Continuing our quest to cover all of the mono-sphere decks, we arrive at Leadership. This sphere is known for a lot of things, and mono-Leadership decks have proven to be reliable from very early in the game’s life, unlike spheres like Tactics. Leadership has a lot of major characters in its hero-lineup, allowing many archetypes to get their synergy going quickly. In this article, we will be going over what you need to take into account when designing a mono-Leadership deck.
When people think of the Leadership sphere, the first thing that comes to mind is the ability to generate a lot of resources very quickly. And this is important. Resource generation increases the speed with which you can play your cards, allowing you to hopefully keep up and outpace the encounter deck at a faster rate. For an early start, a hero like Denethor is a very popular choice, since he lets you start with more resources. This can let you pay for a very expensive card in the first round, or play multiple cards from your opening hand. In quests where resources are tricky to get or to keep hold of them (Druadan Forest, Corsair quests, etc) this can save you from having to stall out. Resource generation also comes in the form of attachments (Steward of Gondor, The Day’s Rising, Dwarven Shield) and events (Gaining Strength, Captain’s Wisdom, Wealth of Gondor).
Cost reduction is also done in Leadership to get more cards on the table more quickly. This can be simple reducers like O Lorien, that just make allies a bit cheaper, but it can also come in the form of swarm-style allies like A Very Good Tale. This can get you some free allies very early in the game, which accelerates decks, especially when done multiple times per game. Combine this with the resource generation, and you get that Leadership is thé swarming sphere of choice for most archetypes. This can be one of your strengths in a mono-Leadership deck that just pumps out allies.
Playing allies out of the regular planning phase is also something that Leadership does often. It is not a new thing, since the primary tool, Sneak Attack, has been around since the Core Set. But even in more recent packs, playing allies outside of when you would expect them is something that Leadership does well. Thranduil plays them during the combat phase, which can be a helpful addition to your Silvan army. But also effects like Reinforcements, A Very Good Tale, and To Me! O my Kinsfolk! allows players to get in some quick allies with events so that they can help out in a pinch. This is not unique to Leadership, Spirit has Lothiriel, Tactics has Hirgon, Lore has Elf-stone, but none of those are as point-and-click as the Leadership options.
Providing buffs to characters is another thing that Leadership does well. Heroes get the Dunedain signal cards that can buff individual stats or provide a keyword to a hero. These can be swapped between characters, and provide just that final point of attack to kill an enemy or the final point of defence to make sure that a hero doesn’t die. Buffing allies is much more Leadership’s forte. Global stat buffs is what the sphere does best, though the abilities are restricted in general to archetypes. Dain Ironfoot and Hardy Leadership to Dwarves, Celeborn to Silvans, Brand Son of Bain for Dale, and Boromir and Visionary Leadership to Gondor. Buffing these stats make allies more powerful when Leadership heroes are around and many of these buffs are even global. Some abilities like Sword that Was Broken goes beyond archetypes, but the majority of the Leadership sphere is to improve the archetype associated with your heroes.
Having all of these characters on the table is fun, boosted and all, but you are still only getting one use out of them. That is, unless Leadership happened to be one of the primary spheres to ready characters. Readying single characters through Frodo, Faramir hero, or Ever Vigilant can be useful for getting some more uses out of one character. But the big thing with Leadership is of course to ready ALL characters through events. Cards like Grim Resolve and Strength of Arms will ready characters across the board and can allow you to both quest ánd attack/defend with your characters. More faction-based options include Lure of Moria and Descendants of Kings, which are generally cheaper, but trait-restricted. With these effects, you can quickly get your army moving again after a big quest push.
The final thing I will touch on with Leadership is their ability to play cards from other spheres. Sure, Lore has this too with Elrond and Radagast, Spirit has King of Dale, and any sphere can play off-sphere cards with A Good Harvest and The Storm Comes. But Leadership has more cards that provide sphere icons or grant heroes to pay for off-sphere allies than others. Thranduil was mentioned earlier, but his ability to play Silvan allies of any sphere is very useful. Silvan decks often rely on access to many spheres, and he provides that option. Two of the Leadership focussed archetypes, Outlands and Harad both have heroes that can pay for their allies no matter the sphere printed on them, Hirluin and Kahliel. You are even rewarded for playing off-sphere allies with Lord of Morthond, which only works with a mono-Leadership deck. Most of the events mentioned earlier that can sneak in allies, can do so while ignoring sphere matches. This makes it not uncommon for mono-Leadership decks to have an army of allies that can belong to any sphere. For an example of this, check out this deck where no Leadership allies are played, despite the deck having 50% allies and an all Leadership lineup of heroes.
