Future Proof

This is a post about building and sustaining communities, with particular focus on the competitive play scene.

The Looming Threat

No, this is not an article about Wamma and Florian’s stupid builder deck. This is about the other elephant in the room, the imminent arrival of Legend of the 5 Rings, and what it (broadly) means for the AGoT community.

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She’s waiting to give the signal to overrun the thrones community

Later this year, L5R will be released. I’m really excited for it. I expect some (though by no means all) of you will also be excited for this release. It’s easy to get excited about new things, especially when they look as slick as what we’ve seen from the new L5R. The card art looks great, the mechanics look modernised, the game retains the rich theme of the previous edition. It remains to be seen whether the game will attract the same levels of devotion and loyalty as the AEG version, but from what I see now, there’s a high chance this site could become ‘Lion Clan Anonymous’ (or whichever of the clans end up with the boring monostrategic win condition / has a rubbish card pool).

Based on my own anecdotal observations, when FFG releases new card games, they tend to attract players that already play other FFG card games. While this in itself isn’t necessarily an issue (players can, and often do, play multiple games after all), more often than not, FFG games tend to cannibalise existing player bases. Players frequently cannot spare the money, or headspace to play multiple ‘lifestyle’ card games at a high level. Having spoken to people around the local gaming store, I can see L5R LAUNCHING with at least twice the number of players that we have painstakingly grown our AGoT scene to over 2 years. Obviously this is good for L5R, but is it necessarily bad for AGoT? I’d argue it probably is, for reasons I will articulate below. I think there are some reasons to be worried:

The LCG Problem:

The LCG model is excellent. It’s a brilliant example of a company choosing to revolutionise something that was taken as gospel. The LCG model is better for players and (presumably) financially worse for FFG, and I’ll always love them for that. Providing fixed distribution product means players are not being cynically milked for attempting to purchase what they need to play the game (I mean, seriously, what other product requires you to buy something without knowing what it is you are buying?). It removes the degenerate gambling aspect of randomised booster packs and the associated problems this can cause with players with addictive personalities. It also allows players to compete on a level playing field with access to the entire card pool, without a ‘pay-to-win’ model. This is simply THE BEST for competitive play, as it means we can find the best players rather than the best players with enough money, whilst also meaning that if the metagame changes you can just pick yourself up and adapt seamlessly, rather than having a situation where your expensive deck is now useless.

Whilst the vast majority of the LCG model is beneficial, it has a couple of important downsides, which are pertinent here. Firstly, for the longest of times, there have been no particularly easy ‘buy in’ products. Yes, you could argue that the core set is the buy in product, but I think that’s not ideal, particularly for AGoT. MTG is a pretty terrible game with an extremely player-unfriendly business model, but there are a few things that WotC does well. They provide free (yep) demo decks that stores can hand out to interested parties. They provide numerous entry level products, some efficient (starter decks/planeswalker decks, whatever they are called now) some terrible (Deck Builder’s Tool Kits), regular releases of pairs of decks designed specifically to be played against one another, out of the box. These products are available at a variety of price points, all lower than an FFG core set (regardless of game) and are an attempt to ease people into the hobby. FFG have FINALLY started over last year and this year to provide a kind of equivalent entry product in the form of the World Championship decks, which is good. The core set, on the other hand, is not as easy a sell. I appreciate that it’s supposed to provide a ‘game in a box’ for players but the AGoT one in particular is startlingly badly designed. Having now played a number of FFG’s LCGs, I am convinced that the AGoT starter set is uniquely poor. The Conquest one wasn’t good either, but it’s better than the AGoT one for reasons we will go into in a moment. The Arkham one is fine, but they all pale in comparison to the Netrunner core set, which is objectively and patently the most well designed.

For whatever reason, FFG have decided that the way they will make their money with LCGs is off the back of the competitive scene by making competitive players buy 3 core sets in order to have a complete play set of all cards. Never mind that this is annoyingly confusing to try to convince new players of the worthiness of the LCG model:

“All you need to do is buy each new expansion as it’s released, and you’ll have a complete set of every card in the game. Except for the core set, yeah, the most expensive one, you need three of those, sorry.”

Most of the core sets share similarities, a relatively shallow card pool for each faction in the game (apart from Necrons and Tyrannids in Conquest) plus neutral cards to pad these out. In the Netrunner core set, you actually have multiples of important cards. You can actually play the game with some consistency. It gives a relatively accurate portrayal of what the game plays like in general, is pretty balanced as a standalone product and teaches the mechanics of the game well. The AGoT (and Conquest) core set is full of one ofs which makes an already high-variance game a complete luckfest. It doesn’t give an accurate example of the game, and the AGoT set is particularly egregious in that the lack of multiples impedes teaching one of the basic mechanics of the game (duplicates). The AGoT core set rounds out by screwing competitive players even further by including singleton copies of important competitive neutral staples such as Put To The Sword and Tears of Lys while inexplicably containing two copies of Put To The Torch. I know plenty of competitive players in the Netrunner community who have played to a relatively high level without EVER purchasing a third core set (San San City Grid, Desperado, Aesop’s Pawnshop). I cannot say the same about Thrones where it is impossible to play competitively without 3 cores (functionally every card in the box).

The second part of the LCG Problem is the bloating card pool. If the joy of an LCG is having access to the entire card pool, the misery is a new player trying to catch up a year (or longer) after release. Having to track down all the different expansions (which float in and out of stock) is a large financial burden, and provides a non-trivial ‘activation energy’ to get in to the hobby. Whilst it is still normally much cheaper to buy in to an LCG than maintain an up to date Standard deck for MTG (let alone Modern etc), this presents an intimidating overall price tag for potential new players to get to grips with mentally.  This problem could be solved by instituting a relatively quick rotation model (which would also have the added advantage of freshening the metagame, and removing some of the problem cards from the game more quickly). Unfortunately FFG have chosen a very poor timescale for their rotation policy, and should probably take a hard look at WotC. To its detriment, Netrunner has been out around 5 years at this point, and rotation STILL hasn’t come into effect, stagnating the game. Of course, by far the easiest, and frequently least expensive, option is to head for eBay to hoover up a complete (or largely complete) collection from a player moving on from the game. Sadly, while beneficial to the player, this is effectively net neutral for the community player base (one in, one out) and is a poor deal for stores, as they will not be selling as much product.

Speaking of stores, it’s worth thinking about how the LCG model affects them. If the easiest way for players to buy into the game is through eBay, it’s not a good incentive for stores to stock these games. While we’ve talked a little about rotation (or lack thereof) , the third part of the problem, SKU bloat is really rough. This affects Europe and the UK in particular a lot more than North America, but anywhere where population density is high, property prices and business rents tend to show a concomitant increase. This naturally results in smaller shop floors. Having a bloated game full of a huge number of SKUs is a pain in the arse for game stores and is another reason not encouraging them to stock the products we have come to love. In addition, the LCG model creates a huge amount of slow moving stock. After the week a datapack is released, it will no longer be very likely to move off the shelf. There is almost no reason for any player to buy a second copy of a particular datapack or expansion. After the initial purchase wave by local players, the next time the store might sell a copy of a datapack is when a new player picks up the game (and we’ve already discussed eBay). This means if the store over orders on these products, they can be left with dead stock functionally for ever. If you care about your local store (and you should, they provide an extremely important part of the competitive and non-competitive community) I would urge you to strongly consider preordering your LCG product from them, and not to shop around or buy elsewhere. This allows them to estimate as closely as possible how much of this product to order, which can be especially important when they may have to preorder product months in advance. The SKU bloat is particularly noticeable for X-Wing, which is a game currently with no concept of rotation, and products that are horribly over-packaged, to the detriment of both store floor space and the environment.

To summarise, if a player is choosing which to buy into, AGoT or L5R, from an economic perspective it makes sense for them to buy in to the game which has been going the shorter length of time, there are fewer products for them to catch up on. Additionally, players are likely to be less experienced overall, and so there will be less of a experience/skill gap for the new player to overcome.

Larger player base:

 

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Traditionally, games with larger player bases have two major advantages, they are more visible, because more people are playing them. They also seem more attractive: “Wow, all those people sure seem to be having a great time over there, I wonder what they’re doing/playing, maybe I should get involved?” It is also a lot easier to find opponents so you can fit games in when you want to, especially as people get older with more real life commitments. It certainly looks like L5R will start off with a good size player base. Indeed, it has a larger player base it is likely to acquire from the previous AEG game, larger than the player base at the end of AGoT 1.0.

Similar Styles:

 

With the information we have been given so far, it looks like AGoT and L5R may end up being fairly similar games. Fundamentally they are both creature combat games, have multiple ‘planes’ of combat (challenge/conflict types) and look to share FFG’s common keyword and phase style game structure. I don’t think that Netrunner will be particularly heavily impacted by L5R, it is much more of a unique experience mechanically. I worry that on the other hand, L5R will be similar enough to AGoT that many players will elect to pick one, rather than play both. Anecdotally, I know many of the Thrones players I’ve met who started AGoT in 2.0 were ex-L5R players. A few of them confessed to be ‘killing time’ until the rerelease of Rings. The L5R community apparently prided itself on clan loyalty and being relatively close knit. I can easily see those players heading straight back to L5R. Some of the Conquest players I knew elected to just wait for L5R rather than get invested in Thrones.  This is likely to be an unpopular opinion among Thrones players, but from a personal perspective I see some of the mechanics spoiled for L5R (notably I Go-You Go challenges and deployment, as well as the fate system, thinner deck sizes, elective draw built in to the game mechanics, spatial element) as providing depth and balance that at times AGoT lacks. The fate system in particular looks to offer a huge amount of additional depth in terms of player decision points, as well as providing an elegant solution to flooded boards that AGoT has been forced to bodge with blunt resets like Valar Morghulis.

‘Hotter’ IP:

 

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The L5R IP was purchased in entirety by FFG, at significant expense. Obviously they want and need this game to be a great success. Little Birds have whispered in my ear that, somewhat unsurprisingly, this will be FFGs largest launch for a game EVER. I’m not suggesting that the Thrones licence is under any sort of threat, but it was worrying to see Conquest curtailed by the degradation and eventual cancellation of the relationship between FFG and Games Workshop. There is no chance of this happening to a fully owned IP, and understandably it seems likely that L5R will receive a lot of peripheral support in the form of RPGs and boardgames etc, all of which will help attract players to the setting.

Poor Regional Attendance:

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For whatever reason, we’ve seen some pretty low attendances for Regional events in some parts of the world. I may well have warped expectation on attendance levels due to the fact that I a) live in the UK and b) play Netrunner, where tournament attendance tends to be a lot higher. Perhaps some of these numbers are good for their particular area etc, but I can’t shake the feeling that a ‘premier’ regional level event should probably include more than 30 or so players. It’s a bit worrying to see these numbers when I’d hoped the game would be flourishing and coming in to its own.

 

Based on these points, I’m going to make the statement that the AGoT community desperately needs to attract AS MANY PLAYERS as possible, and do its UTMOST to maintain the ones that it already has.

(It’s as easy as) ABC

So, with that statement made, what can we do to improve the situation?

After spending much of my recent life playing competitive games (of a huge variety) I’ve developed a sort of theory for building communities, and will share it here. I think there are three main stages someone goes through on the route to having one of these games become an important part of their lives:

Point A – Awareness

Point B – Bought in

Point C – Competitive Play

These are fairly self explanatory, but it seems worth having a brief discussion. From a competitive player’s perspective, Point C seems to be the obvious ultimate goal. Getting someone to purchase the complete play set of cards, turn up to local play evenings and GNKs on a regular, preferably permanent, basis. They may also become enthusiastic about travelling to other places’ events in order to get more games in and compete more frequently, which helps sustain other communities as well.

Traditionally, the events I have run targeted at newer players have focused on getting players from Point B to Point C. Normally events, requiring a limited part of the card pool. For AGoT, these are normally single core set ‘Kingslayer’ events. Unfortunately, as discussed previously, the game out of a single AGoT core set is not very good. I’m certainly open to suggestions about other easily accessible formats for new players, hopefully this article will spark some discussion. It seems likely in future that I will move towards a ‘1 core-1 deluxe’ format, which has been the standard for introductory Netrunner events, though this works better due to the superior design of the Netrunner core set. The addition of the deluxe box, while increasing the entry requirement to the event a little for players, has the advantage of improving consistency in decks, and allowing players to express interest in a particular faction, which is particularly pertinent in AGoT and L5R which seem to have more restrictive deck building requirements.

However, I have come to realise that while these sorts of events are good for giving people a taste of Point C, allowing them to play in a more competitive setting, get some interesting games in and meet some of the local competitive community, a different type of event is required for getting people from Point A to Point B. Later this year (probably post Regionals season and post release of L5R) I’m going to try to run a ‘Learn to Play LCGs’ day at the local game shop. I haven’t quite worked out the exact itinerary, but I’m looking to have a number of ‘stations’ around the play space where people can just turn up, have a chance to look at each of the LCGs we play locally, and meet some of the community who will be able to give them a shortish demonstration of the games themselves. This will hopefully allow members of the public to be made aware of the products in a setting where they are being shown off by expert enthusiasts (probably with decks/scenarios built specifically for this purpose, and come away with some knowledge of the hobby, and potentially even picking up a core set (to Point A/Point A to Point B). I’m looking to feature Arkham Horror, Netrunner, Thrones and L5R. The rest of what we can do to get people to Point A is probably just be as visible as possible when playing our games, and enthuse about them if people look interested or ask. A lot is also up to FFG.

 

Chokehold

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Player retention is a critical part of sustaining a healthy and vibrant community. So what can be done to encourage people to attend local events, and keep them coming back for more?

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I think first of all, it’s important to keep the barrier of entry as low as is absolutely possible. As the game grows, the buy in price increases and becomes more off-putting, and it behoves us to make every effort to integrate newer players. For many players, the AGoT 2.0 facebook group may well be their initial portal into the wider community of the hobby. For this reason it depresses me whenever I see questions in this group get answered flippantly, or brusquely or even rudely.

Yes, it annoys me as much as the next person to see the same ‘can I dupe the Arbor on setup’ questions. However, I think it’s best to either ignore them, or just answer them as succinctly and politely as possible, in order to help new players, yes it’s tedious and a chore, please just accept it for the benefit of the game. Similarly, you may just be messing around with people you know very well in a public forum, but this group is enormous. Other people (especially new players) will not know if you have a preexisting relationship with someone you’re insulting or making fun of. On the surface, this can make the group look like an intimidating and unfriendly place. Likewise, off-colour jokes may be more acceptable where you are from or in your local group. It is highly unlikely they will be acceptable to everyone in the group – best to keep them to yourselves.

Anything that makes an already niche past time any more niche is going to increase the burden on new players, and make them feel more excluded. I appreciate ‘in-jokes’ are part of what makes these communities fun to be a part of, but I’d urge you if possible to try to avoid stuff that makes the community feel more exclusive. The hobby is dominated by white, middle-class heterosexual dudes. We are already missing out on large swathes of potential players through the intimidation factor of this alone. I don’t profess to be an expert at solving this problem, but I do believe it is a problem that needs to be solved. If you don’t care about this problem, or want to moan about ‘SJWs’ feel free to stop reading this site. I don’t want you here.

