The NFL draft is officially over so I can finally spend my free time on Game of Thrones once again. I haven’t written anything for about a month, and the reason is because there really hasn’t been much to write about. Especially not about The Night’s Watch. Not unless I wanted to talk about the amazing cards they’ve been getting lately (I’m looking at you Northern Rookery and Chett…). I could write about Lannister. Or I could write about First Snow of Winter. Or I could write about the current meta. But all that is basically the same topic and I feel like most people are sick of hearing about it anyway. I know I am.

Disclaimer: I will be mentioning First Snow in this article, but it is not the focal point. And while I hate the card with a passion, I will do my best not to direct too much bile in the card’s direction. At least not on paper (or website…).

While it has been a rough month and a half since First Snow of Winter was released, there has been one positive that came from that devilish card’s release. It imbued me with a new found appreciation for Old Bear Mormont. That was me introducing the topic of this article, so cue the music. Here we go…

Jeor has had a rough go of it in the early stages of this game. When the core set was released, he was almost unanimously named the worst 7 cost character in the entire game. Ironically, the reviews that came in were calling Old Bear garbage and were naming Jon Snow the center piece of Night’s Watch (lol). But it’s hard to criticize their opinions. At the time, they didn’t know how useless Jon Snow was going to be, or how the Wall was going to be one of the only viable (and I may be using that term loosely) strategies coming out of Night’s Watch for the foreseeable future. On paper, Jon Snow seemed good, until you realize that he’s the very definition of a “carrot on a stick” deck type (one that is always almost viable, but not quite. Giving you hope, but ultimately always leading to disappointment). Some might argue a Wall deck is the same, but I digress….

Old Bear was not favored in the early going, mainly because the gold was not there to play him. Specifically, Night’s Watch had no reducing location for some reason and the only plot that could unconditionally play him outright (with no reducers, no rose roads, no Kingsroads and no big Calling the Banners haul) was Noble Cause. But being the only lord in the Night’s Watch made it very difficult to justify running Noble Cause in a Night’s Watch deck for just the one character. If you bannered in Stark, you could use Noble Cause, but Old Bear really works best in a NW fealty deck.  Obviously, you could technically play him with Feast for Crows and reduce him using fealty but that would restrict you to fealty only if you had any intention of playing him. And fealty was not wonderful out of core set, since most of your characters were monocons.

However, there have been a number of releases that have made Old Bear a much more prominent figure in the Night’s Watch Wall deck.

First Snow of Winter

First, as I mentioned before, is First Snow of Winter. This didn’t help Old Bear at all, but it did shift deck building away from 30 1 to 3 cost characters that could defend the Wall in the most cost efficient manner possible. First Snow of Winter made 4 to 7 cost characters the most important characters in the game. Without them, you are begging for your board to be destroyed and the 1 or 2 4+ characters left on your board be slaughtered. So, when First Snow was released and all the top tier decks began to be built around it, Night’s Watch players were essentially forced to dig into their card boxes/binders and pull out every character with a gold cost of 4 or higher. There were slim pickings. You obviously have the Ranging Parties and Benjen Stark, which most Night’s Watch players were running 3 of anyway, but beyond that there wasn’t much. Will looks good on the surface, but during a first snow turn, unless you have several other 4-7 cost characters out, there’s a good chance you are forced to trigger that blasted forced reaction. And if they have 1 or 2 stealth characters with a power icon? You’re almost guaranteed to lose an unopposed challenge that turn, forcing you to sacrifice Will (Or another Ranger) and probably losing a military challenge after that. Then there’s Ghost, Stonesnake and Jon Snow. All 3 are monocons. It’s rough playing high cost monocons in any deck, but they are especially difficult to deal with in Night’s Watch, who want to oppose every challenge. So those three are good on a first snow turn, but not so great in every other turn. Then you have Ser Alliser Thorne . Alliser is a very nice card. He not only gives out a ton of military icons, but he also can be ambushed into play on a First Snow turn, which is a very nice surprise, especially on a turn that it wouldn’t be seen as odd that you have 4 gold left over. It’s also a turn that your opponent will almost definitely initiate a military challenge.

