When it comes to mono-sphere decks, none have had a harder time getting to their current strength than Tactics. The mono-tactics deck in the Core Set lacks too much to beat any of the scenarios in there without an incredible amount of luck. But in recent times, mono-Tactics has become a popular strategy to build around, with a few important cards making the difference. So in this article I will go over the strengths and weaknesses of a mono-Tactics deck, and give some tips on what you should consider when building a deck.
Tactics decks have always meant combat. And this is truly what it does best. Your characters are much better prepared for combat than those of other sphere, with higher stats in attack and defence, plus additional combat abilities. You won’t soon see a 4 defence character like Defender of Rammas in Lore or Spirit, especially at a low cost. This is why any deck that wants to do combat effectively must include some Tactics cards to help out. In terms of heroes, you have some of the biggest slayers around when it comes to attack, with Quickbeam, Aragorn, and Beorn having the best base attack values (counting Aragorn’s debuff to defence), making them reliable attackers from the start of the game.
Defence is also easy for Tactics, as they have good defensive heroes as well. Beregond, Beorn, and Grimbeorn come to mind. These are able to defend for anyone at the table, relieving other decks from their enemies for a while. This combination of attack and defence makes Tactics shine during the combat phase. The added benefit of having lots of Ranged and Sentinel characters also helps with this, making sure that other decks can commit more to exploration and questing.
Boosting these stats is also very easy in Tactics with the help of Armor and Weapons. Weapons tend to boost attack strength and have various other abilities. They can also be used to inflict direct damage to enemies in some cases (Sting, Spear of the Citadel, Bow of Yew). These Weapons make sure that you can get heroes and allies upgraded to have enough attack strength to take out any enemy with very few characters. This also helps against boss-level enemies, who go down a lot easier when attackers are equipped with Weapons. Armor attachments do the opposite, where they buff defence and hitpoints. This allows Tactics to get their defenders to survive more than just one hit. While base defence stats in Tactics are good, having extra points of defence protects your character from an unexpected +2 attack shadow card on the attacking enemy. All of these Weapon and Armor attachments are also easily found with cards like Open the Armoury and Bofur, making it easy to get your deck all geared up to take on the enemies.
Debuffing enemies is also easier for Tactics cards without having to resort to traps like Entangling Nets. Allies like the Marksman of Lorien, attachments like the Blade of Gondolin, and events like Beorn’s Rage can lower the stats on enemies to make them easier to kill. The enemies can’t be immune to player card effects, but these effects are usually cheaper than buffing your own stats. Lower defence is especially useful in the early game against enemies with a ton of defence. This can allow you to snipe through the defence and kill the enemy. Lowering attack helps with enemies that hit harder than your defenders can handle for now, and keeps your characters alive until they can survive hits like that on their own when equipped with Armor.
Let’s address the Mumak in the room: Tactics has a hard time getting enough willpower to the table. This is one of the major drawbacks to early Tactics decks, as they didn’t have any way to make progress that didn’t include Legolas and Blade of Gondolin. These required enemies, and if the encounter deck didn’t give them, you are all out of luck and would be locked in place and end up threating out. This meant that a mono-Tactics deck was impossible to sustain in a solo game. The developers tried to fix this towards the end of the Against the Shadow cycle with Trained for War and Theoden. But this wasn’t really enough to push it over the edge of becoming a viable strategy. That came during the Dream-chaser cycle when the new Flame of the West expansion came out. This gave us Tactics Eowyn, who quested for 4 by herself (5 with Theoden) and caused the real rise of mono-Tactics decks. She was aided in this with Grappling Hook at around the same time, that could cause the Tactics player to quest with just one hero for 10! This got boosted further with Hirgon and some extra allies around that time that had cheap willpower for the standards of Tactics. Questing is now no longer a real problem for Tactics, but it is usually focused around some of your heroes and a few unique allies (Meneldor, Pippin, Grimbold) that you must try and get into play in order to make progress.
But besides willpower, Tactics has a few other issues that you will come across when building a deck with only access to Tactics cards. Card draw is a big issue, as you won’t have access to a wide variety of card draw effects. This can leave you with having few cards in your hand and top-decking for a long time. There are two reliable ways around this in Tactics, and it is generally advised to include both in your mono-Tactics deck. The first is ally Legolas who will draw you one card when he destroys an enemy. While his initial cost may be high, he can be a good ranged attacker, making sure that his ability can be used when attacking enemies all over the table. The second is Foe-hammer, which requires a bit of setup. You will need a Weapon on a hero and kill an enemy with that hero. Then, you can play Foe-hammer to exhaust the weapon, and draw 3 cards. This is a great engine, but not one you can rely on from the start of the game if your deck is light on weapons. Both of these options also require enemies to be in play. If there is a shortage of those for a few rounds, you won’t have any card draw options without resorting to Neutral cards like Gandalf. This is generally not a problem in high player counts, but can be an issue in solo.
