The Dunland Trap: Events Review
It is time to finish off player card review of The Dunland Trap. It’s hard to believe after the long drought, but the second AP of the Ring-maker cycle, The Three Trials, is due to hit stores just one week from now, on July 24 (this is the U.S. date, at least). That means that before you know it, it will be time to review the player cards of a new AP. It’s likely that this fast pace will continue for the rest of the cycle, which means that these reviews will keep coming fast and furious. Before we get ahead of ourselves though, what do the events of The Dunland Trap have to offer?
* Swift and Silent (Leadership Event, 1 cost):
Swift and Silent introduces a new type of Secrecy card, one that provides a special benefit for Secrecy players other than a cost discount (and without actually mentioning the Secrecy keyword). Non-Secrecy players can use Swift and Silent at the same cost and with the same benefit, but players who have their threat at 20 or below get to return it to their hand:
I really like this approach to Secrecy, because it provides a card that is useful and quite playable to everyone in a disposable form, while still giving an incentive to build Secrecy decks by making these cards repeatable under those conditions. Just how useful and playable is this event to non-Secrecy players though? Swift and Silent essentially works like an event form of Cram, readying a hero of your choice, although it has to be one under your control. The latter is an important consideration, as Cram, which I’ll be comparing constantly as the nearest equivalent, can be placed on another player’s hero. Cram also has the advantage in terms of cost, as it is 0-cost as opposed to 1 for Swift and Silent. This, of course, is a vital distinction as having something you can play at any time without any resources is extraordinarily useful compared to having to pay even 1 resource that could go elsewhere (or might not be available). Then again, Leadership is the sphere of resource generation, so this might not be as formidable a consideration as it might be for another sphere. One advantage that Swift and Silent does have over Cram is that it can be played during any action window, meaning that you can always choose the hero who you most need to ready at a given moment. By contrast, since Cram is an attachment, you have to do some planning in advance and place it on the hero who might need the readying. Generally, you can figure out who will need the action advantage based on their stats, their role in your deck, and the general board state, but there are times when you are left wishing that you had attached Cram to a different hero. Swift and Silent does not have this issue. All told, the verdict on Swift and Silent for non-Secrecy players is a bit of a wash. While it is more flexible than Cram, I feel like I would still pick the latter in most cases because of its lower cost. Of course, you could include both for those scenarios that really require action advantage, but dedicating 6 spots of your deck to one-shot readying is a bit much in most cases.
The situation definitely changes for Secrecy players, who can make use of this card every round if they so desire, and for as long as they can keep their threat at 20 or below. This transforms Swift and Silent from being a Cram equivalent to almost an Unexpected Courage equivalent, although with a continuous cost that must be paid each round. Since one of the key weaknesses of Secrecy is action advantage, along with resource generation, this card is a fantastic way to address the issue. In fact, if I’m playing Secrecy and Leadership, this event is an auto-include for me. Keep in mind, though, that if you’re only playing a 2 hero Secrecy deck, that Swift and Silent would essentially take up half of your resources each turn until you get some resource generation into play. On the other hand, there’s nothing to say that you have to use it each round or will need to use it each round. Rather, since Swift and Silent is an event and does have the flexibility mentioned before, it can be used after questing and when it has become clear whether one of your heroes will be needed for combat this turn. Even better, if you really need a massive amount of readying for one particular turn, you could actually use Swift and Silent twice during the same round, although it is discarded after the second use regardless of your threat level. With 3 copies in your deck, Swift and Silent offers a ton of readying options and the needed flexibility that Secrecy desires. Even if I were using Spirit and Unexpected Courage (or Light of Valinor), I still probably would bring Swift and Silent along, depending on my hero composition, as action advantage is that important.
* Close Call (Tactics Event, 0 cost):
Close Call takes the trade-damage-for-threat ability of Frodo and puts it into event form:
Frodo is an extremely useful hero that can be a tool in defeating certain scenarios that put a premium on defense, such as Battle of Lake-town, Shadow and Flame, or the recently released The Dunland Trap. When played in the right deck, with threat reduction and a low starting threat, Frodo can provide a near impregnable defense. However, does this ability still prove as useful when taken off a hero and placed onto an event?
There are certainly quite a few differences. Since Frodo is a hero, you can count on his ability being available every single turn from the very beginning of a game. This 100% consistency is one of the reasons why hero abilities should be valued higher than similar abilities on allies, events, or attachments. By contrast, Close Call may or may not be available when you need it depending on how many copies you include and the amount of card draw in your deck. However, this is not to say that Close Call cannot be useful, just that consistency is a potential issue for this card.
