The next archetype I want to explore is that based around the Silvan trait. I’ve been meaning to get this done since The Drowned Ruins was released, as that pack contained a couple of nice new Silvan cards, but obviously other things have occupied my time in the interim. Better late than never though, and it’s not like this is a subject which can particularly lose relevance with time.
The Silvan trait to my mind was the start of more clearly defined and interesting trait design in this game, where each trait has its own particular mechanical identity in the game – whereas the previous development of the Dwarf and Gondor traits were mostly just on the lines of a bunch of decent-to-good allies with the trait and a way to boost all their stats. Specific cards different, playstyle pretty similar, and the earlier development of Rohan and Eagles was more mechanics focused but they weren’t so well fleshed out.
Of course, one could argue that the Silvan trait is still a bunch of decent-to-good allies with the trait and a way to boost all of their stats, even if it’s temporary, but there still tends to be more to paying a Silvan deck than just spamming allies as fast as possible, tying into their particular mechanics.
Enters play – The key aspect of the Silvan trait as developed in the Ring-maker cycle and since is that the allies trigger various useful effects on entering play. Celeborn’s buff to the allies’ stats also triggers on them entering play.
Return to hand – This is the aspect which really cements the way the archetype works. The four events (one per sphere) which each return a Silvan ally to hand for a benefit of some sort. The way the decks end up working revolves to a large extent around the application of these benefits and the consequent opportunity to trigger that ally’s enters play effect another time on a subsequent round.
Ally-focused – All the synergy which really defines a Silvan deck (Celeborn, O Lorien, the return to hand events) is based around the allies. There certainly are cards particular to Silvan heroes but they don’t specifically tie into the core Silvan strategy, and none of the Silvan heroes besides Celeborn specifically synergise with the whole approach of bouncing the allies in and out of play.
Swarm – Equipped with a trait-based cost-reducer and stocked with lots of fairly cheap allies, Silvan decks can simply go for an ally swarm approach. This may not be seen as the standard Silvan playstyle, but I have found that sometimes that’s how things play out.
Tempo – This I think is more what people would think of as the standard Silvan approach, though what exactly defines a ‘tempo’ deck is a little nebulous. Several years ago Beorn brought up the term in an article where he used it to talk about decks built around having allies leave play, with things like Horn of Gondor/Valiant Sacrifice/Prince Imrahil/Eomer, and so on. Personally if I were to define the term I think I’d put more emphasis on the general variability of board-state from round to round (which certainly includes having a load of allies leave play at strategic moments) and perhaps an emphasis on immediate solutions rather than amassing long term power. Regardless, Silvans fit in either way with their return to hand events and the transient nature of their stats as well with Celeborn’s buff only lasting one round. Now it might seem like a contradiction in terms to say that the Silvan playstyle can be an ally swarm and/or a tempo deck, but in my experience, it can be both either depending on how you build it, or even just on how your draw works out in a given game.
Splashable – In contrast to my note that Dwarves are kind of xenophobic, I find Silvans to be very good regardless of whether you commit all out to the trait or just splash in a little bit of it into any old deck. In particular, the four sphered non-unique Silvan allies from the Ring-maker cycle tend to be among my top choices any time I just want a 2-cost ally of the relevant sphere for a deck.
Defence – The Silvan trait as a general rule is short on good defenders. Celeborn has 2 defence and 4 HP, which is OK but not amazing for a hero defender, and you’d rather be questing with him. The Defender of the Naith obviously is designed for the purpose, including the ability to ready any time a Silvan character leaves play, but he only has 2 defence and 2 HP, making him a bit flimsy. 3 defence on the round he enters play with Celeborn, but he powers down afterwards, and beyond that you’re likely looking at chump-blocking, or at least taking some damage which will need to be healed up later.
HP – This one is perhaps even more significant than the defence issue. All those great allies from the Ring-maker cycle I mentioned have 1 HP, and that’s fairly common among Silvan allies in general, so quests which are heavy on direct damage can be a serious problem for Silvans. On the other hand, if you get a few of the allies with more HP into play including a Silvan Tracker then the damage just evaporates off them every round making Silvans great direct damage sinks under those conditions, so this isn’t an absolute.
