News: A Long-extended Party – Hidden Roosts

The trolls will never know what hit them…

Hiatus is an interesting word, but in describing the last year of this game it seems to be well-chosen. Many players assumed that the moment the official content ended, the game was over. Having seen plenty of beloved game end, sometimes ignominiously, I was a bit more optimistic. When the game is over, it is usually announced as such. The fact that Asmodee/FFG announced the game was taking a pause was a clear signal that they were at least looking at continuing it.

The last year and half has been a tumultuous time for many industries. Board and card games have no special exemption from this chaos. It just so happens that solo games which provide a campaign style format are an excellent fit for months of quarantine and travel restrictions. If anything, the popularity of this game has only increased since the stream of official content has dried up. The consistently excellent work of A Long-extended Party also deserves credit in keeping the game relevant.

Asmodee France just announced that the game will be “repackaged” into a second edition which is backwards compatible with the current game. One of the challenges with the existing release models is that the game consists of hundreds of individual products (SKUs). A quick glance at the Products page on Hall of Beorn confirms what anyone who has tried to complete their collections knows all too well. This game is large, and collecting it is difficult. This also hurts the game in retail, as local game stores have to keep hundreds of separate products in stock in order to support a player base.

This is speculation, but I expect each cycle to be condensed from 1 deluxe expansion and 6 adventure packs to one or two products. The announcements also mentioned that existing cycles would be reprinted in the new format. This makes sense, to continue reprinting all existing products in the same format only exacerbates the problem of too many SKUs. Presumably, new versions can include existing (or even additional) errata, as well as new templating and even (potentially) new art. Take all of this as just the musings of an idle bear, but it is interesting to contemplate. One thing appears certain, the game is far from over.

While we formulate our own theories of what form 2.0 will take, the ALeP train keeps rolling right along. The teaser for the latest adventure pack in the Oaths of the Rohirrim cycle, Fire on the Eastemnet, was released this week and it included enough eagles to fill an eyrie. Even a casual perusal of my decks over the years will attest to a longtime affection for Eagle decks. This adventure pack looks to do for Eagles what Children of Eorl did for Rohan and Gondor decks, so I cannot wait for it to be released.

The fine folks at ALeP have given a card to spoil, so I’m pleased to feature it here. Threat control is not widely available in Tactics, and Eagle decks tend to feature multiple Tactics heroes where threat can be an issue. Secret Vigil can help, but it comes with a resource cost and also needs a high-threat enemy to be truly effective. Hidden Roosts solves all of these problems in an Eagle deck, and even includes a card draw effect in some circumstances.

Response: When an Eagle ally leaves play, that ally’s controller reduces their threat by X, where X is the printed cost of the ally. If X is 2 or less, that player also draws 1 card.

A zero-cost event is welcome in Eagle decks, as we want to save our resources for allies and attachments. The trigger for this response is an Eagle leaving play, which is exactly what we want. Gwaihir hero, Eagles of the Misty Mountains, Meneldor, Descendant of Thorondor, the list of potential combinations with this card is as lengthy as a flight to Mordor. Low cost allies like Vassal of the Windlord, Winged Guardian, and Eagle Emissary leave play naturally. Paired with this card, those allies will give you a minor threat reduction and let you draw a card.

In other quests, you might need a more powerful threat reduction effect. In the past, this was only available through Gandalf but the Istari is expensive for an Eagle deck. Instead, Hidden Roosts can reduce your threat by up to 5, when an ally like Gwaihir or Landroval is leaving play. The choice between the weaker cantrip (built-in card draw) effect or the more powerful effect without an extra card gives this event valuable flexibility.

The narrative aspect of this card should not be overlooked. In the legendarium, Eagles fulfill the mythic role of eucatastrophe. They show up just went they are needed to avert disaster, and when the leave the party is in less danger than they were before the Eagles arrived. This is another example of an ALeP card which strikes that elegant balance between a useful mechanic and thematic resonance.

I hope that you enjoyed this sneak peak at an upcoming card from Fire on the Eastemnet. Keep an eye on the A Long-extended Party blog for more exciting announcements

Threat reduction, for Eagles!

A Long-extended party is an unofficial, fan-made project for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, a living card game by Fantasy Flight Games and is not endorsed, supported or affiliated by FFG. This project is entirely volunteer-driven, and the content created by ALeP is a non-commercial fan release, distributed without pay or profit, for the sole intent of private enjoyment by fans of the game.

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Key Concepts: Surviving the Early Game Part 4 – Lore

Wisdom of the forest is within

Our adventure of early game survival has taken twists and turns, and finally we round the bend and arrive at the last of the spheres. Lore is not the easiest sphere to play. Many of the sphere’s strengths could be described as “support”. Categories like card draw, healing, and staging area control are of course useful, but they are not necessarily central to a winning deck. The stats of Lore heroes are in many ways, the most well-rounded. That can be taken a backhanded compliment of sorts, as it makes it a bit more difficult to identity which heroes will play which roles in a given deck.

All this talk of “support” and “well-rounded” can easily be mistaken for criticism. In fact, the Lore boasts some of the most powerful heroes in the game. Elrond (paired with Vilya) is at the heart of several of the strongest decks in the game. Lore Aragorn, with his game-breaking threat reset – becomes a powerhouse when paired with Doomed events. Haldir of Lórien, with weapons and a low threat deck, becomes an assassin. Multi-sphere decks also mean that you can splash a Lore hero, gaining the benefits of the sphere while covering the weaknesses with the spheres and abilities of your other heroes.

This article is part of a series. Previous entries covered early game survival strategies for the Leadership, Tactics, and Spirit spheres. With the preliminaries out of the way, the time has come to view Lore through the lens of the early game.

Lore

Need cards? Given time, Erestor will draw your deck.

Heroes:
Beravor
Erestor (The Treachery of Rhudaur)
Galdor of the Havens (The Grey Havens)
Thurindir
Fatty Bolger (The Aldburg Plot)

One of the consistent themes, repeated early and often in this series, is just how critical card draw is in the early game. Your deck contains solutions, hopefully to all of the obstacles that the encounter deck is prepared to put in your way. No matter how relevant and potent, a solution is useless when it is buried somewhere in the middle of your deck. Beravor is the original solution for repeatable card draw. She so effective, that she was one of the first cards to receive errata. Even only being able to user her ability to draw 2 additional cards per round, she remains powerful. With readying, her balanced stats mean she can contribute in any other facet of the game.

Erestor is one of my favorite hero designs in the game. I had the good fortune of talking with Maxine about the design of this card, at one of the conventions we attended together. The combination of a game-altering ability with an archetype-defining drawback is an impressive feat of creativity. Drawing a minimum of four cards per round transforms a deck. With most heroes, this would have come with a resource cost, threat raise, or perhaps an action cost. Having to discard your entire hand at the end of the round might at first appear to be a harsh cost. However, it is the perfect cost for the Noldor archetype. Cards like Elven-light and Lords of the Elder only function in the discard pile. Moreover, the archetype includes cards such as Warden of the Havens, Veteran Sword-elf, and Sailor of Lure, which interact with the discard pile. This is not to imply that Erestor is the only way to play a Noldor deck, but he is undeniably the most unequivocal way to play the archetype.

Galdor from the Havens provides a fascinating counterpoint to the all-encompassing nature of a hero like Erestor. Where every deck which includes Erestor must be specifically built around him, Galdor slots into almost any deck without necessitating any additional support. His first ability is more than just a “bonus” mulligan. You keep the cards you want, seed cards in the discard pile – duplicates or cards which function from or interact with the discard pile. This kind of targeted mulligan is a powerful early-game tool. Keep the critical pieces, discard the rest, then draw back up. In the right deck, his second ability can also be triggered in the early game. Play or discard your opening hand as quickly as possible, then immediately draw seven new cards. While it lacks the long-term power of Erestor, Galdor’s ability to be used to provide a burst of early game card draw.

Player side quests are tricky. In exchange for taking a detour in your progression through a quest, you gain some powerful effect. The first set of player side quests are all so powerful, in fact, that they are limited to one copy each per deck. The early game is often the best time to complete a side quest. Early quest stages tend to be more forgiving of a round with progress. However, the one per deck limitation considerably hampers any strategy based on drawing and completing a player side quest in the early game. Thurindir solves this problem nicely. You can wait to see you opening hand, then decide which player side quest to search your deck for. If your opening hand includes the side quest you normally search for, you get a nice bonus of searching for your second favorite choice.

Ever since The Black Riders made Hobbits a viable archetype, I have been a fan of Hobbit decks. For my play style, the only disappointing hero in that expansion is the Spirit version of Fatty Bolger. His ability makes sense, thematically. Mechanically it just falls flat. The community designed version of Fatty provides a much better alternative, while remaining true to the theme of the character. The lower starting threat is perfect for low-threat Hobbit decks, particularly those which want to start in Secrecy. His response fits the dramatic moment in The Fellowship of the Ring where Fatty bravely avoids a Black Rider and alerts Buckland to the danger. This effect can either be used in a dedicated victory display deck, with cards like Out of the Wild and the Door is Closed, or in a more traditional Hobbit deck. A high attack enemy with low engagement cost is a terrible danger for Hobbit decks. Fatty’s ability allows you to remove one of this enemies in the early game, when it might otherwise spell doom for your intrepid Shirefolk.

His ability to find your most important attachments is legendary

Allies:
Warden of Healing
Master of the Forge
Galadhrim Minstrel
Deeping Defender (Children of Eorl)

Support is not a play style for everyone. Some players prefer more aggressive strategies. Especially in solo, supporting cards are often slower as you must forgo playing other cards in order to muster your support. While some quests might allow for this extra time, many of the more difficult quests are less forgiving of a slower pace. Some support cards are so powerful, that they break this trend and Warden of Healing is one such example. Even without Elrond, he is simply the most consistent and powerful healing for the cost. Daughter of the Nimrodel might heal 2, but only from heroes and she costs an additional resource. Direct damage treacheries which target multiple characters are often devastating, and Warden of Healing is particularly effective against them as he heals multiple characters at once. If you happen to have extra Lore resources, you can even use the Warden multiple times during a round.

Search effects on allies are a specific form of resource economy. For the price of a character, you gain a card draw effect, of sorts. Depending on which cards your deck needs in the early game, search can even be more effective than card draw, because it is more targeted. Soldier of Gondor and Westfold Horse-breeder only provide a single search effect – when they enter play. Even so, they were featured in previous articles. Master of the Forge is another example of a card which is too powerful. A repeatable search effect like this, which can find any attachment should have a steeper cost than just exhausting a 2-cost ally. Even on the rare occasions when the search doesn’t find an attachment, you get to reshuffle your deck, meaning this card is likely to miss multiple rounds in a row.

