Well, it is finally upon us, the final pack of the cycle, and the final player cards we will get before the game goes into hiatus. The pack got a lot of hype built up in advance, as people were speculating about what they were missing and would like to see. The expectations could have never been met, unless the pack was the size of a Deluxe box. Instead, we got a few wishes granted, and a few things that will require the Long Expected Party crew to figure out for themselves. This pack concludes the card pool for now, so the designers added the final bits and pieces to some archetypes, and threw in some cards that deserve entire articles on their own. So without delaying any longer, let’s look at the cards we get in this pack, and how the quest plays out according to my first impressions.
Well, he’s here. He’s finally here. Long was the coming of a fourth Aragorn hero card rumoured in the community, but now we finally have a Spirit version of this hero. This mirrors the fact that his Leadership version was the first hero we ever had, and now Aragorn will be the last official hero we will get for a while. He is now also the only hero with versions in all four major spheres, which means that you could run him in a Bond of Friendship deck if you ignored the uniqueness conflict (and the fact that you start at 48 threat…). Since all versions of Aragorn mirrored the occupational trait of that sphere (Leadership=Noble, Tactics=Warrior, Lore=Ranger) it makes sense that this Spirit version is an amazing Scout hero, which aren’t as common as you might think.
Let’s start with the stats, not that it will take very long. Aragorn maintains his 2/3/2/5 stat line at the cost of 12 threat, which is quite high in Spirit. Only Théoden and Círdan match his threat in that sphere, but no 13 or higher threat heroes exist in Spirit. He is the second Spirit Dunedain hero, which is sphere that the trait was lacking severely, though MotK Súlien has helped it being developed recently. The Sentinel keyword is again given to him, like it has been in his previous versions. However, it is unlikely that you will be using it, as Aragorn will have to exhaust for his ability. Speaking of the ability, I absolutely love it and will throw Aragorn in my next location control deck to see how powerful it can really become. This ability allows a player to exhaust Aragorn to choose a location in the staging area. That location gets -X threat, where X is Aragorn’s willpower. Should this effect reduce the threat of the location to 0, you get to place one progress on it. Now, if this sounds familiar to you, it should. It is the same ability as Argalad got during the Dream-chaser cycle, but now it is for locations. This is a great ability to have available, as you can react to any location that comes out of the encounter deck and basically have Aragorn sent to the quest with his ability. The trick will be to increase his willpower and finding ways to get double uses out of it by having Aragorn quest without exhausting, or managing to ready him. Luckily, Spirit provides plenty of options for both, as Silver Circlet is a natural fit for him, and Unexpected Courage can ready Aragorn so he gets double the use out of his high willpower. Looking at other spheres, Celebrian’s Stone might not be useful for its sphere-granting ability, but the willpower will make a significant impact. The Strider attachment is also amazing with this version of Aragorn if you run him in a Secrecy or Grey Wanderer environment.
While the extra progress might not matter too much on the surface, it can drop locations quite quickly if you combine it with other effects. Glorfindel is also in Spirit and can use Asfaloth to get rid of a 3 quest point location. Other attachments like Warden of Arnor can also help to clear locations faster, and combined with Idraen, you can get some good action advantage out of this. And the fact that you ignore the threat on a location should not go without mention. This can be a tool to counter an early location lock, even lowering the threat of high threat locations down to 1 or 2 in the early game, just to get some extra progress. 3 attack and Sentinel in Spirit is also not very common, so the sphere gets a solid hero in this last AP.
I understand that some people are disappointed in not getting an Elessar version of Aragorn, but I kind of expected that wouldn’t happen. The story of the cycles takes place well before Aragorn is crowned king, and a king version of him would better suit Leadership (though I will say that Spirit would fit too). I did not enjoy the backlash that this card received upon spoiling, but the verbal assault against the designers are unfounded and it felt bad seeing that side of an otherwise great community. I still enjoy Aragorn and will certainly run him in my location control Dunedain deck. Now the art is something that is open for discussion. It fits the card in my opinion, but I will not defend the way he holds his torch so close to the flame.
