Something about the nearly-instantaneous speed of the internet, and our instant gratification-obsessed culture seems to have given everyone license to complain. The pseudo-anonymity of online forums only exacerbates this problem. Take a perfectly happy and well-adjusted human being and give them a browser and some time to kill, and the world just becomes a little bit sadder. The truth is, we love to complain, about everything.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good gripe as much as the next bear, but at a certain point it serves no useful purpose. Take the delays in the Ring-maker cycle. Setting aside for the moment that design, playtesting and art all take time, everyone just really needs to take a deep breath and relax. The game is in good hands, and everything is going to be okay. If we have to wait a bit longer than expected, it will not be the end of the world.
So, as a bear of action, I would like to put my honey where my mouth is, so to speak. In the spirit of contributing something positive to serve as counterpoint to all of the whinging and grousing, I want to talk about a few things that I like. What follows are three things that have me very excited about The Voice of Isengard and it’s accompanying Ring-maker cycle.
There is just so much to love about this ally. For starters, 2 attack for 2 resources is solid for a Tactics ally, regardless of their traits and abilities. The fact that our Rohirrim friend also has 1 defense and 2 hit points means that he can safely be used as chump blocker, without worrying about direct damage shadow effects.
But his stats are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what makes this card so good. It is not exaggeration to say that the ability on this card is one of the most versatile in the game. This is especially true when you consider that you are only paying 2 resources for the Outrider. Tactics is not a resource-rich sphere, so saving resources is essential. So what makes this ability so great?, you ask.
Heavy tactics decks can easily kill most enemies. Heroes like Boromir, Legolas and Gimli are all quite adept at quickly dispatching powerful foes. The age-old problem for Tactics is this: how to help with the quest phase, before enemies encounter. A dedicated Tactics deck might be able to get away with not sending anyone to the quest in a multi-player game. In fact this is often the best strategy to leave all of the characters with combat prowess ready for that phase of the game.
However, many scenarios are not so simple. Some enemies, like Goblin Archer and Bill Ferny, cannot be optionally engaged. Other enemies such as Morgul Tracker have high threat and punish you for optional engagement. Still others like Attercop, Attercop will automatically engage a particular player, often not the Tactics player that would be ideal.
What’s more, many locations and scenarios prevent engagement of any kind. The East-Gate in Khazad-dûm and The Hidden Way of Into Ithilien are just two such examples. As the game evolves, the designers devise new and clever ways to challenge decks out of there sweet spots. This is why an ability like Westfold Outrider is so critical for Tactics decks. We know that we will be able to win the fight, once we engage them, the real problem is ensuring that we can engage the enemy in the first place.
To be clear, this ability can be used for more than just forced engagement. Just last night, I was in a three player game of Conflict at the Carrock and I was able to use the Outrider to help finish off a pesky troll. With four trolls and only three players, the first player was stuck with one too many trolls. Éomer was ready to help slay the foul monster, but he unfortunately does not have range. This is where the player order actually matters.
I feinted one of the two trolls engaged with the first player, so that he wouldn’t have to deal with two huge attackers at once. Since counter-attacks are declared in player order, I waited until after the first player counter-attacked and put some damage on one of his trolls. Then, before it was my turn to declare attacks, I discarded my Outrider to pull the wounded troll over to me.
Prince Imrahil stood up and took notice of my Outrider’s sacrifice and winded the Horn of Gondor. Likewise, Éomer was understandably upset at the loss of one of his compatriots. Together my two heroes were able to finish off the smelly troll so that we would not have to face another of its frenzied attacks. This kind of tactic is useful when you lack heroes with Ranged that can participate in attacks against enemies engaged with other players. The fact that discarding the Outrider plays perfectly into Éomer’s ability only underscores how useful this ally is.