Continuing on the theme of search we have the Galadhrim Minstrel. Lore has many excellent events, and this effect will even let you search for events in other spheres. We’ll cover some of these in detail below, and many of them are card draw effects, but there are also some more interesting control tools. Like the Soldier of Gondor and Westfold Horse-breeder, the Minstrel technically only provides the search effect when it enters play. Not every trait is equally useful in this game, and the Minstrel being Silvan is worth noting. There are a multitude of effects for returning the Minstrel to your hand, allowing you to reap the benefits of the response multiple times.

We round out our list of early game Lore allies with the Deeping Defender. An ally with the Devoted keyword can be played without requiring a resource match, so long as each of your heroes shares at least one trait with that ally. Lore has many of the best 2-cost allies in the game. Several alternatives, like Quickbeam, could have easily made this list. When it comes to defense, Lore’s previous best options were more expensive. Having 3 defense and 2 hit points makes Deeping Defender the best low-cost defensive ally in the sphere. That extra hit point is more valuable in Lore, where healing is prevalent. In a dedicated Rohan deck, the Devoted keyword means that you don’t even need to have a Lore hero in order to play the Deeping Defender.

Versatile, and powerful. All that is necessary is an Elf-friend

Attachments:
Protector of Lórien
Asfaloth
Wingfoot
Lembas

Boosting stats is an often overlooked strategy for bolstering your heroes, especially when supporting allies have not yet arrived. Even when the only cards available were found in the Core Set, Protector of Lórien was a powerful card. When a card receives errata to limit the number of times per phase you can use it, that is generally a sign that the effect is useful. One of the early game combos, which resulted in errata for both cards, centered around using the card draw of Beravor to fuel stat boosts from Protector of Lórien. Versatility is a word that you’ll see me mention in when discussing many of my favorite cards. Protector has some of that versatility in that it lets you choose whether to boost willpower or defense. What a pleasant coincidence then, that questing and defending are two of the most important aspects of the early game. With the introduction of the Noldor archetype, this card took another leap in effectiveness.

The Dwarrowdelf cycle has an inordinate percentage of the games’ most powerful cards. Of all of the metagame-warping cards, Asfaloth is probably one of the most egregious. It wasn’t until two cycles later that we would again see non-immune locations with only 2 quest points. Repeatable effects are among the most powerful, and to offset this power the designers often add limitations, or some additional cost. Asfaloth is only at full strength when it attached to Glorfindel, but this is not a very difficult limitation to work around. When played in the early game, Asfaloth is so powerful that it can trivialize locations and make travel unnecessary. For this reason, consider playing Asfaloth in decks without Glorfindel, or reserving his use for the most difficult quests.

When it comes to repeatable readying, Lore doesn’t have many options. No other sphere can match the universality of Unexpected Courage from Spirit. Many of Lore’s options are more conditional that those of other spheres. Wingfoot can only attach to Ranger heroes, and it requires you to guess which card type will be revealed in order to ready your character. Fortunately, Lore has plenty of Ranger heroes to choose as targets (or even allies which have been given a promotion with Messenger of the King). Lore also has scrying effects, like Scout Ahead, Henamarth Riversong, and Far-sighted, which can help ensure that you guess correctly. Even without these tricks, a solo player can often just choose “enemy”, as long as they don’t have engaged enemies. If a non-enemy is revealed, your hero stays exhausted, but you did not necessarily need that section action when there are no enemies in play. This works well in the early game, when your lower threat allows you to avoid enemy engagement until you’re ready.

Early game attachments come in many forms, but in some way they all keep your heroes alive. Buying a few rounds is often all that is necessary, which is why even single-use attachments can be critical in the few couple of rounds. Of the various card effects, readying and healing are two of the most valuable. Not having other characters in play means that your heroes need to fill more roles, making healing essential. Whether they are soaking direct damage, taking an undefended attack, or just defending when that is not their primary job – early game damage on heroes is practically a given. It requires a Noldor of Silvan hero, but Lembas has exactly the early game versatility that will keep your heroes alive.

Find just the card you need. One of the few card draw options which becomes stronger in the late game.

Events:
Daeron’s Runes
Deep Knowledge
Heed the Dream
Drinking Song

The three greatest strengths of Lore are: card draw, card draw, and card draw. This is only a slight exaggeration. Looking at the best early game Lore events, the best general purpose options are card draw effects. Specific archetypes have other excellent choices. The Tree People is a staple for Silvan decks, for example. Trait-specific cards like that are powerful in the right deck, but don’t help early game development for other archetypes. Daeron’s Runes is the perfect way to “thin your deck” – effectively meaning that you are playing with a smaller than 50 card deck and making it easier to find your critical early game cards. With Noldor discard decks, the discard effect from Daeron’s Runes can even be used to your advantage.

Deep Knowledge is practically an auto-include in multiplayer games. With the exception of Secrecy decks, which do not appreciative of early game threat raising, the extra cards are almost always worth the cost. In solo, the Doomed archetype with Saruman and Gríma accentuates the power of doomed events, and Saruman’s Staff can mitigate the threat raise. Keys of Orthanc transforms this card into resource acceleration. Even without embracing your dark side with the Doomed archetype, the utility of these events is that they have no resource cost. This gives them a powerful early game economy as you are saving resources so that you can pay for the cards that you draw.

As I’ve discussed in my article on Timing, many cards are best played in a specific phase of the game. Heed the Dream is an interesting exception to this rule in that it has one effect which is useful in the early and middle game, and a second effect which is even more powerful in the end game. Finding the most useful card from the top five cards of your deck is a helpful effect during any phase of the game. This five card search is less valuable in the late game, when you are likely to have the engine of your deck up and running. Heed the Dream is one of the more friendly card draw options, in that you can choose another player to benefit. So in multiplayer this is never a dead card; if you draw it when you don’t need any more cards in your hand you can simply target another player. Also worth noting, the kicker cost (3 Leadership resources) to search the player’s entire deck can be paid by the players as group. In multiplayer, this cost is often paid by whichever player is using Steward of Gondor.

We detailed the advantages of Galdor’s bonus mulligan above. Drinking Song is the event form of this same effect, except that the unwanted cards are shuffled into your deck instead of being discarded. As long as you have a unique Hobbit character in your party, you net the same number of cards that you had before playing this event. Even without the bonus card offered by our Hobbit friend, this card is a potentl early game option. For example, after your mulligan you might have two cards in your hand that you wanted, and the rest of your hand is middle or late game cards, or perhaps duplicate unique cards. Play your two critical cards, then use Drinking Song to “mulligan” the rest of your hand. This is an even more powerful version of the “deck thinning” that Daeron’s Runes offered. Noldor decks built around Erestor especially prefer Drinking Song, as there are specific cards like Will of the West that you don’t want to see in the early game. Play whichever cards you like, then use Drinking Song to shuffle your Will of the West back into the deck and find more useful alternatives.

In solo, this gives you control of several rounds

Player Side Quests:
Scout Ahead

Player side quests are a somewhat risky early game choice, but Scout Ahead is in the upper tier, along with Double Back and Gather Information. The early distraction from the main quest is almost always worth it with this card, because of how much control it gives you over the encounter deck. In a solo game, for example, completing this quest allows you to remove one encounter card from top 5 from the game. The remaining four are placed on top of the encounter deck in the order of your choosing. A low-threat deck which can avoid enemy engagement for the first few rounds makes these four card especially potent. Because you won’t be dealing any shadow cards, you have four rounds to play ahead. You can commit exactly the character necessary to make the progress you want, avoiding or at least mitigating treacheries which target questing characters. Sometimes, having an engaged enemy can make this card even more effective. Many of the worst treacheries have no shadow effect. Place that direct damage monstrosity on the top of the deck and it will be dealt as a harmless shadow card to your engaged enemy, then make sure that the harmless location is the next card up so that you quest phase next turn is uneventful. The possibilities with this card are limitless, and it becomes even more potent in a dedicated victory display deck which can take advantage of the card you choose to remove.

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Key Concepts: Surviving the Early Game Part 3 – Spirit

The spirit of a Warrior

The early game survival series continues. In this installment, we highlight some early round strategies for the the Spirit sphere. For those who want a to review previous articles, see discussions of the Leadership and Tactics spheres.

Spirit started strong out of the gate. The Core Set established it with several strengths: willpower, encounter effect cancellation, readying, and location control. Aside from some questionable strategies around attaching weapons to Dúnhere, combat was the one glaring weakness for the sphere. Defense wasn’t any better, at least in the early game. The best defensive stats can be found on Eleanor and Northern Tracker, and both characters would prefer to be focused on other things than defending.

As with much of history, the rich got richer and Spirit received excellent combat heroes as the game expanded. With the full official card pool, one could make a compelling argument that Spirit is the most well-rounded sphere. With careful deck-building, it has no weaknesses and it’s late game strength is arguably unmatched, especially because no other spheres have cancellation effects as all-encompassing as A Test of Will.

Even with this embarrassment of riches, the early game is as perilous for Spirit as it is for the other spheres. Below are cards which can help bolster a Spirit deck’s early game strategy, and help you survive to the later game where Spirit is capable of impressive feats.

Spirit

The premier questing hero – especially in multiplayer

Heroes:
Éowyn (Core)
Arwen Undómiel (The Dread Realm)
Dáin Ironfoot (The Ghost of Framsburg)
Lothíriel
Widfast (The Aldburg Plot)

Éowyn might be the most obvious choice, but even after 9 years she remains the best questing hero for the threat cost. In multiplayer she especially shines, as her willpower boosting ability can be triggered by each player. Many a game has been saved by pinpoint quest control – and she is one of the few heroes who can overcome over questing. With the introduction of the Noldor discard (from hand) archetype, she has only become stronger. Elven-light was clearly designed for heroes like Arwen and Círdan, it works almost as well with the shield-maiden of Rohan.

Aside from combat, resource acceleration was one of the few obvious omissions in the Spirit arsenal. The Noldor archetype changed all that, not only giving repeatable resource acceleration with Arwen Undómiel, but also providing repeatable cost reduction in the form of To the Sea, to the Sea!. Resource acceleration is critical in the early game, more so than any other phase of the game. You start with a hand full of cards, but each hero is only gaining one resource per round. Beyond the one card drawn automatically, most archetypes have ways to draw or search for additional cards, but this only exacerbates the problem of resource poverty. In other archetypes, having to discard a card for the resource would be an actual cost, but Noldor features multiple cards which would rather be in your discard pile, making this a decided benefit.

