In our last stop along Beorn’s Path, we made a brave escape from the dungeons of Dol Guldur. We now embark upon a new set of adventures in the first chapter pack cycle, The Shadows of Mirkwood. Each chapter pack introduces new player cards, in addition to a new scenario. The first chapter pack in this cycle will be The Hunt For Gollum. Before we tackle the scenario contained in each installment of the cycle, we will be tuning our Leadership/Lore and Tactics/Spirit decks to not only prepare for the scenario in question, but to also take advantage of the new cards.
Some cards will simply provide us better alternatives to the cards from the core set, while keeping our core strategy intact. Other cards, however, will actually open up whole new strategies for our deck, ones which were not available with only the core set. Lastly, chapter packs include three copies of each player card, so we thankfully won’t have to worry about only having a single copy of key cards, like we did with Unexpected Courage and Celebrian’s Stone in the core set.
The beginning of any chapter pack cycle always involves a certain awkwardness when it comes to deck building. New heroes are introduced that may replace existing heroes, or open unique deck styles. Likewise, player cards include new traits and synergies that will be developed throughout the cycle. By the time that the sixth and final chapter pack is released, powerful new deck archetypes. Unfortunately, with only the first chapter pack available to us, at this point, some of the cards will not have realized the true potential that they will ultimately have.
With that in mind, our deck building strategy will evolve as we progress through the chapter packs in the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. In the early going, we will focus on more general purpose improvements and stay away from these nascent trait synergies. Cards like The Eagles Are Coming!, and Mustering the Rohirrim will eventually become powerful options, in the right decks. Because the card pool is not yet large enough to take advantage of them, we will leave them aside for now, and revisit them later on in the cycle. Instead, we will look to cards which bolster existing strategies, or shore up areas of weakness in our decks.
With Aragorn as our primary attacker, it would be nice to have a way to bolster his attack, to help finish off the more powerful enemies that we encounter. Aside from the temporary boost of For Gondor!, the core set does not include any Leadership cards that boost attack strength, and this is simply not an area where the Lore sphere provides aid.
All of these factors make the new Leadership attachment, Dunedain Mark, a welcome addition to our Leadership/Lore deck. Outside of the plethora of weapons and items in the Tactics sphere, this is the only attachment currently available that boosts attack. The fact that is is not unique or restricted, combined with its bargain price of 1 resource, means that we can load multiples onto Aragorn. While we could include all three copies of this card, we don’t necessarily want to saturate our deck with an ancillary support card. So, we will go ahead and include 2 copies of this card in the hopes that it bolsters our overall combat ability.
Each of our decks is currently at 40 cards, so rather than remove any cards to make room for the Dúnedain Mark, we will just increase our deck size to accommodate them. A larger size will make our deck slightly less consistent, but the added benefit of a more powerful Aragorn is worth the price. As we move through the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, we will incrementally add cards to our decks, until we reach the official “tournament” size of 50 cards. Again, because this is casual play, there is no reason to rush things and we don’t want to include new cards just because they are new and fit our deck’s spheres. Thematic considerations aside, cards should always be judged for how well they fit into the deck’s strategy, above all other criteria.
If the attachment took an existing aspect of our deck and improved it, our next addition will help overcome a weakness in our deck. Aside from Faramir and a lone copy of Celebrian’s stone, our Leadership/Lore deck can struggle with questing, especially in the early rounds of a scenario.
For 3 Lore resources, the Rivendell Minstrel is not cheap, but as we will see with our next card, their ability is invaluable for providing resource smoothing to our two-sphere deck. Equally important, the 2 willpower of Rivendell Minstrel is equal to our best questing hero, Aragorn. In some games, the greatest value of the Minstrel will be realized with their ability to fetch a song, in which case when can just use them as a chump blocker, or in a Valiant Sacrifice. With a higher cost, we will limit ourselves to 2 copies of this card in our deck. This means that many games we will not see the Minstrel, but this is fine since their ability, and their stats, are just insurance against a drought in other aspects of our deck. For cards that are not central to a deck’s strategy, it is safer to include only 1 or 2 copies.
The last inclusion in our Leadership/Lore deck from the Hunt For Gollum chapter pack will be a new kind of attachment. Song of Kings will allow Denethor to pay for Leadership cards. This will be particularly useful when, as often happens, we attach Steward of Gondor to Denethor. It is always good, from a resource perspective, to be able to pay for cards from multiple spheres of influence, from heroes with additional resource generation.
