Master cards

No not the credit cards, this article will focus on the Master traited cards that were introduced in the Vengeance of Mordor cycle. These cards interact with the player card version of the One Ring that was in the Shadow in the East Deluxe box. The trait offers the players the chance to use the One Ring for good, but at the same time, they are taking big risks when wielding it. Adding the One Ring and the Master traited cards to your deck will add an additional loss-condition to your game, since the players as a group will lose if the hero who has the One Ring attached dies. This is just one of the risks that you have to take when using this archetype, but it can pay off in your favor as well. So let’s look at the benefits you get and the risk you’ll take when using the One Ring in your games!

General information

The Master trait was introduced in the 9th cycle of the game, with no other previous expansions having any direct links with the archetype. The Deluxe box of that cycle is critical, as without it, you don’t have the One Ring to play the other cards off of. If you are thinking to be clever and using the Master cards in the Saga scenarios, as those also have the One Ring, you can’t. In the rulebook of A Shadow in the East Deluxe expansion, there is a line that clearly states that any card with the Master trait is not compatible with the Saga expansions. You cannot use the player card version of the One Ring in those scenarios, and cannot use any other Master cards in there either.

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The archetype focuses on the One Ring, and the power that it can give your deck. It opens the door to 7 event and attachment cards that all require the One Ring to exhaust. Luckily, if you are playing a Master deck, you get to start with the One Ring already in play, as it cannot be in your deck and will end the game if it leaves play. This means that during setup, the controlling player chooses a hero to attach the One Ring onto. This also fills a Restricted slot, making it an interesting choice for Forth, The Three Hunters contract decks, as this gets you one-sixth of the way to flipping the contract for free.

Another benefit is that the player with the One Ring can search their deck for a card with the Master trait in their deck and add it to their hand. This is great if you only need 1 Master attachment to make your deck work, as you don’t have to dig through your deck to find it. Instead, you can only include one copy of that card, and save some space in your deck for other cards that your deck might need. As the One Ring and the Master card it fetches are both a part of your deck and work towards the 50 card minimum of your deck, you essentially start with just 48 cards in your deck before drawing your opening hand. This makes your deck a bit more consistent.

The One Ring itself is unique, meaning that players cannot run 2 Master decks on the same table. Other players can include Master cards in their deck, but must play it on the hero with the One Ring attached. The One Ring is also immune to non-Master effects. This prevents the players from using it for any shenanigans outside of the Master trait, but also protects the One Ring from effects that would otherwise discard it. Shadow effects that try to discard attachments from the defender cannot target the One Ring. The One Ring also has the Artifact trait, meaning that players who are looking into giving their ringbearer some more hitpoints, can also look into getting Ring of Barahir on them.

Risks

The One Ring is tricksy, and will do its best to be found by its true master. It does this by trying to threat out the players, or making their live miserable by raising its controller’s threat. The One Ring doesn’t do this by itself, but instead the players must raise their threat by 1 each time they use an effect that exhausts the One Ring. Events like the Master Ring will only do this once, but the real risk lies in the Master attachments. These attachments can be triggered every round (though only once), raising your threat by an additional point. If you include no threat reduction and trigger the attachment every round, then your threat will go up twice as fast per round than it normally would. This means you run a greater risk of engaging enemies prematurely, and will risk threating out faster than your fellow players. And if you threat out, then it is game over for everyone.

To make threating out a little easier for the encounter deck, your threat elimination level is reduced by 5. This only targets you, the other player’s elimination level will remain at 50 in most quests. But the reduction of 5 threat in your elimination level can be very difficult to counter during the late game. In quests that further lower your elimination level, like Trouble in Tharbad, and with cards like the Tower of Barad-Dur, this is make even more difficult. You will need to have proper threat reduction in your deck to counter this decrease in threat elimination level, and to counter the increase in threat gained per round. It also locks you out of the Valour archetype (pretty much, unless you want to balance between 40 and 45 threat, which is very risky), though that loss is minor compared to what you gain with the One Ring.

