In the latest episode of The Grey Company Podcast, I briefly mentioned that I prefer to view the game in terms of factions. Since Outlands was the topic of the episode, there was not sufficient time for me to expound upon this concept, so I would like to do that now. While the four spheres form the foundation upon which this game is built, traits are becoming increasingly important as the card pool expands and it becomes possible to make more thematically cohesive decks.
Faction is the word that I choose to describe the intersection of these two elements. So, for example, Tactics characters with the Gondor trait could be seen as a faction. Silvan characters in the Spirit sphere would be another faction. Beyond the similarities shared by cards within the same sphere, factions tend to have a deeper level of synergy and strategic interaction.
While it would be great if all of the characters with a given trait were viable for a deck, the mechanics of cost and resource matching make this impractical. As Matthew stated in the aforementioned episode, this game is ultimately about spheres. Spheres dictate what kinds of abilities heroes posses and what kinds of strategy a deck can realistically hope to achieve.
Just because the game is designed around spheres, does not mean that we can’t make decks that fit into the broader narrative of Tolkien’s legendarium. For me, these kinds of decks are some of the most satisfying to play. Make no mistake, such decks are not just for show either; they can certainly be successful against all but the most difficult scenarios.
A deck based on Dwarves, or Noldor, or Gondor characters that share one or two spheres can be quite powerful. At this point in the game, many factions are not sufficiently developed to allow for an entire deck built a round a single faction. Not to worry, you can always make a multi-sphere deck around multiple factions that share the same trait.
In this article we will summarize the cards that comprise each faction, as well as providing suggested strategies between these cards and with related factions in other spheres. Factions are by no means the only way to look at deck-building, they are yet another tool to utilize for building thematic decks. What follows is a summary of the major factions in the current card pool.
Dwarf – Durin’s Folk
Cards: Dain Ironfoot, Thorin Oakenshield, Gloin (Core), Balin, Fili, Gloin (H:OtD), Brok Ironfist, Longbeard Orc Slayer, Longbeard Elder, (Core), Hardy Leadership, King Under the Mountain, Cram, A Very Good Tale, We Are Not Idle, Durin’s Song, To Me! O My Kinsfolk!, Lure of Moria
Strategy: The Leadership sphere provides many of the most powerful cards for Dwarf decks. The passive ability on Dain Ironfoot is arguably the most powerful hero ability in the game and is all but guaranteed to make any Dwarf deck viable in most scenarios. Cram and Lure of Moria provide great readying effects, the latter of which only becomes more powerful in the late game. King Under the Mountain is an amazing source of card draw, essential to help field an army of Dwarf allies. A Very Good Tale also helps in this department, and pairs especially well with the brothers Fili and Kili. We Are Not Idle, Thorin Oakenshield and either version of Gloin help out with resource generation, making this faction probably the most well-rounded in the entire game.
Gondor – Men of the Citadel
Cards: Boromir (HoN), Prince Imrahil, Denethor, Faramir, Citadel Custodian, Guard of the Citadel, Squire of the Citadel, Errand-Rider, Steward of Gondor, Visionary Leadership, Mutual Accord, Wealth of Gondor, Grave Cairn, Valiant Sacrifice, For Gondor!, Strength of Arms, Grim Resolve
Strategy: More than anything, the Gondor Leadership faction is about resource generation and abilities that key off of heroes having extra resources in their resource pools. In particular, the more recent version of Boromir is a perfect fit for Steward of Gondor and the newly-released Visionary Leadership.
Carrying this theme further, Spirit and Tactics Gondor factions work perfectly with this strategy in cards like Blood of Númenor and Gondorian Fire as well as events like Wealth of Gondor and Gaining Strength. One other minor theme worth exploring with this faction is abilities that trigger when characters leave play. Prince Imrahil is a perfect match with Squire of the Citadel and cards like Valiant Sacrifice and Grave Cairn.
Dunedain – Watchers of the North
Cards: Aragorn (Core), Dúnedain Watcher, Dúnedain Wanderer, Son of Arnor, Celebrian’s Stone,
Dúnedain Cache, Dúnedain Mark, Dúnedain Quest, Dúnedain Signal, Dúnedain Warning, Sword that was Broken, Path of Need, Gaining Strength
Strategy: Unfortunately, the Dúnedain trait has received very little support in the game up to this point. That is not to say that there are not some very powerful cards with the Dúnedain trait, simply that these cards have very little explicit synergy with each other. Appropriately however, the Dúnedain cards are great in a support role.