Defense was something best delegated to other spheres, at least for the first couple of cycles. It wasn’t until Spirit Beregond was released in The Flame of the West that Spirit had it’s first excellent defender. When it comes to dedicated defenders, the more easily a hero can have their defense and hit points boosted the better. This is what makes Spirit Dain so effective – he has built-in stat boosting so you are less beholden to a lucky opening draw to make use of him as a defender. Similar to discussion of Arwen and discarding card from hand, Dain’s cost is not even really a cost as “mining” (discarding cards from the top of your deck) brings multiple benefits to a Dwarf deck. When you do eventually load the King Under the Mountain with readying and perhaps some sentinel, he can easily become the best defender in the game.

As with many of the heroes released later, I haven’t had a chance to research and find an optimal build with Lothíriel. She obviously has promise, especially when paired with either version of her husband, Éomer. With any trait-based ability, Lothíriel only becomes more powerful as allies with her corresponding trait are released. The Children of Eorl and Oaths of the Rohirrim look to enhance the Gondor and Rohan traits, so she will have even more mustering options in the near future. Any mustering ability which does not require a resource cost is useful in the early game. We want to save our resources for attachments, events, or allies which stay in play permanently. Allies with “comes into play” effects, or who can be discarded for some benefit during the quest phase are best. Gondor has several options, a few worthy of mention are Soldier of Gondor, Damrod, Lore Faramir, and Mablung.

The first adventure pack released by the Long-extended Party project brought a wealth of options for existing archetypes. Widfast will be an intriguing option for multiple decks, but any hero with a Setup effect is automatically going to give you an advantage in the early game. My favorite allies are free allies, and Widfast allows you to fetch any Creature ally in your collection (not just in your deck) and reduce its cost by 2 for the first round. Obviously, it’s a waste to pick any ally which you cannot play on the first round, but assuming your include heroes with access to the Tactics sphere (or Radagast), you can even build a deck that fetches and plays an Eagles of the Misty Mountains on the first round of every game. Her ability to have multiple active locations is less useful in the early game, save perhaps some Dwarrowdelf quests where early game location lock is a threat. Regardless, a good stat base, low threat, and free ally mustering is a great choice for the early game.

Before the hero; one of the best 2 cost allies

Allies:
Escort from Edoras
Arwen Undómiel (The Watcher in the Water)
Imladris Stargazer
Westfold Horse-breeder

Over the long term, an ally that quests for 2 every round is preferable to an ally that quests for 4 and is then discarded. However, some quests feature an active location which must be cleared or you risk location lock. Other quests might reward you for clearing the first quest stage as quickly as possible. There are cases where burst willpower is preferable to consistent willpower and many of these cases occur in the early game, when a full field of questing allies is difficult to muster. Escort from Edoras allows you to trade 2 Spirit resources for 4 willpower. When combined with effects like Thengel and Horn of the Mark, the case for the Escort becomes even more compelling, but even without those cards he can be invaluable for a one turn boost.

No, you’re didn’t misread it. Both the hero and ally versions of Arwen are listed as excellent early game options. The uniqueness rule is one of the underrated balancing features of the game. You have to choose between the excellent hero Arwen and her equally excellent ally card. Until The Dread Realm introduced the hero version, ally Arwen was essentially an auto-include in any Spirit deck. 2 resources for 2 willpower is always good. A two hit point ally is less susceptible to direct damage treacheries. Best of all, Arwen gives a boost to your early game defense – an aspect of the game at which Spirit decks often struggle.

A card can be pigeonholed into only being used in the obvious combo with other cards released as part of the same cycle. Such is the case with Imladris Stargazer. It was released in the adventure pack immediately before Elrond, and to this day the vast majority of decks which include it also include Elrond. Obviously, this is a strong combination but the Stargazer is useful in other decks. Whether it’s a Dwarven Mining deck built around Zigil Miner and Spirit Dain, or a Caldara mono-Spirit deck, the Stargazer plays a critical role in many powerful decks. Beyond the utility of manipulating the top 5 cards of your deck, most decks have one or two critical cards at the heart of their strategy. Ensuring that you draw one of these cards is the early game goal of every deck and the Stargazer allows you to look at more cards more quickly than most other options. Pair her with any effect which shuffles your deck (or mines cards off of the top) for maximum benefit.

Westfold Horse-breeder offers a different kind of search than the Imladris Stargazer. It is not repeatable, and it is limited to Mount attachments, but it is still powerful in the right deck. The Horse-breeder costs half as many resources as the Stargazer, which is relevant as you ideally want to be able to immediately play the Mount that you search for with the effect. The game features several powerful Mount attachments, but many of them are unique. For the most critical attachments, you will likely feature 3 copies of them in your deck. However, other attachments might make more sense with 2 or even 1 copy, to free up space for other cards. A powerful search effect like that of the Westfold Horse-breeder can help offset fewer copies of a Mount attachment. For the key cards with 3 copies, this effect makes your deck that much more consistent, for the games when you still don’t see it in your hand after a mulligan.

Epitomizes versatility

Attachments:
Unexpected Courage
Miruvor
Silver Circlet
Spare Pipe

The Core Set has many staple cards, but a few of the cards it introduced were too strong. Unexpected Courage is one such card. It attaches to any hero, costs 2 resources, and provides repeatable readying during any player action window. This card sets the standard for readying effects in the entire card pool, and most alternative simply do not stack up. You could argue that the resource cost makes it a bit more difficult to play. This would have been true in the early game but as we discussed with hero Arwen above, Spirit now has access to resource acceleration. Alternatively, you can include a Leadership hero in your deck and your resource problems are solved. However you play this card, the sooner you have it in play the better your chances of survival.

Miruvor is a perfect example of how every other readying effect is measured against Unexpected Courage and most fall short. This card may not be exciting to draw in the late game, but it is an excellent early. It is cheap, and it solves so many problems. Need resources smoothing? What about readying for your dedicated defender. Maybe you desperately want to clear the active location and you need 1 more willpower. If you have repeatable card draw, you can even put it back on the top of your deck and use it multiple times. Obviously, it is not as good at readying as Unexpected Courage, but that comparison discounts the other options this card provides. Versatility is most valuable in the early game, when you are frantically searching for answers.

Using allies for your questing army involves certain risks. Many quests punish ally swarms. As we discussed with ally Arwen, characters with at least 2 hit points are preferable for questing as they are less susceptible to direct damage treacheries. However, many of the most cost effective questing allies in Spirit have only 1 hit point. In some quests, especially those without attachment discard effects, Silver Circlet will be a safer way to boost your willpower, especially in the early game when you may need to play allies to help out with combat. Unless you’re using the Forth, Three Hunters contract, you can also use allies to help with questing, the idea is to make your deck more resilient to treacheries.

This may be a surprising choice, but as I’ve discussed with Imladris Stargazer and Westfold Horse-breeder, search is more valuable during the early game than at any other time. Don’t ignore the bonus hit point either. Attach this to your dedicated defender, then go searching for the most helpful event. Spirit has plenty of events worth fetching – we’ll cover those in the next section – but you can search for an event from any sphere. For decks which rely on a few key cards, Spare Pipe is worth consideration. The bonus hit point can be a life-saver against an unlucky shadow effect, and whatever event you find will help acceleration board state.

0 cost readying for every player? Yes, please!

Events:
A Test of Will
Elrond’s Counsel
Elven-light
Defiant Challenge

Test of Will has a lot in common with Unexpected Courage. That might seem odd, at first glance, seeing as how they are different card types, with different costs and very different effects. However, they are both staples which went on to warp the entire card pool of similar effects to follow. Nothing, and I do mean nothing, provides treachery control like A Test of Will. I am a fan of versatility, and there are technically some alternatives to this card (mostly in Lore). Still, A Test of Will is most cost effective and consistent solution for cancelling when revealed effects. An ill-timed treachery in the first few rounds can spell doom for the everyone, particularly quests for terrible global treacheries.

Like several other cards in the Dwarrowdelf cycle, this card is probably too good. The willpower bonus is what puts it over the top, for me. A zero-cost event to reduce your threat by 3 would be absolutely worth including in your deck. The requirement of a Noldor or Silvan hero wasn’t even difficult to meet when the card was released, it has only become easier with time and an expanded card pool. On top of all of the reasons why this card is great, it can help give that extra questing push that you needed. I don’t say this about many cards, but assuming you have the requisite hero, this card is basically an auto-include.

Of all of the riches bestowed upon Spirit in the early life of the game, card draw was notably absent. Many core set decks featuring Spirit would include Beravor – not necessarily for access to many Lore cards – but to provide card draw to a sphere without such effects. Ancient Mathom helped somewhat but it requires clearing an active location, which means that it cannot be used during the critical first planning phase. In multiplayer that card has to be timed correctly, otherwise the wrong player benefits from the extra cards. Elven-light arrives and immediately supplants all other options for Spirit card draw. Assuming you have a way to consistently discard cards (of which there are many), there is no better form of card draw effect.

The Doomed events which apply to each player are some of the most powerful effects in multiplayer. Defiant Challenge came late in the life of the game, so it doesn’t see inclusion in as many decks as it deserves. Readying is powerful, but readying effects are not as easy to come by in other spheres. Leadership has some expensive global readying events, and Tactics and Lore get more conditional forms of readying. A zero-cost event which allows each players to ready any character of their choosing is one of the ultimate early game saving cards. Raising your threat by 2 is a real cost, and this card doesn’t belong in most Secrecy decks. Almost any other deck in the game can afford to trade 2 threat for a second use of their best characters, especially in the early game when threat is a currency you can afford to spend.

One of the most powerful threat reduction effects in the game

Player Side Quests:
Double Back

Double Back is my most used player side quest. It even beats out Gather Information in some decks, if I only have room for a single side quest. Any discussion of side quests is immediately quest dependent. Some quests severely punish not putting progress on the main quests. Other quests in the Angmar Awakened cycle have ways of punishing the number of side quests in play. Even so, these limitations can often be worked around with careful strategy. In any quest for which Double Back is a strategic option, it is worth consideration For a solo deck, The Galadhrim’s Greeting provides more reduction but at a notable resource cost. In multiplayer is where this card transcends most other threat reduction options. When timed correctly, a single round detour away from the main road can net 20 points of threat reduction for a 4 player game. That is impressive, and all without having to pay any resources.

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Key Concepts: Surviving the Early Game Part 2 – Tactics

Tactical bear is patient

Part one focused on Leadership cards to help survive the early game. We continue the series with the Tactics sphere. For most of the life of the game Tactics was fairly one-dimensional. It had characters with excellent attack and defense, weapons, armor, and combat tricks like Feint, Quick Strike and Hands Upon the Bow. All of these cards focus on the combat phase, and Tactics tended to be weak in every other phase.

