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|None. Self-made deck here.|
I had the pleasure of competing for the US National Championship this past weekend in Springfield, Missouri. I'd like to start with a big thank you to Will Lentz and Metagames Unlimited for hosting a great tournament. I was fortunate enough to make it to the top 4 with this deck. Here is a far-too-long write up and tournament report for your reading pleasure.
--- DECK CONCEPT AND META DISCUSSION ---
Ever since the release of the Haunted Forest Scout, the concept of a ranger-centric rush deck has been simmering in the back of my mind. Especially when combined with Longclaw, the scouts have the potential to collect a lot of power. But, for a long time it was a bit too fragile, struggled with icons, and was forced to run several subpar rangers. With the recent addition of cards like Naive Scout, Compelled by the Faith, Janos Slynt (TSC), and Poor Fellows, a lot of the deck's issues were solved.
In the current meta, I would say there are 4 deck types to be worried about. This deck is able to compete against all of them. I'll break it down a bit:
Rush decks: While this deck doesn't have quite the burst of other rush decks, it has a lot of counters against them. Nightmares, Begging Brother, and The Hand's Judgment can shut down renown/stand or cards like I Never Bet Against My Family, Superior Claim, and I Am No One. Grenn is also fantastic to slow down their rush.
Wars to Come decks: This is a very broad category, but Crossing is generally a good matchup against Wars to Come decks (especially midrange). Additionally, the location control provided by Put to the Torch and Nothing Burns Like The Cold can be game winning against The Hightower or Dorne.
Attrition/kill decks: Attrition can be a tough matchup for rush. But, the curve is fairly low and can spit out plenty of characters and Maester Aemon (Core) is great against kill. Ward is also often a dead card since there are only 4 targets in the deck for it (3x Begging Brother and Yoren).
- Builders: This is close to an auto-win. Milk of the Poppy and Craven are useless, the location control can shut down The Wall (Core), and Grenn can even steal power on a military challenge.
Overall, this deck doesn't really do anything that fancy and is slower than other rush decks. But it is fairly resilient and is largely immune to a lot of strategies. It has the added flexibility/threat of doing either power or military for the big third challenge. Some of the cards that are weak or useless against this deck include Milk of the Poppy, Craven, Ward, Frozen Solid, Seized by the Guard, Newly-Made Lord, Valar Dohaeris, Confiscation, Weapons at the Door. Additionally, the ever prevalent Trade Routes tends to be ineffective since I have few locations and I blow up their locations. And while I have no kings, The King in the North isn't even that bad because it doesn't stop the events and many of the key effects are passive (Haunted Forest Scout, Ser Jaremy Rykker, Longclaw).
--- KEY CARDS ---
Ser Jaremy Rykker is probably the most important character in the deck. He turns efficient bodies like Naive Scout and Lost Ranger into super-efficient bodies, and has more fun interactions described below.
Haunted Forest Scout is the workhorse. He can almost always make 2 challenges since there are so many rangers. With Rykker and Relentless Assault, he can make up to 4 challenges. With Longclaw, 4 challenges can potentially turn into 4 power. He's immune to Milk of the Poppy, Ward, and The King in the North. Grenn and Pyp love this guy, too.
Grenn is the counter to rush and also an acceleration engine. With the Scouts he can steal 2 power, and with Rykker he makes it possible to get up to 10 power on a single challenge [Crossing (1) + Unopposed (1) + Grenn (2) + Superior Claim (2) + Claim (2) + Longclaw (1) + Qhorin (1)].
Qhorin Halfhand is the only non-1x character above 4 cost in the deck. The renown is nice for rush, no attachments is money, and his reaction is always a threat. If you do military on the 3rd challenge, he can even kill the ever-resilient Second Sons. Just be careful with him if you are expecting Valar Dohaeris or Breaking Ties.
Begging Brother gives the two icons that are most lacking in rangers, and repeatable control against annoying effects like Shadow City Bastard or Melisandre (Core) that can make it hard to do 3 challenges. They are also great against powerful effects like Varys (Core), Greatjon Umber, Bolton Flayer, or Daenerys Targaryen (TFM) that can really disrupt your board. 3 STR is very nice, since they can trigger Superior Claim or Relentless Assault by themselves on the 3rd power challenge. Just be careful with them against Stark since they are your only real targets for Ward, which can be especially devastating if you bestow 3 gold.
- No Jon Snow (Core): A lot of people expect Core Jon to be in the deck. But he's really not necessary and is too expensive. He's not a ranger, the other bodies are big enough that his STR isn't needed to win challenges, the Scouts are as effective at taking Longclaw, and he is too vulnerable to Breaking Ties and Valar Dohaeris.
--- PLOTS ---
Summer Harvest is the default opener. It's great against common openers like Time of Plenty, Trading with the Pentoshi, and Late Summer Feast. Going second on turn 1 is critical for rush decks because it allows your opponent to get power for you to steal (let them go unopposed), and you don't need to worry about defending the power challenge. Almost nobody opens with Varys's Riddle or Counting Coppers these days, so it's safer than it has ever been. Even if they also open Summer Harvest, you are probably in better shape because the cheap military icons are great for the small boards.
