Voice of Isengard: Events Review
The time has come to wrap up the Voice of Isengard player cards review. Of all the cards in this expansion, the events are perhaps the most controversial, as every single one contains the Doomed keyword. This is a design decision that is definitely positive, in that it quickly provides a set of cards that can help constitute a new deck type (the “Doomed deck”), but could also be construed as negative, in that if you’re not interested in that particular play-style, then there might not be much here for you. Of course, this is not a new problem by any means, as a similar critique was made of the inclusion of so many mono-sphere cards in the Against the Shadow cycle. Still, love them or hate them, there’s no escaping your doom(ed)!
* Legacy of Numenor (Leadership Event, 0 cost, Doomed 4):
This card has the highest Doomed cost of all the cards in this expansion. Interestingly, when it was first spoiled, Legacy of Numenor actually had a Doomed cost of three, but this was changed to four for the actual release. If nothing else, this modification is an indication of the power provided by this event’s resource generation effect:
Action: Add 1 resource to each hero’s resource pool.
There is no debate about whether or not this is a good or worthwhile effect. Essentially doubling the number of resources collected by your heroes during a turn is amazing, and even more so if you can play this event in the first few rounds of a game. In fact, I would say that the primary role of this card is as an early game accelerator. Don’t get me wrong, extra resources are usually welcome at any point in a game, unless you’re already using a resource flush deck, in which case, you’re not really that interested in Legacy of Numenor anyway. However, the true power of this card is in increasing the rate at which you can get key attachments and allies onto the board in the first or second turn.
Just imagine starting the first round with six resources rather than three. Suddenly, four-cost cards become immediately available, if you are running at least two heroes from that sphere. With only one hero from a given sphere, you could play one of those crucial two-cost attachments right away, instead of having to wait one turn, which can be crucial. This is such a powerful effect at a vital time that it would be worth taking a mulligan for to make sure that it is in your opening hand. Against the most difficult quests, which usually slam you with enemies and threat from the very beginning, a fast start can be the difference between defeat and victory. In order to increase the probability of drawing this card in your opening hand, you could include The Seeing-stone to act as extra copies of Legacy of Numenor. Since this card is zero-cost, substituting threat for resources, you will always be able to play it (assuming you can stomach the Doomed), which distinguishes it from something like Steward of Gondor, where a single Leadership hero will have to wait one turn to pay for it, and the next turn to actually start reaping dividends (of course, the Steward has many, many advantages of its own, but that’s a separate article).
However, there is one drawback here and it’s real: raising every player’s threat by four. If an encounter card did such a thing, players would scream bloody murder, but here you’re bringing it down on your own head. This event scales well for multiplayer in that every player must bear the cost equally and all benefit equally, but provides a trickier situation than solo in that it is harder to manage the threat of a bunch of players than just one. Still, I can imagine situations where players would agree to take on the four threat in exchange for the resources. The trouble is that this added threat may cause real engagement problems, causing swarms of enemies to come down earlier than they should (or a particularly nasty foe, for that matter), and this is particularly an issue for high-threat Tactics decks. Sure, such decks are made for combat anyway, but they still require some time to get set up (although Legacy will help with this hopefully).
I see a few possibilities for overcoming the threat disadvantage of Legacy of Numenor:
1) Every player runs low threat decks, so that even with the Doomed 4, they are still at a reasonable level. This is simple in solo play, and gets increasingly difficult with more players and fewer hero options, but still is possible.
2) Threat reduction is immediately available in at least one player’s opening hand. Technically, this may be an area where multiplayer has an advantage, as more players can include threat reduction, which increases the chance of drawing it early. On the other hand, more players will need their threat reduced. In a three of four player game, this may be a situation where it makes sense to use The Galadhrim’s Greeting to reduce each player’s threat by two (rather than reducing one player by six), which would essentially cut Legacy of Numenor’s Doomed cost in half.
3) The player(s) as a whole have enough tricks and/or combat capability to handle enemies right away.
All in all, there will be certain scenarios where keeping a low threat is so important that Legacy of Numenor will simply be a luxury that you can’t afford. Another negative aspect of this event is that even though you will be tempted to include three copies to make sure that you can draw it early, subsequent copies after the first will become more and more undesirable to play, and thus may end up as dead cards in your hand. As such, I have a hard time believing that Legacy of Numenor will ever become a permanent staple of most decks. However, it would be unwise to underestimate the power of this card, as for those who are willing to build around it, it can be an absolute game-changer. In fact, it is clearly the most powerful of the event cards, in my opinion at least, with only Deep Knowledge rivaling it.
* Deep Knowledge (Lore Event, 0 cost, Doomed 2):
With resource generation and card draw being the most crucial and complementary of effects, Legacy of Numenor finds its Doomed counterpart in Deep Knowledge, and just as Legacy exchanges threat for resources, this event trades in cash for cards:
Action: Each player draws 2 cards.
