A Song of Ice & Fire: Let’s Talk – Stark Sworn Swords, Part 2

Image result for a song of ice and fire tabletop miniatures game logoIn Part 1, we took a close look at the Stark Sworn Swords, as well as their interactions with the generic Stark tactics deck. In this article, we’ll cover the currently available Commanders, NCUs, and Unit Attachments.

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For each commander, we’ll look at two things: how good the unit is as a bunker for that commander, and how well the unit synergizes with the commander’s tactics cards.

Brynden Tully – The Blackfish. Brynden is a fantastic option to drop into a unit of Sworn Swords. His Stalwart ability reduces the expected unit loss on a Panic check from 0.56 to 0.11. Assuming the unit makes roughly 6 panic checks per game, Stalwart alone is worth about 2.7 units, but the true benefit is Blackfish’s Resolve. If we stick to those 6 panic checks per game, Resolve is worth 6 units, making the attachment worth 8 total units, or two full ranks. That is a phenomenal addition to a unit that feeds its offense by taking damage! In general, Tully’s tactics cards are great on any unit and better on any Tully unit, but there aren’t any real synergies to call out except that the healing from Refuse to Yield will often be very well-spent on Brynden’s unit in particular.

Brynden Tully – Outrider Commander. No attachment to review here since this version of Brynden is Cavalry only. Simultaneously, all his commander cards trigger on Cavalry, so they are basically useless for Sworn Swords.

Rodrik Cassel – Master-at-Arms. As you’ll see later when discussion Sworn Sword Captain attachment, giving the Sworn Swords’ target a Vulnerable token just before charging is a significant increase in the attack’s expected throughput. This guy does it for free and gives you the same charge benefits whether you charged or not. This combination can appear non-threatening because it doesn’t explicitly increase this unit’s offensive output by some number of wounds, but in effect the rerolls on attacks after you engage and the free vulnerable token make this unit punch FAR above its weight class. The drawback to Rodrik is that his cards trigger off of his unit specifically for the full benefit, but this is mitigated by the fact that they are still pretty great when used on other units. To maximize Rodrik however, you’d want to put him in a unit that doesn’t already get Critical Blow. That said, the attachment is fantastic on Sworn Swords, and Combat Prowess is effectively a third and fourth copy of Winter is Coming, one of the better Stark tactics cards.

Eddard Stark – Lord of Winterfell. No real point in measuring this commander as an attachment, since if you’re running Eddard Stark you’re almost certainly attaching him to Eddard’s Honor Guard. If you aren’t for whatever reason, the Sworn Swords are a great place for him, as his order basically counters the drawback of one activation of Stark Fury per round. In the same way, Eddard’s tactics cards are heavily focused on his own unit, which likely won’t be Sworn Swords. That said, pairing the Honor Guard with a unit of Sworn Swords is a fantastic way to get a huge amount of value out of his “Lead by Example” tactics card for very few points.

Greatjon Umber – Lord of Last Hearth. Greatjon’s ability is very good, but doubling up on his order and Stark Fury means you’re expecting to lose a rank per attack. Practically speaking, that means you’re killing off your own unit far too fast to use cards or Wealth to get them back up, especially since it would be your commander unit. Definitely find Greatjon a different home. Greatjon’s tactics cards, however, are solid for Sworn Swords, and most of the benefits for targeting House Umber units are relatively minor additions to the effect. Last Stand is stellar when used on Sworn Swords, especially if they have an attached Sworn Sword Captain to add the vulnerable token. This card used on Sworn Swords can regularly knock a full rank off of an attacker with average to moderate defenses. Lash Out and Berserker Tactics can be good, though the former has enough of a faction benefit to be worth holding for a House Umber unit, while Berserker Tactics can end up doing too much damage to the Sworn Swords to be worthwhile (with an exception if they are down to one rank with something like Catelyn influencing them, in which case Berserker Tactics is fantastic on them).

Howland Reed – Lord of the Crannogs. This is an NCU commander, so no attachment evaluation. If you have an attachment that adds the Crannogmen affiliation (cough-Meera-cough), the Sworn Swords can be a great home for them, which will make triggering Howland’s tactics cards (and their fantastic faction-specific benefits) much easier. All of his tactics cards target enemy units, so the Sworn Swords largely don’t care about them, other than being in range of those enemies to get the full benefit of each card.