With all of those positive notes on the Leadership sphere, we must address some less powerful aspects of the sphere. But there are not many weaknesses to be found in Leadership, as they can do plenty of things rather decently. They don’t stand out in many fields (besides swarming allies and resource generation), but they have most of their bases covered. Anything that might be missing can be solved with playing off-sphere allies in most cases.
With all the resource generation in Leadership, you are able to afford your cards at a much faster rate than any other sphere. However, you will find that drawing just 1 card per round won’t do it for you and you will find yourself top-decking for a large portion of your games unless you include some way to draw cards. This is relatively tricky in Leadership, but not impossible. Cards like Campfire Tales aren’t the best bargain in true solo, but can be a fair deal to get access to just 1 additional card. You can also continue to sneak Gandalf into play to draw some more cards. Other cards like King Under the Mountain and Rod of the Steward also offer card draw, but you must be playing with the correct set of heroes for that. If you are building a mono-Leadership deck and are counting on playing plenty of off-sphere allies, then include Lord of Morthond. This will draw you a card each time you play an off-sphere ally. So card draw isn’t the biggest issue, but you must include at least some in your deck, else you might find yourself with an empty hand in a matter of a few turns.
Something that hasn’t been fixed with recent releases is the lack of Healing in your Leadership decks. This is a much bigger problem, since quests that challenge you with a lot of Archery or other direct damage effects will wipe out your army of allies. Heroes get at least some relief with Dunedain Remedy, though that does become a very expensive tool to heal heroes if you need to do it constantly. The resources won’t be a problem, but the distribution of those resources might be. Try to get in some healers from Lore through card effects, or else you may find yourself needing to ditch some allies to direct damage.
When deciding what expansions you want for your mono-Leadership deck, you may want to first decide what archetype of mono-Leadership you want to focus on. The allies you will be swarming in will come from various expansions, and you should try and get some of those before expanding the rest of your collection (or just get everything). Regardless, here are some expansions that are worth picking up for any mono-Leadership build.
- Core Set
- The Steward’s Fear
- The Druadan Forest
- Encounter at Amon Din
- The Blood of Gondor
- The Treachery of Rhudaur
- The Flight of the Stormcaller
- The Mumakil
- The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill
Many archetypes are enhanced with Leadership cards, but not all are strictly mono-Leadership. This segment will only cover the archetypes that favour mono-Leadership builds since they have so many cards in that sphere.
- Gondor: The Gondor archetype is really the one that tries to get its allies out quickly. Gondor allies are pretty cheap compared to other factions, allowing you to set up cost reduction combo’s quickly. From there, you can boost your army with hero Boromir, Visionary Leadership, and For Gondor! While you can play allies from other spheres to further improve your Gondor Swarm, Leadership already provides you with enough allies to keep your deck filled with them.
- Harad: This is one of two smaller archetypes that feature its only hero in Leadership. But what makes that hero great is that he can pay for Harad allies of any sphere. This helps the Harad deck out by keeping a mono-Leadership setup, and building up resources on Kahliel. From there, you can pay for “The Big Three” within a few turns. Added cost reduction and stat buffs with the other Harad allies only helps you out more, making a mono-Leadership Harad deck perfectly viable.
- Outlands: Outlands does the same as Harad, only instead of 3 big unique allies, you swarm the board with a lot of non-unique allies from all 4 spheres. Again, resource acceleration on Hirluin and card draw through Lord of Morthond is going to be crucial to your engine here. But we all know how overpowered Outlands decks can get. While some iterations run Erestor for the added card draw to great effect, a mono-Leadership deck allows you to pull off a Strength of Arms on your army of self-boosting Outlands allies. For added acceleration, I will advise A Good Harvest, as getting a ton of resources on Hirluin can be difficult in the early game if you don’t have Steward of Gondor in your opening hand.
- Dwarves: While Dwarves are a Quad-sphere faction for sure, they don’t need 4 spheres on their heroes to get going. In fact, with most of their events and key-attachments in Leadership (with the few exceptions like Legacy of Durin), you really only need 3 Leadership heroes to get going. Having Lore helps, but is not required. Especially with Narvi’s Belt does a mono-Leadership deck allow itself to get up to dwarves of any sphere really quickly. Having mono-Leadership heroes also helps the Dwarves with paying for their attachments like the Belt, but also Hardy Leadership, King under the Mountain, and several Signal attachments for their heroes. Being able to reliably play Lure of Moria is just amazing for your action advantage.
