Hello and welcome to Wardens of the Midwest! You may remember at the end of the last cycle I, and my merry band of guest writers, reviewed the cards each faction received during that cycle. Well, we’re back again and ready to amuse you. As your friendly neighborhood Night’s Watch player, I will kick the review series off with the Night’s Watch. Following this article will be a similar article for each of the seven other factions.
Just as the first cycle passed, so goes the second cycle. If you enjoyed the first cycle of this game, you may have despised the second cycle, and vice versa. With it came a new emphasis on passive power gain decks such as The Night’s Watch Wall and Baratheon Dominance as well as several new agendas that made the game both extremely interesting and occasionally extremely frustrating.
This time, I’m going to go through all 14 cards that were released for the Night’s Watch in the second cycle and the Lions of Casterly Rock Deluxe Box and rank them from 14th to 1st in terms of their overall impact for the faction. Then I’ll also mention a hand full of cards that were released in this cycle that I believe heavily impact the Night’s Watch as well. This won’t be the exact format of every review article (most won’t go over all 14 cards, more focusing on the most and least powerful cards). I just have an addiction to writing that cannot be tamed.
I am a Wall player, so my rankings will naturally align more with that deck style, but I will keep the Kings of Winter and attrition decks in mind when I make my rankings (White Tree, for example, is not often played in a Wall deck, but is a cornerstone of the choke deck, meaning it will still rank highly.)
To say that this cycle benefited the Night’s Watch would be an understatement. Looking at the chapter packs one at a time, you could make a case that the Night’s Watch came out with the best pair of cards in 3 of the 6 packs, maybe even 4. It was just great card after great card each pack. At times, It felt a bit absurd how many efficient, impactful and blatantly over-tuned cards they got during this cycle. And, due to these new cards, the faction’s qualification and win rates at tournaments has skyrocketed compared to how they did during the first cycle. This was sorely needed, as they were previously considered unplayable at the competitive level (and the stats backed up this thought). There are even concerns throughout the community that, if FFG doesn’t pump their brakes on cards built for the Wall deck soon, we’ll have a full blown “NPE (Negative Play Experience)” on our hands.
I wouldn’t go that far, but I do agree to an extent. The thing that will keep the Wall deck in line is a lack of efficiency. If you give a faction whose main priority is opposing all challenges a tricon, for example, then you’re doing a disservice to the balance of the game. The Wall player needs to have to work for that 2 power each turn in order truly make the deck balanced and fun to play against. They got a few too many pure efficiency cards during this cycle but, as time goes on, more location hate will be made available and this reaction people had towards this faction will be a thing of the past. At least I hope so…
As for my opinions on the cards themselves…
I don’t want to be too hard on this location yet, because I haven’t done a lot of testing with it. But 2 cost is awfully high for a location that could very well do nothing on half of your turns or more, especially when you compare it to what Castle Black and Haunted Forest do for the deck every single turn. In Joust, my biggest concern is this location says higher than an opponent, not equal to or higher. So, you probably won’t get the effect on your Valar turn. If you’re running Trading with the Pentoshi, you probably won’t get it on that turn. Most people run a Counting Coppers so you aren’t getting it on that turn (unless you use Counting Coppers that same turn and also have a reserve bonus card like Iron Throne or Samwell Tarly.) Time of Plenty, Summons and Building Orders are all very common and those are 7 reserve. So if you play Winter Festival or For the Watch or Here to Serve on those turns you’re not getting it either…You could tailor your deck for it, with 2 Time of Plenty, a Counting Coppers, a Building Orders and running Iron Thrones, Samwell Tarly and Northern Rookery…but the effect isn’t necessarily worth the work. Especially when you have Benjen in your deck who does virtually the same thing with no conditions required. If Wall decks get some other significant abilities that rely on reserve, this may find a slot, but those cards don’t exist yet. In melee, this becomes significantly more reliable, but then who plays defensive decks in melee? It could see play in the Night Gathers decks, since they want to have higher reserve anyway but they don’t really have a big issue with stealth. The +1 would be nice, but not for 2 gold.
