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The first weeks with the first snow of winter

Thrones first snow of winter Tomer analysis

A few weeks ago, as the first day of spring was announced, I was biking through the park while kids in short sleeves were frolicking on a birthday picnic in the sun. Yesterday, as I was shoveling the path and clearing the snow from my car, I couldn't help but think that winter has come, again, too soon. This twilight-of-winter-snow sure felt like a The First Snow of Winter. And while we're pretty used to the vagaries of the weather here in Boston, we have been caught off our guards with this recent storm, reacting just like the Thrones community have responded to the First Snows of Winter that came out in the most recent chapter pack.

Since it's been out for just a little while, I thought it was a good opportunity to pause and look at the impact this plot has on the different factions. A lot of people have been talking about how this is card has the potential to transform the met while others say that its impact will be manageable. When it first came out, I was pretty upset because it badly hurts my two favorite decks (Targ-Sun and Martell-Watch). But as I've been playing with and against it, I found that it's a pretty fun plot and I know thinks it really adds to the game.

To think about this, let's first look at the card:

Posted Image

It's plot that's pretty low on gold, with a decent initiative and reserve. But, of course, the most interesting part is the effect, which reads: Forced reaction: After the challenges phase begins, return each character with printed cost 3 or lower to its owner's hand. This is a very powerful effect that has the potential to change the board entirely: returning all characters with printed cost 3 or less to hand usually means bouncing quite a few characters, which include your reducers and chuds (including many claim soaks like Bastard Daughter) but also pretty powerful and significant uniques (unless they have a dupe): Margery, The Hound, Aemon, the Stark kids (Bran, Sansa, Arya), Edric, the dragons and so forth. In addition, when bounced back to hand the cards could be played again (with any 'enter into play' effect they may have) but you might end up with a hand larger than your reserve value, requiring you to dump many of them at the end of the turn. Lastly, though you reveal this in the plot, the effect only happens during the challenges phase - which means you're going through an entire marshaling phase, knowing that half of your board is going to be bounced as soon as you finish.

As a consequence, the plot has the following impact on the game:

  • Smaller boards are more likely - like wildfire and Varys, FSoW provides an incentive to avoid flooding the board. Players might be reluctant to play all their reducers together or play many low cost characters unless they have dupes.
  • Higher cost characters are more valuable - any character with a cost of 5 or more just got a little more valuable in your deck building. This is particularly significant for 4 cost characters that were being for slightly cheaper ones like Palace Spearmen or Unsullied. In the smaller board after first snow of winter, every body counts and surviving it is a valuable trait. But it also makes your 6 and 7 cost better than were. This might not make a big difference for excellent characters like Robert Baratheon, Tywin or Danearys - but it definitely gives a boost to 7 cost characters that were not played as often beforehand like the Old Bear, Eddard Stark and The Queen of Thorns.
  • Bouncing back characters also bounces back attachments and makes you lose any power accumulated on any of these smaller characters. This means that using Lady Sansa's Rose on the Arbor Knight that has Mare in Heat on round 1 might backfire considerably when you lose the power and get both cards bounced the next turn.
  • Any way to get characters added to the board during challenges phase becomes much better, which obviously includes Ambush but also abilities such those of Arianne Martell, Old Bear Mormont and Queen of Thorns become much more valuable in the post FSoW situation. Likewise, high cost characters that can participate in mutliple challenges, like Jaime, Randyll, Asha Old Bear and Eddard, are much more useful after the snow hit the ground.
Now, let's look briefly at each faction and see how it is effected by the new plot. Some people have complained that it biases the meta in favor of some factions and not others (and I too hate the Lannistres, who clearly get the better end of the deal here) but it seems to me that FSoW has the potential to hurt all factions, even the player who uses it. So it's important to use it very carefully and also consider what it does to your faction.

It seems clear that FSoW hurts Lannisters the least - they have amazing bomb characters above the 4 cost threshold (Cersei, Tyrion, Tywin, Jaime, Ser Gregor) and they have the tools to work around the downside. They aren't as bothered by the low gold since they can easily work around it, and many of their characters have the Ambush keyword - you're not so sad to see the Hound bounced back to hand if you can just play him again in the challenges phase. Moreover, Lannister can use their jumper events (Hear Me Roar! and INBAMF) to put characters into play for cheap during the challenges phase if they don't already have all of them in play. What else can you ask for?

