We all know that kid – the one sitting alone in a corner of the library. As difficult as is may be for readers to believe – given my current status as resident troll-killer of the hall – I was that kid as a wee cub. I think back fondly to those halcyon days playing primitive role-playing games on 5 and a quarter inch floppy disks. Between sips of Dr. Pepper, I learned to navigate the labyrinthine strategies of speed chess, all while trying not to be overtaken by the tidal wave of hormones threatening to overwhelm a young bear. Adolescence was no picnic, and now that I am an adult, I would not go back to that time for anything.
Peers at that age can be especially cruel. Something about that combination of an awkward blossoming awareness of ones own sexuality, combined with a total lack of empathy or shared experience, seems to bring out the worst in the more Orcish people. As part of my ongoing works of public service, I would like to dedicate a deck to the weird ones. I know what it’s like to be different, but don’t give up hope – there are others out there who will embrace and understand you.
The fourth adventure pack in the upcoming Angmar Awakened cycle was just spoiled a few days ago. The hero version of Erestor is just the kind of card that I have been waiting for. His ability is so powerful, and so different, that it opens up an entire class of decks which simply did not exist in this game until now. Drawing at minimum four cards per round, and this with access to a sphere with far and away the best card draw effects, is just a tremendously powerful effect.
Erestor is without a doubt the nerd of the group, off in the corner discussing some nuance of strategy with his fellow Noldor. Other, more high profile heroes like Aragorn, Boromir, Glrofindel, Dain, and Elrond are like the jocks of Middle-earth. Everyone has heard of them, and when they come back victorious from battle all praise goes to them. Rightfully so, one might argue, as their abilities are what power the engines of some of the most powerful archetypes in the game.
Nerdy though he may be, Erestor belongs in that esteemed company. His ability is so powerful in fact that the once rigid proscription for 50 cards decks has at last been lifted from this game. We will soon see some very unique deck lists that no serious player would have dreamed of previously. Some decks will run with a larger card count, and pair Erestor with other card drawing effects to plow through mountains of cards over the course of the game. Other strategies might include the newly errata’d Will of the West to recycle the same deck multiple times (no more than three, which should still be sufficient). Add in some resource acceleration and it even becomes possible – though no doubt tricky – to actually play all of those extra cards before you are forced to discard them at the end of the round.
Granted, the downside of discarding your hand at the end of the round might at first seem too steep a cost for the extra 3 cards, but it can be mitigated. As the spoiler article mentions, there are plenty of effects in the game which allow you to discard cards for some benefit, and this deck will be taking advantage of several of these. In an earlier discussion of efficiency, I touched on how finding alternate uses for extra cards in your hand is an important form of efficiency. This is especially true because many decks feature multiple copies of unique cards, which then become dead once the first copy is in play. Being able to extract maximal benefit from each an every card in your deck is an important and often overlooked aspect of design.
On the one hand we want to give ourselves options for what to do with the extra cards each turn, since they will all be discarded at the end of the round. At the same time, we are going to design a deck of low-cost cards, so that we don’t have to discard cards is we don’t want to. This deck features no less than 25 free cards (counting both Gondorian Shield and Spear of the Citadel as 0-cost since these play for free on Beregond). You read that correctly: half of this deck is 0-cost cards. While this might at first seem to doom this deck to mediocrity, the state of the card pool is such that you can actually make a surprisingly powerful deck with so many free cards.
The real key here is to balance the free cards with cards that actually cost resources. We want a deck which is no only effective, but can consistently put enough cards into play to make the gamble of Erestor’s ability a worthwhile one. This is where resource smoothing can be a tremendous boon. Without a Leadership hero – a decision that was decidedly difficult to make – this deck lacks access to most traditional forms of resource smoothing.
However, Miruvor ends up being an very effective solution to the problem of how to play the most cards each round. By essentially trading a Spirit resource for a Lore or Tactics resource, it is much more likely that we will not be stuck discarding one of our few powerful cards with an actual cost. This card has always been a personal favorite; adding versatility to a deck is akin to adding salt and pepper to a recipe – that is to say: essential. It is the most overlooked option on this card that makes it particularly intriguing.
In a deck which draws two or – heaven forbid – one card per turn, the idea of willingly putting a minor card on the top of your deck is unthinkable. But this deck draws an average of about 5 cards per round, and in some test draws I was able to draw as many as 16 cards in the first round (counting the opening hand). This is an absurd amount of card draw, so much so that putting one card on the top of your deck in preparation for next round suddenly doesn’t seem to foolhardy.
Why would you want to put Miruvor on top of your deck, you ask, and it is a fair question. There are a couple of good reasons. As a bear, I can only count as high as my paws allow, but an Istari once told me about this dark magic called statistics. According to this mysterious arts, it is possible to judge the relative likelihood of a given event. For example, if I have already drawn half of my 50 card deck and have yet to see one of my 2-cost Lore cards, the odds are relatively good that I will see one in my new hand of cards next round. Because the deck has so much card draw, a new round will most often give you more than four cards, so these odds improve considerably. You might even be setting up for a particular combination of cards.
If for example, you have already attached Song of Wisdom to Beregond but you have not yet drawn A Burning Brand, it might make sense to put a Miruvor on the top of your deck. Because you will often have a Lore card already which you want to play, saving the Lore resource for the future is not always the best option. I like to think of this deck as the ultimate Aggro strategy as my goal is to play my entire hand every single round. As much as we want to maximize our play each round, we don’t want to miss out on attaching such a powerful card to our dedicated defender.
