It is not often that I discuss two traits in the same article, but I am willing to make an exception here in order to prevent a very short article on the Esgaroth trait. The Dale trait has been one of the most developed traits during this past cycle, so I have been waiting to do an article on it. With that said, if new cards are revealed during the final pack of the cycle that influence the traits significantly, I will make adjustments accordingly. But with that out of the way, let’s dive into what we already know about the Dale synergy and how the developers try to cover up the Esgaroth trait.
Who are the Men of Dale and Esgaroth?
These people are descendants of the kingdom of Rhovanion before it got sacked early in the Third Age. They settled in the region near Erebor and the eastern side of Mirkwood. During the events of The Hobbit, Dale was deserted after the attack of Smaug on Erebor, so the majority of the refugees went to Lake-Town (Esgaroth) to the south. During the time of the War of the Ring, the Kingdom of Dale was rebuild and stretched far East and South into Rhovanion and Rhun, where war was fought with the Easterlings, resulting in the Siege of Erebor during the final days of Sauron.
While the archetype has only recently been developed, Dale cards are older than you might think. The first cycle of the game even had a Dale hero. However, the trait got pushed aside for a while until the narrative took us to the north of Rhovanion during the Wilds of Rhovanion expansion and the Ered Mithrin cycle. Dale suffered in not having a lot of cards due to the lack of Dalesmen during the story of The Lord of the Rings. So the Saga expansions don’t feature any tools for the decks directly. Here is a list of what packs contain Dale cards, get the packs in bold first to get the best foundation for your Dale deck.
- The Hills of Emyn Muil
- The Redhorn Gate
- The Nin-in-Eilph
- Temple of the Deceived
- The Thing in the Depths
- The Dungeons of Cirith Gurat
- The Wilds of Rhovanion
- The Withered Heath
- Roam Across Rhovanion
- The Ghost of Framsburg
- The Land of Sorrow
- On the Doorstep
The Dale synergy tends to span all four spheres, with allies and attachments spread across them. However, you do not need a quad-sphere deck for Dale to be viable. The majority of the cards you need can be found in the Leadership and Spirit spheres, making for a solid dual-sphere deck. The off-sphere allies can be brought into play through the King of Dale title attachment, and off-sphere attachments can be played via Bard son of Brand. You can go tri-sphere to be less reliant on those cards, but it is not required. If you want to add some Esgaroth flavour to your Dale deck, then you can add Tactics to the mix to have access to Bard the Bowman and his weapons.
The Tactics, Spirit, and Leadership sphere are pushed towards their standard purpose in a deck even more with Dale. Leadership characters get better at defending, Tactics characters get better at attacking, and Spirit characters get better at questing with the archetype. Lore is being used as a means to move the attachments around, which can be really useful in case you don’t get the ideal ally-attachment match early, but still want to equip the attachment. Lore allows for more shenanigans, which is what it has been used for since the early days of the game.
The men of Dale are mostly merchants at the time of this game. As such, they focus on trading items and attachments between characters and players and benefit off of that. The biggest synergy of Dale is to have attachments on both heroes and allies, making every character better equipped against the scenario.
Attachments were originally made mostly for heroes only, but with the recent card pool, attachments like the Hauberk of Mail and the Squire’s Helm are better suited for allies. Dale allies even get buffs when equipped with attachments on top of the benefit from that attachment itself. A Guardian of Esgaroth, for instance, gets a +1 to all his stats on top of the benefit from that attachment. Equip him with multiple attachments for even better stats at a relatively low cost. Other allies like the North Realm Lookout get a bonus when equipped with specific attachments, like Items, Weapons, and Armour. Getting these attachments out quickly is key with Dale, so the heroes support this synergy with Brand son of Bain (Leadership) giving willpower bonuses to well-equipped Dale characters and drawing a lot of cards in the early game when playing attachments on “naked” Dale characters. Meanwhile, Bard son of Brand provides a resource match for all the Item attachments in the game and makes sure that attachments are returned to hand if an ally dies. These heroes make for a really powerful Dale synergy, right out of the Deluxe box that features them.
Players are also rewarded for having attachments on any characters. This doesn’t necessarily have to include Dale characters. Cards like Traffic from Dale and Dale Messenger will target all characters with player card attachments, so Dale doesn’t focus on just its own archetype. This makes those cards a little more useful outside of a Dale deck, though Traffic from Dale still requires a Dale hero to be in play to trigger the event.
The Esgaroth trait was a nice nod by the developers during the production of the On the Doorstep Saga box. Obviously, Bard the Bowman didn’t live in Dale at the time, but in Lake-town, so he didn’t receive the Dale trait. Years later, with the Dale trait developed, the developers gave a little nod to him with the King of Dale attachment being also valid to attach to Bard the Bowman. Since he is the only Esgaroth character in the game, I do not expect that trait to be developed further. Modern characters with Lake-town or Esgaroth in the name don’t get the trait, so it will likely remain exclusive to Bard.
Synergy with other traits
Dale got developed pretty recently and is fleshing out its own synergy at the moment. As a result, there are not many cards yet that link the trait to any other traits, though some traits do work better with Dale than others. The first and most obvious one is the Esgaroth trait, but I already kind of covered that one, so let’s look at other traits.
