Archetype Analysis – Location Control

Alright, I’ve done a trait-based archetype, I’ve done a playstyle-based archetype, now I’m going to do a mechanic-based archetype. Location control is a deck archetype which tends to be really significant in three or four player games, but it’s not something that’s really worth focusing too hard on at lower player-counts. There are a couple of reasons for this, one more obvious than the other. The obvious reason is that of course you’re revealing more cards per round and so you’re much more likely to end up with locations sat up in the staging area. There’s a potential risk of location lock. That said, in a three or four player game, you tend to be able to muster sufficient willpower for that not to be an issue. You can just quest past the locations. But then there is an additional aspect which is the second reason – at higher player counts there’s a reasonable chance you’ll cycle through the encounter deck more than once. Under those circumstances, maybe the threat of the locations sat in the staging area isn’t a problem, but them staying there means that after reshuffling you’re that much more likely to be revealing enemies and treacheries, which are generally the cards you’d rather see less of. In this way, location control still performs a valuable job by diluting the encounter deck into a less threatening form.
There is of course a third aspect, which is somewhat quest-specific, and still applies at lower player counts, though obviously more reveals with more players means it comes up more often then – that aspect is that many locations have negative effects while they’re in the staging area/the active location/in play/when you travel to them, and so the ability to dodge some of those effects can be very significant depending on what the said effects are (that’s the quest-specific bit).

Mechanics

Obviously there’s less to bring up here since the archetype is based around a specific mechanic – that said we can look specifically at the finer detail of the different ways that general principle is achieved.

Placing progress – the simplest solution to locations obviously is the direct one of just placing progress to explore and thus discard them. It’s also liable to be more expensive than other, more temporary options however, which is why the other categories remain useful. The big variation in this category is between placing progress on the active location and in the staging area, with the latter generally being more useful, but both having their place.

Threat mitigation – this doesn’t solve the issue of negative effects while locations are in play, or of the encounter deck being reshuffled with a higher proportion of enemies and treacheries, but if you’re having location lock issues, then reducing the threat in the staging area is incredibly useful to help the group stay afloat long enough to worry about those other problems.

Dodging negative effects – obviously this is aimed specifically at the said negative effects. It can be done in a few different ways, Thror’s Key blanks the text, a few things let you ignore a travel cost, and a couple of cards allow you to straight up remove a location from play and replace it with a different one.

Playstyle

Support – Location control is very much a support focused strategy – another reason why it’s much more of a 3-4 player thing, focusing hard on location control will often be to the detriment of your basic questing and combat abilities so you need other players to pick up the slack in that regard.

Customisable – Certain aspects of a location control deck can be easily swapped in and out to suit the requirements of specific quests you’re bringing the deck against if you want to do that. For example, things like Thror’s Map (depending on how bad the travel costs are) or Thror’s Key (if there are locations you just don’t want to deal with the text at all), and so on.

Weaknesses

Willpower – As noted above, location control decks can be deficient in willpower, which seems counter-intuitive since location control is inherently linked to questing, which is why I feel it’s important to emphasise it here. A location control deck is generally not an adequate substitute for a questing deck, at least not against more difficult quests.

Costs/Sphere balance – Some critical location control cards aren’t necessarily cheap, and if you want to include effects from multiple spheres (Lore and Spirit being the greatest concentrations of such) then the issue can be compounded by the need to balance the costs between spheres.

Key cards

Northern Tracker – the classic location control card, and still one of the best – perhaps actually the absolute best, at least in some contexts. The downsides are that it’s expensive, indiscriminate, and slow to explore most specific individual locations. Getting the 4 resources to play it delays you, and then it only places 1 progress on each location each round so it’ll take a few rounds to explore a specific location you want rid of unless you supplement it with other effects. And sometimes you get those locations with a negative effect when you place any amount of progress on them, against which Northern Trackers become a spectacularly bad idea. On the other hand, the sheer power can’t be denied.

Asfaloth (+Glorfindel) – Asfaloth is the most flexible and naturally repeatable location control card there is. One progress on any location, anywhere on the board, in any action window. In my opinion, if you’re specifically concerned about locations, that’s well worth 2 resources. Increasing it to two progress if Asfaloth is attached to Glorfindel just makes it even better, some might say too good. But even without that bonus it’s still very good, which I think people underestimate because the Glorfindel-boosted version is a thing.

The Evening Star – a new addition to the ranks, but one which has already garnered a lot of respect. Has the same flexible timing and targeting as Asfaloth, is less repeatable because it’s an event rather than an attachment, but on the other hand has no specific hero requirement to place 2 progress, and once there are copies in the discard pile it can be 4 or 6 progress, concentrated to just instantly nuke a single location or spread out around multiple instances of 2.