All of the Signal attachments can be used quite effectively to bolster the stats and abilities of heroes, your own or those controlled by other players. Sword that was Broken and Path of Need are both expensive attachments that can be tremendously powerful in the right circumstances. As a huge fan of the Dúnedain and The Grey Company, this bear is cautiously optimistic that this trait, and faction, receives some more support from FFG in the future.
There are a handful of Leadership factions which haven’t quite reached critical mass to become a viable strategy in their own right. For the Hobbit trait: Sam Gamgee, Wandering Took and Bill the Pony make a promising start. Without more allies, it is hard to call this a faction in the strictest since, but other thematic cards like Cram, Hobbit Cloak and Second Breakfast also have good synergy with a Hobbit sub-theme.
Leadership Noldor include Elrohir and Erestor, but at this point there is not much else in the sphere to support these two powerful characters. Rohan has Theodred and the Snowbourn Scout, but again this faction has little else in the way of explicit strategic aid. One options with Leadership Rohan is to match it with Leadership Gondor to take advantage of some of the powerful “leaves play” effects available.
Eagle – Guardians of the Misty Mountains
Cards: Landroval, Radagast, Vassal of the Windlord, Winged Guardian, Descendant of Thorondor, Eagles of the Misty Mountains, Born Aloft, Support of the Eagles, The Eagles Are Coming, Meneldor’s Flight, To The Eyrie
Strategy: Eagles were one of the first fully-developed factions, thanks to copious support in the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. Eagles are powerful and efficient but like any faction they are not without their weaknesses. A good compliment to the Eagle faction is cards that take advantage of the fact that they have a tendency to leave play.
Again Prince Imrahil and cards like Horn of Gondor are a natural compliment. Additionally Support of the Eagles attached to a hero with a readying ability (Imrahil and Tactics Boromir come to mind) is a very powerful combination. With the introduction of Battle and Siege quests in the Heirs of Númenor, Eagles as a faction have again been thrust into the spotlight of the metagame. There are very few other more efficient ways for fielding high attack and defense allies than this faction.
Dwarf – Warriors of Erebor
Strategy: The less heralded Dwarf faction when compared to Leadership and Lore, Tactics Dwarves are more one-dimensional, but can become quite powerful. From the beginning of the game, Gimli paired with Citadel Plate has always been one the most consistent solutions for dealing with “boss” enemies like the Nazgûl of Dol Guldur.
Gimli’s impressive cousin, The Erebor Battle Master, is another powerful option. The Battle Master can become truly game-breaking by the late game rounds, when backed by an army of his Dwarven brothers. Rounding out this appropriate militant faction are some very cost-effective weapons and some great supplemental events like Foe-Hammer and Khazad! Khazad!. Seriously lacking in willpower and any kind of healing or cancellation effects, this faction does best when paired with one of the other Dwarven factions. Whatever deck you build around these Dwarves, killing enemies will not be a problem.
Gondor – Defenders of the Walls
Cards: Beregond, Boromir (TDM), Gondorian Spearman, Defender of Rammas, Knight of Minas Tirith, Horn of Gondor, Gondorian Fire, Gondorian Shield, Spear of the Citadel, Citadel Plate, Gondorian Discipline, Behind Strong Walls, The Hammer-stroke, Trained for War
Strategy: This faction practically sprang, whole cloth, out of the Heirs of Númenor. Beregond, armed with his trusty Spear of the Citadel and one of the best pieces of Armor in the game, the Gondorian Shield, is a veritable tank. Coupled with cards like Behind Strong Walls and Goblin-Cleaver Beregond can himself block an onslaught of enemies, without breaking a sweat.
Allies help out in this cause: Gondorian Spearman is great paired with Spear of the Citadel and other direct-damage effects, Defender of Rammas is one of the most efficient characters for his cost and is trump in a Siege quest. Knight of Minas Tirith is a bit more conditional, since it requires all of your heroes to have the printed Tactics icon, but it can be quite effective at pulling troublesome enemies out of the staging area. While this faction obviously struggles with traditional questing, Trained for War and the Book of Eldacar can help mitigate this weakness.
Rohan – Rohirrim Vanguard
Strategy: Thankfully, Rohan is starting to receive some attention again, after a long absence from the metagame spotlight. With Háma’s very powerful abilities, this faction has a champion around which to build a very solid strategy. Theoden will address one of Tactics traditional weaknesses, a lack of willpower, as well as being an all-around excellent hero.