Tempo – It’s in the nature of tempo decks that they’re stronger some rounds than others. With Silvans, some of your power is coming from judiciously using the events, which obviously are one-shots, and some of it is coming from the stat-boosts Celeborn provides, so you can be tremendously powerful one round only to drop down to a more pedestrian level the following round. You want to try and time it right so you get things done on the rounds when you’re powerful and thus have less to deal with subsequently when your power is reduced. Treacheries which stop quest progress for a round may be a Silvan deck’s bane if they come up at the wrong time and waste all those boosts.
Prior to this point I have already mentioned Celeborn in this post 7 times already, and that is no coincidence. That said, I don’t think Celeborn is essential for a Silvan deck. Like I said, the Silvan archetype is about the allies, and the allies are good even without that +1 everything the round they enter play (Indeed I have a Silvan deck without Celeborn and it works pretty well for all that I built it sort of as a gimmick – We Are Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On). Those 1-round bonuses are pretty great though.
Galadriel synergises brilliantly with Silvans and with Celeborn (thematically, since she’s Celeborn’s wife and the Queen of Lothlorien despite being a Noldor herself) by allowing you to double down on that extra 1-round strength by letting you use more than one of the boosted stats. This can neatly include being able to quest with the temporary 1 willpower on a Galadhon Archer or attack with the temporary 1 attack on a Galadriel’s Handmaiden, and you might be surprised how much difference those odd 1s can make. It should also be noted that if you wanted to stay fairly thematic, until The Sands of Harad was released there was no Silvan hero in the Spirit sphere, so Galadriel was the most thematic way you could get Spirit access.
Since gaining benefits by returning allies to your hand means you then want to play that ally again, there’s potential for Silvans to get a bit expensive in the long run. So being able to reduce the cost by 1 once per round can be very useful. It should also be noted that if you’re taking advantage of Silvan synergy across an entire table, this cost reduction can be applied to someone else’s Silvan ally rather than your own if you want.
The Tree People
All the “Return a Silvan ally to your hand” events are good, but this is the big one which to my mind really defines the archetype to a large extent, and is the one you most want to recycle and play again if you can. You return one ally to your hand and in exchange you put another ally into play. From the top 5 cards of your deck, no less, so this effectively doubles as card draw on top of getting you more mileage out of those enters play effects on your allies.
Since the return to hand events are what really makes a Silvan deck what it is, naturally the ally who allows you to dig more events out of your deck tends to likewise be pretty significant.
And so now I come to building the actual deck. Now I certainly could do what I did with Dwarves and just distribute the spheres between a couple of decks, but for maximum Silvan-ness (which is totally a word) I may well be better off with more spheres in a single deck so I have more access to the Silvan events. So if I want to build a single deck which really goes all in on Silvans, what do I want? Celeborn and Galadriel, obviously, but the third slot is flexible – as I’ve noted, none of the other Silvan heroes specifically synergise with the ally-bouncing strategy which defines the trait-based archetype. I’m not restricted by sphere either – I really need Lore access for The Tree People and the Galadhrim Minstrel, but I can get that via Nenya. If I decide I’m not too bothered about my starting threat then either Elrond or Gandalf could be good for more varied sphere access, of course; but on the other hand as much as I often try deliberately to avoid things which other people have done before, there really is only one other hero who really obviously specifically synergises with the whole ally-bouncing strategy, and that is Prince Imrahil – either version actually, though I was specifically thinking of Tactics Imrahil. I’m actually a little surprised to note that Celeborn/Galadriel/Imrahil isn’t that common a hero combination on RingsDB, though a few different people have done it. I’ve deliberately not looked at those decklists so I can build blind from scratch based on my own thoughts rather than anyone else’s.