Thror’s Map – In the field of dodging negative effects, this is the real stand out card, because for one resource you can avoid all Travel costs for the rest of the game. One might even argue that this card is too powerful, since travel costs are supposed to be a part of the game and a consideration in where you choose to travel each round, but this 1-cost attachment allows you to just sidestep the whole issue forever. Obviously this is somewhat quest-specific as there aren’t always nasty travel costs that you have to deal with, but it’s pretty ridiculous when there are.

Secret Paths – Honestly I don’t really consider this to be a stand-out key card on the same level as the others I’ve mentioned, but it is the classic archetypal threat mitigation card and so it’s the one most people will think of in that context. And if that’s a route you want your deck to take then this is still a very good choice of card to include.

Candidates

Once again since this archetype is not based around a trait and so the question of which heroes we want to use is much more open. I will by no means cover all the possibilities, just some of the more notable ones who spring to mind. All the natural candidates for location control decks tend to be found in the Spirit and Lore spheres since the vast majority of location control cards are also found in those spheres.

Glorfindel – Spirit version is usually preferred of course because of his lower starting threat, but the Lore version is equally valid as far as Asfaloth is concerned, and that’s the reason we want him here. For some time Glorfindel would probably have been considered more or less essential to any deck focusing hard on location control, though this is less the case now that we have more options.

Idraen – An odd one. Idraen clearly synergises with location control since she readies any time you explore a location. However she does little to actually support the archetype herself. Her Scout trait allows her to use cards such as Warden of Arnor and Guarded Ceaselessly (both of which I’ve found are not as bad as people initially thought they were), and she combos brilliantly with Expert Trackers, where she can exhaust to trigger it, explore a location and ready again to deal with the enemy you just engaged. On the other hand there are other options for triggering these cards and equally you don’t need to include those cards in your deck. So as natural a choice as she is, it’s entirely possible to omit Idraen.

Argalad – I’ve been having a lot of fun with Argalad since his release so I kind of want to put him in everything, but he honestly is a very natural fit as well. Once again he has the Scout trait which allows him to trigger some useful effects. While his ability targets enemies, it nevertheless still falls into the category of threat mitigation and thus slots neatly into a location control context.

Arwen/Bifur/Grima – To some extent any support hero is a good fit because location control is so much a supportive archetype, but in particular the ability to gain more resources and smooth those resources between spheres can be very impactful. Arwen in particular also allows you at will to discard copies of The Evening Star to get more bang for your buck with the remaining copies.

Caldara – As much as I love Caldara, it slightly pains me to admit that Caldara decks can potentially do a better job of location control than more dedicated location control decks can, because of the ease with which Caldara can muster Northern Trackers among other things. But it is a fact and therefore I must mention it here. With the addition of Rhovanion Outrider and Woodland Courier to the ranks of location control allies alongside the Tracker, the more questionable Lorien Guide and The Riddermark’s Finest, Caldara can potentially muster a lot of location control if you choose to specifically go that route.

All of which now brings us to deckbuilding. With all the new goodies location control has acquired recently it’s harder to decide what I actually want to do. Inevitably to try and use everything I’m going to wind up building two separate decks again. That said, I may forgo the full testing regimen I did the last two times, because the right environment for location control is 3-4 player, and playing 3-handed is not something I like to do particularly often (while playing actual 3-player requires additional organisation and I don’t necessarily want to subject other people to me laboriously testing my decks either, except I guess in that people can watch the videos on youtube. Whatever, I’m not doing it).
While I haven’t particularly mentioned it thus far, there have recently been a bit more support for location control in the Leadership sphere in the form of the Mariner’s Compass, so I definitely want to do something with that as it’s rather different. Having Leadership could also solve some of the resource issues. So perhaps a Leadership/Lore with the Lore cards being supplemented by additional resources from Leadership, and a mono-Spirit. To be honest as with Superhero I may well build some additional decks in the archetype and put them up as regular deck posts in the coming weeks, but for now this is what I’m going with.

So Leadership/Lore location control. Including Ranger Summons would let Rangers of the North potentially throw around a little extra progress if I felt like it. Snowbourn Scout is of course the classic, Longbeard Elder could be a consideration, but the main thing I’m here for is the Mariner’s Compass, which can pair up nicely with another interesting card I’ve never really used – Distant Stars. Using these two I can just swap out a lot of nasty locations for more benign ones.

So my initial core of a deck looks like this:

Snowbourn Scout x3
Mariner’s Compass x3
Distant Stars x3

Those are the cards which I absolutely want, and preferably want the rest to build around similar themes. Just throwing in everything that occurred to me as a possibility leads to a seriously oversized deck even with most things still at 1 copy while I decide how many I want, so I’m going to break it down.