Time of Plenty is the backup opener, almost exclusively for games against Martell. It also provides some mediocre card draw if you are desperate. I'd love to be able to cut this, but I think it's necessary right now.
Valar Dohaeris is the obvious reset of choice. The cost curve is really low, so I typically have 3-4 characters after a Valar D.
Nothing Burns Like The Cold is a card nobody expects in rush and can lead to blowouts if you can burn a Dorne, The Hightower, The Wall (either), or Winterfell. They might think their duped Dorne is protected by another location like Flea Bottom until you kill the cheap location with Put to the Torch. Nothing Burns is hilarious against Valar Morghulis if you can discard a Bodyguard and/or Iron Mines. It can also hit some big attachments like Queensguard, Ice, and the King attachments (especially on their The King in the North turn).
Forced March is a great plot in general, and fits perfectly in here. 9 initiative is amazing, and I almost always have more military icons than my opponent.
Compelled by the Faith serves two important purposes. First, it protects the power on your characters acquired from Grenn, Longclaw, and Poor Fellows. Second, it moves power to your opponent's faction card so you can steal it. This is especially important against cards like Mace Tyrell (HoT), Drowned Disciple, and voltron renown characters.
- No Heads on Spikes! While this is a staple of many rush decks, there are no particular synergies like some other crossing decks have (especially Lanni and Bara). It would probably be my 8th plot, but I have to say it was very refreshing to not need to worry about whether my Spikes hit a character. I played Lanni Crossing at Gencon and those games feel like they swing wildly based on what the Heads on Spikes hit (or miss).
--- TOURNAMENT REPORT ---
Round 1 - Stark Wars (Matt Davey): My Stark games blurred together a bit, but I remember in this game that Matt was trying to push military challenges a lot. Rangers tend to be very efficient military icons, so I was able to defend his military pressure and still swing back for my challenges. He did play The First Snow of Winter, which hit me hard, especially because it was my You Win Or You Die turn and I discarded all of those characters. Janos Slynt (TSC) was clutch on that turn because I just sacrificed a chud that was going to return to hand anyway to allow me to keep 3 or 4 characters on the board. I was able to maintain enough of a board and close it out. Win, 1-0
Round 2 - Bara Alliance Rose Qohor (Matt Phillips): Matt opened with Peace and Prosperity, which is great counter against Summer Harvest. He got out an early The Honeywine (protected by Jousting Pavilion) and Ser Cortnay Penrose (with King Beyond the Wall). Randyll Tarly came out turn 2 or 3 and then Robert Baratheon came out the next turn when we both played You Win Or You Die. I believe he went from 4 to 13 power on that turn, but I was able to keep enough bodies up to win on the swing back. This was a very close, exciting game and Matt also went on to the Top 4. Win, 2-0
Round 3 - Stark Wars (Alex Esposito): We both opened Summer Harvest, so the boards were small Turn 1. Alex had a Bolton Flayer, which was a big concern for me, and we each had 3 characters. He made a mistake by making an unnecessary intrigue challenge on Turn 1 with the Flayer. This allowed me to both defend his military challenge and swing back with my own military challenge. From there I was able to stabilize and rush him down while also keeping his board small. Win, 3-0
Round 4 - Greyjoy Wars (Jesse Carpenter): Jesse was playing the Drowned God deck and saw all of his pieces, including Tarle the Thrice-Drowned, Nagga's Ribs, Old Wyk, 3x Drowned Disciple, and 2x Drowned God Fanatic. He opened Trading with the Pentoshi, so I had plenty of gold to bestow my Begging Brothers. But even with 5 Begging Brother triggers at my disposal, he was still able to win in plot phase of Turn 3 with me at ~10 power. Loss, 3-1
Round 5 - Stark Crossing (Dustan Archer, eventual champion): We both opened Summer Harvest, so boards were small again. He was able to play Greatjon Umber, which was very problematic. Turn 2 I played Forced March into his A Storm of Swords. I let him go first because I thought I was safe with Greatjon (and all his mil icons) knelt and not much gold for him to work with. That backfired immensely as he played Northern Armory to stand Greatjon and The Wolf King to prevent my Begging Brother from cancelling his stand. The game was effectively over from that point. Loss, 3-2
Round 6 - Tyrell Wars (Mike Lamezac): Mike had The Hightower with Left and Right on Turn 1. Mace Tyrell (HoT) showed up either Turn 1 or 2. Normally this would be a loss for a lot of decks. But first I took out his Hightower with a Turn 2 Nothing Burns Like The Cold. Then the next turn I had my most memorable play of the tournament. I made a big military challenge with 3 gold while he had 2 gold. I won by 5 and played Put to the Torch on his Great Hall, which he cancelled with The Hand's Judgment. Then I played my 1x Put to the Sword to kill his Mace with 3 power. With Hightower burned and Mace dead, the game was effectively over. Win, 4-2
Round 7 - Targ Qohor (Brett Vaughn): Brett mulliganed and was forced to setup Qotho, Missandei, and Bloody Arakh. He couldn't recover from that terrible setup and I was able to win comfortably. A Put to the Sword on his Hizdahr zo Loraq just added insult to injury. Win, 5-2
This got me into 14th place out of 72 and into the Top 24 cut. Don't ask me why it was top 24.
