In my first article about the Night’s Watch, I alluded to the three general types of players in this game, Ned, Jaime and Shagga (I know you guys love that Jaime picture, too.)
I got a few comments from people who didn’t fully understand what those three things are, so I think I’ll go ahead and write a quick little article (although, that’s not really possible for me. I suck at writing short articles.) about, first of all, what these three types of players are and how to categorize them and then I’m going to talk about what I identify as and why I think the kind of player I am is the most important to the game. Egotistical? Perhaps. But the truth is the truth.
Those who focus on staying as true to the story as possible. They are primarily fans of the source material and that is commonly what drew them to this game in the first place. They value cards, strategies and combinations that would feasibly occur in, or relate to, the story from the books and/or show. Bonus points if the abilities on cards match up to the character’s personality or role in the story.
For example, the Night’s Watch teaming up with Stark makes sense. Targaryen teaming up with the Lannisters…not so much (the Lannisters kind of murdered every Targaryen when they sacked King’s Landing during Robert’s Rebellion). Targaryen teaming up with Martell makes sense…Martell teaming up with Tyrell…not so much (They’ve been feuding for centuries over a variety of things, such as Tyrell’s occupation of Dorne following the Young Dragon’s conquest, when the Martells killed Lord Lyonel Tyrell by filling his bed’s canopy with scorpions…).
It isn’t that they don’t care about winning. They just want to do it while also staying true to the storyline and alliances of the book.
Those who play to win by whatever means necessary. They try to identify the most consistently powerful strategy in the game and run it until a new, better strategy emerges, in which case they’ll likely switch to that one. They are commonly the most successful players in tournament settings and follow the strongest factions closely.
That isn’t to say that they completely lack faction loyalty. If two factions are similarly powerful, but the faction that the player likes more happens to be slightly weaker, they won’t definitely switch to the stronger faction. As kind of a polar opposite to Nedly players, they are willing to disregard the context of the storyline when building a deck if it allows them to optimize their deck. Jaime and Drogo work well together. So they put them in the same deck, regardless of the absurdity of that match up in terms of the canon of the story.
It isn’t that they are not fans of the book/show or that they don’t care about certain Nedly aspects of the game. They just prioritize winning over Nedliness.
Shagga players are a strange player type to define. They often care about winning, but they try to avoid the conventional ways of winning. They don’t only want to win the game, they want to win with a flourish. A special combo that makes them feel like they outplayed their opponent. They are often the most inventive players in terms of deck building and card choice. Due to card pool constraints in 2.0, this player type hasn’t had as much opportunity to shine yet.
Early examples of Shagga combos may be something like using the Bear and the Maiden Fair to reorganize the top 5 cards of their opponent’s deck, and then using the Tickler to discard the top card of that deck, and discard an impact card from their opponent’s side of the table. Another shagga combo would be the use of Doran, Edric Dayne, The Red Viper, Dawn and Doran’s Game on turn 6 to hopefully convert a huge intrigue challenge into 5 to 10 power in one turn. Are either of these combos reliable? No, not really. But it’s hard not to feel a sense of accomplishment when you pull them off and they lead to a win.
A more recent Shagga combo that may end up holding water is the Knights and Ladies rush deck centered around Lady Sansa’s Rose. It is a bit Shagga because it is a combo that isn’t guaranteed to happen, but with Hobber coming out in this most recent chapter pack, who can go find a lady when you play him (along with being a knight himself) makes the combo much more reliable.
One of my friends described the mindset like this: “A Shagga player can build a deck around 1 combo and play 10 games with it. They would be happier winning 1 of those 10 games with the specific combo than they would be winning 9 of the 10 games but never seeing the combo come to fruition.” I think that covers their priorities very well.