And finally, you have the topic of this article (although it may not be apparent up to this point): Old Bear Mormont. He’s a 7 cost character that, if you have the Wall out, is a 7 strength bicon that does not kneel to defend. Also, if you do not lose a challenge on defense for an entire turn, you can play any Night’s Watch card from your hand into play. Out of the core set, that second part almost never occurred. It was difficult to pull off and, with Night’s Watch relative weakness to intrigue, it made it extremely unlikely. However, he really wasn’t that bad of a character out of core set. He has always been an efficient blocker. He has always been high strength and pretty much immune to opponent’s shenanigans like Dracarys or the Things I do for Love. Having Aemon by his side has made him resistant to removal effects like Tears of Lys and Put to the Sword and he has always been a thorn in the side of your opponent from the second he hits the board. And putting a longclaw and/or Little Bird on him? Oh man, that is fun. I’ve gotten 3 power on him in one turn multiple times (why did they initiate so many challenges that Old Bear was going to win? Ask them. Damn it Jim, I’m a Night’s Watch player, not a mind reader.) But his biggest strength, being played in fealty decks, was very difficult to justify with the horrendous icon spread of NW. And the cost to play him, as well as that difficult to trigger ability of his, made him a generally unattractive selection for your deck.

But since Core set, there have been a number of cards released that have improved Old Bear’s utility to the point that I can comfortably say he is the center piece of any Wall deck right now. I have triggered his ability multiple times (I would say, on average, once per 2 to 3 games that I play him) in the past month and a half, and he has been the card I am almost always excited to see each time I draw him. So what are these cards, you ask? Well, I’m about to tell you! 😀

For the Watch!

This plot has made a lot of really nice interactions possible for the Night’s Watch. First of all, it has good initiative, so it gives you a reasonably good chance of winning initiative and choosing to go second. Second of all, having your opponent automatically lose a challenge is great. It gives them a hard decision to make. Do they waste their power challenge (which I love when they do that), simply because their reducer is the only character they are able to spare to a lost cause? Do they lose their intrigue challenge because they have a Put to the Sword in their hand and want to win military and power (the point of the game)? Or do they lose their military challenge because they really need to win power and want to get the intrigue challenge that you are not capable of winning on defense?

Not only does this allow for human error (I’ve had multiple times where I could not believe the choice my opponent made) based on their preconceived biases about my deck or about what I am trying to accomplish. But it also allows for human error on the grounds of simply forgetting the plot exists in the first place. It may sound bizarre, but people forget about persistent plot effects ALL. THE. TIME. I think people ask to take back their first challenge 90% of the time on my For the Watch! turn. Most of the time, I let them, but if it’s a competitive game, that’s a play that they have to live with if I am not willing to let them take it back. During a tournament a few weeks ago, my opponent even did a Gregor Tywin attack because he was so eager to play that Put to the Sword. I did not let him take that back, for obvious reasons (I’m a dick?). And these aren’t only bad players that make this mistake. Many accomplished players have done it (if I can name drop, Patrick Haynes even fell for it during the Indianapolis Regionals). People just seem to be so involved in making their math work, that they can make some critical play mistakes due to this plot. (Similar mistakes occur on Fortified Position turns too, by the way. Fun fact numero uno.)

