Ancient Mathoms – Core Set Tactics

Welcome back to the Ancient Mathoms series! Today, we will be going over the cards in the Tactics sphere from the Core Set.

As a reminder, our objective here is to take the cards from the Core Set that are now a little bit underpowered and give them a bit of a boost to get them in the competition for deck space in the modern card pool. Along the way, we may find a few cards that are so powerful that they kind of constrict the card pool, and we will be taking those down just a little bit as well, to give room for other cards to shine a little bit.

For a discussion of the principles that guide this project, see the first entry in the series. But before we discuss the changes we made, I want to specifically talk about 2 cards which we explicitly did not change: Veteran Axehand, and the Horn of Gondor.

The Veteran Axehand is a prime target for a boost from this project. Its 2-cost for 2-attack is exactly at par for its sphere, but it has no special ability, which puts it behind cards like the Galadhon Archer, Westfold Outrider, and the Riddermark Knight. We even made a test version of the card with a minor change – just a situational ability that brought the card into contention with its peers (+1 attack when attacking a damaged enemy). But it recieved significant feedback from the community, who consistently insisted that it was a fine card because its traits made it an easy card to boost – certainly far more so than the other 2-cost/2-attack allies. After reflection, it probably is fine the way it is.

The second card was Horn of Gondor. While we initially considered it for inclusion, we dropped it before even mocking up cards. The truth is that it is still a good card, even after the errata. More than anything else, what has driven it out of the card pool is a meta that moved away from chump blocking and towards powerful hero (and, more recently, ally) defenders. This is driven partially by shadow effects that get worse if the attack destroys an enemy. But for a deck that expects allies to die – either to direct damage effects or to enemy attacks, the Horn still offers incredible value. In fact, now I want to run a deck based around that concept, running heroes who key off of allies leaving play…

Anyways. With that out of the way, lets get on to the cards!

THE CARDS:

Thalin: Ok, let’s talk about Thalin here. He’s a hero with a very powerful ability on top of stats that are generally pretty useless. You always quest with him, and his 2 attack and 2 defense/4 hit points are mediocre enough that he’s not the first target you’ll want for readying. That ability though – very powerful indeed, in the right deck.

In fact, he’s probably good enough that I normally wouldn’t consider boosting him if it weren’t for my avowed vendetta against 1-wp heroes with abilities that require committing to the quest. The easiest option here is to take the Theodred route – move a point from one of his stats into willpower and just go on from there. But as a Tactics hero, I am hesitant to just boost willpower. It doesn’t seem in-character for the sphere (not counting Tactics Theoden, Tactics Eowyn, or Hirgon, of course), and it definitely doesn’t seem in-character for the character. I am actually a little fond of Thalin’s stat spread. It just fits quite well with what Tactics was aiming to be, especially in the early game.

So rather than boost his willpower, we ended up adding a passive ability that Thalin quests with his attack instead of his willpower. It only makes him quest for 2 to start with, but it opens up interesting possibilities for Tactics decks that contribute to the quest phase in different ways from the standard Theoden/Eowyn deck.

This did prompt some concern from various feedback groups that – since attack is so easy to boost compared to willpower, especially for Dwarves – it could end up with Thalin being a more powerful quester than Eowyn, even just using cards from the Core Set. However, with our upcoming changes to the Dwarven Axe (spoiler alert!), I believe that those concerns have been successfully addressed.

Horseback Archer: The Horseback Archer is, after Brok Ironfist, probably the poster child for Core Set cards that just need help. 3 cost for 2 attack is already overcosted, even with the Ranged keyword. With no ability to help him overcome his cost, this card has languished in the binder since just about the moment there were enough other cards to take him out of the deck.

My first instinct was to give him an ability to make up the difference. Like the Silverlode Archer from the Leadership, if we could give him a powerful enough ability to make him worth the 3 cost, that would be enough. Looking at the traditional Rohan themes, there are still few Mount attachments that can attach to allies, and 3 cost is really difficult to sell for an ally who discards for an effect, even with Spirit Theoden’s cost reduction. But an interesting and underused card from the Dwarrowdelf cycle caught my eye – the Rider of the Mark. This card lets you spend a resource to pass control of it over to another player, discarding a shadow card in the process. It is highly thematic, and incredibly fun to play.

The idea was developed a little further in the Dreamchaser cycle, with Ceorl, who crosses the table, readying each time. The idea of mounted Rohan allies charging across the table is one that I find appealing, and it seemed like an underexplored area that the Horseback Archer could find a niche in. So we added an ability that let you pass control to another player, then deal 2 damage to an enemy engaged with that player.

Feedback indicated that players felt that it might be too powerful (welcome territory for this card!), since 2 damage is a hefty chunk. In combination with other direct damage effects, it can destroy enemies before they even get to attack – and as an ally, this effect was repeatable. But reducing the effect to a single point of damage – while still respectable – no longer justified the 3 cost. Especially when you would have to spend further resources to actually activate the ability.

And so, we ended up dropping the cost to 2. Despite our preference to leave costs where they were and adjust abilities to match, this card just worked better at the lower cost. 2 cost for 2 ranged attack, plus the ability to spend a resource to deal a point of damage, is an excellent deal. Although it doesn’t have specific synergy with traditional Rohan strategies, I have often felt that the Rohan discard-an-ally-to-do-awesome-stuff playstyle could benefit from a few solid allies who just stuck around and did their thing. Hopefully, this card can now be one of those.

