The Wounded Eagle

So, I’ve been off on a tangent for several weeks, exercising my thematic deckbuilding muscles, and it’s been really fun. Getting really deep into the decktesting for the Forth Eorlingas fellowship has been great as well, although I can tell that it’s about time to let that one rest for a while.

Anyways, it’s past time to get back to the Agents of the White Council campaign. I have the writeups for both Hunt for Gollum and Conflict at the Carrock sitting half-finished in my queue, and those will be my next priority to get out. But while we wait on that, let’s move on to our analysis of the next quest in the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle: A Journey to Rhosgobel (obligatory link to our favorite quest analysis blog included). Today’s post will include both the quest analysis and the deckbuilding portions. Traditionally, I’ve split them apart, but I often feel like the articles would be stronger if they were combined into a single one. Let me know in the comments section which way you prefer!

Saving Wilyador

So, the central conceit of the quest is that we have come across a wounded Eagle, Wilyador, and are rushing him back to Rhosgobel so that Radagast the Brown can heal him before he succumbs to his wounds. Wilyador has 20 hit points, and takes at least 2 damage every round, so we are looking at a maximum of 9 rounds before the game is over, unless we extend it by using healing effects. Healing, of course, is complicated by the fact that we are not permitted to do healing on the first quest stage, and must remove any card that heals Wilyador from the game on the second.

Of course, there are exploits to get around that – particularly by using location control cards to explore Rhosgobel in the staging area, thereby allowing us to heal Wilyador on stage 1 without issue. But I’m not going to be doing that – it feels like it’s going against the spirit of the quest to me. And for some playthroughs, that’s not an issue, but for this narrative campaign, I want to be doing my best to avoid trivializing the quests. This probably means that I’m going to avoid bringing Northern Trackers to the Hills of Emyn Muil, too.

Anyways, so we want to be saving this eagle. Narrative-wise, I rather think that Wilyador was one of the Eagles that came to assist us at the Carrock when we dispatched the Trolls there, which makes us obligated to save his life. So, other than a ticking life counter on our Eagle friend, what does Journey to Rhosgobel have to challenge us?

A great deal, as it turns out. This quest is exceptionally heavy on the direct damage aspects, mostly via some really nasty treacheries. Our old friend, The Necromancer’s Reach, returns, but this time he’s brought along friends. Exhaustion, Festering Wounds, and Swarming Insects all add to the direct damage festival.

Not only do these cards put our own characters at risk, they each deal additional damage to Wilyador, putting additional pressure on the timer we have to deal with the quest before he dies. There are, in fact, more nasty treacheries than Eleanor can safely cancel on her own, so determining some additional way of dealing with them is going to be essential to this quest.

In addition to the nasty treacheries, Rhosgobel brings back some of our favorite enemies from earlier quests. The Dol Guldur Orcs encounter set once more raises its ugly head, along with the Spiders of Mirkwood, and their flagship enemy, Ungoliant’s Spawn.

However, the quest also introduces a new set of enemies with a particularly annoying effect: they cannot be defended against or attacked by characters without the Ranged keyword, or by characters with the Eagle trait. This is particularly annoying because most of the characters with the Ranged keyword are not particularly strong defenders, and so we often run the risk of losing some really valuable allies just because we had to use them to prevent an undefended attack.

All of this, in addition to the healing pressure that Wilyador is going to be putting on us, means that we are going to have to plan our decks very carefully to get things to work out the way we want them to.

With that said, let’s look at some last few points about this quest that can help inform our deckbuilding. Locations are not going to be a huge issue in this quest. That said, there are a few to keep an eye out for. Several locations from the Core Set have nasty Travel effects that we would generally rather not pay, so having a little bit of location control around would probably be a good thing. In addition, the new location Forest Grove allows us to search the encounter deck for a copy of Athelas and add it to the staging area after we have explored the location. Athelas is an important objective card – after we advance to stage 3, each copy we have found heals 5 damage off of Wilyador. So, some way of improving our chances to find that Forest Grove would be another decent thing to include.

Finally, the most powerful enemies we will be facing will be Ungoliant’s Spawn and Chieftain Ufthak. Neither are particularly dangerous, assuming we don’t leave them around long-term. So, even though the decks don’t need to have a heavy combat focus, we do need to bring enough defense to handle a strength 5 attack without wilting under the pressure.

Thematic Considerations

Now that we’ve looked at the quest in some detail, let’s ask ourselves what we’d like to see in the broad outline of the decks we are going to bring to this quest. A lot of Ranged is going to be important, along with treachery cancellation. In addition, unless we are able to find a foolproof way to consistently find enough Athelas in the encounter deck, we are going to need some healing available as well.

