Investigator Spotlight: Diana Stanley

Hi and welcome to another Investigator Spotlight! Today, I’m attempting to both keep up diversity in classes and also respond to a reader request for this series. In the last two installments, we’ve looked at Carolyn Fern, a Guardian and Silas Marsh, a Survivor. In this post, I’ll be analyzing a very unique Mystic: Diana Stanley. As with Silas, there is also a Diana-focused episode of Drawn to the Flame, one of my favorite Arkham Horror Podcasts. Check that out here if you want more analysis of The Redeemed Cultist. Otherwise, let’s get started!

History

Diana has been in the Arkham Files universe for a while, first appearing in The Dunwich Horror, an expansion for Arkham Horror (2nd edition), released in 2006. Since then, she’s featured in a few games, including Eldritch Horror, Mansions of Madness and now, the Living Card Game. In all those installments, her backstory has stayed consistent, beginning with her arrival at Arkham as a humble shopkeeper. She quickly joins a few clubs around town but one in particular stands out: The Silver Twilight Lodge. It’s certainly a very different kind of club from the Chamber of Commerce or the Historical Society, but it’s also much more exclusive. Her excitement quickly turns to horror as the meetings turn to dark rituals intent on bringing about cataclysmic events.

Ms. Stanley’s story is very iconic in the narrative of Arkham Horror and she represents a side of the lore that is familiar in all the games, but usually are the main villains. In all iterations, she recognizes the consequences of The Lodge’s actions and works with the other investigators to stop the devious machinations of Carl Sanford and company. Thus, she takes on her mantle as The Redeemed Cultist and begins her struggle against the very organization that took her in. This is represented well in-game by her generally low Willpower, the representation of a character’s ability to fight back against the Mythos. At the same time, her participation in these dark machinations has allowed her a glimpse into strange powers, usually represented by high Lore which is tied to spellcasting ability. In contrast to that, she usually has an ability to lower horror damage taken, seemingly shrugging off the horrible visage of the monsters as “another Monday at the office.”

Diana does not yet have a novella of her own, like the two previously analyzed investigators but her story is central to the plot of The Circle Undone cycle. Her former benefactors and their leader Carl Sanford play a pivotal role in that campaign and Diana’s inclusion in that box seems indisputable. In fact, I’m surprised the former cultist doesn’t have more interaction in that campaign, as Lola Hayes does in The Path to Carcosa and Luke Robinson, in The Dream Eaters. In previous board games, Diana features a personal side quest that represents her path to redemption, which I’d love to see depicted in a novella. This would make her additional setup a bit conflicting with some parallel signatures, but I’ll choose to ignore that fact and keep hoping for more Diana Stanley adventures.

Design

Diana’s particular position withing the Arkham Files universe is presented in an equally unique investigator card. She’s the only Mystic we’ve seen so far with a printed Willpower lower than 4 and a 1 at that! If you’ve played Diana or if you stick with me for the rest of this article, you’ll know that she doesn’t stay at that lower value for long. In compensation, she gets a relatively flat stat-line otherwise which hints at her capabilities to potentially do something with those stats.

Ms. Stanley’s main ability is related to cancelling card or game effects, which can be a bit vague, but once you see the text on actual cards, including her signature event, it becomes pretty straight forward. For her efforts in fighting back the mythos, she gets not only a Willpower boost, but also a card and a resource. This engine is very powerful, especially since it rewards playing cards that more often than not gain you tempo1 during a scenario. In addition to that, cancelling nasty game effects is already something many players want to be doing. Given all that, it’s clear that Diana has a very powerful signature ability with the potential to take her stat-line into crazy high territories if your deck is built right.

Getting into deck building, Diana was chosen as the Mystic/Guardian representative of the 5-2 split investigators which plays very well into her role on multiple fronts. Thematically, she’s using her dark knowledge of the arcane to fight back against the evil cult. At the same time, she wants to protect others from The Lodge’s clutches and the horrors that lurk within its walls. Starting at 1 Willpower represents both her fear of the very forces that control her as well as her inexperience in dealing with such dark powers. As she faces those horrors head on, she gains confidence and the ability to use powerful spells as well as the resources to do so in the form of cards and well, resources. From a design perspective, this is a brilliant way to consolidate her low Willpower and High lore from previous games.