That being said, I really like what Close Call brings to the table. While the ability of Tactics to build up tank heroes has really expanded in recent times, with the addition of the reliable Beregond/Gondorian Shield combination along with options like Boromir/Gondorian Shield/Support of the Eagles, Elrohir/Steward of Gondor/Gondorian Shield and a few others, there still are situations where damage might sneak through. This is because Tactics is vulnerable to one aspect of combat more than any other: shadow effects. The red sphere lacks natural shadow cancellation, and thus must rely on other decks or spheres for this ability. Close Call provides a means of de facto shadow cancellation in that it can serve as an emergency option in case an attack boosting shadow effect is unexpectedly revealed that damages or even destroys a hero. Of course, Close Call can’t do anything about shadows that inflict other nasty forms of harm to players, but being able to counter attack boosts is certainly useful enough on its own.
Beyond cleaning up damage that sneaks through, Close Call has another use that will be familiar to frequent Frodo users: enabling the strategic taking of undefended attacks. Generally, good strategy revolves around avoiding undefended attacks, but knowing how to manage risk and take them on during the right moments can sometimes be the difference between victory and defeat. For this reason, Frodo is a valuable hero not just because he can soak up strong attacks conventionally, but also because you can use him to take undefended attacks many times during a game, essentially paying threat to deal with an attack either because you unexpectedly don’t have a defender available or because you have a need to leave a character free for attack, questing, or some other purpose. This flexibility is one of the key advantages of Frodo, and Close Call can be used for the same purpose. With Close Call in hand, you have another means of dealing with an enemy’s attack, and can simply raise your threat by the damage that enemy would deal instead of having to declare a defender (with the caveat that shadow effects can sometimes play off of undefended attacks).
Given this utility, the real question is whether Close Call is strong enough to edge out other, proven Tactics events that usually take up Tactics event slots, like Feint, Foe-hammer, Hands Upon the Bow, etc. I would say that the potential of Close Call as a shadow mitigation effect, along with its facilitation of undefended attacks, justifies a place in many Tactics decks, although it is not a permanent staple on the same level as Feint. One aspect that does work against it, which I haven’t mentioned yet, is that while Frodo has the luxury of running in low threat Spirit decks and having threat reduction available, Close Call arrives in a sphere that already struggles with threat. Taking on 3, 4, 5, or even more threat even once can be damaging to a Tactics deck. Doing it twice or three times during a game could be fatal. This may be less of an issue if you’re only planning to use Close Call to cancel a point of damage or two that may sneak through because of a shadow card. By contrast, against encounter decks with a high frequency of Doomed or threat boosting effects, it may be necessary to leave out Close Call. Otherwise, learning the art of using Close Call at the right time should allow high threat Tactics decks to still make use of this card. In multiplayer, Spirit players can use threat reduction effects to take care of this issue, however, and Song of Earendil could even be an option to transfer some of the excess threat (other options are of course possible: Desperate Alliance/Lore Aragorn being the most powerful). In solo play, a Tactics/Spirit combination could make powerful use of Close Call without the threat problem. However you slice it, Close Call has a strong place in card pool, although Tactics does have quite a few other options for defending or avoiding damage in the first place.
As a final note, there is a close comparison to be made with Gondorian Discipline, which is another 0-cost Tactics event that cancels 2 points of damage to a Gondor character. The significant advantage of Gondorian Discipline is that it does not raise player threat at all and can be applied to allies as well as heroes. On the other hand, it is limited to 2 points of damage, while Close Call is only limited by how much threat you are willing to soak up. Close Call also is far more versatile in that it can be used on any hero, not just one with the Gondor trait. In a deck with a Gondor tank (Beregond, Boromir, Eleanor, etc.) where I really just want some insurance against shadows, I might be inclined to go with Gondorian Discipline just to avoid the threat cost. If I’m not using a Gondor tank or really want to make strategic use of undefended attacks, then Close Call is the clear choice.
