Having enough defense to handle an onslaught of enemies is one of the most critical aspects of multi-player games. IN a solo game, enemies can more often be handled one-by- one or even with threat control and leaving them in the staging area. With more than one player, too many cards are revealed each round for this kind of conservative strategy to be consistently effective. Sentinel allows support and questing deck to focus on what they are good at, and leave the combat to decks with more martial prowess.
The new Tactics Aragorn is incredibly powerful, some on the forums are even arguing that he is too powerful. While the latest version of everyone’s favorite Dúnedain has many talents, one that is decidedly lacking is the sentinel keyword. Up until now, every version of Aragorn has possessed the ability to defend for other players. Not only is this thematic, but it is one of the reasons why Aragorn – in any incarnation – has remained among the most popular heroes.
The Core Set version has built in action advantage, which makes it that much easier to defend with Aragorn after he has contributed to the quest. While the Lore version lacks this action advantage, he is a perfect fit for A Burning Brand which has the potential to transform him into an invulnerable defender. Some might argue that Tactics Aragorn’s ability to pull enemies is better than sentinel, but this is not strictly accurate.
While quick strike can effectively spare another player from defending, it requires you to already have an engaged enemy to kill before you can pull the enemy away from your partner. It also has the side effect of causing the other enemy to engage you. In a deck with Dúnedain, Hobbits and characters like Mablung, this will usually be a beneficial thing, however this is not always the case. In quests like Peril in Pelargir, for example, it can be very useful to have a player who does not have vulnerable allies be the one that engages the Zealous Traitor. Aragorn’s ability does not work well in this case, because it does not count as an optional engagement it will mean that your allies take the brunt of the traitor’s forced effect.
This is but one example of why Sentinel still holds an important place in the game. At a cost of 1 Leadership resource, Dúnedain Signal has long been the most efficient means for providing Sentinel. In Spirit, Arwen Undomiel has a very useful ability which happens to bestow Sentinel. Additionally, Tactics has Elven Mail, but this is more expensive and limited to Silvan and Noldor heroes. It is worth noting that the Signal can be attached to any hero. Thanks to the new Weather Hills Watchman, there is yet another way to get this useful attachment in hand. For decks that include Lore, there are other great options in Master of the Forge and a treasure-trove of general purpose card-drawing effects. Last but not least among the Dúnedain Signal’s virtues is the ability to move it between heroes as an action.
In a pinch, this card can be used as a kind of pseudo-action advantage. Does one player have a powerful defender with extra resources but no readying effects available? Dúnedain Signal is the perfect solution. Move it to the stout defender, after they have defended, they can spend a resource to move it to another hero. That second hero can then use Sentinel to defender a different attack. While this is expensive, from a resource standpoint, it is worth it if it means sparing a player from an undefended attack and the potential loss of a hero.
Hands Upon the Bow
Between Hobbits and Dúnedain, engagement mania has taken hold of the metagame. It makes sense. These decks are tremendously entertaining and feature many interesting decisions and a multitude of card synergies. However, all is not rosy in the world of engagement-style decks.
Ever since the inception of the game, cards like Hummerhorns have been a nagging reminder that some enemies are best left alone. While it might be tempting to just leave these types of enemies in the staging area, their threat can serve to cripple your ability to make quest progress, particularly in a multi-player game where more cards are being revealed each round. On top of this, enemy effects like Archery and quests effects like the one in Intruders in Chetwood will punish players for leaving enemies in the staging area.
This is where Hands Upon the Bow comes to the rescue. For the low low cost of 1 Tactics resource, this card gives you the ability to remove an enemy from the staging area, before it has a chance to harm you or any of the other players. The fact that it requires a character with the ranged keyword is not too steep of a cost – given how useful this ability is in multi-player games in and of itself. The additional attack strength is a nice bonus as it can be the difference that allows you to kill an enemy immediately.
Like many effects in this game, the most important aspect of this card is the fact that it is an action. Other effects like Great Yew Bow, Dunhere and Forth Eorlingas allow for attacks into the staging area, but these all occur during the combat phase. This does not help you make quest progress, or avoid engagement effects (for enemies with low engagement costs), or effects like Archery (which triggers at the beginning of the combat phase). The fact that it gives your character a plus one bonus for the attack is surely icing on the cake, but the real power of this card is in allowing you to manage the enemies in the staging area that otherwise could not be handled by the likes of Aragorn and Halbarad.
Song of Eärendil
A long overlooked card, Song of Eärendil looks to gain new relevance with the recently announced valour effects. Threat control has always been important, all the more so in multi-player games where the more combat-heavy decks will tend to have a dangerously high starting threat. Most all of the the threat-control effects exist in the Spirit sphere and Spirit heroes have, on average, the lowest starting threat. This creates one of the central asymmetries of the game: Spirit has the greatest ability to control a player threat, which is most needed by every sphere except Spirit.
Cards like Galadriel, The Galadhrim’s Greeting and Galadriel’s Handmaiden all help lower other player’s threat. This task can still be challenging against quests which multiple forms of repeated threat-raising effects. With valour, Spirit decks will face an even greater challenge as they now must strive to keep other players’ threat right at 40.
Even secrecy decks don’t have this kind of constraint, as there is no danger in reducing a player’s threat too low. While the valour effects look to be very powerful, the plethora of encounter cards with the doomed keyword will ensure that the valour strategy is a dangerous one. Using threat-control with precision can tricky, even with the above-mentioned effects at your disposal.
Song of Eärendil has always been a solid multi-player card. One of the interesting bits of trivia about this card is that it remains one of the only cards in the game that replaces itself with a new card when you play it. The fact that it is an attachment with the Song trait means that it can be fetched by a variety of means. This allows you to get away with only 1 or 2 copies in your deck, and still have excellent odds of seeing it in play.
