Welcome back to part two of my overview of A Game of Thrones second edition and my preparations for the Kingslayer tournament at GenCon in just over two weeks time. My carpool is leaving this Friday for Indianapolis, so I am making sure I have as much of my prep work done as possible before we leave for the States. In previous articles, I've gone over my preparations for X-Wing and Netrunner, and last Thursday I released the first half of my analysis regarding the relaunch of my favourite of all FFG games, A Game of Thrones.
I went over Houses Stark, Targaryen, Baratheon, and the Night's Watch in the first article, and in this piece I want to look at the final four factions in the game - Houses Tyrell, Lannister, Greyjoy and Martell. This proves to be an interesting concept as these four houses all have one thing very important in common - they aren't aggressive houses! All four of these factions have control elements very intrinsically tied to their identities!
Before I begin, I just wanted to address some of the feedback I received on the last piece. Firstly, I had a lot of people asking for a picture of the color wheel I use as an analogy through most of the article: here you go This is the Magic: The Gathering colour pie as it has been imagined for the past ten years or so. Secondly, I seemed to have misread the unique Direwolves in House Stark, and they are actually loyal. This is confusing to me, because their humans aren't all loyal... it strikes me that the wolves should be as loyal as are their humans.
Finally there were a few comments about the design of the blog. I designed this website a little under a year ago and fell in love with the colour scheme - but I can see how the aqua on black scheme might not be the best, depending on the screen and the settings thereon. I've switched the text over to white for the time being, and I've already started thinking about a redesign in the autumn.
Let's take a look at the House among these with which I have had the most experience fighting against - House Lannister. One of my best friends (and partner on my defunct Game of Thrones podcast, The Cast in the Darkness) Clay has been playing House Lannister essentially since we discovered the game about three years ago. He fell in love with the imagery of the bad guys getting ahead by hook or by crook. He took great joy in kneeling my best characters and swooping in for the kill.
House Lannister has always been about winning from behind the scenes - they focus heavily on intrigue challenges in order to strip the opponent of options as the game progresses. In broad terms, this theme has been kept in place; they have lost their principal form of insurance. Without kneeling, Lannisters really have a much less assured way to get into the opponent's hand, and thereby exploit intrigue challenges with additional effects.
A lot of their cards (primarily loyal) really focus on exploiting intrigue challenges (Cersei, Lannisport, Casterly Rock) give additional benefits for Intrigue Challenges - being able to raise your claim, draw cards and initiate additional intrigue challenges are all exceptionally powerful, but if you aren't able to get in at will, then you are less likely to be able to get the benefit you are building your deck around. I suppose this is where the support faction is going to come in, putting some Stark kill effects, or some Baratheon kneeling might make for a more powerful deck than being mono-Lannister in the early days of second edition.
Lannister as a support faction is fascinating! The fact is, they completely change their identity from main to support faction - they are not willing to offer their most powerful intrigue elements to other factions, instead they send them the military they never quite learned how to use properly in the books. The Gold Cloaks, the Burned Men, Jaime Lannister and Joffrey Baratheon are all very potent military elements that don't actually look all that special except that you see the Ambush keyword on most of them.
Lannisters have always been about amassing huge amounts of gold each turn and then finding ways to leverage it over the course of the round. The ambush mechanic alongside some of their more potent military cards is a brilliant way to lure an opponent into a military (or power) challenge that might be inadvisable if the Lannister defenders were on the field. In other houses, ones where they might not have such an ease of fortune, this ambushing of military icons will be rather superfluous as most other houses are pretty much set for military.
I can see (depending on the preview article) House Tyrell being able to use the Lannister support cards better than most, as they should have a fair amount of gold, and could likely make good use out of a means to leverage that money. But, on the other side of that debate is the canon fact that House Tyrell have the largest standing army in Westeros - so if that element plays in the card game, then they won't need a 2 strength red mono-con just because he cam jump into play at instant speed.
