Saruman has tasked you with a dangerous mission: journey up the Misty Mountains’ southern peak in search of the Orc, Mugash, and capture him alive. Mugash and his Orcs have been raiding the surrounding countryside from their hidden lair in Methedras, and carrying loot and captives back into the mountains. It’s time to put an end to this menace…
In the opening scenes of To Catch an Orc, the second quest of the Voice of Isengard, I find myself in the employ of the White Wizard of Orthanc. His concerns have turned towards Mugash, an Uruk captain named who has been causing trouble of late. Saruman wants him brought alive back to the black tower for reasons that are his alone. But the journey will not be easy, for the Misty Mountains are crawling with hundreds of Mugash’s brazen followers—once I embark on this perilous mission, I may find myself wondering just who is the hunter and who is the prey!
The designers came up with a unique way of representing the hunt for Mugash through the quest’s mechanics: after drawing their starting hand, each player removes the top 20 cards of their deck and sets them aside as an “out-of-play deck”. Then, one player shuffles a copy of Mugash into that deck, while the rest of the players shuffle in a copy of Mugash’s Guard. In the Nightmare version of the quest, each player also adds a Vigilant Orc to their out-of-play deck. Each of these Enemies have player card backs so that they can blend in with their surroundings.
Various encounter cards cause you to discard cards from your out-of-play deck. Many of these cards come in the form of the Search X keyword, found on Locations. Whenever a Search X Location is explored, you look at the top X cards of your out-of-play deck, add one to your hand, add any Enemies there to the Staging Area, and discard the rest. Other cards skip the Search keyword altogether and just discard cards from the out-of-play deck directly, always adding any Enemies found there to the Staging Area.
Furthermore, the quest keeps the pressure high using the Time X keyword introduced in the previous quest. In this case, the primary quest stage starts with 2 Time counters on it, and when they run out you’re forced to reveal an extra 2 encounter cards per player—often enough to spell the end of the game. Fortunately, every time the players quest successfully, they get to add another Time token to the quest. The upshot of all of this is that you’re only allowed to fail the quest once before the game dumps a huge number of extra encounter cards on you.
Once you’ve finally found Mugash, you have to subdue him in combat, after which you attach him to a Hero (who is no longer permitted to ready—they’re too busy guarding the nasty Uruk, presumably). The next time you quest successfully, you’re permitted to move on to the final quest stage, which requires 15 progress to complete. It uses Time tokens to allow Mugash to escape every 3 rounds, forcing you to put him down again before you can continue making progress—and the Nightmare version adds a few copies of Mugash’s Rage to the deck at this point as well, a Treachery that gives him even more opportunities to escape.
If you can manage to keep Mugash attached to a Hero long enough to clear the final quest stage, victory is yours!
You can see all of the encounter cards over at the Hall of Beorn.
My Deck: Secrets and Lies
Theme: The influence of Saruman
“Suddenly another voice spoke, low and melodious, its very sound an enchantment. Those who listened unwarily to that voice could seldom report the words that they heard; and if they did, they wondered, for little power remained in them. Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise and reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves.”
—The Voice of Saruman, The Two Towers
Éomer (The Mountain of Fire)
Éowyn (The Flame of the West)
Gríma (The Voice of Isengard)
1x Ceorl (Temple of the Deceived)
3x Elfhelm (The Mountain of Fire)
2x Gléowine (Core Set)
1x Grimbold (The Flame of the West)
3x Isengard Messenger (The Voice of Isengard)
2x Orthanc Guard (The Voice of Isengard)
3x Saruman (The Voice of Isengard)
3x Snowbourn Scout (Core Set)
3x Steward of Orthanc (Race Across Harad)
3x Grappling Hook (The Grey Havens)
3x Gúthwinë (The Mountain of Fire)
2x Keys of Orthanc (The Voice of Isengard)
3x Secret Vigil (The Lost Realm)
3x Spear of the Mark (The Morgul Vale)
2x Deep Knowledge (The Voice of Isengard)
3x Feint (Core Set)
3x Needful to Know (The Redhorn Gate)
3x Secret Paths (Core Set)
3x Sneak Attack (Core Set)
2x The Wizards’s Voice (The Voice of Isengard)
3 Heroes, 51 Cards
This quest takes place right on Saruman’s doorstep, around the lowest peak of the Misty mountains just north of Isengard, so I knew I wanted to make this a Doomed deck. Gríma was the obvious starting point, with a focus on as many Isengard and Doomed cards as I could safely fit in the deck without threatting myself out.
From there, Tactics Éowyn seemed like a good fit. Thematically speaking, a promise of marriage to Éowyn was the creepy lie that Saruman used to motivate Gríma to do his bidding. Mechanically, her low starting threat allows me a little more headroom for all of the Doomed cards—and her boss-killing ability is ideal for dispatching Mugash quickly and without mercy. Plus, she gives me access to The Wizard’s Voice, another card too thematic to leave out.
I actually tried a couple of options for my third Hero, with a version of the deck using Spirit Théoden coming close to something viable, but in the end, I found that Leadership Éomer gave me the right balance of early-game attack power and Quest Phase assistance that I needed. Plus, I haven’t used him much up until now, so it was nice to get him out of the binder and onto the table.
