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 thrashes of a humiliating defeat.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Cameron Davisson, newly crowned King in the North, about his tournament success this past year, The King in the North tournament, and all things Stark. . . .
TP: How long have you been playing AGoT? What meta do you belong to and how would you describe it?
CD: I’m a member of the Minneapolis meta. While the people that I play with all fit the “Minnesota nice” stereotype, it’s definitely a competitive group of players. When I started playing first edition three years ago (late to the party, I know) I really had to grind and grind to get better at the game. My opponents showed no mercy, but that’s how I learned from my mistakes. I took a beating at first, but eventually I started to win games. Personally, I really enjoyed the deckbuilding aspect of Thrones and gravitated towards houses that were less played. These days we’re just as serious about 2nd edition, but we don’t really brew decks together or anything like that. While we do discuss cards a lot, for the most part we build our own deck and see for ourselves what works. People from our meta often make the cut at the large tournaments, so I feel like our meta is pretty strong.
TP: I first met you at a regional in Wausau, WI back in the first edition days, and we were both playing Stark back then, too. While I haven’t shared your success, I do share your loyalty to the faction. What has attracted you to Stark and kept you there across both editions?
CD: Truth be told, when I started playing first edition Baratheon was my first real love. No one was really playing that house when I started out, so I gave it a shot and found something that worked pretty well. The deck was a fun mixture of power rush and recursion, with “Super” Stannis Baratheon leading the charge. After the first year, I decided to switch my focus to Stark, and I found success there, making the top 8 cut in joust at Worlds 2015. At times I missed my old Baratheon deck, but overall I preferred Stark’s more aggressive nature. In second edition, Stark may not be as focused on murdering as they were in first edition, but they do play like a mix of first edition Baratheon and Stark, so I’m happy.
TP: Well, apparently I met you after you’d made the switch to Stark then. But make no mistake, like it or not, you’ve become synonymous with the faction at this point.
CD: Fine by me! I’m glad I was able to bring some attention to this underplayed faction. Stark is fun to play; it isn’t as narrow-minded as some of the others like Greyjoy, Baratheon, or Night’s Watch. It also doesn’t hurt that Stark has the all-around best art in the game, in my opinion.
TP: Let’s talk about your impressive track record with the Wolves in 2.0. Can you summarize your tournament results this past year?
CD: This year I won three store championships with Stark Fealty (pre-deluxe box), made the top 8 cut at the Minnesota regional, and won the recent The King in the North Minnesota championship. I also won my meta’s first The Lord Commander melee tournament, but was bested at the second one that was held a couple months ago. So yeah, I went from Lord Commander to King in the North, go figure! Some people give me a hard time for playing Stark so often at tournaments but it goes back to my desire to play something that’s less popular. It’s true that the house has gotten some more love lately, but Stark was certainly was an underdog (pun intended) earlier this year.
TP: Your most recent victory, the one that prompted this interview, was a takedown of a pretty competitive field of 41 players at the inaugural The King in the North tournament put on by your local meta in Minnesota. Before we get into the specifics of your performance, can you give details on the tournament for readers who aren’t familiar?
CD: Sure thing! The King in the North is the biggest tournament that our meta has ever hosted. This year we had 41 players, many of which traveled across state lines to compete. It really was a lot of fun. People were hollering “THE KING IN THE NORTH!” in unison throughout the day, and there was just a positive, upbeat vibe to the whole thing. We’re thrilled with the response we’ve gotten back from participants so far and we’re already making plans for next year’s. Our meta always has something on the horizon, though. The best way to stay informed about our events is to either join the Thrones of Minnesota Facebook group or subscribe to the YouTube channel. That’s where Ryan Ritter and I also do our chapter pack review series, The Wolfswood.
TP: I can confirm that the atmosphere for The King in the North was fantastic and your meta hosted a highly successful event – honestly the best I’ve ever attended, player-run or otherwise. I’m already looking forward to next year.
CD: That’s great to hear. We put a lot of thought and time into organizing it so I’m glad it paid off!
TP: How was your path to victory? What highlights (or lowlights) would you like to share from any specific games? What card in your deck was the star of the day?
CD: I placed 5th after six rounds of swiss. I bested Lannister Wolf, Baratheon Summer, and two Stark Fealty decks, but came up short against Night’s Watch Fealty and Martell Lion. Then I went on to defeat Martell Fealty in the top 8, Baratheon Summer in the top 4, and Martell Lion (piloted by Brandon Zimmer / mnbroncos) in the final.
One notable takeaway from the tournament is the importance of setups. I actually considered floating King Robb over Core Robb in my deck the night before the tournament but decided against it due to my lack of experience with the King version as well as the fact that the seven cost version is much harder to setup. If your most expensive characters cost six in your deck, you are generally going to have better setups against decks running seven-cost characters. The chances of me setting up a six-cost character and a two/one-cost character is a lot higher than me setting up King Robb with one of my three Winterfell Stewards.
Out of the nine games I played during the tournament, I believe I only mulliganed twice. In most of my games I had an advantage from having a better setup than my opponent. The banner decks that run multiple seven cost characters can be nasty to deal with, but they can also just completely implode on setup as well. Personally, I don’t like losing games right from the start.
