Games of Thrones #2: LCG Chapter Pack!

Night’s Watchmen, I call upon you all to put aside your desire for scraps of news and video and source material for just a moment and revel in a Game of Thrones release of a different sort!  Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) has been putting out their Living Card Game (LCG) for a number of years now, having started with a collectible card game (think Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic: The Gathering) and evolving it into something without a trading card element, but with incredible depth and strategic complexity that far surpasses either of those two vintage standbys.  This week, those amongst us who have been enjoying this game got a new release: The Banners Gather chapter pack!
The FFG game is going to be the subject of a much greater and more in depth series of Games of Thrones posts wherein I will take you all through the rules, strategy and deckbuilding elements of the game, but for now I hope you can forgive an out of order reveal of the cards in the new pack that just hit the stores. 
An LCG is similar to a Trading Card Game, you collect the cards and build a deck out of your collection in advance of a game, then play against one or more opponents seeking some victory condition.  The way that an LCG is different is in the collectability aspect that has frustrated and angered so many players of Magic: The Gathering.  In an LCG, there are no mythic rares, there are no chase uncommons, there are only preconstructed Chapter Packs.  In a Chapter Pack you get three copies (the deckbuilding limit) each of the twenty unique cards that are included in the set.  Everyone gets the same 60 cards, and nobody gets left behind in the lottery.
FFG just began their most recent cycle of Chapter Packs, entitled the Kingsroad.  A cycle is a thematically related set of six chapter packs that are released monthly or bimonthly until the cycle is finished, then there is usually a break of a few months while people digest the new cards and the metagame (Literally: Game within the game. Also: the decks that are played most often and their competitive value for tournament players) settles down.  Earlier this year, we had the Song of the Sea cycle which introduced a new mechanic, as well as 120 cards (20 each in six chapter packs), that have shaken up the Game of Thrones metagame in huge ways.
The Kingsroad cycle has been described as a “Throwback” cycle; the game designers are using these chapter packs to flesh out some old mechanics that were seen once and then abandoned in favour of newer, shinier things. The cycle is set on Westeros (whereas the previous two cycles were set principally on Essos and the Oceans, respectively), and is looking to go back to the basics in order to give players a new way to play with the older parts of their collections.
In this post, I am going to show you the cards and provide you with a short blurb about the card, perhaps something that is interesting about the card, the character/location/event described thereupon, or maybe a way that I would like to use the card to supplement one of my own strategies.  This is not going to be a tournament review of the set, because I am not a tournament grinder who can see all of the tiniest applications of each of these cards.  I just want to give you guys a taste of this really great game that most of you I’m sure don’t know.

First up is:
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Alester Florent is the Lord of Brightwater Keep, he is the uncle of Selyse Baratheon (nee: Florent).  In A Clash of Kings, he serves briefly as Hand of the King for Stannis Baratheon during the Battle of Blackwater Bay.  He acts in the king’s stead following the defeat of the Baratheon army at King’s Landing, while Stannis broods away from his rule.  He attempts to make peace with the Lannisters behind Stannis’ back, and is subsequently imprisoned and ultimately sacrificed to the Red God in order to ensure favourable winds when Stannis sails from Dragonstone in A Storm of Swords.
This card is interesting for a few reasons: it is the first Bannerman card we’ve seen in a while (Bannerman is one of the key themes to this chapter pack), he is a three strength character for three gold, and he has military and power challenge icons.  These on their own don’t really provide a deckbuilder a reason to include this card, there are much better characters for the gold cost in the Baratheon collected armies.  He has no keyword abilities, but he does have a Holy crest, which can give him a bit of synergy with the much larger Asshai theme prevalent in the Baratheons.  His triggered ability is an any phase, but is principally only useful in the Challenges phase.  The ability lets Florent’s controller to discard a card from his o her hand in order to give a targeted character card +3 strength for each Bannerman character the player controls but only during power challenges. 
