Setting the stage
Celeborn has bid you escort Arwen to visit her father in Rivendell. Your journey takes you through the Redhorn Gate…
Finally, a quest with a straightforward premise! This quest doesn’t require any bending over backwards to make it work with Tolkien’s greater narrative. The first quest of the Dwarrowdelf cycle, The Redhorn Gate sees the Heroes on a simple escort mission across the Misty Mountains. The mightiest peak of those mountains is known as Caradhras, or “Redhorn” in the common tongue. This is the very same pass that the Fellowship attempts (and fails) to take during The Fellowship of the Ring.
The Redhorn Pass, though treacherous, was frequently used throughout the Third Age. The Heroes undertaking this quest could conceivably be anyone who had contact with Celeborn and reason to visit Elrond, and the quest could be set in pretty much any time period. Compared to the first three quests of Khazad-dûm, my options are wide open here.
Because this is the last quest that mentions Celeborn, Galadriel, or Lórien for a little while, I’m going to roll with the whole Silvan thing while I still have the chance. Arwen’s travelling companions, then, will be wood elves sent by her grandfather to secure her safe passage through the snowy peaks of the Misty Mountains.
The rules of Redhorn
The Redhorn Gate is a Location-focused quest, in many ways similar to The Hills of Emyn Muil. Unlike The Hills of Emyn Muil, however, you can’t ignore combat. There are plenty of Enemies in the deck, and while most of them don’t swing for more than 3 they typically have pretty high defense + hit points. The worst Enemy in the deck is the Snow-Giant, which has 6 attack, 4 defense, 10 hit points, and attacks the first player from the staging area even when not engaged. Plus, he discards the highest-willpower Ally you control when you finally do engage him. Now that’s just cold!
Many of the cards in the quest interact with your characters’ willpower. Some reduce your characters’ willpower, others give Enemies attack bonuses if the defending character’s willpower isn’t high enough, and the final stage of the quest discards characters whose willpower ever hits 0. All of this pushes you towards needing high willpower—even on your combat-focused characters—in order to stay ahead.
The first two quest stages are fairly standard, requiring 9 and 11 progress to complete respectively. The third quest stage is the tricky one, since it discards characters with willpower 0 and makes the copy of Caradhras that has been sitting in the staging area all game the Active Location. As long as Caradhras is the Active Location, all questing characters get -1 willpower, making it even easier for your characters to get discarded by the quest effect. You’ll want to clear its 9 quest points as quickly as possible!
In addition to the last stage’s 13 quest points you also need 5 Victory Points to win, and points on player cards don’t count in the Nightmare version of the quest. While the aforementioned Snow-Giants do have a single victory point to their name, it’s more likely that those 5 points will come from clearing Caradhras and finding and clearing one of the other famous peaks of the Misty Mountains: Fanuidhol or Celebdil. These Locations are just shuffled into the encounter deck, so sometimes you have to do a little digging to find them. Fortunately the Nightmare version of the quest also added a few copies of a Treachery called Caradhras the Cruel which occasionally helps to fetch them when they find their way to the discard pile as shadow cards.
Fortunately, throughout the quest you have the help of Arwen Undómiel, an Objective Ally who has 2 willpower and gives you an extra resource every time she exhausts. Thay extra resource alone is huge, especially in solo where you don’t have to share that ability with any other players. The only caveat is that if she leaves play, you lose—so just be careful that nothing reduces her willpower to 0 on that last quest stage, and that the Snow-Giant doesn’t squish her when he engages you!
You can see all of the encounter cards and their quantities over at the Hall of Beorn.
Planning the deck
I’ve decided I’m going to take advantage of Celeborn’s mention in this quest’s flavor text to build myself a Silvan deck. I think the old standby would do well here: Celeborn himself will grant my Allies bonus willpower to ward off some of the penalties this quest tends to dole out for low-willpower characters, and Galadriel will let them serve double-duty during both the quest phase and the combat phase. As I have done before, I will consider these two to be representational in nature, contributing wisdom and resources to the party from afar rather than being bodily present on the quest.
