by John Wright
Preamble 1: Buzz
Last time around I was told I wrote too much. So, Buzz, just for you I’ve cut the Melee portion (the only event I won) from this tournament report. You’re welcome. Good luck making it to the end of this one now!
Preamble 1a: Melee
Actually, I do want to say one thing about the Melee final table: It was extremely competitive, giving me flashbacks to my World’s Top 16 table last year. Thanks to Shaun (eventual joust winner), John (reigning Kublacup champ), and James (a nice bearded gent and an excellent editor) for a game that was equally intense and fun. I’m glad we were able to walk away friends!
Preamble 2: History
Last weekend marked San Diego’s 6th annual Kingdom Con, our town’s premier tabletop gaming weekend run by AGOT-friend Ross “Dragon Fear” Thompson. Years ago, the first Kingdom Con gave birth to the modern San Diego Meta when John Kraus and James Speck ran the demos that introduced Ryan Jones and Alex Esposito to A Game of Thrones LCG (First Edition). Ensuing Kingdom Cons heralded John Bruno’s return to the game and traditionally signified the start of AGOT regional season. Because of this rich history, Kingdom Con has always had a special place in our hearts. And, although not selected for our own regional this season, we managed to outdraw Dance with Dragons in New York 34 to 33!
Preamble 3: Deck Prep
The week before the tournament I was unsure what I wanted to play. Going into the tournament I had a few possible Martell builds, but with the release of Vengeance for Elia, I felt that Martell would be popular, granting me the freedom to branch out and see what other houses were doing. I thought about bringing my World’s/OCTGN Turn-and-Burn deck, and I spent some time trying to figure out how Stark works. In the end I circled back to the deck with which I had won a Wolves of the North release event: Baratheon Banner of the Lion. It turns out this pairing is kind of a hot deck right now, so I decided I needed to talk with a few people who had been playing the build for a while. Ruben in the Netherlands was really helpful (including taking some frantic DMs as I was tweaking the morning of!), and I ended up with a list that was basically Ruben’s deck. I was expecting a good amount of Lannister, GJ, Targ, and Martell; to me, the deck felt like it had answers for all of them. I played with it a few times Thursday night and it felt solid and different enough from Martell to be entertaining for me, so I went with it.
Round 1: David M, Baratheon-Banner of the Lion
After going back and forth on my deck decision for so long, I thought it was pretty funny to start my day with a mirror match. I went on to play several Bara-Lion mirrors that day, and they all sort of felt like coin-flips, with luck of the draw having a disproportionate impact on the game. That’s certainly what happened here. Our setups were comparable – my Hound/Burned Men/Red Keep vs David’s Tyrion/Selyse/Econ. The key difference: I used Pentoshi to marshal Ser Gregor with a Seal of the Hand. Over the next 3 turns The Mountain proceeded to pillage Robert, Melisandre (killing Tyrion), and Jaime.
Round 2: Andy M., Lannister-The Lord of the Crossing
Andy is a local player I actually had not gotten to meet before the Friday Night Melee. He did well at both events, and I’m hoping we can rope him into playing at our game nights more often. Andy wasn’t playing jumpers, but this was more or less the deck I had most prepared for. However, this game ended up being very close – I had to play very carefully and defensively the whole match and took several turns simply defending all challenges to deny him power without being able to hit him back. (Ruben keeps saying this is an aggressive deck, but I dunno… or more likely I’m doing it wrong.)
After the first couple rounds and a double-Pentoshi turn, Andy has out Tywin, the Hound and the Mountain plus chuds against my Robert sporting a Seal, Tyrion, Mel and two Fiery Followers. That turn I was able to kneel out his big guys with a double Even-Handed Justice and still push through a Put to the Sword on Tywin (thanks Tyrion economy!).
Even with that big swing, Andy still finished at 12 power. His plot deck was awesome (Famine is good!), but his lack of Confiscation gave me the foothold I needed.