Here are some links written far more eloquently and by far more intelligent people than myself that I would urge you to read:

http://meeplelikeus.co.uk/busting-myths-around-sociological-accessibility/

http://rachel.we-are-low-profile.com/blog/the-average-uk-boardgamer/

https://en.chessbase.com/post/explaining-male-predominance-in-chess

http://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar_url?url=http://mdmcalister.pbworks.com/f/Checkmate%2520-%2520The%2520role%2520of%2520gender%2520stereotypes%2520in%2520the%2520ultimate%2520intellectual%2520sport.pdf&hl=en&sa=X&scisig=AAGBfm1CarujvGnVKcEZUBm4MaabSMPEEw&nossl=1&oi=scholarr&ved=0ahUKEwjs09-5rbrUAhWJIMAKHedeAncQgAMIISgCMAA

Here is an example of a community fuck up by the Netrunners, the fall out, the response, and a perfect example in the resultant discussion thread of these problems and the difficulties the community has in acknowledging them and potentially resolving them to move forward (it is the source of some of the links above, and well worth a read if you are at all interested in presenting welcoming and open gaming communities):

https://forum.stimhack.com/t/representing-the-community-learning-from-the-european-championship/8970

As a final word for now on this subject, lewd and unnecessary alt arts will never help to provide a comfortable inclusive space for everyone.

Obviously the only players it is OK to offend are Greyjoy players. It’s for their own good after all!  😀

With a brief discussion about inclusivity out of the way, what can you do from an AGoT perspective to help new players and encourage them to continue playing?

I think one of the best things you can do is be helpful and friendly, particularly in more casual settings. Discuss choices and decision points openly, don’t dissemble, give information openly and with good grace. I personally believe this to also extend to tournament settings. You do not want to be in a position where players think: “Oh, these people were really nice when playing casually, but they changed for the worse when push comes to shove, I guess I just won’t bother coming to any more tournaments, they clearly aren’t as friendly”. There has been a lot of discussion recently about the amount of information to give opponents about total strength and board state, as well as whether you should be responsible for the trigger of the FORCED REACTION on YOUR OWN FUCKING LATE SUMMER FEAST. I hope that it should surprise no one who has met me that I come down on the side of ‘don’t be a bell end’. Sportsmanship is important, and it isn’t just about winning and losing with good grace (which encourages others to show good sportsmanship, and makes them want to spend time with you again), I believe it is also about treating your opponent with respect. I’ll post some points Wamma made in a discussion about this topic that I wholeheartedly agree with (edited by myself for style and for article clarification):

On the “help them out vs winning at all costs” matrix, there are four options:

1) You helped them out, they won, ‘what a shame’:  Now they think you’re a nice person and the community is helpful, and will come back to more tournaments. You take a small hit that you might have taken anyway, and got beaten fair and square by the rules of the game and your opponent’s decision making. (GOOD FOR COMMUNITY BUILDING)

2) You didn’t help them out, they won: You come across like a massive dick and a total loser. GGWP. (BAD FOR COMMUNITY BUILDING)

3) You helped them out, you won: Awesome, you won, you did it through actually playing the game rather than dissembling and obfuscating, and they think better of you and the community because you managed to do it by not being a dick. (GOOD FOR COMMUNITY BUILDING)

4) You didn’t help them out, you won: Well done, you are clearly the greatest for using every trick necessary to squeak out a victory. Why does it matter if someone thinks you’re a dick if you got the PRIDE of winning a card game not by your skill but by your opponent’s unforced errors? Or were you winning anyway, in which case you might as well have been nice instead of turning someone away from the game? (BAD FOR COMMUNITY BUILDING)

I come from a science background. Consequently I believe in sharing information for the benefit of all to aid overall progression. Do deck breakdowns with people after you’ve played with them, show them how your deck works, discuss card choices. Chances are high that this will help clarify your own thinking, you can have extremely fruitful discussions about the relative merits of certain card choices, your deck will almost certainly benefit from it. POST YOUR DECKLISTS. The Netrunner community posts decklists immediately and frequently. It allows the decks to be iterated and improved extremely quickly to become the most efficient they can be. This results in the game being played at an extremely high level where player skill and decisions are paramount. It also gives new players an important leg up when entering the hobby so that they can concentrate on improving their play and understanding of the game, rather than be held back by inefficiencies that the rest of the collective community has evolved past. I believe the aim of the competitive scene should be to help these newer players improve AS FAST AS POSSIBLE. It gives you more competitive, competent opponents to test yourself against, test decks with, and just generally spend time with. I genuinely believe the lack of cooperation in the AGoT community is an embarrassment for it as a whole. The very best players will always be one step ahead, whether it be in tech card slots, reading the metagame or in decision making. It is then, in my opinion, sad that some feel the need so strongly to further hamstring others and harm the community to ensure victories they would have achieved anyway. Who knows, the players that you could have helped (but decided instead not to) may walk away from the game. They could have been the next master creative deckbuilder, they could have been the next person to start a podcast, or provide art assets, they might have been someone you enjoy taking road trips with, or sharing a post-tournament drink with, they might end up playing a tournament for the right to witness your wedding. If you don’t make them feel welcome, you might never have a chance to find out.

  • Contribute, don’t degrade or erode.
  • Help, don’t hinder or hide.

There are further mechanics that you can use to create additional reasons to come back time and again. Some anecdotes will be presented in the next section, but one of the most effective I’ve found is what I would describe as ‘Pass the prizes’. This takes the form of an item (typically of no real value) that confers bragging rights and loose prestige upon the holder until the next tournament where it is relinquished back to the prize pool. For our Conquest group we had an old Conquest playmat that the winner would be presented with every local tournament. They were allowed to sign it with a sharpie (Name, date, victorious warlord), and as the community flourished, it became a tangible record of the results of the events, the shifts in the metagame etc. Inexplicably for Netrunner, the prize is a bicycle bell (it has its own twitter account, and has spawned numerous inferior imitations). For AGoT we have a replica ‘Hand of the King’ pin for our local group, as well as a plastic child-size wrestling belt that I once took off Wamma in an embarrassing defeat for him at the Bristol Regional last year, probably my proudest moment in Thrones:

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The moment he took it back still burns…

All this can present a fun set of mini-games and achievements aimed at fostering a sense of local community and fun. Additionally, where possible, provide participation prizes, so everyone goes home with something, no matter how small (the community has been great at this so far). Ensuring a prize structure which is not too top heavy, and focussed on the highly competitive players. These players will likely turn up anyway. What you REALLY don’t want to get to is a position where all the more casual or less competitive players have left the game, leaving nothing but a core of die-hards. In this situation it becomes almost impossible to attract new players to the game, as it becomes intimidating, and the learning curve is extremely challenging.

If possible, run events not strictly focused on competitive play. We have had good results in the past with ‘achievement’ based leagues, particularly in Netrunner, which can appeal to more casual players and more creative deckbuilders. Achievements were based on multiple things, including:

  • Playing different identities (including underpowered ones (in AGoT, different House/Banner/Agenda combinations?)
  • Achieving specific things in a single game, which often would require you to build specific decks. (Kill 4 characters in one phase that isn’t the plot phase; reduce your opponent’s reserve to X; Gain X power in one turn; Marshal 5 characters in one phase)
  • Bounties on/handicaps on previous league champions (the Brighton Charity Joust handicapped UK National Champ Ryan Wood to raise money for charity).
  • Encouraging people to play a certain number of games a week vs different league members.

This can be extended to tournament style events. There was a specific target to achieve each round in the Battle of Blackwater Bay event in the UK last year for example. Many events offer ‘best in house’ prizes to encourage faction diversity.

 

Another chance to taste the dream

There has been a huge amount of discussion about (often for years) about the state of FFG’s organised play prize support. At some point I’ll probably write a longer post about my views on the subject, but let’s cut to the chase, the recent sets of GNK prize support have been on a rapid downward slope, and the latest one was particularly dire (the Summoned to Court, Brienne, Tyrell tokens nonsense that is the Q2 GNK for Thrones). As someone who runs multiple FFG tournaments, this is quite galling. I’ve run events in my local area for Thrones 2nd Edition, Netrunner on and off, and Conquest when it was around, and I’ll probably end up running them for L5R on release. One of the things I’ve found is particularly important to sustaining a local community is to cultivate a group of players who are willing to travel to support your events. This helps on a number of fronts. For a start, it increases the number of attendees beyond your usual week-in, week-out local die-hards. This is not only an increase in raw numbers, but presents a new set of players to play against. Perhaps these players are running very different decks, and provide new tests of mettle for your locals, and the possibility of learning and experiencing new things. For the travellers, it creates an incentive for reciprocation, growing their own tournament scene. Soon, the community as a whole grows, and benefits, people make new friends, players get better as they play more frequently and the calibre of opposition increases, benefiting the community as a whole. Whilst I’ve never met anyone involved in an FFG game that played purely for the prizes (and I’ve played at a heavily competitive level in all 3 of the games), everybody loves free stuff, and particularly, they like to win prizes, even if they are ultimately just nerd status symbols:

playmats

The chance to win prizes provides a further incentive to travel further afield and answer the question:

Tiggles, what is best in life?

-To crush your enemies, to see their inefficient decks driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their prize kits.

The chance to saunter into someone else’s home town, smash them all over the shop and harvest their GNKs like an alt-art piñata is truly a satisfying feeling. On the receiving end however, it stings, it REALLY hurts, ladies and gentlemen. The shame penetrates your consciousness until you are aching for the next GNK to come around where you have a chance (however fleeting) to erase it. We sustained over a year of community based on this alone, where an Oxford Netrunner player (let’s call him ‘B’) turned up on a monthly basis, used our prize support like a strip mine, and then hopped on the train back to his stupid university town busy pumping out PPE graduates who are ruining Britain for everyone. Month by month, the Reading Netrunner players practised and improved, until we were finally able to defend our home turf, and the tyrannical reign of ‘B’ came to an end. This story became the backbone of the Reading-Oxford-Aldershot group of Netrunners, which is one of the central hubs of the game in the UK, and one of the closest-knit.

It’s particularly galling then, when doing the monthly ring-round, or making the Facebook posts, or messaging the group chat, to hear comments about how the GNK prize support is uninspiring, and people see it as no incentive to travel. Realistically, everyone is well aware that they will lose out financially when travelling to events (and this is in the UK, where there is a high population density with a correspondingly good density and frequency of events). Having prizes no one wants does not help. This Q2 OP kit for thrones was the most negative I’ve heard people about any of FFG’s prizes yet, with a resulting drop in attendance. It has sadly got to the point where I am genuinely wondering whether the local store should continue to purchase the GNKs for AGoT, and if the community can generate better quality prize support for a similar price (although the Regionals kit looks great). The other part of the problem is that stores are forced to order the GNKs months in advance, typically with no knowledge of the content. They cannot make choices based on full information. FFG have also decided not to continue with providing posters etc in the GNKs, which has made it more difficult (and put further onus onto TOs) to advertise events (Point A).

One of the things that the AGoT community has been particularly excellent with is community generated prizes, we’ve seen some extremely cool stuff in the form of tokens, playmats, plots, and other alt-arts, which seems to be a good hangover from 1st Edition. If you haven’t seen some of the really cool stuff people are doing with laser cutters, it’s definitely worth a look. I’d like to say a particular thank you to Patriot Games and Panda Post who provided prize support for the excellent charity event that was run in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support by Gabbi and Joe in Brighton earlier this year.

 

Beggar’s Banquet

This isn’t likely to be a common theme on this site, but I have a special request. One of our local Netrunner and AGoT players is from South Africa and is in the UK studying. He’s been made very welcome, and has been having a whale of a time getting involved in everything the UK competitive scene has to offer. He has been made aware that back home in South Africa the local community has been suffering, since they are struggling to get hold of FFG organised play kits of all levels. They are still looking to run South African Nationals, but he has put out a request for prize support donations to help support the Tournament Organisers there. The Netrunner community from across the world has been amazing, and have delivered a huge cache of additional prize support (some official, some community generated) which should sustain their events for a significant period of time:

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I’d like to extend that request to the AGoT community. If you have any leftover prize support, or stuff from your own personal collection you’d be willing to donate to sustain the growth of the game in other far flung places (from Ib to Asshai!), please contact me here or via facebook and I can put you in touch with him, or ensure the stuff gets to him, I know he’d be extremely grateful. Thanks.

Conclusions:

I definitely believe that L5R and AGoT can coexist, however I think it will be particularly important for the AGoT community to put its best possible face on in terms of romancing new players and holding on to those less tied to the game currently. Players come and go, 2.0 is young yet, it will be up to us to help maintain a trajectory of growth for the game (especially as it begins to blossom with a wider card pool in the ‘golden years’ of cycles 3 and 4 forward). Hopefully this article has provided some ideas and support for people looking to promote and sustain community engagement, which can, at times, be something of a dark art.

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Growth Spurt

I don’t think it’s really a stretch to say Tyrell are the best faction right now. At worst, they’re very close to the top. As I write this, the top 16 of Batalla por el Muro is going on, and Tyrell are dominating, with 8 Tyrell decks in the top 16 and all 4 of the top 4 (no Greyjoy, Martell or Stark, and a singleton Targaryen in the top 16). It’s worth noting this tournament was being run WITHOUT the pack All Men Are Fools being legal for play, and so these decks didn’t even include Tinder Marge, a tremendously powerful new option. How did it come to this, for the faction derided as one of the weakest from the core set?

In the days of Kings and Queens I was a jester…

A big part of the early lack of favour shown to the Tyrell faction can be laid at the feet of Left and Right, and Olenna. In the cramped environment of the Core set, having one of the weaker 7-costers, and 2 of 19 of your limited cardpool being taken up by unique combo-oriented chuds in an environment where the main reset was Wildfire Assault, ensured that the faction did not get off to the most auspicious of starts. Still, in a foreshadowing of what was to come, Tyrell-Watch decks with cheeky Left and Right protecting the wall saw some play, and the Rose banner was frequently utilised as a ‘renown banner’ giving access to excellent power sink options in Randyll Tarly, his stand package, and The Knight of Flowers:

Red Saturday Lanny Rose

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

Plots
1x A Noble Cause (Core Set)
1x Calling the Banners (Core Set)
1x Calm Over Westeros (Core Set)
1x Confiscation (Core Set)
1x Counting Coppers (Core Set)
1x Marched to the Wall (Core Set)
1x Summons (Core Set)

Characters
2x Varys (Core Set)
1x Rattleshirt’s Raiders (Core Set)
1x Cersei Lannister (Core Set)
1x Grand Maester Pycelle (Core Set)
2x Ser Jaime Lannister (Core Set)
1x The Tickler (Core Set)
3x Tyrion Lannister (Core Set)
3x Tywin Lannister (Core Set)
2x Burned Men (Core Set)
3x Lannisport Merchant (Core Set)
2x The Queen’s Assassin (Core Set)
1x Left (Core Set)
3x Margaery Tyrell (Core Set)
2x Randyll Tarly (Core Set)
1x Right (Core Set)
3x Garden Caretaker (Core Set)
3x Arbor Knight (Taking the Black)
2x The Hound (Taking the Black)

Locations
3x The Kingsroad (Core Set)
3x The Roseroad (Core Set)
2x Lannisport (Core Set)
2x Western Fiefdom (Core Set)
1x Cersei’s Wheelhouse (Taking the Black)

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

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

Nothing much subtle about this deck, save perhaps the two copies of Varys providing further reset options. The plot deck is a bland and utilitarian as they come (though undoubtedly effective), and it’s a ‘Good Stuff’ deck to the core. Looking down this list, it’s kind of a ‘who’s who’ of just raw effectiveness from the Core Set and early First Cycle: Tywin, Tyrion, and Treachery providing the beating heart of early ‘Good Red Card’ dominance,  Randyll and Jaime providing further power gain and non-kneel/stand effects giving this deck game against the Bara-Fealty decks  which were also strong out of the Core environment. The massive economic advantage generated by playing Lannister is expressed by this deck being able to afford to play Seal, providing further stand redundancy. It has the usual high-impact gold sinks of Tears, PTTS and The Hound, whilst also benefiting from the utility of the bannered in Arbor Knight. Finally, Margaery and Widow’s Wail allow for some effective challenge maths shenanigans. Overall, this deck felt very much like a forerunner at the time, considering it’s decent tech for matchups with the other competing top decks present at this point, Targaryen-Fealty (in the form of strength pump/naturally strong characters) and Baratheon-Fealty (stand effects).

