Card Spotlight: A Watchful Peace
As time has passed, it has become more and more clear just how great the set of player cards in the Heirs of Numenor expansion was, from the unparalleled resource smoothing of Errand-rider to one of the best defensive heroes around in Beregond to that trap of all traps, Ranger Spikes. Yet, there was one card in that expansion (released three years ago already, yikes!) that always intrigued me, yet I have never really used, aside from a few half-hearted attempts: A Watchful Peace. On the face of it, this isn’t a card that screams out for attention and doesn’t seem to hold much value. However, it is the kind of subtle effect that does appeal to my playing sensibilities, and therefore it seemed appropriate to take some time in the lull between releases to finally give this card a fair shake and subject it to the Card Spotlight. Whether or not this means it will finally earn redemption as a hidden gem or be relegated to the burning hellfire known as coaster status remains to be seen!
A Watchful Peace is a one-cost Spirit event designed to return explored locations to the top of the encounter deck:
Response: After a location worth no victory points leaves play as an explored location, return it to the top of the encounter deck.
Note: The red text is courtesy of errata from the most recent FAQ, as previously A Watchful Peace could recycle key locations in various scenarios in order to “break” scenarios a bit, most of which have victory points.
Before I delve into the gameplay applications of the card, I want to take a moment to explore the lore behind it a bit, as the name and art won’t immediately evoke clear thematic connections for everyone. The Watchful Peace is a specific name used to refer to a time period during the Third Age from the year 2063 to the year 2460, when Middle-earth (or at least the Western portion of it) was relatively free from Sauron’s malicious presence and influence. Following a series of cataclysmic events (the fall of Arnor, the capture of Minas Ithil and its transformation into Minas Morgul, the awakening of the Balrog in Moria, the darkening of Mirkwood, etc.), that clearly pointed to the possible return of the Enemy to Middle-earth. Gandalf goes to Dol Guldur in 2063 to try to find out exactly who the evil being is that has taken residence there, but Sauron flees before him, probably to keep his identity secret (Note: It’s really easy to confuse this with the White Council’s later trip to Dol Guldur to drive Sauron out, but that happens nearly 900 years later!). During the four centuries that follow, Sauron remains in the East, where he keeps busy corrupting and uniting the Easterlings under his banner. This does mean a period of peace for the West of Middle-earth, though. The period is called a “watchful’ peace because although Sauron has fled and the active depredations of the past have ceased, Mordor and Minas Morgul are still occupied by the Nazgul and hordes of Orcs. Therefore, Gondor makes sure to keep its eastern edge guarded at all times, including fortifications that can keep a close and watchful eye on Mordor. This card then has a strong connection to Gondor’s history and is thus an appropriate inclusion in the Gondor-themed Heirs of Numenor expansion. Unfortunately, the “watchful” part of the peace tends to diminish over time, as Gondor gets a bit too used to the “peace” part and lets their guard drop. Ultimately, Sauron returns in 2460, stronger than ever, with a new race of Orcs that have been bred in Minas Morgul, the Uruk-hai, ready to heed his commands. Subsequently, the Uruk-hai attack and decimate Ithilien and Osgiliath.
Beyond the theme, what are the potential uses of this card? Returning a location to the top of the encounter deck doesn’t seem very useful, as you’re simply recycling an element of the encounter deck rather than building up your own position or outright canceling or dealing with a nasty effect of some kind. However, there are quite a few different uses for A Watchful Peace:
1) Bringing back a beneficial location
2) Dealing with scenario-specific issues
3) Setting up other player cards
4) Setting up a harmless shadow card
5) Stacking the encounter deck for next round’s staging
Let’s deal with them one a time. First, I’ll mention, though, that many of these uses depend upon solo play. The value of A Watchful Peace drops dramatically as you add more players, as is true for most encounter deck manipulation effects.
