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|None. Self-made deck here.|
|It's Raining Roses - 4th place in Small Local Tournament||3||2||2||1.0|
|The Green Manchalishi - Manchester SC winner||29||18||12||1.0|
|The Green Manalishi (adapted)||0||0||0||1.0|
|The Chivalry of the South: Top 8 Stahleck 2017||15||8||3||1.0|
This is the pile of cards I opted to take to Stahleck, with which I went 5-2, missing the cut because of strength of schedule and my own bloody-mindedness (see game 7 description below for those hot deets!). It seemed to acquire quite a few admirers, both on the day and on the facebook group, so I thought "why not publish the list with an in-depth description of choices made?". And that's what this is.
Firstly, the reasoning for the faction/agenda. Contrary to ever-increasingly popular belief (even from me), I'm not a Tyrell faction-loyalist incapable of playing the other 7. Tyrell are definitely my favourite faction both mechanically and thematically, but I am capable of playing other stuff. So why take it to Stahleck? Well, firstly there was really cool swag for best of faction, and I thought I had a legitimate shot to get it with Tyrell whilst if I wanted to get, say, Lanni's swag, I'd probably have to outright win the tournament. (Note, this did not end up happening, as a brave Tyrell player made the cut and promptly lost to Jannis's deck that near-hard counters most Tyrell in the top 32). Secondly, I genuinely believe Tyrell are in the conversation again as a viable faction after pack 3 offered Renly and the Crown and pack 4 offered two solid cards plus some, shall we say, interesting neutrals, and with few people taking the time to practice against Tyrell the opportunity to exploit a gap in other player's knowledge handily presented itself. This leads me on to the agenda.
"The Rains of Castamere" is a fascinating agenda, with a very obvious and powerful upside, a very obvious but mostly irrelevant downside, and the sneaky hidden up/downsides that only come about through play. The trick is that "win by 5" trigger. Playing the agenda out of Lannister or wherever else, if you want to trigger the agenda, the onus is on you to commit the amount of STR required to win it. The opponent at that point can choose to either commit enough STR to prevent the trigger, or accept the trigger as worth the trade-off in tempo for what you had to commit to get it in the first place. This means that usually the Lanni player can only get the triggers away when either the opponent actively wants them to, or when they have so much board presence that the opponent cannot stop it either way, at which point your agenda is "win more", probably not worth giving up Scheme plots in your main deck for (and probably not even giving up Shadowblack Lane for, come to mention). However, where this differs for Tyrell is in the availability of STR pumps. Growing Strong is not just a terrible house motto, it, along with Margaery Tyrell, is what makes the deck work. I go in to an intrigue challenge on a reasonably crowded board with, to give a common example, an Arbor Knight and a Courtesan of the Rose with Marge standing and a gold spare. Does the opponent oppose for 4 to win the challenge - letting me choose whether to spend a gold on the Arbor Knight trigger to win 4-4, spend the gold on a Growing Strong I may or may not have and trigger Margaery to win 10-4 and trigger the agenda, or just let through and save the boosts for other challenges? Do they oppose for 6 to prevent me triggering the agenda at all costs, at which point I can choose to trigger Margaery to win the challenge or just accept their tempo loss? For 7, at which point I can still win it? At 8, at which point they're defending for 8 frickin' STR on an intrigue challenge from two chuds? There's no correct choice for the opponent, based on the knowledge they have. This gets even funnier on defence when we get to throw my ability to remove a character with Highgarden into the mix.
In short, the agenda may look like it's something about revealing new schemes, but actually it reads "Reaction: after an intrigue challenge is declared, mind**** your opponent until the end of the challenge." - and that's good whether you get the trigger or not. There were multiple times people felt inclined to kneel out on defence for intrigue, thereby freeing up the ability for me to win a military by 5 and push through a Put to the Sword that they might've been able to prevent. Or maybe I didn't have a Put, but they had to carefully manage their opposition to prevent both Rains and Put and instead it just means I can push through a power challenge win on a crowded board. Wa-hey!
As for "how it wins", that's kinda the same as any Tyrell deck at the end of the day - it has strong characters with Renown and the ability to re-use characters in multiple challenges, plus the draw to back it up. You can win quite quickly when required.
