It has been a few months since the update for A Song of Ice and Fire was launched bringing us into Season 3. This is plenty of time for the rules to settle and for everyone who plays to know the state of the game as it stands. I want to highlight some of the positives and negatives of the game whilst giving some ideas for solutions in the next update.
This Article’s Purpose
The point of this review is to decide whether this was a substantial update for what the community wanted, needed, and deserved, but also analyse whether the developers achieved what they set out to do; launch an update to the game focused on Commanders.
When it comes to an update, the main aim is to balance the game whilst refreshing the factions to maintain retention. Bringing Mance Rayder down from his podium is an example of balance, and updating the Tactics Deck of the Neutrals whilst editing the points values of NCUs opened the door to new list designs or playstyles for the force.
This update set up expectations for Commanders of all kinds to receive attention, whilst reworking the Greyjoy Faction. A lot of hopes from the community was around the nerf of Night’s Watch, Commander rework of Targaryens, and Martells first proper update.
Before the update Starks were showing signs of dwindling to the bottom of the pact and were only spared from this fate by the incredibly dysfunctional Neutrals and Greyjoys. On the update’s arrival, Starks looked to have received a lot of changes but none that will leave a lasting impact. Post update we can see that they are swiftly becoming the worst Faction in the game but still at the same level they were before which lightens the doom and gloom upon the Northmen. Instead, the worse factions have risen above Starks rather than any Faction dropping. There is an outlier with the Boltons though. So why is this the case?
There aren’t too many changes for the Stark Faction that were relevant. The Commanders were diverse before the update and have remained in this state. However, most of the Commanders that saw the biggest changes are still not being taken as often due to them not competing with the best Starks have to offer. Whilst this is a negative, Commanders are not the area Starks are suffering in the most and thus an update focused around improving Commanders will have little effect on improving the Faction as a whole. Although in casual play having the better lesser-known Commanders with better tools makes for a diverse and enjoyable experience.
In the next update the developers need to focus on the combat Units of the Stark Faction to allow various corners of the North to shine. Umber Units are a joke, and with the Umber Ravagers around the corner, they should be the highest priority. But Mormonts and Karstarks should follow this since their Units are being picked the least after Umbers.
The NCU and Unit changes have not been too impactful. Tully Cavaliers are stronger which has incentivised players to double down on the powerful Unit. Do check out the recent Rotterdam White Scars video on YouTube where someone brought three of them! Crannogmen Trackers have gone down in value after their changes which is the next impactful change. However, the NCUs and other Units are small tweaks that change nothing.
Bottom of the Barrel
In events Starks have some of the lowest win rates overall with specific Commanders and Lists performing well until they arrive at one of the meta picks in which they tend to fall short. In the recent Polish Nationals Event, Starks walked away with one of the lowest win percentages of the entire tournament. Although Neutrals and Boltons had worse stats, Starks had almost four times more games played than both. This was repeated at the largest UK Event, with Starks having an even worse win percentage. With that, are Starks the worst Faction?
The update to Starks has had very little impact on the faction and the game, however this is not the update built for them since it focused on the Commanders of the game. The developers need to update the Units of Starks in the next update to save them from their destined performance.
Lannisters before this update were doing very well, although this was from the Faction being propped up by Addam Marbrand and Kevin Lannister. Outside of these brand-new additions, Lannisters were suffering and mainly in their base Tactics Deck and Commander toolset. On the update’s launch, the Lannister received an incredible change to their roster. The Tactics Deck was mountains better, with Commanders like the Mountain shining. Even Units like the Lannisport City Watch and Clegane Mountains Men looked to be in a better state. Post update though, Kevin remains the focus point of the faction, but Gregor has taken the next spotlight, whilst other Commanders are better, they are overshadowed. Overall, though, they are looking like the best Faction in the game.