For our heroes, we are still going to have Eleanor, Lanwyn, and Thalin form the core of the party. Thurindir was present with us at the Carrock, and would be a decent inclusion in the fellowship. Granting Lore access as well as side quests to help us control our progress will be a very useful tool in our toolbox.

To fill out the ranks of our heroes, we have a number of options. First, there are the Dunedain that came with Aragorn. Thurindir was one of these who went on our little sidequest to the Carrock, as was Amarthiul. Others could easily have been among the company, and we have just now met up with them, or they could have been hiding among the nameless mass of allies we brought with us. A second option would be to include some of the Silvan Elves of Mirkwood. We are, after all, venturing back into their realm, and it seems logical that we might encounter a few of them that could help us.

Finally, a third option to draw upon are the Woodmen of the Anduin Vale. Many of them live near the borders of the forest, and drawing upon their aid would also be a seamless narrative fit into the story we have been weaving.

The more I look at the challenges presented by this quest, the more I think that a heavy Lore presence will aid us significantly with both anti-treachery tech and with supplemental healing. To that end, I think I’m going to pick Thurindir and Beravor as heroes for the second deck, along with Mirlonde as the third hero. Mirlonde’s ability is simple and straightforward – she just offers decent statistics for an incredible threat cost. In a mono-Lore deck, her effective threat cost is 5. Now, the statistics you get out of her are nowhere near as good as you get out of Spirit Glorfindel for the same price, but she also doesn’t come with a Forced negative effect printed on her hero card. So that’s something.

So, our hero grouping is going to be Lanwyn, Eleanor, and Thalin in one deck, with Mirlonde, Thurindir, and Beravor in the other. Allies will be drawn from the Gondorian soldiers of Eleanor’s escort, the Dunedain who traveled along with Aragorn’s party, and the inhabitants of the borders of Mirkwood – a few Silvans and Woodmen. In addition, we are going to include a few Dale allies to represent Lanwyn’s brothers – historically, they have been Rhovanion Outriders, but I don’t think that I need to keep them represented by the same allies all the time. So, with that covered, let’s get deckbuilding!

A Will Indomitable

Eleanor’s deck will be our first target. We’ll start by playing the sort of minimum Gondorian escort that we have so far brought with us – 3 Ethir Swordsmen and 3 Honour Guards. That helps give us a core of questing power and defensive ability. In addition, 3x Dunedain Pathfinders are both thematically appropriate and mechanically advantageous – they can try to pull out those Forest Groves for more Athelas. We’ve had the presence or at least the inspiration of Arwen Undomiel since we met her in Escape from Dol Goldur, and I see no reason to leave her behind for this quest.

In addition, since we decided that a Woodland Realm Silvan presence would be appropriate, 3x Woodland Couriers make a nice fit for the deck. The locations in this quest are primarily Forest, so we will be getting the supercharged enters-play ability often. That should leave us with a good questing cadre of allies.

Now, let’s turn our attention to combat. Specifically, we are going to want to include a number of ranged characters to be able to combat the Black Forest Bats and the Mirkwood Flocks. Lanwyn will be a great help already here, but she’s rather weak on the defense, and a single attack-boosting shadow could cause significant problems. So, let’s look at some ranged allies. Unfortunately, most of the useful ranged Tactics allies are of a less-than-thematically appropriate trait – the Galadhon Archers and Marksmen of Lorien are Silvan, true, but we’ve left Lorien rather far behind us at this point. Any Lorien Elves still participating in the Hunt are far away, with Aragorn. In addition, they are even worse at defense than Lanwyn, so they are not particularly useful for our needs.

However, there is one ally that might help us – the Fornost Bowman. With 1 defense and 3 hit points, it’s as sturdy as Lanwyn. And if we preferentially engage enemies with Eleanor’s deck, he can get up to a respectable attack as well. Even more so, the Fornost Bowman is perfectly in-theme, as part of Aragorn’s northern party that turned aside with us to fight Trolls.

Finally, a new ally from the Wilds of Rhovanion box might also be able to come to our rescue. The Warrior of Dale has the same defensive stats as the Fornost Bowman, and gains the ranged keyword as soon as a Weapon attachment is played on him. The new Bow of Yew will do nicely for that, but even better will be a Raiment of War, as it increases his defensive stats. Thematically, it could well be weird to find a few new Dale allies suddenly joining us on our quest – but if we frame this as just another facet of Lanwyn’s brothers’ personalities, then we don’t even have to explain away any inconsistencies.

With that, and with our already-noted preference for weapons+Foe-Hammer to boost Lanwyn’s attack and enable some card draw for us, I think that now would be a good time to give one of our stalwart allies a new look. In the deck that is now beginning to take form, I think that the tactics version of Bofur will be more useful to us than the spirit variant. The ability to draw some of these weapons out of the deck is incredibly useful.

