Ahoy, Thrones players. Joe Zimmer and George Ankers here, combining our powers to bring you a review of the fortunes of House Greyjoy over the Dance of Shadows cycle. Joe’s qualifications are successful runs at the UK’s Battles at Summerhall and the World Championships using the squids. George’s are that he likes blue borders and the look of his own voice. Together, we more or less amount to one faction-loyalist’s worth of useful input.
Reviewing a cycle for a faction after it has been followed up with that faction’s deluxe box is a curious business. We’re not here to dissect the Kings of the Isles box, but we won’t pretend that it doesn’t exist if necessary in discussing certain cards from this cycle.
Read on for our combined analysis of the 12 Greyjoy cards released in the Shadows cycle, plus a handful of relevant neutrals, the three new agendas’ place in the faction, and the state of the Ironborn’s major deck archetypes.
Started as the counter to Targaryen, then became the counter to Trading with Qohor. Then it just kinda disappeared, as Greyjoy grew less scared of the bad dragon people and Qohor became less prevalent. The bulking out of Greyjoy’s goodstuff options – as well as good pillage cards – have reduced the Marauders to only occasional appearances in tournament decks. They are still a useful card, but Greyjoy are now so roundly strong that they have less to worry about in terms of answering specific problem opponents.
Immediately installed herself as a solid 1x card with a good ability with no reason not to be included in almost all typical Greyjoy decks. She’s not going anywhere for quite some time.
Drowned God Fanatic a.k.a. Vince
Now for your occasional reminder that FFG didn’t actually call the card ‘Vince’ and went for the needlessly wordier ‘Drowned God Fanatic’ instead. We remember it for more than its namesake, of course, as it proved to be one of the best cards of the cycle and immediately made its way into all Greyjoy decks.
It hardly needs explaining why Vince is so excellent, and probably the first three cards that you add into any Greyjoy deck. There are too many impactful character abilities to count, and cancelling them effectively for free, without having to telegraph your ability to do so, is astonishingly powerful. Vince has single-handedly chased away the Last of the Giants->Core Varys combo that was a key part of many decks, and makes any deck revolving around character triggers at least consider running Begging Brothers. What raises him from a 4.5 to a full 5, though, is the versatility of his recursion ability, from offering unexpected defences of would-be unopposed challenges to getting Drowned Disciple triggers to killing a chud in marshaling so as to bounce him back to hand with First Snow. Vince is a huge part of Greyjoy’s resurgence.
While this Victarion had to wait a pack for the release of Refurbished Hulk to really hit his stride, he has quickly proved himself every bit as strong as his evergreen counterpart. What you lose in intimidate and self-saving, you gain in excellent stats and potent triggers. Even one use per round can be more than enough impact, but get out a critical mass of warships and Vic is a monster. Need help pushing through that Pinch of Powder trigger? Vic’s your man. Need to almost nullify the entire existence of the Core Set Wall? Look no further. Staring down a Khal Drogo (maybe with a Drogon in tow) looking to bully you with military challenges? You get the point. Indeed, not only will your opponent struggle to remember all of the ways in which you can hurt them, you too will often realise a round too late all of the opportunities you missed to make the most of him.
This version of Vic does not straightforwardly replace the LoCR one in every Greyjoy deck but there are enough excellent boats out there now that you can usually justify making the switch.
Iron Victory’s Crew
This card enjoys some clever recursion bonuses using Vince and Core Aeron Damphair, but most of the time is not really worth the slot. It might be a different story if Iron Victory were worth putting in your deck, but it’s really not.
A fun and sneaky card, the kind of trick not commonly seen in Greyjoy, but cut off at the knees by his shadow cost. It’s typically very difficult to have that much spare gold in challenges as Greyjoy without heavily telegraphing what you’re about to do, while a duplicate could render your plans moot. And a 3-STR power monocon doesn’t justify the risk of missing out on any value from the shadow trigger, so Moqorro’s out of the picture for now. There might be potential for some shenanigans in Greyjoy/Lion using Core Tyrion for gold generation and Ser Gregor to immediately murder your bounced target… but we’ll likely have to wait and see what the King’s Landing cycle brings to discover if that will pan out.
This card quickly found its way into Drowned God builds as a good but far-from-essential inclusion, thanks to providing a kill trigger and the ability to repopulate. Of course, if we’re honest with ourselves, the real reason why we played it was that were were just hoping to steal Drogon…
Dragonbinder has fallen out of favour over time, along with a brief disappearance of the Drowned God deck before the Isles box, but the advent of Banner Sun as arguably the best Drowned God build means that it’s getting cut for orange cards.
Initially written off as a preemptive Raiding Longship, over time it has picked up in popularity due to its greater flexibility and reduced risk of uselessness. You can feel much safer in your attempts at pushing through that win-by-five or unopposed if you can make adjustments for it before the challenge even starts and, if you are expecting someone to jump in after declaring attackers, you haven’t lost out. The shadow trigger is on the expensive side and risks being overkill but can be a great surprise if you somehow have the spare resources or are running Assault.
While some factions such as Stark, Targ and Tyrell got pretty useful actions on their equivalent locations, Greyjoy were given a card that could initially look boring but has some great synergies and very useful resources. An increased initiative is great bonus to have sitting on your econ, as it helps you win fights to choose who is first player, and get those benefits from going first that Greyjoy use regularly.
But on top of the resources, it’s also a warship! An initial problem for this cycle’s Victarion was that a lot of the warships already available to you had to kneel for their own effects but, with, this you have an econ location that can service those triggers or as fodder for Raiding the Bay of Ice. If we jump forward a little into the Isles box, it’s also a great bonus that you can use Silence to jump-start your economy base. You can expect to see this card in most typical Greyjoy builds, with the exception of Drowned God decks.
Seize the Initiative
Thanks to the Refurbished Hulks and Greyjoy’s existing love for many high-initiative plots, this is largely unnecessary in joust. While it’s more expensive in melee, that’s the only format where we think this has merit, most likely in a Greyjoy/Assault deck where you can trigger it for free.
Well, there had to be a dud somewhere. It’s hard to know what we were meant to be doing with this, given its effective cost of four for no immediate change in value of one’s board. There are not enough Greyjoy locations that can provide interesting tricks if not seen coming. If you were worried about having enough warships for repeated Victarion triggers, why wouldn’t you just run more warships instead of wasting slots on this card? The limit to Greyjoy locations only kills of any chance this card had of being interesting jank fuel, too. What a mess.
Rhymes with Meek
While at least half of us initially overlooked this card, it was soon made clear by decks like Matt Herdman’s top-eight finisher from Stahleck that this is an incredibly useful card.
Card draw is traditionally one of Greyjoy’s weaknesses, typically addressed by the inclusion of Great Kraken. With Core Balon having returned to popularity during this cycle, it has only got easier to get those unopposed challenges, and two or three cards for one or two gold is usually worth it. Finding slots can be tricky but you should certainly consider it if you lean at all into Greyjoy’s unopposed theme.
Old Bill Bone
Wex Pyke has been a near-guaranteed 1x in every Greyjoy Deck for a long time, simply for being an efficiently costed intrigue bicon. Old Bill Bone adds an extremely useful meta-call ability for the trade-off of costing one more for you to use that ability and not being reducible through Sea Towers or Fishmongers. He’s worth it. Most Greyjoy decks – like most decks from any faction – should be running 1x of him and, if there’s only one slot available between Bill and Wex, Bill should probably get the nod.
A Pinch of Powder
Greyjoy arguably cheated this cycle by having 13 blue-bordered cards released over the six packs. Oh, yes, Raider from Pyke was technically in the cardpool for years, but it’s a Pinch of Powder that truly gave it life. While all factions can build to make good use of Pinch, the ability to ambush it for free with a Raider on the board immediately made Greyjoy a terrifying force with which to be reckoned.
