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Now My Watch Begins

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Now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death… I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men.
–George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings

Last Saturday, eighty-one players of A Game of Thrones: The Card Game fought for control of the Seven Kingdoms. The field for the Joust World Championships was a sample of top-notch competitors from around the world, featuring the reigning North American Champion, former World Champions, National Champions from France and Spain, and multiple Regional Champions. Everyone fought as hard as they could, knowing that in the end only one could emerge victorious. That man was John Bruno, Regional Champion and former World Champion, and he nearly chose not to attend.

A Game of Thrones Joust World Champion John Bruno accepts his trophy.

John Bruno on the A Game of Thrones Joust World Championships

I can’t believe that I almost didn’t go!

After attending Gen Con Indy and making plans to attend Calicon, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to attend the FFG World Championship Weekend in Minnesota in November. Then after some deliberation, I knew that if I did not attend, I would regret missing out on the first official World Championship Weekend, so I booked a flight and made my plans.

knights-of-the-hollow-hill.pngThat led to another dilemma – what deck would I play? I am not one to play the same deck over and over. I like variety. I believe that a great player can be successful with multiple decks. Last year, I won a Regional with a Lannister deck and placed in the Top 8 at Gen Con with a Greyjoy Kings of Winter deck. This year, I won one Regional with Martell Knights of the Hollow Hill, another Regional with Targaryen Knights of the Hollow Hill, and placed fifth in the Joust at Gen Con with a Martell Maesters deck. But I still didn’t know what to play for Worlds.

The three decks that I considered were: Martell Knights of the Hollow Hill, Targaryen Knights of the Hollow Hill, and Greyjoy Winter. I tested all three decks and made changes in all three. I made the most significant changes to the Targ deck. The Beyond the Narrow Sea cycle of Chapter Packs provided Targ some great cards; these were coupled with some older, less-frequently used cards and gave me a deck that I had a blast playing. It was the most fun that I’d had with a deck in a long time. I loved the variety in the deck. Each game was different. There was no “must-have” card. Each challenge phase brought new excitement. This is where my action was: ambush, draw, recursion, and knowledge of my opponent’s hand. There was so much to do, and I had so many options.

To be on the safe side, I brought all three decks to Worlds. An inner voice argued that my Targ deck was too fragile and to play Greyjoy. But in the end, I was enchanted with my Targ deck and the changes that I made, and I really wanted to see how it would play. I felt like a proud parent going to his daughter’s first grade dance recital.

John’s deck featured a number of unusual card choices, but as he explains, they all offered measures of control that played well together over the course of a match.

House of Pain – 2012 Joust Worlds First Place

House Targaryen

Knights of the Hollow Hill

Company of the Cat x2
Daenerys Targaryen x1
Jhogo x1
Khal Drogo x1
Long Lances x3
Pyat Pree x1
Sellsword Deserter x1
Ser Jorah Mormont x1
Street Waif x3
Viserion x1
Young Griff x1
Dragon Thief x3
Dragon Knight x2
Queen's Knight x2
Magister Illyrio x1
aegons-hill.pngDaario Naharis x1
Carrion Bird x2

Aegon’s Hill x2
Bay of Ice x2
Great Pyramid of Meereen x1
Meraxes x2
Rhaenys’s Hill x1
Meereen Tourney Grounds x2
Eastern Fiefdoms x3
Summer Sea x3
Kingsroad Fiefdom x2
The Red Keep x1

Recruitment x2
The Hatchlings' Feast x3
much-and-more.pngTo Be a Dragon x1
Incinerate x2
Confession x2
Ambush from the Plains x2
Much and More x2

Flame-Kissed x3

Marched to the Wall x1
Valar Morghulis x1
The First Snow of Winter x1
Waste Their Time x1
Search and Detain x1
Rule by Decree x1
Threat from the North x1

  • Targ burn and ambush matched up well against most of the decks that I expected to see at Worlds, and my characters couldn’t be targeted until the Challenge phase.
  • This deck gave me a lot of recursion. Street Waif, Recruitment, Ambush from the Plains, and To Be a Dragon let me get characters back from my dead and discard piles. Along with the draw that I had in the deck from Bay of Ice, Meraxes, and Jhogo, the recursion was just as good, if not better than added draw.
  • Waste Their Time gave me tremendous power. Knowing what was in my opponent’s hand was just as important as the card he lost. Also, to play To Be a Dragon, I needed a Power Struggle plot. Waste Their Time is a Power Struggle, put my opponent at a disadvantage when played first, and gave me a lot of knowledge about my opponent's opening hand. Knowledge is power! (Also, don't forget, in a Knights of the Hollow Hill deck, it's a plot worth four gold, three initiative, and one claim. Imagine this scenario: You are Martell and have The Viper's Bannermen in hand. You play the one gold, two initiative plot, Manning the City Walls. I play Waste Their Time. I go first, remove your Bannermen, you don’t get a seven STR Army or its two cards, and you're stuck with one gold. What about against a Winter deck that plays A Time for Ravens? Again, You only have two initiative, and I play first, trigger your Plot first, and bye-bye Raven!)


