Even since I first picked up a copy of Blood of Gondor at GenCon, I have been puzzled by the Spirit hero Caldara. At first glance, her ability seems entirely counter-productive. Strategically speaking, sacrificing a hero to put at most two allies into play from the discard pile is generally not a viable long-term decision. What’s worse, the wording of the ability essentially limits you to playing all Spirit heroes in order to gain any sort of advantage from the loss of a hero. Without a doubt, Caldara’s ability represents the highest risk effect of any hero in the game.
Always one to enjoy a challenge, I have been working to design a deck to try and maximize this unique ability. Through several iterations, it has become more clear where Caldara’s ability fits within the game. Fortunately, Spirit has multiple ways of getting allies into the discard pile, in addition to the more traditional method of having them die in combat.
Early versions of this deck featured Eowyn, as a way to control exactly which cards ended up in the discard pile. Because we will be losing a hero, it makes the most sense to put high-cost allies into play with Caldara’s ability. At the very least, we want to do more than simply replace the stats that we lost. More troublesome will be the loss of the resource generation that our hero provided.
There are certainly some powerful Spirit allies that we can take advantage of; Northern Tracker in particular is one of the best all-around allies in the game. Even in a mono-sphere deck, playing several high-cost allies can be a risky venture. It quickly became clear that resource acceleration was going to be a must, if the deck was going to be consistently viable. Even if the ultimate goal is to sacrifice Caldara to muster two trackers (or other powerful allies), the key here is to design a deck that can survive the critical early game.
With that in mind, the natural choice to pair with Caldara is one of the original resource generation combos: Imladris Stargazer and Zigil Miner. While the power of these two cards has been greatly diminished with the errata to Zigil Miner, they fulfill two critical needs in this deck. Not only will they provide some much needed resource acceleration, to allow us to play some of our expensive allies while we are waiting to setup Caldara’s ability, but they also give us an easily repeatable way to get allies into our discard pile.
By using the Zigil miner to discard a pair of high-cost allies, we no longer need Eowyn’s ability. Eliminating the need for a relatively high-threat hero also allows our deck to feature three heroes with a starting threat of 20. This in turn allows us to feature some Secrecy cards in our deck. While it may seem risky to include cards that require a threat of 20 or lower, in a deck that will only be at that level for the first turn, Spirit provides ample means to lower our threat.
Synthesizing all of these ideas, we start to get a clearer picture for what our deck will include, and how we plan to tie everything together. Caldara’s starting threat sits at 8, so we want to limit ourselves to two other heroes with a combined threat cost of 12 or less. Glorfindel is a requirement for one of our heroes; not only will his low threat allow us to play Secrecy cards early, but his high attack will be essential in a sphere that tends to struggle at combat.
Knowing that we will be including multiple forms of threat-reduction, we should have threat to spend as a “resource”, especially in the mid-game after Secrecy is no longer an important factor. The Spirit version of Frodo Baggins, from Conflict at the Carrock, is a perfect compliment to this deck. He will bolster our already impressive willpower, and provide an excellent defender to deal with any enemies that do engage.
Our heroes decides, it now comes time to determine exactly which, and how many, Spirit allies we want to include in this deck. For obvious reasons, this deck will be heavy on allies. It doesn’t make sense to have a deck that intends to trigger Caldara’s ability, that doesn’t include a lot of allies to fuel it. Another way to look at the problem is like this: we not only need good allies to put into our discard pile, but we need some to put into play. Having two Northern Trackers ready to enter play won’t help much, if we are about to get overrun by a horde of enemies. Playing this deck is all about finding the balance of which allies to put into play, and which to put into the discard pile.
We know that Northern Tracker will be our primary target for Caldara’s ability, so we will go ahead and include three copies of that card. Since it is not unique, there is no risk of drawing it and not being able to play another copy. On the other hand, we will have to be a bit more careful including the other 4-cost Spirit allies, as they are all unique. Because we don’t want to risk having a hand full of expensive, and dead cards, we will limit Damrod and Elfhelm to two copies each.
With a mono-Spirit deck, Emery makes good sense, essentially being a free ally. Her effect, which discards the top three cards of our deck, would normally be a detriment. In this deck, it is exactly what we want, as it gives us yet another way to get allies into the discard pile. If we draw her later in the game, after we’ve established some resource acceleration, we can always just pay for her outright. Having a spirit ally with 2 defense is not a bad thing, especially in scenarios that swarm with low-engagement cost enemies.
Now that the more expensive allies Spirit allies have been chosen, the deck still seems to lack in combat ability. This is going to be a problem, as many scenarios feature a “boss enemy” which must be defeated, or having large numbers of smaller enemies. We need a more powerful ally that can either serve as an excellent defender, or work with Glorfindel to finish off the more threatening foes. The version of Gandalf from the first Hobbit saga expansion fits perfectly in this deck. He fills the glaring hole of a weak martial presence, and with ample threat-reduction on hand, we may even be able to keep him around for a few rounds.
Rounding out the allies, we have the obvious choices for our resource engine: three copies each of Imladris Stargazer and Zigil Miner should allow us to get the engine running smoothly in most games. Arwen Undomiel is another key ally, providing extra willpower to the quest and helping Frodo to excel even more as a defender. She is so important, particularly in enemy-heavy scenarios, that we will include three copies of her as well.
There will be times when it is not possible, or desirable to bring multiple copies of high-cost allies into play with Caldara. For those situations we need another, less expensive option for a resurrected ally. Escort from Edoras is the perfect fit, for a cost of two he can add an impressive four willpower to the quest, then he goes to the discard pile where he can be brought back with Caldara.
