Blackwater 2017: When Jank Goes Wrong

In a way, reader, I blame you.

The response to In Search of Jank has been generous and delightful, for which I’m very grateful. A lot of people have approached me to talk over some silly ideas, which is awesome (and possibly ill-advised on their parts, but that’s another thing).

Of course, if no-one were reading, I’d feel less obliged to not only aim for the Jankiest Deck prize at the Battle of Blackwater Bay but throw everything that I possibly could at it. So can I blame it on you? Please?

The facts are these: I built a Targ/Lion deck for Blackwater, where I went 0-7 to finish firmly at the bottom of the table in a field of 82. I would describe only one of these defeats as ‘close’.

So let’s look at what went wrong and what lessons we can learn from it. Can we turn this janktastrophe into a jankertunity?

jankprize

Having drawn attention to myself by talking about jank a lot, I felt in the build-up to Blackwater that I had to really go for the jank prize (a really cool wooden Iron Throne with 15 swords stuck into it for power tokens, by the immensely talented and jank-loving Danishman, Simon Majdrup Hansen). I would have had a crack at it anyway, but my motivation was not only to build a janky deck but a deck that was janky ENOUGH. This pursuit of the most ridiculous combination would prove to be my downfall.

Had I been successful in my quest, this would be the part of the article where I credited Joe Habes and Matt Such for providing inspiration. Instead, they get a mixture of blame, apology and, hell, a little credit as well despite the results.

Joe might not have intended his line in his review of Breaker of Chains for cardgameDB as a challenge, but I decided to take it as a friendly one. After all, being able to quickly build a board AND boost a key character’s STR by potentially a great deal seemed like a pretty good card despite the low scores from the pundits. Breaker is very much the most interesting of Targ’s slew of two-cost attachments in my view.

Fellow jank enthusiast Matt compounded this interest by off-handedly brainstorming a Stark/Dragon deck that used Breaker in a banner to spam out Stark chuds in order to boost the also-new Dacey Mormont to immense STR. I immediately fell in love with this notion and the two of us began to workshop a deck.

06074

What gave Breaker the potential to fly in a Banner Dragon deck for us was the notion of attaching it to Targ’s Barristan Selmy. Barristan is a natural fit for Breaker because he can stand to attack multiple times in one challenges phase, allowing to spam out chuds and rapidly increase his own STR, thereby making it more and more easy for him to trigger his reaction and keep going, and so on. By using Breaker to drop chuds onto the board from our hand, we had a great shot of having few enough cards in hand to trigger Barristan’s reaction. This was the key to our deck.

The problem with the Stark/Dragon in our initial testing was that it needed quite a lot of pieces to fit into place (Barristan, Dacey, Breaker, dupes for probably all three of those) and didn’t have much of a Plan B. In ensuring that we packed our deck full of low-cost characters to fuel Breaker, we left ourselves without many options to change a game if the combo wasn’t coming together, and we found ourselves devoting too many plot slots to finding all of our pieces.

This would be the point during a normal deckbuilding process at which we would realise that we were being a bit silly and sack it off to go and build something less vulnerable. But both of us were too in love with the concept to stop there, so the next port of call was trying to make it work in Tyrell/Dragon.

Tyrell was an attractive proposition for a main faction because of its abundance of Knights. We wanted to play A Tourney for the King as a way to give Barristan renown while bouncing up and down at massive STR, and being able to drop in Arbor Knights and Hedge Knights with Breaker made that a more consistent power-gain plot. Breaker also interacts delightfully with the new Oldtown Informer, an incredibly strong card that in theory should help the deck to find all of its pieces by triggering more than once in most rounds. Other amusing options included dropping in Left and Right and adding Olenna to provide alternative ways of expanding our board if Breaker didn’t show up quickly.

The main issues which we were confronting at this point involved keeping our board intact while we set everything up. Varys is everywhere lately and Barristan can’t take Bodyguards, which means that it’s hard to keep him safe from multiple resets. 3x Nightmares became mandatory, limiting our ability to play other cards that would have added more value to the Voltron (there was no room for Appointed, for example, to generate even more value out of his stand ability), and Close Call took up another precious slot in the plot deck that was already requiring a Building Orders and a Summons or Counting Coppers to dig for the pieces.

As we needed time to set up the combo, this often meant that we would fall behind on board state. Valar Morghulis was therefore also necessary to prevent things from getting out of hand, but then we would be short on money to deploy all of our pieces quickly enough. It just wasn’t working in practice.

combo

I shelved the deck on the Wednesday before Blackwater, fully intending at this point to fall back on a Lannister/Rose deck that I’d built which sought to make as many challenges in one phase as possible (it could get up to 13 with enough money, for the record). But I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that it wasn’t janky enough. Casterly Rock, Relentless Assault, Olenna’s Informant, et al aren’t seen as bad options – A Lannister Always Pays His Debts doesn’t see play, which was enticing, but I felt that it would be eclipsed for the prize by some innovator or other.

