We have come through all spheres of influence – Leadership, Tactic, Spirit and Lore. But in the Core set exists another group of player cards, which technically belongs to no sphere, but practically you are able to use it in every deck you create. Do you ask, what am I talking about, when all spheres have been already introduced? Meet the Neutral cards, “which belong to no sphere of influence, require no resource match to play. This means that they can be paid for with resources from any hero’s pool. Also, when paying for a neutral card, a player may combine resources from heroes with different resource icons.” (LOTR LCG, Rules of Play). And the only member of Neutral card group is no one else than mighty Gandalf.
“YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” he said and comes into a game.
“Run (or fly? :)) you fools!” he said and leaves a game.
You surely know who comes next and who can be the only author of these quotes (which perfectly fits into a context of card effect). Yes, Gandalf the Grey, one of the Istari has own card in LOTR LCG and like in movies and books, he is a powerful fellow so you can expect the strong character with epic stats and abilities.
First of all, Gandalf doesn’t belong to any sphere of influence – he is the neutral ally (actually with Gandalf the idea of a Neutral group of cards was introduced). His 5 cost may terrify beginners, but when you realize that you can pay 5 resources from heroes belonging to any sphere of influence, then playing Gandalf can be a matter of 2 rounds. And 5 cost really corresponds with his overwhelming stats: 4 Willpower, 4 Attack, 4 Defend and 4 Hit Points means that each hero can only envy his strength and versatility. If you need significantly push the questing effort, defend some horrible enemy or strike back and hit some enemy hard, Gandalf will take care of it. However, in order to prevent destroying the balance of a game (because Gandalf has abilities to do it) Gandalf will help you only in one single round: at the end of the round, you must discard him. That’s fair and I have no problem with it.
Gandalf has also great magic power and with his arrival, you can choose from 1 ability: you draw 3 cards, deal 4 damage to the single enemy in play or reduce your threat by 5. As if the epic stats were not enough, he has abilities with universal using. He possesses the strength of the Lore sphere, when he allows you to draw 3 additional cards and extend your options; he has also something from Tactic sphere, when he is able to cause direct damage to hated enemy; and finally he can play like he would belong to the Spirit sphere, when he reduces your threat value, what is always worth. Honestly, the first option I use only exceptionally – I rather deal 4 damage to strong enemies, because it is a great amount of enemy’s Hit Points. Reducing threat comes in handy in a variety of situation and it would be needless to describe that every situation.
What you need to know is that Gandalf is a unique character, so no more than one copy of Gandalf can occur in a play. Next thing I must share with you is one of the oldest and most used combo in Core set: Gandalf + Sneak Attack. The reason, why you include Sneak Attack into your deck, is just the presence of Gandalf, who makes all these amazing things. Undoubtedly, paying 1 resource for Sneak Attack to call 5-cost Gandalf is enormously useful, no matter if you are in the early, mid or late game. Due to this combo, Gandalf returns back to your hands at the end of the phase and you can play Gandalf by classic paying 5 resources again. Note that when you put Gandalf into a play due to the effect of Sneak Attack, it has own rules. For example, it is forbidden to send Gandalf subsequently to a quest, if staging has already started (and has ended, because between revealing encounter cards there isn’t any action window).
However, when Gandalf leaves the play, you may catch your opportunity to make some other possible (and less known) combos: Gandalf + Valiant Sacrifice, or Gandalf + Ever Vigilant. Do you want to gain a resource from Gandalf’s leaving due to the effect of Horn of Gondor? If Gandalf isn’t destroyed, then you are not allowed to generate resource from his leaving.
Gandalf works even with other cards in variable combos, but it doesn’t affect the usage of this ally. His positive contribution predestines him to be the auto-included card. In every deck, no matter of kind of sphere I hold 3 places for Gandalf every time. Some of the players are maybe tired of his power, they want a bigger challenge and try to play without him. However, every time he appears in the game, he rules. There isn’t too much to say about Gandalf – he is the “Chuck Norris” in LOTR LCG universe.:)