I think it's fair to say that, as un-Nedly as it sounds, the Lannsiters love their first snow of winter. Still it's worth considering the cost. They won't be able to trigger that annoying Brothel Madame they have been running recently, and if they played her that it's a 3 gold wasted investment. They might lose all gold on their Red Cloaks and any power on Joffrey, and perhaps also the annoying Tickler. And it makes Lannisport Moneylenders even worse than they were before - getting them bounced is really bad, as you can only play one limited character per round.

Another faction that, unexpectedly, really likes FSoW is Greyjoy. Since they too have excellent characters over the threshold (Theon, Asha, Balon, Euron, The Reader), they typically have a strong board presence after first snow (and the combination Greyjoy-Lion or Lannister-Kraken is probably best suited to survive the snows). Asha is particularly good after FSoW because she usually participate in several challenges, attacking as well as defending. The Greyjoy stealth gets better with a smaller board and they might be able to get more unopposed challenges that turn to trigger the Great Kraken, The Reader, Theon, Rise of the Kraken, We Do Not Sow, Seastone Chair etc. Lastly, if they do end up having to lose a military claim in a small board they have the ability to save or revive their best characters (using Risen from the Sea or Aeron Damphair).

Yet even for them there are some costs. First, the Greyjoys are weak on intrigue and that problem is exacerbated when the shipwrights and priests are all bounced with Alannys. They are already running a lot of Little Birds, and that is made even more important with FSoW, making Grejyoy vulnerable to attachment control, especially something like Weapons at the Door. FSoW also bounces Aeron Damphair which means that they won't be able to trigger him for at least that one turn, so if they do end up losing one of their big characters, they'll have to wait longer to get it back. Lastly, without banner of the Lion the Greyjoys have a harder time running a low gold plot like this one without compensating with other plots.

Baratheon has an ambiguous relationship with FSoW. On the one hand, getting the Fiery Followers and Selyse bounced back to hand can be nice, as they can be played again and trigger Melisandre. On the other hand, it leaves Baratheon with very few intrigue icons (only Mel and the unplayable Renly) and losing Selyse might means that Bob loses his protection from Tears of Lys. Likewise, replaying a Vanguard Lancer can be nice as you get to discard another power from your opponent but bouncing Shireen, Moon Boy and Cressen may give you a bit of a headache if you were counting on using their effect that turn. Lastly, Stannis's ability also pulls you in two opposing directions here. On the one hand, a smaller board is easier to control, and if you have a big board on your own side that has been kept kneeling by Stannis, you might want to be able to redeploy it. On the other hand, your opponent will also get to redeploy their board and get a second use of all their chuds, and kneeling characters make your Bob bigger and fatter. Baratheon players may use or play around FSoW, but they have to do so carefully.

Arguably one of the most vulnerable factions, the Starks currently suffer quite a bit from the First Snow of Winter. Turns out it kind of sucks to think about the fact that Winter is Coming. But that's all going to change with the new Stark Deluxe box, which I haven't used looked into in any great depth, so I can't talk about that (for example, the new Arya Stark is 4 cost, and so is the Riverrun Minstrel, giving you a lot more flexibility with intrigue icons, not to mention excellent options like The Blackfish or the new Eddard). Given that it's all going to change soon, I won't say much about it other than noting that Core Set Eddard gets a lot better with FSoW and Catelyn, already an awesome card, is also very important. Banner of the Wolf suffers quite a bit, unfortunately, as the Arya-Bran-Sansa package is very vulnerable. Nonetheless, FSoW makes the Wolfswood better as it lets you ambush direwolves - whether that would make it good enough to be played more, time will tell.

Targs don't love the FSoW; from their perspective, if ti wasn't broken, why fix it? The biggest problem Targs have with it is that it might bounce a bunch of their dragons back to hand, denying them the ability to use them as claim or Dracarys an Asha. They might start duping those dragons more often than they have to, as they really want them to stick around for challenges. Luckily for them, they can wait to see your plot and only then dupe them dragons (if they have been saving the dupes in hand).

In addition, bouncing back Ser Jorah is not that bad as it clears all of his betrayal tokens and Viserys can help remove that pesky Little Bird on Balon when he is bounced, so it's not all bad. Likewise, having your handmaidens bounced mean you won't be able to reuse Daenerys this turn with them but if they try to kneel Dany before the challenges phase (with Melisandre or Filthy Accusations) you can always sacrifice a handmaiden during the marshaling phase to stand her and ensure she will be standing for the challenges phase.

