On the most recent episode of The Grey Company podcast, our discussion about deck-building has inspired me to try something a little bit different. For most of the Against the Shadow cycle, the Gondor trait seemed to be sadly under-developed, but it looks like the developers were just saving the best for last. Visionary Leadership, one of a few powerful cards in The Morgul, is the missing piece to puzzle. Leadership Boromir can finally take his rightful place as the general in Gondor-themed decks.
In addition to dabbling with the Gondor trait, the focus on mono-sphere decks in Against the Shadow has been intriguing, if not always accessible. With the possible exception of Lore (Mithrandir’s Advice is amazing and Mirlonde is criminally underrated), mono-sphere decks are still very difficult to design. Particularly if you want to build a deck with stylistic cohesion, with traits and factions that share a common theme, there simply aren’t enough Gondor heroes to make this work.
Gondor is no different from the other traits in this regard. In preparation for this article, I built and tested dozens of Gondor decks featuring Leadership Boromir. Unfortunately, many of the results where less than stellar. When I stuck to all Gondor heroes, there were two consistent problems that I could not seem to avoid.
First of all, the willpower of Gondor heroes is decidedly lacking. This means that Gondor-themed decks will struggle to quest in the early game. Sure, Visionary Leadership and Faramir will allow Leadership-based Gondor decks to become questing power-houses, but these cards take time to setup. Allies have to be mustered, and extra resources have to be saved in order for everything to work properly. The biggest weakness for these decks is the early game. You need to hold back characters like Boromir for defending and attacking, but the other Gondor heroes simply don’t have much to offer in the way of willpower.
Even questing with your other two heroes, and a cheap ally or two, you will often be struggling to break even in the early rounds. It is worth noting that Caldara is actually a great boon to Gondor, even if you ignore her costly ability. Her 2 willpower for a relatively low starting threat gives you a better chance of questing successfully in the early rounds than all but the Prince of Dol Amroth.
Make no mistake, breaking even on the quest in the early rounds is dangerous. Not making progress means that the staging area will be filling up with locations, and you will find yourself engaging enemies too quickly to ever develop a sizable army of allies. Every deck needs to be able to send multiple characters (with decent willpower) to the quest while holding back enough defenders to be able to deal with enemies in the staging area. Even if your threat is low enough, leaving everything in the staging area can spell your doom.
That leads to the other problem with decks featuring all Gondor heroes: high starting threat. Gondor has some great heroes, but when you put them all into a deck, you will find your starting threat looming at or above 30. This might not be an issue in a combat-heavy tactics deck, but in a deck that needs a few round to ramp up its ally base, this is a death sentence. Excessive chump blocking in a Gondor-themed deck is counter-productive. You want all of those allies in play to take advantage of Boromir, Faramir and Visionary Leadership.
In trying all of these hero combinations, I built an interesting but flawed deck, which featured Leadership Boromir, Prince Imrahil and Beregond. To be fair, this deck did quite well against some scenarios, particularly if I was lucky enough to get Sneak Attack and Gandalf in the early rounds. But that combo works well in even the most poorly constructed decks in the game. I want to see if it is possible to design a consistently effective Gondor deck. Relying on tricks like this is not enough for me to say that a deck is well-built.
As recently discussed on the FFG forums, there are a handful of scenarios that serve as a good test of the overall effectiveness of a deck. Journey Along the Anduin and Massing at Osgiliath, in addition to being well-designed and fun quests, are both great tests for a new deck design. With a starting threat of 32, my Leadership/Tactics Gondor deck only managed to beat each of those scenarios once, out of several attempts.
Essentially, if I had Sneak Attack and Gandalf in my early hands, I had a chance. Otherwise, the deck would be overwhelmed by the Hill Troll and countless other enemies. Massing at Osgiliath, while a different quest, poses similar issues for decks with high starting threat. You have to be able to weather the initial rush of enemies and start building your army as quickly as possible.
Another issue that exacerbates the inconsistency of these decks is the relative lack of card drawing effects in Leadership. Sure, you could add Denethor as one of your starting heroes, and gain access to all of Lore’s amazing card draw and healing effects, but then you would be in a situation where two of your starting heroes are terrible at traditional questing. This may work for some of the Heirs of Númenor scenarios, but as a general-purpose deck, it would be a disaster.
With that in mind, I have had to get a little creative with the hero roster on this, my first attempt at a truly Gondor-themed deck. With the exception of two of my heroes, and three must-have copies of Gandalf from the core set, every character in this deck has the Gondor trait. It makes great use of Boromir’s ability, and the tremendous power of both Visionary Leadership and Faramir. I will not claim that it works against all scenarios, but as a general-purpose deck against the
Since I wanted this to be a deck where Boromir was the undisputed leader, it purposefully does not include the old Leadership standard: Aragorn and Sword that was Broken. This deck represents Boromir the general, leading the army of Gondor into glorious battle against the forces of the Dark Lord. For extra flavor, I encourage players to look at mixing in cards like For Gondor!, Valiant Sacrifice, and Tome of Atanator.
The fact that the other two heroes are not Gondor will have to be forgiven, because their simply aren’t enough Gondor heroes, particularly with lower threat and decent willpower, for this deck to be completely thematically accurate. Hopefully the coming cycles will bring some other more supplemental Gondor heroes, and this deck can be improved upon. In the mean time, this is the most consistently effective deck that I was able to design with Boromir as the center-piece.