That brings us to 22 allies, but we still have no real defensive answer for non-ranged-only enemies. I think that drawing on our Gondorian heritage is the right answer – we have a pick between Gondorian Spearman and Defender of Rammas. While the Defender of Rammas can give us a powerful defender capable of turning aside the attacks of the smaller enemies, I actually prefer the Spearman in this instance. We have a number of 3-hit point enemies that could be instantly killed by Thalin + Gondorian Spearman + 1 other source of damage. We’ll throw in 3 copies of the Spear of the Citadel as well, as one option for that final point of damage.

For our attachments, we’ll first fill in our old standbys – 1xMagic Ring, 2x Unexpected Courage, 3x Ancient Mathom, 2xDagger of Westernesse, 2xGondorian Shield. In addition to 2 Bows of Yew, 3 Raiments of War, and the Spears of the Citadel mentioned previously, we’re at 18 attachments and 43 cards overall. 3 Tests of Will and 3 Foe-Hammers bring us up to 49, and I think that there are enough nasty shadow effects to be worth running 3 copies of Hasty Stroke.

Now, since we’ll consider that we are running Thurindir in the partner deck, it might be worth running a side quest or two. We are already at 52 cards, and our card draw is not so powerful as to make larger decks a trivial matter. But if Thurindir runs Gather Information as his primary side quest, we can include 1 copy of a side quest in this deck without changing our effective deck size. If we draw it in our opening hand, we can use the Gather Information effect to pull some other card that we wished we had drawn, and if not, as soon as we clear that side quest, it will be as if we hadn’t run it as all as far as probabilities are concerned.

The biggest worry I have so far in looking at this deck is the preponderance of Tactics cards. We have 8 3-cost Tactics allies in the deck, and only one Tactics hero to pay for them. Without some means of resource smoothing, we are likely to stall out while waiting to get something into play. Luckily, there is a side quest tailor-made for getting us out of this situation. The Storm Comes allows us to pay for any single ally without a resource match, meaning that Thalin’s tactics resources will be able to be saved to play all of those weapons. And that effect is certainly worth a 53rd card.

Wisdom of the Wild

Our second deck is going to be interesting. The first deck can cover a lot of the questing and combat, and has a lot of treachery cancellation, between 3x Tests of Will and Eleanor. But I don’t think that that will be enough, given all of the really awful direct damage treacheries this quest has to offer. Luckily, Lore gives us access to an intriguing option – Out of the Wild. At 3 cost, it is expensive, but a mono-Lore deck can afford it. And putting one of those ridiculous treacheries in the victory display not only gets it out of the encounter deck where it won’t trouble us anymore, but it also opens up possibilities for The Door is Closed, which can cancel further copies.

With that basic idea in mind, let’s first look at our side quests. Thurindir will be pulling out Gather Information as his opening quest, which – when cleared – will let us pull out The Storm Comes in the first deck, and one further side quest from this deck, should we decide we need one. Scout Ahead essentially acts as a 4th copy of Out of the Wild, and also sets up The Door is Closed, while also giving us a very softball couple of turns. With that chosen, I don’t think we need further side quests. The three we have will bring Thurindir’s Willpower up to 5, give us the ability to play allies from any sphere across the board, and start us off with a treachery in the victory display.

That was quick and easy – side quests often are, especially when Thurindir is involved. Allies are going to be a little bit harder. First, let’s toss in 2 copies of a Warden of Healing. Although he won’t be particularly useful when trying to heal Wilyador, he can still keep combat damage off of our heroes and Ranged allies, especially since the latter don’t have especially high defense. In addition, 3 copies of the East Road Ranger can help us clear our opening side quests.

With some obvious choices out of the way, let’s turn our attention to the themes we have available. From the Woodland Realm Silvan options, we have the Silvan Tracker and Mirkwood Runner options in the Lore sphere. Luckily, The Storm Comes lets us bring in allies from other spheres as well, since neither of those are going to be particularly helpful against this quest. I think that 3x Greenwood Archers would be particularly suited to our needs. Although they lack defense, they can shoot across the table at the various flying enemies with impunity, especially if we try to preferentially engage enemies with Eleanor’s deck. In addition, our choice of Beravor as a hero gives us a perfect target for their readying ability, even in the planning phase.

Most of the Lore Gondor cards are Ithilien-themed, and we haven’t drawn on that strand of Gondorian lore so far. But including a few Ithilien Archers would not be a bad idea, especially since it would give us an emergency defender in case we can’t avoid engaging one of the flying enemies. 1 defense and 2 hit points is not a lot, but it at least has a chance of surviving an attack for 2.

