Key Concepts: Affinity

bears hugging

Deck building is a balance of many factors. Depending on theme, strategic factors, and personal taste, there are a multitude of cards that fit in a deck. With so many cards to choose from, the process of selecting a given card can be overwhelming. Even after deciding which spheres, and which heroes around which to build a deck, there are still so many cards to choose from. Some cards have a natural fit, in terms of efficiency, strategy and even theme. These cards can be said to have affinity with each other. Other considerations aside, looking for cards that have affinity with the cards that you have already selected is a great way to improve the effectiveness of your decks.

Affinity is a somewhat broad concept. It is not simply trait synergy, or something as obvious as a combo between two specific cards. If you imagine the card pool as a giant web connecting every card to every other card, affinity can be thought of as the relative distance between two cards. The sphere a card belongs to, the type of the card (ally, attachment, event), any traits on the card, the stats/effects of the card and whether or not the card effects the relative size of your deck (e.g. card drawing effects) all impact where a card exists within this web. Choosing cards that are closer to each other, metaphorically speaking,  tends to be more efficient, and leads to decks that aren’t as likely to stall out, or have dead cards.

There are many powerful cards in the game, but mixing powerful cards with low affinity can lead to decks that perform inconsistently. One game, all of the perfect combos come up at the just the right time and the deck seems like a world-beater. The next game, the same deck might sputter and stall. The cards, while powerful, don’t have enough cohesion to work well together in different circumstances or in more general-purpose ways.

There are a nearly infinite variety of ways that one card can be related to another. In the name of simplicity, and to increase the usefulness of this article for later reference, we will use each of the heroes currently in the game, organized by sphere, as the starting point for this particular discussion. This makes sense from a deck building standpoint, as many people start a deck by first choosing their spheres and heroes. However, it is important to point out that this is done for clarity’s sake, and is but one of many ways to examine affinity.


The best way to think of the Leadership sphere is like the glue that holds the other spheres together. While not truly excelling at any of the game’s three primary statistics, Leadership includes powerful characters in each of the categories, as well as some of the most powerful global abilities in the game (Dain Ironfoot and Faramir, to name two).

Steward of GondorThe most important role that Leadership fulfills, that can’t really be matched by any other sphere, is resource acceleration. Steward of Gondor remains the gold standard of such cards, one that pays for itself immediately and over the course of a game can provide tremendous leverage to pay for the most expensive and powerful cards.

One other card that must be mentioned with any discussion of the Leadership sphere is Sneak Attack. A perfect fit with Gandalf (Core), it also pairs well with other allies (Descendant of Thorondor) with comes into play responses to maximal effect. Paired with cards like Horn of Gondor and Prince Imrahil, this card can fuel an “allies leaving play” theme. With the recent introduction of truly great card draw in the form of King Under the Mountain, Leadership cards can find affinity with cards of any other sphere, in any type of deck that you can imagine. For decks with a primary sphere, looking to splash supporting cards, Leadership is often a great choice.

Aragorn (Core):
– Steward of Gondor, Celebrian’s Stone, Ring of Barahir, Gondorian Shield, Citadel Plate, Expert Treasure-Hunter, Blood of Númenor
– Sword that was Broken, Faramir, Gondor allies + Boromir (HoN), Rohan allies + Astonishing Speed/We Do Not Sleep

– Multi-Sphere Decks, Rohan Decks, Multi-Player games (prefer to start as last player)
– Celebrian’s Stone, Expert Treasure-Hunter

Glóin (Core)
– Self Preservation, Narvi’s Belt, King Under the Mountain, Hardy Leadership, Citadel Plate, Song of Mocking, Ring Mail, Boots of Erebor, Errand-Rider, Envoy of Pelargir

Prince Imrahil
– Sneak Attack + Gandalf/Descendant of Thorondor, Horn of Gondor, Valiant Sacrifice, Born Aloft, Snowbourn Scout, Miner of the Iron Hills
– Boromir (HoN), Gondor allies

Dain Ironfoot
  – Dwarf Characters, Cram, Erebor Record Keeper, Lure of Moria, King Under the Mountain, We Are Not Idle, Legacy of Durin

