The Massing at Osgiliath

The first of many quests created specifically to be released at GenCon, The Massing at Osgiliath tells a story in which the Heroes travel to Eastern Osgiliath to investigate reports of increased Orc activity. Upon arriving there, they discover that the enemy host is significantly larger than expected, and they end up racing back home to the safety of Minas Tirith.

The exact timeline of the quest isn’t specified, but I would say that this quest is either meant to take place shortly before the events of the Lord of the Rings (before Boromir sets out for Imladris) or it’s meant to be the actual start of the Seige of Gondor, when the Witch King and his army chase Gondor’s forces (led by Faramir) out of Osgiliath. Regardless of how the quest is meant to fit into the timeline, it’s safe to say that the early events of the Seige of Gondor were the inspiration that Nate French and company drew upon when they first designed it.

The Massing at Osgiliath was a formidable quest in its day. The card pool at the time consisted of the Core Set, The Hunt for Gollum, and Conflict at the Carrock (if you were lucky enough to pick up a copy at GenCon before they sold out) so players didn’t yet have many tricks up their sleeves to cope with the truly frightening number of Enemies that start in the staging area: 3 per player, split evenly between the three types of Scout Enemies in the deck. The Enemies in this quest aren’t too bad individually—most of them cap at about 4 attack—but there sure are a lot of them.

The core mechanic of the quest involves “crossing the Anduin” which happens once you reach stage 4. All of the quest’s Locations are on either the East Bank or the West Bank, and you can only travel to Locations that are on the same side of the Anduin as you are. There are also a handful of cards that get stronger or weaker based on which bank of the Anduin you’re on.

This was one of the first quests to feature a helpful encounter card, Ranger of Ithilien. These Rangers hang out in the encounter deck, and if you turn them over as an encounter reveal you can take control of them as Allies. They’re even better as shadow effects, since they do 2 damage to the attacking Enemy and you can still take control of them if you’re willing to exhaust a character. I absolutely love this mechanic; there’s nothing more thematic than despair turning hope as help shows up unlooked for from the unlikeliest of places.

ranger-of-ithilien

Finding one of these Rangers is optional, but anyone who wants to commit any characters to the quest during the third stage has to either discard a Ranger of Ithilien or a Hero, so it’s generally best to stall a little until you manage to find one who can make the sacrifice for you.

Once you reach the fourth and final quest stage, The Witch-King appears. His 6 / 6 / 6 / 11 statline is formidable even by today’s standards, and as long as he sits in the staging area, all of your characters get -1 willpower. To make matters worse, you have to raise your threat by 3 every time he attacks or be forced to return him to the staging area!

the-witch-king

This quest is pretty rough on your threat counter, liberally doling out Doomed and other effects to spin that dial up quickly. Even if the Enemies aren’t as frightening to the modern card pool as they once were, I find that modern decks often struggle to keep their threat from spiraling out of control by the end of this quest. Don’t underestimate the Doomed keyword!

You can see all of the encounter cards and their quantities over at the Hall of Beorn.

Building the deck

I already had an inkling of a deck idea in mind when I decided I wanted to play through The Massing at Osgiliath. Ever since its infamous errata, I’ve been fascinated by the Horn of Gondor. The original Horn of Gondor granted the attached Hero a resource every time a character left play. The errata changed the card to trigger only when a character was destroyed.

horn-of-gondor

I’m the proud owner of a physical copy of the post-errata Horn of Gondor.

So for this deck, I’d like to use the post-errata Horn of Gondor for all it’s worth. The core concept of the deck will be around getting the most out of chump blocking, relying on Gondor’s bevy of cheap Allies to make it worthwhile. I’ve been meaning to build a deck around Horn of Gondor since last year, but I could never quite find the right set of cards to make it hit the right notes.

And then this guy came out:

prince-imrahil

With the new Tactics Prince Imrahil, the final piece of the puzzle falls into place. His ability helps me fetch chump blockers right when I need them, and now I only have to pay 1 for them regardless of what their printed cost is. With the Horn attached to Imrahil, his ability becomes a free chump block every round. If the Ally I bring in has an ability that triggers when it enters or leaves play—like Squire of the Citadel or Envoy of Pelargir—now I’m making profit.

