The Khazad Dum and Dwarrowdelf cycles have already given us some very thematic quests, but The Watcher in the Water takes things to a whole new level: the entire card set constitutes one enemy and one location. That is not to say that there are only two encounter cards, but instead multiple cards that key off a single confrontation between the characters and a terrifying creature known only as The Watcher that dwells in a stagnant pool near the Westgate of Moria. Enemy cards represent the creature’s many tentacles, and treacheries and locations represent the imminent threat and literal dangers of The Watcher.

This sets up some interesting game mechanics that lend themselves to the puzzle solving approach to deck building. I know that some players dislike puzzle style scenarios, since they tend to thwart the “one deck to rule them all” deckbuilding style, but personally I enjoy the challenge of designing a deck that is fine tuned to achieve a specific goal.

Threat management

Prior to opening this adventure pack I had planned to build a powerhouse dwarf deck, but a quick perusal of the encounter deck made me think that the designers had something else in mind. The new Lore Aragorn (“Loragorn”) hero has a very powerful ability for controlling a player’s threat: once per game he can reset your threat to its starting level. When you consider that The Watcher in the Water contains 6 cards capable of raising the player’s threat by 5, three of which cannot be cancelled, Aragorn’s inclusion in this particular pack was surely no coincidence.

I have chosen to pair Aragorn with Frodo Baggins, a hero with whom he has strong synergy. Together, these two heroes are capable of soaking up large amounts of threat. Frodo can covert damage to threat, and Aragorn can reset your threat to its starting level when it gets dangerously high.

The Galadhrim’s Greeting offers another means of reducing threat, and of course Gandalf is a reliable standby too.

Tentacle enemies

As well as spiralling threat, our deck needs to be capable of handling The Watcher’s 12 tentacles,, which come in three types: Grasping Tentacle, Striking Tentacle and Thrashing Tentacle. Each tentacle has a forced effect that triggers during combat, making them much tougher than their combat stats would suggest. To see if these effects resolve you must discard a card from the encounter deck, and if that card is a Tentacle enemy or has a shadow effect then the effect will trigger.

A Test of Will and Elanor’s ability are no help here since they only work on cards that have just been revealed from the encounter deck, whereas the tentacles’ effects trigger during combat. This means that our deck needs a strategy for handling each of the tentacle effects when they inevitably resolve.

Grasping tentacle

If the Grasping Tentacle’s forced effect resolves it transforms into a Tentacle Attachment and locks on to one of its attackers, reducing their attack and defence values to zero. This makes it prudent to attack with a disposable ally who can be sacrificed if the Tentacle’s effect resolves.

While a character has a Grasping Tentacle attached they can still participate in attacks, albeit with zero attack strength, so you can use the same character to chump block multiple Tentacles. This strategy makes the Grasping Tentacle much less potent than it might seem.

Another possibility is to sneak a character into play to participate in an attack against Grasping Tentacle and make it the recipient to the Tentacle Attachment. When the character is returned to your hand at the end of the phase the Tentacle will be discarded.

It is worth noting that an attached Tentacle does not stop a character from committing to the quest or using an ability that requires them to exhaust. Daughter of the Nimrodel can still heal other characters, for example.

Once it latches onto a character your options for removing a Tentacle are limited. Miner from the Iron Hills is sadly no use, since his effect only works on Condition attachments. However the encounter deck contains an enemy that can do the trick: Black Uruks has a “when revealed” effect that removes an attachment from a questing character!

Thrashing Tentacle

Thrashing Tentacle has a nasty forced effect which can deflect your attack onto a character you control. This effect can be handled by bouncing the damage onto a disposable ally or absorbing it with Frodo’s ability.

Striking Tentacle

Striking Tentacle is probably the worst of the Tentacle enemies. It’s forced effect can make its attack undefended, which has the potential to kill one of your heroes.

There is a small silver lining: the forced effect triggers at the very start of the attack phase, before any characters are declared as defenders against the attack. This gives the player a slight advantage because it means that if the Tentacle does strike, the character that would have been declared as a defender is now available to attack back. This may seem a small consolation for having to take an undefended attack, but in a tight game this sort of action advantage can mean the difference between success and defeat.

