I’m not going to call myself a player of particular skill, but my meta-mates would probably agree that I’d perform a little bit better on average at tournaments if I weren’t too frequently lured by the mystical temptress that is jank.
People play Thrones for different reasons. There are, the old wisdom goes, three kinds of players (in joust, anyway) – Ned, who wants to play decks that tie together thematically; Jaime, who wants to play the deck that has the best shot of winning with no care for other concerns; and Shagga (or Melisandre, to some), who just wants shiny things. While in truth there’s usually quite a lot of bleed between those three ideas, I very much lean towards the latter. I want to do well, but ideally I want to do well with a hilarious combo that I dreamed up.
In Search of Jank is an ongoing series about this pursuit of glorious nonsense. At various points we’ll explore what sparks ideas for decks and how I go about turning that idea into an actual deck, but most of all we’ll be wildly speculating about likely terrible interactions.
My first reaction when any new card is spoiled is an involuntary one: a voice in my head asks me ‘what other faction could I put this in?’
Banner agendas are the heart of Thrones excitement for a combo player like me. It’s easy to see how any given card might interact with others from the same faction; they were designed first and foremost to slot in with their brethren. What’s not always immediately obvious is how a card might interact with one that works with different themes, and surprising someone who’s expecting the immediately obvious is one of my greatest pleasures in this game.
The most recent chapter pack to hit the scene at time of writing, The Fall of Astapor, has been particularly exciting for me as a deckbuilder. There’s a lot in it to unpack: a potentially meta-altering plot (Duel), huge new cards for Targaryen (Grey Worm and Astapor) with a hard counter for one of them (Lay Siege) right alongside it, and a massive shot in the arm for Martell in the shape of the Dornish Fiefdom. We get two big pieces for the soon-to-be-real Frey Crossing deck (goodness, I can’t wait for Walder) and there are even some people who are inexplicably excited for the aggressively mediocre Silver Hair Net.
In this article, though, I’m going to focus on one of the two cards that I found most interesting: The North Remembers. (The other, Fever Dreams, will soon be explored separately.)
The North Remembers is Stark’s entry in the ongoing series of 2-cost events that can be recurred from the discard pile for 1 gold, and it’s fascinating. It’s one of those cards that seems initially difficult to rate highly because the cost is nominally the same for you as it is for your opponent. If you’re rating this card based on whether it would be good were you to play it on an average turn for the average Stark deck right now, your answer is no. Players are in the habit of keeping a suitable barrier of chuds on the board or can afford to lose a Roseroad or in-faction reducer location here and there. What are you really achieving if you’re spending 2 gold to get rid of those?
The question that we must really ask ourselves, then, is whether or not we can engineer situations in which this card forces your opponent to sacrifice something meaningful while keeping the damage to your own board minimal. This might not do wonders in a standard Stark build – so can we build something nonstandard?
This is where the thinking about banner agendas comes in. The North Remembers is loyal so we are limited to bringing in non-loyal cards from other factions, but two ideas for combos immediately stuck out – and they both come from the same philosophy: the cost of sacrificing cards from your own board doesn’t matter if those cards weren’t going to be on your board at the end of the phase anyway.
To wit: Stark/Banner of the Kraken. Sea Bitch is crying out to be combined with this event. Steal a location from your opponent, then play North Remembers to sacrifice it from your board while they lose a second card that they controlled. You thought a Wall player was frustrated when you ‘borrowed’ their 2 power for a round? Watch their face when you bin it – and any dupes they put down – entirely. In this way it’s easy to very quickly put a lot of pressure on your opponent’s board; losing one card is survivable, losing two is constricting.
Another option: Stark/Banner of the Lion. This is a deck with which I’ve played roughly 12 games since the pack released and, boyp howduy, is it fun. Inconsistent, but fun.
The combo here is with the Lannister Harrenhal – bring in a character out of nowhere, win a challenge with them, then sacrifice them before they would otherwise be killed and crunch that board. My build is a false banner evoking the heavy-aggro Clansmen decks typically played out of Lanni/Rains, but using Stark to give me Winter Is Coming as well as The North Remembers, plus Roose Bolton for extra kill. There’s even a cheeky copy of Winterfell Crypt, which offers some potentially very impactful removal at low cost if you trigger it with Hodor or Wolves Sansa (equal or lower printed STR than 4 is a lot of targets!). Then you have Core Tyrion hanging around to provide funds for Put to the Sword and your other kill events as well as ambush characters.
For one glorious evening last weekend, it won six games on theironthrone.net in a combined total of 13 rounds and less than 50 minutes. I could barely contain my laughter. Still doesn’t necessarily mean that I think the deck will ever be worth taking to a serious tournament but, when it works, it’s a sight to behold.
The other thing about new cards is that they’re a great reason to re-evaluate old cards. For example: name me the seven plots that were released in the Watchers on the Wall box earlier this year. Go on, I’ll wait. Retaliation, of course. The Fire That Burns, ugh. Name Day Tourney, yes please. After that… er, wow. What even were they? Dear reader, I researched them five minutes ago so I could double-check that seven was the right number, and I even forgot one since I started writing this paragraph.
The remaining plots are an eclectic bunch. Whisper Campaign, Called into Service, Frozen Expanse and… this thing.
Do you see it now? We’re looking for ways to break The North Remembers by having us sacrifice nothing of our own board, and there was a whole plot for us released months ago! Credit to my metamate Joel for spotting this interaction (and BOOOOO to Joel for reporting back to me during the writing process that it is still, despite testing, bad). I haven’t yet tested the combo but, if you can reliably kill your opponent’s characters in the challenges phase, it might be worth a look. It just goes to show that you don’t necessarily need to consign any given card to the binder of oblivion just because its use isn’t immediately evident upon release.
Ultimately, what excites me the most about The North Remembers is not just its own novelty but the new light that it sheds onto other cards, and the opportunity to build something fresh and different out of House Stark. I’m looking forward to trying out more ideas with it as more and more options are printed in the packs to come.
Next time on In Search of Jank: just how disgusting can we make Fever Dreams in Lanni/Stag?