Welcome to the Reach! Pour yourself a cup of Arbor gold and step onto my pleasure barge as we take a meandering drift through the third cycle of Tyrell cards. Were the Lords and Ladies of Highgarden able to grow strong, or did the Knights of Summer wilt as winter approached?
Through the first cycle and a half, Tyrell was one of the worst factions. Ironically, this was in part what drew me to them. They had a moment in the sun with one of the early rush decks when Lord of the Crossing and Lady Sansa’s Rose were released. Then a month later, the First Snow of Winter shook the meta and obliterated that deck. Then in the second cycle they got the bomb they were missing with Renly Baratheon. Yet, they still lacked consistency and relied too heavily on their limited number of big renown characters. This cycle put Tyrell into the second tier of houses, largely on the back of Tinder Marge and Lord Renly’s Ride as well as several good support cards. Onward to the rankings!
Silver Hair Net is ranked at the bottom of the list because it is too restrictive and doesn’t provide enough benefit for its cost. The only good in-house targets are Margaery, Brienne, and Queen of Thorns. It’s basically a dead card on setup and there are going to be many times that you simply don’t want to play the card. For comparison, Old Bear’s Raven gives stealth, costs the same, and can go on any character. Yet, that card sees virtually no play. For in-house alternatives, Heartsbane is far more flexible and gives a similar advantage for winning challenges.
The event cost reduction and ability to play on non-Tyrell ladies gives me some hope for future potential. For now, most of the impactful ladies like Daenerys, Asha, and Cersei already have stealth or have easy in-faction ways to get stealth. The only deck that can currently justify a slot for it is Banner of the Dragon to use Plaza of Pride, Handmaiden, and Irri to get extra value out of the stealth. It also has a place in certain degenerate combo decks, but I’m going to pretend those don’t exist.
Non-limited economy always has value but, outside of combo decks, there aren’t yet enough songs to make the minstrels impactful. On the one hand, they are like a Courtesan of the Rose but with the potential to pay for themselves. On the other hand, almost nobody plays the Courtesan anymore, and 1 STR is a big drawback in a house that might try to leverage House Florent Knight or Lord of the Crossing. Similar to Silver Hair Net, the future is brighter than the present.
Despite being at number 12, I actually quite like Knight of the Reach. They are a 3 cost non-unique body that has potential to gain multiple power. Unlike the rarely seen Knight of Summer, the power that Knight of the Reach accumulates is much more likely to stay on the table since you can put it on a savable Lady character.
The reason the Knight is ranked so low is primarily because 3-cost is awkward and crowded, particularly in a meta where First Snow seems to be making a resurgence. Also, the Green Apple Knight in the House of Thorns box is competing for the exact same slot and will win out in most knight-based decks. Some decks will want to play Knights of the Reach, but ironically I think they are one of the weaker knights to include in a knight-heavy deck.
I love the ability to make extra challenges. Relentless Assault, Olenna’s Informants, and Khal Drogo are some of my favorite cards. Olenna’s Machinations is repeatable, so shouldn’t it be as good or better than those cards?
Unfortunately, like virtually all of the recurrable 2-cost events in the cycle, it’s just too expensive. It’s hard to establish enough board presence to leverage the extra challenge when you are having to save 2 gold for the event. If you do get to a position where you can leverage 2 power challenges, you are unlikely to also win an intrigue challenge by 5 to get the event back. If we ever get a Tyrell or non-loyal character that can make power challenges without kneeling, then this card might see more play. Until then, it will suffer the same fate as most of the other recursion events – just being repeatable intrigue claim soak.
You can’t talk about Horn Hill without mentioning Astapor. The two are identical, yet opposite. While some people think Astapor is a great card, I am not one of those people. In a meta that is full of Frozen Solid, Newly-Made Lord, and potentially Nothing Burns Like the Cold, non-limited locations that cost 3 or less are extremely unreliable. Astapor and Horn Hill suffer the worst of both worlds because you will generally spend 4-5 gold on the location, yet it doesn’t get the same protections that locations with printed 4 cost receive. So you just need to dupe them, right? Well, they don’t work on setup, so there is a significant opportunity cost in running 2 or 3 copies.
On top of my general dislike of the 1-cost bestow locations, Horn Hill is clearly not as good as Astapor. Astapor has the ability to both negate a single challenge and threaten burn effects on high strength characters. I once had my Gregor Clegane burned to death with Astapor, Dracarys, and Dragon is no Slave. On the flip side, Horn Hill is much more limited. For one thing, it only works on your Tyrell characters, so it provides no threat in a challenge without Tyrell characters. With some exceptions like Randyll and Jon Fossoway, Horn Hill can only help you win a challenge. And if your opponent really needs to win that challenge, they might be able to just defend it anyway.
