A Song of Ice & Fire: Let’s Talk – Stark Sworn Swords, Part 1

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In this two-part article, Derek will be doing a deep dive review of one of the core units of the Stark’s, the Stark Sworn Swords.

First off, I should note that I’m basically nobody as far as competitive gaming, but if anyone is interested in my competitive gaming pedigree, I’m was a solid competitive Magic and Hearthstone player, I’m decent at X-wing, and probably not terrible at this game.

Anyway, back to talking about Stark Sworn Swords. Before I can really do that, I need to talk about how I evaluate units. This starts with a realization I had a while back: we’re all pretty bad at figuring out whether or not units are any good. The best and most committed players work around this in a simple way; they practice a whole lot and learn which units are good through testing. However, I’m neither the best nor the most committed of players, so I have to find a shortcut. Given my background, that was pretty much always going to be math.

Now, I have a degree in mathematics and a minor in statistics, but I haven’t used either in a practical or workplace setting in probably 10 years. As such, when I say that I use math to evaluate units, I’m not talking about advanced statistical analysis, I’m talking about math on the back of a napkin at the bar after a beer or two using some basic probability on a handful of d6’s. I’m not building detailed Monte Carlo simulations or digging into the bag of probability distributions I barely remember. 

Using an extremely simple example, suppose you have a 5-point unit with 4+ Attack Value and 8 attack dice, attacking a unit with a 4+ Defense Value and 6+ Morale. The attacking unit expects to put out 4 hits, and the defending unit expects to stop half of those, leaving the unit to suffer 2 Wounds. With a Morale Value of 6+, the defender expects to lose a little over half a Wound per panic test, so very roughly that attack expects to cause 2.56-ish wounds. In itself, that doesn’t tell us much, but it gives us a starting point to measure the Units offensive value.
Now suppose the unit has an attachment or ability with something simple to model, like Critical Blow. Each 6 counts as two hits, so each die is worth 1/6th more hits. That increases the expected hits from 4 to 5.33, which means the expected wounds increase to 2.67 (again roughly). The expectation from the panic test doesn’t change, so you’re looking at a total of about 3.22 wounds on the attack.

Still doesn’t mean much, but it tells us that critical blow is worth about 0.67 damage for this unit, against this defender, in this situation. The other key thing we learn is that Critical Blow takes the attacker from needing 5 attacks to drop a 12-model unit with these defensive stats, to 4 attacks. So while 0.67 damage doesn’t sound wildly impressive, taking a full activation less to kill something is a pretty big deal.
To bring an already long example to a close, my process for evaluating a unit and any potential NCUs, commanders, attachments, or tactics cards, is not to model every possible situation using the above basic concepts, but to identify a few relatively common situations and run the numbers in those scenarios specifically, like charging into the front, flank, and rear (or being charged in the front/flank/rear if I’m evaluating defense). I don’t create some magical arbitrary final number that rates how good a unit is, I just use it as a basic guideline for evaluating the unit in order to reduce how often I need to put the unit on the table to have a solid grasp of its capabilities, function, and value.

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Stark Sworn Swords

The “base” unit for the Stark Army, the Stark Sworn Swords, is a phenomenal unit. Most Stark armies have one thrown in as an afterthought, that’s if they have one at all. Each army is its own beast, often working toward synergies and playstyles of the individual running it, so I won’t say that is “wrong” per se, but when I build a 40-point Stark list, most of the time I’m actually building a 30-point list plus two Sworn Swords. From the Night’s Watch army, Sworn Brothers are often touted as that army’s best, most efficient unit – and the Stark Sworn Swords are incredibly similar in efficiency but don’t get anywhere near as much attention for some reason. Let’s break down the unit in three areas: mobility, offense, and defense. Along the way, I’ll throw in some comparisons to the NW Sworn Swords just to give you a starting point for evaluation. I know it might seem odd to compare them to a 6 point unit, but we’ll circle back to that later.

Mobility

Mobility for units is actually fairly easy to evaluate, you can bucket every unit into one of four categories; Slow, Moderate, Fast, and Cavalry.

Slow units are Speed 4, Moderate, Speed 5, Fats are Speed 6 and Cavalry get a free Maneuver at the start of their activation.
N.B. The difference between Speed 5 Cavalry and Speed 6 Cavalry is insignificant on the table and whilst there will be instances where Speed 6 Cav matters, I am not going to analyze those in this series.

In Short, Stark Sworn Swords are a Speed 5 Unit, as are their comparison unit, the Sworn Brothers, so there is not much more to say here.

 

Offense

Baseline, we’ve already done this! The example earlier covers their baseline 4+ attack and 8/6/4 attack profile against 4+ defense and 6+ morale. Now we need to account for Stark Fury (which you should use on every attack they make), the defining ability of this unit. Ignore the “cost” of that ability, for now, we’ll cover that when we look at defense. As before, in this very basic scenario, the unit expects to cause 2.56 Wounds on its attack. Adding in Stark Fury, giving the unit +1 to hit and Critical Blow, that changes to 3.89 Wounds. Add in a charge, and you’re expecting to knock out a full rank against the average defense, often taking the unit from 5 required attacks to remove a target down to 3, a huge improvement. In comparison, the 6-point Sworn Brothers expect to cause 4.45 Wounds per attack.