1) Bringing back a beneficial location
There are some locations that actually have beneficial effects for players and being able to get them back into play after they are explored might just be helpful. Of course, if a location is truly helpful, you might wonder why you would explore it at all, but there are some cases where you are forced to do so. The Troll Camp from the West Must Away, Ere Break of Day scenario is a good example of this particular use. This location allows Bilbo to remove sacks from characters. However, it also bumps up the threat of Trolls in the staging area while it is in the staging area, so you may end up having to travel to the Camp to avoid the threat. Then, when it leaves play, you could use A Watchful Peace to to throw it back on top of the encounter deck so that it would return for next round’s staging. Of course, you would then have to face the threat for that particular round, but maybe this gives you time to dispatch a Troll, mitigating the threat increase in the staging area, or maybe you have some other shenanigans available. Strider’s Path could be useful for this purpose, as you could immediately travel to the Camp as soon as it is revealed again. Another example is the Ettenmoors location from Flight to the Ford, which prevents Nazgul enemies from receiving shadow cards while it is the active location, which might be something you want to recycle as a form of shadow control against some tough foes (although you would have to suffer its negative effect, which is removing life from Frodo after any progress is placed on it). Altogether, this is a more marginal use, as the range of viable targets is small, and made even more so by the errata removing locations with victory points from consideration. Even with the handful of locations that would make a good fit, I’m not sure if this justifies deck space.
2) Dealing with scenario-specific issues
There are a few scenarios that base certain effects off the top card of the encounter deck. The most prominent is The Watcher in the Water. Enemies like the Thrashing Tentacle in that scenario can trigger a brutal effect if the top card of the encounter deck, which is discarded, turns out to be another Tentacle enemy or if it has a shadow effect. You could then use A Watchful Peace to place a location on the top card of the encounter deck that doesn’t have a shadow effect, in order to prevent these enemies from triggering with total certainty. Of course, timing plays a key part here, as it does with many of the uses of A Watchful Peace, as remember that shadow cards are taken from the top of the encounter deck as well. If you explored the active location, and then returned it to the top of the encounter deck, it would merely become the shadow card for a Tentacle enemy, ruining the whole point of what you were trying to accomplish. This is why including location control effects is essential when deciding to include this card in your deck. For example, you could wait until after shadow cards are dealt, and then you could trigger something like Asfaloth or The Riddermark’s Finest to explore a location, using A Watchful Peace to put in on top of the encounter deck to neutralize the Tentacle enemy’s effect. Such location control, particularly Asfaloth, is crucial to avoiding thorny timing issues and getting the most out of A Watchful Peace. The positive aspect of this card is that the location just has to be explored, but it doesn’t have to be the active location, as locations explored in the staging area are fair game as well. While The Watcher in the Water is the most obvious example, there are some other instances of scenario-specific mechanics providing opportunities. “Boss” enemies like Murzag from The Morgul Vale, The Hand of Castamir from The Steward’s Fear, and The Great Goblin from Over the Misty Mountains Grim all have effects that discard the top card of the encounter deck when they attack, potentially putting them into play. Placing a harmless location in that spot is a handy way to take the teeth out of those abilities.
3) Setting up other player cards
Moving away from scenario-dependent uses, A Watchful Peace also can help to set up certain player cards that are tied to the top card of the encounter deck. For example, a card close to my heart is Small Target, which allows you to direct one enemy’s attack against another enemy (when defending with a Hobbit) if the original enemy’s shadow card does not have an effect. This is a great card, but can whiff quite often, unless you have a card like Silver Lamp available to scry shadow cards. A Watchful Peace gives you the opportunity to set up Small Target by putting a location with no shadow effect in line as the first shadow card. You will then know that the enemy with the highest engagement cost (as that is the order that shadow cards are dealt in) has no shadow effect. Of course, you can only achieve a great degree of control over this in solo play, but as I mentioned earlier, that’s really the only time you’ll be using this card (in two players, you could at least set this up when you’re first player every other turn, but waiting multiple rounds in three or four player games is way more dicey). Beyond Small Target, the Longbeard Elder’s ability lets you put one progress on the quest if the top card of the encounter deck is a location (he gets -1 willpower otherwise), so A Watchful Peace could let you set up this effect to trigger, although timing would play a part here as well (if there is combat with an enemy between the time a location is explored and when you commit the Longbeard Elder during the next round, for example). Needful to Know is a rare form of threat reduction for Lore that isn’t very popular because its reduction is based off the threat of the encounter deck, and is thus quite unreliable. With A Watchful Peace, you could put a higher threat location on top of the encounter deck to make sure that Needful to Know is worthwhile, although you would have to suffer that location’s threat in the staging area during the next staging, unless it is fated to be a shadow card. This is probably not as efficient a use, as if you have access to Spirit for A Watchful Peace, then you also will have access to better threat reduction. Finally, you could put a location on top of the encounter deck to make sure that you have at least one match for the Palantir.