With the point of the deck hopefully established, I'll now go into the specific choices made, starting with the agenda. There are 6 main choices in a Rains deck, Varys's Riddle, Wildfire Assault, Littlefinger's Meddling, A Game of Thrones, Filthy Accusations and Power Behind the Throne, with Tyrell gaining a seventh option in the form of Pulling the Strings. This was a somewhat simple choice, in truth; Meddling is strong if you run Olenna's Cunning, but this was a card that honestly was never on my horizon. I'm sure there's an alternative build of this that runs Cunning, but in my arbitrary opinion that build won't truly flourish until Valar enters the metagame and the kill events become less necessary, freeing up space for more 'cute' cards and lessening the reliance on Milk of the Poppy - which should really still be a 3x in almost every deck around, in my opinion. That left six to choose from, and with Varys's Riddle and Pulling the Strings occupying a very similar niche, I decided one of them had to go. This is because I wasn't necessarily anticipating triggering the agenda more than, say, twice in a typical game, so having a variety of options was more important to me than the hypothetical "I trigger your Counting twice in a row!" version. Pulling gave me more of a say in the timing, and also with Riddle being an auto-include for any non-Tyrell Rains deck it allowed other players to play themselves for me, something that proved useful several times.
For the 7 non-Scheme plots, we have some conventional ones - A Song of Summer represented a safe opener in matches where I feared tempo whilst also synergising perfectly with the agenda; Close Call is vital in some matches with multiple uniques at 2-3x, especially some cheaper ones (Margaery being the most notable one); Confiscation is a boring include but a necessary one for most decks still; Summons is an important card with Varys (more on him later) and also great for grabbing missing combo pieces as required; and Trading with the Pentoshi is great with Varys and The Arbor. That leaves 2 that I feel are more worthy of comment. Firstly, Calling the Banners rather than A Noble Cause came about from testing, because I wanted a plot that could let me win initiative. Provided the opponent has 4 or more characters they work out the same in terms of gold; the time when that is least likely is the first two rounds, when I'm most likely to want to play Trading or Song; and with one of my more expensive cards, The Arbor, somewhat controversially not being a Lord or a Lady, I wanted more cards that would let me play it. So without further Delay, I'll address the plot you probably did not Expect to find here - Unexpected Delay. Essentially my thought process was that sometimes the deck starts poorly - this is a 'feature' when it comes to Tyrell because of the requirement of running 3x Arbor - and being able to bounce Tywin in the Lanni cheese setup, or Eddard/Robb/Fish versus Stark, or whatever else, appealed to me. Additionally, with Noble Cause being a common opener, if I set up no characters at all (or had an attachment in hand), I could potentially win initiative, have the opponent go first then bounce two characters on their side to zero on mine. Further justifying this option was Highgarden, a card much more potent on smaller boards. Lastly, and most importantly, Varys combos perfectly with Delay. Several times both on the day and in practice games, I've triggered Varys to clear the board and followed it up with Delay, playing one character with an attachment (sometimes two with two if I have enough economy and positive attachments) and letting the opponent fail to recover tempo. I was myself suspcious of it when I included it, figuring "well I have time to change this back if I don't like it in testing", but several times it has literally won me a game. The plot is janky, and I might not even recommend it to stay in a 'standard' version of this deck, but it needs to be respected as an option.
What these choices meant was that I ran zero Winter plots, leaving my agenda functionally useless versus a Stark deck with Winterfell on the table. This was a conscious choice, as the plot I cut for Delay was Early Frost. My logic was as follows - if the Stark player wants to spend their trigger on my intrigue challenge then that means I don't have to worry about them forcing stuff past Highgarden on attack, or them stopping my Put to the Swords, or my STR pumps mid-challenge on mil/pow. In short, my agenda wasn't actually functionally useless, because it knelt Winterfell for me. I also could trigger the agenda on defence, so unless they had Winterfell and Catelyn Stark (Core) they either had to give me trigger opportunities or just not attack in intrigue, either of which I was fine with.
The only other plot I was tempted to include was Marched to the Wall. It's obviously great with Varys, and also with Delay, so if people could find a plot to cut for it I wouldn't be opposed to its inclusion, but I wasn't comfortable cutting Summons or Song for it, the two easiest changes. Feel free to report back on what your thoughts here are!
