Obligatory Intro and Welcome

Hello again and welcome back to Wardens of the Midwest. I posted a quick comment on the AGoT Facebook group asking people how they felt about the meta as a whole the other day and it got some pretty interesting conversations going. Well, luckily for me, I have been sitting on an article idea similar to that comment thread for almost a month now, so I decided to just sit down and actually write it. If you followed that comment thread, maybe some of this is familiar but, honestly, you’re already here. Just read it :). This is going to be a relatively unstructured article, as it is more of a stream of consciousness about my feelings towards the meta we are currently embroiled in at the moment.

Gencon Experience

I’ve been meaning to write this article since Gencon, but really have not had much free time (to write anyway) until this past week. Gencon itself was fantastic. I met a lot of great people, played a lot of fun games and, ultimately, enjoyed the experience. The AGoT tournament itself though? Ugh.

I’m a little late for a full report, so let me just say that I went 3-3 in the tournament and faced 4 Lannister decks in my first 5 matches. It was a terrible day. I had geared my deck for Stark, Martell and Greyjoy and only played against one of the three, a Martell deck, in round 4 all day (who I beat 15-2…oh how I wish I could have played more of them :P). I even saw, in the 3rd round when I was 1-1, that my opponent was American Nationals Champ, Nate Tarantelli. I was excited because I had just played against 2 Lannister decks and was looking forward to a reprieve in the form of his nationals winning Stark Fealty…until he revealed he was also playing Lannister. I was so disappointed.

In those 4 Lannister match ups, I went 1-3 and the 1 win was, essentially, gifted to me by my opponent by making a rather large play mistake that allowed me to end the challenges phase winning 15-14. It was especially disheartening because, of those games, the most power any of my opponents had on their house card by the end of the match was, I believe, 8. In, literally, every game they got the Tywin, reducer, location set up (not an exaggeration. All 4 games), and on turn 1, they each were able to get at least one big character out because of it. Usually 2. Wildfire had no effect because the only renown characters they had were the Mountain, Tywin and Jaime. I could kill a Cersei or an Ilyn Payne with Wildfire, but nothing that would actually slow my opponent down in terms of the power rush they were gaining from their big characters.

Needless to say, there was, literally, no fun to be had in any of these games. Even my opponents told me after each game that Lannister was not their preferred house and they were only running them because they were the best and they wanted to place well (except for one, but he said he only enjoyed Lannister because their gold allowed him to play Naval Superiority, so…). One of them even told me he was actually sick of playing Lannister, and the idea of Lannister as a whole, but felt he had to in order to place well.

On the whole, 23 of the top 48 players were playing Lannister as their main faction and god only knows how many of the other 25 had Banners of the Lion in their decks. There’s something a bit off about that distribution.

I slogged through this 6 round tournament where the highlight of my day was meeting Norman, a fellow Night’s Watch enthusiast who I played in the 6th round (Hey Norman!) and, I gotta say, it was rough. I felt completely lost in terms of my interest in the game and where I would go from there.

“What’s the point of playing when there are so few ways to punish people for throwing every big character on the board that they own?” I thought to myself.  I spent the rest of the day in a rather bleak mood. I kept up to date with a few friends who were also playing, some friends from my local meta as well as Shomar (Thronerunner), but ended up leaving for the day without playing another game.

Wamma Experience

The next day, my group of friends that I came to Gencon with were playing in the Vs System Tournament. I didn’t know how to play all that well, so I decided to just lurk around the Graduated Cut area for Game of Thrones instead. That’s when I met Chris Lavin, of the Boston Meta, and James Waumsley (JC Wamma), not of the Boston Meta. We talked for a while about everything that was wrong with the game (an extraordinarily cathartic topic) as well as where the game could go from here. They even consoled me with tales from 1.0 of all the hilariously broken nonsense that, at one time, existed in the game. At the end of the conversation, I felt a lot better, not only about the game as a whole but about my place in the game. I asked James if he wanted to play a few games and he agreed.

Wamma was playing his vaunted Sungarden deck and I played my Night’s Watch Fealty deck. The first game we played, he set up just a Littlefinger, so he was already off to a subpar start.  I, on the other hand, got the Wall out rather quickly and enough bodies to adequately defend it. I think I was up by 7 or 8 power before he began his comeback. It involved a lot of Olenna’s Informants doing a lot of power challenges and it also involved Nymeria and his Martell attachments taking icons to create unopposed challenges. He ended up winning that game by a rather close margin in the end. I believe it was something like 12-15 or so.