* The Tree People (Lore Event, 0 cost):
So far in the game’s life, events that allow you to dump powerful allies into play for little or no cost have been among the most powerful, with A Very Good Tale and Elf-stone being clear examples. The Tree People arrives to bring a similar trick to Silvan decks:
Although The Tree People is ostensibly free, it does have the implicit cost of returning a Silvan ally to hand, which means you would have to pay to put that ally back into play, unless you are fine with losing them permanently. Still, if The Tree People works as it should, where you end up trading a cheaper ally for a more expensive one, you should actually be coming out ahead in terms of power and resources. The fact that the ally is returned to your hand to pay the cost rather than discarded does mean that you always have the option of bringing it into play again as well. The one major drawback of The Tree People is that it is subject to the randomness of something like A Very Good Tale, as there is the chance that the top 5 cards might not contain a Silvan ally at all or only an undesirable one. However, unlike A Very Good Tale, you don’t have to shuffle your deck before searching the top 5 cards of your deck, so Imladris Stargazer or Gildor Inglorion can help make this a can’t-miss option. Even without such player deck manipulation, you can still play the odds by stacking your deck with a high percentage of Silvan allies and only using low-cost Silvan characters to trigger this effect.
Given this consideration, Silvan Refugee is the most compelling candidate for activating The Tree People. The Refugee only costs a single resource and thus can maximize the value you get out of The Tree People in terms of pure resource savings. Henamarth Riversong could work well in the same way, but the Silvan Refugee has some other compelling possibilities. For example, with Celeborn in play, the Silvan Refugee could quest for 3 during the round it enters play. This could be boosted up to 5 with the help of Children of the Sea. Then, since the latter card would shuffle the Refugee back into the player deck anyway, you could then return it to your hand instead to trigger The Tree People, possibly pulling out someone as powerful as Haldir! In this case, you would be saving 3 resources (the 4 cost of Haldir – the 1 cost of Silvan Refugee) because of The Tree People, but it’s not as simple as just a cost reduction effect, because you would also be getting the willpower out of Silvan Refugee as well before it goes away.
Of course, the above combo is the ideal situation and won’t always go off perfectly (although Imladris can certainly help in this respect). A more normal outcome might be returning the Refugee to hand and pulling out a Mirkwood Runner or Silvan Tracker (a cost reduction of 2) or even a Naith Guide (a cost reduction of 1). I would say that even the latter would not be a waste of this event, as you would get Naith Guide’s useful effect for just 1 resource, as well as her questing power, and then you could immediately put the Refugee back into play if this was all taking place during the planning phase. Celeborn makes the whole setup work even better, as not only does the Silvan ally that is brought into play by The Tree People get the stat boost from Celeborn, but you also get a chance to gain the stat boost a second time for the ally that was returned to your hand (when you play it again), not to mention any “enters play” ability it may have. In this way, the true value of The Tree People is not just as a form of cost reduction and dumping allies into play, but as a means of facilitating the whole Silvan way of playing. Similar upcoming events that have returning a Silvan ally to hand as a cost will also work in a similar way. The Tree People will be a valuable “glue card”, to use a Hall of Beorn term, in this whole synergy in that it gets more Silvan out onto the table to serve as triggers for further effects and to upgrade the overall power of a Silvan deck at any particular time. This also is a card that is amenable to combos with other ally dumping cards. For example, you could use A Very Good Tale to get 2 Silvan allies into play, then return 1 of them (the cheaper one) to your hand to activate The Tree People. You could also use Sneak Attack to get use out of an expensive Silvan ally with an “enters play” ability, like the upcoming Rumil, then use them for questing or combat, followed by returning them to your hand to trigger Tree People before they would go back to your hand anyway!
Since The Tree People can remove a character from play at will, it also is a means of triggering effects such as Horn of Gondor, Prince Imrahil, Eomer, and more. So far the best candidates for triggering The Tree People are Silvan Refugee, Naith Guide, and Henamarth Riversong due to their low cost. However, with more Silvan allies on the way, there may be further possibilities for both the triggering ally and the allies you want to bring into play with Tree People. Since The Tree People is an event, there also are some flexible uses for this event, especially since the ally that is returned to your hand does not have to be ready. This means that you could defend with a Silvan Tracker, for example, then return it to your hand in the hopes of pulling out a Silvan ally for attack purposes, let’s say a Mirkwood Runner. The same could also be done to remove an ally that quested in order to bring in one for combat. This makes The Tree People a subtle form of action advantage. If need be, you could also play it in the hopes of grabbing an emergency defender. For example, if all your characters were exhausted and a shadow effect was revealed that forced a new enemy to engage you, The Tree People could allow you to remove one of your Silvan allies in the hopes of bringing out a ready character.
With all this in mind, The Tree People is a fantastic new Lore event and a must-include for Silvan decks. Obviously, it doesn’t have much use for non-Silvan builds.