Any trait that can get allies out quickly will be a good match with Dale, so that they can supply those allies with attachments. Gondor comes to mind when thinking about this, especially with some of the armour attachments for allies that have been released recently.
Another trait that has improved with Dale is the Scout trait. Not only does Lanwyn glue those two traits together, but there are several solid cards in the Dale trait that also make for good scouts. Combine this with the free Spirit attachments, and you get yourself a very solid questing deck.
Due to their relations with the kingdom of Erebor, Dale characters are also eligible targets for Armor of Erebor. This adds a little bit to the cooperation between Dwarves and Dalesmen, but the armour is the only link we get with this unfortunately. Dwarves do often have enough attachments on their heroes and their allies (Dwarf Pipe, Dwarrowdelf Axe, etc) so a Dwarf deck could benefit from having Dale cards thrown in the deck if you are working with a small cardpool.
While we are still getting new cards for the Dale trait with the final packs of the cycle, I can already point you towards some staples of the archetype that you should definitely add to your Dale deck. The first two I already mentioned are the two heroes from the Wilds of Rhovanion Deluxe box. Brand son of Bain (Leadership), and Bard son of Brand will make it very easy to pump out attachments of any sphere and will provide you with card draw, willpower boosts, and a fail-safe option should characters die. The combination of these two heroes is the main engine of the Dale trait at the moment, and your Dale synergy suffers if you don’t have them both in play. That is not to say that either one is critical to your survival, but if you have the option to add them to your deck, I would advise you to do so. The third hero in your deck is up to you, though there are some solid options to suit your needs. Beravor adds card draw and access to Lore characters without the need for an attachment. Leadership Faramir gives you action advantage and allows you to pay for more expensive Leadership cards earlier. Lanwyn also gives you action advantage and smoothes resources for Spirit, while also being eligible for Dale-traited attachments. Try any lineup you want to discover what suits you best.
The other crucial card for making the Dale deck start off strong is King of Dale. This title attachment can go on both Dale and Esgaroth heroes and will set you back 2 Spirit resources. In return, you get to reduce the cost to play your first Dale ally each round by the number of attachments on the attached hero. With King of Dale counting as an attachment as well, you only need to play 2 allies in order to get a return on its investment. But add some free attachments like Spare Hood and Cloak or Dunedain Remedy to that hero, and you can start getting free allies each turn. Another nice addition is that the ally can belong to any sphere of influence, as a resource match is not required. This saves you from having to explore The Storm Comes and can get you off-sphere allies if you need their abilities or stats. With plenty of allies costing 3-5 resources, you will be able to get them into play for less, saving resources to spend on attachments for them. Finding this title attachment can be really important, but be ready to play it quickly. This attachment is what motivated some players to add a second Spirit hero to their deck in order to be able to afford the card right out of the gate.
“Bad” Dale and Esgaroth cards
Even with the new development of the Dale trait, some older cards got left behind. One, in particular, is still in my binder, though I did consider bringing him out again when the trait developed. But he didn’t fit and remains such a niche card that I don’t see him get any more love in the future. I am talking about the Ravenhill Scout, who is quite an expensive Lore ally that has no willpower, despite having the Scout trait. While his 3 hitpoints are nice, it is not really obvious what he does based on his stats alone. His ability will allow you to move up to 2 progress tokens between locations, potentially exploring some in the process. But at the cost of exhausting a 3-cost ally, that doesn’t seem worth it. On top of this, the Ravenhill Scout has no synergy with other Dale cards or any Scout cards thanks to his Lore sphere. It would have been better to make him a Woodman, as they are more focused on location control and are exclusively in Lore. This is understandable, however, as neither trait would have been in the minds of the developers at the time Ravenhill Scout got released (Redhorn Gate, which is a long, long time ago).
Another character I am not really sure about is from the very first cycle, the Tactics version of Brand son of Bain. His Leadership version overshadows this hero a lot with far better synergy with the trait. While the Tactics version did get some new weapons in this cycle, he is still not a popular hero, and his ability is worthless in a true solo game. The 2 willpower is nice to get on a Tactics hero, and Ranged should never be overlooked. But players are far more likely to play Tactics Legolas hero if they want a 3 attack Ranged character. There is a fellowship setup between Brand and Merry to clear a board full of enemies that I enjoy seeing used. But in the grand scheme of things, Brand son of Bain is best left in your binder when making a Dale deck. If you need an attacker for the deck, Bard the Bowman is far more enjoyable to play with in my opinion.
What the archetype is missing
Dale is quite a complete archetype now that Land of Sorrow provides it with healing, which it was missing out on. The only other thing that I could think of would be a Lore Dale hero, or just more heroes and unique characters in general. Dale decks don’t have that many options when looking at their heroes, and even when you include the Messenger of the King contract, their options only expand with 1 hero (Wiglaf, who isn’t great with the contract). So more unique characters and especially a Lore hero would be nice to see for Dale in the future to give them some more options while keeping the deck purely Dale-traited. In all other parts of the game, Dale has everything covered and can draw from a large pool of non-specific-archetype cards to fill any gaps.
There is a multitude of decks out on RingsDB that are worth checking out. There isn’t that much variety as the core of the deck stays the same, but choosing your third hero and some other cards for the deck have led to some creative decks: