Top 10: Most game-changing cards from The Feast of Hemlock Vale


For the previous two expansions (Edge of the Earth, Scarlet Keys) i each made a post about what 10 cards (or groups of cards) i think will end up the most influential from the set. The idea is that i make a post like this early on for each set. And each time also revisit my predictions for the previous set and check how much on target i was. Or if i just ended up calling Quickdraw Holster an important card again! So while the full investigator expansion review is geared at looking at the merit of the cards for themselves, often with just that expansion and the Core Set, this article here wants to call out cards for being notable even when you own binders upon binders of cards already.
Quick reminder: “Most game-changing” doesn’t necessarily mean “most powerful”, but of course a certain level of power is expected for a card to make a splash in the full card pool unless it does something truly unique.

A look back at Scarlet Keys

Sadly i missed doing this article early enough for TSK, so i was already working off of rather well-developed opinions about the cards (both by myself and by the hive-mind). So while i am not expecting any monumental missteps here, let’s go over what i had to say half a year ago:

At A Crossroads: I would rank this even higher today, i really put this into every red deck. My reason for putting it at #10 at the time was that its just card draw, but it ended up making every Survivor deck play soooo much smoother that i feel like it actually presented a change in how the class plays.
Girish Kadakia: Those 4XP ended up mattering a lot to me. While i certainly wouldn’t want to talk ill about Girish’s raw power, i do not end up playing him a whole lot in practice. So he didn’t end up moving the needle much for me, but i do still think he’s a good shout for potential.
Elle Rubash/Sin-Eater: Great enablers, let’s table this discussion until we get something worth doing the doom thing for? I called these out as very powerful cards waiting for a good payoff and i think that’s exactly where we stand with them today.
Dirty Fighting: Spawned its own sub-archetype and ended up even more important than i thought. Dirty Fighting is a fantastic card… and when i look at what’s in Hemlock Vale, FFG is not even done supporting this archetype either.
Summoned Servitor/Power Word: Well, obviously i wasn’t able to predict that Power Word would get absolutely massacred by a taboo that makes it both awfully unfun to play and turns it back into a “Willpower matters” card. What a shame, this card got absolutely trashed. At least Servitor still gets to fill the role of a stat line agnostic card that you can throw your XP into. It’s not terribly great, though. I view it mostly as something to do for off-class mystics and even then the ally slot can be hard to accept. So yeah, this one is a miss but i don’t really feel like i got it wrong anyways. I blame this one on the meddling of higher powers.
Friends in Low Places: Similar to At A Crossroads in terms of consistency that it adds to a deck, but not quite as universal. While FiLP tuned to “Trick” or “Item” is pretty much playable in any rogue deck, the trait restriction does matter and so do the extra resource costs and XP you have to chuck into it. I’d have it switch places with Crossroads on the list.
Shed A Light/Gumption/Old Keyring: The “difficulty zero” archetype is a monster and pieces of it make it into decks all the time. I probably should have called out OKR(3) as the headliner here because it’s best on its own without the rest of the archetype standing behind it. Again, the look forward at Hemlock Vale shows that FFG isn’t quite done with this either which i find very scary.
Custom Modifications: Custom Mods is a solid card, but not a very widely played one. I like it on the list of game-changers, but in hindsight i would put it near the bottom because it’s a rather narrow card.
Grim Memoir: Yeah, i full stand behind this one. Actually, i think it should be #1 instead of #2. It’s hard for an asset to nestle itself alongside Mag Glass in level 0 seeker, but Memoir got there.
Thieves Kit: As a tool that allows rogues to use their agility for investigations reliably, Thieves Kit met (and exceeded) expectations. I’d move it down on the list but it definitely belongs on there.

Notable omissions are:
Runic Axe. While i did recognize it as powerful from the start, i didn’t have it clocked as quite THAT insane. When a weapon gets trotted out repeatedly as the reason why a 2/2/2/2 investigator is actually good at combat you know that the weapon might just be too good.
Disguise. This little card ended up doing a lot of good for my decks. As long as an investigator has at least a base 3 agility, Disguise offers them a great way to disable enemies. I think this one is still massively underrated by the wider Arkham community.
“I’ll Take That”: In oversuccess decks, this ended up being a free action and a massive discount on an asset. A staple card for me now, there is little as satisfying as using it to put a cigarette case into play for free and then immediately use it in the same player window to draw. Chef’s Kiss.
Hallowed Chalice: Doesn’t belong on the top 10 game-changers, but i want to call it out here as the card that i might have underestimated most from TSK. I sort of put it into the same wastebasket as the doom charms when it actually ended up being a very nice one-off in many decks that can take care of trauma for the whole team and massively take the pressure off of many treachery and scenario effects. I have reached for this card many times now and it paid itself off nicely every time.

The Feast of Hemlock Vale

Alright, enough about the past, eyes ahead to the future. Unlike with Scarlet Keys, i am doing this as actual predictions, before the set even released. So this will be a lot more interesting when we return to it in a year or whenever we get the expansion after Hemlock Vale!

