Beorn’s Favorites: Old Cards with New Relevance

One of the best things about Living Card Games is that they are not static. With most games, the experience that you have the first time that you open the box is very similar to the 100th time that you play. Granted, you will become more comfortable with the rules, devise and develop strategies for how best to play the game, and come at it with new motivations. Even so, games without new content are just not the same.

As someone who loves to build decks, and think about archetypes and high-level strategies, having an evolving card pool is a great thing. Every time a new pack or expansion is released, not only do I get to enjoy new cards, but I get to don my archaeologist’s hat and reexamine old cards for new interactions. With The Black Riders not yet publicly available, I wanted to reward my readers for their patience by highlighting some of these old cards.

When they were released, some players may have dismissed these cards as too weak, or too conditional. At the time, these assessments were often accurate, but as the game evolves, and new archetypes and strategies come to the fore, cards that once seemed weak can suddenly become powerhouse. This is particularly true when you can set aside old prejudices about a card, and learn to appreciate and accentuate its strengths. Without further ado, here are a handful of cards which I believe are only going to get better with the upcoming releases.

Unseen Strike

Unseen StrikeIf I had to choose one word to describe the Hobbit heroes in The Black Riders it would be cohesive. Not only are each of their abilities unique, and for the most part very thematically appropriate to the respective characters, but their overall design is very cohesive. The idea of optionally engaging enemies with higher threat, something that players have always used strategically, has now been developed into a full fledged deck archetype. For lack of a better phrase, and because explaining it in detail takes too many words, I am going to call these decks Hide and Seek decks.

At GenCon, it was awesome watching Ian, of Tales From the Cards, run his newly-built Hobbit deck. After optionally engaging a Nazgul, Sam would ready and receive +1 to each of his stats, Pippin would allow Ian to draw a card. Equipped with a Hobbit Cloak and with help from his trusty companion, Bill the Pony, Mr. Gamgee would defend. Then Merry, armed with a Dagger of Westernesse, and  ofter joined by Legolas on my side of the table, would finish off the foul Black Rider. Merry could then ready Legolas, allowing the Elf to help with other combat elsewhere. With a low starting threat, access to cheap and powerful attachments, and heroes with well-defined roles, these decks can be very effective.

Because secrecy was never fully developed as an archetype in the Dwarrowdelf cycle, cards like Unseen Strike have not seen much use. When Dwarf decks were all the rage, cards like Khazad! Khazad! seemed the more obvious choice, for being less conditional. For countless other decks, the only Tactics event that made the cut was Feint. Now that Hide and Seek is a fully fledged strategy, Unseen Strike may have finally found a home.

Thanks to Dagger of Westernesse (one of my 5 Favorite Cards from The Black Riders), and this event, Merry can easily attain an attack strength of 8, which will fell all but the most fearsome enemies. By their nature, Hide and Seek decks are multi-sphere; regardless of which Hobbits are chosen, heroes from multiple spheres will be needed in order to maximize the synergies from their abilities. The fact that Unseen Strike is free, with conditions that are easily met in a deck with low starting threat, makes it the perfect fit for Hide and Seek decks.

Timely Aid

timely aidFor much of the life of the game, Secrecy decks have started and ended with Spirit Glorfindel. His minuscule starting threat of 5 has practically been a requirement for fielding a party of heroes within the secrecy threshold. While it was good that this hero even allowed these decks to exist, it lead to a very anemic, and one-dimension metagame for secrecy decks. Pairing Glorfindel with Elrond’s Counsel and Galadhrim’s Greeting was the way to design a secrecy deck, and remains so now. This rigidity, combined with the fact that not enough Secrecy cards were ever printed to support alternatives, is ultimately why a full-fledged Secrecy archetype has never emerged. With low-threat heroes across all spheres, even Tactics, The Black Riders may finally herald the resurgence of this all-but-abandoned deck style.

Each release includes new and powerful unique allies, many of which are becoming central to the design of different archetypes. Because of their higher stats and versatility, these allies are often expensive. Anborn, for example, is at the heart of a new Ranger-Traps style deck, and is essential for his Ranger trait, high attack, and ability to return cards like Ranger Spikes and Poisoned Stakes to a player’s hand. For Leadership decks, now including the new Outlands archetype, Faramir has often been a vital ally for maximizing the questing prowess of any army of cheap characters. Regardless of the archetype, Gandalf is great in any deck, particularly when you can get him into play without having to pay his full cost.