But who will I pick as my third Hero? My typical choice is Haldir of Lórien to bring in all of the excellent Silvan cards from the Lore sphere, but I already built a deck like that for Nightmare Passage Through Mirkwood. I’d like to do something different here. There are plenty of other good Silvan Heroes to choose from, but none of them seem like they’ll turn out a deck mechanically that different from one with Haldir in it.
Instead, I’m going to turn to a Hero which I like a lot, but don’t actually use very often: Gandalf. As it turns out, Hero Gandalf has a lot to offer the Silvan archetype. He’s capable of playing cards of any color, which is handy since there are a bunch of good Silvan Allies in Tactics but not many thematic Heroes to grant access to the Tactics sphere. Even better, though, is that Gandalf’s ability to play the top card of my deck once per phase naturally synergizes with 0-cost Events—and many of the key Silvan cards just so happen to be 0-cost Events. He’s right at home in a Silvan deck, and thematically speaking all I have to do is invoke the Wandering Gandalf Rule.
The challenge with making a Gandalf/Silvan deck work is that Gandalf takes up a lot of deck space when he brings all of his toys along, and there are already more than enough Silvan cards to fill a whole deck. I’m going to have to figure out how many of Gandalf’s personal Attachments I can bring along while still managing to pack in all of the cards I need to support the Silvan strategy of bouncing Allies in and out of play.
It took some playtesting to find that balance, but this is what I came up with:
Deck: Leaf and Land
“In Dwimordene, in Lórien
Seldom have walked the feet of Men,
Few mortal eyes have seen the light
That lies there ever, long and bright.”
—Gandalf, The King of the Golden Hall, The Two Towers
Celeborn (The Dunland Trap)
Galadriel (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
Gandalf (The Road Darkens)
2x Galadhrim Healer (The Dread Realm)
3x Galadriel’s Handmaiden (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
3x Greenwood Archer (The Sands of Harad)
1x Haldir of Lórien (A Journey to Rhosgobel)
1x Henamarth Riversong (Core Set)
1x Legolas (The Treason of Saruman)
3x Naith Guide (The Dunland Trap)
1x Orophin (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
1x Rúmil (The Three Trials)
2x Silverlode Archer (Core Set)
3x Woodland Courier (The Drowned Ruins)
3x Hithlain (The Drowned Ruins)
2x Narya (The Grey Havens)
1x Nenya (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
2x O Lórien! (Trouble in Tharbad)
2x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
2x Wizard Pipe (The Road Darkens)
3x A Test of Will (Core Set)
3x Feigned Voices (The Three Trials)
2x Flame of Anor (The Road Darkens)
3x Island Amid Perils (The Nîn-in-Eilph)
3x Sneak Attack (Core Set)
3x The Tree People (The Dunland Trap)
2x The Wizards’s Voice (The Voice of Isengard)
Player Side Quest (1)
1x Gather Information (The Lost Realm)
3 Heroes, 53 Cards
This has quickly become my favorite Silvan deck yet!
At its core, it works just like any other Silvan deck: I play Silvan Allies down to get Celeborn’s bonus. Galadriel lets them get double use out of those extra stats, allowing them to contribute to both the quest phase and the combat phase. The next round, once they are no longer benefiting from Celeborn’s boost, I use an Event like Island Amid Perils, The Tree People, or Feigned Voices to pull them back into my hand so I can trigger their Enters Play ability a second time. That’s all stock-in-trade for your standard Silvan deck.
The addition of Hero Gandalf adds an extra layer on top of the already-interesting Silvan fare. He allows me to include Silvan Allies from all four spheres, rather than having to pick between Lore and Tactics. But he can also play the 0-cost Silvan-bouncing Events from the top of my deck, effectively resulting in free card draw. Combined with Galadriel’s ability to exhaust in exchange for drawing 1 card and -1 threat, this deck draws cards surprisingly quickly.
The trick to playing this deck is in the timing: It’s usually better for me to play whatever 0-cost Event happens to be on top of the deck than one from my hand (because it equates to free card draw). When Gandalf can’t play the card on top of the deck, I usually trigger Galadriel’s ability in the hopes of getting something better on top.
