in a weaker position, you’re likely to be losing more than a few. Deriving a benefit from this, whether it be weakening your opponent’s position, or strengthening your own is beneficial, and something most other factions simply cannot do, allowing you to dig in and potentially make unlikely comebacks. As already mentioned, some of Martell’s themes are extremely synergistic, and the distinctions made in this section are, in some ways, quite arbitrary. Certain cards fit into multiple sections, but to avoid repetition, will only be heavily discussed once. Great ‘lose to win’ cards such as Maester Caleotte, Ghaston Grey, Sunspear, Quentyn, The Prince’s Pass, The Long Plan, and Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken are all dealt with elsewhere.

Bastard Daughter is a pretty simple example of the ‘lose to win’ mechanic. Claim soak with a free intrigue challenge attached is great, before we even begin to discuss the potential bonus icons granted from Nymeria or the ability to hammer your opponent’s hand with your own reset. Quentyn works in a similar manner. Elia Sand has one of the most potent bonuses for losing challenges, and doesn’t even have to be involved, allowing you to slip past defenders with stealth granted to whoever you need most. Trystane is a bit more niche, but is an efficient body granting a form of stealth for the whole turn at the cost of involving himself in the challenge.

His Viper Eyes is the kind of card I really love. It’s a good utility card, costs nothing to play, provides an unquantifiable information advantage, as well as removing whatever you need to extract most from the opponent’s hand at the time. There are excellent plays you can make with this card, though some of the best ones do require you to be the first player, in order to react first and remove threatening pieces like PTTS. A personal favourite is to remove the Hound from hand after his forced reaction, or to remove a character bounced with Ghaston. This card has strong utility against the Lannister Harrenhal decks that the faction favours at the moment. Vengeance for Elia, on the other hand, is really rather expensive at two gold. The effect has the ability to be really quite fearsome, reflecting the claim back on the opponent. Looking a little closer however, the card is clearly best used for Military challenges. For Military challenges, the card is highly effective, especially with a 2-claim plot on the other side of the board, or claim-raising effects like Winter is Coming. It is particularly potent on small boards generated by resets, such as The First Snow of Winter. The surprise claim generated by this card can break your opponent’s board, especially if you can follow up with your own military challenge or open them up for a critical Marched. Alternatively, you can go all out for your own military challenge knowing your opponent’s reprisal will not be an issue. For this reason, Vengeance is an excellent bluffing threat. Holding two gold as Martell can result in players refusing to challenge you militarily. Additionally, Vengeance is a claim-replacement effect. This gives it the bonus utility of being able to dodge an opponent’s Seastone Chair trigger activation. As strong as this card is in the military challenge, in intrigue, the effect isn’t quite as good. Using it effectively means you’re losing a card from hand anyway, though it least you get to choose the card you’re losing, protecting others that might be more critical. It looks better on a two-claim intrigue challenge. In a power challenge, the vagaries of wording mean that you simply turn off your opponent’s claim, rather than receiving any power for yourself. Not bad effects by any stretch, but nowhere near as high impact for two gold. The Scorpion’s Sting is an interesting power acceleration card that is always going to be compared with Doran’s Game. It’s probably weaker than the Game, especially with Valar Morghulis in the cardpool. It may be difficult to assemble enough characters with the right icons to get the most closing power from the card, and if you play the card early, the power is not as safe as on the House card.

The Boneway is a card that was badly misjudged by most of the community. Gaining a functional half a power per challenge lost (offensively and defensively) is exceedingly strong, and this card can normally be expected to generate 3-6 power a game for you in my experience. Yes, it is vulnerable to Treachery, but since other factions have improved over the second cycle, the popularity of Lannister isn’t as all consuming as it was. We will probably see an uptick in popularity again with the emergence of Margaery, both as a source of easily disposable lordlings, as well as one of the easiest counters to her reaction. Treachery tends to be one of my main targets with Viper Eyes anyway. It is a vulnerable target for location hate, but if you can protect it, it is a valuable source for power acceleration. The worst case scenario now is probably Sea Bitch. The amount of location heavy decks has caused more Banner of the Kraken to see play, as it provides a degree of location control unmatched anywhere else. As such, Sea Bitch will be a relatively common sight coming into regionals season. The idea of giving your opponent 3 power probably isn’t palatable, but you’re probably running 3 copies of Nightmares at this point, so Nightmaring your own location after theft (either Boneway or Ghaston) is a possibility. If this card becomes metagame dependent, then it’s probably fine. The card is currently a workhorse in some pretty brutal passive clock decks:

