Know Your Limits

The first message came through on my recently added contact form a couple of weeks ago, and I’m just now getting round to addressing it. This was the pertinent part of the message:

“I play with the cards rather than OCTGN, and have a single core set. My question is whether you feel there would be major differences made in decks where you use more copies of a card than is in a single core set – e.g. Unexpected courage, or even where there are only two copies e.g. Steward of Gondor.

I’d be interested to see some “hard(single)core” progression type videos for some of the tougher challenges!”

Now, the way your deckbuilding can be altered by a limited card pool (be it less Core Sets or simply not owning all the expansions) has actually already been on my list of articles to write for quite a while, and this simply bumped it to the top of the list.

It’s a subject I’ve had substantial experience with – on OCTGN I build a wide variety of decks usually using the entire card pool, but when I’m playing with actual cards my card pool depends on if I’m at home or round at a friend’s house, and either way we don’t tend to have decks preconstructed, instead we’ll pick a quest and then build whatever decks we feel like out of the cards we have available. And I’ve noted some big differences in how I build when certain cards (or copies of certain cards) are taken away. Mostly it’s a matter of staples – when you don’t have one thing, you have to find alternatives, and they may not be as good. I don’t know how much I can really say in generalities, so let’s get down to specific examples.

Steward of Gondor
This one isn’t such a big deal in my experience, but one does tend to find with only one Core Set that you really can’t rely on Steward for your resources the way you can when you have 3 copies rather than 2.

Warden of Healing
This is a massive deal. There are other healing options, but in general they’re just not as efficient as the Warden. If you’re playing progression-style in early quests of course, or if you simply lack the other good healing allies (they’re pretty recent), you may be stuck with the Daughter of the Nimrodel – who is a bit pricey for one thing, and for another cannot heal allies. The Warden has been in my experience absolutely one of the most notable cards in terms of feeling his absence.

Unexpected Courage
This is probably the biggest problem you’re likely to run into with having only one or two Core Sets. Two copies of something you can generally manage OK with, one of is a trickier prospect, and of all the one-of cards in the Core, this is the one that you’ll wish you had multiple.
When doing The Line Unbroken of course I tend to play with 3 copies of UC, or occasionally even 6. In turn, it’s interesting to see what I do when that’s not an option. Miruvor is a card I hardly ever use on OCTGN, but with a more limited card pool and only one Unexpected Courage available, it’s a lot more likely to crop up. The Steed of the Mark was pretty widely panned, but again, if you only have one UC, suddenly paying extra resources for readying doesn’t seem so bad. The card isn’t actually that bad, it’s just bad in comparison to Unexpected Courage, which has had somewhat of a skewing effect on all other readying effects that have been released since.

And moving off from individual cards there are also some examples of more general aspects of the card pool which you may find lacking if you don’t have everything available:

Card draw
Now the Core Set gave us Gleowine, who is actually pretty great card draw and can target other players. But there’s still a definite adjustment to be made in realising that with a more limited card pool you can’t necessarily get good draw into every deck. Especially decks which don’t include Lore – Spirit card draw is mostly Ancient Mathom, Galadriel and Elven-light, three specific APs. Tactics card draw is ally Legolas and Foe-hammer+weapons, the latter being problematic because you could easily have a card pool with Foe-hammer but not many good weapons, or weapons but no Foe-hammer. Leadership is alright because the Core Set gave us Sneak Attack Gandalf and Valiant Sacrifice, though it’s definitely improved if you can get up to 2 Cores and have 3 copies of each.
This sort of limitation can seriously increase the value of co-operative card draw effects such as Gleowine, Galadriel and of course Beravor. The ability to share the extra draw around, while fantastic anyway in and of itself, becomes even more significant when you don’t have access to other good card draw effects.

Resource generation/Cost reduction
The other side of the coin. I mentioned Steward of Gondor further up of course, and that was there back in the Core, albeit only 2 copies. But a lot of modern decks rely on other resource generation or more recently cost reduction effects. The absence from a limited card pool of hero Arwen, or O Lorien, or Spirit Theoden, can put serious obstacles in the path of some deck ideas. Alternatively with the cost reducers it’s possible that maybe you have it the other way as with the Foe-hammer example above, maybe you have Spirit Theoden but you have very few worthwhile Rohan allies to actually play with his discount. Again, this is really not an issue between one or more Core Sets, but in how you card pool is expanded beyond the Core – in particular as with card draw it becomes a question of getting resources outside their particular home sphere – resource generation for spheres other than Leadership is somewhat more limited, so if you don’t have certain specific packs you’re likely to have a harder time of it. And of course the one other form of decent resource generation in the Core Set, Horn of Gondor, is a 1-of card (to say nothing of its decreased utility thanks to the errata).

