In Search of Jank: Sworn to the Watch

The emergence of the Night’s Watch/Summer deck as a game-changing powerhouse means that we have finally started to realise the potential of the Watchers on the Wall box. It took a little while; I remember a lot of Watch players being relatively down on how much the new cards brought to Wall decks.

But although the Builder deck can be hell to face if you’re not teched against it, and many of us now get to enjoy the pleasures of hordes of randoms taking it for a spin on theironthrone.net, I’ve been delighted to see it do well. It disregards convention on many levels (a Wall deck without an automatic 3x Core Aemon and Ranging Party?) and proves the power of previously derided cards (Brandon’s Gift, Abandoned Stronghold, Castle Black Mason, Nightfort Plasterer, etc).

So in that spirit of redemption, let’s see if we can do something with one of the other cards from the Night’s Watch box that hasn’t yet had a day in the sun.

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What’s immediately interesting to me about Sworn to the Watch is that it doesn’t initially appear to do anything. It’s loyal, so you’re already playing Night’s Watch characters: why go to the trouble of giving out an affiliation and/or traits to which you already have access? It might be amusing in the way that playing Knighted is amusing (“I attack with Ser-sei Lannister…”), but can something better than the normal pool of NW characters and traits be assembled by spending deck slots on this attachment?

Well… the answer may  turn out to be no. But given that it certainly is amusing, we’ll try anyway.

Now, we could play Sworn to the Watch in some kind of NW/Wolf or NW/Winter deck that focuses on stealing opponent’s characters and attaching it to whatever we loot from our opponents’ resources, but that leaves the card’s effectiveness up to chance. Because it turns non-Watch characters into Watch characters, Sworn might seem like it’s designed to shine when we attach it to characters we don’t own, but in order to know what we’re getting out of the card every time that we sit down to play, we should have a plan for who will take the attachment.

So we need to identify the kind of boost that giving the NW affiliation and tribal traits could offer, and then choose our banner based on the non-loyal characters who could get the most out of it.

First of all: the traits. What could we offer a character who becomes a Ranger, a Steward or a Builder?

traits

We’ll start with Builder because the answer is ‘sod-all’. As we’ve been shown by the NW/Summer deck, Builders are best as a group, coming in cheaply and in numbers to trigger Castle Black Mason trivially and such like. If the main thing that the Builder trait can do is to make deck infrastructure effects smoother, then while it’s strong it doesn’t really present a reason to make a specific character gain that trait. Let’s look elsewhere.

The Ranger trait has some tempting stuff. If we’re also running Benjen Stark or First of the First Men, our non-Watch character could gain immunity from stealth – suitable for characters who excel on the defence or can simply gain renown by defending the Wall. If we could get some Kings (admittedly difficult in main-faction NW), maybe Brienne would like this.

The other benefit of note would be that Ser Jaremy Rykker offers all Rangers a power icon. If we were to swear a beefy character who has a military but not a power icon to the Watch, Jaremy could instantly make them more dynamic.

Now let’s say we give out the Steward trait. There’s potentially some pretty funky stuff that we could achieve here. Stewards could gain Insight from Bowen Marsh; they could gain stealth from Gilly; they could be stood by Satin and participate in challenges alongside Watchers Samwell without getting blanked. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could kneel them to draw cards with the New Gift.

Many of those above trait-based benefits are interesting but, for my money, they’re not yet something truly exciting. We might be able to make use of them, but let’s dig into what the final boost from Sworn offers: the NW affiliation itself.

Aside from generically opening up the ability to take NW attachments like Dragonglass Dagger and Practice Blade (though note that the Blade plus Jaremy can turn your intrigue monocon into a tricon), the affiliation lets us better protect our character by having Aemon and Ghost save them. It lets us stand them on the defence with Watchers Jon or Castle Black. It lets Alliser Thorne give them a military icon on the defence, if you really need it.

But here’s the real story:

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Props to Paul Geddes, who first alerted me to the Sworn to the Watch/Grenn combo by giving Asha Greyjoy the Watch affiliation and moving heaps of his opponents’ power onto her after winning unopposed challenges in melee. Banner of the Kraken isn’t where I’ll be ending up today but it was a real eye-opener from a fellow jank enthusiast.

Yes, Grenn opens up some really interesting possibilities for us. While he is obviously intended to synergise with either NW iteration of Jon Snow (a Watch character who’s standing after winning a military challenge doesn’t allow for many other possibilities in faction), he can be a little disappointing if you don’t draw Jon – and if you’re going to play a 3-for-3 military monocon, you want to avoid disappointment.

But Asha is just one of several non-loyal characters who can find themselves standing when reactions to winning military are being triggered. Let’s consider the list: in Targ, Aggo, Ser Barristan or anyone with Illyrio’s help; in Lannister, Ser Jaime, Shae with a Practice Blade or any Knight with There Are No Men Like Me. Banner Wolf could make judicious use of The Wolf King or Wolves Jon Snow (but another character named Jon Snow doesn’t do Grenn any favours). Crow Killers is a neutral option. Oh, and Randyll Tarly.

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Didn’t think that Standy Randy had enough power-gain potential? Here you go, then. What’s even more exciting about building a Randyll-focused deck from a banner is that you don’t even need to compromise on ways to boost his STR just because you’re using non-Tyrell cards. Sworn to the Watch grants him options galore just from gaining the Night’s Watch affiliation.

Suddenly, stand triggers are everywhere – chief among them the truly amazing card that is HALDER. Halder can kneel Randyll’s Sworn attachment to boost him. Halder can kneel that Ghost who’s keeping Randyll safe to boost him. Halder can kneel the Dragonglass Dagger, which itself also provides a stand trigger upon entering the challenge, to boost him.

Bonus points: Is Stannis Baratheon getting you down? Marshal the Wall while Randyll is knelt to stand him back up again.

Meanwhile, if you have Benjen out, your opponent has to confront this monster if they want to knock down the Wall.

NW Rose Sworn Randy

The deck that I’ve built here looks to use Bear and the Maiden Fair in combination with Summons and Building Orders to find the pieces required to put the Sworn/Randyll/Halder combo together, and then aims to both defend the Wall using beefy characters who can stand in multiple ways as well as hitting back on the offence to steal power with Grenn plus Randy or Jon. It might be awful. It should be fun.

Of course, you don’t have to go for a Wall-defence strategy. We’re playing nonsense in NW, why should that include the usual win condition? Because after mentioning Jaremy earlier, the other thing that I’m tempted to try is to go full Voltron with Ser Gregor Clegane.

There Are No Men Like Me is a bit of a niche event, but it’s at its most banterous when it sets the Mountain loose for multiple challenges. If Jaremy can give him a power icon, and the non-loyal Hand’s Solar can give him an intrigue icon, and Satin could then stand that intrigued-up Mountain, just how horrific could this become? Flip Name Day Tourney for maximum power-gain alongside Grenn and there could be fireworks.

NW Lion Voltron Gregor

Of course, what’s important to remember about a Voltron Gregor deck is that jank doesn’t have to be fun for both players.

— —

If you’ve been enjoying this In Search of Jank series, check out the latest episode of The Southron Bannermen. Ben and Joe invited me on to build a fun deck with them and test it on a live stream; it was a really good time with a couple of very entertaining matches. Those guys (and Ryan!) know what they’re talking about and are well worth a listen/watch, plus if you aren’t already aware of Ben’s tireless video work on his YouTube channel then you really should be.

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