Chances are that this article will be out before I cover my first impressions of Wrath and Ruin. This is due to the delays that first AP had, and that City of Ulfast fortunately didn’t have that much of. This pack is a very solid one, and I have gotten to play with many player cards early because so many got spoiled in the announcement article. So in this article I will share my initial opinions on all player cards in this pack, and on the quest itself.
This hero got partially spoiled to us in a Reddit post, and got announced in full during the article on the AP. As such, I have been proxying Lothiriel in several decks already, some of which I even played at Con of the Rings last year to great effect. Lothiriel is another questing Spirit hero, which means that she might fill a spot that was previously occupied by Eowyn. While she has 1 less point of willpower, she makes up for it with a lower starting threat of 8 and a very solid ability that will probably increase the willpower you get through her this phase. When Lothiriel commits to the quest, you may play an ally from your hand that matches one of her traits. That ally is then exhausted and also sent to the quest, giving you extra willpower and a lightning rod for any treacheries that either discard an ally or deal damage to one. If the ally is still in play at the end of the phase, it gets shuffled back into the deck. There are some great targets for this ability that I have come to use in the time that I played with Lothiriel. Spirit Damrod ally is a good target, since you can now play him for free, and discard him after the quest has resolved to lower your threat by the number of enemies in the staging area. Other good Gondor targets are Lore Faramir ally from the Deluxe, Minas Tirith Lampwright to not waste a resource putting him in play, and Prince Imrahil. Imrahil is a great target as you can discard Caldara after the quest and bring out an extra ally becuase Imrahil now becomes a hero. Remember that while he may be exhausted, you didn’t pay for him and thus got a 4 cost ally into play that has now become a hero. Imrahil isn’t discarded through Lothiriel’s effect anymore, adding a nice spin on the Caldara deck.
But Gondor isn’t the only trait Lothiriel has. Her Noble trait is also important, as this can bring out allies like Arwen Undomiel and Glorfindel for free. Both have excellent willpower and Arwen will even use her buff on another character when she exhausts. The fact that you can keep recycling these allies as they are shuffled into the deck is great! Another part of Lothriel’s textbox mentions that while Eomer (her husband) is in play, she gains the Rohan trait as well. This sets up a Gondor/Rohan style deck that I have personally not tried yet, but am looking forward to, especially given the cards in this pack. Leadership Eomer would have my preference, as I like to play Leadership with Lothiriel as well in order to play Visionary Leadership to buff the allies I bring into play for free (as long as they are Gondor).
This is a very versatile questing character that you can give all sorts of traits through attachments to fit your deck. Silvans are a good match, but I found that a Lothiriel deck gets pretty crowded, so maybe stick to 1 or 2 archetypes you want to use with her. Card draw is also a priority with this deck, as it runs out of card pretty quickly. Before this pack was released, I used Ancient Mathom and Eowyn + Elven-Light to fuel my hand. But if you don’t draw allies, you may end up with just a generic questing hero.
Angbor the Fearless
While I love the fact that we are finally getting the captains of the Outlands in this cycle, I do lament that they don’t have the Outlands trait on their textbox. I know that the archetype doesn’t really need more support, but it would have been a nice nod to the lore. Still, it is amazing we get these names in the cardpool at long last. Angbor the Fearless is a 2 cost Gondor ally, which by itself makes him already outstanding in a swarm-style Gondor deck. With 2 willpower and 1 attack, he will be a good source of willpower for the early game, especially if Visionary Leadership buffs his willpower to 3. This makes him also a good target for Lothiriel in this deck, adding some more willpower to the table for free. However, the real strength of Angbor is revealed once you reach 40 threat or higher. In the face of this threat, Angbor gets +2 attack and won’t exhaust to quest. This means you get his 2 willpower for free, and still have a 3 attack ally ready after the quest phase for just 2 resources! That is great value, especially if you can buff Angbor further with Leadership Boromir+Visionary Leadership. This makes Angbor a great ally for any Gondor deck, as long as you remember that he really doesn’t do defending. Luckily, there are enough other allies that are better at defending than Angbor, so there is really no reason to throw one or two copies of him in your Gondor or Valour deck. With Gondor quickly gaining a lot of cards that help out at 40 threat or higher, this may very well end up being a single deck archetype that I am looking forward to bring to the Black Gate, where your threat will be higher than 40 most of the time.
