I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
—Percy Shelley, “Ozymandias”
Wow, what a rush. I just finished Nightmare Into Ithilien and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. I took a modified version of a solo deck which I had tuned to beat the normal version, and was able to survive Nightmare Into Ithilien by the slimmest of margins. I did not take detailed game notes, but I honestly assumed that I would get crushed and need to make changes. It turns out that this deck is pretty well-suited to handle the quest (as much as you can say about any deck in the context of a Nightmare Scenario).
I will provide the deck list below, but I want to stress that there is no guarantee that you will have the same good fortune in your attempts at this quest. Nightmare Into Ithilien is punishingly difficult - it will take solid play and a bit of luck to survive it. Win or lose, this scenario is a great opportunity to adopt a hyper-aggressive strategy.
Two things are notably missing from this list: card draw or resource acceleration. This is probably the most pure aggro deck I’ve ever built for the game. Rather than spend time, and resources, on card draw effects, I have built the deck with very specific ratios, and enough flexibility that it has a chance to overcome all but the worst draw.
As for resource acceleration, that would certainly be nice, but is simply not an options with these spheres. Neither Spirit nor Tactics gives me ready access to resource-ramping effects, unless you are willing to do something fiddly like Zigil Miner and Imladris Stargazer. Those kinds of combos are cute for more leisurely scenarios, that give you a couple of rounds to get all of your tricks setup. Into Ithilien is not that kind of scenario, the Nightmare version doubly so.
The basic strategy here is to quest very aggressively, holding back a Feint or chump blocker. Chump blocking is dangerous in this scenario, which is why Hasty Stroke is included. As if the original wasn’t bad enough, the Nightmare version has even more Archery. One solution to this would be healing, but with an encounter deck that includes so many terrible effects, I see no good reason to spend my time healing characters. The watch-word of this day is “run”. If you have a chance to cut down an enemy or two on your way out of the forest, so much the better.
Barring extremely bad luck, you should be able to make it out of stage 1 with Celador still alive, which allows you to skip one of the Mûmak Elite (the other comes out once you make it to stage 4). Stage 3 presents the greatest risk to this deck, particularly with all of the archery that was added. The Nightmare version did not disappoint: no sooner had I made it to Stage 2, when Haradrim Captain showed up, ready to fill all of my characters with arrows. To make matters worse, I already had an Ithilien Outlook in play, which severely limited my options for where to assign the archery damage. Fortunately, I brought a giant bear with me to the fight, and he eats arrows for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
By traveling to a new location each round, and questing aggressively, I was able to prevent all of these nasty effects from staying into play for long enough to start create combos for the encounter deck. That is the key to the aggressive strategy. I don’t much care if I have to raise my threat to perform multiple actions with Boromir, so long as I am under 40 by the time I make it to stage 4 (so that I have 2 rounds to try and beat it). It is vitally important to keep the staging area as clear as possible at all times.
To this end, I always optionally engaged an enemy, if able. Westfold Outriders are amazing in stage 3, when the staging area can fill with enemies, many of whom will now have archery. The deck takes a subtle hand to play, because their are some important decisions to make around which allies you play when. You want to save resources on some rounds, and avoid over-committing allies because of cards like Blocking Wargs and those damned Spiders (thankfully, Watcher in the Wood, probably the worst card from the original quest, has been removed).
Obviously the cheaper eagles can be more freely sacrificed once you have an Eagles of the Misty Mountains in play. Chump blocking, using the Outrider’s ability, and deciding when to play Gandalf, all have implications for cards like Silvan Refugee. My favorite way to use the Refugee is to save any of them (and West Road Traveller) in my hand for stage 3. Once I get there, I hopefully have some Spirit resources saved up, and I can play them and start questing like mad. Watch out for Blocking Wargs, it can be devastating to this deck. I had to use my one A Test of Will to cancel it in stage 3. Once I felt like I was ready for the final push to clear stage 3, I played Gandalf, knowing that the Refugee would leave play at the end of the round. At that point, it doesn’t really matter – she has more than paid you back for your paltry investment.
I even optionally engaged the Mûmak Elite, as crazy as that might sound. His archery was going to hit me either way, but I would rather have his 5 threat of out of the staging area while my heroes raced to Cair Andros. Fortunately he is not added until stage 4 (assuming you skip stage 2), so I only had to deal with 2 of his attacks. Boromir, loaded up with Gondorian Shield and Support of the Eagles, was easily able to handle all attackers. I focused counter-attacks on archery enemies, as this deck has no healing.
I actually did chump block the giant Oliphaunt at one point, even though Boromir could have probably defended it unharmed. The reasons were two-fold: I had a Hasty Stroke in hand the cancel the inevitable extra attack shadow effect, and I didn’t want to raise my threat to ready Boromir unless I absolutely had to. Remember that Stage 4 raises your threat by 3 each round, on top of ridiculous effects like Southron Support, so you really only have a couple of rounds to escape alive. Threat management, along with all of the other concerns of this quest, is important.
Beorn the Arrow-eater
Vassal of the Windlord x3
Silvan Refugee x2
Defender of Rammas x2
Westfold Outrider x3 (proxied with Veteran Axehand in the photo above)
Winged Guardian x3
Arwen Undómiel x3
West Road Traveler x3
Bofur (TH:OHaUH) x2
Eagles of the Misty Mountains x3
Gandalf (Core) x3
Gondorian Shield x3
Light of Valinor x3
Support of the Eagles x3
The Eagles Are Coming! x3
Elrond’s Counsel x3
A Test of Will x3
Hasty Stroke x2