We have finally reached the last adventure pack and now we can review Shadows of Mirkwood cycle as a whole. The Core set introduces all spheres, their strengths and weaknesses, champions and weaklings. Many of player cards serve well even nowadays, while others you forget during the first read. I say that without Core set you would miss many cards with important effects and abilities. On the other hand, all 6 adventure packs offer us more specific cards, strategies, and even first synergies. If you want to build a specific deck within Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, you may use the presence of Eagle and Rohan characters, “Dúnedain attachments” and Songs. I think that with each adventure pack the new player cards keep up very closely. However, with the last incoming adventure pack, the character Dáin Ironfoot very significantly makes your game easier. Maybe in Return to Mirkwood, you have to pull all your effort to beat the scenario even with Dáin Ironfoot. But in the non-progression style of playing and fully equipped with the whole set of cards from the cycle, previous scenarios stop to be the challenge for you. I even dare to say that Dáin Ironfoot “disrupt the fragile balance”. I would wait with his presence until the next expansion, where I would really recommend you to play with him because of Dwarf synergy. But that’s enough. I’m going to show you some very significant cards, in good and bad meaning, within each sphere and type of card. Finally, I’m going to summarize every 5 spheres (counting Neutral) as well as the whole Shadows of Mirkwood cycle (with Core set).
- THE BEST HERO – Dáin Ironfoot
- THE WORST HERO – Théodred
- THE BEST ALLY – Faramir
- THE WORST ALLY – Brok Ironfist
- THE BEST EVENT – Sneak Attack
- THE WORST EVENT – Common Cause
- THE BEST ATTACHMENT – Steward of Gondor
- THE WORST ATTACHMENT – Dúnedain Quest
- THE OVERALL EVALUATION – Leadership sphere
- THE BEST HERO – Gimli
- THE WORST HERO – Brand son of Bain
- THE BEST ALLY – Vassal of the Windlord
- THE WORST ALLY – Beorning Beekeeper
- THE BEST EVENT – Feint
- THE WORST EVENT – To the Eyrie
- THE BEST ATTACHMENT – Horn of Gondor
- THE WORST ATTACHMENT – Song of Mocking
- THE OVERALL EVALUATION – Tactic sphere
- THE BEST HERO – Éowyn
- THE WORST HERO – Dúnhere
- THE BEST ALLY – West Road Traveller
- THE WORST ALLY – Lórien Guide
- THE BEST EVENT – A Test of Will
- THE WORST EVENT -We Do Not Sleep
- THE BEST ATTACHMENT – Unexpected Courage
- THE WORST ATTACHMENT – Power in the Earth
- THE OVERALL EVALUATION – Spirit sphere
- THE BEST HERO – Denethor
- THE WORST HERO – Bilbo Baggins
- THE BEST ALLY – Erebor Hammersmith
- THE WORST ALLY – Longbeard Map-Maker
- THE BEST EVENT – Secret Paths
- THE WORST EVENT -Beorn’s Hospitality
- THE BEST ATTACHMENT – A Burning Brand
- THE WORST ATTACHMENT – Dark Knowledge
- THE OVERALL EVALUATION – Lore sphere
If Dáin Ironfoot hits the scene in the next expansion, I would have so much more dilemma to decide about THE BEST HERO of this cycle. I would mull about Aragorn versus Prince Imrahil. Why Aragorn? Because he is a versatile and strong hero with readying ability. And why Prince Imrahil? Because he is a versatile and strong hero with readying ability. As you see, both heroes are very similar heavyweights, able to “speak into a game” very significantly. But when Dáin Ironfoot comes, both heroes must kneel before the king and leave the throne of THE BEST HERO. Maybe Dáin Ironfoot isn’t so perfectly versatile – he won’t be often sent to the quest or the combat. Actually, if you don’t need him urgently for defending, you will attempt to let him still ready. But when he stays ready, every Dwarf becomes the berserk and scout at the same time. The global boosting causes it’s not anymore about one character (Dáin Ironfoot), but about the number of Dwarves you can play. This is Dáin Ironfoot’s main strength and advantage against Aragorn or Prince Imrahil, who are better individuals than teamplayers. If 5 Dwarves are in the game, it means you get +5 Willpower and +5 Attack permanently. Because of that I spoke about “disrupt the fragile balance” – he just causes the hurricane among encounter cards.
