Hey! You Came Back! That’s Awesome!
Welcome back to Wardens of the Midwest. If you stumbled upon this article without having read the first part, you can find that right here. I already did an introduction in the last article, so let’s jump right in and discuss what this deck is all about:
So, How is this deck played?
*Magic terms in this section courtesy of Daye Kaniel’s editing skills.
This deck is a traditional control deck in the sense that it wins through a combination of ‘control’ and ‘card advantage’. For those that have never played a game of Magic, ‘control’ is deck build archetype that (you guessed it) seeks to control their opponent’s board in the early game in order to build up into an inevitable win late game. ‘Card advantage’ refers to having a greater amount of cards at any time than your opponent. In Thrones, this relates to your hand (options) and your board (presence). Generally speaking, the greater this advantage, the greater your chance at winning will be. As mentioned previously, as a NW player your cards are piece for piece worse than your opponent’s. Therefore you need to have more of them both in play and in your hand in order to win the day.
The way you win with a control deck is building up your board state to a point of ‘inevitability’ (another Magic term) – the point at which your control and board presence is so absolute that the opponent can no longer realistically win the game. This deck is no different. The more you play with the deck, the more you will get a feel for when you’re close to reaching the point of inevitability. For example, if you have a board consisting of your most essential characters, plus the Wall/Iron Throne & Castle Black down, and advantages in hand as well (in the form of cards like Dolorous Edd, Hand’s Judgment, Watcher etc), it becomes fairly evident that unless your opponent can find an answer very quickly, the game is safely under your control and can be closed quickly.f
Inevitability is always reached in the same way with most control decks. Early game, the focus is on controlling your opponent and building your board state. Utilize your control cards (in the case of this deck, these are your Milks, your Cravens, your locations, characters like Halder/Thoren, plots like Wildfire Assault and For the Watch) to hit your opponent’s tempo and stop them from doing irreparable damage to your side of the board, while simultaneously leveraging your draw engines to gain card advantage. Card advantage provides you with all your good shit as well as your win condition (the Wall), and must be maintained in order to facilitate you with the options you need to react with as the game evolves.
As with any good control deck, a strong reset is also extremely important in maintaining a grasp on the game. It isn’t necessary in every game, as large boards are, generally, safer boards for a defensive deck, but if your opponent is collecting renown on several characters and putting pressure on your board with kill effects such as Mirri and Tyene, a reset may be just what you need to regain control of the game. Wildfire Assault is perfect in this situation. If your opponent has, say, a Jaime with 3 power and a Craven, as well as Mirri, Tywin and Tyrion on the board, along with some other chud and lower impact characters, you can force them to choose between keeping their Craven’d Jaime who is worth power or keeping their kill card and losing the 3 power by keeping Tywin, Tyrion and Mirri. While the decision belongs to your opponent, you are, again, forcing them into a situation where there is no good answer. To top it all off, it has great initiative too! A turn where you may finally be able to go second! 😀
And, in the epitome of a “just gravy” moment, you can use Wildfire to kill Benjen and gain that 2 power. If you can do this on a turn where you have 13 power entering the plot phase….you just won. You removed your opponent’s ability to hopefully close out the game by ending the game before they can even marshal. Not many decks have a closing move that powerful.
Sequencing (the order in which you play your cards) is the final factor that is massively important in this deck. When playing your cards, precedence should be given to cards that make it safer/easier to play other cards, or further strengthen your hold on the board. For example, you might have both the Wall and a Ranging Party in hand, and only the resources to play one of them that turn. Which do you play? The answer is always the same: whichever one contributes the greatest towards protecting the rest of your board. If you play the Wall, only to then lose an unopposed challenge you could’ve defended with the Ranging Party, then that’s poor sequencing. You will win or lose games because of this concept and there will be turns where you’ll feel as if you’re walking on a knife’s edge. The more you play with the deck, the greater your ability to sense the right course of action will become.
