While mono-sphere decks can be very powerful, a deck is often even more effective if you include one hero from another sphere. Adding just a bit of another sphere is known as splashing. The reason why splashing can improve a deck is because the second sphere helps to address the weaknesses of the primary sphere. In this article we will look at 4 heroes, one from each sphere, which are good candidates to be splashed into your decks. In addition, we will discuss supporting cards which compliment these heroes and can easily be integrated with existing strategies.
The ill-fated last King of Moria brings a lot of options to a deck. Just looking at his stats, it is apparent that Balin is not a much of a warrior. This will be a recurring theme in the heroes we discuss, they won’t do everything well. A splashed hero can have a glaring weakness, because that role is expected to be filled by the other heroes in your deck.
While Balin might not be much in a fight, he has many other useful skills. With 2 Willpower and the all-important Dwarf trait, Balin can be a solid quester. As a bonus, his ability does not require him to exhaust, so you can use him wherever he is needed and still be able to trigger his response later in the round. His two defense is not bad, especially for a Dwarf, and cards like Ring Mail and Dunedain Warning can be used to improve him in this role.
More so than his stats, Balin is useful for his ability. Even at this point in the game, there are only so many ways for dealing with shadow cards. Yet shadow cards are getting more and more troublesome. Only a fraction of cards in an encounter set will even have a shadow effect, which means that some games you will get lucky and not have many problems with shadow cards. Combat tricks like Feint and direct damage (Gondorian Spearman, Spear of the Citadel, etc.) can also help with this. Still, there will be games when a powerful shadow effect is triggered at an inopportune time.
This is where Balin is so valuable. Even repeatable solutions to shadow effects like A Burning Brand have a downside. You have to draw A Burning Brand, you have to pay the two resources, and you have to attach it to a Lore hero. What is more, you have to hold that hero back and use them to defend against the attack with the powerful shadow effect that you wish to cancel. With shadow cards being dealt facedown, and scenarios where multiple enemies are engaged simultaneously, this is not always possible.
Having Balin around can save a hero from death. Equally important, knowing that you have his ability on hand can free you to play more aggressively and take undefended attacks. Many of the more recent quests are designed to prevent the kind of “turtling” strategy that goes with cards like A Burning Brand. In contrast, including Balin will allow you to commit more characters to the quest and shorten the game. The fewer rounds you spend, the less likely you are to face game-breaking encounter cards.
The fact that his ability costs a resource is not as much of a problem as it might at first seem. As Ian recently pointed out over at Tales from the Cards, Leadership is the richest sphere. Including Balin in a deck will give you access to such resource generation effects as Steward of Gondor, Gaining Strength and Legacy of Númenor. We Are Not Idle can also be used with Balin, even if your deck doesn’t include any other Dwarves. Errand-rider, again not the most thematic choice, can also be good strategically to move resources from another hero to Balin before you enter combat.
As with any Leadership Dwarf, Balin provides access to one of the best card drawing effects in the game: King Under the Mountain. He also lets you use Narvi’s Belt, which can be important when you are splashing him into a deck with more expensive cards. You don’t want to be stuck with a bunch of non-Leadership cards in your hand while leadership resources pile up on Balin. For decks that don’t include Spirit, Balin also lets you use Sneak Attack with Gandalf, which can be a great way to keep your threat low.
The son of Thranduil and prince of Mirkwood offers a very unique ability in Tactics. Of all the encounter card types, locations provide the greatest challenge to the sphere. As anyone who has ever tried to play A Passage Through Mirkwood with the core set Tactics deck can tell you, location-lock is a very real danger. Being able to clear the active location by killing enemies is a tremendously useful ability. His keyword only makes this effect that much easier to trigger.
The Ranged keyword has become an increasingly useful ability. Cards like Hands Upon the Bow, Great Yew Bow and even Rain of Arrows all require a ranged character. As we discussed on episode 6 of The Grey Company Podcast, ranged can be essential in multi-player games. Since other players will often have decks which focus more on questing or support, being able to defeat enemies that are not engaged with you is important for the combat-oriented deck which splashes Legolas.
With the spoiler for Haldir’s brother Rúmil, we can look forward to even more support for the ranged keyword in the Tactics sphere. Rúmil will pair very well with Legolas in combat, in addition to having 2 willpower to aid with questing. It will also be easy to add Vassal of the Windlord to any deck with Legolas, further bolstering a ranged strategy. Once Rúmil is released, I can see a new Ranged Silvan archetype that should be a lot of fun to play. Legolas will be at the heart of this new type of deck.
Naturally Tactics provides a bevy of powerful weapons to the Sindarin elf (I know that the card says otherwise, but Legolas and his father Thranduil are both Sindarin – not Silvan). Blade of Gondolin, Rivendell Blade, Great Yew Bow and Black Arrow are all excellent options. With the majority of enemies in recent releases having 2 or more defense, Rivendell Blade continues to grow stronger. Black Arrow is perfect as a “giant killer”. Since it targets Legolas, it even works against enemies that are immune to player card effects and cannot have attachments.