Before we go over those benefits though, there is the biggest threat of all: The risk of losing the game because you lost the One Ring. While the game did make the One Ring immune to non-Master effects, which includes encounter cards, you can still lose the One Ring. While treacheries like Leaves on Tree won’t target the One Ring, if the attached hero dies, then the One Ring is lost. And if the One Ring is lost, then the entire Fellowship fails the quest and has to count the playthrough as a loss. This can cost everyone the game if you didn’t get enough healing out, or underestimated the attack of the enemy. During the late game, losing the quest through this effect while you were close to victory can be very frustrating. This risk is one that you have to carry with you, and you have to be careful that your Ringbearer survives until the end of the game. This effect also makes certain heroes a hazard if they wield the One Ring. Caldara, Folco, and Tactics Boromir (fitting) all have discard-from-play abilities, but if the One Ring is attached to them, their abilities can’t be triggered unless you want to end the game then and there. This gives grief decks an easy way to put the other players out of their misery after you’ve been annoying with your other cards for the majority of the game.

Benefits

Threating out and costing the entire party the game is no joke, so there has to be something in return for this big risk. Luckily, wielding the One Ring does give you access to 7 player cards that are all powerful in their own way. They allow you to exhaust the One Ring and raise your threat by 1 to do an effect that usually costs a couple of resources or isn’t repeatable. These effects can fill the holes in some decks that otherwise don’t have access to such an ability, like how non-Spirit decks can include The Master Ring to cancel the effects of an encounter card with the One Ring. They do have to replace the card, but it allows the deck to cancel a nasty encounter card without having to use Eleanor or The Door is Closed.

Besides the 3 neutral event that come with the One Ring in the Deluxe box, there are 4 very useful attachments with the Master trait. They each belong to a different sphere, and try to boost the ringbearer with what that sphere does best. The Tactics attachment boosts attack strength for example. All of these attachments have a static +1 to the stats of the ringbearer, but can be used to exhaust the One Ring to help the attached hero in getting more use out of the attachment. For example, Well Preserved (the Lore attachment) gives the hero +1 hitpoint, which is a nice way to prevent the hero from dying, especially if you have the One Ring on a Hobbit character. While this +1 hitpoint is a passive, you can also choose to exhaust the One Ring with Well Preserved at the beginning of the round in order to heal all damage from the attached hero. This helps the hero to tank a ton of Archery damage and heal it all off for the cost of 1 threat during the start of the next round. It is the most cost-effective way to heal a single character, as cards like Lore of Imladris aren’t repeatable and are quite expensive.

All of these attachments are great to have on a hero, but there is the question you must ask yourself at the start of each round if you have multiple effects you can trigger. You need to ask yourself for what you will use the One Ring that round, since all seven Master cards require you to exhaust the One Ring. And since the ring cannot be readied until the end of the round, you will only get 1 effect per round. This means you have to make a decision early in the round if you are going to use the ring to heal, or to save it in order to cancel a treachery in the quest phase for instance. You can also wait a little longer and use Strength and Courage instead to deal a lot of damage to a single enemy. Since some effects can only be triggered in certain phases of the game, it becomes a task of managing where you will think you need to use the One Ring this round. Scrying of the encounter deck can help with this, so that you can make a plan for what is to come out of the encounter deck as well. This only really becomes an issue for those decks that include more than one different Master effect. Plenty of decks only use one attachment to use for the One Ring, so they do not have the same problem.

Targets

Of course, there are many targets for the One Ring, and many different heroes can use the One Ring in different ways. Defenders like Beregond and Dain Ironfoot can make better use out of Inner Strength, just to get some shadow cancellation out early. Attackers like Saruman and Legolas might prefer to run the ring with Strength and Courage to double their base attack strength to be more useful in an offense role. But there are also other weird sorts of targets, like a Gloin deck with Well Preserved who tanks all the damage and heals it off at the start of the next round to end up with a ton of resources.

