Shadows in the East is finally available to many, so it’s a good time to look back on the Wilds of Rhovanion deluxe box and the accompanying Ered Mithrin Cycle. My deckbuilding approach over the years has increasingly focused on interesting card interactions in preference over raw power. That’s not to say that I don’t build decks around powerful cards, but all else being equal, I prefer the card effects which allow for surprising or novel outcomes. With that in mind, here is a list of my favorite cards from the preceding deluxe expansion and cycle.
Favorite Hero: Grimbeorn the Old
This choice should come as no surprise to readers of the blog. Upon first reading The Hobbit, I’ve been fascinated by Beorn and his people, the Beornings. Early in the first cycle, Grimbeorn the Old was presented in the form of an objective ally, but Beornings faded back into the mists of obscurity until the Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill saga expansion.
Beorn represented a wonderful departure from typical hero design, with bear-sized stats and correspondingly large drawbacks. As the son, it feels appropriate that Grimbeorn’s design would be a bit less out of the norm, while still retaining some of the ferocity of his father. Many heroes have prowess at one aspect of the game (questing, attack, defense, and support), but it is rare for a hero to excel in multiple roles.
With a pony-load of attachments, any hero can be made proficient in multiple roles, but the more setup a hero requires, to slower decks built around that hero become. My favorite thing about Grimbeorn is that it only takes a single attachment to turn him into an excellent combat participant. Because his ability includes defense and an immediate counter-attack, attachments which boost both attack and defense are of greater value to the son of Beorn. Two of my favorites are Raiment of War and Captain of Gondor.
Amid the excitement over his response ability, it is easy to take Grimbeorn’s sentinel keyword for granted. As someone who predominately plays multiplayer games these days, his sentinel and base of 3 defense are both critical to Grimbeorn’s success in his designed role of cross-table defender. All of the strategy around choosing which enemy to defend – and hopefully dispatch – is what makes Grimbeorn so much fun to play. I especially enjoy using him against enemies which attach during the quest phase, or immediately after engaging, as killing these enemies on the counter-attack avoids subsequent attacks later in the round.
Featured Deck: Carrock and Eyrie
Honorable Mentions: Dain Ironfoot (Spirit) and Radagast.
Favorite Unique Ally: Gaffer Gamgee
Among the bounty of gifts delivered by the Black Riders saga expansion, my personal favorite is that it made all-Hobbit decks into a viable archetype. The Dwarrowdelf cycle introduced the Secrecy keyword, but outside of the grossly overpowered Glorfindel, Asfaloth, Light of Valinor trifecta, these decks saw little play. The keyword always intrigued me but it’s initial form was odd, both from a narrative and mechanical standpoint. There are many words one could use to describe a resplendent lord of Eldar, astride his noble steed, striking fear into the Nazgûl. Secrecy, however, does not feel like an appropriate description.
On the other hand, three young Hobbits sneaking out of the Shire and quietly avoiding the Black Riders does a much better job of capturing the idea of secrecy. From the outset, Hobbit decks have excelled at questing, and thanks to Tactics Merry and Dagger of Westernesse, largely held their own when attacking. Defense, on the other hand, is chronic weakness in many Hobbit decks.
Sam with a Bill the Pony and a Hobbit Cloak is a decent option, for some enemies, but he is a risky choice as your dedicated defender in many scenarios. Alternatively, you can rely on using Resourceful and Timely Aid to get a defensive ally into play. This is all well and good, in theory, but a defensive strategy which relies on allies can be woefully inconsistent. Traditionally, the most common solution for Hobbit decks is to avoid engaging the enemy in the first place, but this approach comes with its own risks.
Ideally, the low starting threat and staging area control effects like Lore Pippin allow a Hobbit deck to leave larger and more troublesome enemies in the staging area. Unfortunately this is not always possible. Many quests punish players for leaving enemies in the staging area. Most Hobbit heroes have only two hit points, with the heartier among them sporting 3 hit points. This makes archery a particularly dangerous threat to Hobbit decks, doubly so when the enemies with archery have high attack values.
This is where Sam Gamgee’s father fills a perfect role in Hobbit Secrecy decks. There are times when your deck needs to engage a powerful enemy, get it out of the staging area, and hopefully defeat it. However, you don’t necessarily want to face the attack from one of these powerful enemies. Gaffer to the rescue! For the low cost of 2 resources, you can avoid the attack and come away from the encounter unscathed. With a resourceful attached to your Lore Hobbit hero you can even play the Gaffer again next round. Between Rosie Cotton and Gaffer Gamgee, it feels appropriate that the two most powerful recent additions to the archetype are both related to Samwise the Brave.
Featured Deck: Gaffer Ever After
Honorable Mention: Meneldor
Favorite Generic Ally: Wild Stallion
As an inveterate tinkerer, I’m consistently drawn to cards with versatility, especially when they enhance the best cards in your deck. Will Stallion is a perfect example of this kind of versatility. Aside from Arod and Shadowfax, the game hasn’t had Mount attachments for allies before. Even those two are limited in that they can only be attached to ally versions of Legolas and Gandalf, respectively. A mount which boosts all stats and can be attached to (most) any ally is a major coup for ally-heavy decks.