#10: Ancestral Token. With the Innsmouth player cards, Guardian got a bunch of solid bless payoff cards, from Rite of Sanctification over Blessing of Isis to Nephtys and Holy Spear. What it didn’t get however was good bless enablers. As Veronica pointed out in her reveal video for this card, Guardian has mostly action intensive bless producers like Blessed Blade or Book of Psalms, so good Guardian bless decks were usually limited to either Mary, Parallel Zoey or investigators with Survivor access for things like Spirit of Humanity or even just Keep Faith. Ancestral Token changes this and gives Guardian a bless token generator worth its salt. This is going to open up bless strategies to so many investigators, so you can now do things like Blessing of Isis Nathaniel or Rite of Sanctification Leo which are directions i find genuinely exciting to explore.

#9: Survival Technique. Another engine card, both with immediate applications and with lots of future potential. Currently you can do some neat but ultimately pretty fair things with it like recurring Breach the Door, but the potential for this card to interact with future sets is massive. This is just another venue for Survivors to break the game just a little bit more with each release. By the way, this card has been email-ruled recently to apply its +2 skill bonus to investigate tests because apparently investigating against shroud makes it a test on a location? Fair enough. I believe it is unclear still if this only applies to basic investigates or to all of them, so we will see where that ends up.

#8: Snitch. Due to Alessandra’s presence in the set, Parley is getting a lot of support in this expansion, with many cards actually being parleys and others that pay off for using them. It remains to be seen if all of that noise is actually worth anything outside of Alessandra specifically. I certainly hope so, considering the space that is devoted to it in this box. If Parley ends up being a thing in other investigators, then Snitch is going to play a massive role in this because it offers quite the reward for having some parley. This is one where i am very interested in how we will look at it in a year’s time. I have already heard calls that Snitch is overpowered, others that it’s too limited and just contained to one investigator. I wonder how this one will shake out. And if we get more parley support in the next set or if this is a one-off deal.

#7: Bewitching. Speaking of Rogue archetypes. This one is a much safer shout than Snitch because Trick is already a well supported deck with several enablers devoted to it. Between Bewitching and Friends in Low Places, that deck will now be very consistent. But even if you don’t go all in on the archetype, just playing three one-off Trick cards with various effects in any random rogue can give you a lot of value as the class now has its own Stick to the Plan with all the bells and whistles. You even get the effectively reduced deck size, something that Seeker didn’t get with their take on this type of card (Ancestral Knowledge). Hot stuff, and i am not just referring to the artwork.

#6: The Myconid Strains. Didn’t Acidic Ichor just a while back get taboo’d from 3 to 2 damage because it was too good at killing stuff? How is Seeker getting a repeatable “defeat this non-Elite” again in light of this? These things have me worried. If the set holds a card (or set of cards) that ends up on a list of questionable balance choices with Cyclops Hammer and Drawing Thin, i believe it’s going to be these ones. It just seems trivially easy to me to engineer a deck that can cancel a treachery every turn or kill an enemy each turn. There’s also the whole thing with the treachery strain being kaputt if you are standing on a shroud 0 location… which again, not that difficult to engineer.

#5: Blessed Blade: Wow, talk about a glowup compared to the level 0. The ugly duckling turned into a beautiful swan. Like in those stories, it lost a bit of its identity, of what made it interesting and special in the interest of being more popular… but i find it hard to complain too much about that when this weapon does fill a slot that was wide open for way too long: Guardian does finally have a one-handed weapon that is better than the neutral Timeworn Brand! Yay! It moves into direct competition with the range of high-XP two-handed weapons in Guardian and by association makes classic off-hand items and weapons (like Survival Knife or a variety of investigation assets) more desirable. It is also a remarkable bless generator on top and it alone together with Ancestral Token can fuel a lot of synergies.

#4: Matchbox. This is just soooo good in so many ways. Even if you don’t go full Keyring/Scavenging cheese with it, the effect you get here for so little investment is incredible. You even can use this on other investigator’s turn to help them, and for a card with this wide of an application that is just massive. I expect to play these in a lot of different decks because there is just so little opportunity cost to them.

#3: Call the Beyond. Ooooh, charges were the last type of common use token that was sort of hard to come by, so this is relevant! Supplies and ammo are easy (and in fact gain another enabler this set as well through Cleaning Kit), and secrets have been reasonably accessible as well. Charges however required either the unreliable and XP intensive Recharge or the Winds of Power that can end up costing just too much for only two charges. Call the Beyond makes away with all the fuss and for 2XP you gain something that is not just reliable, but also very flexible. Charges, Secrets, no matter what type of asset, you got it. You even get a free asset activation out of it so Call does end up being action neutral. This is a really good card that does move the needle with regards to how often Mystics get to use their spell assets while also having applications in other contexts. Just to name one thing, Daisy can use this to refill the Grim Memoir she’s been using every turn for a bonus clue. Be still my beating heart.