As far as Woodsmen go, the Mirkwood Pioneer is a very useful ally – it cancels threat in the staging area as well as questing for 1 or being a chump blocker at need. And the Mirkwood Explorer is also an interesting possibility. I don’t know that I’ve ever used him before, but a little extra location control would not go amiss, especially since we replaced Rhovanion Outriders with Warriors of Dale in the other deck. Still, they are expensive, and I’d rather not take more than 2 of them.

This should really cover the core needs of the deck, but there are two more cards that I really want to consider. The first, Dunedain Lookout, is a card that I just keep cutting from my Lore Dunedain decks. It just seldom has very much value, since A Test of Will can cancel those When Revealed effects easier and for a lower cost.

But in this particular quest, we have a number of enemies with really nasty When Revealed effects – the King Spider, Ungoliant’s Spawn, and the Dol Guldur Orcs – but we are preferentially saving our cancellation cards for the even nastier treacheries. So I think that this guy actually has value in this quest, because he not only gives us cancellation, but allow us to save our more flexible cancellation to use against worse effects. And while we are waiting to cancel an enemy’s effects, he even gives us a willpower.

Our final choice of ally is actually dictated by one of the attachments I chose. Since we’ve chosen a sort of direct-damage sub-theme in the other deck, I thought it might be worthwhile to include Ranger Bows in this deck, to aid in that endeavor. It’s also another means of getting damage on ranged-attack-only enemies before they engage, and perhaps even kill them altogether in the staging area. Given that, we need some Ranger characters to use them. Oddly enough – given the number of Dunedain allies we are already running, the only Ranger characters we have so far are our 3 Ithilien Archers. While running Ranger Bow on one of them is a possibility, that’s a lot of resources sunk into not a lot of benefit, and we also lose the opportunity cost of the Archer’s high attack.

Given that, we are going to add three more Ranger allies into the deck. The cheapest Dunedain cards also with the Ranger trait are the Andrath Guardsmen. They are Leadership allies – but The Storm Comes will take care of that. In addition to their valuable trait, they also have a useful enters-play ability. If we end up engaging an enemy we can’t handle, we can play one to cancel an attack, hopefully letting us kill the enemy before we have to defend again. And even if we do, they make excellent chump blockers.

So that brings us up to 22 allies. So far, we have a lot more 3-cost cards than I’m strictly comfortable with – the East Road Ranger, the Ithilien Archer, and the Mirkwood Explorer are all expensive allies. Luckily, we have access to Elf-Stone, a 1-cost attachment that allows us to bring in an ally for free once we clear the attached location. Both sides of the table will have useful targets for that card, and it will serve as faux resource generation.

Since we completely lack the traditional form resource generation across all of our decks – well, other than the Magic Ring for Eleanor, but that’s primarily a means of readying, not of resource generation – it might be worth considering something like the Necklace of Girion. Its Guarded function might actually be a benefit in this case, since it can get a location – possibly Forest Grove – out into the staging area. And even if not, the extra willpower and resources are worth the inclusion of 2 copies. Two copies of the Dunedain Pipe will also give us some filtering ability to get through our deck to the cards we really need. And finally, as far as attachments are considered, we will throw in 2 copies of Healing Herbs. This will allow us to heal any damage on Wilyador that the Athelas can’t manage on their own.

For events, we’re already committed to three copies of both Out of the Wild and The Door is Closed. With as much of a focus on the victory display as we have, Keen as Lances is almost an auto-include. Our deck is now almost complete. The last thing I want to add to this deck is 3 copies of Distant Stars. Exhausting a Ranger or Scout character to make a copy of Forest Grove the active location is incredible, since it allows us to find more copies of Athelas almost at will.

That brings us to 48 cards, just 2 cards short of a full deck. We’ll add 3 copies each of Deep Knowledge and Daeron’s Runes, and that will round out our deck. Even though we are at 54 cards, we are running enough card draw that we are going to be much more consistent than many 50-card decks.

Looking over the decks, we have a lot of treachery cancellation, along with what should hopefully be enough defense and attack power from ranged characters to neutralize the threat from the flying enemies. We’ve made provisions for the more standard combat needs of the deck – and between Eleanor’s Gondorian Shield and her Honour Guards, we can even defend for a while against Ungoliant’s Spawn and Chieftain Ufthak. We also have a number of ways to get more copies of Forest Grove out, so that we can find ourselves more Athelas, and we have a little bit of healing of our own, just in case we find ourselves in dire straits with Wilyador’s damage. I think that this just about covers it.

Take a look at the fellowship here on RingsDB, and watch for the video of the attempt to come out soon!

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