You don’t even have to outside of the Spirit sphere for prime choices to ride the Wild Stallion. Jubayr is already one of my favorite allies, but give him a Wild Stallion and some form of readying (Narya, for example) and he can swing the tide of battle all by himself. If you’re interested in being a bit more tricksy, pair Wild Stallion with ally Háma and Bard Son of Bran. The 3 defense and 3 hit points, Háma should be able to weather attacks from most enemies. Then, on the critical turn when a horde of orcs come rushing, trigger Háma’s ability and defend twice for 6. At the end of the phase, when Háma leaves play, you can return the Stallion to your hand thanks to Bard’s response.
Dedicated defenders are not the only good options as riders of the Stallion, otherwise it would not be very versatile. Any ally with readying, or some other form of action advantage, can be an excellent target for the Stallion. In the featured deck, I attach it to Hobbit Gandalf, who does not exhaust to quest. Because Gandalf also wields Narya and Shadowfax in that deck, he is takes maximal advantage of Wild Stallion’s stat boosts. He can quest for for 5, then defend of attack for 6, your use Narya. With Shadowfax and the Ring, Gandalf can handle your enemies all by himself.
Another favorite target is Rider of Rohan. Once you have a side quest in the victory display, the Rider does not exhaust to quest. Their two willpower and two attack are excellent stats for 3 cost, but boosting both of those to three with the stallion makes them a force to reckoned with. After years of allies consistently staying in the background, it’s nice to see archetypes like Dale and card effects like Wild Stallion which give allies their day in the sun.
Featured Deck: A Weary Pilgrim
Honorable Mention: Giant Bear
Favorite Attachment: Ancestral Armor
There are obviously more powerful attachments in this deluxe and cycle, with King of Dale at the forefront. The most compelling reason which I chose not to talk about King of Dale is that it is so powerful, it doesn’t leave much room for debate. The recipe goes something like this: play King of Dale, play Dale allies with some Dale heroes, play attachments, win.
While Ancestral Armor is less powerful than these high-profile unique attachments, it fills an important niche. Most decks need a dedicated defender. I say “most” because some decks can do manage to defend without a designated defender. Some use defense by committee, other employ chump blocking, while others use combat effects like Gaffer Gamgee, Feint and Feigned Voices. Any of these alternate strategies can work for some quests, but each has their own downsides.
Many unique “boss” enemies are immune to player card effects, making combat events and allies like Gaffer and Grimbold useless against these foes. Likewise, chump blocking is often punished – whether through passive effects on cards in play or via shadow effects. Lastly, defense by committee can be inconsistent, and an ill-times treachery which causes large enemies to engage, or attack from the staging area, can lead to a loss by attrition.
For these reasons, having a dedicated defender is often the most consistently effective strategy. One of the many improvements to the card pool that the Ered Mithrin cycle offered is the ability to use allies to fulfill roles which previously had been filled almost exclusively by heroes. To be clear, heroes are still an excellent choice for roles like dedicated defender, but they are no longer the only choice. Ancestral Armor can attach to heroes and allies, as long as they meet the trait or sphere requirements.
In the featured deck, Denethor is the primary choice for Ancestral Armor. Along with Armored Destrier, the armor enables the Steward of Gondor to defend most attacks with ease. However, that deck has solid backup choices for this attachment, especially in heavy combat quests where having multiple strong defenders is essential. For a mono-Leadership which includes Steward of Gondor, the 4 resources are an reasonable cost.
Knight of the White Tower, for example, is another choice to wear Ancestral Armor. With 3 defense and 3 hit points, he has solid base stats. After donning the armor, 5 defense and 5 hit points puts him into the category of elite defenders. These are just two examples of quality targets for this powerful attachment.
As armor goes, the natural comparison for Ancestral Armor is Citadel Plate. They are both 4 cost restricted attachments, and they both boost 4 stats in total. The differences between these attachments help to highlight why I am such a fan of Ancestral Armor. First of all, Citadel Plate can only be attached to heroes, eliminating a host of powerful allies as options. The other critical difference is the sphere to which they belong. With the plethora of resource acceleration tools afforded to Leadership, paying 4 resources for a powerful suit of armor is not a problem. On the other hand, Citadel Plate belongs to the sphere with the least resource acceleration available, making it much more difficult to play without resorting to trickery. Speaking of using trickery to get expensive attachments into play, see the next entry in my favorites.
Featured Deck: Seven Stars and Seven Stones
Honorable Mention: King of Dale
Favorite Guarded Attachment: Ring of Thrór
It is often the case with games that live long enough to have multiple expansions, that the designers do their best work as the game expands. The design process is a conversation with the players: the designers poses questions in the form of new cards and the players answer by building surprising new decks using those cards, or in some cases a card misses and remains dormant in the card pool until future cards unlock its potential.