I remember being pretty excited about Sweet Donnel Hill. At the time, Lannister was still very common and Valar Morghulis had not yet been released. With a practice blade, the Sweet D could deactivate the keywords on Jaime and Gregor as well as other prominent military focused characters like Khal Drogo and characters that could do two challenges like Randyl Tarly or Robert Baratheon (with Lightbringer). Renown rush was, after all, a rather sore weakness for the Wall decks. With the only viable true reset available being a 6 cost neutral character that could be Treacheried or Put to the Sword, The Watch didn’t have a lot of answers if their opponent quickly got out 3 renown characters and started stacking power on them; especially if those characters had intrigue icons like Tywin and Jaime (thus preventing Tears of Lys). Once Valar Morghulis came out, and renown became much less permanent, this problem significantly went down the list of priorities for Wall decks and Hill subsequently dropped out. The fact that he doesn’t do much for the attrition theme and the fact that stealth neutralizes him is what puts him near the bottom of the list. However, it is a testament to the state of the faction that a card with a functional purpose and strength that is quite playable is considered one of the weakest cards they got this entire cycle.
This attachment is ranked this low for one reason: Practice Blade. You just can’t beat it. With so many monocons in the faction, an attachment that gives an additional icon is invaluable; especially considering it’s the same cost as this Dagger and has ambush for surprise defensive wins. Dragonglass Dagger does stop some pretty strong effects, such as Intimidate (after Castle Black stands the character), Balon, Fishwhiskers, Mirri, Roose, Qhorin etc but, in my opinion, the net gain isn’t great enough to counteract that additional icon added by Practice Blade in many cases. I’ve been pitched the idea of running both but, ultimately, there is often not enough space in the deck for both of them, unless you run 1 of each. In testing that, I found that every time I drew a dagger, I just wished it was a Practice Blade. All of the problems this card solves are also solved by existing cards, such as Haunted Forest for Balon and Fishwhiskers and Maester Aemon for Mirri, Roose etc. This is definitely not a bad card. It is just outclassed at the moment. If more highly impactful character abilities come out in the next few cycles, this card may gain some value back but, until then, I think Practice Blade is strictly better.
Bridge of Skulls is another card that I was rather excited about when it first came out. With Qhorin Halfhand, Watcher on the Walls, Thoren and this location, you have the opportunity to put your opponent in a lose-lose-lose situation every single turn. If they decide not to do a military attack, they lose a card from their hand. If they decide to do a small military attack to satisfy the location, you can easily win on defense and gain a power and/or kill a non unique character. If they decide to do a huge military attack to not only satisfy the location but also not give you Qhorin’s and Thoren’s triggers for winning on defense, then you can either let it come through (in which case, you can easily just kneel Maester Aemon for claim) and they just knelt out their entire army for very little gain, or you can use Watcher on the Walls to kill a large chunk of their army and then maybe still win on defense and get your triggers off.
This deck idea has not yet come to fruition, mainly because it has a lot of pieces that need to be assembled together but, as winning on defense themed cards continue to be released, I have full confidence that this location will be impactful. Hidden bonus: it doesn’t require a kneel to activate, so it can be used for Halder’s ability without losing its effect.
As I mentioned in the Bridge of Skulls section, there is a lot of potential for Thoren. The ability to win on defense and gain power while doing it a nice little subtheme for the Wall deck. Qhorin, Dolorous Edd and Arry all assist in this “win on defense” approach, which is very good. My only issue with Thoren is the fact that he is a military monocon. Outside of military challenges, he’s essentially a second 4 cost location. And the other issue I have is there are currently very few ways to compel your opponent to attack you with challenges that you can win. I find my opponents will often just find the one challenge they can push through (routinely power, but occasionally intrigue) and just go all in on that challenge, which means I didn’t gain anything from Thoren that turn. Yes, his presence reduced their challenges phase to one big challenge, but he costs as much as the Wall and I often don’t even defend a challenge with him due to his monocon status. And if I lose initiative and am made to go first? I got dominance out of him that turn. With more cards like the Bridge of Skulls that compel your opponent to initiate challenges that they will not win, Thoren will drastically improve. For now, he is comfortably a 1 to 2x in most Wall defense decks, as a sort of plan B as well as a counter to Lord of the Crossing decks (similar to the Shadow Tower). The fact that he is not useful at all in the attrition decks is why he did not rank any higher.