Imagine that you’re playing the deck like you’re building a wall. At a certain point, the wall will be finished and you will lock your opponent out of the game. However, while you are building the wall you are vulnerable. If you take too much damage early on or your opponent is able to get an early lead, you’ll lose your workforce and the wall will never see completion. Each character and location is a brick in the wall, and all of your in hand answers are tools to either help with its construction or stop it from being knocked down. Because the deck is so defense focused, there’s very little interaction with your opponent’s side of the board. You are not required to win challenges to win the game, as you can get your power from the Wall, dominance and your plots. Your primary and most crucial focus is what’s going on with building your wall. Build the wall, win the game. (This is not an endorsement of Donald Trump.)
Another skill that is very valuable when playing this deck, and this is something that not all factions necessarily need to do to be successful, is to intimately know what cards other factions play. This deck is reactive and how you play it depends on what your opponent is doing. You need to anticipate what your opponent is going to do. If they have a Rattleshirt’s Raiders out and you have a Craven in hand, it may be better to wait until you draw your Rangers needed to play the Watcher on the Walls before you use your Craven. Or, if they have a dragon out and a gold, but you don’t have a Hand’s Judgment or Halder to boost your strength, you may want to forego defending the Wall in order to stop your opponent from killing one of your strong characters with a Dracarys! (especially Maester Aemon if he is your only intrigue icon. Losing him makes the game significantly more difficult!).
Probably the best example of a match up in which knowledge of what your opponent is playing is valuable would be against Martell. You need to always be aware of the shenanigans that can unexpectedly knock down the Wall. If your opponent is playing Martell and has Arianne on the board, they can bring any character under 5 gold into play at any time. So who are the 5 or lower costers that threaten to kneel the Wall? Well, there’s Nymeria for one. That opens up a weakness in the Wall’s defenses that, if unaccounted for, can cause you some problems. And then there is Areo Hotah. So, if they declare a challenge with one character that you can defend with one character, consider defending with two. Otherwise, they can use Arianne’s ability to bring Areo Hotah out and remove your only defender, making the challenge unopposed. Obviously, you probably can’t defend every single challenge with 2 defenders, but it is that kind of thing that you always need to account for when defending the Wall.
I was playing a game against a Martell player a few weeks ago and I saw that he had Arianne out and Nymeria was already in play. There are a few plays that he could have done, but I had the defenders to play it safe so I did. He declared a power challenge with Arianne and another character, so I decided to defend with two Ranging Parties, standing one with Castle Black. Not because I particularly cared about winning (though winning was nice), but because I didn’t want him to bring Areo in and kick out my defender if I only used one. Then he did a military challenge with a few characters, so I did the same thing. Ranging Party and Arry. Then he did his final challenge, an intrigue challenge. Well, I had Dolorous Edd in hand, so I decided to see if he really had Areo in his hand or if I was just being overly cautious, as he still had not used Arianne’s ability. I defended with one character (I could have defended the previous challenge with an Old Forest Hunter instead of Arry, giving me a second intrigue defender, but wanted to make it appear as though I had unwittingly allowed a crack to appear in my armor by misusing an intrigue icon). As I suspected, he used Arianne to bring Areo into play to remove my one defender. That’s when I used Dolorous Edd’s ability to bring him into play defending and maintain an opposed challenge. He said that he had completely forgotten about Edd and thought that he had sequenced his challenges correctly to kneel the Wall.
That was a classic case of me knowing more about my opponent’s deck than my opponent knowing about my deck. The more you know about your opponent’s deck, the bigger advantage you have. I have another, more specific, example of the importance of challenge sequencing if you all are interested ;).
I dunno Joe, this is a lot of examples…
You are? Excellent! A few weeks ago, I was working with a newer player with these concepts. He was having trouble making the right decisions throughout a game and was consistently falling behind early on (he plays infrequently and was struggling with knowing the opponent’s cards and capabilities). He asked if I would be willing to coach him through a game when it comes to decision making and I agreed. We found an opponent who was willing to let me talk him through his decisions during their game. My friend was playing Martell Lion and his opponent was playing Targaryen Fealty.
The turn that I wanted to talk about was, I believe, the fourth turn following a series of Marched to the Walls to clear out both players’ chud. He entered his marshalling (going second) with Jaime and Tyrion out and 5 gold to spend. Opponent has Jorah, Dany and Mirri (post marshalling).
