I’m going to go ahead and skip any kind of introduction and just repeat the title of this article.
It was a mistake to make the Wall non Loyal.
Now that I’ve gotten my conclusion out of the way, allow me to provide a little bit of story time, some additional information and then I’ll circle back to why I believe the title of this blog is true.
First is story time:
I’ve been playing this game since about August, and I’ve been playing the Night’s Watch since around Late September. I’ve tested several different decks with the Wall as the central strategy, all with Night’s Watch as the main faction. My main squeeze is The Night’s Watch Banner of the Wolf, with the Night’s Watch Banner of the Sun being a very close second (Nymeria makes it a hard choice, but I think Wolf still wins out).
One night, I had just finished playing a game against a player with my Night’s Watch Banner of the Sun deck. I won in pretty resounding fashion (something along the lines of 15 to 3 or 4). After the game, he was talking about the Night’s Watch and how it was nice to see a Night’s Watch deck that seemed to work, but he couldn’t help but wonder if it would have been better as a Martell Banner of the Watch deck.
His reasoning was, you’d have access to cards such as Areo Hotah, who could prevent an unopposed challenge (say a stealth intrigue challenge when you only have one intrigue icon out) from going through, if you simply kicked the character out of the challenge, protecting your Wall despite not having any intrigue icons. You’d also have access to Ghaston Grey, which would not only cut through dupes, but would also be a good solution to renown characters such as Randyll and Robert, who can accrue two renown per turn relatively easily, as well as dissuade your opponent from attacking with that big character until they absolutely need to.
Then, we started talking about other factions that offer a lot from their loyal cards that would help protect the Wall.
For example, Baratheon would have access to the Red Keep, Consolidation of Power, Ours is the Fury and In the Name of Your King. All cards that would either help prevent unopposed challenges or make challenges easier to win. For those wondering why I included the Red Keep, it stops Balon’s power challenges from being unopposed as long as you have 1 character in defense. It doesn’t stop his Seastone chair, but it is something. It also is the best draw engine in the game.
Targaryen has Dracarys to kill characters that would pose an unopposed threat, Fire and Blood to bring dead characters (well, dragons) back mid challenges phase in order to oppose an otherwise unopposed challenge and Dany to become a difficult to get around standing/stealthing/renowning champ that would make every aspect of the challenges phase easier. You’d also get Crown of Gold, which I hear is nice.
Tyrell has Highgarden to send potentially unopposed challengers home.
Meanwhile, the loyal Night’s Watch cards are there more for card draw than anything else. Very few of the Night’s Watch cards, outside of Old Bear Mormont not kneeling when the Wall is out, actually contribute to the defense of the Wall.
Now, let’s look at some additional information.
Referencing back to my first article about the Night’s Watch, the main things you look for in your banner is defensive capability (whether that be efficient characters with good icons, strong events, good abilities or some cocktail of the three), alternative routes to gaining power and protection from undesirable effects.
Not until I had the above conversation had I even thought about how much the Night’s Watch’s loyal cards actually contributed to these 3 standards that I had set for my banners. In my mind, if I’m going to play a Night’s Watch deck, they should be the main faction. Because that is what is right and Nedly.
Nedly aside incoming:
A Baratheon Banner of the Watch deck, thematically, would be the equivalent of the Night’s Watch joining the Baratheon army in war, which is directly breaking the vows that all Night’s Watch Brothers took. A certain character even gets stabbed to death because he broke (or intended to break) that rule…along with a few other things that his brothers were not a fan of. Night’s Watch Banner of the Stag, on the other hand, would be the equivalent of Stannis’ army riding north and repelling the Wildlings. Totally legal. No vows broken here. No one gets stabbed to death.
My thought process had not really extended beyond that due to my Nedly roots. But in reality, the Night’s Watch loyal cards do not really offer any of those three things in any significant amount.
