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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

LOTR-LCG- Against the Shadow: Preventing Shadow Effects through Scrying, Control, and Cancellation

by Grant "pfcamygrant" Ellis

Some of the most game-ending and devastating effects that can be delivered in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game come as a result of resolving Shadow Cards.  According to page 18 of the Core Set rule book: “At the beginning of the combat phase, the players deal 1 shadow card to each engaged enemy. Deal the top card of the encounter deck, face down, to each engaged enemy. When dealing cards to a single player’s enemies, always deal to the enemy with the highest engagement cost first. Cards should first be dealt to the enemies attacking the first player, and then proceed around the board until all enemies have 1 card” and then in the third step “Resolve shadow effect. The active player flips that enemy’s shadow card faceup and resolves any shadow effect that card might have.” It is the resolved effects that can bring the players to their knees, as they may cause direct damage, additional attacks, a chance for the enemy to escape or muster, player hand discards, or immediate character death. In order to survive a trek through Middle-Earth, one must prepare and guard themselves against the shadow, and prepare to deal with the unseen might of the Enemy. This article examines heroes, allies, attachments, and events that can be used to fight the shadow.

Two hero cards have the innate ability to deal with Shadow effects, albeit through different ways:

The Hobbit: On the Doorstep expansion saw the advent of the leadership sphere hero, Balin, a prominent member of Thorin’s company whose tragic fate in Moria has been the subject of a separate article. Balin’s effect reads:  Response: Pay 1 resource from Balin's resource pool to cancel a shadow effect just triggered during an attack. Then, deal the attacking enemy another shadow card. (Limit once per attack.) While this doesn’t completely eliminate the chance of a shadow effect resolving, it does cancel the immediate danger (and replacing it with a possible worse or replicated danger.) To activate the optional response you must pay a resource as well. Balin has a fairly low threat cost, and adequate stats to make for a secondary defender, so he has uses (and Dwarven Synergy enhances everything he is already good at), but the drawback is there is still a good chance of getting hit with another shadow effect. Balin is advisable in Dwarf decks, where he can take advantage of their numbers advantages and various buffs. He is a logical choice for Steward of Gondor, if only practically and not thematically. Perhaps you play We Are Not Idle, if you have the need for theme.

The second Hero who has built in shadow cancellation is Erkenbrand, a Rohan hero out of the Antlered Crown Adventure Pack with an emphasis on defense. Erkenbrand’s ability reads “While Erkenbrand is defending, he gains: "Response: Deal 1 damage to Erkenbrand to cancel a shadow effect just triggered." Like Balin, Erkenbrand requires the use of a Hero slot. As opposed to spending resources, Erkenbrand purchases shadow cancellation with his blood, cancelling shadow effects while he is the defending character. The con with Erkenbrand is he is only a four-hit point hero out of the box and will need to be the defender. He does carry the Sentinel keyword, so he can effectively bounce around the board in a multiplayer game, but use caution.  He is an interesting choice for tri-sphere Rohan and also benefits from being the recipient of healing effects.

As we move to the Ally cards, there is a lone ally with built in shadow cancellation, the three cost Leadership ally Dunedain Watcher. Dunedain Watcher was the subject of a card spotlight over at Tales from the Cards, and was found to be a gem, primarily for the fact that within the Leadership Sphere she can out-perform some of the other options, and there is no need to splash other spheres. The three resource cost is considerable, but she does have the ancillary benefit of questing, attacking, defending, and absorbing two points of damage. My gut instinct normally tells me that cancelling shadow effects (or at least having that option) can save the game. The Lost Realm is going to expand upon the Dunedain trait considerably, so we may see additional benefits.

There are three attachments that operate as shadow cancelling mechanisms. The first, out of the Core Set, is the 1 cost Lore condition attachment Dark Knowledge. Dark Knowledge carries with it a -1 Willpower penalty, however it enables the bearer to exhaust the attachment to scry the shadow card that has been dealt. This has use in combination with true shadow cancellation effects, but begs for an off-set to zero sum the penalty. The Conflict at the Carrock Adventure Pack saw the arrival of an Lore Sphere auto-include A Burning Brand. The card reads “Attach to a Lore character. While attached character is defending, cancel any shadow effects on cards dealt to the attacking enemy.” That line of text on the card represents one of the most powerful effects in the game. The drawback would be the requisite of the Lore resource icon. Still, with a fair number of potential Lore defenders (Elrond, Denethor, Aragorn) you can see some of the mightiest shadow cancellation around. Add a readying effect and a sentinel keyword and kiss the shadow goodbye. The third attachment, Silver Lamp,  is a two cost Spirit attachment from the Voice of Isengard expansion,  that reads: “While attached hero is ready, shadow cards dealt to enemies engaged with you are dealt face up. (Shadow card effects are still resolved when resolving enemy attacks.)” Like Dark Knowledge, this card works best in combination with cancellation effects, a few of which are in the Spirit Sphere and will be covered later in the article.

It bears mentioning, that the Gandalf exclusive item Gandalf’s Staff can discard a shadow card from a non-unique enemy. The cons in this case are that the card is really only effective on Hero Gandalf (as the other versions of the character are not likely to stick around) and that introduces all the other cons of playing that hero (high threat cost, only one copy can be in play, he smokes a lot) If you do play Gandalf as a hero, his staff is one of the best and most versatile attachments in the game.

As we move to the event cards, we have another trio of options. The first is a spirit staple, Hasty Stroke. For one spirit resource you can cancel the effect of a triggered shadow effect. This card, if anything, is a low cost life saver that is common sense, especially for players with a limited card pool. The two cost Leadership event Dawn Take You All, from the Return to Mirkwood Adventure Pack,  allows each player to discard one face down shadow card from an enemy which they are engaged with. This cannot combo with the Silver Lamp, but is a good “rather safe than sorry approach.”  Lastly, the Antlered Crown introduced Shadows Give Way, a 3 cost Spirit event that must be paid for from three different resource pools. It removes each shadow card from each enemy in play, which is an incredibly powerful and game-saving effect that is embodied by the cards image that depicts the Istari protector repelling the Nazgul with white-flame.

Shadow cards can kill your heroes. They can raise your threat and cost you the game. They can remove your necessary attachments your deck requires to operate. Knowing the options before you, be it a leadership hero, a spirit event, or staff-wielding wizard, is critical to completing certain scenarios in the game. Choose wisely and game on.

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