February will be dedicated to the contracts that were released during the Vengeance of Mordor cycle as well as the Hunt for the Dreadnaught scenario pack. In these articles I hope to inform you all on the deckbuilding decisions you will face when building decks with the contracts, and what their individual strengths and weaknesses are. In this article, we will be taking a look at one of my personal favorite contracts: Council of the Wise.
This one was released in Under the Ash Mountains and was the first time we ever got a single-sided contract. All other contracts had conditions that had to be met to unlock the full potential of a contract (2 Restricted slots filled on all heroes for Forth, the Three Hunters, 9 unique characters in play for Fellowship, and so on). Instead, Council of the Wise has everything printed on one side and is already in full effect from setup onwards. This helps balance out some of the weaknesses of the contract, which we will discuss later on. It also allows you to not have to worry about flipping the contract at any point; you just have to play the game with your deck and see the contract as a nice bonus whenever you play an event.
Let’s go over the actual text of the contract first. The contract’s first rule is immediately the most punishing one: You are not allowed more than one copy of a card in your deck by title. This means that you are not allowed to have multiple copies of the same card in your deck or two different versions of a card in your deck. Think of Core Set and OHaUH Gandalf. Only one of these is allowed in your deck, as they share the same title. This makes your deck consist of at least 50 different cards from your card pool, requiring you to be resourceful in adding different cards to your deck than just the strong ones. You are not able to add 3 copies of Daeron’s Runes to your deck, so maybe look into having one copy of Daeron’s Runes, Campfire Tales, and We Are Not Idle to solve your card draw for the deck instead.
When you have finally created your deck with nothing but single copies of cards, you will be playing the game with an added Response that you may trigger each time you play an event from your hand. Note that Elven-light and Lords of the Eldar do NOT trigger this response, as they are played from your discard pile! When you play an event from your deck, you may choose to:
- Reduce your threat by 1.
- Add 1 resource to the resource pool of any hero you control.
- Draw 1 card from the top of your deck
All these options are limited to once per round, meaning that you can still play 3 events per round and get all three benefits, but you cannot choose to lower your threat 3 times with the contract during the same round. I tend to represent this with 3 different tokens that I place on the contract. When I play an event, I remove one of the tokens to represent that I have, for instance, draw a card. Then, at the beginning of the new round, I add the tokens back to the card for the new round.
That is all the power that the contract gives you, three extra responses in the round in exchange for you playing a deck where it is very hard to find the cards you need. However, the extra responses work very well in a deck designed to play a ton of events, where many events now do double-duty or can be played for a profit if you have the right responses left per round. In an ideal world, you are stabilizing your threat from the end-of-the-round threat increase, getting an additional resource each round on any hero, and are drawing an additional card per round without needing any cards in play to begin with.
It’s easy to see the positives to this contract. These three Responses per round greatly increase the power of any event you have. Any 1-cost event can now be deemed free if you take the resource back, or you could even put that resource on another hero if you need the resource smoothing. Events that grant you resources like Wealth of Gondor, Gaining Strength, and Captain’s Wisdom are now also more profitable!
Don’t have enough cards? Have Campfire Tales draw you 2 cards instead of 1, or Daeron’s Runes draw you 3 cards! And being able to stabilize your threat at a specific level as long as there are no Doomed effects in the game is very nice, as it allows you to avoid mid-engagement cost enemies for longer. On top of that, being able to drop your threat during any action window can also sometimes save you from engaging an enemy. Granted, 1 point of threat isn’t much, but over the course of an entire game, it does add up. This is especially important in combination with the One Ring and its effects. All of the Master cards that interact with the One Ring require you to raise your threat by 1. Bring this contract, and you can balance that out. The three events are even completely free at that point, aside from having to exhaust the One Ring.
The other positive might be a more personal one. I like that this contract forces you to look beyond the staples of an archetype or sphere. You need 50 different cards from your collection, which means you may end up using cards you would otherwise skip. I never use the Secrecy events from the Ringmaker cycle, but they’re not bad with this contract. Other events like Rumour from the Earth and Children of the Sea rarely see play, but again, they are pretty powerful if you can drop your threat by a point or gain a resource/card when playing the event. The contract forces creative deckbuilding, which can scare some players, and prevent newer players from playing with it, as they might not even have 50 different cards worth including before resorting to “bike-spoke” cards.
This contract also has some niche positives against certain quests. During the Mumakil especially, this contract allows you to whiff on Savage South completely. Yes, you will discard 5 cards from your deck, but you can be certain that none of the cards in play will be discarded for it!
There are also some negatives to this contract, and it may end up being the reason why you do not see this contract very often being played. First of all, there is a logistical challenge to the contract. When building a physical deck, it is more difficult to make a deck out of 50 different cards than having some 3-of’s in there. Especially when taking the deck apart and having to sort every card, it can get a little tedious. Decklists online also tend to be pretty long since there is only 1 copy of each card by title.
But I think the biggest problem with the contract is the unreliability that you will face. Most decks have 3 copies of some cards for a reason. Outlands with this contract isn’t even possible! But it is always nice to know you have spare copies of an event like A Test of Will in the deck than knowing that you just played your only copy and somehow have to find a way to retrieve it. Decks are designed to be reliable in order to beat more difficult quests; otherwise, the encounter deck will outpace you whilst you are looking for that one attachment you need.
It is also a lot more to manage than simply exhausting the contract to do a thing or flipping it once requirements are met. I mentioned before that tokens on the card help you to know what abilities you have used already. Otherwise, I can imagine the contract will get confusing quickly.
