by Abdul Alhazred
I am not the best player, nor am I a visionary deck builder, but I am a huge fan of what is being built with this game, and this is my story of winning the Prague Regionals. I am also currently quite likely the most active tournament player in the world, so maybe it’s just good odds I was going to win something decent eventually.
I am normally a Lannister player, and after winning a 3D house card in Batalla por el Muro, it is hard not to sleeve up the lion in the house card sleeve and start the building from there. However, in order to become a better student of the game I felt I needed to try out different factions, and my coaches Jakob Hultman and Caitlin Woods have long been encouraging me to try feel the fury of the sands and test myself against the mental marathon of playing Martell. So with another deployment to the continent coming up, decks were built and we set off.
I brought two Martell Decks with me, one was Jakob’s painfully clever Crossing build, and another a heavy hitting deck I adapted from a build that, in and of itself, was a spawn of the laboratory of mnbroncos. Both decks use icon control – one to create a rapid opening for a significant power grab, the other to grind out board advantage and then cruise to a largely uncontestable victory. Jakob’s deck seemed to arrive to me at the wrong time as people were becoming aware of the full scope of Stark’s power, or possibly the more militant version just fits my skills better, so that’s what I went with.
Deck can be found here: https://thronesdb.com/decklist/view/5135/prague-regionals-2016-winner-58-people-1.0
In deciding to play this deck, I saw the matchups as follows:
Tyrell – not a competitive faction at this time, sorry.
Night’s Watch – generally under-represented, vulnerable to First Snow in most builds, moderate icon control and targeted kill should give me the edge, but I have to be wary of them gaining power too fast.
Baratheon – Possibly the most interesting matchup. They can control my impactful characters, but the decks people are playing at the moment (I think there are different, dominance-based builds out there that could be equally valid but would take some mad genius like Guerrick to figure them out) are very vulnerable to their three cornerstone characters being removed, with the rest of the deck tumbling like dominoes when it happens. So a question of whether they can get enough power quickly enough before the metaphorical venom runs its course.
Lannister – Overplayed at the moment, and many players get complacent trying to rely on the sheer power of characters to carry them through. Some also run absurdly low on attachment removal and have grown so indifferent to Tears and Dracarys! as to not run Hand’s Judgement. Having permanent easy solutions to The Mountain is a massive boon, and Ilyn should be good here to isolate the heavy hitters and funnel them into Vengeance/Ghaston.
Targaryen – Dangerous matchup. Dracarys! is a massive thorn in this deck’s side, and Reason #1 for why Hand’s Judgement is here. My advantage here is in having First Snow to expose the vulnerability Targ has from too many cheap characters – also Ilyn to stop them being rebuilt. Crossing is a danger from having them gain too much power too quickly.
Martell – Always hard to say much about the mirror. I think Vengeance gives me more flexibility here in case the opponent isn’t running it, and since Imprisoned hasn’t taken off yet, I have a good shot at just taking over military as we shut down all other avenues of attack, while having Palace Spearman be my bedrock for First Snow showdowns.
Greyjoy – Speed can be a problem here, and an early Seastone Chair can completely rob me of an ability to defend myself. Plentiful saves can also be a problem. The funny thing about Greyjoy, though, is that for a military-heavy faction, they don’t have a massive number of military icons, mostly relying on a few, key characters. Stealing military icons and having the multiple ambush options should shut down the unopposed, which allows me to focus on the swing-back and to keep killing them until they stay dead.
Stark – Leaving the most terrifying for last. Stark is likely the most negative match against this deck (and I almost tried playing Stark for this tournament myself), as they can shut down most clever effects and can burst so so very fast. The key for me in this match is threat diversification, and the hope that enough Stark players get distracted by Fat Cat to only have Winterfell available to shut down my effects. Stark can shut down Tears or Ghaston, though not always both; throw in Vengeance to put all challenges in the danger zone, and something should get through. The latter shouldn’t make as much of an impact on this match as it does, but too many Starks still throw too many non-ice military challenges instead of just staying focused on power.