Glue heroes
This is a big one. Of course I wrote recently about the high power of the glue heroes, and thus their absence can have a large impact on your deck-building. “Oh, I’ll build a deck with such-and-such, and oh Leadership Denethor would be the perfect third hero oh wait we don’t have him.” Or replace Leadership Denethor in that sentence with Erestor, or Arwen. The power of the glue heroes tends to be that they don’t dictate the deck, but they make it work by simple virtue of being put into it with little else built around them. Without them you may be left with a deck idea that works in theory but can’t get up and running properly. Of course the Core Set did give us a couple of good glue heroes in Theodred and Beravor, both of whom remain useful providing resources and cards to this day, but they may not be quite the right fit for a given deck.

So I’ve ended up getting very much into the side of the discussion which deals in general limitations on card pool, the absence of certain cards being a pretty big deal and if nothing else sharply limiting the number of types of decks one can build effectively. But this began from the question of number of Core Sets. Now the fact that I so rapidly turned off that subject I suppose indicates that I don’t think it makes that big a difference – except for Unexpected Courage, which as I mentioned makes a huge difference. But just to ensure I haven’t given that side of the discussion too short shrift, let’s just quickly go over all the non-hero cards from the Core which have less than 3 copies. I can put them into a few different categories:

Loss of consistency may actually be kind of a big deal
Steward of Gondor (x2), Unexpected Courage (x1), Sneak Attack (x2), Feint (x2), A Test of Will (x2).

Who even cares?
Brok Ironfist (x1), Common Cause (x2), Stand Together, Power in the Earth (x2), Gandalf’s Search (x2), Beorn’s Hospitality (x1).
Like, who even uses those cards?

Less copies is an issue but only for certain decks
Celebrian’s Stone (x1), Valiant Sacrifice (x2), Citadel Plate (x2), Horn of Gondor (x1), A Light in the Dark (x2), Fortune or Fate (x1), Hasty Stroke (x2), Dwarven Tomb (x1), Erebor Hammersmith (x2), Henamarth Riversong (x1), Forest Snare (x2), Protector of Lorien (x2), Self Preservation (x2).

Good cards but mostly don’t really mind having less of them
Faramir (x2), Son of Arnor (x2), For Gondor! (x2), Grim Resolve (x1), Beorn (x1), Quick Strike (x2), Thicket of Spears (x2), Blade of Gondolin (x2), Wandering Took (x2), Northern Tracker (x2), The Galadhrim’s Greeting (x2), Will of the West (x2), Miner of the Iron Hills (x2), Gleowine (x2), Radagast’s Cunning (x2), Secret Paths (x2).

Eh, whatever
Ever Vigilant (x2), Horseback Archer (x2), Rain of Arrows (x2), Swift Strike (x1), Dwarven Axe (x2), Strength of Will (x2), The Favour of the Lady (x2), Lorien’s Wealth (x2), Dark Knowledge (x1).

So the issue of less copies can cause problems, obviously, but it’s worth noting that barely anything is in the first category, and even those are mostly 2-of cards so it’s a loss of consistency more than just not being able to rely on something at all. The ones in the third category are an issue in terms of reducing the number of decks you can build, but they probably don’t really impact the quality of the decks you can build (and in some cases those cards are for very specific types of decks). And the rest you’re not really going to care about having less than 3 copies.

In conclusion, I guess I’d say that having a limited card pool impacts your deckbuilding in a huge way, but having less than 3 copies of the Core Set seems to me like one of the least impactful limitations on your card pool, with the one big and notable exception being Unexpected Courage which drives you to other readying effects more. But the rest is pretty much fine other than a slight loss of consistency. And personally I find it interesting to be forced into doing different things, but then that’s me, that’s why I’m the guy who keeps a record of all the cards I haven’t used in The Line Unbroken, I guess other people may have different feelings on it. But again, that said, having only 1 Core Set is really probably not as big a deal as you might think unless you care a huge amount about having your action advantage. Don’t let people tell you multiple Cores are an essential to doing well at the game, just be aware of the limits that are placed on you.

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