Song of Ice and Fire Faction Focus: House Greyjoy Tactics

This week we’re returning to the Song of Ice and Fire Miniatures game and looking at the forces of House Greyjoy.

The forces of House Greyjoy are, mechanically, a Vampire Counts army.

The design all clicks together once you realize this. The true way to build lists registers once you can see the shadows on the wall. What Is Dead May Never Die is their battlecry and it should be yours. I even went so far as to paint my House Greyjoy miniatures with pale flesh and bloody mouths to lean into this theme.

However, right now the faction is inflexible. It has no cavalry, no war machines, and synergizes badly with mercenaries. There is in my mind a very clear Best List, which in my opinion the strongest list in the entire game, a range of very interesting variations on that list, and then a number of trap options that look tempting in theory but will fall apart in competitive play. It’s an awkward state for the faction to be in which I believe will totally turn around when they finally release the damn ballista.

Let’s dive in.


The Tactics Deck

This is one of the best tactics decks in the game – not quite Free Folk level but every card has power in every game. It is also extremely focused on healing. This lends itself to a more elite, heavily armoured playstyle – healing a 9 point kitted out deathstar is always far more impactful than putting some wounds back on Raiders with a 5+ save.

We Do Not Sow is crushingly good; Assault Orders with a potential 3 point heal attached. It plays in perfectly to the rhythm of you claim the swords, your opponent claims the bags, and now you’re going to attack again but even better. When you do make that attack, The Kraken’s Wrath will give you precision and vulnerable – but you actually usually want it in the other configuration, where they have the swords and you have the bags. Greyjoys will drown their opponents in vulnerable tokens, panic is more rare. What Is Dead May Never Die is the panic button, keeping a unit alive at a critical moment which can safeguard you against the burst damage that can render a unit too dead to heal.

The Iron Price is extremely powerful, one of the most versatile cards in the deck, to the point where it exerts significant pressure to build around it. Most often it’s just an instant 4 point heal at a critical moment, and that’s huge for any tactics card, but what it wants from you is to reduce the number of your units that actually have the Pillage mechanic. Blacktyde Chosen and Ironborn Bowmen are such mainstays in Greyjoy lists because they reduce the number of units demanding a cut of the Pillage. Finger Dance is a joy of a card, especially on Ironborn Bowmen who become genuinely menacing if they get it early.

Some people think Raiding Call is worth playing on round one, even if there is no healing to be done, just to get another pillage token on the board. It’s also another fantastic use for Ironborn Bowmen, serving as a healing battery for better units. Bless With Stone, Bless With Steel is your last, delightful healing card – 2-4 wounds and 2 condition tokens, though more likely 3 and 1. Just keep in mind the timing is very restrictive – it has to be when the unit activates, so you can’t do it when they attack off of the swords.

So let’s put this together. At the beginning of turn two you have Bless With Stone, Bless With Steel, Raiding Call, The Iron Price, We Do Not Sow and What Is Dead May Never Die in hand. This means that you can put a theoretical maximum of 14 points of healing through your units without going out of your way. As a baseline. This number goes up if you have Drowned Men, or Wendamyr, or Asha is your commander… and on the off chance that somebody bursts down a key unit then What Is Dead May Never Die will keep them standing while you pour even more healing into them.

This is the core of what it means to play House Greyjoy. It’s so good. It’s the feeling of pouring endless necromantic healing into your skeleton legions; of keeping your soldiers on the brink of death but never dead, and always on the verge of surging back.


Everything in House Greyjoy begins with Asha. She will, in one form or another, be in every list. She’s one of the best characters in the game and defines the faction.

As a Commander, Asha is probably the strongest choice in the faction. House Greyjoy has terrible morale, and now they don’t. It’s an enormous increase in durability in an already durable and healing-oriented faction – and speaking of, she has another 4-point heal card. Raider Bravery is just okay – it can wind up as 1-5 extra dice over the course of a game. War Cry is much more awkward as a card than an Order, given that you have to use it when the unit activates – meaning you’re unlikely to be able to use it on turn one. Definitely useful as a one point heal on Blacktyde Chosen with Dauntless.

