Cardiac sodium channels are established therapeutic targets for the management of inherited and acquired arrhythmias by class I anti-arrhythmic drugs (AADs). These drugs share a common target receptor bearing two highly conserved aromatic side chains, and are subdivided by the Vaughan-Williams classification system into classes Ia-c based on their distinct effects on the electrocardiogram. How can these drugs elicit distinct effects on the cardiac action potential by binding to a common receptor? Here we use fluorinated phenylalanine derivatives to test whether the electronegative surface potential of aromatic side chains contributes to inhibition by six class I AADs. Surprisingly, we find that class Ib AADs bind via a strong electrostatic cation-pi interaction, whereas class Ia and Ic AADs rely significantly less on this interaction. Our data shed new light on drug-target interactions underlying the inhibition of cardiac sodium channels by clinically relevant drugs and provide information for the directed design of AADs.