Thursday, 20 August 2015

Faction Review (Review): House Baratheon

Baratheon was generally considered to be a strong faction, largely it seemed because although the strength in depth of their faction is not significantly better than any other faction the high ratings are focussed around cards with specifically powerful mechanics.  A lot like how the Lannister 5/5 cards were really throwing their weight around in terms of removing cards from hand with Intrigue the Baratheon 5/5 cards are similarly influential in terms of the board position.  Robert Baratheon is probably the single strongest character in the game - he's huge and he can kneel virtually any character thanks to Intimidate.  Supporting Robert are the tricks of the R'hllor followers from Dragonstone which help to further pin down the board.

House Baratheon is really about the power of three key characters - Robert, Stannis and Melisandre.  Find these characters and keep them alive... they will win the game.

While other houses like the Starks are left waiting for enough Direwolves to be printed to make use of their mechanics fully, Baratheon come flying out of the core set with a great package of R'hllor cards to support the essential Melisandre.  With Melisandre every R'hllor card doubles as tempo removal, kneeling key cards as you strengthen your board.  What's nice is that virtually every R'hllor card is playable enough on its own that you're not really sacrificing anything by playing them if you don't find Melisandre, and then if she is around then they all become much MUCH better.

I've already taken advantage of the fact that the "R'hllor package" is primarily non-loyal by exporting them en-masse into my Targaryen deck and that portability makes R'hllor an attractive banner for almost any house. 3x Melisandre, 3x Fiery Followers, 3x Seen In Flames, maybe Selyse Baratheon as well and a couple of copies of Ser Davos Seaworth... that's your 12 card banner all ready for deployment overseas!

Back to the CardgameDB reviews and the card that really split opinion right down the middle was Stannis Baratheon, who earned as many 1/5 and 2/5 ratings as he did 5/5 ratings!  Take your pick between these two opposing viewpoints:

"I don't see this working in practice. 6 gold to partially-sorta limit standing, while letting the opponent choose which characters they can stand and which they can keep knelt but continue to use for their effects or claimsoak. Whoop-de-doo." - JCWamma
"Can just take over a game on his own. Add your kneel effects and build around him with stand effects and you got yourself a very strong deck." - mnBroncos
Much like his stern manner in the books Stannis brings an ability that sucks the fun out of the game - what use is marshalling all these cool characters if you aren't allowed to use them? 
Alone Stannis doesn't do much, but combined with Melisandre or the Intimidate of Robert Baratheon he can force your opponents to their knees and never let them up.  My experience of playing the R'hllor faction in my Targaryen deck is that the tempo you gain from kneeling cards with Melisandre is always nice but not always decisive if you can't take advantage of the turn when Balon/Daenerys are kneeling.  Stannis helps you to extend the benefit from your kneel effects into multiple turns and that's potentially huge, especially with Robert Baratheon around.  It's not very Nedly, but Stannis really needs his big brother around to showcase his ability to the best.
The final piece in the Baratheon jigsaw is that it has one of the strongest card draw locations of all the houses in The Red Keep.  I can't labour the point enough: Card Advantage Matters.  At the moment A Game of Thrones LCG is frequently very attritional - to use a single example: if you can draw more Bodyguards then they draw Tears of Lys then you keep Robert Baratheon in play and win, if they draw more Tears then you probably lose.  The Red Keep does FANTASTIC work in delivering 2 STR to any Power challenges, and then allowing you to draw 2 cards if you don't lose them.

Drawing 2 cards is very good.  It's a lot better than drawing 1 card.  Approximately100% better, in fact.

We can demonstrate how good The Red Keep is by comparing it to another location that's quite similar - Lannisport.  Every time the Lannisters win an Intrigue challenge you draw a card, which in Joust means you've got the potential to draw 2 cards per turn (3 if you add Casterly Rock and have a LOT of Intrigue).  So Lannisport gives you 2 cards for 2 challenges like The Red Keep... but it doesn't hand you a free 2 STR each time to help you win those challenges!
The Baratheons are a very top-heavy House - all the power is centred around Robert Baratheon and Melisandre and flows downwards from there via Stannis and The Red Keep.  Their greatest strength is that in a metagame dominated by expensive 'uber' faction leaders their is the top dog, along with the fact that kneeling can hit anyone while other targeted removal like Tears of Lys, Dracarys! and Put to the Sword comes with heavy conditions on when you can play it and who it can kill.