Just having a Raider on the board forces opponents to play around triggers – if they are even able to, since Core Balon returned on the back of Pinch’s release in order to near-guarantee those win-by-five power challenges. Boats Vic can also bludgeon his way through with his beefy 7 STR. When the Pinch train gets rolling, there’s often very little that opponents can do to recover, as it costs nothing to repeat round after round.
Usage has still died down somewhat, partially due to Sea of Blood making it arguably even easier to repeatedly trigger more permanent removal effects like Put to the Sword without needing a specific chud on the table. But that doesn’t make this card any less powerful in its most unthematic but mechanically natural home.
Since the release of King’s Landing, Greyjoy have received an auto-include plot that serves a similar-but-better purpose, and there is usually no room in competitive decks for this location. But it does have its applications, chiefly in pillage decks where it can be used to recur Scouting Vessel round after round. Iron Mines is another solid target, though in a less abusive way.
Burning the Dead
While we would not currently advocate that Greyjoy decks run this card, its release should not be forgotten. The second that Drowned God decks become dominant in the tournament meta, other decks will need to consider Burning the Dead. Committed Greyjoy players will need to closely monitor the situation and be ready to deal with this card if and when people start playing it.
Trading with Qohor
The Greyjoys are not natural trading partners with the Qohorik. This is in large part because the average Greyjoy deck runs a very large location package and has to distort itself quite significantly in order to accommodate the necessary number of attachments to leverage the agenda.
Greyjoy/Alliance decks with Banners Rose and Goat do exist, but they don’t really make for more consistent GoodStuff or more potent Voltron builds than 60-card monofaction decks, so are almost never seen. The same goes – but more so – for Dragon/Goat, and every other combination is, at present, explicitly nonsensical.
The Free Folk
This quickly proved to be a very strong aggro agenda for Greyjoy, though the House is yet to truly leverage it more effectively than other factions.
Assault from the Shadows
While far from being Greyjoy’s best agenda, ideas are floating around for making creative and effective use of this tricky beast. Putting non-shadow cards into shadows allows a card like Throwing Axe a new lease of life, and more unexpected upsides may yet emerge. You can certainly have a lot of fun in Greyjoy/Assault – whether it can make a splash in the competitive arena is yet to be tested.
So with all that taken on board (do you get it? It’s a boat joke), where do the various Greyjoy archetypes stand in the wake (do you… etc.) of the Dance cycle, and the Isles box after it?
Given a kick in the backside by Vince and the Raider/Pinch combo, Greyjoy GoodStuff became one of the very best decks in the meta this cycle and that remains the case – although it may now have been eclipsed by Sea of Blood to the extent that the latter deck may arguably be the true GoodStuff build (more on that later).
For decks less interested in carrying the cheap aggro package of Blood than in simply assembling a consistent board of better characters than their opponent, the choice of agenda primarily comes down to Fealty or Wars, with Rains having fallen out of favour. Fealty has the advantage of reducing the tempo hit of running Refurbished Hulks, while most of Greyjoy’s beatstick characters are loyal. But Wars is just as solid, especially because Greyjoy are by some distance the faction least interested in Flea Bottom shenanigans so don’t have any real downside to exploring a variety of plots. Frankly, it’s hard to go wrong with either, and the choice may come down to your own personal outlook on plots.
Pillage and Millage
A fringe archetype for so long, pillage decks are now a legitimate option for a competitive tournament, though specifically in the context of using pillage as the impetus for reaching 15 power rather than to consistently mill out opponents.
Most of the cards to make this happen came out in the Isles box rather than the cycle itself, though Nighttime Marauders is a solid card that can be made very useful in such a deck as the discard pile keeps growing. The archetype is a little more fiddly than the typical GoodStuff deck but still pretty solid. The primary choices for agenda will be Banner of the Lion (for a host of decent pillage characters), Greensight to keep the discard pile ticking, Wars for versatility or the lesser-spotted HRD Corpse Lake if you just want to get on with it (or protect your key power-gain card from being easily We Take Westeros!-ed in the mirror match).
