Beorn’s Favorites: 5 Great Cards From Black Riders

One of the highlights of GenCon was definitely having the chance to pickup the Black Riders saga expansion early. I then had the privilege of playing through the three scenarios with Ian from Tales From the Cards and Matthew from The Progression Series. The quests in this expansion are everything that I love about the game – compelling adventures filled with strategic depth and thematic cohesion. Back Riders makes me very excited about the upcoming saga expansions based on the Lord of the Rings; the game continues to get better and better.

As expected, the player cards introduced in this expansion make Hobbit decks a fully-realized archetype. Bilbo (THfG) and Frodo (CatC) have been available since the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, but until the recent release of Pippin in the Encounter at Amon Din, it was not even possible to make a deck with all Hobbit heroes. The limited stats on those three means that such a deck would have serious difficulty defeating many scenarios.

With a special version of Frodo (with the newly-created Fellowship sphere) that is automatically included in each of the Black Rider scenarios, the spirit version of Frodo is not even an option for decks in this saga expansion. The great news is that the heroes introduced in Black Riders are quite good, especially because their abilities have a lot of synergy around the Hobbit trait and the low starting threat of Hobbit decks. To distill the Hobbit archetype into one concept: benefitting from optionally engaging enemies with a higher engagement cost than a player’s current threat.

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Not only are the heroes quite strong (particularly Sam, Merry and Pippin), but many of the other player cards work quite well with this new deck archetype. For those that are less interested in this new archetype, have no fear. Not only are the player cards in this expansion perfect for including in Hobbit decks, but many of them are also quite effective in other deck archetypes. What follows are 5 player cards that I give two paws up!

Hobbit Cloak

Hobbit CloakAs good as the new Hobbit heroes are, the new Sam Gamgee card is arguably the best of the bunch. With an excellent 3 willpower and a really powerful Response ability that frequently allows him to ready after questing, Sam is a ver versatile hero.

While his 1 starting defense might seem paltry, his 3 hit points can be boosted by the new Bill the Pony ally (which is free when Sam is in play). In addition, Hobbit Cloak is a natural fit for Sam’s ability and will often provide him with an impressive 4 defense.

While the defense bonus of Hobbit Cloak is conditional, unlike cards like Dunedain Warning or Ring Mail, the low starting threat will most often mean that this card is effective. Being able to pay 1 resource for +2 defense is a bargain, and becomes especially important to cover for one of the Hobbit archetypes real weaknesses, relatively weak defenders. In non-Saga scenarios, Spirit Frodo will obviously be a natural choice as your defender in Hobbit decks, but as he is not available in Black Riders, the Hobbit Cloak becomes all the more vital.

Dagger of Westernesse

Dagger of WesternesseOne of the critical limitations of most weapons in this game, is that they are only available to characters with a specific trait or traits. Cards like Dwarrowdelf Axe and Rivendell Blade are very powerful, but they can only be attached to Dwarves and Elves, respectively. These limitations serve to preserve both a thematic sense of realism, as well as game balance. Even so, it can be frustrating when a card would fit so well strategically (e.g. Rivendell Blade attached to Bard the Bowman), but cannot be attached because of these limitations.

For this reason, weapons without these trait requirements possess a unique flexibility. Being able to attach a weapon to characters with less common traits, like Hobbits, also gives a deck access to powerful cards like Foe-Hammer, Goblin-Cleaver and Bofur (H:OHaUH). Dagger of Westernesse, in a worst case scenario, provides +1 attack for one resource, along with the ability to use the cards mentioned above. In a deck with low starting threat, as Hobbit decks have, the dagger provides an impressive +2 attack bonus against enemies with a greater engagement cost than the player’s threat. As with the Hobbit Cloak, being able to pay 1 resource for a +2 bonus is a real bargain. Outside of Hobbit decks, this card is also a perfect fit for Dunhere, allowing him to attack into the staging area with a mighty 5 strength. I hope that the dagger is merely a precursor to other cards in a Rohan deck archetype that goes beyond just power-questing.

Barliman Butterbur

Barliman ButterburWithout a doubt, the Hobbit archetype carries with it a certain risk. Many recent scenarios include enemies with low threat thresholds, or other forced effects which cause them to attack immediately. Having low defense, and few hit points, Hobbit heroes will not survive long against powerful enemies that sneak in under a player’s current threat.