Mechanically, Ms. Stanley is in the two best classes to cancel game effects. Mystic has access to a huge arsenal to cards that cancel treacheries or their effects like Ward of Protection and Deny Existence. Cancelling tokens also counts so cards like Dark Prophecy and Grotesque Statue count as well. Note that you can and must put the statue underneath Diana if you activate her ability with it. Other cards in that class such as Eldritch Inspiration and Defiance also work here. In Guardian, we get access to many cards that work off canceling enemy attacks and damage. Perhaps the most iconic is the Core Set Dodge but we’ve since gotten more powerful effects in “I’ve had worse…” and Delay the Inevitable. The former has a very interesting interaction with Diana’s signature asset which I’ll cover in the next section.

In addition to powerful stat boosting and a card draw engine, Diana is also blessed with two signature cards while only having to deal with one signature weakness. The first of her boons is an event that begins each game in her hand and is named after her iconic abilities from previous games: Dark Insight. This card allows our plucky former cultist to cancel not only any encounter card, but also (almost) any weakness drawn by an investigator at her location. This puts it above even Ward of Protection (5) with the only caveats being the higher resource cost and having to shuffling the cancelled card back into its deck. Starting off with this card in her hand guarantees Diana at least 1 activation of her ability, making this signature the perfect compliment to her investigator card.

As if a card perfectly suited to her ability that begins in her hand wasn’t enough, Ms. Stanley also gets the unique Twilight Blade as another signature. In addition to her Elder Sign effect, this signature is how Diana can further interact with the cards placed beneath her. The first ability on this card is not the most important, but I’d like to highlight that it doesn’t require the blade to be ready and also doesn’t exhaust it, pretty much existing independently from the rest of the card. The second ability allows Diana to recycle cards under her, at the cost of their boost to her willpower. This can be extremely useful, especially with powerful effects, like that of Dark Insight. Getting double use of all her cancel effects makes these cards even more impactful in Diana Stanley decks and finding this one-of can often be the swing you need to win games. Even if you’ll never be fighting with this, it’s well worth the hand slot and any additional cards that help you find it.

Diana’s personal weakness Terrible Secret seems like a direct counter to her main strategy, hitting the hard earned cards underneath her investigator card unless she takes a hit to her paltry 7 sanity. On top of this, it cannot be cancelled, so unlike other investigators, her signature event cannot counter the treachery. Design-wise, this weakness is great for being punishing but allowing you a choice in how you can divide up such a beating. In addition to that, there is one shenanigan our young cultist can pull by utilizing cards such as Deny Existence that instead of cancelling Dark Insight merely ignores part of its effect. This may seem like a loophole, but rest assured it works, as “ignore” and “cancel” are two separate words in the rules of Arkham Horror: The Card Game. With this, Diana gets two very strong signature cards with a weakness that can literally be ignored. How do you bring such powerful elements together into a deck? Let’s take a look!

Strategy

Twilight Blade by Robert Laskey

Diana’s unique stat line and signature ability guide us towards a play style of cancelling game effects in order to take full advantage of the ability while also getting her Willpower to at least a decent value. This usually results in a good chunk of The Redeemed Cultist’s decks being cards that activate her ability. If we look at Andy Cotgreave’s tool for seeing how many of each card type are in a deck, we can see the average Diana deck features 16 to 18 event cards, presumably many of which cancel game effects. Even if some of those aren’t cards that activate her signature ability, we’re not even counting skills or assets that do. This also means players can draw through these cards very quickly, which is countered in part by the Mystic’s deck size of 35. The resource engine tied to Diana’s ability also means that she can play more expensive cards than other investigators, especially Mystics who are often wanting for resources.

As a Mystic, Diana can play the flex role very well. After her willpower has been suitably incremented, she can use the varying spell suites to fight, investigate or evade. Her propensity for fishing for tokens means that cards like Sixth Sense and Wither can work well. In addition, avoiding the positive tokens can also be beneficial for Azure Flame and Clairvoyance. Diana’s average value in her other stats also permits her to make use of them with wild skill icons and even Guardian weapons. She can be a good user of the much neglected Empower Self, either to pump her stat to a 5 or in case her Willpower isn’t high enough yet. She also has access to many efficient skill cards like Take the Initiative, Promise of Power and Daring that allow her to get most stats even higher in most circumstances.

One element of Diana’s investigator card that I haven’t mentioned, but deserves very high praise is her Elder Sign. Like Silas, she has one of the most powerful effects in the game, allowing her to draw any card underneath her and immediately play it again, getting the effects of her signature ability for a second time. Also like the hunky sailor, she has some ways to guarantee this effect at least once or twice during a game with Seal of the Elder Sign. She can also use effects that work with her ability to fish for this token with Grotesque Statue and Olive McBride. If you’re playing the new cards from The Innsmouth Conspiracy, you can even use Blessing of Isis to try and get a few more of those Elder Signs, and even place that card underneath you if you really want to as it cancels a token.