Lannisters have had some stellar performances in this update across some big events, even winning the invitational at the LGT. Being the most picked and played faction with a decent win rate no matter what you bring is a perfect place a faction should be in. The base deck changes played a huge role in fixing this as well as improving the Commanders. CMON did achieve what they set out to do here and should be celebrated for that.
Players bringing Tyrion, Addam, or Tywin are performing well even though they aren’t the best, so a diverse Commander list has arrived for the forces of the Westerlands. The popular NCUs got better with Pycelle having a choice over Tokens, and Cersei gaining more value due to the cards she manipulates. On the other side of the coin though, some aspects are falling behind but these are small corners of the Faction and overall internal balance here is something CMON should aspire to achieve across all the players.
Gregor – Kevan Dominance
I love that Gregor Clegane’s rework has catapulted him into the meta, especially without truly needing the Golden Company Swordsman to back him up although they are useful especially if they gain the Clegane Affiliation. Kevan has been around for a while but isn’t overbearing since before this update the win rate looked to be balanced at events like the Always Winter GT. But do Lannisters need a nerf already?
Golden Company Swordsman must be nerfed, or it will kill the game. Because of this, Lannisport City Watch may see an indirect hit to their capabilities and both Units falling will damage Gregor’s position as one of the best Commanders for the Lannisters and in the game. He would need an aggressive combat Unit to replace them that the Lannisters don’t really have. I think it can all still work out for the Mountain however as the fate of Adaptive Style is not tied to that of Gregor.
Kevan might be a different story with how often he is now being taken. I don’t think this is down to the power of Kevan but more down to the power of range Units currently being able to keep some distance and adding roadblocks to help. Kevan can buff Crossbowmen quite significantly though and as with several Commanders in history, if they give free actions then they will be quite good.
I don’t think either Commander needs to change, but rather each other Faction needs to be brought to their level. But time will tell if this is truly the case. CMON has nailed it here for the Lannisters and more of this should be encouraged.
Neutrals were considered to not be a Faction by many before this update. The lack of options for Commanders and NCUs limited their capabilities whilst what they had access to did not keep up with the toolset of the rest of the game. On the update’s launch, Neutrals were now seen as a Faction to slight reworks in points and abilities but mainly due to the overhauling of their Tactics Deck. Post update, they are doing better than ever whilst winning the struggle against the Bolton Faction easily. However, the future is both gloomy and uplifting, Heroes 3 is round the corner with new additions to the roster, but Varys, Petyr, and Golden Company all need nerfs to prevent them from showing up in every list that can possibly bring them. It’s going to be a wild ride for the mercs.
Better than Boltons
On the build up to the release of the Bolton Mini-Faction, I truly thought the Neutral Faction would be dead. Why would you ever play Neutral Boltons when a whole faction has been designed for their playstyle in mind? Brand new Tactics Cards, Units, Characters, Synergies, all while having the best of the Neutral world.
Neutrals are not allowed, the Tactics Deck follows similar pitfalls of the old Baratheon Deck, and the restrictions on synergies forcing you into specific playstyles and combinations. I will speak more about Boltons specifically in another article however with them being so bad, Neutrals has survived the release and are doing better than ever.
Vargo has become a firm favourite it seems since his update alongside the Zorse Rider changes as well. Neutrals feel like a Faction for once which is quite uplifting for the game. The change that has had the most impact as the point changes to the NCUs allowing a better selection of 4pts NCUs for your lists to play with. Neutral Heroes 3 will have a big impact bringing a new Stormcrow Commander and a new NCU plus a new Neutral Unit is on the way in the Stone Crows. This is the faction that has come out the best from the update.
Golden Company Swordsmen
The biggest mistake of the game’s history is the developers not reworking the Golden Company Swordsmen as soon as possible before the big events. The biggest 2023 events and Season 3 will always be remembered as that time everyone brought the same Unit in a game known for being able to do well with anything. It hurts more to know the community must suffer this assassination on creativity for at least another 4 months whilst internal balance is depleted in multiple factions.