Tactics Éowyn represented a seismic shift for the sphere. Never before did Tactics have access to a hero with 4 willpower, and the 6 starting threat makes her that much more valuable to a sphere that skews to high threat heroes. While some might bemoan “sphere bleed” it ultimately leads to more interesting deck building when you can solve questing and combat using other (less traditional spheres). Choice is good, and the way Tactics has branched out in the latter card pool means that it now offers interesting choices.

Tactics

The original king of action advantage

Heroes:
Boromir
Beorn
Beregond
Prince Imrahil
Éowyn

To whatever extent Tactics is one-dimensional, it certainly provides a plethora of options for combat survival. Even after the errata to limit Boromir’s ability to once per phase, he remains the best example of action advantage in Tactics. Between Secret Vigil and Favor of the Valar Boromir is now much easier to use without resorting to Spirit or Sneak Attack and Gandalf shenanigans. The weapons available to Tactics have improved considerably since the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. Gondorian Shield and War Axe are a great fit for Boromir, with a Captain of Gondor thrown in for good measure.

Early game combat is critical. Some quests will start with enemies engaged, while others feature low engagement cost enemies which inevitable pick the worst possible moment to appear. Even most support decks can handle combat adequately in the middle and late game, but it is the first few rounds where they can struggle. Whether it is a combat strategy that relies on allies, attachments, or events, these cards might not even be in your opening hand. What to do if you opening hand does not feature any of your combat-support cards? This is where the original giant bear comes to the rescue. Beorn provides action advantage for the early game, before he’s taken too much damage. Even after wounds make defense an ill-advised option, he still attacks for 5. Many of the enemies you will face in the early rounds can be defeated by the bear all by himself. If all this is not enough reason to use Beorn, there are the many excellent alternate art cards.

Before the Heirs of Númenor, there were few options for a dedicated defender. Core Denethor, Spirit Frodo, Elrohir – that was about it. Sure, some players transformed other heroes like Beravor and Bilbo Baggins into dedicated defenders with the help of Protector of Lórien, but that strategy is even less amenable to early game survival. Having to rely on a specific set of attachments for your dedicated defender is a recipe for disaster, especially for the more fast-paced quests. Beregond changed all of that. His base stats make him easily the best defender in the game, and almost every attachment you would want to boost him with comes at a discount. This discount is especially helpful to Tactics in early game, as resource acceleration is not a strength of the sphere.

Chump blocking is an effective strategy for a number of quests, especially when it is backed by shadow card. However, a sphere like Tactics which lacks repeatable card draw will struggle to continue to draw the allies necessary for a chump blocking strategy. Prince Imrahil solves this problem nicely. So long as your deck has a good ratio of allies to non-allies, you should be able to reliably use his ability every round to “sneak” an eligible ally into play. Assuming they survive, the ally is shuffled back into your deck at the end of the combat phase, but some eligible allies will also provide an effect when they enter or leave play.

Éowyn shattered many of the constraints which had dominated Tactics up until The Flame of the West. Low threat, high willpower, with a built-in readying ability. As if all of this were not enough, the daughter of Éomund also happens to be the single best early-game combat solution in the game. You could easily make the argument that she is over-powered, but that’s a tricky argument in a game based on a work of fiction. She does, after all, defeat the Witch-king of Angmar with the help of a certain Meriadoc Brandybuck. If you find your deck is struggling for questing out of the gate, or needs one more attack to handle an early onslaught, you could do far worse than include Éowyn in your deck.

Four defense for 2 cost makes this an elite defender

Allies:
Vassal of the Windlord
Defender of Rammas
Honour Guard
Riddermark Knight

There are multiple low cost Tactics allies with effective combat stats, so this list is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to replace these with allies which fit the theme of your deck, but pay close attention to your cost curve. Low cost allies may be weaker in the middle and late game, but they can save your heroes’ lives in the early game. Vassal of the Windlord is particularly valuable in multiplayer, where Ranged can be a life-saver for a support deck which is unable to finish off an enemy. Even if you end up chump blocking with the Vassal, the Eagle archetype has multiple ways of taking advantage of allies leaving play.

As if releasing the best defensive hero was somehow insufficient, Heirs also included one of the best defending allies. At two cost, Defender of Rammas has ideal base stats. His traits make it easy to bolster him using various attachments and events. Raiment of War has so many excellent targets, but the Defender may be one of the more overlooked among them. For a total of 4 resources, you end up with a character with 5 defense and 3 hit points. Not bad for a generic soldier.

After all was said and done, Tactics never did get any healing effects. Rightly so, Tactics having healing would likely represent too significant a sphere bleed. While Tactics might not be able to heal damage, it can do the next best thing and prevent damage as it is dealt. Honour Guard might seem underwhelming, only preventing 1 damage at a time. There are a few important reasons why this ability is better than expected. First of all, 1 hit point allies die immediately the moment they take damage. Most support allies (Warden of Healing, Master of the Forge, Imladris Stargazer) only have a single hit point. Honour Guard’s response is one of the only ways to keep these fragile allies alive in the face of direct damage. Honour Guard’s Valour effect is often overlooked, but Tactics as a sphere tends to run high threat cost heroes, so 40 threat is easily reached in many games. Preventing 5 damage will often let you take an entire attach undefended, which is also a form of action advantage.

Riddermark Knight solves the downsides of his questing counterpart. There is no option of using the Escort from Edoras to quest for only 2 willpower. You have to commit him for the full 4 and then discard him after resolving the quest. In the Rohan Sacrifice archetype this discard is not the world’s end, but there are times when it would be nice to keep him in play. With Riddermark Knight, you get to have your cake and eat it too. If you only need the 2 attack or you want to keep him in play, you don’t have to trigger the response. When you need to finish off an enemy or trigger an effect like Thengel‘s, the Riddermark Knight gives you that option.

Action advantage is hard to come by in Tactics; Outmatched is a good choice for multiple decks

Attachments:
Gondorian Shield
Dagger of Westernesse
Outmatched
Round Shield

With the exception of Celebrían’s Stone, no attachment from the Core or first two cycles gives a permanent +2 stat boost. Gondorian Shield changed this, and the fact that it is not unique makes it even more useful that the stone, especially in multiplayer. The timing could not have been better, as Heirs of Númenor introduced some frighteningly powerful enemies. Spoiler alert: later cycles did not suddenly take pity on the players and release only low-attack enemies. Take City Guard, for one example.

For the first half of the game, a majority of weapons and armor could only be attached to heroes. Hero-only attachments are constrained enough, before even accounting for which trait or Sphere the attached hero must also have. Dagger of Westernesse is one of the few weapons which always gives an attack bonus and can be attached to any hero, regardless of sphere and trait. Even better, the bonus condition for there Dagger is achievable for many decks in the early game – not just Secrecy decks.

Tactics didn’t get trap attachments until later in the card pool, but they gave the Gondor Traps archetype an interesting wrinkle. As mentioned in the description of Boromir above, action advantage is rare in Tactics. Outmatched might seem like a strange choice, but it gives you cost effective action advantage and in the right deck it can provide the perfect early game boost. Obviously, it is at its best in a Dúnedain deck which wants to keep enemies engaged, but don’t overlook the synergy with cards like Armored Destrier which is found in many other deck types.

In retrospect, many of the attachments which were limited to heroes should have been allowed on allies (or at least unique allies) as well. The introduction of the Dale Armory archetype in Wilds of Rhovanion underscored how important it was for a deck to have attachments which work with heroes and allies. Round Shield is by no means a powerful attachment, but in the early game it can help your defender survive an unfortunate shadow attack boost. Saving your dedicated defender (hero or ally) for zero cost is exactly what early game survival is all about.

The perfect search and muster effect for most any deck with at least two Rohan heroes

Events:
Feint
The Eagles Are Coming!
Behind Strong Walls
Need Brooks No Delay (Children of Eorl)

After all these years, the Core Set staples remain some of your best options for deck-building. Feint is one such staple. One cost to stop any enemy attack is a bargain, especially in the first couple rounds of the game. It cannot cancel attacks from immune enemies, but if you’re facing attacks from immune enemies in the first few rounds of the game and you don’t have a dedicated defender you probably brought the wrong deck.

Most of the events listed here are specific to particular archetypes. That is the nature of many of the events in Tactics. The Eagles Are Coming! is not a useful card in a deck without eagle allies. As with the categories above, feel free to replace these with cards which match your archetype, but pay particular attention to why these cards are included. Zero cost events which act as a form of card draw are valuable in a sphere with limited forms of resource acceleration and card draw. Fun fact: this card becomes incredible in the right deck built around The Last Alliance.

So we’ve established the readying is good. Readying a defender with a defense boost is even better. All this for 1 cost makes Behind Strong Walls a quality card. It only makes sense when your dedicated defender is a Gondor character, but there are numerous worthy defenders with that trait. If your deck features heroes with other spheres, you will likely have access to readying effects which are better than Behind Strong Walls, but in the right Tactics deck it is a good choice.

Rohan has multiple archetypes, but all of them feature powerful unique cards. Need Brooks No Delay is the perfect early game card for a Rohan deck. Assuming you include 3 Rohan heroes, it only costs 1 resource. Even if a deck with a non-Rohan hero, 2 cost is still a reasonable cost for this effect. Searching the top 10 cards of your deck for a unique card (which costs 3 or less) is the perfect early game setup. In a Rohan Sacrifice deck, you can muster Éomund or Gamling. A Rohan Staging Attack deck can search for and play Herugrim or Gúthwinë, or even a non-unique card like Spear of the Mark. A deck built around Elfhelm and Mount attachments can use Need Brooks No Delay to fetch Snowmane, Firefoot, Windfola, or a generic mount like Rohan Warhorse. No matter your opening hand or the quest you’re playing, if you cannot find a helpful card in the top 10 cards of your deck then the fault is probably not this card.

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Key Concepts: Surviving the Early Game Part 1 – Leadership

A bear, waiting for backup

In my earlier key concepts article about timing, I described how player cards can be categorized into early game, middle game, and late game. Obviously, most staples are worth playing at any time during the game, but some cards are significantly more effective when played with the ideal timing.

Players do not start with anything other than their heroes in play. Some quests might give a small bonus of an objective ally, or a bonus ally, but these quests are usually more difficult to offset the early game benefit. The early game is arguably the most critical part of a quest. Players do not have their full army at their disposal to deal with challenges presented by the quest. An early treachery, or low engagement enemy can dash your hopes before your deck every gets setup.