  • Confession and Aegon’s Hill gave me added hand control.
  • I added a couple of Carrion Birds for the seasonal decks.
  • Finally, I decided to go with a plot deck that could mess with my opponent on every turn. Too many players get swayed by the power of two-claim challenges that do nothing, like Retaliation, Men of Pride, and Siege of Riverrun. Every plot that I selected had an element of control to it.

Meanwhile, I knew that I had no chance to be Overall World Champion because I did not intend to play Melee, so I expected the only chance that I had to win anything was in Joust…I was wrong there! I had the opportunity to play in the first Android: Netrunner World Championship and had a great time the entire tournament. The players that I matched up against were great, and I had a lot of fun in every game, win or loss. I was fortunate enough to make the cut to the Top 4, but lost my semi-final game and ended up third overall. Not too shabby!

John went 5-1 in the preliminary rounds of the Joust, with a bye and four wins that included a match against his meta-mage, Ryan Jones. His sole loss came to Erick Butzlaff and his Stark Kings of Winter deck. He ended up qualifying for the Top 16 as the sixth seed, paired against the reigning Overall North American Champion, Dan Seefeldt and his Stark Winter deck.

The game was an early struggle, but thanks to playing Erick and his Stark Winter earlier, I knew more about how to play Dan since he was playing the same deck. I fell behind in power early, but felt the momentum switch in my favor when a ten-minute warning was called. I played much faster, got the power I needed, and won the game at time. I didn’t quite reach fifteen power, but would’ve ended the game on the next turn.

Erick Butzlaff and John Bruno in the 2012
A Game of Thrones Joust Finals

In the Top 8, I was paired up with the eventual Overall World Champion, Derek Shoemaker. Derek played a Stark Knights of the Realm decks similar to the deck Brett Zeiler played at the Moon Boy Classic. For the first thirty minutes, this was my toughest match of the day. Derek played a lot of cheap characters in his set up, so I played that wonderful plot, First Snow of Winter. But he played Forgotten Plans, and I knew that I was in trouble. During marshaling, Derek played even more characters, telling me that he was not afraid of my Valar Morghulis. In the challenges, I used my three influence to play Confession, look at his hand, and discard his Narrow Escape, which I was sure was in his hand. I felt much better after that and eventually whittled down his characters.

In the semi-finals, I played another Stark Winter deck (the D.C. special). This was the game that my deck just clicked – at the expense of Chad Baumgardt. I got everything that I needed in this game, and the deck flowed the way you dream it can when you build it.

The finals was a re-match against Erick Butzlaff. Nothing against Erick, but this was my easiest game all day. I had a great start and lots of control. I drew great cards, and Erick was behind the whole game. Waste Their Time, Confession, and Aegon’s Hill wrecked his hand, which I could view every turn. There were no surprises, but I did get some fortunate turns. I do feel like I made Erick play my game with Viserion and a Sellsword Deserter. Erick tried his best and never gave up, and I respect his game play and tenacity.

In the end, I won my second World Champion title. I was nice to win a second. This one means much more that the first one that I won seven years ago. It means that this old man can still play this game…I really thought that I was washed up.

Click the icon above to see John Bruno talk about the Joust World Championship (QuickTime, 12.5 MB).

Looking forward, I hope to make a card as impactful as The First Snow of Winter. I just hope the art looks more like me!

I really want to thank FFG for the great experience and amazing weekend. The gift of the Star Wars™: The Card Game Core Set was a huge surprise. The prizes that I won for Android: Netrunner and A Game of Thrones will make all the players in my community envious.

I also need to thank a few people who helped me tremendously:

  • bruno-throne.pngTiny Grimes – for playtesting this deck with me many times and giving a few suggestions that I actually listened to.
  • Nathan Bradley – for inspiring me to build a competitive, winning Targ Knights of the Hollow Hill deck.
  • John Kraus – for being a great friend and playtesting my deck.
  • Ryan Jones – for being my sounding board, my wingman, and my soul.
  • Ram DeLeon – for being my muse.
  • Christian Na – for being my troll.
  • Jimmy Bagels, Brooks Mitchell, Danny Machado, Brett Zeiler, and Will Lentz – for their support through semis and the final.
  • James Speck – for being my Sun and Stars.
  • Everyone else back at Dice House Games and Game Empire who supported me.
  • Erick Butzlaff – for demanding that everyone in the DC Meta play the same deck, so when I saw it for the third, fourth, and fifth times, I was able to play against it better and better. Also, for being a great player and competitor.

Finally, here is some last advice, especially to new players or those who lack confidence: Build YOUR deck. Build the deck you want to play. Many people laughed at cards in my deck, saying they are terrible and they would never play them. These cards worked for me. I didn’t look at any deck-building website for inspiration. I built what I wanted to play. I had a great time with this victory and am very proud of my accomplishment.

Good luck deck-building over the next year and I hope to see you in Minnesota in November 2013!

    –John Bruno (mathlete)

This old man can still play!

Congratulations, John! Now your watch begins.

Will anyone be able to wrest the Seven Kingdoms away from John Bruno in the 2013 Joust World Championship? Certainly, we’ll see plenty of developments in the A Game of Thrones card pool, and the eventual winner will have to adapt. Until then, John remains the sword in the darkness and the watcher on the walls…

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