Sands of Harad was not exactly my favorite deluxe expansion, when it was first released. The versions of Gimli and Legolas had obvious synergy, but their effects seemed a bit underwhelming. Spirit Legolas, in particular, was in an uphill battle to be more compelling than his Core Set Tactics version. At the risk of being a tad reductive, deluxe expansions fall into two main categories: iconoclastic, and insinuating.
Heirs of Númenor and Voice of Isengard are examples of iconoclastic expansions. The introduced the first exemplary defender in the game. Moreover, the quests completely shattered the way player decks interacted with the game. The turtle strategy, so effective in the first two cycles, essentially went into hibernation with the release of Heirs. Ranger Spikes ushered Traps decks into being, and represented a radical departure from traditional combat strategies. Blood of Númenor, along with the subsequent Gondorian Fire, remain such powerful combat solutions that they seem bound for some inevitable errata.
Likewise, Voice of Isengard’s affect on the metagame was felt almost immediately. The Doom keyword, particularly the events Deep Knowledge and Legacy of Númenor, brought about a seismic shift in early-game development strategies. Rohan Warhorse immediately joined the ranks of combat staples and remains one the best sources of action advantage for Tactics decks. In retrospect, the Warhorse was the crest of a wave of Mount attachments, which later even became it’s own archetype. While less impressive, the Westfold Horse-breeder is a staple support piece in Mount-heavy decks.
In contrast to these impactful releases, expansions like Sands of Harad have a less immediate and more subtle influence on the metagame. I’ve always been a fan of cantrips, so the value of Unlikely Friendship was immediately apparent. Still, the card lacks raw power, and its presence in a deluxe expansion leaves a question hanging in the air: are these multi-trait effects going to be worth it?. With the release of power-houses like Proud Hunters, Coney in a Trap, and Heirs of Eärendil, the question would ultimately be answered with an emphatic yes. Still, the two somewhat bland heroes, along with a clever but as yet unproven trait-based strategy, made for a less than stellar debut, at least in my estimation.
Fortunately, the quests in the Sand of Harad and the Haradrim APs were and remain some of the best in the game. So, if the player cards were in some cases less exciting it did little to detract from overall impression of many (myself included) for that deluxe expansion and cycle. A game with this level of complexity will inevitably have cards and archetypes which are not immediately power, or even where there are hints of power but it is not yet fully realized. I think back to Ian and myself, opening our packs of Blood of Gondor back at Gen Con 2013. Neither of us recognized the power of Caldara, and we were left puzzled to say the least. It wasn’t until later cards unlocked her potential that it became clear just how robust her archetype truly was.
One of my favorite things about Caleb’s design style is that he is constantly searching for ways to re-contextualize existing cards within the metagame. A perfect example of this are two attachments from the Sands of Harad which both serve critical roles in the deck featured here. Neither Mirkwood Long-knife nor Dwarven Shield seemed very impressive on arrival. While they were each obviously designed for Legolas and Gimli respectively, they seemed a bit over-priced at 2 resources, and a bit underwhelming when compared to existing options.
Glóin decks were already well established by this point, making the shield seem like a trifling after-thought compared to the original Core Set resource powerhouse. Only available to Silvan, the Long-knife had a narrow niche of heroes on which it even made sense as an attachment. At 2 cost in a sphere lacking much resource acceleration, it was going to be hard-pressed to compare favorably to attachments like Rivendell Blade. Still, these items had positive aspects as well, particularly that they belonged to spheres which did not have many armor or weapon options available.
It wasn’t until the latest spoilers for The City of Ulfast that the potential of these two attachments was readily apparent. Forth, The Three Hunters! is a contract that is near and dear to my heart. The heroic efforts of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli to rescue Merry and Pippin is one of my favorite parts of The Two Towers. Because of the requirements for action advantage and raw stats, it has largely been impractical to run decks without allies. This is a challenge for thematic deck-builders, as representing passages like The Three Hunters becomes all but impossible. Something feels a bit off about trying to represent the Three Hunters’ valiant chase of the Uruks across Rohan, when your heroes are accompanied by a veritable army of supporting cast.
Finally, it is possible – even encouraged – to build a deck without any allies. This contract is exciting, and I cannot wait to see what possibilities the community uncover – the ground of ally-free decks is fertile and largely uncharted. In the mean time, I took this as an opportunity to resurrect my old Three Hunters Aggro deck. I removed what few allies that deck included, and added a laser focus on getting restricted attachments on each of the heroes as quickly as possible. The cost reduction built into the A-side of the contract is critical here.
While Mirkwood Long-knife and Dwarven Shield both feel a bit underwhelming at 2 cost, the immediately become compelling when you can play them for half cost. The decision making around which attachments to play on which heroes and when is the central question which makes this deck so much fun to play. Like is predecessor, the reliance on Doomed events to ramp our setup makes it a poor fit for multiplayer games. Again, this fits with the theme of the Three Hunters, who could rely on little to no external aid in their efforts to find and rescue their friends.
The full deck list is available on RingsDB, along with a brief discussion of strategy. Like all aggro-style decks, the strategy at play here is risky and exhilarating. With bad luck, it is possible to get stuck without critical attachments on one of our heroes, and without the willpower and healing provided by the B-side of our contract, this deck can easily falter. However, the absurd levels of card draw, and fetch via effects like Open the Armory, are included precisely to mitigate against these sorts of circumstances.
Enjoy the alternate art I’ve chosen for this deck, and the ridiculously aggressive play-style that it demands. I will be attending Con of the Rings in Minnesota in a few short weeks, so and I look forward to seeing some of you fine people while I’m there. In the mean time, have many wondrous adventures in Middle-earth!