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Greetings from the Tower of Orthanc! While I await my new steed, since Arwen at the Ford washed my last one away, I have been assessing strengths and weaknesses of Isengard and specifically, what can be done with site control. I will now impart this knowledge unto you, starting off with a general idea of what site control is all about, and then branching off into the types of advantages gained with site control. I will conclude with the methods of the enemy will use to halt our surge forward across the land.
First, what is site control and why would anyone want to do it? Well, site control is exactly that, you gain control of a site through some means, generally some mechanic like Attack on Helm’s Deep. The requirements for taking control of a site are: 1. Both players must have already passed that site and 2. you need a card that allows control of a site. While walking the land, I have heard many questions, such as “If you control 5 sites, you win the game, right?”. The answer to that is “no”, you do not win the game by doing site control. Site control gives advantages to certain other cards, as will be discussed later. Another question has been “I can use the game text of a controlled site because it is active, right?” Again, the answer is “no”. A controlled site’s keywords, such as “battleground”, are always active, but its game text can only be used when a fellowship is there.
“How does Isengard take control of sites?” you ask? Currently, there are three ways:
1. Attack on Helm’s Deep (AoHD): Every time you play an Uruk-Hai, you can place a token on this card. During the Regroup phase, you can remove three tokens and discard an Uruk-Hai to take control of a site. Note, that if you have multiple copies of the AoHD and you play an Uruk-Hai, you do NOT get to play a token on each one of them. AoHD specifically says “Shadow: Play an Uruk-Hai to place an Isengard token on this card.”, thus playing the Uruk-Hai is part of the cost of getting a token, in just the same manner that you can’t use multiple Morgul Gates on the same Nazgul.
2. Down To The Last Child (DTTLC): This card lets you place a token each time a companion or ally loses a skirmish to an Uruk-Hai. This condition (which costs 2 twilight, as opposed to AoHD’s zero) lets you remove 2 tokens during the Shadow phase to take control of a site. Note: for this condition to work, your Uruk-Hai must win the skirmish (as opposed to AoHD, which just requires you to play Uruk-Hai), so you must be playing with the stronger Uruk-Hai. Remember: as per the rules, if one side is removed during the skirmish (such as Merry jumping into the discard pile), the other side does win, so you will be able to stack a token on this card in those events. Let’s compare DTTLC to AoHD a little more: AoHD can allow you to take control of a site the same turn that it is played (play AoHD, followed by 3 or more Uruk-Hai, have at least one survive to Regroup phase to be discarded, and then you can take control of a site); this is not so for DTTLC. This is important to remember if you believe Gandalf is about to do Sleep, Caradhras, or some other condition removal will be happening before your next Shadow phase. DTTLC’s use in the Shadow phase tends to be of more value to decks that use any of the site control advantages other than reduced recurring cost (which will be discussed below), because while you have to wait longer to take control of a site, it is cheaper and will give you benefits when you need it most: during your Shadow phase (for reduced cost advantage), and during skirmish and archery phases (for increased power and other advantages).
3. Uruk Stormer: This minion has game text that whenever a companion or ally is killed during a skirmish involving an Uruk-Hai, you may take control of a site. This is the least reliable method of taking control of a site, due to the fact that a) a companion or ally needs to die during a skirmish with an Uruk-Hai and b) this minion needs to be in play when that death occurs. Note very carefully: You need to be guaranteed a kill when you play with him, or else he is just another Uruk-Hai minion. Remember, you are limited to 4 copies of him, so at most, you will be able to have opportunities to take control of sites a maximum of 4 times in the game.
Now, let’s look at the advantages of site control. There are four main categories of site control advantage with Isengard: recurring reduced cost, reduced cost, increased power, and other.
A. Recurring Reduced Cost: By this, I mean minions which, through virtue of controlling a site, can be stacked on a site and played later from that site for a reduced cost. An example of this would be the Uruk Trooper. When you first play this minion, you pay full cost. Assuming it survives the skirmish, during the Regroup phase, you can stack it on a site that you control. During any of your later shadow phases, you can then play it again for a reduced cost (3 instead of 4) (and again, assuming it survives to the Regroup phase, you can then restack it on a controlled site). These minions are, in effect, living versions of Goblin Swarms, but without the restriction of always having to win the skirmish. Just like Moria, these minions tend to be weaker than their fellow Uruk-Hai (the strongest is a 9), and lean toward the Isengard Swarm (playing of cheap minions in an attempt to swarm the Ring-bearer and overwhelm him). Unlike Moria, however, there are support cards that make it even harder for the Ring-bearer to overcome the host. One such card is Pillage of Rohan. This zero-cost condition plays on a site you control, and while an Uruk-Hai is also stacked on the same site, the Free Peoples player may not play skirmish events or use skirmish special abilities. Consider this card carefully: For the low cost of keeping a minion on that same controlled site, you prevent the Ring-bearer from being stealthy, PATHing himself (using multiple Power According To His Stature to eliminate minions that are assigned to him), using Bounder, or any similar events or abilities! You also turn all the pumpers (cards that increase a character’s strength or decrease a minion’s strength) in your opponent’s hand into so much useless card space! This is indeed a card to be carefully considered (even if not doing the Isengard Swarm).