I’m not really interested in using this card in any of my decks, but one of my friends has an Asshai deck that runs a lot of Holy crests.  Alester Florent might find his way into that deck as a way of giving his characters a bit more punch in the challenge phase, as those characters tend to be lacking in strength in favour of greater synergies.
Our second card is the home of Lord Florent:
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Brightwater Keep is a hold in the reach that was the home of house Florent.  It is located at the top of the Honeywine river to the southeast of Highgarden.  After the battle of Blackwater Bay, the King on the Iron Throne strips house Florent of all lands and titles and grants Brightwater Keep to the second son of Mace Tyrell, Garlan Tyrell which establishes a branch of House Tyrell, of Brightwater Keep. 
This card might be much more interesting than Alester Florent was, as it is a pretty cheap utility location (1 gold, no economic benefits) that provides the controller with the ability to kneel it as a response in order to return a card to his or her hand when it is discarded from the hand.  This can be used in conjunction with Alester Florent (probably why it was designed), in order to use his ability one time without a cost, but most importantly, it allows you to negate the first intrigue challenge you lose each turn.  This can be useful as a rattlesnake location, preventing opponents from initiating intrigue challenges against you, which can protect your valuable resources until you need them.
I’m not sure if this is a card that I will end up using, but the fact that it has multiple usage modalities can help convince me to include it in the place of some other utulity location.
The third card is the first event card in the pack:
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Into the breach is an any phase event card that puts a Baratheon character card into play from your hand for the duration of a phase.  At the end of the phase, you discard the character.  This provides a few really great opportunities for use: you can use it to put an extra attacker or defender into play in order to ambush an opponent, but you can also use it more specifically in order to put into play a character with the naval enhancement that was introduced in the last cycle in order to use it as a combat trick outside of the declaring attackers and declaring defenders segments of the challenge. 
The question is whether or not there are other uses for the card… I can’t really think of any great Baratheon characters that you might want to put into play for a reason other than attacking or defense.  Perhaps The Laughing Storm in order to negate intrigue challenges for a phase?  Using it to put Renly Baratheon into play during the marshalling phase in order to make the rest of your Baratheon characters cheaper this turn?  Like i said, this is a very flexible card that offers a ton of different options!
I find it hard to see it replacing some of the better event cards that are already seeing play in Baratheon decks: the control cards commonly seen in the Asshai decks are pretty vital to those strategies while cards like Narrow Escape or Heart of the Stag are seen in the aggressive rush decks which are already quite tight.  Of the Baratheon cards in this pack, I could see this one seeing the most play from the outset.
Four cards in, and we meet our Greyjoy Bannerman!
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Gorold Goodbrother is a minor lord on the Iron Isles, he is the Lord of Hammerhorn, located on the Great Wyk, who only appears in the fourth and fifth books of the Ice and Fire series.  He notifies Aeron Greyjoy of Balon’s sudden death which resulted in the kingsmoot being called, he shouts his support of Euron Crowseye during the Kingsmoot and he is a participant in the Battle of the Shield Islands.
Three strength, Three gold, two challenge icons, Bannerman, Lord.  So far it seems fine, but unexciting.  Let’s hope that triggered ability is a good one to make this guy worth running…
Wow.  Okay.  One of the more common strategies among house Greyjoy players (and a strategy I use commonly myself), is economic and location control, using cards that steal or destroy locations controlled by the opponent in order to slow them down and ultimately grind out victories.  This triggered ability seems like a potentially fantastic piece of that puzzle.  The real issue is that the 3 gold cost slot is pretty full in the Greyjoy household.  But with the recent restriction of Asha Greyjoy (WLL), there is an opportunity for another character to creep in and start seeing play.  I don’t know how this guy will compare with (or compete with) Newly Made Lord or Wintertime Mauraders, but just on his triggered ability alone, this guy is potentially much better than any of the Baratheon cards above!
