The Morgul Vale: Attachments Review
The allies and hero of The Morgul Vale pack have learned their fate, but there are still plenty of cards left to review. If there can be said to be one area of focus for this expansion, it would have to be the attachments, as there are four of them in total, and each is an arguably powerful addition to the game. However, all that is gold does not glitter, and sometimes the shiniest of toys can be deeply flawed upon further inspection. We’ll have to dig deep to figure out the truth here, and determine how well The Morgul Vale fills the shoes of its illustrious forebears, as final cycle packs have tended to contain the most powerful cards.
* Visionary Leadership (Leadership Attachment, 2 cost):
As of the time of this writing, Visionary Leadership leads the TftC poll regarding favorite Morgul Vale card. It’s easy to see why, as this attachment has a clearly powerful effect:
Attach to a Gondor hero.
While attached hero has at least 1 resource in its resource pool, Gondor characters get +1 Willpower.
I’ll get the obvious out of the way first: this is a strong attachment and a must-have for any Gondor deck. In fact, I would argue that Visionary Leadership makes a Gondor deck truly viable for the first time, at least as a pure solo build. While Gondor allies are relatively solid in combat, especially with the aid of Leadership Boromir’s attack buff, they have been weak in the willpower department (with three notable exceptions: Faramir, Denethor, and the Pelargir Shipwright). Even looking at Gondor’s heroes, none of them exceed 2 willpower. All of this makes it tough to construct a Gondor deck that can both quest and fight, and this glaring deficiency has finally been rectified with the help of this attachment.
Now that the obvious has been stated, let’s examine just how powerful Visionary Leadership is, as well as some possible uses. The first temptation is probably to throw this attachment onto Leadership Boromir and turn him into the Gondorian version of Dain. Just how well does this Leadermir/Visionary Leadership combination fare in a direct comparison with the Dwarven King? On the one hand, you have a hero (Dain) with a built-in attack and willpower boost to all Dwarven characters, whether they are allies or heroes. However, he does have a weak point in that he must be ready for his ability to work, which means you either have to hold him back from participating in questing and combat or include a readying attachment or two in your deck. On the other side of the equation, the Leadermir/Visionary Leadership combination requires you to first draw the attachment and then pay 2 resources for it, meaning that is inherently more inconsistent than Dain. The positive here is that Boromir doesn’t need to be ready, instead requiring only a single resource in his pool to activate (which is a lower barrier to use than having a ready character, in most cases at least). Once everything is set up, then all Gondor characters get the willpower boost, while only Gondor allies get the attack boost, which makes this combination slightly inferior to Dain in terms of a strict comparison of buffs.
Still, not everything can be Dain, and Visionary Leadership certainly has some powerful applications. Note that it doesn’t even need to be attached to Boromir, as it can be placed on any Gondor hero if you are simply interesting in the willpower boost and not the attack boost. While the extra willpower for allies can certainly have a large impact, I’m particularly intrigued by the possibilities it opens up for Gondor heroes. Suddenly, Caldara doesn’t seem like such a bad deal after all, as you would be getting a 3 willpower hero for only 8 threat. Prince Imrahil becomes even stronger than he was before, as since he can often both quest and engage in combat due to his readying effect, having 3 willpower certainly comes in handy. Imagine the possibilities with Tactics Boromir, who can use his readying ability to both quest with 2 willpower and also fight (right now, it usually isn’t worth it to commit him to a quest with only 1 willpower). Throw Theoden onto the table somewhere, and Tactics Boromir could quest for an amazing 3! This just scratches the surfaces of the possibilities that are out there, but don’t forget that Steward of Gondor kindly grants the Gondor trait to any hero to which it is attached, meaning that they would benefit from Visionary Leadership as well.
Altogether, Visionary Leadership is a fine attachment and a clear candidate for one of the strongest cards in the cycle. When coupled with some of the other willpower boosting options available in the sphere (Sword that was Broken, Faramir, Celebrian’s Stone, etc.), this attachment raises Leadership to a whole new level of questing potency. The cost of 2 is certainly fair for the power Visionary Leadership provides (an argument could be made that it’s actually under-costed), and, as previously mentioned, its main vulnerability is that it has to be drawn first to be used (which can be said about everything except hero abilities). Against quests that feature intense resource hate, Visionary Leadership might also struggle, as it requires 1 resource in a hero’s pool to operate. Finally, obviously the versatility of this card is limited by the fact that it only boosts the willpower of characters with a certain trait. Still, this is perhaps the first card to really make building a Gondor deck seem exciting, and it is valuable on that basis alone.
