With our Journey Along the Anduin complete, it is now time to look ahead to making an Escape from Dol Guldur. This is seriously going to test our mettle, even with all of the cards printed after the core set, Escape From Dol Guldur remains one of the most difficult scenarios in the game. With one of our heroes held prisoner for the first stage, and a Nazgul that must be defeated in order to escape, success will require a well-built deck, solid strategy, focused play, and a little luck.
One aspect of Escape from Dol Guldur, which has been much discussed, is that it does not scale well depending on the number of players. Because one hero is held prisoner and unavailable for the first stage, this scenario is exceedingly difficult to defeat solo. Now that there is a much larger pool of cards available, it is certainly beatable with a more advanced deck, but one would have to be masochistic to take on this challenge solo using only cards from the core set. For one player, having to start at full threat, but without the resources or actions from one of their randomly-chosen heroes, is quite an obstacle to overcome. Indeed, with three guarded objectives in the staging area at setup, the difficulty can be overwhelming. With an unlucky draw, a solo player can find themselves with another hero Caught in A Web. With only a lone hero left with the task of handling the likes of an venom-spewing Ungoliant’s Spawn and an objective-impounding Dungeon Jailor, some escape attempts will quickly end in failure.
With these challenges in mind, now is a good time to design another, complimentary deck to aid our Leadership/Lore in this scenario. Since we haven’t used any cards from Spirit of Tactics, this is the natural choice of spheres for our second core set deck. When making decisions of what heroes, and player cards to include, we will also keep an eye out for potential synergies between our new deck and the existing Leadership/Lore deck. We will again limit this deck to 40 cards; the core set is simply too sparse to make an effective 50 card deck using two spheres. The added consistency of a smaller deck will be a welcome advantage in a scenario as challenging as Escape from Dol Guldur.
Which Heroes Should We Play?
In picking our three heroes, we will focus on two orthogonal, but equally important goals. First of all, we want to choose heroes that emphasize the strengths of our chosen spheres. In addition, we will look for heroes with abilities that offset any weaknesses in our Leadership/Lore deck. If we can manage to include abilities and strategies with synergy to our other deck, that would be nice too. Above all, we want to make another well-rounded deck that can handle itself solo, but works even better in concert with Aragorn, Theodred and Denethor.
One of the things that our Leadership/Lore deck struggles with is combat. Cards like Forest Snare definitely help offset this, but with a Nazgul that cannot have attachments and must be defeated, we are starting to see the limits of traps and tricks. When it comes to combat, Tactics has the most powerful heroes, which should provide a much-needed punch to our strategic capabilities. Because of the overall quantity of solid cards in the sphere, we will include two Tactics heroes. This will leave us with a single Spirit hero which means we should try to limit the high-cost Spirit cards that we include in our deck.
For our first hero, we ideally want someone capable of defeating the Nazgul, possibly even without help. As doughty a warrior as he is, Aragorn is not even capable of overcoming the Nazgul’s 3 defense on his own. Because of its Forced Effect, we may find ourselves in the unfortunate situation of having to sacrifice multiple allies after a Nazgul attack. This means that we want a hero capable of attacking with enough force to kill our enemy quickly.
The obvious choice for core set heroes with high attack potential is Gimli. The son of Gloin has one of the best passive effects in the game. The more damage he takes, the more pissed off our diminutive friend becomes. Adding a Citadel Plate allows us to pile up to 8 damage on Gimli, making him attack for a truly impressive 10. This kind of combat skill means that, in the right circumstances, Gimli can defeat the Nazgul, after only two rounds, and without help. The kind of potency to handle a boss fight solo is essential in a scenario like this one. Aragorn and our others heroes will most likely have their hands full dealing with the other nastiness coming out of the encounter deck to provide much help against the Nazgul.
Of our two remaining options for the second Tactics hero, Legolas and Thalin each have a starting threat of 9, and fairly similar stats. The real difference between these two heroes is their abilities. Both Legolas and Thalin are what we like to call “strategic heroes” in that their inclusion in a deck is not incidental but rather will often help form the core of a deck’s strategy.