4) Setting up a harmless shadow card
I mentioned that it is possible to use A Watchful Peace to set up Small Target, but it is also quite viable to use it to simply make sure that a shadow card has no effect for the purposes of normal combat. In solo play, when you are often facing just one enemy per round, this could help you to avoid harmful shadow effect and also will give you knowledge that there won’t be a shadow effect, which can be equally valuable. If there is more than one enemy, then the one with the highest engagement cost will at least be sorted out, and the tougher enemies tend to have the higher engagement costs. Of course, Spirit already has access to shadow cancellation through cards like Hasty Stroke and Shadows Give Way, so this is one possible use of the card and provides some flexibility, but it probably won’t be the main reason why you include it in a deck.
5) Stacking the encounter deck for next round’s staging
Now we come to the most interesting use for A Watchful Peace: stacking the encounter deck with a relatively harmless card so that staging is both predictable and easy. Generally, encounter deck manipulation and scrying tends to be the specialty of Lore, yet A Watchful Peace can accomplish both for Spirit. By placing a location on top of the encounter deck, you will both know the threat you are facing, in order to appropriately calculate the willpower you need to commit (as you would with something like Henamarth Riversong, for example). In addition, you will also ensure that you won’t face an enemy or a horrible treachery. The random nature of the encounter deck is what really gives a scenario its teeth, so removing that randomness is a way to solidify or build your own position, even if it doesn’t seem that way at first. For example, the breathing room provided by facing a location rather than an enemy or treachery means that you have additional time to set up combinations and the cards you need to be successful. Of course, in order for this to function properly, you need to be able to avoid combat, otherwise the location you placed through A Watchful Peace will simply end up as a shadow card. Alternatively, you can use location control, as mentioned earlier, to trigger this effect after shadow cards have been dealt to set up next round’s staging.
Using A Watchful Peace this way once or twice per game can certainly be useful. However, I feel that the real potential for this card lies in committing to it more fully rather than merely splashing it into a deck. This means not just using three copies instead of two or one, though that is part of the picture, it also means potentially including recycling effects like Dwarven Tomb and/or Map of Earnil in order to ensure that you get more uses and more consistent use out of A Watchful Peace. With three copies and recycling, you should be able to use the effect several times each game. This is all geared towards recreating a situation that matches the lore that this card is based on: a lengthy period of peace where you can gather your forces and prepare for the Enemy’s eventual return.
In order to accomplish this, you would first need to have the board be clear of enemies, which isn’t too difficult in solo play. You would also need some form of repeatable location control, preferably Asfaloth (combining Asfaloth with Warden of Arnor is even better). Then, once you have at least one copy of A Watchful Peace along with some event recursion effects, you could trigger A Watchful Peace to place a location on top of the encounter deck. Assuming you are facing a quest stage that only reveals one card per quest phase, you would know exactly what you are facing. Then, you could simply explore that location using Asfaloth (or some other location control effect) to explore it, placing it back on top of the encounter deck with another copy of A Watchful Peace or one that you have recycled. In this way, you could potentially set up a good handful of rounds where you don’t have to worry about combat (or bothersome treacheries) at all and can simply build up your position in peace. Once you aren’t able to play A Watchful Peace anymore, then you will once again be at the mercy of the encounter deck, but the idea is that you would be in such a solid place by that point that it wouldn’t matter.
