Deck Building 101: Scrying
* Longbeard Elder (Leadership Ally, 3 cost, 2 willpower, 1 attack, 1 defense, 2 hit points) [Foundations of Stone]
Response: After Longbeard Elder commits to a quest, look at the top card of the encounter deck. If that card is a location, place 1 progress token on the current quest. Otherwise Longbeard Elder gets -1 until the end of the phase.
Generally, I’ve used the Longbeard Elder for his strong willpower and ignored his ability. However, he does have a very limited scrying effect, which can be activated whenever he commits to the quest to allow him to look at the top card of the encounter deck. There are some crucial limitations to this ability. First, since this scrying happens during the commitment step of the quest phase, it cannot be used during planning to guide decision-making (or any other phase than questing, for that matter). Second, it cannot be used to help the controlling player choose who to commit to a quest due to timing issues (all characters controlled by a player commit simultaneously, and the Longbeard Elder’s ability triggers after this happens). It can help the commitment decisions of players whose turns come after the Longbeard Elder player, assuming you are not playing by strict table talk rules. Third, if the revealed card is not a location, then the Longbeard Elder loses a point of willpower. Still, despite these limitations, it’s definitely worth using now and then to get an idea of what’s coming and to potentially gain a bonus progress token.
Pros: Repeatable, valuable ally with good stats, triggers as part of the normal cost of play, potential progress bonus
Cons: Moderately expensive, limited scrying utility, potential willpower penalty
Combines well with… Other scrying effects, can help Needful to Know hit
Use if… You want a strong questing ally and are playing Leadership and/or Dwarves. You are comfortable with limited scrying. You are looking for some help with putting progress on the quest.
* Palantir (Neutral Attachment, 1 cost) [Assault on Osgiliath]
Planning Action: Exhaust Palantir and attached hero to name a card type and look at the top 3 cards of the encounter deck. For each of those cards that matches the named type, draw a card. For each of those cards that does not match the named type, raise your threat by 2.
Palantir has been covered in some detail in this blog, so I will refer readers to the relevant articles (here and here). What I will say is that the Palantir is one of the most powerful scrying effects around, as it can reveal the top 3 cards of the encounter deck, instead of just the top card. This makes it one of the few cards that can provide the same scrying power for multiplayer games that Henamarth Riversong does for pure solo games. There are some glaring drawbacks, the biggest of which is the potential of gaining up to 6 threat with each use. However, the requirement to exhaust a hero is also substantial. On the other hand, there is the possibility of gaining some bonus card draw. The fact that the Palantir is neutral means that this attachment can provide scrying (and card draw) to any sphere. The high risk/high reward nature of the Palantir means that it must be built around to be effective (threat reduction, other scrying, etc.), but it can give you a form of mastery over the encounter deck through scrying.
Pros: Cheap, repeatable, extremely potent (scrying 3 cards at once), bonus card draw, neutral, provides scrying for multiplayer situations
Cons: Threat gain, requires special deck building, requires exhausting a hero, restricted to the planning phase
Combines well with… Needful to Know, Longbeard Elder, Small Target, Out of the Wild, Risk Some Light, threat reduction effects, Expecting Mischief, traps
Use if… You are interested in building a deck around scrying. You would like effective scrying in a multiplayer context. You want to add card draw/scrying to a deck/sphere that wouldn’t usually have access to it.
* Needful to Know (Lore Event, 2 cost) [The Redhorn Gate]
Action: Raise your threat by 1 to look at the top card of the encounter deck. Then, reduce your threat by X, where X is the threat of that card.
This is a card that can be looked at in one of two ways: as a scrying effect and as a threat reduction effect. In terms of scrying, you can do better than Needful to Know, as 2 resources for a peek at the top encounter card is not a good deal (just compare this to Henamarth Riversong or Rumour of the Earth). As a threat reduction effect, you are looking at a risk/reward situation. Since you have to raise your threat by 1, you could potentially reveal an encounter card with no threat and end up with a net threat increase. On the other hand, you could potentially buy yourself a net threat reduction of 1-3 threat (ignoring those outlier situations). Really, you have to look at this card as a 2-in-1 package that provides rare threat reduction for the Lore sphere. One important thing to keep in mind is that Needful to Know does have a secrecy discount of 2, which means it can be played for free if you are at or under the threat threshold of 20. That’s probably the main situation where you would actually use this card.
Pros: Supports secrecy, provide threat reduction for Lore
Cons: Expensive for what you get, risk of whiffing on the threat reduction
Combines well with… Other scrying effects, Expecting Mischief, traps
Use if… You are playing a secrecy deck. You are playing Lore and are desperate for threat reduction. You want to combine this with other scrying effects to ensure the maximum benefit.
* Ravens of the Mountain (Lore Event, 1 cost) [The Hobbit: On the Doorstep]
[Errata] Action: Exhaust a hero you control to shuffle the encounter deck and look at its top card. Place progress tokens on the current quest equal to the revealed card’s threat strength. Then, put that card back on top of the encounter deck.