Back to the main topic:
There are 51 characters in the game with one icon or less. Baratheon has 4, Greyjoy has 5, Lannister has 5, Martell has 7, Stark has 7, Targaryen has 5 and Tyrell has 5, and there are 3 neutrals. And those counts include the likes of Left, Right, Merchant Prince, Obara Sand, Joffrey, Nymeria, Arya, Syrio Forel, King’s Hunting Party, all of whom gain/give additional icons (or can oppose more challenges) under certain circumstances.
The Night’s Watch have 10 (though one is the Unsworn Apprentice, who also gains icons as he needs them). 4 of those low icon characters are loyal. None of those 4 help to defend the wall very much. Of The Night’s Watch’s 8 loyal cards, you have an event that takes one gold from your opponent, the messenger ravens, a 7 cost character widely regarded as the weakest among his peers, a single icon ranger that allows you to produce gold in exchange for card advantage, a single icon steward who has insight and gives you 1 reserve, but does not have enough strength to reliably win a challenge on his own, an event that allows you to take an opponent’s character during dominance, assuming they have a worthwhile character to take and that the card isn’t intrigued out of your hand before you get a chance to use it, a character that has good icons, stealth and insight, but actively punishes you if you are unable to oppose all challenges from the moment he comes out, and a single icon character who can bring a character from your opponent’s discard pile to your side of the field.
Those cards are all good in a certain context, but they hardly make defending the Wall any easier, with the notable exception of Old Bear Mormont, who can defend all challenges without kneeling, assuming he doesn’t get stealthed or knelt.
And please don’t mistake this for me thinking card advantage is a bad thing. I think card advantage = win in this game. It used to be draw = win in 1.0, but once reserve was created, that had to be adjusted slightly. And NW has card advantage in spades out of their loyal cards. That would be outstanding, if the Night’s Watch were the only faction that gave card advantage. But they aren’t. Each faction has their own way of generating card advantage; some even surpass the Night’s Watch. And it’s important to remember that card advantage is not just draw. Martell has Ghaston Grey, which can remove dupes and send a card back to hand, which is a huge card advantage. Targaryen has Dracarys, which can kill a character, which is also huge card advantage. So while those two factions don’t offer a ton of draw from their loyal cards, they still offer plenty of card advantage.
For this reason, at the current stage in the game, I believe that most decks that want to run the Wall actually have a better chance of playing more consistently if they are played out of a different main faction, with the Wall being brought in by the Banner of the Watch.
Not only are those decks less constrained by the high number of single (or no) icon characters that the Night’s Watch has, but they also have loyal cards at their disposal that actually make defending the Wall easier than if the deck was run out of the Night’s Watch as a main faction.
So why am I talking about this? What point am I trying to get to?
On the one hand, I should be happy, right? Making the Wall non loyal means more defensive decks can be built out of more factions. This creates diversity in the game as well as promotes a wider range of factions be played in general. I can play more decks with different cards and still play the Wall. This is all very good news for someone like me.
But the reason that this is bad for the game is because the Night’s Watch is supposed to be its own faction. One of the eight major factions in the game. They should be able to stand alone, if necessary. But, when it comes to Wall decks (specifically, as I know Yoren is very good in attrition decks), outside of being a Nedly player or loyal Night’s Watch player, there isn’t much to justify using the Night’s Watch as your main faction right now. I am hopeful that there are more loyal Night’s Watch cards to come. But that brings me to the other reason I think the Wall should have been loyal.
The Wall being non loyal is going to actively constrain FFG’s design team. With the Wall being non loyal, that means the second a good defensive card (or group of cards) is printed in another faction the Wall could become imbalanced. Look at In the Name of Your King! That card is incredible for a defensive deck. But it’s loyal to Baratheon. If the Wall were loyal, these two cards could not be played together. But since the Wall is not loyal, this could create a potentially dangerous design space that, if it continues, could really turn Baratheon Banner of the Watch into an extremely unfun deck to play against (though many would say it already is extremely unfun to play against). This alone could make FFG very hesitant to print defensive cards or even attempt to make a space for truly defensive decks outside of the Night’s Watch. This is, obviously, speculation. But I’ve played the Wall for a while now and it can create an NPE (negative player experience) very quickly if it becomes too reliable. Your opponent needs to feel like they have an opportunity to breech the Wall, otherwise they’ll just get angry and pouty, and that isn’t fun for either player (unless you have no soul, in which case you love seeing your opponent upset).