If Asha isn’t your commander, she’s here as the one point Captain of the Black Wind. There’s no better thing to spend your point on in the game – Warcry and +2 morale to Ironmakers turns them into absolute bricks, offensively and defensively. As the two point Lady Greyjoy her chief sin is not being Captain of the Black Wind – Gang Up and Sentinel are an amazing combination, but Captain Asha is your only path to getting a unit with a decent morale stat in faction and so that has to take priority. Speaking of morale, the Would Be Queen again suffers the main problem of not being Captain Asha. This is a good Influence, essentially a mobile version of Captain Asha’s effect, but the timing and rhythm is very awkward when you’re accounting for getting your other great influence abilities on the board, and when you might be looking to spend pillage tokens unexpectedly to heal with the Iron Price.

Baelor Blacktyde is the Hardened Commander, and for many of you that’s all you need to know. Hardened is one of the best Abilities in the game, especially with all of Baelor’s cards that work alongside it. Between Hardened, What is Dead, and To The Last it might just be impossible to take Baelor off the board – and it might be simply not worth it to attack him. Baelor operating on one wound with maximum powered Lash Out and Blacktyde Resentment is fearsome, and Blacktyde Conviction helps ensure To The Last never fails to trigger. The only problem with him is that he’s the guy who becomes most survivable when almost dead, which can trick you into not squeezing every drop of healing out of the faction that you can. Don’t fall for it. Keep the taps open.

As the Captain of the Nightflyer he is embarrassing garbage.

Balon Greyjoy presents another high quality healing vector – Fuelled by Slaughter is lovely especially when you’ve got We Do Not Sow in the base deck, potentially healing you 6 points off a single attack if you use them together. He also offers a different approach to panic management than Asha – rather than having a centerpiece rallying point, you elect a unit to be the whipping boys with Acceptable Sacrifice. This unit should be the Drowned Men, who will already be hanging out backfield in short range of as many units as possible, and also can only take a maximum of 1 wound from failed panic checks. Price of Failure is fine; damaging yourself is fine if you’re just going to put those wounds back with Fuelled by Slaughter. The Old Way is fine, another neat morale trick, or re-rolls in a faction without easy access to them.

As The King of Salt and Rock he’s the ultimate safeguard against an unexpected blowout – he can just straight up bring a unit back from the dead, exactly as you left it. This is a gamewinner in some situations… and curiously useless in others. See, to do it, you’ve got to have A) A destroyed unit B) Balon available to activate and C) a turn to spare. If a unit is destroyed on turn 2, which is already unlikely, and Balon is already on the board, he brings it back on turn 3, and it doesn’t get to activate again until turn 4. By turn 4 the game is quite possibly decided. If that sequence starts on turn 3 his unit might get its next activation on turn 5. Potentially invaluable against blowout units like lance cavalry or Mag the Mighty, but a finicky thing to get the timing right for. Best in area control scenarios.

Dagmer Cleftjaw is the Coordination Tactics guy, and he’s so much the coordination tactics guy that Knowledge Paid in Iron is the ‘use Coordination Tactics again’ card. See, the thing about Coordination Tactics that you might not realize at first, is that Captain Asha and Qarl Asha’s Champion can both be put in the same unit of Blacktyde Chosen. This means that when you use Coordination Tactics you can have that unit transfer the following abilities:

– War Cry (on a 5+)

– Martial Training

– Expert Duelist

– Divide the Spoils (which double dips on Pillage, because the unit also gets Pillage from having it natively!)

Put this into a unit that Dagmer is engaging with Gang Up and you’ll get a blowout the likes of which normally only Free Folk see. It’s wildly powerful. Lust for Glory is also a good way to safeguard a unit of Ironmakers after they use Iron Price to heal themselves up.

As Captain of the Foamdrinker, Dagmer brings Battle Scars which is amazing on durable, healing Greyjoy units. Sundering, Vicious and rerolls are all hard to get from other sources in Greyjoys so he can get the full benefit of each of them.

