As a part of the archetype analysis, I have decided to cover the different mono-sphere decks that you can build in this game. Building a mono-sphere has several advantages, such as being immune to The Master’s Malice and being able to pay for more expensive cards quicker. However, it is a fine balance, because you will be lacking some stats or mechanics that other spheres grant. In the early days of the game for instance, a mono-Tactics deck was next to unplayable in true solo thanks to the severe lack of willpower in that deck. But with sphere bleed and archetypes being further developed, all mono-sphere decks are playable at this point in the game’s life.
In this first article of four, we cover a mono-Spirit lineup of heroes. Not for any particular reason, but I have been playing a lot of mono-Spirit in anticipation of Con of the Rings lately, so I feel I should cover this topic while it is still fresh.
From the early days of the Core Set, Spirit has established itself as a source of cheap willpower on allies and heroes. While Leadership may claim to be the true questing sphere, it does this by buffing willpower on allies already in play. That is a 2-card combo. Spirit has the best cost/willpower spread on allies that you play in any deck right out of your hand. Allies like Silvan Refugee, Eregion Survivor , Escort from Edoras, Ethir Swordsman, and Pelargir Shipwright are all great questing allies without needing many other triggers in your deck. Stack some buffs on top of these allies, and they become even better! Spirit can quickly get into double digits of willpower on turn 1, where other spheres may struggle with that a little. Heroes also have some of the highest willpower printed on cards. Cirdan, Galadriel, and Eowyn all have 4 willpower printed on them and this can be raised even further with attachments like Favor of the Lady, Star Brooch, and Windfola.
Spirit can also control the encounter deck rather well. Not as good as Lore, but there are a fair few cancellation effects in Spirit that will save your skin from a horrible encounter card. Control is also given over locations, with several progress placing cards that can resolve location lock if you build for it. Selective drawing of your cards and discard pile synergy is also a thing that Spirit does. It has a lot of recursion of discarded cards, such as Glorfindel, Dwarven Tomb, Stand and Fight, Reforged, and Will of the West. Such recursion opens Spirit up to several archetypes that benefit from this easy access to the discard pile.
A relatively new thing that Spirit can do pretty well is defending. Heroes like Dain Ironfoot and Beregond, and allies like Erebor Guard and Jubayr are the main defenders for Spirit, but smaller defenders like Frodo can also work if you build around them. Spirit has received several events and attachments to help with defending, such as Mithril Shirt, Armor of Erebor, Desperate Defence, Tides of Fate, and Light the Beacons. This means that Spirit will be able to absorb attacks pretty well in-sphere, without relying on characters or attachments from other spheres.
The final big thing about Spirit is its ability to lower threat. A mono-Spirit deck will be able to lower its threat by 6 each round through the Galadhrim’s Greeting. Low threat opens up Secrecy, which solves some of the problems that Spirit might face early on.
Even this late in the game, the Spirit sphere does lack in a few areas when it comes to deckbuilding. One of the biggest things that Spirit lacks, is the ability to counter attack enemies. You can defend them pretty well, but actually killing them is very tricky to do. Out of the entire sphere, only 6 characters have 3+ attack. Of this, only ally Glorfindel can easily be added to the deck. The other 5 characters are heroes, on which you will have to rely for your killing. There are a few ways to boost attack strength in Spirit, but it is often pretty restricted. Narya is one of the best tools in for the Spirit deck, being able to ready questing characters and giving them some boosts for combat. You can also equip some weapons like Herugrim or Mirkwood Longknife, but those are trait restricted. The same goes for Lords of the Eldar, which is a great card to run in a mono-Spirit deck, assuming you have a majority of Noldor characters to use this with. Wild Stallion is also good, but might not be worth it on your allies. Even with all these buffs, you won’t be dealing a ton of damage to enemies on the table. Other spheres will have to support you with this.
Ranged support is also very restricted with this sphere, with only 3 characters having the keyword printed. This is a lot less than other spheres, with Lore being the next one with just 8, but the new Longbow gives them the ability to gain the Ranged keyword on other characters. Ranged doesn’t matter a lot since you won’t have great allies to shoot with anyway. But there are a few encounter cards where you cannot attack or defend unless you have Ranged characters. This is where Spirit would be at a disadvantage compared to the other 3 spheres. Two of the characters with Ranged are heroes, which might push you into a specific direction when constructing decks.
