Hello all, allow me to briefly introduce myself. My name is Matt Duckworth and some might have seen my commentary in the LOTR LCG Facebook forum. I also occasionally publish decks in RingsDB as mduckworth83 (yeah, not very creative with gamer tags, I know!). I have been playing the game since about the time the first couple of adventure packs were being released in the first cycle, just missing the Core release by several months. My favourite sphere is Lore, and my favourite deck archetype are the Ranger Trap decks.
Today I was asked to write about Secrecy, which was a timely topic since I just recently leveraged the mechanic to build a deck to beat one of the toughest scenarios in the game… more about that later.
I should probably start by defining what the Secrecy mechanic is. It’s basically a form of cost reduction, lowering your cost curve when your threat is low. Certain cards have the text “Secrecy X” which means that you reduce the cost to play this card by “X” when your threat is 20 or lower. I think its original intent was to offset the resource disadvantage of running 2 heroes instead of 3 and thus enable the viability of 2 hero decks that operated at very low threat (at the time the ability to create a 3 hero deck below 20 starting threat was very limited). Spirit Glorfindel hero and his insanely low threat to stat ratio was introduced as well as the “Strider” Lore version of Aragorn with his ability to reset threat were both introduced to augment this mechanic. Interestingly, those are still my two favourite heroes for secrecy decks to this day! However, the card pool was not anywhere close to supporting this mechanic at the time and it sadly fell flat.
That is however no longer true. After lurking in the shadows for many cycles (pun intended) it has emerged as a very viable archetype that can be very good against some scenarios where other strong decks might fail…and I will demonstrate this later. No longer is it just about offsetting resource disadvantage but actually creating resource advantage with a deck that has powerful control over enemy engagement by maintaining very low threat levels. So what has made this archetype suddenly viable and, dare I say, even powerful in the right circumstances? I will list and discuss point by point.
Threat Reduction, Threat Reduction, Threat Reduction!
Early on in the game, threat reductions was very difficult to come by. This was the main problem that shut down secrecy, as you typically had only 1-3 turns to leverage the lowered cost curve of secrecy before you were above 20 and it was difficult to go back. When building a Secrecy deck, it always pays to consider using the Spirit sphere, as this is where the most threat reduction lies. The Hobbit and Noldor traits are also good to mix in with secrecy since both tend to bring powerful threat reduction with them (or just naturally start at low threat.) The Hobbits, in particular, are a good build for secrecy due to the Hobbit mechanic leveraging advantage against enemies whose staging threat are higher than themselves.
I would argue that this is the most important secrecy card in the game! Just to give you an idea of the potential power of this card, if you see 2x of these in your opening hand with a starting threat 20 or below, you basically start with resource advantage comparable to or even better than Steward of Gondor! For the cost of 2 resources from any sphere, you get a permanent 2 extra resources distributed amongst any heroes you choose. This is the card you want to mulligan for. It combined with your reduced cost curve from the secrecy mechanic can give you the most powerful resource advantage in the game…even when starting from the disadvantage of two heroes. It’s worth including some fetch cards to get to these (Master of the Forge, Heed the Dream, etc.). 3x auto include goes without saying.
This card, although not being as critical and important to 2 hero decks as I originally thought it would be, still makes that particular build more viable, and probably is at least a 2x include in that build. Its primary function is to offset the other big disadvantage to starting with 2 heroes, the loss of an action in a game where action economy is king. It’s particularly nice when combined in a deck with Spirit Glorfindel and Light of Valinor, as now you have two heroes who quest without exhausting at the cost of two 1 cost attachments. The willpower boost is nice if you see it early, but it’s probably going to be turned fairly quickly once the fourth ally enters play. It’s more of a failsafe to protect against the times when you don’t have much ally willpower on the board to quest with.
These two allies are absolutely boss in a secrecy deck, and even link secrecy to a little bit of encounter deck manipulation, building on an early theme we have seen with cards such as Risk Some Light and Out of the Wild. These guys do a TON of work for 1 cost in secrecy decks, and one usually forms the willpower backbone while the other forms the combat backbone. Being able to scrap a location when you are being location locked, or scrap an enemy when you are being overwhelmed…not to mention peak at what the encounter deck has coming…comes in VERY handy in solo play. These guys, of course, go well with Hennamarth Riversong and other forms of deck scrying, allowing you to somewhat “target” really tough encounter cards for discard. There is a secrecy/encounter deck manipulation build out there that can really run with some of these cards.
Although I rarely fit Leadership into my secrecy builds, this card alone is probably the sole reason why there is an argument for Leadership in secrecy, and thus bears mention. It’s pretty straightforward in doubling down on the cost curve advantage baked into the secrecy mechanic. It also allows you to get a great ally in for a very low cost, allowing you to save your precious resources for attachments or other allies.
Since writing this article, it’s been pointed out to me that I somehow missed what is probably the most important hero and card in general to come out in support of the secrecy mechanic! This hero gives us a consistent way to get our decks into secrecy mode on demand from the setup of the game. In the best case scenario, is a whopping 4 threat! in a straight Hobbit deck, coming in at the lowest threat hero in the game yet…with the ability to decrease threat by a further 7 at a moments notice. In the worst case, he is 6 threat (his -1 per Hobbit counts himself) and can be discarded on turn one for what essentially amounts to a -1 decrease in threat (+6 and -7) AFTER using his “extra” resource and questing (or attacking) in an otherwise 2 hero deck. This greatly offsets two of the biggest problems with secrecy builds….having a consistent way to get back down to secrecy as well as offsetting the inherent disadvantage of running only 2 heroes for atleast 1 turn.
Lore and Spirit are arguably the best homes for the secrecy mechanic. They have the most card support for it as well as the best secrecy cards in general. Spirit also tends to house low threat heroes, threat reduction, and low cost/high willpower allies while Lore gives you the fetch and card draw necessary to make decks that rely on multiple pieces to work.
The Lore secrecy cards introduce a secrecy/encounter deck manipulation module featuring the ever valuable Ithilien Lookout discussed above with Out of the Wild and Risk Some Light. Needful to Know provides a unique means of reducing threat in the Lore Sphere (not counting Lore Aragorn), but it is only really useful when combined with deck scrying. It’s kind of a relic of a bygone stage of the game where threat reduction was rare, and tends to be a bit too high risk for little gain. The one niche place it can work though is the secrecy/encounter deck manipulation arechetype where you generally know what the next card is. However, unless you are playing mono-lore, you will probably be finding much more efficient and consistent means of threat reduction. The biggest problem with this card is that at it’s absolute inconsistent best, it’s doing what Elrond’s Council does every time…although if threat is not a concern at the moment, it can add value as a scry card. It’s also worth mentioning that Noiseless Movement is in this sphere, which can stop individual enemy engagement and recurs to your hand while in secrecy. This secrecy/encounter deck manipulation deck is a fun archetype that is on my list to build and try out.
The Spirit secrecy cards introduce a small secrecy module that helps you to deal with enemies that are engaged with you. Out of Sight has a decent effect, although a bit costly for my taste even with the secrecy discount. I tend to think if this card were printed today, both costs would be reduced by 1. The biggest problem with this card is it’s at it’s best utility when engaged with a bunch of enemies, but it only buys you one round of protection. Most Secrecy decks will probably not be well equipped to engage a lot of enemies except in niche situations. Similar problem with O Elbereth!, Gilthoniel!. It can be a life saving card in the right moment, but has the unfortunate effect of almost guaranteeing a massive threat increase out of secrecy. Unless you have some means to deal with this, like Lore Aragorn‘s ability, it’s probably going to be an extremely niche situation where you even want to play this card. Sadly, 2 of the 3 Spirit secrecy cards on not very competitive in the modern card pool. Spirit also has it’s version of a “secrecy recurring card” in the form of Courage Awakened, a 1 phase willpower booster. If we are honest, the real reason we build with Spirit is for the threat reduction and the low threat Heroes.
