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The Seer and the Snake, Part 1

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Hello! My name is OKTarg, and I’m an AGoT vagabond. I’ve recently transplanted into a whole new region of the world, leaving behind my meta (Team Covenant in Tulsa, OK) and striking out into the brave new environment of the Bay Area. When I’m not playing AGoT, which is most of the time, I work two jobs, work on my PhD research, and take care of my four little boys. So…. I’m busy. That means when it’s tournament time, there’s not any spare minutes to waste in gearing up for the destruction of my opponents. That’s why I wanted to pop back onto the internet and share with you a bit about my pre-tournament preparation and deck testing process. Maybe I can help you microwave a bit of success as well. I’d like to thank JCWamma for the great idea that exploring the process of refining a deck can be as interesting as envisioning it, so this article will be in that vein: How do I envision a tournament deck and then tweak and craft it so that it can actually do work in a competitive environment?

Step One: Envision

As one who can’t play Thrones as much as I want, I spend most of my Thrones time thinking about the game, listening to podcasts, theory-crafting, and the like. In other words, I love to build decks. My favorite part is conceiving of a new idea and carrying it out to completion. Others, such as Istaril and Vaapad, are much better than I at refining a deck concept and shaving it down to its best essential self. Players such as Darknoj and Twn2dn are much better than I at making in-play decisions that best suit the current game state. I don’t pretend to be the best envisioner out there (Rabs and Dobbler put me to shame) but it’s what I love to do. (Is that enough name-dropping for you? Three citations per page or your money back!)

core_082_the-krakens-graspOne thing that envisioners love to do is to take cards that are currently undervalued, underused, or more ‘niche’ in their application and make them sing. Not only does this have the benefit of unlocking underutilized, potentially powerful cards, but it also allows you to catch your opponents unprepared since they aren’t used to seeing those specific cards in play. For example, if your opponent plays out Asha Greyjoy, you probably know by now how to best limit her utility and how to double that with We Do Not Sow prevention. But when was the last time you worried about your opponent holding Kraken’s Grasp? A sneaky play of that underused event can be game-turning. That’s one great reason to play Kraken’s Grasp–the unexpected can catch your opponent off guard and turn the game in your favor. I spent this pre-tournament season looking for just such an advantage.

So what niches in the cardpool called to me? As my username might clue you in on, I usually play Targaryen, and have since 2012, when I made the Queen of Dragons box my second LCG purchase. Unfortunately, Targ decks are pretty ‘known’ by now. I didn’t see much of a way to improve on what’s out there, and while Ser Hobber is pretty good in my Targ Banner Rose, I wanted something more exploratory for this SC. So, Targ was out.

My next thought process led me to “what do I need to be able to beat?” The answer to that question was equally obvious, which was Lannister cards in various forms, whether as a Lion banner or as a main faction. I felt that Nymeria Sand gave me a great opportunity there, since most Lanni decks forgo Milk of the Poppy and her on-demand nature would allow me to control Cersei’s INT icon, Tyrion’s stealth, the Hound’s icons after ambush, or even Tywin’s massive STR should he appear. Given the advent of Attainted into the pool, three Tears of Lys seemed like a great idea–it’s the cheapest removal, easiest to trigger, and it can make your icon removal hurt badly.

So Sun was in, but was I brave enough to use Martell? I think perhaps if Lord of the Crossing had been in my hands before the tournament, I may have, but the street date of the pack was just two days before the Store Championship. I had to plan with just the cards in my hands. What faction, then, would best ally with Martell’s soft control options, great character base at the low end of the curve, and help beat Lannister? I considered Greyjoy, because pulling icons away and unopposing is pretty fun, but they’re not my style and I wasn’t comfortable winging it with little or no practice time. That left Baratheon, just staring at me. Kneel + Icon Control = LOL. Good enough for me! Also, I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but Baratheon is pretty good. They’re criminally underplayed right now, with amazing draw in the Red Keep and a powerful presence in the game’s most important challenge. So, Baratheon it is.

So, what’s the twist? What is their underused or overlooked niche to explore? Let’s ask ourselves a question: when you’re playing Baratheon, do you want to go first or second? 90% of the time, you want to play second, since you can see what your opponent marshals and then respond to their top threat with a kneel. This is likewise true of Martell icon attachments, you want the maximum available information before you strip an icon, so second is usually best. Cards like Sunspear exaggerate this propensity for going second.

But look at the cards that Baratheon has received this cycle: First, we have In the Name of Your King. Do you want to play that going first or going second? It will work with either, but it’s best going first, since you can push your own MIL challenge and then take theirs away with no downside. Second, we have King Robert’s Warhammer. Do you want to go first or second with the Hammer in play? Well, you’re not sure since you’ve never used this card! So let me tell you that you want to go first. Win, kneel out their threats and then avoid getting hit back. It’s great! Third, we have Royal Entourage. How to best avoid their Forced Reaction? You guessed it! Go first and use them before losing an INT challenge! (Also, having an INT control package really helps keep them viable.)