Lastly, the contract requires you to invest a lot of deck space into events. You require this to use the contract, so any ally or attachment you might draw won’t give you the benefit of the contract. This is an issue, as events do not always have the same impact on the board state that an ally or an attachment might have. You will play the event once (most likely) and then never see it again for the game. At the same time, allies and attachments can help you out during each round. A careful balance of card types is required for the contract, else you end up with no real presence at the table, except for a few events that you play each round. And even then, the unreliability of the deck might cause you to lose a hero when you didn’t have an ally to sacrifice.
Cards to include
The obvious answer here is “events.” And you are right; having a lot of events in your deck will ensure that you can trigger the contract often and are getting maximum value out of the contract. Especially cheap events for 0 or 1 cost will be worth including. Even events that generally don’t do much are now suddenly more powerful, so worth a second look.
But you will need more than just events in your deck to get your deck going. One important thing to include is a way to reliably find key attachments that you might need for your heroes. Since you are only allowed one copy of these attachments in the deck, it would be nice if you had a way to look for it in your deck. The Gather Information side-quest is an auto-include in many decks, but it serves a genuine purpose in this deck! Have Thurindir in your hero line-up in order to ensure this side-quest is in your opening hand, and given that you clear it quickly, you are free to search your deck for any card you might need. Another good option is Heed the Dream. This event already helps, but at an increased cost, you get to look through your deck for the card you want. 3 Leadership resources is quite an investment, but if you return Steward of Gondor with it, you can make a profit really quickly. If you are running an Istari hero, then Word of Command will be an auto-include as well!
Filtering your deck also helps with this contract. Being able to scry deep into your deck and take what cards you want helps to draw key attachments quickly. Imladris Stargazer helps to put important cards 5 cards deep into your deck to make it to the top quickly. If you cannot find anything with her, use a Galadhrim Minstrel to look at your top 5 cards for an event, draw it, and then shuffle your deck so that you can look for the important cards again. The Mirror of Galadriel is also a powerful card to use, but you are risking losing the card you were looking for. And while you could include a Silver Harp as well to negate the downside of the Mirror, multi-card combos are tough to rely on, though.
Of course, you can also include a ton of card draw action to ensure you always have options available to you. The contract will help with this, but if you start with a hero who can draw you more cards, you can continue to fuel your engine with event after event. Beravor, Lore Pippin, Galadriel, and Lore Bilbo all work well with this, but as long as you have access to Lore, you should have enough card draw anyways. Just remember that Elven-light does not work, as you are not playing the cards from your hand.
It will also be worth adding in cards that allow you to recycle cards from your discard pile. These usually are events like Will of the West and Dwarven Tomb, but you can also consider hero Háma for a contract like this. Council of the Wise decks tend to burn through their deck quickly thanks to the increased card draw that the contract grants you and the extra card draw a player needs to find important cards for the deck fast. This could mean that you end up with an empty deck before the end of the game, at which point it would be great if you could recycle your events and keep going!
Archetypes that work well
I will begin by suggesting that you expand the number of spheres in your deck to 3. Mono-sphere decks with this contract are going to run out of options for cards to include that are worth their price. You also have access to a limited pool of events that you may not always get to trigger when you want to. You will have the option to pay for more expensive events this way, but the cheap ones tend to be enough value with the contract that you do not need to save up for something big. Two spheres work, as you have plenty of options that way, but going tri-sphere gives you access to about 80% of the card pool, allowing you to play whatever you want. It is up to you, though. Mono-sphere decks with this contract do have the option of using the Record attachment to recycle events, though you only get to include 1 copy of a Record in your deck.
As for trait-specific archetypes that work well here, I can recommend the Silvan trait. This trait benefits with this contract thanks to the low cost of the allies and the usually free events. The Silvan trait has several events that require you to return a Silvan to your hand to do something, but while that event is free, it can also trigger the contract! Silvan decks also generally have good card draw and can branch out in all four spheres to have enough options for changing your deck. The trait also does not require a ton of important attachments, though O Lorien is nice to have. If you are playing with Galadriel, then Nenya will be important to get quickly, as it gives you a Lore resource icon and more willpower, to begin with.
Rohan can also work well with the contract, though the abilities to discard characters are usually printed on the allies instead of the events. But cards like Valiant Sacrifice, Mustering the Rohirrim, and Bulwark of the West are easy events to play with the archetype. You also have options in three spheres for building your deck and will have plenty of cheap allies to include single copies of in your deck.
Other large archetypes like Dale, Hobbit, and Gondor could also work, though these require some more key attachments to get going. Still, the archetypes have enough cards in the card pool to get a 50 card deck of single copies going. They can also take enough cards out of any sphere, giving you many options when building your deck.
You would think that a Doomed deck with Saruman could work nicely. There are plenty of Doomed events and access to Word of Command with Saruman to find important cards quickly. The contract’s threat reduction would also not be hindered by Saruman’s effect. Yet the limitation of 1 copy of each Doomed card in the deck does make the deck less reliable than you would have guessed. It’s certainly possible to make a deck with these cards, but it may be less reliable than a standard Doomed deck.
The following decks from RingsDB are worth trying for yourself to get a bit of a feel on how the contract works. I would urge you to play this digitally, as building the decks physically is an enormous pain.
- Rohan traited: https://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/14864/wisehorselordsofrohan-1.0
- Silvan traited: https://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/14802/silvantoolbox-1.0
- Hobbit traited: https://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/16052/acouncilofwisehalflings-1.0
- Vilya deck: https://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/16230/consistentwisdom-1.0
- Doomed deck: https://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/17761/counciloftheunwise-1.0
I hope you enjoyed this review of the Council of the Wise contract. If you have decklists with the contract you feel work well, please share them in the comments. I will be looking at other contracts soon and hopefully get to finish the entire set before the end of the month!