A Games of Thrones: The Card Game is a relatively new thing for me. For those unfamiliar with the game it’s very much like other CCGs (Magic, Pokemon, etc). One of the big differences though is that it is an LCG instead of a CCG. The principle difference is that LCG card packs have fixed predictable content. Meaning that if there is a card you’d like to include in a deck you know exactly what pack to buy. In addition packs include three copies of every card included in the pack (which is the limit of the number of one specific card you can have in a deck).
Like all other CCGs, GoT: LCG requires players to build decks in order to be competitive. One of the things about GoT that I like the most is the Plot deck. Each player builds a plot deck along with the “regular” deck. The plot deck serves several purposes for a player. It determines initiative/turn order, gold income, and claim. In addition to that each plot has some effect in the game. These are wide and varied. I won’t go into the machinations of the rules since that’s too much to discuss here; suffice it to say though structuring the plot deck is fundamental to the success of a GoT deck overall.
So what makes for a successful deck? Perhaps we should first clarify what’s considered to be a successful deck. In my view, a successful deck is one that consistently performs well. Note that I make no mention of win/lose ratio in that. Outcomes are highly dependent on what cards are drawn and the decisions your opponents make so expecting to win 100% or even 75% of the time is unreasonable. What matters is that your deck is often able to threaten a win. Losing by two or three power is still a success (though not a victory, of course) because it’s very possible that had your or your opponent made one decision differently you would have come out on top. So, if your deck manages to win and be competitive most of the time by coming in a close second or third then I would argue that you have a successful deck.
Now that we’ve defined what a successful deck is let’s move on to making one…
Choose a House / Develop a Concept / Follow a Theme
The absolute first decision that you need to make when building a deck is choosing the house you wish to play. Note that Fantasy Flight has developed this game so that each house as a “skill set” or sorts as well as major and minor themes for each. What’s important is to understand what each house is good at and working within that framework. For example: House Stark is the strongest when it comes to military challenges. They have strong military characters and events that play of winning military challenges. Conversely they are very weak when it comes to intrigue challenges; having just enough characters to handle some intrigue defense but no more than that. Don’t try to be clever and figure out some way to make an intrigue strong Stark deck. You’ll be going against how Fantasy Fight developed the game, not to mention the theme of the house in the story, and you’ll just look silly. There are plenty of ways to make a successful military deck with Stark. If you want to innovate, innovate where the house has strength.
All the houses have a few sub-themes to them. Do a little research to see what the strengths and weaknesses are of each house and build a deck around a house and theme that sounds interesting to you. Try and choose a “main” and “minor” theme to your decks as well. If your deck is to “monotone” it risks being easily countered especially if a crucial combo gets broken. Try and build a deck with characters that are double duty and can work in alternate combos if your main combos don’t work or are unavailable.
A GoT: LCG has be a minimum of 60 cards (not counting the plot deck which is a fixed size of 7). In the deck you can have characters, events, locations, and attachments.
The current meta-game rule of thumb is to construct your deck to have approximately 30 characters and 30 of everything else. I’m pretty much in agreement with this. Only characters can participate in challenges and winning challenges is key to winning a game. Additionally, I find that keeping your deck as small as possible is advantageous. In many cases less is more. Resist as much as possible stuffing your deck with too many events, characters, or locations. The larger your deck gets the slower it will be.
Proportioning how many locations, attachments, and events you will need is a bit more difficult. In my view, you should have a minimum of 10-12 locations that provide either income or some sort of cost reduction. Balancing that is also a challenge in of itself. If you have events/characters that call for the use of gold you’ll want to load up on +gold cards. If you don’t then cost reduction is probably the better way to go. Depending on the nature of the deck you are building you’ll probably have to toss in a few other lands for special effects to build combos. Attachments and events are also highly variable. When it comes to both take only what you absolutely need in order to make your combos work or keep them safe (save and cancel events for example).
Uniques vs. Non-Uniques
Now is probably a good time to discuss how unique characters fit into the design of a deck. Unique characters, locations, and attachments have the benefit of duplicates in order to protect them from kills and discards. In my view, duplicates are the easiest and most reliable mechanism in the game to protect your key characters. In addition to the ability to have duplicates unique characters are usually immune to some of the more annoying events in game (Seductive Promise for example). As characters go roughly 15-20 of your characters cards should be uniques. In the count should be 2-3 characters where you have all three copies of their card. Most decks rely on a build where two or three (sometimes more) characters are fundamental to the success of the deck. The same goes for your unique attachments and locations. If there is one that is particularly important to the theme and build of your deck put in multiple copies. It allows you get the card out faster as well as protect it with duplicates once in play.
Don’t Plan for Every Contingency
Avoid the trap of trying to build your deck to account for every contingency that might occur in the game. Doing so will lead to un-disciplined deck building. Stick to developing your core combos and finding ways to sustain them and keep them in play. In other words…
KISS (Keep it simple stupid). This sage advice applies universally. For example, if you are doing a Baratheon power rush deck you more than likely would want Robert Baratheon, Ser Courtnay Penrose, and Ser Axel Florent in your deck. Those three characters alone will allow you to make two strong power challenges every turn. Right there you have a simple functioning combo. Toss in a few Heart of the Stags and you expand on it more. Build simple combos that are easily replicated and easy to execute. Powerful combos that are dependent on high amounts of resources and (even worse) certain reactions from your opponents are unreliable and dangerous. In the Baratheon power rush example, even if Robert were to be killed so long as you retain other strong power challenge characters and have events like Superior Claim to capitalize on power challenge wins the deck can still be successful and victorious.
