Team Pandeponium had an awesome showing at North American Continentals at GenCon, all playing the same deck (within a few cards; a few couldn’t get quite all the URs). The deck later became known as Charlotte’s Tower online. Obviously the list was published by Enterplay, but I’ve never done a full history and strategy post for it, though I’ve been meaning to. There’s no time like the present, so here goes.
Origin of the Deck
(In the whole section below, I refer to cards by name – if you aren’t sure what they do, they’re all in the final deck list, so feel free to go open it up to cross-reference.)
Rock & Rave came out just before GenCon, coming off of a summer dominated by aggressive decks and, at least here in New England, overwhelmingly by Yellow/White aggro decks like the one team member Johnny Yu won our store Regional with. I, along with team members Derek Minasian and Charlotte White (my sister), bought copies a week early while playing in the Regionals at BronyCon, and when Charlotte and I got home, we started brewing with the new mains basically immediately, since spending the whole weekend playing just wasn’t enough.
Brewing with the DJ Pon-3 main, a few things quickly became obvious: she’s absurdly powerful, her flip condition is ridiculously easy, she loves Nightmare Moon, and she gets more powerful the longer the game goes. (Nightmare Moon’s reveal trigger causes you to draw three, thus boosting the DJ, and leaving your opponent suffering -1 card per turn while the DJ’s draw ability leaves you much more able to function.)
All of this naturally inclined us towards building a control deck – control decks want troublemakers anyway (maximizing Nightmare Moon), and control decks want to prolong the game, and so get the most value out of the DJ’s card drawing ability. If you’re running a control deck, Purple is really the color you most want in your deck – you get access to Twilight Sparkle – All Team Organizer, which is great in a long game, and sending your opponent’s friends home is by far the most efficient and reliable way to prevent them from facing your troublemakers, and purple has great cards to do that repeatedly in Twilight Sparkle – Ursa Vanquisher and I Just Can’t Decide. So the initial build Charlotte put together ran DJ with purple support. Because you can always pay 2 AP to draw cards in your main phase and flip DJ (except on the first turn on the play), decks featuring her don’t need to run any pink fixers of any kind, making it pretty easy to support Purple as the deck’s major color.
I also put together a similar deck and ran a few test games against myself. I found that it did extremely well against both the Y/W decks and my own top 4 BronyCon B/W aggro list. Right around the same time, Enterplay was hyping up the prize support for Continental Champs and so I was seriously thinking about making a last-minute trip to play, as were several others on the team. Since the deck seemed to have so much potential, I enlisted whoever was available to help test and spent the next two weeks brainstorming and working with the team to optimize the deck.
No one really knew what metagame to expect at GenCon since R&R was so new and so obviously critical (primarily in the form of DJ), but it seemed like the basic deck just couldn’t lose to any of the Regionals-era aggro decks unless you got a terrible draw or misplayed. It could sometimes struggle against the more controlling decks, and I figured that if everyone figured out it was good there might be a lot of mirror matches, so we tuned it heavily for power against other troublemaker decks, primarily in including the full set of Princess Luna – Mare in the Moon and two Monstrous Manuals. This is one of the decks I’ve tested and worked on most extensively in any game, and I was incredibly proud of the result, as I think was everyone who worked on it.
We never really came up with a name for the deck in testing, but during the event we heard that some people online had taken to calling it Charlotte’s Tower, which amused us since she’d been a partisan of Bell Tower almost since Canterlot Nights came out, and the card was incredibly useful in the deck. It’s since mostly stuck.
Deck Strategy and Play
As a true long-game control deck, the overall strategy for Charlotte’s Tower relies on the idea that it will win a game that goes on arbitrarily long. That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try to score points when able; especially in timed Swiss rounds, not getting too far behind can be really important, and the deck likes having AP to play with so getting to 3-4 per turn quickly is very nice. But the priority is always ensuring the opponent doesn’t win, because if you can do that long enough, you can scrape together a board state where they probably never will, and you certainly will.
For overall strategy tips, the most important thing is knowing what to prioritize in different stages of the game. I’ve broken them down into early, mid, and late game below.