House Tyrell, and especially Banner of the Rose, has some pretty excellent characters over the FSoW cost threshold with Standy-Randy Tarly and Knight of Flowers. The recent addition of Horror and Slobber, the Redwyne twins, make for several more decent bodies that can bring Margery a dupe as well as stand her (so that she can stand Randyll again). So they are definitely equipped to deal with the snow, especially if they have The Queen of Thorns pumped for an intrigue challenge to put on the board someone back from their hand. Lastly, the Arbor and Paxter mean that they usually have no problem running some low cost plots.

Yet the recent focus on knights may suffer - loading arbor knights with power from Lady Sansa's rose or Mare in Heat may backfire, and both Left and Right, members of a worlds winning deck, are bounced by the first Snow. In addition, like other factions, they have very few intrigue icons over the threshold (only Paxter and The Queen of Thorns) which mean they may be vulnerable to intrigue challenges, tears of lys and so forth.

Another faction that has good reason to hate the snow, Martell has often relied on running low curve decks with nothing above 5 cost. The weakness of Doran (and some say The Red Viper) combined with the great value of some of their low cost characters (Caleotte, Bastard Daughter, Edric) mean that FSoW poses a challenge to Martell decks, especially those running Martell as a main house.

Yet several Martell cards can stronger in the smaller board - both Arianne and Nymeria, already great cards, get much stronger with a smaller board. Arianne lets you bring back a bastard daughter to take the fall on a military claim or bring back Areo for a second trigger of his ability. Nymeria lets you control some of the challenges and potentially strip your opponent from their last intrigue/military icons. In addition, bouncing the Greenblood traders lets you use their draw again, which is something Martell can never complain about. The Palace Spearmen, previously cut from my Martell decks, become a potentially tricon that survives the first snow. The already amazing Ghaston Gray is even better post first snow because it's best when it's used on expensive characters with renown and lots of attachments. Lastly, the icon removal attachments are amazingly strong on a FSoW turn - knowing what's going to be on the board after the snow means that you can often strip them of their last intrigue/power icon and go into the challenges phase in a big advantage.

Night's Watch

Last but definitely not least is the faction that some say hate the snows the most - the poor men of the Night's Watch. I can't really decide if this is very Nedly or most un-Nedly - both make sense - but it's clear that mechanically they suffer quite a bit. First, many Wall centered NW decks like to flood the board so they can oppose all challenges. Bouncing their board back to hand means not only that they wouldn't be able to oppose challenge that round, but also that they might have to dump half of their hand at the end of the round. Moreover, their only intrigue icon over the FSoW threshold is Will - who sacrifices himself if you lose an unopposed challenge. Particularly painful, in my opinion, is getting those unsworn apprentices bounced back to hand - you lose all the challenge phase flexibility.
Nevertheless, the NW have some pretty good tools to deal with the FSoW which might change the playstyle of NW. Old Bear Mormont, regularly poo-pooed as the worst 7 cost card in the game, can really be a beast in a post FSoW board, especially with the wall out. He can defend multiple challenges as well as bring onto the board a character from your hand, and he's quite beefy himself. Here to Serve lets you bring a dupe for Maester Aemon so that he too can survive the snows, and Benjen's ability to ignore Stealth is much stronger in a smaller board. Practice Blades that have been bounced can be Ambushed into play in the challenge phase and Ser Alliser is a jumper (albeit an inefficient one) that can surprisingly join a small board. Lastly, Ranging Party is probably the most efficient card in the game and you can potentially have more than one of them survive the snows - leaving you in a pretty good position, letting you threaten (and use) The Watcher on the Walls or Sword in the Darkness. So while the NW can suffer from the snow, not all is lost -and if you're prepared to play around it, and predict it correctly, you can not only defend but also swing back quite hard.

That's it from me. Quite longer than I expected but I hope it's of value to anyone. Comments most welcome!
  • celric, 14Shirt, hagarrr and 1 other like this


Apr 06 2016 04:33 PM
Do not talk to me about winter weather. You southerners in Boston know nothing. NOTHING! ;)

On a unrelated sidenote:
Come to Maine, "the way life should be".
    • celric and HolyTispon like this

I know Jon is not a popular card, but I feel like this is the 3rd article I've read that acts like he doesn't exist.

