It has been a while since I have done one of these staple articles, but with Ered Mithrin coming to an end, and with me not wanting to do another Nightmare article just yet, I thought it was time to revive this segment of the blog. For today, I chose the Mustering topic, which deals with putting allies into play outside of the usual phase, or at a lower cost. These cards are vital for any good swarm deck, as they provide you with much better cost efficiency for your allies. Most of these effects are restricted to just one trait though, to emphasize the trait deck that you are building with. But there are a couple of generic events that have become staples in a large percentage of decks over the years, and which are worth discussing.
(Or Swarming, whatever you prefer)
The ability to muster allies outside of the planning phase has been with us since the Core Set when it got introduced with Sneak Attack (don’t worry, we’ll cover that one later on). But during the Dwarf-craze of Khazad-Dum and the Hobbit Saga boxes, the first swarm tactics really started to take flight. The faster you could get your allies on the table for cheap, the more chance you had against the encounter deck. Fast forward 9 cycles and mustering allies quickly is still a cornerstone of many decks, especially those that try to reach 9 unique characters for the Fellowship contract within as few rounds as possible. In this article, the most iconic and most powerful mustering cards will be showcased for each sphere, cards that have become staples in many decks that try to get a lot of characters on the table quickly. Let’s cover them sphere-by-sphere, starting with the sphere that has mustering as it’s middle name: Leadership.
Leadership is the original mustering sphere, and to this day still the best sphere to get out allies quickly. In recent expansions, they’ve received even more new ally Mustering cards like Man the Walls and Horn! Horns! Horns! but those aren’t worthy of the Staple stamp when there are amazing cards in the sphere that every player has used in at least one deck by now.
After all those long years of playing this game, I still see this event in a majority of decks that have access to Leadership. And for good reason too! Sneak Attack allows you to bring any ally in your hand into play (following the uniqueness rule of course) during any action window that you’d like. This can influence the game a lot, as there are several allies that have great effects when they enter play. Think of all the Silvan allies, several Eagle allies, and even some allies like the Longbeard Orc Slayer. But the obvious king of the Sneak Attack combo has to be Core Set Gandalf. There is no telling how often his tricks have saved the lives of beginning players, and this combo is still often seen in modern decks. The ability to play any ally for 1 cost to benefit from their “enter play” ability and to use their stats as well for the phase is fantastic. Play the allies during the quest phase to have some cheap extra willpower, play them during the travel phase if you need to exhaust a character for a travel cost, or play them during the combat phase if you need an emergency defender or someone to deliver the final blow to an enemy. The flexibility of Sneak Attack is amazing, and has spawned some clones like Reinforcements and Horns! Horns! Horns!. But none of those are as cost-effective as the original Sneak Attack. You even get to return the ally to your hand after the phase, allowing you to repeat the process with the same ally until you run out of Sneak Attack options. The biggest problem with this card is that you need to find it and the ally you want to sneak in at the same time in your hand, but with a little bit of card draw, that shouldn’t be a problem.
A very good card, it’s in the name, really. This event sparked the Dwarven Swarm archetype, where it became really easy to pump out a lot of allies. This is thematic too, as the event depicts the Dwarves introducing themselves to Beorn 2 at a time. This event will force you to exhaust 2 allies and then discard the top 5 cards of your deck. Out of those 5 cards, you select 2 allies with a combined cost equal to or lower than the total cost of the allies you exhausted and put those allies into play. You now have 2 new allies in play to trigger your next copy of AVGT on, swarming the board with allies really quickly. A common combo would be to play Fili (or Kili) and get his brother on the table for free. You then play AVGT and exhaust both to find 2 other 3-cost Dwarves, and you suddenly have 4 allies at the cost of 3 resources. There is some risk involved with this event, as you have little control over what you discard, and Dwarf Pipe came much later in the card pool to shuffle discarded cards back into your deck. So you do have the risk of discarding important attachments, discarding no allies, or only discarding allies with a higher cost than the cost that you exhausted for this effect. Common tactics for this event include exhausting Core Set Gandalf during the refresh phase just before he leaves play along with another ally to get some good value out of his 5 cost. You can also combine this event with the aforementioned Sneak Attack to sneak in a high-cost ally like Beorn for 1 resource, exhaust him and another ally for AVGT, and get some allies into play that will remain in play for the rest of the game, while you got Beorn for 1 cost during this phase. Seeing a proper AVGT deck in play is amazing, and very much worth to try for yourself. Get yourself a massive army of Outlands characters quickly, or get your Fellowship contract a lot faster with this event than you otherwise would.