Because of the nature of this deck, we can’t afford to include events like A Test of Will and Hasty Stroke. As singularly powerful as those cards are, their utility is situational, and there will be rounds where no treacheries are revealed or no shadow effects triggered. In this deck, unlike all others in the game, we never want a card which is situationally useful, because the situation may never arise at the correct time, and we will be forced to discard these powerful cards at the end of the round. With many quests lasting only a handful of rounds, such a strategy becomes far too risky, even for this bear.
For these reasons, A Burning Brand is the superior card for our deck. Likewise, with location control we will prefer repeatable effects like Asfaloth and Arod to events such as Ride to Ruin, Strider’s Path and Secret Paths. Why risk having to discard a card when you can put it into play and then wait for the right opportunity to use it? This underscores the most serious weakness of this deck, one that cannot be overstated. This deck can absolutely struggle against quests with a lot of attachment hate. With a full complement of 23 attachments – almost half the deck – we are definitely relying on them to bolster our already powerful heroes.
Like many decks, each of the heroes here serves a well defined and specific role. Beregond is our dedicated defender, and he receives help in this regard from cards like Gondorian Shield, Blood of Númenor, Lembas and the Song of Wisdom, A Burning Brand combo that was mentioned previously. Éowyn is obviously our dedicated quester and receives Expert Treasure-hunter (hint: you will almost always choose attachment with this effect). Additionally, her ability is a great way to make use of a card that we may have left over, before we would discard it at the end of the round.
Don’t worry too much about having to discard the single copies of these more powerful cards, you will see them again soon enough. With three copies of Will of the West, I have yet to have a game with this deck were I was stuck with any important card in my discard pile for long. The new Galadhrim Weaver also helps in this regard; when she enters play you shuffle the top card of your discard pile back into your deck.
Her ability and the one on Erebor Hammersmith do both require timing, though. Bear in mind that you always choose the order that you discard cards, not only to effects like Protector of Lórien and Elven Spear, but for Erestor’s passive effect at the end of the round as well. Discard pile management is yet another aspect of the game which changes dramatically with this new archetype, and upcoming cards in this cycle will only add to this. Between the discard-based effects and victory display shenanigans, It is exciting to see the powerful Noldor receive such a unique set of abilities. Long gone are the days when powerful but predictable Elrond and Glorfindel deck grind the game to a fine powder of banality.
With Beregond defending and Éowyn questing, that leaves Erestor to attack (with help from our Dúnedain Hunters). At first, his two attack might not seem all that impressive, but Rivendell Blade and Elven Spear (amazing in this deck), will help to transform him into a formidable combatant. Unfortunately, Gondorian Fire can only be attached to Beregond, but he can sometimes be used as a backup attacker with readying effects, or in the cases where we chump block.
With these roles established, it is merely a matter of getting the necessary cards on the chosen heroes, something that this deck does more quickly and consistently than most decks I’ve ever built. Heck, I even included Keeping Count because getting two copies in play has proved to be a fairly painless process with such a wealth of card draw. Revitalizing what was for me a long-dead cards like Keeping Count is a great sign for the impact that Erestor has on the metagame. His ability is so powerful that it requires you to go back and re-evaluate the entire card pool to judge older cards within a fresh new context.
The strategy I’ve implored here is certainly not the only way to go about building around Erestor. I’ve intentionally stayed with a 50 card deck, to maximize our ability to draw all of these singular cards in a timely fashion. As I mentioned at the top, there is ample space within this archetype for vastly different designs. By sticking with cheap cards, we do not need resource acceleration in this deck, but that is another viable route. I am particularly intrigued by the idea of a heavier Lore-based approach, that uses many Songs and Love of Tales to build a resource engine. That deck is still in the early stages of design so I will leave it for a later article.
In any case, this is more than enough of my rambling, and it fulfills the second in my ongoing series of community service articles. I hope that my parole officer approves of this deck, although the level of trickery it contains does border on the criminal. As I see it, this entire concept is still very much an experiment, and I have no doubt that it will improve and evolve over the course of this cycle and even have unexpected interactions with later releases. I am interested to hear from other players on this; feel free to leave me comments about your Erestor deck ideas or how you would build this deck differently. Remember, just because that nerd is sitting quietly in the corner of the library reading Mad Magazine and writing his own sequel to Monty Python, doesn’t mean that you should ever underestimate him. It is after all the nerds of the world who end up doing some truly amazing things.
Dunedain Hunter (TLR) x3
Galadhrim Weaver (ToR) x2
Westfold Horse-breeder (VoI) x1
Vassal of the Windlord (TDM) x1
Henamarth Riversong (Core) x1
Erebor Hammersmith (Core) x1
Galadhrim Minstrel (TiT) x1
Gléowine (Core) x1
Master of the Forge (SaF) x1
Elven Spear (ToR) x1
Gondorian Fire (AoO) x1
Keeping Count (TRG) x3
Blood of Númenor (HoN) x1
Spare Hood and Cloak (TH:OHaUH) x1
Expert Treasure-hunter (TH:OtD) x1
Healing Herbs (FoS) x1
Song of Wisdom (CatC) x1
Arod (ToS) x1
Gondorian Shield (TSF) x1
Rivendell Blade (RtR) x1
Light of Valinor (FoS) x1
Miruvor (SaF) x3
Song of Earendil (RtR) x1
Lembas (TiT) x2
Protector of Lorien (Core) x1
Spear of the Citadel (HoN) x1
A Burning Brand (CatC) x1
Asfaloth (FoS) x1
Elrond’s Counsel (TWitW) x3
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3
Deep Knowledge (VoI) x3
Will of the West (Core) x3
Side Quests: 2
Gather Information (TLR) x1
Scout Ahead (TWoE) x1