– Elladan, Steward of Gondor, Dunedain Warning, Gondorian Shield, Arwen, Elrond’s Counsel, Goblin-Cleaver, Swift Strike

Thorin Oakenshield
– Narvi’s Belt, King Under the Mountain, Lure of Moria, We Are Not Idle, Legacy of Durin, Unexpected Courage, Cram, Longbeard Map-Maker, Longbeard Orc Slayer, Dwarf Allies

Boromir (HoN)
– Steward of Gondor, Wealth of Gondor, Gaining Strength, Errand-Rider, Envoy of Pelargir, Guard of the Citadel, Citadel Custodian, Blood of Númenor

– Steward of Gondor, King Under the Mountain

Hirluin the Fair
– Outlands allies, Beravor, Faramir, Cram, Unexpected Courage, Strength of Arms, Stand and Fight, A Very Good Tale


Of all the spheres, Tactics is undoubtedly the most straight-forward. Combat ability is the forte of this sphere, and it includes characters that the can both inflict and withstand devastating attacks. With a growing card pool, the only sphere to date with weapons and armor attachments, Tactics is uniquely suited to provide a single-deck solution for enemies. In all but the most battle-oriented scenarios, Tactics needs the help of another sphere as it has very few answers for locations and treacheries.

FeintFor all its martial bluster, the Tactics sphere is not without its own share of subtlety. Cards like Horn of Gondor, Hands Upon the Bow and Feint, along with heroes like Thalin and Hama, point to alternative strategies with a bit more nuance and sophistication.

Even so, Tactics cards tend to have affinities that are obvious on their face, as they typically play off of the sphere’s immediate strengths rather than some deeper stratagem. There is still variety within the way Tactics cards handle combat, the traditional front-assault of characters with superior attack (Boromir, Gimli, Elladan, Beorn), the ranged approach (Legolas, Brand, Bard) and defense (Beregond) are viable sources of card affinity within the sphere. These strategies can easily be tied together by pairing weapons with Foe-Hammer, an essential means for drawing cards in any deck which heavily features Tactics.

– Armor: Citadel Plate, Ring Mail, Boots of Erebor, Hardy Leadership
– Readying Effects: Unexpected Courage, Cram, Erebor Record Keeper,
– Damage Redirection + Healing: Song of Mocking, Warden of Healing, Daughter of the Nimrodel, Self Preservation

– Rivendell Blade/Blade of Gondolin + Foe-Hammer, Hands Upon the Bow, Great Yew Bow, Rivendell Bow
– Location Control: Thror’s Map, Northern Tracker, Snowbourn Scout

– Dain Ironfoot, Celebrian’s Stone, Expert Treasure-Hunter
– Staging Area Direct Damage: Hail of Stones, Expecting Mischief, Fresh Tracks
– Defending Direct Damage: Gondorian Spearman, Spear of the Citadel, Swift Strike, Goblin-Cleaver
– Dwarf allies + Erebor Battle Master

Brand son of Bain
– Ranged Direct Damage: Hands Upon the Bow, Great Yew Bow

Boromir (TDM)
– Low threat heroes: Glorfindel (FoS), Bifur, Theodred
– Threat Reduction: The Galadhrim’s Greeting, Elrond’s Counsel, Aragorn (TWitW), Nori
– Dwarven Axe (more Gondor weapons, please FFG!), Dunedain Mark, Gondorian Shield, Spear of the Citadel, Behind Strong Walls
– Peace and Thought, Spare Hood and Cloak + Faramir/Master of Lore/Gleowine etc.