So, with all that in mind, we head to the tournament, driving across much of Germany and the Czech Republic. These lads take their game rules seriously, and on the way into the country reminder DUCKs are available for each faction to ensure no player can get confused in challenges resolution.
Some try to claim these tokens are just unrelated souvenirs, but with a flower DUCK, a dragon DUCK, and a lion DUCK they are really fooling no-one.
At the venue, we are greeted by awesome banners; we feel the full-throated support of the venue and are delighted that the establishment takes such pride in its acknowledgment of our hobby. Going to be a good day.
Good people I know or am about to know start gathering, taking in the field. Tournament is growing quite large, with the 50 pre-bookings not only being met, but exceeded. With the FFG brackets being what they are, I decide not to use my Store Champs bye. In my opinion, those are best for the lower end of any given bracket, where some X-2s will make it, to maximise the benefit. So I submit my deck list and explore.
Table 1 seems fit for a champion, a man (or woman) sitting back issuing judgement like Stannis Baratheon himself.
Round 1 vs Lannister-Kraken
Wow, they play hardcore out here. Lowest tables are outside, where the umbrellas do a valiant job of safeguarding against a light drizzle, so the situation is clear: you win, or your cards die. Must win my way inside.
We get ok setups with challenges back and forth, with an early PttS cramping my style, until my opponent makes a fatal mistake on the First Snow turn, playing out his Burned Men in marshalling, only to watch them flee inclement weather, leaving Tyrion by himself, and it’s quickly finished from there.
Round 2 vs Greyjoy Fealty or Crossing (cannot correctly recall, I’m afraid)
Opponent’s setup is rather terrifying as the first turn has him with Balon, Asha, Theon and misc. but the Trading it takes to set this board up gets me Tyene and more, so the grind against his iron mines begins. Burned men and The Hound keep him off unopposed, as he hesitates to use Kraken’s Grasp on a turn 1 Theon/Asha challenge being blocked by a puny Burned Men, and he cannot use it on the Hound when it counts. The Risen from the Sea and Iron mines tick off as a timer on my upcoming win, with the opponent wasting dupes off the real people to keep extras on the field for board position. But the saves eventually run out, and opponent concedes after seeing Balon Ghastoned, Theon Tearsed and Asha Tyened all in the same turn.
Round 3 vs Tyrell Stag
The journey towards the wonders of Table 1 continues. This match looks set to be interesting. He is Tyrell and winning, so he must have an interesting deck; his setup is great, with green sleeves and rainbow plot sleeves for Loras.
Unfortunately, turns out the deck was just a basic rush build, with the added nostalgic element of knights hailing back to a few dataravenpacks ago. The deck likes neither First Snow nor Wildfire, and even a timely Seen in Flames getting rid of Ilyn salivating over an encounter with Margaery next turn is of little help, as he is wiped off the table, discovering too late how poorly Lady Sansa’s Rose interacts with Ghaston Grey. This game also featured the first Wildfire à Quentyn shenanigans of the day.
All in all a pity to unleash all this viciousness on a seriously sound guy, who is playing the faction he enjoys and happily aimed for a 3-3 finish as his goal (eventually achieving ending at 4-2 I believe, which was good to see).
Round 4 vs Greyjoy cannot recall banner
Up to Table 2 now, so within striking distance!
He gets the Seastone Chair early, but I have Imprisoned and Nymeria early. He manages to hold them off but cannot do damage, as his deck leaves him starved for intrigue icons, and the general Greyjoy shortage of military icons lets me evade the Chair completely. Tyene eventually arrives, and the dominoes start to fall. Opponent gets understandably frustrated and concedes with him at 11 power to my 8, unwilling to face the imminent demise of Euron.
Round 5 vs Targaryen Crossing
Theft and subterfuge! I am still on Table 2! How dare they deny me!
We both get good setups, with my opponent getting Daenerys and Rhaegal Turn 1, jumping up a whole bunch of power early. Next turn First Snow is countered by Summons to fetch a Drogon dupe, with both other dragons getting duped :-/
I leak a bunch more power, but with the Palace Spearman’s intrigue icon, opponent has no way to stop Tyene ending Daenerys’ tenure in this world.