Two of our heroes already belong to the Leadership sphere so multiple copies of this card will become dead in our hand. In addition, the Rivendell Minstrel can retrieve this card, no matter where it is in our deck, so we can get away with adding a single copy to our deck.
This brings the size of our Leadership/Lore deck to 45 cards, with improvements to attack strength, willpower and some much welcomed resource smoothing. The Hunt For Gollum includes locations like The East Bank, and The West Bank, which, when active, make player cards more expensive to play. This means that having resources of the appropriate spheres will be all the more important as we continue our adventures through Middle-Earth.
Between high threat locations, and ones with punitive effects when they are active, it would be nice to have threat mitigation. Since we cannot afford to let locations pile up in the staging area, we will end up having to travel to many of these dangerous locations. But seeing The Old Ford at the wrong time can be ruinous, so we need all of the help that we can get. Since we are less worried about high treat enemies, the last change that we will make in preparation for this scenario is to replace the 2 copies of Radagast’s Cunning with 2 copies of Secret Paths.
Because the core set has limited options for allies in our spheres, particularly of the low-cost variety, we opted to go with more attachments and events in our Tactics/Spirit deck. This is made all the easier, because these two spheres have some of the strongest, most cost-effective events in the game. Rather than include sub-optimal choices from the core set, we can patiently wait, and the chapter packs in the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle will provide solutions to our ally problem.
The first addition to our deck, the Westfold Horse-Breaker, also includes the Rohan trait. This trait currently has no impact on the game, but it is something that we may explore further as the cycle progresses. In the mean time, the cost, and ability of the ally makes it a welcome addition to our deck. One pillar of our strategy is to make maximal use of Gimli’s overwhelming strength as an attacker.
Unfortunately, with only 1 copy of Unexpected Courage in the core set, we need the action advantage that this card provides to ensure that the dwarf is kept busy. With treacheries like Old Wives’ Tales in the upcoming scenario, it will be good to have another way to ready our heroes. As an added bonus, the ability does not require the Horse-Breaker itself to exhaust, so we can trigger it after they have successfully contributing to quest.
One of the most dangerous encounter cards in the Hunt For Gollum is The Old Ford. With threat equal to the number of allies in play, this location can absolutely wreck many decks if it is revealed at the wrong time. Because of this card, and others in the scenario that punish ally-heavy decks, we will actually be removing cards in order to add a few copies of another new ally from this chapter pack.
The Eagle trait does not yet have enough cards to be a functional sub-theme in our deck. Despite this, Winged Guardian is a great addition in its own right. With 4 defense and sentinel, this ally serves as an excellent blocker, either to protect ourselves, or the Leadership/Lore deck. If we don’t pay 1 tactics resources after the Guardian blocks, it is discarded, which does not have to be a bad thing with cards like Horn of Gondor and Valiant Sacrifice seeing use. Having an ally with 4 defense allows us to free up Gimli, who is otherwise our blocker for enemies with 3 attack. Having a defender to free up Gimli for his ideal role of attacker is another, subtler, form of action advantage.
Where the guardian serves an immediate purpose in our deck, the Veteran Axehand was more of a filler from the core set. The Dwarf trait is yet to have any synergy for allies, and with Gimli around we seldom have a need for the 2 attack that the Axehand provides. Since his only purpose in our deck up to this point has been to serve as a chump blocker, we can just as easily use the eagle for this role. The added benefit, of course, is that the eagle might actually survive if we can afford to pay the price for keeping it.
Rather than just add 3 copies of the Winged Guardian and push our deck size up to 46, we will replace the 3 copies of Veteran Axehand with 3 copies of Winged Guardian and keep our deck at the nice and snug size of 43 cards. At this size our deck is still light on the allies, which is, again, not a bad thing given some of the ally-hate in the upcoming scenario. The only other cards with appropriate spheres in this pack involve strategies that we can’t yet utilize, so this is the extent of the changes to our Tactics/Spirit deck.
That wraps up the deck tuning in preparation of our Hunt For Gollum. As you can see, our decks are slowly evolving as the card pool of this Living Card Game grows and changes. You can find the deck lists for this, and every article in the series, on the Decks page. Join us next time on Beorn’s Path, as we play-test these updated decks against the first scenario of the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle.