Forum challenge #4 was to beat The Morgul Vale using no more than two heroes per deck. Now this one I had a lot more difficulty with than the previous ones, because I struggled to fix on a workable idea, in contrast to the previous challenges where I figured them out well enough pretty quickly – all six Hobbit heroes for Carrock, for Into Ithilien I had a deck more or less pre-built, and for Lake-Town I fixed on the idea of Frodo as my defensive solution and then it was just a matter of filling in some low threat willpower around him. For this one, however, other than Gandalf/Elrond, which I felt would be too easy, nothing really sprang to mind. Plus, I wanted to avoid Glorfindel, having used him for the last two challenges.
Some of the ideas I ended up rejecting probably could work in a multiplayer context, but I couldn’t get them to the right level of do everything for solo. Morgul Vale is always a bit problematic to build for, because while quest advancement and eventual victory only occurs through combat, it’s a fairly high threat encounter deck, so you really can’t neglect the questing side of things even though it’s not getting you anywhere.
Ideas I attempted and then rejected included:
Celeborn/Galadriel Silvans – that one might have worked if I accepted that I’d struggle a bit to get going, but my thoughts were too tied up in the idea that Galadriel could keep me permanently in Secrecy, which was incompatible with multiple Doomed cards in the encounter deck and difficulty with initial questing power.
Aragorn (Ld)/Theoden (Ta) – an interesting idea, with Aragorn + Sword that was Broken being able to cover questing once set up, and Theoden helping in the early game before switching to combat duties, plus of course he’d provide access to the Tactics sphere and its combat goodies, such as direct damage to speed the Nazgul to its demise. In practice I just couldn’t get things rolling fast enough and there were too many moving parts in the setup for one deck.
Theoden (Ta)/Mablung – following the principles from the previous idea, but relying on Mablung’s resource generation to get out allies like Bofur and Eagles of the Misty Mountains (plus a few neutrals) to get questing under control. Being mono-sphere also defends against The Master’s Malice and makes it more likely I can play something round 1. In practice, just couldn’t get things out fast enough to cover both questing and combat.
If someone else in the forum thread hadn’t already mentioned doing it with mono-Lore and traps (and I wanted to be different), I might well have considered something like Damrod/Grima, or maybe Grima/Erestor. I also contemplated the possibility of proxying Cirdan the Shipwright, pairing him up with Eowyn, so questing would definitely be sorted, and then combat would eventually be sorted out primarily by Fair and Perilous plus Herugrim. I could also make use of Ride Them Down to take out the non-Captain enemies (I initially intended to use it on the Captains until I realised it specifies to target a non-unique enemy). I feel like this one could work if I built it. On the proxying front, I did end up deciding to proxy Sword-Thain, but I didn’t end up using it, and in fact, given I ended up going mono-Leadership, I probably should’ve replaced it with something else since I really didn’t need any more resource generation than I already had. So here’s what I eventually fixed on, sticking with mono-sphere for a quick start and immunity to The Master’s Malice, Leadership for resources and mustering, and low threat for hopefully a couple of rounds of Secrecy as well:
Rivendell Scout x3
Herald of Anorien x3
Bill the Pony x3
Naith Guide x3
White Tower Watchman x3
Gandalf (OhaUH) x2
King Under the Mountain x3
Steward of Gondor x3
Timely Aid x3
Strength of Arms x3
We Are Not Idle x2
A Very Good Tale x3
Hidden Cache x2
Gather Information x1
Send For Aid x1
My first attempt didn’t quite work out. I thought using Timely Aid to bring in Gandalf round 1 would mean I’d be set, but it drove my threat up too fast, where I think really I could’ve done with more setup time before taking on the Captains, and my rush to get through lost momentum when I hit stage 3 and I threated out on round 7. Attempt two went better, I took my time a bit more, didn’t engage Murzag until round 7 and ended up winning one round 11 with a score of 145. Once again, flush with success I decided to try out the nightmare version of the quest, fully expecting to get ground into the dirt…
Opening hand: Treebeard, Timely Aid, Steward of Gondor, Rivendell Scout, Herald of Anorien, Gandalf.
An excellent beginning – round 1 Steward and Timely Aid, plus the free Rivendell Scout and some decent stuff to get out on subsequent rounds as well.
Encounter Setup: 1 Progress on To the Tower from the Nightmare card.
Resource: 1/1, Anborn.
Planning: Steward on Balin, Rivendell Scout, Timely Aid to put a White Tower Watchman into play (the only ally from the five cards).
Sam + Balin + Rivendell Scout + White Tower Watchman = 7 Willpower.
Murzag + Morgul Vale = 5 Threat.
Staging – Ephel Duath (+2)
7 – 7 = 0 Progress. Perfect.
Travel: Morgul Vale.
Refresh: Threat 18, 1 progress on TTT.
Resource: 1/3 (including Steward), Steward of Gondor.
Sam + Balin + Scout + Watchman = 7 Willpower.
Murzag + Ephel Duath = 4 Threat.
Staging – Morgul Bodyguard (+1).
7 – 5 = 2 Progress on Ephel Duath (2/5).
Refresh: Threat 19, 1 progress.
Resource: 1/3/1 (Including Steward and Treebeard), Resourceful.
Planning: Resourceful on Balin, Anborn.
Sam + Balin + Treebeard + Scout + Watchman = 9 Willpower.
Murzag + Ephel Duath + Bodyguard = 5 Threat.
Staging – Sentry of the White Bridge (+1), I exhaust Anborn to deal 1 damage to him.
9 – 6 = 3 Progress, clearing Morgul Vale.
Travel: Ephel Duath.
Refresh: Threat 20, 1 progress.
Resource: 1/4/2, Hidden Cache.
Planning: Hidden Cache draws Erestor, Erestor.
Sam + Balin + Erestor + Watchman = 8 Willpower.
Murzag + Bodyguard + Sentry = 4 Threat.
Staging – Orc Vanguard (+2).
8 – 5 = 2 Progress on Ephel Duath (2/5).
The Orc Vanguard remains to this day one of the most potentially frustrating enemies to have to deal with, but at least the threat situation is remaining somewhat under control.
Encounter: I optionally engage the Sentry of the White Bridge, wanting to try and keep the staging area’s threat down and figuring it’s best to take him out now rather than wait for more progress on To the Tower to buff up his threat and attack. Speaking of buffing stats, Sam readies with +1 everything.
Sam defends and is fine as the shadow effect does nothing. Treebeard, Anborn and the Rivendell Scout combine to kill the Sentry.
Refresh: Threat 21, 1 progress.
Resource: 1/4/3, We Are Not Idle.
Planning: We Are Not Idle draws Herald of Anorien. I discard the spare Steward to Erestor, drawing Strength of Arms. I can’t actually play anything because of the Orc Vanguard.
Sam + Balin + Erestor + Watchman + Scout = 9 Willpower.
Murzag + Bodyguard + Vanguard = 5 Threat.
Staging – Terror Drives Them (+1 progress on To The Tower, surge), Impenetrable Fog (I choose 1 additional card rather than the 3 progress on TTT), Warrior of Nurn (+2).
9 – 7 = 2 Progress on Ephel Duath (4/5).
On other occasions, I might have taken the progress from Impenetrable Fog just to end staging there, but staging threat is fairly under control, whereas progress on To The Tower could get out of hand and make things very bad for me if I’m not careful (in the regular version of the quest I’d probably be OK, but Nightmare made it a lot more threatening). This is a good time for the Warrior of Nurn since I haven’t started fighting the Captains yet. While in theory he’s a very frustrating enemy, in practice, other than being an additional enemy to deal with he’s mostly not that big an issue unless he turns up on stage 3 and heals up the Nazgul.
Encounter: I optional the Vanguard because I’d like to be able to spend resources at some point. Sam readies with boosts. The Warrior of Nurn engages me naturally.
Treebeard defends the Warrior, taking one damage. The shadow effect returns it to the staging area.
The Vanguard I take undefended on the Watchman. The shadow adds a progress to TTT if the attack destroys a character, which obviously it does. Treebeard readies for 2 resources and combines with Sam and Anborn to kill the Vanguard (which of course is the important thing, whereas the Warrior is much more incidental at this point as noted above).
Refresh: Threat 22, 3 progress.
I should note at this point that in the planning phase I did in fact play a Herald of Anorien and trigger his Doomed before remembering about the Vanguard. I corrected the play quickly at the time, but forgot to put my threat back down. Realising this now I’ll try to correct it moving forward in the write-up, but if you notice my threat inexplicably go up by 2, it’s because I’ve forgotten and just copied the number over directly.
Resource: 2/8/2, Saruman.
Planning: Herald of Anorien x2, not bothering with the Doomed because I’m swimming in resources right now.
Sam + Balin + Erestor + Herald x2 = 9 Willpower.
Murzag + Bodyguard + Warrior = 5 Threat.
Staging – Morgul Bodyguard (+1).
9 – 6 = 3 Progress, clearing Ephel Duath.