My second Hero will be Leadership Faramir, who gives me access to the Leadership sphere, the lifeblood of all of my favorite Gondor decks. His ability will allow me to ready up a questing Ally to use as a chump blocker in case Imrahil is out of resources or in case I need more than one.

faramir

There are a lot of good options for my third Hero. I’d like someone from the Lore sphere so that I have access to a wider variety of Gondor Allies for Imrahil to bring into play. Denethor would be good, but his stats set him up for a defender role, which I already have covered. Damrod adds the complication of Traps to an already full deck.

Instead, I’ll play around with the idea of this quest being the beginning of the Seige of Gondor. At that time, Pippin was also present in Minas Tirith as a sword-thane of Denethor. I have no problem considering him an honorary Gondorian here, and his low threat and card draw ability are just what I need to compliment my other two heroes.

As far as the rest of the deck is concerned, all I need now are lots of Gondor Allies so that I can make use of Imrahil’s ability as often as possible.

Deck: The Stalwart of Gondor

Theme: Prince Imrahil’s ride to save Faramir

“Now they sprang forward, formed, quickened to a gallop, and charged with a great shout. And from the walls an answering shout went up; for foremost on the field rode the swan-knights of Dol Amroth with their Prince and his blue banner at their head. ‘Amroth for Gondor!’ they cried. ‘Amroth to Faramir!'” —The Siege of Gondor, The Return of the King

Hero (3)
Faramir (The Land of Shadow)
Pippin (The Black Riders)
Prince Imrahil (The City of Corsairs)
Ally (31)
1x Anborn (The Land of Shadow)
1x Boromir (The Road Darkens)
1x Denethor (Encounter at Amon Dîn)
3x Envoy of Pelargir (Heirs of Númenor)
3x Errand-rider (Heirs of Númenor)
3x Gondorian Spearman (Core Set)
1x Ingold (The Wastes of Eriador)
3x Ithilien Lookout (The Dunland Trap)
1x Knight of Minas Tirith (Assault on Osgiliath)
2x Mablung (The Land of Shadow)
3x Pelargir Ship Captain (The Morgul Vale)
3x Squire of the Citadel (The Blood of Gondor)
3x Veteran of Osgiliath (Escape from Mount Gram)
3x Warden of Healing (The Long Dark)
Attachment (9)
3x Horn of Gondor (Core Set)
3x Steward of Gondor (Core Set)
3x Visionary Leadership (The Morgul Vale)
Event (10)
2x Feint (Core Set)
2x Gondorian Discipline (Encounter at Amon Dîn)
3x Heed the Dream (Flight of the Stormcaller)
3x Valiant Sacrifice (Core Set)
3 Heroes, 50 Cards

This deck on RingsDB

Strategy

There are three key Attachments that make this deck tick:

  1. Horn of Gondor, attached to Prince Imrahil, effectively turns his ability into one free chump block per round
  2. Steward of Gondor, attached to Faramir, to help me afford all of those expensive Allies
  3. Visionary Leadership, which I typically attach to Imrahil and without which it can be difficult to muster enough willpower

When I was playing this quest, I typically mulliganed for the Horn, but in practice I found that I did better when I had Steward in my opening hand (which makes sense in retrospect, since it provides more resources than the Horn and this deck has plenty of ways to move those resources to the right place).

The goal is to use Imrahil’s ability to sneak in a chump blocker every round—preferably one with an ability that triggers when it enters or leaves play (of which there are many in the deck). Faramir’s ability can be used to ready up additional chump blockers if needed. This means defense is essentially covered, regardless of how much attack the Enemy has.

There is some concern about shadow effects that punish chump blocking, but in practice I found that those are few and far between, and I can typically afford to take one or two undefended attacks on my Heroes before I start to worry. I always have Warden of Healing around if the going gets tough.

I usually hold back Imrahil to attack and use Allies to generate however much additional attack power is required to kill Enemies. Pippin always quests and Faramir generally does too, at least until there are enough Allies in play to carry the quest phase without him. This deck can’t generate much willpower in the early rounds, but by the end of the game I usually have more than enough Allies to cover every phase.

