Travis Pinter (14Shirt) is that one guy you’ve seen at tournaments but did not realize was him. He has been an AGOT player since 2012, is a wolf at heart, and always tries to keep his sense of humor even while in the throes of a humiliating defeat.
If there is one card that’s been an auto-include in every Stark Fealty deck (and nearly every Stark deck, regardless of agenda) from the very beginning, it has to be Robb Stark (Core, 146). Players immediately surmised that his ability to stand all your characters is potentially one of the best in the box (Reaction: After a [Stark] character you control is sacrificed or killed, stand each character you control. (Limit once per round.)). The tricky part has been the ability to have full control over that powerful reaction. More often than not, its primary advantage is forcing the Stark opponent to alter challenge order or avoid initiating a military challenge altogether. While this has its uses, it’s not nearly as effective, obviously, as the power to trigger the ability oneself.
To date, there have been only two solutions. The first is to use Grey Wind (Core, 145) on your own character (Challenges Action: Kneel Grey Wind to choose and kill a character with STR 1 or lower. (STR 2 or lower instead if you control Robb Stark.)). While using his challenge action on your own chump will thin your board presence, it also provides you the flexibility to choose when you stand your board. It doesn’t take a visionary to realize how effective standing one’s entire character set mid-phase can be. Allowing your opponent to initiate a challenge, and then standing your characters is the ideal situation since it puts a strain on his/her challenge math.
Grey Wind is a costly solution since it requires the marshaling and kneeling of a five-cost character. This solution also has the potential of preventing you from using Grey Wind on your opponent’s chud and even your own military challenge as well. However, if you play your cards right (see what I did there?), you can always use Grey Wind after you’ve triggered Robb’s ability since, well, he stands along with everybody else. Did I mention that everybody stands?
The only other current trigger the Stark player is (somewhat) in control of exists in Bran Stark (Core, 142) (Interrupt: When the effects of an opponent’s event would initiate, sacrifice Bran Stark to cancel those effects). I say somewhat, because, while you control whether or not you wish to trigger Bran, you can only do so if your opponent has played an event. Granted, sacrificing Bran (which, as a rules reminder, means sending him to the discard pile, not the dead pile) to cancel an event, and then standing all your characters can be quite a satisfying play. But it’s one that your opponent ultimately has to initiate. The designers left us no other options to trigger Robb ourselves. That is, until . . .
Enter the bastard, courtesy of the upcoming Wolves of the North deluxe box. And I do mean the bastard, being the most famous one in all of Westeros (Editor’s Note: Ramsay may have something to say about this). Stark will finally be getting its own Jon Snow. This has an immediate synergy with Maester Luwin (TtB, 3), who buffs all the Stark male children in one way or another. In Jon’s case, he gains stealth, a very valuable keyword. The in-house Jon option means characters can get more value from Luwin in their Stark Fealty builds, instead of needing a Banner of the Watch agenda.
Even with the Maester of Winterfell’s help, a five-cost, four-strength, non-lord monocon may seem like binder-fodder at first glance . . . until you consider what that action means (Action: Sacrifice a [Stark] character to choose and stand a unique [Stark] character (Limit once per round.)). Discarding a Direwolf Pup (Core, 149) to stand Catelyn (Core, 143) can be a pretty sweet maneuver, and will have its place, but the real value here is in what isn’t on this card . . . because it’s on Robb’s. When Jon Snow hits decks, Stark players will have their first sacrifice mechanic completely within their control. The designers have been stingy with this for a reason, because it makes Robb, and hence Stark, much stronger.
The Bastard, while in the same cost-slot as Grey Wind, measures up favorably alongside the Direwolf for a few reasons. For one, Jon discards instead of kills. Stark Fealty plays a lot of duplicates of unique characters. While you may have only one Grey Wind target in the form of, say, Sansa Stark (Core, 147), you will be loath to send Sansa to the dead pile, and not just for her long-term power gain. Killing her also means the dupe or two you’re still packing are now dead cards/draws. Since Jon sends Sansa to the discard pile, you can play your other copy during the next Marshaling Phase. There are even some cards, such as Summer (Core, 148) that provide a benefit by virtue of being played a second time. Getting to marshal your second copy of Bran’s wolf, for instance, means you can pull another character back from your dead or discard pile.
The sacrifice mechanic that Jon affords you also has some nice synergy with many upcoming cards, if other spoilers from Wolves of the North are any indication. Needle (WotN, 20), for example, allows a sacrificed character to return to hand rather than the discard pile. The new, seven-costed Catelyn (WotN, 2) gains a power after a Stark is sacrificed. And the upcoming event, Hard as Winter (WotN, 24) grants you the ability to replace the sacrificed Stark with another from your hand. These are only a few of what I expect to be many sacrifice triggers available to the Northerners. It’s not difficult to envision a round where Jon’s action sets off several triggers in succession. When they all line up, it’s going to be a real headache for your opponent.
Lastly, Jon doesn’t need to kneel in order to activate his ability. By providing a trigger for Robb other than Grey Wind, what the designers have really done is allow us to keep our favorite wolf’s chud-chomping ability fully at our disposal. Imagine a board that includes Robb, Jon Snow, Grey Wind, and a Stark weenie or two. Now you can use Grey Wind’s challenge action twice in the same round and still trigger your Robb (with Jon’s sacrifice action). Talk about thinning the board for military claim and/or a follow-up Marched to the Wall!
Stark’s upcoming Jon Snow fills some great design space, and is the key cog in the synergy machine that is the Stark sacrifice mechanic. This bastard is beautiful, though I suspect my opponents sitting across from him may use the term less affectionately . . .