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I never thought I would be posting this, but I had a surprisingly good time with this deck in the third "Friendly Open" tournament. It was the first time I've ever played a Night's Watch deck in any kind of competitive event, so I was really pleased to get to the final.
As you can see, this is basically a choke deck designed to reduce the opponent's board in various ways. The idea is to open with Naval Superiority so that they can never really get going. I think Fealty helps with that, because it can disguise the true nature of the deck, especially if White Tree and Clydas are not on the board on setup. Usually you would hit At the Gates, then use White Tree, A Meager Contribution or Clydas to grab the extra gold the opponent gets from their Roseroad or Gates of the Moon. The only problem with Naval Superiority is that it's not a reliable tournament plot, because it's no longer a surprise once you get to the business end. Of course Fealty is good for its main purpose too, as you have lots of loyal targets.
Political Disaster is in the deck to stop decks that just spam locations and are happy to play with few characters on the board. That's why we have The Kingsroad and Flea Bottom Alley in the deck, although I have to say the Alley has been somewhat disappointing. It is difficult to find targets that cost exactly 3, so it just feels like a slight waste when you have to use it on 2-cost characters. I wish Night's Watch had something like The Bounty of Highgarden instead. :)
The most difficult choke element to counter is of course The Rat Cook, so we have a critical mass of Stewards to support it. Originally I tried this deck with Banner of the Rose, with the idea to play 3x Dareon, Highgarden Minstrels and more songs, but I found it to be inefficient. Concentrating on Night's Watch characters instead worked out better, but of course the most difficult challenge for Stewards is getting a good spread of icons, since they are almost exclusively intrigue monocons. That's the main reason Bowen Marsh is here, although his ability is surprisingly useful too and can easily draw you 3 or more cards in a single challenge. Might even be worth playing more copies of him, but the downside is that he can block that copy of Mutiny At Craster's Keep that I included at the last minute. Small Paul is useful too, he has the missing icon, and his ability usually draws a couple of cards. I don't think the cheap Stewards need any explanation, they are here mostly to increase the target range of Rat Cook. A few times I had enough of them to target 6-cost characters, which is really nice. Could even be a win if you grab something with power on it, and of course it stops the opponent's military challenge if they want their character back next round.
Yoren is also pretty good in this deck, because you can reduce the board enough so that the opponent is forced to give you something they would really rather keep. Originally I had the 3-cost version, thinking he could be a target for Flea Bottom Alley, but unfortunately that doesn't quite work. And I've found that there is usually enough gold to be able to play the big one anyway. And of course the copy of Coldhands can swing games as well. I would love to play more, but that "cannot be saved" text makes it really difficult to keep him on the board through resets, especially since this deck plays both Valar Dohaeris and Valar Morghulis. Recruiter for the Watch takes care of chuds if the opponent can't afford anything bigger, and you can stand him once you've got rid of the stolen character. Ser Waymar Royce really has no synergy with anything here, but he is the only decent target I could find for Flea Bottom Alley, and with both the missing icons too. Janos Slynt is a strong power icon too, for virtually no investment. And then we just have the chuds. Builder at the Wall is rarely used for his ability, he is here mainly to participate in power challenges. Old Forest Hunter, on the other hand, has a great ability for this deck, and he is loyal too. The other ways to get the missing icons are Off to Gulltown, and Practice Blade, which has a nice ambush option and a STR boost that can catch out a complacent opponent.
Even without Valyrian Steel and the Builders stuff, I was very impressed with NW's draw options. Three-Finger Hobb still draws 1 every round, Messenger Ravens draw like crazy (and can be used for Clydas), and of course there is The Watch Has Need too, which can grab a few Stewards here and there. One thing I haven't mentioned yet is The Annals of Castle Black, which works quite well here even with the limitations of the redesign, because you can spread your events through multiple phases. One of my favourite plays is getting a gold from Old Forest Hunter to play The Watch Has need in taxation, although you can of course do the same in the plot or draw phase as well if you are worried about cancels, or just play it in marshalling if you are not using your Annals limit on anything else. The plot also turns Off to Gulltown into additional draw, and of course replaying your Rat Cooks can be deadly. Finally, Breaking Ties is an obvious inclusion here as well. There are so many cheap loyal targets for it, and it really hurts when combined with the other choke elements (plus of course Marched to the Wall, which is another obvious one). But my favourite play with Breaking Ties is grabbing a loyal character with Rat Cook, then using the plot on that character to get rid of another one. You can grab duped characters too, since the cost part of Breaking Ties can't be saved from. :)
Just some quick comments on the tournament games:
Round 1 vs Feuerbart - Banner of the Wolf
This was a pretty harsh game for my opponent. He was able to play three characters against Naval. I killed one, then marched Rickon next round before he could be sacrificed for Heir to the Iron Throne. That left him with only Melisandre, and anything that was played alongside her had to go for military claim. When Fast Bob hit the table I already had 6 Stewards, so I could get him with Rat Cook. I then drew into Mutiny as well, so I sacrificed him before my opponent got him back. This was followed by Breaking Ties, another Rat Cook, and also Recruiter for the Watch, so I basically had 10 characters while my opponent had none. As I said, pretty harsh. :)
Round 2 vs NiL - Fealty
This game followed a similar pattern to the first one, only some of the tools were a little different. I had White Tree on setup and Meager Contribution in hand, so I took what little my opponent had left after Naval. I then played two Yorens, a Rat Cook, used Breaking Ties, and finally Coldhands as well, so my opponent never had any kind of board presence. I think my opponent had Throne and Chamber at one point, but it wasn't enough to counter all the unopposed challenges, and the Chamber went back to hand for Breaking Ties anyway.
