This week in From The Shadows we’re going to be looking at being first player and breaking down the advantages and disadvantages of being first player. I feel I must warn readers that some of this article will get fairly heavy into the rules, you’ve been forewarned.
So let’s start with a part of the game that most players I see seem to skip over, and that is randomly deciding which player is first player during the setup. This step can have an effect early on as the RRG states “Each player, in player order, has the option to take a single mulligan by shuffling those seven cards back into his or her deck and drawing seven new cards.” All of that essentially means that the first player has to decide whether he or she is taking their mulligan first, giving the second player a slight advantage by weighing their options second. The ability to react also ties in with the next part of Set-up: “Each player, in player order, may place up to a total of 8 cost worth of character, location, and attachment cards from his or her hand as setup cards. Setup cards are placed face-down in player’s play area.” Again, first player must show how many cards she is setting up, giving the second player another slight advantage by seeing how many cards her opponent has set up, which, in turn allows second player alter her set up according to what she feels the opponent has. I know the margin to exploit this slight advantage is small but any advantage in this game is always worth taking.
In Marshaling, “The first player becomes the active player first during the marshaling and challenges phases.” The first player is going to marshal their cards first during the marshaling phase, which again gives second player the advantages. If I’m marshaling second, it allows me to see what my opponent has marshaled and react accordingly. Do they have a character that requires some sort of control? I could then marshal a Milk of the Poppy or kneel a character with Melisandre’s ability. Going second can also help you determine which characters you need to marshal (for their icons, STR, etc.).
Next is the Challenges phase: “The first player is the first to be the active player in the challenges phase.” We should all be familiar with Challenges by now and the argument of going first vs. going second will entirely depend on things such as board state and deck archetypes that I’m going to go into deeper in a future article.
“Priority of Simultaneous Resolution: If a single effect affects multiple players simultaneously, but the players must individually make choices to resolve the effect, the first player chooses first, followed by the other players in player order. Once all necessary choices have been made, the effect resolves simultaneously upon all affected entities.” This lengthy set of stacked clauses is best explained with the use of the plot where the question gets asked a lot, Wildfire Assault. Here, all players are asked to choose three characters they control and kill each character not chosen, which then means that first player will always have to pick their three survivors first, once again giving second player more information to make decisions with.
However the next part of the rules is where first player starts to reap the rewards: “If the resolution of two or more when revealed abilities, delayed effects, or forced abilities would resolve at the same time, the first player decides the order in which the abilities resolve, regardless of who controls the cards bearing the conflicting abilities.” If you take anything away from this article, please take this: the above rule means that, when there are multiple simultaneous effect resolutions, the first player gets to choose the order of resolution. A good example of this would be if a character had been targeted by a card such as Tear of Lys and Waking the Dragon. Both these cards have a delayed effect that triggers at the end of the phase, giving the first player the choice which of these will resolve first — either saving the character by going to hand or killing the character with the poison token.
“During all framework event and action/reaction/ interrupt windows the first player has the first opportunity to initiate action, interrupt, or reaction abilities at each appropriate game moment.” Essentially, this rule means that first player has the advantage, being able to react first to given actions. There are some cases where reacting first may prove a disadvantage, however these are few and far between, so we’ll put it in the advantage-first-player column.
“If multiple players would reach this victory condition simultaneously, the first player determines which of those players wins the game” and “ A player is eliminated from the game immediately if there are no cards remaining in his or her deck. If all remaining players are eliminated while fulfilling this step, the first player determines which of those players is the winner of the game.” These are last things I’d like to cover concerning first player; although I have never heard of nor seen it come up in a match, and as such find it difficult to find a good example of this scenario, but for the sake of completeness I thought I would add it into the article (if you have ever had this scenario please feel free to add it in the comments).
There we have it then, is first player the best player? Like many things in A Game of Thrones the answer is subjective but at least we are now aware of both the disadvantages and advantages being first player brings and hopefully you can use this in future games.