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The White Harbor Times: Tactics, Part 2 (Marshalling & Challenges Phase)

by Lauren Fitch

Always keep your foes confused. If they are never certain who you are or what you want, they cannot know what you are like to do next. Sometimes the best way to baffle them is to make moves that have no purpose, or even seem to work against you. Remember that, Sansa, when you come to play the game. –Petyr Baelish

Two weeks ago, we talked about tactics for set-up and plot (http://www.whitebookpodcast.com/white-harbor-times-tactics-part-1-setup-plot-phase/). This week, we’ll discuss the Marshalling and Challenges Phases. What should you marshal? Does the order matter? Which challenge should you make first, and whom should you stealth?

Marshaling Phase

What you should or should not marshal depends quite a bit on the board-state and on the specific goals of your deck, so rather than give general advice on how to marshal, here are some things to look out for during the marshaling phase:

  • If you are going to play a card that lets you draw (Littlefinger or Pleasure Barge), do it first, so you have that extra information available when deciding what else to marshal.
  • You’ll sometimes have a choice of Limited cards to play. When choosing between a gold-producing location like The Roseroad and a reducer like Blood Orange Grove, consider whether you need the reduction this turn or if you can marshal everything you need without it. If you don’t need the reduction this turn, play The Roseroad. The gold is more flexible long-term, and you can’t use location reducers on events.
  • Treachery: look out for Treachery during the Marshaling phase on Littlefinger, Pleasure Barge, or Kingsroad. I see a lot of sloppy play with people slapping down Littlefinger and then immediately drawing off their deck. From the other side, Lannister/Lion players: Pleasure Barge and Kingsroad are some of the best Treachery targets in the game. If you’ve got the gold, strongly consider canceling them.
  • Consider getting your card-draw location out as early as possible. This play is most important in Greyjoy, Lannister, Stark, and Baratheon, whose card-draw locations are easy to trigger. In Tyrell, it can be difficult depending on your board-state, so it’s OK to wait until you’ve built up your characters.
  • What does your character spread look like? Can you block all 3 challenges (if you need to)? Should you play a stealth character to prevent the Greyjoy player from getting an unopposed military challenge? Do you have enough power icons to trigger The Red Keep or Plaza of Punishment?
  • Make sure you have at least one character you don’t mind losing to military claim. Even the best laid plans can go awry. Tywin Lannister and Tyrion Lannister look great until you realize that you’re going second and your opponent has a duped Arya Stark.
  • Leave yourself a gold or two if you can, even if you don’t have any events in hand. Saved gold lets you bluff events, and you might need the extra cash for a The Hand’s Judgment or an opponent’s Brothel Madame.

Challenges

The Challenges Phase looks very different depending on whether you’re first or second player, and what type of deck you’re playing. Here are some things everyone should look out for:

  • Pre-challenge actions: There are several types of actions you may want to trigger before challenges, like Seen in Flames, or Syrio Forel / Nymeria Sands’ abilities. Most players will trigger these immediately at the start of the challenges phase; however, it’s almost always better to wait as long as you can before triggering. Being patient gives your opponent less time to re-evaluate their turn with this new information. For example, let’s say you are second player and you are playing Baratheon. Your opponent is playing Stark and she has left herself 2 gold. You have Seen in Flames in hand and you have already triggered Melisandre’s ability this turn. You want to play Seen in Flames to see if your opponent is holding a Put to the Sword. When should you play Seen in Flames? The best time to play it would be after attackers are declared in the military challenge but before defenders, thus allowing your opponent to overcommit to the military challenge to ensure winning by 5 or more. When you play Seen in Flames, you can use the information garnered to help you decide which defenders to commit to the challenge. If you use the Seen in Flames at the start of the round and discard their Put to the Sword then, your opponent may choose to put in fewer attackers in the military challenge, leaving more characters available to defend.
  • When deciding which challenges to make and with which characters, determine ahead of time which challenge is most important for you to win and what needs to happen to allow you to win. As first player, I will frequently make only one challenge unless I am in a very dominant board position, to avoid leaving myself open to three unopposed challenges from my opponent. I generally make a power challenge.
  • Don’t be afraid to make challenges you can’t win, especially as first player. For example, when playing Greyjoy, I often lead with an intrigue challenge, kneeling my one-strength Lordsport Shipwright. My opponent has to decide whether to let it go unopposed (with all that means for Greyjoy), or block with a stronger character, perhaps leaving herself open to the next challenge, effectively creating a lose-lose situation for your opponent.
  • When declaring Stealth, all other things being equal, stealth the character with the fewest icons. If your opponent uses a bicon to defend, she is removing more options from their playbook than if she were to defend with a monocon. Similarly, if you can win the challenge either way, stealth the character with the lowest strength, not the highest. Then, if she wants to defend, your opponent has to kneel a higher strength character to do it.
  • Protect your beef. Got an unduped Balon Greyjoy or Robert Baratheon? Then you’d better not be losing any intrigue challenges. Plan ahead to make sure that doesn’t happen. Use Bob to kneel the remaining intrigue icon instead of the biggest body, or kill it with the Seastone Chair.
  • Don’t forget about dominance! Let’s say you can win an opposed power challenge while dominance for your opponent, resulting in +1 power for you and 0 for her (-1 power claim +1 dominance power = 0 net power). Should you make the power challenge or leave your character standing and win dominance, resulting in the same total power? Unless you have other effects that rely on winning a challenge, leave it on the board and go to dominance. You don’t know whether your opponent has a Widow’s Wail or Growing Strong to ruin your plans.

What do you think? Got any tricks up your sleeve? Share them in the comments!

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Lauren Fitch

Lauren Fitch, aka Dr. Fitch, aka The Fitch That Wins, resides in Boston, Massachusetts. She’s been playing AGOT competitively for 3 years; prior to that she was a competitive Scrabble player. Lauren is an infectious disease researcher at a medical school in Boston and she loves to listen to Thrones podcasts while she’s working in the lab. She also writes The White Harbor Times, a biweekly column focusing on deckbuilding, tactics, and strategy in A Game of Thrones. Lauren has been referred to as the “beauty, brains, and brawn of the Boston meta”—she organizes tournaments there as well as online via the OCTGN platform.

There once was a doctor named Fitch
From Bara she never would switch
Her rivals were beat
And they knelt at the feet
Of Lauren and Mel, the Red Wit

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