* The White Council (Neutral Event, X cost):
Just having a White Council card finally is so satisfying that I”m inclined to ignore any potential faults of this card. That somewhat nebulous group, including Gandalf, Saruman, Galadriel, Celeborn, and possibly others, is essentially an all-star team of the Wise of Middle-earth. As such, this is a card that should appropriately represent such power and wisdom. Whether the utility belt nature of this card hits the mark is up for debate:
a hero he controls, draw 1 card, or shuffle 1 card from his discard pile into his deck.
Personally, this card is absolutely thematically satisfying in multiplayer, as it basically forces players to agree on the best division of the options. The word “different” is key, because if players could choose the same option, then this would be a whole lot less interesting. By forcing players to agree on who gets the readying, the resource, the card draw, and the recursion, the designers have essentially put players in the shoes of White Council, who needed to decide what tools should be put in what hands in order to best fight Sauron. Since players decide in sequence, starting with the first player, there is also the possibility that a player could go rogue in Saruman-like fashion and simply choose the option they want, leaving subsequent players to fend for themselves. Obviously, most of this flavor is lost in solo play, as you’re left to simply debate with yourself as to which option is best for the current situation.
Moving beyond theme, is this card worthy of inclusion in solo and multiplayer? The cost is entirely dependent on the number of players, so scaling is a crucial issue here. In solo play, for a cost of 1, you get a choice between readying, a resource, drawing a card, and recursion. The latter effect is the weakest since you don’t get to put a card in your discard pile back into your hand, but rather have to shuffle it back into your deck. If you are able to retrieve it quickly through Word of Command or strong card draw, then this could be worthwhile, but in most cases it would be the last choice (maybe a situation where all 3 copies of A Test of Will are in your discard pile, for example, might be an exception as well). Readying is always useful, as already discussed with Swift and Silent, and The White Council would have an identical cost for this purpose. The advantage here is that this event is Neutral, which could allow any deck to use it. As for the resource, it seems that you are simply paying 1 to get 1, which seems useless, but you could use this for resource transfer, such as paying 1 from a Spirit hero to play The White Council, and then placing the generated resource onto a Tactics hero. Finally, paying 1 to draw a card means that you are paying 1 to thin your deck, since The White Council itself didn’t have an effect other than removing a card from your deck. While deck thinning can be useful, deck space is so tight nowadays that I’m not sure I would spend a whole card slot on it, let alone 3. This means that in solo play, The White Council is largely a means of gaining either action advantage or resource transfer, depending upon the needs of the situation. This could certainly be useful as having the flexibility of both means that the value of this card is greater than the individual parts, and the flexibility is even greater given that this is Neutral. In fact, this event could be good in Saga Expansions, as the Baggins or Fellowship hero could use one of their resources to play The White Council, if you don’t need them for other purposes.
In 2 player, The White Council costs 2 resources, but this must be paid by 1 player, which changes the situation a bit. The fact that it is Neutral makes this a bit easier, and the other player could transfer over resources using something like Errand-rider. However, even with only 1 player paying, perhaps a Leadership player with strong resource generation, this card could be quite valuable. One player, perhaps the one running the combat deck, could play The White Council to ready a key defender or attacker during combat, while the other player could draw a card or gain a resource. These are small, incremental additions that won’t necessarily win a game on their own, but can make a difference at crucial junctures to allow cards to be brought into play that can make that big impact.
In 3 or 4 player games, the power of The White Council diminishes, as the cost of 3 or 4 starts to become a real issue in the absence of strong resource generation or resource transfer. In this situation, the small benefits of The White Council, while useful, are probably not enough to justify the large cost to a single player. This means that the sweet spot for The White Council seems to be 2 player, although solo usage is not out of the question either.
The Dunland Trap has introduced some useful events to the card pool, with The Tree People being the most powerful and a strong starting point for the currently developing Silvan Trait. Swift and Silent also brings some new life to Secrecy, representing a new model of Secrecy card without the Secrecy keyword. So far, the Ring-maker cycle has modestly improved the power of the card pool without introducing anything that is clearly overpowered or simplistic. Rather, we’ve gotten cards that require some forethought, for the most part, and generate ingenuity and debate rather than present themselves as “auto-include” cards. This seems a healthy direction for the game, although only the first chapter of the story has been told so far!
Readers, what are your thoughts on the events of The Dunland Trap? Which is a hit? Which is a miss? Do you plan to use The White Council?