The third member of the Cast in the Darkness was Nick; a lifelong acolyte of the blue oyster cult. I mean Greyjoy. The big blue meanie of Game of Thrones 1st Edition. In most metagames decks would either be over prepared for Greyjoy or not prepared enough, and it was at exactly those moments that a big stupid Greyjoy deck would come and ruin everyone's fun.
I have had some bad experiences, but historically Greyjoy focused on three things: winning initiative, winning unopposed challenges, and fooling around with a pointless milling strategy. I'm ignoring winter choke for these purposes , as there is no evidence of seasons in the core set of second edition. Lucky for everyone, those three themes are all present and accounted for, and they've even gone ahead and made milling a legitimate win condition!
The Greyjoy cards are very interesting as they represent a pair of very different directions - either you want to be pillaging, or you are leveraging unopposed challenges in order to win the 'traditional' way. It feels like in order to ensure all three themes of the house are included, they had to squish the faction down a bit.
There are "if you are first player" cards in a card pool that doesn't actually seem like it will give you a lot of control over becoming first player (bay of ice, where are you?). There are a couple of pillage cards, which don't feel like they are going to lend themselves to a winning strategy (and just dilutes the card pool), and then there are the majority of the Greyjoy cards which are just about pure aggression and leveraging that pure aggression to feed into future gains.
The cards that are focused on just "winning the game" seem incredibly powerful, and even the "first player" cards feel likely to have a purpose in the limited card pool because you know that there will be first- and second-player decks even in such a shallow field. But I'm concerned that the House Champion has a keyword which won't even be leveraged until much later on in the lifecycle of the game (or even just the next weekend after people start playing constructed). With a single copy of three (or so, estimated) cards isn't going to let you really leverage the biggest element on the most powerful card in the house. If Euron weren't the figurehead for Pillage, then I think that the house would be in much better shape for this event... but as it stands, I think that you see three diverse elements which do not seem to compliment each other a smuch as those you find in other houses (coughtargaryencough).
As a support faction, I'm really not sure - you lose the pillaging, and gain some unopposed stuff. It might play well with Baratheon, who will be using their Kneeling in order to win dominance and gain renown to start... maybe having some extra kill and some additional ways to leverage that kneeling tech could be very potent!
House Martell. Home. I played House Martell competitively almost exclusively (excepting a couple of jaunts with Baratheon at the HCHC and 2013 Store Championships). House Martell always felt the most 'blue' to me; as a reformed Magician, I have been conditioned to look at games, their internal mechanisms and the strategies that define them in terms of the Magic colour pie. Counterspells, card draw, and late-game haymakers define the blue colour pie. Between He Calls it Thinking, The Prince's Plans, and The Red Viper, Martell has been the go-to House for reformed control mages across Westeros.
House Martell was defined in the late-first edition metagame by a single card more than any other; The Red Viper. His ability to close out a game was second to none in the seven years of aGoT LCG, and his resilience in the face of opposing tech menat that he defined nearly every metagame in which htere was a Martell control deck (which is to say virtually every metagame). Combined with the defensive abilities of Burning on the Sand, Red Vengeance, and later on even You Killed her Daughter managed to ensure that no matter how formidable an offense the opposition would mount, the defenses of the Dornishmen would remain indomitable.
Martell, more than any other house in first edition, benefited from the enormous card pool at the end of the game. Their ability to make minor adjustments wiht huge control haymakers relaly wound up causing a big part of the player base to automatically accuse Martell players of propagating an "NPE", which is to say a Negative Play Experience. This term was used to describe a number of other archetypes as well over the life of the game (Winter Choke, and Targ Shadows most notably); but principally it was a feeling within the greater Game of Thrones community that the game was meant to be about playing characters and making challenges, and any strategy that didn't fall in that scenario (and rather attempted to win in non-traditional ways) weren't fun to play against.
