Each game of Lord of the Rings involves an element of randomness. Between the player decks and encounter deck, no two games will ever play exactly the same. An important aspect of deck-building is to try and reduce this randomness as much as possible. Card draw allows you to get to your essential cards more quickly, to ensure that your heroes have the support that they need to complete the quest. Cards like Imladris Stargazer and Gildor Inglorion, similarly help control an otherwise random element of the game, namely the cards are on the top of your player deck. Likewise for the encounter deck, scrying and manipulating cards like Denethor, Henemarth Riversong, and Out of the Wild can help ameliorate this randomness, to a point. Similarly for shadow effects, cards like Dark Knowledge, Dawn Take You All, and A Burning Brand can shed some light (pun intended) on an otherwise unknown element of the game.
The fact remains, no matter how many cards your deck includes to mitigate the randomness, part of the game will always be out of your control. Indeed, this is what makes a game fun. All good games have an element of mystery, it keeps them interesting. When you have exhausted every measure available to control the randomness, the next best thing is to be able to adapt to it. While a simple and powerful deck can be successful most of the time, there are often cases where you need to adjust your strategy on-the-fly to deal with the different challenges of a quest.
This is where card versatility comes into play. Cards that are useful for more than one task can be described as versatile. The more tasks a card is good at, and the better it is at each of these tasks, the more versatile that card is. Alternatively a card like We Are Not Idle, that costs nothing and replaces itself, also has versatility. Even if you don’t want it in your hand, you can always replace it with the next card from the top of your deck. The most important thing about versatile cards is that they are less likely to be a dead card in your hand when you draw them. What follows is an outline of a few of the more versatile cards in the game, including strategies for how to maximize their versatility.
Any discussion of versatility has to start with Gandalf the Grey, the original do-everything ally. At a cost of 5 resources, our Istari friend is certainly not cheap, but you will find that he is worth the cost most every time. Indeed, unless you already have him in your hand, seldom will the grey wizard be an unwelcome sight. One of the most important things about Gandalf is that he is a neutral ally. Because of the variety, and potency of his abilities, this is very important. There are many ways to use the original Gandalf card in your decks, but one that I have found that works particularly well is to shore up traditional weaknesses with your choice of sphere(s).
Need threat reduction and card draw in a mono-tactics deck? Gandalf can do that. What about some direct damage and questing in a leadership resource/support deck? Done and done. Need to drop your threat back below 21 in order to pay for some secrecy cards? Gandalf can do that. Does your Lore deck need help finishing off the Hill Troll that you have caught in a Forest Snare? Gandalf’s got that too. Or perhaps you want to make a crazy-combo deck, but need a big body to help buy you some time while you setup.
His response effect is the very embodiment of versatility. Even if you don’t need the direct damage or threat reduction, you can always draw three 3 cards. In this case, not only do you get an amazing quester or combat participant, but he replaces himself in your hand and gives you two more cards for good measure. At the end of the round, after refreshing but right before he leaves play, you can even exhaust Gandalf to trigger one of the best fetch events in the game, Word of Command.
After the release of the first Hobbit expansion, some people mused that the new Gandalf was strictly superior to the original. While the latest ally Gandalf with his built-in Light of Valinor is very powerful, his threat drawback limits the kind of decks that can safely include him. Decks with low starting threat or ample threat reduction will certainly find the new Gandalf to be an amazing card, but many decks are better served by the versatility of the original. Personally, I have found the new Gandalf to be a win-more card in some of my decks, whereas the original has absolutely saved my bacon (mmmm bacon, I really shouldn’t write these articles while I’m hungry) on multiple occasions.
As if the response effect on the original Gandalf wasn’t powerful enough it is triggered by him “entering play” and not his being “played from your hand”. This leads to the first killed combo/synergy of the Core set. Sneak Attack plus Gandalf is as crazy-good as a dinner party with thirteen dwarves. Additionally, cards like Timely Aid and A Very Good Tale (but sadly not Stand and Fight) can be used to get him into play without paying his rather hefty cost. Whether you pay full price or you sneak him in, Gandalf represents one of the most versatile and powerful cards in the game.
In previous articles, we discussed the importance of not chump blocking too often. Sacrificing an ally to an attacking enemy is sometimes necessarily, due to an unexpected shadow effect, or ambushing enemy. However, over the course of the game, this decision should be made sparingly. Most scenarios require you to build up an army of allies in order to be successful. This war of attrition, where you sacrifice allies that you just paid resources for, is a losing strategy in the long run. One of the best strategies for avoiding the thinning of your forces it to have a hero play the role of super-blocker. In order to do this effectively, you will want to use a hero with a high printed defense, and ideally, increase their defense through attachments and other effects.