No Bigs for You, 5-1 SC Winner 2/4

House Martell
Banner of the Stag
Packs: From Core Set (3) to Calm over Westeros

Plots
1x Building Orders (Core Set)
1x Counting Coppers (Core Set)
1x Marched to the Wall (Core Set)
1x Fallen from Favor (Wolves of the North)
1x Valar Morghulis (There Is My Claim)
2x Unexpected Delay (Lions of Casterly Rock)

Characters
1x Littlefinger (Core Set)
3x Varys (Core Set)
3x Melisandre (Core Set)
2x Ser Davos Seaworth (Core Set)
2x Bastard in Hiding (Core Set)
3x Fiery Followers (Core Set)
3x Vanguard Lancer (Core Set)
3x Greenblood Trader (Core Set)
3x Bastard Daughter (Taking the Black)
3x Asshai Priestess (For Family Honor)

Locations
3x The Iron Throne (Core Set)
3x The Roseroad (Core Set)
3x Chamber of the Painted Table (Core Set)
3x Ghaston Grey (Core Set)
3x The Boneway (The King’s Peace)
3x Ocean Road (Lions of Casterly Rock)

Attachment

Events
3x The Hand’s Judgment (Core Set)
3x Seen In Flames (Core Set)
1x Vengeance for Elia (Calm over Westeros)
3x Nightmares (Calm over Westeros)
3x His Viper Eyes (Wolves of the North)
3x Burning on the Sand (There Is My Claim)

Basically a false banner Table and Chair deck, but making use of Ghaston, Burning on the Sand and other ‘lose to win’ effects, as well as the draw/deck filtering from Greenblood Trader. There are a bunch of effective clock decks around at the moment (partly driven by the fact that they beat the Wall decks in the passive power gain mirror match), and this one is one of the better ones.

Lose to win effects are a big part of Martell flavour and strength, and are likely to remain so for the future. The effectiveness of these cards really depends on how aggressive your opponent is with making challenges, which will be explored later in this article.

Hold the line, look for the sign, wait for the right time

In one of the most thematic design decisions in the game so far (and one of the House’s more fleshed out), Martell benefit from biding their time, and striking with increased strength at the right moment, and currently have a number of cards which reward this patience:

There are a variety of payoffs for this timing effect in the faction, of which perhaps the most splashy are Doran and his Game. With the third cycle beginning, we’ve seen enough Lords and Ladies released that Doran has become not just a viable option, but a potentially strong one in the right decks. As the card pool continues to grow, it will be interesting to monitor the number of Lords and Ladies Martell receive, because each one, particularly at lower costs, strengthens this synergy and makes it more consistent.  The release of Valar has provided a bit of further resilience in case this synergy gets truly out of control, so hopefully we will see some more of the Martell nobility. Rotation is a long way away, and so the future is pretty bright for Doran. The strength pump really starts to add up fast, and if the faction receives more draw to find the combo pieces, Doran will become a monster. On the other hand, as the key cog in the machine, a Milk or well timed Nightmares will really ruin your day, and force you to do some pretty rapid recalculation.