Robb Stark – The Wolf Lord. The Young Wolf attachment version of Robb gets the most attention, probably because people like screaming “Rocket Boots!!” as they charge from 13 inches away on a unit of Umber Berserkers. As fun as that is, I’m pretty sure the commander version is quite a bit better. For the Wolf Lord, his ability is highly underrated, but it isn’t at its best in the Sworn Swords. Even with his ability, their defenses aren’t amazing, and you often want to bait charges with his unit (especially with Superior Positioning), so if you can do so in a tankier unit (Tully Sworn Shields are my preference) that’s usually a better option. As far as tactics cards go, Robb Stark is whatever tier is above “S”, though not any more so for Sworn Swords than for any other unit. They are just great all the time. The main benefit of Sworn Swords with Robb is that you’re fielding a wolf and usually multiple 5-point units, meaning your overall activation advantage will be high against most armies (cut to Tormund shouting “Hold my milk!”). Robb’s cards capitalize on that by letting you use those additional activations for attacks because the cards grant so much mobility and keep you from being tied up in a melee slog.

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Ramsay Snow – The Bastard of Bolton. Ramsay (and accompanying Reek) is a fantastic commander, though almost always better in a unit that has some way of getting Vicious or otherwise interacting with panic tests. You can find a better unit for Ramsay than the Sworn Swords in most armies. As far as tactics cards, Sadistic Games is fantastic but not relevant to your own units directly. Cruel Methods is great as well, but should really only be used on Sworn Swords if you’re desperate or if you’re confident of getting the kill, as they likely won’t have the faction affiliation and a panic test at -3 for Sworn Swords expect to lose 2.28 units, but with high variance that could bite you at a bad time. That said, Our Blades are Sharp is terrific on Sworn Swords as it stacks with Stark Fury, meaning you’re hitting on a 2+ with 10 dice at full ranks. Against our 4+/6+ target dummy (that has to have a Panicked token to use the card), you’re setting up a charge that expects to remove nearly 6 units BEFORE the panic check.

Roose Bolton – Lord of the Dreadfort. Another NCU commander, and one who doesn’t value Sworn Swords overmuch. His NCU ability and tactics cards are all focused on panic tokens and enemy units, so they don’t have much relevance to your Sworn Sword units. On top of that, an army commanded by Roose probably wants units that capitalize on and interact with panicked tokens more than Sworn Swords (e.g. Bolton Cutthroats at the 5-point range).

Non-Combat Units

The following NCUs are being evaluated based on how well their ability or influence impacts Sworn Swords. Many NCUs don’t directly interact with friendly units, and as such won’t be reviewed here. These include; Howland Reed and Roose Bolton commanders, as well as Sansa Stark, Varys, and Peter Baelish.

Arya Stark – The Wolf Girl. Not much to say here, but it’s worth pointing out that the 5 speed Sworn Swords can get a very solid positional advantage from this extra movement to give them flank or rear charges, and your opponent may be more likely to leave an opening for an Arya-enhanced charge from Sworn Swords where they would guard more carefully against units like Berserkers. Be ready to capitalize on your opponent underestimating the unit.

Catelyn Stark – Lady of Winterfell. Armies with multiple Sworn Swords absolutely LOVE having Catelyn in the lineup. Early in the game, her token removal is useful but often she is best used on units like Umber Berserkers. However, once the melee truly starts and your units begin taking damage, the Sworn Swords become a prime target for her influence effect. Sworn Swords on their last rank getting a free attack with Catelyn influence after she takes the Attack zone on the tactics board is extremely strong output, especially from a damaged 5-point unit. 

Eddard Stark – Warden of the North. Eddard is a solid if slightly underwhelming healing option for Stark armies. As such, he’s very beneficial to give your Sworn Swords additional sustain by healing their self-inflicted damage, but you’d often rather healer a unit that will last longer and get more value from the healing. In a Sworn Sword heavy army, if you’re going to spend 4 points on an NCU, you’d almost always rather have Catelyn.

Rodrik Cassel – Combat Veteran. This is only here to make sure you don’t select a Sworn Sword for Rodrik’s influence ability, as the Critical Blow from his ability and Stark Fury don’t stack. 


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Unit Attachments

For unit Attachments, we’re basically looking at if the Sworn Swords are a good home for that attachment, and whether there are better units where you’d rather have that attachment if you’ve got a decision to make in your army.

Crannogman Warden. While a great general attachment, I tend to prefer Wardens on ranged units that don’t have another way (like Charging) to get attack rerolls. I also find that I usually end up activating my Sworn Swords later in the round (to let them bat cleanup while tankier units tie up the enemy). I’d rather have many other 1-point attachments over this on Sworn Swords. 

Dreadfort Captain. Much like Ramsay, this feature is largely wasted on Sworn Swords that have no natural way to modify panic checks. Avoid the Captain here.

