I was traveling when my compatriots in the Grey Company where recording the Hero Showdown episode, but I wanted to add my voice to the discussion here. Below are my top three heroes for each sphere, along with my seven favorites (to round out a top 10). I then discuss one overrated hero that I consider less useful than their reputation might suggest. Finally, I complete each sphere with my least favorite hero.
It goes without saying that these ratings are more reflective of my deck-building and play style than any sort of objective metrics. Still, I am interested to hear other players’ feedback about my choices. My opinions about many of these heroes have evolved over time and I have no doubt that future cards and play experiences will continue to change my perspective. Add your voice to the discussion in the comments below.
Before Leadership Denethor was released, Sam was my first choice for splashing a Leadership hero into a deck. His primary stat to threat ratio is amazing, providing a major questing boost to any deck. The fact that he comes with his own free ally and has an ability which is powerful and easy to trigger is what pushes him over the top. He even has some fun toys in the form of Hobbit Cloak, Staff of Lebethron and Taste it Again!, if you want to make him the focal point of your strategy. He works as the lynchpin to a Hobbit deck or simply a supporting character in some other archetype, which makes him an excellent fit for a great many decks. Believe it or not, other than Tactics Boromir I have never had one hero do so much in a single round (hint: There is no per-round limit to his ability).
The original captain for any deck with Leadership. His readying ability would be expensive for any other sphere, but Leadership has no shortage of resources. This is especially true now that Captain’s Wisdom exists because this version of Aragorn has the Noble trait. Thanks to readying, his stats are all useful so he can easily fill any role within a deck. In sphere access to powerful artifacts like Celebrían’s Stone and Sword that was Broken are what really pushes him over the top. He sits at the center of many of the game’s most powerful archetypes. In decks that include other spheres, you also gain access to the game-breaking might of Blood of Númenor and Gondorian Fire.
For anyone who might be skeptical of just how amazing Leadership Denethor is, I encourage you to try him out. The early game boost that Denethor provides is breath-taking. I can’t even count the number of times he has allowed me to drop powerful cards on the first turn. These are cards which I would not otherwise have been able to afford with the usual allotment of 3 resources.
Leadership has the best resource acceleration and many of the best global boost attachments, so being able to play one of these cards on the first turn puts your decks in the driver’s seat. Early game survival is one of the absolute keys to most quests, which is why Denethor’s setup ability is so important. In the late game, his secondary ability to move resources to other Gondor heroes ensures that you are never stuck with money in the wrong place. Versatility combined with early game strength make Denethor a force to be reckoned with.
This might be a controversial choice – especially after the release of the Armored Destrier. Still, I feel that it takes too many cards to make Erkenbrand work as your primary defender. I would certainly rather he had 1 attack or 0 willpower and 4 defense instead. I never want to be using him for questing or attacking. Leadership and Lore, which you are essentially forced into if you want to keep using him, is an awkward combination for Rohan decks.
If I’m not running a Rohan deck then there are better dedicated defenders to choose from, even in the Leadership sphere. Without the Gondor trait, Erkenbrand cannot take full advantage of Gondorian Shield and is instead left with cards like Dúnedain Warning and the Armored Destrier. The destrier is an odd fit as he already has shadow cancelation so you are basically doubling up on that ability. Unfortunately, in-trait armor cards like Golden Shield provide him very little benefit. His stats and ability clearly mark him as a defender, yet I feel like Erkenbrand requires too many cards in my deck to use effectively in that role.
Halbarad is okay, but his ability is pretty minimal for a hero. He can be amazing in the right Dúnedain deck, but outside of that he is mediocre for his threat cost. It’s a compliment to the Leadership sphere that its lesser heroes are this good. Still, I will often drop him in favor of Amarthiúl in my Dúnedain decks.
The added smoothing and resource acceleration, along with more a appropriate stat distribution, makes Amarthiúl the superior option unless you really need that 1 extra willpower for questing. Because of Sword that was Broken (a staple of most any Dúnedain builds), it is difficult for me to rationalize Halbarad over Amarthiúl. Even with these criticisms, Halbarad is a hero which I actually find cause to use in some decks, so he fairs better than my least favorite heroes from other spheres.
