Nightmare Wrap-up: Core + Shadows of Mirkwood (Part 2)

Last week, I talked about the quests of the Nightmare Core Set and Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. This week I’d like to spend some time analyzing the decks that I built to defeat those quests and check up on how my Thematic Nightmare experiment is doing as a whole.

Let’s talk decks

I built a different deck to tackle each Nightmare quest in this cycle:

  1. People of the Golden Wood (Passage Through Mirkwood)
    The elves of Lórien
    Celeborn / Galadriel / Haldir of Lórien

  2. Green and Gold (Journey Along the Anduin)
    Mirkwood and Lórien
    Argalad / Haldir of Lórien / Mirlonde

  3. Even the Smallest Person (Escape from Dol Guldur)
    The courage of Hobbits and the counsel of the Wise
    Frodo Baggins / Galadriel / Merry (S)

  4. In Pursuit of Gollum (The Hunt for Gollum)
    Aragorn’s search for Gollum
    Aragorn (Lo) / Arwen Undómiel

  5. The Birds and the Beasts (Conflict at the Carrock)
    Eagles at the Carrock
    Aragorn (Lo) / Arwen Undómiel / Beorn

  6. The Hands of the King (Journey to Rhosgobel)
    Aragorn’s healing lore (featuring the elves of Mirkwood)
    Aragorn (Lo) / Argalad / Legolas (T)

  7. The Counsel of Elves (The Hills of Emyn Muil)
    Aragorn (Le) / Arwen Undómiel / Galdor of the Havens

  8. By Sheer Force of Will (The Dead Marshes)
    Aragorn and the elves
    Aragorn (Le) / Arwen Undómiel / Galadriel

  9. Opposing the Shadow (Return to Mirkwood)
    Aragorn and the White Council
    Aragorn (Lo) / Galadriel / Glorfindel (S)

Looking over this list as a whole, the first thing that jumps out at me is my sphere balance. I always knew I preferred Lore and Spirit over Tactics and Leadership, but I am nevertheless surprised by the extent to which the former two eclipse the latter two in these decklists. Part of the reason for this is that many quests in the first cycle put a strong emphasis on threat control, which gives an advantage to Spirit Heroes. It also explains the overabundance of Lore Aragorn in these decks. I’ll be interested to see if this emphasis on Spirit and Lore over Tactics and Leadership continues in future cycles.

I’m also surprised to see how few Silvan decks I actually ended up turning out this cycle. When I first embarked on this journey, I figured that the Mirkwood locale would leave me with a roster full of different kinds of Silvan-themed decks. That turned out not to be the case. Some of the quests were just too hard to limit things to a simple tribal trait (Escape from Dol Guldur, Return to Mirkwood) while others did not actually take place in Mirkwood (The Hills of Emyn Muil, The Dead Marshes), or were better suited to even more specialized themes (The Hunt for Gollum, Conflict at the Carrock).

In the end, I would only call my first two decks, People of the Golden Wood and Green and Gold, proper Silvan-themed decks. Of the two, only the first one takes advantage of the Silvan mechanic of bouncing Allies in and out of play. It was one of the most mechanically satisfying decks of the bunch to play, too. It would work well on its own as a general-purpose deck, which is not something I can say for most of the other decks I built for this cycle. I really like both the Silvan tribe and their signature mechanic, so you can be sure I’ll be looking for other opportunities to bring them back later in the series.

The citizens of Lórien may not have been as present as I thought they would be, but the Lady of Lórien certainly made a lot of appearances. It’s not really surprising, since Galadriel is a great utility Hero with the ability to help with threat control, card draw, and questing (as long as I bring her ring along) at a reasonable threat cost of 9. Furthermore, she’s a bit of a thematic chameleon, fitting into both Silvan and Noldor decks with ease.


There are a lot of Aragorn decks here

I have long wanted to play through the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle with a series of Aragorn decks, and now I have accomplished that goal. It was thematically satisfying to play through his quest to capture Gollum, and I definitely enjoyed re-imagining the story as something that he and Arwen did together.

There were a few things that surprised me about the experience though. The first thing was that despite building 6 different Aragorn decks, I never actually found a place to use Tactics Aragorn. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, either: several draft versions of these decklists did include his Tactics incarnation, but they never really got off the ground until I switched to one of his other versions. By the time I had reached the end of the cycle, I had built 4 decks with Lore Aragorn and 2 with Leadership Aragorn, and poor Tactics Aragorn was left alone on the cutting room floor.

This is extra surprising given his popularity in the community right now. He did very well in the recent 2016 Hero Championship, taking 3rd place. Why wasn’t I able to find a space for him when he is so well loved by others? I think there are two reasons:

  1. He shines brighter in multiplayer, where he can be used to take the pressure off other players.
  2. I didn’t want to build a Dúnedain deck for use east of the Misty Mountains, and Dúnedain synergies are Tactics Aragorn’s bread and butter.