This is where the friendly inn-keeper of the Prancing Pony comes into his own. After seeing how important his ability is in a Hobbit deck, one can understand why Gandalf blessed his beer to several years of prosperity. Just like the recently-released White Tower Watchmen, Barliman can take damage from undefended attacks. In his case, this ability only works when each of your heroes is a Hobbit, but this is the most common time that you would actually want that effect, so it fits well strategically. With 3 hit points, he even has a chance of surviving attacks from smaller enemies, attacks which might kill a Hobbit with only 2 hit points. Reasonably priced at 2 resources, the inn-keeper can be committed to a quest and still help protect your Hobbit heroes from an undefended attack.

Elf-Stone

Elf-StoneWith the errata to Master of Lore, the Lore sphere is back to having limited options for resource generation. This limitation is underscored by the fact that Lore has so many inexpensive ways to draw cards. With a hand full of expensive allies, attachments and events, but no way to pay for them, Lore-heavy decks often need to include Leadership in order to fill anything but a support role. The original version of Master of Lore was a solution for mono-Lore decks, but after the errata the Master is a high-risk choice. Expensive at 3 resources, the Master of Lore is very fragile with only 1 hit point. With an abundance of direct damage treacheries in recent encounter decks, there is a very real risk that the new version of Master of Lore will never pay for himself.

The newest Lore attachment, Elf-Stone fills one of the most important gaps in Lore decks, all for the bargain price of 1 resource. Even better, this attachment is not effectively limited to mono-Lore decks, as it works with every ally in the game. Being able to, at no additional cost, put Gildor Inglorion, Beorn (Core Set), or Gandalf into play is an amazing effect. Sure, you have to first explore the active location, which also gets +1 quest point, but in a Sphere that includes cards like Asfaloth, Thror’s Map, and Protector of Lorien, this will not be difficult to accomplish.

Even better, because the first player gets to trigger the effect on Elf-Stone, you can time the use of this card to allow other decks, particularly ones without resource acceleration, to get expensive allies into play at no cost. While Elf-Stone is unique, it is discarded when the location is explored, so there is no reason not to include 3 copies of this card in most any Lore deck. Of all of the great cards included in Black Riders, Elf-Stone may be the most powerful.

Frodo’s Intuition

Frodo's IntuitionThe Baggins sphere events in the Hobbit Saga Expansions are hard to use effectively. Because Baggins resources are so vital for triggering other effects, it is often not worth it for an event that only effects one character. Frodo’s Intuition, on the other hand, is an amazing card which transcends the limitations of these earlier events. While Fellowship sphere resources are invaluable for triggering the One Ring, you typically will not need to use the ring every single round. This will result in extra Fellowship resources on Frodo that go unspent. For decks with only Hobbit heroes, this card is tremendously powerful. On the round when you control Frodo (which is every round in a solo deck), you can spend 2 Fellowship resources to draw 4 cards and give each of your heroes +1 willpower.

In Hobbit decks, being able to quest heavily is very important. While optionally engaging a single enemy works well for triggering multiple powerful effects on your hero cards, a Hobbit deck is by no means built for handling several large enemies. For this reason, it is important with this archetype to quest aggressively and clear a scenario before the player’s threat gets too high, and tougher enemies start engaging.

Letting your threat exceed the threshold of tough enemies will mean that you cannot trigger all of the powerful effects on your Hobbit heroes. What’s more, cards like Hobbit Cloak and Dagger of Westernesse are much less effective against enemies with an engagement cost that is less than your threat. Additionally, Hobbit decks have access to very efficient readying effects. Between Sam Gamgee’s ability and Fast Hitch, the best readying attachment in the game (for Hobbits), there is very little reason not to commit all of your heroes to the quest. Being able to commit four Hobbit heroes to the quest, draw four cards, and add +4 willpower to your questing efforts, makes this card absolutely amazing.

Not only is this card strategically powerful, but it fits perfectly within the theme of the Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo was a character that the other Hobbits rallied around, and someone who’s intuition and leadership they trusted implicitly. It is encouraging, in the very first Saga Expansion for the Lord of the Rings books, to see a Fellowship event that can serve as the cornerstone in a new, and thematically important, deck archetype. With the release of Black Riders, it is undeniable that Hobbit decks are here to stay, and this bear is excited to see the new and different decks that evolve from this archetype.

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10 Responses to Beorn’s Favorites: 5 Great Cards From Black Riders

  1. TalesfromtheCards says:

    I agree completely with your list. Poor Barliman must have gotten smashed into a fine paste five or six times by Nazgul over the course of our games, but that only goes to show his value in protecting the Hobbits.

  2. John says:

    Thanks for spoiling these amazing cards! Now we keep waiting for BR to drop…

  3. shipwreck says:

    I am glad that the Hobbit trait was delayed a bit, because I think they took their time and thought things out quite nicely! It makes sense thematically and is unique among the existing cards.

