This cycle has contained a wide range of heroes in terms of those that I couldn’t have cared less about when first announced (Haldan) to those that almost literally had me jumping up and down for joy – such as Thranduil. Fortunately, the one thing they have all had is common, is that they have all been great. The Ered Mithrin cycle continues to be, in my opinion, the best cycle of the game, both in terms of player cards and quests. Caleb’s designs are getting better all the time, and we can only hope that this game has many long years of life left to see what else he can come up with.
Thranduil has to be the most eagerly anticipated and awaited hero of the game, perhaps aside from a future Spirit Aragorn. The Silvan archetype first made its appearance during the Ring-maker cycle (another favorite of mine), and from that time established itself as one of the game’s most dominant decks. Silvan decks feature high synergy, high-powered cards (like The Tree People), and allies with high benefit to cost ratios that can hold down the board both in terms of questing and attacking. The one area of game-play with which Silvan decks sometimes struggled, especially in solo, was defending. They often relied on tricks (like Feigned Voices) to avoid defending problematic enemies, on keeping their threat low enough to avoid engaging higher powered enemies in the first place, or on merely chump blocking when all else failed. I speak in past tense, because that all changes with our newest hero, Thranduil!
The Silvan archetype has basically centered around the heroes Celeborn, who reinforces the Silvan “bounce” mechanic by granting stat increases, and Galadriel, who lets you take more advantage of Celeborn’s stat boosts by letting those just played allies quest without exhausting (besides providing access to Spirit and Lore, and, well, being Galadriel). The third hero slot was usually determined by player preference and rarely impacted the overall synergy of the Silvan strategy.
Let’s take a look at a few front-runners:
Haldir of Lórien provided access to Lore, which was helpful in paying for several of the more critical Silvan allies and events (Silvan Tracker, Galadhrim Minstrel, The Tree People, etc.). He reinforced the defensive strategy of just keeping your threat low in order to avoid big enemies, since he could slowly whittle them away while they rotted in the staging area. His biggest drawback was that he really needed a copy or two of Bow of the Galadhrim for maximum efficiency, which is out of sphere at that point. You’d then have to find yourself including songs or A Good Harvest, which burn valuable deck space. Unless you’re using Song of Battle, you also then lost access to some great Tactics Silvan allies, like Legolas and Marksman of Lórien. While Haldir was definitely a good hero, and his ability worked well with Galadriel, he really had low synergy with the Silvan archetype in general.
Another option in Lore, albeit more unexpected, was Bifur. The dwarf’s biggest advantages were his sphere (Lore), his ability, which let you do some resource smoothing to play those important Lore Silvan allies, and his great threat cost. Since you already had Leadership with Celeborn, Bifur also gave you the ability to include Unlikely Friendship, which granted some resource generation and some deck thinning. Bifur was often my go-to third hero for these reasons. His biggest drawbacks were, again, the deck’s lack of a solid defender and lack of access to Tactics allies. (If you were fortunate enough to have the full art Celeborn and Galadriel, the full art Bifur from the Limited Edition Core Set rounded out a mighty fine looking lineup on the table!)
My other favorite choice for a Silvan lineup was Tactics Prince Imrahil. I’m sure he was intended to fit into a Gondor swarm or Outlands deck, but the neutral attachment Elf-Friend made him a great fit for a Silvan deck as well. He provided access to Tactics, though with only one Tactics hero, you weren’t going to be dropping a Marksman or Legolas every round. His ability, once you got an Elf-Friend on him, had great synergy with the Silvan “bounce” mechanic. Finally, his defense combined with a Gondorian Shield made him a stout defender. Imrahil’s downsides are obvious, however. To really get the synergy going relied on some setup. Silvan decks already have some cards they really want to see in their opening hands, and Elf-Friend just added to this list, making your starts more inconsistent. Also, if you were using his resource to trigger his ability, then you weren’t saving up to actually play allies like the Marksman and Legolas that would stay around, so if you were unlucky enough to draw them, they were basically dead in your hand. Finally, his threat cost is just high enough to be problematic when paired with Celeborn and Galadriel. This necessitated drawing into some threat reduction early, which only added to the list of specific cards you wanted to see in your opening hand.
The role filled by Thranduil is most like that filled by Imrahil, through Thranduil is all around more efficient at that role for Silvan decks. The two most important things Thranduil brings to the table are the two biggest things with which Silvan decks have struggled: resource smoothing and defense.