I wouldn’t have guessed that the Woodmen trait would receive any new cards in the final pack of the cycle, but it is a nice surprise for the archetype. We finally get our second unique character with the Woodmen trait, after Haldan. Haleth is named after a leader of one of the Three Houses of Men during the First Age, or after the son of Hama during the Battle of Helm’s Deep (rewatch the movies, it’s the kid that talks to Aragorn right before the battle). Turning to the actual card, Haleth is a 4 cost Lore ally, with stats to match. 2 willpower/2 attack is always a nice combo of stats to have, allowing Haleth to help out with questing or combat depending on the situation. 3 hitpoints on an ally of this cost is also nice, so he won’t die that easily. The Scout trait is nice to have and opens up a few attachment options, but the trait is pretty underdeveloped compared to others. Haleth has the amazing ability where you get to search your top 5 cards for an attachment and add it to your hand. You shuffle your deck afterwards. This ability is triggered each time that Haleth quests successfully, making it pretty reliable. Woodmen decks rely on a ton of attachments for their locations, so this helps to keep the flow of attachments going without having to break theme and including Masters of the Forge that have the same ability. This counts as pretty much a free card drawn each round, assuming you find an attachment in your top 5, and that you quest successfully. Combine this with Haldan’s card draw, and the many abilities that Lore has to draw cards, and you won’t have to worry to run out of attachments for your deck. I would have loved him more if he returned attachments from your discard pile instead, as the Woodmen deck currently relies on Erebor Hammersmiths for that. Haleth can also be turned into a hero at the start of the game with Messenger of the King, for which he is a pretty good candidate in a Woodmen deck. 8 threat and his extra card draw from the start of the game is a nice boost in the early game. If you do want to play Haleth as an ally, include Elf-stone in your Woodmen deck, as he can be free that way. Outside of a Woodmen deck, Haleth can work too, though he will be rather expensive and his traits won’t mean much. I can see him being used in a Trap deck that tries to find attachments in the deck as well, though Trap decks also have other expensive allies like Anborn that need to be afforded. He can still work though, and has flexible stats to be used in any situation.
2 willpower on any Tactics ally is enough to get my attention, and with the Westfold Lancer being both in the Tactics sphere and a Rohan ally means that with the right setup of heroes, you can get him for 1 cost with Theoden and Hirgon. But in most cases you will be paying some more resources for him, which is fine, as his stats are pretty solid. 2 willpower is great for Tactics allies, and the Lancer doesn’t really need anything to get him going. He also has 2 attack, which isn’t much, but for a generic ally, it is about as high as you are going to get, plus it can still make a difference. The 2 hitpoints also mean that if you are going to quest with him, he will survive a Necromancer’s Reach. For his response, you will want to quest with him, as the response can only trigger after the players quested successfully. If that is the case, you can choose to discard the Lancer to deal 2 damage to a non-unique enemy in the staging area. This sort of direct damage can be very powerful when combined with other effects like Thalin, but also some Rohan tricks like Leadership Eomer who attacked an enemy in the staging area before the quest phase. The Lancer can then take care of him, after which you discard him. This discard ability is common in Rohan, and many characters benefit from you losing a character that round. This makes the Lancer well worth his cost, even though 3 Tactics resources can be steep. Play him with Hirgon for 2 resources, attack with him in the combat phase, then quest on the next turn and trigger his ability to get maximum value out of him!
The questing counterpart to the Northern Bowmaster ally we got in Under the Ash Mountains. The Misty Mountain Journeyman has very cheap willpower for his cost, but can only be played when you are engaged with an enemy. The cost of 1 Spirit resource for a Dunedain Scout ally with 2 willpower is good value, and Scout decks can really benefit from this, as Scouting Party doubles the willpower on this character. The single hitpoint does make me nervous though, as quests can sometimes kill off your characters pretty easily if they only have a single hitpoint. But I think I prefer this guy over the Silvan Refugee, who has the same cost and stats, but is much more fleeting. The Journeyman can also be used for other Scout cards instead of questing like Expert Trackers. As a 1 cost ally, he is a good chump for all those enemies you seem to have engaged with you. The Scout can also be used for some attachments like Map of Rhovanion, but with just one hitpoint, it will be safer to have Bard son of Brand on the table to return the attachment if the Journeyman bites the dust. All in all, this ally is a glass cannon for questing, where it can be very useful to boost your willpower if you play 3 copies of him once you are engaged with an enemy, but it is difficult to keep them around. However, do note that their textbox may prevent them being played from your hand if you are not engaged with an enemy, but not from your deck or discard pile. This ally is great together with Stand and Fight, as you can spend a single resource to get the ally if it should die.