Erik Ironmaker is, at last, the commander we can comfortably disregard. He’s garbage. As an attachment he gives a single pillage token and the ability to move pillage tokens around. How you’re meant to use that is have a unit of trappers with Euon Greyjoy and steal their two free pillage tokens to put on valuable frontline units. What Erik’s problem is, though, is that all of his cards spend pillage tokens. Budgeting that out:

– 2 pillage tokens per combat unit for their full effects, say 3 combat units, 6 points

– 4 points on max Iron Price spends

– 2 points on Iron’s Endurance Spends

– 4 points on Steel’s Might spends

– 2 points on Gold’s Allure spends

What this means is that you now need to go through 20 pillage tokens over the course of the game to use all of those cards at their maximum effect! That’s not possible, that’s twice as many as a normal list expects to use. You won’t have the tokens. They won’t be where they need to be. Your units will perpetually be on their weakest profiles because they have no pillage tokens. The mechanic is overstressed to breaking point.

Instead, just take Erik as the Just NCU profile. He’ll put two pillage tokens where they need to be before the lines meet and maybe more if your opponent is in the habit of claiming the bags. A normal list expects to go through 10 pillage tokens and he is 20-30% of that requirement by himself.

Euon Greyjoy is not bad. It is only what he represents that is bad.

On his own he’s a fascinating control commander, able to reliably disable an enemy unit, reallocate useless Drowned Men actions into complex maneuvers, shove your opponent off claiming the Swords on a critical turn and steal your opponents tactics cards what!?!? All this stuff is extremely good and useful on it’s own merits. The problem comes when, upon looking at Euon, you think that Intimidating Presence means you need to build a panic bomb list around him. You don’t, he’s not good at it, Greyjoys aren’t good at it, just run him as an ordinary highly spooky man.

As the Crow’s Eye he is destined for a unit of Trappers – something that can hang out on the fringes of the fight or an objective throwing distance condition tokens. He’s probably at his best under Commander Dagmer who has a useful thing to do with those two low value pillage tokens with Knowledge Paid In Iron rather than pulling them off precious Ironmakers.

Theon Greyjoy is our second total miss. He’s bad as an attachment, his cards are bad. Just nothing going for him. Skip. As the Kinslayer though he’s a serious contender – put him in a unit of Raiders and he elegantly solves their durability problems, letting you slam out 11 inch charges and then retreat for the maximum distance knowing you can reliably make that same charge again next turn. This is beyond the ability of some slower infantry to deal with, depending how the dice fall, while the raiders hit like trucks each time they make contact.

Finally, Victarion Greyjoy is the Gregor Clegane or Greatjon Umber of his faction, the angriest man of all. Overrun is a powerful order to have on a man who might be attacking, what, four times a turn between Assault Orders and We Do Not Sow. Indeed, Victarion can be such a buzzsaw with his zone replace cards that he’s definitely a 3-NCU commander. All his cards support getting there fast and murdering the hell out whatever he got at. Even better with Nute letting you threaten the buzzsaw in two different locations depending on how the table works out.

As Master of the Iron Victory I am concerned he’s a bit of a trap. The mobility is really nice on a faction as slow as House Greyjoy, but given the price tag you’ll likely want to put him in something cheap and fragile which will die as a cheap, fragile Greyjoy unit is wont to do. You might only get one extra attack or two out of him the whole game. I favour a more sustained strategy than what he calls for.

Moqorro as the Slave of R’hllor is an interesting two point attachment; that’s another source of healing and it works nicely with Incite letting him get the most out of a unit he’s drained for healing. The reason I don’t rate him is that House Greyjoy has Raiding Call in the base deck, meaning they can already harvest a backline unit for bodies. As The Black Flame he is not good at all.

Qarl is fantastic. Expert duelist is a great rule letting him win grinding matchups against comparable superheavy deathstars. As the Maid he naturally synergizes with Blacktyde Chosen, pushing Dauntless to be online 100% of the time in a dark echo of Barristan Selmy in the Warrior’s Sons.