This article will outline cards and strategies which can help you survive the early game. Many of these cards are best suited for the early game, and their effectiveness wanes as the game progresses. In the case of heroes, this makes your strategy clear. There is no need to mulligan for a particular player card when your hero provides the early game effect your deck needs. Heroes alone are not sufficient to support the early game strategy of most decks, this is where other player cards enter the discussion. Depending on your archetype and strategy, these cards may be essential to a successful early game. If you do not find any essential early game cards in your opening hand, you should strongly consider taking a mulligan.

There are a few aspects which are critical to early game which we will focus on: resource acceleration, card draw, readying, willpower, defense, attack, encounter card control, and threat control. With a few notable exceptions, all of the cards described here bolster one or more of these aspects of your deck’s early game development. Most decks will not realize their full potential until about the third round. Some decks might not be setup until a round or two after that, but those decks will consistently struggle against the more difficult quests, which often make strong demands of a deck early.

Early failures are magnified in this game, because you have fewer options at your disposal for mitigating the failure. Even losing a hero can be overcome in the late game, especially if all that is required is one final quest push. Losing a hero in the early game is almost always a guaranteed loss of the game. These are just some of the cards will help keep you alive in those tense early rounds. Because of the length, I’ve split this article into 5 separate parts, one for each sphere and neutral cards.

Leadership

Early game defense, with repeatable shadow control

Heroes:
Erkenbrand
Sam Gamgee
Denethor
Gildor Inglorion
Ingold (Children of Eorl)

Assembled here is an assortment of useful early game Leadership heroes. The early game is a balance between stabilizing your defensive strategy and setting up the critical pieces of your deck. Defeating enemies is not necessarily required, so long as you can safely defend their attacks while your offensive strategy is setup. This means that defense is often more valuable than attack, for the first few rounds of the game. Card draw and resource acceleration are always valuable in the game, but they are doubly so in the first few rounds when your heroes are establishing their footing.

Erkenbrand represents the best that Leadership has to offer for a dedicated defender. His built-in shadow cancellation is particularly useful in the early game, when you might not have shadow cancellation attachments or events ready. Pair him with repeatable healing effects, and you can turn him into a tank. He is also a great target for other powerful leadership attachments like Armored Destrier and (a personal favorite) Ancestral Armor.

Sam Gamgee provides early game questing for low threat, which is great in a sphere where most heroes have a high threat cost. He also serves as an able backup defender, if you need to engage a high engagement cost enemy for some reason. His trait unlocks several powerful cards, including another great early-game card in Drinking Song. With the help of Rosy Cotton and Hobbit Cloak, Sam can easily be transformed into a powerful hero.

Denethor is perhaps the best early game Leadership hero, providing bonus resources on setup. Once those extra resources are spent, he doesn’t provide much other than a resource smoothing ability, but the early game boost is often all that a deck needs to establish itself. Gildor Inglorion provides repeatable card draw along with a dedicated quester, the former is especially useful in a sphere flush with resources but lacking many efficient forms of repeatable draw effects. Ingold is similar to Gildor in both of his roles, but more specifically suited for Gondor swarm archetypes.

Action advantage and a useful ally

Allies:
Errand-rider
Naith Guide
Herald of Anórien
Soldier of Gondor

Leadership has a few common themes, which are repeated throughout the card pool. Here is no exception: resource smoothing, action advantage, and ally mustering are all represented. Errand-rider can even be useful in a mono-Leadership deck, assuming you are playing multiplayer. It lessens the sting of taking Steward of Gondor when you can send bonus resources across the table. With two hit points, he also provides a bit of early game archery soak.

Naith Guide combines a quality ally with useful traits and a round of action advantage. Many decks will have a high willpower hero which also possesses combat relevant stats. These decks can greatly benefit from Naith Guide’s ability, especially before other forms of readying are in play. Silvan decks have plenty of options for returning her to your hand so that you can repeat her response again later – Elven-king and O Lórien even make it possible to benefit in this way ever round.

Herald of Anórien does not see much use but with Ingold rounding out the Gondor Valour archetype, I suspect that may change. His stats are nothing special, but he gives you the ability to muster two allies for 2 resources which is of great benefit in the early game when you’re scrambling to get bodies on the battlefield. Once he’s served his use, he can easily be used as a chump blocker, to keep the most valuable allies in play.

Soldier of Gondor provides a different for of ally mustering, in that he can search your deck for another Gondor ally, but you’ll have to pay full price for the ally you find. The versatility of this search effect is worth noting. In the early game you can use it to find another inexpensive Gondor ally; mustering your army that much faster. By the middle game, or at least once you have resource acceleration online, you can search for a more appropriate ally like leadership Faramir. By the endgame, your deck is probably at 40 threat, which allows you to trigger the valour effect on the Soldier and potentially draw multiple allies.

Readying and shadow control, in a single card!

Attachments:
Steward of Gondor
Celebrían’s Stone
Cram
Armored Destrier

Steward of Gondor is the obvious item in this list. The sooner you have repeatable resource acceleration in play, the better your deck will fair. It is unique, so it presents a challenge in multiplayer where other players will also want to utilize it. For this reason, consider at least supplementing with other resource acceleration effects, where possible. None of them compare with the power and consistency of Steward. It is arguably the most powerful card in the game.

Early game willpower is essential. The fact that Celebrían’s Stone is restricted was a detriment for much of the life of the game, but other than mounts and cards like Silver Circlet, a dedicated quester doesn’t necessarily need other restricted attachments. With the Forth, The Three Hunters contract the restricted keyword only improves Celebrían’s Stone’s effectiveness. With or without the contract, willpower boosts via attachments can be beneficial. Some quests punish ally swarms and direct damage treacheries can wreck havoc on fragile questing allies.

With the proliferating of readying effects in the full card pool, Cram is not played as much any more. For zero cost, it remains one of the most cost effective forms of readying. It only works once, but the fact that it is completely free makes a great choice for the early game. Many other forms of attachment readying cost 1 resource. Resources are precious, so that one extra resource means you can drop Cram and still afford the ally or powerful attachment. Being able to optimize at the margins is critical for any deck.

Armored Destrier was already one of my favorite Leadership attachments. Once The Three Hunters contract was released it took another leap in value. Readying with shadow control is the perfect combination. Leadership has a good number of quality defenders, but the ability to attach to sentinel defenders is what gives this card true versatility. In solo games it can be more difficult to get multiple enemies engaged to take advantage of the shadow discard effect – multiplayer is another story. The first player will often be able to optionally engage and enemy, then take a second enemy through normal engagement. Even if they can only handle one of those attacks, Armored Destrier on a sentinel defender means you can defend one enemy and leave the other without a shadow card. Combat becomes much more manageable when the enemy has no shadow card.

Dangerous but powerful resource acceleration

Events:
Sneak Attack
Timely Aid
Legacy of Númenor
Tighten Our Belts

Sneak Attack is part of the one best Core Set combination. Several allies have “enters play” effects, but none is better than Core Set Gandalf. No matter what your deck is trying to do, drawing 3 cards, reducing your threat by 5, or dealing 4 damage to an enemy will always come in handy. This is especially true in the first few rounds of the game, when an equivalent effect would cost many more resources. In addition to the response, you also get an excellent ally for a phase. This means that you can boost your questing by 4, or defend that large enemy without risking damage to one of your heroes.

In a way, all Secrecy cards are early game cards. A deck that starts in Secrecy won’t stay there long, particularly in quests with doomed effects. This means that Secrecy cards like Timely Aid and Resourceful are cards that you want to see in your opening hand. Timely Aid is at the heart of one of the most powerful Secrecy archetypes: Hobbit’s with Powerful Allies. When paired with ally mustering effects like A Very Good Tale, Timely Aid allows you to muster powerful expensive allies quickly. Accelerating your mustering of allies is essential, all the more so in an archetype like Hobbits where your heroes have relatively weak stats.

There are a couple of powerful archetypes built around Doomed player cards. One uses Lore Aragorn to reset your threat after an aggressive setup via Doomed events like Legacy of Númenor and Deep Knowledge. The other archetype uses Saruman and his Staff to mitigate the threat raise of Doomed events. In either card, the boost of adding an additional resource to each of your heroes is considerable. Where Legacy elevates to legendary status is when you play it in a multiplayer game. Assuming no one at the table is playing Secrecy (that’s a guaranteed way to alienate other players), you can play a copy of Legacy on the first turn and watch as 12 additional resources are available from the word go.

Leadership offers various options for resource acceleration, but Tighten Our Belts is one of best for the early game. Assuming you can afford to pass on spending resources during your first planning phase, you will double the resources available to you during your second round. Zero cost cards like Cram help with this, as you can still play them without losing the full benefit of Tighten Our Belts. By the late game there is a good chance you’ve played most of the cards in your hand. At that point, the extra three resources from an ideal play of Tighten Our Belts is probably not worth the downside. On the other hand, the first round of many quests may give you a chance to use this card, especially if your heroes can hold things down while you save resources. Then, one the next round you can spend like a politician running unopposed.

One of the best forms of ally mustering, if you can spare the delay

Player Side Quests:
Send for Aid

Player side quests are tricky in the early game. Some quests will not afford you time to take a detour. Other quests might actually punish you for putting progress anywhere but on the main quest, or for the number of side quests in play. Those quests are why I consider player side quests as potential sideboard cards in many of my decks. With the caveats out of the way, player side quests are powerful and finding one in your opening hand can catapult your deck’s early game momentum. Send for Aid is a personal favorite, as it serves as a super-charged version of Timely Aid but without the need to be in Secrecy. What’s better, in multiplayer is allows each player to search for and muster an ally for free. Suffice it to say, in a game with the right decks this card can be a ridiculously powerful early game play.

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Bear Market: The Aldburg Plot

These bears are plotting something

A Wolf

Grey and furtive in the final twilight,
he lopes by, leaving his spoor along the bank
of this nameless river that has quenched the thirst
of his throat, these waters that repeat no stars.
Tonight, the wolf is a shade who runs along
and searches for his mate and feels cold.
He is the last wolf in all of Angle-land.
Odin and Thor know him. In a commanding
house of stone a king has made up his mind
to put an end to wolves. The powerful
blade of death has already been forged.
Saxon wolf, your seed will pass and an old man
will dream of you…
-Jorge Luis Borges

The Aldburg Plot is the first adventure pack from Oaths of the Rohirrim cycle, designed and created by A Long-extended Party. Where the Children of Eorl centered around improvements to Gondor and Rohan archetypes, this release brings support for Hobbit and Woodmen. Below is a list of just a few of the cards which are in some way enhanced or improved by player cards from The Aldburg Plot.

