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Deck Building 101: Scrying

by on November 19, 2013

palantir

Certain effects are absolutely integral to the functioning of almost any deck, with card draw being a prime example. Others, like healing, tend to be more conditional and depend on the needs of particular scenarios and the preferences of particular players. Scrying is an effect that certainly falls into the latter category. I would go even further and say that scrying can actually be controversial, as some players feel that it provides an unfair advantage and removes an important element of mystery and danger from the game. Certainly, I can understand this perspective, although, as Lore fan, I personally enjoy encounter deck manipulation and scrying (to a point). In this Deck Building 101 guide, I will review the cards that presently enable scrying, covering strengths, weaknesses, potential combinations, and key uses.

Introduction

Scrying, in the context of this game, refers to any card effect that allows you to peek at the top card(s) of a deck that is usually secret. While this could refer to either the encounter deck or player deck(s), I usually use the term exclusively in terms of the former, and that’s what we’ll be addressing here. Player deck scrying and player deck manipulation will almost certainly end up as a separate Deck Building 101 feature at some point, but our attention here will be firmly fixated on delving into the hidden terrors of the encounter deck. In a cooperative game where players face off against a “mindless” opponent, the one advantage that the game possesses over a player is the random nature of the encounter deck and the surprise of the staging step. While a player can prepare and strategize for a variety of situations, not knowing how many enemies they will face on a given turn, what treacheries will show up, or how much threat will be present by the end of questing is what lends an air of unpredictability to each round and can upset the best-laid plans. What scrying effects allow players to do is to play cards and commit characters with a level of foreknowledge as to what exactly they will need on a given turn. For example, if I know that an enemy will be revealed this turn, I might play that Defender of Rammas or Winged Guardian for defensive purposes instead of that copy of Favor of the Lady (willpower boosting). Scrying can also set up strategies that rely on anticipating what comes off the encounter deck (such as trap decks). On the other hand, if a player is supremely confident that their deck can handle whatever comes their way, then scrying may be a luxury that can be safely excluded. For those who do include scrying, though, it can oftentimes prove a decisive factor in setting them on the best path to higher levels of power and victory itself.

Options

* Henamarth Riversong (Lore Ally, 1 cost, 1 willpower, 1 attack, 0 defense, 1 hit point) [Core Set]
Action: Exhaust Henamarth Riversong to look at the top card of the encounter deck.
If you are playing a pure solo game with only one deck, then Henamarth Riversong is one of the most powerful allies in the entire game. henamarth riversongOftentimes, Henamarth doesn’t get his due, but being able to know exactly what is coming during every staging step for a whole game (barring a surge keyword or other effects that reveal multiple encounter cards) is immensely powerful. This ally is even more ridiculous when you consider that he only costs 1 resource and can also serve as a quester, attacker, or chump blocker in a pinch. Since Henamarth is so cheap and isn’t a hero, you can safely exhaust him each turn to use his scrying ability without worrying about losing out on anything (except perhaps his use as a chump blocker, but that’s not his main role anyway). Obviously, in a multiplayer game, Henamarth Riversong loses much of his power and utility, and this is a valuable natural limitation to the power of this scrying effect, but in pure solo play you won’t find a better option.
Pros: Repeatable, cheap, provides complete staging foreknowledge in pure solo play, can serve as a body in an emergency
Cons: Fragile (only 1 hit point), dramatically less useful in multiplayer, can’t do anything with the card that is revealed
Combines well with… Denethor, Palantir, Needful to Know, Expecting Mischief, traps
Use if… You are playing a pure solo game. You are including cards that depend upon knowledge of the encounter deck. You want a consistent scrying effect that can tell you when to use encounter card manipulation effects.

* 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 needful to knowbetter 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 risk some lightalso 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

Cons: Expensive

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.

Final Recommendations

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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15 Comments
  1. Whilst they aren’t powerful scrying effects, there are still some useful combos with Longbeard Elder. As you can choose what order to trigger responses in, you can use his effect, THEN decide whether or not to pay to ready core set Aragorn (no enemies coming? save your money)/ who to give Theodred’s resource to (nasty ‘when revealed’ on top – give it to you spirit hero for Test of will. Big, bad enemy, give it to a tactics hero for Feint.)

