As far as the Core Set is concerned, the original Journey Along the Anduin is really the only quest that feels remotely balanced for solo play. Where Passage Through Mirkwood is too easy, and Escape from Dol Guldur too punishingly difficult, Journey Along the Anduin sits at a comfortable challenge level. I have a lot of fond memories playing this quest over and over, and to this day I still pull it out when I have a new deck I want to test out.
The most memorable feature of the quest is that it starts with a big ol’ Hill Troll in the staging area. Progression through the first quest phase (which takes 8 quest points) is gated on actually defeating the troll, which serves as the primary puzzle for the quest. It takes 12 total damage to one-shot it, swings for a hefty 6 attack, and raises your threat by any excess damage it generates when it kills your defender. Unless you’re packing Beregond or are playing some super-aggro deck, you’re probably going to want to stay under 30 threat until you’re ready to take it on. Alternatively, just throw a Forest Snare on it and take your time.
After you complete the first quest stage, the second stage requires 16 progress and reveals an extra card per round. Fortunately, enemies don’t make engagement checks during this stage, so you have a little combat reprieve if your threat is getting high. The final stage just reveals two more cards and ends once you’ve defeated all enemies in play, no longer revealing any new cards during the questing phase.
The Nightmare version of this quest makes all Troll enemies immune to attachments, preventing the Forest Snare strategy. It also adds a bunch of cards that really emphasize the battle with the Hill Troll — treacheries that grant extra attacks to Troll enemies, heal damage from enemies in play, and even fetch defeated enemies back from the victory display to fight again. The strategy of staying under 30 threat still works, but you have to watch out for some of the nasty tricks that the encounter deck plays on you to try to raise your threat.
Another thing you have to be aware of is that some of the locations in this quest are really rough. The original quest includes a 5-threat location, The Brown Lands, as well as The East Bight, a 1-threat location with 6 quest points that forces you to travel to it even when you’ve got some other location you’d rather clear out of the way first. The Nightmare version adds Gladden Marshlands, a 10-threat (!) location that can be temporarily reduced by dealing damage to your heroes. If you don’t have a plan for dealing with it, it will definitely wreck your questing calculations when it shows up.
Building the deck
This quest essentially represents the trouble that the heroes get into while on a boat ride from Mirkwood to Lórien. Galadriel could probably hold my threat under 30 for a while to avoid engaging the Hill Troll, but I used a standard Silvan deck last time, so I’d like to try something a little different this time. I’m definitely going to need an answer for the terrible locations in this quest, so that pushes me towards including the Lore sphere, since it has a fairly large concentration of location management cards.
Looking over the Lore heroes, there are a fair few of them with the Silvan trait, which still fits the locale pretty well. If I go mono-Lore, Mirlonde can help me keep a really low starting threat to maybe stave off the Hill Troll a little longer. Plus, there’s plenty of healing in case I need to take Gladden Marshlands up on its offer to damage my heroes in exchange for a little more progress on the quest.
The only problem is that Lore allies tend to be either unique or expensive for the stats that you get, with the sweet spot sitting somewhere around 3 cost. Since this quest demands equal parts questing and combat, I can use scrying to help me plan my turns efficiently, dropping combat allies only when I need them, and questing allies otherwise.
With that in mind, here’s what I built.
Deck: Green and Gold
Theme: Mirkwood and Lórien
Argalad (The Drowned Ruins)
Haldir of Lórien (Trouble in Tharbad)
Mirlonde (The Drúadan Forest)
3x Defender of the Naith (Trouble in Tharbad)
3x Galadhrim Minstrel (Trouble in Tharbad)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
3x Henamarth Riversong (Core Set)
3x Mirkwood Explorer (The Thing in the Depths)
3x Mirkwood Runner (Return to Mirkwood)
3x Silvan Tracker (The Dead Marshes)
3x Wandering Ent (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
3x Cloak of Lórien (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
3x Ranger Spikes (Heirs of Númenor)
3x Resourceful (The Watcher in the Water)
1x Sword-thain (The Dread Realm)
1x Wingfoot (The Nîn-in-Eilph)
3x Heed the Dream (Flight of the Stormcaller)
3x Mithrandir’s Advice (The Steward’s Fear)
3x Needful to Know (The Redhorn Gate)
3x Secret Paths (Core Set)
3x Strider’s Path (The Hunt for Gollum)
3 Heroes, 50 Cards
This deck is built to play the long game. The goal is to get Henamarth Riversong out as early as possible so that I always know what card is coming off the encounter deck. If it’s an enemy with a low engagement cost, I play down a defensive ally like Defender of the Naith or Silvan Tracker, or if I’m worried about how long it will take to kill it I play down Ranger Spikes. If it’s a location, I save a resource for either Secret Paths or Strider’s Path so that I don’t fail the quest, and if it’s Gladden Marshlands or The Brown Lands I spam Needful to Know as much as I can afford. (2 resources to reduce my threat by 9? Yes please!)
