News for June 2014
Plotting and Scheming, Part Two
A Look at Mastering Your Plot Deck in A Game of Thrones: The Card Game
A Game of Thrones LCG | Published 04 June 2014

“Tell me, Lord Varys, who do you truly serve?”
    Varys smiled thinly. “Why, the realm, my good lord, how ever could you doubt that? I swear it by my lost manhood. I serve the realm, and the realm needs peace.”

    –George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

Last week, we looked at how the plot decks of A Game of Thrones: The Card Game add layers of bluffing, control, and aggression to the game that distinguish it from other customizable card games. We reviewed the reasons that your plots are the most important seven cards you’ll bring to a game, and we explored several sample plot decks that exemplified vastly different styles of play.

Because you can choose which plot you reveal each turn, your plot deck provides you the means to enhance the strategies you develop in your draw deck, to compensate for its weaknesses, to weave combinations between the two, or to imagine other ways to bolster your bid for the Iron Throne.

It is, in fact, possible to imagine a plot deck that admirably performs a couple of different functions. As an example, a well-built plot deck may support an aggressive Stark deck, allowing its characters to rush onto the battlefield, eliminate enemy characters, and gain early control of the Challenges phase. However, if your opponent gets the better early draw, you might have one or two “reset” plots that can remove enemy characters and help you recover.

Today, then, we’ll take a look at some of these “reset” plots, and we’ll start with a close look at Valar Morghulis (Core Set, 201), which is arguably the most popular, potent, and important card in A Game of Thrones: The Card Game.

Valar Morghulis and Recovering from Disaster

Despite your best efforts, you will, at times, find yourself falling behind in the battle for the Iron Throne. Perhaps a Greyjoy player will strike hard and fast in the midst of winter, killing your characters, freezing your income, and discarding your locations. Perhaps a Lannister player will amass a host of fickle allies and threaten to choke your hand of cards by winning Intrigue challenge after Intrigue challenge. In times such as these, you want a way to bounce back, to reset the game, and to buy yourself a moment to recover. These are the sort of times at which you want to be able to reveal Valar Morghulis.

When revealed, Valar Morghulis kills all characters in play. If you’re falling behind in a game, this plot may give you the breathing room that you need to mount a comeback. It is, in fact, such a powerful and prevalent card that its mere existence demands a host of strategic considerations, many of which extend into deck-building and the interactions between your plot deck and your draw deck:

  • First of all, the plot’s ability to kill all characters in play doesn’t actually mean that all characters in play will actually be killed and moved from the table to the dead pile. Instead, it’s possible to cancel Valar’s ability, and even when Valar’s ability triggers, it first checks to see if all the characters in play can be killed. If a copy of The Power of Blood (Core Set, 194) is revealed, characters with the Noble crest cannot be killed; “cannot” is absolute within A Game of Thrones: The Card Game, so Valar Morghulis wouldn’t affect those characters. Even when characters can be killed and Valar Morghulis triggers, before its effect resolves, there is an opportunity to save them by discarding a duplicate, an attachment like Bodyguard (Core Set, 150), or a location like The Iron Mines (Kings of the Sea, 27). There are other means, too, of saving characters, and every player will want to bear these in mind while building a deck and plot deck.

  • Valar Morghulis may have one of the game’s most powerful abilities, but it offers only two gold and no claim. Additionally, it has an initiative value of zero, so the turn you reveal Valar as your plot, you’re quite likely to lose the initiative and make little or no headway against your opponent apart from killing off his characters.
  • Valar Morghulis hits all players equally. If you want to recover from a bad board position, you’ll be sacrificing your characters in order to do so. Accordingly, you’re going to want to have other characters in your hand that you can play onto the table in the Marshaling phase. If you’re playing Valar in order to recover from a bad board position, you’ll almost certainly want to be able to play more and better characters than your opponent so that you don’t simply slip back into yet another losing position. This means you want to understand how Valar functions within the scope of your deck; it needs to fit together with your economy cards, your draw, and your deck’s cast of characters.
  • In the right deck, Valar Morghulis can be a tool for offense, not just defense. All characters are not created equally, and characters like Robert Baratheon (The Tower of the Hand, 46) who have Renown or can participate in more than a single challenge (or both) are simply more important than non-unique characters like Knight of the Rainwood (Core Set, 81) who can only participate in a single challenge each turn. Even though Valar offers no claim and very little gold, if it can clear out threats or impediments to characters like Robert Baratheon, then it can help you push through for the power you gain from Renown and unopposed challenges. After all, the goal of the game is to claim the Iron Throne by earning fifteen power, not to fiddle with large claim for its own sake.
  • Finally, it’s worth noting that if you put Valar Morghulis into your plot deck and play through six plots without revealing it, you leave yourself no choice but to reveal it as your next plot. If you’re playing a slower deck, like the sort that might accompany a control strategy, and your intention is to build toward an inevitable victory, you may not wish to include a plot that strikes at you as much as it strikes at your opponent.