There are some sizable challenges to this strategy, though. The first is the issue of timing, as having a suitable location in play when you have cleared the board of enemies and when you have all the right elements in your hand is no sure thing. To this end, an ideal deck would include a good deal of card draw in order to make sure that you get A Watchful Peace and recycling effects into your hand. The problem of hitting upon suitable locations is a bigger one, as players don’t really have a way of searching the encounter deck for a location and pulling one out. A suitable location is one that has quest points low enough that you can explore it each round using location control effects (otherwise, while it is stuck in the active location spot, the next round’s staging will go off as normal), and the problem is that locations with only two or three points aren’t as common as they once were. Still, most quests, even the more recent ones, have at least a couple, but the problem is making sure that they come out at some point (taking a quick look at some recent scenarios, 4 out of the 12 copies of locations in Journey in the Dark have 3 quest points or fewer, while 3 out of the 12 copies of locations in The Antlered Crown have 3 quest points or fewer). If at least one doesn’t show its face, then the whole effort you’ve put into this strategy will have been for naught. This whole picture is made even worse if you consider that some locations with low quest points actually punish you for exploring them or placing progress or bar you outright from putting progress on them while in the staging area. These obstacles do not invalidate the perpetual A Watchful Peace strategy entirely, but they are certainly something to be aware of if you are looking to experiment with it. A good alternative or supplement to effects that put progress on locations is Strider’s Path, as this card allows you to travel to a location as soon as it is revealed during staging, which would allow you to explore your target location on the same turn as it is revealed using the normal progress from questing. This opens up the possibility of using locations with higher quest points, but since Strider’s Path is also an event, you won’t be able to rely on it as consistently.
It might be tempting to ask why you would even want to go through all this trouble when Lore has scrying and encounter deck manipulation that is potentially easier to use. However, none of those effects can accomplish exactly what A Watchful Peace can if all the stars align, which is to completely neuter the encounter deck over the course of several rounds, while being fairly cost-effective (A Watchful Peace only costs one, while some of the Lore manipulation cards cost two or three). For example, Henamarth Riversong might give you the information you need to plan and quest effectively, but he can’t actually change what is on top of the encounter deck. Denethor can exert some control to a degree, but he can’t actually let you pick what is coming up next. For this reason, it’s actually not redundant to pair Lore with A Watchful Peace, and actually Lore/Spirit is the best combination for making this strategy work, as it gives you access to the card draw and location control you need. Strangely enough, it is actually a Neutral card, Shadow of the Past, that comes closest to replicating A Watchful Peace’s power, but it is more expensive and can’t be recycled because it is Neutral. That card could be a potential partner with A Watchful Peace, though, in helping to put the whole plan into motion, as a precious, perfect location might be discarded as a shadow card, for example, and then you could use Shadow of the Past to put it on top of the encounter deck for next round’s staging. Of course, this just further adds to the overall deck space you are using to make the strategy work, but it is an option to consider. I also like the idea of using Ride Them Down as a means to quickly get rid of enemies and open up a faster path to getting the A Watchful Peace in operation.
Deck space for Spirit events is already quite limited, when you consider staples like A Test of Will, Hasty Stroke, and The Galadhrim’s Greeting/Elrond’s Counsel. It thus is difficult for a more specialized, subtle, and potentially inconsistent card like A Watchful Peace to find a foothold. Yet there is enough juicy potential here, as well as flexibility to pique my interest. This is not just a solution card designed to meet the needs of highly specialized scenarios, although it can serve that function. It is also not just an alternative to shadow cancellation, although it can serve that function as well. Rather, as detailed here, it can fulfill a variety of needs, with the most tantalizing being the ability to lockdown the encounter deck for several rounds. The release of cards in the future may enhance the value of A Watchful Peace, but even with just the current card pool we have available to us, I find A Watchful Peace to be worthy of at least enjoyable experimentation, if not careful consideration. This isn’t necessarily a card that you will want to throw into every deck, or even most decks, but it certainly should not be ignored.
From → Card Spotlight