Greetings! First, a big thanks to Joe, and his executive secretary Richard for inviting me to take part in this cycle review. It’s an honour and a privilege to review the Stark cards for cycle three.
Who am I and why should you care about my opinion?
By way of introduction for those that don’t know me, I’m a member of the UK-meta based in London. I’ve been playing Stark on and off since I first started playing the game and would consider myself something of a Stark loyalist, with the exception of a three-month flirtation with Martell this regional season that we’ll say no more about. My peak performance has been top-4 at UK Nationals and best-in-house at Varberg Morgulis 2017, both times with Stark, so I like to think I have some credentials. I was also partly responsible for a top-16 deck at Stahleck, although I played terribly on the day.
Stark are, in my opinion, a faction of missed opportunities thus far. Some of the faction’s most exciting cards have, for lack of a better analogy, landed like Rains of Castamere at a wedding party. Sacrifice, direwolves, military removal, Tully rush are all themes the design team has attempted to flesh out but failed to deliver on, due to a lack of key impactful cards. As a result, the faction’s best decks have consistently ignored these exciting new options and returned to the stable, core (heh!) family unit that’s been the heart of the faction since the launch of the core set. The faction has always struggled with draw, so it seems that giving a draw card linked to some of these different themes would give them the boost they need.
So in cycle three, did the design team continue to binge on milk of the poppy or did they sniff the right solvents and give Stark a draw card related to any of these exciting new cards. I think you can guess the answer, it was more of the same…..
Bad, Janky, Niche, Inefficient, or otherwise non ideal cards
Passing the Black Gate
In a surprising twist, SUPER-FEALTY is the first card to be covered in the Bad, Janky, Niche, Inefficient, or otherwise non-ideal section that will henceforth be known as the Winterfell Crypts. But gasp, how can an economy card like SUPER-FEALTY be consigned to the Winterfell Crypts?! Well, in cycle three, every faction got new economy cards and access to the great hall, so in a faction like Stark, where you tend to run fealty, a large number of unique characters and a number of loyal cards, do you really need this card?
SUPER-FEALTY costs a faction kneel, so it competes with fealty, The Iron Bank Will Have Its Due and Rains (hey, there might be a time this is relevant!) limiting the card’s usefulness from the offset. Furthermore, in a faction that is very susceptible to Valar and Varys, do you really want to splurge out your hand like Arys Oakheart on a date with Arianne? To maximize the value from this card, you need tons of characters in hand, which requires draw, something that Stark doesn’t have. When you need to have X cards in hand, an unknelt faction card, this card in hand, a full moon and an alignment of the planets for this card to have an impact… You’re probably not playing this card.
Summer is an interesting card, but sadly the weakest of all the direwolf attachments. More naval tech for Stark is interesting, but the fact that it’s limited to military challenges means it suffers from the same problems as all of Stark’s military tech. Namely, there isn’t enough incentive in Stark to win the military challenges at the moment, apart from renown. If this allowed naval on any challenge, it would’ve been superb and rivaled the other summer for a slot.
Which leads to a nice segue. To steal a common phrase, I feel the biggest problem with this card is the name. Summer (Core) is an absolutely essential card for Stark in the current meta, due to the necromantic powers of Flea Bottom and everyone’s favorite direwolf. The fact that Summer allows for endless sacrifice recursion with Jon Snow means that his place in Stark decks is pretty much assured for the future.
Winterfell Archery Range
An interesting card that explores a theme established with King Robb. Unfortunately, this card falls into a couple of traps. Firstly it’s an expensive location for its effect, when you compare it against something like Highgarden, Offer of a Peach and Scorching Deserts, all of which aside from the final example are less conditional. Secondly, location slots are a premium in stark at the moment, which relies on running 3 Winterfell and 2 Gates of Winterfell as standard. Thirdly, Stark has no problem winning the military challenges and doesn’t receive any great benefits from winning them. Sadly, it’s a card that has no real oomph behind it. However, it might find a place in melee as a control piece and deal maker.
The North Remembers
A disclaimer before we get on to the card. The North Remembers irritates me far more than it should. Firstly, the Art. I’m a fan of Lord of the Rings, but why does Robb look like Boromir? Secondly, one of the most seminal phrases in the entire canon was relegated to this card! REALLY! This entire card screams missed opportunity.