Meera Reed – Cunning Trapper. Meera is one of the strongest 1-point options you can find in the Stark army, not really because of her free wounds but because of how she ruthlessly punishes “free activation” units like Direwolves without tying a full 5+ point unit. That said, Meera largely doesn’t care which unit you put her in, as long as she is “in the fight” so that her ability is within range of the enemy. Sworn Swords are great, Berserkers and Greataxes are…also great. 

Sworn Sword Captain. If I need an attachment for Sworn Swords, this is the first place I look. The order seems simple, but the Sworn Sword Captain makes this 6-point unit capable of dealing damage much more expensive units would be jealous of. In the earlier comparison with the NW Sworn Brothers, we saw that the Sworn Swords already have better damage output per point than the Brothers (0.78 vs 0.74 expected units removed per point). The Sworn Sword Captain increases their expected units removed (not including any Charge bonus!) from 3.89 to a whopping 5.56, or 0.93 expected per point. You really can’t go wrong with this pairing, as it creates a neat, self-contained wrecking ball of a unit. Be prepared for your opponent to blame their dice when this unit wipes something out.

Umber Champion. The new version of the Umber Champion is SO GOOD…on anything but Sworn Swords. Like Greatjon, you end up killing yourself too quickly to get 6 points of value out of them. Look elsewhere for Umber shenanigans, unfortunately. 

Brienne – Maid of Tarth. For 2 points, Brienne is a solid addition to a unit of Sworn Swords. As with Tully, Stalwart is worth about 2.7 units if you make 6 panic checks in a game. One of the things that can set Sworn Swords back is that they have trouble breaking through the defenses of a tanky bunker unit. Brienne can help mitigate that to an extend by targeting the right units with her Knightly Vow ability. Of course, that makes this a 7-point unit, so you really need to work to make sure you get extra value out of her ability.

Bronn – The Sellsword. Bronn’s ability is wildly powerful but limited by it’s Wealth zone requirement. You can expect to get the zone 3, maybe 4 times per game if you prioritize it (barring other effects), so you really want to get as much value as possible out of the unit activations that happen while the benefit is active. The best units for this get multiple actions per activation, like the Bastard’s Girls. You probably won’t get enough value attaching him to a unit of Sworn Swords. 

Brynden Tully – Unyielding Knight. We’ve already talked about Stalwart’s benefit a couple of times, which is solid on Sworn Swords. His order, Hold the Line!, is also quite good, giving the Swords a great benefit when they aren’t charging. If you have a highly mobile army (like a Robb Stark commanded army), you probably don’t value Hold the Line as much. In all, solid option, but he is probably better enhancing another unit and keeping the Sworn Swords lean. 

Jojen Reed – Greensight. This attachment is tough to evaluate. You kind of have to look at each option separately and hope you can draw a useful conclusion. First, the low roll, Horrific Visions – this is rough, as the Sworn Swords’ very average defenses are heavily punished by these two tokens. Guiding Hand is solid unless you were already going to charge in which case it’s just protection from a disorderly charge. The Path is Clear is fantastic on any melee unit, or really any unit, and the Sworn Swords are no exception. Perfect Clarity is also great, as the vulnerable token is awesome for pushing the Swords’ damage to the next level. All that said, you can probably find a better place for Jojen, as other units can likely leverage the combination of abilities and weather the low roll more safely.

Rickon Stark – Prince of Winterfell/Osha – Spearwife Guardian. The primary benefit of this combination of unit attachments is to gain the direwolf of course. As such, most of the benefit doesn’t really care where you attach these two. You’re likely to want Rickon in a unit stronger defensively than the Sworn Swords. While Osha’s Go Down Fighting ability is solid on a unit that self-damages, giving you a bit more control over it, that doesn’t outweigh the need to protect the additional victory point for your opponent that Rickon represents.

Syrio Forel – First Blade of Braavos. Syrio is a decent defensive option, though the benefit is relatively minor because of the Sworn Swords’ inability to interact with bad attacks from an enemy, such as a counterattack or a strong defensive unit that punishes poor rolls from your opponent. Syrio will rarely be worth his points when attached to a unit of Sworn Swords.

