News for August 2009
Friends and Enemies 4
A Report on the A Game of Thrones 2009 World Melee Championship
A Game of Thrones LCG | Published 27 August 2009

Continuing our detailed coverage of the highlight events of Gen Con 2009, we present this review of the A Game of Thrones: The Card Game 2009 World Melee Championship from the perspective of its champion, Jonathan Benton. A veteran of A Game of Thrones, the 2009 Melee Worlds is Jonathan's first championship title. Congratulations, Jonathan! Without any further ado, we present this tale of alliances and betrayals that was the A Game of Thrones LCG™ Melee Championship.

“Lord Varys,” [Tyrion] said from the saddle, “sometimes I feel as though you are the best friend I have in King’s Landing, and sometimes I feel you are my worst enemy.”
“How odd. I think quite the same of you.”
- George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings

Playing in this year’s Melee World Championships, I was struck once again by just how different the Melee game is from the Joust. Sure, the analogies regarding Melee being compared to Poker and Joust likened to Chess hold true, but a lot of diplomacy and war gaming also factor into the Melee game. I rather enjoy this type of experience, as we play a lot of Eurogames and war games at home. Melee requires a player to read the board, identify threats, and time the final push for the win, all in a diplomatic way so as not to upset the balance of power and turn attention on oneself.

With that in mind, I chose House Stark for my Melee deck this year. I figured Baratheon and Greyjoy would be well represented, with their ability to close a game quickly, but at the same time that ability would paint a target on the heads of whoever decided to play them. I felt Stark could offer some dangerous options but be less threatening from the moment I sat down at the table.

The Deck

My first choice was determining how this Melee deck would differ from my Stark Joust deck, especially since Wade Freeman and I were building our decks at 2:00 AM the night before the tournament. (Many of these card choices were based on my discussions with Wade, so this deck was really a collaborative effort.) I think 3 House Bolton Refugees is a no-brainer in Joust, as they offer some much needed Intrigue icons. However, I didn’t want the upkeep cost in a Melee game, so I cut them first thing. Hungry Mob, however, would make some nice military presence to help fight off opposing Greyjoy Fury plots, so those stayed. We also felt House Tully Recruiters would be nice at the 1-gold spot, for claim soak and to help with some of the larger cost characters.

At the 2-gold spot, I just filled in mostly utility characters or a bit of intrigue, or as much as Stark can supply, at any rate. Little did I know that one choice, however, would make all the difference. At first, I debated between Core Set Arya or Shadows Arya. I knew that I could see lots of resets, and Shadows Arya would be able to stick around indefinitely. But I wasn’t going to make it Winter, so I felt like Core Set Arya would be the better choice. Added to other Renown cards like Robb, Eddard, and Jon, Arya can help rack up the power quite quickly.

On a whim I threw in Trident Reinforcements in order to come back more quickly from the inevitable Valars. Even though I never got the chance to use them, I think they were a solid choice overall. I’d been having some success with an army-based deck which revolves around Robb. The 5 strength armies which don’t kneel depending on whether or not your opponents are running Agendas are very nice because of their high strength and deadly. Those along with the House Umber Berserkers are more than enough reason to make King Robb a good play beyond his nice stats and renown. Another tough decision came in the form of which Eddard to play. I decided to go with Core Set Eddard over cancel Eddard for reasons of longevity, plus the deadly is always nice.

Up until now, most of the character choices are fairly obvious, but I always like to throw in a few surprises in my Melee decks (one reason I played the Targ True Queen Agenda at Origins and Worlds last year for my Melee decks). Out-of-house characters are easier to play in the slower paced game of Melee, and since Baratheon shares a sea with their Stark brothers, I thought Melisandre to slow down my opponents’ power grab would be a nice choice. I felt like I couldn’t afford too many out-of-house characters, though, so I couldn’t decide between the new self-standing wonder that is King Robert or Core Set Stannis. In the end, I chose Stannis because I figured there would usually be at least one player at the table without a Lord. In hindsight, King Robert may have been better, simply because Jeyne could have searched him out and given me some teeth with which to rush.

Sadly, my Baratheon characters never came out to play until the final game, hiding in my deck for the most part. I like their addition to the deck, though, and if I had it to do over, would only add Robert in the place of another character. I ended up with 35 characters in the deck.

Characters (35)

Hungry Mob x3
Samwell Tarly x1
Carrion Bird x3
Hodor x1
Jeyne Westerling x1
House Tully Recruiter x2
Arya (Core Set) x1
Septa Mordane x1
Maester Vyman x1
Sansa Stark x1
Old Nan x1
Catelyn Stark (Core Set) x1
Trident Reinforcements x1
Jon Snow x1
Varys x1
Knight of Flowers x1
Robb Stark x2
Northern Cavalry Flank x2
Northern Infantry x2
House Umber Berserkers x2
Eddard Stark (Core Set) x2
Ser Barristan Selmy (Core Set) x1
Jon Arryn x1
Melisandre x1
Stannis Baratheon x1

You may notice in this deck a lack of locations that have cool effects. This was intentional. Sure, most houses have power locations like Bear Island (which this deck did before I started gutting it to make my Melee deck), but I felt like anything which engendered fear and loathing might not be the best idea in a Melee deck. I learned this lesson well every time I dropped 5KE Davos and tried to smile innocently. Thus I went with a bunch of resources to help reliably play my expensive characters.