He wanted to play Maester Caleotte and a bastard daughter, just to use as claim soak to protect his big characters, but he had 2 copies of Arianne in his hand.
I told him, I would play Arianne duped. He didn’t want to dupe Arianne because she was just going to bounce her back to hand at some point anyway.
I explained that, since the Targ player was going first, he could do a military with Jorah and it would be his 4 to Jaime’s 4, since Dany is standing.
That would essentially force him to trigger Arianne, since he had the Hound in hand (which his opponent was aware of, from previous turns), because if he didn’t, he’d lose 1 of 3 big characters.
By playing Arianne duped, he’d effectively negate the risk of losing a military challenge, as it would not impact his board. Jorah is only 4 strength, so there’s no threat of a Put to the Sword and Targaryen has no other cards that trigger off of a won military challenge in this situation. If his opponent chose not to do military first, then whichever challenge he did do first could be defended with Arianne before jumping her back to hand after she’s knelt, functionally providing both a defend and a jump out of her instead of just the jump. He took my advice and marshaled Arianne and her dupe.
As his opponent was considering his move, I told my friend he’d forced his opponent into three options:
- He could attack with Mirri and Dany together (thus negating Mirri’s ability). This would be a lost challenge, but it would only be a simple intrigue or power claim, rather than Mirri’s kill ability.
- He could attack with either Dany or Mirri alone. Both would be stopped by Tyrion and Arianne.
- If Dany attacks, she is now knelt and no longer giving -1 to the opponent’s attacks. My friend could then defend with Arianne or even bounce her and bring in Caleotte, lose with Caleotte and then remove the icon of Mirri that he had not declared a challenge with yet. Or, he could defend with just Arianne and lose that challenge, but be able to bring Caleotte in, who combined with Tyrion in defense would beat Mirri now that Dany would be knelt.
- If Mirri attacks, he just defends with Arianne and Tyrion and wins, allowing Arianne to be used for her action whenever he saw fit.
- Attack for military with Jorah, take the dupe off of Arianne and gain an unopposed power and a power on Jorah (putting him at 2 betrayal tokens and 1 away from leaving play). Then back to the 2 choices above.
His opponent was looking at me like I was reading his mind. But really, all I was doing was looking at the situation and seeing all of his opponent’s options and using the cards in a way that gives him no good options.
His opponent ended up just doing the military challenge to gain an unopposed power and passed the rest of challenges. My friend ended up winning that game 15-3 after having previously gone winless that night.
I know that was a bit of a tangent. That topic could have honestly been its own article, but I kind of…shoehorned it into this article as an example of sequencing/reactive play. My point is if you can teach yourself to anticipate what your opponent is going to do based on what you play, you can take advantage of that to turn that advantage for yourself. I also wanted to tell that story because I had a lot of fun during that game. If anyone sees a hole in my logic (or something that the Targ player could have done) feel free to comment and let me know.
Okay, Nice Back Patting, Joe. Let’s Get Back to the Actual Deck This Article is About
What do you look for in set up?
The curve of this deck is low enough that you’re never really in danger of mulliganing a decent hand in search of a perfect hand and getting an unplayable one. Obviously, there will be fringe cases where you hand is 4 events and 3 5 cost characters, but that doesn’t happen very often. The deck is currently scoring ~0.5% poor setups and ~31% great set ups on http://agotsetup.com/, so don’t be afraid to roll the dice.
What I look for in set up is a situation in which I either am playing the Wall, or have the Wall in hand. Because this deck doesn’t run Building Orders, I want to see the Wall early if possible. Nothing is more frustrating than that anomaly game where all 3 copies of the Wall are 45 cards deep in your deck and you have no Building Orders to shuffle that crap up. The earlier you see the Wall, the better. But one emphasis I am looking for is some combination of Castle Black, Iron Throne, Sworn Brothers, Old Forest Hunters, an economy location and 1 4+ cost character (Arry or Ranging Party). My ideal set up is a Ranging Party (or Arry), an Old Forest Hunter/Castle Black, a Sworn Brother and a Rose Road, with the Wall in hand. That gives me 3 additional economy in the marshalling phase, or more if I choose to use Old Forest Hunter in several phases leading up to marshalling. This allows me to run Here to Serve and still play the Wall on turn 1. Obviously, this is the perfect scenario, but it is what I strive for. Littlefinger, Sworn Brother, Steward at the Wall and a Rose Road is also a dandy set up hand. I do my best not to set up Dolorous Edd or Maester Aemon unless I absolutely have to. Setting up Aemon kills the value of Here to Serve, as it now only gets a dupe rather than paying for Aemon, and setting up Edd removes his surprise factor.