With the recent contracts and heroes allowing for easier Secrecy decks, Timely Aid has been making a return to the standard cardpool during this cycle. The 4 cost Leadership Event only costs 1 resource while your threat is 20 or lower, allowing Secrecy decks to get out more allies in the early stages of the game. After the event is played, the player must reveal the top 5 cards of their deck and select one ally out of those 5 cards. That ally is then put into play, and will remain in play until it is defeated or leaves play through other effects. The help that this event gives to early game Secrecy players is amazing, as Secrecy decks can now easily play off-sphere, high-cost allies whenever they draw this event and their threat is lower than 20. After the players have left the Secrecy threshold, there isn’t much use in Timely Aid, as the 4 resources are usually going to be equal to or lower than the cost of the ally you bring into play, and that is even if you reveal an ally in the top 5 cards of your deck. Still, you would be able to play an ally during any Action window, which might be worth it. Playing Secrecy also means you are playing Resourceful, so extra resources to afford the full price of this event shouldn’t be a problem if you have nothing else to spend those resources on. But even if this event is only meant for the early game, it can provide Secrecy decks with an early head-start that might compensate the weaker heroes or lack of a second and/or third hero to begin with. If you have a sphere match or are playing the Grey Wanderer contract, then this is an auto-include in your deck.
While Lore doesn’t have that many mustering cards, the ones that it does have are quite powerful. Lore is also the only sphere you can use to set up Vilya, which is one of the best mustering cards in terms of value. But for single cards, these two cards can be considered to be staples in the sphere. They also rank high on my personal list of favourite cards in the game.
After some time since the Ancient Mathom drew the first player cards when the active location was explored, a new attachment got introduced during the Black Riders expansion. The Elf-stone attachment can only be played on the active location, and increases that location’s quest points by 1. In return, if the active location is explored, the first player gets to play an ally from their hand for free. In true solo games, this is more reliable than in multiplayer, but it is nice card to bring to multiplayer games to help other players as well. Players tend to have at least 1 ally in their hand at all times, and with careful timing, the players can get some strong allies into play at no cost, not even requiring a resource match. The real power of the Elf-stone got revealed during the expansion of the Woodmen trait during the Ered Mithrin cycle. In that cycle, more benefits were given to decks for having attachments on locations, and some could even offset the increase in quest points that the Elf-stone provides locations. In Haldan decks, the deck’s controller will get to draw cards first from exploring the active location while it has attachments on it, and then play an ally from their hand at no cost. The extra draw gives the deck some more options, which increase its reliability. The attachment is obviously unique, as otherwise a lot of allies would suddenly enter play that the encounter deck can’t keep up with. But in decks that run multiple spheres and some high cost allies, this attachment is certainly worth considering, as the extra quest point really isn’t that big of a deal. Communication with fellow players and careful timing will be important when playing this card though.
