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Sparring Lessons with Ser Rodrik Cassel

Game of Thrones Stark Strategy Woof Thrones of Minnesota

As some of you may know, Stark is the faction that I have the most experience with. Recently I’ve gone undefeated in two Store Championships with my Stark Fealty deck, in a meta where the faction hasn’t been performing too well according to tournament statistics. But personally, I feel like Stark is in a good spot right now. I could see it being in the middle of the pack, but towards the bottom is just puzzling to me. They have tremendously powerful cards, and many ways of denying other faction’s powerful cards from dealing damage.

As a true Stark loyalist and the Master-at-Arms at Winterfell, I hereby offer my insight to my fellow bannermen in an effort to help the faction reclaim its former glory. Here are a few sparring lessons to help sharpen your skills with House Stark. Keep in mind that the focus here will be on a Stark Fealty "good stuff" type of deck.


“If you keep all your treasures in one purse, you only make it easier for those who would rob you.”

One thing that Stark excels at is being flexible. You can easily shift your entire strategy depending on the situation. Your opponent could be winning the war on most military and intrigue battles, but as long you’re able to maintain a board presence and dominate power challenges, (especially with a couple of Renown characters like Robb Stark and Eddard Stark in the mix) victory should be well within reach. Conversely, if your opponent’s board is vulnerable to military claim, a Winter is Coming followed by a Marched to the Wall can be a lethal combination.

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Lately, I’ve been running both Valar Dohaeris and The First Snow of Winter in my plot deck and it’s been great having both options to punish my opponent for either playing too many chuds or expensive characters. More often than not, these two resets will make Winter is Coming a card that your opponent will be dreading to see.

As a card, Winter is Coming is a great representation of what the faction is capable of. This sneaky event can be used to go for the throat and kill a vital character, or to significantly widen the gap in power. Always stay open-minded during the game and be willing to change tactics.


“When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.”

Not only is Stark a flexible faction, they’re also very resilient. With so many characters with Renown, there’s often a lot of power on the board to safeguard. Thankfully, the faction has the tools to do just that. Catelyn and Winterfell both stop triggered effects, Bran stops events, Jory Cassel saves characters from being killed, Summer recurs characters whether they’re dead or alive, Arya protects herself with a dupe, and even the fool Ser Dontos Hollard can save ladies.

I also would like to encourage Stark players to play the direwolf attachment Lady and the relatively new location, Last Hearth. Not only are they great cards in general that will help you win crucial challenges, but they also protect from nasty burn effects, and the Targaryens are a big threat right now. Between all of these cards, dupes, and maybe a couple Bodyguards in the mix, your Starks should feel safety in numbers.

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And that's also when they’re at their greatest power. Robb Stark is the most threatening with Bran Stark and Grey Wind on the table. Sansa and Arya make a potent team with Septa Mordane, and Maege Mormont gets along famously with Dacey Mormont. Achieving these combinations of characters isn’t necessary to victory, but it’s good to know what cards work best with each other, and which are worth putting in the extra effort to protect.

Don’t just marshal characters without any regard though. Always mind your opponent’s potential resets as well as your own. I’ll often pause for a moment and refer to my plot deck during marshaling and challenges to help me make difficult decisions facing me in the moment, and it tends to pays off in dividends. Sometimes it’s simple restraint that can be the key to winning challenging games.


“In this world only winter is certain. We may lose our heads, it's true ... but what if we prevail?”

If you ever feel under pressure and your opponent’s board seem impenetrable to resets or military claim, try to focus solely on winning power challenges. After all, power is what you need to win the game. Stark is absolutely loaded with those beautiful blue icons (like the ones pictured below), so chances are you have a couple more out than your opponent does. At a recent store championship I was facing a Night’s Watch Rains of Castamere deck. I was having one of those games where things were just not going my way, I quickly ran out of a hand and my top decks were often dead cards. But I hung in there and focused on power challenges and still pulled out a win, despite everything feeling like it was going wrong.

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To that end, you may want to consider a card like Superior Claim to help accelerate things and create massive amounts of pressure for your opponent. If you rise in power quickly enough, they will have to defend a number of challenges they might not have otherwise and make other suboptimal plays in a desperate attempt to stop you from hitting fifteen power. You might even force out a premature reset from your opponent.

You easily have the potential of grabbing half the power you need in the game during a single challenge. Keep in mind that a card like Superior Claim also helps battle against annoying passive power gain decks. Always try to force your opponent to play the game your way, and at your tempo.


“The winters are hard, but the Starks will endure. We always have.”

As mentioned, Stark has tools to cancel events and flat out stop triggered effects. Stopping triggered effects is tremendously powerful but generally speaking, you have one shot at doing so with Catelyn or Winterfell. Make sure that you’re using the most of these potent denial abilities. Anticipate threats and nullify the worst of them with Catelyn and Winterfell and assess the board and strike with your characters where your opponent is the weakest.

Just remember that if you don’t have Winter plot out and you trigger Winterfell, you can’t trigger effects either. The last thing you want to do has have your own Winterfell cost you the game. It’s also a good idea to have another cheaper (non limited) location in play with Winterfell in case your opponent flips Nothing Burns Like the Cold. Flea Bottom, Gates of Winterfell, and Last Hearth are all good cheap locations that serve this function well. Still, Winterfell is well worth the investment and may alone bring you back into a game that you were starting to fall behind in.