Regardless of individual strengths, this faction will most likely see the most success when paired with Spirit Rohan. Dunhere paired with Spear of the Mark and Forth Eorlingas! will finally become a fully-fledged strategic option. Spirit Rohan allies like Escort From Edoras and The Riddermark’s Finest which leave play are a perfect compliment for Eomer.
A number of minor and under-supported factions dot the landscape of the Tactics sphere. Dear to my own heart, Beornings are a faction which has never seen any specific attention. My namesake, Beorn has hero (H:OHaUH) and ally versions (Core Set), both of which are quite powerful. However, the one other Beorning ally, Beorning Beekeeper is expensive and has no particular synergy with either version of the big bear.
Continuing in the vein of cast-offs from The Hobbit narrative, Dale and Esgaroth have a pair of powerful heroes in Bard the Bowman and Brand Son of Bain. Black Arrow, Great Yew Bow and Straight Shot all work quite well with these impressive archers, but there is not much else for these factions to work with.
Noldor and Silvan are both close to being fully viable factions, thanks to powerful cards like Rivendell Blade and Rivendell Bow. Additionally, the High elves have Elladan, Trollshaw Scout and Watcher of Bruin. The Wood Elves include Legolas who pairs perfectly with Hands Upon the Bow.
Still, without a bit more attention, neither of these factions can play anything but a supporting role in a deck. Both must be paired with other, more powerful factions in order to realize a complete strategy. Traits like these tend to get lost in the shadows of the more obvious and powerful archetypes in the game, but they still hold some of the more thematically appropriate combinations.
Rohan – Riders of the Mark
Cards: Eowyn, Dunhere, Eomund, Elfhelm, Escort from Edoras, The Riddermark’s Finest, West Road Traveller, Westfold Horse-Breaker, Rider of the Mark, Nor Am I A Stranger, Mustering the Rohirrim, Ride to Ruin, Against the Shadow, Astonishing Speed, Light the Beacons, We Do Not Sleep, Stand and Fight
Strategy: The strongest of the Rohan factions, Spirit brings a wealth a powerful characters and effects. By far the highest willpower of any faction in the game, Spirit Rohan has a plethora of effects that play off of this strength. Powerful global effects like Astonishing Speed and We Do Not Sleep can empower an army of Rohan allies to charge through a quest to victory.
With several allies that can leave play after their abilities trigger, Stand and Fight is a natural component in Spirit Rohan decks. As mentioned above in the Tactics Rohan section, Tactics cards like Eomer have great synergy with these Spirit characters. Appropriately, Eomer works very well with his father Eomund. When Eomund leaves play, Eomer readies and get a considerable boost to his attack.
Hobbit – Shire Adventurers
Strategy: The one sphere with the most Hobbit-related cards, Spirit provides some interesting options around the strategy of using threat as a resource. Frodo, Pippin and the new hero from The Black Riders, Fatty Bolger, all have abilities which involve trading threat from some other beneficial effect. Spirit provides multiple forms of threat-reduction, including the Hobbit-themed Smoke Rings, so what would normally be a dangerous trade-off is not a problem in a deck dedicated to these strategies.
Ancient Mathom provides some essential card drawing, which shouldn’t be too difficult to trigger in all but the most location-light scenarios. Small Target and Hobbit Sense (Neutral, but it fits the theme) give Hobbit decks some solutions, along with the staple Hasty Stroke, for dealing with enemies that do actually engage and attack. A bit more expensive in all but Secrecy decks, O Elbereth! Gilthonial! is a great solution for “boss” enemies (as long as they aren’t immune to card effects) that would otherwise be difficult to defeat with low-attack Spirit characters.
Dwarf – Brave Wanderers
Strategy: Perhaps the most unorthodox of the Dwarf factions, Spirit provides some interesting means for threat-reduction and, of all things, resource generation. Dwalin has to destroy an Orc to provide threat reduction, which makes him a bit more conditional that his traveling companion. Nori, on the other hand, provides the most consistent form of threat-reduction for a Dwarf deck. Combined with a large number of low-cost Dwarf allies, Nori can be very powerful.
Zigil Miner can bring something that is otherwise nonexistent in Spirit decks, resource generation. Making the Miner’s ability work consistently however, requires a major thematic departure by including Imladris Stargazer. Why an astronomically-inclined Noldor would be hanging out with a dust-covered Dwarf is a story beyond my ability to tell. How exactly would they meet, in any case? Wouldn’t the Dwarf be too busy mining for mithril in the depths of Khazad-dûm to waste time staring at stars with an elf? Even if, miracle of the Ainur, the dwarf did find time for recreational sky-watching with an Eldar, what language would they use to communicate their deep philosophical insights? These questions are all far too unfathomable for a simple bear like me, so we shall move on to other topics.