It has been a long time since the Victory Display archetype received any new cards, but it is one of the archetypes that could use a bit more support. That’s why the Woodland Sentry enters the cardpool, giving us a little more to do with the cards in the victory display. This 3 cost Lore ally has a generic stat line of 1/1/1/2, and the Silvan trait. 2 hitpoint Silvan allies are rare, but at 3 cost, I think that extra hitpoint is well-deserved. The rest of the statline is a bit all over the place, making the Sentry decent in all sorts of rolls. With Celeborn on the table, this ally will go up to 2/2/2/2 which is a lot better for the cost. But what you are actually paying for is the ability that triggers whenever the Woodland Sentry enters play. Once she is played from your hand, you may trigger the response that allows you to pick a location or enemy currently in play. If there is another copy of that card in the Victory Display, you may immediately discard the chosen card. This has its uses, as you can straight up discard the second copy of Hill Troll during Journey Along the Anduin if you have already beaten the first one. There is no restriction on that card being in the staging area or having no victory points, so whatever you put in the VD, its other copies become a good target for this ally if you do not discard them with The Door is Closed. However, there are some drawbacks to this ally. The 3 cost in Lore is quite a high price, and Silvan decks would rather play a Silvan Tracker for that price that has better stats and a healing ability. Victory Display decks prefer to keep their resources around to play their events, and won’t often have 3 resources to spare. Sneaking in the Silvan Tracker through Tree-People is also not worth it, as the textbox specifically says that you have to play this ally from your hand. In order to gain access to her ability, you also have to do some setup where you already have a non-unique encounter card in the victory display. Even then, The Door is Closed is a cheaper way of getting rid of the encounter card, and can even cancel treacheries. But discarding a second copy of a nasty location or enemy should not be underestimated, and I think that if I ever build another mono-Lore VD deck, that this ally will find a place in it. You do get to keep the ally around, and can even discard enemies that are engaged with a player. There is definitely some worth in this card, but I would have preferred her to be 2 costed. O Lorien can do this, but VD decks rarely run Leadership to trigger this effect.
Knight of Belfalas
Gondor is getting a lot of love in this pack, especially with an ally like this. The Knight of Belfalas was another ally that was spoiled early on, allowing me to proxy him and put him in my Lothiriel deck. This worked wonders, since this Spirit Gondor ally has a nice 2 attack for 2 resources, which is something that Spirit is still lacking. The added attack has helped out a lot, but that wasn’t the main reason why these allies got put in the deck. Whenever the Knight of Belfalas enters play, you may return a Gondor ally from your discard pile to your hand. Since there are plenty of Gondor allies that will enter the discard pile through their own effect (Damrod, Minas Tirith Lampwright, Derufin) or through chumping (Squire of the Citadel, Gondorian Spearman), there will usually be enough targets for this ally to return the ally to your hand. It doesn’t even have to be the top ally in the discard pile, so you can choose what works best for you at the time. If you are playing the Knight of Belfalas in the planning phase, then you can also play the retrieved ally if you have the resources for it, which can mean that you can recover your boardstate a little faster. You can also play the ally with Lothiriel in the quest phase, keeping her engine going without having to rely on card draw to restock your hand. This ally is an easy 3 of in my Spirit Gondor decks, and will either be used as attackers, or just as generic allies that can chump or even quest for a little. The added Warrior trait also opens up some Weapons for the allies, but most of those will require a Tactics resource match, which is not a deck that I have built yet. A great all-round ally, which brings back some of the other Gondor allies so you can keep your swarm going!