Something clearly got nerfed with this card. This hits most of the bases for what a good sacrifice card should do. It’s recurrable, benefits you if you have Robb Stark or Catelyn out and puts pressure on your opponent. Something that Stark needs if military is ever going to be an important challenge for the faction. Unfortunately, the fact that an opponent can sacrifice a location when you’re likely sacrificing a character (due to lack of expendable location options) means you’re sacrificing board presence whilst your opponent can choose whatever’s best for them. For me, this card needed the same text as Way of the Crab from L5R, but I can see how this would be too much with Thrones’ more permanent board states.
It’s a shame. At the moment, for this card to have impact you need to build your plot and draw deck around it so much that you end up making huge sacrifices in your plot lineup and character base, for not much impact. When you compound this limited impact with the card’s cost, when Stark has some very limited economy in comparison to some of the other factions, the card suffers. I was pleased to see this in Sam Braatz’s direwolf deck, so the card can clearly do some work. However, I feel there are better alternatives in the current meta.
Bear Island Host
BESTOW! YAY! :[
The definition of niche and a seed-card, this needs more House Mormont cards (duh!) in Stark to become relevant, something I’m sure we’ll see eventually. A four for four bicon shouldn’t be sniffed at long-term but there are better options in the current meta, like the last-hearth scouts. This needed to be loyal to get the edge on them. Also, Stark doesn’t tend to have the gold necessary for bestow cards at the moment, unless you play SUPER-FEALTY, which you aren’t. Hopefully a beastly Mormont gets printed fairly sharpish. Until that time, we’re sealing the Bear Island Host in a Winterfell crypt.
BESTOW! YAY! :[
A card that I was super excited about when it was spoiled. After some minor playing around with this, I don’t feel there are enough renown characters or power gain tricks that work in the challenges phase in a Tully build to make this work currently. When you compare the stand tech this provides to something like Plaza of Pride, Robb Stark or Jon Snow, it doesn’t cut the mustard. In melee, this card has more purpose, as Edmure’s ability is increased in utility fourfold in that format. In joust, the lackluster Tully pool hampers this card. Outside of Tully armies, or an alternative Edmure, I fail to see where an impactful character will come from that will boost the house and make this card playable as a consequence.
On to a more useful Tully card. Some will query why a two cost, 1 strength power monocon hasn’t been consigned to the Winterfell Crypts. However, Hoster’s ability is absolutely crucial in making a Tully Rush deck work. Stark Rush and Tully Rush in particular, seems to fit into a delayed rush build, where the deck constructs an effective board and then wins on turn four. The problem with such decks, is that your opponent will play a reset as soon as the danger becomes apparent. The key, then, is to either protect your board through dupes and saves, or have an impactful card like Hoster that allows you to hide the danger until he’s played. Furthermore, anyone who’s carefully examined the art will fall in love with Hoster’s cute toddler Tully blankets with the Tully sigil printed on them. GRR Martin’s estate could make a prize-catch (heh!) if they commissioned Dunelm to release a collection of Tully throws and blankets.
However, whilst Hoster’s ability is incredibly important, you have to be able to include him in multiple challenges to make effective use of him, which requires you to play icon granting attachments, naval plots or naval cards. This means you have to see a number of cards for the deck to work and, even more crucially, have to build an incredibly wide board state. If you don’t win on the turn Hoster enters play, you’re in serious trouble. Sadly, conditional renown will never be as useful as the printed keyword….. grrrr Tyrell!
To conclude, Hoster is an incredibly important card for a deck that doesn’t consistently work in competitive play at the moment. Once more Tully cards are printed that protect your board and work off renown, I feel the deck may see competitive play and be assured, Hoster will be there, tucked warmly in bed
I won’t linger too long on Jeyne. She’s a useful piece of tech for the sacrifice deck, ensuring that Catelyn Stark, or your other ladies, can return to the field if something goes awry. Furthermore, an intrigue power bicon in Stark is nothing to be scoffed at, especially with Stark’s naval wolves. If you play Direwolves, Sacrifice, Jeynes of Castamere, or any deck that relies on ladies, Jeyne should be considered as a 1x of.
BESTOW! YAY! :[
The best bestow cards have a powerful effect that builds on a faction’s existing strengths, Ricasso, Astapor, Garlan or Horn Hill. On this basis, Sansa’s maid should be a Tyrell card, not a stark card. Stark have no synergy that currently works off their ladies and don’t tend to run win by 5 events in their current incarnations. Outside of its effect, which is mediocre in Stark at best, it’s a 2 cost, 2 strength, power monocon with a largely irrelevant trait. Nuff said sadly.
