In a sense, new heroes represent a puzzle to be solved. Heroes form such an important part of a deck’s design, but it is not always immediately obvious how a new hero will best integrate with the existing cards, to say nothing of the player cards released concurrently with that hero. The creative aspect of deck-building holds particular appeal for me – like a good scratch behind the ears it tickles my fancy. As the card pool grows, and the variety of scenarios continues to diversify, identifying the potential synergies of a new hero can feel like a search for a few chocolates in a giant bag full of raisins. Fortunately, bears have an excellent sense of smell, so I am here to help sort out the good stuff. In some cases, cards which never saw much play will suddenly become relevant again.
In the case of Leadership Faramir, it has taken me a bit of tinkering before I was finally able to build a deck around him that I am happy with. Perhaps it was the huge influx of cards from Gen Con 2015, or just the distractions of life, but the design of a proper deck for the Captain of the Rangers of Ithilien has taken some time. Faramir has always been one of my favorite characters from The Lord of the Rings, but with the potency of the Core Set ally, I have never fully accepted the Lore version of this character. The new Leadership version – Captain Faramir I like to call him – gives us access to Gondor’s biggest strength: resource acceleration. His ability might at first seem unexciting, especially for decks that rely so heavily on powerful heroes with action advantage. Once again, other changes in the metagame have coincided to bring this ability into focus for me.
While the first assumption would be to make Faramir the leader of an ally-heavy Gondor deck – perhaps even pair him with his brother Boromir – this doesn’t quite work. Most of the Gondor allies have mediocre stats, which is the entire reason you need the global boosts from Boromir, Visionary Leadership and For Gondor!, to be begin with. When it comes to allies with powerful exhaust effects, the Core Set version of Faramir is the obvious choice, an unfortunate case where a hero would have great synergy with an ally of the same name. From a thematic standpoint, I really want the new Faramir to work well in a Gondor Army deck, I just don’t see it with the current crop of Gondor allies that we have. It’s not to say that these allies could not contribute to combat after questing – they most certainly could – it just would not be making the best use of Faramir’s ability. As with all effects in this game, it is important to note the limit. Faramir’s response has no cost (other than the trigger condition) and can be used one per phase. This means that we will look for cards that help us to engages enemies multiple times in a round.
With Gondor off the list, we naturally turn to the newest powerhouse archetype in the metagame: The Ents. On closer inspection, this is a perfect match – and not just because the Ents have amazing stats for a low cost. Other than not being able to wield weapons and armor (of little concern for characters with such potent base-stats), the one real limitation for Ent allies is that they enter play exhausted. This means that you will not ordinarily be able to use the great stats from the Ent ally that you just played until the round after you payed the price. While this drawback is most certainly worth it, it is nevertheless a drawback. Scenarios that ambush the players from the first round will be more than happy to see you spending precious resources for an ally that does nothing the round it enters play.
This is where the new Leadership Faramir and a bit of creativity can lead to a very potent deck. The is an aggressive deck with a pretty straight-forward premise: muster big allies with useful abilities as quickly as possible. Then, engage as many enemies as can be safely managed, all while reaping multiple benefits for each enemy engagement.
While it still feels half-finished, there are some powerful new cards in the Dúnedain archetype from this cycle. Engagement-based effects are a perfect fit for this deck. Dúnedai Hunter n is an amazing ally for the bargain price of nothing. Ordinarily, the requirement of engaging an enemy can be a bit scary, but in this deck it will actually net you a resource (thanks to Mablung) and ready a potentially devastating ally like Treebeard or Gandalf.
This is where the smart-ass bears in the back of the room raise their paws and ask the rhetorical question: “Why would your ally even be exhausted during the planning phase for this combo to work?”. As a bear, and merciless slayer of straw-men, I am more than happy to answer this rhetorical question. Between the Ents, which all enter play exhausted during, and A Very Good Tale, there are plenty of ways to get our allies exhausted during the planning phase. Honour Guard can exhaust during any phase to prevent damage – very useful for a deck without access to healing. In some rare cases, encounter card effects can deal damage during the refresh, resource or planning phases. If the Honour Guard happened to be exhausted in such a situation, his friend the hunter would allow him to be ready for the all important quest phase when most of the direct-damage nastiness comes. The point of this rhetorical exercise is to encourage you to look for ways to use Faramir’s ability as much as possible.
With that in mind, we need to talk about Legolas. We discussed this on episode 30 of The Grey Company Podcast (available soon), but the ally version of everyone’s favorite Mirkwood Elf is fantastic. An earlier version of this deck featured weapons and Foe-Hammer as supplemental card draw. As anyone who relies on that strategy with support from Lore can tell you – that strategy is not very consistent. There is nothing more frustrating that looking at a Foe-hammer in an opening hand bereft of weapons. Fortunately, this deck has a more reliable form of card draw. Yes, pedantic bears in the back row, you first need to draw Legolas, but the same can be said for Foe-hammer (but it also requires a weapon on an attacking hero in addition). In any case, once you get him out, your card draw problems are solved, particularly when there are enemies that can be left in the staging area after the encounter phase.