Another commonality is the fact that Deep Knowledge grants all players an equal benefit, while asking them to take on the same penalty as well. Drawing cards is certainly valuable, and being able to use a single effect to enable all players to draw is even better, as most of the time you have to choose one player to reap the benefit. In this way, Deep Knowledge is very efficient, and its card drawing power in multiplayer is unparalleled. The closest equivalent is the Leadership event, Campfire Tales, which is one resource for one card. While one cost is not much for the resource rich Leadership sphere, the zero-cost Deep Knowledge saves a resource and enables each player to draw two cards, rather than one. The difference between one card and two is certainly significant enough to warrant raising each player’s threat by two.
What about solo play? Is two threat for two cards a good deal? The picture is a bit more unclear here. Looking at Daeron’s Runes, that zero-cost Lore event allows you to draw two cards, just as Deep Knowledge does, although you have to discard one card from your hand afterwards. This essentially serves as the drawback of the card, replacing the Doomed cost of Deep Knowledge. I would have to say that I would usually rather discard a card than raise my threat, as there is almost always one card in your hand after drawing that is surplus to requirements. Since both cards are zero-cost, I would give the edge to Daeron’s Runes in solo play. The bigger problem is that Deep Knowledge is part of the Lore sphere, and there are so many card draw options for the solo player if you’re using solo anyway, even if you’re exclusively looking at zero or one-cost options (Expert Treasure-hunter, Mithrandir’s Advice for mono-Lore, Legacy of Durin for Dwarves, etc.). Of course, you could stack Deep Knowledge with other card draw effects, and it synergizes well with the Isengard Messenger and Keys of Orthanc, so it does have use in solo play.
In a more general sense, the Doomed cost of Deep Knowledge is half that of Legacy of Numenor. Because of that fact, while it does not have the same immediate impact as Legacy, it can be played more often and multiple copies in hand do not necessarily lose their value. Similarly, Deep Knowledge can show up at any point during a game and be useful. Finally, I anticipate that this event, because of its relatively low Doomed cost and broad applicability, will show up in more decks than any of the others in this set.
* The Wizard’s Voice (Tactics Event, 0 cost, Doomed 3):
Generally, attack cancellation cards are some of the most powerful in the game, as they free up characters for attack, avoid shadow effects altogether, and prevent powerful enemies from destroying characters or dealing damage. This is why Feint is still and probably always be a core card for Tactics decks. In this context, The Wizard’s Voice provides another option in this regard for Tactics:
Action: Each player chooses 1 enemy engaged with him. Until the end of the phase, each chosen enemy cannot attack the player that chose it.
Unlike Feint, Thicket of Spears, Hobbit-sense, and Out of Sight, The Wizard’s Voice allows all players to stop one enemy from attacking. In solo play, this distinction is meaningless, and I would see no reason to pick The Wizard’s Voice over Feint in a one player/one deck game. You could use both, of course, and essentially double up on available attack cancellation, but the Doomed 3 cost is quite high. I would much rather pay the one resource for Feint, especially since Tactics decks tend to struggle with threat management more than any other sphere. If you really want that much attack cancellation, you’re better off using Book of Eldacar and/or Hama.
In multiplayer, this event definitely has more value, as it could allow every player to avoid an attack, thus potentially setting up a key round of combat where players can launch a massive strike without having to hold a bunch of characters back for defense. One could say that decks tend to specialize in questing and combat in multiplayer, and thus certain decks may have no need of such an effect, but realistically in three and four player games so many enemies are revealed that almost every deck will have to engage with foes at some point. This is particularly true in the most difficult quests. On the other hand, there is merit to that argument, in that certain decks in multiplayer will tend to build up a strong defending hero with sentinel and several other sentinel options (who can block for questing decks), and questing decks might perhaps find chump blocking easier than raising threat. It also must be kept in mind that the Doomed cost of three is so high that it may pump up players’ threat so that they will end up engaging more enemies on the next turn, but The Wizard’s Voice can be useful to get players out of a bind when defenders are in short supply or enemies with high attack strength are on the board (such as a troll quest or one of the Heirs of Numenor scenarios).
Overall, I do really enjoy the theme of this event, as it touches on the ability of Saruman to persuade both friends and foes alike with just the power of his voice. I also love that we are starting to see actual spells in the game! In terms of gameplay, though, this is a bit of a mixed bag because of the high threat cost. I do like that this is a zero-cost event, unlike Feint and the other cancellation options, as sometimes you may have no Tactics resources left by the time you get to the combat phase. Still, the selective targeting of Feint will usually be enough in most games, even in multiplayer. However, The Wizard’s Voice does have situational value, and while it falls below Legacy of Numenor and Deep Knowledge in general usability, it may yet prove its quality in combat-heavy quests and Nightmare scenarios that flood the board with enemies.
