Deck Spotlight: Traps of Ithilien
The time has come, the traps have been set, and the armies of Mordor must meet their doom! Since I first laid eyes on Ranger Spikes upon tearing open my copy of the Heirs of Numenor, I’ve had fond fantasies of building a deck focusing on the Ranger trait in general and traps in particular. Previously, there hasn’t been quite enough material to form the bones and sinews of a quality trap deck, but that has all changed of late, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. One of the fantastic developments arising from the growth of the Ranger/trap deck is the way in which it has transformed some of the truths we have taken for granted about how to play this game. For so long, quickly clearing the staging area of enemies has been the dominant strategy (some early Dunhere decks notwithstanding), and pushing enemies into the staging area or keeping them there has generally been viewed as a path to defeat. However, this is no longer a universal truth, and now the possibility exists of building a deck that plays off what was previously to be avoided. Without further ado, I think I hear the tramping of Oliphaunts, and the marching feet of many Southrons…To arms!
Faramir (AoO) x1
Mirlonde (TDF) x1
Denethor (Core) x1
Rivendell Minstrel (THFG) x3
Ithilien Tracker (HON) x3
Mirkwood Runner (RtM) x2
Haldir of Lorien (AJtR) x2
Ithilien Archer (EaAD) x3
Silvan Tracker (TDM) x3
Anborn (BoG) x2
Song of Battle (TDM) x1
Ithilien Pit (EaAD) x3
A Burning Brand (CatC) x2
Gondorian Shield (TSF) x3
Great Yew Bow (OtD) x2
Poisoned Stakes (BoG) x3
Ranger Bow (AoO) x3
Ranger Spikes (HON) x3
Expecting Mischief (OHaUH) x3
Forest Patrol (AoO) x3
Hands Upon the Bow (SaF) x3
Advance Warning (TDF) x3
Theme: Traps, Direct Damage, and Staging Area Attacks
Spheres: Mono-Lore with Tactics Splash
Strategy: This deck starts out with a fairly low threat (especially for mono-Lore) of 24, thanks to the inclusion of Mirlonde, which plays into the overall strategy of keeping enemies in the staging area. The idea is to both maximize Faramir’s ability (which is based off the number of enemies in the staging area) and provide targets for him to attack using the Great Yew Bow and Hands Upon the Bow. Unfortunately, this approach won’t be viable forever, as there are no threat reduction abilities available, so ideally I’m looking to grab Great Yew Bow in my opening draw. Of course, this also requires drawing Rivendell Minstrel or Song of Battle to facilitate the playing of Tactics cards, so either card is also a priority for early draw. Another possibility to enable a similar Lore/Tactics build is to actually just play one Tactics hero and thus dispense with the necessity of splashing via songs, but in this case I’m looking to start with as low a threat as possible, and this necessitates mono-Lore with Mirlonde (I’ve been toying with the idea of using Merry from the Black Riders expansion, as he is a Tactics hero with a low, low threat of 6, which might make him worthy of inclusion even without his Hobbit-based attack boost). As far as the actual gameplay strategy is concerned, I’m looking to destroy enemies as quickly as possible with direct damage and ranged shenanigans, making this an enemy-focused deck (as opposed to those that attempt to manage locations or treacheries). The 3 copies of Ranger Spikes play a key role, trapping enemies in the staging area permanently and thus boosting Faramir’s attack strength (not to mention managing the flow of foes and reducing threat for questing purposes).
In general, when building a deck, I’m always looking to build in back-up plans and redundancies to ensure that everything doesn’t fall apart if the luck of the draw doesn’t go my way. To this end, Advance Warning is another means of keeping enemies in the staging area, again both to boost Faramir and to provide targets for his ranged shenanigans, courtesy of Great Yew Bow and/or Hands Upon The Bow. Fortunately, even without these Tactics tricks, Ithilien Pit still provides a means of attacking enemies in the staging area (another example of including multiple options to accomplish the same goal). With 3 traps to toss around (Ithilien Pit, Ranger Spikes, Poisoned Stakes), Forest Patrol should have plenty of available targets, enabling substantial direct damage (Poisoned Stakes combines especially well with this event, as does Expecting Mischief). If that wasn’t enough, copies of the Ranger Bow will go on either the Ithilien Trackers or Ithilien Archers, allowing for extra direct damage and the real possibility of destroying enemies before they can even move a muscle (1 extra point of direct damage may not seem significant, but it can make the difference between the destruction and survival of an enemy). Inevitably, some enemies will manage to circumvent my plans and engage with the deck, but the Ithilien Archer can help pop them back into the staging area. With attack and direct damage well taken care of, I also need to make plans for defense. This is where Faramir’s papa comes into play, as Denethor can become a monster defender with the help of Gondorian Shield and A Burning Brand, blocking all attacks of 5 or less without any possibility of nasty shadow effects ruining the party (note that with a strong defender and enemy management tools in play, it is also possible to pull enemies one by one from the staging area to destroy them). Questing is perhaps the central weakness of this deck, but Haldir, Rivendell Minstrel, Mirlonde, and the Ithilien Tracker’s ability should all help in this department. The final piece of the puzzle comes in the form of Anborn, who can recycle traps from the discard pile and move me closer to my goal of always having a nasty surprise for enemies in the staging area.