Onto the main deck. The events are fairly simple - with Tyrell's setups being somewhat spotty as previously mentioned, I knew I was running light here, and 3x Growing Strong was absolutely necessary. Elsewhere, I needed to be able to threaten in other challenges as a central beam of my strategy - the deck didn't work if I didn't punish opponents for only focusing on intrigue challenge. The 2x Put to the Swords were therefore pretty straightforward, and with the likes of Randyll Tarly and The Knight of Flowers not too tough to trigger most of the time when I needed to (though in some games they were the first cards I'd chuck to reserve). The Tears of Lys was originally a Support of the People, but after discussion with Luke Wortley he persuaded me that Support didn't quite do enough and that I needed to be able to leverage Wildfire in some matchups. This ended up being a tremendous shout, so full credit to Luke for this change.
The locations are, again, straightforward. 10 limited is the right amount in Tyrell I believe - sometimes it's too many, but with Crown of Golden Roses that's less of an issue - and Roseroad is the least essential so that's the one that drops down to 1x. 2x Pleasure Barge is my default number in Tyrell joust decks, and I'll need to persuaded pretty strongly to deviate up or down from that number. That just leaves the 2x Highgarden. Originally this was one Highgarden and one The Mander, but with the Support change being made I needed to find room for a second Highgarden - it's THAT good, ESPECIALLY with the agenda and Delay, just try it out if you don't believe me - and The Mander was somewhat win-more so out it went. With the other draw in the deck it just didn't do enough to justify itself.
The attachments are somewhat scattershot. 3x Milk, as discussed, is necessary right now in my eyes. The 2x Little Bird were possibly a tad luxury, but with several big characters lacking intrigue icons, as well as an expectation of Martell, I felt they were acceptable. At first glance they should be Appointed instead, as the only non-uniques without intrigue icons that could take attachments were the Garden Caretakers, but this overlooks the number of times I'd play them on a character that already had an intrigue icon to prevent them from bouncing. The 1x Bodyguard was more Delay-proofing as well as an attempt to stop the deck from being blown out of the water, as well as allow a character to survive Varys. Lastly the STR-boosting attachments. Originally this was 1x Crown of Golden Roses and 2x Heartsbane, but, again credit to Luke, it was pointed out to me just how much better the Crown is. Heartsbane isn't a bluff, it's an inevitability - the point is to make the opponent do the thinking, not just 'hope they miss the +3'. Crown additionally can go up to +4 or even +6 on a tricon, making it much tougher to play around. It also had the non-trivial residual benefit of making characters a King, which was useful versus Beggar King. The only downside was the more limited scope of characters it could go on, but that was an acceptable loss (and also it could go on my neutral Lords, notably allowing me to protect Littlefinger from Delay and Varys from The Seastone Chair).
On to the characters. I'm not going through these card by card because most of them are obvious, but if you have any questions about cards I don't mention here then feel free to ask and I'll respond. Butterbumps made it to two copies because of the Renly Baratheon (FFH) synergy, the importance of intrigue, and the inclusion of Close Call. Rattleshirt's Raiders were knocked down to 2x because I have enough draw, plus Summons, to see them when I need to anyway. Syrio Forel going down to 1x was a late change that I'm still not sure is the right call but didn't seem to hurt me on the day. The only game I needed him in I kept a suboptimal setup hand precisely because it included him, so didn't feel any negative effects. The Knight of Flowers was only 1x because space at the high end was tight and his ability, while great, wasn't quite as game-winning as Renly or Randyll's. Wardens of the Reach were originally more, what with Ward being a card and everything, but went from 3 to 2 to 1 just for reasons of space. I'd be reluctant to cut the last copy simply because it can be so efficient, and 4 cost characters to set up with the Arbor are important; equally I don't think more should go back in.
Lastly, Varys. It may seem obvious looking at the list now, but he actually wasn't originally in there. The deck kept failing and I couldn't fully understand why. I knew that the only real downside of the agenda was Wildfire Assault being removed from my regular, on-demand plot deck. With Tyrell's focus on a small concentration of exceptional characters rather than the "lots of good ones" approach favoured by other factions, I knew the downside would be nasty. I didn't fully appreciate however just how many games would get away from me if I couldn't get that Wildfire off - boards got too big, and once the opponent's board is big enough, there aren't enough STR pumps to be able to seriously impact challenge maths. When I realised that the solution was Varys, it was like a lightbulb going off over my head, and I can't quite believe I didn't think of it immediately when I first built the deck. Everything about the deck - the positive attachments; Highgarden; the STR pumps; the single-target effects, particularly the Schemes like Filthy Accusations and Power Behind the Throne; Unexpected Delay, which went in at the same revision - they all benefited from the boards being as small as possible, and if I couldn't Wildfire, I was helpless. Varys was the solution to all my problems and misapprehensions with the deck. Additionally, as an extra bonus, he's even a stealthy intrigue icon to help trigger the agenda!
