My favorites from the Sands of Harad and Haradrim Cycle

With the release of The Crossing of Poros, now is an excellent time to look back on this last Deluxe Box and its accompanying cycle. While a deluxe box in some ways sets the tone for the Adventure Packs which follow, the theme of a given block is by no means strictly defined by this initial set of cards. Especially when it comes to the player cards, the designers weave multiple themes throughout a block (the term that I use for deluxe box + cycle APs).

Whenever Choosing favorites, there is the ever-present risk of getting stuck in the mire of subjectivity. The choices here reflect my play style and current deck-building tendencies, so interpret them within that context. While the most game-changing cards are not always immediately obvious, this block had a variety of powerful cards to choose from. Selecting favorites from this cycle, particularly when it comes to allies, involves a series of difficult decisions.

Favorite Hero: Hirgon

I’ve long been a fan of Mono-Tactics decks, and the archetype has steadily been growing stronger with the addition of a few powerful heroes and some especially effective events. The Haradrim cycle provided yet more support to these decks, beyond just heroes, with Wait No Longer, Oath of Eorl and Proud Hunters. Hirgon joins the Tactics version of Prince Imrahil, as a new hero which provides interesting alternatives for getting Tactics allies into play more quickly. In Hirgon’s case, we even have the option of giving them a temporary stat boost, which can be invaluable in supporting early game momentum and keeping critical defensive allies alive.

Two of the biggest challenges with Mono-Tactics decks have always been resource acceleration and card draw effects. Ally Legolas has given Tactics-heavy decks their best solution for card draw, especially for decks which don’t want to include multiple weapons to power Foe-hammer. With his errata, Háma might not be considered an effective card drawing engine for Tactics, especially in longer quests which prefer repeatable card draw. Besides, with so many other powerful tactics events, you might want to save Háma’s ability for something else. For these situations, other forms of pseudo card draw like Prince Imrahil can be a more appropriate choice.

Where Prince Imrahil’s search ability provides something akin to a card draw effect, Hirgon plays a different role. His cost reduction can either be used in lieu of, or as a supplement to, resource acceleration. Obviously you can include Leadership with a hero like Denethor and staples like Steward of Gondor, and all of your resource problems are solved. As someone who predominately plays multiplayer, where hogging the staple cards is frowned upon, I am more interested in how Hirgon facilitates a less obvious approach to deck-building.

As with heroes like Théodred and Arwen Undómiel, which feature resource acceleration, the power of cost reduction on a hero is that you can use it from the first round. Not being reliant on seeing a critical attachment in your opening hand will make you deck that much more consistent. The secondary aspect of Hirgon’s ability is not to be overlooked. High threat is less of an issue with Mono-Tactics decks, as you are designed to engage and kill multiple enemies. With that in mind, being able to trade 1 threat for a combat boost on the ally which you bring into play is a powerful option.

In multiplayer, the fact that Hirgon does not raise other players’ threat is important. On the other hand, there are many threat control options for other decks to help keep the Hirgon deck in the game. I can see potential for interesting Valour decks, which use Hirgon’s ability to control their threat, specifically when they enter valour range. The math of card cost is quite important. For example, many of the most powerful Tactics allies cost 4 resources, making them impossible to play on the first round, without other card effects. Hirgon allows you to play ally Boromir, Legolas, Déorwine, or Eagles of the Misty Mountains on the first round.

Using Legolas as an example, this is a fantastic opening for a Mono-Tactics deck. At the cost of three resource and 1 threat, you have a 4 attack ranged ally, which gives you card draw for the rest of the game. Hirgon can work just as well in multi-Sphere decks, assuming you include enough Tactics allies to make use of his reduction. While his ability might be as obviously powerful as some heroes, Hirgon opens a multitude of possibilities for Tactics decks.

Honorable Mention: Fastred and Folco Boffin
Featured Deck: The Red Arrow

Favorite Unique Ally: Jubayr

JubaryShadow cards are one of the great mysteries of this game. Each round consists of critical decisions: how many characters to commit to the quest, how much attack and defense to hold back for the combat phase, saving resources for cancellation effects. All of these plans can be laid bare from one untimely shadow card that goes uncanceled. Any card which provides shadow cancelation without an additional resource cost gives players an invaluable tool to mitigate this risk.