The first bicon with an intrigue icon in the entire faction! Well, other than Will, but that guy is so damn stressful to play with, I prefer to pretend he never happened. While I, obviously, would prefer it be an intrigue power bicon, I understand that that will probably never exist in the Night’s Watch; They’d be too easy to make a tricon with a Practice Blade. Being loyal means Arry can be brought in for 3 gold with Fealty, which is a great deal. The fact that you can, at any time, bring her back to hand and draw a card is really strong and gives her a striking resemblance to the Hound. Her ability to come back to hand also makes her great for a deck that runs Valar, as well as when you are predicting a Valar. Returning her to hand to draw a card prior to Valar will not only save her but also give you an idea of how you’re going to recover following the Valar, by seeing more cards. Ambush allows her to effectively dodge stealth and sitting on 4 gold makes your opponent consider her during their challenges. While she isn’t extraordinary at anything, she is a lot of value packed into a small and effective package.
Night Gathers experiences the same hindrance that Fist of the First Men does, in that you need to build reserve enhancing and lowering effects into your deck. The difference is the effect of this event is well worth the work! You pay 1 gold to dig through your opponent’s discard pile and play any characters that are there for yourself, ignoring loyalty. This works great with Ocean Roads as well, since the cards in your opponent’s discard pile are likely outside of your faction, unless it’s a mirror match. The attrition deck already existed before this event, but this really gave the deck a jolt of strength that looks to continue in the Night’s Watch big box, based on the previews we’ve seen so far. Ways to get characters into their discard pile include Varys, Marched to the Wall, random intrigue claim, events such as His Viper Eyes and reserve choke via Kings of Winter, The Frostfangs and winter plots such as Wraiths in Their Midst.
When this card was first spoiled, it blew the minds of a large portion of the community. In a game that had just seen Valar Morghulis released, they release a complete counter to it just one chapter pack later? Banner of the Watch will be the new thing, people said. The game is broken! Pack it up and go home!…
Well, Valar Morghulis is a very strong plot, but it is not nearly as ubiquitous as many people (particularly 1st edition players) thought. It definitely made people change the way they play the game (always protect your MVPs with bodyguards/dupes/saves if possible), but it isn’t run in every deck. In fact, I think it may be run in the minority of decks as of today. High cost characters are still incredibly valuable and most people are reluctant to risk wiping them from their board. In my Store Championship victory, I was only Valar’d in one( or maybe two) of my six games.
Now, that I’ve gotten that out of the way, Craster is very strong. He is a high strength 4+ cost intrigue icon for the Watch, which we don’t have many of, and his ability is legitimately strong at countering a lot of problems. For example, if you are building a rather large board, in order to defend the Wall, your opponent may want to Wildfire you. Craster counters that. I have had games in testing where a 2 claim military paired with an Ice led to a bad round, but Craster allowed me to bring all 3 characters back for the cost of sacrificing just him, which is not a bad trade.
He does have his weaknesses. Milk of the Poppy turns him off. Ser Arys Oakheart and Dissension discard him. Treachery can really screw him up (ask Nate Tarantelli how much Craster likes Treachery). But, for 5 gold, you gain a character that your opponent immediately has to respond to (or else leave your board state virtually impenetrable). The fact that he is a 5 strength intrigue icon with the Wall out is just a bonus!
While there isn’t a whole lot to say about this character, his efficiency is undeniable. A 2 for 2 power icon alone is not that bad for this faction, since power challenges are the most important challenge in the game, but the fact that he becomes a tricon with minimal effort is just crazy to me. If I get 3 attachments or locations out, which I want to do anyway, I have a cheap but effective defender for any challenge my opponent throws at me. He is also no attachments except weapons, so you can’t milk him and you can’t remove his icons with attachments. As far as chuds go, he may be the best in the game for the purpose he serves. However, he is weaker in the attrition builds, as they don’t commonly use several of the Night’s Watch locations such as Shadow Tower, The Wall and Castle Black. That keeps them out of the overall top 5, but in terms of the Wall deck, they are definitely one of the best cards the Watch has received in this cycle.
He may not look like all that much, but Dolorous Edd may be one of the most bannerable cards in the entire game. If you’re running Banner of the Watch, there is virtually no reason not to run at least 1 Dolorous Edd. When is unexpectedly defending an intrigue challenge a bad thing? All it costs is a faction card kneel which is still relatively free in most deck types. In addition to that, you have a card that is supremely efficient in a Wall deck. The worst case scenario is that he prevents an unopposed challenge, frees up your characters to defend other challenges and/or attack, keeps the Wall standing and may even give you claim soak for their military challenge. Best case scenario, he wins you a challenge on defense unexpectedly and allows you to trigger defensive win cards such as Shadow Tower and Thoren (In addition to the benefits mentioned in the worst case scenario). Even in non-defensive decks, the worst case scenario is a pretty strong effect on the game. It is a little bit annoying in a Fealty deck, since you’re commonly dropping ravens in and out of play each turn, which is easier with Fealty’s faction kneel, but you learn to live with that. As more agendas are released, effects like Edd’s may make non-faction kneel agendas more attractive, based on the effect they provide for the deck.