Many of my favorite tribal decks are not the first version of the archetype for that particular tribe. Like everyone else who picked their jaw up off the floor after opening The Return to Mirkwood Adventure Pack, I recognized the game-altering power of Leadership Dain Ironfoot. Unfortunately, Dain was so powerful that he warped the metagame for multiple cycles after his arrival.
The recent emergence of the Dwarven Digging archetype is a welcome reprieve from the ever-present Dwarven Swarm archetype which has consistently dominated the game since the release of Khazad-dûm. Swarm decks always involved an engine built around ally mustering and the superior stat boosts provided by Leadership Dain. These decks were powerful, but the level of decision-making they afforded was anemic at best.
In contrast, the mining archetype focuses on milling cards off the top of your deck and benefiting from effects like Hidden Cache and Ered Luin Miner. While these decks might lack the sheer power of the Dwarven Swarm decks, they involve more interesting decisions and interactions. For an inveterate tinker like me, decks which play with combinatorics between multiple congruent effects are always going to hold a stronger appeal. At the heart of this new archetype is a new, and I would dare to argue superior (from a design standpoint, not a power standpoint) version of Dain Ironfoot.
A hero with a built-in deck mining ability helps make the archetype significantly more consistent. The fact that his ability transforms him into one of the best dedicated defenders in the game is a nice bonus, too. Without access to Leadership Dain, mining decks needs to offset the global stat boost with some other strategy. Rather than apply a swarming strategy, most mining decks instead use attachments to empower their characters. This is where Ring of Thrór enters the conversation.
When it is played, a guarded attachment is the opposite of card advantage. You are adding an extra encounter card to play for the promise of future power, so the guarded card you are playing needs to be worth this steep cost. Ring of Thrór in a Dwarven mining deck is exactly the kind of lynch-pin card that makes guarded attachments so intriguing. It is with expensive attachments like Ancestral Armor (see above) that the power of this card is fully realized.
You can obviously use deck scrying effects like hero Gandalf and Imladris Stargazer to ensure that an attachment is on the top of your deck. However, even without these effects the Ring of Thrór is still incredibly powerful. In order to excel, a mining deck wants to be mining as much as possible. If the Ring hits on an attachment that’s a bonus, but even when it misses there is still a good chance of striking the rich ore of Hidden Cache or an Ered Luin Miner. Getting one of more of these on top of the action advantage for your designated defender is when the Dwarven mining archetype shows its true potential.
Featured Deck: The Greatest Adventure
Honorable Mention: The Arkenstone
Favorite Event: Reforged
Sometimes a design doesn’t seem obvious until after it is released, and then you are left wondering “how did this not exist before?”. This was precisely my reaction to seeing the spoiler for Reforged. After all, we’ve had Stand and Fight since the Core Set, so an equivalent effect for attachments makes all kinds of sense.
That said, I actually think Reforged will be more powerful than Stand and Fight, and many of the decks already designed around it can attest to this potential. The reasons for this card to emerge as a staple are manifold, but foremost among them is the way that attachments have stayed more true to their sphere’s theme than allies.
Case in point, every sphere now has multiple options for questing, combat, and (to some extent) support. Dale makes this point into a rather ridiculous understatement, but even mono-Sphere decks have ways to fill roles which were previously only available by splashing other spheres. Tactics now has a plethora of 2 willpower allies. Thanks to Glorfindel, Spirit now has a 3 attack ally, to go along with the host of other quality options. Even when it comes to support, cards like Honour Guard and Lindir provide equivalent effects to those which were traditionally the domain of other spheres.
This is all well and good for allies, but attachments have hewed much closer to the themes established for each sphere in the Core Set. Look at Steward of Gondor, even all these years later, no other sphere even remotely has resource acceleration options to hold a candle to Steward. It is not a coincidence that so many of decks are RingsDB which feature Reforged also feature Steward of Gondor. This is not to say that Steward is the only logical target for Reforged, it is probably the most obvious.
Each sphere has attachments which embody the strengths of that sphere, and thus are prime choices to be Reforged. Tactics brings weapons and armor like Rivendell Blade, Gondorian Shield, and one of my favorites – Raiment of War. Beyond resource acceleration, Leadership also has stat bolstering cards like Celebrían’s Stone and Visionary Leadership. Lore brings powerful location control like Asfaloth, as well as healing effects like Self Preservation and Lembas. Undoubtedly, someone will discover a less obvious choice which highlights the latent potential of this card. The fact that we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of potential uses for cards like Reforged is a huge part of the fun of this game.
Featured Deck: Discard That Card
Honorable Mention: Beorn’s Rage
With this list, I’ve shared a few of my favorite cards from the last deluxe and cycle. I’m curious to hear from readers. What are your favorites? Do you agree with any of my choice, vehemently disagree? Leave your feedback in the comments below, also check out the new poll located in the panel to the right. Happy travels in Middle-earth, and keep digging for that hidden treasure!