This is a card that was formerly quite useless, because it required you to “reveal” the top card of the encounter deck rather than simply look at it. As anyone who has played this game for awhile knows, revealing an encounter card is dangerous as this triggers any “when revealed” effects that are present. Thanks to errata, this event is now quite usable, although it hasn’t quite gotten its due yet. For 1 resource, you can get the standard scrying benefit (look at the top encounter card), but, more importantly, also the chance to place progress tokens on the current quest. This could be an invaluable method of accelerating quest advancement, but of course has an in-built randomness to it, and it is not possible to combine this event with other scrying effects (i.e. Henamarth Riversong) to ensure the maximum progress benefit. One substantial cost to this effect is that you have to exhaust a hero to activate it. On the other hand, a hidden benefit is the opportunity to shuffle the encounter deck before the top card is revealed, which means that you could reset the deck if previous scrying has shown a nasty set of cards in your future.
Pros: Relatively cheap, reshuffles the encounter deck, potential quest acceleration
Cons: Requires exhausting a hero, could whiff completely in terms of quest progress, can’t be combined as easily with other scrying effects (can set up other cards, but can’t be set up by them)
Combines well with… Other scrying effects (by shuffling the encounter deck)
Use if… You want faster quest progress. You want to be able to reset the encounter deck. You have readying effects available for your heroes.
* Risk Some Light (Lore Event, 3 cost) [Shadow and Flame]
Action: Look at the top 3 cards of the encounter deck. You may select 1 card and move it to the bottom of the encounter deck. Return any unselected cards to the top of the encounter deck, in any order.
Risk Some Light is the only card that can match the raw scrying power of the Palantir (looking at the top 3 encounter cards). On top of that, it also provides the massively powerful ability to move 1 card to the bottom of the encounter deck, while re-ordering the remaining cards. All this comes without the nasty threat danger or hero exhaustion of the Palantir. For these reasons, Risk Some Light is a criminally underrated card. However, it does have one glaring weakness: a high cost of 3. It is often difficult to justify spending 3 resources on scrying/encounter deck manipulation instead of building up one’s tangible forces. Like Needful to Know, Risk Some Light is free under secrecy conditions, where it falls into auto-include territory if you’re running Lore. Outside of secrecy, the expense will probably primarily be justified when facing tough scenarios with particular encounter cards that must be proactively countered and avoided.
Pros: Potent scrying, valid multiplayer possibilities, allows encounter deck manipulation, secrecy support
Combines well with… Good Meal (cost reduction), Longbeard Elder, Needful to Know, Palantir, Expecting Mischief, traps
Use if… You are playing multiplayer and want expansive scrying. You want to be able to see threats before they arrive and neuter them. You are playing secrecy or have strong resource generation.
* Rumour from the Earth (Lore Event, 0 cost) [Return to Mirkwood]
Action: Look at the top card of the encounter deck. Then, you may pay 1 resource to return Rumour from the Earth to your hand.
This is essentially the event version of Henamarth Riversong, except you have to continually pay 1 resource to repeat the effect. Thus, Henamarth is cheaper in the long run, although you can use Rumour as a 0-cost disposable effect. Rumour does have the advantage of not being vulnerable to destruction, and could potentially be used multiple times per round (to look at an upcoming shadow effect before the combat phase, for example). If you’re looking for continual scrying, I would say Henamarth is the better play, while Rumor from the Earth is a good selective scrying choice.
Pros: Repeatable, low initial cost, flexible, can’t be destroyed, can be used multiple times per round
Cons: Expensive over the long run, limited utility in multiplayer
Combines well with… Denethor, Needful to Know, Expecting Mischief, traps
Use if… You want flexible and/or potentially disposable scrying.
* Denethor (Lore Hero, 8 threat, 1 willpower, 1 attack, 3 defense, 3 hit points) [Core Set]
Action: Exaust Denethor to look at the top card of the encounter deck. You may move that card to the bottom of the deck.
Denethor is essentially the hero version of Henamarth Riversong. However, he has one big advantage over that ally: he can actually move the revealed card to the bottom of the encounter deck. This makes him a superb scrying choice in pure solo play, and a decent scrying play in 2-player and even 3-player games. However, the disadvantage is that instead of exhausting a weak ally, you are exhausting a strong defensive hero to use this ability. Whether or not you want to take up a hero slot with scrying is also a choice that becomes much more difficult with each new hero that is released. Note that Denethor actually works well with other scrying, as you can hold him back and only use his ability when alternative effects reveal a card that needs to be put on the bottom of the encounter deck.
Pros: Provides encounter deck manipulation and scrying, strong defensive hero, powerful effect in pure solo play
Cons: Takes up a hero slot, requires exhausting a hero (and defender)
Combines well with… Henamarth Riversong, Rumour from the Earth, Needful to Know, Expecting Mischief, traps
Use if… You are running a deck with readying effects. You are playing pure solo and want strong scrying and encounter deck manipulation. You are playing multiplayer and want easy access to scrying/encounter deck manipulation.
While scrying may not be for everyone, and while scrying options are not extensive at the moment, they can certainly prove to be decisive. Generally, scrying has a larger impact the fewer players are involved in a game. One criticism of scrying is that it takes up valuable deck space and resources with effects that will not build up your forces or alter the balance of power on the board. This is certainly something to keep in mind, but remember that scrying does allow you to build smarter and make better decisions about how to use what you have. How you to choose to walk this line is up to you.
Until next time, keep an eye out for the next edition of the Deck Building 101 series!
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