As the First Cycle developed, the game saw the release of the Lord of the Crossing agenda. I believe this to be one of the earliest critical moments in the lifespan of 2nd Edition so far for a few reasons: It provided the first option for mono-faction decks other than Fealty, and thus provided a genuine choice. It provided a completely different way to have to approach the challenges phase, analogous in some ways to Wall defence decks. Finally, it provided a critical piece for the concept of rush decks, allowing for the relatively reliable generation of additional power every turn. To this day, it remains an excellent choice across a suite of decks for combating the repressive clock decks (Wall, Table and Chair) that, as of mid 2017, currently squat malevolently near the top of the metagame. The cards acquired in this time frame by Tyrell made them a prime candidate to leverage this agenda:

Taking the White: Tyrell Crossing

House Tyrell
Lord of the Crossing
Packs: From Core Set (3) to The King’s Peace

Plots
1x A Clash of Kings (Core Set)
1x A Noble Cause (Core Set)
1x Calling the Banners (Core Set)
1x Calm Over Westeros (Core Set)
1x Confiscation (Core Set)
1x Summons (Core Set)
1x A Tourney for the King (The King’s Peace)

Characters
3x Margaery Tyrell (Core Set)
3x Paxter Redwyne (Core Set)
3x Randyll Tarly (Core Set)
3x The Knight of Flowers (Core Set)
2x The Queen of Thorns (Core Set)
2x Courtesan of the Rose (Core Set)
3x Garden Caretaker (Core Set)
3x Wardens of the Reach (Core Set)
3x Arbor Knight (Taking the Black)
1x Syrio Forel (The Road to Winterfell)
2x Ser Hobber Redwyne (The King’s Peace)
3x Hedge Knight (The King’s Peace)

Locations
3x The Kingsroad (Core Set)
3x The Roseroad (Core Set)
2x The Mander (Core Set)
3x Rose Garden (Core Set)
2x Pleasure Barge (Taking the Black)
1x Street of the Sisters (Taking the Black)

Attachments
2x Seal of the Hand (Core Set)
1x Little Bird (Core Set)
1x Heartsbane (Core Set)
2x Mare in Heat (The King’s Peace)

Events
2x Put to the Sword (Core Set)
2x The Hand’s Judgment (Core Set)
2x Support of the People (Taking the Black)
3x Lady Sansa’s Rose (The Road to Winterfell)

A number of cards had been released (principally for Tyrell) that developed and strengthened the rush archetype, and gave it teeth:

It cannot be understated how important the release of Arbor Knight was for these decks. In the majority of cases, you want to ‘cross’ with the power challenge, and this Military/Intrigue bicon provided a character which could be used to chump the less important first challenge with the -1 Str. Not only this, but it placed a burden of decision on your opponent provided by the Challenges Action, since you could alter the strength to potentially win the challenge anyway. Other cards like the new Mare in Heat (which the Arbor Knight provided a fantastic target for) and Margaery exacerbated this problem. Pleasure Barge (discussed in depth later) provides the burst draw which helps support these kinds of faster decks, and really shines here where the downside isn’t relevant since the game was likely to be over relatively quickly. The fulcrum of the deck, however, is still Randyll Tarly. With the ability to potentially be involved in multiple challenges a turn, he can generate very rapid power gain, and happens to synergise exceptionally well with the Crossing agenda. The Crossing challenge strength pump stands Randyll, allowing you to use him on defence if going first, or to potentially win dominance if going second. The strength generated on the third challenge by the Crossing, as well as Margaery’s ability, allow you to push through a number of effects relying on challenge strength differential, in this deck PTTS, The Mander and Street of the Sisters, which plays into the rush archetype very well, providing additional power generation whilst utilising a neglected resource in the deck, the faction kneel. Finally, closing power was provided by the Tourney for the King, and Lady Sansa’s Rose. This card is difficult to set up to get the three power, but can be pushed through effectively using Loras‘ in built joust ability (or a Knight with Mare in Heat) for a massive payoff. Of course, the Arbor Knight does work here again, capable of being involved in both these effects.

For a fleeting moment between pack 3 and pack 4 of cycle one, Tyrell decks eagerly bloomed like some desperate flower in a desert, only to sadly wither seemingly overnight due to the release of The First Snow of Winter. More recently, the release of Valar Morghulis has further rendered this particular variant even more unviable.

While a little winter chill put paid to the initial cavorting of the Knights of Summer, the Tyrell-Crossing rush archetype has been reestablished, providing 2 of the Top-4 finishers at Batalla.  Let’s look at these two decks (Joe’s deck provided the foundation for the deck Ryan Wood took into the Top 4, with minimal changes):

 

1) Winner deck “Batalla por el muro 2017” Daniel Correas López

House Tyrell
The Lord of the Crossing
Packs: From Core Set (3) to Tyrion’s Chain

Plots
1x A Clash of Kings (Core Set)
1x Confiscation (Core Set)
1x Filthy Accusations (Core Set)
1x Trading with the Pentoshi (The Road to Winterfell)
1x Varys’s Riddle (Across the Seven Kingdoms)
1x Winter Festival (Called to Arms)
1x Ghosts of Harrenhal (Ghosts of Harrenhal)

Characters
1x Littlefinger (Core Set)
3x Margaery Tyrell (Core Set)
1x Paxter Redwyne (Core Set)
3x Randyll Tarly (Core Set)
3x The Knight of Flowers (Core Set)
3x Courtesan of the Rose (Core Set)
3x Garden Caretaker (Core Set)
3x Arbor Knight (Taking the Black)
2x Lady-in-Waiting (The Road to Winterfell)
1x Ser Horas Redwyne (No Middle Ground)
2x Wildling Scout (No Middle Ground)
1x Ser Colen of Greenpools (Across the Seven Kingdoms)
3x Renly Baratheon (For Family Honor)
2x Brienne of Tarth (Ghosts of Harrenhal)
1x Alerie Tyrell (Lions of Casterly Rock)

Locations
2x The Iron Throne (Core Set)
3x The Kingsroad (Core Set)
3x The Roseroad (Core Set)
3x Rose Garden (Core Set)
3x Pleasure Barge (Taking the Black)
1x Renly’s Pavilion (Tyrion’s Chain)

Attachments
1x Seal of the Hand (Core Set)
3x Bodyguard (Core Set)
1x Heartsbane (Core Set)
1x Mare in Heat (The King’s Peace)
1x Crown of Golden Roses (For Family Honor)

Events
3x Superior Claim (Core Set)
2x Growing Strong (Core Set)
2x Nightmares (Calm over Westeros)

 

2) Tyrell Crossing (4-2, Top 8 Brighton Charity Joust, Joe Zimmer) EDIT: Joe has since informed me this was his version of a deck Ryan Wood built.

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

Plots
1x A Clash of Kings (Core Set)
1x Confiscation (Core Set)
1x A Tourney for the King (The King’s Peace)
1x Close Call (True Steel)
1x A Song of Summer (Wolves of the North)
2x Time of Plenty (Lions of Casterly Rock)

Characters
3x Margaery Tyrell (Core Set)
3x Randyll Tarly (Core Set)
3x The Knight of Flowers (Core Set)
3x Garden Caretaker (Core Set)
3x Arbor Knight (Taking the Black)
2x Lady-in-Waiting (The Road to Winterfell)
2x Hedge Knight (The King’s Peace)
1x Wildling Scout (No Middle Ground)
1x Butterbumps (True Steel)
1x Ser Colen of Greenpools (Across the Seven Kingdoms)
2x Knight of Summer (Called to Arms)
3x Renly Baratheon (For Family Honor)
3x Brienne of Tarth (Ghosts of Harrenhal)
3x Ser Robar Royce (Tyrion’s Chain)
1x Alerie Tyrell (Lions of Casterly Rock)

Locations
2x The Kingsroad (Core Set)
3x The Roseroad (Core Set)
3x Rose Garden (Core Set)
3x Pleasure Barge (Taking the Black)
1x Street of the Sisters (Taking the Black)
2x Renly’s Pavilion (Tyrion’s Chain)

Attachments
2x Bodyguard (Core Set)
2x Crown of Golden Roses (For Family Honor)

Events
3x Superior Claim (Core Set)
1x Lady Sansa’s Rose (The Road to Winterfell)
3x Nightmares (Calm over Westeros)
1x Relentless Assault (Tyrion’s Chain)

Both of these decks are pretty similar, are not dissimilar to the previous Crossing deck discussed above, and many of the principles are the same. They still utilise Randyll as the key power sink, with many of the changes reflecting the much-improved support pieces available, such as Crown of Golden Roses and Renly’s Pavilion. In both decks Randyll is supported by the new Renly/Brienne module and the additional draw and renown they provide.  Rather than the vulnerable inconsistent power gain from Lady Sansa’s Rose, both these decks have elected instead to utilise three copies of Superior Claim to generate additional power. It has a lower ceiling, but a higher floor, crucially is easier to play, and keeps the power safer on the House card. Further additional power generation is a difference between the decks, with Joe’s looking to go all in with the Crossing with Street of the Sisters, whilst Daniel’s deck prefers the more conservative and metagame significant Iron Throne. The clearest difference is the plot deck. Joe’s deck is used to support a ‘Summer Module’ of power gain from Robar Royce and Knights of Summer, whilst Daniel has perhaps a more traditional plot deck, with some a utility Filthy Accusations and some passive power gain from Winter Festival.

These decks were built to outpace clock decks, do it well, and a variant should be in your testing gauntlet for Regionals season.

Mandertory inclusions

As may have become clear to players over the last year or so, Tyrell currently has close to a monopoly on consistency cards:

As someone who has primarily been a Netrunner player, I value these kinds of cards exceptionally highly. In Netrunner, the ability to electively generate economy and draw cards on demand is built into the fundamental game architecture. As such, when playing Thrones, I often feel constrained and limited by the structure of the game and the scarcity of resources.

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At least part of this is my own fault. The relative abundance of draw in Netrunner (as well as Conquest and Arkham), combined with the high levels of recursion (and cards as hit points) means it is hard to break the ingrained habit of being totally blasé about cards in my hand. Even if you aren’t a card-wasting scrub like me, there is much to gain from the consistency cards that the bounty of Highgarden provides.

The cards fall into two main categories, economic and card advantage. The economic cards are are a mixture of very straightforward, and more awkward. Queen of Thorns and Bitterbridge Encampment (known throughout the community as Banterbridge) are the less conventional economy sources. While a potentially strong effect, Olenna hasn’t seen much play, and I think the majority of that is probably due to the lack of Renown. In the early days of the game, when the only reset was Wildfire, Renown was extremely important. Not having it, a relatively inefficient body and no other supplementary effects like insight to aid the printed ability has meant she hasn’t left the binder much, particularly since Tyrell aren’t struggling for standard economy in the slightest. She does however provide a way to rebuild very quickly from resets, which have reduced the value of Renown somewhat, and perhaps with the dawn of the Ladies theme she may yet see some play. Banterbridge on the other hand, has powered some truly cutting edge jank, and Tyrell have an abundance of big bodies to drop with it.  Paxter is an average body with two combined economic abilities, a +1 gold modifier and a cost reduction on the first event you play each turn. Paxter is a solid enough card, but not one you’re likely to build a deck around, unless a Tyrell event-heavy deck shape appears in future. The event cost reduction is a bit hard to evaluate. Realistically most decks are playing 3 copies of Nightmares at the moment, and rains decks like playing  some impact events, and particularly  Growing Strong, so you may get some work out of him there. However, other decks are using limited event space for fast power gain in order to combat clock decks, such as Superior Claim and now All Men are Fools. At times, you’re going to have to claim someone, and Paxter’s body often isn’t enough to justify keeping around after Wildfire Assault for example. The Arbor on the other hand, what is there really to say about this card? Currently the best single-card economy option at +3 gold, though it is a large tempo hit to drop outside of setup. If you can set it up however, it’s a total game changer. The tempo hit to marshal the Arbor or set it up is probably too much for rush decks, but all other Tyrell decks benefit very highly from it (which decks wouldn’t?!). In decks containing the Arbor, your opinion on what is a passable opening hand is very different to other decks. As long as it contains the Arbor, a two card set up is totally viable, and you don’t really care much if they March the only character you deploy, since your economic advantage allows you to recover rapidly, and drawing out the Marched is beneficial anyway. My favourite Arbor related setup is probably Arbor-HighgardenGarden Caretaker. The economic advantage provided by this card is compounded the longer the game goes, creating an incentive to run multiple resets. Not only is the overall raw economy advantageous, but it is extra effective when it comes to recovering from a reset more quickly than your opponent. The Arbor can have a very large impact on deck building. If this location is key to your plans (for example in a heavy reset deck), then you want to see it as soon as possible. I feel this location really provides some active pressure on the slots in your plot deck. You may wish to run Building Orders in order to find it if you cannot set it up (or any of Tyrell’s other strong locations if you do). Conversely, if you do, you would be wise to strongly consider playing the plot Calm Over Westeros. This plot mitigates the normally character-weak set ups containing the Arbor. The third plot to consider is a very high-income one, typically Trading With the Pentoshi (though Late Summer Feast has also been released recently). This allows you to drop the Arbor mid-game without having an unacceptably weak turn of marshalling. Yes, it would be ideal to put all three of these in your plot deck, but plot decks slots are, as ever, tight. In terms of your draw deck, the Arbor is probably going to replace a set of 3 of your economy cards, since running this card (which is also limited) strengthens your economy.  Which economy cards you replace is probably down to personal taste, and what your deck is trying to do. If you are running a monofaction deck, you want to remove some combination of Roseroads or Kingsroads. Conversely in a Banner deck, you may well gain from dropping the Rose Gardens. The Arbor creates an incentive to play a lot of more costly characters (encouraging you to keep the Kingsroads), but you need to be very careful. These high cost-curve decks set up poorly, and become extremely reliant upon seeing the Arbor early. It’s definitely worth thinking about keeping a reasonable character cost curve in your deck, but also about what else you can use the additional gold for to be impactful, for example strong events like PTTS or the good old Olenna’s Informant. Overall, the Arbor is perhaps the single biggest reason Tyrell have become so strong; it’s the grease to pretty much all the wheels of their machinations.

But how could you possibly leverage this economic strength? Well I suppose you could start with the extreme raw card advantage and card quality advantage that is abundant within the faction. The draw effects fall roughly into three main categories:

  • Card Quantity
  • Card Quality
  • Search (or ‘tutoring’) effects

While all three of these categories are valuable, there is a rough hierarchy of effectiveness, which is Search > Quantity > Quality.

Obviously in a vacuum, searching for and drawing/putting into your hand a specific card you want is better than drawing a random card (and keeping it), which, in turn, is generally better than reordering the top of your deck to filter your draw, or drawing then discarding (termed here ‘card quality’), since drawing cards gives you options (and at least pads your hand vs intrigue claim) or gets you closer to drawing your options.

