Ancient Mathoms – Core Set Lore

Welcome back to the Ancient Mathoms series! Today, we will be going over the cards in the Lore 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. Before we discuss the cards from the Lore sphere, however, now is an excellent time to announce the next phase of our project. Grant and I will be running a Progression Series, using these newly updated cards.

The first episode, in which we accidentally smash Passage Through Mirkwood far too fast to actually show off what the cards can do, can be seen here. After we are finished with the Core Set, we will return to videos and blog posts exploring our walk through the Shadows of Mirkwood cards.

And now, on to today’s cards!

THE CARDS:

Glorfindel: Ah, the Lore version of Glorfindel. A very powerful statline joined to a very lackluster ability. As a result, this card has been completely overshadowed by his Spirit version. That this hero couldn’t compete with a version that offered only -7 threat and boasted a harmful ability speaks volumes, unfortunately.

Now, I have a soft spot for this version of the hero. After all, I walked with him all the way to Mordor. But even so, his ability needs a boost. Exactly what boost would work, however, was a more difficult proposition. We approached the ability from a variety of different angles, thinking about ways to improve it. The most obvious was to boost the healing effect – spending a resource to heal 2 points is a lot more effective than just spending a resource to heal 1. The problem there was that it very quickly impinged on other spend-resources-to-heal-damage abilities. Ioreth, in particular, was a stumbling block. If we made Glorfindel’s healing too potent, he would crowd her out. If we didn’t boost it enough, she would just always be a better choice.

Another option was to remove the spend-a-resource and replace it with discard-a-card for the same effect. That had the benefit of synergizing with the Noldor theme that was developed much later in the card pool. Unfortunately, that space was already occupied by the Imladris Caregiver.

So we finally decided to branch out from the healing aspect of the ability. Instead of healing alone, we ended up going with healing plus a +1 to each of the character’s stats until the end of the phase. We also replaced the once-per-round restriction with a once-per-phase restriction, allowing for a much greater impact on the game.

Over the course of the test runs we’ve played, I’ve come to be really fond of this ability. Not only can it help keep damage down overall, but that +1 boost to attack or defense can be the difference between surviving a combat round of not, and the ability to boost willpower after staging is always useful.

Daughter of the Nimrodel: Of all of the Lore sphere cards we approached, this one was the most difficult. The Daughter of the Nimrodel is hardly a bad card. 3 cost for an ally that can repeatedly heal 2 points of damage is a good deal. Of the Core Set healing cards, she’s probably the best. The problem is that later healing became much cheaper – in particular, the Warden of Healing. Because the cost-effectiveness of the Warden of Healing turns out to be a problem for a lot of the healing cards, our original idea was just to switch costs around between the Daughter and the Warden. However, the near-unanimous preference from the community was to see an improved version of the Daughter at 3-cost.

We explored a few options in that direction, mostly geared towards making the Daughter a useful inclusion in a Silvan deck. That approach yielded unsatisfying results, and the more we went down that path, the less it felt like we were honoring the original card. On top of that, the Silvan archetype already has two healing options that work directly with the theme – the Silvan Tracker and the Galadhrim Healer. The more we worked with a Silvan-themed Daughter, the more it became apparent that there wasn’t really room for three healers in the archetype – one was going to inevitably be crowded out.

So we went in a different direction. Instead of trying to compete with the Warden for cost-effectiveness, and instead of trying to compete with the Silvan Tracker or the Galadhrim Healer in the Silvan trait, we aimed at building an ally that would be worth inclusion on her own merits – in a different space.

Our final result was to boost her willpower to 2, which on its own might justify the 3-cost. That left a problem – exhausting to heal meant that you were losing the valuable willpower, while questing meant that she wasn’t available to heal. So we altered her healing ability – paradoxically making it less powerful, or at least less flexible. Instead of exhausting the Daughter to heal 2 points of damage, we gave her the ability to heal 2 points of damage from any character after she commits to the quest.

This is a huge boost to her questing incarnation – she can now be a useful quester without needing to worry about holding her back. But now, since the healing she offers is restricted to the quest phase, she’s far less flexible as a healing option. This also means that we haven’t crowded out the Warden of Healing as we’ve tinkered with her – the Warden is still the most flexible and cost-effective healing option. But with her extra willpower, the Daughter is no longer in direct competition for the deckspace – the Warden is devoted strictly to keeping damage off of your characters, and can do so at any time, including in the middle of an attack to save a wounded defender. But the Daughter offers some healing while also offering the Lore sphere a decent questing ally – something which it runs a little low on.

Dark Knowledge: Dark Knowledge is an interesting card. From a thematic perspective, I love the Willpower penalty. And the ability to look at a shadow card is actually quite useful – information is power, after all. But the card was effectively put into the binder by the release of A Burning Brand only 2 adventure packs into the game’s first cycle. For only 1 resource more, the Brand let you cancel the shadow effect, instead of just knowing about it. This was an exceptionally powerful effect, and largely strangled Lore shadow management in the cradle for nearly the entire remainder of the game’s current life.

However, in the modern card pool, this card actually has a number of useful places it can fit in. With the expansion of shadow-discarding effects, being able to know what shadow effects you are discarding can become an important piece of shadow management. I’ve built a fellowship that uses this card plus the Armored Destrier to maintain a great deal of control over the combat phase in general.