This is where our third hero comes into the picture – Mablung can’t steal all of the glory. Not only does Tactics Aragorn feature one of the most underrated passive effects of any hero in the game, but his response in this deck is just silly. Again, it should be stressed that this deck is designed to work in multi-player, were there are consistently multiple enemies in play. Aragorn all but ensures that this deck can ready an ally during every combat phase – a particularly useful time to be readying, I might add.
Donning our fuzzy hypothetical hats once more (trust me, you’d much rather wear the warm and furry hypothetical hat than the burlap and irony-wrought curmudgeon hate), let’s look out how Aragorn and Legolas work together to create a powerful team. First let’s assume that Aragorn and Legolas both participate in an attack which kills an enemy – not too outlandish when they have a combined attack of 6 and Aragorn’s passive weakens all non-immune enemies. First we trigger Legolas’ response and draw a card. Next we trigger Aragorn’s response and engage an enemy from the staging area (or stuck with another player). Lastly we trigger Faramir’s ability to ready Legolas.
If Aragorn happens to have a Rohan warhorse, he could also ready and help out with the subsequent slaughter. The important point here is that there is no limit to the number of times you can trigger Ally Legolas’ response, provided you can ready him. A silly version of this deck even features Hands upon the Bow, Sword-thain and Rohan Warhorse so that Legolas can just keep killing enemies until you run out of enemies to kill. Even in less ideal circumstances, Legolas should be able to help kill at least one enemy a round, which is an extra card that an Aggro deck featuring resource acceleration desperately needs.
Some games, Legolas might not show up. Have no fear, even without card draw, this deck can muster a formidable host of allies. As we said earlier, and it bears repeating, Ents are under-costed for their stats. Try to exhaust at least 6 points worth of characters when you use A Very Good Tale – this will allow you to choose a four cost ally and a 2-cost ally from among the cards discarded. With 30 allies in the deck, it will be almost impossible to miss on that card, so play it early and often. Treebeard also helps muster his friends once he comes into play, so there is actually quite a bit of resource acceleration available here.
Even if this deck struggles along without Legolas or Steward of Gondor for a few rounds, you will still make enough money between your heroes and Mablung’s ability to pay for any of the Ents and Eagles in this deck. Assuming threat is not an issue, use Gandalf for card draw to find the missing piece. Gather Information is also included to help find whatever card is needed to get everything setup. Support of the Eagles can turn Aragorn into an amazing attacker, or Mablung into a super-defender, but the heroes are really just here to help you survive until your army is raised.
One last card that bears mentioning is Ever Vigilant. To my knowledge, I have not included this card in a deck that I built (Core Set pre-constructed decks don’t count). It always seemed like either a niche card (use with ally Faramir of Gandalf) and lost out space to other in-sphere gems like Sneak Attack. In this deck however, this card is fantastic. Legolas has the Ranged keyword after all. Aragorn is sometimes not ready or able to kill an engaged enemy – or perhaps you don’t want to deal with the engagement effect on an enemy fighting against another player. Whatever the reason, the worst case scenario for this card is to allow you to ready Legolas to swing in two attacks and net you two extra cards.
The deck is not without its weaknesses. With a 33 starting threat, it is unabashedly in its aggression. Because we are not using the Hobbit-style “sneaky” engagement effects, we do get the full benefit from each engagement – even the non-optional variety. This is good, because the hight starting threat will mean that many enemies come running at us from the first round. The sideboard has some cards to help mitigate this, and feel free to swap them in for particular scenarios. Doomed and threat raise effects can also be an issue. Secret Vigil and Sneaky Gandalf can certainly help with this, but this strategy is honestly paired best with a deck featuring Spirit, for stronger questing (this deck can often be mediocre in that department), treachery and shadow cancelation, and threat control. While you certainly could try this deck solo, my best games with it so far have been two player, paired with Mrs. Beorn’s White Council Deck.
Dúnedain Hunter (TLR) x3
Errand-rider (HoN) x3
Vassal of the Windlord (TDM) x3
Booming Ent (TaC) x1
Derndingle Warrior (EfMG) x3
Honour Guard (TWoE) x2
Orophin (CS) x1
Skinbark (TLoS) x1
Treebeard (TAC) x3
Eagles of the Misty Mountains (RtM) x3
Legolas (ToS) x3
Rúmil (TTT) x1
Gandalf (Core) x3
Rohan Warhorse (VoI) x2
Steward of Gondor (Core) x2
Sword that was Broken (TWitW) x3
Support of the Eagles (RtM) x3
Side Quests: 1
Gather Information (TLR) x1
Booming Ent (TAC) x1
Honour Guard (TWoE) x1
Captain of Gondor (TAC) x1
Gondorian Shield (TSF) x2
Secret Vigil (TLR) x2
Steward of Gondor (Core) x1
Firefoot (TDT) x2
Sneak Attack (Core) x1
Feint (Core) x2
Tireless Hunters (TLR) x2