This card should read: “Attach to Gil-Galad”, but luckily they included him in the flavour text of this attachment. The Shining Shield is the defence counterpart to the Valiant Sword that we got in Under the Ash Mountains. The attachment can only attach to a Noble hero and is limited to one per hero. When attached, the attachment grants the hero +1 defence, or +2 defence when the threat of the controling player is 40 or higher. For 1 cost in Leadership, this attachment is basically free and will do well in many decks. Gondor is the most obvious choice, as both versions of Denethor and Tactics Boromir will love to defend attacks with extra defence. Since Gondorian Shield is in Tactics and limited to one per hero as well, this can make for a solid alternative. Valour decks (which Gondor is being pushed towards) often reach 40 threat quickly, so this attachment will be great value for your heroes. Other good targets are Thranduil, Theoden, and Dain Ironfoot. All have the Noble trait (Spirit Dain at least, not Leadership Dain…). The attachment should be an auto-include in Dire quests, as you will quickly go over 40 threat, at which point the Shield becomes a bargain. With the Shield filling a Restricted slot, it will also do well in a Three Hunters deck, where it will be a free attachment. There is nothing exciting about the attachment, but it fills the slot of generic armor attachment that can be used to trigger events off of. It may not be a stunning play compared to the likes of Golden Shield, but it is pretty reliable and can fit a variety of decks, which is appreciated.
At long last we have the poor-man’s Shadowfax. This Mount attachment can go onto any Warrior character and give that character both Sentinel and Ranged at the cost of a Restricted slot. One character that immediately came to mind was Tactics Gimli, who can now dish out his huge attacks across the table while also being able to defend and receive some damage without having to engage enemies. Other targets, like Tactics Boromir can also use both keywords to influence combat across the table. Remember that Elfhelm decks will give the attached hero stat boosts with this Mount attached, which is a nice bonus. Being a Restricted Mount also makes the Thoroughbred a 1 cost attachment in Three Hunters decks, where it can be a very effective tool for multiplayer. In true solo, I don’t think this particular Mount is worth it, though it is cheaper than the two Signal attachments from the first cycle. You can use this together with other events that specifically target Ranged and Sentinel characters, but whether or not that is worth it, I will leave up to you. The Thoroughbred can also be used on allies, which makes it very effective to give some Warriors Ranged, where they don’t get it within their trait. Dwarves are a good example, as characters like the Erebor Battle Master can now deal a lot of damage across the table (I know another nerf for them is incoming, but I haven’t seen any official FAQ, so my Battlemasters still hit for 15 damage each!). I think that Warrior characters with balanced stats in both attack and defence will get the most use out of this card, and I hope to one day see it played in a multiplayer game to see the combos people come up with.
This attachment has the art that many people were looking for on the hero, so be glad that you can still bring it to the table in the form of this wonderful attachment. 3 cost for an attachment can be quite steep, but in Neutral it is a little easier to pay for. The attachment can be played on any regular hero, but not on any saga hero (belonging to the Baggins or Fellowship sphere). As a response, you can search your entire collection for a second version of that hero as long as that version isn’t a part of the Fellowship or Baggins spheres. The second version of the hero is attached to the original hero and will grant the hero the sphere and game text to the original hero. This means that if a hero has multiple versions, you can get up to two abilities on the selected hero, and get access to both spheres on top of it! This brings up a host of different options, which we have listed in this article for you to look at the many different combinations and which ones work best. For me personally, I am hyped for a double-duty Daín Ironfoot, boosting Dwarves while also getting the defence boost that his Spirit version gets. But there are so many other options. Aragorn is a natural fit, as he has the widest pool of options for this ability. But many big names in the card pool have 2 versions of their hero, so you can get everything you need at the cost of this 3 resource Neutral attachment. Always wanted a 5 threat Lorefindel? Well now you can! Theoden boosting willpower while also reducing the cost of allies? Sure! This card is best for heroes with setup abilities or things that are just limited to once per game. After you do that big thing, you still have a second ability to use with this attachment. This does mean that a host of heroes (including all FFG-created heroes) don’t have any synergy with this attachment, but for all players who wanted more hero in their hero, well, here is your attachment!