    Question for you: do you feel Sam fits the Leadership sphere? I feel he’s more of a Spirit hero. I cannot remember what Caleb’s justification for the choice was (in the original spoiler article), but Sam and Spirit are synonymous for me.

    • Beorn says:

      I agree that the theme of Hobbits where they get bonuses when engaging higher-threat enemies fits perfectly. As for Sam, I actually think he fits well in the Leadership sphere. When I think of Sam, I think of him always encouraging Frodo, trying to keep his morale up and aid him in any way that he can. While this certainly fits within the Spirit sphere, I also think it is a good match for leadership.

      Sam possesses all of the essential traits of a good leader, including a willingness to make sacrifices for the greater good (carrying Frodo to Mount Doom being the best example). In any case, one of the Hobbits had to be in the Leadership sphere, and I believe that Mr. Gamgee is a better fit that any of the other Hobbits. Incidentally, his ability can be incredibly powerful. At one point, 4 enemies engaged Ian in one round. While the other players used sentinel defenders (and Feint, as I recall) to spare Ian from the onslaught, Legolas and a seriously pissed-off Sam (+4 to wp/atk/def) were able to kill the Witch-King of Angmar in one counter-attack.

      That was by far the highlight of The Black Riders scenarios for me. Not only was it awesome for keeping us alive in the game, but it just seemed so thematically appropriate. I can absolutely envision Sam doing something brave but foolish like that, to protect his master.

    • TalesfromtheCards says:

      If I remember right, the justification was that Sam essentially took the leading role on the journey to Mordor, so I suppose he’s a leader in a small-scale sense. The one that’s a little off to me is actually Pippin as Lore. While post-LOTR Pippin certainly could fit in to the Lore sphere, all I can think about is Merry taking the lead after they escape from the Uruk-Hai since Pippin spent his time in Rivendell enjoying himself rather than studying maps and lore. Ah well, at the end of the day, they really had no other place to put Pippin.

      • shipwreck says:

        If I, also, remember right, the justification for Lore Pippin was that he exercised his “lore” of the Shire on their trip through the Green Hill Country, which is accurate. So, by that same part of the story, Sam is definitely not a leader. Merry takes the reigns (literally and figuratively) as soon as they catch up to him at Bucklebury Ferry.

        Sam, I would argue, is more there for his Spirit, both at this early point in the story and later, especially after his encounter with Gildor.

      • TalesfromtheCards says:

        Yeah, you’re right about that being the explanation for Pippin being in Lore, but it seemed a bit thin to me at the time (and still does). He knew parts of the Shire (geography lore?), but then is chastised a later for clearly ignoring the opportunity for learning lore in Rivendell. But you’re right on the money that these sphere choices often depend on what part of the story is being cherry-picked. If you had asked me several months ago what sphere I thought Sam would be in, I would’ve put money on Spirit. In fact, I think Spirit is actually the natural sphere of all the Hobbits, as they pretty much embody it. Still, the necessities of the game forced them into four different spheres. I could actually imagine a whole different arrangement with Leadership Pippin (representing his leading role during the Battle of Bywater), Tactics Merry, Lore Sam (representing his gardening “lore”), and Spirit Fatty. That would be probably even more of a stretch but it’s possible. I think the big problem is Fatty occupying the Spirit spot, and where else could you place him?

  4. Michael says:

    Thanks for another great read! I can see the Elfstone in my multisphere Gondor decks to help getting out those expensive Lore allies (Anborn, Ithilien Archer). I am glad that the Ringbearer sphere cards seems more useful in general gameplay compared to Baggins of the previous expansion!

    Those Hobbits surely look like a force to be reckoned with! High Willpower, readying effects, support cards and fantastic card draw! The little folk also looks stronger in combat than many other factions. Sam defending for 4 before Merry strikes back for an attack of 8(!!!) with two daggers. Wow! I think the biggest decision will be to choose between Spirit and Lore Pippin.

  5. Jakub says:

    Lore Pippin every day.
    Also, I know it is hard to choose from the so many great cards in the set. But I find Bill the Pony being perhaps the most obvious greatness of them all. I remember when people were claiming Snowbourn Scout is the most versatile card in the core set, and they may not have been far from right, now look at Bill, you play him for free (no reason not to run Sam, he just has to stay in play then), to get 1 willpower, 1 attack, 2 hit points, and +1 hit points for all Hobbits. That is great.

  6. Pingback: Beorn’s Favorites: Old Cards with New Relevance | Hall of Beorn

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