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First Tilt - Playing With a Limited Cardpool

Small Council First Tilt Paladin

Welcome back to First Tilt, a column dedicated to helping new players learn the strategies that will help them win the Game of Thrones. If this is your first time reading this column, we recommend you start with the New Player’s FAQ which addresses many common questions and provides links to a wide variety of great articles and resources. You should also refer to the great thread dedicated to new players here on the forums.

Jumping into a game as established as the AGoT LCG can be intimidating for new players. With six house expansions and ten cycles of chapter packs (for a total of SIXTY chapter packs in the game and rising!), there are a lot of cards in the pool for new players to read about, see in play, and potentially purchase. One of the strengths of the Living Card Game model is the lack of randomization—players do not need to purchase blindly, hoping for specific rares, but rather can buy a pack and know that they have a full play set of every card in the set. This strength can also be a weakness, because at this point the LCG model does not feature rotation of tournament legal sets, meaning that EVERY card is legal, which in turn means that with every pack the pool of cards players need to know grows larger and larger.

If one were new to the game and wanted to invest in a full collection, it would run over $1000 if purchased new at retail. So yeah, that sounds pretty intimidating. But just like how you can go and play Magic with only some starter decks and still have fun, you can just as easily go and play AGoT with only a few purchases and still have fun—and maybe even win from time to time.

The biggest piece of advice I would give to new players is to not worry about the card pool and being super competitive, and instead focus on playing for fun. Build your decks with a focus on enjoying the experience rather than on winning Worlds. Put another way—unless you are playing in an actual tournament, your wins and losses aren’t going to net you anything of value beyond the experience itself. So enjoy the ride. And if your goal is to win a tournament, then accept that you need to invest money to be a competitive player—LCG means you can buy whatever cards you want without randomization, it doesn’t mean you can play and win a tournament with one core set.

Another thing to keep in mind is that all the cards in the world are not going to help you win on their own—you will also need to invest time to read up on strategies, to learn the card pool, analyze the meta, build careful decks, playtest those decks, etc. There are very few games where a new player can come in, without investing time/money, and be super competitive. And that’s ok, since few of us can be John Bruno or Alvaro Rodriguez. If you focus on enjoying the experience you can still have a good time, and save the worrying for later, after you decide you really like the game and have a knack for it. Then, once you know this is a game you love, then you can fret about having to spend a thousand dollars to have a shot at being the next world champion. (Note: This is an exagerration. You don't actually have to spend a thousand dollars to play top tier decks. A lot of top decks can be built with cards from the house expansions and less than a dozen chapter packs.)

Now, it is certainly easy to say “just focus on having fun,” but it is not so easy to implement this attitude when you spend hours building a neat Direwolf deck with some cool combos and then lose to A Noble Cause rush deck on the first turn of the game before you even get to your challenges phase. So instead of just saying “relax” and leaving you there, what follows is some specific advice on how to play for fun in a way that ensures fun for both players.

Provide the Decks – Many people get into the game without having an established community of players, and then bring their friends into it and provide the decks for everyone. In this scenario, who cares what size of card pool you have? Everything should be balanced by the shared card pool and the shared inexperience. If you only have some house expansions and not others, it can get a little tricky, but then you can share houses and draft for cards.

Provide the Decks Part 2 -- However, if you’ve just started the game and want to play against more experienced players but are worried about facing off against amazing tier 1 decks that will make you weep, ask your opponent if they’d be willing to play with a deck you have built. This mitigates the card pool advantage a more invested player might have. This also means you will be facing a deck you built, so you can see how another player helms it, and possibly learn about strategies your opponent adopts that you never considered when building the deck. You can also ask veteran opponents to…

Play Fun Decks – When facing players who have killer decks that you don’t find fun facing off against, ask them if they would be willing to build some “fun” decks to play with against you while you learn the game. Nedly decks are perfect for this, as are decks featuring themes that are not tier 1. These decks can still be fairly competitive without being overwhelming. For example, Clansmen decks, Direwolf decks, etc. Incidentally, the 2x core set decks and house expansion decks are great foundations to begin playing the game with and are fun to boot. You can have a great time with these, and they can be surprisingly resilient to the ever growing card pool. I still have a blast playing the knights deck contained in the Baratheon house expansion.