For now, the Rohan trait is mostly flavor, but this will not always be the case. True, you can devise some esoteric strategy with Éomund to ready the Outrider, but this seems like a lot of work for little pay off. You can also use Mustering the Rohirrim to fetch him from your deck. This, at least, seems a bit more useful, especially in scenarios with those pesky enemies that get stuck in the staging area. As good as the Westfold Outrider is now, with an amazing ability, good stats and a useful trait, I suspect that this card will only get better with time.
My favorite scenarios are like intense puzzles. Where at first everything seems a mess, and it is not clear what belongs where, with persistence and patience the bigger picture emerges. The process of discovery and progression that comes with evolving a deck and strategy for a particular scenario is one of the best things about this game.
Newer scenarios in particular have been pushing the boundaries of the metagame. While at first it can be a bit disconcerting, this pushing of the envelope is ultimately a very good thing for the long-term health of the game.
The Voice of Isengard and its Dunlending enemies brought some serious card-hate to the metagame. Gone are the days where using Legacy of Durin to draw 6 cards in one turn is a safe bet. Likewise, scenarios like the Dunland Trap prevent you from saving key cards like A Test of Will and Hasty Stroke for when you need them most. In general, the game is forcing many players out of their comfort zone and into a much more aggressive style of play.
This has been especially true for me, where the extreme card denial of The Dunland Trap pushed me to make my most aggressive deck to date. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life and I have been having a blast playing this style of hyper-aggressive deck. These decks distill the old saying: the best defense is a good offense. If you know that the first stage will force you to discarding your hand every other round, build a deck that relies on powerful heroes rather than an army of allies. If stage 2 takes away all of our allies but one, then have that ally be an Eagles of the Misty Mountains with monstrous stats. If our weapons and mounts are going to get stolen, then lets rely on Skills and Conditions instead.
Some players prefer to try to make one deck an play it against all scenarios. As someone who really enjoys deck building, and the enjoyment that comes for developing strategies around different cards, I have never quite understood that. The way the game is evolving name, the why of a one-deck-to-rule-them-all philosophy is moot. It simply is not possible any more to rely on a single deck, a single archetype or even a single strategy to reliably succeed against the wondrous multitudes of challenges that face us.
I for one embrace this change in the game. Until I made Aggro Boromir, the idea of playing a deck with a 32 starting threat just seemed crazy. It is fun to be proven wrong. Not only is this deck not crazy, it has been the most consistent of any of the decks I have played against The Dunland Trap. Kudos to Caleb and Matt on the decisions that went into this scenario. Not only is this a very thematic adventure what with the raiding and plundering Dunlendings, but it forces the metagame to adapt in ways that are really intriguing.
The Tempo Archetype
Ever since I saw Prince Imrahil and Horn of Gondor, I always wanted to design a deck around allies leaving play. My initial attempt with Sneak Attack, Valiant Sacrifice and an army of eagles was somewhat disappointing. While the deck had its moments, it relied too heavily on Sneak Attack and Gandalf, a combo which is dominate in every deck since the game was released.
There were several challenges that kept this from being a viable archetype. For one thing, there was a serious lack of cheap allies early on this game. Sure Snowbourn Scout is cheap, but it doesn’t really do much once its in play, and you still had to pay for all of these sacrificial allies. The rest of the allies in these early decks would cost 2 or 3 resources, and at that point it hurts to be chump blocking.
This is where two new Gondorian allies came to the rescue. Errand-rider is an excellent ally, and gets consideration for just about any Leadership deck that I build. His ability is particularly critical for multi-sphere decks, to ensure that resources never sit unspent. The fact the Errand-rider has 2 hit points for soaking Archery or safely chump blocking just makes him that much better.
The other ally is a personal favorite, and one that is just so much fun to sacrifice to the biggest meanest enemies in the game. The poor Squire of Citadel was designed with this archetype in mind. His stats are effectively non-existent, he is the physical manifestation of a mythological concept.
