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Qyburn's Dungeon - "Re-Animating the Dead"

Qyburn's Dungeon - "Re-Animating the Dead"

Qyburn's Dungeon is the place for Small Council members to come up with some truly twisted creations. This article series will be dedicated to producing some unusual decks that hopefully aren't being considered by the larger metagame, or else have some other more unique aspect to them. The Citadel may not approve, but we're not exactly at the Quill & Tankard here...

Important Note: the following is intended as a Joust deck, not a Melee deck. Players who predominantly favour Melee may not get a deck out of this, but will hopefully still be able to glean something from the article.

I recently attended the 19-person Store Championship at Athena Games in Norwich, UK. I've developed something of a reputation in the UK for taking down Store Championships, as a result of winning four in a row in 2014; however, this time things went somewhat... differently, and I found myself finishing in 18th place on a 1-4 record.

This forced me to take a long, hard look at myself and what I was doing wrong. Was it an issue with my general level of play in second edition? I've never had a problem in any practice games... Was it the fact that we'd gone out drinking hard the night before and I had a pretty nasty hangover all day? Oddly no, I believe I only made one misplay all day - a couple of judgement calls that were off, particularly regarding plots, but only one actual objective error. Was it just random luck? After all, any deck can fail on you in any given game due to the high-variance nature of the current cardpool, and while it's unlikely to happen four times out of five, it's not impossible. And I was suffering from some bad draws at key moments...

But then I actually went back and looked at my list, and came to a few depressing realisations. I kept getting bad draws at key moments because my deck was almost designed to do that - not only did it have several cards that made for awful top-decks, but it also was structured so as to increase the likelihood of requiring those top-decks. The analogy would be an olympic hurdler - focusing so much on one specific task, requiring a constant impetus of momentum, and if one hurdle wasn't cleanly vaulted, it would end in tears. Maybe I had been unlucky, but that poor luck was a direct consequence of poor deckbuilding.

Now, being the self-loathing introspective mess that I am like all good people are, I decided the best way to detox this poor performance, rather than sweep the deck under the rug and walk away from it whistling an innocent tune, would be to expose this poor deck to the world, shine a bright light on it and point out every flawed choice I'd made in its construction. Not (only!) to shame me into doing better next time, but as a cautionary tale for anyone who wants to deckbuild, especially if they have little time to test their deck. So much time is spent spotlighting the best decks and explaining what works with them, but comparatively little time is spent spotlighting bad decks and saying where they went wrong - and in my opinion, that's just as valuable a lesson to learn. So in this edition of Qyburn's Dungeon, we'll be looking at a bad deck, and making it good. Not just better, but good.

This would probably be a good time to actually bring up some of the finer details about the deck, such as what faction and agenda it uses, or what it's actually trying to do. So here we have a link to the decklist. I'll explain my thought process at the time I built it:

"Let's push a hard aggro deck that runs The Seastone Chair as a centrepiece so I can target-remove any characters that bother me. Since I'm using the Chair I don't want to be overencumbered with 2 claim. I'd also like to push this as a rush deck, as Greyjoy Banner of the Rose has access to 5 power grab cards, is pushing unopposed power which can also be gained by Great Kraken, and if I'm running Support of the People to help make the chair more reliable I can also slot in a copy of Street of the Sisters. The main source of strong unopposed will be Balon Greyjoy, who has Margaery Tyrell to support him."

This was the premise of the deck, and it's what I intend to stick to in this re-animating as I think the theory is fine enough - but with one slight tweak. A hard aggro deck shouldn't have to be focused on target-removing characters because of general board attrition, and I've classified the deck more as a rush build. So we're going to keep the premise the same, only removing the word "hard" and keeping this as an aggro/rush fusion, built around unopposed and the Seastone Chair in particular.

So, what's actually wrong with the deck? Let's go through the various issues in order of importance, from most to least:
  • For a deck that's at least partially aggro, and has a location that requires winning military challenges, it sure doesn't have many military icons. Here's three stats about the deck:
    1) Only 12 military icons in the whole deck...
    2) ...Only 6 if we don't count duplicates...
    3) ...and 0 military icons that cost 3 or lower.
    I'm genuinely not sure how I didn't notice this before playing it in the tournament. It's actually astonishing to me. But what this means is that, unless I get a lucky set up, I'm not going to be able to exert adequate military pressure on an opponent in the first couple of rounds. This leads into the next issue.
  • Without a reset, if this deck doesn't get that strong military opening, the opponent will always be able to keep out enough characters to defend whatever challenge I send their way. This is very obviously bad, because the deck has 3x Great Kraken, 2x The Seastone Chair and 3x We Do Not Sow that become functionally useless without unopposed challenges, plus numerous cards (Theon, Asha, Rise of the Kraken, the win-by-5 cards) that get much worse without easy unopposed.
  • With these above two points, there is only one way to reliably get unopposed challenges - Balon Greyjoy. Except that he's not reliable, because I haven't made any efforts to actually get him into play beyond "include 3 copies and hope". This is despite my banner faction actually having tech that would help, if I'd considered it worth including! I also haven't made any efforts to protect him if I do get him into play. Tears of Lys is obviously a major force in the meta, and Milk of the Poppy remains, though waning in popularity, something to watch out for. But I have no defence against Tears except for a token 2x Hand's Judgement, having no Little Birds and no Risen from the Sea, and my only attachment-hate is We Do Not Sow, which requires unopposed, which...requires Balon not have Milk placed on him to begin with. Whoop-de-doo.
  • The Economy is weak. You might expect this to be most important, given how much it dominates most conversations about the game and given my lack of economy in the plot line-up (as many plots below 3 gold as there are above 4 gold, and that's including Calling the Banners as above 4 gold?); however, this was never an issue particularly, because of how cheap a lot of the deck is. What it was problematic with was the events - it was very tough to save gold for Put to the Sword, We Do Not Sow, Support of the People and absolutely for Hand's Judgement - typically it was a case of playing one or two cards and passing with no gold remaining. It's also worth pointing out this only was less of a problem due to the situation with my locations, which leads me onto the last point...
  • This 'aggro' deck has fewer than 30 characters. Nevermind the lack of military icons, it seems like I'm lacking many icons of any sort! Especially when you factor in that 29 character count is including 9 duplicates and 7 cards that kneel for their effect. Meanwhile you see I have 19 locations, almost all of which make for absolutely terrible top-decks. And that 'bad luck' I experienced in the tournament becomes easier and easier to explain...
So if these are the problems, what are the solutions while keeping with the premise?

Firstly, let's dial back some of the excess stuff and re-focus. There are some cards that snuck in to the build despite making no sense for what I was trying to do, because of a somewhat unfortunate (though commonplace) deckbuilding trait of putting in a card based on whatever the last card was, rather than what all the cards are. Specifically I'm thinking of my decision "well, instead of worrying about actually saving Balon, I can run a second Aeron Damphair and bring him back from the dead - this will be really easy to do, because I'm running Support of the People and that means I can include 1x Iron Throne in the build and search for it when required!" Great, except that Support is unreliable to trigger, I can't presume I'm free to get the Iron Throne (versus, say, Great Kraken), I'm not taking advantage of the reserve boost making Iron Throne of below-average usefulness, and Aeron is a 3-cost monocon with no keywords or power grab in a rush deck. The Iron Throne shouldn't be in here, and nor should Damphair; there are better cards to include for what we're actually trying to accomplish.

Damphair is not the only "luxury" card we have here. There are multiple steps in the deck to take care of locations, specifically 3x We Do Not Sow and 1x Lordsport Shipwright. But what locations matter to us? Kneeling a Kingsroad is fun, and discarding the Wall is hilarious, but obviously we should be beating Night's Watch decks anyway if this deck is any good. We Do Not Sow is not useless - it can also discard attachments, and since they mess up the Seastone Chair, it has a place in the deck still - but not at 3x, and not with the Shipwright.

Now, the change in deck design ethos from "hard aggro" to "aggro/rush" means the amount of kill is slightly unnecessary. We have 3x Put to the Sword and 2x Throwing Axe. The Axes seem like the obvious cut, but, as per the economy issues mentioned at the start, it's the swords that lack a bite. The Axes can be set up, cost half as much, and help us push the primary target-removal of the Chair - and also can protect from opponents' chairs, for what that's worth. Let's cut those expensive non-setup slots.

