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"Setting the Watch" (part 1)

The minute I look at certain cards, I just know I'll be putting them into my decks. Even if I have six or seven copies of those cards, I'm always happy to see another one in a freshly-opened booster pack. Bewitched Snowballs is one of them. Black Bat and the Gargoyles are, too. These are just plain great cards.

Then there are the worthless cards. These are the kind that I just won't use and I know it. Sometimes they're cards which were just fine at one time, cards which I can remember using back when I was new to the game. Quite a few of the 2-level Transfiguration Spell cards are like that. I mean, with all the variety of deck types out there, it just wouldn't be very smart to give up deck space for a Cancelled Practice or a Restricted Section, each of which will eliminate one Lesson card but only of a specific type. On the other hand, some of these low-level denial cards have actually become a lot more valuable. Squiggle Quill didn't seem so exciting back when there weren't many more Items than a few Wands and maybe a Cauldron or two. Nowadays, with Items galore in the game, Squiggle Quill has a lot more bang for its tiny cost.

Other worthless cards have been toilet paper from day one, though. Dean Thomas is a good example. An extra three cards once per game just isn't worth the two Actions it takes to put him into play or the space he takes up that could be put to better use. You could use him as a Starter, I suppose, but there are so many better Starters around, why would you? Maybe there was a time and place for Dean, but that ain't now and it ain't here in any of my decks.

Of course, the moment I say that a card is worthless, someone will come up with some clever way to use it and I'll have to eat my words. I would have thrown Every Flavour Beans into the trash category until I read a really clever deck idea using that card in the deck garage. So maybe every card has its uses.

Between the gems and the junk is a selection of cards that I'm just not sure about. These are the cards that have some interesting twist to them, something that makes me stop and wonder a little bit. I like these kinds of cards. They have possibilities. And every so often, I pull one out and sit and think about it for a while, go online to the Card of the Day and read about it, and then try to build a deck around it.

I did that this afternoon with Dumbledore's Watch. When I first found a Watch in a booster, I read the description and put it straight into the junk category. Talk about your desperation card! You're losing the game so you basically blast the whole table clear and start over. Okay, there's a certain pleasure to the idea of throwing your opponent's entire game out the window, but since it does the same thing to you, clearly (I reasoned) it would only make sense when you were almost defeated. But the Watch requires nine Lessons down to play it! If you have nine Lessons on the table, just how bad off can you be? And who's going to plan their deck around the idea of losing so badly? No, this was a worthless card, I was sure.

I happened to mention this card in a conversation with the folks at Wizards of the Coast at the mall a couple of months ago. They run a very successful league there on Saturday nights and they have a couple of knowledgeable employees who really understand the game. When I described Dumbledore's Watch as a desperation card, they just smiled. Sure, it could be seen that way, they agreed diplomatically. But on the other hand, just imagine what you can do with it if you plan your deck carefully. Think about it, they said. What would you want your hand have to look like after you played the Watch? What would you want to be holding in reserve? And what kinds of cards would you want to load your deck with to be able to come back and win afterwards? Desperation? Maybe. But what an interesting opportunity for some clever deck design!

I was intrigued. So I went home and built a Dumbledore's Watch deck. I filled it with Transfiguration Spells and Creatures and used McGonagall for a Starter. Then I tried it out against my Flitwick Fast Attack deck and against my McGonagall Transfiguration-Potions deck and even against my Hooch Nothing But Quidditch deck (which usually loses). Only once did the "strategy" work, and even that seemed like the luck of the draw more than anything else. So I took that deck apart, slipped the Watch back into my unused Items pile, and that was that. I obviously didn't have the deck-building savvy or the right cards in my collection to let the Watch do its thing.

Christmas changed all that. No, I didn't get smarter. It's just that there were four booster boxes under the tree for me -- one each of the first four series. Let me tell you, it is a rush opening one hundred and forty four booster packs, all in a row. And when you're done, you have enough cards to do just about anything you can imagine. When I was finished sorting and organizing everything into boxes (with little tabs sticking up separating the Spells by power levels), putting the Adventures in alphabetical order, slipping the holo-Starters into sleeves, and inventorying the whole mess, I started building decks. I went to the Deck Garage to get some ideas and some pointers. I put together a Snape's Pets deck (a Potions-Creatures deck with all Spells that don't require Lesson discards). I designed a lovely Neville Longbottom Strikes Back deck that is a riot to play. I created a Fred and George deck and a Draco Malfoy Slytherin deck. I even tried a new and improved Hooch Nothing But Quidditch deck, now renamed Oliver Wood's Quidditch Obsession. It still loses, but not as badly.

As I was sorting a few more cards into my boxes today, I encountered that old Dumbledore's Watch card, nestled amongst the Porcupine Robes and the Remembralls. I started thinking about it again. I certainly had more cards to choose from now. I decided to tackle it one more time, and this time I was going to think it all through carefully. Maybe I could make it work.

First of all, in order for a deck like this to work, I needed a couple of things to happen. I needed to be able to get the Watch into my hand, obviously. I also needed to be able to build up my Lessons to nine and preferably higher. Then I needed to be able to create a hand with just the right cards to be able to start over with after the Watch cleared the table. Along the way, I'd need to defend myself against Creatures and Spells.