Horn of the Mark
This was one of two cards that weren’t spoiled in the preview article of the pack, but that doesn’t mean that this card is worth ignoring. The Horn of the Mark reminds me a lot of the Core Set card Horn of Gondor, where players get a resource each time an ally is destroyed. The Horn of the Mark does this differently, as the designers learned from their mistakes with the initial phrasing on Horn of Gondor. The Horn of the Mark is a 1 cost Spirit attachment, which can attach to either a Rohan hero or to Merry (as he is gifted the horn in the lore). The Horn is a Restricted Item and Artifact, which means that it can go in a Burglar-Contract deck, but also works with the contract in this pack (though you need others to play allies, as you won’t have any). Once attached, the Horn will trigger a response each time a character leaves play that shares a trait with the attached hero. This is not limited to just Hobbits or Rohan characters, but traits like Noldor, Silvan, Gondor, Warrior, Scout, etc can also be granted through various Title attachments. This means that a lot of heroes can get this horn when they also have Nor Am I A Stranger attached, after which the Horn of the Mark can also work for other archetypes. The actual benefit with this, is that íf a character leaves play with the correct trait match, then you may exhaust the Horn of the Mark to draw a card. I can see this being a top-tier card, as it provides solid card draw each round for decks that often see allies leave play. This can be good for a Rohan deck, but also with Lothiriel, once she gets the Rohan trait. This card draw allows you to restock your hand with allies after they get shuffled into the deck through her ability. This is also just straight up good card draw in Spirit, which for a long time relied on Elven-light plus a discard option. But now, you can simply play this Horn and it will grant you some more cards during your game. It does require a deck on the table that loses allies often, which is why I want to try and use this in a Silvan deck. Unlike the Horn of Gondor, the allies don’t have to be destroyed, meaning that it will be very reliable with Silvans on the table. The Horn does require a Restricted slot and is unique, so it can’t be spammed, but I think this will help mono-spirit builds a lot with their card draw issues.
Strength and Courage
This was the other player card that didn’t get spoiled in the preview article. It is the Master card of this pack, and judging from the other articles we’ve seen so far, we will get one in every pack. This is a Tactics attachment that can only go on the hero with the One Ring. It is limited to one per hero and will grant the attached hero a +1 to their attack stat. This is already a good attachment if you are looking to play the One Ring on your attacker, making the hero more powerful. And since the attachment has the Master trait, you can find it in your deck for the setup portion of the One Ring, so it is pretty reliable as well. You only have to include one of this attachment in your deck if you want to fish it out at the start. The real power of Strength and Courage is the response that goes with it. This is not limited to the combat phase, so you can trigger it at any point. It does require that you exhaust the One Ring and raise your threat by 1, but it will double the base attack stat of the attached hero for a single attack. Note that you cannot use this in combination with cards like Grappling Hook or for Battle questing, as the attachment requires that the attached hero makes an attack. However, this attachment will grant the hero a bonus to its attack of usually 2-3 on top of the static +1 it gets from the attachment. The best user for this attachment would be the new Saruman hero, as he has a base attack of 4, which would make him a 9 attack if he only has this attachment. This can be combined with Weapons to boost attack even further. However, do note that is says printed attack power, so no 21 attack Tactics Eowyn through this card alone. The attack stat also only gets buffed for one attack only, so readying would not mean that the same hero can attack with the boost in the same phase. Some good targets for this attachment (I think) are Grimbeorn the Old, Haldir of Lorien, Bard the Bowman, and Saruman. The Ent heroes would have been great targets, but since the One Ring is restricted, they cannot wield it. If you are planning on putting the One Ring on an attacker, then this card will be an auto-include.