This will be a controversial one, I know. Saying that Théodred is the worst Leadership hero in Shadows of Mirkwood can someone understand as a blasphemy. Théodred doesn’t belong among the really bad heroes, I swear. But the main problem with this hero is a very odd distribution of stats, absolutely not corresponding with his ability. Gaining a resource is a perfect thing. But for that you get, I’m sorry for such expression, a cripple, who quests only for 1 Willpower. If non-boosted, I consider it for the non-sense and debilitating element of your questing effort. He doesn’t contribute to overall Willpower much, and as an exhausted hero, you logically can’t use his strength (in his case 2 Attack). Because of that, I rather get over his ability and replace him with a hero with better Willpower. In the end, the second reason, why I evaluate him as THE WORST HERO is very simple: he occurs in strong competition – there isn’t anyone weaker than him.
Characters with global effects belong to the strongest (like Dáin Ironfoot). You then can’t wonder, if I claim Faramir as THE BEST ALLY. His Action influences every character of a given player by adding +1 Willpower. It’s a massive boost if that player controls a good amount of questing characters. Except exhausting you won’t pay any additional cost for that. On the contrary, if you can afford to not use Faramir’s ability, you still may profit from his very good stats. Faramir is just the type of ally, where you can’t complain about anything. When you save 4 resources to get him into a play, you may celebrate.
It’s a pity, that Leadership sphere owns many quite poor allies, which won’t help you too much, or even they disturb you. The offer of poor Leadership ally is rich – Guard of the Citadel, Silverlode Archer, Keen-Eyed Took or Dúnedain Watcher. Many of them you rather skip at all, because they have an improper combination of stats, ability and/or cost. But because you don’t have got much better alternatives, you have to include them to your deck. You know that – it’s better to have miserable ally than no ally. Ally means at least “the body”, which protects you and your heroes. However, one Leadership ally combines everything bad: cost, stats and ability. He would be very expensive “the body” against enemies. Yes, it’s nobody else than Brok Ironfist. Only Dáin Ironfoot can enhance him a bit – stats will improve to such extent he may be considered for a full-blown hero. But still, his cost and unusable ability is just a disaster. Someone could say that even bad advertising is still advertising. Well, Brok Ironfist has achieved that – the community knows him as the deterrent example of the card, where everything is bad.
What would be Gandalf without Sneak Attack? Okay, Gandalf would survive that, because his stats and abilities are too remarkable. But isn’t it great you can call him and utilize one of his ability for only 1 cost? Of course, Sneak Attack doesn’t serve for only 1 card, it would be too restricted. Every time you need to get to play some ally extraordinarily, Sneak Attack will help you. For example in a case, when you encounter more enemies than you count with. And because such situation may happen during every round, Sneak Attack fits in every scenario and in every deck.
Too much complicated and useless – that’s Common Cause, the Leadership event from the Core set. In the presence of cards like Unexpected Courage, Fast Hitch or Grim Resolve, which can ready characters directly, Common Cause looks like a very poor and stillborn cousin. Why we should exhaust one hero to ready another? We may rarely afford to exhaust any hero voluntarily. Maybe Eleanor, who is waiting on the right opportunity to cancel some treachery (and it needn’t come every round), can be the good target. But Eleanor is rather an exception. In other cases, Common Cause remains in your hands unused, so it is better to avoid it completely.
Steward of Gondor hasn’t any competitor among Leadership attachment probably until these days. Who would say it – the attachment from the Core set, in other words, the oldest set of cards of whole LOTR LCG, is still present even in nowadays decks. Generation of 2 additional resources in every round belongs to the strongest effect we have met and is an effective cure to the shortage of resources for any sphere of influence. Without Steward of Gondor, we would experience a very hard time with dual- or trisphere decks, where I see this attachment as the necessity.
Because Shadows of Mirkwood offers us “Dúnedain attachments” and from Core set we have got the superb attachments, Steward of Gondor and Celebrían’s Stone, it’s hard to point at clear “loser”. However, with one “Dúnedain attachment,” you probably won’t play as often as with others. The reason lies in its effect vs. cost – Dúnedain Quest. 2 cost for 1 Willpower isn’t an exception (The Favor of the Lady), still, I can’t justify such an unfair exchange. In the early life of LOTR LCG, Willpower was probably considered for especially precious “commodity”, for which you had to pay more. With the gradual development of the game, this special approach has disappeared, but cards have remained, of course. Dúnedain Quest, as well as Favor of the Lady, is the shadow of the past.
