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This deck is my pipe-dream. One has to remember what the Rangers of Ithilien were like (or supposed to be like) when they were first introduced into the game, with the Against the Shadow cycle. The initial intent (I beieve) was to never engage enemies, trap them in the staging area and kill them with direct damage or attacks in the staging area. The Faramir version was clearly intended to do that either with Ithilien Pit, Hands Upon the Bow or Great Yew Bow, buffed by the enemies trapped in Ranger Spikes. The other cards in the cycle were supporting direct damage: Poisoned Stakes, Ranger Bow, Forest Patrol or helping keeping the "enemy in the staging area" for the Ithilien Tracker, Advance Warning or Ithilien Archer.
Sadly the archetype never took off because you had to:
- Keep your threat low, an issue with a 11-threat cost starting hero that is not and thus doesn't access to cheap and easy threat reduction
- Even the thematic threat-reduction the designers tries to introduce at the time (in the form of Damrod) wasn't available to the archetype, mainly focusing on
- Traps are expensive
- Gondor was lacking by then, and if you want to be able to leave enemies in the staging area, you'd better over quest their
- Worse, the actual useful card to keep enemies at bay Advance Warning could only be played if you had only heroes, so including weapons or threat reduction would deprive of some other tools.
So the archetype (mostly) moved away from the direct damage and we started to see (even non-) Rangers of Ithilien cards focusing on actually engaging the enemies (obviously centered on Forest Snare), like heroes Mablung and Faramir, as well as In the Shadows or the trap attachments.
The designers tried to give the direct damage archetype a few cards like Arrows from the Trees (which can be a killer in multiplayer) or Guardian of Ithilien and were clever enough to introduce Ranger of Ithilien cards that could work with both archetypes, like Emyn Arnen Ranger, Mablung and of course hero Damrod.
This long introduction is leading me to this: I feel like we have a chance at making the Rangers of Ithilien work as they were primarly intended to, thanks to the Grey Wanderer contract. Why?
- Because the contract is allowing you to start with a very low threat, hopefully staying out of sight of most enemies during the course of the game. As a bonus, you get an access to Secrecy cards. The Ithilien Lookout was always a bit whacky out there: if you played him with a standard hero line-up, you would (except for pure Secrecy build of course) never trigger the Secrecy keyword, making him a bit expensive, especially since your resources are being used on those traps. Truthfully, his scrying ability was of course interesting if you actually had a trap to play (or if you didn't, just discard the enemy if it cannot be handled). Now he's of course even better.
- Because the contract is allowing you to play out-of-sphere (non- don't forget!) cards, giving you access to the cheap and easy reduction, weapons and other useful tools.
Now, as the contract limits you to 1 hero, we have to make a choice between Damrod and Faramir. And as much as I wanted to play Faramir (he was the original hero after all) with its ally pals Damrod, Mablung and Anborn, along with its Great Yew Bow, I faced a few problems:
- The resource generation of Damrod really helps the first turn, and one cannot linger with that contract. Even if it would be quickly compensated with Resourceful cards on Faramir.
- Damrod provides card draw... the main weakness of that deck
- Damrod is 2-threat less than Faramir giving you 1 turn more of readying...
- The contract allows you to play some out-of-sphere non-unique cards, and as much as Faramir's pals could be fetched through Timely Aid, if they're in my hand, they are stuck there (although I mean, the same problem could be said with Damrod hero, except there's no way we're playing Damrod ally of course... and Anborn will be our choise)
Once we have chose, the deck builds itself.
- Strider, the starting attachment
- Daeron's Runes to make the deck 47 cards because we need all the consistency we can
- The good Secrecy cards: Resourceful, Timely Aid and Ithilien Lookout
- The other Ranger of Ithilien, making it super thematic with Anborn, Mablung and Faramir!
- All of the Ranger of Ithilien cards mentioned at the beginning
- The Galadhrim's Greeting to be able to reduce threat a bit (use the contract to play it so it basically becomes 1 resource -4 threat which is ok, it's buying us a total of 4 turns of readying)
- Then again, that out-of- access is pretty pimp and allow us to include the Defender of Rammas to be able to defend enemies that would slip through our traps. As a sidenote here, I badly wanted to include Boromir, but of course, the non- restriction cooled me off.
I play tested (solo) the deck on 4 quests of increasing difficulty but not insanely difficult. I wanted
- The Oath 1/1, a real breeze
- The Caves of Nibin Dum 1/1: this was the only time during playtesting that an enemy engaged me (the Goblin Chieftain as per quest 2B)
- Passage Through Mirkwood 1/1: the most painful experience but just because it took me a few turns to get a trap...
