A Shadow of the Past and the Metagame
Enjoy this guest post from the Wandering Took, as he explores the ins and outs of an often-maligned card! -Ian
Introduction to the Metagame
Over the course of a game’s life, cards will wax and wane in popularity depending on the current state of the metagame. The term “metagame” has many definitions, but in the context of our beloved card game, we loosely define it as the general consensus of what cards or decks are powerful given the current composition of the card pool.
Since the metagame is a product of thoughts and opinions that exist outside of the rules of the game, it can be influenced by many things: First, there are the interactions that exist within the card pool. To take a recent example, Gloin is currently enjoying the limelight, thanks to the myriad of healing options that have only recently become available.
Other metagame shifts occur when someone simply makes a card popular. A Good Harvest is a great example. This card has existed since the Dwarrowdelf cycle, has always been powerful, but only surged in popularity once high-profile community members started showcasing it in their online videos.
It is not just the player card pool that defines the current metagame; encounter sets have a huge impact. Cards that target allies shift the metagame away from swarm decks, and cards that target your discard pile shift the metagame away from recursion decks.
This is the story of a card that I once considered a staple, and how a shift in the metagame altered its power overnight.
Shadow of the Past
If you’re confused right now, you are not the only one. At two resources to recur one encounter card, the response from the community was an overwhelming …meh. The arguments were generally as follows:
- Two resources is too expensive.
- It doesn’t advance your board state.
- Henamarth Riversong is a cheaper, and repeatable way of scrying the encounter deck.
The only benefit that was widely touted was that you could use it to help dig out Gollum in The Dead Marshes scenario, if you were unfortunate enough to have him escape on you, only to re-emerge as a shadow card.
Why I Considered it a Staple
While many good points were made, I felt that Shadow of the Past had more to offer beyond being “just a niche card”.
The reason I believe this card to be so powerful is because of one simple ruling: at the end of the combat phase, the players get to choose the order in which shadow cards are discarded. This is huge, because it gives the players a chance to rig the encounter deck in their favor.
So what can this card do? Well, lots actually:
- Mitigating threatIn the first two cycles of the game’s life, the encounter deck was a mixed bag. Some cards were hardballs, some were softballs, some were god-awful, and some even helped the players out! Putting innocuous cards back on top of the encounter deck can mitigate the pain that the encounter deck deals out during the quest phase.
- The following locations have side effects that benefit the players:
- Many quests contain helpful objectives:
- In the Dwarrowdelf cycle, you may stumble upon helpful objective-attachments. Durin’s Greaves, found in The Long Dark, doesn’t even have the Surge keyword on it!
- The Massing at Osgiliath requires you to discard a hero or a Ranger of Ithilien in order to advance, so make sure you draw those rangers!
- The Battle of Five Armies is a lot easier when you can recur a Misty Mountain Eagle. Lucky for us, this card is also missing the Surge keyword.
- The Gildor Inglorian campaign boon: Really, you opted for Mr. Underhill over Gildor Inglorian? Using Shadow of the Past in solo campaign games outright breaks the early saga quests. Once Gildor enters play, you have the freedom to choose when he will leave play (by his own innate card text). The next turn, you recur him, and voila: a free quest phase, where you have full knowledge that he will be coming off of the encounter deck. Better yet, use him to block the Witch-King, and when he dies, play Shadow of the Past during your attack phase (before he gets buried by shadow cards) to recur him, and look at that: you got a bonus defense, just like that single-use Mr. Underhill.
- In lieu of any softballs, recycling an encounter card that whiffs is effectively as good as playing Gildor’s Counsel, except that it costs one less resource, and doesn’t have the multiplayer restriction. There are more opportunities than you might think:
- Evil Storm does nothing if your threat is low.
- If someone is running Thalin, put a 1 hitpoint enemy on top of the deck.
- In Shadow and Flame, send a Snowbourn Scout to the quest on the turn that you recycle Inner Flame.
- When playing Journey down the Anduin or Return to Mirkwood, even the dreaded Dispair can be nice to see, provided you time it right.
- Actively advancing through the questIn certain quests, Shadow of the Past is an efficient tool for getting around quest mechanics:
- In A Journey to Rhosgobel, recycle Forest Grove to tutor Athelas objectives.
- As previously mentioned, in the Dead Marshes, you can return Gollum to the encounter deck if he was dealt as a shadow card.
- In Flight from Moria, get back those Abandoned Tools.
- In Watcher in the Water, rig the test required to pass through the Doors of Durin.
- Tired of failing Locate tests in The Long Dark? Put a card with the PASS keyword on top of the encounter deck.
- Stupid tricksThe previous points made up but a small list of ways that Shadow of the Past has helped my game. If you know what to look for, you’ll find opportunities everywhere. Here’s my favorite stupid trick, from Foundations of Stone. It’s a little convoluted, but bear with me:
- Sudden Pitfall is arguably the worst card in the encounter deck. If you see it, play Shadow of the Past to put it back on top of the encounter deck.
- Trigger (core set) Denethor’s ability to move Sudden Pitfall to the bottom of the encounter deck.
- Advance to Stage 3B. Here’s the trick: to construct the new encounter deck, you are instructed to use the cards from the Foundations of Stone encounter set (previously set aside), and all enemies and locations from the encounter discard pile, but NOT any of the cards from the encounter deck itself. If there are 1-2 players, it is highly unlikely that you will empty the encounter deck before reaching this stage.
- You have just guaranteed that Sudden Pitfall will not trouble you for the rest of the game.
The Sun Sets
As much fun as I had with Shadow of the Past, the sun eventually set.
When Heirs of Numenor was released, the field changed. Earlier I described the encounter deck as a mixed bag. This was no longer to be the case: encounter decks were to become slimmer, and more consistant in their brutality.
The next time you play a modern quest, have a look at what goes into the encounter discard pile. For how many of those cards would you say “Gee, I want to see that one again next turn!” The answer is so close to zero that Shadow of the Past was culled from my deck overnight.
From the Ashes
The metagame pulls both ways, and as Shadow of the Past waned, Gildor’s Counsel (another often-overlooked card) became more powerful. In an era where every card hits hard, and the encounter deck has a higher chance of comboing with itself, Gildor’s Counsel is a far more valuable card than it was in the era where some encounter cards actually assisted the players.
And so ends my tale of Shadow of the Past. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Encounter deck manipulation is a subtle, yet powerful, tool. For those who haven’t tried it yet, I encourage you to give it a try.
From → Card Spotlight