Hey all, here’s my tournament report for the Fresno Regional that took place on Saturday. When the regionals schedule had come out, John Bruno and I had talked about attending this regional, and as it drew closer a few more from SoCal decided to come along. James (Bronson), Joe and I drove from San Diego to John’s house in LA. We hung out there for a bit, I grabbed some sweet reprint cards from John’s collection, and John showed us an unending stream of plaques, banners, uncut sheets and certificates that he’d won through the years. He showed us his marble house cards (JEALOUS) and sweet power tokens, and tried to trap me in his bedroom but luckily Ben (Scarletnite) showed up to save me, followed closely by Christian (KhalBrogo) and we hit the road for Fresno around 6:30.
We wandered the Central Valley for a few hours, and we played a few games of “AGOT Card categories”- basically two people face off, with a third person holding a phone with a card database. A category is selected, such as “Stark tricons,” or “Cards with a cost of (Shadows)0,” and the two players name them back and forth until someone gives up. Pretty fun road game. Finally we arrived at our hotel and we ended up with 3 rooms for 6 people at the fine Country Inn & Suites. The plan was to play a few test games, but we were all so beat by the drive that we fell asleep. John and I woke up around 7: 30 the next morning and partook of the free breakfast- they even had a waffle maker! We all printed out our lists and headed over to the Crazy Squirrel, a really neat little game shop. The owners were incredibly friendly and accommodating, and got the tournament off and running smoothly.
My podcast partner Tiny Grimes and I have been working on our Martell Maesters deck for months now, honing and changing it a little bit every so often. We both agreed from the start that it was extremely strong and at times we believed it to be the best deck in the format, but for some reason neither of us chose to play it at our first Regional, KingdomCon. It was second on both of our lists, but he ended up choosing Greyjoy Maesters while I played Stark Knights. After neither of us won that one, though, we both agreed that we needed to get back in the lab with our beast again. We made some changes in the two weeks leading up to Fresno that put it over the top- tune in to the next episode of our podcast for analysis on those. My deck will be published in full on Cardgamedb some time this week- Clu generously volunteered to write an article about it, and I don’t want to steal too much of his thunder.
Game 1 vs. Ken- Bara No Agenda Ken is one of the several friendly Fresno locals (not that there were any unfriendly ones!). This game got off to a bad start for Ken, as he flopped a Street and the Knights of the Storm, while I flopped 5 cards including at least 4 characters. I was vaguely concerned about First Snow but based on the contents of my hand I thought I might be able to overcome it, so I went for the home run rather than the safe play and Search & Detained his Knights. He did not play First Snow, and I dropped Ser Arys Oakheart as well as a cheap Conclave and another scrub. He was only able to marshal a single character and a location or two, so I got off to a quick start in both chains & power. Second plot he played Wildfire Assault and I stuck it with Art of Seduction. I kept Arys & the Conclave (who both had power on them) as well as a Maester of War, and then Narrow Escaped. He elected to pitch his hand, but was unable to draw back into more threats, and my turn 3 To The Spears finished off the game with 5 more renown on Conclave/Arys.
Game 2 vs. Ben- Lanni PBTT I wasn’t exactly sure how this game would go, but I felt decent considering the number of intrigue icons my deck had, combined with the several methods of control I had at my disposal to deal with Cersei, the scariest card in any PBTT deck. I flopped decently, 3 guys, and he flopped a shadow card and 3 locations. I suspected that he might have a First Snow to bounce all 3 of my characters, so I opened Forgotten Plans, but he chose Retaliation instead. I marshaled a couple of locations and one more character, but he had a House Divided for my Maester of War, and then he dropped King Joff’s Guard to kneel my remaining two non-vengeful characters. Rough start for me. I survived that turn in decent shape, but then he stuck my At the Gates with Art of Seduction. I got a challenge or two through, stayed in the game, grabbed some links. The next turn he started putting on the pressure with some intrigue gold weenies and House Payne Enforcers. He flipped Game of Thrones for his turn 3 plot, but I was able to get a Conclave out by that point to at least hold down the intrigue challenges a bit. The next turn I played To The Spears, and he dropped his First Snow. He did choose me to go first which I was happy with. When the dust settled after the first challenge was initiated, he had standing Jaime, the army, Varys and an Enemy Informer against 2 of my conclaves, the Viper and the Former Champion. I excitedly did an intrigue challenge with the Conclaves, giving them Renown, but he played a Misinformation to stop it. Turn 5 I suspected a Valar with all my renown on the board and chose Outwit as my plot, but he flipped Spiders & Spies instead. Leyton Hightower joined the 2 Conclaves, the Champion and the Viper. I pushed through an intrigue with the Conclaves, and was almost expecting another Misinformation to shut down my challenges entirely for the turn, but he did not have a second one, and the renown closed it out.