Anyone familiar with my deck-building style will notice that there are three pillars which form the basis of most all of my decks. Resource acceleration, card drawing and action advantage. With very few exceptions, the best decks in the game are all going to feature these three facets in some fashion. Often, the game-breaking decks take one or more of these concepts and push it to extremes.
As I mentioned in my discussion of Denethor above, the early game is a critical time for most decks. Until you have mustered supporting allies, or attached critical attachments to your heroes, or built up your hand with game-saving events, you are at your most vulnerable. A hero with built-in action advantage on defensive and a massive attack stat is an invaluable asset for the early game. Alongside any other 3-attack hero (the standard for any good attacker), Beorn can kill all but the biggest enemies in a single round. Being able to deal with these early threats – without support from any other cards in play – will see you through until your deck’s primary strategy comes on board. Even quests with archery or direct damage are no problem as Beorn has the largest hit point pool of any hero. I’m obviously biased when it comes to this hero, but anyone who doesn’t recognize that he is top tier has simply never used him in the right quests (e.g. Massing at Osgiliath).
At this point the theme with my choices for favorite heroes should be fairly apparent. Of any Tactics hero, Mablung has the most consistent resource acceleration. He is one of the few Tactics cards of any kind which helps, and with the recent errata to Horn of Gondor his value has only increased. His ability can be triggered in each phase, which means that with a bit of creativity you can easily maximize his strengths.
Thanks to the relatively new Dúnedain archetype, engaging an enemy can bring multiple benefits, which makes Mablung pair very well with other heroes like Amarthiúl and Tactics Aragorn. His traits are both useful and his well-rounded stats are a benefit. Some players will complain about a hero with 2’s in each of their main stats. The argument goes that these stats are “wasted”. While I can see their point when it comes to heroes with a single obvious role, but I actually prefer versatility when it comes to my support heroes. With the ability to wield Gondorian Fire on the Attack, Gondorian Shield and Behind Strong walls on defense, or simply quest for 2, Mablung is one of the most versatile Tactics heroes.
After all of this talk about the importance of action advantage, my final choice for favorite Tactics hero is a fait accompli. Tactics Boromir remains the single most powerful hero in the game when it comes to action advantage. As the card pool widens, and the number of options for threat reduction continues to grow, the son of Denethor becomes ever stronger. His traits provide an embarrassing number of options for boosting his already excellent stats. Essentially every weapon and armor which is not limited to some racial trait works perfectly with Boromir.
In particular, anything which boosts his stats for more than one attack is a huge win as Boromir can keep swinging until no enemies are left standing. He is so powerful in combination with combat boosts that there are even rumblings in the community about potential errata. The prevalence of resource acceleration, in concert with multiple copies of Blood of Númenor and Gondorian Fire, practically makes Boromir invincible. Even if you take the unconventional route and choose not to make Boromir the focus of a deck, his ability is always useful – especially in scenarios with multiple exhaust effects. The number of times he has single-handedly turned a losing situation into victory is almost mind-numbing.
Brand son of Bain
Bard the Bowman.
Bard is nice in multiplayer, but it takes too much effort to make Great Yew Bow consistent that it feels wasted. Unfortunately, he doesn’t work well with most other weapons. Because the bow exhausts, it doesn’t pair with any of the Weapon-related events. Assuming you do have some other weapon, you can take advantage of Straight Shot, but this is an all-or-nothing kind of strategy and many enemies now have three or more defense.
Trying to use Elf-friend to give him access to Rivendell Blade is simply too finicky for my play style. If I’m not using elves and I want a Ranged Tactics hero for multiplayer, I much prefer his grandson Brand (even with the questionable art). With 2 willpower, he can serve as a quester, but this is a dubious role for a Tactics hero with an 11 starting threat. For a dedicated attacker who isn’t central to my deck, I would much prefer one of the many Tactics heroes with 9 starting threat.
This is another example of a hero whose ability is too limited and his stats are too lackluster for the threat cost. When you are using him in his primary role, he basically gets no benefit from Dain – which is a cardinal sin in most Dwarf decks. If his ability was just a bit less constrained he could be good, but Tactics has far too many options for combat support to waste a hero slot on a so-so ability.