Fifth card up, I’m sure you will all be surprised that it is:
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Hammerhorn!  The home of house Goodbrother, and the first card in the Chapter Pack that uses the new rule developed for this cycle: “Command”.  Essentially the concept of command is that these cards count the cards in hand, in play and in shadows controlled by all players and compared those totals to determine some effect.  In this case, it causes the player with the most cards at his or her command to draw one fewer card each turn (to a minimum of one, notably).  This continues the trend of Greyjoy as the mauranding forces of Westeros, costing their enemies valuable resources and slowly whittling them away.  It seems pretty simple to ensure that you don’t have the most cards at your command when you are building a deck (expending event cards, or expending locations and attachments that discard from play), and this can be very useful alongside the other powerful ‘choke’ effects that Greyjoy is already famous for.
Two cards in, and Greyjoy is looking like the darlings of FFG for a second straight cycle!
Card number six is the first attachment out of the pack:
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Scaling Ladder is an interesting card: it works very well with other choke effects, preventing opponents from defending during military challenges will slowly whittle away at their forces.  The issue I can see is drawing this card before you find your location control effects: it does a whole lot of nothing if you can’t force your opponent to kneel their location when you want them to. 
This is undoubtedly the most swingy of the Greyjoy cards in this pack, but if it swings your way, then it can make your deck hum like a Porsche.  Unfortunately there isn’t a lot to be said about a card as straightforward as this one.
Card number seven finds us in the westlands with a Lannister bannerman:
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Damon Marbrand, Lord of Ashemark is the head of House Marbrand and his son, Addam, is a knight of the west and is temporarily the Commander of the City Watch in Kings Landing.  Unfortuantely, Damon doesn’t appear in the book series, except for an entry in the appendices as a Bannerman of Lord Tywin Lannister.
Yes another 3 gold, 3 strength character with two icons.  Unfortunately, this one suffers from the same issues as Lord Florent above, his triggered ability is of fairly minimal use.  It can be used to turn an extra card into a strength boost (which can be the difference between winning and losing a challenge), but how many cards in Game of Thrones decks are ever truly “extra”?  In my experience, not too many.
At the least, this guy has a bit of synergy within the Lannister house, their most common agenda The Power Behind the Throne grants the Lannister player an extra intrigue challenge each round, and there are a good number of Lannister characters who do not kneel to attack during intrigue challenges (Cersei Lannister is the first one to come to mind).  In this manner, his triggered ability can give you an edge in multiple challenges each turn if you choose to use it aggressively, as long as you are able to make use out of it multiple times a turn you can effectively force your opponent to lose two (or more) cards for the cost of your one card.
Card number eight finds us at the home of our new bannerman:
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Ashemark is a castle in the west, the home of House Marbrand which came into some influence thanks to Ser Addam Marbrand’ relationship with Jaime Lannister.
This card is potentially very powerful when combined with additional card dawing effects (Golden Tooth Mines, for example). The Lannisters are the richest family in Westeros, and it is cards like this that help to strengthen that position in the card game.  It is of uncertain advantage to exchange cards for gold at a one-for-one ratio, but as a single copy in a gold rush Lannister deck, you could find some of your duplicate location and attachment cards being useful more immediately in order to afford expensive character and event cards on vital turns. 
That said, I don’t realy see this card catching fire, cards tend to be worth more than gold coins as the game progresses.  Game of Thrones is tranditionally a game of attrition, and costing ourself long-term resources in favour of short-term gain can cost you dearly in the later turns.
Card number nine is potentially more worthwhile than Ashemark:
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A trebuchet is not what I would consider a traditional “Location”, but in the context of the game it makes perfect sense.  And this location in particular seems to be a very potentially valuable rattlesnake effect protecting your other resources for multiple turns.  It is cheap enough and not unique, which lends itself to being used somewhat aggressively.  Perhaps it will afford you a ricky attack early on in the game because your trebchet will let your few defenders hold the fort against the counterattack that could be coming.
I think I like this card, but I’m not sure where it fits into a Lannister deck.  It doesn’t generate gold, and it doesn’t control characters on the table in the way that traditional Lannister locations tend to do.  Perhaps if a Lannister rush deck comes into fruition, then a Trebuchet or two coule be useful in order to ensure that cheaper, weaker characters can compete in challenges with the more expensive and powerful characters controlled by most Targaryen and Baratheon opponents.