How It Was Constructed: Long-time readers of this blog will know that I’ve been going on and on about the possibilities of a trap deck since this cycle began. Since then, I’ve experimented with various Ranger/trap configurations, but the deck type hasn’t felt quite viable until now. With the release of Faramir and a couple more traps (Ithilien Pit in Encounter at Amon Dîn and Poisoned Stakes in Blood of Gondor), I knew the time had come to finally build the deck of my dreams, and, in many ways, the deck built itself. It started with Faramir and from there it became apparent that it would be necessary to include as many means as possible of containing enemies in the staging area, along with tools to allow staging area attacks. My second hero choice was quite easy as well, as I knew that I wanted to choose Mirlonde in order to keep my starting threat as low as possible. I had plenty of options for my third hero, including the possibility of choosing a Tactics hero, as previously discussed, but I decided to go mono-Lore, and I was most interested in including a natural defender. With the proliferation of shadow effects that punish chump blocking, the need for having a viable “tank” hero has only increased. This led me straight to Denethor, and he also is a perfect choice because he provides the opportunity to scry the top card of the encounter deck. Even in a multi-player game, this scrying ability can help set up traps to be as effective as possible. As far as the allies are concerned, I prioritized theme over other considerations (for the most part), but I do feel that each ally has a part to play in gameplay terms. The Ithilien Trackers fit the ranger theme, help with questing (through canceling threat), and are natural Ranger Bow recipients, as additional copies beyond the first cannot make use of their ability. The Ithilien Archers also fit the theme, in addition to playing a role in deck strategy by bouncing enemies back to the staging area and serving as back-up Ranger Bow wielders. Haldir is expensive, but has great stats and brings a ranger ambience to proceedings, despite not actually possessing the Ranger trait outright. The Mirkwood Runner provides attacking bite when enemies do engage, while the Silvan Trackers can heal themselves and Mirlonde, providing a damage soak when necessary. The Rivendell Minstrels are key to fetch the Song of Battle, allowing for the Tactics cards to show their quality. Finally, Anborn maximizes trap usage, and is an extremely strong attacking ally, especially for the Lore sphere. All in all, this is a deck that is thematically sound but also makes sense from a gameplay perspective as well.
1) Faramir + Ranger Spikes + Great Yew Bow/Hands Upon the Bow: One of the central combinations of this deck, Ranger Spikes traps enemies in the staging area, providing a permanent attack boost for Faramir. Our Ranger hero can then use this increased attack to attack other enemies in the staging area, using either the Great Yew Bow or Hands Upon the Bow. I probably won’t destroy the enemies trapped in Ranger Spikes, unless there are no other targets in play and it makes sense to recycle the Spikes so that I can trap some new foes.
2) Expecting Mischief + Ranger Bow: This is a strong one-two combo that can deal three damage to an enemy in the blink of an eye (2 from Expecting Mischief and 1 from Ranger Bow). Of course, the main danger with Expecting Mischief is that it can whiff completely, which makes this a much more reliable combo in multiplayer games than solo. However, Denethor can certainly help set up this play when possible. Adding on other direct damage effects that are present in this deck, such as Forest Patrol and Poisoned Stakes can add to the damage total, helping to take down even a fairly hearty foe. If I can bring an enemy down to within 2 points of destruction, the Mirkwood Runner can land the finishing blow all by himself.
3) Poisoned Stakes + Forest Patrol: This is an absolutely brutal combination that will make you cackle with glee when it is pulled off successfully. While Forest Patrol deals 3 damage immediately to an enemy with a trap attached to it, Poisoned Stakes inflicts 2 damage to the attached enemy at the end of each round. Using Forest Patrol on an enemy that is stuck in Poisoned Stakes yields 5 damage by the end of the round, with 7 damage total inflicted by the end of the subsequent round, all without the need for using characters to attack! This is magnificent stuff that you can only hope is not wasted on a puny little foe.