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Very true, and I do think those are two good examples you mentioned. The Longbeard Elder is one of my favorite underrated allies for his all-around utility.

  2. Thomas permalink

    Hi!

    Nice article. However, I fellyou miss on crad that is also for me a good “scrying” effect: I am talking about “Shadow of the past”. Basically, the idea being scrying is to know what will show up next and be prepared for it. That exactly what this card does. (That’s with this king of idea in mind that I designed the “Rohan Refugee” card for you previous contest).

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I strongly considered including Shadow of the Past for the reasons you mentioned, and I think it can justifiably be called a “scrying” effect. However, I felt that it more cleanly falls in the realm of encounter deck manipulation, so it will be part of that particular Deck Building 101 article. For a similar reason, I didn’t include A Watchful Peace.

  3. I think scrying can alter the balance of power on the board as it can enable you to plan your turn more efficiently rather than holding heroes back for defending or hide tests etc.

    Nice article makes me want to try to use it more 🙂

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Thanks and I agree 100%. Also, scrying can alter the balance of power in that I would say that the quality of cards on the table, in terms of their suitability for the current game situation, can sometimes be better than quantity of cards (with scrying allowing you to choose the best “quality”).

  4. I wonder if anyone has had success in creating a “scout” deck that was focused on scrying and support.

    • Oh wait, you did. Derp.

      • TalesfromtheCards permalink

        Well, I think there’s opportunity for someone to go wild with creating a heavily specialized, exclusively focused scrying/encounter deck manipulation support deck. I’m curious as to how well it would function if you went all out in this direction (obviously in a multiplayer context).

  5. Tonskillitis permalink

    Marvellous stuff. I like the idea of ‘Good Meal’ and ‘Risk some Light’. I love my Lore cards and with rangers it has taken my joy to a whole new level. If only I could find some room for scrying effects (other than Denethor) in a trap deck. Maybe I could create a partner deck which scried and attacked. I guess I could finally make that Palantir deck… I prefer encounter switching effects to spirit cancellations because they seem more artful somehow.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      A player after my own heart! While Spirit cancellation is certainly effective, I do get a greater sense of satisfaction and accomplishment by avoiding danger through encounter deck manipulation.

  6. lleimmoen permalink

    Even in coop, I find scouting (term I much prefer to the above) invaluable especially for Lore, traps, and their direct damage. Of course, 3 to 4 players game will always be hard in this way, but even in 2-player games, Henamarth is invaluable, and a card I very often mulligan for. It is a great waste to attach Ranger Spikes or Ithilien Pit to an unfit enemy. And with Gildor’s Counsel, Henemarth (thematically I see him as one of Gildor’s Elves from the Eriador anyways), he can still tell you the whole story.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Hmm, “scrying” vs. “scouting”. I think most of the above effects are supposed to represent “scouting” in thematic terms, except for the Palantir and Denethor (which is pure scrying). Scrying perhaps better matches what players do, while scouting matches what the characters and cards themselves are supposed to be doing. If we do think about someone like Henamarth scouting ahead, I wonder if we’ll ever see encounter cards that act as traps do in Netrunner, where they do something bad to players when they look at them using a scrying/scouting effect.

      I definitely think scrying/scouting has a role in multiplayer, and I will often use something like Denethor or Longbeard Elder in those situations. The bigger point is just the dramatic drop in power between a Henamarth/Denethor scrying use in solo play, where you see 100% of what’s coming vs. doing so in a 2-player game (where you now see 50%) or a 3-player game (33%). That doesn’t mean they’re useless, just that it’s important to understand the power differential.

  7. Mndela permalink

    How about Dark Knowledge? It is a good scrying card. And it is a nice combo (you wrote it in other post) with Small Target…, so it is a scrying card. Isn’t?

    PD: the most dificult quests for me (Ithilien Pit and Morgul Vale) i have won them thanks to Denethor, Hernamanth and Counsil Gildor (in two players).

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