Deck Spotlight: Traps of Ithilien Revisited
As a Lore fan and trap enthusiast, creating and using the Traps of Ithilien deck featured in a previous Deck Spotlight was both an enjoyable and a frustrating process. While the deck had success in a two-handed solo environment, where I was able to carefully control all the relevant factors (like the starting threat and composition of the other deck), it struggled in pure solo and true mutiplayer games, the former because of a lack of balance and the latter because of uneven threat levels among decks, which would end up pulling enemies out of the staging area too quickly. Still, the pure fun factor of using traps and the potential of Faramir made me unwilling to give up on either or the deck type as a whole. Thus, I’m doing something a bit different in this Deck Spotlight, as I revisit a previous deck, the Traps of Ithilien build, and provide an in-depth look at how I went about upgrading and transforming it into something more powerful.
First, let’s take a look at the changes I made to the original Traps of Ithilien decklist:
Theme: Traps, Direct Damage, and Threat Reduction
While the original theme focused on traps, direct damage, and staging area attacks, the new version removes a bit of the direct damage, and all of the cards focused on staging area attacks (Great Yew Bow, Song of Battle, Ithilien Pit, and Hands Upon the Bow). Part of the reason for this change is of course a result of removing Tactics from the equation completely, but this was also an intentional decision based on play experience. While staging area attacks are almost always useful, the entire play strategy of trap decks generally and Faramir specifically revolves around keeping enemies in the staging area, and while this seems like the perfect set-up for sniping them, in practice it often feels a bit redundant. More importantly, I’ve replaced staging area attacks with something even more crucial: threat reduction
Spheres: Lore/Spirit (2/3 Lore and 1/3 Spirit)
The most important transformation to this deck was kicking out Tactics completely and introducing Spirit. I wanted to maintain 2 Lore heroes in order to have enough resources to pay for expensive traps and allies of that sphere, especially in the absence of resource generation. While I toyed with the idea of bringing in Leadership in order to pay for everything, Spirit was the ideal fit.
Strategy: This deck ups the ante over the original by starting with an even lower threat of 22, rather than 24. Mirlonde pays for her spot in this respect, but Spirit Glorfindel deserves most of the credit, as usual. Even more importantly, threat reduction in the form of The Galadhrim’s Greeting and Elrond’s Counsel can drop this deck’s threat to low levels and keep it there for the majority of a game. This is a vital part of the deck’s strategy, as it works in tandem with Ranger Spikes to keep enemies in the staging area. Not only does this feed Faramir’s attack strength, but it also allows the deck to pick off enemies through selective optional engagements (with Faramir using his boosted attack strength to good effect) and direct damage. In terms of the latter, the low threat gives time for Poisoned Stakes to deal damage to enemies or for copies of Ranger Bow to whittle them down, all without having to engage in combat. The danger of having enemies in the staging area is that this may slow down questing, but the addition of Spirit allows for the inclusion of allies with strong willpower. A final note about the overall strategy of keeping enemies in the staging area is that this helps cover for the main weakness of the deck: the lack of a strong defender. When necessary, Faramir, with a little help from Arwen, can fill this role, as long as it doesn’t happen too often, and once strong allies are dumped into play, then the weakness becomes less glaring. I do wish I could’ve included some healing (specifically Warden of Healing), but there just wasn’t any room. Fortunately, the allies in this deck (and the heroes) tend to have large pools of hit points.
Another great advantage to including Spirit is access to readying effects. With Light of Valinor on Glorfindel and Unexpected Courage on Faramir, all three heroes can quest for a total of 7 willpower by themselves, while still having two characters available for combat (with a combined attack power of 6 between Faramir and Glorfindel). Faramir can also use his additional action to make use of Ranger Bow if no enemies are engaged or will be engaged.