- Journey along the Anduin 1/1: including a Chieftain Ufthak, Marsh Addder and 2 Hill Trolls
- Into Ithilien 1/1: although I had a lucky first draw with two Ithilien Lookout allowing me to clear the active location that would have made me engage all enemies
The deck I think can consistently perform well in solo with the following caveats:
- It's a turtle deck and would probably struggle a lot with hit-hard-from-the-beginning quests like The Fords of Isen
- The point is to over quest enemies so if the quest requires that you kill all enemies or punish you for having enemies in the staging area (Intruders in Chetwood) you will have trouble
- It's also poor at early hard questing so it's probably not efficient against the Redhorn Gate or Race across Harad
- Of course it will underperform in quests with lots of enemies immune to attachments like Into Fangorn
- And against quests that require heavy early defense like Shadow and Flame, Fire in the Night or The Battle of Laketown
I think the deck would perform against most quests as a multiplayer deck paired with some more agressive decks to allow for build-up, except, of course still for quests restricting attachments on enemies.
Piloting is pretty straightforward. Mulligan for:
- At least a trap card to get your draw engine running
- Secrecy cards Resourceful and Timely Aid
- Some allies, if possible Ithilien Lookout
During the first turns, you can use agressively the contract, even triggering its Action during the first planning phase to get the 2 resources with no other benefit. I've consistently managed to play either Secrecy card, an ally and a trap during the first turn.
The actual piloting is full of fun decisions and strategy about:
- When to trigger The Grey Wanderer, although it will mostly be 1) during the planning or resource phase to agressively get those resources during the first turns of the game. 2) after you have exhausted Damrod for any reason (Ranger Bow, defending a weak enemy) and ready him during the combat phase to attack back (or use the bow, I think you got me)
- Having a Ranger Bow directly on Damrod is a generally a good idea, as he will be ready most of the time after questing. In quests where the engagement cost of most enemies isn't an issue, having 2 bows is actually even possible
- Don't forget that Damrod loses Strider extra 2 once you reach 6 characters, so you might sometimes want to refrain on putting an additional ally if you cannot compensate for the loss of
- I dare say Ithilien Pit is an amazing card, as it's always playable for 0 cost, draws you a card, allows attack in the staging area and/or a Forest Patrol. Comboed with Anborn cycling, it's a very consistent way to draw cards
- For nearly the same reason, the Poisoned Stakes are outstanding, just killing the enemies slowly, for 1 resource... they go away, yes, but can be retrieved
- By the way Anborn is amazing in this deck, I was very surprised! Just give it a try and you'll see, he's way worth the cost of trap cycling and stat, especially if you cheated him with Timely Aid
- The Ranger Bow is a standard Action with no phase restriction. So don't forget you can use it in: the action window between 3.3 and 3.4, before quest resolution. Or you can use it during a late combat phase, after an enemy has been sent back to the staging area (although that never happened). You can also use action window 7.4 if you're a few points away from killing an enemy and winning the game.
On the downsides, I would say that arguably, Faramir is better cheated in (or played at the right moment, otherwise he's just an expensive 2 quester, but I refuse to sacrifice him for theme reasons). For instance, at some point during a game (don't remember which), I timely aided Faramir in, dealing 2 damage to an enemy in the staging area, played an Ithilien Pit and then Mablung, throwing the enemy back in the trap and drawing a card, which happened to be a Forest Patrol
- Add straight-up 3 copies of Arrows from the Trees and 3 copies of Advance Warning even if no one plays . You're bound to reveal even more enemies, and 1 damage to each is nice enough. That combo is not hard to pull out with the card draw of the deck and has been known to be efficient.
- Maybe swap in-and-out traps depending on the quest you're facing, including Forest Snare wouldn't be a bad idea.
I would accept a bit less consistency, so you bring the deck to 53 cards (Daeron's Runes are making it virtually 50) and cards to be considered for removal should be:
- Faramir, sadly, as explained below
- Ithilien Archer, it has never been a great ally
- Ambush, the less useful trap in my opinion
- A copy of The Galadhrim's Greeting, as threat would be less of an issue in multiplayer
As an alternate version, I'm seriously considering (even for solitaire):
- +2x Arrows from the Trees
- +2x Song of Battle to be able to play Arrows from the Trees second effect
- -1x Forest Patrol
- -1x Ithilien Archer
- -1x Faramir
- -1x Ambush
And follow the same removal instructions as above, bringing the deck to 53 cards.