#2: Long Shot/Strong-Armed. Getting not one, but two new Vicious Blow variants in one box strikes me as exceptional. Adding these to the player pool means that many investigators now are much more capable of blurring the lines between 2 damage and 3 damage attacks. And a couple of already very capable investigators now even have access to all three Vicious Blows. Some investigators that weren’t able to run Vicious Blow at all before now gain access to one of them here, most notably Silas whose Innate access actually gives both of these into his pool! That is a huge jump in how much he can do.
Since they are skills, they are also a lot more universal in use than just a new big weapon. A big weapon can just end up being replaced by a different weapon down the line, while having more skills just add on top of each other.

#1: The masks. Well, duh. These are one of the biggest talking points of the expansion for a reason. I already said my piece (and then some) about these in its own article. But to sum it up, the cycle of masks offer significant stat boosts at a rather low cost. What really sets these apart is the opportunity cost, as they don’t cost much in terms of resources and no otherwise occupied equipment slot. Some of them also gain more charges without really having to do anything special for it (Sparrow, Wolf, to some extent Cat). The final thing that makes them so universally useful is that their stat boosts are simply going to be useful for pretty much everyone using them. These aren’t overpowered or dangerous in any way, but they do raise the floor on many investigators that are otherwise struggling with the basic challenges of the game. As noted in the linked article, i expect to run one of these in most investigators just as a value piece and can definitely see running two if i want to depend on the mask to buff an investigator’s stat line, like for example with Wolf Mask in Skids.

Some runner-ups

There’s actually a decent amount of cards in this expansion that i considered for this list. In order of appearance in the card list, i feel like it’s worth mentioning these cards: Cleaning Kit, which gives Guardian something other than Mirror for their accessory slot. Microscope which gives a new spin on an investigation tool specifically for flex investigators that spend most of their time with enemy handling before they cash in the accumulated evidence for clues. Gabriel Carillo, who attempts to muscle his way into an ally slot that Christopher Milan and Jeremiah Kirby hold in a tight grip… and might actually succeed at it. Prismatic Spectacles which offers repeatable investigations with a high modifier and without taking a hand slot. British Bull Dog which gives rogues their agility combat spell gun. Rod of Carnamagos which does something really unique and strikes me as quite powerful once upgraded. Hunting Jacket which provides soak and resources and interacts favorably with various survivor staples from Dark Horse to Scavenging. Finally, Token of Faith which is a powerful engine card for decks interested in both curse and bless synergies while providing a safety blanket to the whole team.
So there is no shortage on cards worth keeping an eye on in the coming year before we return to this article. Should be interesting to see where we stand then. Is Parley still a thing or did it go the way of doomplay where it’s just one investigator that does it? Did Ancestral Token end up being this article’s Quickdraw Holster? How severe were the errata and taboo changes to rein in Myconid? We’ll see 🙂

4 Replies to “Top 10: Most game-changing cards from The Feast of Hemlock Vale”

  1. I think a big difference between SttP and Bewitching is, that you don’t necessarily want to put one-offs on it. Sure, for assets like Disguise (likely don’t need to play two of these in a game) or Dirty Fighting (limit 1 per investigator, and costs XP to boot) it makes a lot of sense to take only one-offs. And obviously, in an Underworld Support deck, you have to do it. But most tricks are events, you likely want to play more than once a game (unless they are just for setup like the SttP-staples EV and PftW), and getting additional cards with a tutor effect is more value for Bewitching, which kind of compensates for the disadvantage, that you need an enemy on the table to actually get any cards from it. I think, I would stick one of three Easy Marks on it any time, I’m not going Highlander with US.

    A honourable mention for me would be “Mesmeric Influence”. Not for every investigator, but it’s been a while, since there had been dedicated Diana-support added to the card pool. (I can’t think of any card after TCU. RtS is universally great, but not to reliably trigger her ability.) This will likely replace “Dark Prophecy” in her, a card, which was often taken, although it sucked, but just for the easy to achieve trigger of ignorance. MI is almost as easy to trigger, but with a much more useful effect, unless you add token manipulation to the goals of your deck.

    1. If i am not mistaken, Mesmeric Influence can only be put under Diana if you do actually end up ignoring something. That doesn’t really seem all that guaranteed to me as you will most likely have to wait for an enemy with Retaliate or Elusive so you can throw it into an attack. It is a lot more useful than Dark Prophecy as a baseline though, so maybe that’s enough. But i don’t think i would play this in the expectation that i can always put it under her, i’d be fully prepared to just commit it for two will icons like half the time.

      1. But Retaliate is a very common keyword. Almost 25% of the enemies have it. And you could also add it to any other enemy with Daring, then ignore that. Sure, that’s a two card combo, and you need to have both cards in hand, but they would both replace themselves. I agree, that DP still has an edge of universal usability, but it’s probably less, than you’d expect, if you add other more campaign specific keywords like Alert, Haunted or Elusive. If you don’t want DP for token manipulation shenanigans (say, when you do a Diana-deck around Seal of the Elders), I think MI would be the better card, because, like we agree on, it is more useful as a baseline.

  2. Regarding Survival Technique, in addition to, as you pointed out earlier, making Shrine of the Moirai obscene, it also allows Minh and Kate to abuse Barricade (3) so that they pretty much never have to deal with any enemies. Seriously, what eldritch tome was FFG smoking when they made that?

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