“It ends in blood, as it began,” –Nymeria Sand, A Dance with Dragons
The Empty Sands of Dorne
House Martell are perhaps not the most exciting faction to play: fans of the books will remember that it takes a fair while for them to really do anything, and the designers seem to have captured this flavour well. Their big characters in the Core Set were fairly underwhelming, the Red Viper in particular, failing to live up to the hype which typically surrounds him, and his big brother not seeing much play either. Arriane Martell offered some good options for trickery, and jumping key characters in at unusual moments, but there weren’t enough other characters to go with her to make much use of this.
There were certainly events and locations which caught the eye, and the notion that they might be a good bet somewhere down the line seemed sensible, but they felt like one of the weakest factions straight out of the Core Set.
When the first Chapter Pack came, Martell got cards, just like everybody else- somehow though, they didn’t even register on my consciousness – and I had to look them up just now, to remember what they were (A loyal plot, and a cheap non-unique character).
Up until a month or so ago, I’m not sure I’d actually seen anyone running an all-Martell deck, and Banner of the Sun still wasn’t particularly common.
…Then came Nymeria.
Named after the Warrior Queen of the Rhoynar who conquered Dorne centuries ago (and not after Arya’ Stark’s pet wolf), Nymeria is the second-oldest of the Sand Snakes, the acknowledged bastard daughters of Oberyn Martell, AKA the red Viper. Notoriously deadly in the books, with a little more composure than her big sister Obara, Nymeria is the explosive, game-changing, character that House Martell has been missing: when she first surfaced, there were a few panicked cries of “broken!” which at least seem to have settled down, and I don’t think she’s any more powerful that the lynchpin characters all the other factions have, but it can’t be denied that she changes the overall picture for Martell, both as a main house, and a banner faction.
For anyone not familiar, Nymeria is a 5-cost, 4-Strength, Non-Loyal character from House Martell. She has the traits Bastard and Sandsnake and no challenge icons.
The thing that makes Nymeria such a big deal though, is her rules text, which reads as follows:
“Challenges Action: Choose an opponent’s character. Until the end of the phase, that character loses a challenge icon of your choice, and each Sand Snake character you control gains that challenge icon. (Limit once per phase.)”
This has two fairly important implications – first of all, it means that she can gain pretty-much any icon you want (so long as your opponent has a character in play, they don’t even need that icon) allowing her to participate in any challenge where you have a shortfall.
More to the point, she removes that icon from an opposing character – it doesn’t matter if Robert is up at 14 strength, if he doesn’t have a military icon, he can’t kill you. The same applies for any of the other big key characters who might do horrible things to you in challenges – Euron, Ned, Jamie, Drogo: Nymeria is just as effective at shutting them down. The fact that she can strip away intrigue icons means that you can now use Tears of Lys on Tywin, Dany or Tyrion. The fact that she effectively gives a character -1 icons of a given type means you can prevent your opponent giving their character the icon later in the phase.
Of course, like any character, she has vulnerabilities. Slap a Milk of the Poppy on her, and she becomes entirely useless other than as claim soak, or strength for dominance (Even a milked Tywin is still a 6-Strength tricon). In the interests of balance and sanity, her action is limit once per phase, so if your opponent can put pressure in one area, she can’t cover another.
It’s also worth noting that it’s not just Nymeria, but all your sandsnakes who gain the chosen icon, which instantly ups the value of those Bastard Daughters from the previous pack: that 2-cost 1-strength character now has the ability to join in all 3 challenge types, not just military.
Where does she belong?
As good as Nymeria is, you can’t just drop her into a deck and win automatically: Like any power character, you need to build to make sure you’re using her power as best you can.
The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend
Because Nymeria is not Loyal, she can be used in a banner to a different faction, and there are plenty of options to explore: I’ve been running a lot of fairly aggro decks in recent months, generally something out of House Greyjoy, which looks at maximising the benefits of winning unopposed challenges. For the January local tournament / store championships, I had the Banner of the Stag, bringing in the R’hllor cards to kneel out the things I couldn’t stealth around or beat down with Balon. With Nymeria’s appearance, I shifted to Banner of the Sun: Nymeria, together with Confinement and Maester Caleotte allows me to take the icons away from problem defenders, as well as providing extra options for my own attackers (Asha can’t find that Little Bird? No problem, now Nymeria can do your Intrigue challenges). For a deck that likes to go first, Sunspear is nice and threatening to leave out on the table in case I do lose initiative. Lastly, if the game does run long, Dawn on Euron is just plain nasty.
Greyjoy are far from the only ones who can get benefits from Nymeria though. A Night’s Watch Wall deck can use her to prevent those unopposed challenges from sneaking through, and the other Martell cards mentioned above are also ideal for warding off too many incoming challenges.
Blood is Thicker than Water
Aside from Banner of the Sun, it’s also worth considering how Nymeria impacts decks which use Martell as their main faction. The Bastard daughter can potentially be a bit more powerful in decks with the Red Viper, but that does require running The Red Viper… Whilst a 7-Strength tricon is nothing to be sneezed at, he essentially has a very weak imitation of renown and no other ability to speak of.
A Martell Fealty / no agenda deck has been receiving gradual boosts – their loyal plot, “The Long Plan” is a good way of building up your forces, and combines with cards like the new event “In Doran’s Name” to turn things in your favour the further through the game you get. Whilst its status as a loyal Martell card has limited its table time, it’s still important to keep in mind that Ghaston Grey is one of the most powerful locations in the game, and it can certainly make opponents think twice when attacking you.
I built a Martell fealty deck a few weeks ago when chapter packs two and three landed within a short space of each other, but have been too ill to make it to much playtesting: chances are that by the time I do manage to get a decent number of games in, the meta will have moved on, but I still look forward to exploring what Sand-Snakey fun there is to be had,
After a long period with a fairly static card-pool, it feels like we got a sudden flood of new content, with the third chapter pack following hard on the heels of the second, and the Stark big-box due soon. It hasn’t just been Martell who’ve had new toys, and it remains to be seen how they will hold up against the other powers out there.
Our FLGS had its Store Championship a few weeks ago – unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it, and I was surprised at the spread – the top 8 contained only a single Banner of the Sun, and no Martell main decks. Lannister followed by Targaryan and Tyrrell were still by far the most popular. After a few quiet weeks, I’m hoping to get back into the shop soon to play a few games, and look forward to unleashing the wrath of Dorne- stay tuned to see whether it works!