News for April 2010
"He's not as black a fish as that.", Part Two 6
A Card of the Week for A Game of Thrones: The Card Game
A Game of Thrones LCG | Published 15 April 2010

Hello and Welcome Back, Loyal A Game of Thrones fans!

Last week we asked A Game of Thrones 2009 World Champion, Erick Butzlaff, to contribute a piece on his champion card, The Blackfish, which will be featured in the upcoming Lords of Winter expansion. In addition, Erick gave us some insight into the design process of an AGoT card, as well as his impressions of some more of the cards from this expansion. Without any further ado, take it away, Erick!

Having been told by lead developer Nate French that the Lords of Winter expansion would focus on bringing the House Tully trait into the game with force, and having felt for a while that House Stark needed only two or three more efficient Shadows cards to build a strong Shadows-themed deck without having to use the City of Shadows agenda, I submitted the following draft for Nate’s comments and revision:

The Blackfish
Unique Stark character.
Cost s2; Strength 3; Military and Power icons; Shadows crest.

Lord. Knight. House Tully.

House Stark only. Renown.

After The Blackfish comes out of Shadows, your House Tully characters do not kneel to attack or defend for the rest of the phase.
Response: After you win a Power challenge, draw a card.

I knew that “attack or defend” might be a little too strong, and that was on the top of the list of revisions—“attack for the rest of the phase” it was. I was surprised, though, when Nate suggested we change “Power challenge” in the second triggered effect to Military—I had thought to do so myself, but given Stark’s relative strength in that challenge, I wanted to increase my chances of getting my first draft through to playtesting, and hedged my bets by making this very consistent source of draw just a little harder to use.

And love this new Blackfish the playtesters did. He was a robust high cost-character, fun to play with, and presented a very interesting choice: bring him out of Shadows immediately to use him as a draw engine (much needed in Stark), or wait until there were enough House Tully characters on the board to use him as a “closer,” of sorts.

But after seeing all the other cards intended for the expansion, it seemed like a slightly different Blackfish could make for a better fit. Many players have experimented with building a Stark deck around the core NOBLE-crested characters already in print: Eddard Stark from The Tower of the Hand serves as the backbone, protecting other NOBLE characters from an opponent’s targeted triggered effects; Core Set Catelyn Stark provides some of the best defense on Intrigue Stark has access to at present; and either version of Robb Stark is played, either to provide a strong (if inefficient) method of direct kill, or to keep Stark’s large armies coming into play on the cheap. One or two copies of The Power of Blood are used to keep these characters on the board when Valar Morghulis or Wildfire Assault is played.

Like other house Stark builds, the NOBLE theme has remained uncompetitive for a few reasons: Stark lacks the card advantage necessary to get it to gel against decks like Lannister/Kneel, Greyjoy/Winter, or Targaryen/Burn; it provides a few stable core characters, but none of them have strong enough text to make a real impact on the game; and neither Robb Stark is particularly efficient relative to other four cost characters in the LCG. But Lords of Winter evens out the card advantage issue well, and the Blackfish pulls his weight—I couldn’t help but think, wouldn’t it be a great boon to House Stark if he, too, could enjoy the protection that Eddard and The Power of Blood provide? With Lords of Winter featuring a new version of Robb that serves to tie together trait-based themes (and seems a little more cost effective all around)—to say nothing of a fresh take on Catelyn that evolved to become one of the most enjoyable and versatile cards of the set—recasting the Blackfish as a centerpiece for both the Tully and NOBLE themes seemed the way to go. After hitting the drawing board for a third and final time, the result was what you see here today, and it cleared playtesting with the same level of excitement as the first iteration enjoyed, much to my relief.

The new mechanic, whereby the Blackfish unites a player’s House Tully characters on offense after he reaches a threshold power count, developed out of a series of tangential emails between Nate and I during development. It gives the House Tully theme a feeling of momentum that plays out in a very balanced way, and is useful outside of Tully decks as well. A Stark character is particularly well suited to this mechanic because the house has many mechanics for keeping knelt characters active during the Challenges phase (To Be a Wolf, Distinct Mastery, Bound by Duty, as well as two solid locations in Lords of Winter). And between his NOBLE crest and the Lord trait, Eddard, Bodyguard, and The Power of Blood are enough to protect him so that, within two to three rounds, he pays for himself in terms of card draw and accumulates enough power to make your opponent feel the pain.