I’ve been pretty lucky in not getting a bunch of high threat locations, but two Bodyguards is a problem I really to deal with.
Encounter: The Warrior of Nurn comes down again.
Treebeard defends and pays 2 to ready once again. The shadow adds a progress to TTT or treat the attack as undefended, and while I don’t want this, I still don’t consider it bad enough to Balin in case of something worse. Treebeard, Anborn and the Rivendell Scout kill the Warrior of Nurn.
Refresh: Threat 23, 4 progress.
Resource: 1/10/1, Gimli.
Sam + Erestor + Herald x2 + Gimli = 9 Willpower.
Murzag + Bodyguard x2 = 4 Threat.
Staging – Terror Drives Them (+1 TTT, surge), Morgul Tracker (+4, Gimli readies, I exhaust Anborn to deal 1 damage).
9 – 8 = 1 Progress.
Encounter: I pull down a Bodyguard and ready Sam.
Gimli defends, then Treebeard, Sam, Balin and the Scout kill the Bodyguard.
Refresh: Threat 24, 5 progress.
Resource: 1/11/2, Resourceful.
Discard Resourceful to Erestor, drawing Gather Information. Gather Information. Gandalf, Saruman (threat 27, Morgul Tracker is out of play this round). I intend this to be my big round for starting to take on Captains, hence dropping the double Istari.
Sam + Balin + Erestor + Gandalf + Gimli + Herald x2 = 15 Willpower.
Murzag + Bodyguard = 3 Threat.
Staging – Warrior of Nurn (+2, Murzag has +1 defence, Gimli readies).
15 – 5 = 10 Progress, easily clearing Gather Information. +1 VP and I dig out A Very Good Tale, which I’ve been waiting for for a while as it was really helpful in jump-starting the non-Nightmare playthrough (though my other consideration was King Under the Mountain which would also have been very good).
Encounter: I optional Murzag, readying Sam, and the Warrior comes down naturally.
Treebeard defends the Warrior, taking a damage. The shadow gives the Warrior +3 defence until the end of the round.
I play A Very Good Tale, exhausting Gimli and Anborn to bring in Naith Guide and Bill the Pony. I also gain 2 resources from discarding a Hidden Cache.
Rivendell Scout defends Murzag and dies. Murzag’s effect reveals Banks of Morgulduin and adds it to the staging area.
Now Treebeard readies with resources. Treebeard + Gandalf + Saruman + Sam + Bill the Pony = 16 attack, dealing 13 damage to Murzag. Of course the Bodyguard redirects damage from Captains to him, but once I get 6 damage down he dies leaving another 7 damage to be placed on Murzag himself and kill him. The quest advances and Lord Alcaron is added to the staging area.
At this point I figure it’s best to have as clear a board as possible, so I play Strength of Arms to ready all my allies, leaving me able to massively overkill the Warrior of Nurn.
Refresh: Threat 30 (including Gandalf), 5 progress.
Resource: 1/8/1, Naith Guide.
Planning: Naith Guide (Sam quests without exhausting).
Sam + Balin + Gandalf + Erestor + Herald + Bill = 13 Willpower.
Lord Alcaron + Morgul Tracker + Banks of Morgulduin = 11 Threat.
Staging – Morgul Spider (+3, it has +5 attack, Gimli readies).
13 – 10 = 3 Progress.
Travel: Banks of Morgulduin.
Encounter: Alcaron and the Spider both engage me.
My second Herald of Anorien defends the Spider and dies. The shadow adds another progress to TTT.
The Naith Guide defends Alcaron. His shadow is an Orc Vanguard, so I deal out the additional two shadows with bated breath, hoping they both have shadow effects. Terror Drives Them and The Tower Draws Them. I breathe a sigh of relief, but add another two progress to TTT including Alcaron’s own Forced effect (I think I forgot one of these assorted progress at the time, so I’m readjusting things slightly in the ongoing write-up to accommodate this inconsistency).
Sam, Anborn and Gimli kill the Spider.
Treebeard and Gandalf kill Lord Alcaron. The quest advances, adding the Nazgul of Minas Morgul and The White Bridge to the staging area. I then also reveal Ephel Duath. This is when everything may go to hell for me, because I’m really going to struggle to match that amount of threat, and I have to fight a Nazgul as well at the same time.
Refresh: Threat 33, 8 progress.
Resource: 1/11/2, Orophin.
Planning: Orophin, (returning Naith Guide to my hand), Naith Guide (Sam quests without exhausting).
Sam + Balin + Gandalf + Erestor + Treebeard + Gimli + Orophin + Bill + Naith Guide x2 = 20 Willpower.