It makes sense that an attachment like the War Axe would come in the same pack as the Forth! The Three Hunters contract, as that has a big impact on its reception. The War Axe is a Tactics Weapon attachment that can only go on Tactics characters. It is both limited to one per character and Restricted. So there are a lot of criteria that must be met before a character can wield this axe, but in return, you get a nice attack buff for just 1 resource. The attached character will get a +1 attack buff for each Restricted item attached to the same character. This means that the Axe itself will give you a +1, and any other Restricted attachments will further boost this by another +1. This is where the attachment will stop being useful for most characters, as many only have 2 restricted slots. However, the contract in this pack will give the attached hero another restricted slot, allowing them to get a maximum of +3 attack with this attachment. To go even beyond this value, you can play Golden Belt on top of the contract, for a potential +4. The contract will also lower the cost to play the War Axe by 1, if you time it correctly. This makes it an auto include for your Three Hunters deck if you have a Tactics hero in your lineup. Outside of the contract, you can also get to +3 attack with the Golden Belt, but you might start to get more use out of other weapons that are more tailored towards the hero you intend to use it on. Still, a minimum of +2 attack for 1 cost is the norm when it comes to Weapons, and the only restriction is really that you have to have a Tactics character to play this attachment onto. It is good for characters who don’t get trait-specific weapons, or for characters who tend to get 2 weapons anyway. You do need to play other restricted attachments besides the War Axe, so it isn’t a card you can simply splash into any deck. But there are cases enough where the Axe will be useful, especially combined with the new contract.
Lore is really getting some good weapons in its sphere in the past few cycles. Where Legacy Blade and Glamdring came before, we now get Keen Longbow to make a mono-Lore deck a bit more multi-player friendly. I have often struggled with the fact that while my location control deck works great during the quest and travel phase, it pretty much did nothing during the combat phase and my teammates had to deal with the left-over enemies. All the while I have heroes like Haldan and Glorfindel left ready, each with 3 attack. But now that the Keen Longbow is in the cardpool, I can give such heroes the Ranged keyword and they can help out! Even better, not only does the Keen Longbow grant the Ranged keyword, it also gives another damaging ability that is really powerful in a Lore deck that loves drawing cards. After the attached hero makes an attack against any enemy (doesn’t have to be a Ranged attack), you can discard up to 3 cards from your hand in order to deal 1 point of direct damage to the enemy for each card you discarded. This is a perfect way of dealing that last point of damage you need to kill an enemy off. The cost of discarding a card is pretty minor, as Lore-heavy decks can draw a lot of cards in a relative small amount of time. The only real cost with this weapon is the intial cost of 2 resources. That is quite a lot for a Weapon, especially in Lore where you don’t have a lot of resource generation. But I do think that you get something worth of 2 resources in return. Lore didn’t have that many Ranged options outside of heroes like Haldir and Argalad. Getting a dedicated weapon that is Dunedain Cache but better, is wonderful. This weapon can also work in true solo as a direct damage tool, but you won’t get as good a bargain as in a multiplayer deck. This is a good Weapon for Noldor decks too, though a Lore hero is required to equip this bow. You also need to have a Restricted slot available, though with this pack’s Contract, that really shouldn’t be an issue. This bow is a wonderful tool to make some Lore heroes actually do something in the combat phase, and serves as a good way to ditch duplicate cards for Lore decks without having to include Noldor cards.
Need Drives Them
In order to further increase the effectiveness of the Valour archetype, some more benefits were needed to pursuade people to go to 40 threat and stay above that. This event is one such benefit, which is quite a straightforward ability. If a player has a threat of 40 or higher, then the event will ready all characters controlled by that player at the cost of 3 resources in Leadership. This is not the first time that Leadership has gotten a large readying effect. This is a cheaper version of Grim Resolve, which costs 5 resources, but does ready all characters in play. This event does not necessarily ready all characters in play, but if multiple people are on 40 threat or above (towards the late game, this is often the case), then they each may ready all their characters. This is quite a powerful effect, and I like that you can ready the characters of other Valour players with this event. This sets up a fellowship of Valour decks that play this event each round to get more out of their allies. The cost of 3 resources in Leadership is on par with other events like Lure of Moria, or Strength of Arms, but adding 1 resource to its cost to include heroes as well. The event will be an auto include for Valour decks, as cheap universal readying is often useful. But this high cost Leadership event does mean that Valour decks are going to need some serious resource acceleration in order to pay for this event and the likes of Pillars of the Kings. I’m sure we will see something that accelerates resources for Valour at some point, otherwise it might just end up relying on Steward of Gondor for the majority of its resources.