Reaver Captain, Warsworn and Drowned Prophets: Not worth it. The Greyjoy attachment bench is so amazing that there’s no space for these guys.

House Greyjoy NCUs

There are some absolute rockstars here, and we’ve already talked about some, but we need to talk about Beron Blacktyde before anything else. He’s Resilience on demand and he will be the first unit that activates every turn (and the primary target for any anti-NCU abilities). There is nothing quite like this – turning a 10-wound cavalry lance charge into 5 wounds, which you then immediately heal 4 points of, is a level of durability that can’t be cracked without sustained effort. It’s impossible to overstate how good he is. I’d take him at 6 points without blinking an eye.

Wendamyr is the second best NCU in the faction, though he’s at his best as the third NCU where he competes directly against a unit of Drowned Men. He lets you bank mediocre tactics zones for later and is one of the only ways to enhance mobility of a very slow faction. Oh, and he’s another source of healing, and one with extremely permissive timing and range.

Tristifer Botley is your man if you’re in a meta where 3 NCUs is the standard. Against a 3 NCU list he forces a dead activation on your choice of turn, and is worth four condition tokens on top of that. Against two NCUs he’s much less powerful so only bring him if you know what you’re up against.

Rodrik Harlaw is a way to mill your tactics cards for the right things, but I’ve never felt for his lack. The Greyjoy deck is so roundly good that I find I rarely have a hand full of things I can’t use.

Aeron Greyjoy is Victarion’s boy. Victation will be hacking away with 3-4 activations on a turn when he pops off and this is worth a wound of healing each time that happens. He’s also got a neat little synergy with Theon – you use Theon’s auto 6 inch charge, take 1d3 wounds, heal one wound from Aeron (the charge action) and then heal him again (the retreat action). This makes Reckless Heroism essentially free, or if you don’t need all the distance, a two wound heal per activation.


Most of the time your NCUs will be Beron and Erik. It might become Beron and Trisfiter, Beron, Erik and Wendamyr or Beron, Erik and Aeron depending on circumstances.

Combat Units

Drowned Men

These are essentially a corpse cart, hanging out just behind the front line doing buffs; an NCU that walks like a unit. As a utility piece they’re extremely good. Not only is the reliable 2 point healing every turn just money in the bank but they make an extremely good mobile reserve piece. If cavalry tries to slink around the side of your big solid infantry line they can countercharge it and be shockingly difficult to put down. Most units roll 7 dice when they attack which cannot do the 8 wounds necessary to one-shot the Resilient Drowned Men. Even with just their own healing they can tarpit way above their weight.

Ironborn Bowmen

Take these in every list without hesitation. Four points for a ranged unit, even the worst ranged unit, is nothing. You can threaten the table early with ranged pressure, the swords zone is always live, and you never need to live in fear of advancing into enemy archers you can’t claim the swords away from. Maybe they’ll get lucky, the enemy will fail a panic check, and you’ll have an early extra pillage token. Later they can be recycled for bodies with Raiding Call.

Ironborn Trappers

These are the grim combination of unbelievably flimsy and giving up victory points on death. They are useful especially at the four point price tag, I can’t begrudge you taking them, especially as a place for Euon. But there’s a lot of stiff competition for the four point slot.

Ironborn Reavers

With 5+ saves and 7+ morale these guys crumple like wet cardboard. They can’t take a hit and if you are tempted to build an army out of them you’ll find you just get crushed on the counterswing. Healing doesn’t save them either, it’s inefficient to heal something so fragile and they’ll tap your resources too quickly. If you bring one it’s as a hammer unit to go alongside your heavy infantry anvil.

House Harlaw Reapers

The same durability as Raiders and barely more threatening, there just isn’t any kind of use case for these guys right now. The infrastructure to run a panic list just isn’t here in the faction’s current incarnation. Maybe one unit, lead by Euon, but no more than that.