Round 3 vs Jimmy_the_Andal - Dark Wings, Dark Words
I couldn't open Naval in this one, because Behest counters it very nicely. I think I opened Marched instead, getting rid of Hotah, and Jimmy played The Long Plan, saving something like 4 gold to carry over. I gave him 2 more in challenges, then revealed Breaking Ties against the inevitable Valar M. I think Breaking Ties was actually cancelled by Someone Always Tells when I tried to use it on Arianne, but Jimmy still struggled to get a board presence, even with Arianne into Obara in the challenges phase. He followed this with his own Marched, which I countered with Naval Superiority. Political Disaster kept the economy in check, and The Tattered Prince was lost to Rat Cook. He then went into shadows, where he stayed for most of the game due to Clydas triggers. Jimmy played his own copy of Annals in this game, which was slightly concerning for me because he had some decent events, including In Doran's Name to help slightly with econ, but in the end both Annals went by pretty quietly. Jimmy had to use all of his resources to get the game back to 8-8, but in the last round I had a Recruiter and enough Stewards to get a good Rat Cook, which would have left only Arianne on the board for him, with an empty hand, so he could only concede.
Round 4 vs Sparta - Sea of Blood
Yet another defeat to my nemesis. I knew this one would be tough, because all my characters burn really easily. Blood of the Dragon would have been impossible to survive, but Nerius didn't have it, so he at least had to work a little harder. :) I actually started really well. I hit with Naval, then stole two characters to put the pressure on, but even with no gold Daenerys still burnt a bunch of my board to take control of the game. I played Valar M in Round 2 to get rid of her, but unfortunately she came back with Fire and Blood. The problem here is that Sea of Blood can play all the burn even if the gold choke works, so the only way to stop it really is to prevent any agenda triggers. Unfortunately that proved to be a hopeless task. :) I tried to survive by using all of my tricks here. I stole Dany with Yoren, then sacrificed her for Breaking Ties, but I think the only other characters on the board were Jhogo and Drogon, both loyal, so I had to settle for using Breaking Ties on a location. I did manage to stall the game long enough for Nerius to have to play Valar M, but unfortunately he had the dupes at that point, so it was game over. And even without them, Sea of Blood can get those Blood of My Blood triggers in the challenges phase that I can't do anything about. :)
Top 4 vs argento - Fealty
I was worried about this one, because Stark can be difficult to restrain, but I drew exactly what I needed in this game. I had an early Rat Cook trigger that put argento on the defensive, having to defend military, and then Yoren took Sansa which, in hindsight, wasn't the best character for argento to give me, because she gained something like 4 or 5 power for me over the course of the game. I also had a good Coldhands trigger to get rid of some renown on Dacey, and then enough Stewards on the board to take Robb with Rat Cook. I think I got to 14 power before losing Robb with 1 power on him from renown, but my Valar M in Round 6 left me in a great position, with four characters on the board against two. That meant argento couldn't stop the unopposed power to survive another round.
Final vs Alex - Kings of Winter
I had played against Greyjoy Winter before, with an earlier version of this deck, so I knew this was a tough matchup. I had White Tree on setup, so I was expecting Nothing Burns and opened Breaking Ties instead of Naval. Alex actually played Winter Reserves instead, with the pillage Balon and two reducers on the board after his marshalling. I took one of them with Rat Cook and played a Practice Blade on one of my Stewards, thinking this would force Balon to defend. He went for a military challenge instead, which allowed me to kill the stolen reducer. Unfortunately Balon's pillage hit a Recruiter, so I could no longer get my own military through. But this still worked out quite well for me, because I used Breaking Ties on the other reducer, then marched Balon next round. The game was actually going pretty well at this point, but that was mainly because Alex didn't draw anything useful early on. I eventually lost my White Tree to Nothing Burns. Unfortunately it's the only non-limited location in the deck, so it can't really be protected. I had another Rat Cook trigger, followed by Annals to repeat, but then Asha hit the board and started drawing more useful stuff. The real killer was First Snow though. No dupes, so I only had Clydas, and I had to play Yoren with no targets, as Alex only had Asha and Gorold on the board. Sad day for me. :) I even had to throw most of my hand away with only 3 reserve. I think this was followed by Barring the Gates, which also conveniently blocks Flea Bottom Alley, so I couldn't get much board presence back. I then played Valar M as the last desperate attempt, but Asha was still alive, and Winter Festival was enough for Alex to win the game before he had to play (presumably) his own Valar M in Round 7. Maybe I could have played a little more precisely with my Clydas and Alley triggers, or indeed I could have waited with my Rat Cooks until there were better targets, but I don't feel like I could have really done a lot more. The only reason I held on for as long as I did was my opponent's bad draw at the start. :)
Congratulations again to our winner, and thanks to all of my opponents for another fun event. These Friendly Opens have really been a nice distraction in recent weeks and a fun addition to the online tournament scene. :) I think I will keep this deck in my repertoire for a while longer, as it's been surprisingly enjoyable and competitive. Tricky to play this online though, because the NPE element is obviously quite high. :)
One final thing to add... Those who have kept an eye on the Jade Sea expansion will know that Left Hand Lew is one the planned cards there, and he could be a really good addition to this deck I think. It's a Steward with a military icon, good target for Flea Bottom Alley, and even the ability is useable in combination with Yoren, Rat Cook and Recruiter for the Watch. Very much looking forward to that. :)