A Duel of Champions

Preview a Champion-Designed Card from The Fall of Astapor

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“I will fight you one by one or all together. But who is there for the wench to duel? She gets cross when you leave her out.”
  
–Ser Jaime Lannister, A Storm of Swords

Throughout A Song of Ice and Fire, the reader is drawn close to dozens of iconic characters, following those characters through their desperate hopes, secret schemes, and pitched battles. Yet although these characters could be called protagonists or major players, none of them are invincible. Death may strike at any time, whether through unexpected poison or a fateful duel.

Today, Jonathan Andrews, the 2014 North American Champion, takes the time to explore his new card design for A Game of Thrones: The Card Game, and how it may endanger the lives of the most expensive characters in the game.

Jonathan Andrews on His Champion Card Design

When I won my champion card design at the 2014 North American Championships, I knew immediately what I wanted to create. In an ambitious project that would involve collaborating with multiple other players who had champion card designs, we would see the skinchanger Varamyr Sixskins brought to life, along with a pack of animals he could change into—a collection of champ cards, all designed specifically to synergize with each other!

It was perfect… and for logistical reasons it fell through, so I went back to the drawing board and came up with something completely different.

Epic rivalries and intricate duels have always been an important part of A Game of Thrones: The Card Game for me. Whether playing test games against my sparring partners like Alexander Hynes, Florian Maas, or Aaron Glazer, or squaring off in high-stakes tournament games against my favorite “villains”—the D.C. Meta led by Erick Butzlaff or Seth Low—I always found these stressful individual battles some of my favorites. Combining these feelings with some of the most iconic scenes from the books, like Jon Snow battling Qhorin Halfhand or the Red Viper fighting Ser Gregor Clegane, I had a theme of pivotal moments that I needed my card to capture. I even had an art idea in mind—obviously, I’d need two people to be fighting, me and someone else, so it was a matter of choosing my ultimate nemesis. I look forward to seeing the art for the first time when this article goes up!

My theme was set, but I also had plans for the mechanics behind my card. I knew I wanted to create a “release valve”-style card to help prevent the game from becoming a contest of spamming out high-cost, powerful characters faster than your opponent. Coming from the first edition of A Game of Thrones: The Card Game (the format where I won the design), big characters saw a lot less play, and I wanted to allow decks with cheaper characters to have more space and fighting power within the game.

With these key thoughts in my mind, I came up with my plot, which I presented as a fully-designed card. Of course, the prize I won was to design a card, not to develop it. The version that came out on the other side of playtesting has some differences from my original version, but Duel (The Fall of Astapor, 60) still does what I wanted when it’s played in a game—hurt big characters in a flashy, bombastic style, recreating those pivotal, thematic moments that I love in this game.

You’ll notice that the card is carefully worded to give your opponent control over its effect. If you have two characters of cost six or higher in play, your opponent can simply choose them both. If you each have one character, your opponent's character will kneel but yours will die. It's only when you have no characters of cost six or higher and your opponent has at least two—a situation in which your chances for victory would usually be negligible—that Duel shows its true power.

I consciously designed this card to be a release valve for “big character” metas, a card that players would consider for inclusion not just on whether it fits in your deck, but whether it fits the environment you’ll be playing in. It is a powerful effect, but one that requires work to leverage. A “normal” deck will find it dangerous to use, but it could shine in “mini-curve” decks that don’t run high-cost characters. It can punish big character decks, but it shouldn't render them useless or unplayable—instead, they'll just have to think harder when deckbuilding.

One worry I had when sending in this design as a “meta-answer” is that the meta would move past big characters, and that my card would be answering last year's meta instead of the meta we have now. However, recent results, such as the Spanish “Batalla por el Muro” tournament, show this is not the case, and if anything, with Great Hall (Guarding the Realm, 38) having just released, Duel may be more relevant than ever.

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