As the game evolves, new archetypes are introduced, and existing archetypes change in often unexpected ways. The tempo archetype is an interesting hybrid between low-threat control decks and high-threat aggro decks. Utilizing powerful heroes and taking advantage of allies entering and leaving play, these decks present an interesting middle ground that brings many tactical decisions. What follows are five cards with particular value in many of these tempo decks.
Horn of Gondor
For such a minimal cost, Horn of Gondor has always been a very efficient form of resource acceleration. However, as the meta game shifted to more conservative archetypes, this card was deemphasized. Many of those methodical decks were designed around playing powerful and expensive allies, and keeping them in play at all costs.
It is interesting to note that Silvan refugee fit perfectly into these decks when it was first released. The reemergence of Horn of Gondor has corresponded to a shift in the style of many decks. Between the Rohan/Gondor “leaves play” decks and the nascent Silvan decks there are multiple viable options for this new tempo archetype. Tempo exists in the spaces between conservative turtle decks and high-threat aggressive decks.
One of the distinguishing features of these tempo decks is that they are not aiming to field an army of allies. With Éomer/Prince Imrahil decks, allies are sacrificed as chump blockers to fuel all of the powerful responses. Silvan decks are a bit more nuanced but the outcome is the same – a steady stream of allies leaving play. This is where Horn of Gondor can trumpet its worth. In a multiplayer game that features multiple tempo decks, Horn of Gondor can actually be more powerful than its Leadership counterpart, which is a remarkable thought.
This is a Core Set card that many, including me, overlooked at first glance. To be fair, almost any Lore card drawing effect is more powerful, and less situational, than this card. The fact that it provides a reasonably effective form of card draw to the Leadership sphere is precisely why this card is useful.
Whether it is Celeborn, Prince Imrahil, Sam Gamgee, Balin, or one of a host of other useful Leadership heroes, many tempo decks are built around this sphere. While healing is a much more common effect in slow-paced decks, it is less important in decks where allies are often the ones defending. Many tempo decks are focused around combat and questing, with less of a need for the trickery of the Lore sphere.
In short, some tempo decks do not have access to Lore and its hyper-efficient card drawing effects. For those decks, having an inexpensive form of card draw to supplement Sneak Attack and Gandalf is vital. With the addition of his hero to the card pool, card draw effects that do not rely on Gandalf are increasingly valuable. With tempo decks, there are plenty of characters leaving play, so Valiant Sacrifice can even be used to help another play draw cards, after one of their allies leaves play.
When it comes to healing, players have almost universally preferred repeatable effects, particularly inexpensive cards like Warden of Healing. To be sure, there is power in a repeatable effect, but it also implies a certain strategy. The more conservative “turtle” style deck will take its time, building an ally army.
This more deliberate strategy has its disadvantages, however. Archery, direct damage from treacheries, and attrition from using a single hero as a dedicated defender can all take a toll. This precisely why Warden of healing is so essential to a control deck. Repeatable effects are more important when the game lasts so many rounds.
Tempo decks are different. More chump blocking is employed, and dead allies gain no benefit from healing. Heroes can be used as defenders, but it depends on the circumstances and they must be used sparingly. In many tempo decks, heroes spend most of their time questing or attacking.
Still, healing is necessary for tempo decks. Direct damage encounter effects are only becoming more common, and the recent uptick in ally-hate will mean that heroes must sometimes be pressed into defensive duties. Every action has a cost, and this why Lembas is such a perfect card for tempo decks.
A tempo deck can’t afford to spend too many rounds to finish the quest. Each hero has a clearly-defined role, so using a hero to block can reck your counter-attack strategy. If too many engaged enemies pile up, undefended attacks can fell a hero. In multi-sphere decks, the loss of a single hero can cripple a deck. Lembas allows a hero to defend, heal the damage suffered from the attack, then ready and counter-attack. Combining healing with action advantage makes this a particularly potent card for tempo decks.
Stand and Fight
Control decks and the proliferation of ally mustering effects pushed this card to the margins of many archetypes. Many decks specifically include Spirit for cancellation and threat-reduction effects. In this context, spending a bunch of precious Spirit resources just to bring an ally into play makes little to no sense. In a meta-game dominated by expensive allies, this card did not make as much sense.
Tempo decks have changed the equation for Stand and Fight. With a variety of useful 1 and 2-cost allies with “comes into play” or discard-based effects, this card gains maximum utility. The fact that it is an action should not be overlooked. If a large enemy is about to make an additional attack – one that would otherwise go undefended – Stand and Fight can be used to provide an emergency defender. Chump blocking is a zero-sum game in most control decks, but this strategy can reap benefits when so many allies have response effects to trigger.
Many tempo decks include two or three spheres. The heroes involved, and the cards to support them, are spread out over too many different sphere to be able to design a mono-sphere deck. In multi-sphere decks an unlucky draw can easily lead to a glut of one type of resource. Being able to use these resources to muster an ally from any sphere is quite a useful trick. Being able to trigger the enters play ability again gives this event great utility.
In a recent game, I found myself with 5 resources on Éowyn without cancellation in hand. Thanks to Stand and Fight, I pulled A copy of Gwäihir out of Mrs. Beorn’s discard pile. I triggered his response to resurrect a Vassal of the Windlord from my own discard pile. Once I was done with the Vassal, she was able to attach it to her Eagles of the Misty Mountains instead of letting it go back to the discard pile. After all that, I still had the copy of Gwäihir in play to help with questing or combat. Being able to trigger the “enters play” effect of the King of the Eagles made Stand and Fight the perfect card for this situation.
This will probably end up being a controversial choice, but I have been reconsidering my initial reluctance about including the fallen Istari in my decks. To be fair, doomed cards are not auto-include in every deck. Secrecy decks and any kind of control deck that needs to carefully manage its threat will often find the he is not worth the cost. No matter what the circumstances, choosing to raise your threat (and that of every other player) by 3 is a hard pill to swallow. For this reason doomed is a very tough proposition for multiplayer games – unless everyone designs their decks with threat control in anticipation.
Still, in solo play Saruman can be an absolute beast. Both his stats and ability are amazing, and the tempo archetype is all about taking advantage of allies leaving play – so you can even derive benefit from the Wizard’s reluctance to stay around. Depending on play style, none of these arguments will sway some people, as Saruman is a card that places a deck decidedly more on the aggressive end of the tempo archetype. The ultimate reason why I chose to include him was because he is a “toolbox” card that can save you in many different situations.
For all decks with a full set of starting heroes, a 3 cost neutral card can be played in any round – no matter what the circumstances. This means that if you really need his ability and or stats, he will never be a dead card in your hand. One could make the counter-argument about drawing him when you are at 47 threat, and this is technically true. Still, in almost all of the games that I’ve won after getting to 47 threat I did so using the cards I already had in play, so this niche criticism is not enough to abandon the card altogether.
Depending on the scenario, his ability is nothing short of amazing. Being able to pull an Orc Vanguard out of play for a round (assuming you have a Tactics hero), to allow other players to actually play cards from their hands is just one example of how invaluable Saruman can be. Once he gets into play, the 5 attack strength can be a huge boost to help finish off enemies that your forces are struggling to overcome. The best way to think about Saruman in a tempo deck is like an emergency fire axe. If everything is going right, you aren’t going to need him – but if things go horribly wrong, having access to this tool can absolutely save your life.