Lords of Winter promotes a number of ways to play Stark: House Tully, power rush, WAR crest and Stark “murder,” NOBLE crest and staying power, Knight, and Direwolf all come to mind. What’s particularly cool is that these varied themes and strategies have great synergy between one another, and the Blackfish serves as one of the centerpieces upon which a multi-faceted Stark deck can be built. With a renewed emphasis on the WAR crest, a fully powered Blackfish promotes offensive Military challenges in such a way that you will still have un-knelt Tully characters to attack and defend on multiple challenges each phase while still being able to muster the strength to trigger WAR-crest events like Die by the Sword and The Price of War in the face of an opponent’s well developed military presence. The increasing popularity of the Knight trait—the Blackfish, Former Champion, Ser Jorah Mormont, and the new Ser Edmure Tully are powerful knights, to name a few—allows a player to justify running a few filler knights (Knight of the Tumblestone) and Muster! for additional consistency and card advantage. He slots into power rush and NOBLE-centered decks in an obvious way, and serves as another character with staying power to which scary new Direwolves like Shaggydog and Grey Wind can be attached.

As a final word, some of you might be wondering at that “House Stark only.” It’s a remnant from the original Shadows take that oddly carried through to the final version. I don’t think it’ll have much impact on his playability outside of Treaty decks, though, and I take solace in the fact that I’ll never have to see him spring out of one of [2009 Joust Champion] Greg Atkinson’s crazy decks to be used as an out-of-house provider of Renown and card advantage to close out a game.

This week's Card of the Week goes out with extra special thanks AGoT 2009 World Champion Erick Butzlaff, for his insightful look at the Blackfish's design process and strategy. We hope you, the readers at home, have learned enough to take him down at the World Championships at Gen Con 2010 (Just kidding, Erick!) Tune in next week when AGoT 2009 Melee Champion Jonathan Benton tells us a little bit about his own Champion card, also featured in Lords of Winter. Stay with us!

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 (6)

Published: 4/17/2010 2:51:11 PM

Well, that seems to be the pattern I wholeheartedly agree with (but am not happy about since it will take years to complete the House expansion series).

Since KotS & PotS only introduced Greyjoy and Martell (like what CS did to the 4 other houses and did not expand a particular house like LoW seems to be doing for Stark), I believe they will also each receive another House expansions in order to keep them at "the same curve" as the other Houses.

I just hope that we end up with a resin House card for each of the other 4 Houses.

Published: 4/17/2010 2:24:43 PM

I expect to see these House expansions every six months. The fact that they picked a House for expansion #3 ( as opposed to Nights Watch vs. Wildlings as they did in the CPs) suggest each house will get their own expansion.

Will this make Stark "ahead of the curve?" Perhaps. But experience has shown that when the game introduces new variants of unique characters (Eddard, Cat and Robb all getting a new version) it has a tendency to keep the cards in check.

Myself, I hope the next Deluxe Expansion focuses on Targaryen, followed by Baratheon and Lannister. Then, they can look at other themes to do the DEs on.

Published: 4/16/2010 10:52:01 AM

I just hope it doesn't take half-a-year, which was the trend so far, to release a Deluxe Expansion for each Houses. 

Published: 4/16/2010 2:21:43 AM

With the Lords of Winter expansion Stark is going to have a greater collection of cards to choose in LCG. The rest of the houses will not have this privilege. Wouldn't this unbalance the format?

Published: 4/15/2010 7:47:30 PM

All 3 very cool cards.  Yay for Stark becoming competitive again :-)

Published: 4/15/2010 1:48:41 PM

 ...and now I'm waiting jonathan Card :-) These 3 ones spoiled are just marvellous!!!

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