With the release of The Voice of Isengard, the book has been closed on the Against the Shadow cycle. Doomed effects with no resource cost, cost reduction from Gríma’s ability, and powerful neutral cards have all brought the focus back to multi-sphere decks. Certainly, many of the new cards will work well in mono-sphere decks, but the combination of low cost and resource acceleration opens up the potential for new deck archetypes which did not exist before.
One of the topics I’ve mentioned on The Grey Company is the concept of glue cards. Just as their name implies, glue cards help hold a deck together. If your deck is a building, unique characters and expensive attachments are the bricks and foundation, but mortar is necessary to keep the structure from falling apart. Glue cards are not the high profile cards, they aren’t talked about much on the forums, but they nonetheless form a vital part of any successful deck. Because there are more moving part in a multi-sphere deck, glue cards are even more important. What follows are 5 glue cards that should work particularly well in multi-sphere decks.
Envoy of Pelargir
Questing and attack are two of the most important aspects of the game. For all but the most specialized decks, having a deck which handles these two areas of the game is a requirement. Unfortunately, for all spheres but Spirit, willpower is hard to come by. Leadership comes a close second, thanks to heroes like Dain Ironfoot and Sam Gamgee, as well as powerful global boosts. Still these unique cards are expensive, and take time to setup.
Likewise for combat, non-Tactics spheres will have to spend more resources to get allies with a decent attack strength. Even a Tactics deck will often want to save up, since many of their best allies cost 4 resources. Thanks to the large number of heroes with the Gondor or Noble trait, the Envoy of Pelargir has an effective cost of 1 resources in most decks. Technically, you have to spend the 2 resources before getting one back, but this just means that you pay for the Envoy before buying anything else. The envoy is particularly useful in a multi-sphere decks, where moving a resource from one hero to another can help you to pay for that critical two-cost card.
The last detail of Envoy of Pelargir, one that is becoming increasingly powerful, is the Gondor trait. Thanks to the new version of Boromir and Visionary Leadership, Gondor allies are finally started to receive some well-deserved support. With Rohan seeing more attention in the Ring-maker cycle, Mutual Accord might even find a place in some decks. In this case, the emissary from Pelargir could even benefit from Rohan synergy.
It is important to note that the Envoy can work just fine in non-Gondor decks, so you don’t have to use them for their trait – that is more of a bonus. So many of the best heroes have the Noble trait, appropriate given the rich heritage of the various bloodlines in Tolkien’s legendarium. Even a deck with only a single Noble hero can make use of the Envoy, and how they use this ally can depend on what their deck needs. A Tactics-heavy deck might want to add some willpower. A Leadership deck can use the envoy as a foot-soldier and their response bolster’s the sphere’s resource moving sub-theme. A Spirit deck won’t need the willpower, plenty of other allies fill that role, but the envoy can help with combat, or serve as a chump blocker.
One of the interesting new deck themes to emerge from the Against the Shadow cycle is the concept of leaving extra resources on a hero. Boromir, Visionary Leadership, Blood of Númenor and Gondorian Fire all require that a hero have spare resources in their pool. Fortunately, this archetype is aided by plenty of resource acceleration. Steward of Gondor, Wealth of Gondor, Gaining Strength and now Legacy of Númenor all help to quickly build a reserve of resources onto your heroes.
Even so, there are times in a multi-sphere deck where you will need resources from one sphere more than others. Technically, even a mono-sphere deck can benefit from the ability to move resources, as heroes like Boromir and Balin require you to build resources on a specific hero. Regardless of the specific need, the most flexible and repeatable form of resource movement in the game is Errand-rider. Sure their non-existent stats make them useless for most questing or combat situations, but ideally you won’t be needing them for these tasks. Thanks Gondor-related boosts, it will sometimes even be possible to use an Errand-rider to deliver some pain, right to the enemy’s door.