In our second game I, again, was able to get the Wall out early, as well as the defenses to keep it standing. However, he also had Nymeria and Arianne out, so he was taking icons and jumping characters into play several times during the game. Near the end of the game, he played Varys, but didn’t trigger it for maybe 2 turns. At the time, I had a good hand and a duped Old Bear. The reason he sat on Varys for so long was because Nymeria was the only thing keeping the game close and she was unduped. He finally bit the bullet and Varys’d, followed by a Marched to the Wall to get rid of the Old Bear (Classic move). The game ended, I believe, 2 rounds after he Varys’d. For the final turn, we entered with me leading 13 to around 6 or 7.  I played For the Watch as my plot and let him go first. After marshalling, I had a modest board state of Arry, an Unsworn Apprentice and a reducer versus his Arianne and maybe 1 other character with a power icon (maybe an Informant?). He started with an intrigue challenge with Arianne, and I used Arry, the Unsworn Apprentice and a reducer to win the challenge 9 to 4, and then used Sword in the Darkness to end his challenges phase. The Wall got me to 15 power to win the game in (relatively) thrilling fashion!

It was an extremely risky move, as he had 1 gold. So if he had a Hand’s Judgment, he would have been able to cancel it and then, as I had used all my characters on one challenge, he would have been able to get a few unopposed challenges through. I took the risk because his hand was much larger than mine. I saw he had Arianne out and I had already fallen victim to the Olenna’s Informant earlier in the last game. I didn’t want to risk it happening again. I also knew that if it worked, I win the game, so it was a risk I was willing to take. If the game had gone on much longer, there was a chance that I would not have been able to draw the characters necessary to close out the game. Luckily for me, he didn’t have a Hand’s Judgment and the game ended rather abruptly.

After the game, he explained that he had a few Olenna’s Informants and he was planning on doing a power challenge with the other character to get a power from me then, using Arianne to swap in an Olenna’s Informant to get another power challenge and win an unopposed power challenge to kneel the Wall, get 2 more power and then maybe even win dominance to get up to ~11 power by the end of the turn. Then he planned on repeating that the following turn. So, suffice it to say, I made the right call in taking the risk.

So what is the purpose in me telling you about these games?

Well, I can honestly say, that was the most fun I’ve had in months while playing A Game of Thrones. I was playing against cards that I was not expecting, like Olenna’s Informant and, to an extent, Varys. I was playing against a faction that has not seen play in a long time in Tyrell and they were actually both extremely good games. We each were in a position to win during each of the games and the game wasn’t decided until the final challenge in either game.

I was watching a deck type blossom right in front of my eyes. A deck type that could compete with the big guy decks and maybe even beat them. I mean, he didn’t do well in that particular tournament, but across the pond he was doing rather well with it (and I assume he still is).

That’s when it dawned on me. The most interesting part of this game to me has always been trying work outside the meta. The reason I’ve been drawn to the Night’s Watch for so long is because they play the game differently from the way the rest of the meta plays it. And seeing someone else running a deck that is also non-meta and trying to get it to work (although, he’s admittedly been much more successful in his attempts than I have in mine) was not only encouraging but also fun!

And, what do you know, just this past weekend, a Night’s Watch player, Tamás Albeck, won Varberg Morghulis 2016 with Night’s Watch Fealty! He made it work. Now, granted, Tamás is a vastly superior player to me and has been competitive with the Night’s Watch even before this event, but the fact that he actually won this time was just proof to me that my hopes for the faction are not impossible.

There exists a world where 23 of the top 48 are not playing Lannister, despite not liking them, and people actually get to play the factions that they ENJOY rather than the factions that they perceive to be the best. Of course, there will always be the competitive types that do enjoy playing the best deck, but the number of people I’ve spoken to who play (or played) Lannister but kind of hated doing so tells me that there is hope for change in the near future. And we’re seeing it slowly come to fruition now, even if it is a single victory by one of the best players in the world.