In terms of search, Tyrell have the closest thing to pure tutoring in the game in the form of Olenna’s Cunning. They also have some more specific tutoring effects in the form of the Reaction on Tinder Marge and Slobber, who both search for characters based on their traits. The faction also contains Alerie, A Gift of Arbor Red and A Rose of Gold, which functionally search the top X cards of your deck for a card, in the case of Alerie, with restrictions on targets. Olenna’s Cunning hasn’t seen a huge amount of play, at least partly due to its cost. 2 gold is a lot to save after marshalling for factions that don’t contain Tyrion (what a broken card), even for Tyrell, who have one of the strongest economies in the game. The card is really quite awkward. It allows your opponent to decide what you CANNOT search for, which means that in the majority of cases you will not get the highest impact card. What this card does do is reward having a bit of a toolbox in your deck across the different card types. To get the strongest effect out of this card, you want to put your opponent in a fork, where they lose out significantly whatever card type they name. This requires high impact effects in at least two different card types. Events will typically provide one of the two, for example Tears or PTTS, and indeed, you can search for Tears with this card and play it if the challenge you won was intrigue. For this reason, in the majority of scenarios your opponent is best off naming Event as the card type you cannot have (though if they don’t you have to reveal the card and so they can prepare for it). In this case, for Cunning to have any impact, you need to have an ambush attachment or character to search for and play. Best case scenario here is probably something like a copy of Olenna’s Informant, which is an exceptional challenges phase effect attached to a character. Unfortunately this would require you to have saved 6 gold, or another way to get the Informant into play, like Arianne. There are some pretty nice (slightly cheaper) plays that can be made assuming you have a copy of Last of the Giants in hand, with Varys and Jaqen however. In the majority of cases however, if they name event, you’re probably just selecting a card to build your board position on the subsequent turn. If you have a strong economy, you can profit from the card draw provided by Pleasure Barge for example, or if you’re running a reset-based strategy, duplicates or a Bodyguard to protect your board from Valar Morghulis, or even tutoring for your own Varys if necessary can be strong. Whilst Cunning hasn’t seen a lot of play, I expect Tinder Marge decks to be heavily represented come Regionals this year. The Reaction provides an extremely strong combination of tutoring and economy, and will be discussed in greater length later. Slobber on the other hand, will potentially be a role player in the form of redundancy to find Margaery in the first place. Alerie is just a decent First Snow resistant character with a solid secondary effect in the form of search. She is good for aggressively rebuilding the board after a reset, can search out Olenna’s Informant in the late game, and can dig for Ladies in Waiting to dupe herself, or protect more of a centrepiece such as Tinder Marge or Brienne. She looks like an excellent one-of in the Ladies decks which are being pushed as a Tyrell theme at the moment, especially with a Wolf Banner with further lady support. In comparison, Gift and Rose of Gold are consistency cards likely to be played in multiples. I was initially skeptical about Gift, since it gives your opponent a card as well, but in practice it’s turned out to be exactly what First Ed. veterans suggested, giving you a card you want and something usually pretty irrelevant for your opponent. Sometimes it’ll give them a card you can just remove with an Intrigue challenge anyway. Generally a pretty solid choice of consistency card if you can spare the deck slots and aren’t using the faction kneel for anything critical, and non-loyal to boot. I really couldn’t care less about Melee (I’d rather play a heavy Euro), but it seems worth mentioning this is a pretty hilarious bargaining tool. Rose of Gold provides a slightly different twist on this for an additional gold, but doesn’t provide your opponent a card. This card was last seen as an enabler in Deergarden, which will be discussed later. Critically it’s a Song, which means it can go in that Song deck I know you’re building Wamma… (one day mate, one day!). Both of these cards excel in decks digging for specific pieces, rather than just looking for raw card advantage.

If you want raw card advantage though, Tyrell absolutely have you covered there too. Raw draw was available from Core in the form of The Mander. This was a card that has probably been under utilised. One of the better draw options in the core set, it was overshadowed by the far easier trigger condition and passive benefits of The Red Keep, which had the added benefit of being in one of the strongest factions at the time. I feel the effectiveness of this card has slowly but surely increased, and the release of the Crossing agenda has provided a straightforward option for massive strength boost to reliably trigger this card. A more reset-heavy game can provide opportunities to trigger this card, particularly if you can leverage the reset more effectively than your opponent. Indeed, triggering The Mander and getting a renown can be one of the stronger results you can achieve on a 0 claim turn after you’ve flipped Valar Morghulis. Similarly, this card can have a place in the matchups with Clock decks, where you may well only care about pushing through the power challenge, and the effect of The Mander can provide additional pay off for heavy commitment. Perhaps what has hurt The Mander the most are the other notable draw options the faction has received. In many ways, while it serves the same overall purpose as The Mander, Pleasure Barge is its antithesis. The Mander has an expensive up front cost, provides repeatable draw in reaction to a non-trivial condition, and draws cards in the challenge phase. In contrast, the Barge costs a whole heap of nothing, provides 3 cards instantly, in the marshalling phase, which is likely the most impactful time to have them. It provides no initial tempo hit, but instead provides a constant sapping drain to your economy. It’s worth discussing how much of an impact the -1 gold modifier actually is. Pleasure Barge provides the effect of Counting Coppers on a turn where you may well have stronger economy and some sort of other plot effect to really leverage it. Assuming a plot baseline of 4-5 gold, the three cards from Coppers are costing you 2-3 gold (and a weak turn to boot). From a raw economy perspective, Barge may well cost you more than that, it honestly depends how long the game goes on. The quicker you are able to leverage the cards you used Barge to draw to win, the better it is for you, as you are not haemorrhaging economy, which is one side of why it is so good in rush decks. Alternatively you can go the other way, which is to have so robust an economy, you can afford the hit and don’t really care. Luckily, Tyrell have access to the Arbor, and in many games the downside of this card is negligible, in addition to the fact that you may well draw into economy cards to offset the effect of the Barge when marshalling it. Either way, it’s one of the best late game top-decks you could ask for. This card is the closest thing to Diesel I’m likely to get, and in the decks where I’m playing it (basically any Tyrell deck I’m playing) I personally can’t see a reason to play fewer than 3 with the 60 card minimum (sorry Wamma).

Not-so-secret green crushes ❤

The only times I’ve regretted playing a Pleasure Barge were when I gambled on using the draw to try and fix a weak economic start. With the current economy options, the only piece you can draw for to provide a long term economic positive AFTER playing a Barge is The Arbor, since Roseroads will just leave you breaking even. Chasing The Arbor has almost never worked out for me, regularly leaving me with too little economy to actually play it, or a really awkward plot decision. If you miss, it is likely an irreparable position, but the games you find no economy are often heavily skewed in your opponent’s favour anyway. This card is great, play it and weep with the joy that +3 cards for nothing gives you. Further draw options acquired by Tyrell in the first two cycles are rounded out with Butterbumps and King Renly. There’s not necessarily a huge amount to say here. Tacking draw onto efficient character bodies is excellent. The insight on Butterbumps is pretty potent, as intrigue seems to be an icon a lot of factions frequently lack, especially on cheap characters. I’ve found Bumpy to be highly effective in early game scenarios, as well as post reset. He helps you set up, or rebuild and is a prime target for some of Tyrell’s pump effects, allowing him to break through with minimal support. I’ve seen multiple well-respected UK players (I’ll avoid names) jump for joy and do his little dance when getting work out of him, which probably says it all. Renly on the other hand, is basically all you could ask for from a 7-cost character. All three icons, renown and insight, high strength, and a nice potential little bonus draw if your deck build allows for it. The downside of being unable to be saved if an opponent controls a King is annoying, but has hardly proved a deal breaker so far. The most likely occurrences of kings are Bob, opposing Renlys (who are equally disadvantaged) and the occasional Balon. Of higher relevance is the Targaryen attachment Beggar King, which is a highly playable card, and the Targaryen resurgence has begun with the release of Slaver’s Bay Port. Similarly, Crown of Golden Roses is ubiquitous in Tyrell decks due to the synergy with Randyll Tarly, and is worth discussing itself as a really useful outlet for all the card advantage Tyrell can generate. Even with these in the metagame, Renly is a character you would never wish to pass up, and the smoothing out of your draw as well as the power sink is just fantastic.

Finally, Tyrell have access to deck manipulation options in the form of The Bear and the Maiden Fair (BAMF) and Caswell’s Keep. BAMF is a good utility card that often sits on the borderline between inclusion and cutting, especially with all the other options Tyrell have received. Rarely a bad effect, BAMF is probably at its best in reset-based decks, where it can be used to ensure you recover from the reset by drawing characters to spend all the gold on, or to choke your opponent out of their own characters, and the game. It’s also a common event in pillage-based decks. While Euron-targeting is a decent option for Greyjoy, it’s yet another case of another faction doing it better, with the Lannister pillage payoff card selection deeper, and often equally or more impactful. Using BAMF to supplement Tywin, and help line up massive swings with Gregor, as well as stand Gregor’s Marauders is top jank. Perhaps even a cheeky Polliver might make the cut in future for further fun!  It’s also a useful effect that can be used post-taxation in order to tigger Tower of the Sun and any further similar cards that may be released in the future (don’t play Tower of the Sun). Caswell’s Keep generates a similar effect. It has primarily seen use in Rains decks to achieve extra utility in the challenges phase from the agenda reaction. Realistically, these cards are effective, but the primary issue is finding space for them in a deck.

The Tyrell faction has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to consistency cards. If you get irrationally excited about consistency cards like me, it’s a lot of fun when deck building to have genuine choices to make at all levels, rather than having only one card that provides draw which then becomes an auto-include. You can sculpt every aspect of the deck to your taste, to get every last scrap of effectiveness out of it.

Now a city full of pain pills and tattoos defend me

While a lot of Tyrell’s cards are obvious in their raw efficiency and impact, the faction is perfectly capable of playing more tricksy games. A card that was frequently overlooked in the core set (partially due to the poor perception of Tyrell as a faction) provides one of the best challenge manipulation tricks in the game. Highgarden exerts a subtle but creeping influence over your opponent’s challenge phase, and has fast become one of my favourite cards. It provides a dominant controlling option over small boards, can protect your own board from win-by-5 effects, enable defensive wins on your side for cards like Superior Claim, and allows for your own shenanigans standing your own characters. You can commit heavily to a challenge, only for your opponent to chump it, but remove a character for use pressing another one through. It provides a core of a nascent challenge participation manipulation theme for Tyrell, along with Mare in Heat. Let’s take a look at a manipulative Tyrell deck made by Tyrell’s number one fan, Wamma:

Sungarden (2nd place, Manchester and Reading regionals)

House Tyrell
Banner of the Sun
Packs: From Core Set (3) to True Steel

Plots
1x Marched to the Wall (Core Set)
1x Summons (Core Set)
1x Trading with the Pentoshi (The Road to Winterfell)
1x The First Snow of Winter (No Middle Ground)
1x Pulling the Strings (Calm over Westeros)
1x The Long Winter (Wolves of the North)
1x A Song of Summer (Wolves of the North)

Characters
1x Littlefinger (Core Set)
3x Varys (Core Set)
2x Rattleshirt’s Raiders (Core Set)
1x Wildling Horde (Core Set)
2x Arianne Martell (Core Set)
2x House Dayne Knight (Core Set)
2x Palace Spearman (Core Set)
1x Margaery Tyrell (Core Set)
2x The Knight of Flowers (Core Set)
3x Olenna’s Informant (Core Set)
3x Bastard Daughter (Taking the Black)
3x Nymeria Sand (The Road to Winterfell)
1x Syrio Forel (The Road to Winterfell)
2x Knights of the Sun (Calm over Westeros)
1x Butterbumps (True Steel)
3x House Florent Knight (Wolves of the North)

Locations
2x The Kingsroad (Core Set)
3x The Roseroad (Core Set)
1x Blood Orange Grove (Core Set)
2x Highgarden (Core Set)
2x Pleasure Barge (Taking the Black)
3x The Arbor (No Middle Ground)

Attachments
3x Milk of the Poppy (Core Set)
3x Imprisoned (True Steel)

Events
1x The Hand’s Judgment (Core Set)
3x “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” (Core Set)
3x A Gift of Arbor Red (True Steel)
3x His Viper Eyes (Wolves of the North)

This is a reset and attrition deck to its core, leaning on the Arbor. Developed by Wamma before the release of Valar Morghulis, it played as many resets as it could reasonably pack to leverage the economic advantage and draw the House had available. Few decks are good at surviving multiple resets, and this one had 4 to call upon (more modern variants also pack Valar). This deck is all about leveraging small boards, containing Nymeria and Imprisoned to present a strong military threat. The icon removal tech was also critical as a way to control Gregor, who was running rampant around the metagame at this time. Gregor presented a very serious threat to a deck built to take advantage of Arianne, meaning it had lots of characters at the same cost slots. Arianne has been discussed at length on this blog before, but in this deck presents a few very strong options. Putting into play a House Florent Knight at an inopportune time functionally provides additional military claim, potentially claiming a more valuable character and/or enabling a critical Marched (Incidentally, HFK has only got better with the release of Renly’s Pavilion). Alternatively, Olenna’s Informant can generate further surprise military claim, particularly on the First Snow turn or on the 2-claim turn of The Long Winter. The Informant can also generate massive power swings on the 2-claim turn to help a relatively slow deck close. Highgarden provides a strong backbone for this deck, minimising your own risk on the First Snow turn, and along with Nym, really letting you dictate to your opponent which challenges they can perform. The Trading in the plot deck serves as a good way to afford to marshal the expensive locations and afford the ambush cost of the Informant, as well as encouraging the opponent to overcommit into a reset. The utility of Summons is also high here, locating Varys if necessary and finding Arianne targets. The deck has some further decent closing options to dig for in Knights of the Sun and Loras. Wamma makes fun decks. You heard it here last.

Solid Soil

From the Core Set, it was clear that Tyrell would have plenty of efficient renown characters. The faction is currently blessed in that it has some of the best economy, draw and power generation in the game. Realistically, it lacks for very little.

The five(!) high-quality renown power sinks within the faction run the gamut of icons, with more recent releases Renly and Margaery filling in the intrigue icon gap of Randyll, Loras and Brienne. Tyrell can confidently generate power from any challenge type, and that’s without the excellent suite of abilities strapped to these characters. I’ve discussed Renly previously and will deal with new Margaery later. Brienne is a cost-effective power sink with an excellent ability if you’re running Renly, Crown of Golden Roses or she’s in a banner package with a king or Catelyn Stark. Non-kneeling is obviously non-trivial, giving her the ability to participate in multiple challenges in a turn, and generate multiple power. This theme continues with Randyll Tarly. Randyll’s in-built stand effect is simply one of the best character abilities in the game. It provides the ability to participate in multiple challenges in a turn, can let you win a challenges offensively and then defensively, or vice versa. Tyrell has a suite of cards suited to triggering the ability in the form of events, locations and characters. It is critical to note that the ability is limited to twice a phase, rather than a round. This means that if you flip a plot that bumps strength for example, like Song of Summer, Randyll will stand, and your further opportunities to stand him will not be curtailed later in the turn, an excellent effect against Stannis-lock. Randyll is a powerhouse of a card, and one of the few characters (perhaps the only) that is worth throwing multiple attachments on. Crown of Golden Roses has largely eclipsed Heartsbane as a more efficient option, as it can stand him more than once. It is not limited to Tyrell characters, and the granted King trait can be relevant. The crown also synergises with the attachments that grant intrigue icons (Little Bird and Appointed) that allow Randyll to participate in all three challenges. Randyll is the centrepiece character of the faction in the majority of cases, despite being non-loyal. Loras, on the other hand, has been relegated to being more of a role-player, mostly just due to the plethora of other options. As the card pool continues to expand, this is likely to be the case for more and more unique characters, simply due to the dead pile mechanic. Another ultra-efficient body with renown, the ability is suited well to closing out games after a reset on smaller boards. He sits at an awkward strength point for many characters to defend against individually, though there has been some strength inflation in high end characters since the release of the core set.

