Card Spotlight: Dunedain Watcher
Today’s article places a card that is near and dear to my heart under the microscope: the Dunedain Watcher. Usually, the cards I choose are easier to distance myself from, as they tend to be the ones that hang out with Brok Ironfist in my binder more often than they see the table. Dunedain Watcher, however, is no dust collector (hold your tongue, sir!). In fact, I’ve made great use of her as a component of one of my favorite decks: a mono-Leadership build centered around Aragorn, Prince Imarhil, and Theodred. Still, there are plenty of players out there who dispute the value of this ally (heathens! blasphemers!), which makes her a good candidate for the spotlight. Much is on the line in this latest installment. Will my affection be confirmed? Or will a great betrayal occur as I cast the Dunedain Watcher into the shadow? Read on to find out!
Dunedain Watcher is a 3-cost ally from the Leadership sphere with the following ability:
Response: Discard Dunedain Watcher from play to cancel the shadow effects of a card just triggered.
You really can’t get much more straightforward than that, as it’s clear that this ally has one use: to cancel shadow effects. Thus, there aren’t a ton of potential combos or sneaky tricks to discuss. Rather, the question revolves around whether the value of this effect and the ally itself justify the cost and the deck space.
There really is no debate to be had about whether or not cancelling shadow effects is important or powerful. The wrong shadow effect can kill a valuable character or threat you out. Even if it is not something so drastic, shadow effects can also foil your best-laid plans in ways that have long-term effects. Maybe that shadow card sends the enemy back to the staging area so that you are not able to kill it, which ends up costing you a victory. Maybe it discards a valuable attachment that is a crucial part of your board position with no replacement in sight. Maybe it causes the enemy to attack again and you have no more defenders to spare. In all these cases, you may be left cursing the fickle nature of fortune and the encounter deck, but perhaps you can only really blame yourself for not including cancellation.
Thus, the value of Dunedain Watcher’s effect should be crystal clear. However, there is one damning argument against her, and that is the existence of better and cheaper alternatives for cancelling shadow effects. The prime example is Hasty Stroke, a Spirit event that costs only 1 resource to cancel a shadow effect. By contrast, Dunedain Watcher seems costly and clunky, using up 3 resources for the job Hasty Stroke does for 1, not to mention burning up an ally as well. The Lore sphere has A Burning Brand, which costs only 2 resources and cancels shadow effects forever! Dunedain Watcher certainly seems outclassed in comparison.
However, there is one problem with this analysis: it assumes the inclusion of certain spheres. While including Spirit or Lore in your Leadership deck may indeed make Dunedain Watcher redundant, what if you’re not planning on using those spheres? What if you want to play a mono-Leadership build? What if you have a hankering for some Leadership/Tactics action? This is why I think it’s generally misleading to judge the value of a card based on potential replacements in other spheres. The real comparison should be against competitors in the same sphere (in fact, doing otherwise is negating the whole importance of spheres in the first place). This is especially important to take into consideration as effects that pop up in spheres that usually don’t specialize in that particular area tend to be weaker, more expensive, and/or have more restrictions. Dunedain Watcher is a perfect example, as shadow cancellation is the specialty of Spirit, not Leadership, and thus any Leadership effects that take on this task will of course be inferior.
Therefore, the real competition for the Watcher is the two Leadership cards that can cancel shadows: Balin and Dawn Take You All:
The former is a 2-cost event that allows each player to choose and discard 1 facedown shadow card. Despite being cheaper than Dunedain Watcher, it has never really caught on as a staple card, even for mono-Leadership, because it doesn’t allow you to cancel a shadow effect so much as blindly avoid one without the benefit of knowing what it is that you are spending resources to discard. For all you know, you may end up getting rid of something horrible, but gamer’s luck being what it is, you’re probably more likely to spend those resources to chuck a shadow card with no effect on it. This level of inconsistency may be fine for a 0-cost card, but becomes a bit hard to stomach for 2 resources. It doesn’t help matters that Dawn Take You All can’t even combine with Silver Lamp, as it can only discard “facedown” shadows. Thus, Dunedain Watcher, which can cancel a shadow effect that you know poses a danger, just like Hasty Stroke, blows Dawn Take You All out of the water.