I cannot overstate the degree to which Varys is the glue that holds the deck together. So why only 2x? Honestly, I wouldn't begrudge anyone going up to 3 copies; however, the answer ultimately is that most of the time you only need to trigger him a single time. You also don't want to see him early (unless you're going for the cheesy Trading with the Pentoshi/Varys opening, which I did deploy once or twice at the tourney...), and as mentioned multiple times already the setups can be dodgy, so cutting a high cost character feels like a positive move.
With all that said, hopefully it's established why the deck works, how it works, and why the list is what it is. I guess that means I go onto the TR?
Round One: Sam (UK) - Bara Kraken - Win A close, intense game this. Sam had the early lead, and I didn't see Varys. Sam also got power on Bob before I could Delay, meaning when the Delay hit it only bounced his Asha, which still wasn't bad to be fair. This was one where the agenda played a more conventional role, letting me deny him challenges with A Game of Thrones/Filthy, and accelerate my power rush with PBtT. Eventually, with time drawing near and a large board, I was able to use Renly, Randyll, Loras and Growing Strong to push through a power challenge 25-25 exactly and get from 11 to 15 power to win.
Round Two: Milan (CZE) - Greyjoy Fealty - Win This would be the game where I kept a suboptimal starting hand so I'd have Syrio, and it was bloody fortuitous that I did so because he set up The Seastone Chair and Theon Greyjoy. Milan won initiative every turn with 2x Fleet Scout hitting the table, but thankfully no Raiding Longships. I had an Arbor but no dupe for it, which meant I had to spend literally the entire first four-or-so rounds playing against We Do Not Sow - I only let through one unopposed challenge all game, in fact, an intrigue challenge when Milan had zero gold left and his faction card already knelt. The key play for me was for one round my Randyll was vulnerable, with Milan having played Balon Greyjoy (and pulled the Tears I had in my hand for him for intrigue claim). Milan challenged with Balon on military, looking to use the Chair; I oppose with Randyll; he boosts with Scout; I boost with Margaery; he boosts with second Scout; I play Growing Strong to win the challenge 10-9. Next turn I Crown Randyll and Milk Balon, and the game is over soon after.
Round Three: Jocke (SWE) - Targaryen Fealty - Win This game and the next one have blurred together slightly for me, but in short I was able to prevent Beggar King from triggering, wrecking his economy as it relied upon it, and catch his Blood of the Dragon with Song of Summer to preserve my board. One of the easier games of the day, in truth.
Round Four: Philo (NED) - Targaryen Fealty - Win This game and the previous one have blurred together slightly for me, but in short I was able to prevent Beggar King from triggering, wrecking his economy as it relied upon it, and catch his Blood of the Dragon with Song of Summer to preserve my board. One of the easier games of the day, in truth.
Round Five: Tupaq (FIN) - Bara Summer - Loss Across all seven games this is the only one where I feel I played badly. I opened Trading to his Plenty, but inexplicably chose to go first - he had Melisandre on setup, and I had Margaery in play with Randyll and a Milk in my hand, so I believe my thinking was that I'd stop Margaery from being knelt so I could just go hyper-Randyll from the off? This was a dreadful, dreadful shout, and deservedly led to my defeat, because what I somehow completely neglected to factor in was that I also had Varys in hand, and with 9 gold at his disposal the prospect of Tupaq dropping a Bob or similar was high. I Milk Mel, he plays a Kingsroad, and that plus one other econ card meant he could play Bob, play Cressen to remove the Milk, then in challenges play Seen in Flames to kneel one of my characters and take Varys away. I hung on in afterwards but the result was only going one way, and I absolutely deserved this loss for the stupid, stupid play I made. Learning!