What about Martell? Are there any cards that secretly reward going first? I spied at least one, which is the Dornish Paramour. You can chump an INT challenge on offense and force a powerful character (such as Tywin) to defend it, removing the threat of them hitting you back. Nobody plays the Paramour, since Martell wants to go second, but given that I was already envisioning a deck that flipped initiative on its head, the Paramours were going in the initial draft for sure.

The last trick in a “go first” deck is to have at least one plot that lets you control initiative. I wanted that to be Naval Superiority, since it can just lock in a game when you need it. I felt I could ‘fix’ the low gold with a combination of other high-gold plots and the new event In Doran’s Name for a mid-to-late-game gold influx. Rather than seeking to open with Naval, in other words, I wanted to get a board lock through control effects, Wildfire Assault, or Stannis. Then use Naval Superiority to prevent a refilling of the board, while I use my In Doran’s Name to get out key characters. It’s also great in coming back from Varys.

With this in mind, I built my first draft of the deck.

Step Two: Refine

My first step in refining the deck was trying to play it. Absent a local crew to easily align with, I turned to OCTGN. I hit up my friend JCWamma, since his work schedule coupled with my ability to play on my lunch break, mixed with the eight hour time difference, worked out perfectly. He was playing his Stark/Tyrell Knights and Ladies deck and I learned a few things from our few matches:

  1. trtw_28_in_the_name_of_your_kingI never, ever wanted to play In the Name of Your King. I had it on setup both times, and I never used it. I either didn’t care that he won a MIL challenge, or I would have rather had it be removal. Any scary MIL character was dealt with by Mel or Nym. So, those two slots freed up to become Put to the Sword. Extra removal is never the wrong choice.
  2. My epic plan of using Renly to discount my Banner and neutral characters by two met with an untimely end since he only reduces cost by one. That misreading of the card meant he just wasn’t good enough, freeing up two 6-cost slots for better usage.
  3. My plan of having a ton of expensive dudes and a lot of gold in the plots seemed pretty good, but I needed a bit more initiative control than I was getting.
  4. I really wanted to see how King Robert’s Warhammer performed on a guy other than Robert. My first game I was able to set it up on a Fiery Followers, and I was very happy with the kneel ability it gave me mid-challenge phase. It was a definite keeper.
  5. I never drew my Hand’s Judgments. I never played cancel in 1.0 (except for that one time I played a hilarious combo deck) but lots of top players are saying it’s essential. Since I didn’t have time to test all the matchups, I kept them in mainly as Dracarys! protection.

After these adjustments, I sent the deck around to a few players who I respect, seeking their insights.

core_047_melisandre

Obviously, just iterating a deck you see in print isn’t the easiest thing, but since I had no time to actually play test games, I had to take what I can get. Rather than ‘netdecking,’ I thought of it more as ‘crowdsourcing.’ PulseGlazer thought the deck looked solid, but not his personal style. As I’m much more of a Shagga Melisandre player than Aaron, I was happy with this feedback. If it was Jaime enough to pass his muster, I’d be happy with that in general.

AlexFrog thought that I could and should play three Nymeria, since that’s the main reason to play Banner of the Sun in the first place. The plots should let me get her out easily, so even though Alex Kern thought I could play 2 Arianne and 2 Nymeria to help with the curve a bit, upping to three Nymeria was a definite possibility. I decided to keep my anti-Lannister theme at the forefront, and given the three Tears of Lys for removal, I went back up to three Nymeria. Alex Kern also made sure I didn’t drop Caleotte, who is pretty good. Barnie25 was full of encouragement and great play tips for Baratheon as well!

trtw_36_in_dorans_nameLauren Fitch thought that the deck looked good, but questioned if I was overdoing it with high-gold plots and In Doran’s Name. She thought I could cut one gold plot for one with an effect. Aaron suggested that it be Calling the Banners on the way out, so I went with that and slotted in A Clash of Kings instead. That gave me one more high-initiative plot as well as one with four gold. I considered Winds of Winter or Sneak Attack instead, but since the challenge I really cared about extra claim in was the Power challenge anyway, Clash seemed the best choice there. Lauren also suggested Street of the Sisters as a way to close a touch faster and juice the setups. Lastly, she also suggested Rattleshirt’s Raiders as a secondary attachment control option rather than slotting Confiscation. That was a good idea, so I basically adopted all of Lauren’s suggestions. I goldfished a bit at home and found I could go anywhere from decent 3-card setups to good 5-card setups. That was fine, and since 2ed is won often by who can get out and keep a powerful character in play, I decided to risk it even though I was top-heavy in my curve.

To be continued…. Stay tuned for part two, where OKTarg provides his tournament report and Alex Kern continues the refinement of the deck and provides his own tournament report.

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