This location was instantly viable, as evidenced by several Night’s Watch attrition decks reaching the graduated cut at Gencon a few weeks after this card’s release (after Night’s Watch previously being somewhat of a joke in the first cycle.) However, it really started to define decks when Kings of Winter was released in the following chapter pack. With Meager Contribution, White Tree and Kings of Winter, you could potentially remove 3 gold from your opponent’s gold pool in any given turn. Even without Meager, this location created a 2 gold swing every single turn that it was in play. Your opponent could enter marshalling with 2 gold, when they were originally planning on getting 5 (such as in the case of Noble Cause). Being able to choke your opponent while simultaneously being able to supplement the Night’s Watch’s poor economy is what makes the attrition deck viable today. There were a few isolated cases of those decks working early in the first cycle, but this card (and Night Gathers) rejuvenated the deck type and they have been a consistent presence in the meta ever since. It is not commonly run in Wall decks, as it is another location to pay for but it doesn’t help with the defense of the Wall directly, which is why it was left out of the top 3, but its impact on the faction as a whole is undeniable.
I will preface this by saying I’ve only had Qhorin Halfhand in my possession for 1 week. So I haven’t done all that much testing with him yet. But the early returns, as well as the theory crafting behind him, is enough for me to put him in the top 3 for this cycle. I would not hesitate to put Qhorin in the list of top 10 characters in the entire game. He has virtually everything you look for in a 6 cost character. 2 icons, good strength (at cost when the Wall is out), renown, no attachments except weapons, the ranger trait (that may be more NW specific…) and, to top it all off, a murder ability. He’s even non-loyal, so you can play him in any Banner of the Watch deck that your heart desires. Some people have said that they don’t think he’ll see much play in Wall decks because the murder reaction doesn’t really fit their theme. Well, to be frank, I’d play him even without the reaction. It is the definition of “a cherry on top” to me. He enables so many new strategies, both within a Wall deck and without. I already mentioned the Bridge of Skulls-Thoren-Qhorin-Watcher combo but, in addition, he gives more chud clearing for the attrition deck. He gives Wall decks renown, for faster power gain. He destroys the No attachment knights, armies and guards, who are not Craven-able. He murders Pyromancers before they can set the Wall on fire! Kill cards are never not useful.
Craven’s release marks the exact moment The Night’s Watch went from underdog to legitimate tournament contender. Those of you who follow the tournament scene know what Tamás Albeck did at Varberg Morghulis with his Night’s Watch Fealty deck and Craven was a huge part of that deck’s overall strategy. Craven their best characters, force them to try to remove them with Rattleshirt’s Raiders. Kill their entire army with Watcher on the Walls. This was a strategy that you could build a deck around because people are so dependent on their big strong characters and attachment control was so limited in the card pool (and it still is, really.) I wrote an entire 2 part article about the deck that was built around this concept. Making your opponent’s characters unable to initiate challenges (90% of the reason you play most characters) for 1 gold is just…game changing. Craven being released was the point at which you had to actually account for the Night’s Watch Wall decks when you went to any kind of tournament. And it would have been the best card released for the faction if not for one other card coming out in the 4th chapter pack…
And it all comes down to this card. I can say, without hesitation or doubt, that this was the best Non-Valar Morghulis card released in the entire 2nd cycle. For any faction. And, based on JCWamma’s end of cycle poll, many people agree with me. If Craven made the Night’s Watch Wall decks competitive, this card made them Tier 1. A 2 gold location that basically gives the Wall deck one “do over” challenge. Walk right into a Dracarys! to make a challenge unopposed? The Haunted Forest has your back. Opponent has 2 stealth characters and your Benjen is milked? The Haunted Forest’s got you covered. Your opponent just Valar’d to wipe your board and you could only afford enough characters to defend 2 challenges? The Haunted Forest won’t let that Wall fall! And, combined with For the Watch!, it makes you only really have to defend a single challenge that round. It provides flexibility, efficiency and, most importantly, forgiveness to one of the more unforgiving deck types in the game (prior to its release). I personally think this card is broken. Core Tyrion level broken. It simplifies a previously difficult to pilot deck. There are still some nuances to piloting the deck, but this card is essentially training wheels. The power creep has begun, folks.