Host of the Galadhrim
Just played a ton of Silvans but can’t return them to your hand? Why not play them all again and get their abilities again! This neutral event has become such a fun card to include in my Silvan decks, that I don’t even care that I swapped some other powerful events for it. While expensive, Silvan decks generally are very cheap with effects like Elf-Guide and O Lorien that supply more resources. For 4 neutral resources, you can return all your Silvan allies to your hand during the planning phase. Then, you get to play all of them again, free of charge. This means that all damage that was previously on the allies, is gone. It means that all allies get their +1/+1/+1 buff from Celeborn again. It means that the allies won’t exhaust to quest because of Galadriel, AND you get all of the benefits of putting a Silvan ally into play. This means you can search your deck for event card, heroes no longer have to exhaust to quest, you get to deal more damage, and can do a ton of other things just becaused you recycled your army. This event is great in the mid-to-late game, and allows you to get all of your benefits again at the cost of a round’s worth of resources. This puts you at a major advantage if you build for it correctly with enough allies and heroes that boost your allies. If you fear that the combat phase will be tricky, then play this event in the planning phase so that your allies are ready (if you have Galadriel) after the quest phase with boosted stats (if you have Celeborn) and their abilities ready. Greenwood Defenders will for example provide you with a line of excellent defenders, at just the cost of 1 resource more than playing the actual ally. Once you have about 1.5 times the cost of the event worth of allies on the table, the event will start to be of use. Of course, not all allies will have “enter play” abilities, but you can build your deck accordingly. This is not an event that should be used outside of a dedicated Silvan deck, but that is rather obvious. It can also cause cards like Hithlain to become extremely powerful, and worth a second look in a Silvan deck. Silvan decks are usually filled up pretty quickly, but I think this card deserves a spot in any Silvan deck that is serious about swarming. Us Silvan players are delighted to see this event allowing us to muster the pointed-ear army again!
Forth! The Three Hunters
The contract in this deck tries to focus your deckbuilding into what heroes you are going to bring. In a deck that runs Forth! The Three Hunters (or Three Hunters, as most of the community is calling it), there can be no ally cards included into the deck. This means that while you cannot run any allies in your deck, you are not entirely excluded from gaining allies through other means. Objective allies, allies played on your side of the table by other player, and allies that start out of play but enter play through effects (Ranger of the North, Tom Bombadil) can still be a part of your boardstate. But the main focus of a Three Hunters deck will be the heroes you start with. Since you are going to need the action advantage and the stats on par with a swarm style deck, you are given a few bonuses for choosing this contract.
First, all of your heroes can now have an additional Restricted slot. This by itself opens up some rediculous combo’s, such as triple-wielding weapons for massive amounts of attack, or triple Citadel Plate on Gimli for probably even higher attack in the long run. The added restricted slot is included to give your heroes some better stats and more abilities to make up for your lack of allies. This means that the majority of your deck will include attachments, with most of them being restricted. This added restricted keyword is important, as you will flip the contract by having your restricted slots filled. In order to accelerate this, the contract allows you to have a 1 resource discount on the first Restricted attachment you play on each hero, each round. This discount will save you a lot of resources in the early game, and can allow you to justify the higher costed attachments in a tri-sphere deck. Note that it is only the first attachment on each hero, each round, so there is no spamming of free attachments after a while. But this does allow you to set up your heroes quickly, if you happen to draw the right cards. Once you have 2 Restricted slots filled on each hero you control, you will have to wait until the refresh phase in order to flip the Contract to its B-side.