Card number ten finds us in the south with my favourite faction:
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Edric Dayne has had a card before: a three cost character with a Noble icon that was principally used alongside Ghaston Grey in order to control opposing cheap characters.  The old version of this character had a passive ability that discarded a location card when he was killed.  This ability was somewhat disjointed from the standard Martell strategies; most often Martell decks seek to neutralize characters and challenges themselves and don’t focus on location control as a general rule.
This character card costs the same as the older version, has the same strength and the same icons but is lacking the crest that gives the original so much value in Martell control decks.  This version, however, has a triggered ability that is potentially backbreaking.  “Immune to events” is one of the keywords that is most powerful and for that reason most rare in the entirety of the game.  My current version of the Martell Control contains three copies of Westeros Bleeds, an event that discards all character cards from play and can only be played during the Dominance phase.  Just think, perhaps you have Edric Dayne, another Bannerman character, and a couple of valuable characters in play.  I can imagine a situation where I discard a card in order to make my Arianne Martell and Doran Martell immune to events, then kneel three influence to play Westeros Bleeds.  This would discard all characters in play, except for those that are immune to events.  This becomes even more lopsided if I also happen to have a copy of The Red Viper in play, who is naturally immune to events.
I could see this version of Edric replacing the (IG) version of the card in nearly all of my future Martell builds, I’m moving away from using Ghaston Grey in my decks, and this card has far more game-breaking potential than the older version.
Eleven cards in, we’re halfway through this Chapter Pack already:
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Southron Stronghold is the first location in the pack that isn’t the home of the Bannerman being featured.  This is because Starfall has already been printed and FFG has been reluctant to print second versions of unique locations, despite the fact that the old versions might not be seeing much play.  That said, Southron Stronghold still has the House Dayne trait which could prove useful alongside cards that count House Dayne cards in play.
This location is pretty interesting: 1 gold cost, unique, and provides a gold coin each turn and can be knelt for an influence.  This seems to be pretty solid even before you consider the triggered ability.  Being able to discard a card to stand the location could enable a player to use its influence multiple times a turn in order to swing a game in their favour.  Influence is a pretty vital part of the Martell economy, but a majority of the most effective Martell decks wind up eschewing gold production in favour of cost reduction mechanisms.  This is because most Martell decks use the Knights of the Hollow Hill agenda, which causes gold production locations to stop producing gold coins.
I could see this being used as a single copy in a House Dayne deck, one that won’t be using KOTHH to boost its economy and will care about the trait of this location.  I haven’t built a House Dayne deck yet (at least not one that I immediately scrapped), but cards like this one might inspire someone in my playground to give it a try!
Card number twelve is another attachment:1
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This is another in a rather short line of Martell location control effects.  This one unfortunately doesn’t even control the use of the location permanently.  I can be used as a tempo tool, slowing the opponent down a bit by putting this on a limited location, but really I don’t see a lot of application for this card.  Very disappointing, considering the dearth of playable Martell cards printed in the past year or so, but we got a good character at least.  More than the Baratheons can say!
Card number thirteen brings out the fifth Bannerman:
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Mors Umber is the uncle of Lord Jon Umber, the Greatjon.  He is an old man who had his eye pecked out by a crow who mistook him for a corpse.
This card is interesting, though I’m not sure if he is ‘good’ interesting: his ability is similar to those of Alester Florent and Damon Marbrand above in that is pumps the strength of a chosen character for the duration of a phase, however Mors Umber’s ability doesn’t restrict the strength bonus to specific challenge types in exchange for the bonus being a third as strong.  I could see him being useful if he had an intrigue icon, or if the Starks were known for having characters that were able to compete in multiple challenges each round.  Unfortunnately, neither of these things are true, and so I think he will end up relegated to the “maybe I should build a house Umber deck” pile.