Another big problem I have with the Wall being non Loyal is it makes Night’s Watch fealty an afterthought. Most fealty decks have some big card that works REALLY well with fealty. For most, it is the 7 coster or the 6 coster, such as Robert and Stannis in Baratheon, Dany and Drogo in Targaryen, Balon in Greyjoy, Rob in Stark, Tywin in Lannister. Reducing each of those characters by 1 gold is very economically friendly and makes the deck run much better. For others, it’s a high impact event. Targ loves having a Dracarys available even with no gold on the table, as does Stark and Winter is Coming, Martell and Doran’s Game, Greyjoy and We Do Not Sow, Targ (again) and Fire and Blood.
What are you reducing in Night’s Watch fealty? You get a free raven per turn. Fine. You get your relatively mediocre 7 coster for 6 gold. Or you can play your other marginally good characters, such as Will, for a little cheaper. There is nothing that is typically hard to get out (like a 6 or 7 coster to build a deck around) that is easier to get out when playing Fealty. None of these reductions make the deck run significantly better by improving plot choices (a 6 gold character is much easier to get out with a standard 5 gold plot than a 7 gold character is), nor do they allow you to bluff anything of significance during the challenges phase. Even Jon Snow, the one character that could theoretically lead a fealty deck centered around him and weenie challenges, is non loyal. Not that I think Jon Snow should be loyal, as he definitely has ties to Stark as well.
In my previous article, I mentioned that many Night’s Watch decks are built around 4 core cards. Castle Black, The Wall, Benjen Stark and Maester Aemon. All 4 of those cards are non loyal. You can bring the entire core of Night’s Watch into a deck without using them as your main house. That is crazy! No other faction can say that. And for good reason. Because that’s ridiculous.
Could you imagine if Tywin were non loyal? Or Robert Baratheon? That’s what we’re looking at with the Wall being non loyal.
If the Wall were loyal, you’d be able to reduce it to 3 gold, which would make a world of difference in a faction that only has reducing characters, but no reducing locations. There is currently no way to get the Wall into play other than Old Bear’s terrible reaction (good luck getting that off consistently) and just simply paying the 4 gold for it. King’s Road can’t reduce it, Support of the People can’t fetch it, Stewards at the Wall can’t reduce it. You’re stuck paying 4 gold for that thing, often times your entire turn’s economy, almost every single time. Reducing it to 3 gold would not only make it more accessible and easier to protect, but it would encourage fealty as a good choice out of Night’s Watch. It’s like FFG intentionally designed the faction to be unattractive as a fealty deck. I don’t understand the logic.
I’d love to hear your opinions about this in the comments section. Am I completely wrong? Am I looking at it the wrong way? Or am I just a super biased Night’s Watch player who wants to keep the Wall all to himself? Regardless of your opinion, I really appreciate you taking the time to read my article (or is it a blog?). 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.
As a NW player I couldn’t agree more with your assessment. I love the defensive nature of the deck and playing an “underpowered/underused” faction but I’ve often wondered why I’m playing them as the main faction because it really doesn’t do much for me. The only thing it gets is fairly easy and predictable card draw with the Ravens (which are sometimes tricky with losing dominance/reserve). However, I am hesitant to banner NW because they make that new faction more boring and NPE like you said. Bara/NW seems fun until you’re just bringing out Iron Thrones, Red Keeps, Walls, and Chambers all game while your opponent bashes their head on their knelt character cards. I am interested in building a Martell/NW deck because they both play defensively and want to go second so at least that’s in the ballpark. My biggest concern with them is: can you make a competitive deck with them? It would be very unexpected at a tournament and hard to play against. I’m also concerned when First Snow of Winter comes out. That could hurt NW the most. All in all, great article and I love your work with the NW and the decks you create…keep them coming! Any updated decklists for Martell/NW?
