Welcome to “It Is Known,” an article series brought to you by OKTarg about prevailing conventional wisdom in A Game of Thrones. The idea is to look at some things that are ‘known’ to be true and evaluate whether or not the perception concurs with reality. First up is the oft-overlooked card from the Core Set: Dothraki Sea.
[Editor’s Note: This has been sitting as a not-quite-finished article for some time and I am going to be finishing it up by re-writing numerous sections and adding some of my own thoughts, so OKTarg can take credit for anything good and credit anything bad as mine. -agk]
What really got me thinking about Thrones wisdom was a particular card recently released called “I Never Bet Against My Family.” Everyone panned the card–and I do mean everyone. It was inconsistent, it couldn’t be controlled, the character it brought into play was temporary, etc. Then, all of a sudden, the card is everywhere because Lucas Sydlaske decided not to be a lemming and instead bet on his ten thousand uniques to show up when he needed them. In fact, his belief in INBAMF was so strong, it even pulled what, in many people’s opinion, was the worst Lannister card in the Core out of the throes of darkness and into the light of day: Hear Me Roar.
As it turns out, card evaluators missed on these cards because they overlooked and perhaps undervalued how these cards impact some basic principles of winning gameplay in Second Edition, resource advantage and challenge advantage.
These two factors are important to winning because big (expensive) characters give us more challenge advantage than smaller (cheaper) characters, but we typically need the resource advantage to provide us with characters that give us this advantage. (Fundamentally, this is why Tywin and the Lannisters are so good, resource advantage that enables challenge advantage.)
What Hear Me Roar and I Never Bet Against My Family do, in other words, is provide a way to overcome a resource disadvantage and get challenge-dominating characters into play when needed most. This enables us to free ourselves from playing plots for their resources and fill our plot decks with those chosen for their effect, rather than for stats alone. Syd’s deck emphasizes this with the 2x Counting Coppers to keep his hand full and his deck rolling. As a result, we now know that not only are Hear Me Roar and I Never Bet Against My Family not bad cards; they are actually great cards! It Is Known, Khaleesi.
But, hold on a second: Are these cards good because they’re good or are they good because they let you leverage the over-powered Lannister characters, and it’s actually those characters who pull these mediocre events up to playable levels? Great question; I’m glad you asked. As it so happens, there is another card, probably in several minds the worst card in the Core set Targaryen pool, that can give us a clue. That card is, of course, Dothraki Sea.
Dothraki Sea is panned for the same reasons that Hear Me Roar was–the widespread belief that temporary characters in play aren’t usually worth the card disadvantage that the effect costs. It is Known, Khaleesi.
Let’s take a closer look at the Sea, especially compared to Hear Me Roar and INBAMF:
- Dothraki Sea is amazing on setup, which can actually be card advantage. It widens your options and lets you dig more deeply into your deck right from the beginning. The Lannister events are non-setup cards, which is in fact harmful to your overall card advantage.
- Dothraki Sea only triggers when you win a challenge, not on-demand like the Lannister events. Similar to Plaza of Punishment, it’s on the board, telegraphing your intentions and making your opponents think twice about letting you win, even early in the game when the challenge is less likely to matter. This means that you already need some amount of challenge advantage before you can even trigger it.
- Dothraki Sea only puts Dothraki characters into play, whereas Hear Me Roar can pick any Lannister character and INBAMF targets any Lannister unique character. Spoiler Alert: Lannister uniques are stronger than Dothraki characters, pretty much across the board.
- Just as the Lannister events allow you a cheap way of getting characters into play and therefore reducing your reliance on plot income, so too does the Sea. You can easily slot Counting Coppers and feel happy playing it when you have a Sea in play, knowing your good characters can come into play on that turn anyway and not worry about the tempo hit. Similarly, characters entering the board are just exactly what the doctor ordered on a First Snow of Winter turn….either yours or your opponent’s.
Now let’s consider point 3 above and take a peek at the Dothraki characters available to put into play with this card. From the Core set, we have Khal Drogo and Braided Warrior. Khal Drogo is 100% worth the card disadvantage–you get a surprise challenge launch and a body worth including in the challenge. Unfortunately, his renown is a bit wasted since he’ll leave play at the end of the phase, but still–dropping in the Khal for a gold and a card is pretty amazing. Braided Warrior? Probably you should have just marshaled him, but he’s fantastic as a surprise on a First Snow turn!
From the cycle, we’ve added Crone of Vaes Dothrak, Rakharo, and the Dothraki Outriders. Rakharo is okay to drop in, especially if the few power that you gain with him pushes you over the top, but it’s the body on the Outriders that can really change the game. Their high STR can help you trigger win-by-five effects, such as Put to the Sword and their pillage is a nice bonus if you have a Crone out, though sometimes it may not even be worth the kneel to send them to the dead pile!
The latest release, Wolves of the North, has given us another Dothraki character: Aggo. He works quite well with Dothraki Sea since he lacks the Power icon, but on a turn with a Summer plot revealed, could hop in and participate in both of the other challenges! And bouncing back into your hand afterwards is not always a downside. Consider The Hound, his bouncing back to hand is frequently considered a positive ability, allowing him to dodge attachments, kill effects, plots, etc. Dothraki Sea empowers all of your Dothraki characters in a similar way and can even be paired with Waking the Dragon for similar challenge advantage.
Lastly, let’s look at a deck list we can use to try and test this out and see if Dothraki Sea is ready to have its day in the sun or if it should be placed back into the binder for another day.
Here’s a list for testing:
Crossing the Dothraki Sea
Agenda: The Lord of the Crossing
1x Calm Over Westeros (Core Set)
1x Counting Coppers (Core Set)
1x Naval Superiority (Core Set)
1x Summons (Core Set)
1x The Winds of Winter (Core Set)
1x Trading with the Pentoshi (The Road to Winterfell)
1x A Song of Summer (Wolves of the North)
1x Littlefinger (Core Set)
3x Daenerys Targaryen (Core Set)
2x Drogon (Core Set)
3x Khal Drogo (Core Set)
2x Magister Illyrio (Core Set)
3x Rhaegal (Core Set)
2x Ser Jorah Mormont (Core Set)
2x Viserion (Core Set)
2x Viserys Targaryen (Core Set)
3x Braided Warrior (Core Set)
3x Targaryen Loyalist (Core Set)
3x Unsullied (Core Set)
2x Rakharo (The Road to Winterfell)
1x Syrio Forel (The Road to Winterfell)
2x Crone of Vaes Dothrak (The King’s Peace)
2x Dothraki Outriders (No Middle Ground)
2x Aggo (Wolves of the North)
3x The Kingsroad (Core Set)
3x The Roseroad (Core Set)
2x Plaza of Punishment (Core Set)
3x Dothraki Sea (Core Set)
3x Illyrio’s Estate (Core Set)
1x Drogo’s Arakh (Core Set)
1x Crown of Gold (The Road to Winterfell)
2x Put to the Sword (Core Set)
2x Dracarys! (Core Set)
2x Waking the Dragon (Core Set)