Even Dori’s sentinel keyword is strange as it overlaps with his primary ability. If his stats were a bit more asymmetrical (say 1 attack and 3 defense), his ability might have real value, but as it stands he requires additional cards to offset the cost of a hero action. It is also worth noting that ally Dori’s ability has everything that this card lacks. You can use it after damage is assigned, and it can even redirect damage to heroes like Beorn who are otherwise difficult to affect. I would much rather a player bring ally Dori to the table than this version.
Thanks to Elven-light, Arwen gives you both card draw and resource acceleration in Spirit. Obviously she is not as consistent of a resource engine as Leadership can build, but the she gives you access to all of the Spirit staples along with all of the Noldor tricks – quite a potent mix.
Again, you will notice that her ability works from the first round. Early-game strength is a theme in many of my favorite heroes. Arwen is one of the few heroes, in fact, who is completely unhindered by a bad opening hand. Her limitation of targeting only Noldor and Aragorn might at first seem too harsh, but she can give resources to herself and she opens the potential for viable decks Spirit decks without Leadership for resource acceleration. This archetype simply did not exist outside after the errata of Zigil Miner.
The lady of Lórien is deceptively powerful. Consistent card draw and threat reduction are not to be discounted. Even without her ring, the action advantage for ally-heavy decks means that she has an immediate impact on the game. Her ability is not limited to you, which makes her a welcome sight in multiplayer games.
She is a foundational piece of a very strong Silvan archetype, yet has the low threat cost and flexibility to fit into so many different decks. Add to all of this the underrated quest control of Nenya and the amazing search capabilities of her Mirror, and Galadriel is one of the most potent Spirit heroes. Some players might mistake her inability to directly participate in the key phases of the game as a weakness, but really Galadriel is the ultimate support hero.
It was difficult choosing between Glorfindel and Éowyn, but I ultimately chosen Glorfindel because his stats and supporting cards are so consistently useful. Éowyn can use cards like Herugrim and Golden Shield, but making her into a well-rounded hero takes much more work for her than it does for Glorfindel. For the longest time, he was the only hero in Spirit who provided combat prowess without requiring some other trickery.
Glorfindel excels at multiple facets of the game and as much as the fatigue of overuse is real, he remains the best choice for a wide range of decks. Asfaloth continues to be the standard by which all other location-control is judged. Light of Valinor is criminally low-cost action advantage which completely negates his one weakness. Lastly, his meager 5 starting threat makes Glorfindel far more versatile than even recent heroes in terms of the decks that he supports. Until more Hobbits were introduced, Secrecy decks with 3 heroes simply did not exist without Glorfindel. He is probably the best “glue” hero in the game.
I’ve used her in a fair few decks now, and I honestly find that I am looking to replace her in many of them. Like Lanwyn, her readying ability can be difficult to consistently trigger in some scenarios. Certainly you can pair her with location control to make this easier to manage, but have still be burned by a lack of (non-Immune) locations in play to choose from. Her stats are useful, no doubt. Still, her starting threat is high for Spirit, so she changes the kind of deck that I end up making with her.
If I’m looking for 3 attack strength Glorfindel and Lanwyn seem like better choices in many decks. Of the trait-specific title attachments, I consider Warden of Arnor to be the weakest, so that is certainly not a mark in her favor. Her traits can be useful, but it still feels resource intensive to use resource acceleration and Blood of Númenor to turn her into a defender. I have no doubt that she will make an appearance in Scouting Party decks, but I still prefer Lanwyn for that trait so that I can keep my threat low and just focus on questing. I’m not saying that she is bad, but I just feel like her ability is not as consistent as I would like and her starting threat forces me to build the kind of decks that I would rather make using other spheres.
Not much to say here. His ability can help in multiplayer, but the Hobbit archetype is so strong at questing that this strategy does not make a whole lot of sense. Thanks to Hobbit Pony and cards like Elevenses, it is now possible to control exactly how much willpower is committed to the quest.
In a way, his ability implies that you are failing at questing, otherwise the cost is too high. If you’re already questing successfully there is no way that you want to pay 3 threat for 3 additional progress. Spirit gives you so many less-expensive ways to go about boosting your quest progress, even after staging. Regardless of threat reduction and Hobbit Pipes, consistent threat raising is far too steep a cost when other Hobbit heroes bring so much more archetype synergy to the table.