Last but not least, we want to supplement our combat abilities as well as add a bit more location control. Two copies of The Riddermark’s Finest adds a bit more punch, as well as a way to get rid of pesky locations if we find ourselves in a tight spot. As a bonus, they even go to the discard pile if we trigger their effect.
Our attachments are going to be relatively easy to choose. With Glorfindel, three copies of Light of Valinor is basically automatic. Likewise, since we really want to see a copy in our opening hand, we will include Resourceful in triplicate. This card may seem like an odd fit in this deck but it is important to look at it in terms of our overall resource generation strategy. If we have it in our opening hand, we can obviously play it for its secrecy cost, which is a bargain.
With threat-reduction, it will often be possible to lower our threat to the Secrecy threshold even as late as the mid-game. In the rare cases where neither of these options is available, with a printed cost of 4 we can always use Zigil Miner to discard it along with a duplicate of Elfhelm or Damrod, to give us some extra resources. One way or the other, this card will help us to pay for the expensive allies in this deck.
Spirit is notoriously weak when it comes to card-drawing effects, but with so much willpower and multiple forms of location-control Ancient Mathom is a natural fit. Three copies of this card should come in useful in most scenarios. Between Frodo and Glorfindel, we have two heroes that are skilled at multiple facets of the game. Two copies of Unexpected Courage will provide some action advantage.
With allies and attachments taken care of, we are left to choose our events. Threat-reduction is a need that we have already identified so we will include three copies each of Elrond’s Counsel and The Galadhrim’s Greeting. Treachery and shadow cancellation are both important strength of Spirit, so we will include three copies of A Test of Will and two copies of Hasty Stroke.
With so many powerful Spirit cards going to our discard pile, we need a way to get them back into our hand. Dwarven Tomb is a bargain at 1 cost, and provides us with numerous strategic options. In the early game, we can play Elrond’s Counsel twice to sneak below the Secrecy Threshold. When tackling scenarios with nasty treacheries, we can return A Test of Will to our hand. For the odd cases where we need extra willpower, we can even use Dwarven Tomb to return an Escort of Edoras for a one-round questing push.
One notable omission in this deck list is the event Fortune or Fate. The fact that Spirit has the one event that allows you return a hero from your discard pile to play, it may seem like a natural fit for this deck. At a cost of 5 resources, Fortune or Fate is an expensive card. More importantly with this deck, Fortune or Fate is an unecessary card.
After playtesting it became abundantly clear how Caldara’s ability is best used. In many scenarios, with a good draw and a bit of luck, this deck can establish an impressive level of willpower. With Glorfindel, Gandalf and the high-cost allies, it has the ability defeat most foes, and Frodo combined with threat-reduction allows it to defend against even formidable enemies. The fact of the matter is that Caldara’s ability is not something that you will need to use every game.
Many players would argue that an ability that is not used every game makes Caldara too conditional. For those who want to build a single deck for use in every scenario, this is certainly a valid criticism. While her ability is definitely conditional, she is far from useless. With good stats for a relatively low starting threat, she fits perfectly into this deck. Having an ability that allows you to put two allies into play, in an emergency, can be game-saving. To give a concrete example, I will relate one of the times when I was able to put her ability to good use. One of the scenarios that I tested with this deck was a personal favorite of mine, Journey Along the Anduin.
Thanks to Gandalf, I was able to defeat the Hill Troll and move on to the critical second phase. After some setbacks, including unfortunately-timed treacheries, the deck finally pushed through to the final climatic stage. In a cruel twist of fate, surging enemies filled the staging area after the third quest card was revealed. With a host enemies set to engage, the outlook was grim.
This is where Caldara’s ability came to the rescue. Caldara was exhausted because she was committed to the quest. With 5 engaged enemies, including a second copy of Hill Troll, it was critical that we defeat some of the enemies to give ourselves a chance of survival. With Hasty Stroke in hand, we can safely take an undefined attack from a Wolf Rider. Because we know that she will be leaving play, we will assign the two points of damage to Caldara. Next, we used The Riddermark’s Finest and Emery to chump block two other attacker. A Northern Tracker blocked the Dol Guldur Orcs and lastly Frodo stepped in front of the Hill Troll.
In this situation, there weren’t even any 4-cost allies in the discard pile, so Caldara’s ability could not be put to maximal effect. Even so, it ended up being invaluable. By discarding an exhausted and damaged hero, I was able to bring two ready and undamaged allies back into play and finish off everything but the Hill Troll. With Arwen’s help, Frodo was able to hold off the Hill Troll for one more round and the rest of my allies ganged up and finished off the Troll.
Without her ability, this deck would not have survived that final onslaught. Obviously, this is an idea situation for her ability, and not every game will present such a perfect opportunity. Rather than look at her effect as something that you should put to use in every game, I think it is best to see Caldara’s ability as something to save for an emergency. In that context, the loss of a hero is nothing compared to a potential game loss. Hopefully you enjoy this unique deck, and have a happy and safe All Hallows Eve!
Frodo Baggins (CatC)
Arwen Undomiel x3
Escort from Edoras x3
Imladris Stargazer x3
The Riddermark’s Finest x2
Zigil Miner x3
Northern Tracker x3
Gandalf (H:OHaUH) x3
Light of Valinor x3
Ancient Mathom x3
Unexpected Courage x2
Elrond’s Counsel x3
A Test of Will x3
Dwarven Tomb x2
Hasty Stroke x2
The Galadhrim’s Greeting x3