So how does this plot make Old Bear, specifically, better? Well, during that turn, they may do a 1 strength military challenge. Or a 1 strength power challenge. Or whatever. Old Bear can defend that challenge without having to kneel and set off a whole new array of tricks, detailed below:

The Shadow Tower

As I said above, being able to force your opponent to waste their first challenge with a 1 or 2 strength character makes it so that you can defend that challenge, win it, and then deactivate one of your opponent’s characters. Below is a post I made about the Shadow Tower in a Cardgamedb forum post:

There are two ways the card works:

  1. It changes the way your opponent makes challenges. When facing NW, a lot of factions will do all 3 challenges even when they can’t win all three. Doing a military with a chud just to make you kneel your rangers so that they can get a big power challenge through. Or doing an intrigue challenge and forcing you to kneel Maester Aemon rather than saving a character for the military challenge. This card will make them no longer do those small challenges just to kneel defenders, which will then leave you more standing characters to retaliate. This is especially prevalent against LotC decks that need to do a weak challenge just to get to their third challenge. I’ve had multiple times where I win that first challenge just with Old Bear. By having Shadow Tower out, they can no longer do that weak challenge and they’ll actually have to put effort towards winning all 3 challenges, which may not be possible with LotC.

This also works great with For the Watch! since they will want to do a useless challenge to waste, but they know if they do, then you can win it and turn off the character they need to win an important challenge.

  1. It will make them unable to even make any challenges. I had one game against Greyjoy LotC. In order to win a power challenge over my Old Bear, Benjen and Ranging Party with the Wall and Shadow Tower out, normally, he would have been able to do a military with Asha, stealthing Old Bear, and force me to kneel one of the rangers, then do a power challenge with the other two or something like that. But because a loss of his first challenge would have meant I could deactivate one of the other two, he couldn’t do that. He would have had to commit Euron, Balon and Asha. Euron and Balon had no stealth to get around Old Bear. Euron and Asha wasn’t enough to get over RP and Benj. And Balon and Asha wouldn’t have been enough either.

He didn’t want to kneel his entire army for one challenge, because then I would be able to come back for 3 challenges unopposed, so he had to pass. That allowed me to do one big power challenge, which I won, and then, since I didn’t lose a challenge on defense, I triggered Old Bear’s ability to play a second Ranging Party from my hand, which, with the Iron Throne, won me dominance even though he had Euron and Balon standing still.

The next turn, he played the Reader and one of those scouts that sacrifice for stealth. So he had the Reader, Balon, Euron and Asha and the scout. I played For the Watch!, a littlebird on Old Bear and Aemon to go along with my two Ranging Parties, Benjen, Wall and Shadow Tower. A second straight turn of paralyzing his army. He decided to sacrifice his scout to give Euron stealth for the sole purpose of stealthing Old Bear so that I couldn’t win the intrigue challenge on defense.

Now, obviously, that is all circumstantial and may not happen every game. But it’s just one example of the hundreds of ways The Shadow Tower can manipulate the way your opponent has to do challenges and, again, can cause human error that can really screw your opponent over. The third card I’m going to mention isn’t exactly a new card, but it pairs so well with the first two it is worth mentioning.

The Sword in the Darkness

This card was nearly unplayable out of the core set. They may as well have renamed it The Old Bear event, because when are you winning a challenge by 5 or more on defense except when Old Bear is hanging out? You could theoretically do it if you have a bunch of rangers and they initiate a military challenge just to kneel a few of them. But that could backfire if they canceled the Sword in the Darkness, then you just over committed to defending and may have left a gaping opening in your defenses. The risk was often times not worth it, so it was left out of the deck for the most part. But then, with the release of the Shadow Tower and For the Watch!, as well as the new agenda, the Lord of the Crossing, this event finally served a purpose. If your opponent is running Lord of the Crossing, you can easily win the first challenge by 5 or more, unless they over commit. For the Watch! creates a similar conundrum for your opponent. All around, these 3 cards work extremely well together and make Old Bear a fierce opponent to try to attack head on. The next card doesn’t tie into this theme of winning on defense, but it will also bolster the strength of Old Bear Mormont considerably.