* Spear of the Mark (Tactics Attachment, 1 cost):
A new weapon for player arsenals in this game is always a cause for celebration. Of course, any such additions will inevitably be compared to its fellows, but Spear of the Mark is notable in the way that it encourages and facilitates staging area assaults:
Attach to a Rohan character. Restricted.
Attached character gets +1 Attack. (+2 Attack instead if attacking an enemy in the staging area).
The Spear of the Mark is also the first weapon to be exclusive to the Rohan trait. This makes perfect sense as Dunhere, the lone hero that has the innate ability to attack the staging area, is a Rohan hero. It also is a logical fit from a thematic perspective, as cavalry forces wielding long spears, which is what the Rohan army is all about, should emphasize the ability to attack enemies from a longer range than others. However, an inherent limitation to this weapon is the fact that there are still only a few options for attacking the staging area outside of Dunhere (Hands Upon the Bow, Great Yew Bow, and the newly released Forth Eorlingas!).
Leaving aside these limitations for a moment, there are certainly some intriguing possibilities presented by the Spear of the Mark. Most obviously, attaching the Spear to Dunhere can allow him to attack the staging area alone for an attack strength of 5. Since there is no limit per character (just the “restricted” keyword), you can throw two copies on Dunhere to pump him up to 7. If you don’t want to use Dunhere, then the other possibility is to attach the Great Yew Bow to a Rohan hero of your choice. The problem is that there are currently no Rohan heroes with the “ranged” keyword, which means that none can use the Great Yew Bow (since the requirement is for a printed “ranged” keyword, something like Dunedain Cache won’t work here). What you would have to do is use Nor Am I A Stranger to give someone like Legolas or Bard the Bowman the Rohan trait. However, I’m a bit dubious about needing three cards to make a combo work (Great Yew Bow, Nor Am I A Stranger, and the Spear itself), although Bard’s -2 defense reduction combined with the Spear’s bonus would certainly be tempting. I also don’t think Spear of the Mark would be worth inclusion if you only plan on using it through the means of a special event, like Forth Eorlingas!. More adventurous players might experiment with recycling that event through Hama and/or the Book of Eldacar to enable a Rohan hero other than Dunhere to consistently benefit from the Spear, but currently that is probably a more niche usage. It also is possible to attach the Spear of the Mark to the Horseback Archer, since the Spear can be used by allies and the Archer has the Rohan trait. Then, Hands Upon the Bow could allow the Horseback Archer with a Spear of the Mark to attack the staging area for 5. This would be fantastic for those who want to experiment with powering up allies, but it suffers from the same problem as the Great Yew Bow/Nor Am I A Stranger/Spear of the Mark combo: too many steps in the process to work consistently and quickly enough to be meaningful. You could also create an even more intricate combination with attaching Nor Am I A Stranger to an ally with ranged, but as none of them have a higher attack value than Horseback Archer, so it’s really not worth the effort.
This means that right now Spear of the Mark is really mainly a toy for Dunhere. Readers should not interpret this as a slight though, as other heroes have attachments that work best (or only) for them. When Dunhere is equipped with one or two copies of Spear of the Mark, along with a readying effect like Unexpected Courage, he can be a devastating force. One question that emerges is whether the Dagger of Westernesse makes Spear of the Mark slightly redundant. Both weapons provide a base bonus of +1 attack. However, the Dagger gives a +2 bonus for attacking an enemy with a higher threat than your engagement cost. Presumably, if you are attacking an enemy in the staging area during the combat phase, then that enemy must have a higher engagement cost, otherwise it would have engaged you during the encounter phase. Thus, the Dagger seems to have more flexibility, as it can seemingly provide bonuses whenever the Spear would, and can also help if you choose to optionally engage an enemy with a higher engagement cost as well. However, there are certain exceptions where this is not the case. Enemies with an equal or higher engagement cost than your threat may be trapped in the staging area due to the effects on a location or quest card, or with the help of player card effects such as Spirit Pippin, A Light in the Dark, Advance Warning, and Fresh Tracks. If these special situations are likely or you are designing specifically with them in mind, then Spear of the Mark might be the better play, otherwise Dagger of Westernesse is probably better. Of course, there is also the possibility of dramatically upping the consistency of your Dunhere Death from Above deck by including 3 copies of both weapons, meaning that your chance of drawing at least one in your opening hand will also be much better. Any additional copies beyond the two that can be placed on Dunhere could be doled out to other heroes. Obviously this would take up valuable deck space, but it might be worth it.