That said, this card is still extremely unpopular. It might be unfair, but the card sees almost no play. And that’s part of what this project aims at doing – rehabilitating these cards so that people will be inspired to play them.

Building on the theme of dangerous knowledge, we’ve added an encounter-deck manipulation aspect to this card – if the card you look at has no shadow effect, you can raise your threat by 2 to return it to the top of the encounter deck. In addition, we’ve removed the restriction that the shadow card has to be dealt to an enemy attacking you, opening up better options for multiplayer play.

Self-Preservation: Self-Preservation is a card that can be really fun to play, but is quite expensive for the benefit it offers – repeatable healing is excellent, but you can get that cheaper and with more flexibility from allies from later on in the card pool. We took a look at two separate approaches – one that just reduced the cost to make it easier to see play, and one that added an extra bonus to playing the card at its current cost.

Our final result ended up with the attachment also giving the attached character +2 hit points. This opens up room for undefended attacks, which can then be healed off, along with giving a defender a little bit of extra backup, making it harder to die to an unexpected attack boost.

Lorien’s Wealth: Like many of the Core Set cards we have examined, this card suffers from being significantly overcosted. One resource for a card is seldom a good trade (unless it’s repeatable, or has some other sort of benefit in addition to the draw).

So, the two options were to increase the draw, or to lower the cost (or to do some combination of both, of course). Our initial instinct was to have the card draw 3 cards for each player, but that quickly was overturned for being far too powerful in multiplayer, and doing absolutely nothing to help the card in a single player game.

Reducing the cost from 3 to 2 seemed like a good start, but 2 cost for 3 cards is still a little bit expensive, and getting deeper card draw seemed unwise – it would start to compete with the card draw offered by Peace and Thought, only without the drawback of exhausting heroes. So instead of drawing deeper, we decided to go broader – allowing other players to draw a card as well. To restrict it a little bit, we required a Silvan or Noldor hero to access the expanded card draw, so that you couldn’t just play it in any deck. It is now potentially a very powerful card in a 4-player game, and might still be worth considering even in a deck that doesn’t run a Noldor or Silvan hero, or in solo play.

Gandalf’s Search: Unlike many of the cards we look at, Gandalf’s Search is a legitimately bad card. The best possible use case is to spend a single resource to draw 1 card – and, as discussed above, that’s generally a bad trade, especially in the resource-starved Lore sphere.

This one was very difficult to actually get a worthwhile improvement that still felt like it respected the theme. Heed the Dream, a powerful newer card, seemed to close off a lot of the space that was available for this card.

But eventually we settled on a version that let us keep the X-cost (which I was particularly fond of) and didn’t impinge too heavily on Heed the Dream’s space. Instead of spending resources to search deeper, we fixed the search at 5 cards, adding one to your hand and returning the rest to the top of the deck in any order. The X cost, then, allowed you to choose X players to search their decks in that fashion. This opened up new and interesting space for multiplayer play, while also opening up space for mining decks to rearrange the top cards of their deck instead of mining blindly.

The true test of this card came in a test play, when one of us remarked – “Oh, nice. I just drew Gandalf’s Search.” That drove home just how improved the card has become.

Lore of Imladris: Lore of Imladris suffers from the Core Set Healing syndrome, where healing cards are priced well above the actual value they offer. Later, cheaper healing effects can heal all damage from a character while also offering additional benefits – and many of those cards are still seen as situational compared to repeatable healing effects like Self-Preservation or the Healing allies.

So, instead of just reducing the cost for Lore of Imladris, we instead decided to offer additional effects. In addition to healing all the damage from a character, it now also readies the character – giving Lore some much-needed action advantage.

This does offer the inevitable comparison with the Lembas attachment, which costs 1 less. However, Lembas requires a Noldor or Silvan hero, and also only heals 3 points of damage. Lore of Imladris might be more expensive, but it is also now more flexible and more powerful than Lembas. Lembas will probably beat it out for deck space when you control a Noldor or Silvan hero, but there is a lot of deckbuilding space still open for the new Lore of Imladris to shine.

Beorn’s Hospitality: The last card on this list is one of the most overcosted cards in the Core Set. 5 cost cards should be very powerful to begin with, and 5 cost events even more so. But Beorn’s Hospitality isn’t even a hugely powerful effect to begin with. And at 5 cost, it’s just out of the question.

We had two options – we could reduce the cost to make it worth playing, or we could boost the effect to make it worth the 5 cost. We eventually went with the second option. Thematically, Beorn offered the Dwarves and Bilbo not just rest and recovery, but also protection from their enemies. So, we made the 5 cost event also cancel all attacks against the player whose characters get healed. We also boosted the healing to cover all characters controlled by a player, in addition to all heroes.

This is still a very situational event, but it is extremely powerful in the right circumstances. Lore is still hard to generate this many resources in, but with cost reduction like Grima and A Good Meal it can find a place in the right deck. And when it does enter play, it is certain to make a huge impact, which is only right and proper for a 5-cost event.

And that’s the entire Core Set finished! Every sphere of influence has been examined and boosted now. 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 videos for Journey Along the Anduin and Escape from Dol Guldur!

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