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Austere Assembly – Night’s Watch, The

by James Waumsley
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Austere Assembly is back, and it’s time to look at the next faction alphabetically, which is of course Night’s Watch, The. Check here for how the article series works.

The Night’s Watch – not an easy faction to do this for. Many factions have some notable sub-themes with vastly different builds, see for example Drowned God in Greyjoy. What sets NW apart, though, is that there’s no longer a ‘main’ decktype with some deviances from it – Jon Snow MOD voltron, The Wall TMOW -driven recruitment decks, The Wall -driven defence decks (be they Stewards, Builders or all-round) and Ranger-rush all deserve equal consideration, and have very different sets of cards within them. If I were to do a list for all of those decktypes at once, it would probably look something like this:

Plots:
(None)

Characters:
2x Messenger Raven
1x Three-Finger Hobb

Attachments:
(None)

Locations:
1x Gates of the Moon
3x Underground Vault

Events:
2x Nightmares

Now “draw, economy and Nightmares” might be accurate, but it’s not an exciting article, so to handle this, I’m going to produce two completely separate lists – one for defence, and one for recruitment. As mentioned above, these are not the only two ways of playing Night’s Watch by any means, but if I create a further one for Ranger rush, a further one for full-on choke, a further one for Jon Snow voltron, and so on, this article will never end. As those decks broadly build themselves more and these two decks are the primary archetypes for the faction, they’re what I will focus on building – and, while I’m on the “B” word, we’re not going to think about Builders here either, because that list is so radically different from even a standard defence deck. With that out of the way, onto the lists – first defence, then recruitment. Cards gather, and now this deck begins:

DEFENCE

Plots:
(None)

Characters:
1x Benjen Stark
2x Maester Aemon
2x Messenger Raven
3x Three-Finger Hobb

Attachments:
2x Craven
2x Milk of the Poppy

Locations:
1x Castle Black
1x Gates of the Moon
1x The Haunted Forest
3x The Wall
3x Underground Vault

Events:
2x Nightmares

This list looks to cover the basics of NW defence. A lot of the core principles of a defence deck are very fluid, allowing for the deck to be built around Builders, Stewards or just all-rounders without the overall strategy really changing significantly. The only true constant is 3x The Wall. Aside from the basic economy and draw cards, the other choices on this list exist to help fuel that core strategy.

Firstly, as you want to oppose every challenge, you need tools to assist with that. In the locations, we have Castle Black, allowing you to oppose a challenge with no loss of tempo, as well as a single copy of The Haunted Forest, allowing you to not kneel out any characters at all but still prevent a challenge from being unopposed. Many defence decks may want multiple Forests, but deck slots being tight means I’m only considering a single one to be an auto-include – playing zero is almost never the correct call.

Additionally, in the character base we have Benjen Stark. He serves the deck in two key ways – firstly, by stopping Stealth from getting you down; and secondly, by further enabling your passive power gain. Depending on how much power you’re up to he can even single-handedly dissuade the opponent from making the military challenge in the first place.

Of course, the other card that weakens the opponent’s military challenge is Maester Aemon. This is important, as you won’t necessarily be able to win all of the opponents’ challenges on defence, just oppose them. With power challenges being the most important for the decktype to win (as if you lose a power on defence, then that’s a 2 power swing that negates the gain from The Wall), being able to repeatedly ignore the military round after round is a huge boon for the deck. With NW having a couple of very good characters with military icons and low STR (Old Forest Hunter and Shadow Tower Mason), being able to dedicate them to opposing without losing anything of significance is great. It also allows you to potentially run Valar Morghulis and still keep board presence.

Lastly, some characters can just be a pain to defend against. Think of the likes of Theon Greyjoy TFOA, Balon Greyjoy, Rattleshirt or even Maester Caleotte. To that end, we’re putting in 2x Craven. As well as handling problem characters, they can also prevent your opponent from getting renown, or on smaller boards can shut the opponent out of a challenge completely, leaving you only two to defend. You will often want the third, but you’ll always at least want the first two.

That handles how to keep yourself from losing unopposed. However, the Wall has two other main issues when it comes to defending it. Firstly, some characters can disrupt you from triggering the thing – think Victarion Greyjoy MOD, or Maester Murenmure. And secondly, some characters can gather passive power even quicker than The Wall can – the likes of Mace Tyrell or Drowned Disciple. To deal with all these problems at once, we have 2x Milk of the Poppy and 2x Nightmares. Milk is a long-term solution, and Nightmares can catch an opponent off-guard to allow you to leverage an advantage they weren’t expecting.