Noldor – Outcasts of Valinor
Strategy: Certainly, one of the most powerful factions in the game is that of Spirit Noldor characters. It will come as a surprise to no one that Glorfindel (FoS) reigns supreme as the chief protagonist in this particular group. He is, after all, the reincarnation of the mighty warrior who who once faced, and defeated a Balrog in single combat. Along with Light of Valinor and Elrond’s Counsel, Glorfindel forms the foundation upon which any Spirit Noldor deck is built.
The daughter of Elrond, Arwen Undomiel is a natural companion in such a deck, and she possesses a considerable power in her own right. Due to the relative lack of other Noldor characters in the Spirit sphere (other than the previously mentioned Imladris Stargazer), this faction can often be complimented with Noldor factions from other spheres, particularly Lore. Alternatively, Silvan and Dúnedain characters make a good compliment to this faction. Silvan Refugee and Northern Tracker, for example, can provide some very powerful support decks featuring Spirit Noldor.
Gondor – Yeomen of Gondor
Strategy: In a move that may be frustrating to some Tolkien purists, the Spirit Gondor faction features some unique characters which have been made up by FFG. Anyone who can get past the fact that these characters are not technically part of cannon will find that they do provide the means for some interesting decks.
Eleanor is, aside from A Test of Will, the only source of treachery cancellation in the game. As new scenarios are released, many with increasingly terrible treachery effects, this form of consistent cancellation will only become more powerful. On the other hand, Caldara’s utility is a bit more mysterious. As I detailed in a recent deck, Caldara’s ability usually works best as a late game gambit.
Rounding out this assortment of oddball characters we have a couple of craftsmen in the Minas Tirith Lampwright and Pelargir Shipwright. Ian has a great review of the pros and cons of the Minas Tirith Lampwright over at Tales From the Cards, so I won’t retread that path here. As for the Pelargir Shipwright, he can definitely be powerful in a mono-Spirit deck. Unfortunately, Map of Earnil (and the other “book” attachments) cannot be used with the powerful Spirit cards with response effects. Even so, it works quite well with the threat reduction effects mentioned already.
Like all of the other spheres, Spirit is not without its partially realized factions. The Dúnedain trait has some powerful cards in Spirit, namely Northern Tracker and Blood of Númenor. Still, there simply aren’t enough other cards to comprise a full-fledged faction. Silvan is likewise a trait with some effective cards in Silvan Refugee and Lorien Guide, along with a useful even in Children of the Sea. Hopefully, the upcoming cycle will provide more support for these factions, but in the mean time they serve a much more niche role in the current metagame.
Dwarf – Craftsmen of Erebor
Cards: Bifur (KD), Ori, Bombur (H:OtD), Bifur (H:OtD), Dori, Bombur (RtR), Erebor Record Keeper, Erebor Hammersmith, Miner of the Iron Hills, Longbeard Map-Maker, Ered Nimrais Prospector, Legacy of Durin, Thror’s Map, Daeron’s Runes, Ancestral Knowledge
Strategy: The Lore sphere gives Dwarf decks access to some essential support cards. Because there are so many good factions to choose from, Dwarf decks are almost always multi-sphere. Bifur’s ability can be vital for smoothing any resource issues in these decks. Daeron’s Runes, Legacy of Durin and Ori all provide consistent, and efficient, card drawing effects.
A host of versatile allies provide everything from readying effects, to attachment reuse and the ability to remove harmful conditions. Last but not least, Lore gives Dwarf decks access to healing effects (Self Preservation and Healing Hearbs are the most thematic, Warden of Healing the most effective) which can be essential against scenarios with a lot of direct-damage.
Noldor – Wise Councilors
Cards: Elrond, Glorfindel (Core), Gildor Inglorion, Master of the Forge, Harbor Master, Rivendell Minstrel, Elf-Stone, Protector of Lorien, Asfaloth, Vilya, Lore of Imladris, Gildor’s Counsel, Lorien’s Wealth
Strategy: Elrond and Vilya are the basis for a solid deck, regardless of the other cards that they a paired with. For a more thematic build, the lord of Imladris can be paired with other powerful Noldor characters in the Lore sphere. Master of the Forge is the first natural choice, as it will help retrieve Vilya and the other essential attachments in your deck.
