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Running Tournaments during Lockdown

by Matt Slade
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I have had a wonderful time running The London Championship tournament series this year. We played the 16th and last tournament this week. Around 10 people attended each tournament on average – perfect for an evening of Thrones, as players only have to make a 3 hour commitment. The tournament series carried our meta through a strange year, as we coped with lockdown and a slowly evolving meta. By the end, the elements that made it work were:
  • Consistency. Choosing one day a week to host the event with the same start time every week, as well as keeping the tournament structure the same from week to week, meant people knew what to expect and could just turn up and play.
  • Sociability. We ran the online events using a discord server so that people could chat during and in between games. After all, the real reason we still play Thrones is the friends we made along the way. 
  • Being Welcoming. Making the events open not just to everyone in the meta, but also to friends in other metas and pretty much anyone else in workable time zones, created a varied group of players.
  • Delegation. Delegating some of the traditional roles (organiser, judge, JP master) helped things run smoothly. I’m not an expert on the rules, but thankfully several players in our group have me covered on that front. 
  • Creativity. We made each event unique by running an alternate format series.
Last year, it became clear that there was going to be a huge gap in releases in 2020, and I didn’t want the game I love just to fizzle out in London. We’ve played in several alternate formats in the past, people really enjoy them, and it seemed like a good way to keep us interested in playing the game while we wait for new cards. As it turned out, it’s also been a great way to keep people interested in playing Thrones online during lockdown.  An alternate format normally uses the existing joust rules and overlays additional constraints and rules (typically in deckbuilding). Smaller card pools are the most obvious alternate format, such as using the Core set and Deluxe Boxes only (although it somehow took us until the 15th tournament to use that idea). I came up with the format for the first event. The winner of that event would then decide the format and rules for the next event. If the winner had already hosted an event, we used tie-breakers to select someone new to host the next event. This ensured everyone in our playgroup would get the opportunity to host one event. It also meant as organiser, I could pass on some of the responsibility each week to another person. Here is a breakdown of the events:
  1. Intro deck plus a rookery (of 10 draw deck & 2 plots) from the Bestow cycles 3 and 4. We played this on the 2nd January, and our game store was closed so we played in a pub instead, meaning my dry January lasted less than 42 hours. 
  2. Valentines Day – The Things We Do For Love (not the bin pack) by Dan Williams. A preset list of sweet couples (e.g. Cersei and Ser Lancel or Robert and any unique companion) was made available. Each player had to choose a couple, playing each of those two cards at 3x with all other cards in their deck being 1x. Some additional cards were banned (mostly saves) to add an element of danger.
  3. Council Consents by Sammy P. Each player must run 3x of any single small council character, 3x Appointed and 3x The Council Consents. All other character cards in their deck must be 1x and unique. 3x Appointed starts play as a sideboard and can be played at any time. If they would be discarded from play they return to the sideboard instead. No Valyrian Steel, no Sea of Blood.
  4. Stay at home Thrones by Mike Clarke. As we all have to stay at home, our characters will need to have a home to stay in. Everyone must play HRD and use a castle/house location. Approved castles and houses only (some were deliberately omitted for not being janky enough).
  5. Mega Ban list by Matthew Herdman. 25% of the card pool was banned. Matt painstakingly combed the card pool and banned basically every card that has been played to tournament success, plus Frozen Expanse for some reason.
  6. What if all plots were loyal? by James Waumsley. James assigned every plot to a loyal faction based on theme. The games that day were wonderfully thematic.
  7. Pod Restriction by George Ankers.  George got ahead of the Conclave with his fancy pod-based restricted system, made up of a mere 52 pods!
  8. Highlander by Martin Lewis. Normal deck building rules, but a maximum of one copy of any card by title (in both draw deck and plot deck). The only exceptions to this rule were The Roseroad and The Kingsroad. Banned: The Prince that was Promised, The Prince Who Came too Late, At the Gates, The Annals of Castle Black.
  9. Show me your bin pack agenda by Florian Hess. Florian too preempted the Conclave by making the TTWDFL agenda’s legal, and requiring every player to play one. Aloof and Apart was restricted, naturally.
  10. Calling the Banners by Rich Jennings. Sick of mono-faction decks ruling the meta, Rich came up with a list of pre-approved Faction/Banner combos, each complete with 5 loyal and banner cards that must be used in each combo.
  11. Hall of Fame by Rowan Gavin. The top two decks from the ThronesDB Hall of Fame for each faction were made available to be played.  To add extra drama, each player chose a deck in secret, and if you were the only player who chose a particular deck, you got to add one card of your choice to it.
  12. Alt-Format Extravaganza by Dave Bamford. Draft cards were legal, with the proviso that the agendas didn’t ignore loyalty as they do in actual draft.
  13. Random Plots by Nicolas Bouchet. Each player was given 7 random plots to build their plot deck with. In-faction plots could be subbed in for any of the 7. Nicolas even added draft plots into the random pool for more fun.  
  14. Odds and Evens by Paul Geddes. Draw decks must contain cards that ALL have a printed gold cost of EITHER an odd or even value and plot deck printed gold values must be the opposite (odd or even). On top of that, each player had to break down their deck into groups of 32, 16, 8 and 4 cards by card type – so 32 characters, 16 locations, 8 events, 4 attachments, or 32 attachments, 16 events, 8 locations, 4 characters, or any other combination that sticks to those quantities.
  15. The Deluxe Format by Nerius Burdulis. Decks may only include cards from the Core Set and the faction Deluxes. This idea is forming the basis of our next tournament series!
  16. ThronesDB Blind date by Joe Zimmer and Gabbi Diane.  Joe and Gabbi set each player up on a hot blind date with one of many eligible bachelor/bachelorette decks from ThronesDB. Love at first sight or that janky build you just want to get away from? A list of decks described only by their faction/agenda combinations was provided, and players chose decks on a first-come-first-serve basis. Some were happier with the results than others…
I’d close by saying that it was a genuine pleasure to run this tournament series and to play some wacky games using these amazing ideas. Unfortunately, it looks like live tournaments are going to be hard to run for the foreseeable future. If your meta is struggling to find the fun in online play, I highly recommend using a tournament series like this one to invigorate your local Thrones scene.  Written by Matt Slade, edited by Rowan Gavin.

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