Top 32 - Greyjoy Wars (Aaron Groth): Aaron was playing the same deck that Jesse crushed me with in the Swiss. Thankfully, his draw wasn't nearly as good. He only saw one Drowned Disciple, which I was able to hit on intrigue (with no Nagga's Ribs out). Balon Greyjoy (CtA) with Dragonbinder became his main threat, but I was able to control him enough via Nightmares and Forced March. Thanks to plots like Wildfire Assault, Valar Morghulis, Valar Dohaeris, Forced March, and Uneasy Truce, the game really slowed down and somehow went to 8 plots. That's where The Wars To Come backfires because I was able to replay You Win Or You Die and close it out. He finally saw another Drowned Disciple towards the end and might have been able to beat me if I didn't intentionally skip a Grenn trigger to make sure he couldn't put his Drowned God Fanatic into the dead pile. Win
Top 16 - Stark Crossing (Andras Fulop): For the second time in a row, I got to play against a deck that beat me in the Swiss. Thankfully he didn't see Greatjon Umber. He didn't have a military icon Turn 1 and I cancelled his "Off To Gulltown" to keep him from making his 3rd challenge. He did see a Summer (Core) Turn 2, but that meant he had to let my military go unopposed if he wanted to make 3 challenges. I was in pretty good shape until he warded my Begging Brother. Next turn I played You Win Or You Die and forced him to use all of his dupes in order to prevent my win (thanks to a clutch 2 power Grenn trigger). That was huge because he played Valar Morghulis the next turn, leaving me with one character and him with none. I top-decked a character and a longclaw, which gave me what I needed to close it out from 13 power. I felt pretty fortunate in this game and probably lose against that deck more often than not. Win
Top 8 - Night's Watch Wars to Come Builders (Jess Thompson): Jess knew I was running Nothing Burns Like The Cold, but she setup an unprotected The Wall (Core) anyway and kept her second copy in hand. I predictably burned it Turn 1 and she played her second copy... which I then Put to the Torch. Her Milk of the Poppys and Cravens were useless and she couldn't do anything to slow me down. Like I mentioned in the meta discussion, this deck vs builders is an extremely favorable matchup. Win
Top 4 - Stark Fealty (AJ Valle): AJ is running a very aggressive deck and applied military pressure every turn. I defended it turn 1 as he was threatening a Winter Is Coming. Turn 2 I went first and he played an Umber Loyalist (Begging Brother cancelled the draw, lol) with an Ice. I had a Put to the Sword in hand, and decided to commit to the military challenge as my third. I had the tough choice of either killing his Wyman Manderly or his Loyalist with the Ice (which was his only standing military icon). I just couldn't resist Wyman because he had a lot of chuds to sacrifice. He then swung back on military and played Winter Is Coming to kill 3 of my characters. This was the beginning of the end as he proceeded to trigger Ice again on Turn 3 and 4, then Breaking Ties on Turn 5. It was still a close game and I got to ~11 power (thanks to Benjen Stark dying twice), but I wasn't able to close it out. I think if I saw Maester Aemon (Core) in that game I would have won easily. The game would have also been very different if I had killed his Loyalist instead of Wyman. Loss
--- POST-TOURNAMENT REFLECTIONS ---
US Nationals was a great time, and I'd like to again thank Will Lentz for working hard to make it a great tournament! It was amazing as always to see old friends and make so many new friends. That's really the number one reason why I come to tournaments like this.
I was obviously very pleased with how the deck performed. If I were to play another tournament in the same meta, I don't think I would make many changes to the deck. One super-spicy card that I didn't include in the final version of the deck, but that might have been worth including, is The Watcher on the Walls. It's pretty useless against a lot of decks like Mace, Drowned God and Martell. But, it could have been game-winning against the Stark decks I played and only gets better when Sea of Blood comes out.
Going forward, I actually think this deck will be more consistent than many other rush decks. In part because it doesn't have any terrible matchups (other than The First Snow of Winter, if that is a thing) and in part because it doesn't rely too heavily on any particular character or combination. I think there a lot value with the flexibility of making good use of either the power or the military challenge as the 3rd challenge.
Before too long, Sea of Blood will enter the meta and pose a big threat to rush decks. Unlike most other rush decks, this one can actually defend against a big military challenge thanks to all of the efficient military icons and has Maester Aemon (Core) to protect against Put to the Sword. The Watcher on the Walls, or even the threat of activating it, will be a big thorn in the side of those decks that need to commit heavily to military.
That's all I've got! Thanks for reading this far, and don't hesitate to ask any questions you might have.