Profile photo of Steven By Steven On January 17, 2012 Posted In Game of Thrones LCG

The Arms Race – Greyjoy Aggression At Its Finest

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January 17, 2012

Even after all these years of being completely enthralled by the competitive card game format, I lack the self-awareness to describe the type of deckbuilder that I am. When I hear “control”, I tend to scrunch my face and think about how contrary that term is to “fun”. When I hear “aggro”, I shrug my shoulders and worry about the lack of intricacy and adaptability. When I hear “combo”, I immediately shake my head and think “gimmick”. None of those three deck ideas has ever truly appealed.

So I’ve never really known how to classify my deck tendencies. It does seem to be the case, though, that whatever I build in whatever game I’m playing comes out to be a similar style. There are usually elements of control, aggro, and even combo, but they always culminate into something that doesn’t quite fit into a “deck type” box. I’ve been told before that I’m a “tempo” player, but that’s always confused me. Aren’t we all tempo players?

Which leads me to my terribly insufficient description of the deck that you’re about to see. It’s an aggressive deck that pushes for superiority in all three icons, but it doesn’t rush to victory on the first few turns. It stabilizes with lots of save effects, keeps enemy character numbers and card counts low, and amasses power from unopposed challenges. It plays strong events that seek to be practical and useful instead of game-winning. It utilizes large amounts of board presence with a relatively small amount of characters by granting bonuses to strength via plots, locations, and attachments. It controls the board, it provides lots of aggression, and it has quite a few little combos that make it all come together.

And it all revolves around the use of the War crest.


The Arms Race

3x Euron Crow’s Eye [War]
2x Asha Greyjoy [War]
3x Dagmer Cleftjaw [War]
3x Victarion Greyjoy [War]
3x Balon Greyjoy [Noble]
3x Kingsmoot Hopeful [Noble]
3x Maester Wendamyr
1x Maester Murenmure
3x Wex Pyke

2x Horn of Dragons
3x Support of Harlaw
3x Driftwood Crown

3x Die By The Sword
3x Assault of the Kraken
3x Risen From the Sea
3x Distinct Mastery
3x Assertion of Might

3x Longship Iron Victory
3x The Iron Cliffs

3x Gatehouse
3x Iron Island Fiefdoms
1x Aeron’s Chambers

The Power of Arms x2 [Your Arms characters get +2 STR]
At the Gates [Search your deck for a Maester]
Rise of the Kraken [Additional power for winning unopposed]
Relentless Persecution [Kneel all non-uniques]
Burning Bridges [Cannot trigger abilities]
Wildfire Assault [Save 3 characters, kill the rest (cannot be saved)]


Early Game

Getting established on the board early is crucial. Both Victarion and Balon are ideal at this point, though any of the War crest characters will do. Asha is a gambit due to her inability to be saved, but all 3 icons and a War crest for 3 is an excellent deal. I’ll be seeing one of three save cards most games – Iron Cliffs, Risen from the Sea, or Maester Wendamyr, and by having those options available, I can play solid characters up front and not be too concerned about a first turn military claim. If I haven’t seen the Maester, I usually open with At the Gates to go get him and put him into play. Even if I have Risen from the Sea or Cliffs, I often grab the Maester anyway, just to be certain that I can maintain my presence on the board. Wex is also a beautiful first turn play, and a threat that your opponent must immediately deal with in order to prevent easy claims.

The key is to get a few strong characters out with the saves to fall back on. If you’re attacked, you can usually hit back much harder. If your hand/setup is looking good, Power of Arms first turn can pay off, as a 2-claim military against an unexpecting opponent can shut their board down for the rest of the game. The 2-claim Intrigue is also terrifying, and a perfect leading challenge. Kingsmoot Hopeful + Victarion is one that I always like to see during my first turn. The Maester makes it even better. Remember, saves are crucial. The idea is to turn an even board into an uneven board because of the overwhelming amount of saves and unstoppable challenges. Victarion or Balon with Risen from the Sea just makes their abilities that much better.

Mid/Late Game

Once you have a presence established, you have some freedom to play to your opponent. If they’re swarming, pumping out armies, etc., drop Relentless Persecution and swing in. This is where cards like Die By The Sword are your bread and butter. You can pick apart the pieces that are giving you trouble. Houses like Martell and Lannister love to ruin your day with character and location abilities, so Burning Bridges at the right moment can put a huge wrench in those plans and buy you the time you need to take the engine apart. But your main play is going to be Power of Arms. It should get you +4 STR on the board and provide the all-important 2-claim. It’s 3 gold in combination with any of the resource locations is enough to drop a character or a few of your attachments.