Yet another important element of this deck’s strategy is using card draw and Lore tricks, along with the time provided by low threat, to build up a collection of allies and attachments that can ultimately decimate anything served up by the encounter deck. The inclusion of Elf-stone allows me to bring expensive allies like Anborn, Haldir, and Damrod into play for 1 resource, and I only include 1 or 2 copies of each because I have card draw and don’t necessarily need to get all of them into play. Having a variety of unique ally targets for Elf-stone is more important than nabbing any particular one, and I avoid having my hand clogged with multiples this way as well. Speaking of card draw, Gleowine is a key card in this deck and should be put into play as soon as possible, while Master of the Forge is absolutely amazing, grabbing traps and crucial attachments (Light of Valinor, Unexpected Courage, etc.) almost every turn. Even if I don’t get the most important cards in my opening hand (which are Light of Valinor and probably A Test of Will), I can be fairly secure in getting them quickly thanks to these card draw options.
How It Was Constructed: In general, one of the main things that hindered the potential of the original version of this deck was my dedication to keeping it as thematic as possible, with only limited concessions to gameplay considerations. However, for this deck, I’ve largely thrown those concerns out the window and unleashed the beast. Being able to include non-Ranger, thematically incongruous characters like Gleowine and Master of the Forge dramatically improved the strength of this deck by bringing in much-needed card draw. Being able to pull in an extra card each turn with Gleowine, while fetching attachments/traps at a much faster rate with the Master, is almost enough by itself to take this deck to another level of power.
The “renovation” process of this deck really centered around keeping those elements that were essential to the deck’s identity as a ranger trap build, and then removing the remaining cards to make room for more powerful and broadly applicable effects. At the end of the day, I settled on Anborn, Ranger Spikes, Ranger Bow, and Poisoned Stakes as the core ranger/trap cards. I cut Ithilien Pit, not because it has no use, but in order to make room for other attachments. Advance Warning was effectively supplanted with threat reduction (although certain low engagement cost enemies can sneak through). Specialized combat-minded allies like Mirkwood Runner and Silvan Tracker, which were previously included for thematic purposes (I tend to associate woodland Elves with rangers), made way for allies with core game effects, like Master of the Forge, Gleowine, and Henamarth Riversong. Removing the staging area attack cards, along with the defensive effects (Gondorian Shield and A Burning Brand), was part and parcel of a gambit to sacrifice defense for questing (Asfaloth, Arwen, West Road Traveller), readying (Light of Valinor, Unexpected Courage), and ally dumping (Elf-stone). Generally, the blitzkrieg direct damage focus, which is highly specialized and prone to stalling, has been replaced by a turtling approach. It still won’t be successful against every quest, but it does have a bit more versatility and overall balance.
1) Faramir + Ranger Spikes + Anborn: Ranger Spikes is perhaps the main card of this deck, and all trap decks in general. Here, it provides a triple whammy: 1) neutralizing enemy threat (and combat responsibilities) in order to facilitate questing, 2) trapping enemies in the staging area to minimize defensive duties, and 3) boosting Faramir’s attack strength through said trapping. Faramir can use his boosted attack strength from trapped enemies to kill those that do slip through, or to pull down and pick off non-trapped foes one-by-one. When the time is right, I can use Ranger Bow and/or Forest Patrol to destroy a trapped enemy, freeing up Ranger Spikes so that Anborn can retrieve it, which provides yet another use of this key attachment. In terms of cancelling enemy threat in the staging area, the Ithilien Tracker serves up a useful, temporary alternative. Just remember not to waste the Ithilien Tracker’s action if you have an unattached copy of Ranger Spikes in the staging area already, as the effect will be redundant!
2) Poisoned Stakes + Ranger Bow + Forest Patrol: There is still plenty of direct damage to be had in this version of the deck, with the combination of these 3 cards being able to deal 6 damage in a single turn. Of course, it does require some setting up, but the card draw in this deck makes this combo much more consistent than it was in the original build. The great thing about this combo is that it doesn’t need all three cards to function. Ranger Bow is an extremely flexible form of direct damage on its own and finds a good home on Faramir or Ithilien Tracker. Poisoned Stakes can work well on its own to wear down enemies while they sit in the staging area thanks to a low threat level. Forest Patrol does require at least one trap to function, but can speed up the process of destroying a tough enemy with Poisoned Stakes attached, or can dispatch a Ranger Spike-d enemy to free up that key trap.
