The Faceless Man

Ryan Jones on His Champion Card from House of Thorns

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“Revolts were common in the mines, but few accomplished much. The dragonlords of the old Freehold were strong in sorcery, and lesser men defied them at their peril. The first Faceless Man was one who did.”
  
–The Kindly Man, A Feast for Crows

The Faceless Men of Braavos are renowned as the deadliest assassins in the world—and now, they’re coming to A Game of Thrones: The Card Game. Join Ryan Jones, the 2013 Overall World Champion, as he explores his latest champion card, coming soon in House of Thorns.

Ryan Jones on His Newest Champion Card

My Overall Championship run started the night before the 2013 Melee World Championship with the SoCal group’s traditional tune-up game. Despite my lack of preparation and deck familiarity, I found myself at the final table the next day as my Greyjoy Holy deck continued to squeak out wins thanks to high initiative plots and a silver tongue. When John Bruno’s fantastic double The Hatchling’s Feast into Thundering Cavalry elicited the loudest crowd reaction I’ve ever heard at a gaming event, I thought he had surely locked up the win, but thanks to a timely save, I was able to snake the win out from under Bruno’s nose. The Overall run was alive and well, but I’d do my best to sabotage my chances later that night.

After three too many celebratory margaritas, we decided to get some last-minute test games in before the next morning’s Joust tournament. I’d planned to play a Lannister Hyper Kneel deck, but decided to test with my Melee deck to give my opponents a different look. It did well that night; surprisingly well. Packing a stomach full of the night’s libations, a disdain for the deck I’d planned to play, and a whopping three last-minute test games, I declared my intention to instead play my Melee deck in the Joust.

To my group’s credit, they tried to stop me from such foolishness, but the harebrained train had already left the station. I changed two plots, swapped three main deck cards, and passed out on the couch. The next morning, I faced my spurned Lannister kneel deck round after round, answering every opponent’s kneel effect with a stand effect of my own. I’d drunkenly stumbled upon the perfect answer to the most popular deck at the tournament and it carried me straight into the cut! A loss in the Top 8 slowed me down, but I still wound up winning the Overall Championship by a single point.

As an homage to the Holy deck I'd used in both formats, I originally designed a neutral character that could give any character the Holy crest. It was niche, but I hoped it would breathe new life into crest-based decks at a time when they were generally under-supported. Unfortunately, the card got caught in the transition to the game’s second edition, which removed crests entirely. The card was shelved, but the idea of giving trait-based decks a neutral character to fill gaps in the card pool would live on.

After finishing the design for my first card, The Iron Bank Will Have Its Due (Obyern’s Revenge, 99), I returned to my SoCal A Game of Thrones family for inspiration on mechanics and theme. The discussion was almost exclusively focused on card mechanics, but a casual comment by my close friend James Speck ended up capturing my attention over everything else: “You know what would look cool? A Faceless Man taking your face off the wall.” For all my big talk of innovative game mechanics, meta-defining importance, and tournament relevance, I was hooked by a one-sentence art description. From that moment on, my second card could only be a Faceless Man. It didn’t matter if it impacted the competitive scene or ended up stuck in the binder; I would see my lifeless face being pulled off a ghastly wall by a deadly assassin.

Unlike The Iron Bank Will Have Its Due, which I designed completely without theme, I now had a very clear theme to work with. The Faceless Men have only a few defining characteristics: most notably, they kill people for money and they save the faces of the deceased to use as disguises. On the spectrum of constructive versus destructive design, I’m squarely in the constructive camp, so I avoided the obvious kill connection and pursued the “disguise” angle.

By happy coincidence, this theme fit well with my long-lost goal of helping trait-based decks that were starved for support, and the original draft was born: Faceless Man, a neutral, four gold, four STR, non-unique character with no traits or icons and the text: “Challenges Action: Choose a character in any player’s discard or dead pile. Faceless Man gains that character’s icons, traits, and keywords until the end of the phase. (Limit once per phase.),” as well as the text: “Challenges Action: Discard a character from your hand to give Faceless Man +1 STR until the end of the phase.

Lead Designer Danny Schaefer came back with a simplified version that dropped the discard Action and limited the copying to dead piles, but the core of the card was ready for playtesting. The card saw small fluctuations in STR and cost throughout testing and we added the ability to copy a faction affiliation for some added synergy, but I wasn’t happy with what remained a somewhat vanilla enabler. I found the answer when I had the idea of making my champion cards work well together. With The Iron Bank Will Have Its Due dropping large amounts of gold into your coffers during challenges, adding the Ambush keyword to Faceless Man created an outlet for that gold and thematically fit the nature of an assassin.

The final result is Faceless Man (House of Thorns, 40) a midrange character that can fill a cost or icon gap in your trait-based deck, like Wildlings, House Tully, or Dothraki, or feast on the best dead character’s keywords. If you manage to get Robert Baratheon (Core Set, 48) or Victarion Greyjoy (Lions of Casterly Rock, 27) into a dead pile, the Faceless Man becomes a surprise, four cost version of either renowned intimidator.

The ceiling is high in ideal scenarios for Faceless Man, but they’re certainly not automatic. Prime characters like Victarion don’t go willingly to the dead pile; they’ll likely take some persuading. That can come with standard military claim, but the best characters are often the last ones chosen for claim. It can come from specific kill effects, like Put to the Sword (Core Set, 41) and Dracarys! (Core Set, 176), but in my mind, the surest way to get your Faceless Men into fighting form comes from your plots. Heads on Spikes (Core Set, 13), Duel (The Fall of Astapor, 60), Wildfire Assault (Core Set, 26), and The Red Wedding (The Red Wedding, 80) all fit the bill, but the surest way to the dead pile is known by all: Valar Morghulis (There Is My Claim, 80).

I’m normally hesitant to play a less competitive deck just to have thematic cards, but I won't have to make that choice this time: I’ll be playing Faceless Man in its most thematic, Essos-based home: House Targaryen. The dream plays I’m eager to live out are:

  • Ambushing Faceless Man and copying a Dragon to play a surprise Dracarys!
  • Copying Daenerys Targaryen (Core Set, 160) to gain the Stormborn trait and maintain the Dragons’ benefits
  • Copying any Lord or Lady to trigger insight on Doreah (Called to Arms, 33) or play Funeral Pyre (True Steel, 114)
  • Copying a Bloodrider to enable Aggo (Wolves of the North, 35), Rakharo (The Road to Winterfell, 33), or Jhogo (True Steel, 113)

It’s my sincere hope that Faceless Man will elevate several currently non-competitive, trait-based decks to tournament relevance, but which themes are just a few characters away from relevance? Direwolves? Sand Snakes? Bastards? The choice is up to you!

Ryan Jones is a veteran member of the SoCal meta that has been attending the FFG World Championships since 2012 and organizes the annual Thrones W.A.R. event in San Diego. With a Melee, Overall, and Draft championship to his name, the Joust title remains his white whale. Hopefully the hunt doesn't consume him whole!

You can pre-order House of Thorns (GT29) at your local retailer today!

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