Ultimately it is an expensive, unreliable, win-more sort of card. Outside of a bestow-centric deck, Horn Hill is almost always worse than Renly’s Pavilion. It’ll be a 1-of in a small percentage of Tyrell decks, but nothing more.
The Honeywine has a lot going for it and fits Tyrell’s play style perfectly. Although it does have a limitation that you need to be the attacking player, it doesn’t kneel to trigger. Even more importantly and unlike a comparable location, Street of the Sisters, it doesn’t kneel your faction card. All it takes is a good Randyll, let alone juiced up Brienne or Cersei, and you can easily grab 2 or more power in a turn.
The biggest problem for the Honeywine is the fact that the power is stored on the location and the meta we are in right now. Thanks to some very strong locations (cough Flea Bottom cough), location control is everywhere in the form of Nothing Burns Like the Cold, Political Disaster, and Frozen Solid. Not to mention that one of the more popular factions can not only easily discard it from play, but can potentially take control of it and win the game for themselves. I don’t expect Honeywine to see a lot of play unless the meta shifts away from location control and/or Greyjoy drops in popularity.
Fossoway was a bit underwhelming when he was first released, but has benefitted from the release of subsequent cards. Primarily, the House of Thorns box is packed with knight synergy as well as cards that can boost his strength to turn on his renown. In the right deck, he is effectively a 4-for-4 bicon with renown and a great trait. Valar Dohaeris also makes Ser Jon more tempting as he is one of the few characters with renown that can survive First Snow and weathers VD fairly well.
Fossoway’s role in decks will largely be a function of the reset meta. If Valar D and First Snow are popular, he will shine. If Valar M is popular, he is less good since he can’t take bodyguards and is unlikely to receive dupes. I expect him to be a 1x in roughly half of Tyrell decks in the near future, with the potential for a rare 3x in a knight-centric mini-curve deck.
Elinor is the definition of a 1x character that goes in almost every deck. She’s a 3-for-3 bicon with a positive lady trait that is gaining more and more synergies every few packs. Her ability to play a second limited location is surprisingly useful, and I’ve even seen some Tyrell decks running 3x of her along with 12+ limited locations. She’ll be in decks for a long time, if for no other reason than because she has a great smile and would probably be fun to hang out with.
Of the eight faction-specific economy locations in the cycle, Arbor vineyard falls into the solid-yet-uninspiring category. The summer trigger fits into Tyrell’s theme, leaving them as the only non-Night’s Watch faction that can make Kings of Summer shine. Unfortunately, Tyrell is arguably the faction that needs economy the least, so it’s hard to get too excited about it. Not to mention the fact that Redwyne Straits has since been released and occupies a similar slot. It’s better than Iron Islands Market, but nowhere near as impactful or reliable as Dornish Fiefdom or Underground Vault.
What a boring-but-good card, am I right? A 4-for-3 bicon with renown is always going to be solid (depending on the prevalence of Ward in the meta), and his Lord and Knight traits are both quite excellent. Ser Garlan, along with Knight of Flowers, make Name Day Tourney a worthy consideration for Tyrell. His bestow ability, like most bestow abilities, is underwhelming and just icing on the cake for the situations where you have some extra gold. While his 6-cost version can define a deck, this 4-cost version will be a boring 1x in decks that want to renown and his juicy traits.
The release of All Men Are Fools is what first made the ladies deck viable. The list of events that generate power is surprisingly short, and this is the first of its kind that is both easy to trigger and has the potential to grant 2+ power. Unlike Doran’s Game and Superior Claim, it can be triggered on any type of challenge. Lady Sansa’s Rose can get 3 power, but is highly conditional to trigger.
The downside is that the power gets spread around and you need to be able to keep the ladies on the table. Luckily, Tyrell has Lady-in-Waiting and often runs bodyguard to make their ladies resilient. While it obviously requires a critical mass of ladies to be worth running, this will be a centerpiece of any competitive lady deck for quite a while.
We all know how good Burned Men are. Well, what if you took them and added on a card filtering ability? That gives you the Oldtown Informer, albeit with an arguably less useful icon (just because they lack the ability to die while fighting like Burned Men can). While you might not be inclined to invest in the bestow ability of a 2-cost chud, it should not be overlooked. Tyrell has many options to put characters into play with Mace Tyrell, Fleabottom, and several ambush characters. The fact that she can trigger off herself is just gravy.
The informers are helped by the fact that Tyrell doesn’t have a lot of great 2-cost characters. Left and Right can be amazing at times and Ser Colen is a fine 1x, but they don’t have the Bastard Daughters, Jorah Mormonts, or Lordsport Shipwrights that tend to claim that slot. Oldtown Informers have some new competition with the release of Highgarden Courtier, but I think every Tyrell deck should at least consider an Oldtown Informer or three.