Unfortunately, as we noted above, FFG has embraced the NPe, and have actually made a very NPE strategy (milling) one of the pillars of the game in second edition. So I would say that we, the NPE players of the world, have won!
In Second Edition, Martell look very different from their power position only a year ago - they no longe rhav ethe single most powerful late-game threat in the game, they no longer have the ability to regularly control the way the challenge phase operates through their smokescreens and defelctions, and perhaps most importantly, they have abandoned the guise of being anyhting but a combo deck - at least out of the box.
Doran Martell, the Lord of Sunspear, and the Prince of Dorne has text that reads "Lords and Ladies you control gain +1 strength for each plot in your used pile." This translates into a very simple phrase: "Win on turn seven." This puts the Princes of the South in a strange place where their opponent knows exactly what the goal is, and they simply need to find a way to prevent that from happening.
Unfortunately for the Southrons, they aren't nearly as resilient as they once were. Having lost Burning and Red Vengeance means that they don't have any way of ensuring the game will even last until turn seven - and the vulnerability of their game-ending haymaker The Red Viper means that they will hav ea hard time closing out the game assuming they make it that far. TRV has the text "Reaction: when you win a challenge by five or more strength, TRV claims 1 power for every 5 by which you won the challenge." This combines very well with Doran and other Lords and Ladies of the south in order to form a huge tidal wave on turns six and seven as the Martells race to win before their power disappears on turn 8.
This has me feeling as though, in a limited format such as the Kingslayer, the Martells will not be a viable candidate for primary faction. They are too all in on a predictable (and preventable) strategy to really be much of a threat to a Targaryen or Baratheon or Stark build that can exploit its weaknesses. The non-loyal side of Martell is interesting, however;
House Tyrell is an interesting bag. The eighth and final house was previewed by FFG this monday afternoon, and they revealed a secondary theme that I, for one, wasn't really expecting. Event-based control!
This makes me very excited, as they also have the best card draw engine in the core set (via The Mander). Being able to consistently use effects like Olenna's Cunning (and Paxter Redwyne to make these effects more affordable) will ensure that the Tyrell player always has the right tool for the job. The issue for the Kingslayer is that you will only have a single copy of so many of these effects that you will find the deck inconsistent and unreliable.
Tyrell is probably the house I'm most looking forward to trying out once I get home and start playing some constructed games with friends, but for the purposes of the Kingslayer, I'm not going to be playing any of the combo-based houses; so Martell and Tyrell both get bumped to the bottom of the pile. That said, I'm interested in taking a look at the non-loyal Tyrell cards in order to see how much value I can find in the Banner of the Rose.
I think it is clear to see that Margaery is the top pick from the non-loyal side of the Tyrell faction - repeatable pump is nearly as powerful as repeatable kill! Randyll Tarly also provides a large amount of offence in return for his hefty cost; getting multiple attacks (of defences) each turn is particularly strong, but principally when combined with doubling up the number of challenges you are able to initiate during a given round.
Olenna's Informant (at the cost of yet more gold) allows you to initiate an extra challenge of any type in a given round - combined with Randyll and Marg, you can double up on power challenges to close out a game, or double up on military challenges in order to establish control over a mid-game board. Knight of Flowers also helps the Banner of the Rose establish a strong military presence alongside some different control mechanisms (stark/targ kill, baratheon kneel, etc).
The problem with this is that you have to have a ton of gold in order to build these perfectly constructed fields - Tarly costs 6, Loras costs 5, the informant costs 4 when ambushed... Very little in terms of early game affordability. You will want to combine the Rose with a house that has more early game presence in order to establish yourself without being stretched too thin. As I mentioned before, perhaps an alliance with House Stark, leveraging Heartsbane and Ice togehter in a single deck sounds particularly powerful, espeically with Stark's early game aggression and Tyrell's knack for closing out the game in a hurry with your double challenges and standing attackers!
