The Elves have their own labours and their own sorrows, and they are little concerned with the ways of hobbits, or of any other creatures upon earth. Our paths cross theirs seldom, by chance or purpose.
- Gildor Inglorion, The Fellowship of the Ring
Ever since Rossiel showed up in the Escape from Mount Gram adventure pack, I've wanted to try building a deck around her. Like almost all of the other female heroes in the game, she's a Fantasy Flight original character, because, well, Tolkien didn't really give them a lot of female characters to work with. She's fascinating because of her unique special ability, which makes use of cards in the victory display.
Way back in Road to Rivendell, in the Dwarrowdelf cycle, we got the first card that did something unusual with the victory display: Out of the Wild. Given that that adventure pack also contained what I think is still the single most murderous encounter card in the game, at the time Out of the Wild was pretty much a curious and expensive way of getting rid of that card. The first Angmar Awakens adventure pack, The Wastes of Eriador, also included a Lore side quest that did the same thing.
In addition to Rossiel, Escape from Mount Gram gave us Leave No Trace, which adds itself and a location to the victory display. None Return, from Across the Ettenmoors, did the same for enemies. As soon as I get my hands on The Treachery of Rhudaur, I'll add The Door Is Closed!, which lets us cancel and discard any encounter deck that has another copy in the victory display. So here we have a whole battery of Lore events that will not only let us remove bothersome cards from the encounter deck, but also provide Rossiel with nifty bonuses and give us some cancellation as well. The other ace in the hole, if you're willing to extend that metaphor to seven-card stud, is Keen as Lances.
So basically every card that the above events and side quest deliver into the victory display makes Keen as Lances cheaper, as does every copy of Keen as Lances you play. What makes things even better is that multiple players can include copies of Keen as Lances as well; since the victory display is shared, they all benefit from each other. This has enough potential that I've almost gone and bought a second copy of Escape from Instant Gram.
That's pretty much the state of the art for a Rossiel deck at the conclusion of the Angmar Awakens cycle: 15 events and a side quest. I wanted to build a deck around this core; such a high amount of events means that the rest of the deck is going to have to mostly be attachments and allies to avoid becoming completely unbalanced. As ever, I'd be thrilled if this build worked solo, but I'm mostly designing it to complement my partner's Tactics deck. Since Rossiel is a Lore hero with the Silvan trait, I'd like to pair her with another Lore Silvan hero to make use of their trait synergy, and help pay for the various Lore events. To sort of keep my Amazons theme going, I picked Mirlonde as my second hero.
With only three hit points and a defense of one, she's a bit fragile, but she can pitch in on questing and usefully lowers my starting threat. My original idea for a Silvan deck had been to include Legolas as my third hero, but since my partner won't give him up, it'll have to be a Lore elf with a bow instead.
Haldir's hero incarnation lets us make maximum use of Mirlonde's threat-lowering ability, giving a starting threat of only 22. Although his ability to attack at 3 into the staging area isn't brilliant without some choice Tactics attachments to back it up, he's a competent enough attacking or questing hero with Silvan synergy.
For the rest of the deck, we'll start with the special stuff. To get the maximum utility out of Out of the Wild, like eliminating nasty treacheries, we'll need some form of encounter deck scrying. A Palantír would be really neat, but I haven't included any Noble heroes, so keeping with our Silvan theme, scrying will be provided by the ever-reliable Henamarth Riversong. Since I hope to know what the encounter deck's going to be throwing at me, I'm also including three copies of Needful to Know for some threat reduction. To finish this somewhat backwards way of building a deck by picking events first, three copies of the mono-Lore must Mithrandir's Advice bring my events total up to 21.
For attachments, I raided my Amazon deck for its copies of A Burning Brand, another card useful enough that I've seriously considered getting a second copy of an adventure pack. Now that we're also being Silvan, Cloak of Lórien also becomes an obvious choice.
With a cloak and a brand, Rossiel has the potential of being one hell of a defender, and because both can be attached to characters, not just heroes, we can also potentially field some pretty tough defending allies. Since, mercifully, no-one in our group uses Snorefindel, we can include
Since this is an event-heavy mono-Lore deck, I did consider Scroll of Isildur, but most of my events are hopefully going to end up in the victory display rather than the discard pile!
That's 33 cards, by the way. Including Scout Ahead gets us to 34. I've understood it's generally thought that allies have a place in decks, so maybe some of those next.
