Alliance: The Greatest Disappointment in Thrones

Those who have read this website before will be well aware of my love of banner agendas. The ability to splash cards from one faction into another in order to trigger combinations that might not occur to those sticking solidly to their preferred house is constantly tempting.

Whenever any new card comes out, it’s so exciting to muse on the most creative way to apply it for unexpected effect, and the mind often wanders further: if only I could combine it with that as well…

So many of my conversations with fellow jank enthusiasts end in the same way. “…no, wait, get this: ALLIANCE so that you can do X and Y into Z!”

You’d think that I’d be all over Alliance – but I hate it. This is a PSA to anyone who’s enjoyed my recent articles: save your jank from itself, and resist the temptation to play Alliance.

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Anyone who builds janky combo decks knows all too well the feeling of spending 45 minutes on a game in which your deck just refuses to let you draw any of your pieces. This happens on a semi-regular basis because there isn’t enough draw in Thrones to justify a 60-card deck; seeing just over 50 per cent of what you’ve built in any given game is roughly the norm, and that opens up huge variance that gets in the way of effective combo play.

By increasing your minimum deck size to 75 but offering no extra draw capability to compensate, Alliance painfully exacerbates this problem. If you want to build around fun interactions between an assumed minimum of three different cards (as you need three factions to make it work), you have to reliably see those three cards at the right time when you can only make each of them appear three times out of 75. It’s a nightmare.

This is not to say that Alliance decks cannot work at all but, if you’re looking to abuse a specific card, it is absolutely mandatory that you make use of tutor effects to search for exactly what you need. These are few and far between in Thrones.

The most obvious candidates are in House Tyrell*, and they have spawned the only Alliance decks that have seen any hint of competitive play: Ser Hobber Redwyne or potentially Olenna’s Cunning can search for Tinder Marge, and then Tinder Marge can search for Lords or Kings. The Green Dreamers and Chris Thompson are among those to have notably played Tyrell/Lion/Kraken decks at major American tournaments, and I lost to Ian Russel’s Tyrell/Lion/Wolf on his way to the cut at the Northampton regional in June.

These decks function just fine, but what they’re not is combo decks; they’re just good-stuff decks that go find Tinder Marge and then really stop caring about what the rest of their board looks like. It’s just a series of interchangeable big guys who provide constant challenge-winning potential. They work because they can reliably set up and protect Tinder Marge, who in turn provides a win condition.

This is where attempts to build Alliance decks that defend the Wall fall down, because there are currently no available methods of searching your enormous deck to pluck out your win condition and set it up to then have everything else revolve around it. The closest that you can come is Olenna’s Cunning and hoping that your opponent doesn’t say ‘location’, although most players chasing this dream are more interested in blending the shutdown and control effects from Baratheon and Martell with Wall defence than they are in going main-faction Tyrell. You can play Building Orders to try to find that Wall, but it’s still very easy to whiff on those odds. And what then?

In this way, Alliance is far better positioned as a generic good-stuff agenda than it is as any kind of janky combo enabler. That’s not to say that it’s a good good-stuff agenda but, if it’s going to be effective, then it’s going to be by deploying a constant stream of generally solid cards.

If this was the intention behind the design of Alliance, then fair enough, but the fact that you can build a much tighter good-stuff deck out of a 60-card single banner than you can with a 75-card double means that it’s not seeing any statistically significant tournament play. It’s my assumption that ‘almost entirely ignored’ certainly wasn’t part of the design’s mission statement.

And if Jaime players are having trouble building competitively viable good-stuff decks with Alliance, our chances of maintaing a solid framework around which to build jank are almost zero.

So if you’re looking for something funny? Look away. No faction has enough draw to spare you a day of frustration as your inconsistent deck stomps on your dreams of tournament hilarity. I know that you mean well – but this isn’t the answer.

Thrones Nonsense says NO to Alliance.

*The other tutor effects, should you be wondering, are Here to Serve (let me know when there’s a three-faction combo to be had that only works if you can summon a three-cost Maester) plus Blood of My Blood, A Time for Wolves and Wolf Dreams (none of which want to play with one banner, let alone two).

Next week on the blog: In Search of Jank will return to discuss my attempt to win the Jankiest Deck prize at the Battle of Blackwater Bay.

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