Things start happening at this point. Balon + Support of Harlaw + Longship/Horn of Dragons leads to two unopposed military and power challenges with Renown, and leaves Balon standing for dominance or blocking. Support of Harlaw on Wex is a nightmare, as opposing Crest characters can be stealthed. Horn/Longship + Victarion makes Intimidate nearly insurmountable. This is also an excellent time to see Assault of the Kraken. In conjunction with Harlaw on Balon, it usually results in the game. Balon swings for a 2-claim military, cannot be opposed, stands up, and then does it again with Assault of the Kraken. Once he makes all three attacks you have gained 3 power from unopposed, 3 power from Renown, and potentially 2 power from the Power challenge. If you played Rise of the Kraken as your plot, that’s an additional 3 power from unopposed. It’s easy to see 11+ power come in after one Rise of the Kraken turn, so always look for that. If you have Balon set up, it’s generally time to strike with Kraken. And the Assertion of Might option is always there, netting an easy 3-power that can often win the game outright.

There’s a few other intricate pieces that help the deck to perform to its fullest. Distinct Mastery is one of the most useful cards in the deck. It stands almost any character, allowing synergy with Assault of the Kraken even when Support of Harlaw isn’t around. It can get you a surprise Dominance win. It can also get you a crucial blocker when your opponent isn’t expecting it. It’s an outstanding card, and in conjunction with cards like Victarion and Balon, it gives easy high claim victories at times when your opponent isn’t planning for it. Driftwood Crown pushes efficiency and adaptability even further by giving a much needed icon or a much needed crest. For instance, on a Power of Arms turn, you can surprise your opponent by giving any of your characters the War crest for +2 STR (Balon comes to mind). You can also give cards like Kingsmoot Hopeful and Maester Murenmure a military icon AND a War crest, making either into unexpectedly powerful threats that can satisfy Die By the Sword and Assertion of Might. Most importantly, perhaps, is the synergy that the Crown has with Support of Harlaw. By giving Balon or Victarion an Intrigue icon, they can often make 3 2-claim challenges all by themselves. The Crown can do whatever it needs to do, and can do it differently each turn. Its versatility is not to be overlooked.


There’s a lot of potential for change within the deck. Some pieces, like Asha and Kingsmoot Hopeful, don’t really fit but are included because of their low costs and Intrigue icons. The deck doesn’t have a reliable resource base via +gold or -x cost locations, which means it can get outpaced in a few turns. The War crest theme could be exploited further by including things like First Mate or Wintertime Marauders. However, being able to compete on Intrigue is something that I’m not terribly quick to abandon in favor of more Crest synergy. Assault of the Kraken on 2-Claim Intrigue challenges can completely deprive opponents of much-needed options. More could be done with Victarion and Dagmer in relation to a Warship theme, but I didn’t find the room for more than the Longship Iron Victory. Scouting Vessel is nice, but the deck already revolves around defending characters essentially not having any say in the matter, so it rarely saw play. I feel that I have no reliable way to draw cards and am often left in a tough spot against heavy-intrigue decks (Lannister). The deck can also be manipulated pretty easily by a strong control build. It has no way to remove pesky locations. Includes like Captain of the Iron Fleet and The Price of War fit well, but take away from other tools.

There’s always more that could be done with plots depending on the meta at hand. Valar Morghulis isn’t a bad include here, but its 0-claim and low gold make it less attractive than it might otherwise be. Higher gold plots would be nice, though I haven’t found one aside from Take Them By Surprise that has much appeal. My initiatives, also, are lower than I would like them to be.

Overall the deck has been performing quite well in both Melee and Joust. I always feel that I’m in the game and that the deck is a consistent threat to all the decks that it has faced. I have no doubt that it will evolve and change over the months, but the style of the deck is exactly what I’m looking for. Aggressive, intricate, and a whole lot of fun to play!

*all images pulled from and

  1. Quick rules/card question. On various cards, I see a “fish” icon, usually associated with a character. For example, Maester Wendamyr’s text says: “kneel to save a fish character”. Yet none of the cards shown seem to have the icon. Are you just not showing examples of your fish characters, or is this icon shorthand for something else readily apparent on the card?

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    1. On the topright corner of Greyjoy cards you’ll see their crest with the Kraken in the middle of it. That icon you’re referring to is the Kraken logo on its side, indicating any card belonging to the Greyjoy house.

      1. I was very confused when I first saw the fish, too, considering it is actually the sigil of House Tully (another of the great houses, though only represented as a Stark ally in the game). They could have made it more clearly a kraken, but it is a problem quickly sorted out.

  2. I think I just hit upon why I may not be able to play this game: I’m too emotionally involved with the story and characters to build and play objectively. I can just tell from reading Steven’s (rather excellent) blog here that, were I to come across his deck in play, I’d have a very strong urge to smash his characters, because of their involvement in the story from the books.

