One of the recurring themes in The Lord of the Rings is the temptation that power presents. Tolkien argues that sources of great power serve to distort and betray the purposes of those who would choose to wield them. The most obvious example of this is The One Ring. Even an innocent like Frodo, with the best intention is ultimately corrupted by the Ring of Power. In the end, if not an accident caused by Gollum, Frodo would have been enthralled by the ring and failed in his quest. Boromir ultimately suffers this fate; his desire to use the ring as a weapon against Mordor overcomes even his loyalty to his friends. In Gríma’s case it is not the ring, but respect and love that he most wants. Saruman deceives him, convincing the gullible Wormtongue that he might one day have Éowyn as his own.
The new doomed effects introduced in The Voice of Isengard do a good job of representing the double-edged sword of power. Not only are they thematically appropriate, showing the risk inherent in wielding power, but they work mechanically as well. If being able to draw cards and add resources for “no” cost seem too good to be true, there is a very good reason. Raising your threat puts a player in immediate danger, not only of losing the game in the long run, but of the more immediate concern of enemy engagement. Thus, just as the characters found in the novels, possessing this potential requires discipline and a sharp focus on the end goal.
This deck has the potential to be very effective, but at the same time it reflects the danger that comes with seeking after power. Leadership and Lore provide resource acceleration and card drawing effects, always a good combination to serve as the foundation of a deck. In particular, Lore includes better Gondor allies than the more vanilla alternatives found in Leadership.
Spirit brings some action advantage, treachery cancellation and the all-important threat reduction. Frodo, Gríma and Deep Knowledge all have the potential to significantly raise our threat, Galadhrim’s Greeting and Gandalf are this deck’s only countermeasures, so they become all the more crucial to success.
Ideally, we won’t need to keep using any of these threat-raising effects for the entire game. The goal is to be very aggressive in establishing control in the first few rounds. Once we have a good number of Gondor allies in play, Boromir and Visionary Leadership can transform them into a formidable force. Frodo serves as a security measure on defense, as well as contributing to the quest in the crucial early rounds. Gríma can serve the quest or on defense, but most importantly he gives us a consistent way to reduce the cost of our allies. Between Wormtongue’s ability, Keys of Orthanc, and Steward of Gondor, this deck should have no problem paying for cards.
Gríma’s ability is unique, and it allows this deck to do things that would not have been possible before The Voice of Isengard. Because his reduction works on cards of any sphere for which we have a resource match, he changes the value of many cards. Miruvor is a great example of a card that goes from good to great in combination with Gríma. Assuming you have Keys of Orthanc in play, you can trigger Gríma’s ability to play Miruvor on a hero for no cost. Keys of Orthanc exhausts to give you a resource. Miruvor can then give you a second resource, as well as readying the hero. This means that you effectively traded 1 threat for 2 resources and a second hero action. If you don’t need a second action, take the +1 Willpower, or even just return Miruvor to the top of your deck to repeat the resource trade-in next round. No matter how you use these effects together, you come out ahead.
The obvious downside to all of this is a steadily increasing threat. This is where high-level strategy comes into play. This deck is not designed to take its time and smell the roses. The card drawing and extreme resource acceleration allows you to must a large number of allies in a short period of time. This is good, because the deck will not survive for an extended period if you continue to make use of Doomed effects. The idea is the use the Doomed effects in the early game to get an unsurmountable lead on the encounter deck. Then, by the time that your threat reaches a level where tougher enemies are engaging, you have an army at your disposal. If for some reason the game takes longer to finish, we can stop using the doomed effects (even discarding them to Protector of Lorien of Daeron’s Runes) and simply wait for threat reduction.
Massive threat gain can be a huge liability in some scenarios, and this deck will not perform equally well against all quests. However, there is power in these doomed effects and having the ability to establish board-control in the first few rounds will prove very effective in many situations. With any luck, Gandalf will show up with a Sneak Attack, or Galadhrim’s Greeting and the deck can have the best of both worlds. That represents the truly ideas turn of events: use Deep Knowledge, Gríma, Steward of Gondor, Miruvor, etc. to draw cards and gain resources. Use the resources to play allies and pay for threat-reduction. Even if your threat doesn’t go much below where it was before the doomed effects, you have just dumped a handful of cards on the table and threat becomes much less of a problem.
Even though the deck includes Leadership and Lore, readers will notice the absence of the new Isengard allies. This is for one simple reason: they lack trait synergy. The stats on both of the new allies are decent- the messenger can even have 3 willpower if you trigger two doomed effects in the same round (something that you probably will only do once or twice a game). The problem is that beyond their relatively minor abilities, these allies do nothing and have no synergy with other cards. Being able to quest for 1 with an Orthanc Guard and then chump block is not particularly exciting, especially when you have to trigger a doomed effect to even gain this minor advantage.
In contrast, the Gondor allies in this deck can easily be questing for 2 and attacking for 2 or 3. This potential to end up better than they started, without requiring us to trigger Doomed effects every round, is what makes Gondor the better choice than Isengard. Ultimately, this is just one of many perspectives on a brand new archetype. It will be interesting to see how other players choose to take advantage of the high-risk and high-reward Doomed cards. In solo decks like this one, the effects are undeniably powerful. It remains to be seen how well Doomed will scale in multi-player games where not everyone has access to threat-reduction.