Tensions Among the Player Types
In this game, there seems to be a minor tension between Nedly players and Jaime players. To Jaime players, Nedly players seem weird. And to Nedly players Jaime players seem weird. Jaimes don’t understand why you would intentionally ban yourself from certain combos that could help you win the game more easily. And Nedly players don’t understand why you’re playing a game based on the Game of Thrones if you don’t care that the deck you built makes no sense in the world of the Game of Thrones! If all you want to do is build strong decks and win tournaments, just play Magic! There isn’t even prize money for winning in this game…
I identify mostly as a Ned. I love cards that behave the way you’d expect them to in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire. I hate cards or combinations that would never ever occur in Westeros. Even the worlds winning deck makes no sense. Tyrell and Martell hate each other, like I said earlier. And it isn’t even a historical thing. As recently as a few years before the books began, Oberyn Martell permanently crippled Willas Tyrell, Mace Tyrell’s heir, in a jousting contest. So there is very recent bad blood between them.
I’ve often been laughed at for playing the Night’s Watch because, until very recently, they have not been very competitive in the current meta. I’ve been asked multiple times why I don’t build a more competitive deck for tournaments. This is all, of course, before they lose to me, but it’s always the initial reaction.
“Even if you want to stay with a defensive strategy, install the Wall into a Targaryen or Lannister main house. It’ll work so much better! We promise!”
I can’t do it. It may seem obsessive, but if I’m going to play a Wall deck, it has to be a Night’s Watch main house, because a banner of the Watch should not be legal. The Night’s Watch actually vowed to NOT assist other factions in their battle for the Iron Throne. So there’s no way they would ever banner into another faction.
I’m slightly more receptive to Night’s Watch decks with a banner of another faction that isn’t Stark or Baratheon (both of which are already Nedly). It may not match the storyline for Martell to banner in with the Night’s Watch, but they will have to eventually. Everyone will have to fight the White Walkers eventually, so it isn’t a 100% Nedly sin to play any of the factions as a banner to Night’s Watch (or maybe that’s just what I tell myself so that I can allow myself to play Nymeria.)
Not many players are entirely Ned or entirely Jaime or entirely Shagga. There’s definitely a spectrum. But, being a competitive game, Jaimes are definitely the favored player type when it comes to the tournament setting.
So why do Neds matter? What made me a Ned and not a Jaime? If you’re playing a game, presumably you want to win. So being a Jaime would logically be the better choice of the two. Who wants to be constrained by imaginary rules that are not part of the rule book?
As has become a tendency in these articles, I’m going to take some time to tell a little bit of a story about my history in gaming.
More Story Time!
I’ve been a part of many card games. I played Legend of the 5 Rings (L5R). I played Net Runner (for a very very short time). I played Doomtown and a long time ago, I played Magic. I’m talking back in Tempest where the rarity wasn’t even printed on the cards (via the black/silver/gold icons).
At my local game store, what games were played was somewhat of a hive mind. If you wanted to play a game but no one else liked it, eventually you stopped playing it due to lack of people to play against. If you weren’t all that interested in a game, but a bunch of people played it, eventually you were bound to start playing, simply because that is what everyone around you was playing. So you could either play it or go home.
I imagine most local metas are similar.
Our local game store went through phases. I’ve been a part of the same group of players for about 5 years now, and we cycled through L5R, Net Runner, Doomtown and now A Game of Thrones 2nd edition.
Of those 5 years, L5R took up about 3 and a half of those years, with NetRunner and Doomtown coming and going in the last year and a half or so. NetRunner and Doomtown stuck around on the fringes for a while, but I believe they’re all gone now that Game of Thrones is in full swing.
Some may wonder what was the reasoning behind the long time playing L5R and the relatively short time playing Doomtown and Netrunner. Depending on who you ask, the answer may be different. But I believe it had to do with one thing over all others.
Legends of the 5 Rings had an in depth, complex and immersive story behind it, including a novel series and a story team that would release stories detailing the interactions between the clans and inventing personalities for the various characters in the game for each clan. Those who played the game know exactly who Diagotsu is and the shit he pulled during his time in Rokugan. There’s an entire Wikipedia page about him, along with many other characters, locations and events from the storyline.