There are basically two ways that I know of for building up Lessons in a hurry: Charms Lessons with Wands and/or Wand Shop, and using Hermione as a Starter and loading the deck with Lesson cards for her to play. Of the two, the Hermione Starter method is more of a sure thing, since you don't have to find a way to force certain cards into your hand. I wasn't sure I wanted to use Charms anyway, so I went with the Hermione approach. My deck was going to start, then, with Hermione as a Starter and thirty Lessons.

What kind of Lessons, if not Charms? My favorite way to do damage is Creatures. I figured that the Watch wouldn't be coming out until at least half-way through the game, so I'd want Creatures at a variety of levels, some for "pre-Watch" and others for "post-Watch." With the wonderful menagerie of Creatures available in the game, that shouldn't be a problem. So my deck so far consisted of fifteen Transfiguration and fifteen Care of Magical Creatures cards. I added two Dumbledore's Watch cards (because two is all I have) and I was on my way.

I needed ways to pull the Watch out of my deck or out of my discard pile as well. Without Charms, Gringott's Vault Key wouldn't be available, so I looked at Transfiguration Spells. Switching Spell caught my eye. It wasn't perfect-not a free grab like the Key, unfortunately-but it would do the job, assuming I had enough Items in my deck that I would be sure to have at least one available to sacrifice. I put three of them into the new deck. I also put in three Scribblifors, since getting rid of my opponent's cards in play might save my neck.

My deck was getting pretty big already, with 38 cards in it:
15 Care of Magical Creatures
15 Transfiguration
2 Dumbledore's Watches
3 Switching Spells
3 Scribblifors

Now this all wouldn't stand a chance without Items and Creatures. This was going to be defensive deck, obviously (the Watch is the ultimate denier!), so I'd need Items that would defend me against whatever my opponent might throw my way. I pulled out my Transfiguration Items.

The first one I chose was Porcupine Robe. I know it only does one point of damage per round to each Creature that does damage, but give it a few rounds and that Robe will destroy quite a few of the typical Creatures that I face: Bats, Gargoyles, even Quintapeds. I put two in the deck.

I took a look at Winged Keys next. That's also an anti-Creature card, but since some of my worst defeats have been at the hand of Creatures, I decided it would be worth putting in there. And I need to have Items for my Switching Spells to work, after all. So I added two Winged Keys. My deck was up to 42 cards.

I had no use for the Sorting Hat in this deck, of course. I considered Colour-Changing Ink, which would let me basically get a fresh start on a deck, and had almost tossed a few in when I noticed the Mirror of Erised. Now I don't think I'd ever really looked at this card before. I went online and read the Card of the Day analyses, and the more I read, the more I liked what I saw. The Mirror lets you discard your hand, then go into your deck and rebuild your deck with whichever cards you want. This thing was MADE for a Watch deck! I could create the perfect hand, then fire off the Watch. Of course, since Ink lets you return your hand to your deck instead of discarding it, and since it doesn't get discarded so you can do it more than once, it was a bit of a tough choice. I ended up going with the Mirror, though, and I added two of them.

Okay, this deck was quickly filling up. I was at 44 cards.
15 Care of Magical Creatures
15 Transfiguration
2 Dumbledore's Watches
3 Switching Spells
3 Scribblifors
2 Porcupine Robe
2 Winged Keys
2 Mirror of Erised

Before I did anything else, I figured I'd better start adding the Creatures I'd need for this deck to have any power at all. If things worked the way I was planning, I would have plenty of Lessons out with this deck, so I'd want to have a few powerful Creatures. I looked to the good old standby, the Vicious Wolf for that. At a power of six, these guys should be playable after only a few Turns. I'd put in some Guard Dogs as well, and then something really big for if my Lesson count took off. I do like Fluffy just for the fear it instills across the table, but since I'd rather not have to discard Lessons, I put Giant Squid in there instead.

Of course, once the Watch does its thing, I'd need lower level Creatures to come back with. I added some Curious Ravens and Sandstone Gargoyles, then threw a couple of Forest Trolls in as well. I wasn't so happy about the fact that they require a Lesson discard, and they're probably not the best choice, but I wanted some bang at lower levels. I'll have to take a look at what other choices there are, but for now I'll just stick with the Trolls.

Finally, I decided to put in some Tawny Owls. These would be helpful before or after the Watch: before hand they could help me pull Items that I need out of my discard pile and afterwards they do a bit of damage. I wonder if I could get away with exchanging a couple of my Care of Magical Creatures Lessons for Books? The Owls would let me rescue them from my discard pile, then. Of course I could just put in Screech Owls, but will I need Lesson help after or Item help before? I'm not sure on this one.

For now, here's the Creature selection:
3 Tawny Owls
2 Sandstone Gargoyles
2 Forest Trolls
2 Curious Ravens
4 Vicious Wolves
2 Guard Dogs
1 Giant Squid

That's sixteen Creatures, added to a deck which already had 44 cards. I was done. Now it was time to play test it…

Steve Vander Ark
The Harry Potter Lexicon

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