Ancient Mathoms – Shadows of Mirkwood Part 1

Welcome back to the Ancient Mathoms series! Today, we will take a step forward, going over the cards from the first two packs of the Shadows of Mirkwood Cycle – The Hunt for Gollum and Conflict at the Carrock.

As a reminder, our objective here is to take the cards from the early game 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.

With no other announcements for this series, it’s time to move on to today’s cards!

THE CARDS:

Bilbo: What to say about Bilbo? His release sparked a rather large (for the time) debate about whether or not he was a better hero than Beravor. After all, unlike the Dunedain, he doesn’t have to exhaust to use his ability. On the other hand, 2 cards is a lot better than 1 card, and his stat line doesn’t actually give you anything useful to do with that action. Unless you end up deciding to give him attachments to boost it, that is.

And all of that is dancing around the elephant in the room, which is that he is overcosted by 3 threat. All in all, there are rather significant reasons to be concerned about him, and he rather quickly disappears from the card pool, to be replaced by other, better options.

The simple fix is just to give him 6 threat and be done with it. At 6 threat, you still aren’t thrilled about his stat line, but he can help you run a Hobbit secrecy deck, and the card draw helps you draw into things that can help you much more than a slightly higher stat distribution could.

Of course, by the unofficial rules of FFG design, that means we probably will have to drop the threat cost on the Tactics version of Bilbo as well. That gave us some pause, so we spent some energy trying to find an ability for him that could justify the extra cost. But in the end, we decided that the simplest way was the best.

Rivendell Minstrel: The Rivendell Minstrel is an excellent card for its purpose – searching your whole deck for a Song card can be extremely valuable, if that card is vital to your strategy. We just gave it an extra hit point, since part of the reason that it doesn’t make it into many decks is that it is just too vulnerable to direct damage. We also gave it the Minstrel trait for strictly thematic reasons – to be honest, that’s half the reason we altered this card in the first place. That second hit point makes a significant difference, though, and it helps ease the burden of a 3-cost ally.

Westfold Horse-breaker: The Westfold Horse-Breaker is an interesting concept. It is the first of the Rohan discard-to-get-an-effect allies, and ushered in a new archetype. Unfortunately, it is rather too expensive for what it does, comparing very unfavorable to Unexpected Courage, which will ready the hero you need every round. Sure, it gives you a willpower every round until you use it, but 2 resources is a lot for just 1 willpower and a single emergency ready.

We decided just to reduce the cost by 1. That gives us a 1-cost for 1-willpower ally – good on its own – but it can also give you an ready, for an emergency defense or attack. At 1 cost, it’s worth including in a wide variety of decks, where at 2 cost, it wasn’t often even worth including in a Rohan deck.

Mustering the Rohirrim: This card is a tough sell. 1 resource to pull a single ally out of the top ten cards of your deck and into your hand is hard to justify unless your deck’s entire strategy revolves around that ally. And Rohan has rather few allies that are that central to a deck’s strategy. Gamling could be in theory, but he’s already takes a lot of moving parts to get working, even with Theoden’s cost reduction.

Our original approach was to copy The Eagles are Coming, and draw all the Rohan allies in the top 5 cards of your deck. However, we soon realized that we wanted to preserve the original character of the card, not just boost its effectiveness. So, we ended up making it 0 cost and kept the original effect. But we also added an ability to pay extra leadership resources to search the entire deck for a second ally. This makes it able to find that critical ally you might need when you really need it, while also making it a viable option to just grab an ally for no cost.

Beorning Beekeeper: The oft-maligned Beorning Beekeeper was well-overdue for some help. 4-cost for an ally with exceptionally low stats and an ability that required discarding it from play is just bad value. Our first approach was to lower the cost – a 4-cost ally with a discard effect had better be a really good discard effect, and any effects that good could easily become overpowered.

Our next target was the ability. We modeled it after the Beorning Guardian, who can place progress on a location after he attacks and kills an enemy. The Beekeeper acts in the same way, discarding himself after killing an enemy to damage an enemy in the staging area. With only 2 attack, he’s not as good at his job as the Guardian, but we also gave him a second point of willpower. This forces some interesting choices – do you quest with him, or save him to kill an enemy in the staging area?