I think Martell/NW will be very competitive once this new chapter pack comes out. They will have access to the Boneway, which solves the deck combo’s biggest weakness: A lack of power gain outside of the Wall.
With Boneway, you’ll be able to lose most challenges and then, if you don’t get the Wall, you can still claim 3 power every 2 to 3 turns. It wouldn’t be as fast as the Wall, but it would add a little bit of power gain that doesn’t rely on board state; meaning, if you’re at 13 power and just cannot oppose one challenge, you can still be accumulating potential power just by losing unopposed challenges.
It also works great post Varys because, if you are unable to rebuild as quickly as your opponent, they will be powering up your Boneway trying to catch up to you (assuming they used Varys because you were going to win in a turn or two unless they stopped the Wall each turn.)
I am nervous about First Snow of Winter as well. We’ll have to see the impact it has and how often it is played. The good news is we’re getting Alliser in this next chapter pack, so he’ll be a good high cost character that will make First Snow not as devastating. A mid cost banner like Martell with Arianne and Nymeria or Lannister with Jaime and Tyrion may be the correct play if First Snow is everywhere.
I am waiting to update Martell/NW until the Boneway comes out, because I think that will be a big player in that deck. But once I do update it, I’ll post it on Thronesdb! 😀
Top notch article.
Thank you Steven :D.
I think on the whole FFG have done a pretty decent job assigning loyalty, but the wall is 1 of 2 cards i think they got wrong. Treachery being the other – that should either have been either Lanni loyal or Neutral.
I agree that FFG overall has done a very good job assigning loyalty to cards. Most cards make sense, both thematically and from a gameplay/power standpoint.
Interesting that you point out Treachery though. Why do you think it should have been loyal?
I am a Nightswatch loyal player since I’ve started in December and I totally agree with your points – Wall being non-loyal and also not having key cards that can match Tywin, Balon etc. But recently, when I started to try out NW-Fealty I realized that maybe, just maybe, this was all by design.
Given the cards we have so far, it kind of reflects well thematically for each faction and NW as a lone non-house in the books/show, each character is essential and all of them adds up to a winning condition. I was toying with the idea of not having too much copies of each card and it worked (kind-of) well. There is lesser dead draws compared to people who put 3 copies of Tywin etc.
Nevertheless, I fear for the release of “First Snow of Winter” as well. NW is supposed to be good with winter and yet, this card practically wipes everything of NW off the board.
I could see that. I just hope FFG does not continue to link the Night’s Watch too closely to their state in the books. It is very Nedly, but at a certain point, balance needs to take priority over Nedliness haha. If they want the Night’s Watch to be one of the 8 main factions available in the game, they should take the steps to make sure they are viable in the meta, even if they aren’t really that powerful in the books :).
As for First Snow of Winter, I’m worried as well. But, ideally, you’ll be able to withstand it for a turn and then come back with a big gold plot and refill the board. We’ll have to see how it shapes the meta. It doesn’t really make sense that they are so far North but are one of the biggest victims of the First Snow of Winter haha.
Thank you for reading my article and leaving a comment! 😀
Great article Joe!
I played your new NW Fealty deck in the Bristol regionals last weekend. After absolutely flattening my opponents in the (pitifully small amount of) games I playtested it with beforehand, I got paired up with Targ/Lion for 3 games in a row, and comprehensively got my ass handed to me. Then a more balanced game against Stark Fealty where I believe I would have had a chance of winning if he hadn’t intrigued the Wall out of my hand. I haven’t played in a couple of months so I was pretty surprised by (and envious of) the power of newer cards that the other factions have.
Anyway, I did come up against the problems with NW Fealty that you mention here; mainly only being able to use that extra 1 gold each turn on messenger ravens, then also having nothing to spend money on at times. I felt that more consistency would help but in trying to tweak the deck I found it hard to stick to just 15 neutrals.