"their only intrigue icon over the FSoW threshold is Will"

Seems like we collectively "know nothing" about Jon Snow, which is probably Nedly.   :ph34r: 

I recommend a single copy of him.  If (like me) your defend the wall deck includes A Game of Thrones, I highly recommend a single copy of him.

    • JoeFromCincinnati and HolyTispon like this
Apr 06 2016 05:26 PM

I recommend a single copy of him.  If (like me) your defend the wall deck includes A Game of Thrones, I highly recommend a single copy of him.

But Jon has no synergy with the "Defend The Wall" decks, except for being an overpriced mono-Intrigue Unique. I'd much rather have Wildling Scouts.
    • JoeFromCincinnati and HolyTispon like this

The article does a good job talking about the tools each faction has against FSoW from a character perspective.  Certainly having enough greater-than-3-cost characters is a reliable damage control.  

I would add that almost as important is having a plot deck that can punish FSoW.  Many decks will be trying to play FSoW when it creates a lopsided effect and this makes it somewhat predictable.  

For example you can't know when your opponent will play Wildfire Assault either.  Yet when they have a 4 characters on the board and you have 8 characters, you have to assume it's a plot they would highly consider playing next.  Likewise, if your board is mainly low cost characters when they have a 5, 6, and 7-cost character on the board, the forecast calls for snow.

A Game of Thrones
Filthy Accusations
Fortified Position
For the Watch!
Muster the Realm
Rise of the Kracken
The King's Peace
Wardens of the West
Wraiths in Their Midst

...and others tend to do extra work when played against a FSoW.  This card is the defining plot in my meta, so I'd certainly plan to tech against it from a plot perspective as well as a character perspective.

    • cml, hagarrr and HolyTispon like this

 I'd much rather have Wildling Scouts.

Agree.  I also run the Scouts.  Love them.

Apr 06 2016 07:27 PM

Nice article.  I like the plot and the design space it opens up, many factions can still build around it if they need to (it just saddens me that Lannister doesn't even have to really build around it...).


I think trading a few 3s in for some 4s in most decks is going to help a lot.  Just like with Wildfire Assault, you can plan your marshaling phases accordingly to predict (within a reasonable margin of error) when your opponent will be likely to trigger the plot.  You can then try to play your counter plot on that turn (Calm or Game of Thrones are two decent ones, depending on faction).


If First Snow is late enough in the game (and due to the gold restriction, it's likely to be later if you don't have a 6 card setup or something crazy...), your hand size might be small enough that you wouldn't end up discarding too many characters so your goal really becomes trying to save your big guys for one turn (this is where Calm comes in, last ditch effort to overcome the lack of chud).  


This plot also makes cards like Bodyguard and Lady in Waiting better, overloading dupes will help keep your board relatively safe.

    • HolyTispon likes this

Do not talk to me about winter weather. You southerners in Boston know nothing. NOTHING! ;)

On a unrelated sidenote:
Come to Maine, "the way life should be".


I've spent a bunch of summers in Maine, the sign that says 'the way life should be' is accompanied with many good memories. But there's a reason I have summers in mind - Maine in the summer is the way life should be. Maine in the winter is the way you couldn't have life. Almost. 

I know Jon is not a popular card, but I feel like this is the 3rd article I've read that acts like he doesn't exist.

"their only intrigue icon over the FSoW threshold is Will"

Seems like we collectively "know nothing" about Jon Snow, which is probably Nedly.   :ph34r: 

I recommend a single copy of him.  If (like me) your defend the wall deck includes A Game of Thrones, I highly recommend a single copy of him.


You're right, I totally forgot about Jon. For the purposes of defending, he's a 6 cost monocon. In faction that doesn't have reducer location (and whose reducers are crucial intrigue icons), it's really hard to justify. In addition, Jon Snow is much better if you're going first and everything else in the NW wants to go second.


But given that I'm running Old Bear again in my NW fealty, I might bring 1x of Jon. The Old Bear makes him better and it's definitely true that he's a crucial survival after the first snow. 

I agree that another part of dealing with FSoW is in your plot deck. I failed to mention that kneel is another thing that gets better in a small board - and so Mel, as well as Filthy Accusation, is much better. But you're right that any 2-claim plot also helps put the pressure on your opponent - especially if you can go first. Sneak Attack can be pretty devastating - it depends on the board state, but even against a healthy Lannister, being able to push a 2 claim military challenge before they get to go is likely to force them to use up their Tywin and Jaime to oppose, especially if you have any gold lying around to threaten/bluff put to the sword.