Surprisingly, there are only two attachments in the game that permanently increase a characters defense. One of these attachments, Ring Mail, is a powerful card, but unfortunately is limited to Dwarf and Hobbit characters only. This makes it less useful in decks where an elf or man will be the best defender. This leaves Dúnedain Warning as the only truly general-purpose attachment for supplementing a hero’s defense.
With a cost of 1, and no trait restrictions, you can easily use it in any deck that includes the Leadership sphere. Moreover, because it is not unique, having one in play does not prevent you from playing another Dúnedain Warning card from your hand. Similarly, since it is not restricted, there is not reason not to load all three of them onto the same hero. Doing this with a dedicated blocker will basically make them invincible to all but the strongest enemies.
Now, with the new quest types in Heirs of Númenor, Dúnedain Warning is no longer limited to just supporting defense. In siege quests, this attachment also serves as quest-booster that is the situational equivalent to cards like Favor of the Lady or even a cheaper version of Dúnedain Quest. This is where the card’s other ability comes into the discussion. Often overlooked, and sometimes even maligned, all of the Dunedain-themed attachments allow you to spend a resource from the attached hero to move them to another hero.
As an action that can be taken during any phase, this kind of versatility allows for some really creative play. Assuming that you have resources to spare, something that should be a given in any deck featuring Leadership, you can move the warning to whichever hero needs it most at the time. Start with it attaching to a questing hero during a siege quest to get the bonus. Once the combat phase comes, and you need a ready hero to defend, spend 1 resource from the exhausted hero and move the warning to the hero that is ready to defend. It doesn’t even have to be one of your heroes, any hero in play (except for me, sadly) can have the Dúnedain Warning moved to them as an action.
Because there is a player action window after a shadow card is revealed, but before damage from the enemy’s attack is dealt, you can even use the action on Dúnedain Warning as a sort of shadow cancellation effect. The additional 1 defense that it provides can offset shadow cards that boost an enemies attack (or lower the defending hero’s defense). Timed correctly, this can even save a hero from being killed. Not bad versatility, for an unassuming attachment that costs a single resource.
Even the simplest-seeming cards can have a lot of versatility. In a sense, versatility is all in how you use a card, not just what is printed on the card itself. A card like Miruvor is much more obvious in the options that it provides, because they a printed right on the card itself. Feint, however, is on the other end of the obviousness spectrum. The ability to prevent an engaged enemy from attacking doesn’t, at first glance, seem all that versatile. Powerful, sure, and this is precisely why Feint has been included in every tactics deck since the Core Set. But what, one might ask, makes this card so versatile?
There are several important factors to this cards versatility. First of all, the Tactics sphere does not have any means of canceling shadow effects. Because a shadow effect does not trigger unless the associated enemy attacks, Feint can be used as a, far superior, Hasty Stroke. With shadow effects that force attachments to be discarded, or allow enemies to make additional attacks, this aspect of Feint is very important.
Another important factor in the versatility of Feint is that it can be played on a enemy that is engaged with any player, not just the one who played it. Holding back a Feint during combat to bail another player out after a bad treachery or shadow effect is one of most effective ways that a tactics deck can provide support to other players. Knowing ahead of time that a particular enemy will not be attacking also makes strategizing the round that much easier. When you know that a particular enemy is not going to attack, you can safely commit another character to the quest or use them to counter-attack instead of having to waste them defending a potentially dangerous attack.
The enemy-control the Feint provides is particularly powerful with enemies like Durin’s Bane, that engage multiple players. This is another great example of where the specific wording of the card in question is so important. Feint reads “That enemy cannot attack this phase”. This means that now matter how many times the enemy would have attacked, they are now harmless for the rest of the phase. In a four player game, the Balrog would ordinarily attack four times in one phase. Instead of each player having to face a strength 6 attack, along with a potentially devastating shadow effect, a single use of Feint ensures that nobody gets attacked and his shadow effects just fizzle out. This is why Tactics decks that utilize Háma‘s event recursion ability with Feint can be so incredibly effective.
Shadow and Flame has provided us with some excellent player cards, and Miruvor is one of the best in this stellar chapter pack. At first glance, this card might not seem like much, but the variety of abilities this card offers, coupled with the potential interactions with other cards, makes this an absolute steal for a single resource. As mentioned in the above discussion of Gandalf, versatility is all the more valuable when it provides something that a particular sphere or deck-style might otherwise lack.