We won't go very far wrong starting with the keystone of Silvan synergy, the Silvan Tracker. They can contribute to questing, are potential recipients of both Cloak of Lórien and A Burning Brand, but crucially, just one Tracker will provide free healing for my entire deck. On the attacking side, an old stalwart of my Amazon deck, the Mirkwood Runner, is a must-have. The damage-bypassing ability is simply excellent.
Unfortunately, most of the other Silvan allies are in different spheres. The only useful one we can include is Defender of the Naith; although useless for questing, the defense of 2 is decent, and their Sentinel ability means we can help out other decks as well. The only real downside is that we can't get A Burning Brand on them. However, with the Silvan Trackers already on defensive duty, I don't think the Defenders are worth it.
That's the end of our Silvan allies! Including Henamarth, that's a measly eight allies. Adding the obligatory Gandalfs only gets us to 43 total cards. Clearly we still need some fairly robust thematic allies to round out the deck.
Three Wandering Ents will fill that niche perfectly. Finally, I'd love to also include a couple of copies of Treebeard, but we didn't own The Antlered Crown yet when I first put this deck together, so in the mean time, I'll fill his spot with two Wardens of Healing to help the other players out. And speaking of ents:
To my shame, I have to admit I'd just plain forgotten how amazing Wellinghall Preserver is. Those stats and healing, all at a ridiculous three resources? Ents it is!
This would make a total of 52 cards, but since our local store didn't have any copies of the Treachery of Rhudaur, I'm still missing The Door Is Closed!, so two Galadhrim Minstrels will temporarily make up the difference.
So here's the first version of my Silvan deck:
51 cards; 44 Lore, 6 neutral; 3 heroes, 22 allies, 7 attachments, 18 events, 1 side quest; starting threat 22.
Haldir of Lórien (TiT)
Allies: 22 (19/3)
Mirkwood Runner (RTM) x3
Silvan Tracker (TDM) x3
Wellinghall Preserver (AtE) x3
Galadhrim Minstrel (TiT) x2
Wandering Ent (CS) x3
Warden of Healing (TLD) x2
Henamarth Riversong x2
Gandalf (Core) x2
A Burning Brand (CatC) x2
Asfaloth (FoS) x2
Cloak of Lórien (CS) x3
Events: 18 (15/3)
Out of the Wild (RtR) x3
Needful to Know (TRG) x3
Leave No Trace (EfMG) x3
Mithrandir's Advice (TSF) x3
None Return (AtE) x3
Keen as Lances (EfMG) x3
Side quests: 1
Scout Ahead (TWoE)
Having built the deck, it was time to test it, and what better test for a new deck than A Journey Down the Anduin? First time around, a deeply unfortunate staging started a threat spiral that knocked out the Tactics deck, leaving me to face the Hill Troll on my own, which didn't go well. Our second attempt was a success! I memorably got to bust out Rossiel's full defensive ability against a Marsh Adder, having previously sent some Wargs to the victory display with Out of the Wild, and also travelled to the only forest location in the whole encounter deck, Enchanted Stream, for a total defense of 6.
We next took on Hills of Emyn Muil to see if we could muster up the questing to pass it with just Concorde for location control, and we did! Fun was also had when I introduced a new player to the game with our Leadership deck, and we decided to try Into the Pit. With some absolutely awful shadow effects around, I was quite pleased to get A Burning Brand on Rossiel! She was absolutely excellent, seeing off Patrol Leaders with a shrug and questing for 4 on our big pushes. Haldir, too, was worth his weight in gold at East-gate. Despite a horrendous logjam of locations and enemies in the beginning, we eventually squaked through the last stage with the Leadership player's threat at 49. So at least my first attempt at a Silvan deck isn't completely useless!
Meanwhile, because two separate people showed interest in a Hobbit deck, we went ahead and picked up the Black Riders saga expansion and the Encounter at Amon Dîn adventure pack, which allowed us to put together this Hobbit deck, based on this deck from Tales from the Cards.
52 cards; 15 Leadership, 16 Lore, 15 Tactics, 7 Neutral; 3 heroes, 21 allies, 15 attachments, 14 events; starting threat 20.