The 2 willpower along is enough to make him worth playing at 3 cost, and though you’ll likely seldom use his discard ability, when you do need it, it can be clutch.

Born Aloft: Born Aloft was one of the most tricky cards for us to design an effect for. My original instinct was to leave it alone – it is seldom played, but it is a utility card that is probably good to have in the card pool if you need to bring an ally back to your hand for some reason. But on the other hand, it doesn’t do much, and it ends up most widely played in decks designed to abuse some combo or another and break the game.

So we decided to give it a shot, and ended up turning it into a resource acceleration card for Tactics. You return the ally to your hand in order to gain a cost reduction on the next ally or event you play that phase. This gives it a lot of flexibility – you can use it in planning to get another ally into play (or to cycle an ally with a valuable enter’s play effect, such as Rumil or Galadhon Archer), or you can use it in combat to reduce the cost of Oath of Eorl or Forth Eorlingas, or other expensive combat events. Or you can even use it in conjunction with Thranduil or Hirgon to play allies cheaply outside the planning phase.

Hopefully, this will be enough to make it worth a look in a Tactics deck.

Eomund: Eomund is an interesting ally. At 3 cost for 2 willpower in Spirit, he is slightly overcosted. His ability, however, is the real reason to play him. Unfortunately, it’s a little bit hit or miss. You can build a deck that abuses it, pulling him in and out of play nearly every round for a global Rohan ready. This abuse of the ability can be quite powerful in the right circumstances – perhaps even too powerful.

But it also feels like it breaks the theme – which is supposed to hint at Eomund’s death before the War of the Ring, and presumably how the grief at his loss galvanized his soldiers. Leaving play every single round is a little bit…odd, when viewed through that lens.

In addition, very few of the Rohan allies we have are actually good at both questing and combat. Many of the heroes are versatile, but only a very few of the allies are worth getting multiple uses out of. So, we gave him a new ability – when a Rohan character leaves play, he can ready a Rohan ally and give it +1 attack. We kept the original ability, but limited it to once per game. This feels more in-line with the original theme. Despite the nerf to the most powerful use cases, this ally feels like it is a lot more useful in general Rohan decks, and can give a Rohan ally a reason to ready.

Nor am I a Stranger: Nor am I a Stranger is a utility card that will likely not see much play unless we boosted it to the point of being overpowered. Like most trait-granting cards, its primary use is in enabling some janky combo. To help facilitate that (and to make it more useful in decks that aren’t as focused around the combo), we made it draw a card when it enters play.

This brings it line with the line of Skill granting cards from the Haradrim cycle, and might make ti worth including one or two just to get extra boosts from Astonishing Speed or Mutual Accord.

Longbeard Map-maker: The last card on our list is a Dwarf ally with an ability that is either useless or incredibly powerful, bordering on overpowered, depending on the situation. As a body on the table, he’s a poor investment. For 1 cost less, you can get the Erebor Hammersmith, who has the same stats and arguably a better ability. But if you have an incredible source of resource generation, like Steward of Gondor, you can boost his willpower to incredible levels.

We weighed two options, either reducing his cost to 2 or raising his willpower to 2, before eventually going with the second variant. With 2 willpower, he becomes an excellent quester with Dain Ironfoot, and is a passable quester even without him. We also limited his willpower-boosting ability to 3 times per phase, to avoid abuses.

One of the hopes is that this will help dwarf decks that aren’t built around Dain and his global stat boosts to still be able to quest. Hopefully this should balance out this project’s upcoming nerf to Leadership Dain (spoiler alert!).

And that’s the first entry for the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle! Watch our companion YouTube show at Card Talk’s YouTube channel, or on my own here.

OCTGN files and printable images of the Shadows of Mirkwood 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!

While you wait for the next installment of this project, the Journey Along the Anduin and Escape from Dol Guldur episodes of the Ancient Mathoms Progression series are available for your enjoyment!

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