For the first few turns, the biggest question is “Nightmare Moon or no”. An early Nightmare Moon is one of the deck’s strongest plays, particularly in combination with a Yellow Parasprite, and often if you flip one on turn 2 (or turn 1 with Lucky Streak) the game will be very close to over. Conversely, if you draw Nightmare Moon late, once you’re already going, you often don’t want to play it unless you really need the Troublemaker on board, because you’d rather not lose your carefully crafted hand.
In most cases, you should play Nightmare Moon early if you think you can afford to lose the contents of your hand (or if you can deploy the important stuff first). Because there are some key individual cards (particularly Ursa Vanquisher, purple fixers, and sometimes Mare in the Moon), you have to be careful not to make yourself discard too many of them; I’ll almost always hold off on NMM until deploying any Blue Moons in my hand, and if I have two Ursa Vanquishers, I’ll avoid deploying it until I can drop one of them, as well. Otherwise, in most matchups you should drop it within the first few turns and let it flip DJ for you. A lot of players fear Applejack – Element of Honesty when thinking about that play, but it actually isn’t a huge blowout if they drop it. Obviously you’d rather not give your opponent a free 5 power friend, but since she isn’t swift or anything, her power isn’t all that relevant against Ursa Vanquisher and I Just Can’t Decide, and clearing out your opponent’s whole initial hand is quite good even if you don’t get to keep Nightmare Moon on the board.
If you don’t have Nightmare Moon, or don’t want to play her, the early game should be about ensuring access to your colors. Except in strange matchups where you think your opponent can get a lot of points quickly even through troublemakers (like some pink/white builds with Snips and Snails – Problem Solvers and Rarity – Truly Outrageous) you don’t really need to worry about setting up troublemakers early on – your plan is to lock the opponent out eventually, so you can certainly allow them to score 6-8 points without being overly concerned.
Of course, if you have early troublemakers, especially Yellow Parasprites, and the means to defend them, by all means go for it. Ditto if you can get a lot of value off of instantly flipping a villain at a problem using Bell Tower or Lucky Streak.
Overall, though, focus on getting DJ flipped, which if you’re not on the Nightmare Moon plan just means paying 2 to draw, and getting access to 3+ purple to unlock Ursa Vanquisher and Mare in the Moon. Once you’ve got all your colors, I consider that the deck’s mid game.
Once you have access to all your colors, your next priority is locking the opponent out. This generally means establishing troublemakers at both problems and using Ursa Vanquisher to protect them. I Just Can’t Decide is a nice stopgap, but you can’t rely on it for the whole game most of the time; you really want Ursa Vanquisher. Alternately, Monstrous Manual with two Villains is difficult for any opponent to get through unless their main can fight the villain alone, like Maud. (It isn’t immediately obvious from the card, but if you turn your own troublemaker face-down with Monstrous Manual, it immediately turns face up again, so if it’s a villain, you frighten all the friends there.)
Obviously you also can’t score points if you need to have a villain at both problems, but you can fix that in various ways, so locking down both problems for both players is a better plan than letting the opponent keep scoring one of them because you don’t want to lock yourself out. Once again, for a deck this heavily controlling, the priority is always not losing, then figuring out how to win later.
Once the opponent is locked out in terms of main phase actions, I consider the deck to have reached the late game.
Most serious decks have theoretical outs to a troublemaker lock; it’s to Enterplay’s credit that they’ve given a wide variety of tools to deal with this. That means you do want to win the game at a reasonable pace even once the lock is mostly in place. Ideally you’ve been confronting when able throughout the game, and assembled the lock involving one Yellow Parasprite or Changeling Swarm such that you’ve accumulated some points already and aren’t starting at zero.
Charlotte’s Tower actually can finish games quite quickly and safely, and has several tools to do so. The first is setting up Bell Tower and then beating up your own villains, only to use Bell Tower to flip another troublemaker up at the same problem before the opponent has a chance to confront. Between Mare in the Moon, Ursa Vanquisher, and the DJ, you can usually confront with characters that can easily leave the problem before you deploy another troublemaker, so they won’t get scared if it’s another villain. You can pretty easily get 2-3 extra points per turn this way, and can start as early as you have Bell Tower and spare Troublemakers in your hand. Charlotte’s Tower flips very well, certainly better than most aggressive decks, and it’s free to confront a villain with however many Mare in the Moons you have lying around, since they move for free, so you can start making value runs at them early on, and usually might as well.
