I love playing Stark (both in theme and mechanics). I am also a Jaime player and will play whatever deck gives me the best chance to win. Imagine how happy I am that Stark has emerged as a viable anti-meta deck with a good shot of winning tournaments.
Out of the Core box, Stark was solidly middle tier. They could hold their own, but didn’t have the speed/renown of Tyrell or the character quality of Lannister. They didn’t have the control of Baratheon or the defensiveness of Night’s Watch. With the release of this cycle and the deluxe box, Stark now has all of those things.
With the honor of going first with the deluxe box, Stark now has almost double the cards of the other factions, giving them more variety in the types of decks they can put on the table. Because there are so many new cards this cycle for Stark compared to the other Houses, I’ll only be hitting the highlights and lowlights, but will still probably clock in as the longest article. You have been warned.
Stark’s Best Cards from the Westeros Cycle
“Was it war that made him grow so fast or the crown they had put on his head?”
Coming out of the Core environment, Stark had a problem with the top end of its cost curve. Core Eddard could do some work, but was generally regarded as a 7 coster on the bottom end of the power curve, was not loyal (for Fealty), and was difficult to play outside of A Noble Cause. Robb was good, but it was difficult to reliably trigger his reaction. Grey Wind saw some play, but as a mono-con who really needed Robb on the table to shine, he left something to be desired.
All that changed with the release of the Wolves of the North deluxe box. Stark went from having one of the most lackluster top ends of the cost curve to having the best this side of Lannister. All this started with The Blackfish.
Ignore his House Tully ability, and The Blackfish would still see play as a reliable way to draw cards and gain power. Add in the ability to occasionally make all your House Tully characters into beat-sticks, and it’s all gravy, baby. He shores up Stark’s arguable weakness in draw, contributes to their strength in Renown/Power gain, and is loyal to help get himself on the table, avoiding Stark’s other weakness (economy.)
Speaking of impactful high cost characters, the new Eddard Stark is a master class in value. At a base strength of 6, he is the only 6 cost character to have a base strength higher than 5 and can single handedly win Military or Power challenges on both offense and defense. His innate renown plays in to Stark’s themes and his “Super Renown” can close out games faster than many opponents realize. Add in the ability to use him twice a turn with Jon or Robb on the table, and he more than earns his nickname of “Fast Eddie.”
Some may argue with her designation as one of the best Stark cards, but I doubt those people have seen her in action. Her “threat of activation” makes challenge math for your opponent extremely difficult while simultaneously ruining many popular strategies. She completely turns off Raiding Longship, protects your vulnerable characters from Dracarys and Plaza of Punishment, and can make Stealth/Icon Removal less worrisome when combined with the Kennelmaster.
This is all before even considering her interaction with Sansa. Combining her with either version of Sansa turns her into a character that can win Intrigue challenges (a big deal for Stark) and provides some redundancy in combating Baratheon kneel. It seems unfair when you have the “Sansa Voltron” out with Septa Mordane, Sansa, and Lady. You now have a 6 strength bicon with Renown that can participate in 2 challenges a turn… For 2 cost. Absolutely sick value.
Early in the cycle, people started to see the value of jumping characters into challenges with direwolves/Winterfell Kennelmaster. Once No Middle Ground dropped, Stark players were able to run this plot and free up deck space by phasing out the Kennelmaster.
The ability is great, the gold is above average (and very welcome for a gold starved-house), and the initiative is pretty good. By avoiding Naval Superiority and providing some potential War plot synergy, this plot will see play for a long time to come.
The best for last. While 4 gold is a hefty price to pay for a location, Winterfell does so much. It strengthens all your Starks to get them out of burn range (Blood of the Dragon, Plaza of Punishment, Dracarys) and makes winning challenges much easier.
The real value though is in denying your opponent triggers. This meta is awash with scary abilities that you need to play around. Winterfell makes it a trivial exercise as long as they don’t have a Winter plot on the table. This card, more than any other, is what Stark players are leveraging to win tournaments in the current environment.
Impactful/Utility Stark Cards From the Westeros Cycle
“My skin has turned to porcelain, to ivory, to steel.”
Arya’s Gift is a sneaky card. It doesn’t look great until you realize you can move a Milk of the Poppy from one of your important characters to Sansa Stark and just laugh and laugh. Attachment control is very hard to come by without Confiscation. This card gives the Stark player the ability to put attachment control into the draw deck and free up a spot in the plot deck if desired. Not many Houses have that option.
While I don’t have room for Frozen Solid in my deck right now (due to the prevalence of low to no location decks like Lannister), this card gives Stark options should any nasty locations arrive that are hard to deal with.
He is the engine to fuel your sacrifice theme deck. Not a flashy card, but the decks that want to use him absolutely have to run him. Even if you’re not running a “sacrifice theme”, you are definitely running Robb, and this bromance is a thing of beauty. Why, yes, I would like to use all my characters twice a turn and gain 7 power. Thank you Jon Snow!
