This quest is the first of two in a row in this cycle where you have to bring one specific aspect of the game, or you’re just going to lose. For A Journey to Rhosgobel, it’s healing, and this absolutely can’t be understated. So, for this quest, I’m switching back to Lore Aragorn, simply because Lore has all of the healing in the game. This deck has a great track record against this quest, and I even changed it up right before preparing for this segment of the series.
In short, this quest has you escorting an Eagle ally, Wilyador, who has been wounded and begins the game with 2 damage. He suffers two damage at the end of each round, and has 20 hit points, so you’re on a timer. This makes healing absolutely essential. While the quest has you search for the Athelas objective attachment, healing from other sources is necessary to not lose along the way.
Aragorn & Healing
I’m back to Lore Aragorn, who I picture as the definitive “Strider” Aragorn, and having access to Lore means access to all of the healing, so this really feels like a great representation of his ability and knowledge of healing and caring for wounds. As the nurse in Gondor said in Return of the King, “the hands of the king are the hands of a healer.”
So the main ways Aragorn will heal Wilyador along the quest is to use Lore of Imladris, and Healing Herbs. I want to get as much of these cards into play, or in my hand as possible. Aragorn, with Healing Herbs attached, and either an Unexpected Courage, or utilizing Legolas’s ability, will give him the readying he needs to heal with the herbs. This is Aragorn’s main role in the quest: Keep Wilyador alive!
In addition, the quest deals a lot of direct damage to heroes and characters, other than Wilyador. So, also added is the Warden of Healing, which will be used to heal the heroes and allies. The quest targets exhausted characters and characters that do not have attachments. The latter is designed to hit Wilyador, but is also dangerous for allies, and any heroes who don’t have attachments. The Warden of Healing can mitigate that damage.
(I should note that healing Wilyador with the Warden is not a great strategy, as quest Stage 2 requires any effect that heals the eagle be removed from the game entirely. So healing 1 point of damage and losing your Warden is not ideal.)
Another interesting angle to heal Wilyador is the ally Radagast. In the quest, you’re traveling to Rhosgobel to see Radagast and seek his help in healing Wilyador. So, the ally, whose resources you can use to heal Creature characters, can be used for this purpose. However, this is not a focus for my strategy, as I’d rather find the other healing cards, since they cost significantly less, and require less set up (waiting to accumulate resources) to achieve.
But, if Radagast comes into play, I will wait to accumulate 5 resources on him, and then use all of them to heal Wilyador of 5 damage, the maximum that is allowed by the quest. This also removes Radagast from the game, of course, which is why this isn’t a focus for the deck. Also, when he is in play, he can be a good 2 willpower questing ally until it’s time to heal the eagle.
I’m keeping Arwen Undomiel because she can help boost Aragorn’s resources and is a strong questing hero. A new addition, is Spirit Legolas. I originally planned to play this quest with Glorfindel, since he was in the main deck for the first two quests. But, Legolas felt like a better inclusion due to the narrative (if you haven’t read the narrative for Conflict at the Carrock, you can here). Since Legolas played a main role there, but in his ally version, I thought it would be cool to have his Spirit hero in this deck.
There are some pros and cons to using Legolas instead of Spirit Glorfindel, one being the loss of 2 willpower. This means that questing might be more difficult, but it isn’t always necessary to quest really hard, as you need to find Athelas, and aren’t necessarily racing to the finish. One of the main benefits to having Legolas in this quest is his Ranged keyword. A couple of the annoying enemies can only be attacked by characters with Ranged, or Eagle characters, so Legolas is able to attack those pesky Black Forest Bats and Mirkwood Flocks, whereas Glorfindel could not.
Another benefit to using Legolas is his readying ability for another hero. Mainly, this means he can ready Aragorn, when they both quest, so that Aragorn can defend, attack, or heal Wilyador with the Healing Herbs. It also provides another avenue to discard Elven-light, which fuels card draw. This is honestly the first time I’ve used this Legolas, and I have to say, he seems really fun, even without Gimli!
To support Legolas’s inclusion, I added Mirkwood Long-knife, which boosts his attack and willpower, very nice for him, and he will get Light of Valinor so he can quest without exhausting. He needs at least one Long-knife to kill the Mirkwood Flock in one attack, so this was a no-brainer.
Speaking of Ranged support, I added the Haldir of Lorien ally, in order to give myself another attacker or defender for those annoying enemies. I have Ithilien Archer in my sideboard, but it was not very thematic. Neither is Haldir, I guess, but he has more staying power, with a good health pool and stats in general. With many of Aragorn’s resources going to healing and card draw, getting Haldir on the table is not necessary, and is a “win-more” kind of feature.
Opening Hand & Strategy
Starting with some form of healing, whether a Lore of Imladris or Healing Herbs is always a goal. I prefer to see the Herbs as they are free, of course. I will always mulligan for either card. Since Legolas and Arwen need, or want to see Elven-light, I would prefer to have that in my opening hand as well. Those two things, healing and card draw, are really what I’m looking for to start the game. All else can be spared.
We don’t want to rely on the Athelas just being revealed through normal staging, so there are a couple cards I use to hopefully find them more easily. They both center on finding a specific location in the Encounter Deck, the Forest Grove. This location, when explored, allows you to put an Athelas into play, so I want to find the location ASAP. Dunedain Pathfinder is a good method to dig through the deck to find it. Sometimes he does, sometimes he just finds a different location, but that’s not a bad thing either as it helps slow the quest down to keep looking for the Athelas.
The other card is Distant Stars, which is a niche card, but very fun when it works. If I find a location that isn’t Forest Grove with the Dunedain Pathfinder, and have Distant Stars in hand, I can easily swap them out. The same goes for any location revealed in staging. These two cards are the best way to find the Forest Grove and get that Athelas! In my sideboard, I have a couple copies of A Watchful Peace, which could, in theory, return a Forest Grove to the top of the Encounter Deck. But, I found that this too often occurred when there was an enemy engaged with me, or guarding an Athelas, and the location would just turn into a shadow card. It’s a possibility, though, and could be useful in the right situations, but didn’t make the final cut.
Similar to the last quest, I don’t want to blaze through the stages too quickly. The quest requires a little balance between advancing quickly, so Wilyador doesn’t succumb to his wounds, and being slow so you can find enough Athelas. Because (spoiler warning), once you get to Stage 3, you have to have enough Athelas attached to your heroes to heal Wilyador completely, or you lose the game. So, either you have to be able to heal him enough on your own through the game, or have a lot of Athelas attached.
I don’t want to stall on Stage 1, because the unique Rhosgobel location in the staging area can only be traveled to after you finish Stage 1. While that location is in the staging area, you can’t heal Wilyador, so you have to get through Stage 1 quickly, then slow down on Stage 2. I will always balance how much I heal Wilyador and monitor that vs. how many Athelas are in play, or attached. If I can heal him completely with the Athelas, or make that point moot with enough healing on my own, I will press on to Stage 3, but of course, do NOT advance to Stage 3 unless you have exactly enough healing on the board or in hand, to have no wounds on Wilyador when Stage 3 is revealed (Athelas or not).