The average size of enemies continues to creep up – by necessity as player cards allow heroes and allies to become ever more adept at martial aspects of the game. For most quests, in order for an ally to be an acceptable option for defense they need at least 3 defense. Three defense and 3 hit points is makes an ally a natural choice as a dedicated defender. In all but true-solo, Sentinel is the ideal keyword for your defender, even combat decks can end up with one too many attackers.

NaryaBefore we even get into his response Jubayr is already a great defender: 3 defense, 3 hit points, with Sentinel, all in a sphere without many strong defenders. The ability to discard a facedown shadow card from a non-unique attacker immediately catapults Jubayr into the upper echelon of best defending characters. In the early card pool, a cost of 5 would have been an impediment to playing him, but there are now many resource acceleration and cost reduction options, not to mention other tricks for getting allies into play without paying their full cost.

His response is limited to once per phase, rather than once per round, which is an under-appreciated detail. Treacheries can cause enemies to make immediate attacks during the quest phase. With access to ally readying effects like Narya, I’ve been able to trigger Jubayr’s shadow discard effect multiple times in a round. Whether you feature him in a thematic Harad deck, or a Spirit-heavy deck, Jubayr is one of the best defenders in the game.

Honorable Mention: Firyal
Featured Deck: Aggro Caldara v4

Favorite Generic Ally: Emyn Arnen Ranger

Emyn Arnen RangerWith the release of Ranger Spikes in Heirs of Númenor, Trap decks became a distinct archetype. It has been a strong archetype against certain quests, and a solid choice for a support deck in multiplayer games. One area of struggle for Lore decks in general, and Trap decks specifically, is questing. It’s all well and good to mitigate threat from the staging area, but sometimes you need willpower to make progress in a hurry.

The Haradrim cycle in particular features quite a few race-style quests. These scenarios require that you put as much progress on the quest card as you can, as quickly as possible. In this context, cards like Ranger Spikes and Ithilien Tracker are reactive cards, because they need enemies to enter the staging area before they are effective. These types of reactive effects are not sufficient for aggressive quests.

In this landscape, Emyn Arnen Ranger and Followed enter with much fan-fare. While they both technically require an enemy, these are the kind of proactive cards that the archetype desperately needed. Once you have an enemy trapped with Followed, your Emyn Arnen Ranger becomes a questing powerhouse. Followed is not the only trap which pairs well with the ranger. There is nothing more satisfying than trapping a giant Troll with a Forest Snare and then giving that enemy’s threat as willpower to your ranger.

Even if a quest doesn’t feature many high threat enemies, there are many opportunities for strategic advantage. For example, I like to trap enemies with Surge, Doomed, and annoying “When Revealed” effects and leave them in play for the rest of the game. Until one of your Ranger Spikes ensnares another enemy, your Emyn Arnen Ranger might only have 1 or 2 willpower, but you are also helping to keep annoying effects out of the encounter deck. Dúnedain decks, which benefit from keeping multiple enemies engaged, are particularly effective when paired with these kinds of effects. It’s appropriate that there would be such powerful synergy between the Rangers of Gondor and their northern brethren.

Honorable Mention: Kahliel’s TribesmanRider of Rohan and Steward of Orthanc
Featured Deck: Portugal. the Deck

Favorite Attachment: Magic Ring

Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of cards with effects that involve choices, and multiple potential uses. Back when I had more time to write posts about metagame and strategy, I even devoted and entire article to the concept of versatility. When a card is limited to 1 copy per deck, it’s a pretty good indication of how powerful the designer’s deem it to be.

In the case of Magic Ring, it’s not that any one of the effects on the card is too powerful. Having healing, resource acceleration, and readying effects all available in one place immediately makes this one of the versatile cards in the game. The cost of 2 resources from any sphere is totally reasonable for a card of this power level.

Early in the life of the game, the cost of raising your threat when using the Magic Ring would have been more prohibitive. Spirit decks now have a bevy of built-in threat reduction with heroes like Nori, Galadriel, Merry, Beregond and now Fastred. Even spheres without this kind of repeating threat control have access to effects like Core Set Gandalf, Keen As Lances, and Favor of the Valar. Ultimately, the few points of threat that you gain from using the ring are more than offset by the benefit to the attached hero.