Next turn opponent decides to fight back with 2 claim, looking to put me out of contention. The military is bounced back with Vengeance at him, which both opens up some breathing room for me and shuts down his icon spread for future challenges.
With the opponent down to 3 characters, I make a mistake by not allowing him a military win to kill off Quentyn and take out Littlefinger, and he masterfully lands an unopposed intrigue by bouncing in a dead dragon. I then make a mistake not to immediately evac Arianne for Hound, and she gets burned, getting him to 14, with his wisely picked Calm keeping me from stealing power, and a mass of gold for dominance keeping me from starting to convert numbers into a rush for victory, as I desperately keep him from winning. Wildfire kills off Quentyn and Littlefinger, leaving me with board control, set to grind it out. But plot twist! Khal Drogo grabs his Arakh, and I am stuck staring at how I might stop multiple strength 7+ challenges with Renown. With Nymeria dead from a Crown of Gold, rescue isn’t coming, and all I can do is look longingly at that Table 1, realising I won’t get to see it in Round 6.
My opponent gets a Celtic Fox token I had made for people who beat me on my Camino, and I gotta get refocused. Onward to whatever the Czech Republic’s metaphorical equivalent of Cincinnati.
Round 6 “vs” Lannister Dragon
I check the standings and I am third, miles away from the other 4-1s on SoS. There are a total of two undefeateds, 8 on 20, one on 16, so a draw cannot possibly go wrong for me. I get paired on Table 2 at arm’s reach of that sweet, sweet Table 1 (Spoiler: never actually got to play on Table 1, as the tables on the other side had better light and more space for spectators). So, with my opponent also high in the standings. I call over the judge; we have a brief discussion about an intentional draw, and my opponent agrees the risk of not making it far outweighs the tiny, tiny chance it goes wrong for him, so we shake hands and get ready for the Top 8.
Interlude for prize ceremony. Playmat gets given out as a random prize, and sexy Tyene tokens go to other Martell players who have missed the cut. Damn their generosity of spirit and focus on growing the community the right way, by keeping everyone engaged in the bounty of prizes, even where a bad day may have been had on the tables: vengeance would not just be for Elia!
Top 8 is, in no particular order:
Targaryen Crossing (my only loss, still undefeated, so thar be dragons in them thar cuts)
Lannister Sun (Helmut finally recovering from the stress of booking all of Stahleck, and steely-focused after an early loss)
Stark Fealty (The Danger Zone)
Lannister Dragon (My ID co-conspirator (side note: IDs should not be a thing))
Martell Lion (Me)
Baratheon Fealty (Coz, hell yeah, the true king has to be represented to keep the fans engaged)
Top 8 vs Stark Fealty
Well, it had to happen eventually. Turn 1 he flips Building Orders, probably looking for Winterfell. He finds Ward instead. I Long Plan for whatever he’s up to. His turn is Ward on The Hound, Ice on Fast Eddie, as he preps to get vicious off the bat. Nymeria comes down to take the wind out of Eddard’s sails, and a small exchange doesn’t move the board state much.
I First Snow next turn, he Marches, getting rid of Hound and my discounter but is then unable to get aught other than Robb down, so the father and son prep to face superior numbers from the sands. Eddard loses his military and goes to military claim, Burned Men come in to set up my Marched next turn, and the game is basically over, just like that.
Don’t know what his options were, but I think his play should have been to expand the board, get significant bodies down and then try to accelerate for the win. Narrowing the board and only playing 2 Winterfell in his deck did not go in his favour.
Top 4 vs Baratheon Fealty
Stannis & Co. rob me of a shot at a rematch with a legend from the five things running Targaryen. I know this matchup is an interesting one, so I’m looking forward to it.
Sadly, a mulligan gets him a City Watch + economy location opening against Tyrion, Greenblood, Kingsroad. Marched happens, and it’s basically over from there. Takes a few turns, but the advantage is insurmountable, Quentyn eventually takes out Selyse after a Wildfire, which opens Bob and Mel to get murdered by Tyene in the same challenge. A bit anticlimactic, but a calm before the storm of the final.