Seven Kingdoms Full of Threats

Of course, Valar Morghulis is not the only reset plot in the game. Other reset plots can also help you recover from a bad board position or strengthen your hold on an advantageous one. Several key reset plots present an alternate set of abilities and promote another range of deck-building considerations:

Wildfire Assault (Core Set, 191) is a good reset for control strategies that wish to avoid the double-sided effect of Valar Morghulis. Not only does it allow each player to avoid killing up to three of their characters, but it prevents all others from being saved, meaning that the plot ignores any board advantage your opponent may have expected to retain through cards like Bodyguard and The Iron Mines.

The First Snow of Winter (On Dangerous Grounds, 59) works well in decks with a range of characters of cost three or more. Not only does it allow you to recover from a slow setup, but it can help you push for a win or two in the Challenges phase.

Threat from the North (Princes of the Sun, 56) isn’t a true reset plot insofar as it doesn’t, on its own, balance out the table. However, it’s easily one of the more common plots for players whose draw decks include a measure of “burn,” or cards that lower the Strength of opposing characters. This is a plot you’re likely to encounter when you face a Targaryen burn deck or even a Stark deck that features Shaggydog (Lords of Winter, 3) and other Direwolf attachments.

Characters aren’t your only concern in A Game of Thrones: The Card Game. Locations can trigger a host of nasty, disruptive effects, and several Greyjoy locations can even participate in challenges. Furthermore, a player with a whole realm’s worth of locations at his disposal may be able to play more characters than you each turn or recycle key cards from his discard or dead piles. Fleeing to the Wall (Core Set, 187) is a reset for locations that fits well into decks that aim for more straightforward challenges between characters.

Using Chaos to Your Advantage

Most A Game of Thrones: The Card Game matches end well before players reveal their seventh plots. This means that players usually have room for one or two plots that shore up their decks’ weaknesses, rather than building upon their core strengths.

Accordingly, most plot decks will include at least one reset plot, and one of your key considerations in building your draw deck ought to be to determine a path past your opponent’s reset. This could be through the use of cards that prevent your characters from being killed or that save characters otherwise destined for death, or it could be through the use of greater card draw and economy, playing to the goal of bouncing back from what becomes a momentary setback.

Meanwhile, new players (or those with fewer cards at their disposal) may wish to consider including multiple resets in their plot decks. Let’s face it, until you’ve mastered the game, your odds of finding yourself falling behind are better than those of getting ahead. By including multiple resets, you may stand a better chancing of turning the tables on your opponent. At the least, you’re likely to buy yourself more time to strike.

The plot decks of A Game of Thrones: The Card Game are one of its most central and distinguishing features, and gaining a fuller understanding of them is a critical step to mastering the game. In our next installment of Plotting and Scheming, we’ll continue to look at more of the interactions between your plot deck and draw deck, including the different possibilities introduced by “plot twists.”

Based on George R.R. Martin's bestselling fantasy epic A Song of Ice and Fire, A Game of Thrones: The Card Game, playable by 2-4 players, brings the beloved heroes, villains, locations, and events of the world of Westeros to life through innovative game mechanics and the highly strategic game play. The Living Card Game format allows players to customize their gaming experience with monthly Chapter Pack expansions to the core game.

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