Smoothing the resources in a multi-sphere deck is one of the most important facets to keeping things running efficiently. You don’t want to end up with a bunch of Lore cards in your hand and only Leadership resources available. The Errand-rider is a near guarantee that your resources will be where they are needed most. In a multi-player game the Errand-rider allows you to get resources to the player with the key card in their hand. I cannot tell you how many times Errand-rider has effectively helped to pay for The Galadhrim’s Greeting that kept everyone with a safe threat threshold.
One last, and underrated, detail of our messenger friend is his 2 hit points. With more an more scenarios featuring Archery (or some near equivalent), having extra hit points to spare is a valuable asset. You don’t always want to put all of the direct damage from the encounter deck onto your heroes. This can leave them vulnerable to subsequent treacheries and shadow effects. Being able to spread out damage onto low-cost allies like the Errand-rider, without losing them, is another reason why this card is so useful.
Thanks to the collection of powerful and low-cost heroes from The Black Riders, Hobbits are now a major archetype. Even decks which don’t exclusively feature natives of the Shire can benefit from the presence of one of these intrepid characters. Lore Pippin works quite well in a Ranger-themed deck, aiding in the ongoing struggle to keep enemies in the staging area. Sam Gamgee is one of the best “splash” heroes in the game, providing 3 willpower and an amazing ability for the bargain price of only 8 threat. For non-Saga scenarios Frodo remains one of the best low-cost defensive options for Spirit, especially with all of the threat reduction available. Tactics can even make use of Merry. Sure, without his friends he is less than formidable in a fight, but two willpower for 6 threat can be a real benefit to a deck with otherwise high-threat heroes.
As much as these heroes fit well into all sorts of decks, there is one area where Hobbits struggle. Low strength and defense stats can make it a challenge to use many Hobbits in combat. Sure, Merry shines in a dedicated Hobbit deck. Likewise, Frodo can be amazing as a defender in the right heavy-Spirit decks. Still, there are times when the Witch-king of Angmar wants to do bad things, and it helps to have more than a set of pots and pans as defense.
This is where Halfling Determination comes into the picture. Using Samwise Gamgee, gardener extraordinaire, as our example, let’s look at how this card can be used to maximal effect. Knowing that we don’t want to wait for trouble to sneak up on us, we can optionally engaged our enemy. Samwise readies and already his ire is up at the thought of his master in trouble. With his trusty Hobbit Cloak, Sam is already a formidable 4 defense against the enemy. But the Witch-king is no slouch. We need something more to be able to withstand this enemy’s attack. Thanks to Samwise’s Halfling Determination, he can weather the onslaught of the Witch-king without flinching.
If we happen to have a readying effect on hand, like some tasty Cram, Sam can even counter-attack. With Halfling Determination also boosting his attack, and with the help of a Dagger of Westernesse, Samwise the Brave will be able to damage the Witch-king of Angmar, all by himself. To be fair, this is an idealized situation, but the versatility of this card is certainly apparent. Even a mono-Tactics deck can make use of this card, as the prospect of committing Merry to the quest with 4 willpower is welcome in a deck that will often lack for questing strength.
It is an encourage sign to see the Mount trait gain in importance in the game. After all, horses have some rather important roles in the tales. Even loyal Bill the Pony is vital to the Fellowship in their journey to the Misty Mountains. As a Bear, and shameless killer of orcs, I have a fondness for everything that walks on four-legs. Except Wargs, of course, they need to all die in a blaze of wizard-fire.
Appropriately, mounts are some of the more useful attachments in the game. Asfaloth remains, undeniably, the most efficient location-control available in the game. Newly released, Rohan Warhorse is an essential part of any heavy-Tactics deck that plans on doing a lot of killing. Even the Steed of the Mark, lowliest of the mounts, has a place in decks with resource acceleration.