When I am introducing the Leadership sphere to new players, I have a big problem to simply describe, in what aspect this sphere excels. Well, in Leadership sphere we find leaders and strong characters, like Aragorn, Faramir or Dáin Ironfoot. But that’s a more abstract, non-game related description than a well-depicted game description of this sphere. The truth is that the Leadership sphere doesn’t excel in the strength of Willpower (like Spirit sphere), Attack or Defense (Tactic sphere). Rather you find here some interesting utilities, like resource generation (Glóin, Théodred, Steward of Gondor), drawing cards (Campfire Tales, Valiant Sacrifice) or adjusting stats (all “Dúnedain attachments”, For Gondor!). The problem is that these utilities aren’t exclusive for the Leadership sphere – other spheres have them either (see at Horn of Gondor, Lórien’s Wealth, Blade Mastery). So in my point of view, the Leadership sphere misses in the Core set and Shadows of Mirkwood cycle own unmistakable identity. It has something from every sphere, but it doesn’t specialize in anything. Of course, it doesn’t mean that the Leadership sphere hasn’t good cards or that this sphere isn’t good, not at all. Look at Dáin Ironfoot, Aragorn, Faramir, Prince Imrahil, Steward of Gondor, Sneak Attack, Snowbourn Scout… These cards can be described only in superlatives thanks to their exceptionality and usefulness. So to summarize, Leadership sphere hasn’t any unifying element, which would characterize this sphere, but on the other hand, it contains many, many powerful cards, which influence any game in a very significant way.
The Tactic sphere brings us many quality heroes – Legolas, Boromir, Gimli. Each of them excels in something else. Legolas generates additional progress tokens, which moves you closer to the goal. Boromir may ready himself by increasing one threat. But if you need some high-tonnage terminator, who will slay enemies in a big style, then Gimli is your champion. In every scenario, where you meet strong and dangerous enemies, Gimli is an equal opponent. Thanks to the ability, which increases his power with each point of damage onto him, you control the beast in your ranks. He is able to grow into 6-Attack hero without any boost. And if you add some Citadel Plate and Dwarven Axe, his Attack even doubles. You can be sure that you will appreciate his presence in the future because only the strongest one can face the most dangerous enemies.
It should be fair and I should claim Thalin as THE WORST HERO of the Tactic sphere, because Théodred, who shares the same problem as Thalin, has got such a title. Yes, they share the same problem – ability forces them to do some activity, for which they haven’t suitable stats. In this case, questing. 1-Willpower Théodred should be committed to a quest because you gain an additional resource. Thalin should be also sent to a quest because he hits each enemy, which is revealed from the encounter deck. However, Brand son of Bain hits the scene. Though I admit he controls the ability, which can be useful, it also needs some strategy to work it well. As a single-player, you can’t utilize his ability at all (on the contrary of such Legolas). And in multiplayer, you have to assure you kill the enemy by the attack of Brand son of Bain, or no extra advantage from his attack would arise for you. I see him as the hero with too much-complicated ability, where many players would welcome a more straightforward ability.
In simplicity lies strength. Vassal of the Windlord follows this motto very convincingly. What can be simpler than enter the play for only 1 cost, strike with amazing 3 Attack (and moreover anywhere on the board) and then leave the game? Okay, the last part isn’t so great about Vassal of the Windlord, but it is an understandable cost for such a cheap attacker. I appreciate especially the cost vs stats we get. This Eagle is something like an event, which adds +3 Attack. And when I say Eagle, this ally worth playing even in non-Eagle decks (similarly as the perfect Winged Guardian). Winged Guardian is also very, very close to the title THE BEST ALLY because you can use him repeatedly for paying 1 resource. However, sometimes you have to solve the dilemma, if you want to save your resource for something else, or if you want to spend it for Winged Guardian’s Forced effect. This dilemma doesn’t concern Vassal of the Windlord. Additionally, after the newest update, Meneldor’s Flight can save your Eagles before the Forced effect would happen. For free. That’s an excellent combo!