When playing the game, you felt like you were part of the story. That you were part of the war that raged between the clans and you were contributing to the story. In fact, one of the rewards for winning a major tournament, called a Kotei, was you got to literally affect the story line in some way. Each player who made the elimination round chose a character from their clan in the story who was currently alive. And during the final match, the winner may choose to spare (honorably or dishonorably), kill, or take the runner up’s character hostage and that decision would be written into the official canon of the game. There were also other choices regarding the movements of your clan in battle and whether you supported the Empire or the Colonists and, I believe, naming of champions that would create new printed versions of certain characters with new titles and text, but that is a big can of worms not pertinent to the point I’m making. The Kotei season was an event that shaped the world around the card game that you were playing. Not only did this create a sense of impact for the players, but it also created a very fun atmosphere where you could take bounties out on different personalities. It also created double agents who would play a clan other than their true clan just so they could potentially kill an important character from the clan they were playing. A lot of discussion went on in the different clans’ forums on what the best decision is for each scenario and who to put in jeopardy and who is off limits.
It was more than a card game. It was its own world. And with your clan affiliation came a sense of community. An Us against the World feeling that not many games have been able to emulate. It truly bred clan loyalty. I believe that if the Ivory arc wasn’t so incredibly bland and boring compared to the Emperor edition preceding it, my meta would still be playing the game. However, due to some terrible decisions from AEG in terms of resetting the game and dumbing it down to the point of boredom for anyone but brand new players, it began to fizzle in our meta.
It’s true that Doomtown has a similar structure for their tournaments, but our meta never became interested in the story line (Feudal Japan is apparently more interesting to our group than Westerns). That means there were no “Neds” for Doomtown and I think that was a big reason that the game faded in our meta.
Netrunner followed but, without the story line and immersion that L5R provided, we were left wanting more. While the characters were fine and the mechanics of the games were good, it just didn’t feel like L5R. It didn’t have the exclusive feeling of being a part of something. Of being part of a community that liked the same things you liked and were fans of the same characters and clans that you were. You were just sitting at a table with some cards with various abilities and text. It just felt so hollow.
In Doomtown, since no one had a particular interest in the story line, it came down to gang strength. You played Sloan if they were strong. If they weren’t you played another gang. Because you didn’t know these characters. You didn’t care about them. They were a means to an end; you winning the game.
And, unsurprisingly, both games slowly began to fizzle from our meta.
Then A Game of Thrones 2nd Edition was released. Finally, another game with an immersive story line that people cared about! I KNOW who Jaime Lannister is. I KNOW who Eddard Stark is. It means something when they are across the table from each other. It is part of an entire world. These are more than just ink on cardboard. These are expressions of a character that everyone knows.
And that is what being a Nedly player is all about. You’re not just a fan of winning a game. You’re not just interested in the mechanics of the game or playing what was best at that time. You’re invested in the story and you play the game to feel like you are part of that story. If you hate the Boltons for what they did to the Starks, you can play a Stark deck to resurrect your favorite Starks that have fallen. If you love Tyrion, you can build a deck that takes advantage of his cunning ways. If you always wanted to burn shit to the ground, you could play Targaryen in between your visits to the therapist.
Without the story, the game means almost nothing. Imagine a video game where you have a list of characters and abilities, and you just fight battles against other generic characters with no back story or explanation as to who you’re fighting. Just listless battle round after battle round. No insight as to why you’re fighting them. Who you are. What the context of those battles is. Would you buy that game?
Even free to play mobile games have a story line. You may not be paying attention to it, because you’re just looking for something to do while in the bathroom, but it is there. So why would card games be any different? I would never accuse Jaimes or Shaggas of being prone to abandon games as soon as they aren’t ‘fresh’ anymore, as that is commonly not the case. But the Neds are the ones that hold the meta together. During periods of staleness, like the whole game not changing at all from October when Taking the Black was fully spoiled and people were printing out proxies to start testing until this past month, when the second chapter pack was finally released, it would be hard to hold a meta together without fans of the content patiently waiting to continue playing the game based on their favorite book/show series.
So just remember, the next time you want to ridicule that Nedly player for intentionally avoiding the strongest combos, instead just thank him for keeping together the community that you feel so connected to today, as you are reading this article.
You all are awesome.
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