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The Deck: This deck is a variation on a theme. Those that know me and my melee choices over the years of 2ED know that roughly ever other melee event, I come back to Greyjoy/Rose as my deck. It's easily my go to though I change it up sometimes with Baratheon, Martell, or Tyrell. Still, coming back to things after some time away made me want to bring up my old standby and see what I could do with it these days. The last round of melee restrictions did hit several cards in the deck so I had to take a look at what would be my best choice here. One of the key cards that I expected to see a lot of in melee is Karhold so I thought it best to go with a restricted card that did not put power on characters, since they may very well not even be able to do so. Likewise, Sea Bitch is popular, so I wanted to make sure that I wasn't utilizing a location that put power on it, which meant that it could be stolen for a straight up victory. Thus, Great Kraken was the only reasonable choice that I could come to. It puts power straight on my house card and in melee, there's always someone I can get unopposed on.
However, with some of the tech I had previously used unavailable to me (I'm looking at you Randyll Tarly (Core) ), I had to sort out some new options. This lead to the addition of Maiden's Bane and Fleet Captain for standing shenanigans. Concidentally, the strength boost from Fleet Captain plays very well with Balon Greyjoy (Core) who will of course be there to pair with Great Kraken. As well, Margaery Tyrell (Core) stays for great Balon synergy. Asha Greyjoy (Core) is, of course, the other unopposed character de jure, so she's in at max capacity.
Many of the other cards just round out some fairly standard extras in Greyjoy from Pyke (AtSK) to throw around stealth for some extra unopposed to Acolyte of the Waves for the odd power grab or at least dissuading opponents from making a military challenge at me so that they don't give me power. A handful of other inclusions such as The Knight (VKm), Victarion Greyjoy (LoCR), Ser Garlan Tyrell (OR), and The Knight of Flowers (HoT) round things out with well costed renown options in case there's no Karhold on the board, but the gameplan certainly isn't built on them.
A few other interesting cards bear mention- Maester Ballabar, Olenna's Informant, The Iron Bank Will Have Its Due, Seize the Initiative, and Melee at Bitterbridge. Ballabar also is a great way to gain unupposed with your strength boosting effects. In fact, a great scenario I ran into in one game allowed me to kick a character out of the challenge after the opponent used their first strength boost on the character, but before they could get above Balon Greyjoy's strength. The Informant and TIBWHID are nearly always paired together. With the right stand, you can easily take advantage of an additional power challenge afforded by the surprise gold generation and ambush. Alternatively, it can help you get a big marshalling boost if something has happened to one of your characters - like say Milk of the Poppy on Balon. This is another reason we're not focused on gaining power on characters, so that we can afford to be more flexible in who to bounce. Seize the Initiative is a great way to marshall last but challenge first on a key turn. I'm not sure there's much more to say about it beyond that is a phenomenal strength and often completely unexpected by opponents who may have placed you last in turn order to try to stop your victory. Last up is Melee at Bitterbridge, which can give the odd power via renown, which is nothing to sniff at, but is mainly there for some very unexpected unopposed generation with the strength buffs that you have available to you.
Finally, a comment on plots. Two new plots turned out to be huge boons for me. The Maiden is a very respectable opening plot with good gold and an effect that is unlikely to draw ire your way in the early game. The real key, however, is the initiative boost to all plots after that regardless of whether they're The Seven plots or not. Honestly, I think in all of my games, I might have only lost initiative on T1, and then won it on every turn thereafter thanks to The Maiden and my other plot choices. Which then brings me to The Warrior which I think is going to be another staple melee plot choice of mine. It was a phenomenal closer plot in at least two of my games giving higher than average gold generation to get your final pieces on the board and giving a nearly unbeatable base initiative at 8. Once you add The Maiden's boost and bring it to a 10 initiative plot... whoo boy! That is some exciting stuff!
Play Advice: This is a bit trickier to give than on a joust deck because so much of the tempo of a melee game can be dictated by circumstances that can shift wildly and much more unexpectedly than joust. I can say that it is important to pace yourself. This deck is a bit light on characters and very high on power gain potential, so try to mulligan for hands with respectable setups and make sure that you get a healthy amount of power turn 1, say 5 or 6, without making yourself a runaway target by blowing your entire load up to 10 or something. If you are light on the characters, try dissuade incoming military challenges and remind people that knocking one player all the way down into the dust is rarely a good strategy for the table as a whole.
Plots, of course, may need to be flexible based on the situation with a timely Wildfire Assault to bare down the board while leaving your unopposed bruisers or a clutch two claim Retaliation may be necessary. That said, a general recommended order is probably - The Maiden as a solid opener for reasons listed above, followed by Calm Over Westeros with which you'll choose either military or power depending on which incoming hits you can take on the chin and which you need to minimize in order to stay in the game, then if you may be able to close on turn 3 (and lets be honest, t3 is the average for melee games) end with The Warrior for all of the reasons listed previously.
Changes: Honestly, I was very happy with this deck and it's performance over the weekend. The biggest weakpoint that I see is that it's a bit light on character count. Of course, where to pull from for the card slots is the really tricky part. If push came to shove, my gut reaction is to look at dropping one Iron Mines (R) and Grey Ghost and then slotting in two Highgarden Courtier for some additional stand.