Further fast power generation and renown can be found at lower costs as well:

The House’s power generation is fleshed out with conditional renown on the Knight of Summer and Jon Fossoway, and the reaction of Robar Royce. These cards (though Fossoway to a much lesser extent) require building around in your plot deck. The natural synergy of Fossoway with Song of Summer ensures he can fit in this archetype as well though. Fossoway and Knight of Summer are unaffected by First Snow of Winter, though it’s certainly something to be concerned about with Robar Royce. Royce however provides extremely efficient power generation tied to your plot deck, though can be double-edged if your opponent is running Winter plots. Ward is something else to be worried about if Stark is prevalent in the metagame. The Honeywine presents another option that plays well with Tyrell’s strengths, and is obviously good in Crossing decks. It does keep the power on itself though, presenting a juicy target for location discard effects. It presents a higher risk-higher reward option to run instead of, or alongside, Street of Sisters. While very new at the time of writing, it can generate multiple power a turn, and that’s certainly something to keep a very close eye on as the metagame shifts and changes. All Men are Fools (AMAF) and Lady Sansa’s Rose present a similar choice in options. Both are somewhat combo oriented. Overall, AMAF is easier to trigger, and has a potentially very high ceiling in decks built to use it. There are multiple playable ladies within Tyrell and good banner options available (particularly Stark), and I believe it’ll see plenty of play going forward, much more so than Sansa’s Rose.

Crossing decks have been discussed in depth already, but here’s a pretty cool example of a different style of rush deck:

The Green Avalanche – Harrenhal IV Winner (6-1)

House Tyrell
Banner of the Wolf
Packs: From Core Set (3) to Tyrion’s Chain

Plots
1x Confiscation (Core Set)
1x Trading with the Pentoshi (The Road to Winterfell)
2x Winter Festival (Called to Arms)
1x Valar Morghulis (There Is My Claim)
1x Ghosts of Harrenhal (Ghosts of Harrenhal)
1x Time of Plenty (Lions of Casterly Rock)

Characters
3x Arya Stark (Core Set)
1x Bran Stark (Core Set)
1x Sansa Stark (Core Set)
2x Tumblestone Knight (Core Set)
2x Winterfell Steward (Core Set)
3x Margaery Tyrell (Core Set)
3x Randyll Tarly (Core Set)
1x The Knight of Flowers (Core Set)
3x Garden Caretaker (Core Set)
3x Arbor Knight (Taking the Black)
1x Ser Hobber Redwyne (The King’s Peace)
3x Eddard Stark (Wolves of the North)
1x Ser Colen of Greenpools (Across the Seven Kingdoms)
1x Donella Hornwood (Called to Arms)
3x Renly Baratheon (For Family Honor)
3x Brienne of Tarth (Ghosts of Harrenhal)
1x Jeyne Westerling (Lions of Casterly Rock)
1x Alerie Tyrell (Lions of Casterly Rock)

Locations
3x The Kingsroad (Core Set)
3x Rose Garden (Core Set)
3x Pleasure Barge (Taking the Black)
1x Renly’s Pavilion (Tyrion’s Chain)
1x Ocean Road (Lions of Casterly Rock)

Attachments
1x Seal of the Hand (Core Set)
1x Crown of Golden Roses (For Family Honor)

Events
3x Superior Claim (Core Set)
3x Nightmares (Calm over Westeros)
2x Relentless Assault (Tyrion’s Chain)
3x All Men Are Fools (All Men Are Fools)

This deck is a blunt instrument with no fat at all. Double Winter Festival presents a good source of power from the plot deck, and everything in the draw deck is driven towards power generation, down to the suite of 6 power-gain events. Extremely fast, there’s no space for The Arbor here, but there is the potential for extremely early blowouts instead with mass renown, Eddard, a few mechanisms to stand Eddard in the Seal and Jayne Westerling and lots of ladies for AMAF. Eddard encourages committing heavily to challenges, and AMAF and Superior Claim provide strong payoffs for doing so. This deck feels like it might have run the Honeywine had it been released at the time.

Smart went crazy

Tyrell possess a number of cards that manipulate the strength of characters in both positive and negative ways. Cards such as Renly’s Pavilion and Crown of Golden Roses, as well as Core Set staples such as Margaery, Growing Strong and Heartsbane all provide options to change up the board state mid challenge.

One of the strongest benefits of the character strength manipulation theme present in Tyrell is the way it messes with challenge maths, and this places a great burden upon your opponent’s decisions and order of operations in the challenges phase. With the release of the Rains of Castamere agenda, there was an additional high-impact payoff for winning challenges by 5:

The Green Manalishi (with the Golden Rose Crown)

House Tyrell
“The Rains of Castamere”
Packs: From Core Set (3) to True Steel

Plots
1x A Game of Thrones (Core Set)
1x Calling the Banners (Core Set)
1x Confiscation (Core Set)
1x Filthy Accusations (Core Set)
1x Power Behind the Throne (Core Set)
1x Summons (Core Set)
1x Wildfire Assault (Core Set)
1x Trading with the Pentoshi (The Road to Winterfell)
1x Pulling the Strings (Calm over Westeros)
1x Close Call (True Steel)
1x A Song of Summer (Wolves of the North)
1x Unexpected Delay (Lions of Casterly Rock)

Characters
1x Littlefinger (Core Set)
2x Varys (Core Set)
2x Rattleshirt’s Raiders (Core Set)
3x Margaery Tyrell (Core Set)
1x Paxter Redwyne (Core Set)
3x Randyll Tarly (Core Set)
1x The Knight of Flowers (Core Set)
2x Courtesan of the Rose (Core Set)
3x Garden Caretaker (Core Set)
2x Olenna’s Informant (Core Set)
1x Wardens of the Reach (Core Set)
3x Arbor Knight (Taking the Black)
1x Syrio Forel (The Road to Winterfell)
2x Butterbumps (True Steel)
1x Ser Colen of Greenpools (Across the Seven Kingdoms)
3x Renly Baratheon (For Family Honor)
1x Alerie Tyrell (Lions of Casterly Rock)

Locations
3x The Kingsroad (Core Set)
1x The Roseroad (Core Set)
2x Highgarden (Core Set)
3x Rose Garden (Core Set)
2x Pleasure Barge (Taking the Black)
3x The Arbor (No Middle Ground)

Attachments
1x Bodyguard (Core Set)
2x Little Bird (Core Set)
3x Milk of the Poppy (Core Set)
1x Heartsbane (Core Set)
2x Crown of Golden Roses (For Family Honor)

Events
2x Put to the Sword (Core Set)
1x Tears of Lys (Core Set)
3x Growing Strong (Core Set)

Wamma’s deck presents a series of these threatening options to increase challenge strength, as well as payoff in the form of PTTS and the Agenda itself. In this deck, even a simple challenge with Bumpy can present a really rough choice for the opponent, let alone the problems the opponent can run into making their own challenges with the threat of Highgarden to win and trigger the agenda defensively. I don’t think there’s much to say about this deck that isn’t already stated in Wamma’s description on thronesDB, but the deck updated very well with the release of Valar, as well as cards such as Renly’s Pavilion. What I will say is that when I played it, this was probably the most fun I had with a deck that wasn’t Martell in the entirety of Second Edition so far.

Wallflower, and other false banner decks…

The high number and quality of Tyrell consistency cards (particularly the economy generated by the Arbor) has led to an expansion of Tyrell decks where the main impact of the faction is the inclusion of these cards:

Wallgreens: Baltimore SC winner

House Tyrell
Banner of the Watch
Packs: From Core Set (3) to True Steel

Plots
1x Building Orders (Core Set)
1x Filthy Accusations (Core Set)
1x Here to Serve (Taking the Black)
1x Pulling the Strings (Calm over Westeros)
1x Fallen from Favor (Wolves of the North)
1x Winter Festival (Called to Arms)
1x Valar Morghulis (There Is My Claim)

Characters
3x Benjen Stark (Core Set)
2x Maester Aemon (Core Set)
3x Ranging Party (Core Set)
3x Steward at the Wall (Core Set)
1x Maester Lomys (Core Set)
3x Margaery Tyrell (Core Set)
1x Randyll Tarly (Core Set)
1x Ser Alliser Thorne (The King’s Peace)
3x Halder (No Middle Ground)
1x Butterbumps (True Steel)
2x Dolorous Edd (Called to Arms)
1x Renly Baratheon (For Family Honor)
1x Thoren Smallwood (For Family Honor)
3x Shadow Tower Mason (There Is My Claim)
3x Qhorin Halfhand (Tyrion’s Chain)

Locations
3x The Roseroad (Core Set)
2x Castle Black (Core Set)
3x The Wall (Core Set)
2x Highgarden (Core Set)
2x Pleasure Barge (Taking the Black)
3x The Arbor (No Middle Ground)
3x The Haunted Forest (There Is My Claim)
1x Renly’s Pavilion (Tyrion’s Chain)
1x Bridge of Skulls (Lions of Casterly Rock)
3x Ocean Road (Lions of Casterly Rock)

Attachments
2x Milk of the Poppy (Core Set)
2x Practice Blade (The King’s Peace)
3x Craven (Called to Arms)

This is a Wall deck, only with a robust economy due to The Arbor and Margaery to improve the already efficient Night’s Watch chuds. It replaces the Watch’s loyal draw with the loyal draw of Tyrell and has a few extra nasty annoyances for the attacking player to get through. Lomys is merely extremely irritating for the player that is attempting to break through, but it is Highgarden that is the most painful addition. In combination with the Haunted Forest and Castle Black, Highgarden is a real problem, allowing the defensive player even more control over the challenges phase, making it even more difficult to get an unopposed challenge through. The deck also has enough money to afford to play some renown batteries in Randyll and Qhorin, giving it some potential tools to win some challenges offensively, as well as more speed to close. Taking the deck out of Night’s Watch as a main faction also improves the economy by making all the Watch cards reducible by Ocean Road.

Ryan Wood’s version of ‘Deergarden’ is more reset focussed:

Deergarden – 1st @ 32p and 26p SC’s

House Tyrell
Banner of the Stag
Packs: From Core Set (3) to True Steel

Plots
1x A Feast for Crows (Core Set)
1x Calm Over Westeros (Core Set)
1x Heads on Spikes (Core Set)
1x Trading with the Pentoshi (The Road to Winterfell)
1x Close Call (True Steel)
1x Winter Festival (Called to Arms)
1x Valar Morghulis (There Is My Claim)

Characters
3x Varys (Core Set)
2x Maester Cressen (Core Set)
3x Melisandre (Core Set)
1x Ser Davos Seaworth (Core Set)
1x Shireen Baratheon (Core Set)
3x Fiery Followers (Core Set)
3x Vanguard Lancer (Core Set)
1x Paxter Redwyne (Core Set)
1x The Knight of Flowers (Core Set)
2x Lady-in-Waiting (The Road to Winterfell)
1x Ser Hobber Redwyne (The King’s Peace)
1x Butterbumps (True Steel)
1x Renly Baratheon (For Family Honor)
3x Asshai Priestess (For Family Honor)
1x Brienne of Tarth (Ghosts of Harrenhal)
1x Edric Storm (Lions of Casterly Rock)

Locations
2x The Iron Throne (Core Set)
3x The Roseroad (Core Set)
2x Chamber of the Painted Table (Core Set)
2x Highgarden (Core Set)
3x Pleasure Barge (Taking the Black)
3x The Arbor (No Middle Ground)
1x Caswell’s Keep (There Is My Claim)
2x Ocean Road (Lions of Casterly Rock)

Attachment

Events
3x Seen In Flames (Core Set)
3x “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” (Core Set)
3x Nightmares (Calm over Westeros)
3x A Gift of Arbor Red (True Steel)
3x “A Rose of Gold” (Lions of Casterly Rock)

This deck is an excellent example of a false banner deck. The Arbor allows the deck to ride out the multiple resets it plays and rebuild. The resets are in the deck to keep the board small, increasing the impact of the Baratheon kneel package, but also since the core of the deck, Table and Chair, is even more efficient after a reset since the locations are unaffected. The resets make it very difficult to challenge the Deergarden player on dominance, as well as to win through accumulating renown quickly. Highgarden, unsurprisingly, makes another appearance here, preventing the opponent from winning power challenges to prevent themselves from being ground down. Tyrell characters such as the Knight of Flowers, Brienne and Renly provide some closing options. All the Tyrell draw and filtering is included in this deck in order to put the location combination together as quickly as possible, it helps keep drawing R’hllor cards to keep the opponent locked down, and the filtering can choke them out after a reset by removing characters. I had the misfortune of playing against this deck in the final of the Aldershot Store Championship this year, and it was a truly miserable experience.

False-banner Tyrell looks to be a strong choice if you are putting together a combo deck with non-loyal pieces, and that seems unlikely to change until rotation, which is a VERY long way away.

Sting like a first divorce

tindermargejoel

Looking at this card can only suggest that we are seeing arguably the most game-changing card (and almost certainly the most powerful character) printed since the core set, with Tyrion and Tywin. There have been a few other draw deck cards that have had huge impacts on the game since their release (though some very significant plots, e.g. The First Snow of Winter and Valar Morghulis), such as The Arbor and Winterfell. However, the only characters I believe have been as impactful upon release as I expect this card to be are Nymeria Sand, and maybe Mirri Maz Duur. An efficient body with renown at a very reasonable cost, the reaction is truly something else.

I’m not sure what FFG has against the military challenge (perhaps a red icon bullied Danny Schaefer when he was young), but Tinder Marge turns probably the weakest challenge type in the game into a total liability with only a minor amount of setup (a Lord or King) and deck building effort. The efficiency of the reaction is shocking. It finds the character, and installs it, standing, costing you nothing. It’s a total headache for your opponent, approaching the  levels of cards such as Ghaston Grey, only repeatable, strapped to a strength 5 bicon with renown, and can be triggered by the player’s own Wildfire Assault. It can also be triggered on Valar Morghulis, assuming the Tyrell player can save Marge. Luckily, with access to up to numerous saves with Lady-in-Waiting in addition to Bodyguard, this isn’t an outrageous proposition. Being able to reset and come out with a free 6 or 7 coster warps the part of the idea of resets in general. While making your own resets favourable, it can also let you ride out your opponent’s, letting you keep big renown characters hitting the board, and outpacing your opponent to the finish. Margaery’s existence alone makes decks that favour aggressive military strategies weaker in the metagame, for example Stark, Greyjoy and Lannister, though Lannister (as ever) have one of the best mitigation tools in the form of Treachery. She also heavily punishes Lord of the Crossing decks, which typically HAVE to make a military challenge in order to trigger their own benefit and progress their own win condition.