Feint is in the deck just to cancel the Witch-king’s threat raising ability, which triggers after he attacks. It’s not strictly necessary, but in several games it gave me the breathing room I needed to close out the quest before threatting out. If I were playing this deck in a multiplayer setting or against a different quest, I would consider swapping it for something else.

I can’t stop tweaking

I found that I never used Gondorian Discipline once during any of my games. I thought it might come in handy as a sort of shadow cancellation for the shadows that deal direct damage to defenders or force attacks to go undefended, but I never had it in my hand when I wanted it. I  also never lost a game due to those sorts of shadow effects, so I probably don’t need it.

If you check out the deck on RingsDB, you’ll find that I switched it out for 2 more copies of Knight of Minas Tirith, since there were a few times when I could have used his 3 attack power, especially if I could get it for a single resource using Prince Imrahil’s ability. It’s not a huge tweak, but I think it would make the deck just a little more consistent.

Thematic concessions

Having set the deck at the start of the Seige of Gondor, Ally Boromir turns out to be posthumous. I decided to include him anyway because his Horn features so prominently in the strategy for the deck, and it just doesn’t seem right that the two should be separated. Plus, he’s an excellent target for Imrahil’s ability since his ability usually allows him to both defend and attack before getting shuffled back into the deck to do it again.

boromir

I’ll consider his appearance in the deck to be in honor of his memory, as I’m sure Faramir’s thoughts were with his dearly departed brother during the battle that very nearly claimed his own life.

The play’s the thing

Win ratio: 5 / 6 (83%)

That’s right, I had so much fun with my first 5 games that I decided to play an extra one.

5 out of 6 is a pretty good win ratio, but that doesn’t mean that these were all easy victories. One game I won at 49 threat; sending all of my characters on the quest gave me precisely enough willpower to clear the final stage in one go. In another game, The Witch-king was dealt Wolves from Mordor as a shadow card, killing my chump blocker and forcing me to take 6 damage undefended. I had to toss poor Pippin under the bus, but I was still able to scrape together enough attack to take out the Witch-king. With the Captain of the Nazgûl out of the way I was able to scrounge up enough willpower to clear the final quest stage, winning at 47 threat.

The game that I lost was the result of a wicked combo on what should have been my victory round. I had the game well in hand and was sitting pretty at 41 threat. I had a copy of Emyn Arnen Overlook stuck in the staging area that I couldn’t travel to (due to it being an East Bank Location) but I wasn’t too worried about it. I had an obscene 27 willpower committed to the quest, so I was definitely going to clear the final stage.

Then disaster struck. My encounter reveal was Massing at Osgiliath, which has Surge and grants each card revealed by the encounter deck Doomed 3. My second reveal was a Scout Enemy, which received Surge and Doomed 2 from the Emyn Arnen Overlook, bringing my threat to a total of 46. That was cutting it pretty close, but I still would have won if the next card weren’t Cut Off, which itself has Doomed 1. Combined with the extra Doomed from the first Treachery card, it put me just over the 50 threat threshold and cost me the game.

I never once had to discard a Hero in order to send characters on the quest during Stage 3; a Ranger of Ithilien always managed to show up by that point. I’m not sure if this was good luck or just to be expected—they often came up as shadow effects, which I suppose makes sense given the number of Enemies in this particular quest. Nothing fills me with more glee than flipping over a shadow card and discovering that it actually helps me!

I would say that this deck is pretty well suited for the quest. There are a few shadow effects that can mess up my combat plans (primarily the ones that cause my chumps to die or force me to take attacks undefended) but in general this deck can take Enemy swarms all day long.

Final thoughts

The deck I have been wanting to try turned out to be an absolute success! It’s great to see that Horn of Gondor still has a place in the card pool, even after its infamous nerf. This is a deck I wouldn’t mind taking with me to the game shop every once in a while—it’s just quirky enough that I want to show it off, and it’s fun to watch it do its thing.

I still like Massing at Osgiliath after all these years, even though it’s not as difficult today as it once was. It’s a shame that print-on-demand quests like this one don’t get Nightmare updates; I’d love to see what this quest would look like with a fresh coat of paint.

What do you think about Massing at Osgiliath? Has it stood the test of time? Let me know about your experiences with it in the comments section below.

Next week, I’ll be descending into the depths of Moria with Nightmare Into the Pit!

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