Sam Gamgee (TBR)
Allies: 21 (9/5/5/2)
Bill the Pony (TBR) x3
Keen-eyed Took (THoEM) x3
Naith Guide (TDT) x3
Gildor Inglorion (THoEM) x2
Barliman Butterbur (TBR) x3
Descendant of Thorondor (THoEM)
Farmer Maggot (TBR) x2
Gandalf (Core) x2
Attachments: 15 (3/7/3/2)
Hobbit Cloak (TBR) x3
A Burning Brand (CatC)
Elf-stone (TBR) x3
Fast Hitch (TDM) x3
Dagger of Westernesse (TBR) x3
Song of Kings (THfG)
Song of Wisdom (CatC)
Events: 14 (2/3/6/3)
Sneak Attack x2
Take No Notice (TBR) x3
Halfling Determination (TBR) x3
Unseen Strike (TRG) x3
Hobbit-sense (EaAD) x3
Dúnedain Cache (TDM) x2
As with the Tales from the Cards deck, the idea is to get the super-expensive allies like Gildor into play via Elf-stone. In the case of Beorn, he can Sneak Attack in for the combat phase to do his berserk thing as usual, and make use of Merry's readying ability to attack twice! In multiplayer, Dúnedain Cache will let Merry use his ability to ready Legolas.
A couple of the cards, like the single copies of A Burning Brand and Descendant of Thorondor, are there because we had single copies of them hanging around; Song of Wisdom could be used to get A Burning Brand on Sam.
Should none of these shenanigans come together, the rest of the deck should still provide a broadly functional whole with lots of cheap cards to make the tri-sphere build work even without resource smoothing or generation. The hobbit heroes themselves should be able to make a significant contribution, and most of the events and attachments only cost 0-1 resources.
I have to admit I wasn't particularly interested in Hobbit decks at first, but building this one for other people to use got me excited to try it myself!
For the moment, though, we got a new player to try the hobbit deck. A four-handed swing at The Hunt for Gollum turned out to be a salutary reminder that Eleanor is a really, really good hero. Our first attempt didn't get far when Old Wives' Tales exhausted all of our heroes in setup, followed by Massing at Night. Our second try ended in consecutive pairs of Goblintown Scavengers and The Old Ford. Terrible luck, but at least the art is nice.
Having been utterly annihilated by Hunt for Gollum twice, we gave it a third shot and pretty much sleepwalked through it. If the previous two attempts highlighted the value of treachery cancellation, this was a pretty good example of how the difficulty scheme developed over at Tales from the Cards is so much better than the official difficulty level system. This quest, for instance, is very easy, but also very random; it doesn't really require specialized deck-building. Conflating these three considerations into one difficulty number isn't very informative.
Having surprised ourselves by succeeding at Into the Pit earlier, we took the hobbit deck along for an attempt at The Seventh Level. My expectation was that we'd struggle here because of the massive number of enemies with low engagement thresholds, which would negate many of the hobbit deck's advantages and simply swamp us in goblins. We got off to a terrible start, drawing two copies of Watchful Eyes on the first turn. At least Book of Mazarbul allowed Rossiel to quest, but Mirlonde ended up sitting out the rest of the scenario. Despite this inauspicious start, we actually did remarkably well; undaunted by the swarms of goblins, the hobbits took out a Cave-troll in a single attack! We worked our way through the encounter deck until a final massive questing push saw us through, and we won. I have to admit that I'm very happy with both decks.
Based on what we've done so far, the hobbit deck seems to be working all right. As for the Silvans, for whatever reason I've never really managed to use Needful to Know, or for that matter make any proper use of Henamarth, either. Another card I could try for scrying would be Ravens of the Mountain, which inexplicably depicts a Mega-City Judge hanging out with a bird.
Given our recurring trouble with locations in The Hunt for Gollum, though, I'm seriously considering an old standby, Strider's Path, to help out with stuff like The Old Ford.
I'm still waiting for our local store to restock the Treachery of Rhudaur; when it shows up, Elf-friend might be a good card to add as well to extend some Silvan Tracker healing. The Nin-in-Eilph would provide Wingfoot for Haldir, letting me use him for questing as well. On the whole, though, I'm really happy with this deck!
The moral of this story is that deckbuilding is great fun! Coming up with a deck is a good intellectual exercise in itself, and putting together a deck for other people to use can be really rewarding. It bears repeating that on of the great qualities of this game is that deckbuilding is never about identifying the best cards and shoving as many of them as possible into a deck box, but rather about figuring out what you want a deck to be able to do, and trying to come up with the best combinations of cards for that task. I do feel that the game could do more to enable different styles of play, especially ones that don't focus prominently on combat, but as it is, there are almost always different ways to tackle a problem.
Next time: the Dwarrowdelf cycle.