Have you tried making decks which banner in the Night’s Watch but barely have any cards from their main faction and just cherry-pick a few loyal ones, using as many neutrals as they like? I’m going to try some out, starting with Tyrell for their economy and good cheap bicons. Just Tyrion, Treachery and a load of Wildlings defending the wall would be so funny. Would love to see a decklist if you ever made that Bara/NW deck. The unNedliness of doing this irks me, but then again I would like to play a completely unusual deck which has a good chance of competing. The hopelessness of my 3 pair-ups with Targ/Lion has really put a dampener on NW Fealty for me, for the time being at least!
Also, have you ever played attrition-style NW decks? I really enjoyed that NW/Kraken one and would like to see if some of the nasty newer plots could add to the frustration it causes for opponents!
Unfortunately for the Night’s Watch, the deck’s strength is very dependent on the match up. I consider them extremely strong versus Stark, Tyrell, Martell who don’t have all that many answers for the Wall defense strategy, fairly good against Greyjoy and Lannister (both of these matchups depend on who gets set up first) and potentially horrible against Baratheon and Targaryen, who have ways to completely destroy you if they draw the right cards.
I definitely hear you about being envious of the power cards other factions have. After the spoilers revealed, the Watch will be one of just 3 factions that have not gotten their 2nd 7 coster (Baratheon, Greyjoy, Lannister, Stark and Targaryen already having received theirs). I hope they release a 7 coster that can really help the way in these two match ups. I’ve already mentioned my hope for a Lord Commander Jon Snow that protects his fellow Night’s Watch characters from character and/or event abilities. But I am not holding my breath on that one.
Fealty doesn’t help the Night’s Watch as much as it does other factions. However, with the release of The Watcher on the Walls, it at least always gives your opponent something to think about with military attacks when you have two rangers standing. That can potentially be very powerful. I’ve even had some people walk into the Watcher because they didn’t notice I still had fealty up. Hopefully in the future, we get a few more impactful loyal cards to really make fealty stronger (and ideally we can get a character with more than 1 icon). The 15 neutrals is a tough point with this deck.
I have made a Martell Banner of the Watch deck, but it was more balanced than it was a false banner, as you are suggesting. Due to the limited card pool, there aren’t many intrigue icons that are non-loyal for the Night’s Watch. So going that route means you will need to use some of the main faction’s characters to make up that deficiency.
I don’t think I’ll ever make a Baratheon Banner of the Watch deck. My first few months of the game, my brother played Baratheon and it left such a bad taste in my mouth I don’t think I’d ever be interested in playing them haha. I understand the strength of the two factions together though.
I’ll need to test against Targ/Lion. Maybe there is some adjustments that can be made to make the deck a little better in that match up. I have already been playing with the idea of Here to Serve for a few reasons. First, Mirri is everywhere. Tyene will be everywhere soon. The Mountain is everywhere. These are all excellent reasons to always have Maester Aemon around. Second, with First Snow of Winter around, maybe being able to fetch a dupe for Maester Aemon when you are anticipating a First Snow could end up saying you, since military is such a high value challenge on those turns. and Third, military claim is never a bad thing to not have to worry about haha. And, if in the worst case scenario, you never find an intrigue icon, you can always fetch one.
I have played attrition style NW decks. I like the NW Kraken deck a lot, but First Snow of winter really hurts it because, if you Yoren someone to your side of the field, you are going to have to give that character back to your opponent. The deck is built around Theon, Asha and small characters, so you could be in for some shit on that First Snow turn if your deck isn’t properly tuned. For those reasons, I went back to full Wall defense.
But I will tell you that I am extremely excited for the Night’s Watch Kings of Winter deck that they are showing us in the next cycle. With the White Tree, Meager Contribution and Wraiths, you can really take advantage of Night Gathers, especially when you’re running a couple 2 claim plots and a Marched or two. It could be the first legitimate choke deck of the game’s life, which would be pretty cool.
Thanks for reading and commenting. I always love talking Game of Thrones, especially the Night’s Watch! 😛