Once again, Frodo is this deck’s failsafe against the Striking Tentacle. Frodo is the master of undefended attacks, since his ability can be used to convert any damage he suffers into threat, which ensures that the attack will not kill him.

The Watcher

After grappling with its numerous tentacles you will have to face The Watcher itself. The Watcher is a formidable opponent with 5 (?) attack, 7 defence, 9 hit points, and the ability regenerate 2 damage each round. It deals 3 direct damage every round that it remains in the staging area and cannot be optionally engaged if there are any Tentacle enemies in play, which can be problematic if any of your characters have a Grasping Tentacle attached.

One way to bypass The Watcher’s “cannot be optionally engaged” limitation is with Son of Arnor, who lets you pull an enemy out of the staging area when he enters play. Another possibility is to put its direct damage on characters that have Grasping Tentacle attachments, intentionally killing them in order to discard their attachments and clear the way to engage The Watcher.

Then, launch a massive attack to take The Watcher down in one turn before it has an opportunity to regenerate. In this deck that can be accomplished with an ally swarm, but I imagine that a single hard hitting hero would work equally well, such as a hulked Gimli.

Direct Damage effects such as Swift Strike can be played to soften up The Watcher before attacking it.

A second, more tricksy way to kill The Watcher is with Hail of Stones. If you have 9 characters in play then you can simply exhaust them all to immediately kill the creature while it is still in the staging area.

Speak friend and enter

The scenario has a second win condition that recalls a scene in The Lord of the Rings where the fellowship have to guess the password that will open the Doors of Durin so that they can enter Moria. To take a guess the player discards any number of cards from their hand, then discards the top card of the encounter deck. If the first letter of the encounter card’s name matches the first letter of any of the discarded player cards, the doors will open.

One way to stack the odds in your favour is to scry the encounter deck so that you know what card is coming up next, and can make your attempt when you know that you have a matching card in your hand. Henamarth Riversong is perfect for this job.

You can take things a step further by using Shadow of the Past to move a favourable encounter card to the top of the encounter deck, or if you want to go really bananas you could even plan your player deck so that it contains cards that begin with certain letters!

I have not gone quite that far, but if you want to avoid doing combat with The Watcher then this deck is well equipped to escape through the Doors of Durin, and contains 25 cards capable of cracking the code.

The deck

Here is my final 50 card deck. It is constructed from a card pool consisting of one core set and all the player cards available at the time that The Watcher in the Water adventure pack was released.

Hero (3)
Aragorn (The Watcher in the Water)
Dain Ironfoot (Return to Mirkwood)
Frodo Baggins (Conflict at the Carrock)

Ally (29)
3x Arwen Undómiel (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Bofur (The Redhorn Gate)
2x Erebor Hammersmith (Core Set)
3x Erebor Record Keeper (Khazad-dûm)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
1x Henamarth Riversong (Core Set)
2x Longbeard Orc Slayer (Core Set)
2x Miner of the Iron Hills (Core Set)
3x Snowbourn Scout (Core Set)
2x Son of Arnor (Core Set)
2x Wandering Took (Core Set)
3x Zigil Miner (Khazad-dûm)

Attachment (11)
2x Forest Snare (Core Set)
3x Song of Battle (The Dead Marshes)
2x Steward of Gondor (Core Set)
3x Sword that was Broken (The Watcher in the Water)
1x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)

Event (10)
2x A Test of Will (Core Set)
3x Hail of Stones (Road to Rivendell)
3x Shadow of the Past (Return to Mirkwood)
2x Sneak Attack (Core Set)

3 Heroes, 50 Cards
Cards up to The Watcher in the Water

Decklist built and published on RingsDB.

Additional strategy notes

  • Arwen Undómiel can boost Dain Ironfoot so that he can handle most attacks.
  • Unexpected Courage goes on Dain so that he can defend multiple attacks.
  • Mountain Wargs can be incredibly irritating. Don’t hesitate to use Gandalf’s enter play ability to clear them out.
  • Sword that was Broken goes on Aragorn, obviously.
  • The first couple of turns can be brutal due to this deck’s high starting threat. Consider not sending anyone to quest during the first turn if you have a Wrapped hero or a lot of enemies coming at you.
  • Bitter Wind can clean out your resources, so don’t hoard them for longer than necessary.

Header art by Adam Schumpert