There are also thematic options. We’ve received a new version of Frodo Baggins in the same Deluxe box, and he is a great pair with Power of Command to help Leadership quest for a stupid amount. Bilbo is not that great of a ringbearer in either version, but perhaps you can find a fun interaction with him to make it work. There are also a couple of heroes who cannot wield the One Ring, and cannot be used for such a Master deck. Beorn, Quickbeam, Treebeard, Gwaihir, and Smeagol cannot have (Restricted) attachments, and are thus not able to use the ring for themselves. It would have been fantastic to get an 11 attack Beorn out of this, but alas, it isn’t allowed.

Is it worth the risk?

Having seen both the pros and cons of the archetype, I figure that in many cases, it will be worth including the One Ring into your deck, as long as some conditions are met. In my eyes, they are the following:

  1. Do you have a purpose for the One Ring? Is there some attribute you want to exploit on a hero and have the ability to do so with the ring?
  2. Do you have enough threat reduction in your deck? If not, then you would threat out easily, losing the game for everyone.
  3. Are you up against a quest that allows you to constantly raise your threat? Quests like Danger in Dorwinion punish you each time you raise your threat, so that is probably a quest you will want to leave the Ring in the binder for.
  4. Are you up against a quest where the threat elimination level is critical? This can either be because the level gets lowered as the game progresses, or because the quest raises your threat a lot.
  5. Do you have ways to prevent the hero from dying? Either by healing, damage cancellation, or having a proper way to defend enemy attacks.
  6. Is anyone else playing the One Ring? This is only important for multiplayer games, but proper communication beforehand can allow you to avoid uniqueness problems.
  7. Is anyone bringing a Doomed deck? If so, double up on your threat reduction, because you might be at that 45 threat level really quickly.

After answering the questions, you can probably determine whether or not you should include the One Ring and the Master cards into your deck. If you have any other proposed questions that players should ask beforehand, let me know, and I’ll add them to the list.

Decks

In many situations, these questions can lead to you including the One Ring. I have used it personally a few times, usually on Frodo with Power of Command to boost willpower. But I am looking forward to hearing your stories about how you used the ring. To get you started with the Master trait, I have included a couple of decks below that approach the trait in different ways.

Hopefully these decks will show you the power of the One Ring and the cards that accompany it. I really like how the Ring is implemented in the game, as many people have been asking for it for a long time. The balance is good, where there is a clear risk of losing the game and getting a higher threat, but with the rewards you get for it, it is a justified archetype in many situations.

This concludes the article about the Master trait and how the One Ring can shape a deck. I look forward to hear how you have used the archetype to get through the game, and if you think that it is balanced. I’ll continue with the trait updates this month, completing a few more archetypes that have gotten updates in the ninth cycle. There are still a couple of traits left to do without spoiling any cards from the sixth and final AP of the cycle, which I won’t cover until it has been announced by FFG. Stay tuned on any developments by following me on Twitter, as I won’t be making a ton of announcements elsewhere on what traits are being updated this month. Take care, and I’ll see you all next time!

2 thoughts on “Master cards

  1. Haldir of Lorien + Strength and Courage has been pretty amazing for me, can snipe just about anything as long as you keep your threat down enough.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Strength&Courage and Inner Strength are fantastic tools when you’re building against specific quests because they potentially make it possible to “solve” combat for the entire game in your opening hand. As an example: against Steward’s Fear, every normal enemy can be killed with 8 attack and every boss enemy can be killed with two 8-attack swings. Knowing this, I built a Dunhere deck where the only attack booster was Strength and Courage, which gets him to exactly 8 attack when attacking into staging.

    Similarly, if a quest features enemies with a maximum of 5 attack before shadow effects, Spirit Beregond + Inner Strength is guaranteed to perfectly defend against every attack from turn 1, earning his trigger to offset the threat increase from the shadow cancellation (if it was necessary).

    Like

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