– Elrohir, Rivendell Blade/Blade of Gondolin + Foe-Hammer
– Horn of Gondor + Trollshaw Scout/Watcher of the Bruinen

– Feint, Blade of Gondolin/Dwarven Axe + Foe-Hammer, Hail of Stones/Quick Strike
– The Eagles are Coming! + Eagles
– Hands Upon the Bow + Ranged characters/Dunedain Cache

Beorn (H:OHaUH)
– Low-threat heroes: Glorfindel (FoS), Gloin, Mirlonde
– Resurrection/Damage Redirect: Landroval, Fortune or Fate, Dori
– Card Costs: Hail of Stones, Peace and Thought, Common Cause

– Weapons and Armor: Spear of the Citadel, Gondorian Shield, Citadel Plate
– Defending Events: Goblin-Cleaver, Swift Strike, Behind Strong Walls
– Readying Effects: Cram, Unexpected Courage

Bard the Bowman
– Ranged Direct Damage: Hands Upon the Bow, Great Yew Bow


Until recently, Spirit was the consensus power sphere in the game. With superior willpower, location control, threat reduction, and treachery and shadow cancelation, combat is the only aspect of the game for which Spirit has traditionally lacked answers. The Battle and Siege quests introduced in the Heirs of Numenor have changed the balance of the game. With few exceptions (Glorfindel (FoS), the seeming exception to every rule), Spirit characters typically lack in attack and defense, which decks based heavily on this sphere struggle with these newer quests.

The Galadhrim's GreetingAll of the utility that made Spirit such a powerful sphere before these new scenarios is still in place. With combat, and combat stats, receiving a renewed emphasis in recent scenarios, Spirit is now more of a support sphere. Treachery cancelation and threat reduction are as important as ever, and the aforementioned Glorfindel brings excellent attack with a super-low starting threat, so there are still options for Spirit in this new environment. Much of the affinity that spirit cards have is still useful, it is just harder to make successful decks with a heavy emphasis on Spirit. Finding a balance that includes Tactics and other spheres with better combat abilities, is essential to creating successful decks for the Against the Shadow cycle.

– Questing: Celebrian’s Stone, The Favor of the Lady
– Card Drawing: Ancient Mathom, Gleowine, Beravor

– Super Cancellation: A Test of Will, Hasty Stroke, Dwarven Tomb
– Super Defender: Gondorian Shield, Blood of Númenor + Steward of Gondor and Errand-Rider

– Staging Area Control: Dwarven Axe, Dunedain Mark, The Galadhrim’s Greeting

Frodo Baggins
– Threat Reduction: Aragorn (TWitW), The Galadhrim’s Greeting
– Defense/Readying: Ring Mail, Boots of Erebor, Fast Hitch, Unexpected Courage

Dwalin (KD)
– Orc Slayer: Blade of Gondolin, Dwarrowdelf Axe, Dwarven Axe, Goblin-Cleaver
– Defender: Ring Mail, Boots of Erebor

Glorfindel (FoS)
– Quester: Light of Valinor, Elrond’s Counsel, Miruvor, Expert Treasure-Hunter
– Attacker: Rivendell Blade, Unexpected Courage
– Location Control: Asfaloth, Northern Tracker, Lorien Guide, Thror’s Key, Snowbourn Scout
– Secrecy: Other low-threat heroes – Bifur, Frodo, Mirlonde, Theodred
– Threat Reduction: Aragorn (TWitW), Elrond’s Counsel, The Galadhrim’s Greeting

– Cheap dwarf allies, Dain Ironfoot
– Secrecy: Ever My Heart Rises, The Galadhrim’s Greeting
– Dwarf allies: Dwalin (H:OtD), Gloin (H:OtD), Bifur (H:OtD)
– Threat Gaining Effects: Frodo, Boromir

– Dwarf characters, Dain Ironfoot
– Dwarrowdelf Axe, Feint, Erebor Battle Master
– Dwarf allies: Dwalin (H:OtD), Gloin (H:OtD), Bifur (H:OtD)

– Hobbits: Frodo, Bilbo
– Threat reduction: The Galadhrim’s Greeting


Of all of the spheres, Lore is arguably the most diverse in terms of its abilities and effects. Like Spirit, Lore has abilities that are not found in other spheres: Healing, Encounter Deck Scrying, Card Drawing (until recently). Like Leadership, Lore also has characters and heroes with a mix of abilities: decent attack, some excellent defenders, and some of the more unique abilities in the game (Beravor, Denethor, Bifur, Mirlonde). Unlike Tactics, Lore is multi-dimensional in that it can fulfill many different roles within a deck.