If we get more ranged Rohan characters in the future, and perhaps another character that can attack the staging area (which could make Nor Am I A Stranger a really useful card), then the value of Spear of the Mark will certainly increase. Until then, it does breathe new life into the Dunhere deck, although Dagger of Westernesse steals some of its thunder.
* Steed of the Mark (Spirit Attachment, 1 cost):
Solidifying its reputation as the “Rohan pack”, The Morgul Vale includes a brand new mount attachment. After all, what self-respecting hero of Rohan leaves home without his (or her) faithful steed? Steed of the Mark is an attachment that essentially grants Leadership Aragorn’s ability to any Gondor or Rohan hero:
Attach to a Gondor or Rohan hero.
Response: After attached hero commits to a quest, spend 1 resource from attached hero’s resource pool to ready attached hero.
A player’s evaluation of the utility of this ability will doubtless depend on how they feel about Leadership Aragorn. There are likely some who would argue that having to pay 1 resource each turn for this readying effect makes it too costly, and inferior to other readying options. However, even a couple years removed from the release of the Core Set, I still use Leadership Aragorn quite frequently, and find his ability to be continually useful. In my opinion, action advantage is always worth the cost, and being able to use a hero with strong stats for both questing and combat is invaluable.
So which heroes are good candidates for Steed of the Mark? Theoden is the most natural fit, both because he appears in the same pack and because it makes sense that you would want to be able to take advantage of both his strong willpower (3), and his strong attack and defense. Beyond Theoden, there actually aren’t a ton of intriguing options, as 8 out of 13 of the existing Gondor/Rohan heroes have only 1 willpower (0 in the case of Beregond). Theodred makes for a slightly intriguing option, as the Steed would allow him to finally be able to both use his resource generation ability (which is based on committing to the quest) and his attack of 2. This would make for a nice fit with one of my favorite decks, the mono-Leadership Imrahil/Aragorn/Theodred build, but it would necessitate finding a way to pay for a Spirit card (Celebrian’s Stone is a possibility). Even better, Theodred can also generate resources for himself to use to pay for the Steed’s ability each turn. Beyond Theodred, Eowyn has high willpower, but isn’t much use in combat, so she isn’t a good target. Perhaps the best recipient outside Theoden is Faramir, as he has a strong willpower of 2, has an ability based around engaging in combat, and comes from a sphere (Lore) without many readying effects. Of course, this also necessitates pairing him with a Spirit hero or finding a way to bring in a Spirit icon.
In fact, this is one of the primary weaknesses of Steed of the Mark: its sphere. In some way, Spirit is the logical home of this mount, as that is the sphere which is most dedicated to readying effects. On the other hand, this also means that the Steed faces competition from similar cards in the sphere. If it would have been a Tactics attachment, then it would have worked perfectly in conjunction with Theoden, while placing it in Leadership would have made a great deal of sense since this attachment is resource-intensive (that’s the same reason why the original Aragorn is in the Leadership sphere after all). I can understand not wanting to dilute the distinctiveness of the spheres and I generally support that goal, but it does mean that the Steed of the Mark suffers a bit from comparison with its fellows (Unexpected Courage primarily, but not exclusively).
However, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this card is made obsolete by Unexpected Courage nor would I discard it as useless. I do think it can certainly play a role given that not every player has multiple Core Sets (there is only one copy of U.C. in the base game). Even with 3 copies of the best readying effect around, Steed of the Mark can still play a part if you are looking to maximize the availability or increase the consistency of readying effects in your deck, and its low initial cost of 1 is attractive. Pairing a Steed of the Mark riding hero with Theodred can allow for easy payment of its continual cost, just as it does with Leadership Aragorn. If further mount attachments and/or cards that synergize with mounts are published in the near future, then the value of the Steed of the Mark will surely increase. This seems likely given that the Voice of Isengard expansion is taking us to Rohan very soon.
* Scroll of Isildur (Lore Attachment, 1 cost):
What began with the Book of Eldacar now comes to a close with the Scroll of Isildur. Each sphere has now received a tome, book, map, or scroll that works best with mono-sphere decks to recycle event cards. All of them work in the same fashion, and the Scroll of Isildur is no exception:
Attach to a Lore hero.