Whilst the payoff from Doran is slow, visible, creeping and steady, Doran’s Game is held hidden, preferably until the right time. The benefits of this card are fairly obvious. Rapid spower gain and particularly alternative power generation is obviously good in Thrones, but it is extremely good at the moment, especially when it comes as a surprise. There are relatively few comeback mechanics in Thrones, but this is one that can bring you back from a long way behind if played at the right time. Intrigue is probably Martell’s strongest icon, and the faction possesses numerous ways of manipulating icon distributions to your advantage, as discussed earlier. This card can be used to translate an advantage in Intrigue into power, which is something that should not be underestimated, but it also presents a significant problem for your opponent since it can be used whilst defending a challenge. You can over defend (much like Rains) to trigger it off a misjudged Intrigue challenge. Late in games, when hands are relatively depleted of cards, Intrigue challenges can become a way of probing, trying to kneel out a larger character, or just forcing an opponent to oppose to avoid giving away unopposed power. ‘Spiking’ them on an unwise Intrigue with Doran’s Game occurs a lot more often than you’d think, and is frequently game winning. One of the frequent complaints about Martell is that they lack draw and are slow, lacking the ability to generate power the way other factions can, for example with renown. It’s true that Martell has less character-based power generation (about as little as Targaryen), but many players are refusing to use the tools at the faction’s disposal, making it unsurprising that they are struggling. Starfall Cavalry perhaps suffers from the Arianne tax, but has a good icon spread and a potentially powerful effect. Seeing this early is often not ideal, though it will replace itself, but a solid body with a free Counting Coppers effect late in the game when your hand is thinned is pretty much an ideal top deck. I’ve had good results abusing it with Ghosts of Harrenhal. Knights of the Sun are just a highly efficient character with conditional renown (and a power icon) that triggers later. Renown, as previously noted, is not in abundance in the faction which likes to operate in as clandestine a fashion as possible. Generating it later in the game, when you are likely to be trying to close out a game is critical for the faction. In an ideal situation, you’re probably aiming to marshal this after your opponent’s reset(s).

In Doran’s Name is a solid economy card, which can be used as a surprise if necessary, generating gold for a critical Hotah or event. Games are going longer due to the release of Valar Morghulis, and this is a great card for recovering from a reset. You can play it after taxation, making Martell arguably the best faction for carrying gold between turns along with the Long Plan. There are currently few other faction kneel effects Martell want, so the opportunity cost for running this card is quite low. That may change however, with the release of The Prince’s Plan. I haven’t had enough time to thoroughly play with this card yet, but from what I have managed, I’ve found it highly effective. This is really an excellent challenge maths trick, both offensively and defensively. Granting an icon of your choice is a non-trivial bonus, though the strength pump is going to do the majority of the grunt work, especially enabling ‘win by 5’ effects, though this could become expensive. The ability to ‘fill in’ the missing icon in crossing decks (perhaps Martell’s strongest shape at the time of writing) is obviously brilliant. Gaining intrigue for strengthening Doran’s Game or helping another character support The Red Viper is helpful, giving Caleotte the chance to chump a Military challenge, or simply increasing the number of power icons you can bring to bear in the late game is obviously also great. I did try to use this to increase the utility of Dornish Paramour, but found I rarely got anything out of that combination, and that that card should still stay cozy in the binder. The card is pretty useful tech in the mirror match to replace stolen icons. The cost to play this event is high for a non-kill event at 2 gold, but can be mitigated by Fealty. This is the first of a series of events that can be returned to your hand upon a trigger, and I highly doubt there will be any trigger more common than losing a challenge. The return to hand effect makes the card telegraphed, which can be both a positive and a negative. You lose the surprise factor which, admittedly, tends to be a major strength of these type of cards, but you also force your opponent to have to play around it constantly. Whether this card sees significant play will probably depend on further economic options, as it is highly taxing to play it and pay the gold to return it to hand, though I definitely think the effect is strong enough. If you are rich enough, you can pay to react to bring this card back to hand in order to pad your hand vs subsequent intrigue claim. If enough of these recursive events see play, perhaps we’ll see an uptick in sightings of Isle of Ravens to shuffle them away into people’s decks.