So, now that the eight houses are out of the way, let's take a few minutes to discuss the second deck each Game of Thrones player must have prepared: their plot deck. In the core set, we see they've included 26 plot cards including two copies of two different plots; Summons and Wildfire Assault. As we know from the FFG preview article, the rules for building a plot deck have changed - now each player may include a second copy of any one plot, leading to a situation where you might see a sweeper early, but don't know if they have a second one in reserve.
In reality, the choices you make in your plot deck are determined by the factions and strategy you have picked from the main pool of cards - aggressive rush decks are looking for high initiative and high claim plots at the expense of reserve or triggered effects, while slower, grinding decks are looking for high reserve, and abilities that will help the deck stabilize after an early rush. The plots aren't necessarily divided so neatly, but you can definitely see there are a few plots that fall very safely in these two categories.
Let's talk about the two plots that FFG have decided to include two copies of in the core set - Summons and Wildfire Assault. These two plots fall on the opposite end of the spectrum - Summons is very potent for the rush decks as it will allow those decks to set up their end game more quickly and more consistently, while Wildfire Assault is strong for the late-game grind decks as it will help those players stabilize after a rush deck puts a large number of their characters on the board.
The heightened gold curve in Second Edition will have a dampening effect o nthe swarm strategies that were fairly commonplace in first edition. This makes me wonder about the ultimate effectiveness of Wildfire in a format like this - there aren't going to be finely tuned off-curve swarm decks in this format, so double wildfire will be less valuable. Without an effective sweeper capable of dealing with the problems they'll have to overcome in order to stabilize and bring a game into a long grind.
If there is no legitimate sweeper, it makes me automatically question the ability of the control decks to compete - Varys alone won't be sufficient (especially considering he costs 6 gold, and you must survive to the dominance phase in order to use the action). This has be considering only aggressive strategies for this event.
The fact that two copies of summons are present in the plot deck means that the voltron aspects of the Targaryen faction won't be a terrible burden, nor will the need to focus on any of the "lord" caliber characters out of the aggro decks in order to close out games early. Summons will allow not just the Targaryen player to fetch their Dany (or Drogo), but it will allow a Baratheon player to find their Robert or Stannis, and a Greyjoy player can find their euron or Balon.
This makes me feel like the tournament will be defined by haymakers, and the players who are able to bring the best combination thereof will wind up doing the very best - a combination of power and consistency will be fundamentally important for the Kingslayer.
I'm really thinking hard about which of the various factions will mesh best with my planned strategy - I really like Tyrell, Baratheon, Stark, Greyjoy and Targaryen for this event. I feel as though too much has been taken away from Lannister to pique my interest (which is not to say I feel they are bad, I just feel they aren't interesting), and both Night's Watch and Martell feel too variance dependent - not to mention incredibly vulnerable to pinpoint removal.
I've been thinking very hard about either Stark or Targaryen as my main faction, both of these two houses hold a large pool of cheap, efficient characters with which to establish a lead, while also having a lot of synergistic kill cards which will help you hold onto that lead. The other house that I'm really interested in considering for my main faction is Tyrell. This is almost entirely on the back of HighGarden and The Mander being loyal to their house.
The Mander feels like (if you can find it), the most powerful card draw engine in the game at this stage; virtually guaranteeing you two additional cards every turn so long as you establish and execute a plan. The difficulty, of course, is in finding a location card which is a singleton - but at the least Tyrell feel like they have the tools to bring it closer to the top, with Olenna's Cunning, as well as having some top tier characters and events which will really give your opponents headaches!
So let's just argue that I'm going to pick one of those three houses for my top house. Are there any synergies I could be looking at exploiting in the pool? Well, I really like how much digging you get in the plot pool with two copies of Summons. This leads me to feel that character based combos are potentially viable (see: Tarly or Danaerys voltron builds). The key will be fitting in the most possible Insight in those houses in order to draw into your non-character engine cards (Plaza of Punishment, Mander, etc). I'll have to take a look at the complete card pool when it is revealed in order to make up my mind, but the number of non-loyal insight cards (or non loyal cards that draw cards outright) will be a big factor in my ultimate decision.