Snips and Snails can also provide a lot of victory points out of nowhere. Replacing a problem with a villain at it when you have a non-villain troublemaker at the other, or just replacing a problem where you just defeated a villain, both clears out the opponent’s characters there and opens up the bonus. While there are no 2 or 3 bonus problems in your own problem deck, your opponent might be running some. I’ve finished plenty of games with 9+ point turns that opened by defeating a villain and then concluded with a double problem face-off into a fresh 2 or 3 point problem. So long as you have Bell Tower or Lucky Streak, you aren’t committed to the double face-off until you see the problem; you can always single confront instead and just replace the troublemaker.
Finally, you have tools to clear your own villains if you just need to get through and start confronting a problem. Snips and Snails will clear it out, but most efficient is just getting rid of it to instantly reveal your own Changeling Swarm, which opens the problem up for you without breaking coverage, all for just 1 AP even if you don’t have the Bell Tower yet.
Charlotte’s Tower is a deck with a lot of play to it. There are many cards in the deck that have a lot of tricky things you can do with them, so it overall rewards experience with the deck. If you plan to play it at a big event, I suggest not doing it untested, and being on the lookout for fringe interactions that can help out. Here are a few notes about individual cards.
Snips and Snails: Snips and Snails is great for closing out the game, but also a great escape clause if you don’t have an Ursa Vanquisher or Monstrous Manual and the opponent just built up a big force at one of your troublemakers ready to make a run for it next turn.
Mare in the Moon: Moving for free is obviously her biggest asset, but you can also take advantage of the fact that you can make sure she isn’t around for the opponent’s main phase. This is important against decks that want to beat you in showdowns in combination with the point below, and also lets you win races if you’ve gotten ahead on points but only have one troublemaker – if you need Mare in the Moon present to confront, then send her to the moon before the opponent’s turn, they can’t force a single problem face-off.
Villain Tricks: Against some decks, you’d rather some of your own friends be frightened. Some decks, particularly combo decks, want or need to be able to play showdown cards on your friends; if you unlock your purple, play Mare in the Moon, then frighten all your purple fixing friends on the same turn (via an instant-flipped villain off Bell Tower or Lucky Streak) some of those decks can find it hard or impossible to win, depending on their build. Similarly, making sure to always have villains at both problems prevents the opponent from revealing troublemakers that might be critical to their own plans, like Nightmare Moon – New Moon or Changeling Infiltrator. In some cases, the safest place for an Ursa Vanquisher is in fact frightened at a problem, rather than in your hand or at home – I ran into this at Continentals playing against Nation Morath’s Plum Tuckered Outs.
Problems and Potential Changes
Charlotte’s Tower remains a powerful, flexible deck that I’d be glad to take to any serious tournament, but there’s one major issue that resulted in both my and Charlotte’s losses at Continentals: the general power of an opposing Monstrous Manual. Since that card lets them get through your troublemaker every turn, without needing to interact, it can be a very hard card to beat. It isn’t impossible, but it is certainly rough. It is possible more decks will start adopting it, in which case it is worth having a plan to deal with it. In some of my experimental builds, I’ve been looking at running Mr. Beaverton Beaverteeth off of Royal Guidance. Other plans might also be possible; Sunset Shimmer is at least interesting.
If you’re planning to put in new cards, I’d suggest Lucky Streak and Clonie Pie as the most likely candidates for removal. They’re both fine cards, but Lucky Streak mostly helps if you have early Nightmare Moon, which is likely to end up well for you regardless, and Clonie Pie’s utility is kind of fringe.
I hope you found this overview and discussion helpful, or at least interesting. I’ve tried to address most of the questions I get from players new to the deck, like what the overall game plan looks like. Since this is my first article on this site, please feel free to let me know what did and didn’t work for you, or ask further questions, in the comments.
Thanks for reading!