Ancient Mathoms – Core Set Spirit

Welcome back to the Ancient Mathoms series! Today, we will be going over the cards in the Spirit 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 our philosophy about nerfing cards.

In general, we are not going to nerf cards just because they are powerful. But there is a very small set of cards – most of them from the very early parts of the game – that just warp the meta in extreme ways. Steward of Gondor, Leadership Dain, Gondorian Fire and Blood of Numenor, Vilya, Spirit Glorfindel, and Asfaloth. These cards are so good that they crowd out other cards, and so we are going to – with a very light touch! – attempt to bring them back into balance. This will, in turn, make the task of boosting underpowered cards much easier.

I bring this up now because there are two more cards out of the Core Set Spirit deck that *might* be worth adding to that list: Northern Tracker and Unexpected Courage. Both of these cards are extremely powerful, but it’s been an open question whether or not they are powerful enough and meta-warping enough to be worthy of being toned down.

Let’s start with a look at Northern Tracker. His ability is undeniably powerful – 1 progress to every location in play, without limit. With 2 copies, it’s a simple matter to just erase many locations like they never existed. On the other hand, at 4 cost, he’s difficult to get into play and his stats are oriented towards combat rather than questing. That makes for some interesting decision points, about whether to quest with him or hold him back for combat.

Probably the biggest point to consider, however, is how the card has affected the landscape. And on that count, the location control landscape has a lot of variety, and doesn’t feel constrained by the existence of the Tracker. The cost likely has a lot to do with that – there are even powerful location control allies that exist and are useful even while Northern Tracker exists. Because of that, we will leave him as he is.

On to Unexpected Courage, then. This card is another powerful card – 2 cost for unlimited once-per-turn readying is very good. On the other hand, there’s nothing inherently game-breaking about readying. It doesn’t shut down nearly a third of most encounter decks, like Northern Tracker can, and it doesn’t completely upend the cost curve of a deck like Steward of Gondor. On the surface, it would seem like a poor candidate for a nerf. On the other hand, though, it has exercised a far more potent influence on the card pool. Every readying effect in the game is still compared to Unexpected Courage, and there are a lot of readying options that are pretty much dead cards, just because Unexpected Courage is so much more efficient or effective or easy to get working.

Of course, we intend to try to boost those cards to be more competitive choices, but the shadow cast by Unexpected Courage is far longer than that cast by the Tracker. In order to open up design space for other readying cards to be worthwhile choices – even though we will still be offering improvements to them – we have decided to add a limit to Unexpected Courage: limit 1 per hero. This doesn’t actually change the way the card is played, per se, it just means that you can’t load up a single hero with 3 (or 6 or more in multiplayer) copies to do all the work.

So with that taken care of, let’s look at the cards!

THE CARDS:

Lorien Guide: The Lorien Guide is a card with interesting possibilities, but at 3-cost, it is way too expensive. It’s ability gives it the effective equivalent of 2 willpower as long as there is no active location, but 3 cost for only 2 willpower and 2 hit points is a very poor trade, especially in Spirit.

All of these problems could potentially have been overcome, if it found a special use in a Silvan deck, but it has no enters-play effect to boost that archetype.

Our approach, then, was to give it an enters-play effect that will be useful in a Silvan deck, but still good enough to run outside of the Silvan archetype. We eventually settled on choosing a player and giving each of their heroes +1 willpower until the end of the round. In a traditional Silvan deck, most or all of the heroes will be questing every round (or at least using their willpower, for Galadriel with Nenya), and so you can very often use the ability to its maximum benefit. Our hope is that it can find a place in other decks that intend to quest with all their heroes as well.

The Favor of the Lady: The Favor of the Lady, like many Core Set cards, suffered from being overcosted. 2 cost for a single point of willpower is a bad tradeoff – and the only time it is even considered in modern decks is when you have ways to use your willpower for more than one purpose, such as Rohan decks making use of Herugrim or Golden Shield. Even there, however, it is a hard sell.

We considered several approaches, including just increasing the willpower boost. But, after noting that there have been very few player cards that interact with the Surge keyword, we decided to open up some new design space by adding a new ability. The response allows the player to effectively cancel the surge keyword – discarding the extra card instead of revealing it. The cost, of course, is adding The Favor of the Lady to the victory display – it can’t be recurred from there via any means, and you lose the willpower boost. Since you have no idea what the new encounter card would have been, it can be a somewhat risky proposition. But on the other hand, having reliable means of dealing with surging encounter cards is a very useful ability.

Power in the Earth: Power in the Earth is less of an overcosted card, and more of an unimpressive one. Even with a reduced cost, its ability wouldn’t warrant inclusion in a deck – reducing a location’s threat by 1 is just not good enough.

We weighed several options for this card, including adding an ability to trigger when the attached location left play – similar in form to many of the other location attachments released in later cycles. But instead, we ended up just increasing the threat reduction. We felt that this would open up more space for deckbuilding, as an attachment you played on a location and just kind of expected it to remain there long-term. Perhaps aid in opening up a new Woodmen deck, but even if it didn’t, the ability to just get a semi-permanent -2 threat reduction is useful enough to merit inclusion.

Strength of Will: Strength of Will is another Spirit card from the Core Set with an underwhelming effect. At cost 0, it can’t get any cheaper than it is, but one-time 2 progress on the active location is just hard to justify using a card slot to get. Even removing the requirement to exhaust a character wouldn’t make this card a valuable inclusion.

So our approach was to make the 0-cost event drop 3 progress on the active location – a small but significant improvement on the original effect. Then, if it cleared the location, the player draws a card. Simple, effective, and hopefully enough to be worthwhile. After all, the Spirit sphere still has remarkably few generic options for card draw. Outside of a few very powerful heroes, the options are very limited. This opens up a little more.

A Light in the Dark: There’s not a lot to say about this card. The original was just too expensive. 2 cost to cancel an attack isn’t unthinkable, but to then return that enemy to the staging area, where you will have to quest past it the next round? In addition, it leaves that enemy unable to be attacked by most attacking characters in the game.

Of course, it synergizes well with Dunhere, Haldir (across the table), and the leadership version of Eomer, but even there, 2 cost is a hard price to pay. So we reduced the cost to 1. Now it’s Feint, but with more drawbacks, and that’s appropriate for an out-of-sphere attack cancellation.

Will of the West: The last card on our list was mostly an aesthetic choice. The existing Will of the West card was perfectly fine the way it was – after being errata’ed to break infinite looping, of course. But I always felt that the way it was gone about was a little bit clumsy. After all, removing it from the game was a novel concept with this card. But there already existed an out-of-play area to which player cards could be added: the victory display.

So we just decided to add Will of the West to the victory display. With no victory points, it can help power up the Victory display deck by reducing the cost of Keen as Lances.

That’s all folks! These are all the cards from the Spirit 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!

Watch this space for next Friday’s article on the Lore sphere!

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