A couple of last cuts from the draw deck - without Damphair, we can't justify 2x Euron and 3x Balon anymore, and with Balon being the focal point of the deck, Euron has to go. Yup, both copies. Even as a strong tricon with renown, he's too big a tempo hit to realistically play and keep the rush going. Additionally, we need some more military icons at the cheaper end of the curve, and to free up space I'm cutting the 3x Courtesans of the Rose. Lastly, we need to make more space for characters, so I'm going down to 2 Iron Fleet Scouts.

Finally in the "purge" portion of this deckbuild, the plots. Rise of the Kraken obviously has to stay as a closer, and my general philosophy is we need two economy plots to fuel everything we do; Marched is also vital. That leaves the 2x A Clash of Kings, and the 1x Naval Superiority. The immediate temptation is to cut Naval Superiority, but it's actually a seriously powerful card for us. Our curve is low enough that we can support the occasional backfiring, and with a shiny new 10 gold plot in the meta that this hard-counters, it's the best time to run it. It's also high initiative, and controlling initiative is quite important for us. No, as much as I love them, and as suited as they are for a rush deck, we're cutting both copies of A Clash of Kings to make room for more important cards.

So, to summarise the cuts so far:
-2x A Clash of Kings
-2x Aeron Damphair
-3x Courtesan of the Rose
-2x Euron Crow's Eye
-1x Lordsport Shipwright
-1x Iron Fleet Scout
-1x The Iron Throne
-3x Put to the Sword
-1x We Do Not Sow

With that all out of the way, it's time to look at what the deck was missing (or is now missing) and add it. Now we've excised the cause of death, it's time to add the ingredients to bring this corpse back to life!

Firstly with the plots, I'd like to fill in two holes that were identified - reset and consistency. We need to find Balon more consistently, so a copy of Summons will be one thing we do (the other coming up soon), and we need an answer if the game gets out of hand and we can't push unopposed, so we're adding Wildfire Assault. Despite his Stealth, we can't really justify Varys in this deck, as with all our renown characters we don't actuallywant a total boardwipe - we just want to reduce the numbers on both sides so our stealth is more impactful; additionally, the 7 initiative is great for us. These two changes don't change the gold curve of our plot deck, which is useful for keeping it consistent with what came before.

The consistency point is an important one. We don't have tremendous draw, but nonetheless I think this deck needs "The Bear and the Maiden Fair". As a 0-cost event that we can play as a player action in any phase, it's actually a very flexible card even if it is card disadvantage, and it can help us see whatever we haven't seen out of Balon, Margaery or The Seastone Chair. It can also move unwanted locations to the bottom of the deck, preventing the "I needed a character and found two boats" issue.

To protect Balon, I'm actually going to go quite light, simply because the deck needs extra characters more than it needs the protection. We do still have the 2x Hand's Judgement to cover us from an event side, so I'm just going to add 2x Little Bird, which is also great with Asha amongst others, and hope that's enough. No room for Risen, because this leaves us with 10 slots, all of which need to be characters. I've gone with the Little Birds over Risens for setup reasons, mostly.

This leaves space for 10 characters. Firstly, and rather unfairly, I'm going to dip into the new pack that wasn't available to me at the time. The Reader and Syrio Forel both belong in this deck for sure. Syrio will be 2x and The Reader a 1x, because guaranteeing the unopposed is more important to us than having one more way to benefit from it. With that, we cannot afford any more expensive characters at all, because the curve simply cannot afford it. Our 4+ characters are therefore 3x Balon/2x Randyll, 2x Asha/2x Syrio/1x Knight of Flowers/1x Reader, and 2x Theon Greyjoy. This means that when we're done there'll be 17 characters that cost 3 or lower, which should make for some strong setups.