- Dunedain: The Dunedain trait isn’t one you would immediately go mono-sphere with, but hear me out. Like Dwarves, most of their attachments and events are in Leadership that allows them to get their allies out quickly. Cards like Descendants of Kings and Heir of Valandil are some you want to get out quickly. The allies are also pretty expensive, so having 3 Leadership heroes can get you those allies more rapidly. This does not lock you into just playing Leadership allies though. If you bring Aragorn, he can become Tactics or Spirit with Roheryn and Celebrian’s Stone, after which the Ring of Barahir can make him Lore as well. But you can also count on Amarthiul being Tactics, since you will likely be engaging enemies and keeping them engaged. This allows you to play allies from other spheres reliably without having to resort to Song attachments. Focus on getting Tactics online quickly and you will have a powerful Dunedain deck going.
Leadership has many staples in its sphere, but some cards only work to the peak of their performance in a mono-Leadership deck. One of these cards I would argue is Leadership ally Faramir. While he is of course amazing in any deck that has more than a few allies on the table, mono-Leadership is a very fitting lineup for him. Chances are you will be swarming the table with your allies, all of which can receive a willpower boost through Faramir. But the easy access to readying effects makes Faramir even better since his ability is not restricted to once per round. For just 1 extra resource you can ready Faramir through Ever Vigilant and ready him up only to exhaust again and buff your questing characters with another point of willpower. But the added Gondor synergy that is found in Leadership makes him a potent ally outside of his ability as well. Throw him into any Leadership deck that you can, and he will do you good.
Another obviously great card here is Strength of Arms. While this will not ready heroes, it will ready all allies across the table. Play this before staging if you have scried a Necromancer’s Reach and it will be a free encounter card. But the effect also allows the utility allies of other players to trigger again, and makes sure you have a lot of willpower AND enough characters ready for combat. Working together with the Faramir ally mentioned in the previous paragraph, you can get his ability ágain even if you readied him individually. Just stack those willpower buffs on the allies and make a ton of progress. The cost of 2 resources in Leadership makes this card really affordable and worth discussing with your fellow players. In a 4 player mono-Leadership setup, you can be readying all allies each round with this effect, giving you a lot of action advantage against the encounter deck. Should you run out of copies, then Grim Resolve is a valid option as well, though those 5 resources will hurt more than Strength of Arms‘ 2.
“Bad” Mono-Leadership cards
Even with all the resources you might need, some cards are just simply not worth the inclusion in your deck. You can better include many other cards in your deck to provide a more consistent deck than these cards. The first of these is Brok Ironfist. While I did get him to somewhat work with Dain’s buffs and Fellowship, it is just almost not justifyable. Yes, sneaking him into play and triggering A Very Good Tale will be good, but so would it be with characters like Gandalf, who makes up for his lower cost for the event by having an enter play ability to benefit off of. Brok is best left in your binder unless you really gotta include him in your Dwarven Fellowship for some reason…
Another ally that suffers from “Brok-syndrome”, which is being way too overcosted for what you get in return, is Dunedain Wanderer. Just sit there for a minute and think about what this ally is, I’ll wait… Ok, so for the cost of 5 resources, you get a pretty generic ally with worse stats to the comparable Northern Tracker who costs 1 resource less. But instead of an overpowered ability, you just get the Ranged and Sentinel keywords. Like you are going to defend a lot of attacks with a 2 defence, 2 hitpoint ally. Of course, this ally was designed around the Secrecy mechanic, but even in decks that run well below 20 threat, you don’t see this guy ever. Mono-Leadership decks will be able to afford him within a single turn if you have Steward of Gondor, but getting an ally like Gandalf in return is just so much better. At the secrecy cost of 2, I can see you slotting this guy in your deck, but even then he doesn’t really do much. The keywords are nice though. It gives the other players a little help across the board while you are sitting in the back of the line sneaking your way to victory.
Here are some decks for you to get a taste of mono-Leadership lineups. While not a complete list, you can build your own decks based on these.
And so ends this third mono-sphere article this month. I will do my best to round up these articles with the mono-Tactics soon. From there, I will look at updating other trait articles in the following months.