Card Spotlight: Common Cause
It has been awhile since the last installment of the Card Spotlight. I’ve been occupied with the cult of the new, specifically reviewing and experiencing The Black Riders expansion. However, there’s always time for the spotlight, or at least there should be, so you need wait no longer for the next edition! Today, we’re taking it way back, and choosing to interrogate one of the original Core Set cards: Common Cause. Even when there were no other expansions available, and a painfully limited card pool, players still debated the relative merits of this Leadership event. Some believed then, and many still do today, that this card is just too marginal to be worth including in a deck. Others found innovative uses for it that justified its value. However, glancing through deck lists today, you’d be hard-pressed to find many that make use of Common Cause. When I see this kind of situation, it’s akin to a bat signal, and a clear indication that fodder for the Card Spotlight has been found. Has this card gotten a bum rap all along? Was it once a worthwhile card that has simply been replaced by better alternatives? Or is this event an eternal coaster that deserves what it gets? The time is here, the battle lines have been drawn, let’s begin!
Common Cause is a 0-cost Leadership event that is quite simple in its game text:
Action: Exhaust 1 hero you control to choose and ready a different hero.
There are some immediate positives that are obvious. First, this card costs absolutely nothing in terms of resources to play. Sometimes this is the mark of a great card, as such events can often provide the best value, but other times this is a classic case of “too-good-to-be-true”. The second positive of this event is that it provides a readying effect, which is especially vital when one only owns the Core Set and readying possibilities are limited (curse you, single copy of Unexpected Courage!). On the other hand, there is a huge “cost” associated with Common Cause that has nothing to do with resources: the requirement to exhaust a hero. One of the reasons why readying effects are so powerful is that they provide action advantage (put simply, the more actions you can take per turn–whether it’s committing to the quest, attacking, or defending–the better), however in this case the net action advantage is zero, as you are exhausting one hero to ready another. This is perhaps the primary reason why Common Cause has earned the ire of so many players.
So what exactly is this card good for then? While it does not provide action advantage in a universal sense, at least in most cases, it can provide action advantage in a particular sense. What I mean by this is that not all actions are created equal. We know this intuitively when we consider the difference between having a ready Snowbourn Scout and a ready Glorfindel. The same distinction applies within the hero category as well. If I find myself wanting to attack an enemy and destroy it this turn, and the only hero I have available happens to have a weak attack strength, then I would gladly trade their action (by exhausting them) in order to attain the services of an exhausted hero that can actually get the job done. This is exactly what Common Cause does, and this is exactly why it is more useful than it appears at first glance. It is also important to note that in multiplayer games, you can use Common Cause to ready any other hero on the board, which expands your options.
Below, I will sketch out the broad outlines of some of the most intriguing possible uses of this card:
* Getting multiple uses/maximized use out of a key ability
Certain heroes have abilities that can only be activated by exhausting them. At the same time, heroes are usually needed for a variety of purposes during the course of a turn, so it isn’t always possible to keep them ready so that they can use their special power. By including Common Cause in your deck, you can ensure that they can both participate in a normal action and activate their ability, or perhaps they can use their action twice in the same turn. Of course, this necessitates sacrificing the action of some other hero, but it may be worthwhile depending on the circumstances. The most popular target for Common Cause initially was Beravor, as her card draw was powerful, but required her to be exhausted. With Common Cause, you could use Beravor for questing or combat, then if you found yourself with an extra hero at the end of a turn, you could ready her to gain access to those extra cards. Even better, you also had the opportunity to use her ability twice on the same turn for a card bonanza (this possibility has since been errata’d out of existence, as Beravor’s effect can only be used once per round now). There are other great targets though:
– Elrond/Vilya: Elrond’s stats are amazing, yet he also has a game-changing power (with the help of Vilya) that requires him to exhaust. Common Cause helps solve this dilemma.
– Denethor: In a single player game, Denethor’s ability can have a huge impact. At the same time, he often serves as the primary defender. This creates a dilemma each turn, which can be partially addressed through the use of Common Cause.
– Dunhere: Playing Dunhere naturally entails a strategy of keeping enemies in the staging area and letting the Rohan warrior do his thing. Because of this approach, you may encounter situations where you have a ready hero with no enemies to engage, and can use Common Cause to let Dunhere take multiple snipes at enemies in the staging area.
* Using weak heroes to ready the strongest
There may be situations where you decide to play a deck with one or two strong heroes alongside one that is weaker, at least in terms of stats. This is certainly not an uncommon situation, but then you are often left wishing that Aragorn, for example, had multiple actions available instead of having one action for him and one for Bilbo (not to pick on the old Hobbit, but just for example’s sake). Scenarios like this are prime fodder for Common Cause, and any deck that uses a combination of weak and strong heroes might want to consider including this event. In fact, weak Hobbit heroes, which have easy access to readying through Fast Hitch, can essentially transfer their readying ability to a more powerful hero using Common Cause.
* Giving the actions of naturally readying heroes to others
There are several heroes that have built-in readying abilities: Boromir, Leadership Aragorn, and Elrohir/Elladan among them. While these effects are powerful and useful in their own right, Common Cause opens up the possibility of expanding their use to other heroes. For example, you could easily ready Boromir and use him in conjunction with Common Cause to ready a hero that would normally be unable to do so, all at the cost of 1 threat. Taking this example a bit further, Boromir, Beravor, and Common Cause could all work well together to gain the maximum benefit from Beravor’s card draw ability. There are a variety of other options that are also made possible by this event.
In these ways, Common Cause can be thought of as a form of “action transfer”. The elephant in the room is why you would use this event instead of a more powerful and consistent form of readying, such as that provided by Unexpected Courage, Fast Hitch, Miruvor, or Cram. Taking them each in turn, Unexpected Courage is certainly the best readying effect around, but is limited to the Spirit sphere and limited in terms of copies as well (again, only one comes in the Core Set). Fast Hitch is restricted to Hobbits. Miruvor is useful and far more versatile than Common Cause, but is again part of a different sphere. In my mind, it is really Cram that sounds the potential death knell for our spotlighted card. Not only is Cram part of the same sphere as Common Cause, but it also is zero cost. If that wasn’t bad enough, Cram allows for the instant and unconditional readying of a hero. In essence, it does exactly what Common Cause does, except without requiring the exhaustion of a hero (since attachments can be played on other player’s heroes, it also is equally effective in multiplayer). There are some minor differences between the two, with Cram requiring some level of pre-planning, since you have to attach it to a hero in advance of actually needing to ready them. Presumably, there could be situations where you place Cram on one hero, and then a situation arises where you actually need another hero to be ready. This is the one area where Common Cause is stronger: in terms of flexibility. However, I don’t think this is enough to cancel out the substantial advantages of Cram.
With all this in mind, and after a substantial investigation, the time of judgement awaits. Common Cause, in my opinion, is a clear example of a card that has clear utility, but is scuppered by a card that provides a better version of the same effect (in this case, Cram). I really hesitate to tag it with the coaster label, just because it feels unfair given the potential of the card, but the spotlight is ruthless in its gaze, and I am powerless against it. Certainly, there is the possibility that you need tons of readying effects for a certain scenario or deck type, and then you might feel justified in making room for both Cram and Common Cause. However, this is more of a niche case, and usually you’ll only want and need to include 3 copies of a disposable readying effect. Therefore, I will say that if you do not own Cram (which is found in the Over Hill and Under Hill expansion), then Common Cause is truly a hidden gem. However, if you do have that card available to you, then Common Cause will be banished to the forgotten, dusty corners of your collection.
Verdict: Coaster (unless you don’t have Cram)