Cards Released For Other Factions That Impacted the Night’s Watch the Most:
I’ll make this section shorter because this is already a nice, long article…
The Baratheon Dominance deck is passive power gain that is faster than the Wall deck. Even with the Iron Throne out, Edric makes winning dominance basically guaranteed for that deck. That deck is The Night’s Watch’s one significant weakness at this point.
While he is very difficult to pull off due to his cost and sacrifice requirement, Roose can, in the right scenario, kill several characters simultaneously. Aemon negates military claim and single target kill very well, but doesn’t handle multi kill very well. If you can pump Roose to 9 strength (Winterfell, Needle, Lady) and kill Aemon and a Ranging Party, for example, that will hurt a lot. Especially if Winterfell or Catelyn makes it so that the Night’s Watch player can’t use Aemon that challenge.
I’ll take your Wall, gain the 2 power and you will lose your strength buffs for the turn. For 1 gold. Suffice it to say, this is a very powerful effect and, since it is non loyal, the Watch has to worry about this card in any banner of the Kraken deck. And those are pretty common right now.
Surprise removal of Craster could hurt, especially since Arys can come in via Arianne. If Craster is protecting your board from Wildfire or Valar, losing him suddenly could wreck your plans. Good thing Arys is, otherwise, very cost inefficient.
Neutral Cards That Have Impacted the Night’s Watch the Most:
Night Gathers pairs so well with Ocean Road, it’s crazy. Since Ocean Road reduces your out of faction cards, and your opponent’s graveyard is likely not your faction, you can get a lot of value out of your Night Gathers turns with this location.
Provides 6 gold, 7 reserve and an extra card draw. What more could the Night’s Watch ask for in an economy plot?
Ugh, I hate that this card exists. I get that location control had to be added to the game, but couldn’t they do it via a card I can react to? The good news is Qhorin can potentially kill them if I get a military challenge through. Not always your best choice, but sometimes it may be necessary to lose the Wall power for a turn in order to wipe the Pyromancers off the board.
Meager Contribution, The Whitetree and Kings of Winter combine to make a very potent choke deck that is strong but not unbeatable. This same deck is commonly attrition based and loves digging into the opponent’s discard pile, which becomes larger with the reduced reserve provided by Kings of Winter.
2 additional passive power just for flipping the plot. Granted, you have to avoid Summer plots, but if you time it so that you use Winter Festival the turn after you Milked/Cravened their best character (hence them potentially playing Confiscation) or waiting until they need some card draw (hoping they play Counting Coppers) or any similar situation, you have got a pretty good chance of getting that 2 power. Plus it has 5 gold, which is a healthy chunk of gold for a plot that advances your win condition.
I could write an entire article on how well the Night’s Watch survives (and potentially utilizes) Valar Morghulis. Here to Serve allows you to fetch Maester Aemon at any time so you almost always have at least one save. If you have a dupe of him in hand, you have another save. Craster is immune, so he’s another “saved” character and if you can dupe any of your characters, that makes for a pretty awesome board state post Valar. Makes Renown much less threatening.
As I said with Kings of Winter, reserve and gold choke are becoming strong themes in the Night’s Watch and this card helps in that regard. It’s a tad bit overcosted, but if you can get one of them on your opponent’s board early, it could really hamper their options in hand and increase your options for Night Gathers.
Wall decks are not fans of having to defend 4 challenges. Khal Drogo and Olenna’s Informants have long been strong cards against the Watch. And Relentless Assault is no different. Luckily, it is relatively hard to trigger and is canceled by Hand’s Judgment for 0 gold. Still, something to always watch out for when you’re defending the Wall.
So that’s it. Those are my opinions on the most and least impactful cards for the Night’s Watch in this cycle. Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Do you disagree with any? Did I miss a card that you think is a pain for the Night’s Watch? Let me know in the comments!
We will continue this series of articles with Jon Herr providing a State of the Faction Address for Stark following the second cycle on Tuesday, February 14th. Hope to see you then!