by Travis Pinter (14Shirt)
Travis Pinter (14Shirt) is that one guy you’ve seen at tournaments but did not realize was him. He has been an AGOT player since 2012, is a wolf at heart, and always tries to keep his sense of humor even while in the thrashes of a humiliating defeat.
Some terms are thrown around so much by seasoned card players that they sometimes forget to stop and define them for newer players. One such phrase is “threat of activation,” which is a straightforward term that describes a card’s potential effect. It sounds innocuous enough, but the word threat is aptly applied here to connote danger, since the potential in question is often enough to cause an opponent to work around the situation, stall while the situation exists, or even (in the best case scenario) make play mistakes. The more threat of activation on your opponent’s side of the board, the more likely you are, under mounting pressure, to forget a dangerous trigger and/or make a crucial error.
For the purpose of this discussion, let’s define it a bit further. Threat of activation is not, and cannot be, by definition, a surprise; the term is always used in the context of the opponent’s consideration of it. Whatever is being considered is a warning that exists, and unless you are aware of its possibility, there is no perceived threat—only resolution, which is not to say that it’s always transparent. Sitting across from a Targaryen player with a standing dragon and a gold piece definitely threatens the use of Dracarys!…whether you know it’s in his/her hand or not. Contrast this with Ghaston Grey, completely in the open but still threatening. Both types of threat can cause you to alter your play decisions. The former requires at least some knowledge of the card pool and maybe some experience against Targaryen, while the latter requires understanding of a card on the table.
Let’s call the first type of threat of activation (the Daracys! example) “unconfirmed” and the second type (i.e. Ghaston Grey) “confirmed.” One thing I love about this great game is that, just because a threat is predicted but unconfirmed, it doesn’t necessarily make it more difficult to address. If I’m facing off against the Targ player in the above scenario, the situation may just warrant that I attack anyway, either because I need to call his/her bluff, or in a last ditch effort to win before my opponent does. It is a tactic that will sometimes work because my opponent isn’t always holding Dracarys!. This “make ’em show me” philosophy can get the adrenaline pumping and, when it pays off, win games in exciting fashion. However, when sitting across from a card like Ghaston Grey — a “confirmed” threat of activation — a certain sick feeling sets in. Such threats are the harbingers of doom. There is no adrenaline where confirmed threats of activation are concerned, only nausea.
So why is a Stark pundit like myself spending so much time defining such a concept, you ask? Simply because confirmed threat of activation is a concept that very comfortably resides in the Stark faction in Second Edition. When you stop and think about it, this is so thematic it’ll almost make your eyes water. Stark is the strict father figure of AGOT 2.0. You’ve been warned about crossing him, and when you do, you already know damn well what will happen. There is no hidden agenda here, so all threats are out on the table, so to speak.
Now then, if a confirmed threat of activation simply requires your opponent to read and understand your card in order to avoid it, why is it so effective? Well, for one, the potential effect itself that is being threatened may be so powerful that it changes the way your opponent plays the game, which can translate to changing the challenge order, forgoing one or more challenges entirely, over or under committing in a challenge, etc. These types of things take a player out of his/her rhythm and confuse challenge math and hence, encourage mistakes. Due to the mounting availability of cards with confirmed threats of activation, the 2.0 Stark player is often afforded the opportunity to “play the player” as much as the game.
Let’s take a look at a few of the key pieces available to Stark, including the opponent’s play decision and desired outcome. While this list is far from exhaustive, I wanted to hit on some of the big dogs (see what I did there?):
Threat: Targeted death of a big/important character.
Play Decision: Must win military on offense or defense, at all costs.
Outcome: Opponent overcommits on military, leaving him/her vulnerable to other challenges and/or counterattacking.
The Skinny: Kills bombs. Ice is currently one of the ten best cards in the entire pool (at least in the super-biased list I keep in my head), and the legendary Valyrian two-hander strikes immediate fear into the heart of an opponent. Can be an even bigger pain with the Winterfell Kennel Master and/or Wardens of the North in play. This is because the challenge math becomes extremely treacherous during a challenge that an opponent must win at all costs. Do not leave home with less than two…three is ideal.
Pro Play: Use Arya’s Gift, mid-challenge, to unexpectedly put Ice on a participating character and make tears flow.
Winterfell Kennel Master (TRtW)
Threat: Any wolf or character with wolf attachment OR character that could receive moving wolf attachment (i.e. Lady) may be added to challenge after participants are already chosen.
Opponent’s Play Decision: Commit extra characters to every challenge where WKM could be triggered.
Outcome: Opponent overcommits on offense and defense and makes challenge math errors.
The Skinny: One of the biggest two-drop pains in the ass in the card pool, even if he never participates in a challenge all game. His ability enables headache-inducing shenanigans.
Threat: Key character will get bounced back to the deck and lose all its renown power and/or negatively impact tempo.
Opponent’s Play Decision: Think twice before target killing a high-strength target.
Outcome: The Stark player gains protection for his/her big drops, or at worst a nice comeback from losing/sacrificing a Hodor or Sansa.
The Skinny: Ghaston Grey of the North. Locations are generally more resilient than attachments and characters in the current card pool. The Crypt will be a staple in Stark decks for a long time and improves the sacrifice build. Be careful who you kill. The North remembers!
Threat: All characters will stand when a Stark is sacrificed or killed.
Opponent’s Play Decision: Need to refrain from military challenge and/or choose to be first player since claim will trigger the ability
Outcome: Opponent changes challenge order, is denied a key challenge, or is compelled to go first when preferring to go second.
The Skinny: Simply the biggest auto-include in the Stark arsenal, Robb doesn’t need any more than a fellow Stark in order to become threatening, though having Jon Snow or Grey Wind on the table can let you make the choice.
Threat: Grey Wind will kill an opponent’s chud and thin the field; alternately, Grey Wind will kill one of your own chuds and trigger Robb’s ability to stand all characters.
Opponent’s Play Decision: Need to keep key low-strength characters in hand (Bran, Edric Dayne, Grand Maester Pycelle, etc.) rather than marshal them.
Outcome: Opponent takes tempo hit and/or can’t get parts of win condition in place and/or opponent has thinner board for claim..
The Skinny: Grey Wind is one of those cards that Stark players love and opponents absolutely hate. He’s the most versatile monocon in the card pool, being able to thin an opponent’s board for more meaningful military claim, stand your own board when used with Robb, and Intimidate characters to their knees. And having the Direwolf trait isn’t bad either, since it synergizes with a ton of other Stark shenanigans.
Pro Play: Eat your own Tumblestone Knight to stand your board with Robb, then use A Time for Wolves to search/play Summer next round and pull the knight back from your dead pile.
These are only a handful of the current threats of activation available to Stark, and the more the card pool grows, the more the Northmen are gathering. Even a Stark player who’s had his/her hand stripped has something in the game, so long as he or she has card on the table. With a little luck, even when the hand is gone, all the pieces are in place.
Which threats of activation (Stark or otherwise) are your personal favorites? Include them in the comments.