In fact, the presence of non-loyal card draw might be a deciding factor in whether or not I select Tyrell or Targaryen (or Stark) as my main faction: If I could gain access to that engine by bringing the faction along in a support role, then it becomes much more valuable as an ally than whatever strong loyal cards they might offer, since the support faction is going to be a big deciding factor in who does well in this event.
I've mostly ignored the Greyjoys from this discussion, despite the fact that I mentioned them above as one of the factions I was most interested in trying. This is because the Big Blue feel very different from the other factions - while they are trying to grind and kill their way to victory, Greyjoy are trying to dominate utterly - and to capitalize on the moments when they do manage to dominate.
So FFG released the deckbuilding rules for the Kingslayer this afternoon which indicates that you include all cards from your two chosen factions, not just the banner agendas. This means that I no longer have to be considering the non-loyal cards in any given faction for determining whether or not the faction is viable in the format. This is both frustrating, but also insanely beneficial to me.
My main concern has been card draw, and having access to both Summer (and Ice) alongside HighGarden, Olenna's Cunning and The Mander will help a Stark/Tyrell deck take advantage of the economy of Tyrell (both gold and cards) as well as the early-game pressure inherent in a Stark main. The same is also true of Targaryen, where you can combine the economic advantages of a Tyrell main and leverage those gold chits and cards best with the strongest burn cards available in the game.
This doesn't actually change my opinion on the format. My four main choices remain Tyrell, Stark, Targaryen and Baratheon. These four houses feel as though they offer the best mix of economic edge and board control mechanisms. I also feel as though Greyjoy is viable (maybe even moreso now), but that is a metagame choice to be made during the event - the value of greyjoy will be determined by the number of NW and Tyrell lists I'm seeing, since their principal advantage is that they offer location control that is not present elsewhere in the coreset.
The plot choices don't really change much, except that double Summons might be even more important now, since all of the decks will be digging to the two haymakers they now get to field. I would say that the strength/value of the haymakers will wind up being the thing that defines most players' decks - do you care more about the double challenges offered by Khal Drogo, or the incredible defense that you get with Robb Stark? Will Olenna Tyrell's economic advantage be the game-changer you are looking for, or are you more interested in the supplemental economy that you generate by using Euron Crow's Eye's pillage ability?
This is the hardest choice I think that confronts me moving into the final seven days until the event. I think the while all of the prep work I've been doing for the last two months remains valuable, but before I make my final decision, I will wait until the full card list is revealed to understand just how many synergies they've built into each of the various strategies. The most amazing part of the relaunch of Game of Thrones is how depth they have built into the most basic form of the game. Each faction feels like it have two solid themes, each of which plays off the others in a fairly significant way.
I think that legitimately any of the factions could be good, and nearly any combination of two could be playable; the difference will come mostly via play style. I've been a control player my whole life, and knowing that a strict control deck won't be viable, I feel board control, card draw and disruption are the control elements most easily brought into the game at this level. Among my neutral cards, I feel very confident that I will include both Hand's Judgment and Varys, even in what is essentially an aggressive deck.
Ultimately, I hope that this discussion has proven valuable to you - even if most of the "banner" discussions won't wind up being very valuable to me next weekend, I think that it will wind up being very useful to most of us as the game progresses past day 0 and we get to start building decks.
I'm really thankful that so many of you read and enjoyed the first part of this piece, it took a lot of work, and it really felt great to see that there was an audience for a piece like this in the Game of Thrones community. This has increased my desire to keep covering the game here at NorthernGamingNetwork.com. There has been a buzz in my local meta that we might see a relaunch of The Cast in the Darkness, and when we get some events going here and around the Maritimes, you can be assured that the NGN cameras will be present!
Until next time, always be gaming!