Another problem with Tactics is its lack of healing cards. While there are several cards than can cancel damage (Honour Guard) and cards that can redirect damage (Song of Mocking, Valiant Guard), these do not interact with damage tokens once they have been placed. This means that any damage that is taken cannot be healed off within the Tactics sphere and will need help. While your characters can survive enemy attacks rather well, they might struggle with encounter card effects that deal direct damage to several characters at once, or with Archery. This can leave you hurting and losing characters in the long run. There isn’t much support in Neutral for this either, with only Magic Ring offering a single point of healing per round in exchange for threat.
This leads me to the next weakness in Tactics, threat reduction. While this is arguably not all that important for the deck that is going to attack and defend most enemies, it can lead to a swift defeat once you cross the threat elimination level. The lack of threat reduction and the reasonably high threat cost of your heroes will mean that you can reach Valour relatively quickly, but that is a slippery slope to threating out. There are some options here that will help though. Secret Vigil can allow you to drop your threat by the printed threat of an enemy you just defeated. This attachment does require some setup though, and will require you to keep an enemy alive for a round before you can play the attachment. Even then, lowering your threat with this card generally doesn’t get you further down than 3 per attachment. Other good options are in the Neutral cardpool, with Gandalf and Favour of the Valar offering some easier threat reduction, though it does come at a high cost.
Location control is also still a huge problem for Tactics, as they don’t have much in the way of location control cards. Placing progress on locations is pretty much reduced to Arod, and while Legolas and Blade of Gondolin can still make progress on the active location and the quest cards when you kill something with them, you can’t do much about locations in the staging area. You will have to rely on others to do this for you, and make sure that you can travel each round.
The following expansions are worth getting if you are interested in making a viable mono-Tactics deck. Adding in any characters that might solve some of the weaknesses in the sphere will of course also be advised, but naming all of them would take priority away from the important expansions to get.
- Core Set
- The Druadan Forest
- Encounter at Amon Din
- Assault on Osgiliath
- The Morgul Vale
- Beneath the Sands
- Roam Across Rhovanion
- A Shadow in the East
- The Flame of the West (!)
The following archetypes work well in a mono-Tactics deck. While not all are exclusive to Tactics, they can be integrated into a deck that stands a chance against scenarios.
- Eagles: This is one of the archetypes that got developed in the first cycle, and featured only Tactics cards. Over the years, Eagle decks have become more viable with the introduction of new allies, and even some more events. While modern Eagle decks tend to include a bit of Lore with Radagast, they can still be used in a mono-Tactics deck without any problems. They provide cheap bodies for attack and defence, but can also boost heroes through Support of the Eagles. With their own fetch event, you will be able to get these birds out pretty quickly in a mono-sphere deck, despite some of them being rather pricey.
- Beornings: Another archetype that is only found in Tactics and therefore easy to pay for if all your heroes have the printed Tactics sphere. The Beorning archetype is pretty small, but revolves around getting solid allies out for cheap with the Beorning Skinchangers. From there, they are combat machines, but will leave for the discard pile or your deck after triggering abilities. Not to worry, since the Skinchangers can revive them and allow you to trigger their abilities multiple times. Just splashing Beorning allies in your deck is decent, providing you with bear-shaped pin-cushions for Archery before they leave.
- Rohan: I know that the Rohan archetypes is technically divided over 3 spheres, but in terms of heroes, Tactics has a wide arrangement of options. Rohan also brings plenty of useful allies to the field, which will be useful to pad out your deck with. There is a reasonable chance that you will be including at least 1 Rohan hero in your deck, with Eowyn and Theoden both helping out with willpower. So it would be best to capitalize on this and throw in some Rohan gear and allies to further improve your deck. You might even end up being able to charge into the staging area and taking out enemies there with Forth Eorlingas! Mounts and Golden Shield also help out if you are going this route.
- Ents: While they do miss several of their Lore friends, Tactics Ents are still worth including in your deck. They make for good attackers and defenders, and some like Beechbone and Skinbark have unique abilities that can come in handy. You can still pay for Lore Ents if you bring Treebeard and build up resources on him. Healing will end up being an issue, but that just boosts Ents even further with abilities like Booming Ent and Boomed and Trumpeted.
- Direct Damage: Like Lore, Tactics is also very advanced in the field of dealing direct damage. With plenty of heroes and attachments dedicated to this archetype, you will find yourself with a deck that can deal good damage to enemies even before they engage. A favourite combo of mine is the old Gondorian Spearman with the Spear of the Citadel being able to take out any 2 hitpoint enemy without their attack resolving. Bring down the hitpoints of these enemies low enough, and you will find yourself in a comfortable position. Not a top-tier archetype, but very welcome in a multiplayer game.