Final vs Lannister Sun
I had written off Helmut in Round 6 against a Greyjoy who seemed to have him on the ropes, so I know his deck has tricks and stamina and is not to be trifled with.
Setup is bad for Helmut, as he gets 4-5 First Winterable characters, and that is my first plot. Initial feints and parries showcase Helmut’s cunning nature though: he is stingy with the dupes on key characters (too many people see a dupe as a way to just “ignore claim”, without full awareness of how exposed claiming a dupe can leave the character), has a build loaded up on Burned Men, and is hella cautious with his challenges. We enter Turn 2 at duped Tyrion and Nymeria for me against duped Tyrion for him as the only characters, and I agonise over a Marched. Still can’t be sure if it was the right call to not March there, as we lose 5 each, but the 5 is half of mine, and all of his. Ultimately I start to suspect he might counter-Marched in this situation, and I can’t afford to lose so many key characters if he does. He doesn’t March, widens his board; I get to 4 gold for The Hound, only to see him pass on challenges as second player, denying me a chance to play him, and then Marching Nymeria (she was unduped, I figured higher chance to draw her back than the Tyrion) while only losing some chump himself.
At this point I have to enter heavy defence. Luckily a Ghaston comes along around the time his duped Tywin (with a bodyguard) does, and Helmut freezes a bit. I squeeze through some intrigue challenges, reduce his hand, so when he gets Nymeria, he puts her on permanent duty taking Tyrion’s Intrigue, which allows me to stealth in for one power challenge a turn, and we enter holding pattern for several turns, with Helmut losing initiative, passing challenges, me squeezing in a power challenge, and him taking dominance to slowly creep towards a win condition. I think he should have pushed with Nymeria or Jaime to use up Ghaston, and open up options. But maybe he doesn’t play much against Martell, and as it happened I did have a spare Ghaston in hand, but yeah, having anopponent pass on multiple turns of challenges while behind on power seals a game. What really closed it out was when my slight card advantage got locked in with Ilyn hitting the table, dangerously escalating the number of dead draws from his deck. I’d say he easily killed 4+ characters, rendering even more of his draws dead, rendering the infinite money he is on rather meaningless.
Power is still slow to come though, and I am a little alarmed that he is waiting for Treachery, despite twice attempting to shut down Ghaston with Nightmares (one is successful). Though, I believe the big strategic mistake happens with his Wildfire getting pinned on the 7th plot, which then allows me to flip Trading to explode my board. Nymeria and Tyene come out, and when Helmut gets sick of Tyrion’s cheeky power challenge and takes away his power instead of intrigue, they pounce on the opposing Nymeria, opening up Tywin’s intrigue to get through, and then hitting her with both Tears and Tyene to go through the dupe. That fully swings the balance, and the cleanup is quick from there, ending with an unopposed power as Tyrion stealths past his dad.
Prizes are absolutely fantastic for the tournament where most others just provide the kit, leaving me with a serious haul to take home, wondering how I get the board game in my luggage back home #firstplaceproblems
People across two countries are fairly contented to have me take the trophy, though, as the Czechs have to face one fewer Bye at their nationals, and for the boys back home, one can now be won by either winning, or coming in second to me at our own one later this month.
Mad respect for people sticking around to watch the interminable (and untimed) final. Really added to the sense of occasion to have a big gathering of people still there, and it gave me a chance to buy people some drinks afterwards as thanks for a fun day.
3x Core Cat and Winterfell should be the starting point for all Stark decks. Not only does it stop my deck, but majorly impedes any Targ, Greyjoy, and Lannister. Phat Cat might look fun, but mostly a trap in joust I think.
Hand’s Judgement is slipping out of too many decks, Milk is under-played, and Ilyn Payne is much more irritating than expected.
Thank you for anyone who managed to make it this far through all the rambling, and hit me up on Facespace or in the comments if there is anything I somehow didn’t cover.
Oh, and next year I’m making Table 1, yo!