Spirit is very good at doing certain things, but resource generation has never been one of those strengths. This is why the second of the four possible effects on this card is such an important factor in its versatility. By letting you essentially move a resource from the hero who paid for it to the hero to whom it was attached, Miruvor provides a much-needed “resource smoothing” ability that is not to be found in other Spirit cards. Much like Bifur’s ability, this means that multi-sphere decks that include Miruvor will find it easier to pay for more expensive non-Spirit cards. This is the kind of ability that one would expect to find in Leadership or Lore, but having it in a Spirit card makes Miruvor all the more valuable.
The fact that you can choose this “resource smoothing” in addition to one of the other abilities, is what makes Miruvor so amazing. It is important, also, not to look at the choices on this card in isolation, but to think about how they can be used together. For example, let’s say you just committed Beravor to the quest on a critical phase where you need to quest successfully. Now, like any self-respecting Dúnedain, she enjoys a draught of Elvish wine from time to time. By using the abilities on this card together, you can ready Beravor and then put Miruvor back on top of your deck. Later in the round, if you did not exhaust her to attack or defend, you can use her ability and draw two cards. The first card that you draw will obviously be Miruvor, which means that you can repeat the same trick next round.
There are several advantages to this strategy. Not only do you get to quest with Beravor, a character you would ordinarily hold back for her ability, but she is not exhausted during the staging step. This means that treacheries like The Necromancer’s Reach will not effect her, even though she is still committed to the quest. Then you can use her solid attack and defense stats for combat, if necessary. Assuming that you keep her out of combat in order to use her ability, you will still net card advantage, because you are drawing one new card in addition to the Miruvor every time you draw 2 cards. Once you draw your Unexpected Courage, you can simply choose to give her +1 willpower in addition to readying her and let Miruvor go to the discard pile. This is versatility, even when the situation changes or you need to adopt a different strategy, this card is still effective.
The Watcher in the Water chapter pack includes another great example of versatility. Like his predecessor, the new Aragorn has the same stats and sentinel ability, but it is his sphere and Refresh Action that really set him apart. Whereas the Core Set Aragorn is in the Leadership sphere, “Strider” here belongs to the Lore sphere, and his ability is one of the most powerful abilities that we have seen on a hero up to this point.
First of all, his sphere is important because it makes him a natural target for one of the best Lore attachments, A Burning Brand. Just like on Weathertop, with a burning brand in his hand, Aragorn can fill the role of super-blocker. Combined with his sentinel, this means that he can defend attacks from enemies engaged with any player and not worry about any shadow cards on those attackers. With five hit points, Aragorn will be able to withstand attacks from all but the largest enemies. If you want to take this strategy even further, you can always attach Self Preservation, back him up with Warden of Healing, or use other repeatable healing effects. His sphere and sentinel have a lot of synergy and give you multiple options of how to use Aragorn.
Cards that provide abilities not normally found within a given sphere are especially valuable. Even if the effect itself does not provide any choices, the very existence of the effect in that sphere is a kind of meta-versatility. Aragorn’s Refresh Action is an example of this kind of versatility. Other than the little used secrecy card, Needful to Know, Lore did not have any cards that lowered your threat. That is, until Aragorn was released. To be fair, regardless of the sphere, his ability would be amazing, but the fact that it comes in a sphere not usually associated with threat-reduction makes it all the more powerful.
This sphere mismatch gives you a ton of versatility. With this version of Aragorn, you can finally build decks that do not include the Spirit sphere, but still have a solution for threat-reduction. More than just saving you a sphere, Aragorn is saving you space in your decks for other cards. It is reasonable to assume 2-3 copies of Elrond’s Counsel and The Galadhrim’s Greeting as the cost of including solid threat-reduction in a deck. Aragorn, with his once-per-game Refresh Action, can thus single-handedly free up 6 cards slots in your deck, not to mention the resources it would have taken to play some of those cards.
Last but not least, Aragorn has versatility because of his title. Some powerful cards like Celebrían’s Stone, Sword that was Broken and even Rivendell Bow, specifically name Aragorn in their card text. This version of Aragorn can take advantage of these powerful attachments just as well as the Core Set version. Having lots of trait synergy, on top of his great stats and amazing ability, means that Aragorn will be useful in many different kinds of decks. I might give one pause that his starting threat is high, at 12. However, with his great stats and tremendous versatility, he can be at the heart of your deck’s strategy, whatever that might be.