The Plot Thickens
The plot deck is the trickiest deck to build and I usually build the plot deck last. Some houses or deck concepts have plots that are “must haves” (Martell and To the Spears! is a good example). I found this aspect of deck building is the part that is the most subject to experimentation though there is a breakdown I believe that will work for most decks. Let’s call it the 2-3-2 rule.
First, two “setup” plot cards. Summoning Season and Building Season are perfect examples of what I mean. They have a fair amount of gold and allow your to pluck out a key card from your deck so you can start building your combos. Other good “setup” plots would be high gold plots with effects that either protect you from challenges or otherwise provide you space to recovery from a previously bad turn. The newly released Across the Summer Sea is another excellent “setup” plot.
You’ll then want three “action” plots. These plots could be almost anything. Usually you’ll want them to be a plot that opens up an opportunity to make some challenges. Examples here can be Game of Thrones or the previously mentioned To The Spears! The options are very broad here so keep in mind the type of deck you have made and how the combos work.
Finally, I feel that most plot decks should have two plots with a claim value of two (or more). High claim plots are good for when you are making an attempt to zero in on a win. They also all you to wear down an opponent who is too far ahead. High claim value plots tend to have a downside (usually low gold and initiative) so keep that in mind when making your choices.
A quick word about The Power of Blood…
Resist putting this plot into every deck you make. Initially it looks like a great plot to put into any deck heavy with noble characters (especially when the noble character is critical to a combo). There are several problems though. First, it will only protect your character for one turn. What happens on the next turn? How will you keep the character alive then? Second, it shifts kills to other characters you want to keep. Keep in mind that Power of Blood also prevents noble characters from being the target of military claim and any kill effect. If by chance you have many duplicates on your noble or some attachment that would save him you could have used him/her to soak the kill, keep them alive, and not shift kill effects to important secondary characters. The Power of Blood takes away that ability by forcing you to choose a character that is eligible for a kill. Finally, The Power of Blood extends protection to all noble characters in play. You might be doing an opponent a favor by playing it. Even worse you maybe protecting their combos while they have a plot that allows them to be more aggressive.
The Power of Blood is a powerful and useful plot card but make sure it’s necessary for your deck and remember the consequences when playing it.
EmptyRepublic’s Tips for Strong Deck Building
So here’s my short list for a building a GoT: LCG deck…
- Develop a concept and a theme for your deck and think out how it’s executed. Don’t try and be clever and work outside of a house’s strengths.
- Stay disciplined and keep your deck size as close to 60 cards (not counting the plot deck) as much as possible. If you can make it 60 and keep it there, all the better.
- Follow the current meta-game and stick with an overall ratio of 30 characters to 30 of everything else.
- Among your 30 characters make half to two-thirds of them uniques with plenty of copies to protect the important ones.
- For the rest of the deck make sure to have enough income and cost reduction locations so you can get cards out quickly. Don’t go crazy with events.
- Make sure that the combos you are building to support the theme are easily replicated over the course of the game with more than one character or event.
- When building your plot deck remember the 2-3-2 rule.
A Simple Simulation
Now testing a deck before you play a game with someone is a bit hard. I use a simple system to “simulate” how a deck performs. I use this system for both joust and melee decks. This is far from a perfect system. Simulating like this misses a lot that can happen during a game, but it’s a simple way to experiment and have a sense if your combos can “hold up” to typical punishment. So here’s the rules for the simulation.
- Start with the usual setup rules.
- Regardless if the deck is for joust or melee do not assume any benefits from titles (namely the +2 gold title or the +1 draw title).
- Begin playing a “full turn”. Pick a plot, reveal it, draw two cards always (unless you meet the requirements for an agenda), and then marshal.
- When you are done with marshaling then pretend you suffer one kill effect on any character (this could be from military claim or some sort of targeted kill) and one discard effect (from intrigue claim or some discard effect).
- If you have the ability to save a character or prevent discard from step 4 then do so (if you want). The intent of the simulation is to see how your deck handles punishment. If you can’t save/cancel then kill the character and/or randomly discard your card. Stand your characters, and then tax yourself.
- Repeat steps 3-5 three more times (so you simulate 4 total turns). Don’t bother going past 4 turns of simulation. That far in any attempts to simulate an actual game become very inaccurate.
In each of the turn of the simulation never assume you win a challenge. Never collect power to “guess” if you won on that turn or not. The purpose of the simulation is to see how well your deck performs to “typical” punishment in an average game and get a sense of its “staying power”. This simple system allows you to see how quickly you can pull out combos, how easily you can save against minimal loses, and how the deck endures. If you are having trouble getting cards out or keeping them in play under these conditions you’ll then know it’s time to go back to the drawing board and reconsider how you have structured your deck.
Finally, Remember Your Clausewitz / Moltke
German General Helmuth Graf von Moltke (a student of Carl von Clausewitz) is famous for once having said… “No campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy”. No matter how well thought out and designed your deck might be you need to remember that once a game begins your opponent will likely do something you did not anticipate and your grand plan for victory will be undone. Always find ways to adapt, alternate paths to victory. The map you lay out with your deck is not likely the one that will always take you to victory. You will make a mistake, your opponent will make mistakes. The nature of the game will shift, and no two games are ever the same. Play, watch, and learn.