Round 3: Brandon C., Lannister-The Lord of the Crossing
In my first two games I was fortunate to have The Red Keep early, which is a big plus to the deck. More of the same here, although he set up a Brothel Madame on the other side which gave me fits for most of the game. I think the Bara-Lion is expensive enough and likes making military challenges enough that even the slightest choke can have a large impact.
First turn I dropped Mel to kneel out his Tyrion, and I proceeded to play defense for the rest of the game; I didn’t want to lose any power challenges, as I felt I needed the draw. It turns out I probably didn’t play aggressively enough – as I was talking with Brandon after the game and we decided I actually did not lose a single challenge the whole match!
Turn two I played Robert and Lightbringer, and although he was able to Treachery Mel’s trigger (aimed at kneeling Tyrion), a Milk of the Poppy kept him honest in the challenges phase.
Turn three I played Wildfire, went first, and knelt out his board with Robert and Mel. Turn four he played Filthy Accusations to slow down Robert, but I had a Seal. Brandon conceded once it hit the board.
Round 4: Chris Schoenthal, Baratheon-Banner of the Lion
Somewhere around this time I hit a wall, as happens sometimes in weekend-long events. I knew I was in trouble when I walked into the main hall before the round and John Kraus greeted me with a “you look tired.” I’d like to blame it on the Melee the night before, but Shaun was in that as well, and he did just fine. I don’t think I ever really recovered my gameplay focus, though, so if you watch any of the recorded matches I’m sure you’ll see a ton of mistakes.
A couple years ago, Chris was the one that introduced my small group of friends to the larger San Diego Meta. But, going further back, Chris was kind enough to occasionally drive me to old Decipher Lord of the Rings TCG events back when I was in high school and he was attending college here in SD. The point is, I owe a lot to Chris for keeping me connected with my hobby, and he is still one of my favorite opponents – our games are always competitive but also friendly and respectful.
First turn of this game I made a mistake and never fully recovered. Chris had out the Hound, two Burned Men, and a Widow’s Wail, which gave him a possible 12 str military challenge. I had out Jaime and a Burned Men of my own (this adds up to 7 str on defense if you’re doing the math at home). I was overly excited to get a Milk out on Chris’s Melisandre, and only after we moved to challenges did I realize that Chris still had two gold left, and I had left myself with one single gold piece. Sure enough, Jaime got PTTS while my Hand’s Judgement sat uselessly in my hand.
As to be expected, Chris kept up pressure from that point, never letting me get a solid foothold back in the game. I hung around a few rounds, but turn 4 he closed.
Round 5: Alejandro, Greyjoy-The Lord of the Crossing
Alejandro is a top player from Northern California and we’re lucky to regularly have him and his friends consistently make the 7-hour drive to play at our major events. We knew beforehand that this was likely a win-and-in game, and I think we both felt pretty tense as we got started.
Alejandro set up just a single Salty Navigator and a bunch of good locations. Although I had better board position, I opened with Pentoshi – which was an error in retrospect. He was able to marshal Balon, Asha, and Aeron with gold leftover for PTTS, so I had to change my strategy and play Selyse just so I could have the R’hllor trait to discard his event before he did permanent damage to my board state.
Turns two and three I was able to Treachery his Seastone Chair. Mostly, though, I played defense and tried to draw with TRK as much as possible while he slowly accumulated power with Crossing and renown on Balon. Ultimately, I wasn’t able to draw any of the control pieces I needed, and I had given him enough gold to get into a dominating board position.
Conclusion: Cut and a Twist
So, I had started well on the day, but 3-2 was not good enough to guarantee a spot in the cut. Chris Schoenthal finished as the King of Swiss, so I think I was near the top of the standings at some point. Sure enough, I finished in 9th place and out of the cut. I was tired, though, and I knew I hadn’t been playing my best. Plus, it was a convention…maybe I could try a new game out…
But wait! It turns out that the 8th place finisher, Kevin, is a better husband than I am. He had agreed to spend the evening with his wife and would not be able to play in the Top 8 cut. (My wife knew I had plans that evening, so she took on some extra babysitting work to pay for my convention entry fees.) I remain thankful for the extra life Kevin gave me, although it still feels like a bit of a bummer. He’s a sharp new player in San Diego, though, and is definitely going to win a lot of AGOT tournaments in the future. He already took down the Thrones W.A.R. individual title this year (a hot indicator of top new players in the Meta).