The real value of this card is that it is a repeatable response that can be triggered each time another player would raise their threat. More and more quests are chock-full of threat-raising effects. The Song allows you to control other players current threat to a level of exaction that would not be possible with only events. Coupled with a repeatable effect like Galadriel’s and it should be possible to have more than one deck take advantage of valour effects without a major risk of elimination. It will be exciting to see what other valour cards are released in the Angmar Awakened cycle.
Targeted card draw is crucial for multi-player games. If everyone shows up with their own solo deck and just plays them together, this is less of an issue, but for true multi-player decks the ability to choose another player to draw cards is vital. The reason for this is the focus of many powerful multi-player archetypes.
For example, I have a mono-Spirit deck called Brave Explorers which I like to play in three and four-player games. This deck fulfills many of the important aspects of a multi-player deck. By design, it is a very focused deck, and it excels at its chosen roles of questing, cancellation, location-control and threat control. It had to be a mono-sphere deck, in order to do an adequate job at these four distinct roles.
Mono-Spirit can do many things, but card draw has never been one of its strengths. Galadriel is one of my heroes, and the deck also includes Ancient Mathom, but neither of these forms of card draw can be considered consistent. In the case of Galadriel, she will often be used to manage the threat of one of the other players around the table, meaning that I cannot benefit from the card draw. Likewise, Ancient Mathom is a powerful form of card draw when coupled with heavy location-control, but it can be difficult to time the use of this card to give you the cards. I include the card anyway, as there is always some at the table that can benefit from 3 bonus cards, but it is best viewed as more of a support card than one that directly benefits our deck’s core strategy.
So all this analysis of multi-player deck design brings us the humble minstrel of Rohan. The Rohirrim were not known for their learning or lore, save for horse-craft, yet Gleowine must have been an inspiring poet indeed. His ability to give any player a card at action speed has always been on of the most efficient effects on any 2-cost ally. Still, as the card pool has grown, he has found himself on the outside looking in, as other more powerful draw options like Daeron’s Runes, Mithrandir’s Advice, Expert Treasure-hunter and the absurdly overpowered Legacy of Durin form the card draw engine of most decks which feature Lore.
All of these cards are undeniably powerful, with one Balrog-sized drawback – none of them can be used to give other players cards. In multi-player, player order matters a great deal. It effects everything from engagement, to who gets targeted by treacheries (sorry, bro – this is going to hurt), to who benefits from cards like Ancient Mathom and Elf-stone. One of the unheralded things about actions like Gléowine’s is that they essentially ignore player order. Rather than having to wait for just the right moment, Gléowine can be used immediately.
If I am the first player, I cannot give the bonus resource from Theodred to any other player’s hero, but I can use Gleowine to give that player an extra card before it is their turn to play allies and attachments. Even if I am the last player, I can still give the first player a card (assuming I already have Gleowine in play) while it is still his turn to play cards. Throw in expensive ally readying effects like Strength of Arms and Grim Resolve – effects which don’t often see play in solo decks, but are incredibly powerful in multi-player – and Gleowine is one of those do-everything allies that are critical to success in multi-player.
I briefly mention my appreciation for this card in the most recent episode of The Grey Company, but this is effect is worthy of praise in greater detail. Word of Command is at the heart of many “combo” decks, but is not what I would call a mainstream card in the metagame. The addition of the Gandalf hero has changed this somewhat, as it removes the biggest drawback of this card in having to rely on an ally that was not always in play. Before anyone tries to argue – no, Radagast is not worth it – even for this powerful magic.
Still, Word of Command is the kind of card that is intriguing, but outside of already crazy-powerful engines (The Gandalf deck is simply overwhelming against many scenarios), Word of Command sees little play. This is unfortunate, because the lack of a good tutor has lead to some serious stagnation in the current meta-game. If I see one more deck with 15 cards listed at 3x I am going to spit out my trout and fall onto my fury back-side.
Its understandable why the tendency would be towards consistency, understandable but unfortunate. Powerful attachments like Light of Valinor, Vilya, Nenya, Wizard’s Pipe (and to some extent Gandalf’s Staff) all play a central role in these powerful archetypes. When your deck is so dependent upon one particular card it becomes a necessity to include 3 copies to maximize the chance that it appears in your opening hand. Likewise, with events like A Test of Will, Feint and Sneak Attack, if you are going to include the card at all, it makes the most sense to include 3 copies.
While these design decisions make sense strategically, they lead to a very static and dare-I-say boring metagame. This is why Gather Information has me so excited. In a multi-player games, there is no reason why each player cannot make room for this card. Even if it means bumping your deck size up to 51 cards, the benefit to the group is so great. Not only does this search effect provide more consistency to decks that rely so heavily on one or two cards, but it loosens the stranglehold of “3x” on deck-building and frees players to experiment with 1 and 2 copies of many more cards.
Think of it this way, if Gather Information shows up (which in a four player game it has a very good chance of doing) and you already have your core engine setup, wouldn’t you rather be able to go fetch some “nice to have” card out of the depths of your deck? If you follow current orthodoxy and limit your deck to 3 copies of each of the most powerful cards, you will not even have the option to go get those niche cards. The cost of consistency is lacking the flexibility to deal with different situations.
The just-spoiled Dúnedain Message allows you to fetch any player side quest from your deck. Clearly that event is going to get more useful as the cycle continues and more player side quests are released. It also kills the argument that the “limit 1 per deck” constraint on Gather Information card makes it too inconsistent to build around. While I look forward to making crazy combo-decks around this effect, more than anything I await a metagame were players are more willing to include one and two copies of cards in their deck, without the specter of inconsistency looming large over everything.