Bran and Hodor – Protector and Ward. This three point attachment is an okay, but not great, option on Sworn Swords. You need to be able to get at least 3 points of value out of the free Direwolf and the attachment abilities, and you’ll need to work hard to get that out of them. When the game first launched, Direwolves were considered very strong, but over time as releases kept hitting the shelves and the overall experience of players improved, it became clear that while the Direwolves are great there are a number of ways to counter them. With units like Freefolk Trappers and attachments like Meera, there are also direct counters to the wolves now. That said, I very roughly assume that the wolf is worth about a point (more if your opponent has no units capable of working against them, which isn’t all that likely currently), and work to see if the attachment is worth the remaining cost. For Sworn Swords, the order equates to about 1 extra wound against our 4+/6+ target dummy, and a one-time defensive ability that should save about 2 units (again due to the generally “meh” defenses of our Swords). One wound per attack and +2 health isn’t really worth 2 points, so I’d try to leverage Bran and Hodor somewhere else like Greataxes (where this attachment shines).

Greatjon Umber – Fierce Bannerman. The curse of Umber strikes again, unfortunately. His abilities are fantastic, but are absolutely better suited to other units that don’t explode when they hit things.

Maege Mormont – The She-Bear. Maege is an often overlooked unit attachment, probably because she doesn’t come attached to an extra activation on a stick. That said, she’s a great attachment, as her abilities feed into each other well and help the Sworn Swords do what they want (stab stronger units repeatedly until dead) in a way that mitigates their weakness against defensive bunker units because her order deals Wounds. With Stalwart, we know the metric by now, worth about 2.7 Wounds in the prevented panic loss. Assuming the same 6 panic tests per game, each time the ability triggers its worth 2 full wounds on average if you pass the panic test. If you pass all 6, you’re talking about 12 wounds just from Stubborn Tenacity. With a 4+ morale, you expect to pass 91.7% of the time, so you could expect 11 wounds from Stubborn Tenacity over the course of a game, making Maege almost worth an entire unit on her own. Now, take that statement with a HUGE grain of salt, because you’ll almost never get that much value out of her. Mainly, her ability requires an engaged enemy, which won’t always be the case. You’re likely looking at 2-4 useful activations of her ability a game, averaging about 6 wounds. That’s still phenomenal, and well worth her points, especially if you can trigger her ability against a unit with great armor like Flayed Men, harming them when normal attacks would likely bounce off.

Robb Stark – The Young Wolf. ROCKET BOOTS!!!! In all seriousness, I almost never equip Robb to Berserkers, because the extra speed is ridiculous overkill. It’s also worth noting that increasing a higher speed is usually worse than increasing lower speeds. Going from 4 to 5 speed is a solid 25% increase in speed, while going from 6 to 7 speed is only a 16.6% increase, roughly. That said, I like Robb quite a bit on Sworn Swords as his speed boost is nice, and being able to effectively Maneuver 12 inches is fantastic. Rapid Assault and similar abilities like Onslaught are usually great, though Onslaught is much better in my opinion. Replacing an attack with a Charge is almost always a great option, but replacing a maneuver with a Charge seems great but is actually just “good” in my experience. The Maneuver/Retreat option is often almost as good as a charge already because of how important positioning is in the game. Combined with his Direwolf, you shouldn’t have trouble getting 8 points of value out of those two activations.

Sidebar – 10-point Units. It’s worth mentioning, I try to avoid 10-point units in nearly every army I create. My reasoning is that with units ranging from 6 to 9 points, you need to get more out of them than you do a 5-point unit, but that’s usually reasonable because you often have left over space in list building where another 5 point unit won’t fit but solid attachments can net you great value. With a 10-point unit, that isn’t the case. You need a 10-point unit to be worth two full activations of an offensive unit AND be strong enough defensively to justify the unit having 12 health instead of the 24 health you’d get from two 5-point units. So far, I haven’t seen a 10-point unit that really lives up to that expectation. Lots of people will point to Flayed Men. Defensively they stack up easily, but offensively they are anemic in comparison to two units of Sworn Swords. Also, they can’t be in two places at once, a not-insignificant drawback as well.

Ramsay Snow – Sadist. In the right unit, Ramsay is an absolute nightmare when combined with his accompanying attachment Reek. Unfortunately, that unit isn’t the Stark Sworn Swords. He wouldn’t be terrible attached to them, but there are almost always going to be better options in your army for Ramsay if he makes sense for your army at all. If your army isn’t panic focused, you can find better ways to spend 3 points.

Roose Bolton – The Leech Lord. Much like Ramsay, Roose is a fantastic attachment. With his Ferocious Assault ability, he’s a bit more self-contained than Ramsay once Reek inevitably dies. On top of that, the healing synergizes well as a counter to the self-damage from Stark Fury. Still, if you’re running a Panic list of any kind, you’re probably going to have a better home for Roose in your list.

That just about wraps things up! Leave a comment if you want to tell me how dumb all this analysis is, or if you liked it and would be interested in more content like this. What unit should we do next?

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