Old Bear’s Raven and Chett (kind of)

This card, technically, is not out yet, but it’s definitely worth mentioning. I, personally, am running 2 little birds in my NW fealty deck. They can be attached to Syrio, Old Bear, Benjen or Alliser Thorne, a total of 10 of my 35 characters. So that isn’t a bad number of characters, especially since most of them I want to see every game. It can also, technically, be attached to Samwell, the reducers and Will, another 6 characters, but they already have intrigue icons, so meh. Its main purpose, obviously, is Old Bear Mormont. If you get Old Bear out, with the Wall, and a little bird, you’re made in the shade. Yes. I get that that is a 12 gold 3 card combo. But it’s not like you’re going to win many games without the Wall out, so it’s really a 2 card combo, one of which is already great in itself (Old Bear). Old Bear’s Raven is limited in that it only gives an intrigue icon to Old Bear, but if that is the main purpose of the little bird anyway, it won’t be too bad to make it 1 little bird and 1 or 2 Ravens, giving you three potential intrigue icons for Old Bear.

Why am I mentioning Chett in this? Well, because the most common plot following a little bird on Old Bear is, you guessed it, Confiscation. If I had a dollar for every time a little bird was confiscated from Old Bear, I’d be able to buy my own damn little bird and bring it to the card store for each game night (in this instance, I mean an actual bird, not a small orphan child absent his tongue). However, if Old Bear’s Raven were ever confiscated, Chett can actually fetch it from my discard pile during the dominance phase, since it has the Raven keyword. Don’t get me wrong. Chett is still not a great card, but grabbing a discarded messenger raven (discarded due to reserve or Marched to the Wall) or Old Bear’s Raven is a nice little trick that can save yourself a lot of heartache if you do get the Wall and Old Bear out there.

Trading with the Pentoshi

What? You thought I forgot about that entire paragraph where I said it was hard to afford Old Bear?

Well…I did. I completely forgot.

Luckily for you all, I re-read my articles before posting them. So this is an add-on paragraph post article writing was complete. I’m letting you guys in behind the scenes of the production process that is Joe from Cincinnati! You’re welcome.

Trading with the Pentoshi gave you a plot that, along with playing Old Bear, gave you a few more gold to play around with. If you’re playing fealty, you can play Old Bear and the Wall for 10 gold! That is some crazy value there. And yes, you are giving your opponent 3 more gold. That hurts. But honestly, Night’s Watch is probably the best equipped faction to give away gold. As long as you are opposing all three challenges, you are gaining power faster than your opponent (in most cases). And with Aemon out there, it’s not uncommon for you to kind of….not even give a shit about what your opponent is playing. As long as you are opposing all three challenges, you’re good. Obviously, an exaggeration, but the point stands. If there’s one faction in the game that is least interested in what its opponent is doing, it’s The Night’s Watch. It’s a nice little distinction, I think.

So, when I told you to cue the music, I had no idea how much I was going to write. The timing really doesn’t match up with the content, so at this time, please rewind to 3:20, right at the triumphant part of the song. And for good reason, because Old Bear is on the rise. As more 4+ cost characters are added to the Night’s Watch, Old Bear will only get better. And as more challenge math and challenge denial is added, he will grow stronger and stronger until he is eventually able to lead his faction to the top of the tier lists! Can you feel the energy?! Those violins? It sends shivers down your spine, yea?!

So there you go. All the reasons why I have fallen in love with the Old Bear Mormont. From his blocking efficiency, to his challenge math complications when paired with the right cards, to the newfound affordability, to the tricks added to his arsenal. Night’s Watch is in a low spot right now. But, as we enter the 2nd cycle in the next few months, they can only go up from here. And Old Bear will be one of the pieces that make that possible.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I know it is super long, so hopefully you found it enjoyable. Did you cue the music? Let me know in the comments! We will continue to churn out articles, videos, podcasts and blogs about A Game of Thrones LCG 2.0 Edition, so if you have any suggestions or comments on how to improve the site, content or have a topic you’d like to hear about, feel free to comment below, or email us.

Feature Image Source: Aneira