This week I will be taking a look at a subject that is close to my heart: character control. Character control is so important in A Game of Thrones because if you can prevent your opponent’s characters from making challenges and impacting the board, you are going to have a much easier time of winning the game. As other players have already pointed out, in the current meta, good economy in decks will set you up to win games, but character control will get you there.
Character control comes in two different flavours: “hard” control, which tends to have a higher cost/restriction but is a more definite way to deal with a character, and “soft” control, which usually has a lower cost/restriction but only controls the character temporarily in order to gain tempo.
So with all that in mind, I would like to look at all the character control in the current pool of cards and what each faction has available to them. All Faction Card images from ThronesDB.
For those of you that played First Edition of the game, you will know that Baratheon was never a faction that had a great arsenal of weapons when it came to character control, it being more synonymous with rush tactics and power grab. Now, in Second Edition, House Baratheon is a much different creature that looks set to be the king (heh, get it) of soft control. Out of the gates Robert Baratheon came screaming “kneel before your king,” and with how well Robert synergises with the other kneel effects, it takes a big man (high strength) to defy him. Coupled with stand effects and Little Bird or Selyse Baratheon, you have a one-man battering ram who makes all your opponent’s characters do the “sideways shuffle”. King Robert’s Warhammer, much like in the story of the Ruby Ford, can be used to beat your opponent’s board into submission by kneeling out multiple characters at once and when wielded by Robert himself can be used to great effect. While Robert will beat your opponent into submission, his brother Stannis Baratheon will allow you to leverage that position further by keeping most of those doing the “right angle jig” in that positon, making any further kneel more effective. Always by Stannis’s side is the Lady Melisandre. Her ability to kneel a character regardless of strength as long as you have a R’hllor card makes her one of the best point-and-click control characters in the game. Last on the list is Consolidation of Power; this card trades power for tempo, allowing you to kneel out that problem Dragon, so no Dracarys! comes your way, or those two reducer characters that were going to allow your opponent to drop one of their bomb characters this turn.
Greyjoy in First Edition always enjoyed a modest amount of hard control and this flavour seems to have transferred to Second Edition, with currently only two cards in the card pool. Throwing Axe has both the benefit and the curse of being an attachment; this means it is telegraphed and has no surprise factor that can catch an opponent off-guard, and the character has to be participating in the same challenge, making it less desirable. However this 1-drop Weapon also keeps the opponent honest and can lead to more of what House Greyjoy is always looking for – unopposed challenges. Speaking of unopposed challenges, The Seastone Chair is one of those cards that always keeps your opponent on tilt throughout the Challenges Phase. Much like the axe, The Seastone Chair is also telegraphed; however, you have direct control over whom you can target, making it much more of threat.
Whilst First Edition Lannister boasted the title, “King of Kneel,” its Second Edition counterpart can do nothing of the sort, fielding only two control cards and relying heavily on the neutral options currently available. The Things I Do For Love is a card I both love and hate; the tempo swing you can get from hitting a key character during a challenge or setting up a position where you can bounce a cheap character and leave an bomb character solo and ripe for marching to the wall is great; however it has the down side of cards with “X” cost and The Hands Judgement is going to make you cry. I’m hesitant to include The Queen’s Assassin as a control card for Lannister but feel I have to for the sake of completeness. Whilst this card doesn’t give targeted removal, it does add removal to its arsenal. With some cleverly thought-out plays, including the one mentioned above, you can leave your opponent with a hard decision on who is going to get off’d.
If Baratheon is the king of soft control, then surely Martell is the Queen – with characters such as Nymeria Sand and Maester Colette removing icons from any character in play, making the character both useless in that challenge and open to other character forms of removal like Tears of Lys. Confinement fills a similar role with smaller characters but shuts the character down completely for the turn, stripping all icons and leaving them to add to dominance. Ghaston Grey is similar to The Things I Do for Love but has a much more powerful effect with the addition of “Cannot be saved” and can only be currently stopped with Treachery. The last card is a little more situational, but Dawn on a House Dayne character can give you some nice kneel to supplement your other control mechanics.
The Night’s Watch
The Night’s Watch have never being big on character control, instead focusing something more Nedly: defending challenges stoically while gaining power. That being said they have one of the most powerful character control cards in the game in Take the Black. The reason I rate this card so highly – despite the drawbacks of high cost, Dominance Phase only, and only being able to target non-unique characters – is that it gives you a direct two-character swing, as it removes a character from your opponent’s board and adds it to your own. As things currently stand, Night’s Watch is finding it tough to find space for this card, but as soon as they can support this card, opponents are going to learn to hate it. The only other card that Night’s watch currently has is Ghost. That being said, his ability certainly is powerful, effectively stealthing the character for the phase and maybe helping to grab some nice unopposed bonuses.
Stark was second only to Targaryen in my opinion in hard control options during First Edition, but as to their direction in version 2, I’m unsure how they will go. Grey Wind is great for trimming off weenies; however I’m not sure how much I like the idea of kneeling a 5 cost character to kill a character with 1 strength, 2 if you control Robb. Ice a superior Throwing Axe (albeit unique) because it can target anybody and gives a nice strength buff to help in triggering its effect. The last card Stark has is Like Warm Rain, which helps Stark’s current frailty in the intrigue department by giving them a means to threaten intrigue characters and not let them run rampant over the Stark player’s hand. Though the cost of this event can be a prohibitive, when you do land one of these on your opponent’s Tyrion Lannister, you get a nice warm feeling inside.
In my eyes Targ was the pinnacle of hard control in First Edition and is shaping up to be the same in Second Edition. The card that everyone loves to hate and inspires fear in every opponent is Dracarys!. Though the cost can seem to be prohibitive (kneeling a Dragon and costing a gold), the outcome is well worth it with a kill effect that is very difficult to save (unless you’re playing Greyjoy) and cuts through dupes and Bodyguards. Crown of Gold, while more expensive, doesn’t require the target to be in challenge and sticks around if the target isn’t killed, but being one per deck does hold back the true brokenness that this card could be. Plaza of Punishment gives Targaryen an amazing, recurring weenie-eater with the ultra-low cost of winning a power challenge, giving opponents a reason to defend power challenges early game. Lastly Rakharo is mostly a sleeper card until we get another Bloodrider to enable his Intimidate, but when Jhogo and Aggo do drop, he’ll be a welcome addition to the ever growing horde.
House Tyrell hold the fewest character control cards currently at just one and remind me the most of First Edition Baratheon, relying on power grab than controlling the board. That being said, they have one of my favourite character-control cards in the game: Highgarden. This location has a very subtle, but powerful, effect allowing you to control a character for only one challenge but can allow you shape the challenge phase, allowing you to deny an opponent a key challenge. And the imminent Mare in Heat will help.
So there you have it. Each house and their current character-control options, I know I didn’t touch on the neutrals and plot choices, but that may be coming up in a future article :).