Thranduil’s ability is reminiscent of Imrahil’s, though with a few obvious differences. Both are Combat Actions. Imrahil’s requires spending a single resource, though the ally does not stay in play. Thranduil’s ability means that you play the ally for full cost (unless you trigger O Lórien!), but the ally stays in play. Both abilities actually have some anti-synergy with Galadriel, as you lose the ability to quest for “free” with that ally by playing it during the combat phase. Imrahil’s ability has more outright synergy (if you ignore The Elvenking), as long as he is equipped with Elf-Friend, since you can keep re-playing your allies over and over again to get their “bounce” effects. Thranduil’s ability, however, lets you build better board presence, and with The Elvenking, you can actually get better synergy with Silvan “bouncing,” as you can choose which ally returns to your hand each round. Both heroes require some setup to work efficiently – Imrahil with Elf-Friend, Thranduil with The Elvenking and O Lórien! – but Thranduil’s ability seems to be better all around for the Silvan archetype. The only benefit at this point I can see in Imrahil’s ability over Thranduil’s is when you’re out of cards in hand, Imrahil can fish an ally out of your deck to help keep your momentum going. All else considered, however, Thranduil better fulfills the Silvan need of being able to play powerful, off-sphere allies, and to provide resource smoothing in an otherwise two to three sphere deck.
Thranduil’s stats as a defender are just better than Imrahil’s. Gondorian Shield is usually better than anything, but it only brings Imrahil even to Thranduil with a Cloak of Lórien, which can only get better from there based on the quest. Since the Cloak can be played on any Silvan character, you can actually suit up a Tracker or Haldir to defend some smaller enemies, if you don’t want to put it on Celeborn, so drawing multiple copies doesn’t technically make for dead draws. Thranduil’s advantage here is just that he is simply a solid defender (three defense and four hit points makes him one of the better defenders in the game) with otherwise more Silvan synergy and a lower starting threat cost. With Thranduil, there are no wasted stats. He is there to be your defender, pure and simple.
So overall, the hype is real. It would have been great if Thranduil was Tactics sphere rather than Leadership, but it makes sense thematically for both him and Celeborn to be Leadership. Thranduil fills the two needs Silvan decks have had since the introduction of the archetype. But how thematic is Thranduil’s card, given that it seems like he may have just been designed to fill those certain needs?
Thranduil’s line comes from the Grey-elves of Doriath. He fought alongisde his father at the Battle of Dagorlad (the Last Alliance) and saw his father and most of his people slain. He was later accepted as the King of Greenwood. When the power of Dol Guldur grew and the forest’s name was changed to Mirkwood, Thranduil followed the example of Thingol of Doriath of old and delved a system of caves as his stronghold, which allowed his people to survive despite the growth of evil outside. Thranduil was the Elven-king who imprisoned Thorin and company on their journey through Mirkwood to the Lonely Mountain, though he is not named until The Lord of the Rings. Thranduil’s treatment of the dwarves is probably best left to a matter of personal opinion, but in any case, he was neither as callous nor as haughty as he is made out to be in Jackson’s Hobbit film trilogy (though Jackson’s Thranduil looks pretty bad-a**). Thranduil led the Wood Elves that fought in the Battle of Five Armies, but there is no evidence to suggest that he rode mounted on a giant elk (though again, the elk actually looked pretty bad-a**). It was to Thranduil that Aragorn brought Gollum when captured (a further sign that Thranduil is not actually as much of a jerk as Jackson makes him out to be), though it was from Thranduil’s halls that Gollum, like Bilbo and the dwarves before him, escaped. This turn of events led Thranduil to send his own son Legolas to Elrond, who arrived in Rivendell just in time for the Council, and led to Legolas being chosen as a member of the Fellowship. Later in the War of the Ring, Thranduil’s Woodland Realm sustained a fierce assault by the forces of Dol Guldur, but the Wood Elves were able to repulse the aggressors and defend their home. Thranduil endured in Middle-earth into the Fourth Age, but his ultimate fate, as well as whether he eventually sailed over the Sea into the West, is unknown.
So, Thranduil’s card is at least partly thematic and not entirely made up just for game purposes. Thranduil obviously had the reputation, from the time we first see him in The Hobbit to the time we learn about his role in the War of the Ring, as a defender of his realm, so it makes sense that he would fill the role of a strong defender in the game. His ability, while you could say represents his mastery of woodland combat, popping in and out of trees, honestly more fits the needs of the archetype in the game than any real thematic element. Since it’s not completely made up, I really don’t have a problem with it, and Thranduil comes out as the best all around choice to round out a Silvan deck (in my opinion).
In fact, while Galadriel still provides the most synergy, it would actually be conceivable at this point to build out a more combat oriented Silvan deck that leaves Galadriel behind. As anyone who has ever read this blog before knows, however, Galadriel is probably my favorite all around hero, so I prefer to stick with the classic lineup. After some deliberation and play-testing, I present my current best Silvan deck:
While Thranduil boasts some much needed answers to classic Silvan problems, I also found some ways in which his inclusion forced me to modify my normal Silvan setup. The Elvenking is a welcome addition, allowing multiple defenses out of Thranduil, or allowing multiple uses out of Celeborn’s balanced stats (I’ve played it on either of them, depending on the quest or the more pressing need at the time). When used with too many of the Silvan bounce events, however, it can become difficult to build a solid board state. While Silvan synergy relies on “bouncing” allies into and out of play, the general strategy of the game as a whole demands you work on building up at least a moderate number of helpful and/or expendable allies. If you’re returning allies to your hand almost twice as often, with no additional resource generation, you’ll quickly find that you have more allies to play than resources with which to play them, and your momentum will start to suffer. Also, if you take advantage of The Elvenking somewhat frequently (which, you should if you’re putting it in your deck), then you’ll find your hand will start to get clogged with those previously super-helpful Silvan events.
