The White Harbor Times: We Need To Talk About Varys

In this week’s installment of The White Harbor Times, we’ll be discussing a game-defining card: Varys. We’ll talk about which decks play him best, how to protect him, and how to avoid getting wiped.

 “Lord Varys, sometimes I feel as though you are the best friend I have in King’s Landing and sometimes I feel you are my worst enemy.” –Tyrion Lannister

Varys is a 6 cost, 3 STR character with an intrigue icon and stealth. However, his primary use lies not in his stats, but in his ability: “Interrupt: When the dominance phase ends, remove Varys from the game to discard each character from play.” This is a powerful effect that can wipe out an opponent’s board.  Duped characters can be saved from being discarded, but if only one is saved you can expect it to be Marched to the Wall the following turn.

Varys’s Little Birds

Which decks use Varys most effectively? There are several things your deck needs to be able to do in order to successfully trigger Varys’s ability and recover from it better than your opponent. First, if you can leave yourself with characters on the board after Varys goes off, you’ll be way ahead. Thus, dupes are key. Although neutral spots can be scarce in Fealty decks, Greyjoy or Targaryen Fealty decks are good candidates for Varys because of their high numbers of dupes. Second, you’ll want to play more characters the turn after Varys. Decks that have a lot of draw or can protect their hand from intrigue claim can do this better than others. Martell and Lannister are obvious choices, as they can easily defend intrigue challenges and stockpile characters in their hand. Tyrell with The Queen of Thorns may be another good option, especially if you can manage to keep her on the board after Varys, as she will help you rebuild your position with her ability, and the Pleasure Barge will help you refill your hand. Third, decks playing Varys need to have sufficient economy to rebuild after the board wipe. Lannister again is a good choice because of its additional in-house economy, but any deck can build around this requirement by including more high-income plots in its plot deck.

Here is an example of a Lannister Banner of the Sun deck built specifically to maximize Varys’s effect:

This deck is high on character count (39) in order to maximize our chances of redrawing into characters after wiping the board. It also includes dupes of our most important characters like Tywin Lannister and Tyrion Lannister. Three copies of Varys, along with draw from Grand Maester Pycell and Lannisport, means that we should see Varys early enough to make a difference. Using Summons for Varys should usually be avoided, unless you managed to be second player and can play him that turn (difficult given Summons’ stats). Counting Coppers can be used to dig for Varys or to refill your hand and board after he’s gone off. Removal events like Put to the Sword, Tears of Lys, and The Things I Do For Love can thin out your opponent’s duplicates. We also have Hand’s Judgment to cancel a Treachery or Put to the Sword from our opponent. Calling the Banners is an excellent plot for any deck running Varys. I prefer it over A Noble Cause because its 6 initiative means you should be able to go second on the turn you marshal Varys, avoiding an inconvenient Milk of the Poppy.

The Spider

Now that you know how to leverage Varys’s ability to your own benefit, how do you avoid becoming one of his victims? Many of these strategies are similar to those outlined above for playing him.

  • Intrigue challenges thin your opponent’s hand, making it less attractive for them to trigger Varys. You should also try to win on defense whenever possible to protect your hand.
  • Seen In Flames will discard him from hand. Players will often hold Varys in hand, waiting for the right opportunity to play him. This gives you the chance to get rid of him first.
  • Head on Spikes (if it hits) will prevent your opponent from ever marshaling him.
  • Duplicates and Bodyguard both make it less attractive for your opponent to pull the trigger, and make it easier for you to recover if he or she does. Used to use duplicates often for military claim, but this could leave you vulnerable if your opponent does use Varys. Think carefully about whether your opponent is likely to be playing Varys when deciding whether to discard your dupes.
  • Put To The Sword is one of the best ways to deal with Varys if you can manage it. If the opponent has marshaled Varys, he probably considers you to be in a superior board state. Even if he has a Hand’s Judgment, 2 gold to cancel PTTS can be difficult on a turn where he has marshaled a 6 gold character. PTTS sends Varys to the dead pile, meaning the opponent can’t marshal another copy to try again.
  • Treachery cancels his effect but he is still removed from the game, so your opponent will have to draw and marshal him again.
  • The Hound can bounce back to your hand to give you a character to marshal after the board wipe.

Who is vulnerable to Varys? Any deck that depends largely on renown for its win condition can be devastated by a timely board wipe. Tyrell decks that lean heavily on Knight of Flowers and Randall Tarly will feel his effects the worst unless they are covered by dupes. Greyjoy decks that collect multiple power on Balon Greyjoy and Theon Greyjoy have a similar problem. Both of these decks also can suffer from a lack of intrigue icons and will only have Treachery if they use a Lion Banner. Baratheon decks running Melisandre, Robert Baratheon, and Stannis Baratheon can have difficulty recovering after Varys due to the high cost of their key characters; however Seen in Flames and Put To The Sword are available solutions.


What do you think about Varys? Have you used him to great success? Have you tried but he’s always getting Put To The Sword? I’d love to hear about your experiences with Varys in the comments!

Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
Notify of