You would vainly search for THE WORST ALLY of the Tactic sphere among Core set allies. Every ally from the Core set is more or less usable. No, the useless fellow came in Conflict at the Carrock, and it is the only non-Eagle ally from adventure packs. I can’t imagine any reason, why Beorning Beekeeper shouldn’t stay in your cardpool forever. If this ally would play soccer, I wouldn’t even call him as the substitute. He doesn’t play the league well – as a soccer player, he would be slow, clumsy, without quality technique and abilities. As the ally in LOTR LCG, he is expensive, with miserable stats and useless ability. It makes the cocktail, which kills any potential.
Preventing enemies from attacking you provides you an immeasurable advantage. We have Thicket of Spears or Forest Snare, which has the same effect. However, they cost 3 resources and they look a bit “ungainly”. On the other hand, Feint has a quick effect, which stops any enemy from attacking effort for just 1 cost. Sometimes, the cleverly used Feint can save you the whole game. More words are useless now – Feint speaks with its actions.
If no update on rules arrives, I would claim Meneldor’s Flight as THE WORST EVENT, which was ever made. Even during writing the own review, I was describing this event without the update. It’s interesting how adding of one action window can completely change the usability of one card (between determining combat damage and the end of the attack lies an action window, in which this event can be used for saving Vassal of the Windlord and Winged Guardian before Forced effect can happen). Unfortunately, no update would save another very weak event – To the Eyrie. Saving an ally for exhausting Eagle ally and an additional 2 cost? It smells by excessive complexity, which in practice game rather harms you than helps you.
Though Horn of Gondor was one of the first errata’d card, still it ranks among the best Tactic attachment at all. It is a Tactic version of Steward of Gondor, but based on the life of characters – more destroyed characters mean more resources. Someone may not fully agree with the way of resource generation, because allies cost you resources and time. However, you meet too many enemies, which are too much dangerous to defend them with heroes, so you logically use the “chump blockers”. Resource generation is at least some sort of compensation. The main advantage is that Horn of Gondor costs you only 1 resource and it can find use in any deck.
Outside of combos with specific heroes like Glóin, Gimli or Frodo, Song of Mocking doesn’t fit in the majority of decks. Be a target for redirecting damage can’t be anyone. If you don’t bring with you some cards with healing effects and abilities, then this attachment signifies danger for your heroes.
Finding a sphere with a talent for everything that concerns battle is very easy. The strongest warriors, most powerful battle events and best combat equipment you find in the Tactic sphere. Gimli, Boromir or Beorn are the high-tonnage warriors used to run into a horde of enemies and cause a combat thunderstorm. Thalin, Swift Strike and Gondorian Spearman deal extra damage to enemies. You may stop enemies and prevent them to attack (Feint, Thicket of Spears), improve your attack by battle weapons (Dwarven Axe, Blade of Gondolin) or armors (Citadel Plate), or rely on the force of Eagle flight and adapt to them the whole strategy. The Tactic sphere hasn’t any problem with identity at all, on the contrary. It is one of the first sphere, which properly uses the first synergies with a certain trait (Eagle). You would search vainly for a Willpower strength here, so making a progress through a scenario is very painful – that’s a major weakness of Tactic sphere. However, spheres can’t do everything perfectly. I consider the Tactic sphere for the most compact and distinctive sphere from all.
In my point of view, Éowyn hasn’t any competition among heroes in the whole Core set. Even nowadays, I can’t remember any Spirit hero, who could be equal to her. 4 default Willpower is a fantastic stat. Add that each player may discard a card, which means additional +1 Willpower. You will become accustomed to her presence so much, that sometimes you just can’t imagine the deck without her. Sending her to a quest gives you the feeling confident that you will succeed in questing. Once Dáin Ironfoot (who boosts Willpower of Dwarves) arrives, you can finally build a meaningful deck without Éowyn. But until this time, including Éowyn to a deck is almost your duty.
On the one side, it’s a bit wrongful to mark Dúnhere as THE WORST HERO because of his “otherness”. In other words, it’s an exceptional Spirit hero, who doesn’t aim at questing but attacking. That’s a definitely interesting and useful idea, which contributes to the versatility and independence of the Spirit sphere. Unfortunately, Dúnhere isn’t too much practical. Or at least, not in every scenario. Attacking the staging area with 3 Attack needs quite fragile enemies, which for some reason have tendencies to remain in the staging area. In Shadows of Mirkwood generally, we lack for such kind of enemies. So Dúnhere hides some indisputable potential, but for the majority of scenarios in the first cycle, you rather should free Dúnhere’s place to a classic offensive hero.