- Valour: I covered this already, but Tactics has an easy time getting to Valour thanks to high starting threat on heroes and a lack of threat reduction. This can push you past 40 threat within a few turns, allowing you to get an extra benefit out of a select few cards. Not only does the Red Arrow now fetch you an ally, you can also cancel more damage with your Honor Guards, and can straight up discard enemies with Fierce Defence. It is a relatively risky deck type, but it can make you even more effective during combat. Pack some Favor of the Valar just in case though.
Some Tactics cards can only be played with a mono-Tactics deck, and when they hit the table, it is amazing. One of these mono-sphere cards is Thicket of Spears, which has been around since the Core Set and was only playable in a mono-Tactics deck. And right out of the Core Set… mono-Tactics sucked. So this card hasn’t seen that much play in the early days outside of a multiplayer game. But the ability to have one player feint all of their enemies is really useful if they are getting swarmed. This allows you to save a few dead heroes and have enough characters left over to counter-attack some of the engaged enemies. This is great in a Dunedain deck, where the number of enemies will likely be greater than 3, making this more worthwhile than Feint. You can also combo this event with more Tactics events to get a greater use out of it. The Hammer-stroke will force all enemies in play to engage you. This means you will be swarmed with enemies (potentially getting some bonusses for Warrior Sword, Mablung, or Fornost Bowman). These enemies can then all be taken away their attack with the Thicket, allowing you to gang up on these enemies. If your fellow players have some Ranged support, you can do some great damage to the enemy ranks since none of them would have attacked. The downside is that you do have to cough up one resource per hero you control, meaning that the cost of this event cannot be cancelled. But playing this and rescuing a player is such a feel good moment, that it is worth the price.
Another high cost Tactics event that is worth discussing is Hour of Wrath. This event has 2 effects, one of which can only be used in Valour. The regular ability allows one hero to not have to exhaust to attack or defend for that phase. This is useful when you play it on a Ranged or Sentinel character, since they can now attack or defend every enemy on the board. If you have built up a single character to defend all attacks (A fully kitted out Beregond), they can defend for the entire team without having to exhaust for that. You can also select a hero like Legolas, who can place 2 progress on the quest whenever he kills an enemy. This can push you forwards in the quest during a phase when progress normally isn’t placed. There are also combo’s out there with Merry, who allows any character that destroyed an enemy with him to ready, meaning you’ll get more action advantage on the table as you kill more enemies. Once you hit the 40 threat, you can choose a player who can then have their heroes to never have to exhaust to attack or defend for that phase. That triples this event’s effect, and can wipe the board of enemies. The cost of 4 resources is the big obstacle with playing this card though. Using cost reductors like Good Meal is advised, allowing you to don’t have to save up for this effect for several turns.
“Bad” mono-Tactics cards
Trained for War was one of the first attempts the developers made that would allow Tactics to quest harder. By making the quest a Battle quest, all players must quest with their attack strength instead of their willpower. But this comes at the cost of 2 Tactics resources and the restriction that all your heroes must have a printed Tactics resource icon. While in solo games, this might be a great move, allowing you to burst through the quest, it really hurts other players in multiplayer games. This is because they will be geared towards regular willpower questing, and not questing with their attack strength. On top of that, sending your attackers to the quest makes it so that you won’t be able to attack any enemies that are about to be revealed. This event has some uses, and in a world before restrictions on Erebor Battlemaster, this was great. But nowadays Tactics has moved towards more willpower on allies, making this event not all that useful.
The Veteran of Nanduhirion is another card that should be avoided if possible. While his stats are decent, he comes in at a cost of 4 in Tactics. You can really do better than that than with a Dwarf ally that comes in damaged. In Tactics, you won’t have a way to heal this damage, so that’s gonna stay on there. You are far better off getting Legolas or Deorwine at this cost than this Dwarf ally that won’t be doing much for you. Not to mention that some of the Angmar Awakened and Haradrim quests have you deal damage to characters when they enter play or interact with damaged characters (blanking textboxes, not being able to defend, etc). It would be a waste of resources to bring this ally outside of a Dwarf deck, and even there it is not an optimal play, since the Erebor Battlemaster outclasses it.
The following mono-Tactics decks are meant to help you on your way to understand the mechanics of these sort of decks. The list contains a few decks you can try out before building your own mono-Tactics deck.
And so concludes my series this month on the mono-sphere lineup of heroes you can make. With these 4 articles, you have the basic knowledge to build a mono-sphere deck and know what your weaknesses and strengths are. I hope they have been useful and if there are any cards in the next cycle that will make any of the mono-sphere lineups different, then I will update the articles accordingly.