I had hoped to have more of the cycle released by this point, but the release schedule of the game has slowed to a glacial pace. Still, Wrath and Ruin is finally available in the US (apologies to our European friends who are still waiting) and many of the player cards from next two Adventure Packs have already been spoiled. If I wait until the rest of the cycle is spoiled – to say nothing of released – I won’t be writing until some time next summer. With the caveat that this covers less than half of the cycle, here are some of my favorite player cards so far.
For many long-time players of the game, a viable Gondor/Rohan allegiance deck is something akin to a grail quest. Even if we want to believe, we’re almost hesitant to hope for such a thing, for fear that our desires will be dashed. Lothiriel represents the fulfillment of this lengthy quest.
Gondor tribal decks have lacked a low threat high willpower hero for the life of the game. Either version of Eowyn often serves as a stand-in, but neither of those cards has any particular synergy with other Gondor cards. Lothiriel unlocks all sorts of strategies with Gondor allies, without a resource cost on the need for a resource match. The fact that these allies shuffle into your deck is not necessary bad as Gondor has existing effects which key off of allies leaving play.
I appreciate the symmetry Lothiriel has her father Prince Imrahil. The Tactics version has a similar effect to hers, only for the combat phase. When paired with her husband, Lothiriel becomes ever more versatile with the Rohan trait. This is where those wishing for a Gondor/Rohan allegiance archetype can rejoice. There are two version of Eomer to choose, and with just those two heroes you can unlock a whole plethora of utility allies.
Many Rohan allies have discard-based abilities, but the Gamling/Guthwine decks just never seemed to realize their full potential. I suspect Lothiriel and Eomer decks will realize the potential of these allies, as players will be much less reticent to discard Rohan allies for which they never had to pay. My hope is that these decks can fill a support niche, a sort of human analog to Silvan bounce decks.
Honorable Mention: Frodo Baggins
Unique Ally: Pippin
The optional engagement sub-theme of Hobbits decks is one of the nigh perfect thematic/mechanical virtuosities that make this game so deep. However, without more compelling Hobbit allies, there is only so many ways to mix and match the existing Hobbit heroes. This is why ally versions of Pippin and Merry are such welcome additions to the card pool.
While Merry’s ability is a bit more subtle and clearly prefers builds outside of standard Hobbit archetypes, Pippin’s passive ability and response both fit squarely within the sneaky Hobbitsie strategy. His synergy with hero Sam is frankly kind of ridiculous as they both give you readying and a stat boost from the same exact trigger.
Decks with two or more Tactics heroes have been intriguing to me for some time now. However, it’s critical in such decks to include willpower, particularly in the early game. A two-cost ally with 2 Willpower and 2 hit points is a perfect fit for any Tactics deck which needs a questing boost. Even if you aren’t taking advantage of his trait or abilities, Pippin’s stats are excellent for the cost.
Honorable Mention: Angbor the Fearless
Generic Ally: Soldier of Gondor
As is evidenced by my decks over the years, I’ve been truing to make a Gondor tribal deck work for years now. The archetype has the best resource acceleration in the game, but card draw and search have always been a weak spot for Leadership-based Gondor decks. A two cost generic ally which lets you search for more allies is exactly the king of support this tribe needs.
With Faramir, Boromir, Ingold, and Knight of the White Tower, among others, Gondor has a plethora of powerful allies. Gondor Swarm decks typically run at least 25 allies, so a worst case is that you will fetch another Soldier, Envoy, Errand Rider, or Veteran of Osgiliath. If you’re lucky you will find Faramir ally and your questing ramping will be completed in one fell swoop.
Given the card advantage provided by his response, I wouldn’t complain if the soldier had weak stats and only 1 hit point because he has already done his job just be entering play. Have balanced stats means that he can contribute to any kind of quest (normal, Battle, and Siege) and the hit points means that he will survive most direct damage treachery. On the other hand, you can use him for chump blocking and not have him die to a direct damage shadow effect. It is not exaggerating to say that this is the generic ally that Gondor tribal decks have been needing for quite some time.
Honorable Mention: Rohirrim Scout
Unique Attachment: Saruman’s Staff
These days, I almost exclusively multiplayer games, with the occasional solo game for testing. Thus Doomed decks have been a non-starter. Many modern quests – Wrath and Ruin is a great example – incrementally ratchet up your threat. This makes doomed cards a risky proposition as other players often won’t have a dedicated or repeatable solution for threat control.