In addition, we just got two new agendas in Kings of Winter and Kings of Summer. Kings of Summer isn’t all that exciting yet, except for Tyrell, as it is a glorified Fealty + 1 reserve (waiting for more Summer synergies :P), but Kings of Winter is already creating new deck types. Night’s Watch Winter choke is storming the meta and really showing that choke is viable right now. In fact, I tried to record some games with it on OCTGN and I was quit on 3 times in a row as soon as I loaded my deck haha. People don’t even want to play against it. That’s how strong it is.

….Or how unfun it is to play against. One of the two. But I digress…

Then you have Rains of Castamere coming in the next week that will, again, make people choose different factions and deck types to experiment with the way the game is played. The meta that was stale for so long is finally beginning to turn.

State of the Meta

I’m looking at my meta and reading about the metas in other parts of the world and it seems like there is finally a balance beginning to form among the factions.

Night’s Watch is no longer a joke, either as a choke deck or a Wall deck. For choke, with the White Tree, Kings of Winter and Meager Contribution, you can turn your opponent’s 5 gold plot into a 2 gold plot, effectively ruining any and all plans they have for any given turn.  For a Wall deck, you can neutralize their biggest threats with Craven (I Cravened Knight of Flowers 3 times in a row in one game haha) and then with Arry, Edd and the soon to arrive Thoren, you can win more challenges on defense and gain power that way as well. Qhorin will only further improve their ability to win on defense, and also provide them with printed renown and a murder ability!

Tyrell is getting #thebombthatwaspromised (King Renly Baratheon) and are working very well with Varys. As the Arbor is the best gold producing card in the game and the card draw in Tyrell in unmatched, Varys is a natural strategy that could make Tyrell the meta beater that we are all looking for!

It was also just revealed that, in the third chapter pack, Baratheon is FINALLY getting another Rh’llor character, one that has a printed kneel on it to boot. Plus, Salladhor Saan is, legitimately, a great card. It’s kind of ridiculous how badly they’re shipping Baratheon and Greyjoy with that guy but, even without Greyjoy, Bara has plenty of weapons that they would love to ambush in (ambush in Lightbringer on the accompanying Stannis, gain renown and stand. Ambush King Robert’s Hammer onto Robert and kneel their entire army. They are also getting what looks like another weapon in the 4th chapter pack).

Greyjoy, while extraordinarily swingy and inconsistent, can beat any deck that comes up against them if they draw correctly. And their value will only sky rocket further once Valar Morghulis comes out, as they have more than enough saves to use the plot offensively (use the plot to kill all characters, then save most of your characters with Iron Mines, Risen from the Seas and dupes).

I don’t play Targaryen and my meta doesn’t have many Targ players, but I hear Targaryen Summer is very good as well for a Dothraki themed deck. And, as First Snow of Winter slowly (and hopefully) phases out of the game as more plots become available, the Dany + Dragon build will come back as well. Devoted Bloodrider and Blood of My Blood will only make Bloodriders even more efficient and ruthless.

Even Lannister is getting at least 2 new themes in this deluxe box (intrigue on Queen Cersei’s back and Clannister) that may make them a bit more tolerable to play against. At least until next year’s Store Championship and Regionals season.

Then, obviously, Martell and Stark aren’t going anywhere. Both have extremely potent themes that are going to be strong for the foreseeable future.

(All the cards I’m talking about and their translations can be found here.)

In Conclusion

Entering Gencon, I was not sure if I would stay with this game once Legend of the 5 Rings was brought back by FFG next year. But after the games I played with James, the new agendas being released and the recent news of Tamás’s victory, I feel a renewed sense of hope for this game. Slowly, but surely, the game is turning over a new leaf. And it couldn’t have come soon enough.

I may be a filthy casual. One who intentionally doesn’t play the best deck. One who enjoys being the underdog. One who has a completely absurd code of ethics regarding what factions are “godless.” But I’m also a filthy casual who likes the direction that this game appears to be moving toward. And I hope you all agree.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. What are all your guys’ thoughts on the direction of meta? Is it becoming a bit more balanced? Are more factions cracking the top tier? Or is this all just a charade carried out by those devious Lannister players to lull us all into a false sense of security before cleaning up Worlds and the rest of the competitive scene of 2016? Please leave your comments below or on Facebook or wherever! 😀

Feature Image Source: Joe From Cincinnati | Wardens of the Midwest