And so that’s how I narrowly dodged being left out of the cut and snuck into 8th place.
Postscript 1: Top 8 Chris Schoenthal, Baratheon-Banner of the Lion
This game felt ugly. Chris and I both made several play mistakes. Ultimately, I think Chris made a bigger one that let me avoid a nasty PTTS.
Ultimately it was a very close match. Chris was ahead in power for a good chunk of it, and I just barely managed to hang in there and sneak a win.
There’s a recording of this game somewhere if you want to watch it. Chris and I agreed that neither of us wanted to see it again, however.
This time I got off to a better start with the control elements I needed to slow down GJ: Milk for Balon, EHJ, and Mel. However, Alejandro countered with two Raiding Longships and the Chair, and I quickly felt like I was scrambling for answers as he was able to pick off my Mel.
Fortunately, I was able to get out Jaime with a Seal on him, and, after several minutes of wondering what else I could do, I realized I could Milk my own Hound to use him on defense against the Longships. After that, I did my best to accumulate power on Jaime and defend on power challenges to keep my TRK draw. I was able to do just enough to stay ahead in power total and win before Alejandro could close.
Postscript 3: Final Table Shaun, Martell-Banner of the Lion
Shaun was one of my draft picks in Thrones W.A.R., and I’ve been fortunate to playtest with him a lot. He’s got an SC win under his belt out here already, so you know he’s a bright player. Shaun was also locked in, having clawed back from a tough start, while I was mostly just happy to still be playing several hours after I had been eliminated. Even so, I tried to rally myself to go for the Melee-Joust sweep of the Kingdom Con weekend.
Oh, and before the game got started, I thought it would be a good idea to try to talk Shaun into a beard bet on the game. I think it was because he had told me earlier that he looked like Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when he shaved. Or, it may just be because I was worn out and my decision-making abilities were hampered. Anyway, it was a hard sell for him, but eventually he agreed with a few conditions and we were able to begin.
Shaun set up Nymeria plus characters, and I had Mel plus characters. I decided to gamble a bit and play Building Orders to search for a Milk. I find one, but this maneuver puts me behind on the characters I need to start pushing. This same turn I play Seen in Flames and am faced with a tough decision: discard Varys, Tyrion, or Areo? He has Arianne on the board now, so there are two characters that will have immediate impact if I don’t drop them; however, Varys, I know, is a game-ender if I’m able to get ahead, so I drop him to remove the long-term threat.
The next turn he played Summons to grab a Rattleshirt’s Raiders, and I had to make some very sub-optimal plays in order to keep him from winning a Military challenge on attack. The turn after I learn it doesn’t matter, as he plays First Snow and my defenses are left down. With Nymeria back online and my board partially wiped, Shaun cruises to the Kingdom Con victory, seizing the #mamtap prize and bringing fame and glory to his house.
All-in-all, going from 9th place to 2nd is a pretty good jump, so I’ve got nothing to complain about. I’m also very happy to see House Martell secure a major tournament win.
Special thanks to Ruben, who was texting me ideas up to the point I was headed out the door to go play.
Kingdom Con was another success, largely due to the hard work and leadership of John Kraus, who elected not to compete and instead play the role of T.O. and run his unique “Maester’s Challenge” side event. A San Diego Meta wouldn’t exist without that man and we’re lucky to have him!
If you’ve never experienced it, shaving your beard in shame following a loss is a sobering experience. I can’t, in good conscience, recommend it, but it definitely added some weight to the final table. Don’t worry – I’ve got a few weeks to get my facial hair back in fighting shape before our very late Regional in June.
By the way, has everyone taken notice of how well Martell is doing the past week or so? And, how relatively poorly Banner of the Sun is?