Lore has plenty of ways to fetch Asfaloth, but Spirit and Tactics are decidedly less friendly when it comes to providing a means to call your horses. In this context, Westfold Horse-breeder is the perfect compliment. Being able to pay 1 resource to immediately search 20% of your deck for a Mount is quite a deal. With the strength of Asfaloth and the Warhorse alone, this effect is worth 1 resource.
The fact that Westfold Horse-breeder gives you a useful ally in the bargain is really quite amazing. While a single willpower might at first seem unimpressive, one simply has to look at Tactics to see how expensive that stat can truly be. This ally not only provides an excellent chance to pull a power-card, but can be used very round to bolster your questing efforts. With the Rohan trait, it can even receive benefit from cards like Astonishing Speed, or Éomund’s untimely (yet somehow inevitable) demise. In an emergency, our poor stable-hand can even take an Orc Scimitar to the face, though that seems a most unfit end for such a cherubic character.
Card drawing effects will always be one of the most important “glue” effects in the game. Your deck can include the best cards in that game, but if you are only drawing one of those cards per round, some scenarios are going to bully you into submission. If you don’t want to be the kid crying on the playground, it is wise to bring along multiple means for drawing cards, to defend yourself from the encounter deck’s depravations.
While some might look at Deep Knowledge, from The Voice of Isengard, as their go-to form of card drawing, this is less good as a “glue” effect. Unless a deck features Spirit threat-reduction effects, or Lore Aragorn, the risk of raising your threat every time you want to draw additional cards can start to become overwhelming. Even in a deck built to deal with this, Deep Knowledge can often have the same effective outcome as Daeron’s Runes. The reason for this is simple: duplicate unique cards.
Because many of the most powerful cards in the game are unique, a typical deck will include two or three copies of these cards, to ensure that they are readily available. While this is great for consistency, it tends to choke your hand with a bunch of duplicate cards. This is where Deep Knowledge is not always better than Daeron’s Runes. Sure, in a deck with 50 different cards, drawing 2 cards and keeping both is always better than drawing two and then having to discard a card from your hand. The question is: how often are you going to draw a duplicate with those 2 cards from Deep Knowledge? If your deck has enough copies of unique cards, the odds become pretty good that some of those extra cards you draw from Deep Knowledge are just dead in your hand.
For this reason, Daeron’s Runes is the better choice as a general “glue” card. You certainly can’t argue with the price, and with The Voice of Isengard introducing some serious hate against large hand-sizes, the Runes can even be an advantage. Because you don’t actually net a card when using Daeron’s Runes (it’s more accurate to think of it as a deck-filtering effect than a card drawing effect), it is one of the only Lore “card-drawing” effects which you can safely include against scenarios like The Fords of Isen.
Sure, there will be times when Deeper Knowledge, or other, more expensive effects are the better choice. Mono-Lore is a prime example because Mithrandir’s Advice is amazing in such decks. However, as a general rules, and particularly in multi-sphere decks where resources are at a premium, Daeron’s Runes is one of the best ways to hold your deck together and ensure that it runs at maximum efficiency.
There are many different criteria for what makes a great “glue” card. One of the things that you will notice in my choices is that they are all low-cost. It doesn’t make sense to use platinum as the insulation of your house. The glue is the cheap stuff that holds all of the fancy expensive stuff together. That is precisely why it has such a short, funny-sounding name.
This goes without saying, but not every great glue card belongs in every deck. Obviously a deck without Hobbits wouldn’t include Halfling Determination. Likewise, Envoy of Pelargir becomes a lot less desirable in a deck that features no Gondor or Noble heroes. Just like its real-world analog, the idea of glue is not that you use as much as possible. Glue in your deck is like salt in your food. Too much, and you won’t have room for anything else – so the whole thing turns into a mess. Too little, and everything falls apart, into a boring collection of individual ingredients. The most important thing about glue cards is to remember that they are an essential part of any effective deck. The big shiny unique cards may take all of the glory – but it is the glue cards, working tirelessly behind the scenes, that put you in a position to win.