by Patrick Haynes (patrickhaynes)
I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about the current state of the game and the meta at-large, so I thought I’d give my two cents.
Let’s start on a positive note and talk about what’s good in the game right now.
- Big Characters: One of the coolest things about this game is that the iconic characters actually matter. Rather than a Castellan of the Rock or some House Clegane Brigands being the stars of the show, it’s the man himself, Tywin Lannister. When he hits the table your opponent will groan in frustration, which is exactly how it should be, at least thematically. In A Song of Ice and Fire, it is the heads of houses that inspire fear in their enemies and so it is in the card game right now, which I love.
- Challenges matter: Challenges have always been an integral part of this game, and they continue to be such. Knowing which challenge to do, in which order, and when it’s useful to do something entirely differently is an important aspect of playing the game. It is certainly one of the things that takes a while to get adjusted to, and analyzing the risk/reward of doing a certain challenge at a certain time is always an intriguing process – not to mention that it’s never 100% formulaic.
- Highly competitive: All of the factions have at least a tier 1.5 deck. Yes even Night’s Watch and Tyrell. Night’s watch and Tyrell are both way better than people think, and in the right hands (Looking at you, Wamma), they can even be tier 1.
As we all know, there are some shortcomings…
- Deck ubiquity/solved meta: One of the biggest problems with the game right now is that the current meta really is solved. Players from all of the world seem to have found just about every top-tier deck possible at this stage of the game. Because of the abundance of deck sharing in the community (which I think is great, just to be clear), basically everybody knows what all of the good decks are and will often net-deck them, or build a deck inspired by one of them, which results in playing many games against almost identical decks, which gets tiresome.
- Lannister: This one, honestly, isn’t one of my major concerns at the moment. Lannister happens to be in a really good place right now, but I think Stark and Martell are basically right there with them. Lannister decks are relatively easy to play and incredibly easy to build, however, so the largest problem with Lannister is simply their ubiquity, and the fact that every other game you play is against a Lannister deck with 48 of the same cards as the last one you played.
- Big guys smash: Definitely my biggest problem with the game right now. Basically every good deck boils down to throwing your biggest and best dudes on the table, trying to get off your targeted removal, and stopping your opponent’s targeted removal. It’s just dull, and it means that the game is almost entirely based on luck at this point. If your opponent draws her bombs and you don’t, you will lose the game – simple as that. Personally, as much as I like the fact that big-name characters matter, I am not a fan of the disproportionate weight given to them, considering it really limits the amount of skill at strategy that go into the game, both of which are basically the only reasons I play this game (that, and a love of the source material). Essentially, if I wanted a game based on luck I’d play a kid’s game like Sorry!…or Roulette. Basically I’m just fed up with seeing an opponent flop a duped Tywin and literally not being able to do anything to stop it, no matter how well I play.
So how do we fix this crazy situation?
- Release more cards: Hopefully the second cycle will have enough good cards that we will see plenty of new decks and new ideas that will be tier one. I know my buddy Ruben is in favor of releasing the whole second cycle as a single block but I also know that: a) FFG will never do that, b) we’ll have the cards soon enough, and c) FFG will NEVER do that. This solution, however, isn’t much of a solution so much as it is a “let’s just wait and see what happens” method, which I’m not a huge fan of.
- Wait for Valar: Pretty much in the same vein as the first solution, but a much more specific thing to wait for. I think Valar will positively affect the game; it will make people more cautious and will ideally give us a few more decision points while playing (e.g. should I play my Tyrion now? Or will they just Valar me next turn if I do that?). That was one of my favorite aspects of 1.0, and I’m happy to see it coming back in this game.
- Restricted list: For those who don’t know, an FFG restricted list means that there are a number of cards on a list, and you are only allowed to play one card in your deck (draw or plot) on that list. You can play as many copies of that card as the game allows, but cannot use any of the other cards on the list. For example, if Winterfell and Eddard Stark (WotN) were both on the list, you could still play a full playset of Winterfell, but you would still be prohibited from playing any copies of Fast Eddie. Even if you only played a single copy of Winterfell, you could not play any copies of Fast Eddie; you could, however, play Eddard Stark from the Core Set (trust me, it’ll be relevant one day). I know that, for some people, the mere mention of a restricted list sends shivers up their spine and gives them an uncontrollable urge to sharpen their pitchforks and grab their torches. However, I have always been a fan of the restricted list as a method of curbing the metagame and keeping things fresh.