Hmm. I intended to build the deck a bit at a time and talk through the process, but instead I appear to have immediately assembled a 57 card deck without even venturing outside what seemed obvious. O Lorien! of course, Nenya to get Lore access as much as for Galadriel’s willpower, and Elf-friend for Imrahil to pull Silvans. All the Silvan events, Tighten Our Belts for more resources, A Good Harvest for smoothing. And then a load of allies. Most of the deckbuilding process at this point therefore will involve trimming allies and debating whether or not I really need A Good Harvest. And just to be clear, I am omitting A Test of Will – I’m not going to argue this is necessarily an optimal choice, but if I’m going for maximum Silvan synergy as my primary focus, AToW is not a Silvan card so it misses the cut, especially since I already don’t have room for everything I want.
My 30 allies at present are:
1x Orophin, 2x Silvan Tracker.
3x Defender of the Naith, Galadhrim Minstrel.
3x Galadhrim Weaver, Galadriel’s Handmaiden, Woodland Courier.
3x Marksman of Lorien, Galadhon Archer.
3x Naith Guide, Greenwood Archer.
Immediate thought is that the Woodland Couriers can probably go. Weavers can recycle events, Handmaidens are more willpower, the location control is less significant. Maybe I could go down to only 2 copies of A Good Harvest, leaving me only needing to cut 3 more cards. A case could be made for cutting Tactics allies since I want to use Imrahil’s resources for his ability rather than playing allies normally, but on the other hand those Tactics allies share the Warrior trait with him and are thus valid targets even before he becomes an Elf-friend. I think maybe I’ll just try it at 53 cards and see how things go. Oh, there are a couple of side-quests I could consider… I’ll just stick them in the sideboard for now. Giving me this decklist:
Prince Imrahil (Ta)
Naith Guide x3
Greenwood Archer x3
Galadhon Archer x3
Marksman of Lorien x3
Galadriel’s Handmaiden x3
Galadhrim Weaver x3
Galadhrim Minstrel x3
Defender of the Naith x3
Silvan Tracker x2
O Lorien! x3
The Tree People x3
Feigned Voices x3
Pursuing the Enemy x3
Island Amid Perils x3
Tighten Our Belts x3
A Good Harvest x2
The Storm Comes
Send for Aid
Botomir randomly gives me Hunt for Gollum, Flight from Moria and Wastes of Eriador as potential testing quests. I might want to go Nightmare for the first two, but then regular Wastes is probably still the most difficult of the three.
Testing Silvans (I’ve cut down to significant moments rather than show everything)
Alright, those tests didn’t go so well. Crux of the matter is the deck doesn’t get going fast enough to stand a good enough chance. Some tweaks may help that, but I also suspect the deck may do better in a multiplayer context, and it so happens I was considering the possibility of building a second Silvan deck of a slightly different sort. Since there are now 4 Silvan heroes to choose from in the Lore sphere, and Galadhrim Minstrel/Tree People fit in centrally to the way the archetype plays, the idea of a mono-Lore Silvan deck is an intriguing one. I can use Scroll of Isildur to recycle The Tree People over and over which should work out pretty impressively.
So for editing the initial deck I’m removing the Greenwood Archers and subbing out Pursuing the Enemy for Sneak Attack. And for a second deck let’s put this together:
Haldir of Lorien
Defender of the Naith x3
Galadhrim Minstrel x3
Galadhrim Healer x3
Silvan Tracker x3
Mirkwood Runner x3
Master of the Forge x3
Henamarth Riversong x1
Scroll of Isildur x3
Cloak of Lorien x3
Ranger Spikes x3
Entangling Nets x3
Ranger Spear x3
Daeron’s Runes x3
Deep Knowledge x3
Mithrandir’s Advice x3
The Tree People x3
As a test, I decided to revisit Wastes of Eriador with the two decks:
OK, better. Slight tweaks to the second deck, some sideboarding and here we have the final versions:
And that’s my take on the Silvan deck archetype. Obviously it’s far from being the only valid approach – there’s a lot that can be done with Silvans and I only built two decks here, but it has certainly reminded me of how much I can enjoy the Silvan playstyle. I hope you’ve at least found it interesting!