3) Elf-stone + Damrod: Damrod is typically an ally that I have kept far away from my decks, due to his high cost and limited utility. Threat reduction is nice, but how many times will the staging area be filled up with enough enemies to justify discarding this ally (and using up the resources to get him on the table in the first place)? Elf-stone, however, makes all the difference, as now Damrod can be brought into play for a single resource. He provides strong stats and is capable in combat, and can also provide emergency threat reduction for the more difficult quests, with the deck’s strategy of keeping enemies in the staging area bolstering the impact of this effect.
4) Henamarth Riversong + traps: Scrying effects are a perfect complement to traps, as they allow a player to ascertain the best moment to drop a copy of Ranger Spikes or Poisoned Stakes into the staging area. There’s nothing more frustrating than watching a weak little minion fall into your valuable Spikes or Stakes, and so Henamarth Riversong can allow you to avoid this eventuality. Similarly, enemies that you don’t want to trap in the staging area, because they have archery or a harmful “while in play” effect can be strategically spared. To take the reverse case, this ally can also make sure that you are able to save your traps for those enemies that are most dangerous and should be kept at arm’s length.
Variations: The original version of this deck is of course a variation, and although I’ve been a bit hard on it here, it can still be fun and thematic to play under the right circumstances. However, as a bonus, I’ll go ahead and provide another full-fledged variation on this deck, if someone else is greedily taking up Glorfindel in multiplayer or you want to try something a bit different:
Faramir (AoO) x1
Frodo Baggins (CatC) x1
Pippin (TBR) x1
Anborn (TBoG) x2
Arwen Undomiel (TWitW) x2
Damrod (HON) x1
Dori (OHaUH) x2
Haldir of Lorien (AJtR) x1
Gleowine (Core) x2
Henamarth Riversong (Core) x2
Ithilien Archer (EaAD) x2
Ithilien Tracker (HON) x2
Master of the Forge (SaF) x2
West Road Traveller (RtM) x3
Elf-stone (TBR) x3
Poisoned Stakes (TBoG) x3
Ranger Bow (AoO) x2
Ranger Spikes (HON) x3
Unexpected Courage (Core) x2
Fast Hitch (TDM) x2
Good Meal (TRG) x3
Hobbit Pipe (TBR) x3
A Test of Will (Core) x3
The Galadhrim’s Greeting (Core) x3
Smoke Rings (TBR) x2
This version is not quite as powerful as the Glorfindel edition, but it is quite enjoyable to play. Lore Pippin helps propel the overall strategy by raising all enemy engagement costs by 2, while Frodo provides a nice defensive option when combat is necessary. The Glorfindel attachments and events (Light of Valinor, Asfaloth, Elrond’s Counsel) have been replaced with Hobbit-centric cards (Good Meal, Hobbit Pipe, Fast Hitch, and Smoke Rings). Good Meal helps lower the cost of The Galadhrim’s Greeting to an affordable 1, Fast Hitch provides additional actions, and Hobbit Pipe/Smoke Rings add threat reduction to make up for the absence of Elrond’s Counsel (in addition to card draw).
Final Thoughts: While this updated version of the Traps of Ithilien deck makes use of all-star Glorfindel once again, as well as some typical power cards, it still is a blast to play thanks to the trap elements. There are some weaknesses to this deck. Most importantly, it is lacking a really strong defender against quests with terrifyingly strong enemies, although the unique allies and Dori can help make up for this deficiency. Also, certain scenarios may prove especially difficult: those with low engagement cost enemies, those that feature enemies with troubling effects while they remain in play (archery springs to mind), and those that involve siege questing. Still, despite those flaws, this deck can work quite well to absolutely own the encounter deck. More importantly, it has renewed my faith in Faramir. Now if we could just find a good replacement for The Most Interesting Elf In The World (a.k.a. Glorfindel)…