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Like Winterfell, Catelyn can be used offensively just as well as defensively. With Catelyn on your side, you can charge straight into Astapor or Ghaston Grey with no reservations. One of my all-time favorite tricks is to go all out on a power challenge with essentially my whole board, and during this challenge use Grey Wind to eat someone on my side to trigger Robb Stark’s ability to stand my board. Often I’ve had people try to Nightmares or Treachery Robb during this trick but with Catelyn in the challenge, it’s too late for that.

Also keep in mind that with Catelyn in a challenge, cards like Superior Claim and Winter is Coming cannot be cancelled. Wardens of the North is also a great tool that allows you to cheat her into a challenge to either protect other Stark characters or stop your opponent’s shenanigans. Catelyn and Winterfell and both extremely strong cards, so once they're in play try to keep them there and get the most out of them.


“Fear cuts deeper than swords.”

Stark has more cards with Intimidate than any other faction, so don't waste that inherent advantage. Intimidate truly is a powerful keyword, and it will often force opponents to defend (and over-defend) challenges they wouldn’t want to otherwise, just to try to keep their best characters from being knelt. Again, it’s about forcing suboptimal plays on your opponent. A combination of Intimidate and Renown will have your opponent scrambling in order to deal with the massive amount of pressure created between all of the Intimidate and Renown coming their way.

More often than not your opponent will want to go second at the start of the round, so make them regret that decision and punish them with Intimidate. The new version of Nymeria has been an incredible card in practice, exceeding even my high expectations.

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You can fire a volley of challenges at your opponent, and whatever one they choose to lower their defense on, send in Nymeria for the punishment. Or she can simply be used to win a critical challenge where you suddenly need the extra strength. Cards like Last Hearth, Winterfell, and Wardens of the North can ensure that amount of strength you won by is high enough to hit your chosen target to kneel.

Of course I could never forget about Robb’s lethal companion, Grey Wind, which is a card I’ve loved to use since the beginning of the game. He’s fearsome when with he’s with Robb and but otherwise can at least be used to great effect with Intimidate. Whether you’re able to successfully Intimidate a character, or your opponent over-defends to stop the Intimidate, either way that’s a win for you.


“Boy, girl, you are a sword, that is all.”

In the upcoming Martell box, there are two very enticing Stark cards that have been spoiled. I’m happy to say, the future is looking bright for Stark.

First up is Greatjon Umber. He has great stats, traits, a potentially crippling character ability, and of course, Intimidate. I would say he’s at least a one-of in just about every Stark deck but his character ability may call for running an additional copy or two so that he consistently sees play early on in the game. He’s a fantastic card and I can’t wait to let this old bastard loose in battle.

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Next up is Taste For Flesh. This is some nasty, nasty stuff. Now you can punish your opponents for trying to even defend your Intimidate challenges by killing one of their defending characters. Either they let it go through unopposed, which nets you an extra power and you kneel whatever you want, or they defend and you can kill a defending character in process. The body count can really stack up quickly as well if it's a military challenge and you have a Winter is Coming ready to pop off.

Now your opponents will always have to always consider Taste For Flesh if there’s a direwolf (or even a direwolf attachment like Lady) in play. I love the synergy all of these cards have together and it really feels like a great direwolf theme has finally been fleshed out.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and have been able to take something away from it if you’re a Stark player. Let me know if you have any questions or comments below. Of course, the best way to improve as a Stark player is by playing the game so get back out there and show your enemies that the north remembers!
  • scantrell24, JCWamma, istaril and 7 others like this


Stark OP just good players don't play it. 

    • CameronD likes this
I'm also eager to try out taste for flesh in a deck, that's what was needed. Besides "good staff" what do you think about prospects of Stark subthematic decks like sacrifice, direwolves, Tully, maybe even ultra loyal deck with Mormonts and Favour of the old gods?

You could make an "ultra loyal deck" right now with House of the Red Door / Bear Island, to offset losing Roseroads and whatnot. I'm not sure how great it is but I think it could be alright! 

Full-on direwolves could actually be pretty good with Nymeria and Taste for Flesh now in the mix. I'm less optimistic about going hard into sacrifice or Tully themes. 

Speaking of sacrifice though, I have to say that the upcoming plot Breaking Ties is going to be pretty awesome in Stark, no matter what flavor you play. 

    • SergSel likes this

I think Stark has the best chance at making the Seven deck work when that agenda comes out feel like that be a good subtheme for them more than sacrifice focus. 

Yes, the Seven may work, although it is not that nedly...for Stark, I wonder if the Old Gods trait will ever be meaningful...
    • CameronD likes this

great article

    • CameronD likes this
Stark is a strong faction, but not that exciting to play. Still, great article, makes me wanna play those honest guys ;)
    • CameronD likes this

Thanks for the lovely comments, guys!

Tried direwolves on the Iron Throne with my own deck and made 7 wins on the run, maybe it is down to quality of opposition, but these theme is really playable. Maybe just as with all Stark themes, you don't get flashy wins on round 2-3, but hsve to build up board and pressure and make efforts to outplay the opponent.
Brilliant read, I am also a Stark fanboy, testing different deckbuilds with various results. I always find it most difficult to choose the right plots for my decks. Usually A Noble Cause, A Time for Wolves, Marched to the Wall, Wardens of the North and Close Call are auto includes, but struggle to find the right mix, any Pro tips on plot selection? Cheers