Every fair tale since the dawn of time has the wide-eyed innocent would stumbles into a situation that is truly and simply beyond their understanding or abilities. Terrible world of Dark Lords, Dragons, Fell Beasts and Balrogs, meet Squire of the Citadel. I would say “get to know each other”, but your relationship is not going to last long.
Philosophical musing aside, the Squire fills an essential roll in this new tempo archetype: he is the ideal trigger for all of your other effects. With Horn of Gondor on Prince Imrahil, you will actually gain a resource for sacrificing this poor boy to the forces of darkness. Tough luck for him, but hey, we’ve got a war to win!
It is not uncommon when I play my favorite tempo deck to trigger 5 different effects of this poor sap meeting some terrible end. Éomer, Prince Imrahil, Horn of Gondor, Valiant Sacrifice and the Squire himself all have abilities that trigger when he leaves play. This is a lot of benefit for a – no offense – minimal cost. With enough chump blockers you can essential guarantee action advantage for Imrahil, tactical advantage for Éomer and card or resource advantage from your various tricks. This is a potent combination of effects.
The reason why I call this new archetype Tempo is because it plays differently that the Turtle or Aggro archetypes. Aggro decks rely on the fact that just about everything should be engaging immediately. This is why Aggro Boromir has 8 attack strength ready to go from turn 1. A tempo deck like Westfold to the Rescue can potentially bring this kind of power to bear, but it is not necessarily going to do so from the first round. Turtle decks on the other hand want to drag the game out as long as it takes to get a stranglehold on the staging area and the scenario’s win condition.
Tempo decks exist between the margins of the Turtle to Aggro spectrum. As the name suggests, there is a cadence to playing this style of deck. You might save up a few allies, questing with Éowyn and Imrahil and waiting to get your Horn of Gondor and Rohan Warhorse online. Whereas an Aggro deck needs to be ready from the jump, a Tempo deck can spend a few rounds to setup. Unlike a Turtle deck however, you don’t want to wait too long.
Tempo decks will often lack the kind of big-ticket allies like Gildor or Northern Tracker that a Turtle deck relies on for the end-game. Sure, you could includes these kinds of allies in a tempo deck, but once you slow the game down and rely on powerful allies, you are by definition no longer playing a Tempo-style. A Tempo wants to get setup within the first few rounds then use all of its cool tricks to quickly rush to victory.
To use a real example, I was playing a modified version of Westfold to the Rescue in the aforementioned multi-player game of Conflict at the Carrock. With a Snowbourn Scout and Squire of the Citadel in play, and Horn of Gondor on Imrahil and Rohan Warhorse on Éomer, I was ready to take on some trolls. By discarding an Outrider, I was able to ready Imrahil and boost Éomer. After some chump blocking (sorry Squire!), The son of Éomund and Prince of Dol Amroth finished off one troll. Éomer on his trusty steed then readied and took a health chunk out of the other troll. The Horse-breeder that brought Éomer his mount was no longer needed on the subsequent turn, so she succumbed to death by Troll-smash. Éomer and Imrahil then were able to finish off the last troll.
Because of all of the chump blocking, a Tempo deck can struggle with sustaining this kind rhythm. What is really is needed for this archetype is more card drawing, as Valiant Sacrifice can be a bit anemic. In any case, the point is not to chump block for the 10 or 12 rounds that a Turtle deck would spend to defeat a scenario. The idea is to setup a couple of critical turns where you use you sacrificial allies to maximal effect and then race to the finish.
This archetype is not new, per se, but it has certainly been made much more consistent by some of the newer cards. In addition to all of the great things I said about it above, The Westfold Outrider will be a staple in these decks. As yet another way to play, the Tempo Archetype is an exciting addition to the metagame.
So there you have it, three new things to be excited about. Complain if you must, but there are some great developments to look forward to. If the latest announcements are to be trusted, The Three Trials should be released soon. In the mean time, stay positive, and have fun thinking about what you will do with the next batch of cards!