In the case of the Elf, being the only core set hero with ranged and a high printed attack of 3 means that he is uniquely qualified to provide aid to other decks that lack a strong combat presence. The fact that the elf can add progress to the current quest (or active location) after defeating an enemy, makes him well-suited to offset the general lack of willpower in the Tactics sphere. Thalin is a very different sort of hero, indeed you will find in including him in a deck that he very often does nothing but committing to the quest each round. Being able to instantly dispatch small, obnoxious enemies like Eastern Crows, without even allowing them to surge, gives the dwarf one of the most unique abilities in the game.
With these factors in mind, the Spirit sphere will provide us with a high-willpower hero, and ranged is less important when the Leadership/Lore deck has Aragorn as a ready attacker, which means that Legolas’s abilities, while good, will simply be extraneous in many situations. Thalin, on the other hand will kill or weaken each and every enemy that is revealed from the encounter deck. Once we include Tactics cards like Gondorian Spearman and Swift Strike, we will see that Thalin greatly impacts the overall strategy of the deck, much more so than Legolas can when we are constrained to the core set of cards. So we will include the other dwarf as our second hero and move on to choosing our last hero.
With such a useful ability, we know that Thalin will be a dedicated quester, but his single lowly point of willpower leaves something to be desired, particularly when our Leadership/Lore deck can itself struggle at this aspect of the game. This is where the Spirit sphere provides our salvation. Eowyn, the shield-maiden of Rohan, has the highest printed willpower of any hero in the game. What’s more, each player can discard one card per round to increase her willpower even further. Put simply, Eowyn is a questing powerhouse who will single-handedly move this deck from being weak in willpower, to being able to breeze through many quests with ease. With Eowyn and Thalin committing to the quest most rounds, Gimli will be left to do double duty in combat. This should not be much of a problem, as Gimli has the hit points to survive an early undefended attack, and between his ability and other weapons and armor attachments, he will quickly become a one-dwarf killing machine. With our three heroes chosen, we will now turn to building our deck.
Which Cards Should We Include In Our Player Deck?
With the two dwarves to provide Tactics resources, and only Eowyn to help pay for Spirit cards, we will need to keep expensive Spirit cards to a minimum in this deck. This should not be a problem, as many of the best Spirit cards are inexpensive, and Tactics has some of the best allies and attachments in the core set. Speaking of tactics allies, our sweet spot will be those that cost 2 or 3 resources, and are thus easy to play early as combat backup for Gimli. With Tactics allies helping in combat, we can look to a few, important Spirit allies like Northern Tracker to help with combat and other ancillary, but important roles such as location control. At a cost of 4, the tracker will require saving up, and possibly even resource help from our Leadership/Lore deck, but the ability to clear multiple locations from the staging area is too good to pass up. In location-heavy scenarios in particular, the Norther Tracker can be the difference between victory and defeat.
Because of the high number of powerful events and attachments in both Tactics and Spirit, this deck will depart from our 50% allies rule of thumb. This is a great example of where it is important to be flexible when designing a deck. If we insisted on including 20 allies in this deck, not only would we be forced to include high-cost or low-powered allies, but we would be artificially limiting the number of quality attachments and events that we are playing. With that in mind, we will aim for about 13 or 14 allies in this deck, to give more room for the other cards.
With Thalin questing, we know that enemies will be entering the staging area with damage already on them, so allies like the Gondorian Spearman, a bargain at only 2 resources, are a natural fit for this deck. With Veteran Axehand we have some inexpensive foot-soldiers to serve as chump blockers, or help Gimli finish off a particularly large enemy. Horseback Archer is a bit more expensive, but their ranged ability will help make up for the fact that we did not choose Legolas as our second hero. Lorien Guide and Northern Tracker provide some very effective, if expensive, location control. Playing the Tracker over the Guide is preferable, where possible, as his stats allows him to attack and defend effectively as well. Lastly, we round out the deck with our last remaining copy of the Gandalf the Grey, and the core set’s only instance of yours truly, Beorn. These two are expensive, so we will want to save up and us them as a game-altering play.
Tactics is the only sphere to date, much less in the core set, that provides Weapons and Armor, so we are actually going to use every combat-related attachment in the core set. Surprisingly, Tactics even includes one of the best resource-generation cards in the game, in the Horn of Gondor. Especially in a two player game, allies leave play fairly frequently, so we will definitely want to include the core set’s one copy of that card.
Spirit provides us with another auto-include in the form of Unexpected Courage. With a Citadel Plate and Unexpected Courage, Gimli can block and kill most enemies in the game, without any help from other characters. Being able to make one hero so powerful is precisely why this deck can afford not to include as many allies as our more-traditionally designed Leadership/Lore deck. Lastly, Spirit will provide us with a willpower boosting attachment in Favor of the Lady, which makes Eowyn even more effective at her primary role.
Citadel Plate will obviously go on Gimli, if we draw a second one and we don’t need it on him, Aragorn from the Leadership/Lore deck is a good target with his sentinel ability. Because Eowyn is our only Spirit hero, it will often make the most sense to give her the Horn of Gondor, though if we draw many expensive Tactics cards Thalin may be the better choice. We don’t want to attach the Horn to Gimli, as it is restricted and it will take up one of the two slots he needs for weapons and armor.
The Dwarven Axe should be attacked to Gimli, especially if we are facing very large enemies, or have yet to draw a Citadel Plate and need the added attack. Blade of Gondolin is more situational, and works best if we are having problems questing, or clearing the active location. With all of the weapons, it is important to point out that if everything goes smoothly, they will be largely unneeded. If Gimli has a Citadel Plate and some damage, and maybe even an Unexpected Courage, we have all of the solutions that we need, so paying resources for weapons in this case would be over-kill and we can just discard them to Eowyn.
Lastly, as our primary quester, Eowyn should get all copies Favor of the Lady. It is not restricted or unique, so we can safely put all copies of it on her. This card is another example of “win more” card and if we find ourselves with one or more of them in our hand, and no Spirit resources to spare, we can discard them to Eowyn to push to the end of the scenario. With the exception of Horn of Gondor and Citadel Plate, these attachments merely bolster our existing strategy, they do not help define a strategy in and of themselves. So if resources are needed elsewhere for allies and events, we should not feel obligated to play any attachments. Eowyn committing 4 willpower to the quest or Gimli attacking for 6 will be sufficient in many cases.
When it comes to events, Spirit and Tactics have arguably the best cards in the core set. When it comes to treachery cancelation, nothing has since replaced the effectiveness of A Test of Will. Similarly, for combat, no card in the game is more efficient at stopping an attacker than Feint. With Gimli warmed up, a single feint will often ensure that you never have to face that enemy again, as the dwarf makes quick work of most foes.
If treachery cancelation wasn’t enough, Spirit also offers the only consistent mechanism in the core set for lowering threat, The Galadhrim’s Greeting. Because our powerful heroes give us a relatively high starting threat of 29, and we don’t have much resource generation to help pay for our lone copy of Gandalf, this card will be a very important part of our deck’s strategy. With the help of Dwarven Tomb, we can even get this, or one of our other great Spirit events, back for a second use.
The rest of the events essential consist of combat tricks. Hasty Stroke is invaluable to cancel potentially deadly shadow effects. Quick Strike is amazing with Gimli, as it allows him to kill an engaged enemy, before the foe has a chance to strike. Swift Strike has great synergy with Thalin and Gondorian Spearman. Together, these cards can be used to defeat an enemy with 4 hit points, before it ever lands a blow.
In cases where we simply need to stall for a round, and Feint is not available, we can use A Light in the Dark to return an enemy to the staging area before it attacks. This is obviously less ideal, because that enemy will count its threat during the next quest phase, and then we will have to engage them again, but it can still be useful in an emergency. Lastly we have Stand and Fight. While not strictly a combat trick, as such, as an event, it can certainly be used in a pinch to provide an emergency defender. The real strength of this card however, lies in its ability to get back useful cards like Gondorian Spearman, or even Snowbourn Scout from the Leadership/Lore deck and get extra uses from them. In the case of the scout or Son of Arnor, you even get to trigger their comes into play effects again. The fact that this can be done with Spirit resources, to free up Tactics for to play other cards, is an added bonus.
That does it for this stage of Beorn’s Path. I’m getting hungry and it seems like a good time for a snack. If I learned anything in all my years at the Carrock, orc-slaying on a empty stomach is no fun. Come back soon, and together we will try to Escape from Dol Guldur with our two core set decks!