Sometimes, a secondary trait on cards can go around unnoticed until that trait suddenly gets some development. Such was the case with the Creature trait, which had no synergy at all until the end of the Ered Mithrin cycle. While a large subset of creatures have their own synergy, the Eagles, it is important to note that a non-Eagle creature deck now also slowly becomes viable with the introduction of Radagast and his staff. In this article, I will take a closer look at the Creature trait as a whole, though my analysis on the Eagles can be found elsewhere.
Who are the Creatures?
It wasn’t just Men, Elves, and Dwarves that withstood Sauron and his minions during the War of the Ring, many animals also helped in order to keep their territory or to help their bipedal masters. The game has many creatures that help you in your quests, ranging from bears to birds to horses. These animals will help you by carrying your loads, send messages, or to charge into battle with you!
While the Creature synergy is relatively new, we have been getting Creature allies since before the Fate of Wilderland pack. Many of these were Eagles, but a few other creatures also joined the roster. These were often used for their synergy with other traits, such as Hobbits, Rohan, and Beornings, but can also work with each other to form a Creature deck. During the Land of Sorrow, we even got our very first Creature hero! These packs feature Creature characters or support the trait, pick up the bold packs first:
- The entire Shadows of Mirkwood cycle [Eagles, Radagast, and Riddermark’s Finest]
- Trouble in Tharbad [Ally Gwaihir]
- Roam Across Rhovanion [Meneldor and other allies]
- Fire in the Night [Giant Bear]
- The Fate of Wilderland [Radagast+Staff, 3 extra Creature allies]
- The Land of Sorrow [Hero Gwaihir + Eagles]
- The Black Riders [Bill the Pony]
The Creature cards belong to all spheres, but Tactics really stands out due to the number of Eagle allies that also have the Creature trait. However, the sphere of the Creature ally does not often matter if you are playing with either version of Radagast. His hero version allows him to use his resources for creature allies of any sphere, and his ally version does the same. This means that you can simply throw all Creature allies you have into a deck and you will be able to pay for them. The Lore sphere is probably going to be used in such a deck, since you will likely run Radagast in his hero version. This opens up some more card draw for you, allowing you to get your creatures out even faster!
Tactics Creature cards tend to be the more combat focussed allies, like Eagles and Beornings. Spirit Creature cards are horses, which can either make progress on locations, or attach to other allies in order to boost their stats, turning from Creature into a Mount. Leadership Creature allies support your deck with some willpower, stat buffs, and a potential card draw engine. Lore Creature allies are only the Loyal Hounds, who are also aggressive, and have damage cancellation options.
The synergy of the Creature trait was introduced during the Fate of Wilderland expansion when hero Radagast was announced. He has the ability to play Creature cards from any sphere, and does not exhaust to quest if you have played at least one Creature ally from your hand this round. This gives him more uses per round, and you can play around with many different Creature allies that he can pay for. He is helped in this by his Staff, which can either lower the cost of Creature allies by 2, making many Creatures free, but it can also ready a Creature ally or return a Creature enemy to the staging area. While the enemy option isn’t real synergy with the trait, the other 2 effects help out a lot in a Creature deck. Not only are you able to send out more Creatures more quickly, but you also have the ability to ready a Creature at will. This can cause you to attack twice with an Eagles of the Misty Mountains, or to both quest and use the effect on Riddermark’s Finest!
While the stats on individual Creature cards are usually low (excluding Eagle and Beorning allies), it does not often matter. This is because many Creature cards want to leave play in order to do an effect. This can be a built in discard option (Loyal Hound, Riddermark’s Finest), or an effect that responds on the Creature leaving play (Meneldor, Descendant of Thorondor). Some Creature allies aren’t discarded, but instead return to your hand (Messenger Raven), go back into your deck (Giant Bear), or attach to other allies so that the ally turns into an attachment (Wild Stallion). This makes Creatures often very fleeting, never staying in play for long (excluding some Eagles again).
There are some Eagle Creatures that also tend to leave play through their own effect. These can in turn ready hero Gwaihir, and can leave during various points in the round. These are not really synergizing with the Creature trait though, but allies like Wilyador do reinforce the fleeting allies archetype.