This has happened before with ASOIAF as Flayed Men still show up wherever they outperform other Units in the factions. But it also happens in other games. Age of Sigmar had Gortrek and the new giants which were the best point for point damage dealers that players had access to, so it became redundant to think of other options.
40k had this with the triple Riptide Formations in 7th Edition, and the Castellan Soup Lists in 8th Edition, where everyone would bring these chosen Units as best, they could and were the most efficient and kill the opponent for their points.
Every tabletop game has had an issue like this that has plagued their respective games with developers taking their time to amend the miscalculated move. This results in the meta changing and flavour being rejected by players. All factions blend into one rule; who can buff the meta-Unit the most?
Causal players speak about not playing Units like the Golden Company Swordsmen in a similar conversation from players feelings on the Eldar in 7th Edition 40k. It is a real bad moment to not be able to play something you have put time and effort into since it will lead to a negative experience for both players. CMON needs to change the Unit immediately, the sooner the better for the health of the game.
EDIT: New Update
We held off on posting this article as we learned something was incoming from CMON on Golden Company Swordsman, this did indeed become correct with CMON updating the Unit in an emergency update. CMON, hats off to you all, this is the sort of updating that is appreciated and needed in the game to address a problem quickly before it damages too much. Great work in getting this sorted after the Polish Nationals showcased the issue on a grand scale.
The change to the Unit has Sundering and Iron Resolve removed for a new ability Mastercraft Longsword which gives re-rolls to your Melee Attacks. This will result in some factions dropping the Unit for others in Faction alternatives, as an example I don’t believe Starks, Greyjoys, or Targaryens will select this Unit anymore. I do think this is a good change for Gregor Clegane who will be even better in the Swordsmen, or even just in his list, the constant re-rolls can work with Assault Orders if they are bogged down.
It’s a good change that will reduce pick rate for the Unit and reintroduce some diversity to the game. Thank you CMON for working to get this done before a future update in 2024.
Night’s Watch was too much before the update. At the launch of the update, they looked to have garnered favouritism from the developers sprouting a few nerfs that turned out to have little to no effect on the game. Post update however, they are dropping down the ranks due to lower play rate and the desire for experimentation whilst still being very strong especially against the struggling Factions. Imagine playing Boltons against any Night’s Watch list for example.
Out of Sync
Externally and Internally Night’s Watch aren’t sitting right. Whilst Jeor Mormont has seen a great performance with his recent changes, most other unseen Units and Commanders remain behind The Wall. Take Coldhands for an example, he is better than most 5pts Units in the game when looking at his stats, and then you can continuously bring him back. Why spend 5pts on anything else? This is a theme with so many aspects of the roster like Qhorin and Rangers. Golden Company Swordsmen aren’t taken that often in Night’s Watch as they are on the same level as many of the Night’s Watch Units but cannot take on quite a few of their buffs.
Internally the Faction is stuck until reworks or nerfs. Externally however this seems to be shifting with Night’s Watch players becoming bored of the same style of play. I am seeing less, and less Jon Snow lists and more Cotter Pykes, Benjen Starks, and Cotter Pykes. The players want to change things up and find new ways to enjoy their game and are thus looking for more complex ways to achieve this than the spoonfed wins from Jon.
However, CMON did not make this update to rebalance everything about Night’s Watch, rather improve the Commanders. They did achieve this for the most part here however did not take the time to reduce the power of the better Commanders which has left a shadow over the rest. A rework to some of the better ones will allow the others to shine.
Before the update, Mag the Mighty, Rattleshirt and Varamyr Sixskins were the leading Commanders of the Free Folk after Mance’s retreat. A lot of people were bringing Mag lists largely because of how different it was to play almost akin to playing pure Super Heavies in Warhammer 40K. The other Commanders were the best choices for the horde mode style of play with the high activations style falling on Varamyr’s shoulders.