This was a tough one. I see in overall 2 allies, who compete for the title of THE BEST ALLY in Spirit sphere. While Escort from Edoras offers the massive boost of Willpower for the very advantageous cost (4 Willpower for 2 cost), West Road Traveller has also very sympathetic exchange of cost versus Willpower (2 Willpower for 2 cost). However, Escort from Edoras leaves the game after he “ends his mission”. West Road Traveller, on the other hand, stays with you after sending him to a quest. Moreover, you may use his ability, which can switch an active location for any location in the staging area. This ally is cheap, reliable and quality quester and it should be included in your deck.
The ratio of cost and given stats at Lórien Guide downright hurts you. For 3 cost you surely shouldn’t get 1-1-0-2 ally, additionally without reasonable ability, which even doesn’t boost any of his default stats. Placing 1 progress token on the active location seems like a very weak ability. I dare to say that the exploring of active location takes one, maybe two rounds, and WITHOUT Lórien Guide. If you struggle with exploring the active location, something bad is happening, maybe you don’t have enough Willpower, or you face the “location lock”. If this happens, you should seek your problem in your strategy, in the composition of your deck, or curse encounter deck, which randomly shows the strong combo of encounter cards. Lórien Guide isn’t the right solution, not for 3 cost.
The Spirit sphere is overflowed by perfect events like Hasty Stroke, The Galadhrim’s Greeting, Stand and Fight, Dwarven Tomb, Mustering the Rohirrim. Where Steward of Gondor is the king of all attachments, A Test of Will is the king among events. This card proves that simplicity is a strength. “When revealed” effects occur in every scenario and they can cause you big problems, no matter if “when revealed” effects come from enemies, treacheries or locations. What could be more useful than simply cancel such bothersome effects? To be honest, I see also Hasty Stroke as a very powerful card, which on the other hand, targets shadow effects, another great menace to you. Both cards should be auto-included into your decks and if you join their forces, you rob encounter deck of its greatest weapon – an element of surprise. Still, because THE BEST EVENT can be only one, I see A Test of Will as the more essential card in any deck.
On the opposite side of the spectrum lies an event, which is very expensive (5 cost) and which owns a very disputable effect. We Do Not Sleep should help to all Rohan characters, but paradoxically, you mainly hurt yourself by throwing 5 resources away for virtually needless effect. What beneficial is on not exhausting Rohan characters, when they are mostly unusable in combat? Only a few Rohan characters have more than 1 Attack, 1 Defense and a reasonable amount of Hit Points (Théodred, Elfhelm). Because of that, We Do Not Sleep just loses its sense and 5 cost for paying such miserable effect is really awful.
We already know the king among attachments – Steward of Gondor. But every king should have a queen. That queen comes from the Spirit sphere through the card Unexpected Courage. Readying hero for one-time 2 cost and exhaustion of Unexpected Courage? Well, I’m always in! The repetitive playing of a hero during a single turn provides you an important advantage toward the encounter deck. You can use a hero’s ability twice, or use his strength in terms of stats. No matter which hero you attach, it is always advantageous for you.
The question is simple: what would you pick as THE WORST ATTACHMENT of the Spirit sphere – Power in the Earth or Nor am I a Stranger? Both cards are really miserable, except for their cost. One card decreases the Threat Strength of one location by 1, while the other card adds Rohan-trait to one character without any additional bonus. And the winner is… Power in the Earth. Why? Because it lacks any potential. With Nor am I a Stranger, there exist some possibilities, how to make this card useful – with the help of cards with Rohan synergy (Ride to Ruin, Astonishing Speed, Éomund). Power in the Earth hasn’t any similar savior, which could enhance his usage. Decreasing 1 Threat Strength of one location is probably one of the weakest effects we have met so far.
Nor Spirit sphere has any issue with an identity. This sphere is the very opposite of Tactic sphere – you won’t find here great combat talent, but the strength of Willpower and excellent ability to make progress are the main attributes of the Spirit sphere. Éowyn is the leading character, which embodies the whole sphere – she is fragile, however powerful quester. The same is valid for other “questing professionals” Escort from Edoras and West Road Traveller. We also profit from effects, which decrease a threat (Galadhrim’s Greeting), cancel various encounter cards (Hasty Stroke, A Test of Will) or return cards from the discard pile to hand (Dwarven Tomb, Stand and Fight). Shadows of Mirkwood develop Rohan synergy, however, Rohans aren’t so compact and well-coordinated as Eagles in the Tactic sphere. Spirit sphere is the choice number 1 if you need fine and fast making progress through the scenario.