Sphere staples:

Gandalf (Core)
Steward of Gondor
Campfire Tales
Sneak Attack
Daeron’s Runes
Deep Knowledge
Heed the Dream
Mithrandir’s Advice

Other Lore location/staging area control:

Ithilien Tracker
Mirkwood Explorer
Mirkwood Pioneer
Ravenhill Scout (expensive but I’ve always wanted to make him useful)
Asfaloth
Explorer’s Almanac
Guarded Ceaselessly (would need more Scouts/Rangers to trigger it obviously)
Thror’s Map
Expert Trackers
Gildor’s Counsel
Secret Paths
The Evening Star

Generally useful:

Elrond
Envoy of Pelargir
Erebor Hammersmith (I have a few disposable attachments)
Galadhrim Minstrel
Ghan-buri-Ghan
Lindon Navigator
Mablung
Master of the Forge
Naith Guide
Quickbeam
Robin Smallburrow
Warden of Healing
Dunedain Remedy
Elf-stone
Heir of Mardil (thinking of Denethor (Ld) to trigger it)
Protector of Lorien
Ranger Provisions
Captain’s Wisdom
Out of the Wild
Shadow of the Past
Gather Information
Scout Ahead
Send for Aid

OK, so some stuff I initially threw on speculatively is not on any of these lists and I think therefore that those cards can be safely eliminated from consideration. I should also mention at this point that I have basically settled on a hero lineup of Denethor (Ld)/Argalad/Glorfindel (Lo).
The next consideration is how I want the deck to function. All the cards I’ve thrown in so far are potentially useful for this sort of deck, but in different ways. Since my initial idea was Mariner’s Compass and Distant Stars I think what I want to go for really is an approach of trying to keep everything that’s in play fairly benign. This points me towards cards like Gildor’s Counsel, Shadow of the Past and Out of the Wild, and away from things like Guarded Ceaselessly which are most relevant if there’s a location staying in play for a while and not being explored. Speaking of which, to try and keep the staging area fairly clear I will need some progress placing cards as well, such as Asfaloth, Evening Star and Explorer’s Almanac. Expert Trackers on the other hand dictates my potential ally choices too much as well as requiring me to engage enemies. I’m also ditching (or at least sideboarding) the healing and hoping that in general Glorfindel can keep up, perhaps supplemented by ally Elrond.
I’m sideboarding Gather Information and Send for Aid, but Scout Ahead fits my theme. Meanwhile Elf-stone and Ranger Provisions give bonuses on exploring the locations, but I don’t expect to need those bonuses myself, and I’m focusing more on defanging the encounter deck and staging area as an end in itself rather than a means of getting bonuses (perhaps that’ll be a deck for another time). This also leaves me with little use for the Erebor Hammersmith. Envoys of Pelargir and Captain’s Wisdom are there to smooth and give additional resources which really should be necessary since Denethor can already pass resources around and my Leadership cards are generally pretty cheap.
On reflection even though it fits the theme, Out of the Wild is still expensive so I think I’ll manage without it. I’m sideboarding the unique Lore allies (as good as they are) except for Ghan-buri-Ghan because he relates to locations (and Distant Stars even gives me a means of controlling his willpower). Same goes for Heed the Dream because I don’t expect to be paying the 3 Leadership resources too often the way this deck is set up and it would be mostly for other players’ benefit anyway I think since my card draw looks pretty good. With adjustments to how many copies of things and the realisation that I can probably manage without Masters of the Forge as well, the deck comes out at 53 cards and looking like this:

ll-location

So mono-Spirit for the other one. While I imagine I could do something spectacular with it, I’m trying not to go the Caldara route. That said, since I want to bring in multiple Northern Trackers and Rhovanion Outriders, the cost involved naturally points me in some of the same directions because it’s a question of generating resources in Spirit. So Arwen, Ziggy Stargazer, and consequently lots of interactions with the discard pile. Once I determined that I wasn’t going to fit in Sword-thain and consequently cut most of the unique allies from the deck as well, this one landed fairly naturally at 56 cards as follows:

s-location

I randomly selected Voyage Across Belegaer and Intruders in Chetwood to test the decks against. Let’s see how that goes:

Leadership/Lore vs. Voyage Across Belegaer
Mono-Spirit vs. Intruders in Chetwood

OK, so I mused briefly on some potential changes at the end of each of those videos, but I’m mostly leaving the decks as they are except for on a second look at the list removing the Galadhrim Weavers from the Spirit deck since I think they’re really the case of slightly too much recursion.

Decklists on RingsDB:
http://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/3203/navigating-by-the-stars-1.0
http://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/3204/exploratory-mining-1.0

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