Many cards in this quest have Surge. When I see a Surge card sitting on top of the encounter deck, I just assume the next card is going to be an enemy since they’re more common and most likely to wreck my day. That usually works out, but obviously the deck can’t keep on top of things nearly as well if it doesn’t know exactly what it has to deal with.
I also have to be careful about when I exhaust Henamarth, since she’s such a vital card for this deck to function as intended. If I have another copy in hand, I can be a little more carefree about using her ability whenever I want, but most of the time I skip using her on the round she enters play out of fear that she might foresee her own death at the hands of the Necromancer’s Reach. Instead, I use her ability after shadow cards have been dealt but before characters ready during the refresh phase.
The key insight I came across while building this deck was realizing that some cards that are normally too expensive to play outright are actually worthwhile when playing a stalling deck like this one. Lore doesn’t have much in the way of threat reduction, and it has next to nothing when it comes to resource generation. To fix these problems, I included Gandalf for threat reduction and Resourceful and Sword-thain for resource production.
Gandalf’s 5 cost for 5 threat reduction is usually too expensive to justify all on its own, but I’m essentially trading 2 rounds’ worth of resources for an extra 5 rounds before I have to engage the Hill Troll. Put another way, I effectively gain 3 rounds’ worth of resources by playing Gandalf, which is often enough to make the difference between being ready and not being ready.
Similarly, the 4 cost for Resourceful and Sword-thain is rarely worth paying for the extra 1 resource per turn alone. I don’t see a return on my investment until the start of the fifth turn after I played the card, essentially trading early game tempo for late game tempo. But in this deck, I always know what’s coming off of the encounter deck, so I can coordinate the tempo hit to happen on a round that I’m getting an easy encounter reveal. The game almost always lasts well over 15 rounds so I’m usually getting my money’s worth by the time the encounter deck starts demanding more from me in the form of Hill Trolls and extra encounter card reveals.
To my mind, the biggest outlier here is Wandering Ent. My theme is Mirkwood and Lórien, not Fangorn, so what is that ent doing here? But I really needed a little more willpower and attack than I could scrounge out of the Lore Silvan and Woodman allies, and the tempo hit isn’t bad when you can time it for a round that you know you won’t actually need the Ent, so it seemed like a good fit. He is wandering, I suppose, so maybe he’s poking around Mirkwood looking for the entwives.
Technically, I guess Gandalf is a little off-theme as well, but due to his wandering nature I can almost always thematically justify his inclusion in a deck. Gandalf spent plenty of time in Lórien, certainly. We also know he spent some time poking around in Mirkwood during the timeline of The Hobbit, so… there. Justified.
I talked about my reservations with Wingfoot in my post on Passage Through Mirkwood, and all the same stuff applies here. It’s a nice card to have, but could easily be replaced with just about anything and it wouldn’t change the deck too drastically.
I’m also a little hesitant about Sword-thain. I really included it as a fourth copy of Resourceful, since that’s a card I really want to see show up in the early game, but it’s also a card I don’t get to use often and it’s fun to see Henamarth collecting a little pile of resources for some reason. Maybe the elves of Mirkwood have Sword-thains, or a similar title? Ultimately it’s just here for consistency and the fun-factor, so it could probably be dropped without hurting the deck’s chances too much.
Win ratio: 3/5 (60%)
These were some long games. In each successful game, I was able to get Henamarth out round 1 (sometimes using Heed the Dream to fetch her) and start scrying by round 2. I also always used Gandalf to lower my threat at least once when I was at 29-30 threat to buy a little more time to build up for the final quest push. In one game, I had all 3 copies of Needful to Know in hand when I spotted that 10-threat Gladden Marshland on top of the encounter deck, allowing me to drop my threat down to zero, which was a great feeling. In another game I had to deal with 3 Necromancer’s Reaches in one round, killing off all of my questing characters (including poor Mirlonde) but I had reached the final stage and my remaining characters were still able to clean the board.
Both losses were statistically unusual games. In one of them I got all the way to round 6 without seeing Henamarth at all, despite having played Mithrandir’s Advice twice and Heed the Dream twice. An unexpected enemy showed up, and an undefended attack killed a hero, destroying my tempo and ending the game shortly thereafter. The other loss was due to location lock: after 5 rounds of nothing but locations, I ran out of ways to deal with them and eventually succumbed to death by Hill Troll.
It was fun to go back and play through this old favorite one more time, and to use a somewhat off-beat tempo deck to do it. Next up is the formidable Escape from Dol Guldur, which is unfair to solo players in so many ways, even on easy mode. Is it even possible to beat it at Nightmare difficulty? And with a thematic deck, no less?
The answer is yes; yes it is possible. And I’ll show you how I did it next time.