The star of my deck was probably Winterfell. For about a week I tried my deck with only two copies of Winterfell, due the fact that it’s hard to setup and I generally want to see it after I draw or by round two but then after losing some games I could’ve won with Winterfell around, I went back up to three copies. Even if your opponent has a Winter plot card revealed, the +1 STR to all of your Stark characters is a huge effect. Of course, Robb and Arya Stark did a lot of work during the tournament as well. I also made sure that Grey Wind was never hungry.
TP: It’s interesting that you bring up King Robb and the importance of set-ups in general. I have been trying to find ways to get him in a deck but always come to the same conclusion you describe. Can you envision an environment where he’ll ever be the better choice over Core Robb? Maybe a card pool that includes more support for the King trait? Or the availability of more 1-drop characters?
CD: Sure. Like you mention, if there’s more King stuff coming out that could make him more enticing. I wouldn’t expect many one-cost characters anytime soon. It seems like FFG is being pretty careful about releasing those, and rightly so. Perhaps if Stark got another murder card similar to Ice that was irresistible, King Robb could be worth considering again, as he is military-focused. Time will tell.
TP: You’ve had tremendous tournament success for someone playing, essentially, the same faction and agenda since the reboot. Why is Stark Fealty so strong?
CD: Denial is very strong. Robb and Ned make a great combo on the table, and Bran, Catelyn, Jory, and Winterfell all do a great job at keeping them safe. If I can keep the threats at bay and focus on power challenges it’s usually smooth sailing. Stark doesn’t have much in the way of great events, but it does have Winter is Coming, which is just a super versatile and efficient card. It can be used to devastating effects during a military challenge, sometimes killing a high cost character for the price of one gold. Or, alternately, it can swing the power totals into your favor rather dramatically. I think Winter is Coming is a good representation of what makes Stark as a house great – it’s efficient and can adapt its playstyle depending on the situation.
TP: What tips would you give a player considering trying Stark Fealty for the first time? How does Stark play differently than the other factions? What makes the deck tick and how do you keep it running efficiently and effectively?
CD: Play to the faction’s strengths and try to be careful around resets. Stark likes to play kind of wide (Septa and Luwin, Robb and Greywind, Bran and Catelyn, etc), so if you are using a reset make sure to time it wisely, and watch out for your opponent’s own reset. Summer is a great card to recover with, but use his trigger on something worth recurring, such as Arya or Bran. Strength-boosting effects like Winterfell and Lady can make all the difference in the world. Punish your opponents for forgetting that you can move Lady or that Wardens of the North is your revealed plot; trust me, they will forget. Try not to marshal Robb or Ned unless you have some kind of protection in place. Running a copy of Summons is a must. Milk what you can’t murder. The bottom line is, Stark is full of efficient characters that are great at winning power challenges and are often hard to get rid of. As long as you play carefully, the faction will be sure to reward you.
TP: It’s funny that you mention people forgetting about Wardens of the North . . . because I’m that guy. This is especially problematic since, well you know, I’m a Stark player. It cost me a close game, in fact, in a mirror match during the event. It’s the mistakes that haunt you after a tournament.
CD: True, but it’s hard to avoid making mistakes like that during a big tournament. These events are typically long days and the pressure can be pretty intense even before the cut. All you can do is try to play carefully and minimize your mistakes and hope that your opponent is a little more careless. I never understand the people who play casual games in-between their matches. The last thing I want to do is spend more mental energy on a game that doesn’t matter during a tournament.
TP: We’ve recently been given a taste of a new Stark archetype in a Tully-rush mechanic that promises to get more support this cycle. Where do you think the faction might be headed in terms of diversity or options outside of Fealty? Where would you like to see it head?
CD: While I don’t have much experience with the House Tully tech myself, I think the new Edmure that’s been spoiled may be exactly what the theme needs to become really fleshed out. But even without the Tully tech, I’m sure he’ll still be worth running. As far as Fealty goes, I think it’s going to be the dominant Stark agenda for the foreseeable future. With cards like Donella Hornwood and Bear Island, loyalty in Stark itself seems to be an important subtheme that’s getting a good amount of support.
As far as the faction itself goes, I’d like Stark to become more murder-focused and more dominant in military challenges. It always feels a bit odd when Gregor by himself is causing multiple Stark characters trouble during a military challenge. With Roose Bolton on the way it looks like I just might get my wish. Hopefully we get a little more where that came from. Maybe someday we’ll get a new spin on 1st edition agenda The Siege of Winterfell or something similar to it.
TP: I second a return, in some form, of Siege. It’s one of those cards that Stark players love and all others hate. I have nothing but fond memories of it, personally.
CD: Yeah, I found some success with it in melee in particular.
TP: Now that you are officially King in the North, what plans do you have for your bannermen (the other seven finalists at the tournament)? They are, after all, sworn by oath to serve their king (I believe it was fine print that Ryan Ritter snuck onto the back of the deck lists).
CD: I’d like for them to continue to chant my title until I get tired of it. But I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. Surely I will have a long, fruitful reign as The King in the North where nothing terrible will happen to me or my family.
TP: This sounds very likely, yes. Cameron, thanks for taking the time to elucidate your thoughts on Stark. Congratulations on your continued success with what we both know is the greatest of all factions.
CD: Thank you, Travis, it’s been a pleasure. Winter is coming!
To view Cameron and his Fealty deck in action at The King in the North tournament, check out the Minnesota meta’s YouTube channel (Videos for his top 4 and final match posting soon!).