These payoff cards are very effective, but the faction also has a variety of card effects in place to prevent you losing the game before you can take advantage of them (or accelerate you):

Some of these facilitation effects are clearly better than others. Ghaston Grey is one of the strongest cards in the game to date, perhaps House Martell’s strongest card. While it provides an extremely powerful ‘lose to win’ effect, it is particularly worth noting in this section. Until the release of Valar Morghulis, this card was arguably the best way to deal with renown characters in the game. If you can’t make a milk stick, or get a critical kill effect through, you could normally rely on Ghaston to slow the opponent’s renown characters down. The ‘cannot be saved’ stipulation is the critical point here, providing one of the few ways to cut through a duped heavy-hitter in the game out of the core set, until the release of effects such as Battle of the Blackwater. The effect of Ghaston provides a huge economic and tempo swing for your opponent at a relatively minimal cost for yourself. The most important part of the card in a lot of ways, however, is the threat effect it has on your opponent. It forces them to consider before committing their best characters to challenges, slowing them down significantly, and makes the closed pools of power on renown characters a relatively interactive part of the game. When do you use Ghaston as the Martell player? Do you let them gain any power on the character? If so how much? Do you repeatedly let the opponent make challenges with a slightly weaker character to keep their best and brightest on the sidelines, or do you settle with bouncing a slightly lower level threat, but allow their most dangerous character free reign again? Having played a lot with this card, there isn’t always a right answer. If you can return a character with a few power on it it’s often a pretty good idea, especially if they are a costly one to marshal again. You may also be able to remove the character from their hand in the same challenge with His Viper Eyes, or next turn (and gain some power!) with Heads on Spikes. I tend to err on the side of using Ghaston, especially since I’ve been playing 3 copies in almost every Martell deck. Since the card requires sacrificing to trigger, using it early ensures that any later draws of the card can be remarshalled and used again. However, there may be situations in which you don’t want to use Ghaston, primarily if you wish to catch the character in a Valar Morghulis boardwipe next turn. Of course, you may need to use Ghaston to remove their dupes to make the character vulnerable to the reset in the first place. This card is one of the largest threats Martell have, and while it can be mitigated by other effects, notably  Treachery, Nightmares, kneel effects such as Lordsport Shipwright and the hugely problematic Sea Bitch, it will always slow down your opponent’s renown rush and buy you time in a game. GG indeed.

Burning on the Sand is a very powerful mitigation effect with a very low cost and a critical stipulation. This reduces the claim on any challenge to 0, at the cost of leaving the challenge unopposed. Leaving the challenge unopposed can be a major concern, leaving you potentially subjected to win by 5 effects, as well as giving the opponent the unopposed power. For this reason, it’s not ideal for slowing down the opponent’s power rush, but what it does do is allow you to make stronger challenges yourself without fearing military reprisals, protect key pieces in your hand from intrigue claim and stop your opponent taking power off you. If you can go faster than them, you can at least maintain your own power level. Of course, against 2-claim plots, it is highly efficient. This card is, in many ways, similar to Vengence for Elia. It does not reflect the claim, but instead can be played without the high economic requirement, which seems like a pretty fair trade off. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken is a decent enough card, but one that is struggling to find deck slots with Martell’s multitude of other useful events, it’s particularly funny against Crossing decks, and has been seen in the wild recently. Obara doesn’t necessarily fit with a lot of what Martell wants to do, but always being able to oppose a power challenge isn’t nothing. Ricasso, on the other hand, doesn’t slow your opponent, but instead accelerates you towards your desired condition.

