Ancient Mathoms – Shadows of Mirkwood Part 3

Welcome back to the Ancient Mathoms series! Today, we will wrap up the Shadows of Mirkwood Cycle, going over the cards from the final 3 packs – The Hills of Emyn Muil, The Dead Marshes, and Return to Mirkwood.

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 further ado, let us meet the new and improved cards!

THE CARDS:

Our first group of cards are a set that we have made only extremely minor changes to, and which we feel we can pass over quickly and without much comment.

Brand, son of Bain: We deliberated for a long time on Brand, son of Bain. His ability is completely useless in solo play, and can be a little bit fiddly in multiplayer. But we feel that having heroes who only work in a multiplayer environment is fine for the card game. And Brand’s ability is quite good – even in our limited card pool, you could ready Beravor for additional card draw, Denethor for another bit of scrying, or an attacking ally or hero for combat, and when combined with Quick Strike, you can pull it off in other phases as well.

And so, the only change we made was to give Brand the Warrior trait. This opens him up to a number of attack-boosting attachments and events – particularly our new version of Blade Mastery.

Support of the Eagles: This card is perfect exactly the way it is, with one glaring, annoying exception. It lacks the Eagle trait, which means that you can’t pull it out of your deck with The Eagles Are Coming. We have rectified that situation post-haste.

Meneldor’s Flight: Meneldor’s Flight is a card that is hard to justify its place in the card pool. Anything you might want to do with it can be done with the more flexible attachment, Born Aloft (which itself was niche enough that we felt it necessary to boost it). It has been given a new lease on life with a new ruling that the timing of the combat phase allows you to return a Vassal of the Windlord or Winged Guardian back to your hand instead of discarding them after they complete their combat roles.

But even with this, it’s a niche card that makes it difficult to actually include it, because the benefit is so situational. So we gave it a little bit of card draw to help boost its appeal. The draw is predicated on returning an Eagle card to your hand, so it won’t become a dedicated deck thinner in every Tactics deck, but our hope is that we can put it to good use in an Eagle deck. A little bit of extra draw can go a long way, especially in the card-draw starved Tactics sphere.

Dunedain Watcher: Dunedain Watcher is a really interesting card that costs too much for its effect. When you absolutely need a shadow cancelled, it is totally worth having around, but 3 cost is just too much for its low stats. We toyed with the idea of boosting the stats to be worth the 3 cost, but ended up deciding that even with boosted stats, 3 cost is just too much to pay for an ally with a discard effect unless that discard effect is phenomenal. So we ended up reducing the cost instead. At 2 cost, this is an excellent ally for a wide variety of decks.

Dunedain Cache: The Dunedain Cache suffered from the same problem as the Dunedain Watcher. 2 cost just to give a hero ranged is just a little bit too much – especially after every other Dunedain Signal attachment also costs 1. We brought it into line with the other attachments and also gave it the Signal trait, which means that it can be pulled out of a deck with the Weather Hills Watchman.

And now, on to the more meaty portion of our card pool – 12 cards which received much more significant changes. We’ll waste no time beating around the bush; we will first hit what will probably be our most prominent change in the entire card pool (with the possible exception of Steward of Gondor) – Dain Ironfoot.

Dain Ironfoot: Dain Ironfoot is a problematic card. He is extremely powerful – in his trait, he is probably the single most powerful hero in the game. No other hero even comes close to boosting a trait the way he does. And his restriction is quite easy to work around – readying allows you to use his impressive defensive stats in addition to getting his stat boost for every Dwarf on the table.

In addition, his existence has warped the presence of every subsequent Dwarf ally – for each ally released, you have to ask if it is overpowered in a Dain deck. This has resulted in an archetype that has very few cost-effective questers, because it expects that Dain will be making up the difference.

On the other hand, we couldn’t nerf Dain too much, because a powerful new Spirit version of the card has been released, and might be on its way to becoming even more popular than his Leadership version.

Noting that a nerf to Dain will give us space to boost several more Dwarf allies so that a non-Dain Dwarf deck may well be viable, our goal was to be as unobtrusive as possible. The obvious solution was to have Dain exhaust to give all the Dwarves the bonus, instead of it being a passive effect. This effectively makes it so that you can choose the willpower boost or the attack boost, but not both in the same round, unless you have some sort of readying. It also makes for more interesting play – there are now interesting choices about whether or not to trigger the ability or to save it for combat.

And the card is still very powerful – powerful enough to be competitive with his Spirit version, and hopefully now interesting enough to be competitive there as well.