On this B-side, you lose the discount on your Restricted attachments, but regain the ability to have an extra slot on each hero. Your heroes also get +1 willpower for each Restricted attachment they have attached. This is to compensate for the lack of willpower that your starting heroes might have. It also makes Restricted attachments like Silver Circlet or Celebrian’s Stone more effective combined with this contract. The B-side of the contract also has an action where you can exhaust the contract to immediately heal 1 damage off of each hero you control. This is to compensate for the lack of healing attachments if you are not running a Lore hero and therefore don’t have access to Self-Preservation and the likes. Note that the B-side cannot be flipped over anymore, even if you lose some attachments. This means that you will be stuck at this side until you win or lose your scenario. This allows you to keep your willpower bonus and healing, but you will miss out on the early-game cost reduction.
The contract is pretty interesting and really makes you consider cards that you might not consider in your regular deck. Losing a third of your deckspace because you no longer can run allies will open up a path to lesser used cards. The disadvantage of this contract is that some heroes will be more powerful than others. There will be little use for ally-mustering heroes like Spirit Theoden and Tactics Imrahil, or swarm-supporting heroes like Leadership Dain, most of the Dwarf heroes that work with having 5 Dwarf characters, or Celeborn, unless there are other players playing those archetypes. Instead, heroes that focus on themselves will be more powerful. I can see Tactics Boromir making a return, as he can make great use out of a third restricted slot. In terms of attachments, a few will be auto-includes, such as the Golden Belt and the attachments in this cycle like Silver Circlet and War Axe. I think that the contract will spawn a host of new decks that will be quite interesting to keep an eye on. However, there are several scenarios where a deck with few characters is going to struggle. In scenarios where you are swarmed with enemies, you will need a good defender and a lot of readying effects to keep up. Hitting the Weighed Down treachery during Ered Mithrin is also going to be a pain, as well as distributing a lot of Archery among the few characters you have. So the deck won’t work for every scenario, but at least you can laugh in the face of the encounter deck when it tells you to either discard an ally or raise your threat by the number of allies. Plenty of treacheries like that, so this will be a great counter. I also think you will eventually get a surplus of resources once your heroes are fully equipped with attachments. Cards like Song of Hope might have a place with this contract as well, so there is enough that you can try in order to spice up your deck.
The theme of this quest reminds me a lot of Trouble in Tharbad, but the mechanics are very different. The story takes you to a city at the bottom of the Sea of Rhun, and you try to infiltrate the city by avoiding the City Guard. This enemy has an insane attack value of 9, meaning you will want to avoid him where possible. This is pretty difficult though, as stalling for many rounds will eventually lower the engagement cost of the City Guard, and will cause it to become engaged with players. This requires either a huge defender, or a continuous stream of chumpblockers to avoid losing heroes to this enemy.
The quest stages are rather similar, as you slowly chip away at the 20 hitpoints of the Guard. However, each transition of the quest gives you a small window to breath and avoid the City Guard. This means that the pressure is really on you to advance quickly and get your board together as fast as you can. Within 2-3 rounds, you can already have the City Guard considered to be engaged with you, causing you to have to take a 9 attack enemy each round until you progress the stage.
The quest also has a ton of threat increasing effects on its encounter cards. Threat reduction will be essential if you want to avoid the City Guard for a little while longer after advancing the quest. The quest also has some thematic encounter cards, where you try to lose the Guard in a crowd, and how a large group of allies will stand out more than just your three heroes. Threat reduction and a proper defence solution will be vital to your survival in this quest. Try to move quickly, and keep up the damage on the City Guard whenever possible. That makes the final round a lot easier. Valour decks are going to struggle, as will decks that cannot get a defender out in 2 turns. A full analysis of this quest will follow once the blog catches up to this cycle, and the cycle has concluded.
If this article did indeed release before Wrath and Ruin, then expect that article to arrive soon. It will be a while before we get the next AP, but boy, am I looking forward to that one. Saruman and his new Doomed events are looking amazing, so I am eager to review those cards when they eventually release. For now, I hope you all get to play with these cards soon and that the rest of the cycle features no further delays.