On the launch of the update, the perception of Free Folk plummeted due to the removal of Insignificant from Units. This is a huge deal for scoring with Free Folk and can result in closer games. I think it even opened the door for a reimagining of list building knowing you can’t just throw Units away. Post update, the faction has remained steadily quiet and obscure, perhaps due to them not being able to take Neutrals.
I don’t have too many insights on Free Folk due to them being a rare force for me to play, and without much commotion surrounding the Faction I am unsure what truly is their state now. Mickey from Tourney Ground on YouTube is a Free Folk main and has still been performing very well with the Wildlings, I am sure he can answer any questions on them during any of his streams on Mondays.
Baratheons are one of the better Factions in the game with both sides of the loyalties having some good competitive choices. There may be a point of stating they are becoming stale due to the same aspects being the best way to play. During the releases of the update, Stannis fans began to weep after the nerfs to the Mel/Jaqen Bombs and slight tweaking of Axell Commander, but Renly supporters saw some well needed changes. Post updated, I think Baratheons are remaining strong but are struggling in certain aspects.
Experimenting has been Refreshing
I have had a lot of fun trying to find new ways to do well with Baratheons and recently saw some great success with thinking outside of the box when it came to Davos and Stannis King lists. I do believe this is the time for Stannis fans to experiment and try new things with their roster, but they are struggling to remain relevant especially when the Renly side is so much better.
Every aspect of Renly loyalty seems more enjoyable and competitive at the same time. The best NCUs Baratheons have are on Renly’s side, along with some of the better Commanders. Eldon remains a shining glory of attrition, whilst the different Renlys are being picked. I do also want to mention that Cortney Penrose is a very good Commander and should be considered even though you lose out on an amazing NCU at that point.
You are truly spoilt for choice when it comes to Renly mostly due to having access to the best Units in the game from the Neutral Faction. Golden Company Crossbowmen have become a firm favourite since there is a lack of Long Range available, but adding further powerful NCUs is the cherry on top.
At events Baratheons are sporting a just below middle of the road win rate being just slightly ahead of Starks. Perhaps the same old tricks are becoming predictable whilst being heavily relied upon resulting in their drift down the food chain. I do believe CMON did a good job with almost all the Commanders Baratheons have, but they might need a little more love going forward.
Before the update Targaryens have had a muddled Faction identity since they are made up of a random assortment of forces that struggle to synergise together. Each Unit plays a specific role with a union of all these tools being the ideal way to play, however focusing on one aspect is beneficial and changes the feel of the Faction. The problem is this is hard to then convey in a specific identity when it comes to the Base Tactics Deck. Daenerys has been the leading figurehead of the Faction in multiple forms whilst Drogo has been the biggest hitter in the game for a while. On the launch of the update, Targaryens changed in few ways with a handful of specific changes being notable. Post update, the Faction isn’t fixed yet and perhaps a Commander focused update should have been the time for it, however it is looking more and more like a rework than anything else.
The Slight Change
Losing Solo Jorah is tough, at least Scout Openings is pretty good to keep him in a place of thought though. Brazen Beasts saw a change to make them much better and quite playable if you leant into an infantry playstyle, I would love to see a mass infantry list with Pit Fighters in there. The two Dothraki Units saw slight tweaks, but they struggle to compare to the Neutral cavalry, I would bring some Zorse Riders over any day.
The slight changes are nice but not impactful, and this is felt the most with Commanders. There isn’t a big enough change to make Selmy remarkable, or Belwas interesting. I do believe it is a Base Deck rework that is needed and to lean into an Affiliation style of play. Take Starks as an example, they work as a Faction but also making a whole Reed list or Umber list can work and plays differently.
This was a swing and a miss by CMON, but I do believe it was intentional since they need a lot more work and time to find the right way to place them. On top of that, Drogo and Dany are still quite good and bring different stuff to the table with Drogo wanting some cavalry and Dany wanting some long-lasting Units. Perhaps next time.
