by John Wright
House Martell is my favorite faction to play in Second Edition right now. I love that there is a potential trick you can pull out of your hand in almost every action window. Loading up 7-cost monsters is slightly boring to me; I want to be bouncing in chuds with Arianne. Martell makes intrigue challenges matter and they leverage Varys better than any other house. I think it is a shame they are underrepresented in tournaments – according to the Annals of Castle Black, only 7% of the field has been Martell since Nymeria Sand was released in The Road to Winterfell. That is extremely underplayed for a house I would personally rate third or fourth best out of the eight.
In spite of my predilection toward Martell as a main faction, I sincerely believe that Banner of the Sun is generally just not very good and is definitely overrated.
I’ve been saying that since Nymeria hit, and in a little bit I’m going to get into some reasons why. But first, some numbers. On the Iron Link, Banner of the Sun is slightly behind Banner of the Lion as the top non-Fealty agenda in total games reported. It’s even more popular since The King’s Peace was released. And, it does seem to win quite a bit: BotS makes up 14% of agendas since The Road to Winterfell came out, and has won 17% of tournaments (the most wins behind Fealty).
It’s got good numbers, but a lot of them come from the fact that Lannister-Sun is the most popular deck right now, and that Lannister-anything is going to be really good and have a decent chance to win a tournament. I don’t want to say BotS is adding nothing to a Lannister deck (especially since I favor just about any banner over trying to fill out a deck with cards from a single house right now); it’s just that I think the main house has more to do with its success than the agenda choice.
I’m sure a good amount of readers are going to look at the numbers and dismiss this article. That’s fine. I can’t erase the numbers; however, from playing a lot of Martell, I know that the majority of players running Banner of the Sun are not getting the most out of Martell cards. Here are some of the commonly used Martell non-loyal cards that are subpar for many of the decks in which they’re seeing play.
Maester Caleotte and Edric Dayne
These are two cheap, efficient characters that work great at rounding out a cost curve. Each of them can help you push through a challenge. However, they are both fragile, and will likely not stick around for long (particularly with First Snow of Winter entering the meta). Still, these gentlemen are the two best non-Nymeria characters available to Banner of the Sun; neither one seems all that game-changing, do they?
Sunspear is a very impactful card – if you are willing to build around it. Unless your opponent has a good reason not to, they will make you the first player every time if they’re winning initiative constantly. In order to make running Sunspear worthwhile, you need to be able to insure you are dictating turn order. My rule of thumb is that I need at least four plots with initiative 6 or higher in order to make it worthwhile, and most builds cannot afford to make that kind of commitment to initiative in their plot deck. Therefore, most decks shouldn’t be running Sunspear.
I don’t love this card in most Martell decks, let alone Banner of the Sun. Spot control is nice in certain circumstances, but generally it’s the 5+ strength characters that are going to hurt you and this can’t touch them.
Random discards are strong. But, if you are including a card just so it can die, you should probably be looking for a more impactful card to include. The just-spoiled Quentyn is going to have this same problem in the future, but at least he can possibly be a solid 5 strength body with stealth. I doubt Bastard Daughter is deterring too many military challenges, and if she is winning you any challenges then any other character would have done the same.
Another card that never impressed me. Has a spot in NW or Baratheon decks that really like defending but is going to be underwhelming anywhere else.
Anti-synergy with Attainted, along with most of Martell’s goals – unless you are way over-committing to your intrigue challenges. Also far too conditional to be a solid control card.
Super strong card that is only going to get better. It belongs in multiples in every Martell deck – and it should almost never be played out-of-house. Let me explain:
In main-faction Martell, Arianne does double work by allowing you to get multiple actions out of the same body by putting a replacement card into play after she has knelt. Additionally, she acts as an odd sort of card advantage by assuring that you always have a good character in your hand to marshal each turn.
Banner of the Sun does not run the Blood Orange Groves necessary to afford to play Arianne turn after turn, which will lead to an economic bottleneck clogging your hand. Furthermore, few houses have the kind of “come into play” positive effects that make Arianne bouncing extra appealing. Playing her out of house changes her from being an efficient powerhouse of tricks to an expensive liability with limited uses.
She’s the big one, obviously. People are playing Banner of the Sun so they can play Nymeria. I’m not going to say she’s not good, because she is obviously a very strong card. However, 3 copies of a 5-cost character who is very easily controlled (Milk, Fortified Position, Treachery!) is not a good enough reason to run any particular agenda. She is repeatable spot control; frankly, if that’s all you’re looking for, Banner of the Stag is a lot better. Nymeria removes a single icon; Melisandre puts a character down for a turn – not to mention Stag has better supporting cards.
Moreover, most players are not using Nymeria to the best of her ability. Have you noticed the first question your opponent asks you every challenge phase she is on the board: “Any actions before challenges?” This is Game of Thrones: Your opponent is not being polite; she wants you to use Nym as soon as possible because it clarifies how the turn will play out for them. And, this window before challenges is when she frequently gets triggered. Once you have used her ability, Nymeria has taken care of a single icon, but when you wait to trigger her, Nymeria is threatening every single icon on the table. The problem is that few other factions can afford to play Martell’s aggressively passive style. They need to use Nymeria proactively, either in defense of an incoming threat or to clear the way for their own impactful challenge (i.e. the Tears of Lys combo). These are both strong uses, but players running Banner of the Sun are generally not able to get the most out of what Nymeria could be offering.
Ultimately, Banner of the Sun cards do not get you closer to your win condition. They give spot control, they can round out the curve, they can hit your opponent’s hand – but they really do not do much to remove characters from the board or to generate you power. Its strongest characters come with vulnerabilities and weaknesses that are not usually present in most other Banner agendas. Icon removal combos very well with Tears of Lys, but the factions that are using this (Lannister and Targaryen) aren’t really struggling for removal effects anyways.
In conclusion, here’s the question I want to encourage you to ask as your sit down to build your deck before your next game night or tournament: “How will Banner of the Sun consistently help my deck win games in a way that another agenda would not do better?”
I hope your answer will be: “I’m playing Martell as my main faction – I should be using literally any other agenda except Banner of the Sun!”
On icon-removal attachments: Early returns with Attainted seem to be very good. I can see a possible future in which these attachments being one of the main reasons to run Banner of the Sun, but I haven’t played them enough yet to know if that will come true or not outside of certain niche builds (i.e. Bara-Sun decks desperate to protect The Red Keep). I think it will ultimately come down to which become stronger in the long run: removal events or negative attachments. Right now I think that the meta favors the event side of things, and this means that the attachments will be particularly strong as long as people run The Hand’s Judgement instead of extra attachment removal – but for the time being we do not know how it will shake out. The fact remains that even in this possible future these attachments will still be competing for deck slots with your faction’s in-house event package. As the card pool grows, I doubt that an out-of-house attachment will be more valuable than events which are designed to work strongly with your main faction.