The Long Plan feels like a truly centrepiece plot that helps you slowly progress your game plan. It has slightly weak stats if it was blank, though notably has 8 reserve, which makes it a very reasonable opener, especially against Winter decks, but the effect is where it really shines. The ability to generate challenge phase gold can be incredibly potent (see Tyrion), allowing you to marshal characters and then still play events in the challenges phase, but it’s the carying over of gold from one. Obviously this isn’t quite as flexible as Tyrion (what is), since you need your opponent’s consent to allow you to generate gold, but  you can at least make them make some very hard decisions. This plot can vary quite widely in results, depending on your opponent and how they choose to approach it. Sometimes they will not initiate challenges against you, providing an effect similar to Calm or A Game of Thrones, helping you delay the game until you are stronger. They may make challenges against you anyway to progress their own win conditions, powering up your subsequent turn, and often earning a Dominance power for you as well. In other cases, you may be able to get a few low-effort challenges of your own through, since they don’t want to give you gold. You are almost always going to derive some strong benefit from this plot, typically powering up your next turn, and this is before you consider your subsequent turn plot. Typical plays can be constructive, for example Long Plan into Counting Coppers, Summons or Building Orders, mitigating the tempo hit of some of these plots. Similarly, it can be used into Valar Morghulis, avoiding suffering the weak turn the plot’s stats ensure. There’s a particularly brutal play which can be made in a Rains deck  playing a high economy plot such as Trading With the Pentoshi, triggering the agenda to flip into Long Plan and then Valaring next turn with an immense resource advantage.  Plot deck slots are extremely tight, and having such a flexible option is fantastic.  This plot should be a strong consideration in any Martell plot deck.

I believe (and hope) that Martell provide a glimpse into the future of Thrones second edition.  A future where deck builders have difficult decisions to make between similar cards, which have different situational strengths, and different fleshed-out themes can be blended into deck shapes in an more analogue, rather than binary manner. Already, I think we’ve seen Martell decks morph into more deck shapes than any other faction.

A lifetime to outlive the night time

While I’m a lot more bullish about the viability of House Martell than most players, the simple fact of the matter is that right now, some of the better decks in the metagame currently present some issues for the faction, primarily at a deck-building level.

Caught between a rock and a hard place

It’s a sad fact that at the moment, that moving into the middle of 2017, passive power gain decks using the Wall or Chamber of the Painted Table are amongst the strongest. With the exception of card bannings or restrictions, or the printing of severe hate cards, these decks will always be around, since the facilitating cards are in the core set. By their nature, these decks are defensive and make far fewer challenges than decks with traditional challenge-based win conditions. A large proportion of Martell’s card pool, including many  of the faction’s strongest cards, are thus relatively heavily neutered, because they trigger on losing a challenge. This is compounded by the fact that most Night’s Watch characters have the ‘No Attachments’ text or a similar equivalent. This results in a proportion of the Martell card pool from the first cycle being effectively unplayable in the matchup. These cards would be much better in the Table and Chair matchups, except for the fact that Cressen exists. Conversely, both the negative attachment suite and ‘lose-to-win’ cards are really excellent against anyone on a traditional game plan. The imminent release of the Night’s Watch deluxe box (which looks to offer a lot of extremely strong cards for them) will only compound the prevalence of Night’s Watch in the metagame. Even if somehow the wall deck becomes less viable, there seem to be plenty of other options for interesting Night’s Watch deck shapes, all of which will contain a majority of characters immune to many of Martell’s tricks. These factors make designing a Martell deck to take on all-comers a very delicate, daunting prospect. How many of these potentially matchup dependent boom-or-bust cards can you afford to include in your deck? The long night is upon us, and we may be waiting a very long time for Night’s Watch popularity to drop down to first cycle levels, if it ever does. The Night’s Watch have been granted some cards of frankly disgusting power level in the second cycle, which are going nowhere for the foreseeable future.

If you can’t gain ground by losing challenges, how do you win? You must adapt. Luckily, Martell has some of the best answers to allow you to simply outrace these clock decks in the form of The Red Viper, The Boneway and Doran’s Game:

Doran’s Jank – 2nd at Aldershot SC (32 players).

