Hunting Among the Hills

The next step in the journey of Eleanor and her companions as they attempt to track down Gollum is the daunting hills of the Emyn Muil. Their twisting canyons and crumpled landscape offer many places for a refugee to hide, and will require all the skill that their scouts and trackers have to offer.

Now, the central mechanic of this quest is locations. Lots and lots of locations. We will start off with 2 high-threat locations in play, each of which have annoying effects after you travel to them.

The rest of the encounter deck is predominantly locations, with a few really obnoxious treacheries mixed in, and some few enemies that really feel out of place in the deck. As always, we’ll link to our favorite commentary blog – Vision of the Palantir.

Now, I’m going to be honest up front. This is not a particularly fun quest – the way the location mechanic is implemented turns it into a long slog where it is possible to end up completely in command of the quest for turn after turn while you are just waiting to try and clear out the last locations in play, only for another one to show up in staging.

RockslideIt’s also a very easy quest to get control of, especially with the amount of location control which the modern card pool gives us access to. So, with the exception of noting that the treachery Rockslide exists, and so we might want to pack our copies of A Test of Will in addition to Eleanor’s cancellation, I’m not going to do a lot of analysis on this quest.

Instead, I’m going to jump straight to our story, and start examining what we might explore with our deckbuilding.

The Hills of Emyn Muil are north of Ithilien, on the east side of the river Anduin. Across the great river are the plains of Rohan, while to the south and east, the Dead Marshes interpose themselves between the twisted hills and the Black Gate of Mordor. As locations go, it is pretty desolate, and we are not likely to encounter any allies in the place. Or are we?

One of the enemies in this quest – although utterly forgettable otherwise – offers an interesting thematic point. The Orc Horse-Thieves apparently haunt this forbidding place, trying their luck at pilfering from the herds of the Rohirrim across the river. Although we could just put together a Dunedain companion deck, and bring along the companions we have met so far, I am really interested in branching out into new decks, and a Rohan deck could scratch that itch.

So, I think that our second deck will involve a small band of Rohirrim, who have crossed the river in pursuit of an Orc raiding party that has made off with several of their prized horses. They will cross paths with Eleanor and her company, and we will end up working towards mutual goals. For heroes, Aragorn will be almost required – since our upcoming adventure in the Dead Marshes is going to be a trek with just him and Arwen.

Hunters in the Riddermark

Now, if we’re including Aragorn, and we want to pair him with a Rohan deck, I think that one of the most interesting ways to do it is to include the hero version of Elfhelm. A single card – Aragorn’s horse Roheryn – will boost his attack and defense by 1. Add Celebrian’s stone on top of that, and Aragorn is questing for 5, defending for 3, and attacking for 4.

Finally, on top of that, I’d like to use an old Core Set hero, that I haven’t used in a very long time. Theodred is a hero which can be hard to fit into a traditional Rohan deck, but that extra resource per round is very useful. In addition, it synergizes pretty well with Aragorn’s readying ability.

So, this gives us a mono-leadership deck, which is a really tricky approach to building with Rohan. Luckily, Elfhelm really pushes our deck towards including multiples of the sphere-granting Songs, which opens up some opportunities for allies. With that noted, let’s immediately include 3 copies of Snowbourne Scout, 2 copies of the Warden of Helm’s Deep, and 2 copies of Eothain. As Rohan allies in the Leadership sphere go, these are the cream of the crop. We may end up adding more, but I don’t see it – Ceorl can be useful, but mostly in combat oriented quests, where you can get an extra 2 attack or a chump blocker over to another player in an emergency, and a 3rd copy of the Warden is unlikely to be necessary in this quest. Leadership also gives us access to the weapon Guthwine, which will allow us to recur Rohan allies. Now we have a choice to make – what spheres do I want to differentiate out into?

Because the other deck has native access to Tactics, and because we are going to want to double down on location control, I think the best choice is to branch out into Spirit. With that said, we’ll grab 3 copies of the Westfold Horse-breeder to fetch the mounts to get Elfhelm running. If we include the event Ride to Ruin as additional location control, the horse-breeder is an excellent target, because she can be recycled and played again to search for a horse. In addition, we can double down on our location control with 3 copies of the Riddermark’s Finest. It’s interesting to note that Theodred can actually be really helpful with having the resources to keep recurring discarded allies.

Finally, let’s bring in 2 copies of West Road traveler, just to have some consistent willpower in the deck. We’re now up to 15 allies, so we’ll insert 3 copies of Gandalf for the card draw, leaving us at 18. That’s a little bit low on the ally count, but with Guthwine letting us recur allies from the discard pile, I’m not as worried about it.

