by John Wright (handshaker6)
A couple weeks ago was GenCon. Hopefully by now you know the happy result: Chris Schoenthal won the North American Championship using a Lannister Banner of the Dragon deck, which had been run through the SoCal testing wringer until it was in championship form.
I’ve been trying to think of how I can add something to the community processing of a major tournament. By the time this write-up is published, Chris will have gone through his victory lap of podcast appearances and likely will have also published a tournament report of his own. Many others will have shared their experiences as well. Since I wasn’t able to make it out to Indianapolis, I don’t have anything to contribute on that end. However, I did get to work on the creation of the winning deck as it transformed from a Lannister ambush deck to a Lanni-Dragon Monster deck, so I can provide a unique perspective on our development and testing process.
**Note: Originally, I was hoping to pair this article with a mirroring one written from Seth’s point-of-view to give insight into the preparation of both of the final two GenCon decks. Unfortunately, work and life commitments kept Seth busy, and he is now flying across the country for Simoni’s wedding (congrats Steve!). I’m still hopeful we get some kind of tournament report, etc., from him in the future. In the interest of attempting to present a little bit of both sides, at the end of this article I am including my attempt at recreating the Martell-Wolf build Seth played. My attempt won’t be as good as Seth’s own retrospective, but at least it’s something.
From Southern California:
I was there when Chris Schoenthal decided to go to GenCon this year. A little over a month before the tournament, we were preparing to say good-bye to our friend and metamate Shaun, who we were sending to South Carolina in order to start an eastern branch of our SoCal meta. David and I were playing a match while Chris and Shaun watched, and conversation turned to David and Shaun’s reunion visit in Indianapolis at GenCon. “Wait,” Chris interrupted, “you guys are going to GenCon?” David and Shaun confirmed. “Great!” Chris said, “then I’m going, too!”
“But, Chris,” we rejoined, “GenCon is sold out! Tickets were gone the day they went on sale.”
It turns out that Chris has a habit of buying tickets to major Thrones events, even if he is unsure that he is going to be able to attend them. As is his wont, he had bought one for GenCon, but being unaware of anyone else traveling from California, he had not made any plans to follow through on his trip to the Midwest.
Right then and there, Chris decided to attend GenCon. Immediately, the small group of us hanging around on a casual game night started discussing the expected meta for GenCon and what deck we thought would perform best at the tournament.
The largest surprise of the GenCon metagame to me was the relative lack of Stark decks represented at the event. That first evening, our conversation basically boiled down to “a lot of Lannister, a ton of Stark, a smattering of Martell, with maybe some Greyjoy around the edges.” Now, I don’t have any official numbers in front of me currently, but we really expected a large number of players at Gencon to be playing some form of the Northerners.
You see, Lannister was undisputed tops of the meta, with Martell close behind. We thought Stark would see play as a viable answer to these two houses. On top of their role as counters to Lanni and Martell, the Starks had dominated Origins and had been performing well internationally. As we brainstormed decks, we were really focused on these three houses, with the belief that Stark would truly be the deck you had to be able to beat regularly in order to win.
(Side note: I love that there were a few NW-Lanni decks that did well at this tournament. I really didn’t think this was a super-viable deck quite yet, but I was obviously wrong on that front. Looks like choke is going to be a strong deck type sooner than I thought.)
At one point that first evening, I remember David turning to me and asking what I thought. “Well,” I answered, “I think I would start off looking real hard at Lanni Crossing.”
The Lanni jumper deck is one that I consider SoCal-flavored, since Lucas was the first to really popularize it, and I liked the idea of our SoCal travelling party wielding a SoCal deck. Plus, I knew the BAMF! deck ran 3x Treachery, which works really, really well against both Winterfell and Ghaston Grey. Also, I feel that Tower of the Hand is a card that really quickly got overlooked, and I wanted to see if I could make it work. So, here was our starting point:
The one other part of this deck that I think is worth pointing out here is the removal of Tears of Lys in favor of two copies of Nightmares. In a meta with Winterfell, Robb, Nymeria and Ghaston, doubling up on Treachery and Nightmares is one of the significant features of the Lanni-Dragon deck that ultimately won.
After a couple weeks of testing, the group was not super happy with the BAMF! deck. I remember Chris in particular did not find it consistent enough for his taste. So, we decided to start looking in other directions for what to bring to GenCon.
Around that same time, I happened to have a Facebook conversation with Jeremy Hammond. For my money, he’s one of the more creative deck builders in Second Edition, and I was picking his brain about a Lanni-Wildling deck he had once brought to a tournament (going undefeated before dropping out before the cut). Among the words of wisdom I got from Jeremy: “People just weren’t ready for 3x Milk and 3x Nightmares.”
