Welcome back to the Austere Assembly – conceit described here – where next up we have Lannister.
After being the most successful faction of the first two years of this game, Lannister have had a pronounced fall from grace in the past eighteen months. This made making this list… interesting, shall we say. My first draft only had 8 cards in it! However, eventually I reconciled this by just accepting that right now Lannister are weaker than the other factions and therefore the bar to consistently make a Lannister deck is lower – and at that point a lot of the deck kinda picked itself.
To that end, here is the list – and, good or bad, remember A Lannister Always Plays These Cards.
2x Burned Men
3x Cersei Lannister LoCR
3x Lannisport Merchant
1x Old Bill Bone
1x Ser Jaime Lannister
1x Ser Robert Strong
3x The Hound TtB
1x Tommen Baratheon
3x Tyrion Lannister
3x Tywin Lannister
1x Widow’s Wail
2x Gold Mine
Now, this list is quite broad, so I want to emphasise another aspect of Lannister before going further – for a faction without many options for their GoodStuff decks, Lanni actually have quite a varied selection of decks generally. Clansman, intrigue-heavy, Crossing, Shadows, Greensight and their multiple banner decks all exist as options for the faction and broadly have pretty radically different bases for inclusion. To this end I’m trying not to consider the specific gameplan a deck might have, and instead even more than usual focus on a hypothetical GoodStuff list. Within those boundaries your options are limited, but 50+% of these cards can be exchanged out if you try to pursue a more specific mechanical goal with your deck than the traditional and somewhat infamous “Play the good cards + play well = win” approach.
Firstly, let’s look at the non-characters. 1x Widow’s Wail is something I’ve considered a Lannister staple since the core set, for the simple reason that it’s very easy for the faction to have a gold or two lying around in the challenges phase and 2 STR is often enough to change the winner of a challenge, or enable effects, with the recently-released Sea of Blood putting more of an onus on margin of victory.
Gold Mine is draw, which Lannister seriously lacks. It’s not card advantage, obviously, but at most points during a game you will have a card in your hand that you’d consider worse than the average card left in your deck, and at that point the location has value. If you combine it with discard recursion this is especially strong – for instance, seeding your discard pile for Flea Bottom, a card I very nearly included in this list but didn’t because it’s restricted and Lannister has other options in that slot.
Lastly, Treachery remains one of the best cards in the game. Yes, Drowned God Fanatic outclasses it and the likes of Begging Brother and Privileged Position at least tread on its toes, but it’s still a rare commodity that can have game-winning swings. Even as the cardpool has left Lannister’s dominance behind somewhat, the game has not let up on highly impactful triggers, so Treachery is one of those cards still valuable now like it was before. Incidentally, I’ve once again not included my standard neutral auto-includes Nightmares and The Hand’s Judgment. This time, my reasoning is two-fold – firstly, Treachery covers similar ground to both (particularly Nightmares) and acts as a sort of amalgamation in that regard; and secondly, I’ve included so many cards already that I wanted to give this list space to breathe.
Looking at characters, there’s a smorgasbord of effects. We have effects based around gold-generation, around ambush, around the intrigue challenge, and power gain, and more besides. This in many ways speaks to the overall troubles Lannister are having as a faction – their best cards don’t particularly synergise with each other. As a result, Lannister decks tend to feel either disjointed, or in the case of tailoring their decks to add more synergy, weak. You’ll notice as we go through this article series that other factions do not suffer from similar problems with their GoodStuff.
With all that said, even without significant synergies these cards still do enough to earn their way in the vast majority of Lannister decks. Along with the standard reducer chuds and Old Bill Bone, we have Tommen Baratheon. He has some text, but really the reason why you include him is the King trait, and to a lesser extent his power icon – Lannister have a lot of cards that lack that icon, and Tommen helps a lot.
Rounding out the “cheap character” section we have some Ambush cards, Burned Men and The Hound. These are partly to help find things to spend gold on in the challenges phase (more on that shortly), but also because they’re fine cards. Burned Men is solid, especially in decks that still play First Snow, for soaking military claim and preventing unopposed (or for being a surprise way of attacking back). The Hound, meanwhile, is for my money the best card Lannister have. There are so many ways of exploiting his forced reaction, mostly in-faction (Hear Me Roar!, I Never Bet Against My Family, Harrenhal) although the best option, Flea Bottom, is neutral. On top of this he survives resets, he gets round Ward, he gets round Stealth, and if you have enough gold you can use him multiple times in a single phase. He offers all this with a challenge-winning STR value and at a very affordable cost. A true MVP, Lannister will struggle when he eventually rotates out of the cardpool.
Lannister have several other good unique characters in the 3-cost range – Grand Maester Pycelle, Shae, Myrcella Baratheon SoD, Podrick Payne, Gunthor Son of Gurn – that I don’t list here simply because most decks won’t run all of them, rather you’ll pick the ones most important to the deck. 3 is an awkward cost-point to have too many of, being less-than-ideal for setup, The First Snow of Winter and Valar Dohaeris, so you can’t really just spam all of them. All of them, however, are at least worth considering, with The Hound being the only one that simply has to go in.
Moving up the cost curve, we have Tyrion Lannister. In my opinion he was, for a long time, not just Lannister’s best character but the best character in the game. Economy was a very scarce resource for the first couple of years of this game, and Tyrion not only gave you 2-4 gold a round, but also had Stealth to boot? Amazing. And he still is absolutely amazing, with only the increased gold-production all-round reining him in. Despite that, Tyrion is still a fundamental auto-include for Lannister. The challenges phase remains the phase where Lanni have the most resources to throw around, between Tyrion’s reaction and their numerous “jump a character into play for free”-style effects. This allows them to leverage Tyrion’s effect with the likes of The Hound and others – indeed, without Tyrion, The Hound would be too expensive to repeatedly ambush to truly be as amazing as he is.
Also benefiting from being an outlet to utilise the Tyrion gold is Ser Robert Strong. If Lannister didn’t have Tyrion, he probably wouldn’t make this list at all; however, with the cardpool as it is I think he should be included at least 1x. The other thing helping justify his position is the current Sea of Blood meta – a big military monocon is pretty valuable, and Strong can help trigger (or prevent) a win-by-5 effect without great difficulty, all while providing a likely-discounted kill on his way out of shadows.
That just leaves Tyrion’s immediate family members, Jaime, Cersei and Tywin. Jaime has never been a vital part of a Lannister deck, but he’s always been very good, simply being an efficient body due to his participating in multiple challenges and his renown. Cersei is much the same for intrigue, but with a better power grab effect she is much easier to leverage, which is why Jaime is only 1x but Cersei is 3x despite the latter having two other excellent cards she’s competing with. Tywin, meanwhile, remains one of the best constructive cards in the game. His all-imposing omnipotence has been reduced ever since both Valars came out, but despite that he’s a tricon with renown, often the most STR of any character on the table, and provides an extra +2 gold per round, helping you fuel everything else your deck wants to do. He may be an old trick for Lannister, but he’s still a tremendous one.
One last card I want to talk about is Ser Gregor Clegane. He isn’t in this list simply because so many other expensive cards are; however, I do think he will often find his way into GoodStuff decks. Like Euron in Greyjoy, he’s a perfectly fine character in isolation who also has the upside of sometimes randomly winning you the game with no effort on your part. He is a touch meta-dependent, and requires you to either go super-high on your economy or just run jumper tech (or make cuts elsewhere), but when he shines, boy how he shines.
That concludes the Lannister edition of Austere Assembly. I found this one particularly difficult to write, so I anticipate a fair few comments on how to improve this template. Please let me know how below!