Intermission: MEMO TO VETERAN PLAYERS -- And veteran players! Please do go and build fun decks to play against new players, if you have not done so already. Yeah, you may be excited to have a burn deck that smokes characters the moment they hit the field, or have a deck that resets the game five times before round two is over, but c’mon, save those decks for tournament prep and organized competitive play. Don’t pull them out on someone who has a core set and one house expansion. And please, for the love of all that is (Greyjoy) holy, don’t play a choke deck against new players. That’s a sure way of driving people out of the hobby.

Now, if you have the card collection that allows you to build those awesome tier 1 decks, you certainly have enough cards left over to build some fun decks that you will still enjoy playing but that won’t crush the spirit of new players. We were all new players once, and stuck with the game because we found it fun. So find a way to make the experience fun for new players you play against!

Civil War – This oft overlooked variant is actually a neat way to play the game, as it helps you learn the mechanics, see the cards in action, but not worry about your opponent having “better” cards than you. See if your opponents are willing to give it a try!Rules are available here.

Melee – This one depends on your play group and meta. Melee can be absolutely brutal, where fresh blood is preyed upon and devoured quickly for turn two wins. Or it can be a fun negotiation-filled experience, where balance is achieved by players taking on the top dogs, so that no one stays on the top too long and no one sinks to be bottom too fast. If you have cool people you play with who won’t devour you, melee is a great way to find competitiveness through your deal-making skills rather than through your card pool. And a bunch of “terrible” cards can be quite useful here, such as the ones that let you pick an opponent to share a benefit, as they provide a great incentive for other players to befriend and support you.

Draft – Finally, the recent addition of draft packs to the game adds a much-needed option for people to have a competitive experience while being on equal footing in terms of card pool. This option has the added advantage of increasing your card pool as you play, and of teaching you to make the most out of cards one might otherwise have overlooked.
  • celric, CobraBubbles, zoltan and 1 other like this


Nice article. I'm a new player (my girlfriend bought me the core set for Christmas). I bought a couple chapter packs and the Martell and Targaryen house expansions. I've built a Baratheon/night watch deck, Martell deck, and dragon deck. I've only played with my girlfriend (basically myself) but I live in Minnesota and am going to go to the Fantasy Flight game center soon. Is there anything else I should be prepared for before I play against real opponents?
I had never heard of Civil War format before, thanks for pointing that out.

Is there anything else I should be prepared for before I play against real opponents?

To me that "anything else" would be to ask for rules, errata, and restricted limit forgiveness.

Rules violations happen accidentally even with experienced players. I like to have a smartphone or tablet handy with the latest FAQ and Core rules for quick searches. If we're not sure how a card or game mechanic might work, we can look it up.

With errata, Fantasy Flight may have changed what a card even does. Not all cards are created equal, the restricted limit of 1 per deck will help you learn to win through playing the game better instead of just playing better cards.

For example, I was smashing all my friends in Melee with a Martell deck that kept using Myrcella Lannister (ODG) to interrupt a challenge via the support mechanic or get +3 STR in the type of challenge I needed and Ghaston Grey (FtC) to return her to my hand and take the best character off the board so that my The Red Viper (PotS) and The Viper's Bannermen (PotS) could wreck them.
  • Ruling: Turns out FFG ruled that you couldn't use Myrcella's ability in the middle of a challenge so my first action was illegal.
  • Errata: Ghaston Grey also has an errata that the character returned to the opponent's hand must be of equal or lesser cost than the Martell Noble you return to hand. That kept me from continually taking a 2 cost character to hand to make my opponent's 4-7 cost characters return to their hands.
  • Restricted: In Melee, I should have chosen to play either The Red Viper or The Viper's Bannermen since they are both on the restricted list.
In the end this change was a balancing factor for me and my friends and made our games more fun. Hope that helps!
    • snagga and Paladin like this
@thedremark: Celric offers some great advice. I would also reiterate to not be afraid to inform other players of the kind of experience you have and the level of play you are seeking. As a new player, you probably want games where you can have fun and learn something new, even if you lose. If you make it clear you are new, the AGoT community is a great one and most players will probably respond by playing gentler decks and offering tips and advice.

Ask for feedback as well--why did they include a certain card? How would they tweak your deck? What mistakes did you make? How could you have ordered your plots better? When you play against veteran players, don't worry about winning but focus instead on learning. You'll find that the game has many nuances, and the best way to learn these is from practice, practice, practice.
    • snagga likes this

I totally agree with the recommendation not to play a Greyjoy choke deck against anyone who's not up for tournament level challenges: I play with my wife and kids, tried one only recently, and broke it up after the first game I won with it.


How much fun do casual players get out of a game that sees them stripped of characters, locations and power anyway?