So late on Thursday, the night before I needed to pack up and get down to London for the traditional pre-tournament curry, I looked at Breaker again and threw together a Targ/Lion list. The problem, I reasoned, was that I wasn’t giving my opponents enough to deal with while I set up my combo, and I decided that the solution was Khal Drogo. Not only does the Dothraki bruiser give opponents a headache when threatening widespread board destruction but he also offers Barristan an additional challenge when everything has been set up.

Of course, I hadn’t left myself much time to test this new list, and the only real practice that I was able to do was against Jannis Roepert’s hilarious Tyrell/Kraken mill deck – a very entertaining game, but not representative of a normal match for my Targ. (I lost comprehensively to Jannis, for the record. That deck is good.)

Time was up, though, and I figured that if I could make the combo work once or twice then I’d be in with a real shout of the prize. So this was the list on which I settled:

deck

In theory, there’s lots of fun here. Lions Jaime gives renown to Barristan, who should be able to win multiple challenges alone. Daring Rescue lets me manufacture more power – important in a deck low on renown characters – and allowed more chances to trigger Viserys, which let me cut Confiscation in what felt like the only genuine good thing that my deck did all day. Plaza of Pride gets cards out of my hand for Barristan and prevents him from getting too knelt out by Bara or intimidate charaters. Healing Expertise was obviously not a good idea with only 3x House Maester, but Barristan dearly needs any saves that he can get here.

The problems, though, became apparent immediately. The deck is slow to set up, which means that rush decks can seize an early advantage that’s hard to overcome. Aggro decks too easily prevent you from building a board that can keep Barristan strong and safe. Control… unless it’s a negative attachment (not a problem), control tactics have too many ways to disrupt the combo. In my first round, I played against the DC Stark/Watch deck, which runs Castle Black and Watchers Jon and could therefore repel Barristan repeatedly even when I got him up to 13 STR thanks to that deck’s lack of resets. I never got him to that kind of STR again for the rest of the day.

I don’t mind losing. It’s an occupational hazard when you play jank as much as I do. I did feel like a bit of an idiot, as it very quickly became obvious that I was running some hot garbage and that playing it seven times was not going to be fun, but that’s fine. Towards the end of the day, my inevitable slide towards the Sansa prize was something to savour, as said prize (pictured below) was a one-of-a-kind masterwork by Simon.

sansaprize

Speaking of Simon, I must offer him a thank you in particular. One of the ‘Spicy Meat Crew’, Simon was among those who turned his deck in to randomly assign pilots within their group on the morning of the tournament. This led to the man who only ever plays fun, janky decks being saddled with a Joe Mirando-style Lanni/Rains for seven rounds. After winning his first two matches, he grew so bored of his deck that he started instantly conceding his subsequent rounds so that he could offer his opponents a game with a deck that he found more interesting. Then the poor man got paired against me last up and I had to ask him to play the Rains deck again so that I had a shot of coming last fair and square rather than conceding myself to get my hands on his awesome power tokens.

My final defeat took 10 minutes. God, I’d built a rancid pile of crap.

The first lesson here should be obvious: don’t bring a deck to seven rounds of Swiss if you don’t think that it will be fun to play for a full day. I suspected going into the tournament that I was holding a bad deck, I just didn’t have any proof from testing. Jank prize or no jank prize, either way you want your deck to be functional. I got too invested in bringing something as stupid as possible for the sake of this silly little blog; worrying about one’s image should probably not be a deckbuilding consideration.

The second lesson is not to write off a card just because you built around it and it lost every game. London’s own David Comerford finished second in the Swiss with a Targ/Rose that utilised Breaker of Chains to great effect, backed up by the likes of Left and Right; I recommend seeing it in action in Liam Hall’s footage from the top 16. Meanwhile, the jank prize ended up going to another Breaker deck: Sam Pigden’s Night’s Watch/Dragon that attached it to a Sworn-to-the-Watch Aggo and used it to drop in an army of chuds to defend the Wall.

The key difference between those decks and mine was that they incorporated Breaker into a broader strategy and had solid win conditions already built into their decks, through impactful characters and locations. I only had a buffed-up Barristan, and so I couldn’t adapt to the needs of different matchups. I’m psyched that these decks did well and, though I’ll probably leave Breaker in my binder for at least a short spell while the wounds heal, I’ve no doubt that I’ll enjoy using the card to better effect in the future.

Thanks to everyone at Blackwater for making it an exceptional event despite my own failures, with particular gratitude to Dave Bamford, Vince Tee and Wamma for their sterling work in charge of it all.

And thanks to you for reading… I think.

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