In addition, Rohan Warhorse can be particularly effective, especially in scenarios with a good mix of enemies and locations. As always, a deck which includes several weapons will want to consider also featuring Foe-hammer and possibly even Goblin-cleaver and Bofur. Card drawing effects are rare in Tactics, and at a cost of 0, Foe-hammer is perfect for splashing. Lastly, events like Hands Upon the Bow and Rain of Arrows are inexpensive and work particularly well with Legolas.
Treacheries are one of three main encounter card types, and yet there are only two cards in the game which provide true treachery cancelation. Splashing Eleanor into a deck immediately gives you access to both of these two treachery cancelation effects. Also, and this is quickly becoming more important, Eleanor features the Gondor trait. Thanks to some powerful cards in the Heirs of Númenor and the Against the Shadow cycle, it is now possible to make Eleanor useful in other roles.
On our latest episode of The Grey Company podcast, we discussed Spirit’s unique place within the game. Treachery cancelation is one of the effects which is unique to the sphere. By including Eleanor and A Test of Will, your deck can handle scenarios with game-ending treacheries. Even in scenarios with less troublesome treacheries, Eleanor allows you to switch one encounter card type for another. For example, if a treachery comes up, but you have plenty of solutions for locations and enemies, you can trigger Eleanor’s response. Odds are pretty good that the next card will be something that is easier to deal with than the treachery you just cancelled.
On rounds when a treachery is not revealed, or you choose not to cancel one, Eleanor should have something else to do with her action. Arwen Undomiel (another great card to splash), Blood of Númenor and Gondorian Shield (if your deck includes Tactics), are all great for boosting defense. This works well with her ability, as you will leave her ready to cancel a treachery in any case. With backup from cards like Hasty Stroke and Silver Lamp, you use Eleanor as a defender, without worrying about a unexpected shadow effect.
Two other skills which are fairly unique to Spirit are questing support and threat reduction. For splashing, you will want to focus on low-cost allies, so Silvan Refugee, Westfold Horse-breeder and even Minas Tirith Lampwright can all be good options. As mentioned previously, Arwen Undomiel is probably the best spirit ally to splash into any deck. Her high willpower and defense boosting can really help to fill the gaps in a strategy. With all of this extra willpower, Ancient Mathom becomes an option for providing a helpful card drawing effect.
Arwen also happens to be a unique Noldor character, which allows you to splash the most cost-effective threat reduction: Elrond’s Counsel. The Galadhrim’s Greeting is certainly more powerful, but at 3 resources it is much harder to splash that card into a multi-sphere deck. Rounding out the inexpensive support cards from the Spirit sphere we have action advantage from Miruvor and Unexpected Courage. One other card that is worth considering for location control is Thror’s Key. At a cost of 1 resource, this attachment is a bargain, and it can help you deal with locations that would otherwise be too dangerous to travel or explore.
Even with the card hate in The Voice of Isengard, card drawing effects are still a very important part of the game. After the entire Ring-Maker cycle is complete, there will only be a few scenarios which punish a player for drawing extra cards. Bilbo Baggins is more than an efficient form of card drawing, the little Hobbit has a number of tricks up his sleeves. In a solo deck, Bilbo represents an extra card each round, absolutely free. This benefit is lessened in a multiplayer game, as each player will not be receiving this benefit every round. Still, Bilbo opens up access to inexpensive card drawing effects like Daeron’s Runes, Deep Knowledge, Expert Treasure-hunter and Peace, and Thought.
Peace, and Thought would seem to have a very big drawback – requiring you to exhaust two of your heroes during the refresh phase. Indeed, in most decks this is too steep of a cost. Thanks to Fast Hitch, exhausting Bilbo to pay for Peace, and Thought is no longer a hardship. Fast Hitch obviously has other uses, allowing the Hobbit to the commit to the quest and still help on defense.
While Bilbo might not seem like the obvious choice for a defender, the Lore sphere provides several options to help. A Burning Brand is the first and most obvious choice for any Lore deck with a dedicated defender. Another card which pairs perfectly with Mr. Baggins is Protector of Lórien. The extra cards that he provides can be used to pay to boost his defense. If you happen to have Fast Hitch on our intrepid Hobbit, he can even take advantage of this card for both questing and defense. If your deck happens to include Tactics, another excellent option for Bilbo is Ring Mail.
Healing is another important element that Bilbo provides to decks without another Lore hero. Warden of Healing is the best choice for a splashing, because he only costs 2 resources. Still, some decks will want to look to alternatives for healing, depending on their other heroes. For example, a deck featuring Glóin will want to consider using Self Preservation or Daughter of the Nimrodel.
Yet again, Fast Hitch comes in handy, as it allows Bilbo to exhaust in order to use Healing Herbs. This combo works particularly well in Dwarf decks, as Erebor Hammersmith can be used to return the attachment for additional uses. Two last attachments which are perfect for splashing with Bilbo would be Elf-stone and Thror’s Map. They actually work together quite well; the Map allows you travel without ill effects and then Elf-stone can put into play an expensive ally from any sphere, for no extra cost.