Among Lore heroes, there isn’t much noticeable person like Gimli, Éowyn or Dáin Ironfoot. But we find here the best defender within the whole Shadows of Mirkwood, Denethor. Wait, but still, Dáin Ironfoot with 3 Defense + 5 Hit Points is a better defender than Denethor’s 3 Defense + 3 Hit Points, right? Yeah, that’s true. But if you attach Denethor A Burning Brand, nothing with 3 Attack and less will stop him. He becomes the impassable wall, which fends off any attack, no matter of shadow effect, which is instantly canceled. Additionally, if no dangerous enemy is in the sight, you may use his scrying ability and partially manipulate with the encounter deck. Some of you would title Beravor as THE BEST HERO of the Lore sphere. I had a dilemma between these two, to be honest. And I think that each player would vote differently because each of them has very good ability and good stats. Here, I voted in agreement with my personal preference.
So important character in The Hobbit, and so weak character in LOTR LCG. Bilbo Baggins has expected low stats, because… he is Hobbit, of course. Yet, 1-1-2-2 seems for me too low. Moreover, he doesn’t control any ability, which would improve these stats. I appreciate very much his passive ability, where the first player always draws one more card at the beginning of each phase. But except for that, Bilbo remains as the weak spot within your hero ranks, because he can’t effectively do anything.
Erebor Hammersmith is the best 2-cost Lore ally as for the ratio cost versus stats. As one of the few, he is the chump blocker, who won’t die during the single average attack. You also may use him as a cheap quester and attacker, whatever you want or need. He also “by the way” owns interesting ability, which returns topmost discarded attachment to your hand. I can’t remember any Lore deck, where I wouldn’t include him.
On the other hand, I can’t remember any Lore deck, where I would include Longbeard Map-Maker. For me, he behaves like the parasite – in order to proper working, he sucks from you the resources. And as you know well, the Lore sphere can’t afford to lose resources arbitrarily. I won’t rely on some saboteur in the middle of my ranks, no chance!
When I don’t play with the Lore sphere at the moment, I always miss one event, which can help you a lot during the Quest phase. 1-cost Secret Paths may significantly ease the game by a simple “erasing” Threat Strength of a given location for one phase. I can’t even count, how many times Secret Paths saves me before The Brown Lands, River Langflood, The Old Ford and other locations with the high Threat Strength. If you run a game with the Lore sphere, don’t forget to pack some extra Secret Paths with you. You surely won’t regret it, no matter which scenario you chose.
Healing is a good effect in every board or computer game. Such Lore of Imladris or even a bit ignored Glorfindel will surely find their fans. But if you combine the high cost and limited effect, it can never turn out well. We are talking about Beorn’s Hospitality, where you would have to play only with the monosphere Lore deck from the Core set to force you to play with this event. If you want to treat your resources wisely and gently, avoid this event at all.
I consider it a great paradox that I have discovered the strength of this card relatively late. I wasn’t able to fully appreciate A Burning Brand, probably because of the existence of Hasty Stroke, which I use very frequently (actually, I use Spirit sphere more frequently than Lore sphere). Anyway, automatic cancellation of any shadow effect belongs to the strongest effect in the game, I would even say overpowered. It also depends, how strong hero (in the meaning of Defense) you target for this attachment. Besides Lore heroes, you also can attach A Burning Brand to heroes from other spheres – if they have attached Song of Wisdom.
The Lore sphere hasn’t actually some real bad attachment. I would say that Dark Knowledge is the weakest Lore attachment we have got, but it could appear in your deck. Revealing one shadow card is useful, though you have to “debilitate” one of your heroes by decreasing 1 Willpower. This attribute makes from this card THE WORST ATTACHMENT because it penalizes you in a quite unique way. Such a rarity you would search vainly at Self Preservation, Protector of Lórien or A Burning Brand.