I solved the second problem simply by reducing the number of “bounce” events in the deck. The Tree People is obviously not a problem here, because you’re still (hopefully) getting a Silvan ally on the board at the end of it. I’ve always loved Island Amid Perils and Feigned Voices, though. Given that Thranduil’s starting threat is higher than some of my normal Silvan lineups (Bifur), I feel like Island Amid Perils still belongs, and indeed after play-testing this deck somewhat thoroughly, I feel justified in leaving two copies. You want maximum advantage out of each one, so aim to use it on your three and four cost allies more mid- to late-game. Feigned Voices is less helpful with the inclusion of Thranduil. It still helps early before you get Thranduil set up with a Cloak or with healing, and it can still be helpful late against big enemies (as long as they’re not immune to player card effects), but Thranduil actually gives you a good defender now, which actually makes the new event Quicker Than Sight almost more helpful than Voices, since it takes care of problematic shadow effects (extra attacks, discarding attachments, attack increases enough to kill Thranduil). I settled on two of each, and after playing through several quests, this feels like a good balance.
Returning to the first problem mentioned above, of building board state when you have more ways of bouncing allies back to your hand, I settled on solving this with the unexpected inclusion of A Very Good Tale. I haven’t often used this event in my Silvan decks, because the cost of discarding five cards from your deck seems steep in this archetype. Indeed, I cut back from three copies of this to two in this deck because I found my discard pile quickly getting bigger than my deck, and I regularly started emptying my draw deck in the latter stages of quests. A Very Good Tale makes for a very good inclusion here because you’re often using your Silvan allies for maximum effect the turn they enter play. After that, some of them can still be helpful (Handmaiden, Marksman, Archer, etc.), but some of them basically lose their value, or their value is not in their stats (Minstrel, Tracker, etc.). It’s a good feeling to drop a Silvan Tracker or two over a couple of turns, get double use in a turn out of their Celeborn-boosted stats (questing due to Galadriel and combat), and then exhausting them both next turn with A Very Good Tale to hit a big four-cost ally and a two-cost ally, or two Marksmen.
It turns out this card is a great way to build up board state even in a Silvan deck – you just need to be prepared to deal with the consequences, which is why I include a Will of the West. No more than one is needed (just don’t accidentally discard it with the Mirror). I’ve found in those quests that drag on long (which seems to be a number of them recently – Withered Heath, Fire in the Night, etc.), that Will of the West is an amazing reset button for this deck. You can already keep your threat very low for as long as you need to with Galadriel. Will of the West basically lets you recycle your discard pile into your draw deck late game, basically letting you start over with (hopefully) a solid board presence. Such a state should give you “inevitability” (a competitive Magic: The Gathering term), in which you find yourself in a position where you cannot lose. If you find yourself at a late stage 2 or stage 3 with relatively low threat, a full deck, and decent board state, there will be very little many quests can do against you at that point to make you lose.
Galion is another fine addition to the Silvan archetype, though I can’t bring myself to play with more than one copy of him in my deck. I’ve experimented with the full range of one to three, and even with two copies, I find myself rolling my eyes when I draw the second copy, which is basically a dead draw. If I could at least use him to chump block, I could justify two copies, but alas, he is so inebriated that he can neither attack nor defend. He does make a good target for The Elvenking and the other Silvan events (excluding Island Amid Perils, obviously), but it’s not too hard to get him in this deck with the Mirror. He also fills a similar role to the Weaver, as one of the chief targets of your “bouncing,” which is why I cut the Weaver down to two copies.
This still isn’t a “one deck,” though Silvan are getting close to that point (I had some trouble on Fire in the Night with this one solo – even with Thranduil’s defense, defending huge boss enemies repeatedly poses a problem). This is a very solid Silvan showing, however, with which I have had great success recently in both solo and multiplayer. It’s able to quest, defend, attack, deal with threat, and deal with shadow effects. It has resource smoothing, a little bit of resource “acceleration” (O Lórien!), lots of ranged, some direct damage, card draw, card recursion, and a little sentinel. It even functions okay without all of its combo pieces in play at a time, since it has so many other combo pieces on which to rely. The only things it can’t really handle are cancelling treacheries, location control, and condition attachments. These could be added as the situation demanded, if you can identify pieces to cut. Personally, I keep thinking over making some additional cuts to add some Dúnedain Warnings to further boost Thranduil’s defense, but I haven’t quite figured it out yet.
As always, thanks for reading! What do you think of Thranduil and what he does for the Silvan Archetype? Can you think of any new and unexpected hero combinations with him? Let us know in the comments!
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