Halfast Gamgee

A strategy based heavily on player side quests is a bit of an odd fit for most Hobbit decks. Sure, Double Back works great with Hobbit Secrecy and Gather Information is an excellent choice in most decks, especially in multiplayer games. Even so, Dúnedain decks built around Thurindir felt like a more natural fit for player side quests.

The introduction of a (superior) Lore version of Fatty Bolger in The Aldburg Plot makes the choice of how you build your side quest deck much more interesting. While his ability is perfect, from a thematic standpoint, it also has multiple mechanical implications. Because it adds the enemy to the victory display, Fatty’s ability works well with victory display mechanics. In addition, it lends itself to a more control oriented deck built around side quests like Scout Ahead.

This is where Halfast Gamgee, the little-known cousin of Hobbiton’s most famous gardener, enters the fray. Each side quest in the victory display reduces his cost by 1, with no minimum. In the right deck, and against the right quest, Halfast can end up being free to play. This was less exciting of a prospect when Hobbit allies entered play and just stayed there.

Now, thanks to cards like There and Back Again and Open the Gates (from Children of Eorl), the fact that Halfast’s response triggers on him “entering play” becomes all the more important. Without too much trouble, there is the potential to bounce Halfast in and out of play, gaining a resource as well as a useful quester. Tom Cotton’s ability will be covered in more detail below, but there is a definitely a deck which can take full advantage of cousin Gamgee’s stats and ability.

Tom Cotton

As long-time readers will know, I’ve been a fan of the Hobbit Secrecy archetype ever since that keyword was first introduced in the Dwarrowdelf cycle. The Hobbit Ambush (or “enters play”) archetype was introduced at the end of the Lord of the Rings Saga, with the release of Tom Cotton in The Mountain of Fire. As with most tribal archetypes, the second has always lagged behinds its predecessor.

When the first enter the card pool, some heroes seem like a solution in search of a problem. Tom Cotton was one such hero. With relatively few Hobbit allies, there just weren’t many options for his attack bonus. Moreover, there was a dearth of options for returning Hobbit allies to hand, so being able to consistently trigger meant having to find and play new allies every round. Combine this with the fact that many Hobbit allies have weak stats, and this archetype didn’t exactly wow anyone.

Hobbit Archer might seem underwhelming but when you pair it with Tom and high engagement enemies, it can be formidable. Buckland Shirriff gives Hobbits another effective ranged ally, and adds synergy with the victory display archetype. With the Tom Cotton bonus these allies can make 4 strength ranged attacks, which is impressive for any archetype.

As long as you keep a high engagement cost enemy engaged (traps can help with this), Tom also allows you to play a Hobbit ally without a resource match. This is useful as Hobbit allies are spread across every sphere. The Devoted keyword introduced in Children of Eorl also helps with this, as long as each of your heroes has the Hobbit trait. The archetype gives you multiple incentives for going all-in with Hobbits, between hero effects like Pippin and Folco, as well as events like Hobbit-sense and The Shirefolk.

Scouting Party

As I assemble this list I’m noticing a theme. Many of these cards are ones I’ve tried to make work in the past, and ALeP will give me the opportunity to try them again. From a design standpoint, it’s good that archetypes grow organically. The card pool cannot sustain more overpowered cards, it makes deck-building to easy, and it tends to lead to boring games. Don’t misunderstand, I still build decks with cards like Vilya and Tactics Éowyn, but it takes work to ensure those decks are not too powerful, and they still provide interesting gameplay decisions.

For the first half of the game, tribal traits (Dwarf, Noldor, Silvan, Gondor) dominated, and occupational traits (Warrior, Noble, Ranger, Scout, Healer) were mostly relegated to lower tier decks. Ranger was probably the first occupational trait to receive support, but Trap decks are not always a good fit for some quests. There weren’t enough Scout characters for much of the game for there to be an actual “Scout” archetype, but Scouting Party tried to change that.

Still, many players tried to build a deck around this card when it was released and quickly discovered that beyond questing and location control, the deck doesn’t do much. It’s not to diminish questing and location control, but the deck was not necessarily much fun to play. Gavin and Widfast look to change this archetype in a major way.

Other than Arwen, Spirit lacks repeatable resource acceleration. Arwen obviously works best in Noldor discard decks, but she can also be splashed into other kinds of decks. More than anything else, good design adds choice. Gavin provides multiple different kinds of decks access to resource acceleration without the need to include a Noldor sub-theme.

The important thing to remember about Scouting Party is that it does not mean that your deck can only consist of Scout allies. Even though there are many Scout characters in the card pool at this point, there are non-Scout characters worth including for various reasons. These other allies can be held back on the turns that you play Scouting Party, and saved for combat.

The Door is Closed!

Control archetypes are tricky for designers to balance. Make them too strong, and a deck can completely lock up a quest and make the game anti-climactic. On the other hand, a control archetype that isn’t effective will lead to a frustrating player experience. If cards cannot control the encounter deck in some meaningful way, why not just play an aggro deck?

I strongly suspect that delicate balance is precisely why the designers never created a treachery equivalent to None Return and Leave No Trace. One could argue that Out of the Wild received errata because (in its original form) it could be used to remove all of the worst treacheries from the encounter deck. It might sound like hyperbole to say “all” of the worst treacheries, but Seastan took this a comical step further with pre-errata Out of the Wild and actually removed the entire encounter deck from the game.

The ability to add every card (without victory points) in the encounter deck to the victory display is obviously too powerful. Certainly, the original designer of Out of the Wild did not foresee the absurd combination of card draw, resource acceleration, and recursion effects which would eventually become available in the card pool. This is exactly the kind of balance that the ALeP designers were cognizant of when designing Weep No More!.

No matter how devastating a treachery is, you have to face the full effect before you can use Weep No More! to add it to the victory display. No matter the number of players in the game, there is a hard limit of 3 copies of Weep No More! in the victory display. This makes it impossible to completely de-fang the encounter deck, but you can still dilute it. Depending on the strategy of your deck, there will often be a single treachery which hurts worse than anything else in the deck.

I remember when I took my Grimbeorn’s Path deck through the Lord of the Rings saga, there was one treachery I feared more than all the rest in the Mount Doom. Heavy and Tired is a devastating card for a deck which consists of 70 percent attachments. The most dangerous treachery is not always this obvious, but most every quest has a card which makes all of the players at the table groan when it is revealed.

This is where The Door is Closed! enters the conversation. Whether a card has been added to the victory display through Weep No More!, Fatty Bolger’s ability, Scout Ahead, or Out of the Wild, The Door is Closed allows you to cancel that card any time it shows up again. The versatility of A Test of Will is undeniable – I would argue that for 1 cost that card is overpowered and its existence hurts the design space of control decks.

The Door is Closed! and cards like Weep No More! are frankly better designs as they allow some measure of control, but the require the player decide which cards to add to the victory display, rather than a blanket effect which can cancel anything. As as aside, I will mention that I appreciate the trend for control cards to end with an exclamation point, as they shout their effect to the furthest reaches of Middle-earth.

Leaf Brooch

Leaf Brooch is a card I’ve tried to include in a few different Secrecy decks, and it always ended up being cut for other cards. Threat reduction is a critical facet of Hobbit Secrecy and has greatly improved, making this card much more effective than it once was. Between The Shirefolk and Spirit Merry, Hobbit decks now have a bevy of options for threat control. Sprinkle in long-time staples like Sneak Attack + Gandalf and The Galadhrim’s Greeting, and Hobbit decks can often stay in Secrecy for most of the game.

As mentioned above, most Hobbit decks are a rainbow because the best cards are not exclusive to a single sphere of influence. Timely Aid and Sneak Attack and Leadership staples for any Secrecy deck, along with attachments like Red Book of Westmarch and Hobbit Cloak. Lore gives Drinking Song – one of the best card draw effects in the game – as well as tribe staples like Fast Hitch and Gaffer Gamgee. Spirit brings a veritable circus of Pipes and Ponies, as well as multiple excellent events.

Leaf Brooch is inexpensive and does not take a restricted slot. You can give each of your heroes a copy, and the cost reduction unlocks the potential for more costly events. Continuing the theme of exclamatory cards, Fear! Fire! Foes! is a great option to add versatility to your deck. Continuing the thematic thread, you can use it for events like Smoke Rings and Old Toby.

Leaf Brooch is by no means limited to multi-Sphere decks and can help a deck play expensive events like Gildor’s Counsel and Light the Beacons. Some of these events are not played during the planning phase, and it should be pointed out that the Brooch reduces the cost of the first event played each round. This means that it works in later phases in the round, as long as you time when you play events that match the attached hero’s resource pool.

Posted in A Long-extended Party, Aggro, Archetypes, Bear Market, Community, Control, Mono-Sphere, Multiplayer, Play Style, Power, Series, Theme, Tribal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Play Report: Epic Helm’s Deep

Our final, fateful round

On Saturday I had the pleasure of joining many members of the community to test out The Purple Wizard’s Epic version of Helm’s Deep. We had three different teams, working together to defend the Hornburg. I joined Durin’s Father of Vision of the Palantir and Wandering Took. You can find the stream of our game on Took’s Twitch channel.

As expected, the game was indeed epic. It came down to the wire, we had 7 resources on The Defense of Helm’s Deep, and only an unfortunate appearance of Devilry of Saruman defeated us. Our decks worked well together, and despite the loss it was a great fun. My favorite experiences in the game are the narrow victories and narrow defeats. When you’re on the edge, balanced between triumph and disaster, each decision has great significance. I used a modified version of my Grimbeorn’s Path deck, which you can find on RingsDB.

A hearty thanks go out to The Purple Wizard for his clever design, and everyone who participated. Playing in a multiplayer game has me excited for Con of the Rings later this year. It will be nice to finally join in-person games, after such a long hiatus. If you have a chance, check out the stream and may your adventures in Middle-earth be epic and fulfilling!

Posted in Aggro, Archetypes, Combo, Community, Contract, Events, Game Variant, Media, Multiplayer, OCTGN, Play Report, Play Style, Power, Screenshot, Series, Twitch | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

News: Epic Helm’s Deep, Streaming this Saturday

Intrepid members of the community have designed an epic multiplayer version of Helm’s Deep, and I will be joining other esteemed members of the community to test it out this Saturday! The standard version of this quest is a personal favorite – with an ideal combination of theme and novel mechanics. Even in solo it is notorious for being difficult, so I’m curious to see how it scales to epic multiplayer scales.