Moving away from the lack of combat potential, Spirit also struggles when it comes to resource generation and card draw. Card draw especially has been a big problem for a long time with the sphere. Before it gained Elven-light, Spirit was only able to draw cards through Ancient Mathom, which wasn’t the most reliable method. Elven-light is good for Spirit though, giving it some ability to draw cards, but only if you can reliably discard the event after you’ve drawn it. This is quite easy though, with heroes like Arwen and Eowyn likely being in your lineup. 1 resource for 1 card is a fair trade-off, but it won’t fill your hand at quite the same speed as other spheres can. Cirdan + Silver Harp is a good method to draw into more cards, and using Core Set Gandalf from Neutral can help to fill your hand again.
Resource generation is also tricky, as there aren’t many great ways to generate enough resources per round to get your boardstate going in the early game. Hero Arwen is an obvious pick, as she combined with Elven-light can be your answer for both the card draw and resource generation problem. Outside of that, you have Zigil Miner, who can discard cards from the top of your deck to hopefully get resources that way. It isn’t too reliable until you also play the Imladris Stargazer. Even then, some luck with your top 5 cards is required, and you will need recursion to retrieve your cards from the discard pile.
There are Spirit cards is nearly all expansions, so feel free to collect them all and build your deck from there. If you are looking into picking expansions that build towards a mono-spirit lineup, I will advise going for the packs with a Spirit hero, as those generally favour Spirit a little more in the player cards of that pack. For a quick reference, these packs are smart to get for an effective Mono-Spirit deck.
- Core Set
- Foundations of Stone
- The Druadan Forest
- Assault on Osgiliath
- The Blood of Gondor
- The Antlered Crown
- The Dread Realm
- The Grey Havens
- The Flight of the Stormcaller
The following archetypes are very strong to build around in a mono-spirit lineup. These archetypes can be mixed somewhat, so feel free to experiment a little. Other archetypes, like Ents, Eagles, and Dale are difficult to put into play with just a mono-spirit line-up.
- Rohan: Spirit Rohan is one of the first archetypes ever developed, as it received a lot of cards during the first cycle. But over the past few expansions, Rohan continues to get a lot of useful allies that are the backbone of the Rohan synergy. Not only is Rohan able to push enemies to the staging area and kill them there with the Fastrred-Dunhere combo, but it is also able to quest for a lot with plenty of cheap allies that get their cost reduced by Spirit Theoden. Rohan also has some expensive events that can further boost the willpower that the deck can put out. Spirit Rohan also has access to some useful attachments like Herugrim and Snowmane that can help the deck to have a good attacker on the table.
- Caldara: This is the hero that is usually exclusive to the mono-spirit decks. Caldara is able to be discarded in return for one ally from your discard pile for every other Spirit hero you control. With a lot of recursion in the sphere, she had to be nerfed, since she was the dominant archetype during the time Grey Havens rolled around. Her ability to spam out allies at ridiculous speeds can give you a boost over the encounter deck when done early. Combine this ability with ally Imrahil and a Sword-thained unique ally, and you will be bringing out more than just 2 allies at the cost of a hero. Caldara works best in a Noldor deck, since that has enough options to fuel your discard pile. Other cards like Emery and the Dwarven mining archetype can also help, so you have a lot of flexibility with her.
- Noldor: Noldor has cards for all spheres, but I think that its Spirit cards are the most powerful. The heroes are amazing with Cirdan, Arwen, Galadriel, and Glorfindel all being top-tier heroes making for a solid lineup. Spirit also contains most tools for the Noldor deck, with Light of Valinor, Elven-light, and To the Sea! To the Sea! being the cards that you really should be using in your deck. The deck also has a fair share of allies that will help you to quest and can even be used for combat. To top it all off, the Spirit Noldor deck has access to Lords of the Eldar, which boosts all Noldor characters with +1 to all stats. In mono-Spirit, this can be played every round, making your deck very powerful. The lack of early card draw will be the only limiter, but once Elven-light has been drawn, you should be good to go!
- Dwarven Mining: Spirit was one of the weakest spheres for Dwarves for a long time. But over the course of several cycles, the Dwarven Mining synergy has cemented itself in the higher tiers when it comes to deckbuilding. The mining synergy is mostly exclusive to Spirit, where miners like the Zigil Miner, Erebor Guard, and Dain Ironfoot will do most of the mining of your deck. Recently, other spheres have joined in, but Spirit remains the sphere you want to include in order to mine efficiently. Dwarven Mining decks are probably the only Spirit decks that have no lack of resources, with Zigil Miner and Hidden Cache providing all the resources you’d need. Dwarven Pipe can even put cards back into the deck, so that you can wait with playing Will of the West for a while.
