Signal the Dunedain: Preparing for the Lost Realm
With the Dunedain set to make a huge splash in the card pool when The Lost Realm hits stores this week, the time seems ripe to examine some of the current cards we have available and figure out which ones just might make powerful partners with the Rangers of the North. From the spoilers that have been released thus far, it is clear that the Dunedain deck type is all about engaging enemies and drawing benefits from being engaged with enemies. This approach is interesting because it entails a in-built disadvantage, as generally players aim to engage enemies and quickly destroy them, rather than keep them around for extended periods of time. This is because even though it is possible to tank enemies with the right characters and cards, shadow effects provide a layer of unpredictability. In addition, leaving enemies intact always is dangerous because further enemies might emerge and this could lead to a snowball effect. Of course, you could hope to destroy enemies quickly and then use tricks to engage new ones right away, but this might lead to not getting as much value out of Dunedain abilities as you might want. With all this in mind, it will be intriguing to see how players seek to manage this risk and get the most out of the new Dunedain cards. To help with deck building and speculation, here’s a list of the top 5 cards that are worth thinking about when you crack open The Lost Realm and start building your first Dunedain decks. Obviously, this list isn’t meant to be exhaustive, as I wouldn’t dream of trying to touch every possibility.
Honorable Mention – Shadow of the Past
This card might seem like an odd choice for this list, which is part of why it is an honorable mention rather than part of the list proper. However, I am greatly intrigued by the new Ranger Summons card, which allows players to shuffle a Ranger of the North ally into the encounter deck. The ally itself is quite strong, but the main problem here is the potential lack of consistency. The first time that I discard a Ranger of the North as a shadow card, I will definitely fall to my knees and scream vainly to an uncaring sky. With this in mind, Shadow of the Past could at least allow you to avoid this problem. Of course, investing yet another card to make this whole operation run may seem a bit much, and I don’t disagree, yet Shadow of the Past could also help the Dunedain Hunter as well. That card is a “free” ally whose real cost is engaging an enemy found in the top 5 cards of the encounter deck. Shadow of the Past could allow you to take a relatively harmless enemy from the top of the discard pile and put it on top of the encounter deck so that you know the Hunter will hit upon an enemy that is manageable.
#5 – The Hammer-stroke
This card has been the subject of fun speculation since it was released, yet it has not found its way into many decks. Granted, when it does pay off, The Hammer-stroke can lead to some real fireworks and spectacular moments. Yet it would be a stretch for anyone to say that it is a real staple or consistent contributor for any deck type. However, with the Dunedain benefiting from engagement, there is the possibility that The Hammer-stroke may have a part to play. In solo play, The Hammer-stroke is probably still a bit too marginal, as paying 2 to engage every enemy in play is probably not worth the cost, as there are other, better ways to engage enemies that you can’t otherwise engage (Son of Arnor, Westfold Outrider, etc.). In multiplayer, however, The Hammer-stroke could allow a Dunedain player to pull over 3+ enemies at once, freeing other players of foes while adding benefits to the Dunedain player. Of course, cards like Halbarad, Dunedain Hunter, and Tireless Hunters perhaps make The Hammer-stroke a bit redundant. Then again, pulling over 4 enemies, nullifying them with Thicket of Spears, and then using Heir of Valandil to play a 4-cost Dunedain ally for free the next round might feel satisfying. Of course, such uses may keep The Hammer-stroke firmly in the fun/situational camp, but it’s worth thinking about.
#4 – Rivendell Bow
Tactics Aragorn is the third version of Aragorn to enter the game, which means he better be good to displace the Leadership and Lore versions, both of which are quite good. As if to help prove his worth, Tactics Aragorn has two abilities instead of the usual one. First, he reduces the defense of engaged enemies by 1. Second, after destroying an enemy, he can engage another enemy anywhere on the board. This latter ability provides some fascinating possibilities and it is here that a card like Rivendell Bow might prove useful. The Bow is normally intended for Noldor or Silvan characters but Aragorn is a very specific exception to this restriction. The Bow is essentially a means of giving Aragorn the ranged keyword. Of course, Dunedain Cache can do the same job, but Rivendell Bow is cheaper and shares the same sphere as Aragorn. With ranged, Aragorn could use Hands Upon the Bow to destroy an enemy in the staging area, and then use his ability to engage a different enemy in the staging area. This could potentially remove 2 enemies from the staging area during the quest phase, which is insanely good. Beyond this combination, giving Aragorn ranged in multiplayer broadens the range of targets available to him, allowing for more frequent use of his ability. For example, he could help kill an enemy engaged with another player, and then use his ability to pull a different enemy over from somewhere else on the board, setting the stage for the use of Dunedain abilities on the subsequent turn.