Keen-Eyed Took: Keen-eyed Took was another very tricky card to adjust, in part because the original version was just so awful. It’s enters-play ability was almost-useless, and the return-to-hand ability actively hurt you.

In addition, it had a stat-line that wasn’t even worth the resources it cost to get into play. So, we had our work cut out for us to fix this one. After trying out a number of angles, we decided to run adjacent to the original theme of the card – the Took’s keen eyes would tell you what was coming up in the encounter deck, not in your own deck. And you could return him to your hand to discard the top card of the encounter deck. In addition, we gave him a point of attack and the ranged keyword, to represent the stone he is stooping to pick up in his artwork.

Now, he may well be worth it on his own, and you can create really interesting combos with him in a Tom Cotton Hobbit ally deck.

Dawn Take You All: This card is a prime example of why we’re doing this project. Shadow control in Leadership is actually a useful thing (this, the Dunedain Watcher, Erkenbrand, and Armored Destriers all solidly point to the fact that Leadership was meant to have options to deal with shadow cards from the very earliest parts of the game). But this card is so restrictive that it is almost useless – you can probably find some very niche cases for it, but its restrictions make that very difficult.

The first problem is that – for it to have any real value – it requires multiple players to have enemies engaged with them. In a multiplayer game, that’s certainly possible, but the dominant meta for the game is for one combat deck to take the lion’s share of the enemies.

The second problem is that you have no idea whether or not the event will be good value or not. By the time you know whether or not you need the cancellation, it is too late to play. And playing it before you know what shadow cards will be dealt very often ends up with you discarding shadow cards that weren’t worth spending the resources to get rid of, sometimes leaving the game-ending shadows untouched.

Our fix hit both of those problems. The card now flips every shadow card in play faceup. Then, each player chooses and discards one – from any enemy, not just from an enemy engaged with you. This card is now a really powerful shadow control option in multiplayer, although in solo play it is still a bit lackluster.

Rear Guard: Rear Guard can be a really powerful effect if it has a dedicated 4-player fellowship built around it. But it seldom sees play – probably because most decks prefer to get permanent willpower boosts on the table instead of temporary huge rounds.

Part of that is playstyle, driven somewhat by modern quests, which require more consistent questing power. Part of it is the fact that it requires enough questing heroes to make it worthwhile, in a meta that strongly favors ally ramping. And part of that is probably just distaste at the requirement of discarding an ally you control. (Even something disposable, like a Snowbourne Scout.)

Our fix was to increase the magnitude of the boost – making it effect all unique characters, not just heroes. This makes this card a good fit for a lot more decks, since even in solo play you can get 5-6 extra willpower for 1 resource and a Snowbourne Scout (or Squire of the Citadel, or…)

We didn’t do anything to fix the meta-problem, though. With the boost we gave it, the card is plenty powerful. Hopefully the magnitude of the boost opens up new space in the meta for it, and when taken in consideration with a number of the boosts we’ve done, there may well be room to start building decks that rely on effects like this.

Descendant of Thorondor: This card has been given new life with Radagast and Hirgon, but it is still ridiculously expensive for what it costs. Compare to the unique Eagle Meneldor, who puts 2 progress on a location instead of damage to an enemy. Meneldor has an extra point of willpower and costs 1 less.

To fix it, we dropped the cost by 1 and allowed it to damage any enemy in play, instead of just hitting enemies in the staging area. This should drastically increase its utility, especially outside of decks that rely on reducing its cost.

Song of Mocking: This card has only very niche applications – mostly involving Gloin decks. The biggest limitation on it is that you have to pick the hero who will be protected from damage beforehand. Our boost was to turn it into a response – after a character is damaged, you exhaust the Song of Mocking in order to move all of the damage onto the attached hero.

This should open this card up to be a useful way to save defenders from bad shadow effects, or even to siphon damage from defenders onto heroes who have nothing else to do with their hit points anyways – especially Silvan heroes, who can heal up the damage with Silvan Trackers.

The Riddermark’s Finest: This card is close to being fine in the modern card pool already. 2 cost is a little expensive for only 2 progress, but the fact that you can use it for questing or attack until you need it would make up for that fact. Except for one problem. You have to both exhaust and discard it to use it. So if you quest with it, you can’t discard it to clear out a troublesome location that just popped up.

And so that’s what we did – just removed the exhaust requirement. Now you can use the ally as you like, and discard it the moment you need to clear a location. Simple and effective. Rohan decks will find it less clunky, and non-Rohan decks may well find it a more attractive inclusion.