Green is the color of forest, hope and life. Lore sphere deserves to be “right green sphere”, because from the forest comes Silvan characters (Henamarth Riversong, Haldir of Lórien), manipulating and scrying player deck and encounter deck gives us hope (Gandalf’s Search, Rumour from the Earth), and same is valid for card drawing (Lórien’s Wealth, Beravor), and healing characters means life (Daughter of the Nimrodel, Lore of Imladris). Lore sphere brings us an interesting way, how to deal with the scenario, but from the beginning, it suffers by one thing: everything here is so expensive. Without resource acceleration or if you don’t play Lore monosphere deck, prepare for true torment. After every played card you are broke because many of them cost 3 and more resources. Core set has an additional issue with allies with low-quality stats. Fortunately, this is partially resolved with the next adventure packs (Rivendell Minstrel, Mirkwood Runner, Gildor Inglorion). The set of heroes doesn’t belong to most powerful, but for example, Denethor and Beravor should find a place in your decks. All in all, the Lore sphere has own imperfections, but with each new pack, it improves, maybe except the expensiveness.
Because Neutral sphere doesn’t offer any hero and has very limited offer regarding all types of cards (allies, events, attachments), I am using title THE BEST/WORST CARD, instead of titles used in previous spheres. And THE BEST CARD of the Neutral sphere can’t be anyone else than Gandalf – a disaster for any encounter deck. Just stats command respect. His 5 cost won’t make you significant troubles, because you may spend resources from any sphere of influence. And if you add his 3 optional abilities, which you can use as needed, then you own one of the most powerful cards in a whole LOTR LCG. Truly, this ally is ace up your sleeve.
In the context of Eagle deck, I would recommend playing with Radagast, IF you have resolved the sufficient resources income. But outside of Eagle deck and from the view of the Neutral sphere, there aren’t many reasons, why you should bother with this card. This Istari can’t compete with Gandalf at all and if you want to gain some ally, then Radagast isn’t a wise choice. 2-1-1-3 for 5 cost doesn’t look attractively. His abilities make synergy with Creature characters and as we know, Eagles are the majority of all Creatures in Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. So we are getting at the beginning again: outside of Eagle deck, Radagast doesn’t make a sense.
The Neutral sphere has a very special position among other spheres – it “belongs nowhere”, but you can use cards from this sphere within any deck. Some hardcore players could reprimand me that, in fact, Neutral sphere is not “true sphere”, it belongs to no sphere of influence and you can pay these cards with resources from any hero’s pool, as stated in LOTR LCG Rules. However, the Neutral sphere offers us interesting cards and mechanics, non-present in Leadership, Tactic, Spirit or Lore sphere, yet very useful for each of them. Take Songs as an example. Song-attachments may give an attached hero new sphere of influence icon, so you may pay cards from his mother sphere as well as from the new, acquired sphere. It opens you new possibilities, new tactic options, and new possible deck compositions. The Neutral sphere can all other spheres connect and make from them well functioning and cooperating unit. Core sphere introduces us only Gandalf, within the next adventure packs we meet Songs, Radagast and Shadow of the Past. While I can imagine Radagast as a member of the Tactic family, Shadow of the Past shows us, how Neutral sphere can have on the first sight very odd and disputable effects, however, from which we may benefit, if we use it in the right time on the right card. I think that the clear identity of the Neutral sphere isn’t the goal. On the contrary – the Neutral sphere should be variable and non-specific, but with interesting effects, which we won’t find anywhere else.
I love many cards from the Core set, and without some of them, I can’t imagine building decks. Many of them become the basic elements in your decks until nowadays because they lack any competition. Sometimes I have to wonder at some oddness, typical for the Core set and whole cycle. I’ll name disproportion of the cost and Willpower we get for it (The Favor of the Lady, Dúnedain Quest), stats, which absolutely don’t correspond with the ability of some characters (Théodred, Thalin), or the pure existence of some really useless cards (Brok Ironfist, Power in the Earth, Beorning Beekeeper, We Do Not Sleep). On the other hand, some cards seem for me quite overpowered – some of them were already errata’d (Boromir, Horn of Gondor), while others weren’t and they threaten a balance in the game a bit (Steward of Gondor, Éowyn, Dáin Ironfoot). But I reminisce on the Core set and Shadow of Mirkwood with nostalgia. I’m very happy I have begun LOTR LCG from the start (though Core set is actually essential for the playing game) and I think, that new players should meet and start with the game from the roots.