by Travis Pinter (14Shirt)
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.
Between AGoT 2.0’s first deluxe box, Wolves of the North, and some tasty new cards in recent chapter packs, the Stark faction has been getting a lot of love lately. Here are five cards (one of each of the main types) that I’m putting into each and every Stark (main) deck I build these days . . .
Plot: Wardens of the North
Returning readers may recall that my first article in this series was about the Winterfell Kennel Master, the 2.0 enabler of the old naval mechanic from years gone by. I still love two copies of him in almost all of my decks just for the flexibility he provides. What Wardens of the North does is give you that same mechanic without the Direwolf restriction or the need to find and keep the Kennel Master on the table. Consider me convinced. The statistics alone (5/5/1/5) are enough to warrant consideration, but the effect is where this plot shines. Remember that, for a character to be included in a challenge without being declared in the normal step, it needn’t have the right icon. Where this really becomes useful is against Martell icon-manipulation or even against a Greyjoy player attempting to get unopposed (and then launch all those nasty triggers). If you have enough bodies on the board and can time the plot against Rise of the Kraken, even better. Since the Challenges Action occurs after stealth is declared, that extra character you can “jump” in may be the difference you need to keep your opponent from gaining unopposed bonuses and triggers, not to mention your own offensive uses.
Character: Eddard Stark
The new Eddard has not been affectionately dubbed “Fast Eddie” for nothing. This guy is the new bomb card of the faction. He’s so good he almost makes you feel like you’re playing Lannister. Almost. While he’s admittedly not Tywin, I believe he’s the kind of bomb that compares favorably to a character like Randyll Tarly, one of the best cards in the Core Set. This comparison between Robb’s father and Sam’s is a fair one (all jokes about “my dad can beat up your dad” aside). Both are military/power bi-cons, both are lords with renown, and both have a power-acceleration ability. Though Eddard does provide a very important six strength over Tarly’s five. While Standy Randy can make a second challenge and collect more renown quite easily through Tyrell’s toolbox of strength buffs, getting Fast Eddie into multiple challenges through Stark’s stand mechanics is getting easier and easier. The Stark Jon Snow can do it practically by himself, and if Robb Stark is also in play, Eddard can be stood via the many sacrifice options available. See new Arya, Bran, Jory, and Rickon for examples. When Fast Eddie is paired in a challenge with a fellow renown character (like Robb or The Blackfish), things gets crazy in a hurry. It’s not rare for Eddie and Robb to grab you seven power in a single challenge phase (power claim + double renown + Eddard’s bonus)! So is he better than Randyll? I think so. But why quibble when both are non-loyal and can go into the same deck? Can’t decide? Go Banner of the Rose.
Location: Winterfell Heart Tree
If the community discussion on Winterfell Heart Tree via Cardgamedb, Facebook, and the various podcasts is any indication, my inclusion of this card may be the most controversial of my little list. So if you’re not yet sold on the Winterfell Heart Tree, please hear me out. Due to the embarrassment of riches at the top of the Stark cost curve these days, builds are starting to include a lot of big hitters. While you can’t quite have it all, I’ve been able to successfully run a build incorporating full play sets of three different six-costers (such as Robb, Eddard, and Blackfish) along with two copies each of key five-costers (Jon Snow, Grey Wind). What this means is that your set-ups are suffering a bit, and the odds of drawing 2-3 copies of those big uniques have gone up. There’s nothing worse than taking a mulligan into a two-card setup of just Robb and his dupe when you know full well that Marched to the Wall is coming. Think of Winterfell Heart Tree as that extra weenie, that extra protection against losing your big character during the first plot phase. I only run one, but on those occasions where you can drop 2-3 copies of one of your unique studs alongside it in set-up, you’ll be very glad to have it. And its value won’t diminish if you see it later in the game, for essentially the same reason. With all of the sacrifice mechanics in Stark (and a post-First Snow of Winter meta), your big hitters are left vulnerable more often than they used to be. And if popping this location causes your opponent to hold off on his/her Wildfire Assault or Marched to the Wall for another turn, all the better. When I’m dictating plot decisions for my opponent, I’m usually winning.
Event cancel is a big deal in 2.0. Bran Stark has been a 3x staple in Stark decks since the core set first launched because he has the ability to cancel those nasty events every player wants to avoid, be it Dracarys!, Tears of Lys, or a Put to the Sword. Bran’s existence has allowed Stark players to generally exclude The Hand’s Judgment from their decks, not that you don’t sometimes see a Stark list that includes both. The Pack Survives compares favorably to Bran in that it’s zero gold cost and has the surprise factor that Bran does not. And it compares favorably to The Hand’s Judgment because it always costs zero gold (holding back gold for THJ can be a real hardship, especially in Stark), and its discard/kneeling cost is not necessarily a bad thing considering Robb Stark’s stand ability and all the sacrifice synergy we’re now seeing. Think cancelling a nasty event is fun? Try cancelling a nasty event, standing all your characters, and throwing a power on Catelyn Stark. The Pack Survives takes the concept of fun to a whole new level. I’m still running two to three Brans in my decks and supplementing them with two TPS. Such strong cancel allows you to worry less about your big boys getting Tears of Lys or Put to the Sword, and hence can open up deck space that used to be occupied by extra Little Birds or Bodyguards. Maybe you can use that deck space on a copy or two of a new Stark attachment . . .
Nymeria joins a growing list of fantastic attachments for Stark, making this category one of the toughest for making cuts when deck-building. Even with the likes of Ice and Lady and your neutral attachments, I believe you need to make room for Nymeria. Like Lady, it’s an attachment that can be passed to other characters as an action, for the cost of one gold. While its condition is more restrictive than Lady’s (unique Stark only) and it costs one more, Nymeria grants Intimidate. The ability to kneel an opponent’s character is strong, and the possibility of doing this multiple times in a round is dynamite.
The fun thing about playing a “living” card game is that this list will evolve with the card pool, particularly as the options become so vast that space becomes a real premium. But at least for now, these are five cards I can’t do without. Have five of your own? Share them in the comments below!