Greyjoys were in a bad way, and I believe that they are still in a bad way but with one way they can be competitive. Pillage is pretty pointless and still is to this day, anything that requires you to get to combat, and kill a specific number of models to get a minor buff is the worst rules in the game by default. Whilst there are some interesting rules with Pillage in there it needs more time to test out and realign as it is inconsistent in its value across the Faction as even Tactics Cards are worse off. On launch of the update, it was all doom and gloom as players were expecting masses of buffs and changes that make them feel better to play but were instead met with wave after wave of nerfs and shocking buffs to others. Post update, there are very specific aspects that push Greyjoys to being meta, but anything outside of this is fatal to the performance.
Performance at Events
A Greyjoy player did end up winning the biggest ASOIAF event to date at the Polish Nationals. The community perception surrounding this achievement spoke about how people were wrong to voice their complaints on how Greyjoys were even worse now due to so many nerfs. Greyjoys are considered a good Faction with little to no issues because they won an event and are doing well on the leaderboard on ASOIAF-Stats. However, when you look closely at the lists for Greyjoys you can see that there is an obvious pattern that proves they are in a dire place, and this burst of positivity will be short-lived.
Internal Balance Mess
Silenced Men, GCS, and Drowned Men are the Units repeated in almost all the lists, with room being made for some other Units if they can. NCUs like Balon Greyjoy, Moqorro, Varys, and Petyr Baelish are featured quite often as well. Any attempt to go outside of the usual suspects doesn’t bear the same fruit however Harlaw Reapers and Ironmakers have shown up a few times performing quite well in the shadow of the Silenced Men.
Once the players become bored of playing the exact same list repeatedly, they will try to experiment but will hit a brick wall as the rest of the faction is in a dire state. Thus, the internal balance of the Greyjoys is incredibly bad because of the overturning of the Silenced Men and the mass nerfs of the rest of the faction.
It is interesting however that Commanders selected does not seem to matter too much for the Greyjoys as there is a good variance between several such as Victarion, Erik Ironmaker, Asha, and Baelor. Since CMON said this update was focusing on Commanders then they succeeded here, however it was also the update for the Greyjoy rework which is far from a reasonable place.
The newest kid on the block, Martells have managed to reach the top of the mountain and remain there for quite some time. Their power comes from Tactics Cards and NCUs with their Units taking a backseat until called upon. Harmen Uller was the baddest man in town for a long while until this update changed it all. Harmen is no longer the favourite but is still present as a good choice for the faction. It is nice to see the new released Commanders taking the spotlight with Daemon Sand being the favourite, but also it seems the changes have allowed Oberyn Martell to step up to the mantle.
Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
It is interesting that the faction was doing really well with Uller, and a slight change brought him down a notch, but they still remain strong with a lot of diversity in Commander, NCU, and Unit choice. We do need to applaud CMON for keeping them on a steady path of relevance rather than nerfing them into obscurity. The only true problems Martells have is their flavour pool isn’t as vibrant with some of the better rules being universal rather than unique. The other issue is FAQs, some of the wording needs to be looked at to avoid players explaining how something works over and over, it is something that is more a teething issue with new Factions but should be much considered for the next update.
With them being still so new, I am unsure if I have covered everything notable for Martells as the UK doesn’t have too many players who bring them often enough for me to see them in action. Do discuss anything Martell related in the comments to continue the discussion.
Did CMON achieve a Commander focus update across the game? For the most part they did. Even in dire Factions like Greyjoys or Night’s Watch, there are few problems with Commanders overall making this update a success. However, did the update help the game overall?
No, whilst the majority of the changes were welcomed and worthwhile, the internal balancing is off due to the update not being an all-encompassing change but specific to one area. Factions that didn’t need Commander updates like Starks saw little effective change.
I suspect a future update that touches upon Units, NCUs, and Faction identity will prove to be a piece to the puzzle we are missing. Furthermore, there are new releases to all the forces on their way which could shake up the game in and of itself. This was a good update to some areas of the game but there are still some glaring issues lingering in all corners which CMON have shown with the GCS update are on their mind for improvement.
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