Game 3 vs. John Bruno- Targ KOHH Tiny and I had been playtesting this deck against a variety of Targ builds to see what our game plan should be, and the games seemed to be very one-sided one way or the other. If the Targ deck got its burn early and was able to control the board, often the maesters never even got their chains, but if they could start chaining up quickly, that obviously hampered a lot of the burn. Never having beaten John in tournament play, I was obviously a bit intimidated, but in a smaller field the quality of opponent becomes concentrated rather quickly. I don’t recall the quality of my flop precisely, but I judged it to be sufficient that he might play his own plot. Sadly for me I was wrong, as my Forgotten Plans netted me only Song of Summer. John had me go first, and I managed to drop a Conclave, but when John marshaled, the Conclave didn’t last long due to a Raegar’s Harp/Ser Jorah Mormont combo. While I was sad to lose a big, mostly un-burnable threat, I was pleased to note that he had NOT marshaled any locations. The next turn he found a couple of locations, and an out-of-house Newly Made Lord killed a reducer, but was quickly dispatched by a military challenge. Meanwhile I was building up power and spreading out the chains, and John had to make a move. He threw his plot down, but unfortunately for him was unable to find any Ambush characters in his draw, and I was able to simply pass challenges and keep all of my characters on the board. The two characters I mentioned before (Jorah and Newly Made) were the only two I saw hit the table on John’s side the entire game, and I was able to cruise to the win. Rough draw on John’s part. :/
Game 4 vs. James- Stark Maesters James is one of the top players in San Diego, and he’s been honing his Stark Maesters for at least as long, if not longer, as I’d been working on my deck, so I knew that one way or another it was going to be a battle. I flopped pretty well, but he won a couple challenges on the first plot, and during the second marshalling phase he was able to make my lone Maester of War into a Refugee via the Copper Link and use perhaps his signature card, Dissension, to two-for-one me. To that point, I hadn’t been able to get much draw going with the links, so he proceeded to Intrigue away my Narrow Escape with Bruno-like skill and drop Wildfire to even out our board positions. I found a Conclave that was able to rack up a couple of power and chains, but James countered with a No Quarter to kill it. Next turn, of course, I drew a He Calls it Thinking and a Leyton Hightower, both of which would have stopped that nonsense. James took control of the game pretty firmly at that point, and powered his way to 4-0, dealing me my first loss of the day.
Game 5 vs. Brooks- Lannister/Greyjoy Alliance Flash back 7 months to my first big tournament: CaliCon 2011. I had been playing a scant two months, and I decided to join my fellow San Diegans on a road trip up to NorCal. Optimistic and wide-eyed, I sat down against this deck in my first real tournament game, and proceed to get slaughtered. Murenmure shut down the drawback from his agenda, he had guys and saves all over the place, and it’s over before I even really knew what was going on. Back to Fresno, present day, it’s time to see if I can exact a measure of revenge. I flopped 6, including at least 4 characters, and he flopped The Knight and a Carrion Bird. At last, the perfect situation for a First Snow! I’d been missing all day, but sticking to my guns, I led with Forgotten Plans and at long last catch just the plot I’d put Plans in the deck for. Excited at this minor victory, I attempted to use his Agenda to get 2 more gold for my marshaling, but he played Seasick. I then looked down and saw the Lord Doran’s Chambers in my hand, ready to be marshaled. Oops. Luckily that bone-headed mistake did not cost me too much, as I flooded the board and forced a Valar, which I stuck with Art of Seduction. I played Narrow Escape and he dumped his hand, but I was still loaded for bear, and when To The Spears hit on the next turn I had 2 Conclaves and the Viper not kneeling to attack. Revenge is mine.
In the end, 2 from LA and 2 from San Diego comprise the Final Four. It had originally appeared that I would play Ben in the semis and Bruno and James would square off again, but apparently Ben & John had equal SoS and rolled off for positioning.
Top 4 vs. John Having to face a World Champion twice is quite a daunting task, but after the first game I allowed myself some cautious optimism. I flopped 5 cards and had to make a difficult decision right off the bat as to whether to flop a Maester of the Sun or a Maester of War. I elected to go with the Maester of the Sun, so that my Maester of War would not get killed with a preplot Flame-Kissed. As it turns out, John had bigger pre-plot plans than even I had imagined: my Informed Acolyte got Flame-Kissed instead, and my Maester of the Sun received a Forever Burning. Correctly surmising that Threat From The North was coming, I dropped Forgotten Plans. My two maesters left the table, and I nearly moved on to the Draw phase, but realized that I’d drawn a Narrow Escape. Obviously dumping his hand at that point would have been catastrophic for John, so my characters returned to the board, and I end up getting 3 unopposed challenges and some important links. I knew that I wasn’t out of the woods though, as he had mentioned earlier in the day that this exact situation had happened to him, and he was still able to deal major damage in the NEXT plot phase when Threat was re-activated before new plots were chosen. Luckily he was not able to draw any more burn, though, and the next plot I stuck First Snow with Art of Seduction. I used all my gold to marshal the Viper, who intrigued away a card and grabbed a power. Turn 3 a conclave and Leyton Hightower joined the Viper, and between unopposed power, renown and Dominance I am able to beat the inimitable Mathlete for the second time in the tournament.