I’ve gone over some key cards for Diana in the last section, but I want to use Andy’s other tool over on Deciphered Reality to see how many Diana decks on ArkhamDB use these cards. By far the most common of these is Deny Existence, seeing play in a whopping 95.6% of published decks. It’s no surprise since this card not only shuts down her weakness entirely, but also works with her ability very well, activating it without requiring an action. Ward of Protection is another mainstay at almost 85% of decks as is Dodge with 80%. “I’ve had worse…” (2) is low at only 18.4% of published decks, but that’s actually pretty high considering most lists are published at level 0 and Diana is miles ahead of second place user of that card, Nathaniel Cho who only had it in 11.4% of decks. Dark Prophecy and Eldritch Inspiration are two cards used by Diana more than any other investigator at just over 50% of decks for both cards, far ahead of the second place users. Overall, we can see the suite of cancellation cards is well established, but looking at other cards, how Diana advances the game state can vary.

One card I didn’t mention above but that features in around 52% of decks is Delay the Inevitable. This card has a very interesting interaction with Twilight Blade. Using Diana’s signature weapon, you can replay Delay the Inevitable, which doesn’t immediately cancel any game effects, instead just sitting in your play area. This means that Twilight Blade’s restriction, which is only active while playing the chosen card, will not prevent you from triggering Diana’s main ability at the future moment in which Delay the Inevitable would cancel the damage/horror. Ultimately this means that this card can infinitely trigger Diana’s reaction ability, affording you some decent draw and a discount on Delay’s 2 resource cost. While still costing you 1 resource every round, this is definitely an interaction to keep an eye on if you’re building a deck featuring the spunky cultist.

If we take a look at Diana lists, there’s a good deal of variance. Diana Stanley – Practicing Safe Hex by StartsWithTheName showcases a classic strategy, with 6 spell assets and 19 events, including 12 cards that activate our investigator’s signature ability. Diana – Eldritch Knight and its revisited version by mattastrophic feature greater combat focus, including an appearance by Empower Self. If you’re feeling even more blue, then you can focus on the Guardian cards in decks like I know gun fu by becxabillion or Diana the Avenger by TheBlackHorror. Prepared for the Worst is great in these lists, being used to find The Twilight Blade, any Guardian guns or Enchanted Blade. Overall, all these decks show off Ms. Stanley’s range but also penchant for acting as the main fighter.

A particularly interesting strategy I found was using Inspiring Presence to ready Arcane Initiate in Diana Stanley The lucky bastard by Yann. This can increase the draw power of the deck or also be used with Olive McBride, David Renfield or Grete Wagner. Another interesting list to look at is zozo’s One Cultist Against the World, with accompanying playthroughs through The Dunwich Legacy. Lastly, you can make use of another obscure card that works with Diana’s ability, “Eat lead!” with birdfriender’s list Get Away from her, you Bitch! focusing on a gunslinger build.

All signs point to Diana Stanley being an extremely powerful investigator, but does she have any weaknesses? The main one would be that she requires enough cancellation cards in her deck to consistently achieve higher Willpower values. As you delve deeper, those cards become more circumstantial as you might not have an enemy to Dodge or any damage/horror to Delay. Her reliance on first boosting her main stat can mean that drawing those spell assets without cancel effects can prove useless. If you’re going for a strategy of ignoring the Willpower boosting, you might be at the mercy of drawing the correct cards to raise your other stats, which are fewer for the main-class Mystic. Lastly, her weakness can be pretty rough if you’re lacking soaks or the necessary Deny Existence with a lower sanity than most other Mystics. Despite having real weaknesses, Diana is still a blast to play and can be suited to tackle against almost any campagin or scenario.

That’s all I have today on Diana Stanley. She’s a much beloved investigator around the community so hopefully I’ve done her justice. If you have any cool Diana decks, interactions or stories that I missed on this article, please let me know! Otherwise, if you have any comments, questions or general thoughts, leave a comment below or find me on Facebook, Discord or Nightgaunt Mail. See you next time!

Thanks to Antimarkovnikov for directing me to the art featured in this article and to Andy Cotgreave for providing some awesome data analysis tools over on Deciphered Reality.

1 – For players less familiar with the terminology of tempo in card games, it’s often referring to the pace at which you play your own game. In Arkham the encounter deck often attempts to disrupt this by taking away actions with treacheries or forcing you to deal with enemies or attachments on the board. Cancelling treacheries is a way to maintain tempo as well as cancelling damage done by enemies or tokens that would cause you to fail tests.

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