While the Tree-people is a good example of an archetype-specific form of mustering, in this case Silvans, I wanted to include it on the list because it is so powerful. Compared to other mustering events that only target specific factions (To Me O My Kinsfolk! fro Dwarves, Raise the Shire for Hobbits etc), the Tree-people is just so much more powerful in a dedicated Silvan deck. The event is free, but does require a Lore resource icon, which can be obtained with Galadriel+Nenya or running a Lore hero, which is pretty common for Silvans (Haldir/Argalad or a non-Silvan hero). The event requires that you return a Silvan ally to your hand to search the top 5 cards of your deck. You get to put one ally from those top 5 cards into play at no cost. The other cards are then shuffled back into your deck. This is an amazing event for Silvans, who always look for excuses to bring back allies to their hand. With this event, you can return a cheap Silvan ally to your hand, of which there are several good options. Galion at 0 cost is the best one, but other allies like Henamarth Riversong, Galadhirm Weaver, and Silvan Refugee are also good value for this event. In return, you have a chance to bring in a high cost Silvan ally like Legolas, Haldir, Rumil, or Orophin. But the non-unique 3 cost Silvans are also great for this. Furthermore, the ally you put into play doesn’t require a resource match, which helps decks that otherwise require Thranduil to play off-sphere allies. This saves a lot of resources, which can be used instead to play the ally you returned to your hand again. In a proper Silvan deck, you can give both allies the buffs from Celeborn and Galadriel, and depending on the allies you’ve brought into play, you can even get some additional benefits from their abilities when they enter play. This event is an amazing tool to keep the Silvan bouncing mechanic going, and was restricted to once per phase for a good reason. Otherwise returning Galion to your hand can get you 3 extra allies during the planning phase, after which Weavers can be used to recycle the event and flood the board with Silvans. It is one of my personally favourite events, and I always enjoy drawing it. Even if there are no allies in the top 5 cards of your deck, you still got to return a Silvan to your hand, which means you can play that ally again for its benefits.
Tactics is known for its expensive ally cards and has received several cards over the years to help bring out these allies more easily. Hirgon was one of the driving factors that helped players push out large allies faster, but also smaller cards like the Beorning Skinchanger and Soldier of Dol Amroth have to be taken into account. With all of these cards combined, a mono-Tactics deck can get a lot of allies into play quickly, which is quite dangerous for the encounter deck come the combat phase.
During the end of the Dream-chaser cycle, we got the second hero version of Prince Imrahil, which was in Tactics. Like his Leadership version, this version of Imrahil dealt with allies, but I like this version better as it is an easy way to get extra attackers of defenders into play during the combat phase. As a combat action, Imrahil allows you to spend one resource from his pool to search the top 5 cards of your deck for an ally that has a trait match with Imrahil. You get to put that ally into play for the rest of the combat phase. If the ally survives the combat phase, then it gets shuffled back into the deck. With Imrahil having the Gondor, Noble, and Warrior traits, he has a wide selection of allies to include into the deck to use for his ability. This range can even be increased by giving Imrahil trait-granting cards like Elf-friend and Nor Am I A Stranger. The Warrior trait especially helps out, as a lot of Tactics allies have the Warrior trait. Some good targets are for instance Beorn, Marksman of Lorien, Deorwine, and Boromir. The expensive Tactics allies will help out a lot during the combat phase, especially if you can afford them to take some damage, since they’ll leave play at the end of the round anyway. Note that this cannot be used for Archery, as that happens before the first action window in the combat phase. But combining Imrahil’s action with some nice enter-play effects can really help during the combat phase. Cheating in Ranged or Sentinel allies can also help out a lot if you yourself are not engaged with an enemy that round. The downside to this effect is that you are not certain to get an ally through his effect (though your chances are high) and that you have to save a resource on Imrahil to do it, which means you cannot use the resource earlier that round to play events or afford cards during the planning phase.