Dedicated mill decks are still niche and easier to stop but have received an abundance of new tools. From Cycle 5, the key additions are Glass Candle, which can be a guarantee of up to three cards discarded every round and King’s Landing to recur Scouting Vessel. Uneasy Truce is a popular plot in mill decks for its ability to stall out a game for another draw phase, though enough of Greyjoy’s discard effects come through winning challenges that it may not be an auto-include. It should also be noted that Sea of Blood decks can now build up surprisingly potent reductions on Loot.
These decks should probably never be truly competitive, and they remain some distance from that as we stand, but they are arguably in the best state that they have been in since the restriction of the Dragon’s Tail.
The releases of Vince and Dragonbinder (plus the plot Uneasy Truce which suits Drowned God) saw some playing around with this ominous archetype, but it took the Isles box to really revive this one. We won’t dwell long here as so little of what makes it tick came from this cycle, but Banner Sun and Wars are competing to be the best agenda for the drowned prophets – our vote would go to Sun – and it’s a deck that is once again capable of holding its own against much of the field.
Decks dedicated to rushing to victory through unopposed challenges and related triggers are not among Greyjoy’s most prevalent, such are the strengths of the GoodStuff, Drowned God and Sea of Blood builds. The case remains, as it has for a long time, that unopposed decks go off like gangbusters when they work but are a little too inconsistent to be relied upon at the highest levels.
In the Dance cycle, Grey Ghost emerged as an important card for this archetype, either a solid piece of tech or a devastating finisher, depending on whether or not you could afford to put it into shadows first. There should be at least two copies of Rhymes with Meek in these decks as well, providing much-needed redundancy from Great Kraken.
These decks, as you would expect, almost exclusively run The Lord of the Crossing as their agenda, though Banner of the Dragon has also seen some play. Hizdahr and Missandei offer a tempo boost that’s only slightly more valuable than their intrigue icons, and stand effects like Queensguard can put Core Balon on hyperspeed – though now that Maiden’s Bane exists and plays into the unopposed focus, this is less of a draw.
As an archetype, Boats is difficult to place. Most boats’ effects are varied enough that a Boats deck is just a kind of GoodStuff deck that has a lot of boats in it. Indeed, many GoodStuff decks have a lot of boats in them anyway, but a Boats deck has slightly more than that. Some people just like boats and want more of them.
You could say that it is only the Isles box, rather than the Dance cycle, which turned the long-awaited Boats deck into an actual thing. Indeed, it is arguable that the inclusion of Silence and Isles Euron is the chief method of distinguishing a Boats deck from a regular GoodStuff, or at least its elevation to near-equivalency of GoodStuff. The release of Big Vic and the Hulks (what a name for a band, by the way) at least made those decks buildable, though, providing a useful boat that doesn’t need to kneel for its own effect and a centrepiece character who can leverage one’s many boats for profit.
We feel that the best Greyjoy decks at present are ones that do not get too distracted by all the cool boats, but nevertheless the Boats decks are close enough to the best decks that you’ll need to be able to deal with them in similar ways if you want to win a big event.
We won’t dwell too long here, as Sea of Blood was not a Cycle 5 card, but suffice to say that Greyjoy aggro is relentlessly potent, so much so that it may in fact qualify as a better GoodStuff deck than the GoodStuff deck. If you want to succeed at a major tournament right now, then you need to know how you hold off Greyjoy/Blood from round one and keep doing so for the entire game. Few of the cards from the Dance cycle are utterly vital to the effectiveness of this deck, but Boats Vic will usually get the nod in it over Saves Vic for sheer STR value, and you’ll likely still to have to reckon with the Raider/Pinch combo even if you successfully defend the military challenge. Be ready.