Blacktyde Chosen

An essential unit. Firstly, it cuts down on the number of units that are hungry for pillage tokens. Secondly, with Qarl the Maid and Beron Blacktyde as support they can be rendered, for all practical purposes, invincible. Lance cav can go into the flank and do no damage that can’t be immediately healed. The math on durability gets weird when the expected enemy damage from making attacks is a negative number.


The backbone of your force, most lists I write are anchored around two units of Ironmakers. They hit reasonably hard, can quickly get 2+ saves, and are the perfect targets for all the House Greyjoy healing. If you’re not playing with Asha as a commander blanket the field ahead of the Ironmakers with Wyrdwood trees because that 7+ morale will more than double the damage they take much of the time.

Silenced Men

Maybe. Definitely with Baelor Blacktyde. If you’re using them keep them nestled in the centre of your formation where they can affect the maximum number of enemies and can’t be ganged up on. A lot of things will go through 5+ save infantry like they aren’t even there, so keep in mind that you are taking them for the aura – they do not have the survivability of a 7 point unit.

Putting It Together

This is one of the strongest lists I’ve ever played:

– Ironmakers with Asha Commander

– Ironmakers

– Blacktyde Chosen with Qarl the Maid

– Ironborn Bowmen

– Drowned Men

– Beron Blacktye

– Erik Ironmaker

For deployment, place Qarl in the centre, then Asha next to him, and then the other Ironmakers next to Asha. The Drowned Men sit a little behind the line, the Bowmen are your final drop positioned on either the left or right flank of the line depending on what the best target is.

From there this represents the high water mark of Greyjoy invincibility. Getting the two Ironmakers up to 3+ saves can be done before the lines clash with Erik, and from there they’ll power up to their 2+ saves very quickly. Only two things wanting pillage token and two other things sharing Pillage tokens makes it very easy to keep both Ironmakers at full power even if you spend their tokens out with The Iron Price. Beron’s influence usually stays on Qarl’s Blacktyde – with it, they can engage 3 units simultaneously and not die. The Ironmakers, with support from the Drowned Men and a steady flow of Greyjoy healing cards, will stand up to anything they’re in contact with. If someone tries to slip around into your rear the Drowned Men acting as a mobile reserve can body block or countercharge. If your opponent abandons a flank you can redeploy the Drowned Men or Archers as an objective holder as your line wheels to match.  Anything short of a giant or a dragon will bounce off this to no effect. I call it the Crab.

The antithesis to the Crab is what I call ‘t-shirt Greyjoys’ – a wide, fragile front of guys with 5+ saves and 7+ morale. This is like playing Free Folk except all your units give up victory points when they die – attempts to do morale shock Greyjoys fit into this category. With the Crab your healing can often outpace the enemy’s damage, but without that durable core you’ll just evaporate. There’s no ability to do fancy movement tricks and mercenary cavalry does not work well with Greyjoy pillage mechanics. I’ve written a dozen lists I like and all of them are recognizably variations on the Crab.

But there are a lot of variations. You can only swap one or two variables at a time but they all produce a hugely different experience. Some examples:

– Replacing Asha Commander with Dagmer Cleftjaw, and putting Captain Asha and Qarl in the Blacktyde. The idea is to leverage Coordination Tactics to transfer warcry, expert duelist, and martial training to make the ironmakers or even the Drowned Men unexpectedly hit like trucks.

– Replacing the Drowned Men with Wendamyr

– Replacing the empty Ironmakers with Theon Greyjoy in Raiders

– Replacing Asha’s Ironmakers with Balon Blacktyde in Silenced Men

… And so on. The core of the Crab is so powerful and leverages so many of the faction’s strengths that you can swap out any one of its components, or use any commander and still get something powerful and more tailored to your specific style and preferences. I do not think anything quite has the raw power of Asha as Commander putting all those Ironmakers on 5+ morale but even if you don’t take her as your Commander you’ll almost certainly be bringing her anyway.

Be cautioned, however, that Beron Blacktyde is an absolute hinge for this list. If you’re up against an opponent who can shut down a NCU then you’re going to be in a lot of trouble. It can be managed, just play much more cautiously if you’re against House Lannister or Oleanna.

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