The set ups that I absolutely hate are set ups where a turn 1 First Snow of Winter would jump 3 or more cards back to my hand. Those are the kinds of games that you can lose on set up. I your opponent has a 4+ character and an economy location in set up, that could spell the end for you. In one of the games that Daye and I recorded, I had the Wall in hand and I chose to set up Benjen, Samwell and a reducer instead. Daye asked me why I didn’t set up the Wall and I said it was because, if I did and played a 2 coster and 2 1 costers to fill out the rest of the set up, that leaves my opponent able to open First Snow of Winter. That not only loads up my hand with cards on the first turn (meaning I’ll have to drop a bunch of cards to reserve) but it also means that if I open Here to Serve, Aemon will come out and then bounce back to my hand. By playing Benjen, I am guaranteeing I have a character on the board even if he does do First Snow of Winter. That’s often enough to make it not worth it for your opponent. We later found out during that game that my opponent did, in fact, play First Snow of Winter in his plot deck. So that is something you should always look out for.
As with every rule of thumb, there are some exceptions. If I’m playing against Greyjoy, I may not be so quick to get the Wall out on turn 1. They have a weak intrigue presence, so I don’t have to worry too much about losing the Wall to intrigue, but they do have stealth. And I’ve had games where I set up the Wall or played the Wall early and, with Theon and Asha, they stealthed past my power icons to kneel and then destroy the Wall with We Do Not Sow. In one game at the Indianapolis Regionals, that happened and then Euron stole it right after…that was a dark day for me…
What order do you typically play your plots in?
I tend to play Here to Serve on turn 1. This is really the go to opener because it is strong against Summer Harvest starts (they only get 5 gold on one of their “bomb” gold plots), it is strong against Naval Superiority starts, because you only lose 3 gold (not that anyone runs that plot anymore), and it’s strong against any choke starts, because the main purpose of it is the Maester fetch rather than the gold. The earlier you put Aemon into play to protect your board, the better, especially against hyper kill factions like Lanni and Targ.
From turn 2 on, it all depends on what my hand looks like. If I have the Wall out and need defenders, I may drop Trading with the Pentoshi/Feast for Crows to get some good defenders out of my hand. If they have a big target character and I don’t have any milks or cravens, I may play one of my Counting Coppers to dig for some impact cards. If I played a Craven or Milk on their big character on turn 1, I may play Winter Festival turn 2, as there is a high chance they will play Confiscation, giving me an opening where I likely don’t have to worry about a summer plot cancelling Winter Festival’s power gain. The plot deck provides a lot of flexibility based on the needs at the time.
Other than that, the deck plays just like a Wall deck. Get your icons out, Wildfire Benjen when you have the chance to close the game out and keep that Wall standing!
If you have any specific questions on how to play a certain situation, feel free to message me either on Facebook or in the comments or on Cardgamedb.com. I’d be happy to help if I’m able :D.
The final section I wanted to go over in this article is a list of the primary weaknesses of the deck, and ways to counteract them contained within this deck. This, for the most part, will not be unique to this particular version of the deck. All Wall decks have approximately the same weaknesses, so this won’t be anything new for Night’s Watch veterans, but it is still worth noting.
Why is it hard to beat?
This deck hasn’t been as common since the Dothraki/Bloodriders theme started getting new cards and attracting a lot of interest, but Targaryen Burn decks are just as powerful as always, especially now that First Snow of Winter is (finally) starting to fade in the meta. The constant threat of Dracarys! makes it difficult to defend the Wall, as a defender can be burned alive at a gold’s notice and leave the Wall open to being knelt. In addition, Plaza of Punishment can really hurt if it comes before you can get the Wall out. A Plaza of Punishment trigger kills a non Wall boosted Maester Aemon, and that is really tough to deal with against a deck that already has an extreme attrition presence with, not only all the burn, but also the 2 military challenges that Khal Drogo affords them. Not to mention, they are one of the two factions that has attachment control other than Confiscation and Rattleshirt’s Raiders, which is hard on the whole “Watcher them all” strategy as described in this article.
