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"Setting the Watch" (continued)

Well, it's been an interesting couple of games with my brand spanking new Dumbledore's Watch deck. Just for the record, here's how it looks:

Starter: Hermione Granger

15 Transfiguration
15 Care of Magical Creatures

Transfiguration Spells:
3 Switching Spells
3 Scribbilfors

2 Curious Raven
2 Forest Troll
2 Sandstone Gargoyle
3 Tawny Owl
4 Vicious Wolf
2 Guard Dog
1 Giant Squid

Transfiguration Items:
2 Dumbledore's Watch
2 Porcupine Robe
2 Mirror of Erised
2 Winged Keys

The first time I played it, I really blew it. I had the Watch in my hand right from the beginning, so all I had to do was build up the hand I needed, get my Lesson count up to nine, and I'd be all set. As the game proceeded, I started taking some damage, and to my surprise, I couldn't seem to find the Lessons I needed.

My first major error was one that I think a lot of people make when playing Hermione as a Starter. I was so anxious to get Lessons on the table, I didn't wait until I had two to play them. Now that's just crazy, when you think about it. My deck has thirty Lessons in it. Thirty. That's half the freakin' deck. There is no way that more than one turn will go by without my drawing at least one Lesson. That means that, unless I've had the worst luck in the world with my shuffle, I can have what is essentially a free extra Action every other turn.

Unless, that is, I panic and play Lessons all by themselves just because I don't happen to have another one in my hand at the moment.

And that's exactly what I did. Four of the nine Lessons I put down before playing the Watch went down solo, and that's not counting the first two which have to be played separately before Hermione kicks in. That means I had wasted what could have been two free Actions. A whole free turn.

My second major error was actually a lot like the first. I was anxious to make this whole Dumbledore's Watch thing work, so the second I got my nine Lessons down, I played immediately it. I didn't do anything to prepare my hand, I didn't wait until my opponent had a whole bunch of his power cards out so I could get rid of them, I just played the Watch.

It cleared the table, of course. All my nine Lessons, the couple of Creatures I'd played so far, were gone. The same was true for him. We were essentially starting the game over. But I wasn't in any shape to do that. I had no Lessons in my hand, no Creatures except a Tawny Owl, and a couple of Switching Spells, none of which was going to do me a speck of good after the Watch hit. We started from scratch, and my opponent promptly dropped a couple of Lessons his next turn. As it turned out, I had barely hurt him at all. He hit the ground running and I struggled to find any way at all to do him any damage. He destroyed me.

It was my own fault. I had made two tremendously dumb errors and I paid for them dearly. But it might have been a little bit the fault of my deck. As I thought about the way the game has gone, it became clear to me that I might have made some bad choices of cards. There were some cards that had sat there in my hand, doing nothing but taking up space, when I was desperate for something to do some damage or at least keep my opponent from damaging me.

The Switching Spells, at least for this first game, were dead weight. The only way I could have used them was to have dumped my own Items. My opponent didn't have any out. And then, since the Watch was already in my hand, what Items would I have pulled out? Winged Keys? The Mirror of Erised? Before the Watch, I didn't need them. Afterwards, I didn't have the Lessons available to play them.

The Tawny Owls were also pretty much a waste of time, and for the same reason. I just didn't need to pull any Items out of my discard pile. Oh, if I'd had a Cage in there or, even better, a Put-Outer, then maybe. But all that was in there were big-Lesson Items that wouldn't do me any good at all. I played them, in desperation, but with their pathetic little one damage, they didn't help much.

On the other hand, those Scibblifors cards are absolutely wonderful! And the basic concept of the deck is sound. Basically, if I kept my head and played it the way I should, I might be able to do a little better.

The second game, then, I took my time. After I laid the first two Lessons down, which was turn one, of course, I never played another Lesson alone. By the fourth turn, I had six Lessons down and I was playing Vicious Wolves. Two turns later, I had ten Lessons on the table and I could play anything I wanted to. And the Watch? I'd drawn that on turn two. But I waited.

This time it worked. I stopped laying Lessons and started building them up in my hand. I played a Winged Keys and let it stave off the attacks of first one Creature, then another. But my opponent was starting to build up some serious Creature power and it looked (to him) like he was going to overwhelm me with massive damage the very next turn.

I was ready. A couple of turns back, he'd hit me with a Candy Cart and I had just used that to help construct the hand I wanted. I dumped things like my Mirror of Erised and my other Winged Keys. I added Lessons to my hand. And just when thought he had me, I played the Watch.

It was wonderful. He watched in dismay has his Candy Cart, all his high-powered Creatures, and his Lessons vanished. And this time, since I'd waited until the right moment, I could immediately slap down two Lessons, followed by two more the next turn, and start hitting him with Creatures again. I won, big time.

Now a couple of things really worked in my favor that second game. First of all, the deck he was playing has no Item control in it: he couldn't have stopped the Watch no matter what. Second, he really helped me a lot with that Candy Cart, and he probably won't play that against that deck again because he's a clever player, my son. Third, I really drew the Lessons this time, and just about every turn I had two to play.

There were still some problems, though. The Switching Spells were still taking up space, and although I had a Mirror of Erised in my hand pretty early in the game, I really couldn't see any point in using it. With all the Lessons in this deck, and with the Watch coming out each time without my having to go looking for it, it just wasn't worth the cost in Actions. And again, I was really wishing I had some better Creatures to use than those Tawny Owls.

But then again, what if I don't happen to get one of the two Watches into my hand next time? I would need to be able to mine my discard pile. Clearly, I needed to play this deck a little more, and I did. Surprisingly, it won every time. No two games were the same, but that combination of fast Lesson build-up, good solid Creatures, those wonderfully nasty Scribbilfors, and of course the Watch, really came through. Sometimes I didn't even bother playing Dumbledore's Watch at all, since I'd built up such a powerful hand on the table, I was winning anyway. My son, after losing a few times with a Draco Malfoy Slytherin deck and with his favorite powerful Creature deck (which we call Hermione's Magical Menagerie), has decided he doesn't care to play against the Watch anymore.

So is this deck perfect? No way. I have a lot of questions. Are there better choices for Creatures in this deck? Is the Mirror of Erised worth the space it's taking up? I don't think it is. What about those Switching Spells? Should I add more Creature control? I wasn't sure. So I shipped my deck off to Snuffles, Deck Mechanic Extraordinaire, and let him have a go at it. He has promised to work his magic on my Dumbledore's Watch deck and post his fixes to his Garage. We'll see what a true expert can do with it!

In the meantime, I'm intrigued by how easy it is to build up Lesson power with Hermione for a starter and thirty Lessons in a hand. I wonder what other decks could use that kind of strategy? Hmmm…I think it's time to try out some new deck ideas again. Maybe I'll even let my son play that Dumbledore's Watch deck against them…

Steve Vander Ark
The Harry Potter Lexicon

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