When evening in the Shire was grey
his footsteps on the Hill were heard;
before the dawn he went away
on journey long without a word.
From Wilderland to Western shore,
from northern waste to southern hill,
through dragon-lair and hidden door
and darkling woods he walked at will.
With Dwarf and Hobbit, Elves and Men,
with mortal and immortal folk,
with bird on bough and beast in den,
in their own secret tongues he spoke.
A deadly sword, a healing hand,
a back that bent beneath its load;
a trumpet-voice, a burning brand,
a weary pilgrim on the road.
A lord of wisdom throned he sat,
swift in anger, quick to laugh;
an old man in a battered hat
who leaned upon a thorny staff.
He stood upon the bridge alone
and Fire and Shadow both defied;
his staff was broken on the stone,
in Khazad-dûm his wisdom died.
―J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
In retrospect, the Dwarrowdelf was the most powerful cycle ever released. This opinion is uncontroversial if one simply looks at the number of cards from this cycle which have subsequently received errata. The poor Erebor Battle Master is so unbalanced, his text was amended twice. When compared to the power packs which came later in the cycle, The Redhorn Gate is less impressive. Even so, it introduced what remains one of my favorite cards – and a keystone of an entire archetype – Timely Aid. Mustering any ally from the top 5 cards of your deck for a single measly resource was powerful way back in 2012, but the pool of high cost and powerful allies has grown exponentially since those halcyon days.
The Hobbit saga expansions added two more vital pieces to the nascent Secrecy archetype: A Very Good Tale and Gandalf. Secrecy decks were finally viable, with two hyper-efficient ally mustering events and the perfect ally to target. In particular, Hobbit Gandalf’s amazing stats and built-in action advantage were essential for decks which rely so heavily on heroes with less than impressive stats. Still, early secrecy decks were overly reliant on Spirit Glorfindel – they were waiting for alternatives as low threat heroes.
It wasn’t until The Black Riders saga expansions introduced the Hobbit heroes from the Fellowship of the Ring that Secrecy really took off as an archetype. Going all the way back to that release, I have tinkered with some iteration of a Hobbit secrecy deck. Many of these iterations are among my more powerful decks. As a long time fan of the Hobbit secrecy archetype, I am overjoyed with the support provided by The Ered Mithrin cycle.
The Shirefolk and Drinking Song are incredibly powerful. In many decks, Drinking Song is better than Daeron’s Runes, which is quite an accomplishment. Removing Spirit Glorfindel from the hero lineup has a serious downside. With only Hobbit heroes, these decks can struggle to amass enough attack strength to kill enemies. While a Secrecy deck typically wants to keep enemies in the staging area and quest pass them, there are low engagement enemies and plenty of quests which punish this turtle strategy. If we are going to rely exclusively on our allies for combat strength, we will need every advantage we can find to empower them.
So the last missing piece to my favorite iteration of my Hobbit secrecy decks is the Wild Stallion. In this last deluxe and cycle, Dale introduced the idea of decks where the heroes have a supporting role, and allies do most of the heavy lifting. While the Wild Stallion is good in a Dale deck, you still need action advantage to benefit from it multiple times per round. It turns out that Wild Stallion is an even better fit with one of the long-time staples of the Secrecy archetype: Hobbit Gandalf.
As threat reduction goes, The Shirefolk is the most efficient event in the game – even better than another Dwarrowdelf staple in Elrond’s Counsel. Merry replaces Spirit Glorfindel, which provides repeatable threat reduction. In most decks, this level of threat reduction would be overkill, but we want to keep Gandalf in play as long as possible. Keeping the wizard around means that we can truly build around him. To that end, this decks includes Narya, Gandalf’s Staff and Shadowfax. It is risky to build so much of a deck around an ally, but the mustering and card draw should be sufficient to get setup within the first few rounds.
Drinking Song effectively gives a Hobbit deck three extra mulligans, a feature of which we will take full advantage. We’re looking for Timely Aid in the opening hand, and to a lesser extent Resourceful. After your mulligan, if your hand does not include any secrecy cards but does include Drinking Song, feel free to shuffle your entire hand back into your deck for another chance at early game secrecy cards. It cannot be overstated just how much Drinking Song improves the consistency of secrecy decks. Between Timely Aid and A Good Harvest, you should be able to have two expensive allies in play by about the third round.
At that point, A Very Good Tale will transform a strong start into an onslaught. Most decks will use A Very Good Tale during the planning phase, but Gandalf changes that strategy just a bit. Because he does not exhaust to quest, we can benefit from his 4 willpower committed to the quest, then we can use A Very Good Tale later in the round. Another option which Narya affords us is to immediately ready the two allies that we exhausted to pay for A Very Good Tale, with the added benefit of a stat boost. Narya’s boost only lasts until the end of the phase, so be sure to do this during the combat phase.
One of my favorite things to do with this deck is to exhaust Gandalf and Narya to ready Gandalf and another powerful ally, giving them both a boost. Between Arwen, Wild Stallion, and Narya, it is not uncommon to have Gandalf defending for 7. With his staff, he can even discard shadow cards from non-unique enemies. Speaking of uniqueness, it might seem odd to only include one of each ally (other than Gandalf and Wild Stallion). I have intentionally eschewed the traditional strategy of 3x every powerful ally.
While it cannot be argued that three copies of Firyal are incredibly powerful in a control deck, I find decks which play the same every time quickly become stale. One of the benefits of this deck is that it plays differently every time. It’s a funky tool box, where I can almost always pull out something useful, but it is not guaranteed to be the same one that I used last game. If you prefer power and consistency over surprise, feel free to swap out some of the lesser allies for extra copies of staples like Arwen, Faramir, and Firyal. Personally, I find that having only a single copy of unique allies gives the deck a more thematic, almost RPG-like feel. Everyone is encouraged to play the game in whatever way they enjoy.
It should come as no surprise to regular readers that I’ve made alternate art cards for this deck, seeing as how the archetype is near and dear to me. This time I’ve chosen to focus on another favorite Tolkien artist: Donato Giancola. I recently picked up the updated edition of Middle-earth: Journeys of Myth and Legend, and the paintings are even more beautiful in print than they are online. For fans of Tolkien-themed art, particularly those who appreciate a renaissance style of painting, I give this book two massive paws up.
In any case, what follows are alternate art cards for my latest Hobbit secrecy deck, A Weary Pilgrim. The art featured is mostly Donato’s, with only a few cards by other artists. You can find the full deck list on RingsDB. I hope that you enjoy the art and please contact the Hall if you are interested in printing these for yourself.