Reduce the cost to play Scroll of Isildur by 1 for each hero you control with a printed Lore resource icon.
Action: Discard Scoll of Isildur to play any Lore event card in your discard pile as if it were in your hand. Then, place that event on the bottom of your deck.
Because three of these records have previously been seen and reviewed here, the main question I’ll concern myself with is how the Scroll of Isildur functions within the Lore sphere, and how it compares to the other spheres’ versions of this effect. First, I will say that the Scroll of Isildur is certainly welcome from the perspective that Lore hasn’t previously had a means available for recycling events. Second, Lore has several events that would certainly be worth bringing back and using repeatedly. The prime candidates would be any card draw effects. Imagine using the Scroll of Isildur to recycle and reuse Mithrandir’s Advice (particularly appropriate for a mono-Lore deck), for example. Beyond card draw, there are a few encounter deck manipulation effects that are quite powerful, such as Gildor’s Counsel, Risk Some Light, and Out of the Wild, and would benefit from the possibility of more consistent and frequent usage. However, the problem with those cards, and some other Lore events, is that they are relatively expensive (leaving aside secrecy discounts for some of them), which makes the recycle and reuse strategy a bit more difficult to pull off compared to the cheap events of the Tactics sphere and Book of Eldacar. This isn’t actually that big a deal, though, as these books effectively act as additional copies of certain cards, so if you included them in the first place, it’s likely because you either have tricks to pay for them or feel that they are valuable enough to pay for when they show up.
Probably one of the most frequent uses for the Scroll of Isildur, at least on a personal level, will be to recycle Radagast’s Cunning and Secret Paths. These cheap 1-cost events never disappoint, and being able to use them more frequently can dramatically improve the questing prospects of mono-Lore or Lore-heavy decks. Cancelling threat accomplishes the same goal as willpower boosting, but has the benefit of giving you just what you need in some instances, more so than would ever be possible otherwise (if you don’t believe me, you will when you face the 10-threat location in the Nightmare Journey Along the Anduin scenario). Even just for the purpose of recycling those two cards, I may find it hard to ever leave out the Scroll of Isildur in future mono-Lore decks. Also, Advance Warning was a card that I previously gave a pretty short shrift, but with the rise of staging area attack decks, along with the possibility of recycling it with the Scroll, I may have to change my tune. A mono-Lore Scroll of Isildur/Advance Warning deck could be a perfect counterpart to a Rohan staging area attack deck. In a similar way, Scroll of Isildur makes Take No Notice a more consistent play for Hobbit and Ranger decks, so much so that I may consider bringing that event back into my builds (Hobbit decks are a bit more dicey as they tend to be tri-sphere).
In the grand scheme of record attachments, it is difficult to pin down which sphere gets the best deal. The Book of Eldacar can make a strong claim, as there are plenty of cheap, powerful Tactics events that beg to be recycled (Feint, Foe-hammer, Hands Upon the Bow, Goblin-cleaver, etc.). The Tome of Atanatar could demand the top spot on the basis of Sneak Attack recursion alone. The Map of Earnil, on the other hand, definitely comes in last due to the existence of Dwarven Tomb and the Map’s inability to recycle the Spirit event you would most want to bring back, which is A Test of Will. Scroll of Isildur is definitely quite usable, though I might place it just below the Tome of Atanatar and the Book of Eldacar, not because it is weak, but because those records enable such powerful combinations. As with the other records, I feel that mono-sphere is the logical play for the Scroll, while having two heroes of that sphere makes it still usable, with only one hero probably being the deal-breaker. We are now left with one question, will we ever see a card that plays on the record trait? Gondorian Librarian anyone?
After an in-depth exploration of The Morgul Vale attachments, now only the events remain. Certainly, I would feel comfortable in arguing that the attachments in this pack clearly outshine the hero and the allies. Visionary Leadership alone justifies the price of admission, at least from the perspective of finally and truly opening up the possibilities for the Gondor deck type. However, it still remains to be seen whether the events can make a case of their own. Tune in next time to find out the answer!
Readers, chime in on The Morgul Vale attachments. Just how powerful is Visionary Leadership? Is Dagger of Westernesse or Spear of the Mark a better weapon? When would you use Steed of the Mark? Which is the best of the record attachments?