Gildor Inglorion is one of the best allies in the game, with stats that meet or exceed those of many heroes. For decks that want to feature other factions and other spheres, Rivendell Minstrel is a great way to fetch Song cards to smooth any resource issues. Aside from Vilya, this faction has some other great attachments. With all of the card drawing afforded by Lore, Protector of Lorien is a great way to get use out of any duplicate unique cards in your hand. In addition to Lorien’s Wealth, Daeron’s Runes and Mithrandir’s Advice provide some very efficient card drawing that remains thematically appropriate.
Ranger – Borderland Marksmen
Cards: Aragorn, Faramir, Beravor, Anborn, Ithilien Tracker, Ithilien Archer, Ithilien Pit, Ranger Bow, A Burning Brand, Ranger Spikes, Poisoned Stakes, Forest Snare, Rumour of the Earth, Expecting Mischief, Forest Patrol, Advanced Warning, Take No Notice
Strategy: One of the newer factions, and a new personal favorite, Lore Rangers provides some interesting options for deck-building. While powerful heroes like Aragorn, Faramir and Beravor may be the first thing that comes to mind when examining these cards. While these hero options are certainly exciting, the more nuanced options in this faction can be found in the other cards.
Anborn is the perfect captain of the allies in this faction, providing excellent stats and an ability that maximizes the effectiveness of your trap cards. Ithilien Tracker and Ithilien Archer provide abilities that can be worthwhile, but are equally valuable for their ability as bowmen. Ranger Bow is currently the only weapon outside of the Tactics sphere, and attached to your lesser Ithilien allies, it provides excellent direct-damage potential. In combination with traps like Ranger Spikes that keep enemies in the staging area, Ranger Bow is an excellent way to defeat troublesome enemies, without having to worry about engaging them. Events like Expecting Mischief and Take No Notice are two more options for avoiding engagement with enemies that have been added to the staging area.
Silvan – Woodland Protectors
Strategy: Silvan Tracker is the glue that holds this faction together. Being able to heal all of the other Silvan characters in play, automatically, is a very cost effective solution. Mirlonde is an interesting hero; like Caldara she is an FFG invention with an ability that takes a bit of work to utilize. One of the most obvious uses for Mirlonde is facilitating a mono-Lore secrecy deck. In this case, it makes sense to include Resourceful, as resource acceleration is otherwise not an option for the Lore sphere.
The other unique characters in this faction, Henamarth Riversong and Haldir of Lorien, each provide worthwhile abilities. Outside of Denethor, Henamarth has the best repeating encounter deck scrying ability, and his effect couples really well with other Lore cards that demand knowledge of the encounter deck. Haldir is a fantastic all-around ally, with solid stats and abilities that become more useful in multi-player games. He is also invaluable for scenarios that feature flying enemies, which can only be fought using Ranged characters. As with the Lore Noldor faction, Protector of Lorien is a great outlet for duplicate unique cards, which tend to accumulate in any deck that includes a lot of card-drawing effects.
Hobbit – Lore of the Shire
Strategy: Of all of the Hobbit heroes released in The Black Riders expansion, Pippin’s ability might be the most nuanced. Featuring heroes with a low threat cost, Hobbit decks tend to have a starting threat within the secrecy range. In such decks, the ability to raise the engagement cost of enemies may seem unnecessary, but Pippin’s ability is central to the hide-and-seek strategy of the other Hobbit heroes.
Fast Hitch is a powerful card in Hobbit decks, providing action advantage at a bargain price. A great, and thematic combination with this card is Peace, and Thought. Drawing 5 cards for one resource is amazing, and not losing the use of those heroes for a round is even better. Cards like Healing Herbs are also easier to take advantage of when your heroes can take multiple actions. For the more thematic decks, Love of Tales is a perfect compliment. The Song attachments that fuel this card’s effect can facilitate a multi-sphere deck, possibly one with the Spirit Hobbit faction.
Dúnedain seems to be a trait that plays a bit part in most of the spheres of the game. The “Strider” version of Aragorn is undeniably powerful. Coupled with Beravor, he can form the basis of a solid Lore deck. With no other Dúnedain cards to speak of in this sphere, the rest of your deck will need to built around other factions.
Outside of the Range faction mentioned above, Lore Gondor is a faction in its own right. While it may be small, based on the number of characters it contains, this faction is quite powerful in terms of the abilities it provides. Denethor, Palantir-watcher that he is, possesses the most consistent scrying ability in the game. Warden of Healing likewise has a very effective healing ability, available at a very reasonable cost. Master of Lore has been lessened by errata, but still provides a powerful effect in decks which can get him into play quickly.