In order to make the most of the reaction, you need lords, particularly ones of low cost that Margaery can upgrade. Tyrell have some excellent targets to play out with the reaction in Randyll, Renly and Loras, unfortunately, the number of low cost Lords they provide to kill for the reaction is basically nonexistent. Luckily, the Wolf and Lion Banners provide some excellent fodder. Bran, Rickon, and Hoster are were born to be dumped by Marge (Hoster feeling particularly thematic). Bran is generally an excellent card, and the Wolf Banner provides further benefits in the form of Eddard as a target, and Arya and Sansa, which play into the Ladies theme that has become developed in Tyrell with All Men are Fools. On the other side, the Lion Banner provides more top end targets with Tyrion, Gregor and Jaime (who wouldn’t want to tutor for Tyrion?) but perhaps some slightly weaker options at the low end in Joffrey, Lancel and Tommen. If you can keep Joffrey on the board while other lords are dying and being upgraded you can certainly profit greatly. I happen to favour the Wolf Banner, one of the main reasons because Bran is a great character to run in multiples due to the effect. This gives you more of a chance to see him early to upgrade him, and this is aided by the introduction of Ghosts of Harrenhal and Close Call, allowing you to repeat the interaction while making further use of the multiple copies. I also like Sansa, Eddard and All Men are Fools for rapid power gain. Either way, I think you can’t really go wrong, and the Treachery you can run in the Lannister version gives you a strong advantage in the Marge mirror. In fact, why not both? I jest of course, don’t play Alliance, it’s rubbish. Here’s an early attempt of my own:

Oh Rickon, you just weren’t man enough

House Tyrell
Banner of the Wolf
Packs: From Core Set (3) to True Steel

Plots
1x A Noble Cause (Core Set)
1x Summons (Core Set)
1x Wildfire Assault (Core Set)
1x Close Call (True Steel)
1x Valar Morghulis (There Is My Claim)
1x Ghosts of Harrenhal (Ghosts of Harrenhal)
1x Time of Plenty (Lions of Casterly Rock)

Characters
1x Varys (Core Set)
3x Arya Stark (Core Set)
3x Bran Stark (Core Set)
3x Sansa Stark (Core Set)
2x Randyll Tarly (Core Set)
1x The Knight of Flowers (Core Set)
2x Garden Caretaker (Core Set)
3x Lady-in-Waiting (The Road to Winterfell)
1x Eddard Stark (Wolves of the North)
1x Rickon Stark (Wolves of the North)
3x Renly Baratheon (For Family Honor)
1x Roose Bolton (Ghosts of Harrenhal)
3x Brienne of Tarth (Ghosts of Harrenhal)
1x Hoster Tully (All Men Are Fools)
3x Margaery Tyrell (All Men Are Fools)

Locations
3x The Kingsroad (Core Set)
3x The Roseroad (Core Set)
2x Highgarden (Core Set)
1x Rose Garden (Core Set)
3x Pleasure Barge (Taking the Black)
1x Renly’s Pavilion (Tyrion’s Chain)
1x Ocean Road (Lions of Casterly Rock)

Attachments
1x Seal of the Hand (Core Set)
3x Bodyguard (Core Set)
2x Frozen Solid (Wolves of the North)
1x Crown of Golden Roses (For Family Honor)

Events
3x Superior Claim (Core Set)
3x Nightmares (Calm over Westeros)
2x All Men Are Fools (All Men Are Fools)

This deck is a bit rough around the edges, but gets the point across I think. Very fast power generation, control over challenges with Marge and Highgarden, the low cost part of the character curve supported by the excellent quality of the Stark children, with some good old fashioned Tyrell beef. The Wolf Banner also provides some location control in Frozen Solid.

I guarantee you will see some (and probably a lot) of these decks come Regional season. So, how can you best deal with Margaery and her rotating cast of ephemeral paramores? A straightforward start would be to play a deck that doesn’t care much about military challenges. If you ARE going to persist in playing military strategies, you should look at targeted kill to punish Margaery, perhaps allowing you to hit her with Valar Morghulis, and lots of 2-claim to try to overwhelm the reaction, boosted with Marched to the Wall to get her off the board. Stark have some options here with Ice and Winter is Coming. You really have to keep the pressure on with military, because if you let up, and they get set up, you’ll be in a very poor position. Alternatively (or additionally), you can also try to control her and her reaction through other methods, typically Milk and Nightmares. Unfortunately I feel one of the biggest issues at the moment is that decks are stretched thin, many want to play Milk to negate the variety of strong characters around, yet it is almost completely dead in the common Night’s Watch matchup. Barring the Gates helps you for one turn (whilst having decent gold, and some utility in Lannister and Night’s Watch match ups). Lannister and Banner Lion players, of course, have access to the perennially effective Treachery. There are further plot deck solutions available in Fortified Position and The First Snow of Winter, which removes the low cost Lords they are trying to upgrade during challenges, potentially opening up Marge to be Marched. One of the best solutions is Varys; like FSOW, a reset that won’t trigger the reaction. A different sort of option is claim replacement and similar effects. If you can target who you kill with the Seastone Chair or Spearmaiden for example, or prevent the claiming of their cheap lord with the Eyrie, you don’t need to worry about the reaction.

Margaery presents a particular issue for Crossing decks, which are otherwise well-positioned to out pace Clock decks. If you’re still interested in playing one of these, you have a few different options, you can hold tight and hope you dodge the matchup, but this seems pretty weak. The next thing you can do is alter your draw deck to make sure you have some strength 1 military icons to chump the first challenge and make it fizzle with no claim. In the case of Tyrell, the Arbor Knight fits the bill nicely. For Martell, the best bet is Bastard Daughter. On the other hand, if you can configure your deck so you can make multiple challenges of a different type to avoid making a military challenge at all, you will be in a good position. Currently this is only really feasible out of Lannister, where Casterly Rock provides this option.

I hope there are two things demonstrated by this article, that Tyrell decks have grown and changed significantly over the short life of Second Edition, and that the faction is incredibly diverse in terms of viable deck shapes. If you are considering playing Tyrell at regionals (and you should) you have a plethora of choices when deciding what sort of deck to design. If your opponent plops a Tyrell deck down across from you, hopefully I’ve armed you with some information as to what you might be expecting. As I conclude writing this, Dockside Brothel Days is almost complete, and the dominance of Tyrell from Batalla has not been repeated, though Tyrell provided a lot of the middle of the pack. This suggests the metagame is wide open, a thrilling thought for the future!

Sorry this article has been a little delayed, but life is a pain. I’ll probably also pause these review articles until after Regionals season is complete, as in the UK, it’s going to be a busy affair for a few months, along with the European Championships at UKGE. Best of luck in Regionals! Play fair, play hard, play Greyjoy if you want (but don’t say I didn’t warn you), play the only game that matters apart from L5R, Netrunner and heavy euros!

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.

“A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone”

This article is written by a newer player and is mostly aimed at being a useful resource for new players. It is specifically written for second edition (though many of the concepts will obviously translate from first ed.) and focused upon the Joust format (1 v 1 play).

Some basic card game concepts and terminology

In the majority of ‘lifestyle’ card games, there are some basic concepts that normally hold true, and terminology that may be a little confusing for new players.

  • Card advantage: Basically the idea that cards are a resource. If you have more of a resource than your opponent, you’re potentially (and probably) ahead. This extrapolates into the axiom ‘drawing cards is good’. Although reserve caps your maximum hand size in AGoT 2.0, if you keep drawing cards, you can filter your hand to hold on to the ones most useful at the time.
  • Board state: A bit of a nebulous term this one. Basically a catch all term for what’s going on on the table, what’s been played out etc. Typically used in combination with an adjective such as ‘strong’ ‘weak’ ‘ahead’ ‘complicated’ etc.
  • Consistency cards: I tend to call these cards a variety of names, but consistency or glue cards (hold the deck together) are the terms I personally use most often. Cards that enable you to do basic game requirements. Anything that has an effect which draws you cards, boosts your economy, filters or searches your deck to improve your card quality etc. These cards need not only exist in your draw deck.  Plots such as Summons, Counting Coppers, Here to Serve and Confiscation are probably all consistency cards for your plot deck. In AGoT, ‘reset’ plots such as Wildfire Assault or Valar Morghulis are probably also worth describing as consistency cards.
  • Opportunity cost: This is defined as ‘the loss of other alternatives when one alternative is chosen’. It’s a pretty important concept in card games, especially the ones FFG tends to design, where card combinations can often be segregated by your faction choice. This means that running Tyrell as your main faction gives you access to their loyal cards, but you lose access to the loyal cards of Baratheon for example. This extends to general decisions about what you put in your deck. In Thrones there are a lot of unique named characters and locations, but there can be multiple different variants of these characters, for example Sansa Stark (Core) and Sansa Stark (Wolves of the North), generally people only run one particular variant for reasons articulated below. Any cards you put in your deck are taking up deck slots that could be other cards, so pick carefully. You normally want to be running the minimum number of cards in your deck (typically 60), since the maximum number of copies of a card you can put in your deck is three. Tyrion may be the strongest card in the game. As such, any card you put in your deck over the legal minimum will reduce your chance of drawing Tyrion (or your other strongest cards), or having them in your opening hand for setup. In the author’s opinion, the level of consistency and lack of search (or ‘tutoring’) cards in thrones is not currently high enough to justify going over 60 cards.

Which of these is better for your deck? There’s nothing to stop you running both, but they can’t be in play at the same time, and if one of them is killed, the other is a dead draw, literally.

A final term worth noting and understanding is the term ‘metagame’. This word gets used an awful lot in the world of lifestyle card games, and describes the idea of what is going on in the game as a whole, what decks are popular or considered strong, what cards are commonly played and perceived as effective and efficient, or seen as weak and rarely used. Understanding and having a grip on the metagame can be challenging, especially when the word is simultaneously used to describe what people play and believe in local player groups, geographical regions and online communities, anything that connects players can lead to balkanisation or unification of game related concepts or understandings and opinions. Your understanding of the metagame can (and should) inform your deck building and choices. It’s important to remember that the metagame is generally just a collection of people’s opinions, albeit opinions often generated through significant testing and experience. Don’t be afraid to test new cards, deck shapes and ideas, this kind of innovation is how breakthroughs are made.

Win conditions

As of the time of writing, there are two ways to win a game. The first is to acquire 15 power before your opponent. This is hugely more likely than the second way to win, which is for your opponent to run out of cards in their deck (and have to draw a card) before you do. After more than a year of competitive and casual play, the only time the author has seen a player lose to decking was in an introductory game with one core set and thinner decks where neither player really knew anything about how to play the game. The number of cards in an Thrones deck is minimum 60 (an unnecessarily high number in this player’s opinion), and the number of cards and card effects that force self discard from deck or force the opponent to discard from deck are so low (mostly pillage) that at least at the moment, until recently, this victory condition was functionally irrelevant. The recent changes to competitive tiebreakers for organised play has made this effect slightly more relevant in that one of the tiebreakers if players are tied on power at the end of a game is who has most cards left in their deck. This leads neatly into the competitive scene, where you may get a modified win by being ahead on power at the end of time (typically 55 minutes per round, one game per round) or if your opponent chooses to concede the game to you.

Some basics

The plot deck is at the heart of Thrones. It is highly thematic, and provides one of the most exciting, and (quite quietly) interactive parts of the game. Building your plot deck, especially as more and more plots are released, becomes some of the hardest, tightest, deck building you will ever have to do. The plot deck controls your baseline economy, whether you will be first or second player (initiative) how damaging your challenges are to your opponent (claim) and the maximum number of cards you can retain until the following turn (reserve). On top of all this balance, plots normally have an effect or alter the game state for the turn in some manner, which can be just as important (in many cases more so) than the overall stats on the plot itself. Building a plot deck is difficult, and can often require a lot of trial and error. There are some general important things to think about when constructing yours:

  • What is your deck trying to achieve, and how can your plot deck help? For example, if you are aiming to take a strong military deck, you may want to look at including some plots with 2 claim, some high initiative plots and probably at least one reset.
  • Is there enough money in your plot deck to perform your game plan? If your deck revolves around high cost-high impact events, you’ll need to include some economically robust plots to be able to marshal characters as well as have enough gold for the challenge phase.
  • Does your deck revolve around specific cards? If so, you may wish to include some of the consistency search effect plots in your deck, or further redundancy such as Close Call.
  • Are there any specific weaknesses in your draw deck that can be mitigated or even solved by your plot deck?
  • Do you have a good ‘opener’ in your plot deck? Typically openers are utilitarian, good in pretty much any situation, with solid economy and reserve, or something with a good stall/protective effect. Calm Over Westeros might be the quintessential opener. You generally don’t want a plot deck full of silver bullet cards, as it’s relatively unlikely the specific situation will occur first turn.
  • Is there a specific order to the way you’re going to play your plot deck? By no means is this necessary, but it can be useful, and it’s worth thinking of plots that have excellent synergy, for example First Snow into Famine into Marched. Modules like this can be more effective than the sum of their parts.

There are some specific decisions that are also probably worth discussing:

  • Are you running Marched to the Wall? This plot is extremely punishing to single large character setups. Its presence in the card pool alone may be enough to warp the decisions of your opponent regarding their set up, but there’s no doubting the card is highly effective, especially in a deck with good military pressure. Up until the release of Valar, this plot had some of the highest impact shaping people’s decisions and play right from core set. No player will be able to avoid being stuck with only one character on the board in every game, and you bet if that happens you’ll wish you had this plot to punish them for it.
  • Are you running Valar Morghulis? On demand board wipes are terrifying with the death mechanic in Thrones. The weak stats make this a tough one to stomach, but the effect heavily punishes players from overcommitting, makes military claim prior to Valar less relevant, and intrigue claim more important. A game defining card.
  • Do you have a plot that can generate enough gold to play out any character in your deck? This can mitigate those games where you just find none of your draw deck economy.
  • Do you require Confiscation? Negative attachments are a way of life in Thrones, though have dropped off a little with the release of Valar. Milk of the Poppy, Martell icon stripping attachments and Craven are all very real cards that have seen a lot of competitive play. Some decks, like the Night’s Watch, Targaryen and Baratheon can get away without playing Confiscation, most other decks cannot.

Initiative determines which player gets to choose who is first and second player. In the majority of situations going second is stronger. Marshalling second allows you to see what your opponent has played out for the turn, how much gold they may have kept to utilise in the challenges phase etc, and make appropriate decisions to mitigate their play. It also prevents any chance of critical characters (often Varys) you marshal being milked for the rest of the round (and gives you the chance to do the same to your opponent). In challenges, going second lets you make a lot of judgements about which challenges to oppose or not, and then work out which of your own you can push through when some of your opponents characters are inevitably knelt, or what you need to leave standing to win dominance. Basically, playing second allows you to play out your turn with the information advantage. Playing first normally should only be reserved for specific situations, for example if you gain a defined advantage through doing so (e.g. Greyjoy tech), if you can gain a critical military advantage (or push through a kill event), if there is a particular action/reaction etc you need to go first in player order (for example, a critical Nightmares), or if you need to act before your opponent to stop them closing out the game.

While your plot deck defines a large proportion of what you are doing and can do on a turn by turn basis, your draw deck alone defines your set up. Set up is an interesting mechanic in Thrones that allows the game to start off in the thick of the action. While other games such as Doomtown allowed you to set up your choice of characters from your deck, Thrones set up is higher variance, based on an initial opening hand. Rather than spend multiple boring turns ramping up into an actual gameplay state, you set up up to 8 gold of cards to start on the board, in what results in a mid-game scenario for other card games. There’s not a whole lot to say about set ups that you can’t get from the highly recommended resource AGOT setup analyser. There are a few points about set ups worth mentioning:

  • Obviously setting up as close to 8 gold worth of cards is optimal from an economic perspective.
  • Setting up as many cards as possible will redraw you more cards (since you draw back up to 7), which is also great.
  • Events and negative attachments can’t be set up, and make your set ups weaker.
  • Setting up one large character is often weak, and asking them to be Marched.
  • Setting up a lot of sub-4 cost characters is potentially risky, if your opponent is running First Snow. It can leave your board state ruined and lead to you dumping a lot of cards to reserve.

As you can already see, your opponent’s plots can make a massive impact on your approach to the game, including set up.