- Silvans: While I will argue that Silvans are best played in a multisphere environment, they do have enough cards to make a mono-Spirit deck that uses a lot of Silvan allies. Spirit Silvan allies tend to focus on location control, with allies like Woodland Courier and Lorien Guide placing progress on locations. Have these allies in play with Galadriel for a bit of thematic flavour and have Hithlain in the deck to explore locations at rapid speeds. While Silvans don’t have enough characters for a complete deck, they can be splashed in with other Spirit cards to flesh out the deck. Spirit Silvans get some good events, with Children of the Sea, Quicker than Sight, and Island Amid Perils allowing you to return Silvans from play. They also receive Mirkwood Longknife, which can allow Legolas to quest and attack harder.
Spirit has plenty of staples in the sphere, but looking at cards that get better in a mono-Spirit, our list of staples is reduced a little. Of course any other cards in Spirit that are good should be included. I’m not mentioning cards like A Test of Will, since it is quite obvious that that event is a staple.
I have already talked about her, but Caldara is amazing in a mono-Spirit deck. She is the hero that was specifically made for these mono-sphere decks, so it makes sense that she helps in such a lineup. Being able to pump out expensive allies super early will allow you to get a leg up against the encounter deck. If you are not keen on losing a hero this way, then there is always Fortune or Fate to bring Caldara back. But with Prince Imrahil ally being a superior hero, there really is no use in returning her this way. Caldara does require some more specific deckbuilding, such as discard options and a high ally density in your deck. But when you pop her and bring out 4 3+ cost allies, that is just an amazing feeling.
Pelargir Shipwright is a great questing ally that can suffer a lot of damage before having to give up. Where other questing Spirit allies will die after getting back to back Necromancer’s Reach, the Shipwright will live on. The variable willpower makes this an auto-include for mono-spirit decks, as the Shipwrights start at 3 willpower, but can reach higher numbers with ease. Having a Sword-thained uniqe Spirit ally gives you +1 willpower on each Shipwright, and if Thalion is in play with 3 side-quests explored, one of which being a Spirit one, the Shipwrights become a natural 5 willpower non-unique ally that can absorb some damage. Boosts from Leadership like Sword that was Broken or Visionary Leadership can make the allies even bigger questing powerhouses. The cost of 3 resources may be high, but you get a very resiliant non-unique questing ally in return.
Jubayr deserves a mention here as well, since he is one of the strongest allies for Spirit when it comes to defence. Spirit lacked a proper defender at the time Jubayr was released, and he has been a staple in Spirit decks ever since. His ability to discard shadow cards from enemies is super helpful, since that allows you to go easier on the shadow cancellation cards. You can even buff Jubayr with Wild Stallion and Narya for even better defence across the board. His 5 cost may seem daunting, and with no real cost reductor in your deck, it will be a while before playing him. But with Caldara, he is free, and Noldor will also be able to play him early as well. Try asking for some healing after a while though, strong as Jubayr may be, he is not invincible.
“Bad” mono-Spirit cards
Some cards aren’t worth playing, even in a mono-spirit deck that can afford the cards. Apart from the trait-exclsuive and dual-sphere cards, these cards are best left in your binder unless you find a use for them in a very niche situation.
We Do Not Sleep is a card you can best leave in your binder. At 5 cost, there are a lot of things you can play instead, it really isn’t worth it. For that 5 cost, each Rohan character does not exhaust to quest. However, most of the Spirit Rohan allies don’t do much else other than quest. Sure, Rider of Rohan has some useable stats, but he already has a built in non-exhaustion effect. Once you play this event, you will have a lot of useless allies standing by with little or no other things to do with them for the rest of the round. There will be those that pair it with Astonishing Speed, but that’s too high a cost in my eyes. You will be happy to use those cardslots and resources for something else.
A Light in the Dark is equally useless for your deck. There won’t be many situations in which you have 2 spare resources to push an enemy back to the staging area. I can only really see this card being used in Fastred/Dunhere decks, but even then, it will be too expensive. Use Fastred instead and benefit from some threat reduction instead. Outside of a Dunhere deck or any other deck that could kill the enemy in the staging area, this event wouldn’t do much, since the enemy will be adding its threat to the staging area again, and will probably engage next round again. Keep a low threat instead in order to avoid enemies, and avoid this card!
Here is a selection of decks that you might want to try out when attempting a mono-Spirit deck. If you have suggestions for other decks for this list, feel free to let me know.
I hope you enjoyed this look into the mono-Spirit archetype analysis. I will be doing the other 3 spheres as well during this month, so that the archetype analysis will be more complete on the blog. Next time I will likely cover Lore and the synergies that come into play with such a mono-sphere deck. Plenty of weird tricks are much more readily available when you have three Lore heroes.