Card fourteen! I expect we’re about to travel to…
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Strange, I was expecting Last Hearth, the castle home of the Umber but instead we find a non-unique location.  Northland Keep is a location that allows its controller to remove characters from challenges if they have higher strength than their gold cost.  This could be a good way to counter the strength boosting abilities of the bannermen revealed earlier on in the pack, but I’m not sure that is something you really need to worry about.  Starks aren’t really about challenge control, they tend to have decks that revolve around really aggressive character rushes and a loot of events that kill opposing characters after challenges.  This doesn’t exactly support either of those themes, so I have a feeling that it is going to have a hard time fitting into most Stark decks.  Unfortunately this one doesn’t even have a cool trait you might want to build around.  I’m just so confused why we didn’t get a card for the Last Hearth in this spot, perhaps the Umbers will never get a deck build out of this game.
Fifteen cards down! We’re almost there:
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See, now that’s more like it.  This is a limited response, which are different from regular event cards because a person can only play one limited response per round.  That makes sense, because this card can potentially sweep an opponent’s side of the table.  You have to win a military challenge against an opponent (pretty easy if you are a stark, let’s be honest), and then you can play this card to kill any number of characters with a higher strength than cost controlled by that opponent.  Admittedly, there are only a few characters that have higher strength than cost by default, but there are any number of effects out there in the game that increase strength (Maester’s chains, rusted swords, or challenge events are all very common strength boosts).
I don’t know if this is going to be a huge boon to the Stark decks, but they just lost one of their best kill events when FFG restricted No Quarter.  Maybe Stark players are looking to replace that card with another kill effect!
Card sixteen!  Let’s go Targaryens, Let’s go *Clap Clap*:
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Ser Raymun Darry is the Lord of Darry and a loyal knight to the old king, Aerys II Targaryen.  His castle plays unwilling host to the King’s host during Robert’s trips north to see Eddard Stark as well as their trip back south during the events of A Game of Thrones.
Raymun’s triggered ability is interesting in a similar way to the ability on the Edric Dayne card above.  Many Targaryen decks tend to be attachment-heavy control decks, and this card helps to enable the attachment themes.  The ability is limited to putting into play only attachments with a cost equal to or lower than the number of bannermen you control, but even having the ability to play 1 cost attachments during non-marshaling phases could be very useful and could potentially swing the game in your favour.  I’m not sure if this guy is going to make the cut, however.  His ability is card disadvantage (costing you a whole extra card every time you wanted to play an attachment with it), and the Targaryen card pool is full of three cost three strength guys with three icons, more useful traits, and crests which all make them potentially better even if you consider Darry’s triggered ability.  I have a Targ deck that runs a lot of attachments, so I’ll be exploring just how good this guy might be.
Card seventeen should follow the pattern of most of the rest of this pack:
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Hooray, they figured it out!  Castle Darry is a 0 gold cost location that is immune to plot card effects.  This is a bit of text that could be useful if cards like A City Besieged or Search and Detain show up across the table from you, but Castle Darry isn’t so powerful a car that you are especially invested in protecting it.  Also: in the book series, Castle Darry is most notably not immune to the effects of plot twists: Cersei and Jaime Lannister have sex in the bed of Lord Darry during their stay at the castle on their trip south from Winterfell; and by the time Jaime Lannister returns to Darry during his trip to Harrenhal it is being ruled by his cousin Lancel Lannister.
Definitely not immune to the machinations of plot.
Regardless, Castle Darry has a static ability which gives you a power for your house at the end of each standing phase if you control more attachments than each opponent.  This might seem like a strong effect, as each power brings you that much closer to victory; but in a game as swingy as Game of Thrones that one power will often not be enough to turn the tide of victory.  The other issue with this ability is that you could very often not be winning the power at all: many deccks in the format are playing numerous attachment effects, either offensive or defensive, and even a dedicated Targaryen attachment deck could find itself short by even just a single attachment, costing itself valuable resources that playing a different location card might afford.
I doubt very much that even dedicated Targaryen attachment decks will be running this particular location.
Card eighteen!  Just three more to go!
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Rain of fire!  What an epic sounding name for an event, this one must certainly be a burn event that will wipe the table of all those pathetic non-dragon folk!!  Huh?  Attachments?
Rain of Fire can only be played if you control at least one <i><b>Dragon</b></i> character, making itself perhaps more valuable in a more midrange Targaryen deck, one that seeks to power out high strength monsters turn after turn rather than taking control of the board with vials of poison or legendary swords.  It  wipes the table of all attachments in play, and then costs you a card from the top of your deck for each attachment discarded this way.  I am sure that there will be some Targaryen deck that can make use of this ability; it is quite powerful, but I don’t think it will be one of mine.  I like my attachments too much to sweep them away like this.
Card Nineteen, ,we’ve gone through all six houses, so these must be where the neutral cards and plots are!
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Well, this is unexpectedly exciting!  The Martells have a card that is sort of the inverse of this one (it returns standing characters to their owner’s hands), and I’ve used that one to devastating effect many times before.  Kneeling three influence could be a pretty steep cost for houses like Greyjoy and Baratheon who don’t really specialize in influence generation; but the alternative cost of three gold might be a bit more palatable.  Being able to play some guys for cheap out of Baratheon (maybe using the Into the Breach event in this same pack!) could help a Bara player to save up enough gold to use this potentially devastating board sweeper during Dominance.  The fact that Baratheon is also the house with Vigilant is pretty perfect: being able to keep your aggressive characters standing all the way through the turn, then punishing your opponent for their aggression is a pretty fantastic feeling, I’m sure.
This might be the best Baratheon card out of the pack, though the fact that it is can be used alongside Into the Breach might make for a powerful one-two punch that makes this Chapter pack a bit more powerful that it initially appeared.
Card number twenty!  I have a feeling we’re in for a Plot card here!
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A 3-0-1 plot needs to have a critical effect on the game in order to get played in a competitive deck.  Cards like To The Spears are the kinds of 301s that get any real play… Rally Cry is a late-game plot that can have a devastating effect on the board.  You can’t play this plot on the first turn of the game, because there won’t be any plot cards in either players’ used piles, but on turn two you can use it to discard a character or location that costs two or less, and on turn three you can use it to discard virtually any character or location in the game (only the few five cost cards are immune to this effect in the first three turns).
The other caveat is that you have to target a character or location controlled by the player with the most cards at his or her command.  This means that in order for this card to do what you want it to do you need to be in an unfavourable position: maybe you aren’t losing, but you have to be behind by at least one card.  It seems like this is the kind of card that is going to get played more in melee decks, where the multi-player environment turns the car don far sooner and there are more opponents who might have more cards available to them, keeping this plot from backfiring except in the most rare circumstances.
That said, considering it is a 301 plot, the ability to use it to discard a House of Dreams location, or effect The Red Viper makes this a particularly flexible and useful plot.  You just need to ensure that you are building around it so that you don’t get stuck unable to use its ‘when revealed’ ability effectively.
Well,  that is the first Chapter Pack from the Kingsroad!  I would say that it has a good number of interesting cards in it that could very well make new decks pop up, or refine some more established builds.  The new Edric Dayne will probably get slotted into my Martell KOTHH build, and both Gorold Goodbrother and Hammerhold could see play in my Greyjoy choke deck.
I know that to a lot of you, this might have been an awful lot of detail about something with which you have very little familiarity; but I appreciate your patience, and assure you that I will start my introduction to FFG’s Game of Thrones LCG as soon as my move is done, and then as new Chapter Packs are released, we can all enjoy seeing the new cards together!
I would like to give a special thanks to TeamCovenant.com and CardGamedb.com whose pages provided me with all of the card links I used in this post.  I would have liked to have used just one site, but Team Covenant did not have all of the cards listed on their page, and CardgameDB didn’t have pictures available for all of the cards.
As always, please feel free to leave a comment below or send us emails and tweets to all of the social network addresses above!

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