Surprise strength pumps are good. Intimidate is good. Surprise intimidate is amazing. Combining it all into a single 1-cost event? That’s priceless (literally, if Paxter Redwyne in play). The strength pump and intimidate provide an absurd amount of value if you can stand the chosen character, and stand has become relatively abundant these days. All it takes is Randyll Tarly and a Lord Renly’s ride to completely dominate a challenge phase. I know event slots are tight, but thankfully this is the best and most versatile Tyrell event that exists at the moment.
Of course, you need a character in your dead pile to get the most value out of it. Depending on the meta, this can actually be kind of tricky. Mag the Mighty gives a fun, new way to get around that condition. And if he makes his way to the top of the dead pile, the juicy +11 STR boost is enough to win any challenge and kneel virtually any character.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Tinder Marge was in this cycle. She was the bomb of the first pack, and has remained one of the best 6-cost characters in the game. Her 6-for-5 bicon with renown statline is already solid, but her ability is strong enough to define decks. All it takes is a lowly Paxter Redwyne, Ser Garlan Tyrell, or Garth the Gross, and your opponent can’t even initiate a military challenge without the threat of Renly or Randyll hitting the board. As long as you have a save for her, of which there are many thanks to Lady-in-Waiting, she single-handedly neuters Valar Morghulis. The best part is that you can aggressively play Valar or Wildfire to go find your bomb Lords and generally come out ahead of your opponent. My favorite play with her is to use Last of the Giants on Littlefinger, Mance Rayder, or Varys and trigger off of their inevitable death.
Marge is the poster child of a faction defining character. She completely changes how the game is played by flipping the military challenge upside down and redefining how resets impact the game. If she didn’t have such fierce competition from her 3- and 4-cost versions, she would likely be the most played Tyrell character in the game.
A Few non-Tyrell Cards That Impact Tyrell More Than Other Factions
Plaza of Pride
Plaza is the second most versatile 1-cost location in the game, behind a certain champ card not to be named. The fact that it can stand any character at any time provides an unbelievable amount of flexibility in the challenge phase. It provides insane value if you can stand characters with high strength and a lot of keywords – Tyrell’s bread and butter. Tyrell characters aside, Lord Renly’s Ride can make Targ characters like Danny and Drogo even more beastly than they already are. Personally, I was able to ride this combo to second place at US nationals and Plaza is one of my favorite cards in the game.
Last of the Giants
I mentioned this in my Tinder Marge discussion, but Last of the Giants is great in Tyrell primarily for two reasons: First, it can trigger Tinder Marge via Littlefinger, Mance, and Varys to go find Renly or Randyl. Second, it can put high STR characters in the dead pile to make Renly’s Ride even more deadly. Martell probably still has the edge just for their love of Varys, but I think Tyrell is the second best positioned to take advantage of Last of the Giants.
Annals of Castle Black and Wheels Within Wheels
The combination of Annals and Wheels has turned Tyrell is the combo faction by nature of its numerous filter events. Wonder Woman, Hyper Viper, and now Voltron Brienne are all enabled by those two plots and the Tyrell house card (either side). I’m personally not a fan of combo because it breaks the game and is not fun to play or to play against. You can find a more robust discussion on combo in any number of podcasts, blog posts, and Facebook rants. Whether you love it or hate it, I have to wonder how much longer combo will exist until Danny brings down the hammer of errata or restricted list.
With this cycle, Tyrell has established itself as a solid, well-rounded faction. Along with Greyjoy, they have some of the best renown bodies in the game. In today’s rush meta, they have they have the potential to rush as fast as Greyjoy, Targ, and Lannister. They can make Rains of Castamere work, although are a bit less reliable than Lannister and less resilient than Greyjoy.
The most notable negative impact on Tyrell from this cycle was the prevalence of economy for all factions. Tyrell was once defined by the Arbor and their ability to generate more gold than any faction not named Lannister. Nowadays, any faction has the potential to drop a 7-coster on their Counting Coppers turn. The Arbor barely sees play anymore and has become even more unplayable with the prominence of rush lately.
I expect Tyrell to remain a second tier faction for the near future. Valar Dohaeris is potentially a problem for them because it shuts down the Tinder Marge engine. But I’m skeptical that Valar D will be prominent. Plus, Tyrell is gaining more options at lower curves with the Knights and Ladies from the House of Thorns box. They have economy, they have card draw, and they have impact bodies that give them a framework that can fit into any meta.
About the Author
Jim Hansen is a Seattle-based Lord of the Rings LCG player that got into second edition Thrones for the theme and the love of building jank decks. He is best known in the Thrones community for being the guy that lost a best-of-three to “second place Seth” at U.S. Nationals. If you’d like to meet him in person you should come to US Nationals in 2018!