Finally, gold and draw. These are quite self-explanatory, really. Underground Vault is one of the best economy locations in the game, and Gates of the Moon only makes it even better and more reliable. As a rule with NW defence, once your board is established you don’t really mind what your opponent does, so the +1 for them +2 for you deal works perfectly. For draw, 2x Messenger Raven are easy adds. Being 1 gold characters they’re great for setup, loyal means you can potentially use them with Fealty, or Breaking Ties if that’s your restricted, and they’re reliable draw round after round. The only reason I haven’t assumed 3x is that adding 2 cards to your hand right before checking reserve can be an issue with Three-Finger Hobb, an insanely good draw card. 2 cards a round near-guaranteed (especially if you’re using Old Forest Hunters) for only a 2-gold initial investment, that even let you get over reserve – what’s not to love?

Oh, and no The Hand’s Judgment because, once you have the lock in, what events are you scared of?

So that’s defence out of the way. Now let’s recruit some folk:

RECRUITMENT

Plots:
2x Marched to the Wall

Characters:
1x Janos Slynt TSC
2x Messenger Raven
3x Old Forest Hunter
3x Recruiter for the Watch
3x Three-Finger Hobb
1x Yoren

Attachments:
(None)

Locations:
1x Gates of the Moon
1x Hardhome
2x Isle of Ravens
2x Queenscrown
3x The Wall TMOW
3x Underground Vault

Events:
1x Guarding the Realm
3x Mutiny at Craster’s Keep
2x Nightmares

This list was quite hard to nail down, between the more attritional versions, the wolf banners and the full-on recruiting versions, but hopefully this is a fair representation. It is worth noting that this list doesn’t include a restricted, as depending on your build, you may go with Flea Bottom, Breaking Ties or (if your agenda is Banner of the Wolf) Ward.

One thing all these different decks have in common is that the plot deck starts with 2x Marched to the Wall. It’s pretty much tailor-made for this decktype, and is mandatory.

In the character base, we have the same draw module as before. This time added to that though we have a Janos – very efficient, especially when it’s your opponent’s characters that are being sacrificed – Old Forest Hunter to help add economy and set up Hobb triggers (which is often included in defence but more necessary here due to the often lower gold on the plots you select), and our key recruitment characters, Recruiter for the Watch and Yoren. These help make up a core of your deck’s strategy and should never be overlooked.

In the location base, we have the same economy module as we did previously. We also have 3x The Wall. This Wall, however, is very different. Despite being 3x, it is far, far less important to the overall strategy than the Core Wall is to defence. The defensive decks wouldn’t exist without the Core Wall; attrition/recruitment decks existed and worked well before, and I’ve even heard talk lately of cutting the Wall from this list, as it’s not necessary to win and it can backfire heavily against Greyjoy. For someone unsure though, I would definitely start by including it, and only cut it if you feel confident in doing so. To go with this Wall, we have 2x Isle of Ravens to shuffle back less desirable targets and try to increase the chance of the opponent having to give you someone juicy, as well as Queenscrown and Hardhome to try to help add those bigger characters to the discard pile.

Of course, the best way of adding top characters to the discard pile is in the events, and it takes the form of Mutiny at Craster’s Keep. More than The Wall, this is the centrepiece of the deck. The ethos of the card is essentially “I’m going with quantity over quality”, so the best character you sacrifice is going to be far smaller a loss for you than the opponent’s character you take in place. It also has value if the opponent has a duped character, as you can use it to pick off their smaller accompanying character and then March that big to the wall. Or you can use The Bloody Flux or Arya Stark TFM to make them cannot be saved in the first place. Regardless, this is a nasty, nasty card.

Guarding the Realm will often see more copies, but as Yoren: the event, it should definitely feature at least once. Nightmares is actually quite questionable in this list, especially with the more attrition-heavy builds, which take an attitude of “why blank it when I can just remove it”? However, with no other effects in the deck that can deal with a problem card at any point, I think it’s a worthy include in an initial list, even if you have to cut it for space later.

That concludes the article. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please do post them below. I will (eventually!) get round to responding to them, I promise!

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