Dwarven Axe: The Dwarven Axe has never been an awful card, it has just been outshone by nearly every single weapon card released since the Core Set. Starting in the Dwarrowdelf cycle, with the release of the Dwarrowdelf Axe, the original Axe has slowly been overshadowed. Now, the going rate for weapon attachments is 1 cost for 1 attack, plus an extra attack in certain circumstances (except for the Dwarrowdelf Axe, which deals an extra damage all the time, and is thus strictly better).

In addition, the straight +2 attack for Dwarven heroes made the new version of Thalin into a card that could quickly become a better quester than Eowyn, which just felt wrong. After a few abortive attempts at adding support for the Dwarven mining deck (which involved unfortunate recursion effects that could potentially break the game), we settled on a response that exhausted the weapon to add +1 attack for this attack (+2 if the attached hero was a dwarf). The new weapon card is at 2 cost for a +1 static attack boost, with an extra +1 attack on any single attack. That’s still not enough to beat out other weapon attachments in a generic deck, but in a dwarf deck, it should be a strong contender when compared to the Dwarrowdelf Axe. In that case, it’s 2 cost for +3 attack, which is hopefully a competitive rate.

Citadel Plate: Citadel Plate is another card that is perhaps surprising to see on this list. It has a place in a couple of very powerful decks, and is dedicated support for two heroes – Gimli and Gloin, both of whom have abilities that key off of taking damage.

The problem is that Citadel Plate is hardly used outside of those contexts. 4 cost in Tactics is prohibitive, and it’s hard to justify this card unless it is the center of a strategy. Also, I find it thematically unsatisfying that this incredibly potent Gondorian armor is only used by a couple of Dwarves. At the very least, I want to see it useful on Beregond.

The changes we have offered reflect that. Limiting it to one per hero helps tone down the incredible power of Gloin decks, while the new response is only tangentially useful in its most popular contexts – it can be helpful to make sure that Gimli or Gloin don’t die while you are putting damage on them, but actually cancelling the damage means that you lose out on the extra attack or the extra resource.

Instead, this card is now more useful for a dedicated defender. Tactics Beregond is an ideal target – 4 extra hit points plus some damage cancellation if you need to take an attack undefended is a significant boost to his already impressive capabilities.

Blade Mastery: The original version of Blade Mastery occupies a weird space. In the Core Set, it was one of a few ways to boost a character’s attack, and one of even fewer to boost defense. But as the card pool broadened, options for both expanded faster than this card could keep up. It is now left far behind by a wide variety of attachments that can give you far better value for the cost, all while being permanent boosts instead of one-off events.

And even when compared to other events, every single attack- or defense-boosting event either offers a larger boost or offers an additional effect, all for the same or lower cost.

So, we’ve boosted the attack and defense boosts to +2 apiece. In order to offer some limits on it, we’ve restricted the card to targeting heroes, and limited it to the Warrior trait. The Warrior trait is widespread enough that it isn’t a huge imposition, but the limitation on heroes might be a bigger restriction. Our hope is that the +2 boost to both combat stats is worth the tradeoff, especially once readying gets into play.

Stand Together: This card was problematic in a number of ways, unfortunately. The basic idea is a very intriguing one – combining the defense of multiple characters to block a single big attack. The basic problem is that using up the actions of 2 or 3 defenders to block a single attack is inefficient compared to just chump blocking and using the actions of those characters to attack back.

So, we restricted it to a single extra character, but allowed that character to add their defense without exhausting. This still permits interesting combinations like the perennial favorite of multiple Gondorian Spearmen dealing huge amounts of damage against the attacking enemy. But it also allows other things, like Beregond adding his defense to a Defender of Rammas to block the swing of a Nazgul or Balrog. And, if the attack dealt no damage, we also added a bit of card draw. This helps the card-starved Tactics sphere move through its deck a little faster. Because of concerns that a 0-cost, draw 1 card event might become an auto-include, we also added the restriction that the enemy you defend against has to have an engagement cost higher than your threat. While this is an excellent card for Hobbit decks (and other low-threat decks of various kinds), it also has value in defending massive, high-engagement cost enemies in various boss fights.

Swift Strike: This card is a very good card in a very small set of situations, and overpriced and underpowered outside of those situations. When you can set up an enemy to be destroyed by direct damage before it attacks, this card can earn it’s place. But even there, the fact that you still have to exhaust your defender to deal with that enemy is a strike against this card, and in favor of easier-to-manage direct damage effects.

Our change reflects this, allowing you to ready your defender again if the damage it dealt destroyed the attacking enemy. A simple change, which hopefully makes this card worth the 2 resources you spend on it.

Rain of Arrows: The last card on our list for the Tactics sphere, Rain of Arrows has a number of problems facing it. The first is that the cost to exhaust a ranged character can be hard to swallow, especially in the Core Set, when it means exhausting either Legolas or the Horseback Archer (although, with the cost reduction of the Archer, it become easier to manage). In addition, 1 damage to each enemy engaged with a single player is just not a hugely useful effect. Direct damage, as a rule, is more effective when it can be focused instead of spread around all over the table.

Our boost just adds a single extra point of damage, but because that means that one of the enemies you are targeting will take 2 damage instead of 1, the hope is that it can be used as part of a direct damage-focused strategy.

And that’s a wrap! These are all the cards from the Tactics sphere that we felt could use a boost. Watch our companion YouTube show at Card Talk’s YouTube channel, or on my own here.

OCTGN files and printable images of the Core Set cards are available here, and we look forward to you enjoying them in your own games. We’d love to hear about any cool games you’ve had with these cards!

Tune in next Friday to see our approach to the Spirit cards!

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