For all of the things that it has, the Magic Ring is also powerful for what it lacks. Without the restricted keyword, it keeps both restricted slots available for weapons and armor. This is important, as the Magic Ring will be attached to your hero that carries the bulk of the load. The readying and healing are both excellent benefits for Ents, who cannot wield restricted attachments at all.

A limit of one per deck might at first make this seem like a niche card. However, powerful search effects like Gather Information, Heed the Dream, and Ally Galadriel can help make it easier to find this card. In general, the game has so many more card draw effects than it did in the early days that a one copy does not doom this card to be forever lost in the depths of your deck. In any case, even a minor ring of power like this is worth dedicating the resources to find.

Honorable Mention: Followed and Fireside Song
Featured Deck: Songs for Rosie

Favorite Events: Proud Hunters

Hirgon and Prince Imarhil provide new options for Tactics to muster allies quickly, one of the most essential requirements for any effective early game strategy. However, Tactics decks need to pay for powerful attachments and events, in addition to allies. Having extra resources gives a deck vital options, to adapt to whatever challenges a quest presents. This is where Proud Hunters fills a critical role, one that has been lacking for Tactics ever since Horn of Gondor received errata.

The Sands of Harad introduced these interesting cross-trait play requirements. These events were continued in the Haradrim cycle and many of them are quite unique and effective. While the requirement of two different unique characters with a particular trait can seem like a steep cost, it is often possible to fulfill this requirement with your starting heroes. This constraint can even make you consider hero combinations which you might no otherwise use.

By thinking creatively about your hero choices, it is often possible to include these events without sacrificing the core strategy of your deck. In the case of my featured deck, Éowyn is our dedicated quester and provides the Noble trait. Mablung, in addition to being one of my all-time favorite versatile heroes, brings more resource acceleration to pair with Proud Hunters, along with the essential Ranger trait. Rounding this all out is everyone’s favorite giant Troll-slaying bear.

Between Mablung and Proud Hunters, the featured deck has resource acceleration on par with all but the most resource-hoarding Leadership builds. Paired with card draw and search effects, readying and action advantage like Beorn, and this level of resource acceleration, Mono-Tactics has gone beyond a viable archetype and can often be a powerhouse. Decks like Bear on Vacation are proof that all three pillars can be built into an archetype which was previously relegated to combat duty. As a long-time fan of mono-Sphere decks, it is encouraging to see this level of versatility finally available for Tactics.

Honorable Mention: Heirs of Eärendil, Wait No Longer, and Oath of Eorl
Featured Deck: A Bear on Vacation

Favorite Player Side Quest: The Storm Comes

When they were first released, player side quests seemed powerful but the fact that they were each limited to one copy per deck made them seem like nice bonuses, rather than the lynchpin of a particular archetype. Every archetype needs a champion, and Thurindir is undeniably the champion of player side quests. Along with a new set of quests which allow three copies to be included in a players deck, a nascent strategy matured into a full-fledged archetype.

With no cost and only 5 quest points, The Storm Comes is not a difficult side quest to get into play, or to complete. Sure a one (or two) round hit can be a steep price, but once you complete this quest it completely changes the game for multi-sphere decks. Like all of the new player side quests, you are limited to one copy in the victory display but the way it is worded it would not make sense to complete multiple copies of The Storm Comes. This card is so powerful, that it even allows you to play allies for which you don’t even have a hero sphere match.

In the eponymous featured deck, Thurindir assures that we will always have The Storm Comes in our opening hand. At a steep cost of 5 resources each, the unique Harad allies are not easy to muster in a tri-sphere deck. The Storm Comes is the only thing that makes this crazy deck concept possible. It not only helps us with the expensive Harad allies, but the resource smoothing of not having to match the first ally you play even helps with smaller allies like Rider of Rohan – another amazing card in this side quest archetype.

This deck provides merely one example of how to exploit the power of The Storm Comes. There are as many ways to take advantage of ally resource smoothing as their are multi-sphere decks. My hope is that the upcoming cycle includes more player side quests, so that this archetype does not wither on the vine like some older strategies from past cycles. I look forward to seeing the radically dynamic decks that players design around The Storm Comes and the other powerful player side quests.

Honorable Mention: Keep Watch, Prepare for Battle
Featured Deck: The Storm Comes

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