In a deck with low starting threat, which is already essential in many archetypes, Timely Aid is an amazing card. Unfortunately, building a viable Secrecy deck that included Leadership, has until now been very difficult. With the introduction of a certain gardener extraordinaire, low-threat decks with Leadership are now a much more viable proposition. Paying 1 resource to search the first 5 cards of your deck for your best ally, and put it into play for free, is one of the most powerful effects in the game. This is all the more true because many low-threat decks need powerful allies to compensate for the lesser stats of their low-threat heroes.

Protector of Lorien

Protector of LorienWhen Protector of Lorien received errata, to limit the triggering of its effect to 3 times per phase, many players were non-plussed. The fact that the card needed errata at all is a sign of just how powerful it is. Eowyn is rightly renowned for her questing prowess. For a cost of 1 resource, Protector of Lorien puts a hero almost on par with Eowyn for willpower potential. The fact that it also can be used to boost a hero’s defense is what makes this card so powerful. As I’ve covered elsewhere, versatility is a tremendous asset for dealing with the various challenges that scenarios present.

The more readying effects in the game, the more powerful Protector of Lorien becomes. Between attachments like Unexpected Courage and Cram, events like Grim Resolve and We Do Not Sleep, and characters like Aragorn (Core) and Sam (The Black Riders), being able to boost multiple stats on a hero is invaluable. With the introduction of Siege quests that require defense, this card becomes that much more useful.

While the cost of having to discard cards might at first seem steep, this too becomes easier to manage as the card pool expands. With so many inexpensive card drawing effects, it is not unusual for a player with access to the Lore sphere to find themselves with a hand full of cards by the end of the game. Even with resource acceleration, some of these cards, unique ones in particular, will end up dead in one’s hand. Being able to get use from these dead cards is yet another strength of this attachment. Unlike some of the other, less fortunate cards to receive errata, Protector of Lorien remains quite powerful.

Eleanor

EleanorSeemingly every new scenario introduces another, game-ending treachery. In the Black Riders, treacheries like The Nine Are Abroad can absolutely wreck even the most powerful decks. Since the core set, it has been standard practice for any deck with access to Spirit to include at least 2 copies of A Test of Will, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes you won’t have one in your hand when you need it.

In most scenarios treacheries are like spiders, they come in two varieties: mildly annoying, and deadly. While it’s fine to be without protection for the former, less lethal cards, not having a cancel when these game altering treacheries are revealed will often spell doom for the players.

In The Black Riders, you can exhaust The One Ring and pay a Fellowship resource to cancel an encounter card, shuffle it back into the deck, and reveal a new card. This effect ends up being invaluable, even with the rather harsh drawback of having to shuffle the card back into the deck. While her ability only works on treacheries, Eleanor has the distinct advantage that the cancelled card is put into the discard pile, rather than shuffled back into the encounter deck.

One of the real problems with Eleanor has always been what to do with her when treacheries are not revealed. While it might be nice to have her as insurance for the worst cards, she could end up being pretty useless for half the game, especially because most encounter decks primarily consist of enemies and locations. While her low starting threat of 7 is always nice, her stats are paltry, and even with 2 defense her 3 hit points make it dangerous to risk using her as a defender.

This is all changed with the introduction of two recent cards. Blood of Númenor is a zero-cost Spirit attachment that allows any Gondor or Dunedain hero to become a defensive wall, so long as they have resources to spare. By boosting her already compete 2 defense, it is possible to make Eleanor into a viable option as a defender. With resource accelerating effects like Wealth of Gondor and Gaining Strength, not to mention Steward of Gondor, extra resources is something that is easily accomplished with the right deck.

In addition, her low starting threat makes it is easy to splash Eleanor into a deck, and only include a limited number of powerful Spirit cards like A Test of Will and Unexpected Courage. In this case, it is much more likely that you will have extra resources to power Blood of Númenor. Alternatively, she can act as the third wheel in a mono-Spirit deck that relies on other characters like Eowyn and Glorfindel to handle the questing and combat.