Enter Saruman’s Staff. This card, paired with its eponymous owner, will usher in Saruman Doomed decks as an archetype which is viable for more than just solo play. The doomed events which affect each player are especially powerful, and are the perfect target for the threat mitigation offered by this staff.
With the power of Saruman’s Staff, Deep Knowledge is essentially free. Even Legacy of Numenor, for a reduced 2 threat, becomes a game changer in three and four player games. Even a less-used card like The Wizard’s Voice is intriguing when you realize that it amounts to a Feint for each player for a measly cost of 1 threat. Power of Orthanc is now the most effective form of condition control, doubly so when there are multiple players.
Caleb has been making a point of elevating existing cards into fully fledged archetypes. By the end of the this cycle, I expect Doomed decks to represent some of the more powerful decks in the game. For players who like aggressive style decks with high threat and high risk, Saruman and his staff is the keys that unlock the tower of Orthanc.
Honorable Mention: The One Ring
Generic Attachment: Put Off Pursuit
Trap decks are mostly orthogonal to location attachment (aka Haldan) decks. This makes sense, when you think about the cards which drive these respective archetypes. There are only so many attachments you can fit into a single deck. This is why a location attachment which provides some form of enemy control is so useful.
In many quests, there will be one or two enemies with high engagement cost and high attack. Often these enemies will also have archery, or high threat, or a passive effect which punishes you for leaving them in the staging area. The worst enemies will have multiple of these aspects.
If Put Off Pursuit attached directly to an enemy like a trap, it would be much less useful. Timing is everything. Being able to attach this to the active location after a troublesome enemy enters play makes it much more consistent that its trap counterparts. If all this wasn’t good enough, the “cost” of this card actually ensures a steady stream of locations to target with all of your location attachments.
Honorable Mention: Inner Strength
Event: Host of Galadhrim
Among my favorite decks to play in pick-up multiplayer is Whispers in the Trees. Silvan bounce is one of the most enjoyable archetypes to play. The number of decisions every round, the timing of when to return and play your allies, and the well-rounded support nature of the deck are all favorable. An event which lets you trigger all of your leaves play and enters play effects in the same phase is a dream come true.
Leading into this cycle, there were several archetypes I wanted to see receive further support: Gondor, Rohan, Beorning, and Eagles. If the first half of the cycle is any indication, these archetypes should all be bolstered. However, it’s a pleasant surprise when an already strong style receives such a seismic shift. It cannot be overstated just how powerful this card is going to be when it’s timed correctly in a Silvan deck.
If all you were doing is re-using the responses on Naith Guide, Greenwood Archer, Galadriel’s Handmaiden, Marksman of Lorien, etc., this card would still be a powerhouse. Don’t forget, after you’ve triggered all of those responses, every single one of your allies gets to benefit from Celeborn and Galadriel’s abilities as well. I cannot wait to add multiple copies of this card to my Silvan deck and try it out. Kudos to Caleb and the design team on the way they are evolving existing archetypes in interesting and effective ways.
Honorable Mention: Pillars of the Kings
Contract: Forth, The Three Hunters!
Weary Pilgrim is another among my favorite decks, and it highlights the power of the Fellowship contract. More than any other cards in the deluxe and cycle, contracts are going to have the biggest impact on the metagame. This should not be surprising as contracts have huge impacts on deck-building and their effects are extant for the entire game.
Each of the contracts is wildly different from the next, and some of them will not suite every play style. I have to be honest that the Burglar contract is not to my taste, and I don’t see building many decks around that theme. Something about the slot-machine like nature of attachments in that build just doe not speak to my style.
On the other hand, we have a contract which is right up my ally. I was building three hunters decks long before this contract was every spoiled, and it elevates those decks in power and consistency. The cost reduction in particular is critical in the early game, when a lack of allies to share the early game load is most hard felt. Once you have readying and other action advantage effects in play, your heroes will be more than capable of handling matters for themselves. The A-side of this contract is essential for surviving the early game.
Low-cost restricted attachments are all well and good, but it is the B-side of this contract which truly elevates hero-only decks. Giving additional willpower for each restricted attachments allows you to muster impressive willpower with only three heroes. This is where cards like Celebrian’s Stone and Silver Circlet become doubly powerful.
Thanks to the metagame-defining cards like Warden of Healing and Ioreth, allies provide the most efficient healing in the game. This makes the healing built into the B-side of Forth, the Three Hunters are the more vital. Thanks to consistent healing and restricted attachments like Citadel Plate, Raiment of War, and Ancestral Armor, it should even be possible to take undefended attacks with your more resilient heroes.
Honorable Mention: Fellowship