Morgul Tracker + Nazgul of Minas Morgul + The White Bridge (8) + Ephel Duath = 18 Threat.
Staging – Morgul Vale (+3).
20 – 21 = -1, threat 34.
In some ways it’s good I’m not progressing, as that would mean 3 shadow cards for the Nazgul via Banks of Morgulduin (though I suppose I could Balin it to go back to 1). The flipside is of course that all the threat stays in the staging area.
Encounter: Given the mass amount of threat, I feel like I need to take the Morgul Tracker, even though it puts me almost to the point of losing (actually at the time of course I thought I was still 2 progress away). Sam of course is already ready, but he does get his stat boosts. The Nazgul of course engages me anyway.
Herald of Anorien defends against the Nazgul and dies. Gandalf defends against the Tracker and takes no damage. Sam, with boost and the point of damage already down from Anborn earlier, can kill the Tracker. Treebeard readies, then he and Anborn attack the Nazgul but of course the damage is reduced to 1 (4/5).
Refresh: Threat 37, 9 progress. Because of Morgul Vale, I return the Nazgul to the staging area, exhausting Anborn to deal another point of damage (3/5).
Resource: 1/11/1, White Tower Watchman.
Planning: White Tower Watchman.
Sam + Balin + Gandalf + Erestor + Gimli + Orophin + Naith Guide x2 + Watchman = 18 Willpower.
The White Bridge (9) + Ephel Duath + Morgul Vale + Nazgul = 18 Threat.
Staging – The Master’s Malice (Gandalf has 1hp left, Treebeard and the White Tower Watchman are dead, -1 willpower).
17 – 18 = -1, threat 38.
Welp. With Treebeard dead, I figure my chances of victory have equally gone the way of the dodo (does/did Middle Earth have dodos? I suppose a more thematic comment would be to say I felt my chances of victory had gone the way of Numenor). I was also planning for the Watchman to take this round’s Nazgul hit, so now Bill will have to chump and I won’t be able to damage the Nazgul. But let’s play it out.
Encounter: I engage the Nazgul again.
Combat: Bill the Pony will valiantly lay down his life.
Refresh: Threat 41, 9 progress. The Nazgul returns to the staging area again and I exhaust Anborn for yet another damage (2/5).
Resource: 1/13, Sword-Thain.
Planning: Discard Sword-Thain to Erestor, draw Timely Aid. Pay full price of 4 for Timely Aid, Secrecy being a distant memory at this juncture, bring in another White Tower Watchman.
Sam + Balin + Gandalf + Erestor + Gimli + Orophin + Watchman + Naith Guide = 17 Willpower.
The White Bridge (9) + Ephel Duath + Morgul Vale + Nazgul = 18 Threat.
Staging – White-flowered Fields (+3).
17 – 21 = -4, threat 45.
Encounter: I engage the Nazgul yet again.
I take the Nazgul’s attack undefended on the White Tower Watchman, then pause briefly to praise Eru for my good luck avoiding any cards in staging or as shadows the last few rounds to add progress to To The Tower. Gandalf and my second Naith Guide attack, dealing 1 more damage to the Nazgul (1/5).
Refresh: Threat 46, 9 progress. The Nazgul returns to the staging area per Morgul Vale and Anborn exhausts one last time to finish it off.
So that was dramatic. Anborn MVP! A couple of mistakes along the way, which I was fortunately able to correct in the write-up and which didn’t invalidate my victory. I definitely don’t think this deck could beat NM TMV on a regular, consistent basis. Regular Morgul Vale maybe, but not Nightmare. It did manage it that one time I tried it though, in fairly impressive fashion, and that without seeing King Under the Mountain, only one copy of AVGT, fetched via Gather Information, and Timely Aid hitting nothing better than a White Tower Watchman both times. Actually, based on this success I think I might hold on to this deck and try it in some other contexts. I suppose in solo it might struggle with quests that have more low engagement cost enemies, but those quests may not dump as much threat in the staging area right off the bat so I could quest more conservatively and with reasonable starts (stuff like AVGT, Timely Aid etc to quickly get helpful allies in play), and certainly I think if I take it into multiplayer things could go pretty well. Oh, also if I take it to different quests I can use ally Faramir, which would be such a boon to this deck.
And thus, I have made my way through all the forum challenges presented by Legolas18! …right as Authraw has picked up the dropped mantle and given us a challenge #5. I will get to that, and I’m doing Seastan’s Random Walk to Mordor as well of course, though next I’m probably getting back to The Line Unbroken for Into Ithilien before I move onto yet more deckbuilding challenges.