Helm's Deep - Specialist Deck Series
The Specialist Deck Series reaches one of the highlights of the Sagas, our first large-scale battle at Helm's Deep.
For an explanation of the series and to see the deck for the first quest, A Shadow of the Past, look here: https://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/18970
This quest definitely has the feel of an epic struggle as is appropriate for this moment in the story. There are a number of considerations when tackling this quest. The first and most obvious is the Defense mechanic, the unique gameplay feature for this quest where the encounter deck is the one placing progress on the quest instead of us, evoking the feeling of a siege. We must use our willpower to try and halt the encounter deck's progress. At the same time, we will be faced with an almost never ending series of enemies and there are several effects which will cause us to reveal even more cards if it seems like we are getting ahead.
There is also a Burden in this quest - Poisoned Counsels. We don't have to take it, but we get a huge boost if we do, and since we are not playing a campaign, there will be no downside in future quests. In exchange for this Burden we get an extra turn to prepare and an ally put into play for free. I would strongly suggest taking the Burden, and the decks are built with that plan in mind.
There were two heroes that immediately came to mind when I started building the decks. The first is Legolas. The way the locations work in this quest, is that they usually (but not always) offer some benefit while they are the active location, while we are punished for them being explored. This is related to the theme behind the Defense mechanic, where we want to defend the locations but them being explored represents the forces of the enemy breaking through. However, if the locations aren't explored, we will face an ever increasing build up of threat from locations in the staging area. It's not quite location lock, since this build up will eventually create eneough threat to break through the active location. But this is still very risky, because while we won't threat out, we want to avoid the encounter deck being able to place large amounts of progress on the quest.
So we want to explore the locations, but at the same time minimise the negative impact this causes. Legolas does two things: first, he gives us a degree of control over placing progress, where we are otherwise open to the luck of the draw from the encounter deck. Second, he let's us avoid some of the more annoying effects because they basically whiff if they trigger at the end of combat.
The other hero I wanted to use was Eleanor. She has kind of a mixed reputation as a hero, but she is very valuable if there are specific treacheries you want to avoid. This quest definitely has those. The first and primary target for her ability is Devilry of Saruman. Blanking of text boxes is quite possibly the most annoying effect in the game and more importantly it can absolutely cripple us in the combat phase. We'll usually want to avoid this at all costs, especially since it makes progress on the quest as an added bonus! Another card we might consider cancelling is Night Without End because the last thing we want to do is give the encounter deck more turns to complete its goal. However, I would probably let it resolve unless I knew that Devilry of Saruman either couldn't come up or wouldn't be that bad if it did. Also, this one has Peril, so we might not get the chance anyway.
What about the other heroes? Legolas is joined by Gimli, partly for the theme and partly because his sentinel and action advantage can come in very handy. Mablung rounds out the first deck. His generalist stats make him a versatile hero and he'll also be generating resources very reliably.
With Eleanor I took Elrond. Note that I didn't take Vilya, I wanted him for all of his other features. He helps balance out the resource costs of the deck, his healing boost makes things like archery mostly trivial and really he just has some of the strongest stats of any hero. We need decent and right from turn one and Elrond fits the bill. Even with his high threat we still manage to squeak in under 30 too.
Lastly, I brought Haldir of Lórien, because an Alliance once existed between Elves and Men...
Anyway, more info on the decks in the respective descriptions.
There's a slight split of combat for the deck and questing for the one, but both will need to pull their weight in each phase of the game. Having Aragorn moving around between the two decks should help keep them both operating effectively. Speaking of Aragorn, once again we get to bring along his toys and they are certainly appreciated. I've also become fond of attaching Steward of Gondor to him, since it really supercharges his readying ability.
The decks went 3 for 3 against the quest. I usually managed to get pretty good value from the free allies and in one game I even had to take an early Poisoned Counsels, but still managed to pull through. The opening turns can seem very daunting with the amount of the encounter deck can spit out, but you need to adjust your thinking slightly for the reverse questing. I also held the quest deck on Stage 3B each time. Usually Stage 2 will progress reasonably quickly and you have a chance to slow it down on 3. If you can keep pace with the encounter deck, it's not that bad to slip to Stage 4, you just don't want to spend too long there.