If Blood of Númenor showed a spark of promise for Eleanor’s alternate utility, then Gondorian Shield was a shaft of light from the heavens. By far one of the most powerful attachments in the game, Gondorian Shield gives Eleanor an impressive 4 defense, for the bargain price of a single Tactics resource. With this card, combined with cards like Hasty Stroke to avoid the worst shadow effects, it is no longer such a risky proposition to use Eleanor as a defender. All of this discussion of making her into a competent defender is ignoring her true strength. Having a backup plan for the many game-ending treacheries, when A Test of Will is not at hand, is a power that should not be underestimated.

Dunedain Wanderer

Dunedain WandererEven recently, many players have bemoaned the relative sparsity of useful traits in the game. Fortunately, The Heirs of Númenor deluxe expansion, Against the Shadows cycle and The Black Riders saga expansion have all started to address this deficiency. One of my favorite traits to receive some attention in these releases is that of Ranger. As the lynchpin of the previously mentioned Ranger-Trap archetype, this trait is probably most important for providing a target for the great and underrated Ranger Bow attachment.

As mentioned earlier, in the discussion of Timely Aid, Leadership seems an unlikely sphere for a Secrecy Deck. Thanks to the new low-threat Hobbit heroes, there may yet be space for a new kind of secrecy deck, built around Leadership and Lore. Utilizing allies like Ithilien Tracker, Anborn and Ranger Bow, along side Secrecy cards like Resourceful, Timely Aid and Dunedain Wanderer and staple leadership cards like Steward of Gondor, it should be possible to trap and avoid most enemies, while questing aggressively.

Dunedain Wanderer is an overlooked card, even among overlooked cards. But having the Ranger trait, along with good all-around stats, makes him a perfect fit in this kind of deck. For the bargain price of 2 resources in Secrecy, the Wanderer has ultimate utility. Give him a Ranger Bow and let him snipe the staging area. Or use his ranged and sentinel abilities to help other players in a multiplayer game. With the aid of Faramir, he can even be used as a decent quester. Even chump blocking with him is not the end of the world, as you only spent 2 resources for him, and you can trigger other “leaves play effects”.

Admittedly, the Wanderer is the biggest stretch of all of the cards described here. But I include him to illustrate a broader point. It is easy to immediately dismiss cards as useless upon their release. With entitled disgust, we promptly file these cards away, to collect dust and never been seen again. While I would not argue that the Dunedain Wanderer is great, I can certainly make the case that he is now useful. This is precisely why cards like Ranger Bow are so important. Not only is it a very powerful card, in its own right, but by keying off a trait the way it does, Ranger Bow has great potential for expanding the metagame. Any future cards with synergy around the Ranger trait, will push cards like Dunedain Wanderer that much further out of “coaster” territory, and into the magical realm of playability.

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9 Responses to Beorn’s Favorites: Old Cards with New Relevance

  1. Landroval says:

    Thanks for the Article Beorn.

    i see many articles recently bemoaning FFG’s premature abandonment of the Secrecy theme. However, having looked at the Doomed X Player Card spoilers for the next cycle, and as you point out, Hobbit decks, i believe that Secrecy cards will still have a key part to play. Just because there are not many of them, and you may use only one or two in a deck, does not mean they are not powerful early game effects.

  2. shipwreck says:

    Great article! My mind was blown when I thought of Merry performing an Unseen Strike. And if you can find room in your deck for Imladris Stargazer, then Timely Aid gets even better!

    I know you threw in a few caveats with Dúnedain Wanderer, but he is still a tough sell. You get a tip of the hat for even pulling him out of your card collection. Part of the problem is that an ally like Haldir has better stats and costs 4. Still expensive but playable; as soon as you hit 20 threat the Wanderer becomes a dead card.

    I guess it comes back to that article Ian did a while back about how some cards are just mediocre, or outright crappy, intentionally. They can’t all be winners. I just wonder why such a card would be made for poor old Secrecy.

    • Beorn says:

      I absolutely agree the the Wanderer is a tough sell. I actually included him because I wanted to force myself out of my own comfort zone and really try to look at a card that I have never considered playing, but with a new perspective. On the one hand, I don’t want to deviate too much from the accepted wisdom, or I risk losing credibility At the same time, I think it is essential for one’s critical thinking skills to sometimes force yourself to “think outside the box”. The most frustrating thing about conventional wisdom that says “only these cards are any good”, is that it often not based on wisdom at all, but merely personal bias.

      Unique allies, when compared by cost or abilities to scrubs like Dunedain Wanderer, are almost always going to be the more powerful card. There are exceptions of course (the ally version of Bombur is pretty terrible), but for the most part the small disadvantage of being unique is more than offset by just being a more powerful card.