Locations (13)

Street of Steel x1
Street of Sisters x1
Great Keep x3
Narrow Sea x3
Northern Fiefdoms x3
Lord Eddard’s Chambers x1
Godswood x1

I usually run 2 Nymerias just for the saves, but for some reason I cut one Friday morning. I think Needle is good with Eddard, and I’ve even been known to run it with a Royal Guard which is fun, but in a Melee game, it’s not nearly as useful, so I’d definitely cut Needle in favor of another Nymeria. Icy Catapult is too good not to run, and gives some much needed control to the deck to kill off problem characters or characters who are getting too much power too quickly.

Attachments (5)

Needle x1
Nymeria x1
Icy Catapult x3

With the events, I included Winter is Coming more for the power challenges than the military, which is where most Stark players would want them in a Joust. Seductive Promise is always a nice option, and Distinct Mastery was there to let me get renown faster with my power characters. To Be a Wolf was certainly a consideration, but I decided Distinct Mastery would be the better choice. I didn’t want opponents worried about what I might be getting in the search, or generally thinking about me at all if I could help it. Better to keep a low profile, was my thinking. I also didn’t want to be locked into playing my Fury first turn every game, and wasn’t thrilled about using any of the other Military Battle plots in Melee. I usually opened with Song of Summer for the gold and tried to save my Fury for when I would need the higher initiative or the kill effect against Greyjoy.

Events (7)

Winter is Coming x3
Seductive Promise x2
Distinct Mastery x2

For my plots, I tried to compensate for Stark’s lack of draw with Counting Favors and The Promise of Victory, but the latter was never worth triggering as I always wanted to keep my hand. Maybe it would be good as a last resort, but I probably would have been better served by a different plot.


Fury of the Wolf
The Promise of Victory
Song of Summer
Wildfire Assault
Mutual Cause
Counting Favors
The Power of Blood

The Performance

The deck performed well, but there were a few standouts along the way. (I won my first two games and finished second in my third before winning the final table.) Jeyne Westerling grabbed Robb in several games and even got a duplicate on a subsequent turn a couple of times. This was huge in helping my deck filter and draw. In addition, the big Northern Armies were incredible all day, especially Northern Infantry who do not kneel to defend if no opponent is running an agenda. These guys always gave me a good chance to redirect a military challenge with the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard Title and win easily.

But by far, the MVP has to go to Core Set Arya. At the final table, I drew into several of my influence providers and she was able to lock down a Core Set Robert of Erick’s, an Asha with Support of Harlaw of Will’s, and various characters with renown of Kevin’s (who was also playing Baratheon). I remarked that she was an equal opportunity little thief, usually targeting one of each of my opponent’s characters per turn. Without her, the game would have finished much sooner, and would certainly have had a different outcome.

All of my opponents at the final table were playing finely tuned rush decks, each dominating in their previous games (two of whom went 3-0, and one other with a record of two wins and one second place finish like mine). They were all superlative opponents deserving of the win in their own right. Luckily, I was able to play enough characters with renown that final game in Robb, Eddard, and Arya to inch my way toward the finish line, claiming 11 power before the final round. I then dropped Melisandre who gave me that fourth renowned character so that all I needed was to win one challenge to seal the victory.

Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed this look at the Melee World Championship deck and the glimpse into the rationale behind it. If nothing else, maybe it can serve as a beacon of hope that House Stark can match up well with the Baratheons and Greyjoys on the proving grounds that is the Melee Tournament Field.

Once again, special thanks to 2009 Melee World Champion Jonathan Benton for giving us some helpful tips and tricks for the melee. With these tips in mind, we hope to see you all at next year's Melee World Championship!

Based on George R.R. Martin's bestselling fantasy epic, A Song of Ice and Fire, A Game of Thrones: The Card Game 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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Comments (4)

Published: 8/29/2009 10:32:09 AM

It's nice to hear someone having success with Stark.

By the way, to the person who edited the page the wrong king Robert image is shown.  The one discussed in the text is from Tower of the Hand rather than Kings of the Sea.

Published: 8/27/2009 12:00:23 PM

Congrats again John. Glad to know i made the melee champ sweat in a game that wouldn;t have impacted me at all. It makes your victory more well deserved.

Published: 8/27/2009 11:59:48 AM

pretty sure the pressure is now on for me to sit down and crank out my own report, haha

Published: 8/27/2009 11:54:41 AM


A very well written report and a fine victory. I wish my Stark deck had performed as well as yours.

I learned alot from my first Melee game/tournament and your report gives some very good insight

to the mind of the 2009 Melee Champion.



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