It was a much anticipated tournament as the cardpool had grown significantly over the past year and there were a number of interesting and viable decks to be expected at such a major tournament.
While preparing for the event, I knew that the current ‘hotness’ – to use common card gamer parlance – was House Targaryen. The Targaryens had recently been given a whole selection of new cards that drastically improve their in-faction ‘burn’ theme. In AGOT, as in many card games, burn refers to card effects which reduce the strength of a character, thereby weakening it and making it less effective in attack or defence. Some particularly nasty burn effects are terminal, meaning that if the targeted character’s strength would hit zero, that character would immediately be killed. With Astapor and Grey Worm recently added to the House Targaryen cardpool, I knew that they would be a force to be reckoned with.
Apart from the expected popularity of House Targaryen — a recently strengthened faction — at the Regional, I also expected appearances from consistent factions such as House Lannister and the Night’s Watch. These factions are tried and tested and have been particularly strong over the past year. The Lannisters, in particular, are a bit of an AGOT mainstay, having been one of the strongest factions since the release of the core set way back in October 2015. The Night’s Watch specialise in so-called ‘defence decks’ that focus on one thing only: you guessed it, defence. They rarely attack, instead choosing to block opposing challenges and accrue power tokens (the win condition) passively as a result of their successful defences. The Lannisters, on the other hand, don’t mind playing aggressively and have seen great joy from capitalising on the possibilities that the Rains of Castamere agenda card have brought, while also leveraging traditionally powerful cards such as Tywin Lannister, Tyrion Lannister, and Treachery.
Those three factions — Targaryen, Lannister, and the Night’s Watch — were certainly the ones to look out for, and you had to ensure that your deck was able to beat them in any given match. My playgroup and I felt they were the ‘top tier’ factions, while Houses Stark, Greyjoy, and Tyrell were on the next ‘tier’ just underneath the top tier in power level. While those factions could be effective, we felt that they wouldn’t be as consistent as those in the top tier. Bringing up the rear, we felt that Houses Baratheon and Martell would not make a substantial impact at the Regional.
I personally elected to take a House Targaryen deck to the event, while my friends took an assortment of decks, and at least one deck from each of the eight factions. The event itself was amazing, and well run by the folks at Good Games Hurstville. We had 23 players in attendance, which is a slight drop from last year, but still a solid turnout considering it was in the middle of exam season for many of our student players.
My first round match-up was against Dongxu Li who was using Stark Fealty; a match that I was not looking forward to. Stark had the capacity to neuter the strengths of Targaryen by strength buffing characters out of burn range, cancelling burn effects, and flooding the board to negate the effectiveness of Khal Drogo. I also happened to be up against a good player, so I knew I had my work cut out for me.
The match proved to be fairly even. He made no challenges in the first round, fearing a Dracarys on his vulnerable characters. By the third round, I had flipped Valar Morghulis to kill Robb Stark and Eddard Stark, while Catelyn Stark was saved from death with a duplicate. I felt that killing such major characters as Robb and Eddard was important in such a game, but I had neglected to factor in the sheer power rush potential of Catelyn Stark. Despite discarding Bran Stark from my opponent’s hand for intrigue claim and then killing The Blackfish with a Crown of Gold, I was unable to effectively ‘stem the bleeding’ caused by Catelyn’s outrageous power rushing capability. Catelyn proved well protected and impossible to burn due to her obscenely high strength. By the time I realised how close he was to victory, the game was over.
A loss in the first round of the tournament had given me a bye in the second round. In the third round, I was due to face Tim Hasenbein, a very experienced player who was piloting a House Greyjoy deck utilising Kings of Winter (to attack the cards in hand) and some brutal winter plots (to attack the cards on the board). I got off to the better start, however, sending his Victarion Greyjoy away with a Marched to the Wall, before effectively keeping his board state down over the course of the next four rounds. Despite my dominant position, I only managed to reach 12 (out of the required 15) power before my opponent mounted a comeback. A brutal Famine turn that followed a Valar Morghulis left me choked for resources as I failed to defend a series of vicious 2-claim challenges that saw him take the lead. From there, he marshalled Euron Crow’s Eye to seal an incredible come-from-behind win to dash my chances of making the Top 8.
My fourth round match proved to be of little consequence as neither I nor my opponent could make the top cut. As it turns out, the match was a romp where my opponent was unable to sustain a decent board presence in the face of Khal Drogo and several terminal burn effects (such as a Dracarys on Margaery Tyrell and a Crown of Gold on Randyll Tarly while Blood of the Dragon was revealed). In the end, it was a lone Renly Baratheon facing the full strength of House Targaryen, but it wasn’t enough. I finished the day at 2-2, and stuck around to watch the top cut.
The top 8 was intriguing, with Targaryen up against Stark in two of the matches and Greyjoy up against Night’s Watch in the other two matches. Out of the 8 players, 7 were from Sydney and 1 was from Canberra. Interestingly, both Targaryen and both Night’s Watch players won in the top 8 to set up mirror Targaryen versus Night’s Watch semi-finals. Here, the result was yet again identical, with both Night’s Watch players winning to set up a Night’s Watch Fealty mirror match final!
On one side of the final Charles Cheng, who was a very experienced player that had won a whole host of tournaments, including Store Championships and the 2016 Australian Nationals, while on the other side was Yijue Zhang, a player with no major tournament wins to his name. When the reigning Australian champion revealed The Wall on setup, a demoralised Yijue was ready to concede, but I told him to play on having reached this far into the tournament already. Yijue decided to play on, and it proved to be the right decision, as he, too, marshalled The Wall within the first round. A compelling game ensued with both players dancing around Nightmares and Hand’s Judgment to ensure that it was their copy of The Wall that would trigger to bring them closer to the win condition.
In the end, Yijue was victorious to secure his first major tournament win and the 2017 NSW Regional Championship!
Coming soon: Adem’s coverage of AGOT Nationals for 2017!