Ride to Ruin: This card is seldom played, unfortunately. 3 progress on any location for 1 resource and an ally is not an awful deal, and especially in Rohan, where it lets you trigger several effects; Eomer, Eothain, Gamling recursion, and our newly boosted Eomund. But it suffers from thematic mismatch as well as an underwhelming ability. As noted, 3 progress can be really useful, but for 1 cost and an ally, it feels like you want a little bit more.

Our fix was primarily focused around the theme, with the hopes that that would fix the rest. And the conclusion we came to was to allow it to either place 3 progress on a location, or place 3 damage on an ally. 3 damage is a lot, especially in Spirit, but it’s not enough to actually kill most enemies. And it costs a resource and an ally, and only places damage on an enemy in the staging area – you can’t use it to kill off an enemy that engaged you.

And thematically, it does much better at capturing the epic ride of the Rohirrim to the Pelennor Fields.

We Do Not Sleep: We Do Not Sleep suffers from being both bad and expensive. 5 cost events should have significant impact on the game – like our new version of Beorn’s Hospitality, which cancels all enemy attacks and heals all damage from each character controlled by that player. Or Grim Resolve, which readies every character in play.

This gives action advantage similar to Grim Resolve, but inferior in every way. It is restricted to Rohan characters, and it can only be used for questing. If you need extra defenses, you’re out of luck. If you want to attack again, you’re out of luck. And it doesn’t even ready your characters, if they have been exhausted by encounter effects of some kind – it simply makes them not exhaust to commit to the quest. Still potentially powerful, but much less flexible.

It also suffers from the fact that very few of the Rohan characters are actually good at both questing and combat, meaning that you need to combine this with something like Astonishing Speed to be worthwhile. And that’s 8 resources – almost 3 full turns of saving up.

Our fix came at it from 2 directions. First, we added a cost reducer – reduce the cost by 1 for each Rohan hero you control. Even at 2, however, it would still suffer from the fact that most questing Rohan allies don’t have much to offer for the combat phase. So, we also had it give each Rohan character +1 attack until the end of the round.

Mirkwood Runner: The Mirkwood Runner is a wonderfully fun idea. Unfortunately, in practice, it tends to fall a little flat. Ignoring an enemy’s defense in exchange for only being able to attack alone is really cool. Unfortunately, there are very few ways to boost its attack to let it actually get some mileage out of that ability. 2 attack isn’t enough to actually kill most enemies in the game.

Our fix was to tie it in to the Victory Display mechanic – the flagship hero for that deck is Rossiel, another Silvan, so it makes sense to develop this as an alternate Silvan archetype. We simply gave it a +2 attack boost if it’s attacking an enemy that shares a trait with an enemy in the victory display. That’s enough to kill many enemies in the game, but nowhere near all of them – and the ones that are most annoying are likely to have more hit points to spare.

Rumor from the Earth: Rumor from the Earth is another fun idea that I really want to like. But it has one simple problem – Henamarth Riversong exists. Why keep paying 1 cost to return this event to your hand to scry the top of the encounter deck when you could just play Henamarth for 1 and know it forever?

This card ended up being a significant departure from its roots, but we kept it as a scrying card. In keeping with the idea of having a the land tell us about the doings of the Enemy, we tied it to a location – after you travel to a location, exhaust a Ranger or Scout character to look at the top X cards of the encounter deck, where X is that location’s threat. Then we also added a little bit of control – discarding one of the cards, but the remainder go back on top in the same order they came out.

Shadow of the Past: This card is one I honestly felt was absolutely fine the way it was. 2 cost to manipulate the top card of the encounter deck – putting a softball card there to ensure an easy turn – was a bargain! But after it was pointed out that there are a number of quests that can end up broken if the objectives don’t come out of the encounter deck in the right way (most particularly the Ghost of Framsburg), it was pointed out that a slight revision to this card would fix some design flaws with those quests.

And so we relaxed the restriction from the top card of the encounter discad pile to any card in the encounter discard pile. This lets you search through for that objective and put it back on top of the deck. It also makes the original use case of the card slightly more powerful, but I don’t think it overpowers the card. It also happens to make player encounter cards more powerful, as you can fish them out of the discard pile if they went as shadow effects. That should boost this cards popularity.

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

This is also the end of the first season of the Ancient Mathoms project. The remainder of the Progression Series videos for this cycle will go up later this week. After that, this series will be taking a short hiatus, while this blog returns to some of its older projects that have been on hold for quite some time. We’ll be back in the fall, though, with cards from the Dwarrowdelf cycle and the Hobbit Saga boxes!

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!

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