      Specifically, Haldir is one of the best allies in the game, especially at only 4 cost. The fact that he has sentinel and is a natural target for A Burning Brand makes him one of the most versatile allies aside from Gandalf. Truthfully, most allies are going to look bad when compared objectively to Haldir.

      That said, the Wanderer was admittedly a stretch, If support for the Dunedain and Ranger traits withers, he may never end up being a card that works in any decks. I am going to at least try to make a Leadership/Lore deck that features him. If nothing else, it is fun to be able to make decks with cards that no one else will use.

      I am still amazed to hear/read what some players consider unplayable. While I can totally see the argument for Dunedain Wanderer as “not a good card”, it was fascinating being at GenCon and hearing people describe Mirlonde that way. I actually got to share a good laugh with Caleb about the adage that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”.

      • shipwreck says:

        Agreed! And good on ya for getting out of that box (I hear it’s cramped and the other inhabitants are whiny). Those finely honed critical thinking skills are part of what makes your blog enjoyable; if you were just confirming popular opinion it would get boring pretty quickly.

      • raynor2013 says:

        My opinion on the Dunedain Wanderer has and will always remain “Gold”

        Sure he might become a dead card later in the game but so is Resourceful and NO ONE bashes that card (as far as I know) The game is often made or broken in the beginning and this card in a secrecy deck for a cost of 2 is one of the best bargain allies in the game. So what if you can’t play him later. If you’re playing a secrecy deck and are not in secrecy later in the game you have either
        a. FAILED and are loosing anyway.
        b. Strong enough you shouldn’t need this guy, because you’re sacrificing secrecy for Hobbit Gandalf or something
        c. Need to build a better secrecy deck. A deck that is in secrecy for only 1 or 2 turns does not a secrecy deck make.

        And why are we comparing Wanderer to Haldir? Unique allies are ALWAYS better. That’s why you’re only allowed to play 1 copy. Haldir is a different animal than the Wanderer.

        Great Article Beorn

  3. I also noticed the new amazingness of Unseen Strike. I used to dismiss it because anything with Tactics is likely to have too high of threat to make it work, but now I’m building a Ranger deck with Faramir (splashing Tactics with Song of Battle). If he is attacking someone in the staging area, then he gets at least +1 atk from the fact that there’s an enemy in the staging area, then if you use Hands Upon the Bow to make the attack (instead of Great Yew Bow or Ithilien Pit), then you get another +1 and then you can throw in Unseen Strike for another +3, so Faramir can blow away an enemy in the staging area with 7+ attack. Not the highest I’ve seen (I had a Legolas with 3 Support of the Eagles on him, Blade of Gondolin vs Orc, Rivendell Blade, and an Eagles of the Misty Mountains with 7 attached eagles = 31 attack plus the -2 Defense), but definitely respectable. You can even throw in a For Gondor! if you want.

    When the whole point of the deck is to attack enemies before they engage you, this is an amazing card. Ultimately, it isn’t in my deck, but we’ll see how much I need A Good Harvest and how often my deck ends up being able to attack enemies with higher threat.

    • Beorn says:

      31 attack, wow, that is impressive. When we first got the game, Mrs. Beorn’s deck was Gimli, Thalin and Eowyn, with the son of Gloin playing the role of killing-machine. I distinctly remember him with a Citadel Plate, a Dwarven Axe and a ton of damage, swinging with the help of Khazad! Khazad! against the Nazgul of Dol Guldur. After that attack landed, just for fun, my wife played Heavy Stroke and absolutely obliterated the enemy. I really enjoy the epic moments that you can setup in this game.

  4. TalesfromtheCards says:

    I need to throw Unseen Strike in my Hobbit deck. In a recent game, I got two Daggers of Westernesse on Merry and I think he took out at least three Nazgul over the course of a game. Quite impressive for a little Hobbit! Certainly, Dunedain Wanderer is garbage for a cost of 5, but at a cost of 2, he has amazing stats, and hey, he is great for use with A Very Good Tale!

    • scwont says:

      I’ve had some fun using Dunedain Wanderer with A Very Good Tale too. I discovered the unfortunate flipside though – it sucks when it’s the only ally you reveal when you play AVGT, especially if your exhausted allies can’t match his cost!

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