Of those solutions, I think it’s pretty obvious that I prefer the restricted list, so I’m going to delve a little more deeply into why I think it would help and what I would put on it. Firstly, I want a restricted list, not because the game is broken, but because the game is getting boring. As soon as my opponent flips her house card, I know so many of the cards in her deck, and I am pretty much only surprised by a card if it’s a bad one (legitimately saw a Brandon’s Gift the other day and almost did a spit take). With a well-considered restricted list, not only could we reign in some of annoying silliness that has been going on with Lanni Dragon and the like, but we could also add some variety and guesswork to the game. Essentially, with the addition of a small restricted list, when your opponent flips her house card up, you won’t know exactly what bomb she’s playing and might have to alter your play style accordingly.
So what would I put on this restricted list? Well, given that the general concept is to shake up the meta and make sure that just about every good deck will have to slightly adjust, I would restrict the best loyal and the best non-loyal card from most every faction (i.e. everything but Night’s Watch and Tyrell).
So, my restricted list would be the following:
Robert Baratheon (Core)
Balon Greyjoy (Core)
Iron Mines (Calm Over Westeros)
Tywin Lannister (Core)
Tyrion Lannister (Core)
Ghaston Grey (Core)
Nymeria Sand (The Road to Winterfell)
Winterfell (Wolves of the North)
Eddard Stark (Wolves of the North)
Mirri Maz Duur (Calm Over Westeros)
The Night’s Watch
Trading with the Pentoshi (The Road to Winterfell)
A word on Trading, as that plot has become near ubiquitous in the meta (I haven’t built a deck without it in a long time), but it seems like the presence of Naval and the introduction of Summer Harvest might lower its popularity enough already.
A notable exclusion – The First Snow of Winter. What a card, right? A staple in aggro / removal decks and the meta-defining card for several months. Additionally, a lot of people complained about First Snow being such a ubiquitous card and a silver bullet to at least three deck archetypes: Tyrell Knights, Targ Fealty (debatable), and Night’s Watch Defense. Not to mention that the card single-handedly pushed Burned Men into almost every Lannister main or Banner Lion deck. Here’s the thing, there are three reasons why FSoW should NOT be on the restricted list: 1) Cost curves have adjusted for almost every competitive deck. Given the ubiquity of the card, every deck, no matter how strong in the current meta, has to take it into account. 2) I think people dramatically undervalued the levelling power that Wildfire Assault and Varys could have. With both cards making a bit of a resurgence as hard-and-fast board wipes, First Snow is taking a bit of a back seat in decks that might otherwise prefer more permanent resets. 3) Perhaps, most importantly, we should consider the fact that resets are a cornerstone of the game’s identity and always have been. The possession of an on-demand reset is also, at times, more detrimental to your own board-state as it is to your opponent’s, which leads to tricky scenarios, especially mid-late game.
What effect would this restricted list have? Well, right off the bat it would completely break apart the Lanni Dragon deck that everybody knows and loves. As someone who plays that deck a lot and sees the pain in my opponent’s eyes, I think it’s probably a good deck to break up. Secondly, it would damage the Stark Fealty decks that are currently so stellar. Now, rather than having the best of both worlds with insane power gain and challenge denial, they’ll have to pick one or the other. Additionally, a restricted list makes Martell decks choose between icon removal and Ghaston Grey/hand control, while still leaving them very open to the creation of a Sand Snake deck. For Targ, it limits their kill and forces them to choose between burn and target kill, rather than having an abundance of both. Bara is not particularly dominant right now, and it’s only on this list because I think that, were they not hit, they would quickly soar to the top of the pool. Greyjoy is no longer an insanely optimal banner, and the restricted list limits the power of their blitz rush, while still making it very possible. However, the most important thing that this list would do, in my opinion, is boost the popularity and playability of both Night’s Watch and Tyrell. If all of the other factions are shaken up, and people can no longer play the easy to build monster smash decks from the other factions, they’ll have to start looking more carefully at what decks they can build, which may draw them to the two factions that have been inordinately underplayed since the release of the core.
Overall, I think it would significantly shake up this game, and make everybody go back to deck building and looking at their options of what they can put in a deck which I would really like. I personally haven’t been very inspired to build a deck in a long time (except Night’s Watch, shout out to Arry the orphan boy) and I think a lot of people are in the same boat. Maybe this is pointless, and the cards in the second cycle will shake things up enough by themselves. But from what I’ve seen so far that is not the case. I’ve been playing around with proxied versions of new cards for a while, and none of the ones that have been spoiled have opened the doors for new tier one decks. There are a lot of new tier 2 or tier 1.5 decks, some using the seasons agendas, others just using new cards (hello almost tier 1 Night’s Watch with Craven) but I have personally not found a single deck that is better than an updated version of an already tier 1 deck, and that’s just boring.