There will be plenty of opportunities to bring back Aragorn throughout the rest of the series, though, so I’m not too worried about it; I’m sure we’ll see his Tactics side sooner or later.

How’s it going?

So far, this project has been a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to continuing on to the Khazad-dûm and Dwarrowdelf cycle soon. But first, I’d like to evaluate how things are going and see if there are any changes I want to make to my self-imposed rules, writing format, or general approach.

This is a fun puzzle

All-up, I think my Thematic Nightmare series is working out well. I’m glad that I set out clear goals for myself ahead of time, and my general rule of “win 3 of 5 games, or at least 2 if the quest is really hard” seems to be an attainable one so far. It really helps to have something to shoot for.

I also like the creative constraint of trying to match my deck’s theme with the quest’s locale. It gives me a clear starting place (rather than staring at a blank deckbuilder) which helps to get the creative juices flowing. Beyond that, it helps to increase my immersion while playing the game since it’s easier to imagine the characters performing the actions written on the quest cards.

One Hero is not enough

As much as I liked the concept of thinking of this as “the Aragorn cycle”, in practice I got a little tired of using the same handful of Heroes every time. I started each deckbuild by selecting a version of Aragorn to base the deck around. The goal was that by the end of the cycle I would have built a complete narrative of Aragorn’s hunt for Gollum from start to finish. But by limiting myself to always starting with a particular Hero I also limited the number of decks I could build, both mechanically and thematically. By the end of the cycle, my decks started to feel a little samey, even if they each played differently.

As I move forward with the series, I’ll be watching out for patterns like this and be sure to avoid Hero fatigue. I think this lesson is generalizable to tribes too. As I move into Khazad-dûm and Dwarrowdelf I will definitely be building several Dwarf-themed decks, but at the same time I’ll be looking for opportunities to shake things up with other traits as well.

Roads go ever ever on

You may notice a few other small tweaks to my template in the upcoming cycle, such as the addition of reader-interaction questions (as suggested by reader Solarjetman in the comments section a few weeks ago) and little snippets of flavor text to go with each deck (inspired by this deck description on RingsDB by WingfootRanger).

Even though I’m looking forward to getting started on the next cycle, I’m going to take a short detour to the Massing at Osgiliath GenCon scenario as a sort of intermission. The Gondor locale will give me an opportunity to try out a quirky deck I’ve been dying to take for a spin.

So what do you think, readers? Are you enjoying the blog so far? Do you have any ideas for things I could tweak in the upcoming cycle? Let me know in the comments!

9 thoughts on “Nightmare Wrap-up: Core + Shadows of Mirkwood (Part 2)

  1. Your adjustments to your approach sound great. I’m looking forward to seeing some Dwarf decks make a comeback. Which Dwarves actually could be thematic is a good question though given the lore about Balin’s mission. The big question: do you use Dain? Can you still win if you don’t?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, the entire cycle plays things a little fast and loose with the lore, so it’s a little hard to know how hard I should work to try to use “the right” Dwarves. I guess I’ll just decide when I get there. Dain will definitely make an appearance, but certainly not in every Dwarf deck I build.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. With no intention of tooting my own horn, I wonder if at some point in this cycle you’d be able to try some iteration of this deck I posted on RingsDB:

    This was a fun experiment that I actually never made the time to test. I wanted a deck that was focused around Vigilant Guard, and it just ended up being mostly Dwarves. I don’t know if you could actually play solo against a nightmare deck, but it would be a pretty cool thing to see a better deck builder than myself expand on this idea. It always seemed fun to me.

    I have really enjoyed every article you’ve written so far. Please keep it up! It’s great seeing decks that are thematically cohesive taking on the hardest quests to date.


    • I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog! I’m having fun making it. 🙂

      I don’t usually know what sort of deck I’ll be using against each quest until I have a chance to leaf through the encounter cards and try to synthesize the theme and mechanics, so it’s a little hard to know ahead of time if a Gimli + Vigilant Guard deck will emerge during the process. It’s in my head now, though, so it just might! Thanks for the suggestion.


      • Thanks for taking the suggestion! It’s been great reading and being able to bounce decks off of you. WingfootRanger and I have played several games over Skype and your blog and decks have come up more than once in our discussions. My Noldor deck you helped me with is nearly perfected I believe and super fun.


  3. Late to reply but thanks for the mention. When you asked the question in the blog it seemed like a natural encouragement to ‘follow along’ with your thought process, even more relevant as we are always trying to solve each quest puzzle in different ways. Having the question gave some of that puzzling back albeit briefly. Don’t break your natural flow of prose just to ask a question but I did appreciate it. Otherwise I just plan to keep reading your fine blog.


  4. Pingback: Flight from Moria | Darkling Door

  5. Pingback: Nightmare Wrap-Up: Khazad-Dûm + Dwarrowdelf | Darkling Door

  6. Pingback: Nightmare Wrap-Up: Heirs of Númenor + Against the Shadow | Darkling Door

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