#3 – Forest Snare
Forest Snare was once one of the mightiest cards in the land, with countless Hill Trolls meeting an ignominious end of flailing ineffectually in a net until a game’s ending. However, as other options emerged, the high cost of Forest Snare ended up costing it out of most decks. Still, Forest Snare does provide a neat solution for Dunedain decks, as you could potentially keep 1-2 enemies engaged with you at all times, enabling abilities like Heir of Valandil and Halbarad to trigger each and every turn, all without the danger of getting walloped by a nasty shadow effect. The cost of 3 is still just as substantial, however, especially since Lore will probably only be a minor sphere at most for a Dunedain deck. This means that resource generation and smoothing will be necessary, but there are certainly options (i.e. Song of Wisdom, Grima, Mablung + Bifur, etc.). I know that I, for one, will definitely be experimenting with using the Forest Snare in conjunction with Dunedain decks. One of the drawbacks in the past of the Forest Snare is that since attachments are played during the planning phase, then generally an enemy can get at least one swing in before it is trapped. However, Dunedain tricks can easily get around this issue. For example, you could play Dunedain Hunter during planning, pulling out an enemy from the top 5 cards of the encounter deck, and then immediately Snare it.
#2 – Westfold Outrider
Since he was released as part of the Voice of Isengard expansion, the Westfold Outrider has found his way into countless Tactics decks. As a 2-cost Tactics ally with solid stats and a useful and flexible ability, there’s really not many reasons to exclude him and he’s usually one of the first allies I choose when building a Tactics deck. Still, the Dunedain deck type increases the value of the Outrider even more. First, he provides yet another way to engage an enemy anywhere on the board, at any time, whether in the staging area or engaged with another player. This can be used during questing to remove threat, which is probably the most popular use of the Outrider, but it could also be used during planning to benefit from something like Heir of Valandil or during some other phase. Second, beyond engagement shenanigans, the Outrider has the Scout trait, which allows him to use Expert Trackers to place progress on a location in play. So you could use the Outrider in conjunction with Expert Trackers, along with regular duties, until you need to discard him for his ability. If you had multiple Westfold Outriders in play, you could even discard one to engage an enemy, then exhaust the other to explore a location in the staging area using Expert Trackers. This could result in eliminating both a location and enemy from the staging area during a single questing phase, which could be a huge swing.
#1 – Dunedain Warning/Dunedain Mark
This is perhaps the least surprising and most predictable entry in the list, yet there is little doubt that the Dunedain signals will be brought back to life by The Lost Realm. While they have always been useful and never totally lost favor, other options have certainly stolen some of their luster over time. However, with the arrival of the Weather Hills Watchman, who can fetch a Signal from the top 5 cards of a deck, the use of Signal attachments can be made much more consistent. I have singled out Dunedain Warning and Dunedain Mark in particular as these have always been the best of the Signal attachments and provided the best value-for-money, but they also can help facilitate some of the new Dunedain shenanigans, especially through the use of the under-utilized transfer mechanics. For example, Tactics Aragorn could use the attack boost from Dunedain Mark to destroy an enemy, thereby engaging another enemy as a result. Then, Aragorn could pay 1 to transfer the Mark over to another hero who is ready so that they could use the boost against this new foe. Similarly, Dunedain Warning could be passed between several defenders to help defend against a crowd of enemies. The main drawback to this approach is that it is potentially resource-intensive, but taking advantage of resource generation/smoothing effects like The Day’s Rising, Errand-rider or Mablung could help in this regard. As for the other existing Signal attachments, Dunedain Quest is still a bit pricey compared to alternatives. Dunedain Cache and Dunedain Signal, however, could both have a place, although they tend to not be the best fit for Dunedain decks, which want to take on enemies themselves rather than help other decks handle enemies.
Thus ends the list and The Lost Realm is (finally) around the corner! Which existing cards are you looking forward to including in your Dunedain decks?