Tempo and The North

House Stark in A Game of Thrones: The Card Game


“Let me tell you something about wolves, child. When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.”
   –Eddard Stark, A Game of Thrones

In the northern reaches of Westeros, House Stark holds dominion over towering, snow-covered mountains and the cold, silent wolfswood. Today, we travel north with Florian Maas, the Stahleck 2016 Joust Champion, to continue our series of faction guest articles with a look at House Stark and the tempo game!

Florian Maas on House Stark and Tempo

A Game of Thrones: The Card Game has always been about leveraging your strengths better than your opponent, negating their efforts while developing your own game plan. With this philosophy, there come many different approaches to success at the only game that matters. We call these approaches deck archetypes. In the game’s short lifespan, we’ve already seen the controlling patterns of Tyrell Banner of the Sun (Core Set, 201B), the sheer aggression of Lannister Kings of Winter (Called to Arms, 38), and the dominance combos of Baratheon Kings of Summer (Called to Arms, 37). Personally, I’ve had a penchant for tempo decks since the very beginning. So strap in as we explore House Stark’s strength as a tempo faction, searching for resources in the wintry north, where efficiency is the key to survival.

What Is Tempo?

As a deck archetype, tempo is defined by one paradigm: efficiency. We say that a play gives you tempo if you invested fewer resources to make the play than your opponent must spend to counteract it. For example, playing a card or triggering an ability purely to draw cards usually results in an immediate loss of tempo, since your opponent won’t have to immediately spend resources to react to your action. On the other hand, initiating a challenge that your opponent cannot oppose grants you tempo because you invested very little of your board position (which we consider a resource) in exchange for a significant gain. If your deck is built to accrue tempo advantages and convert them into a winning position, then it belongs to the tempo archetype.

If our goal is to maximize efficiency, we can only ask: where do decks in A Game of Thrones: The Card Game usually waste resources by their intrinsic design, and how can we prevent this from happening? 

In the simplest possible terms, A Game of Thrones: The Card Game is about drawing cards and playing them. This establishes the card flow from our deck, through our hand, and into play as the most fundamental mechanism of a deck. If you can’t do this, then you can’t do anything. 

For any deck to succeed, you need a steady flow of cards and gold—without too many of either.

Unfortunately, this flow meets resistance in the form of two bottlenecks. The first bottleneck is how many cards you can draw, and the second one is how many cards you can afford to play—a consequence of the limited economy in A Game of Thrones: The Card Game. Drawing a lot of cards without the economy to back it up only results in the painful process of discarding to meet your reserve. On the other hand, even the best economy is useless if you don’t have anything meaningful to do with your gold. The game rewards a balanced approach, where your goal is to draw exactly enough cards to make essential, impactful plays each turn.

With that in mind, we now have a decent grasp of the tempo archetype and its card flow requirements. The next logical step is to find a faction that can support this style of play. Enter House Stark, the wolves of the north, a faction with a natural propensity for tempo. 

House Stark, A Tempo Analysis

We should begin this segment by acknowledging that House Stark is rightfully notorious for having a lackluster intrigue game. But instead of cramming our decks full of anemic mid-range intrigue characters, let’s embrace this weakness. Let’s commit as little as possible to intrigue challenges, not so that we may oppose them and threaten to win them on offense, but gain tempo by investing fewer resources than our opponent for comparable gain. To realize this concept, we should include cost-efficient intrigue characters with impactful abilities, such as Wildling Scout (No Middle Ground, 78), Septa Mordane (True Steel, 101), and Catelyn Stark (Core Set, 143), but eschew low-stat, mid-range options like Donella Hornwood (Called to Arms, 21) and Littlefinger (Core Set, 28). Incidentally, avoiding Littlefinger also touches on the next important issue.

Incidental card draw is preferable to drawing in bulk. Gates of Winterfell (Core Set, 154) is a great example. It can be triggered after our opponent’s intrigue challenge against our empty hand, or it can draw us cards before intrigue claim to protect our best cards without committing resources to defending. Summer (Core Set, 148) and Maester Luwin (Taking the Black, 3) offer insight to Bran Stark (Core Set, 142) and Robb Stark (Core Set, 146), and if we aren’t the first player, we’ll get to keep that card for the next round, giving us another easy way to blunt the effects of intrigue claim. Summons (Core Set, 22), Building Orders (Core Set, 6), and A Time for Wolves (Wolves of the North, 46) search for the exact card we need, be it Robb Stark, Ice (Core Set, 153), or Summer, letting us spend our resources on the best possible card for our current situation. Incidental card draw and tutor effects may not result in a full hand, but they set us up perfectly to make every card count. 

We’ve observed that trimming card draw, and by extension every action we take, down to the essential is the key to tempo play. But how do our tempo advantages manifest on the board after they’ve been generated? That depends. Some decks might convert tempo directly to gaining power with efficient renown characters, while other decks might use tempo to push through removal effects, killing key characters and locking their opponents out of the game. While Stark certainly makes good use of these tools—think Eddard Stark (Wolves of the North, 3) and Ice—our tempo advantages usually take shape as constructive board advantage. In other words, we piece together character combinations that cannot be beat. In fact, our character base is basically one giant combo, a Voltron of many, that, if assembled, will inexorably overwhelm our opposition. 

What does this look like in practice? Obviously, having Robb Stark, Sansa Stark (Wolves of the North, 13), and Arya Stark (Core Set, 141) on the board feels pretty good. But getting Jon Snow (Wolves of the North, 5) out to trigger Robb Stark at will feels even better. And after that, we could still draw Maester Luwin to boost Robb and Jon, or stabilize our board with Septa Mordane, or gain easy, repeatable kill with Grey Wind (Core Set, 145).

This way of converting tempo advantage into board advantage is a central reason why House Stark works so well as a tempo faction. If every character in our deck improves our board position beyond its individual stats, even when the board is crowded, then the density of useful cards in our deck virtually increases. That means we don’t need to waste resources drawing for high-impact cards and we can instead spend those resources to play our impactful cards, increasing our tempo twofold. Hurrah!

The Takeaway

We’ve seen today that tempo play and House Stark go hand in hand. The faction’s fluid card flow and high-impact cards lend themselves perfectly to the efficiency-oriented play style that is tempo. If you want to dig deeper on your own, I’m sure you will find even more Stark cards that can support this game plan. With that said, I hope you’ve enjoyed our brief field trip to Winterfell, and don’t forget, Winter is Coming!

Florian Maas started playing A Game of Thrones: The Card Game back in 2012. He considers himself a jack-of-all-trades but only ever wins games with Stark, a personality disorder that earned him the title of Stahleck 2016 Joust Champion. Recently his activity in the online community had dropped dramatically, the times of quick-witted jabs and friendly bickering seemingly passed. And all of the sudden he’s back, writing articles for FFG? I smell a conspiracy.

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