On the other hand, Balin is probably the pre-eminent Leadership option for shadow cancellation. For the cost of 1 resource, Balin allows players to essentially take a mulligan on a shadow effect. This isn’t quite as powerful as Hasty Stroke, as there is a chance that you may draw something just as bad or worse to replace the effect you were trying to avoid, but it does have the advantage of being endlessly repeatable, since it’s on a hero. The continual cost is also not as much of an issue as it seems, since Leadership is the sphere that can generate resources like no other. The biggest drawback of Balin is simply that he takes up a hero slot. Not every Leadership decks will want his services, and this is where Dunedain Watcher has the advantage, as she can be put into any Leadership deck. In fact, there’s no reason not to include the Watcher even if you do have Balin, as she provides a valuable backup in case the second shadow Balin reveals is too nasty to accept. I have used this Balin/Dunedain Watcher “redundancy system” to great effect in some of my mono-Leadership decks, with Balin being the first line of defense in cancelling shadows and the Watcher sweeping up anything terrible that sneaks by. Of course, in Leadership decks that don’t include Balin, I would argue that Dunedain Watcher is a must-have, especially when facing those scenarios that feature potentially disastrous shadow effects. Sure, you can hope to avoid them, but this puts your deck at the mercy of fate and lessens its consistency in achieving victory.
One issue that the Dunedain Watcher does have is the cost. 3 resources is substantial, but I feel that there are a few mitigating factors that mean that this potential flaw might be a bit overblown. The first is the fact that, as mentioned with Balin, the Leadership sphere is flush with resources so that 3 resources is not as onerous as it might be for other spheres. Second, some might say that Dunedain Watcher does the same job as Hasty Stroke for a full 2 resources more. However, the difference is that Dunedain Watcher provides an ally that can add 1 willpower to questing or 1 attack to combat. This might seem negligible, but it can make a difference while you keep her in reserve until you need the shadow cancellation. The really fantastic aspect of her ability is that you just have to discard her to use it, rather than exhausting AND discarding. This is a crucial difference, as it allows you to get use out of her every turn without worrying about keeping her ready to use the ability. To be honest, her stats are not great for the cost, as she is really outclassed by other 3-cost allies in that respect, but the overall package is worth it. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Leadership doesn’t have the greatest selection of allies beyond a few stand-outs and outside of Dwarf/Outlands decks, and most tend to be a bit costly.
If there is a potential weakness to Dunedain Watcher, it’s that she may be replaced in the future by stronger shadow cancellation options for Leadership. On the other hand, there’s always the possibility that the Dunedain trait may get some attention in the future, which would increase her value. Currently, Aragorn Leadership decks with Sword that was Broken turn her into a 2 willpower quester, which definitely makes her a lock for a deck slot. There isn’t much to combo off of her actual ability, but the fact that she leaves play is an amazing rich source of synergy these days, from gaining a resource from Horn of Gondor to readying her Leadership pal Imrahil just in time for a counter-attack to providing card draw for Leadership through Valiant Sacrifice to boosting Eomer’s attack strength. Are you not entertained?
The time for the final judgement has arrived. To reiterate the main point here, if you are running Spirit or Lore along with Leadership, then you have access to better cancellation options and Dunedain Watcher’s importance decreases dramatically. However, if you are not running those spheres, then Dunedain Watcher can be clutch. It’s also important to harp on the necessity of including multiple options for crucial effects, as relying on a single card, say Hasty Stroke, may mean that you never see it in a game, while if you had another option, say Dunedain Watcher, your deck would have greater consistency. Overall, I’d have to say the verdict is quite clear, and though I may be accused of rank bias, I will deliver it with gusto. Dunedain Watcher, I now pronounce you a…