This conversation also sparked another idea: if we were concerned about Winterfell, there is an easy, on-demand way to handle this troublesome location – running Winter plots. And so, I started trying messing around with builds that ran Mance, a Winter plot suite, and other Wildling cards to round out the edges. Here’s the closest I got, trying to create a hybrid mix of BAMF and Winter-Wildlings:
I still really like this deck – mostly because it features Mance and the Wildling Horde, which have become pet cards of mine. Also, between Gregor, Tower of the Hand, PTTS, Tears, and two two-claim plots, it can hit really hard on removal. However, this deck also became extremely reliant on Mance coming out quickly. Once again, testing found it too inconsistent.
Some quick reflections about the Wildling deck: as you’ll see, it’s really not too far away from the deck that Chris piloted to victory. Rattleshirt’s Raiders and Milk of the Poppy have both entered as important 3x inclusions. Importantly, we took out the heavy reliance on Wildling and Winter tech, and removed the janky Tower stuff in favor of the best cards of the Dragon Banner, but the core of the deck is here at this point: really good Lanni stuff supported by a lot of blanking and removal effects.
At this point, we were running out of time with about two weeks before GenCon. I started experimenting with GJ-Lion featuring the Wildlings, wondering if Fishwhiskers could give a little extra punch needed to make the Winter plots worthwhile (he didn’t). Then, I flipped it around and looked at Lanni-Kraken, which James Speck had won the SoCal Regional with. I never really loved either of these decks, but they did teach us that there was room for a minimized Wildling package in a Lanni deck running a Banner – we didn’t necessarily have to force it into Lord of the Crossing build.
I remembered that Ryan Jones had a really good Lanni-Dragon deck he had used to win KublaCon. I ended up taking the Lanni-Kraken/Wildling build I had been toying with, removing a dozen GJ cards in favor of the 12 Targaryen ones he had used and running it out to our group. I sent the deck around to our small testing group again, they continued to make it better (i.e. removing weird Shagga/Melisandre cards I like), and we ended up with the finished product that both Chris and David (who made the second-day cut) ran. Chris’s Tournament Report and list can be found here:
Final changes and last thoughts
There were a few things Chris and David insisted on, which made the deck a lot better. When I first sent out the list, it was running 3x of Tywin, Mountain, Mance and Mirri – which was fun, but not ideal. The amount of Winter plots gradually dropped, until only Winds of Winter remained. Most importantly, they really wanted to get up to 3x Treachery and 2x Nightmares. I thought that maybe the 5th event doing the same function was perhaps overkill, but Chris was definitely right on that point – the 3rd copy of Treachery won him the final match against Seth by canceling a key Ghaston (although, he was holding a Nightmares in his hand as well, so maybe there’s still room for that argument).
We ended up with a deck that just straight-up featured more overpowering characters in it at the high end of the curve than almost any other deck would be able to bring. Illyrio and Jorah are fantastic support cards that fill out the curve and help push the deck to close with renown. Illyrio is perhaps the most important here, as he provides you with very valuable stand in order to get more mileage out of the large 7-cost characters the deck is filled with. Finally, Confiscation, 3x Rattleshirt’s Raiders, Nightmares and Treachery worked together to counter the best control options currently available out of Martell.
Last thoughts on certain cards:
Mance Rayder – Just think of him as a very poor version of a 4th copy of Tywin. A tricon with renown that gives a +1 bonus on winter plots (or lets you use Tyrion gold for ambush). He’s not amazing right now, but I do really think he adds just a little bit of consistency to the deck that you need in an extended tournament like Chris faced at Gencon. Also, Mance is great to push Martell into doubling down on icon removal – having a 4th huge character (or even 5th, if you’re counting Jaime) gives too many targets for Martell to handle, and featuring another tricon keeps icons on the board.
Attachment control – I think this is the most you can run in a single deck currently. Attachments are really good right now, and one of the more subtle strengths of this deck is the ability to constantly remove them.
Wildfire – Personally, I believe that we are in a post-First Snow meta. The top decks have adjusted and are no longer vulnerable to a FS-based total board wipe. So, one of the last changes we made was actually to swap out FS for Wildfire; I think WF actually hits Stark a lot harder than First Snow currently.
From the District of Colombia (kind of):
Here is my best stab at what I think the other final deck looked like. We know DC doesn’t actively share decklists, but I’ve done as much research as I could from people who got to play against it. I’m sure this list isn’t totally accurate, but it seems to be reasonably close. As close as we’re going to get, anyway.
This build is a powerful control deck. I think the addition of Filthy Accusations is just brilliant. I’m not entirely sure about how the negative attachment and event suite were filled out, but it sure seemed like it leaned heavier into the attachment side of things – which is a strong move in a meta where you’re expecting lots of Winterfell.
I’m also a big fan of the cost curve. Playing so many 4-5 cost armies is a great way to leverage the high efficiency of Arianne. To be honest, this is the direction I’d like to see the game continue down in the future. Congratulations to Seth for taking it to an impressive Final.