The game will start at 4pm EST (9pm GMT) this Saturday (June 19th), and there will be three different streams:

CardTalk YouTube

Three is Company YouTube

Wandering Took Twitch

For those who would like to watch me, I will be joining Durin’s Father (creator of Vision of the Palantir) and Wandering Took on his Twitch stream. Currently, I’m trying to decide between bringing Grimbeorn’s Path or Ride to Bruin. I’m leaning toward that latter, as there is something profoundly amusing about the thought of the Rohirrim being joined at the Hornburg by an army of Giant Bears. If you have time on Saturday, I encourage you to check out one of the streams. We may not be victorious, but it will be an epic battle.

For those interesting in trying out the epic version of Helm’s Deep themselves, have no fear. The Purple Wizard will be hosting a game on July 17th at 4pm EST, which is open to everyone. Reach out to The Purple Wizard on Discord for details.

Posted in Community, Events, Game Variant, Live Play, Media, News, OCTGN, Play Style, Series, Twitch, Video | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bear Market: Children of Eorl

Each release brings changes to the meta-game. Existing archetypes are strengthened, entirely new strategies emerge, and many of the cards in the pool must be reevaluated. A living card games is “living” in multiple senses. The relative strength of a card evolves and changes as the cards around it change. While Power-levels usually only increase, errata can even reduce the power of a card. This typically only happens to the most powerful cards,

Children of Eorl is unofficial but it has a similar impact on the meta-game, for those who add it to their collections. One could argue that ALeP has a more potent and immediate impact as it is explicitly designed to bolster existing archetypes. Specifically, ALeP aims to improve archetypes considered by many to be second tier. After all, no one is clamoring for Outlands or Dwarf Swarm to receive support in the form of community designed cards. On the other hand, making an archetype like Gondor Traps viable in a wider range of quests is good for the game, especially for players who enjoy experimenting with many different kinds of decks. On earth as Middle-earth, variety is the spice of life. On Arrakis, Spice is the spice of life, but that a discussion for spacefaring bear on another blog.

Before we get lost in the desert, here are eight existing cards which are worth a second look in the context of Children of Eorl. You may find that cards which stayed in the binder collecting dust are suddenly the exact solution to take a deck to the next level. Other cards which you already used may have a new utility, unforeseen when combined only with official cards. If I missed one of your favorites, let me know in the comments below.

Editors Note: Bear is grumpy.
If you’re a troll who wants to comment about how you don’t play community content, my advice is simple. Spend 10 years becoming a master in origami, 10 years on chandlery, and another 10 teaching yourself calligraphy. Harvest your own sweat and tears for another 10 years, fashioning them into a single candle which encompasses the platonic ideal of illumination. After that, have a nice cup of herbal tea and a scone. Then, fold a thousand paper cranes, writing upon each your complaint in a flowing font of your own devising. Don’t just copy it from the first image search, lovingly craft a font which reflects who you are as a person. Make sure it has serifs. Serifs are cool. Then, one by one, throw each of your cranes into the flame of your candle. Finally, ask yourself this question: What would a world look in which you spent a fraction of the time you spend being an ass on the internet actually creating something? Maybe you’d be a mediocre creator and nothing would be different – there is that risk. Perhaps, and this is just the slimmest of chances, the ashes of your self-involved solipsism would provide a fertile soil upon which to grow something new and beautiful.

Gondor Valour Swarm

Veteran of Osgiliath

This is an ally which intrigued me from the beginning. Part of that speaks to the dearth of decent generic Gondor allies for the first half of the game. There is something to like about an ally which starts out relatively weak but becomes stronger in the late-game, when climbing threat makes the danger of larger enemies a constant danger. Three cost is relatively inexpensive in an archetype which obviously brings Leadership Denethor and Steward of Gondor.

The veteran is appealing even before you account for the myriad global boosts that Gondor affords. Cards like For Gondor!, Leadership Boromir, and Visionary Leadership all make the Veteran of Osgiliath that much more effective. In some decks, particularly those with low starting threat or repeatable threat reduction, you could argue that his bonus won’t be available for long enough to warrant player the veteran. Fortunately, Gondor Swarm is an aggressive archetype.

The new Ingold hero from Children of Eorl is the perfect way to ensure that you veteran receives his stat bonus as quickly as possible. Anyone who plays Deep Knowledge will tell you, drawing cards at the cost of raising your threat is almost always worth the bargain. The fact the Ingold has the card draw as a repeatable response makes him the engine that drives a Gondor Swarm deck. Throw in events like (my personal favorite) Pillars of Kings, and you’ll be in Valour range before you can say “cherry tomato”.

Favor of the Valar

After spending paragraphs expounding upon the virtues of the valour strategy, it should come as no surprise that the other card I’m covering has a threat reduction effect. It’s all well and good to play Pillars of the Kings on the first turn, draw a bevvy of cards, and swarm the board with Gondor allies. However, the game is not solitare and quests will include threat raising effects more often than not.

Favor of the Valor is a few important differences from similar powerful threat reduction effects. The Galadhrim’s Greeting can lower a player’s threat by 6, but many Gondor Swarm decks are mono-Leadership. Sneak Attack and Gandalf is another great option for threat reduction, with the advantage that it is in sphere. However, if I’m going to write an article recommending Sneak Attack and Gandalf I might as well retire now.

All of these forms of threat reduction are great, but they must be used proactively. If you happen to be right at or around 40 threat, reducing your threat so much from a single effect is a bit inconvenient. Threat reduction is usually a net positive, but losing all of your valour triggers and bonuses is not ideal for this archetype. Because it lowers your threat to 45 after you would be eliminated, Favor of the Valar will never take you out of Valour range.

The wording on this effect is subtle but important. It is a response to threat elimination. A replacement effect then sets your current threat to 45, regardless of what it would have been at the time of elimination. This means that there is technically no limit to the amount of threat reduction from this effect. As an example, some treacheries raise a player’s threat based on the number of questing characters, or total allies a player controls. These kinds of effects are often fatal for swarm decks.

For example, you could be at 48 threat and a treachery like Bitter Reek would leave you in a no-win situation. Either deal 1 damage to each of your questing characters, killing off many of your weak allies, or raise your threat by 1 for each questing character. With a Gondor Swarm deck in the late game, this could easily be a 10 threat raise. Because the threat raise happens as part of a single effect, you can use the response from Favor of the Valar to replace your 58 threat with 45. That is a net reduction of 13 threat for 3 measly resources.

Gondor Traps

Anborn

Anborn is one of the first allies I reach for when building a Trap deck. As much as you want to include 3 copies of every Trap attachment, you need allies and events in your deck. Before the hero version of Celador, having multiple unattached Trap attachments in play had a limited advantage. Even with encounter deck scrying and new cards like It Should be Spared, there will be times when a trap ends up attached to the wrong enemy. This is where Anborn comes to the rescue. He gives you the option of killing the trapped enemy, returning the trap to your hand from the discard pile, then playing it again.

Recursion is great, but a 4 cost Lore ally is not the easiest card to play in most Trap decks. My early Trap decks used Master of Lore with some success, but that card received an unfortunate errata. Without splashing Leadership, an odd fit for Traps decks, most Lore decks are going to struggle to pay for Anborn in addition to all of the other cards they want to play. This is where Spring the Trap enters the discussion.

You usually don’t want to play Anborn in the early game. His stats are great, but his recursion ability doesn’t bring any value until there are Trap cards in the discard pile to target. It is often better to hold him in your hand, and play your critical early games Traps and support allies like Emyn Arnen Ranger.

Lore might not have resource acceleration, but it has an embarrassment of card draw options. If you happen to see Anborn in your hand but haven’t yet drawn Spring the Trap, you can use effects like Daeron’s Runes, Mithrandir’s Advice, Deep Knowledge or Drinking Song to find it. The response on Spring the Trap is trivial in any Trap deck worth its salt. You want to take maximal benefit from Damrod, which means having a Trap attaching to an enemy every round, if possible. This allows you to get Anborn into play for only 2 resources. A savings of two might seem minimal, and in a resource rich sphere like Leadership that would be true. However, any kind of cost reduction in Lore is worth it, as card draw will just about guarantee that you see these support cards.

Put Off Pursuit

Between Anborn, It Should be Spared, and the proliferation of encounter deck scrying effects, Trap Decks now have much more control over which enemies get traps attached. Live Bait even allows you to attach a Trap to an enemy which ordinarily cannot have attachments. Even so, the game features many enemies which you do not want to keep around in a trap. This single fact is the Achilles heel of trap decks.

The best example of this is archery. An enemy with a high archery value is typically not something that you want to keep in play, trapped, for the entire game. Other enemies might have a passive effect which hurts you while that enemy is in the staging area or engaged. These enemies can continue to punish you, even after they have fallen into a trap. These are the enemies that you need to kill, then use Anborn to bring the trap back.

It’s all well and good to say that a Trap deck needs to just kill a Mûmak and then focus its attention on the weaker enemies. However, the archetype doesn’t have an easy way of dealing with such a powerful enemy. Super-defenders like Beregond can do the job, but are an odd thematic fit for a Trap deck. Effects like Feint and Coney in a Trap can spare you for a single round, but that is not always enough time to deal with the tougher enemies.

This is where cards like Put Off Pursuit and The Great Hunt can be invaluable. Both of these cards are an effective way to remove troublesome enemies, which would otherwise cause serious problems to a Trap deck. I choose Put Off Pursuit because it does not necessitate three Lore heroes and most of my Trap decks feature two Lore heroes and Tactics hero. If you are playing a mono-Lore Trap deck, definitely consider including The Great Hunt. The idea is that rather than wasting a Trap on a troublesome enemy, or engaging it and cobbling together some desperate combat strategy, we will simply discard that enemy from the staging area.

This is only necessary for the most dangerous enemies, most quests will include these types of enemies, precisely because they are so difficult for control decks like Secrecy and Traps to handle. Ideally, we can use scrying and control cards like Live Bait and It Should be Spared to manage all of the lesser enemies with Traps. Then, when one of these more difficult enemies comes along, we use the copy of Put Off Pursuit or The Great Hunt that we’ve been saving to discard that enemy. As long as we finish a quest quickly enough to avoid too many reshuffles of the encounter deck, we should not have to face that same enemy again. Obviously this strategy is less effective in longer quests or ones where the encounter discard pile is frequently shuffled back into the encounter deck.

Rohan Sacrifice

Ride to Ruin

One of my favorite moments in a living card game is when a previously unplayable card suddenly becomes useful. Dating all the way back to the first cycle, I wanted to make a Rohan deck that could use Ride to Ruin in a thematically epic way. Make no mistake, the card has always been technically useful, especially when combined with our location control effects from the early card pool like Northern Tracker or Snowbourn Scout. The issue was not that this card did not work from a mechanical standpoint, it was just such a thematically underwhelming effect for this title.