* Power of Orthanc (Spirit Event, 0 cost, Doomed 2):
For some time, players have been clamoring for a new method for disposing of condition attachments, other than Miner of the Iron Hills. Power of Orthanc has arrived as a solution from the Spirit sphere:
Action: Each player may choose and discard a Condition attachment from play.
There’s actually not too much to discuss here, as this is a situational card to deal with a specific problem. Not every scenario features condition attachments, while others contain those that are relatively easy to work around, and there is little point to including Power of Orthanc (or Miner of the Iron Hills, for that matter) for those quests. On the other hand, there are especially troublesome condition attachments in some quests, with Local Trouble from Heirs of Numenor being one example, and having a means of dealing with these is certainly welcome.
The advantage that Power of Orthanc has over Miner of the Iron Hills is that it is a zero-cost event instead of a two-cost ally. While having an extra body around for chump blocking is useful once the Miner removes a condition (not to mention general use if Dain is in play), it also can be detrimental to use up an ally slot for such a purpose, as well as two resources. Of course, this event carries its own unique cost in the form of threat, but the Doomed cost of two is relatively reasonable compared to some of the other Doomed events, and could be easily sold to other players in multiplayer as a sacrifice for the greater good, as condition attachments can ultimately hinder everyone’s chances of winning.
Another noteworthy element of Power of Orthanc is that it is from the Spirit sphere, whereas Miner of the Iron Hills and the spoiled Elrond ally from the upcoming The Road Darkens Saga Expansion, which also removes condition attachemnts, both hail from Lore. While Spirit has provided the only other means of countering conditions previously, through cancelling the treachery itself so that the attachment never triggers, it’s nice to have actual condition removal in a sphere other than Lore (and certain condition attachments cannot be canceled). It’s also notable that this is the only option that can remove multiple condition attachments at once, albeit only in multiplayer, and each player can choose to remove any one they want, even a condition that is affecting another player. While usually there is only one in play at any given moment, there are situations where multiple copies hit the board, and this can become quite troublesome. Thus, Power of Orthanc is not something you’ll need in every deck, but it is a helpful and much-needed tool against specific quests.
* Seeing-stone (Neutral Event, 0 cost, Doomed 1):
With Voice of Isengard providing a Doomed event card for each sphere, as well as a Doomed hero (Grima) and ally (Saruman), it is clearly meant to usher in a new deck type. To go along with these effects, a neutral fetch event has also been included:
Action: Search your deck for a card with the Doomed keyword and add it to your hand. Shuffle your deck.
You can look at this card as serving one of two purposes. First, if you are really only interested in splashing in a certain Doomed effect, perhaps Legacy of Numenor for an early game acceleration or Power of Orthanc for condition removal, then The Seeing-stone can act as extra copies of that card (meaning that if you draw one of the three copies of the event you’re looking for, then that’s fantastic, but if not, drawing The Seeing-stone will allow you to fetch it when needed). The second purpose would be as a general facilitator of a Doomed deck that includes several different effects of this kind. Rather than being used to grab one particular card, The Seeing-stone instead would be employed to pick out whichever card was most helpful at a given moment, or to trigger certain effects that require the Doomed keyword (Isengard Messenger, Orthanc Guard, Keys of Orthanc, etc.). This latter use, as a trigger, is valid, and could be useful since this is the event with the lowest Doomed cost. Thus, you could include this card if you want to have a low threat means of activating certain effects, even if you don’t particularly care about the fetch function.
So is The Seeing-stone worth the space in your deck? It certainly can serve a purpose, but at the same time you always have to walk a fine balance between support cards and those that will make a direct impact on the board. For example, having “extra copies” of Legacy of Numenor or Power of Othanc is great, but what happens when you’ve used one and don’t need anymore, and now you’re stuck with not only extra copies of that event but The Seeing-stone as well? Similarly, having a low threat trigger or general fetch is certainly not a waste, but you have to keep in mind that is taking up space in your deck that could have been occupied by something that may have perhaps been even more crucial to your success. This is therefore a card that is not amenable to an easy verdict, but rather has a value that is highly dependent on your particular deck and needs to be cut or added based on experimenting with the right balance.
It’s hard to believe, but the Voice of Isengard player cards review has come to a close already! With only a short time to experiment with these cards in actual gameplay, it’s difficult to deliver a definitive verdict on these player cards as a whole, especially since much depends on the rest of the cycle. When Heirs of Numenor was released, for example, I was underwhelmed by some cards that have become staples in my decks, while others impressed me at first glance but haven’t seen as much play. So I will learn my lesson and avoid any grandiose statements here. What I will say is that we have a solid batch of cards that have enhanced Rohan and successfully introduced the Doomed archetype, enough so that you can build a solid Doomed deck with only the cards in this expansion. In those terms, Voice of Isengard has hit the mark. On the other hand, will cards like Silver Lamp, Rohan Warhorse, and Legacy of Numenor reach the status of (now) core cards from Heirs, like Ranger Spikes, Defender of Rammas, and Errand-rider? Only time will tell.