We need cheap icons. Arbor Knight offers us a military icon for only 2 cost, as well as being a Tyrell card to get us over the banner limit. The 1 STR matters little here now we've cut the Put to the Swords, because the only "win by 5" triggers we have are on the icon Arbor Knight is missing. Black Wind's Crew is a solid body to help with setups and can also hold both our attachments well, so despite us not caring one bit about the Pillage keyword they can still go in 3x. Finally, we still need some more military, as previously discussed, so in goes Salty Navigator to take the final two slots. Again we don't actually care about the initiative boost particularly - we're more interested in him being a cheap ironborn with a relevant icon.

So the additions are as follows:
+1x Summons
+1x Wildfire Assault
+2x Arbor Knight
+3x Black Wind's Crew
+2x Salty Navigator
+2x Syrio Forel
+1x The Reader
+2x Little Bird
+2x "The Bear and the Maiden Fair"

This leaves the finished version of the deck as follows here.

You may be surprised with the lack of Raiding Longship, especially given that 5 of the plots have at least 6 initiative; the thing is, really we'd rather go second more often than not. It's much easier to push unopposed if the opponent kneels their characters out, and we can save gold to protect ourselves from events based off what the opponent does. Additionally, I specifically wanted to try to limit the number of locations included in this version over the previous, and there were no locations I was comfortable cutting. However, in practice you may find you want to play around with the ratios of various cards to make room for this warship, as it's a powerful card for this type of deck.

This version is, for my money, a major improvement on the initial list while also sticking to the deck premise of being a rush deck that leverages the Seastone Chair for target-removal. However, I've been speaking with Barnie25 about this deck, and he is of the opinion, somewhat persuasively so, that the deck should be re-tooled entirely away from the aggro aspect, focusing harder on the rush. To this end he strongly recommends finding room for Seal of the Hand in particular, and more generally removing the destructive or disruptive cards (for example, Naval Superiority, We Do Not Sow, The Seastone Chair) and instead adding protective or constructive cards (for example, A Clash of Kings, Risen from the Sea, further copies of The Hand's Judgement and Little Bird). I have not made these changes here as I think that, despite looking similar on the outside, they actually completely alter the premise of the deck. If such a less-aggro, more-rush approach is more to your tastes however, this is definitely a route to look at going down. The benefits of leveraging power grab, and particularly when it comes to shifting the tempo to suit the pace of your game, are numerous; however, that's the topic for a different article to this one.

What do you think? Has this deck been reanimated, once again fit for being played in a competitive environment? Are there any changes you wouldn't've made, or would've done differently? Anything you're surprised wasn't changed? Please let me know in the comments below.

JCWamma is a first edition veteran of three years who was also one of those players who tested the second edition core set. He has been fortunate enough to enjoy some modest success in the UK Tournament scene and loves the game enough to have made the deep-dive into understanding the rules, having judged at Stahleck every year since 2013. Not being loyal to any one house or faction, he instead enjoys decks that exist 'in the margins' of the established meta.
  • WWDrakey, darknoj, bigfomlof and 18 others like this


Feb 09 2016 12:37 PM

Good article, but you messed up when you didn't subtract Banner of the Rose and add Banner of the Sun. :P

    • Bomb and JCWamma like this

What kind of Tyrell fanboy would I be if I did that??

    • Jensen22 and Barnie25 like this

Thoroughly enjoyed this one - particularly as it came after 2 OCTGN games in which my opponents insisted on dismissing the result as variance or luck (not seeing one of their three Nymerias, for instance). What frustrates me about that isn't that their failing to acknowledge my crushing superiority (:P), but that it's so detrimental to learning and improving - and it's hard to use it as a teaching moment if your opponent is convinced the result was out of their hands.


On suffering a loss, luck should be one of the last things you consider - because no matter how good or bad it was, that's not something you can change and improve on. Take your deck or your game apart and figure out where you could have improved - in play or in building, to mitigate whatever situation lead to your loss. That's exactly what this article does - so props to you, James!

    • JCWamma, scwont, agktmte and 4 others like this
Feb 09 2016 03:21 PM

I do suffer from terrible luck in competitive events.  I had a Noble Cause deck in 1.0 that performed amazingly well during practice (including a rather harsh turn 1 victory before my opponent got to make a challenge...), but drew nothing but locations for the first three turns every time it went near a competitive environment.


But, because of the level of testing that deck got, I can put that down to poor luck, rather than deck build.