That might at first seem like an odd criticism, but when you name a card after one of the most dramatic moments of an epic fantasy narrative, it sets up a certain expectation in many players’ minds. Thanks to Thengel, Ride to Ruin can finally play an appropriately critical role in a Rohan Sacrifice deck. Before Thengel and Horn of the Mark, Ride to the Ruin was only used as a location control effect.

Now, the benefits of discarding a Rohan ally are such that the location progress from Ride of Ruin is a nice side benefit, instead of the primary reason to play the event. Once per round, Thengel can muster any Rohan ally from the top five cards of your deck, once a Rohan ally is discarded. This transforms events like Ride to Ruin and Worthy of Remembrance, along with numerous Rohan allies, into their own mustering engines. Rohan has enough high cost allies to mean there is a good chance of trading a 1 or 2 cost ally for 3 or 4 cost ally.

The Muster of Rohan

Whereas Children of Eorl transformed cards like Ride to Ruin from underpowered to playable, it takes a powerful card like The Muster of Rohan and makes it one of the most effective events in the game. Because it was released late in the life of the game, The Muster of Rohan had plenty of powerful targets. Unique allies like Elfhelm (either version), Grimbold, Éomund, Háma, and Déorwine are all great options for mustering. In addition, many generic allies like Escort from Edoras, Westfold Horse-breaker, and The Riddermark’s Finest are a fine choice for this event.

Being able to search the top 10 cards of your deck for four Rohan allies is easily worth the cost of this event, especially when you account for responses like Thengel and Horn of the Mark that are available when you discard those allies at the end of the round. What really takes this card into the upper echelon is the new contract from Children of Eorl, The Last Alliance. The trait replacement effect from the Last Alliance means that you can search for and muster non-Rohan allies from your deck, as though they were part of the Rohirrim.

My Ride to Bruin deck is a good example of the potential power of this card when it is paired with Last Alliance. In one of my tests of that deck, I used The Last Alliance to change The Muster of Rohan to search for and muster Beorn, a Giant Bears, a Beorning Skin-changer, and a Beorning Beekeeper. Yes, these allies will all be discarded at the end of the phase, but it turns out that they each have an effect which either discards them or shuffles them back into my deck.

In addition, the contract readies at the end of the round, before the discard effect from The Muster of Rohan takes place. This means that I can exhaust the contract to change The Muster of Rohan to bring Beornings into play, but it also allows me to exhaust it again during the refresh phase, to change Gamling to save a “Rohan or Beorning ally”. This allows me to return a Skin-changer to my hand after it is discarded. I can replay the Skin-changer on the next turn, then transform it into a Giant Bear that was previously discarded.

Pairing Beornings with Rohan is just one example of the kind of strategies supported by The Last Alliance. This contract opens up so many different archetypes, some of the best decks using this contract might not even have been discovered yet. Children of Eorl was designed to unlock the potential of Rohan Sacrifice. It has undoubtedly done that, while also supporting many heretofore underutilized cards.

Rohan Staging Attack

Westfold Lancer

Like Lore, Tactics is a resource poor sphere. Three cost allies with a discard effect are a tough sell, and I initially dismissed this ally as too expensive. Granted, I have used Grimbold to good effect in a few mono-Tactics decks, but the ability to prevent an enemy attack can be worth the loss of an expensive ally. On the other hand, 2 direct damage to an enemy in the staging area just seemed like too minimal effect for such a steep cost.

Two cards from Children of Eorl have changed my opinion of this ally, however. As mention in the above discussion of Thengel, the cost of a Rohan ally is no longer as linear as it once was. When I can respond to my Escort from Edoras leaving play to find a Lancer and bring it into play exhausted, suddenly the cost of this ally doesn’t seem so relevant. Many Rohan decks feature Théoden, so even when you cannot cheat the Lancer into play with Thengel, you can at least play him at a discount.

The other card which makes the Lancer’s effect more promising is Worthy of Remembrance. It bears pointing out that you do not want to use the Lancer to pay the cost of that event, but an inexpensive allies like Snowbourn Scout or Westfold Horse-breeder makes a great choice. In an ideal situation, you can discard a unique ally like Éomund to pay the cost of Worthy of Remembrance. Along with the Lancer’s effect this represents 6 direct damage into the staging area, which can even bit split (4 and 2) between two different enemies. Assuming this is enough to kill the enemy, Herubrand lets you draw a card to replace one of the allies you lost. If you’re fortunate enough to have a Horn of Mark in play, you could be drawing 2 cards.

That kind of direct damage in support of heroes like Leadership Éomer and Dúnhere and suddenly staging area attack seems a bit more viable. The easiest strategy is still to load your hero up with Spear of the Mark, Dagger of Westernesse and whatever other weapons or mounts you have on hand. This kind of direct damage should not be overlooked however, as it can provide the killing blow against a tougher enemy, or in the early game before your hero has donned all of his desired raiment. It is not as if this ally is useless in the mean time, because he quests for 2 willpower every round until you need him.

Battle-fury

Any effect which provides an out-of-phase attack is powerful. Not only do these attacks occur before the enemy attack step, but they do not count against the limit that each character can only be declared as an attacker against an enemy once per round. This kind of combat control is vital for dealing with enemies that have powerful forced effects after they are engaged or after they attack. It can be particularly effective in Rohan Staging Attack decks because of the primary heroes used by those decks.

Every Rohan Staging Attack deck is built around either Dúnhere or Éomer. With Dúnhere, the strategy is straight forward. Since he can attack into the staging area when he attacks alone, Battle-fury acts just like Quick Strike. For 1 Tactics resource, you can target an enemy in the staging area. In a Forth, the Three Hunters deck, Dúnhere will likely have more than his base 1 willpower. This means you can pay the kicker cost of Battle-fury to commit him to the quest as a bonus.

Making use of Battle-fury with Éomer is trickier, but potentially even stronger. Since he can only attack into the staging area as a response to committing to the quest, you will need an engaged enemy to target with Battle-fury’s first effect. If you happen to have Firefoot attached, you might even be able to trample this first attack onto a second engaged enemy. Then, you can pay the kicker cost on Battle-fury to commit Éomer to the quest. Then, you can respond to his committing to the quest and pay 1 resource from his pool to have Éomer attack an enemy in the staging area. Assuming you have Éomer equipped with Gúthwinë, Firefoot, or a Spear of the Mark, you should be able to finish off that enemy.

But all of this was true before Children of Eorl was released, you might say. That would be a good way to lose an arm. Remember, do not taunt the bear. That arm is more useful for attacking enemies in the staging area, making tea, or writing calligraphy. All fun aside, Battle-fury is made that much more effective with Herubrand.

Assuming your attack into the staging area defeats the enemy, Herubrand lets you draw a card to replace Battle-fury. This type of card advantage is critical to an archetype like Rohan Staging Attack, because you want to be able to maintain pressure against the staging area every round. If you are unable to kill an enemy when you first see it, a treachery might raise your threat. Suddenly, your threat means a forced engagement with one of the troublesome enemies. If Fastred is not able to handle that enemy, suddenly your entire combat strategy, and the lives of your heroes, are lost.

Beyond the card draw, Rohan Staging Area Attack decks require weapons to ensure that your attacker can defeat enemies when attacking along. Moreover, you want to commit as many characters to the quest as you can afford. You don’t want to fail to quest, risk raising your threat, and engaging all of these dangerous enemies you’ve been leaving in the staging area. Herubrand gains willpower was you attach weapons to your attacker and armor to Fastred, assuming you even have defender. If instead your other hero is a dedicated quester, their restricted willpower-boosting attachments will benefit Herubrand.

Battle-fury not only gives you an out-of-phase attack like Quick Strike, but it also gives you the option to commit to your attacker to the quest after the attack. Depending on who that hero is, this may have a dramatic impact on the quest phase. Either way, every little bit of willpower helps to make Rohan Staging Attack that much more effective. Ideally, these decks want to perform all combat during the quest phase. This avoids all of those pesky things like shadow cards, and enemy attacks, and archery.

Posted in A Long-extended Party, Aggro, Bear Market, Books, Community, Control, Legendarium, Mono-Sphere, Series, Tempo, Theme, Tribal, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Alternate Art: Wilderland Wildlife Sanctuary

Great-footed Hawk by John James Audubon

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!

No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

-from Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats

My last poetic inspiration was a hundred year old Yeats poem, so I decided to double down with a Keats ode from 1819. The alternate art this time around features the talents of renowned wildlife painter John James Audubon and the inimitable Georgia O’Keeffe. If I’m not careful, people might start mistaking me for a genteel bear.

Fear not, dear readers, I will dispense with the commentary about symbolic poetry and commence with the pretty pictures. I’ve been intrigued by Radagast lately, so this deck is built around his ability to play out of sphere Creature allies. Hence the avian theme of the poem above. Elrond’s ability for out of sphere allies compliments the Wizard’s and the synergy between Wizard’s Pipe and Vilya is well established and undeniable. Put succinctly, the goal here is storm the board with a zoo of powerful creatures.

Recently, I’ve been attempting to create powerful Lore decks. The hero compliment means that this deck technically fits that description. However, the allies are almost entirely out of sphere so that feels a tad disingenuous. The incongruity of a Lore deck with all Tactics allies underscores one of my major frustrations with where the sphere fits in the meta game.

Elrond and Vilya are one of the most powerful combinations in the game, but nothing about them actually requires Lore cards. Moreover, many of the most powerful Vilya decks feature only a smattering of Lore cards. Every other sphere has at least one powerful mono-sphere archetype, Spirit arguably has several. Lore has Ents, but they are a bit slow for some quests and they frankly work better with non-Ent heroes and at least a splash of Tactics cards.

There is a mono-Lore Victory Display deck which – while viable – is second tier at best. That deck lacks the combat prowess to even attempt many of the more difficult quests. It’s not to say that every sphere must have viable mono-sphere archetype, it just seems odd that Lore is the only sphere without one. The Great Hunt is a nice addition to the sphere, but it feels too little too late for mono-Lore archetypes. My hope is that, given time, ALeP is able to breathe some life into mono-Lore decks.

In any case, this deck is thematic and powerful, which was what I was aiming for. If you enjoy the work of Audubon or O’Keeffe, the beautiful alternate art is a nice bonus. For those interested in trying it out, you can find the deck list on RingsDB. May you all have happy adventures in Middle-earth and a safe 2021.

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