It was quite a big splash in the water when Hirgon got released. It isn’t often that we get a Tactics hero that requires that you quest with him, but Hirgon had some decent stats, and the Red Arrow that is in this pack suited him well. The two cards are nowadays more known for their ability to bring in big Tactics allies for cheap, or even for free. And while the Red Arrow is great in its own right, I figure that Hirgon is more of a staple than the Arrow. That’s because Hirgon allows you to play a Tactics ally from your hand with its cost reduced by 1 after you have quested successfully with him. This is big because there are many Tactics allies that are worth bringing in after more enemies might have been revealed during staging. Getting cheaper Descendant of Thorondor is nice, but also the Tactics Silvan allies and the Knight of Minas Tirith are worth checking out with Hirgon. On top of being able to semi-reliably play allies at the end of the quest phase, Hirgon gives you the choice of boosting the stats of that ally for the rest of the round at the cost of 1 threat. That gives the new ally +1 attack and +1 defence, which can be crucial in some cases. If a big enemy came out during the quest phase and you didn’t have a capable defender, you can now play a Defender of Rammas with 5 defence in the quest phase for 1 resource and 1 threat. The threat can even help you to get to Valour more quickly, which allows you to trigger the Red Arrow on Hirgon for even more cheap allies (in this case, free). There are a few catches with Hirgon, one of which is that you have to quest successfully and that you cannot lower the cost further than 1 resource for the ally you bring in. But if you save up enough resources and make sure that your team has more than enough willpower, you can reliably bring out some useful allies for cheap!
Spirit has had a slower start with the swarming mechanics compared to other spheres, but in the Vengeance of Mordor cycle, it received a couple of cards that can really help mono-Spirit players to churn out more allies at lower costs. One of these cards is the Muster of Rohan, which can give 4 allies out of your deck in a single (Planning) action. This really helped Rohan, but I feel that there are other cards in the sphere that are slightly more universal, and thus appeal to a wider audience, granting them the Staple rank.
While not truly a Mustering card in my eyes, more of a necromancy card, but Stand and Fight can be quite important in a pinch. The event allows you to play any ally in any player’s discard pile by paying that allies cost in order to pay for the event. The good thing is that you don’t need a sphere match with that ally, allowing mono-Spirit players to play any other allies. The downside is that you cannot bring back Neutral allies through this effect, but outside of Gandalf, they usually aren’t worth reviving. Getting access to the discard pile of other people really opens up this card in multiplayer, as it allows some pretty creative fellowships. Since you get control of another player’s cards, you can potentially get more than 3 identical allies into play under your control. When playing Outlands, this can really spiral out of control, leading you to a stalemate during The Black Gate Opens in an ideal situation. But you can also allow your deck to revive a defender that just fell just so he can take another attack in case you need it. You will have to save some resources for this event though, as it can become quite costly if you want to bring back some decent allies. But for the late game, this card is fantastic! You can also use it together with some discard engines, which is quite common in Spirit. Both Noldor and Dwarves have various ways to discard cards to the discard pile, allowing you to bring back the allies with Stand and Fight. Being able to play this during any action window gives you the same flexibility as Sneak Attack, but you pay more for this event and get to keep the ally.
While she didn’t make quite the splash in the community when she was released, Caldara eventually grew so powerful that she had to be nerfed to only trigger her ability once per game. That gives you an idea on how powerful her mustering capabilities within the Spirit sphere was. Once per game, you may discard Caldara to return allies from your discard pile equal to the number of other Spirit heroes you control. This requires some setup to get right, but can get you up to 4 high cost Spirit allies into play during any action window at the cost of Caldara. With ally Prince Imrahil in the deck, you don’t even lose out on a hero, since he will get promoted to hero status and will take her place. In return, you can save a lot of resources on allies, getting some powerful allies like Northern Tracker, Jubayr, Glorfindel, and others into play for free. Since the allies are also ready when they enter play, it can be a good emergency button if you suddenly find yourself engaged with more enemies than you can handle. You don’t even need Caldara at full health or ready to use her ability, so you can redirect some pain towards her before she leaves play to get you some allies. The setup of Caldara is made easier by including either Noldor or Dwarves to the deck, as those archetypes can easily get rid of a lot of cards from the top of your deck or in your hand. This allows you to fill the discard pile with nice allies to bring into play for free, getting a massive one-time advantage over the encounter deck when you need it. The nerf has been quite severe to Caldara, but didn’t kill the archetype. This is however a card you design your entire deck around, and not one to throw in randomly for some action advantage along the way. You will have need of some specific cards to get maximum value out of it, but a lot of powerful Caldara decks can be found online that can achieve this.