How do I counteract it?
Halder plays a large part in counteracting this situation. If they have a dragon unknelt and a gold, you can use Halder’s ability to pump up your defenders prior to declaring, thus taking them out of burn range. Both Dracarys!’s strength burn and Halder’s strength pump last ‘until the end of the phase’ so, the two effects end simultaneously, allowing the character to live! In addition, Halder’s ability can be used to boost your 2 strength and weaker characters once it becomes clear that you will lose a power challenge when Plaza of Punishment is out. Or, at the very least, protect the ones you truly care about (such as Maester Aemon). This is one of the reasons that Halder is a 3x in this deck.
As ever, Hand’s Judgment is always a safe bet if you see your opponent sitting on a gold. You can prepare for it by either saving a gold or using Old Forest Hunter to get a gold prior to declaring defenders.
Why is it hard to beat?
This deck has been a problem for the Night’s Watch defense decks since the inception of the game. In a nutshell, this is because mass kneel through Melisandre R’hllor triggers, kneel events, Filthy Accusations and the rest of it makes it bloody difficult to defend the Wall. Combine this with Stannis Baratheon’s (core set) kneel lock keeping all but 2 characters knelt, it can be very difficult to stay in the game if you fall behind. Combine that with the excellent attachment removal capabilities (Cressen/Here to serve combo), dominance tech of Gendry, Chamber of the Painted Table and…all that…and you have a tough as nails match up that can get out of control quickly. Note: It isn’t a coincidence that the two factions that have their own attachment control are two of the toughest match ups for this deck.
How do I counteract it?
The sad truth is that the Night’s Watch currently don’t have a silver bullet for this deck. It’s still a very difficult match up and there aren’t a ton of answers that have been released since core set. I’m still waiting for a character that can stand himself or an event that stands target character while you are the defending player (and they can’t attack this turn) or something like that. But there’s no reason to discuss cards that don’t exist. The counter play to this deck begins with Castle Black. Castle Black allows your characters with 2 icons to defend 2 challenges per turn rather than just 1. This makes having fewer standing characters not as impactful and allows for defending the Wall even when half your board is knelt. As with Targaryen, canceling their events with Hand’s Judgment will make it easier to maintain your board presence. Finally, the Iron Throne was added to this deck as an additional power gain source, but also to contain Baratheon’s dominance tech. If you can get Iron Throne out and they can’t, you’ll have an advantage in denying dominance and stopping them from stealing your power with Chamber of the Painted Table.
You just read nearly 8,500 words about the Night’s Watch. Time flies when you’re having fun, am I right? You really are dedicated to learning about this deck. We’ve discussed the plot deck and how it works, the new cards that have made this deck emerge as a top contender, the strategy behind what to set up and what to prioritize, the combos that force your opponent into situations they don’t want to be in and the weaknesses of the deck and the cards added in order to counteract those weaknesses in crafting this deck list. I hope you found this to be a useful tool in learning to play this deck. Now I can say that, if I lose while playing this deck, it’s only because I exposed all my combos and strategies :P.
Thank you for taking the time to read this behemoth of an article. Do you have anything to add? Am I patently wrong about something? Please leave your comments below or on Facebook or wherever! 😀
Interested in seeing this deck in action? Check out my Youtube channel here.
I have 3 games uploaded with the deck. The first one, vs Martell Kings of Summer, is an absolute slog of a game, over 2 hours, but the other two, one against Martell Fealty and the other against Stark Fealty, are wonderful and around 1 hour each. I hope you enjoy the videos!
Daye and I are planning on playing more games and posting them on this channel, so if you enjoyed the videos, subscribe to my channel and feel free to comment on them as well :). Daye is a lot more varied in his deck choice than I am so we will very likely be playing a few different kinds of decks in our next bushel of videos. Hell, we may even play the decks that he and his buddies build on their podcast. Why not, right?
Why not, indeed…