Finals vs. James An all-San Diego final! I was pretty nervous as this was the furthest that I had gotten in a tournament of this level, but playing against James, who’s always relaxed and jovial, set my mind at ease. I mulliganed a 3-card flop into a 6-card flop- nice to see it work as intended for once- and had Ser Arys threatening immediate renown as well as several smaller guys. The redraw of my 6 cards was less exciting, however, containing a Viper (always a welcome sight) but also 3 limited locations and a couple of events. Not terrible, but I felt that I needed to press my character advantage against James’ deck and decided to open with At the Gates for a Maester of War. Once again, though, Old Nan & Dissension evened the playing field, and by the end of marshaling James had a Northern Cavalry Flank and a Frozen Outpost as well- quite a threatening first round combo, as I was reticent to defend his challenges due to the NCF’s deadly. The big army ended up getting three unopposed challenges through, as his maester helpfully tossed him an intrigue icon with Black Iron Link. I was only able to push one challenge back the other way, as I didn’t have more than 9 str of any one icon. The next turn, James ended up with a SECOND Frozen Outpost, and I knew I had to go for broke in the following plot phase, or that army was going to break the game open fast.
I ended up playing Search & Detain, and when he did not reveal Retaliation I did a bit of an interior leap of joy. Unfortunately in the confusion with first player and the NCF getting bounced, we both failed to notice that James had never activated his own plot: At the Gates. I still feel terrible about this, as we didn’t hear about it until after the game. In any case, the NCF came back due to a timely Sea, but I’d found my counter: Arianne Martell. I had slipped the Iron Link onto a Maester of the Sun the turn before, and when James used all of his gold on the NCF, I hoped that I’d be able to deprive him of a key character one way or the other. His board was Old Nan, the NCF and an Oldtown Scholar loaded with all but two of his chains. I have several maesters, and due to a key Sea of my own am able to play both Arianne and the Viper. He reduced the Viper with his maester’s Lead Link, stripping Arianne’s intrigue icon in the process, and made a really neat play, giving Old Nan the Maester trait so she would receive the military icon from my War Maester. I went with an intrigue challenge first, giving Arianne the military and +2 and hoping he would defend it and use up at least one if not both Frozen Outposts, and luckily he did. Arianne then stealthed by the Flank and took out Old Nan and the army to claim. James seriously considered giving up the maester rather than the army, but correctly realized that the maester was his only real shot to remove the Viper from the table, and the next plot phase he burned the Viper and hit him with City of Soldiers. Luckily, though, by that point I had been able to get the draw going that I’d missed so sorely in our first game, and I played three more characters with renown to go with my To The Spears: Leyton, Darkstar and a Former Champion. He tried a challenge, but Game of Cyvasse sent his character back to his hand as he had no standing intrigue icons. I excitedly challenged with my three renown characters, knowing that I wanted to military first in order to get Former Champion the maximum amount of renown. However, James still had a trick up his sleeve: Lethal Counterattack. I had not seen it in the first game and was pretty much caught completely off-guard by it. Luckily I had not gone gung-ho and simply declared everyone possible for my military challenge. I had no remaining renown, but still had plenty of characters. Arianne came through once more with a two-claim unopposed power challenge and closed out the win for me.
Overall it was an amazing experience- now I can see why Mathlete makes sure to win one each year As you can see, my road was surprisingly difficult for such a small tournament, and I feel a deep sense of satisfaction that the work I’ve put in since joining the game in September has paid off.
Props: •James: For driving, being a good dude, and for helping San Diego take top 2. Thanks for everything. •Tiny: For hours upon hours of playtest sessions, as well as the encouraging phone calls to make sure I remember that I’m good at this game. Couldn’t have done it without you! •Mathlete: For the encouragement and lessons. You give the rest of us schlubs a level to aspire to. •DeathJester26, Crevic, Joe and the rest of the SD Meta: You guys are awesome, thanks for making this game fun and worthwhile! •Crazy Squirrel Games and the Fresno AGOT players: It was great getting to meet you all! This venue was one of the nicest game stores I’ve seen, and the dedication of the owners showed. The local players were nothing but friendly and accommodating the entire weekend. Thanks! •The IHOP waitress for putting up with us •FFG for the legit prize support: Keep it up!
Slops: •BJ’s Restaurant for the blowout half-hour wait •Uhh…there should be more, but I can’t think of them. It was too awesome!