Building a draw deck is a pretty personal thing, and it will definitely depend on the kind of deck you’re trying to build. Most decks contain roughly 50% characters (typically 30+). Characters provide the ability to make and defend challenges, and it’s important to have a solid core of them, at a variety of different cost slots. This will help with your set up by giving you more choice with your opening hands. Having a lot of characters will help you sustain your board against the effects of your opponent’s military claim. You generally want a reasonably balanced icon spread on your characters (at different costs) in order to sustain the ability to make and defend all 3 types of challenge throughout the game. The amount and type of economy you require will depend upon what else you’ve put in your deck, but I’d highly recommend putting in more, rather than less at the start, and then shaving it down during testing, if necessary. Generally, including all your 1 cost reducers, in faction reducing locations, Roseroads and Kingsroads is a solid start. Events cannot be set up, and thus you need to be careful how many you include, erring on the side of fewer is probably better.

Economy Cards and economy packages

Thrones is a game which could be described as having a ‘threshold’, ‘spike’, intermittent’ or ‘non-persistent’ style economy. Unlike games such as Netrunner or Conquest, where resources persist between turns, during the taxation phase in Thrones, you are normally reset to 0 gold. As such, how much gold you can generate on any particular turn is much more important than the overall amount you can generate during the game as a whole. You need to be able to hit the threshold values of the characters you need to play on the turns you want to play them because you cannot normally store up gold, mortgaging a weak turn now for a stronger one in the future. Weak turns are particularly bad in Thrones because of the function of military claim. You probably want to be marshalling at least one character a turn, due to the military claim your opponent may be pressuring you with. If the number of characters in your board size is being pressured and you cannot marshal enough characters to sustain military claim your board will start to shrink, and it can easily fall into an irreparable situation. Military challenges will be discussed in more depth later.

There are currently 3 main sources of economy present in the card pool at the time of writing:

  • Plot gold
  • Gold modifiers (on both locations and characters)
  • Cost reducers

There are also other individual card effects, some of which will be briefly discussed later in this section.

Many economy cards are marked with the ‘limited’ descriptor. You can only setup one limited card (no, you can’t dupe The Arbor), and marshal one limited card a turn, in order to try to stop one player having a snowballing economic start. As more cards are being released, we are starting to see some non-limited economy cards released and in the pipeline which may provide some more dynamic economy options and take up some of the economic burden currently borne by plots.

Plot gold

Plot gold is at the core of the game, and is a critical benefit this game has over games with archaic resource mechanics, notably Magic the Gathering. The gold you put in your plot deck is the gold you have on tap, every turn to provide your baseline economy for that particular turn. This gives you the freedom (if you have built your plot deck carefully) to know you have the money on any given turn to play the most expensive cards you have built in to your deck. Of course, as discussed earlier, there is a tension within your plot deck between economy and plot effects (and other stats on plots such as claim, initiative and reserve). The below chart shows the distribution of printed gold values on all plots released up to and including Tyrion’s chain (with the exception of Summer Harvest at X+2):

gold-histogram

Note that this graph DOES NOT take into effect the additional economy effects of numerous plots, including:

It also doesn’t take into effect the (probably) negative effect of Fallen from Favour.

While the chart is not perfect, it shows that most plots you COULD put in your plot deck provide around 4 gold. Anecdotally some of the more critical plots such as Marched to the Wall and Confiscation which are commonly seen in plot decks have a gold value of 4. The utility search plots Summons and Building Orders also provide 4 gold. If you are expecting to play out many of the more effective characters in the game (or more than one character a turn) or have some gold left for game swinging events, you’re likely going to need to build in more economic plots and/or rely on the other economy sources present in the game.

The below chart shows plot gold vs initiative:

gold-vs-init

Not a great correlation here, but lower gold plots are a bit more likely to have higher initiative. (0 gold plot is Summer Harvest). If you’re going to want to have choice over 1st or second player, your plots may end up being slightly weaker economically. While most plots are chosen because of their effects, when you’re building your plot deck, it’s probably worth some consideration.

Additional gold modifiers

These cards basically do what they say on the tin, which is modify the gold value on your plot (in almost all cases, positively!). This is normally very reliable. The only nuance to this is the timing window in which you receive your gold income, which is at the start of YOUR marshalling phase. If your opponent goes first, in their marshalling, they have the ability to affect your cards with a gold modifier. This is primarily achieved by effects which blank cards’ text boxes, such as Milk of the Poppy, Nightmares and Frozen Solid. The other main economy reduction to worry about is out of the Night’s Watch faction, in the form of The White Tree and A Meagre Contribution, two cards which take one of your gold as you collect it, and redistribute it to the Night’s Watch player. The White Tree needs to be in play to trigger its effect, so you should be able to prepare for it (annoying as it may be). A Meagre Contribution, on the other hand, is, in some ways, scarier, as it is played as a reaction out of hand. These effects are typically played with the agenda Kings of Winter to form a full-on denial or ‘choke’ archetype, turn after turn. The final effects to be aware of are the plots Naval SuperiorityFamine and Rains of Autumn. Naval Superiority is a high-skill plot which reduces the gold on certain (common, often economy) plots to 0, at the cost of a low printed gold itself. This can be particularly dangerous if you’ve built your plot deck with a lot of vulnerable plots, or you are desperately relying on a certain plot (often Trading with the Pentoshi or A Noble Cause) to be able to play out one of your larger, critical characters. On the other hand, Famine also sacrifices raw economy for the chance to increase the cost of EVERY character your opponent marshals by one for a round. This plot sees heavy play and is a great option for keeping the boot on the neck of a struggling player, particularly after a reset plot has damaged their board state. Rains of Autumn affects both players, and sees no play at all, even in a Lannister (the faction with the most positive gold modifiers) heavy metagame, so is not an effect you really need to fear.

Cost Reducers

Again, cost reducers also do what they say on the tin, they reduce the threshold gold value required to play out a card.

All factions contain a 1-cost character reducer at strength 1 which reduces in-faction characters. All of these characters are functionally identical with the exception of the Night’s Watch one which has an Intrigue icon instead of Power. All factions have a reducing location for in-faction characters, locations and attachments, again, with the exception of Night’s Watch (sorry Joe!) who have Meagre. The advantage of reducers is they will provide the reduction the turn they are played, unlike gold modifiers which will pay out on a subsequent turn. They are generally not as strong as raw additional gold, as that can be used to play events and pay for character effects such as those on Illyrio Mopatis. If standing, they will also not contribute to dominance, unlike your spare gold. Many of the cards that can control your gold modifiers like Nightmares will also be capable of preventing you using your cost reducers. Many cost reducers are locations, and that means they are kneel-able with Lordsport Shipwright. The final card to be wary of is Treachery. This is a heavily played utility card in Lannister or Lion Banner decks, and is a highly effective problem solver, but it often gets used to cancel the effect of Kingsroads. For them to play it, they need a unique Lannister character in play and a gold in your marshalling phase, which normally requires them to be the first player. Unfortunately, this card can leave you with a sacrificed and wasted Kingsroad, and at a severe economic disadvantage. If you fear Treachery, you may have to elect to be first player, if you have the choice.

Supplemental economy packages

The card pool in second edition is still very constrained. Nevertheless, some diversity in supplemental economy packages is starting to develop:

‘The basic package’ – The reducers, Roseroad and Kingsroad that forms the basis for economy in the majority of current Thrones decks. Cards that are generally efficient and are either available to all factions (albeit different versions) or neutral. Ocean Road supplements this Core Set package very well now.

‘Good Red Cards’ – Ever since the second edition of the game was released, Lannister have had a strong economic advantage due to Tywin and Tyrion (only recently rivalled by Tyrell). Setting up Tywin instantly puts you extremely far ahead economically, let alone the overall strength of a renown tricon with the strength pump. Tyrion will likely make you 2-4 gold in the challenges phase, which is often doubling your plot gold. This allows you to play out high impact events at will, ambush characters, as well as letting you bluff these effects very easily. It also puts you in a great position for winning dominance. The strength of these two characters has shaped the start of second edition Thrones very strongly, and has allowed Lannister players to run highly dynamic decks.

Arianne’ – Not necessarily an economy card per se, but the ability to use Arianne to make or defend a challenge, then bring in another character is getting ~double efficiency out of the 5 gold you spent to marshal her for the duration of the challenges phase. Can be marshalled over and over again with your reducer locations. The existence and strength of Arianne’s effect has had a warping effect on the design of Martell characters and decks.

Fealty’ – One of the most consistent economy options from the Core Set. Best with a faction with strong internal synergy, since you cannot include cards from other factions and are capped on the number of neutral cards your deck can contain. Pretty much every faction has been tried with Fealty at this point (partly a function of it being the only non-banner agenda in Core), and it’s rarely an awful choice. However, the more loyal cards (particularly highly relevant ones like Dracarys) are available, the better this agenda looks. The faction most likely to be seen with Fealty as an agenda is probably Stark. Stark have lots of internal synergy, a well fleshed out card pool (including many strong loyal cards) since they received their deluxe expansion so early, and further economic options that benefit from a monofaction deck shape in Bear Island and Donella Hornwood.

Kings of Summer’ – A general boost of one gold on summer plots. Summer plots are normally quite high gold anyway, so if you’re looking for a robust economic solution, this is a very good option. Of course, you need to build your plot deck around it, and hope that players you run into aren’t playing winter plots. This is a bit more flexible than Fealty as it gives you the gold to spend on what you want, rather than requiring loyal cards, it also does not constrain your neutral card distribution like Fealty, but instead curtails your plot deck choices.

The Beggar King‘ – A great economy package in a card for Targaryen. If you can marshal this on a character, and have built your plot deck to utilise it, it can make a huge difference to you. For a start, this card allows you to happily run some of the lower gold-powerful effect plots such as Counting Coppers and Famine (as well as Blood of the Dragon) without sustaining the negative economic impact that these plots would normally provide. It also allows you to utilise Summer Harvest to provide obscene amounts of gold (x=0 for the purpose of Beggar King).

‘Night’s Watch Choke’ – A combination of the White Tree, Meagre and  the Kings of Winter agenda. The White Tree provides repeatable economy for you at the expense of your opponent. Meagre provides the same function, and both can be combined to cripple your opponent’s turn and bolster your own. Kings of Winter does nothing for your own economy but further hinders your opponent. It will be interesting to see how many further ‘gold theft’ cards are printed for Night’s Watch. There will definitely come a critical point where the gold swing from one player to another becomes too strong. This package is better as second player, as you can then utilise the stolen gold in your own marshalling, though if you’re first, you at least have some gold to threaten events in challenges.

Old Forest Hunter’ – During 2016/17 store championships, many Night’s Watch decks were running Old Forest Hunter as a critical economy card, combined with 2 copies of Counting Coppers in the plot deck. This economy combination was very flexible, as you could choose to either keep the cards or dump them for gold (or just dig for the Wall). Old Forest Hunter let you generate excellent burst economy at the expense of sacrificing your hand, or just tip you over the edge to get that one gold you need for the turn. Just beware of Cersei Lannister.

The Arbor’ – It’s +3 gold, and the cornerstone of almost all Tyrell decks. The advantage this card gives you in a game with on demand resets is very high. At worst, it will help you fuel events or win dominance.

‘Tyrell Jank’ – There are plenty of economy cards in Tyrell, notably Paxter, Bitterbridge and Queen of Thorns. Bitterbridge has already powered some cutting edge jank, and the ability to put characters into play for free is always going to have potential, we’ll have to see how it shakes out in future.

Perhaps even Renly Baratheon will see some play in the upcoming Alliance decks! (Probably not…)

The third cycle of expansions is looking poised to deliver some alternate economy locations for each faction along the lines of Golden Tooth. How these change the game will highly depend on the how difficult it is to meet the requirement to get the two gold payout. Any way you look at it, more economy options and diversity will probably be a good thing for the game and deck building.

Economy and Bluffing

There are critical events that can be played during the challenges phase, primarily ones which can threaten your opponents’ characters:

While there are plenty of high-impact events in faction, Tears of Lys and Put to the Sword are neutral, and so can theoretically be played in any deck. If you want to play these events, you’re going to have to save money from marshalling. As a result, you’ll see your opponent (if experienced) playing very conservatively if you have gold saved for the challenges phase, particularly if you have two: one could be coincidence, two looks highly suspicious! Even if you don’t have these events in hand (or even in your deck), by saving money to bluff and threaten, you can pressure your opponent into suboptimal choices with regards to defending challenges. You may even prevent them from making their own, because the consequence of being unable to defend a military challenge with enough strength to close the margin of victory to under 5 could be disastrous. Of course, there’s a fine line to walk, if you bluff with 2 gold and don’t put their big character to the sword when able, they can safely suspect you haven’t got it! If you coulda, you woulda…

A struggle for Power

The vast majority of games end with a player getting to 15 power. Whilst much of the information presented in this section should be self-evident, it is worth thinking in an academic perspective of where power exists and how power enters and exits the board state. It is typically harder for power to be removed from the game than to enter it, and so the game will inevitably, with time progress towards a conclusion.

There are 4 main ways power enters the game:

  1. Unopposed power
  2. The Renown keyword
  3. Card effects (a bit of a catch-all term)
  4. Dominance

Whilst there are two main ways power can be lost from the game:

  1. Removal of Renown characters from the board state.
  2. Power discard effects.

Power exists in two main states on a player’s game board:

  1. A shared pool between their house card and that of their opponent
  2. Individual pools held on other cards within the game board (largely Renown characters)

Let’s look at these in some more detail.

The ‘shared pool’

The fundamental purpose of the Unopposed Challenge and Dominance in the game from a mechanics perspective is to introduce power into the game. As of the current state of the card pool, neither player can start the game with any power at all. Whilst other effects may trigger off unopposed challenges, the power gained from one is the basic mechanic to introduce power into a shared pool between two players. This shared pool exists on both players’ house cards. While it may seem to newer players as if the power on their house card belongs to them, their ownership is only temporary. The power on house cards is part of a shared pool between players, of which you are attempting to swing the balance of this equilibrium as far towards your house card as possible. Your opponent can take your power from you if they win a power challenge, and vice versa. The rate at which you can move power around in this pool is largely static. It is controlled by:

  • The number of power challenges that can be made in a turn (normally one per player outside of card effects, for two total)
  • How effective those power challenges are (controlled by the claim value on the revealed plots).

In a ‘normal, balanced’ game situation, if both players make a successful power challenge in the challenges phase, a power will move back and forth between both players; the game state will not have appreciably changed, with neither player any closer to victory.

Your job as a player is to alter the equilibrium of the power in this shared pool in your favour. The most obvious ways to do this are to win power challenges and stop your opponent winning theirs, or to ensure that the magnitude of your wins are more effective (higher claim). You can also add power into the shared pool directly onto your house card via winning unopposed challenges and dominance, thus gaining power at a quicker rate than your opponent. Alternatively, (or additionally) you can also utilise card effects to add additional power into this shared pool on your house card (some basic examples being The Wall, Superior Claim and Doran’s Game).

Individual Pools

The other place power exists on the game board is in individual pools on cards other than the house card of either player. In the vast majority of cases these pools are represented by a character with the renown keyword (or an equivalent such as core set The Red Viper). These pools normally grow by winning challenges with the character, though can also be affected by card effects. These miniature pools are in some ways safer and in other ways less safe than the power in your part of the shared pool on your house card. Your opponent cannot alter these pools by winning a power challenge, however, if they can remove your character from the board (via multiple common effects, notably the plot Valar Morghulis), that power will all be discarded from the game and lost from the overall system. These individual pools provide another critical role in the game by giving an opportunity to break power stalemates. It is unlikely, though not inconceivable that a board state could occur where both players can prevent any unopposed challenges occurring, can both win a power challenge every turn, and tie on dominance. The game state would never progress towards a conclusion, and the individual pools provide an additional mechanism to ensure this situation is as unlikely as possible.