My Heroes don’t have any natural Lore or Tactics icons, but as long as they’re the top card of my deck, Gandalf can play cards from those spheres. There are only 2 copies of Wizard Pipe in the deck, so I need to be careful about drawing Lore or Tactics cards into my hand if I haven’t found one yet. Nenya gives Galadriel the Lore resource icon, though, so the Lore cards are slightly less risky than the few Tactics cards. In practice, this deck has so much card draw that a few dead cards don’t hurt it too badly, and it shouldn’t be too long before the Pipe decides to turn up.
The real star of the show here is Narya. Once Gandalf has found his ring, he can exhaust to ready two Allies and give them +1 to attack and defense. The best part is that this stacks with Celeborn’s boost, turning wimpy Allies into stalwart heroes during the combat phase. In the late game, I frequently use Galadriel’s Handmaiden as my main defender!
Even though it starts at 34, threat isn’t a problem for this deck. Between triggering Galadriel’s ability every round, Island Amid Perils, and Galadriel’s Handmaiden, there’s plenty of threat reduction to go around. So far all of my games have finished with my threat somewhere in the mid-twenties.
Unlike most decks I play, I haven’t found any single card worth mulliganing for over the others. No one card is required for the smooth functioning of this deck. Instead, I usually mulligan away any hand that has too many Lore or Tactics cards if it doesn’t also contain a way to play them.
The play’s the thing
Win ratio: 4 / 5 (80%)
I had a good time with this quest. My favorite strategy was to attach Hithlain to Caradhras early in the game so that by the time it became the Active Location it was already mostly explored. By the time I had reached the final stage, the game was pretty much already over.
When I first started planning a deck for this quest, I was worried that I was going to have to use some sort of encounter deck manipulation strategy to ensure that I’d be able to find enough Victory Points in order to win the game. In practice, though, I never lost a game waiting for Victory Points to show up. I think part of this had to do with the encounter cards that helped to fetch Snow cards from the discard pile and put them back on top of the encounter deck, but it’s also possible that I got lucky.
The primary threat to my victory, as it turns out, were early-game Snow-Giants. The one game that I lost was because a Snow-Giant was my first encounter card reveal. I had no time to build up, so there was no way I could muster enough attack to kill it. After tanking it for 6 full turns, I finally ran out of ways to block its attacks and my Heroes were killed off one by one.
That wasn’t the only game that I lost a Hero to a Snow-Giant, though. In one playthrough, a Snow-Giant showed up unexpectedly near the end of the game. I hadn’t mustered quite enough willpower to clear out the quest, and most of my characters were exhausted. I ended up having to take an attack undefended, killing Gandalf. I was so close to the end of the game, though, that I was able to close out the quest the next round before the Giant had a chance to strike again.
In another game, I lost Gandalf to an unfortunate combo of Shadow Effects that reduced his willpower to 0 during the last round, discarding him from play. Fortunately, I was still able to close out the game without him. Poor Gandalf only survived 2 of my 5 games!
Gandalf puffed on his pipe, the last of the snow melting in his long white beard. It had been a long journey, but they were through the worst of it now. They had braved the tantrums of Caradhras the Cruel, and despite a run-in with a touchy Snow-Giant, they had all managed to make it through to the other side. The elves were singing songs, now, and all were looking forward to reuniting with their kin at the end of the road to Rivendell.
I’m glad I decided to go with a Silvan deck for this quest, because it turned out to be a lot of fun. This deck is definitely one I’ll be bringing to my local game shop. The quest itself was fun, too. I like how the designers made willpower important, even during the combat phase; it made for an interesting twist. That’s what I like most about the Nightmare revamp of this quest, actually—the increased focus on willpower-centered cards.
In all, I think this was a much better Location-focused quest than the designers’ previous attempt, The Hills of Emyn Muil. Do you agree readers? How does The Redhorn Gate stack up against The Hills of Emyn Muil at your table?
Next up is Nightmare Road to Rivendell, complete with everyone’s favorite Treachery card, Sleeping Sentry! I’m not sure whether I’ll be tackling it next week or the week thereafter; I have a deck idea brewing, but it would be better with some cards from the upcoming Race Across Harad pack, which I may not be able to get my hands on soon enough. In any case, I’ll find something to write about next week, so come back then to find out what it is!