House Martell
The Lord of the Crossing
Packs: From Core Set (3) to True Steel

Plots
1x A Noble Cause (Core Set)
1x Heads on Spikes (Core Set)
2x Summons (Core Set)
1x The Long Plan (Taking the Black)
1x Close Call (True Steel)
1x Winter Festival (Called to Arms)

Characters
1x Littlefinger (Core Set)
2x Rattleshirt’s Raiders (Core Set)
1x Areo Hotah (Core Set)
2x Arianne Martell (Core Set)
3x Doran Martell (Core Set)
1x Edric Dayne (Core Set)
1x Maester Caleotte (Core Set)
3x The Red Viper (Core Set)
3x Desert Scavenger (Core Set)
3x Greenblood Trader (Core Set)
2x House Dayne Knight (Core Set)
2x Bastard Daughter (Taking the Black)
3x Nymeria Sand (The Road to Winterfell)
2x Knights of the Sun (Calm over Westeros)
1x Quentyn Martell (Wolves of the North)
1x Harmen Uller (Across the Seven Kingdoms)
1x Elia Sand (There Is My Claim)
1x Trystane Martell (Lions of Casterly Rock)

Locations
3x The Kingsroad (Core Set)
3x The Roseroad (Core Set)
3x Ghaston Grey (Core Set)
3x Blood Orange Grove (Core Set)
2x The Boneway (The King’s Peace)

Attachments
2x Bodyguard (Core Set)
2x Milk of the Poppy (Core Set)

Events
1x Superior Claim (Core Set)
1x Doran’s Game (Core Set)
1x Nightmares (Calm over Westeros)
3x His Viper Eyes (Wolves of the North)
3x Burning on the Sand (There Is My Claim)

This is not the optimal version of this list, it should have been on 3x House Dayne Knight and 3x Nightmares for a start, but it’s a decent example of a deck built to go faster than a clock deck. There’s some speed built into the plot deck in the form of Winter Festival and Heads on Spikes, which is a very good plot for Martell, due to initiative, synergy with Ghaston Grey and the House’s intrigue strength, the rest of the plot deck is basically all consistency cards. More recent updates have included Confiscation, though double Summons can normally find the Rattleshirt’s if necessary. The Summons helps to find the pieces required for the Doran Lords and Ladies synergy which gives the deck good legs later in the game. The rest of the power generation is a mixture between Lords of the Crossing agenda, the Boneway (great in Crossing due to the number of lost challenges and The Red Viper. This deck is constructive in nature, aiming to build a board state that can allow you to grab a decent amount of power using the Viper on the Crossing challenge whilst putting your opponent in a fork, where their attempts to keep up feed you Boneway tokens or get mitigated by Burning on the Sand. You have a good chance to close with Superior Claim or Doran’s Game.

Updates to this list have included Ricasso, Myrcella, and The Prince’s Plan, but it’s sadly probably a little past its sell-by-date. While the Night’s Watch Wall defence match up is very very good for this deck, the Baratheon match up has become tougher, now Valar Morghulis has become more common in those decks. Previously when this deck was constructed (certainly in the UK) the Baratheon Table and Chair decks were also constructive, aiming to build and protect a board and sap power from you in dominance. This gradually changed as people have switched on to the fact that non-Wall location-based strategies benefit heavily from small boards. This shift led to (or perhaps was inspired by) lists such as Deergarden (one of the most unpleasant decks I’ve yet come across in Thrones). The matchup is very draw dependent, and if they see Melisandre and can keep her operational with Cressen, the likelyhood is they will control the Viper and you will struggle to keep up. Previously the matchup against other constructive decks aiming to win a traditional game with renown was also strong. The release of Margaery however, is a huge problem for Crossing decks. To get any benefit from your agenda you normally need to make a Military challenge, which routinely ends up constructing their board for them. I think the deck is probably now spread too thin between these matchups to really excel as a deck shape in the modern environment. However, if the Wall and the Night’s Watch are plaguing you, this is a really good answer.

So, where to go from here? I’ve been experimenting with more destructive Martell decks leveraging multiple resets. I love the faction and discussing them, so it seems highly unlikely that I’ll be able to keep the experimentation to myself! I look forward to what the Blood and Gold cycle delivers for the faction, and seeing if fleshes out the mechanical themes covered in this article, or generates new ones. I honestly think the future will be bright for the House of the Sun (and in some ways the only way is up!), even if it requires biding our time as Doran would have wanted.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Resist to the Last

  1. Pingback: Growth Spurt | Asha Anonymous

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s