Focusing on individual cards is well beyond the scope of this article, but here is a list of cards newer players should be aware of that manipulate the shared pool and individual pools in both power-positive and power-negative ways:

The Shared Pool:

Closed pool effects (other than renown)

Other Notables:

Power Discard Effects (affect both shared and individual pools):

Claim manipulation effects (other than 2-claim plots and making multiple challenges of the same type):

Power movement effects:

Let’s now consider power within the game as a whole. The minimum power that will ever exist in a game is 0. The maximum is 28, with both players on 14 power each; this would represent a very close game indeed! Ignoring the power manipulation effects mentioned above and things like 2-claim plots, the most power that a player can reasonably expect to acquire in a turn is 5. 3 power from 3 unopposed challenges, a power stolen via power challenge claim, and a dominance win. This suggests a number of things, for a start, that most games tend to last at least 3 turns in length. While external factors (particularly renown) can accelerate this, this is relatively uncommon. At the other end of the spectrum, while it is not unheard of at all for games to exceed 7 turns, most tend to end by one cycle through the plot deck, though with the release of Valar Morghulis, games are lasting longer. This suggests that one of the players is gaining slightly more than 2 power a turn, on average. A net gain of 3 power a turn closes the game out on turn 5. So, how to accelerate this if you are winning? Winning challenges with renown characters, getting as many unopposed challenges as possible and winning dominance are strong strategies to stay ahead. Stopping your opponent winning power challenges to get back into the game is also going to help. However you probably want to be able to claim power from your opponent to accelerate your win condition, so you may want to consider letting them have some unopposed challenges (or win dominance) to ensure more power enters the shared pool so that you can take it away! On the other hand, what can you do if you’re losing? Well, as odd as it seems, if you have no power in the shared pool, they can’t take it away from you, which will slow them down. You need to try to hold as best you can until you feel you can meaningfully alter the board state. Do your best to not give away any unopposed challenges if you can help it, try not to let your opponent win dominance or their power challenge, if they do, try and make it cost them enough that if you’re going second, you can win that power back with your own, try to deny as much renown as possible (cards like Milk of the Poppy, Edmure and Ghaston Grey can help here), though that’s often a tall order if you’re behind.

Of course, the other two challenge types present other meaningful ways to affect the game state, hopefully in your favour…

It’s not all about raw power: The relevance of other challenge types

Military

The military challenge is the one which most obviously impacts your opponent’s board, and yet can frequently be the least relevant. Realistically, the effectiveness of a military challenge is typically fairly binary: either you force your opponent to claim a low cost character of low relevance (often described as ‘chuds’) or you force them to kill a larger character (or enough characters to subsequently March someone of importance) which heavily impedes their game plan.

Who you want…and who you’re normally going to get…

The effectiveness of a military challenge is almost always determined by the size of your opponent’s board. The larger your opponent’s board becomes, the more low cost characters are going to be in play, and the less bite your military claim will have. So, what are your options? Well, if you’ve let your opponent’s board state spiral out of control, your best option is a ‘reset’ like Wildfire Assault, reducing the number of characters on the board in one fell swoop and making your military claim something to be feared again. Resets will be dealt with in a separate section later. If you don’t have a reset available, you may be reduced to accepting the best you can get out of your military challenges is a bit of renown and/or unopposed power, forcing them to kneel a character to defend, and causing some minor annoyance for your opponent.

There are a few cards that will always give your military challenges some teeth however:

Targeted effects like this are extremely threatening. Put to the sword is effectively a second military claim, but someone you actually really want to kill. Choosing your targets for kill effects can be very important, and not always as obvious as ‘kill their best character’. If you can kill a Targaryen player’s only Dragon for example, you can temporarily neutralise the threat of Dracarys. Similarly, while it might seem ‘bad value’ to use the effect on someone with a dupe or bodyguard, it really isn’t if you can follow up next turn with Valar, ensuring that character will die when otherwise it would have remained a thorn in your side. Making strong military challenges while holding one or two gold can really force your opponent to play differently, and commit more strength to defending than they would like.

Sustaining military pressure when you know the character that you will kill isn’t particularly relevant can be a chore, but may be worthwhile. If you’re forcing them to lose a character a turn, they must keep playing them out, or their board will contract. This way they cannot hold as much back to pad their hand to protect against Intrigue challenges (see below) or hold back characters for after a reset. If they are struggling on economy, then putting on military pressure can be very valuable, as making them claim their 1-cost reducers in this situation will hurt them. The more chuds you claim, the higher the chances your opponent will have to commit an important character to a challenge they know they will lose to prevent you gaining unopposed power. In the absence of any extra effects, it is optimal to defend a challenge you know you are going to lose with the weakest character possible, to preserve larger characters for your own challenges (if going second) or to contribute to defending other challenges or winning Dominance. Since lower cost characters generally have worse icon spreads, the defending player’s options on who to block certain challenges with will be curtailed. Constant military pressure can really hinder this ‘chump blocking’ strategy.

If your opponent’s board is small and you can push through a military challenge, they become highly pressured, as well as being susceptible to Marched (if you are playing a military-focused deck, you should almost certainly be playing this plot). This is your chance to get rid of an important character. If you are totally wiped off the board in Thrones, it is generally extremely difficult to reestablish yourself, especially if your opponent is in a strong position. Using 2-claim plots  (or surprise claim raises) to put them in this position, or (even better) using one when they are already in this predicament can break them completely, or put them on the back foot, turn after turn. The smaller your opponent’s board, the better it becomes for you to go first, since if you can kill one of their few characters, they will not be able to use it to make challenges against you, or defend other challenges you make. Even if you cannot make a successful military challenge against an opponent’s small board, you may well force them to kneel out a large proportion of their strength, allowing you to get the other challenges through.

The dead pile mechanic in Thrones can make military claim (and targeted kill effects) especially scary, as if a unique character is killed, any further copies that are drawn are useless. To prevent this, unique character card duplicates can be marshalled on the played out character at no cost. Duplicates can be discarded to save the character from a range of effects, including military claim. While only forcing the use of duplicates may seem a weak result for military claim, as discussed earlier, it can make the character vulnerable to Valar Morghulis. Duplicates are really important in Thrones, especially nowadays, and if you can pressure your opponent into using them, you’re probably in a stronger position than you might initially think.

Intrigue

Unlike many card games, Thrones gives you the ability to attack your opponent’s hand as one of its core mechanics through the Intrigue challenge. It was discussed earlier how cards are an important resource, and so taking them away from your opponent is obviously an extremely powerful effect. Attacking your opponent’s hand is threatening their options. Anything that you discard from their hand is likely to be quite good, as if it wasn’t, why would they put it in their deck? Hitting characters will limit their ability to marshal next turn, and could result in them not being able to defend further challenges. Hitting events can preemptively disarm potential tricky problems for you. Additionally, the random nature of Intrigue claim could hit a critical piece they had been saving for just the right moment. Discarding cards from their hand may also give you a source of information about what their deck is trying to do.

Whilst Intrigue claim is good throughout the game, there is only one time it is guaranteed to be useless, and that is when your opponent has 0 cards left in their hand. In this case however, they are totally out of options, and are relying on the two cards they draw a turn to sustain them. Top-decking in any game tends to be suboptimal, but in Thrones, which is so snowbally, it is regularly a death sentence. In contrast, there are times in which Intrigue challenges are likely to be extremely good. At the very start of the game, assuming your opponent did not mulligan, you can probably reason they have some good cards in hand. While some of the cards in the hand will be redraw after set up and the two drawn after plots, it is reasonable to assume they still have some cards they wanted that they could not set up. If you can push through some early intrigue challenges, you are starting the work of narrowing down your opponent’s options, but also may hit something extremely spicy. You may hit some limited economy cards they are waiting to play on subsequent turns, which is often very damaging to your opponent, particularly in the long term. Conversely, while your opponent has few cards in hand further limiting their options by denying them those cards may be crippling. Whilst Intrigue claim can vary in relevance over the course of a game, over the course of a challenges phase it is often critically important. In many (most?) cases it is optimal to make your Intrigue challenge first if possible, simply because you might discard an important card from your opponent’s hand they were waiting to use later in the phase, for example an ambush character, or a nasty event.

Get rid of these cards if you can, as quickly as you can!

What can you do to mitigate the effectiveness of your opponent’s Intrigue challenges? If you feel you are ahead on the board, you may be willing to mortgage future strength (in this case, cards in your hand) for continuing pressure. In this case you may just roll with the punches, letting your opponent get their Intrigue challenges through. In many cases though, you probably want to protect your hand as best you can. If you are behind you are unlikely to be able to recover if you have few options in the form of cards, particularly if your board is weak and you are struggling to defend challenges. In this case, you’re probably going to have to evaluate the importance of defending your hand (Intrigue) vs defending your board (Military). If you are behind, you should probably strongly think about prioritising defending against your opponent’s Intrigue challenge, rather than winning your own. Another way to defend your hand is to keep it padded with irrelevant cards. The most common cards that tend to be irrelevant are duplicates of unique locations. Though more anti-location cards are currently seeing play due to the relative strength of locations, if you feel you can get away with it, holding spare copies of locations in hand will reduce the chance of your opponent claiming the cards you really want to keep. Similarly, dupes of dead characters are cards that are annoying to draw, but at least have a little use in protecting other cards in your hand. Finally, towards the end of games, economy locations, particularly ‘slow’ ones like the Roseroad might be better off as Intrigue chaff than on the board, particularly if there’s one particularly good card you’re holding on to for a reason.

Perhaps the card that has shaped the Intrigue challenge the most over the first part of Thrones’ second edition lifespan is Tears of Lys. It is an extremely low effort, high reward kill effect, and compares very favourably to PTTS in ease of triggering. The bane of characters without intrigue icons everywhere, this card rewards what you want to be doing anyway (making successful intrigue challenges)  with what is often an exceptionally punishing effect for your opponent. If your opponent instigates an intrigue challenge with one gold available, you have to respect the looming threat of this card.

If you can establish significant card advantage, you may be in a position to benefit from a favourable reset…

Back from the Brink: The importance of resets

Thrones is an inherently snowbally game, due to the effect of the claim mechanic. While making a comeback is often very hard, it is not often that it is totally impossible, especially with the help of resets.

Currently, there are four main resets available in the game, 3 of which are plots, one of which exists in the draw deck:

All four of these resets work in different ways, and have different upsides and downsides. Let us look at the three plots, which can be used ‘on demand’ from your plot deck:

Wildfire Assault has pretty good stats and kills all but three characters on either side, with the caveat that the dead characters cannot be saved. This plot primarily serves two main purposes: it prevents the board state and challenge maths from getting overly complicated, and it makes military claim relevant again, due to the smaller board. These two factors alone are key parts of what make resets good, and often mandatory. Once you’ve lived through the misery of two Stark Fealty decks without resets engaging in a complicated mathematical snorefest, you probably won’t leave home without one again. Wildfire resets each player to three characters of their choice. This might seem like parity, but if your opponent’s best three characters are better than yours, or have more power on them, you haven’t really made up much ground in your comeback.

First Snow of Winter removes all the characters of 3 cost or lower from the board at the start of the challenges phase, rendering any remaining large characters vulnerable to military claim, or a Marched to the Wall in the subsequent plot phase. This can often result in players discarding many of their low cost characters to reserve, and heavily punishes factions like Night’s Watch who tend to prefer a board of lots of low cost characters to defend the Wall. This plot does allow some saves (though not Bodyguard) so duplicates are able to prevent the effect, making low cost uniques like Arya very useful. This plot strongly benefits decks which run characters with ambush or ambush-like effects, for example Burned Men or Arianne, as they can be played out during the challenge phase to provide claim soak, expendable Marched targets, or just a boost in challenge strength. It can also benefit decks running characters with strong ‘enters play’ abilities, such as Greenblood Trader or Areo Hotah, as they can be returned to hand to be reused on further turns. The existence of this reset means you should consider its effect on your setup, and probably also in your deck design – 4 cost characters look a lot better under this threat. Any deck with a strong economic advantage (typically Lannister and Tyrell) like this reset, as they can easily afford to play out the characters again, whilst the opponent may struggle to reestablish their board, though economically robust decks can leverage resets well in general.

Valar Morghulis is perhaps the most terrifying of these three. Pretty much instant death to non-unique characters with the exception of Risen and Iron Mines, Valar is an extremely efficient way of levelling the playing field. If you’d prefer your characters alive, you will need to be careful about protecting them with duplicates, Bodyguards or other saves. Like most resets, this plot punishes players overextending and playing out too many characters on to the board, and makes the relevance of Intrigue claim much higher. Many players will be forced to play around Valar, and hold characters in hand until they can find a save effect, which makes for some potentially spicy Intrigue pulls. If you can reduce their hand (and protect your own) to limit their options and THEN wipe the board, you’ll be at a severe advantage. Likewise, if you have an economic advantage and reset the board, you’ll be able to rebuild faster than your opponent, making The Arbor one of the strongest cards for reset-based strategies, but Lannister economy weaker, as it is mostly tied to characters that are more vulnerable. Heavy reset strategies favour location-based decks in general, since locations cannot be killed and remain on the board. This plot is extremely powerful, though the low gold, initiative, lack of claim and low reserve are very damaging. This means that if you Valar and are behind, you still may not completely catch up to your opponent, though it’s probably better than nothing. So, how best to deal with this game-warping threat? Try to protect your hand from Intrigue as best you can, avoid putting too many critical characters on to the board unless you have ways to protect them, and try not to overextend yourself. If you suspect your opponent may play Valar, you can protect yourself a little by playing a high economy plot to try to reestablish your board more quickly than your opponent (incidentally, you probably want at least one high economy plot in your plot deck for this reason, and make sure it’s not Calling the Banners!). You can also play a plot like Marched or Fallen From Favour. Both these plots (and most plots in general) have high initiative, and you can elect to go first and trigger your plot first, sacrificing a critical character so they can survive to be played out again later. Ultimately, it seems likely that the combination of Valar Morghulis with the death mechanic in Thrones will warp deck design the same way that it did in first edition, where most unique characters get relegated to single copies in decks.

Varys is interesting in that he’s currently the only reset played from the draw deck. There are obvious downsides to having your reset attached to a character. For a start, it’s not available on demand, as it would be to be selected and triggered at will from the plot deck. Secondly, as a character, Varys is vulnerable to kill effects and military claim, as well as Milk and Nightmares. He also costs a significant chunk of gold to marshal, though is a Lord so can be reduced by A Noble Cause. Characters can be saved from Varys. However, he does provide some advantages over the plots. Assuming you are second player, you can decide whether or not to marshal him after your opponent marshals characters (as well as protect him from getting milked). This advantage is important, as you have much more information after plots are played out than when you are deciding. Varys also renders saves based on kill effects such as Risen and Iron Mines useless as reset protection. Many players using Varys would traditionally use a high initiative-high gold plot such as Calling the Banners to go second, playing him out safely after the opponent had over-committed..

Generally it’s pretty beneficial to play some form of reset. It’s not always necessary, especially if your strategy is to play constructively and build a big board, but in such a snowbally game, having a catch up mechanic built in to your deck seems pretty sensible. Personally I’d much prefer the more elegantly designed Pale Mare to the blunt hammer of Valar, but unfortunately, we’re stuck with what we have at the moment. Perhaps it will be released in the future for constructed. Here’s hoping.

This is a compilation of information it took me a year and a half of playing Thrones to learn. Hopefully it will be of some use to new players in a similar situation.

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.

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.