As the daughter of Prince Imrahil, it is thematic that her ability looks a lot like her father’s. But the timing of Lothiriel’s ability is slightly different and her traits are also different, opening a different type of deck to be made with her. An important destinction is that Lothiriel can use her ability at no cost, just playing the ally from your hand exhausted and committed to the quest. This does have to be done before the staging step, so you can’t use this ability as an emergency compensator to willpower like you can with Nenya and Spirit Eowyn. The ally you bring in must have a trait match with Lothiriel, who has the Gondor and Noble traits by default. You can also easily give her the Rohan trait by having Eomer anywhere on the table, which opens up a lot more allies with solid willpower to be played by her. Should the ally survive until the end of the quest phase, you must shuffle the ally back into your deck. This prevents you from cycling the same ally over and over again, but with enough card draw, a Lothiriel deck will always have a matching ally in hand to play during the quest phase. The benefit of this ability is to have a free ally on the table that is contributing to the quest. Even if the ally has no willpower, you can combo this pretty good with ally Faramir, Sword that was Broken, Fellowship, or Visionary Leadership for Gondor allies to give the ally some willpower. It also gives you an easy target for treacheries and other effects that force you to damage or discard an ally you control. The ally leaving play after the quest phase is also a reliable way to trigger Leadership Prince Imrahil’s ability, Tactics Eomer’s ability, and various other effects that can benefit your deck like Valiant Sacrifice to draw some more cards after the ally has been shuffled back into the deck. With Lothiriel being quite a new hero, she will still need some time before she deserves the Staple mark, but for now she is a fun hero to play, and a decent substitute for Spirit Eowyn during multiplayer games, just to get out of that uniqueness conflict.
In the entire Neutral cardpool for the game, only one attachment helps out with bringing in more allies quickly. Instead, Neutral gives the players some decent targets for the other events, effects, and attachments to choose from, of which Gandalf was the very first target, and in some cases, still the best target for some effects.
This was the first player card version of a Ring of Power that we got and has been the cornerstone of some of the most overpowered decks out there, including the One Deck to Rule them All. Vilya has the ability to bring in any card that is on the top of a player’s deck for no cost, except for the cost of exhausting Elrond. Combine this with the ability to influence the top card of your deck (Wizard Pipe, Imladris Stargazer, Gildor Inglorion) and you can pump out expensive allies each round. With Elrond having a resource match with all allies, and Vilya providing him with the Spirit icon, the two cards can play a ton of cards by themselves. But the real value with Vilya is just the fact that you can exhaust it to bring out any 5-6 cost ally that you have in your deck (as long as it is on top of the deck) and play it for free, giving you a massive advantage over the encounter deck, as you just saved a ton of resources. Of course, the first few cards you play with Vilya will balance the cost to play the ring, but after that, it is pure profit. I am currently running Vilya in an Eagle deck with Radagast and Wizard Pipe, allowing me to play all the 4-5 cost Eagles at no cost if I choose to. Since the card you play is not from your hand, it does limit some effects, but its flexibility and safety feature where you can put cards you can’t play at the moment on the bottom of your deck, more than makes up for it. This effect is worthy of one of the Elven Rings of Power and is a lot of fun to use blindly, but a lot more effective when you can influence what you bring in for free.
With all these allies mustering in your deck, the article has come to an end. I do want to do some more with this series, as I love going back through the cardpool and covering these mechanics and what cards are still staples to this day, but it is difficult to find suitable topics for this series. So if you have suggestions, feel free to comment down below, and I’ll see when I can get to it.
No cards were hurt in the making of this article’s thumbnail