Another quirk of Creature cards is that they cannot have (Restricted) attachments. This prevents a dog from running off into battle with a sword. It also prevents Eagles riding mounts and many other weird interactions. Eagles cannot have Restricted attachments, while most other Creatures cannot have any attachments at all. This makes a Creature deck very light on attachments, which creates more space in your deck to add in a few more Creature allies! The only exception to the “No attachments” rule are the Riddermark’s Finest. But since that ally discards itself, you probably don’t want to give them an attachment in the first place. But in theory, you could add a Wild Stallion to the team of horses from the Riddermark. For a deck exploring this loophole, check this link.
Synergy with other traits
Besides the obvious link that many of the Creatures have with the Eagle trait, there are some other individual Creatures that have some synergy with other traits. I have covered Eagles before, so for their interactions, check out that post. It is also from Eagles that we get our first Creature hero, with Gwaihir. He has more synergy with the Eagle trait though, so stick with Radagast for a more Creature-focussed deck.
Bill the Pony is the unsung 10th member of the Fellowship of the Ring and has some synergy with the Hobbit trait. While Sam Gamgee is under your control, your Hobbit characters gain +1 hitpoint. This makes thematic sense and really makes Bill work better with Hobbits than with other Creatures. Still, he is free with Radagast’s Staff and provides the Messenger Raven with some company in the Leadership sphere.
Riddermark’s Finest has synergy with the Rohan trait, as the ally also has that trait printed on it. Add to this the ability that you can discard the ally at any time in order to make some progress, and you will have several other effects going off in a Rohan deck. You can also bring back this Creature with Guthwinë and can lower their cost with Spirit Theoden as well.
The Giant Bear also happens to have the Beorning trait, meaning that there will be a way to drastically lower the cost of the bear with Beorning Skinchanger. The Giant Bear can also use Beorn’s Rage to hit enemies harder, making it a true wrecking-ball during the combat phase.
Finally, the Creature trait works well with the Istari trait thanks to Radagast supporting both traits. Having Radagast in your Creature deck opens up cards like Word of Command and Flame of Anor, which are some powerful cards to bring to your animal-zoo-type deck. The Istari trait also provides you with access to Gwaihir’s Debt, which can accelerate Eagle-heavy Creature decks.
Besides the obvious staple of having hero Radagast and his Staff in every Creature deck that you can, you might want to consider the following allies as well. While the pool of Creature cards is small, most of them are worth the cost purely because they are Creatures. There are no bad Eagle allies out there, so adding those into your deck will always help out. But in terms of non-Eagle staples, your selection is very small.
I will say that the Messenger Raven has become a staple in my Creature decks since it can return to your hand at the end of each round. This allows you to keep cycling this bird in and out of play each round, which will keep Radagast ready for all quest phases at the cost of a single resource. The Raven itself doesn’t do much besides questing, but can also make for a cheap Sailing character during the Dream-chaser cycle. Returning the Raven to your hand allows you to draw the top card of your deck if you guess the type correctly. Combine this ability with either hero Gandalf or with a Wizard Pipe on Radagast, and you have a reliable source of card draw as well. It allows you to always have a Creature in your hand if you need it, which is pretty important in the later stages of your games, when most other Creatures are either discarded, or piled underneath an Eagles of the Misty Mountains.
“Bad” Creature cards
Not all cards that deal with Creatures are on the same level though. One of the worst cards to bring is the ally version of Radagast. This 5 cost Istari ally will start to generate resources for you, but his initial investment of 5 resources will take him a long while to start making a profit. The resources that this ally generates can be used to either pay for Creature cards from your hand or to heal wounds on any 1 Creature. This card is one of the worst cases of Mirkwood Syndrome, where he would look very different in terms of cost/stat ratio. His ability to pay for any Creature cards is nice, but the healing is almost never used since Creatures tend to want to leave play a lot. This makes wasting resources on healing a poor decision. Radagast is completely eclipsed by his hero version, and will likely only ever see play in decks that either need an Istari character that stays in play, or a deck that only has access to a very small part of the card pool, in which case he is just a simple ally.
With the archetype being relatively new, you will likely see the same sort of deck with a few tweaks here and there if you want to play a Creature deck. Eagle decks on their own are technically also Creature decks, though they fall in a league of their own. I couldn’t find a deck that simply ran all Creatures, so here a few decks that try and use the archetype to the best of their abilities.
And so ends a review of the Creature archetype, a trait that sprung out of nowhere and created some fun dynamics with other traits. Should there be more Creatures in the current cycle, then I will update the article accordingly.