The Leadership secrecy cards are basically trying to double down on the cost curve of the secrecy mechanic by maximizing efficiency at getting allies into play. Timely Aid does a fantastic job at just this, and can be the sole reason to build with Leadership. If you are already building a secrecy deck with Leadership, Rivendell Scout is actually deceptively good. The community response to this card has generally been pretty poor, but I think a lot of people underestimate just how awesome a FREE ally is…..and one that can quest, attack, and have more than 1 hit point to boot! Highly underrated card. The Dunedain Wanderer, despite being obscenely over-costed regularly, is actually a pretty good value in secrecy, all though he suffers from the common Ranger problem of diffuse stats and thus needing action advantage to reach his potential, which is pretty rare for allies. He is both ranged and sentinel though so that is added value for multi-player. Leadership’s “secrecy recurring card” is Swift and Silent, which readies a hero. On top of that, the only real compelling reason to build with leadership is just to maximize resource advantage on top of the secrecy advantage.
Tactics has squat for secrecy, although Tactics Eowyn may introduce some interesting options for combining the mechanic with tactics. Given my natural aversion to tri-sphere decks, I doubt I will ever create a secrecy deck with tactics, but somebody out there will likely prove my nay-saying wrong.
Thankfully, the core deckbuilding tools for Secrecy exist in the Neutral Sphere. We’ve already discussed why Resourceful is the most important secrecy card, and how Strider makes the 2 hero variant more attractive. It’s also important not to forget about Leaf Brooch. Although I usually end up cutting this card and at most have included 1x in any of my secrecy decks, it “is” more cost reduction which can do some work if you have an event heavy deck. Vanish from Sight is also an emergency card that can reset you back to secrecy for 1 phase.
A list of packs that are pertinent for building a good secrecy deck are:
- Watcher in the Water – Not only does this pack introduce one of the most useful heroes for secrecy builds, Lore Aragorn, but also the card that makes secrecy work, Resourceful.
- Foundation of Stone – Introduces arguable the most effective secrecy hero in the game, Spirit Glorfindel... as well as the toys that come with him. It also has one of the most powerful threat reducers in the game, Elrond’s Council
- Nin-In-Eilph and The Dunland trap introduce the two most powerful secrecy allies, Celduin Traveler and Ithlien Lookout. Additionally, Dunland Trap contains Swift and Silent, one of three events that recur when in secrecy.
- If you want to try 2 hero secrecy, the Drowned Ruins brings Strider to the table.
- The Redhorn Gate introduces Timely Aid if you want to go the Leadership secrecy route.
To balance out our discussion on the secrecy mechanic, I thought it fitting to provide an example of where I used this mechanic to build a deck to take on one of the toughest scenarios in the game, City of the Corsairs from the Dreamchaser cycle. This scenario is known for destroying otherwise powerful decks because it presents you a terrible dilemma from turn 1. You start with a low engagement enemy in staging that not only damages your ships (which will later turn into direct damage to your characters) but also makes it VERY difficult to maintain “on course” sailing tests…WHICH are required to even place progress on the quest. It’s one of the worst “first turn” problems in the game, if not the worst.
My solution was to leverage Secrecy to beat it. The concept is pretty basic. Stay below 20 threat, never engage the Stormcaller and avoid engaging ship enemies as much as possible (because you want minimal damage on your ships for stage 2!). You then camp out as long as possible in this stage basically playing as many low-cost curve allies as fast as you can. Try to manage staging threat by exploring locations and make sure to destroy all corsair enemies before moving on. When you have sufficiently built up your ally army, quest past stage 1, sprint through stage 2, and overwhelm Captain Sahir, his cohorts, and his fabulous flowing locks, with sheer number of allies.
Enjoy! Let me know what you think of the deck!