This will not be a very controversial choice, but even before you talk about his Ring, Elrond is one of the most powerful heroes in the game. Boosting healing will always be strong, especially so when direct damage remains a near-constant presence in modern quests. Being able to pay for allies from any sphere makes him the cog that runs a plethora of amazing and unique decks.
With his stats and the Lore sphere he has the capability to be a stellar quester or defender (and no slouch as an attacker). You can of course attach Vilya and include any kind of deck scrying to transform Elrond into a game-breaking hero. In reality, he is incredibly versatile and powerful even without any supplemental cards. His high threat is perhaps his only downside, but the advantages that he brings to the table make it worth it, and you can always surround him with lower threat supporting heroes.
He is probably my favorite “glue” hero. At the bargain cost of 6 threat, he gives you access to the Lore sphere. He has a built-in card draw ability himself, so even if you only a few Lore events with him your deck just gained a ton of consistency. He slots perfectly into a Hobbit deck that wants to pick its enemies carefully and then benefit from optional engagement. Even if he is the lone Hobbit in your deck, he still improves the control that players exert over the staging area.
Like all Hobbits, his stats are weak, but he spends most of his time questing, a skill at which he excels. Pippin pairs particularly well with other Lore heroes like Haldir that want to avoid engagement and snipe enemies from the staging area. In addition to Hobbit-only decks, he facilitates cards like Take No Notice, In the Shadows and now Arrows from the Trees. A cheap and versatile hero with innate card draw is a welcome addition to most any deck.
Not many heroes single-handedly create a new archetype overnight. Erestor is undoubtedly one of the most unique heroes in the game. While his drawback at first looked questionable, now that the Noldor strategy has become more clear Erestor has truly come into his own. With so many cards that either play from the discard pile, or gain benefits from other cards in the discard pile, the idea of quickly discarding your entire deck suddenly seems pretty appealing. One of my favorite aspects of Erestor is the way that he makes niche cards and combinations viable.
A great example of this is Keeping Count. This was a card which I always dismissed as garbage, because even with all of the search and card draw effects in the game it was just too difficult to make that card work. When you start with the sheer card drawing might of Erestor, and bolster it with other free card drawing effects like Daeron’s Runes and Deep Knowledge, it suddenly becomes almost impossible not to see multiple copies of Keeping Count. A card which was essentially unplayable is now consistently a factor in my silly Erestor-based experiments. This card is but one example of the power of card draw. Other players have found a wide variety of ways to exploit Erestor’s ability, and I have no doubt that future cards will only add to his potential.
Haldir of Lórien
I have a few decks which feature hero Treebeard, and I enjoy them quite a bit. I still feel like he is overrated as a hero because his ally version is such a perfect design. To say nothing of amazing stats, being neutral and generating multi-purpose “Ent” resources each turn makes the ally version of Treebeard a perfect splash in almost any deck. Even if you have no other Ent characters, you can use his resources to ready himself every other round.
Hero Treebeard is much like hero Beorn to me – a giant killing machine. While that is fun, the cost is high and it requires a very specific deck focus. Without built in action advantage, you end up having to dedicate ton of deck space to both healing and readying, otherwise Treebeard is not being used to his full potential. I enjoy the design of the Treebeard hero and I will continue to tinker around with decks that use him, but the existence of his ally version is always going to put him at the losing end of an unfavorable comparison.
I really wanted to like this version of Faramir. It’s not for a lack of trying, but I just have never been able to make a Faramir deck with which I was truly satisfied. His combination of starting threat and stats makes for an awkward deck. Perhaps the upcoming focus on two-hero decks will bring some support for him (my most consistent deck featured him and Sam Gamgee as my only heroes), but I’m not going to hold my breath.
Now with Damrod, I feel like Lore Gondor/Ranger decks have a much more consistent and powerful way to attack into the staging area than trying to setup some combo with Faramir. It is true that Faramir can be very powerful in the right multi-player scenarios, but his fundamental strategy strikes me as far too niche for such a high profile character. Either version of Leadership Faramir seems far superior in most cases.