Round Six: Ben (IRE) - Stark Fealty - Win Can anyone say "Varys cheese"? Ben opens Noble, I open Trading and put him first; Ben plays out his hand, with a duped Blackfish and a lot of single copies of characters, the only card in his hand an Arya's Gift (that went for intrigue claim). I drop Arbor and Varys, trigger him to reduce the board to just Blackfish and locations with Ben having zero cards in hand. Next round I Tears Blackfish (which I would've done the previous round had Bran not been on the table), and the game is more or less over from there.
Round Seven: Sobi (POL) - Bara Fealty - Loss Oh boy, this game. I believe I played literally everything correctly here (with one exception which I'll get to), but it just wasn't enough. Sobi did what we call "draw every answer at every window". I don't mean to sound salty, mind, because against 99% of players I still probably win, and it took Sobi playing perfectly to get him the victory. I tried to repeat the Varys cheese from round six, but this time when it got to the dominance phase, Sobi has Nightmares. No worries, I'll try for it next round. I even had the foresight to Summons for Rattleshirts in case of Milk. Sobi has Milk and kneels out Rattleshirts. Next round, I play a second Rattleshirts, and Sobi has In the Name of Your King!. Round four I'm finally able to remove the Milk and trigger Varys, but Sobi at this point is up I believe 8-1 in power and 7-2 in cards in hand. However, I do start to claw it back. The problem is Sobi's still doing everything right, and drawing everything he needs, with 2x City Watches and 1x Red Keep giving him the extra boost to stop me clawing too much power back. There was one controversial moment here, where I asked Sobi if Ours is the Fury says "unique Bara" on it or not, and he says it does. Happy that I can therefore push through the power challenge I leave a Garden Caretaker out of it so that I could win dominance, and he plays OITF on a City Watch. I protest that he'd said it wouldn't work like that, and he's confused - turns out he misunderstood and thought I'd asked if the event was LOYAL, since part of the cost was paid by Fealty. The joys of language barriers at a European tournament! My own fault for not reading the card, but still frustrating, as it meant that Sobi not only got to keep a 3 power advantage over me (2 power swing for claim plus 1 for dominance from the Watch standing), but an extra Red Keep trigger, which meant he got to dig deep enough into his deck to top deck Bob on the final round, who was part of the reason Sobi won the game.
However, Sobi didn't reach 15 power, he reached 14, and since he was making the cut whether he got 5 points or 4, I said I was going to keep it as a mod win. I did this fully aware that, at 5-2, whether or not I made the cut was completely dependent on Strength of Schedule, and that with losses in rounds 5 and 7 I'd be scrapping for a spot somewhere in the 25-40 range. I knew that the 1 point difference could prevent me from making the cut, but I did it anyway because for me it's a matter of principle. I don't want to manipulate the scoring in my favour and potentially deny someone else a cut that by the rules of the game they would ordinarily have made, and I want the record to show I wasn't beaten in the time given. I don't say this to be noble or whatever, and I fully accept many would view this as a stupid move, more concerned with being self-congratulatory than successful. It is however the move I made, and I do not regret that I made it.
At the end I finished 34th; had I gained the additional point of strength of schedule from conceding the final game, I would've finished 31st. Nonetheless I stand by my choice.
So, why do I go in to so much depth about a deck that didn't even make the cut? In short, because this deck is not only good (something I hope people would agree with based off the result, even if it wasn't the champion or whatever), but it was fun. This is still important to me, in a game where some of the best decks seem to eschew fun in the name of winning half the time. The following is a quote from the champion of this year's Stahleck, Florian Maas (and taken from a private chat without his permission, because I'm a sick guy):
I have to admit though, meeting everyone and having a good time was much more enjoyable than the tournament itself. I had 3 or 4 games in the swiss that were strategic and fun, but everything after that was a drag. In fact, I'd say I gained much more from my interaction with the people at Stahleck this year than from playing the game, which is strange to say the least considering that I won.
Meanwhile, I can honestly say every game I had was fun. Arguably my least fun game in terms of it being a competition was the fourth round versus Philo - not Philo's fault, we had an enjoyable chat throughout, but it was never really a contest - and even there, Philo told me it was the most fun game he had all day. If you are feeling disillusioned with Thrones for whatever reason and want to play something that is a) unusual, b) strong, and c) still fun and thoughtful to play both with and against, I strongly urge you to try this out.
Further credit goes to Josh Chambers, Patrick Haynes, Dan Kaye and my Conspirators for being sounding boards and sources of inspiration throughout.