Looking at events, we’ll want 3x Ride to Ruin for sure, and 3x Sneak Attack for Gandalf. If we’re running a lot of discard from play effects on our allies, Valiant Sacrifice could be a good way to squeeze a little more card draw in there – a weakness of Spirit/Leadership decks, I’ve found. If you can find any way to get more card draw out of them, you should ideally take it.

In that vein, I think I’m going to include a copy of the side quests Prepare for Battle, and 2 copies of the event Dunedain Message to fetch it. This quest is particularly well-suited for side quests, and like I said, card draw in these spheres is worth its weight in gold.

That brings us up to 30 cards total, leaving 20-22 more slots for attachments. First, we’ll look at the mounts. 2 copies of Roheryn is a must, and 2 copies of Snowmane will get us some action advantage out of a hero who will always be questing. I think that playing Snowmane on Theodred could actually be an interesting idea, letting the prince of Rohan ready to use his attack power, probably boosted by Guthwine. 2 copies of an Armored Destrier will be an important option for any Elfhelm deck. If Eleanor gets a Song of Kings, she can get action advantage, shadow discarding, and a defense boost out of the mount.

A couple Steeds of Imladris, along with 2x copies of Windfola, will give us some options that can be played on the companion deck. The Steeds of Imladris will also give us some options for clearing the active location, which could help us to more quickly get to a state where there are no Emyn Muil locations in play. Finally, a single Steed of the North can also be played on Aragorn in order to keep him ready even after using the response on Roheryn.

That’s 11 mounts, a reasonable amount for the Horse-breeder to search for. In addition, the 3 copies of Guthwine and 2 copies of Celebrian’s Stone get us up to 16 attachments. With our final 4-6 slots, I think we are going to want to play Song attachments to get access to multiple spheres. 3xSong of Travel and 3xSong of Battle seem about right. Between Celebrian’s Stone and 3xSong of Travel, we should see something that grants a Spirit resource icon quickly enough.

Strangers and Friends

For Eleanor’s deck, we are going to see a variation on our standard theme. 2 copies of Arwen, 3 copies of the Ethir Swordsman, 3 Rhovanion Outriders, and 3 West Road Travelers give us a core willpower cadre, and a little bit of location management alongside. In addition, 3x Dunedain Pathfinders can pull more Emyn Muil locations out of the encounter deck to get us to the required 20 victory points in an expedited manner.

3x Honour Guards help protect our initially fragile defenders, but from here on out, things change slightly. Since we are introducing some Rohirrim into our mix, we can start to explore that a little bit more here. 2 copies of Grimbold fit the questing theme, but also gives us an emergency valve for combat if we find ourselves in need. At 3 cost, he’ll be expensive, but Theodred can pass resources over to Thalin in a pinch, so I’m not as concerned as I otherwise might me. In addition, 3x Westfold Outriders give us an option to control the staging area a little bit, and we can pull enemies out to get extra progress if needed.

That puts us to 22 allies on this side of the table, so let’s move on. For events, I’m going to include 2 copies of A Test of Will. With Rockslide, Evil Storm, and Necromancer’s Reach in the deck, I want a little more than just Eleanor to protect me from treacheries. In addition, 3x Foehammer adds more card draw to this side of the table, and 2xGaladhrim’s Greeting can help keep us under the 35 threat worry zone for Evil Storm.

The last event I’m going to include is a kind of marginal event, but it fits perfectly into this quest. Backtrack is a 1-cost Spirit event that allows us to move progress tokens from the current quest to a location in the staging area. In a quest where we are trying to get all of the locations cleared out in order to win, this can be the difference between victory and another 3 rounds as we try to clear everything.

That brings us to attachments. 3 copies of Dagger of Westernesse lets us have a weapon in order to trigger Foe-Hammer, and 3x Ancient Mathoms increase the likelihood we will see it. Eleanor’s Magic Ring is a must-include for our story purposes, and 3x Gondorian Shields will get Eleanor’s defense online. 3x Song of Kings will let Eleanor be given Armored Destriers, and 3x Song of Travel will help make sure that, between the 2 decks, everybody who needs a Spirit resource Icon can get one. Finally, we’ll include 2 copies of the Necklace of Girion, which not only boosts willpower and resource generation, but also can help get an extra location into play via the Guarded (x) effect on the card.

And that rounds out our decks for this quest. Watch the video of my playthrough here!

Next up on the White Tower, we will take a look at The Dead Marshes, and see if we can make a 2-hero Strider deck work for us.

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