We’ve been waiting for the full ingredients of a really potent Wildlings deck ever since Mance Rayder showed his face in the Wolves of the North box, promising some exciting ambush nastiness but lacking any kind of fleshed-out support.
There had been occasional experiments before – I remember getting thrashed about by a brutal Tyrell/Kraken that combined Fishwhiskers with a King-Beyond-the-Wall Mance to lay down some smack – but there just weren’t enough cards in the Wildling theme to make anything consistent.
Appropriately, though, wildlings were a major component of the Night’s Watch box earlier this year, which provided a couple of bomb characters (Jon Snow and Rattleshirt) as well as some handy support tech. Despite that, though, nobody has yet been able to put together a Wildlings deck that can trouble the top tables at a major event.
(For the avoidance of any doubt: this article will almost certainly not be bucking that trend.)
There isn’t a ‘standard’ Wildlings deck out there yet – none have been successful enough to make a name for themselves – but the most prominent archetypes that I have observed are as follows:
- Night’s Watch, either Kings of Winter or Lord of the Crossing, using Watchers Jon and some of the overlapping synergies with the Watch cards.
- Tyrell, likely the same agendas, using the economy and draw of green cards to fund high-claim plots.
- Any faction card, it doesn’t matter, because all of the draw deck is neutral. Probably Crossing. Shout-out to Rebecca Gillard.
None of those are how I found myself playing around with the free folk, however. All that I wanted to do was take a fourth or fifth stab at building Targaryen/Kings of Winter, which I find myself tempted to do periodically every couple of months.
Targ/Winter has always interested me because of Targ’s spread of low-cost characters with high STR – Ser Jorah and the Braided Warriors’ STR exceed their costs in the 2 range, while Quaithe and the dragons offer similarly efficient bodies. In order to be able to open with low-gold, high-claim Winter plots and keep up that pressure so that the opponent can’t recover, such characters are vital to stop you relying upon seeing the right bomb on setup.
The Watch box gives us so many more tools to flesh out this concept. Plaza of Pride is a sensational card for a low-curve winter aggro deck because it can stand almost any character when so many of them are cheap, allowing your beefy bicons to really exploit their versatility when you don’t have much gold to go wide. It also has the benefit of giving you something to do with your excess cards in hand, seeing as your reserve will often be hovering at around 3 or 4 due to the reduction from the agenda. Use them or lose them.
Crow Killers is one of the best cards in the box, giving you more of that pseudo-stand to make an early Famine or Winds of Winter really bite. The Frozen Shore is less heralded but still good value, especially if you can stand a Rattleshirt or Wildling Horde. Scaling the Wall, meanwhile, is trivial to trigger and can be huge in disrupting an opponent’s ability to recover from a bad start. I’ve so far used it to bounce a Bitterbridge Encampment, Lanni Harrenhal and Nightmares-ed Arbor to hand, each of which probably won me those games.
As I looked through the box like this, my Khal Drogo-focused Targ deck became a more consistent build that relied simply upon a wide spread of efficient bodies to make two claim bite. Drogo is still there, but he’s merely a useful 1x alongside Grey Worm, Mance and Rattleshirt, all of whom can add something either on setup or once you’ve got your economy ready but none of whom are crucial to how it performs. The Wildling Hordes are quietly the biggest bombs in the deck, especially given that their ability does not need to boost their own STR.
Dalla is the only high-cost unique above one copy. I’ve bumped her up to 2x just for the extra chance of seeing her on setup, which is when she shines the most. If I only see her in the midgame, I am more likely just to use her for Plaza fodder, but the deck is light on draw and therefore grateful of her presence.
There’s no Drogon but the other two dragons are important, partly for providing dupes to resist resets but mostly for threatening Dracarys, which can turn Famine into a nuclear bomb.
I found room for a cheeky 1x King Viserys, as the deck lacks renown. Particularly when you are putting so much pressure on the opponent’s board, Viserys is a pretty reliable trigger and can really set a ticking clock on the opponent to respond or lose. If he gets reset, whatever. Now your opponent’s taken a tempo hit and you can smash ‘em up.
On the subject of resets, 2x Nightmares is key to combatting the Last of the Giants into Varys play, and that card may end up going to 3x. At the moment, the third’s slot goes to a 1x Funeral Pyre as a surprise draw option when you start killing key characters.
Plot-wise, I am almost always opening either Famine or Winds of Winter; ideally the former but sometimes the extra gold and initiative are necessary. If you can keep those three two-claimers rolling one after the other, it’s probably ideal, although depending on their response the time to flip Valar might be around plot three. Barring the Gates and Winter Festival give you the choke, finances and power gain to help close things out, with Barring being particularly effective against Lannister and Tyrell. Varys’s Riddle will often be your seventh plot but is in the deck mostly to try to catch a Counting Coppers or to counter Valar or Marched to the Wall in certain circumstances. In a couple of months, it will probably become a Valar Dohaeris.
The deck is great fun to pilot, forcing you to think carefully about just how to upend opponents who will usually be running scarier characters than you. And you get some delightful squirming from opponents – make sure to watch their faces closely when you flip the third two-claimer in a row…
If you’d like to hear me talk more about jank, head to the Knight of the Blackwater YouTube channel, where I recently joined Ben to talk over a revised version of the Night’s Watch/Rose deck that I built on the blog last month.