4) Denethor + Gondorian Shield + A Burning Brand: This is a set-up that is certainly not specific to a Ranger/trap deck, but is amazing any time it hits the table. With both of these attachments, Denethor can defend for 5 and completely ignores all shadow effects. This is a level of defensive solidity that helps you sleep easier at night.
5) Mirlonde + Silvan Tracker: I left other healing effects out of this deck in order to tighten the focus, but this combination does allow for some damage soaking. With at least one Silvan Tracker in play, at least 2 damage from archery or direct damage can be safely taken and healed each turn (1 on Mirlonde and 1 on a Silvan Tracker). This is not game-changing by any means, but every little bit helps, and the Silvan Tracker is a solid ally.
6) Advance Warning + Ithilien Pit: The Ithilien Pit is yet another means of allowing characters (in this case, not just Faramir) to attack an enemy in the staging area. Advance Warning can keep enemies in the staging area, including those with Ithilien Pit attached, so that they can be attacked but can’t mount attacks of their own. Even better, Anborn can quickly bring these Ithilien Pits back from the discard pile.
–> One thing I enjoy about this deck is that the above list is not an exhaustive examination of all possible combinations. Ideally, when building a deck, I like to create a collection of cards that can work together in a variety of ways, rather than being restricted to narrow combos. The idea is that if one combination is not possible, then another will present itself; this is part of the overall pursuit of multiple options mentioned earlier. This deck is quite strong in this respect.
Variations: There are actually quite a few possible variations to this deck and theme, even when keeping to mono-Lore. However, the most obvious alternative, as previously discussed, is to include one Tactics hero. Thalin is a great choice, as he can easily combine with the included direct damage effects. Legolas also could fit in quite nicely, as he brings his own “ranged” ability to the table and could help with quest progress. Another possibility is to replace Denethor as the resident defender with Beregond, equipping him with a Spear of the Citadel to contribute to direct damage (of course, ideally you’re avoiding conventional combat whenever possible, so this might not be ideal). The variation to this deck that I will probably pursue, if only because it is so wonderfully unconventional, is to include Merry from the Black Riders as the third hero. His low threat will work wonderfully in the context of this deck, which might be worthwhile even leaving aside his ability (readying another hero when he helps that hero to destroy an enemy). He wouldn’t benefit from the Hobbit hero attack boost, but this can be rectified by adding in a Dagger of Westernesse (a +1 attack weapon from the Black Riders box, not restricted by trait, and bumped to a +2 attack when facing an enemy with a higher engagement cost than the player’s threat). Speaking of which, the Dagger of Westernesse could fit in quite nicely with this deck in general, but I excluded it due to space considerations. Beyond Tactics, this deck could also work as a Lore/Spirit dual-sphere build, with Glorfindel’s starting threat and Spirit threat-reduction effects keeping enemies in the staging area. However, this would exclude the Great Yew Bow and Hands Upon the Bow, which would severely limit some of the possibilities of the deck. Finally, one notable absence in this deck is Gandalf, as he could be extremely handy to lower threat and inflict direct damage, but in this case I have chosen to leave out our Istari friend.
Final Thoughts: The best aspect of this deck is that it is an absolute blast to play. It is not as versatile and powerful as an optimized Dwarf or Outlands build, but few deck types are, and many times it is more enjoyable to explore something new. What this deck excels at is in dispatching enemies quickly in unconventional ways, while its most glaring weakness is probably that it does take a bit of time to set up the traps and tools of the trade necessary to make the deck hum (this is mainly a reflection of the lack of resource generation and the relative expense of cards in the Lore sphere). Still, this deck has a fighting chance against many quests, but will struggle most against those that feature enemies with low engagement costs and those that start off with a bang. In my opinion, it works far better in multi-player than solo, although it can function on its own, especially with some small tweaks. One of the issues it has is that it can’t muster the kind of willpower that other powerful solo decks can, but fortunately the Ithilien Tracker and Ranger Spikes can help with that a bit. At the end of the day, this is a deck type that can only get better with time, and I’m actually amazed at how much direct damage can now be piled on in a single turn. I’m anxious to see if any other traps emerge in the near future, but even without such additions, this deck type has arrived. I’ll end by saying that I encourage everyone to try out a Rangers/traps deck, whether it is this one, another variation you see posted elsewhere, or a build of your own. On that note, please feel free to share your own decks of this type below, as I would love to see the other possibilities that are out there, and I’m sure other readers would as well.