Despite my overwhelming disappointment in this card, I will note that it makes banner of the wolf a much more appealing choice for a number of houses, most notably in Tyrell, Martell and Lannister. For this reason, it escapes the Winterfell crypts.
An absolutely essential card for the upcoming Direwolf deck. Like all direwolves, the card suffers from a lack of versatility due to being a military monocon. However, the card’s strength, text and intimidate keyword gives the deck some needed teeth. If only there was a card that was capable of giving Direwolves icons, or involving them in other challenges…..
Yes, it’s the first of our good cards and it’s a doozy! Bran is absolutely essential in a direwolf deck. Other than that, he won’t see play, but for that deck he’s seminally important. Multiple stands will lead to multiple intimidates with Grey Wind and the Roaming Wolfpack, multiple strength reduction with the Wolves of the North and potentially multiple delicious doggy treats with Grey Wind. Furthermore, turning your military monocons into masters of intrigue is a: hilarious and b: effective, removing the biggest weakness of the direwolves. Some will criticize the fact that Bran isn’t included in the Winterfell Crypts, due to his niche ability, however his ability is so important to making direwolves anything other than a cute idea that he rightfully earns a spot as a good card. Plus, the art is incredible.
I hate negative attachments in the game, but even I have to admit this is a powerful one with some important design choices. Firstly, the ability is incredibly powerful and cannot be ignored. Turning off attack, defense and naval is incredibly potent and effectively reduces the attached character to an iron throne.
Secondly, the cost slot means that the Stark player makes a sacrifice (heh!) in playing this card, as opposed to Craven which has a fairly inconsequential cost for such a potent effect.
Thirdly, the ‘downside’ of this card works very well in a constructive Stark deck which focuses on Power Challenges. If your opponent uses Valar to kill your board, the text works in your favour, allowing you to sacrifice characters who would otherwise be killed. All in all a good card that I’m pleased is in Stark, despite my instinctive hatred for negative attachments.
The Northern Keep
The rumourmill turned out to be pretty spot-on about this card’s text. In the months leading to the release of CP6, I saw a lot of online posts dismissing this card out of hand on the basis of the rumours, completely unfairly in my opinion. Fundamentally, I don’t think you could class an economy location as anything other than a good card, especially as it boosts some of the lowest economy plots. After a lot of playing around with this card, I think it’s a solid choice of econ for particular Stark decks that in the current meta has been overshadowed by Great Halls. This card is a necessary piece for Stark heavy-claim to function and the ability to use Winterfell on offense shouldn’t be underestimated. Of all the cards in the pack, this is the one I would recommend people try before relegating it to the binder. In a VD meta, the impact of great halls may be diminished, so I think this will be elevated to a greater contender for slots. Hopefully, we continue to get pieces in the next cycle that support a winter, heavy-claim build. And no, you don’t need to play kings of winter to get impact out of this card, its super effective out of fealty.
Hands down the best in-house Stark card this cycle in this reviewer’s humble opinion. A quick anecdote involving ‘Gorgeous’ George Chayeb, will hopefully validate my judgment. George and I are 3-2 at Varberg Morgulis, final game of the joust swiss. I’m playing Stark, George is Martell Wolf. My hopes of attaining best Stark hang in the balance and pride of a 4-2 split is at stake for both of us. Completely illegally, we take turns warding my dacey (ignoring the fact ward is unique due to tournament fatigue) in order to take her massive strength buff. This happened at least three times, prompting Samuel Linde to give us the ‘most desirable woman in Westeros’ achievement. When Sansa, Arya and Catelyn are out on the field and your opponent wards Dacey, you know she’s good.
On a serious note, Dacey is everything I want from a Stark character. She’s efficient, she’s loyal, she has renown, she synergises with other Starks and can be resurrected with Summer. Yes she has drawbacks, but that’s the sign of a well-designed card. I could gush for hours about Racy Dacey, the little lady that could. But I’ll summarise her in a short sentence.
SHE’S ALL YOU’D EVER WANT, SHE’S A BICON WITH PACE, SHE’S TWENTY STRENGTH NOW!
SHE’S A LADY! WOOOOOAAAAHWOOOOOAHWOAAAH SHE’S A LADY! TALKING ABOUT DACEY MORMONT. THE BEST IN CYCLE 3!