I intentionally chose cards with names that involved sneaking, secrets and subterfuge to fill in the rest of my deck. Deep Knowledge, Secret Paths, Secret Vigil, and Needful to Know were all intentional choices that play both mechanical and thematic roles in the deck, meant to evoke the information game that Saruman constantly plays.
This is a Doomed deck capable of being both stealthy and aggressive in turn.
Gríma helps the deck to get off to a good start, letting me play cards a turn earlier than I would normally be able to get them down. I like to start off with a solid quester, like Steward of Orthanc or Isengard Messenger (who generally quests for at least 2 willpower each round). Once I’ve established my board position a little bit though, I back off on the Doomed for a few rounds.
In the midgame, I focus on building up my combat prowess. Éomer is my main attacker. I want to get him equipped with Guthwinë and a Spear of the Mark so he’s swinging for at least 6 against engaged Enemies. If I end up engaged with something that takes more than that, I can usually scrounge up a little extra attack using Allies or by holding back another Hero.
Ideally, though, in the midgame I can use Éomer’s ability to kill medium-strength Enemies (with engagement costs between 30-40) while they’re still in the Staging Area. Because his ability costs a resource, I usually give him the Keys of Orthanc if I happen to draw them—but the deck runs a little light on Leadership cards anyway, so it’s not vital for the deck’s functioning. The Grappling Hook makes a great combo here, allowing him to contribute more than his paltry 1 willpower to the quest as well as letting me kill an Enemy as soon as they show up, but before they have a chance to contribute their threat during the Quest Phase.
Defense is generally handled by chump blockers like Snowbourn Scout, although I can always use Elfhelm’s built-in ability to bring in an on-demand defender. I have access to plenty of attack cancellation, too, in the form of Feint and The Wizard’s Voice, should I find that I need it.
As my threat begins to climb in the later game and it becomes harder and harder to leave Enemies in the Staging Area, I kick back into aggressive mode to close out the quest. Saruman can be a big help here—sometimes I even use Sneak Attack to bring him in on a pivotal turn, eating the extra Doomed 3 cost in exchange for an immediate solution to whatever problem has come between me and victory.
At that point, I’ve thrown down the gauntlet; it’s either me or the encounter deck. One of us is going to burn out fast!
The play’s the thing
Win ratio: 2 / 5
I didn’t quite reach my ideal goal of 3+ wins this time, but I’m still within the bounds I initially set out for myself when I started this project. At some point I realized that playing the same quest over and over again had ceased to be fun—a good signal to accept the wins I already had and move on.
One of the biggest obstacles in this quest was Methedras Peak, a Location that gets +1 threat for each character that the first player controls. Coupled with the fact that I was only permitted to fail to quest successfully once on Stage 1 (or face disastrous consequences) its appearance often spelled the end of the game unless I had a copy of Secret Paths or Sneak Attack + Saruman in hand.
In fact, most of my losses were the result of failing to quest successfully more than once during the first few rounds of the game, since the Enemies and Locations in this quest frequently sport threat values of 3 or 4. But I also discovered while writing this article that I actually made this part of the quest a good deal harder on myself—somehow I confused “questing successfully” with “placing progress on the quest card”, meaning that several times when I failed to clear the Active Location (or cleared it with no progress to spare) I also denied myself the extra Time counter. It’s likely this would have changed the outcome of several of my losses, but at this point I’m not interested in going back and finding out for sure.
Another major contributing factor in whether I won or lost was the point at which Mugash decided to show up. One game I lost because he and his buddy the Vigilant Orc were both among the top 3 cards of my out-of-play deck when my turn 1 flop was Mugash’s Cunning—the two of them proceeded to mercilessly murder all of my unprepared Heroes. Other games he hung out near the bottom of the deck, giving the encounter deck plenty of time to trip me up before I found him.
In both of my wins, Mugash showed up around round 3 or 4—long enough for me to establish a bit of a healthy board state, but not so long that I had already burned through all of my Events or pushed my threat too high. This let me dispatch him quickly and quietly using Éowyn’s boss-killing ability, and then power hard through the final quest stage with reckless abandon, clearing it in two rounds.
While it’s far from the worst quest I’ve played, in the end I wasn’t a huge fan of Nightmare To Catch an Orc. The punishment for failing to quest successfully during the first stage demands a deck with high starting willpower—but because both Mugash and the Vigilant Orc have an engagement cost of 1 you also have to be ready to tank and dispatch some pretty tough Enemies from the first round. The quest’s pace is set by the encounter deck rather than the players—sometimes it rewards aggressive decks, other times it favors decks that play the long game—and this causes the quest to feel rather swingy.
Oh well, I guess they can’t all be winners! The next quest in this series will send me deep Into Fangorn to face the terrors of the trees. I recall the quest being something of a walk in the park in normal mode, but I’m excited to see if the Nightmare version kicks things up a notch!
Next up on Darkling Door…
Normally I alternate between my Thematic Nightmare and Path Less Traveled series’, but I’m looking forward to Into Fangorn so I’m just going to go ahead and do that one next!
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