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    1. Haha, that’s fantastic, Bobb. Perhaps there could be a format specifically for those emotionally invested in the story? I don’t know what it would look like 😀

      And now you see why I cannot read the books!

  3. Thanks for sharing your build. One thing that jumps out at me is the very high numbers of unique character duplicates.

    This opens you up to getting blown out by ‘burn’, other ‘cannot be saved’ effects and cancels. Also keep in mind that you can’t select the same guy multiple times for claim effects, so by relying on only a couple guys, it can be hard to protect key units. It also means that very often you can’t play down characters (since you’ll usually want to wait for the duplicate) and won’t have a lot of characters to play down at any given time. Only made worse by a general lack of draw in Greyjoy.

    In my limited experience, it seems much more effective to run 1 copy of most uniques, 2 of more important uniques and 3 of only the most critical uniques (like if your deck was hinging on a particular character ability). Run 3 of your solid non-uniques (wintertime marauders, newly made lord, distinguished boatswain and island refugees). Seems odd, given that, in most games, you want higher numbers to improve the chance for draws, I know, but in AGOT, you can’t really stop things dying and you really want lots of options.

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    1. I have often heard the same advice and deck lists from tournaments also suggest this is a good idea. I don’t have the experience to say what I think is better, but I use more non-uniques so I always have chimpanzee at ready.

      I actually said “chumps” but I’ll be damned if autocorrect doesn’t have the better idea. Now to get to work building my Martell/Chimpanzee deck.

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    2. Justin,

      Thanks for the advice! I saw decklists that suggested what you’re saying. I decided to fall back on my classic TCG/CCG knowledge and run max copies of nearly everything for consistency. I’m just now starting to appreciate the “dead” mechanic in AGOT. It’s given me a few dead cards (no pun intended) in hand the past few games.

      The meta here hasn’t evolved forward enough to make the deck suffer because of all of those duplicates, but it makes sense from a theoretical perspective. It’s something I’ll definitely look at going forward. I feel like there’s plenty more to be done for economy also.

      Everyone seems to be really keen on the Island Refugees, but they don’t really appeal to me. I expect this will change as I play more and more, but with so little card draw, I feel like I need to be dropping something that sticks around and contributes something more than the two icons that I tend to readily dominate anyway. I imagine he’s highly suggested due to Setup – which is another area I need to look into.

      The question of economy slots is a really good one, and one that makes me curious. What’s the best balance? 10 slots for +gold/cost reduction? 15? 5? It’s probably the next place I’ll be looking to do some serious analysis.

      1. As to economy, it is going to depend greatly on what plots you’re using and what sort of strategy you’re employing. If it is any sort of guide, it seems that I’m playing about 1/3rd of the deck as locations, including things like Rhaenys’ Hill.

        I haven’t really developed a strong formula yet for this – mostly I fishbowl a few setups and the first turn or two just to see how commonly I hit a 4-5+ card setup. I’m pretty pleased to say that my standard Targaryen Summer setup will almost always hit 4-6 cards after a mulligan.

  4. Steven — It’s a control deck, and I’d say you are very much a control player. If you are looking to establish a board presence that can’t be easily hit, looking to counter opposing threats, and looking to set up simple-but-powerful combos… that’s control game in a nutshell, regardless of what portion of the deck is geared toward win-threat.

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    1. I suppose every deck has an element of “control” by that definition. Maybe the mystery is solved 😀

      In my head control means discarding your opponent’s hand, taking away their resources, tapping down their characters, and creating effects that just make them not able to play the game.

      1. Any card that makes their cards ineffective is a control mechanism — your “save a character” is a control mechanism, partly disabling the opponent’s ability to kill off your characters. Die By The Sword is classic control. I think you are right that pretty much every deck has some elements of control.

        “Aggro” in GoT is power accumulation cards. Victarion Greyjoy is an aggro card — power struggle symbol, extra ability to generate power for you, and not very expensive to play early.

        Whether a deck is aggro depends on how much control… aggro decks use control cards to bypass defenses that would shut their assault down, where control decks use control cards to buy turns and establish the long-term advantage.

        This deck is slower, seeking to establish some permanent board presence with certain cards that will (hopefully) win the game. It looks to counter any deck that might injure that set-up, and it looks to stall/counter any deck coming out faster until it can set up. Classic control.

  5. Great write-up, Steven. I’ve been hungry for more info on the non-Core Set factions.

    I’m intrigued by the suggestion that you shouldn’t always be running 3 of all the cards you really want. I’m in the same boat as you, Steven…that goes against the logic of the other deck-construction games I’ve played. Love to hear more on that particular topic.

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