By Zach Bunn– April 19, 2012
Valar Morghulis is always going to be a hot topic. With the most recent Two Guys, One Throne there has been an extra about of commotion about the card. So what’s the big deal? First, let’s take a look at the card.
I’ll never forget the first time I read Valar. We were playing our very first game of Game of Thrones and I was playing whatever deck (Stark, I believe) had this plot. After a few turns I was definitely behind in character count and then discovered this gem in my plot deck. I giggled as I began playing my next few turns extremely aggressively knowing what I was going to be doing to the board.
The power of this card was only amplified because none of my opponent’s knew the card existed. So, a turn or two went by, I was way behind (except for on total power count), and I dropped Valar. After reading what the card did my opponents (Steven, Robert, and Tim) all had to take a look at the card and make sure I wasn’t trying to pull one over on them.
It’s been many moons since that game and now everyone in our playgroup knows about this card. Not only that, but we have all started playing around it. It is here where this card starts to become suspect. In my history as a tabletop gamer (more particularly, a card gamer), any time there is a card that 90%+ of a group of players use, it is immediately on the watch list. However, just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s broken or causing harm to a tournament environment.
So, let’s examine the card a bit.
It’s a Plot!
The first thing we have to realize is that this card is a plot card. In most card games, you don’t have a stack of cards that you get to choose one of to play each turn. Plots are inherently more powerful than other cards, because:
1. You can call on them whenever you need them
2. They don’t take up space in your deck. This also means that you don’t have to draw it, spend a card to use it, etc.
3. Most games end before you go through your plots. If the plot has a negative effect, you don’t have to use it
The reason you don’t hear people complaining about cards like Westeros Bleeds is because it’s a standard card. If you want to use it, you have to use card slots in your deck. You also have to have four influence AND the card in hand. You also have to have all of this happen when you actually need to use the card. If you’re winning, it’s likely that this is a wasted card draw.
What an Ability
There is no denying it. Killing all characters on the board in the form of a plot (on command) is an epicly powerful ability. You could possibly make the argument that if you use this, you kill your own characters, but it’s likely that if you are dropping this card it’s not because it is going to affect you as equally as it affects your opponent. If you are choosing when this card happens, as I did in the example game earlier, you can play two or three turns knowing that this is coming.
Of course… now that we’ve all seen it everyone is playing with the idea that it is coming in a turn or two! Part of what really needs to be assessed here is what exactly this one card is doing to the entire tournament environment. You literally have to approach a deck and meta completely differently because of this one card. Again, any time a card is having this big of an effect you have to take a look at it.
Now, maybe you look at what this card does to the environment and you are pleased with it. Maybe you are only frustrated by it. Whether or not you like the grand effect, it does exist.
But Wait! There’s More…
Valar fits all of the requirements to make it suspect:
1. Everyone (or most everyone uses it)
2. Everyone plays around it
But as I was really looking at it I wondered why this was such a big deal. I started thinking about what made this so different than other, similarly powerful abilities in other card games that I’ve played. As I was playing a game of The Spoils TCG last night (for those who don’t know what that is, for this example just imagine MTG). I was ahead by two or three characters and then I made a play that killed off two of my opponent’s characters (putting me way ahead). If there were such a card as Valar in this game and he played it right now, what would happen?
That is when it hit me like a ton of bricks. The problem with Valar is directly linked to the fact that cards in play are the only resource in this game that stick around. For most decks, the majority of the cards in play are characters. With the Spoils, even if you wiped my board I am likely ahead by the score of the game as well as having resource and card advantage. With The Spoils wiping the board completely balances board positioning, but I’m not completely at a loss.
In Game of Thrones, not only is there something that can clear the board (ie a great equalizer), but that same equalizer puts most players back at square one with the major resource in the game: characters. It’s not just about board control any more (like in The Spoils), at this point the plot is affecting a major currency of the game. If I make a great play (or inversely you make a bad play) that results in me getting character advantage, you can get out of it with a Valar play. This creates two problems.
First, knowing that you can always Valar yourself out of a situation means all players can be less risk adverse. If you are sitting there wondering, what happens if this doesn’t work out so well? Valar. What if my resource curve is not balanced and sometimes I draw the wrong cards? Valar. Having a safety net that actually rewards bad / riskier play seems intrinsically wrong for a game.
Second, it encourages against building too big of an advantage, which again feels intrinsically wrong for a game. Who hasn’t had several times when they are ahead a few character and just don’t play more characters because of a potential Valar play?
This is where Valar becomes too much. I’ve played well and put together a deck that allows me to get several characters ahead. Now I have to not play cards because you put a Valar in your plot deck. The ultimate question comes down to this: should a game penalize a player for being ahead and building his advantage?