Into Ithilien is a well-known quest, to be sure, and I don’t think it has a good reputation among players because it can be an incredibly awful and annoying experience. For some reason, this is a quest I really enjoy! Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment; but, it feels just right for difficulty, but not overwhelming. I also really enjoy the thematic aspects of it. Having an Ithilien Guardian jump out of the Encounter Deck to aid you in questing, or to strike an enemy as a Shadow card is so fun. Also, I really like the mechanic they introduced with Heirs of Numenor that has you potentially bypass quest stages. It really makes you feel like you’re doing more than moving on rails.
Alright, here we are again with our good friend Lore Aragorn. I will admit, I had a deck already that handled Into Ithilien at about a 40-50% success rate. That deck was a mix of Dunedain strategy, with Traps, and it used Lore Aragorn. But, this time, I didn’t want to lean so heavily on the Dunedain, since this is Gondor, after all. But, Lore Aragorn felt like the natural fit here, since his threat reduction ability is absolutely crucial to defeating the last stage of the quest.
But, therein lies part of the problem I have with Lore Aragorn, other than that threat ability, he doesn’t feel like he does very much. Of course, I’ve featured him on the series plenty of time where he’s stacked up with attachments and kills enemies, and defends, and quests, and does all sorts of things! But, this time, though I have to include him, since this is his first trip into Gondor (check out the narrative for Peril in Pelargir), I actually thought it would be neat to have him be the third-wheel here.
This also fits very well into the theme of the quest, where you’re in Ithilien and are suddenly aided by a company of Rangers. So, Aragorn won’t have a plethora of attachments, but he will gain the Weather-stained Cloak, like all the heroes, to avoid direct damage from Blocking Wargs, but also, I went even a bit further into the “binder,” so to speak, to add Wingfoot to the deck. I have a few scrying options available, and this makes Wingfoot a pretty safe bet to ready Aragorn when he quests. When I do need to take attacks, he will always be the defender, unless I serve up a poor chump to get stomped on by a Mumak.
So, these heroes are really the stars of this deck, cementing the fact that Aragorn is in their neck of the woods, quite literally. Featured for the first time in the series are Damrod, everybody’s favorite Trap master, and Lore Faramir. Yes, Lore Faramir! So, in thinking of a different route from my aforementioned Dunedain deck that has beaten this quest, I went in the other direction and focused on the Gondor Ranger characters. Though the narrative I am building takes place long before Faramir and Damrod were born, they’re perfect stand-ins for general Rangers of Gondor.
Because Damrod is the Trap hero, the deck features a lot of traps: Ranger Spikes, Ithilien Pit, Poisoned Stakes, and Forest Snare. I did a lot of testing using various combinations of traps, including trying out the Entangling Nets and Ambush. But, the latter two did not feel right. I wanted to avoid having to fight enemies as much as possible! After all, we’re trying to get to Cair Andros quickly, so the less we have to fight along the way, the better. Ranger Spikes is the primary trap that I want, and Poisoned Stakes is good, too. Ithilien Pit really comes in handy on Stage 3B, when you cannot engage enemies. Forest Snare is insurance against anyone that I do actually have to engage.
Faramir completes the mono-Lore lineup, and his ability to increase his attack for each enemy in the staging area combines perfectly for the Trap strategy. With the one Southron Company starting in the staging area, and the first stage being a Battle quest, Faramir can become quite a powerful questing hero with enemies hitting Ranger Spikes. Also, later, though he has 2 Willpower, as the other two heroes, he can possibly forego questing to really hammer an enemy with an Ithilien Pit attached on Stage 3B.
Continuing with the Gondor Ranger theme, allies include Mablung, who is a nice 2-cost for 2 Willpower ally. But, his ability is great to get a Forest Snare attached to an enemy during the planning phase. He can enter play, snatch an enemy out of the Staging Area, and let me Forest Snare it without ever having to take the attack. With 2 hit points, I can also let him soak archery, and possibly die, to play another copy, and get his ability again. I also have the Ithilien Tracker, who is great to zero-out an enemy that enters the staging area. Having him negate a 4-threat Mumak is wonderful. Finally, the cheap Guardian of Ithilien is good for just a body, and his ability may be good in certain situations.
I have a few allies for utility outside of the theme, such as Henamarth Riversong, who I am very fond of. His scrying ability is so important in solo. Also, with the Traps, Master of the Forge is an obvious inclusion. The Warden of Healing is important for clearing away direct damage, and Archery. I’ve only got a couple copies of Gandalf because he’s emergency Threat reduction, if needed. Finally, I went with a few copies of Gildor Inglorion. He has amazing stats, and is a really bomb for questing normally, or if we have to Siege quest on the final stage. His ability ain’t bad, either.
Opening Hand and Strategy
In many cases, there aren’t specific cards that are necessary for surviving turn one of a quest. But, I think for this quest, a few cards have to come up in my opening hand to survive the first turn. With the Ithilien Road as the active location, I really have to clear it immediately so I don’t take a huge attack from Southron Company. But, I also don’t want to have to see two enemies, with Ithilien Road still active, as that would end the game.
So, I need to see Ranger Spikes in my opening hand. This allows me to quest without worrying about that second enemy, as I won’t make engagement checks against it. The Spikes also lower that enemy’s threat. Also, it’s great to see Advance Warning in my opening hand, because I can potentially avoid making engagement checks if I don’t manage to clear Ithilien Road. The other cards that are nice to see are Master of the Forge and Mithrandir’s Advice. The latter is a great card in mono-Lore to draw 3 for only 1 resource.
Overall, my strategy for this quest is to get through Stage 1 as quickly as I can, while of course keeping Celador alive, so I can skip Stage 2. I don’t think I’ve ever played this quest where Celador didn’t survive Stage 1. So, getting to Stage 3 means I have to shift to normal Willpower questing and won’t be able to engage enemies. This is where I start playing Ithilien Pit and Poisoned Stakes. I don’t really want to play those on Stage 1 if I can help it, but they’re also good for card draw with Damrod. But here, they are really great to clear enemies out on Stage 3, before getting to the final stage.
Along the way, cards like Interrogation can be wonderful additions to Henamarth’s scrying, if I get a trap attached to an enemy like the Morgul Spider, for example. Paying 1 resource to look at the top 3 cards, and maybe discard one (it is a “may”), can really set up a turn or two in solo. To supplement a lot of the strong events I have, and since this is a mono-Lore deck, the Scroll of Isildur allows me to recycle those events.
Going into the last round, it’s crucial to use Aragorn’s threat reset to get down to my starting 32. This will buy me a turn or two before my threat goes back up to 37, and the last stage becomes a Siege. With Aragorn in play, I know I can hang around on Stage 3B as long as I need to, so I can draw to see cards I need, or clean up the staging area. Before I get to Stage 4, I really want to have at least one copy of The Great Hunt in my hand, just in case a Mumak is revealed. The Hunt is perfect to get rid of that thing on Stage 3, but can still be used to get rid of it on Stage 4, if I’m still below 38 threat.
Overall, I try to get through the quest without fighting any enemies, or at least, as few as possible. With traps, Advanced Warning, and The Great Hunt, combined with Stage 3B, I can pretty well avoid all enemies and attacks in the Encounter Deck!