On the whole, when I lose (and I lose a lot!) I am fully aware that my deck played a huge part in that. So thanks for showing us your process.  I shall atempt to learn from it!

    • JCWamma likes this

Great article, James!

    • JCWamma likes this

I love this article series. I enjoy your writing style immensely.


Kudo's Wamma for not only exposing your miserable tournament performance, but also your failing in the construction of the deck. Not too many people would be willing to offer up such an experience for all to view. You have done so and managed to teach everyone several valuable lessons. The way you explained everything really clicked for me. One sentence especially hit home for me. "There are some cards that snuck into the build despite making no sense for what I was trying to do, because of a somewhat unfortunate (though commonplace) deckbuilding trait of putting in a card based on whatever the last card was, rather than what all the cards are." I had never thought of it like that. After reading that sentence I quickly realized my biggest downfall when building a deck is precisely that. I hope that realization helps me focus a bit more on my decks objective the next time I sit down to build.  


A few questions for you.


Your past decks are usually more efficient than this one (unless they are by design janky fun), how did this one manage to slip through the cracks? Short on time? Misread the Meta?


31 characters still seems a bit low. It seems the trend lately is to get up closer to 35-37. With Lanni being over popular at the moment are you worried that you wont be able to outpace them after a Wildfire? They are likely the only faction that would reliably be able to out icon your stealth.

    • JCWamma and VonWibble like this
Thanks for the positive feedback everyone!
Jensen, to answer your questions:
- It slipped through the cracks because it was entirely untested. This was primarily due to a lack of time, compounded by also building the deck of my fiancee, and there being a first edition tournament the day before that I also had to build two decks for. This meant that of the four decks I built, only 1 of them got more than "create a first draft, then don't look at the deck again until the actual building process" treatment, and this deck wasn't it. There was also probably a mixture of hubris and a casual attitude to the tournament - I felt that I'd be okay with an untested deck in a relatively inexperienced field (although I had a pretty good rate of matching off with veterans...), and that in any case it was the first of 6 store championships I intend to make, so I can put more effort into the future ones!
- 31 characters is indeed a touch low, although Wildfire does help mitigate that somewhat. I suppose the reason I'm comfortable with it is that with only 8 events and many cheap cards, setups should be very good* to help ensure that you see a greater proportion of the the deck in the early game. So even without as large a proportion of characters in total, you should see enough to stay in it in the early going. And then once you find Balon, either through the Bear-assisted draw or simply Summons, it almost doesn't matter how many more characters the opponent has on the table because he cuts through them all (well, in most cases). That said, your concerns are definitely valid, and if people play with this deck and find it to be the case they may well have to find some more cuts in order to make room for more characters.
*Upon testing this out on thronesdb's card draw simulator, the deck consistently sets up 4 or 5 cards. Only once in 20 setups did it set up lower than 4, and typically when it only sets up 4 it either gets out Great Kraken, or a character that costs 5+.
Across those 20 setups, on average it set up 4.4 cards, 2.25 of which were characters, and by turn one marshaling had seen 6.45 different characters (not counting duplicates, and assuming not opening with Summons or stacking the deck with Bear). That's great for cards, and pretty reasonable for characters overall.

*Upon testing this out on thronesdb's card draw simulator, the deck consistently sets up 4 or 5 cards. Only once in 20 setups did it set up lower than 4, and typically when it only sets up 4 it either gets out Great Kraken, or a character that costs 5+.

Across those 20 setups, on average it set up 4.4 cards, 2.25 of which were characters, and by turn one marshaling had seen 6.45 different characters (not counting duplicates, and assuming not opening with Summons or stacking the deck with Bear). That's great for cards, and pretty reasonable for characters overall.


Jason W. has a present for you

    • JCWamma and theamazingmrg like this
Feb 10 2016 03:16 PM

Jason W. has a present for you

That's amazing - I'll be using it a lot!

Fantastic article! Loved seeing the thought processes here. Just getting into 2.0 after a very long break at the end of 1.0 and articles like this help a lot. Now... time to go take a hard look at EVERY DECK I'VE MADE. Um... thanks?

    • JCWamma and OKTarg like this