GleowineThis variety makes Lore an ideal choice to provide support for the other spheres. This is evidenced by the fact that many Lore cards have affinity with non-Lore cards that originate from strategies in other spheres. Whether it is using Beravor to fuel Eowyn’s ability in a quest-heavy deck, Dori to provide support for Beorn in a combat-heavy deck, Denethor to support a staging area control deck, or Asfaloth to support a location control deck, Lore provides some of the best support cards in the game.

With the introduction of Mirlonde and cards like Mithrandir’s Advice, mono-Lore is now possible, though this archetype is still a work in progress. A good rule of thumb for Lore card affinities is to look for sub-themes (healing, card draw, scrying, defense) that accentuate the main themes of your deck. Like Leadership, Lore excels at fitting into the cracks of other sphere’s weaknesses.

– Scrying: Thalin, Expecting Mischief, Ranger Spikes, Fresh Tracks, Henamarth Riversong, Out of the Wild, Palantir
– Defender: A Burning Brand, Gondorian Shield, Behind Strong Walls, Dark Knowledge, Protector of Lorien, Dunedain Warning

Glorfindel (Core)
– Resource Generation: Steward of Gondor, Errand-Rider, Love of Tales
– Quester: Light of Valinor, Celebrian’s Stone, Expert-Treasure Hunter
– Location Control: Asfaloth, Thror’s Map, Ravenhill Scout, Snowbourn Scout, Ancient Mathom

– Discard Effects: Eowyn, Hama, Protector of Lorien
– Readying Effects (for combat/questing): Unexpected Courage, Miruvor

Bilbo Baggins (THfG)
– Discard Effects: Eowyn, Hama, Protector of Lorien
– Defender: Ring Mail, A Burning Brand, Boots of Erebor, Fast Hitch

Bifur (KD)
– Resource Smoothing: Multi-Sphere Decks, Narvi’s Belt, Songs, Multi-Player Games
– Questing/Readying: Expert Treasure Hunter, Erebor Record Keeper
– Card Drawing: Legacy of Durin, Ori
– Defending: A Burning Brand, Protector of Lorien

Aragorn (TWitW)
– Threat Gaining Effects: Boromir, Frodo, Glorfindel (FoS), Palantir
– Defender: A Burning Brand, Protector of Lorien, Healing, Blood of Numenor
– Artifacts: Celebrian’s Stone, Sword that was Broken, Ring of Barahir
– Questing/Readying: Miruvor, Unexpected Courage, Expert Treasure-Hunter

– High Cost Cards: Vilya, Imladris Stargazer/Gildor Inglorion, Master of the Forge, Unexpected Courage/Miruvor, The Galadhrim’s Greeting, Beorn (Core), Landroval, Northern Tracker, Erestor
– Questing: Light of Valinor, Elrond’s Counsel, Miruvor, Expert Treasure-Hunter
– Defender: A Burning Brand, Protector of Lorien, Healing
– Healing: Warden of Healing, Daughter of the Nimrodel, Self Preservation

– Dwarf characters, Dain Ironfoot, Bombur
– Questing/Readying: Erebor Record Keeper, Expert Treasure-Hunter
– Dwarf allies: Dwalin (H:OtD), Gloin (H:OtD), Bifur (H:OtD) + Legacy of Durin
– Discard Effects: Protector of Lorien

Bombur (H:OtD)
– Dwarf characters, Dain Ironfoot
– Defender/Readying: A Burning Brand, Ring Mail, Boots from Erebor, Hardy Leadership, Erebor Record Keeper, Healing
– Dwarf allies: Dwalin (H:OtD), Gloin (H:OtD), Bifur (H:OtD) + Ori/Legacy of Durin

– High-Threat Mono-Lore: Elrond, Aragorn, Glorfindel (Core), Master of Lore, Mithrandir’s Advice, Advance Warning + Staging Area Control
– Secrecy: Denethor, Bifur, Needful to Know
– Silvan: Silvan Tracker (+ Elrond)

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1 Response to Key Concepts: Affinity

  1. Pingback: Key Concepts: Resource Curves | Hall of Beorn

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