From all the traits in Middle Earth, few can stand against the might and knowledge of the order of the five wizards, the Istari. These Maiar have had their training in Valinor and were sent to Middle Earth to aid Men and Elves in their wars against Sauron. In the game, we have seen 3 of these might wizards already, and perhaps this will be all, as the two Blue Wizards are shielded behind copyright protection. The Istari are all about high-cost allies and Heroes and tend to only support your deck for a turn.
Who are the Istari?
There are five of these Wizards, and they all have accompanied colours. Gandalf the Grey/White is probably the most obvious inclusion in this Order. Saruman the White/of Many Colours is also in the game, both to support and assail our heroes. Radagast the Brown was introduced in the early life of the game and is mostly known for his support to Creature cards. Pallando and Alatar the Blue Wizards are unfortunately not in the game yet. Perhaps with the recent shift in the organisation with the Tolkien Estate, they will be included in the game in the future. The Harad cycle would have been a good point in the story arc to include them, as will the following cycle. But that is just wishful thinking.
The Istari are spread out among a few packs, but most of them can be obtained in the early life of the game. They are also in the Saga expansions, though your Saruman ally won’t be a lore-friendly inclusion during those.
- Core Set
- A Journey to Rhosgobel
- The Long Dark
- The Voice of Isengard
- The Grey Havens
- Over Hill and Under Hill
- The Road Darkens
- Treason of Saruman
The Istari allies, heroes and attachments are all in the Neutral “Sphere” (it’s not a sphere!). This makes them very flexible to include in any deck. The only non-Neutral Istari card, Word of Command, can be found in Lore. This makes thematic sense, as the Istari were not meant to be fighters, but aid the free peoples with their knowledge.
The Istari have very good stats, especially for their cost. Core Set Gandalf is the perfect toolbox ally in many decks because of this. He can aid in questing, defend a big enemy or add his attack to the group to dispose of some tough opponent. Radagast is less of a powerhouse, but he supports Creatures by healing them. He also collects resources, which can be used to pay for other cards. In the early life of the game, his 2 willpower was vital to Tactics Eagle decks. Saruman boasts the highest attack stat of all allies in the game (not counting buffs: Beorn, Erebor Battlemaster). Where Gandalf is a very splashable ally, Saruman is more offensive based.
To counter these insane stats on the allies, the allies are very expensive, costing 5 resources or 3 resources and Doomed 3. Most of the allies will also leave play at the end of the round in which they entered play, so you only have a limited use out of these. The only 2 allies that do not have to leave play are OHaUH Gandalf but you will have to raise your threat by 2 after each round, and Radagast. Radagast may be left in play at the end of the round, but his stats are less than Gandalf or Saruman. Radagast will retroactively pay for himself, so in 5 turns you will have the same resources, provided you pay for Creature allies.
All allies of the Istari are unique, this makes playing Core Set Gandalf a bit difficult, as he is quite popular and may be on the table in the same form. His other two forms (hero and OHaUH) will also block him from entering play.
Synergy with other traits
Since the Istari are mostly Neutral, they fit any sort of deck. Radagast will obviously blend better in a deck that can pump out Creature allies (Eagles, Riddermarks Finest). Saruman’s Doomed can trigger some of the Isengard trait, which is pretty thematic. Besides those traits, the Istari are widely used in Dwarf decks, as their discard ability works well together with Hero Gandalf.
Core Set Gandalf is out of the box the best ally to include in any deck. He has been with us since the very beginning and is still used in any deck that is otherwise missing something. He brings direct damage, card draw, and threat reduction to any deck that otherwise has no access to those effects. His beefy stats make him a multipurpose ally and a perfect target for Ever Vigilant. His high cost is well worth the utility you can get from him. It is also pretty balanced, as you could also get 3 cards and 4 willpower for 5 cost using Wealth of Lorien and Escort from Edoras, comparing it to some other cards from the early days of the game.
Hero Gandalf is a bit controversial but works wonders in a solo deck. This controversy stems from the fact that you will be blocking other players from playing his ally versions. When fully equipped, Gandalf can be used for plethra of abilities, ranging from Ranged/Sentinel attacks and defences with Shadowfax to readying and boosting allies across the board with Narya. His high threat cost is trying to counter his crazy abilities, which may make him hard to pair with other heroes.
“Bad” Istari cards
Radagast has his uses in an Eagle deck, but beyond that, he is a pretty bad ally for his cost. Treebeard has about the same abilities, but he can use his resources to boost himself. Radagast is not a Creature, so he isn’t the ideal target for Archery damage that he could heal off using his own resources.
Saruman is not bad, but he is expensive to play as he will raise the threat of everyone by 3. His ability can be very useful in quests like Escape from Umbar, and his high attack is enough to kill another enemy outright. But for some reason, he doesn’t find his way into as many decks unlike both ally versions of Gandalf. Perhaps the Isengard trait may be expanded upon in the future so that Saruman becomes a more viable option in some decks against enemy-heavy scenario’s.
Word of Command is the one Istari card that doesn’t fit in the Neutral “sphere”. This makes the card less likely to be included in decks, as not every deck runs Lore. This card actually has got an use with the allies that leave play at the end of the round, as they will ready just before they are discarded during the refresh phase. This will allow players to search their decks for that one card that they desperately need. However, players should have Word of Command in their decks while also having an Istari in play. This may prove difficult unless Radagast is in play to trigger this effect on. This card has been replaced by the side-quest Gather Information. This card will allow the effect to extend to all players once the side-quest has been completed. Combine this with the recent side-quest archetype that has been evolving, and Word of Command is quickly outmatched.
There are a couple of decks that try to play with the Istari as good as they can. Since the trait is not enough to base an entire deck around, different synergies are used alongside it.