Also keeping in mind that these are the weakest of Saruman’s Uruk-Hai followers, the support card of Race Across The Mark should be considered. This zero-cost condition allows you to cancel a skirmish involving an Uruk-Hai for the low cost of spotting a site you control and 2 twilight. This is extremely useful for the Isengard Swarm tactic. If your minions don’t survive skirmishes, they can’t be stacked for later use! Keep them alive with this, until you are ready at last to swarm all over the Ring-bearer!
With regards to taking control of sites, these are weaker minions, so it is not desirable to play with either Down To The Last Child or Uruk Stormer, thus stick with Attack on Helm’s Deep as your method to gain site control. Remember, you can place a token on AoHD each time you play an Uruk-Hai, so even if you are playing the minions from your sites, don’t forget to keep adding on tokens.
B. Reduced Cost: This advantage is strictly that of a reduced cost for minions for sites controlled, the reduced cost being based on how many sites you do control. An example is the Uruk-Hai Horde, who normally costs 6, but for each site that you control, the cost of this minion is reduced by 1. So it is feasible to play this minion (and ones like him) for free. Before you scoff, let me tell you that I have done so. There is nothing better than free Uruk-Hai (except free Nazgul, but I digress). Since these minions tend to be stronger, any or all of the three methods of site control can be implemented (I use all three). I tend to prefer DTTLC, since that allows an immediate benefit to my Uruk-Hai (take control of sites first during the Shadow phase, which in turn, provides an immediate benefit of reducing cost of my minions).
C. Increased Power: This advantage refers to minions or cards whose game text gives them (or grants) increased strength or damage when sites are controlled. One example of increase strength is the Uruk-Hai Band; instead of reduced cost to play this minion, he acquires additional strength (+2) for each site you control. With just control of 5 sites (a very realistic goal for late game), he becomes a strength 20 Uruk-Hai for just 5 twilight! Add in Saruman, Keeper of Isengard, and he becomes fierce! Better than even the Balrog of Morgoth for just 9 twilight!
An example of increased damage is seen in the Uruk-Hai Patrol. This minion costs 4 twilight, has 9 strength, and 2 vitality. He is also damage +1, or damage +2 if you control a site. No matter how many sites you control (as long as you do control a site), he is damage +2. Nonetheless, when he does win, he will deal 3 wounds, which will kill pretty much any ally or companion. Another example is We Are The Fighting Uruk-Hai, this pump card grants a bonus of +2 to an Uruk-Hai and makes him an additional damage +1 if a site is controlled (just like with the Patrol, it doesn’t matter how many sites are controlled, just as long as at least one is).
D. Other: This advantage is for those cards that do not fit in the above categories. An example of this would be the Uruk Assault Band. This minion may not take wounds if you control at least 2 battlegrounds. (It does get increased strength of a fixed amount when you control any battleground, so this minion actually gets a mix of both increased power and other advantages.) Another example is No Dawn for Men; this Maneuver phase event lets you exert an Uruk-Hai to exert X unbound companions, where X is the number of sites you control. A further example is found in the Burning of Westfold (BoW), which is a limited condition remover. Most Isengard condition removers tend to be global (they remove all conditions, both Shadow and Free Peoples), which tends to limit their use, seeing as many Isengard conditions should be kept on table; with BoW, control a site and play an Uruk-Hai lets you discard a Free-Peoples condition without touching your own!
Thus, these are the main reasons why one would play with site control. Now, which way is best for those who would sweep forth like a dark tidal wave upon the land? That really is dependent on personal preference. As for myself, I prefer a mixture: by using a limited amount of recurring reduced cost minions, I can establish the Pillage of Rohan, thus ensuring my increased power and reduced cost minions can win for DTTLC and Uruk Stormer.
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