Per point, the Sworn Swords expect to Cause 0.78 Wounds while the Sworn Brothers expect to Cause 0.74 Wounds.

Defense

For defense, let’s assume a tough but not critical situation. The Sworn Swords are being charged in the front, and the attacking unit rolls well getting 6 hits with no other abilities. The unit’s 4+ and 6+ morale will drop that to 3 wounds plus the panic test, so the Sworn Swords are expected to suffer 3.56 wounds to this attack. The Sworn Brothers are exactly the same, but of course we have to account for the cost of Stark Fury. Let’s start by assuming that the Sworn Swords attack roughly as often as they get attacked. So, for each incoming attack we can tack on the cost of one use of Stark Fury. Modeling Stark Fury as simply as we can, Stark Fury expects to suffer 2 wounds per use if the Sworn Swords are at 2 or 3 ranks, and none if they are at 1 rank. So, Stark Fury effectively increases your damage taken by 1.34 wounds. Coincidentally, this is incredibly similar to the effects of increasing the Sworn Sword unit’s defense to 5+ and its morale to 7+, compared to the 6-point Sworn Brothers’ actual 4+/6+ defense line. That’s very reasonable for a full point of difference, especially when the benefit of Stark Fury makes the Sworn Swords put out slightly MORE damage per point than the already fantastic Sworn Brothers.

So, we can see that as a  baseline this unit is quite good, just by comparing it to a unit that is generally considered “very good” already. I’ve run the same comparison is other scenarios (attacking a weak target like Pyros, attacking a hard target like Flayed Men, etc.), and it comes out roughly the same; certainly it’s close enough for evaluation purposes.

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Tactics Cards

Let’s take a look at the generic tactics cards for the Stark Army, with an eye toward how they interact with Stark Sworn Swords in particular. Each Commander’s tactics cards will be reviewed alongside that commander in Part 2.

Devastating Impact. This card is fantastic on nearly any melee unit in the Stark army. Typically, I don’t worry too much about getting the tactics zone benefit, though it is great. Be especially careful when using this card against a Lannister army if you’re counting on that zone bonus to make your charge. Counter Plot or Tyrion commander will ruin your day. Usually, you’ll want to use this on one of your stronger offensive combat units, but a max rank unit of Sworn Swords is a solid example of that, so don’t feel like you need to save this for an opportunity with a “stronger” unit.

Direwolf’s Fervor. I love using this card on Sworn Swords. Don’t worry overmuch about the tactics zone bonus, it’s nice to land but not ever worth saving the card in your hand past the turn you draw it. Sworn Swords’ self-harm through Stark Fury often means you’ll get a bigger bonus out of this, but the real benefit is that one of the better ways to drop a unit of Sworn Swords on their last rank is to zap them with Crown, and Direwolf’s Fervor acts as a natural counter to that weakness.

Northern Ferocity. Another great card to use on Sworn Swords (seeing a trend here?). Adding Sundering alone is worth the use of this card, but getting the vulnerable token from the tactics zone bonus is absolutely fantastic. This card combined with the free attack from the tactics zone is terrific on nearly any good melee unit, but the combination of that with Stark Fury can do serious damage.

Sudden Charge. This card is bonkers. It’s usage isn’t any better on Sworn Swords than it is on another unit. Realistically, if you’ve got a strong 7-9 point unit with more offensive power than the Sworn Swords, it’s probably best to use it there, but it’s not wasted on Sworn Swords at all.

Swift Advance. Probably the best card in the generic Stark tactics deck, Swift Advance is one of the best positional tools in the game, with or without the tactics zone bonus. It isn’t necessarily better on Sworn Swords than any other unit, as that’s always going to be dictated by the board state.

The North Remembers. Much like Sudden Charge, this is a great card that you won’t feel bad using on Sworn Swords. By that, I mean removing an activation token from Sworn Swords, as the other benefit is good but would only be better than an extra activation for the turn in VERY niche circumstances. When possible, you’ll want to get an extra activation out of your best unit, but that isn’t always feasible, and a healthy unit of Sworn Swords getting an extra activation certainly isn’t going to make your opponent happy.

Winter is Coming. The card competing with Swift Advance for the “best card” in the Stark tactics deck, this is phenomenal at “anti-control” counterplay and/or “bunker-busting”, as the removal of tactics cards and orders from your opponent’s defensive options is incredible at breaking past a tough unit backed by something like that Wealth of the Rock your Lannister opponent has been holding for 3 turns.

That’s it for this installment! Check back soon for Part 2, where we’ll cover Commanders, NCUs, and Unit Attachments for the Stark Sworn Swords!

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