I’ve seen many people undersell her and question her value. I run her at 3x and have never looked back. She is loyal (extremely relevant in Fealty) and provides a body that can let Stark compete in Intrigue challenges. Combine her with Septa Mordane and/or Lady and watch your opponent squirm as they try to figure out how to positively make challenges against you.
While only useful in combination with the Stark daughters, she provides great utility. Sansa becomes genuinely scary and Arya now gives you stealth on all three challenges. It also should be noted that Stark often has to “play wide,” playing with 6 or more characters on the table, in order to get full value from the ability to jump characters in or sacrifice characters to get two uses of your board. Having Septa Mordane out with Arya mitigates Stark’s vulnerability to Wildfire Assault.
I’m not as high on this card as the community at large (hence why it’s not in the “best cards” list), but it does have a huge impact on the game if you can grab a nice target. Its biggest impact is on deck design, so I see this as a card that will ebb and flow with the meta. While people build their decks around it, people will start to stop running it. As people stop running it, others will up the number of targets and it will have increased effectiveness again.
A solid card that doesn’t see play now, but there will be a deck that abuses this in the future. This card allows you to live the dream of sacrificing Sansa or Hodor to clear your opponent’s Tyrion, Nymeria, Arianne, etc. It will happen, folks. Get ready.
The Kennelmaster has fallen out of favor recently due to a shifting meta and Wardens of the North stealing some of its thunder. However, if you want to run a Direwolf deck, you need to be running this and it can make challenge math so hard for your opponent.
This will only get better as more Direwolves are released. I love toolbox decks and Stark is the only faction outside of Tyrell that can act as a toolbox. Need to clear out chud? Grab Grey Wind Need kneel? Grab Nymeria. Need to refill your board quick? Grab Summer. Need to boost your characters against Targ Burn or to turn off Raiding Longships? Grab Lady. This card makes a Stark deck much more versatile without having to devote too much of your deck space to Direwolves.
Stark’s Worst Cards from the Westeros Cycle
“It was not dead, just broken. Like me. I’m not dead either.”
There is no reason to run this version over Core Arya. Stealth is incredibly important, and the low cost Military icon is necessary for early Ice delivery. Both versions stay on the table after First Snow, and the free dupe provides free card advantage. Wolves Arya needs a character to die (difficult to trigger against some decks) and only hits a small sub-section of characters. Even in a sacrifice deck, I’d rather be running almost anything else.
Ok, after the third time I read this card, I think I know what it does… It is way too difficult to trigger and requires you to double up on Stark theme decks to get any value from it. You need to run Winter (may become easier with the next cycle), have a character be sacrificed or killed (difficult to trigger on demand), AND have a worthwhile character in hand that is equal or lower cost. Pass every day of the week.
Bear Island Loyalist sits at an awkward cost slot. He’s susceptible to First Snow, can’t be duped, has a poor stat line, and is only really good in a Targaryen matchup. I don’t see myself ever playing him. A missed opportunity to have him be House Tully traited.
I was excited about him when I first saw him. Draw in Stark! TONS of draw in Stark! Unfortunately, he is far too hard to use. You need to over-commit with him, he’s difficult to play, and The Blackfish was released hard on his heels and does everything he does, but better.
I wanted this to be good. It is not. In order to avoid “When Revealed” effects, you have to use it before plots are chosen, thus giving your opponent the opportunity to choose something else. What would have been the best interaction (protecting your dude from First Snow) doesn’t work as Forced Reactions happen before Reactions.
Maybe this will be useful in the future. Maybe this is Stark’s way of protecting themselves from the mythical upcoming Valar. Maybe. That day is not today.
Most Impactful non-Stark Support Cards for and against Stark in the Westeros Cycle
“I’ve won every battle, but somehow, I’m losing this war.”
Stark is an insular house, so generally, you will be running high levels of Stark cards and not many neutral or banner cards. One that you definitely make room for is Syrio. There are few things more terrifying to an opponent than Catelyn Stark with Military. They no longer can use their Iron Mines or In the Name of Your King or Bodyguards to save themselves from your incoming Ice. They can no longer use their own Put to the Sword or Mountain triggers on offense. Syrio is great in all Houses, but especially good in Stark. Consider running 2x.
Stark decks like making Military challenges. Stark decks like triggering things in Military challenges. This makes Stark decks sad.
The power of Winterfell comes from the fact that there aren’t a ton of good Winter plots, so you get a lot of free triggers. If a deck is running Fishwhiskers, you can bet they will be running a lot of Winter plots, thus reducing your Winterfell effectiveness and making you much more susceptible to The Seastone Chair if you don’t have Cat + Syrio on the board. You have been warned.
Stark is a cash poor House that wants to play a lot of expensive cards. Generally, Stark decks will use all their gold during marshalling as they run relatively few events. A surprise Brothel Madame can really throw a wrench into Stark’s plans and is one of the few ways to stop an Ice trigger dead in the water.
Stark is great at dealing with powerful triggers that happen during challenges. Stark is not good at dealing with powerful triggers that happen during Marshalling. If your opponent can put you on the “Payne Train”, your Voltron Sansa and Bran look a lot less appealing. Hope you have enough claim soak!