Resource acceleration for Dunedain decks! It’s something that they really needed, as Heir of Valandil only covers the cost of your allies. This event straight up adds resources to a single hero you control based on how many enemies are engaged with you. It is only a Planning Action though, so you have to make sure the enemies stay around for long enough to trigger the effect. This will fit in Dunedain decks, but I can see this event being used in other decks against quests that force a lot of enemies engaged with you that are difficult to kill, like Into Fangorn. The event is only limited to once per round, so you cannot pop all of them at once, but that is understandable. You will also need some way to distribute these resources among your heroes, as the event places all of the resources on just one hero. Giving that hero multiple spheres like Aragorn or Amarthiul can help to get more stuff on the table that phase, or just play a mono-sphere deck. I know that a couple of Dunedain-trap decks can really benefit from this event, but most ordinary Dunedain decks will get up to 4 resources out of this, which can be enough to push the balance in your favor for that round. The event is also free, which cards like Traffic from Dale are not, so you will always gain something by playing this event while an enemy is engaged with you. Even without engaged enemies, this event can probably be used in a Council of the Wise deck to trigger some bonuses from your contract.
More Woodmen synergy is fine by me! And this event works wonders with the trait, as it allows players with a Woodmen deck to get some more uses out of their characters. The event costs one resource in Lore and will ready up to X Woodmen characters you control, where X is the total number of locations with player card attachments. This isn’t as powerful as it could be, since it only targets Woodmen controlled by you, and doesn’t target locations with encounter card attachments. But in a dedicated Woodmen deck, and especially with other players also playing attachments on locations, this event can be very powerful. Now you can exhaust Haldan for Guarded Ceaselessly and still use his 3 attack. Your Forest Road Travellers can now also ready and potentially use their boosted stats in combat. The character that I feel benefits most from this event is the Mirkwood Explorer, who gains progress every time he quests successfully. That progress can then be placed on locations, but requires him to exhaust. With this event, you can now quest with the Explorers, ready them if you have attachments on locations, and then use their progress to clear some more locations. Like I mentioned, Guarded Ceaselessly will become a powerful attachment with this combination, as many Woodmen are either Ranger or Scout. So now they can exhaust to lower threat on locations, helping to reduce the threat of location lock, while still contributing to other aspects of the quest. A careful balance with attachments will have to be made, but with Haleth joining us this pack, you shouldn’t have a shortage of attachments to play.
This final event feels a little like Wait No Longer/The Hidden Way, but for treacheries instead. At the cost of 2 Spirit resources, players get to discard cards from the top of the encounter deck until a treachery is revealed. Only the ‘When Revealed’ effect of that treachery is resolved, so any keywords like Surge and Doomed are ignored on the card, which is nice. In return, you get to ready each of your questing characters, and they get +1 willpower each. This makes it a mini-Free Peoples, but without the high cost and the trait requirements. The downside to this is that it does only ready the characters of one player, and since you have 2 spare Spirit resources, you are likely running a heavy Spirit deck, which isn’t great for combat. But this event can still provide that extra push of willpower that you might need to get through the quest. And at that point, the extra treachery probably won’t hurt as much. This does make it a situational card though, as there are treacheries that I definitely do not want to trigger in exchange for the readying and willpower. While keywords are ignored, you can still get a nasty ‘When Revealed’ effect that can hurt your overall progress, like how each player gets to reveal an additional encounter card or something. The lack of control over what you reveal does make this a difficult card to time right. However, with proper scrying, you can potentially get rid of some nasty enemies and locations for next round, or bypass some horrible shadow effects by playing this card. I do not think that this card will be very popular with players, but would love to see it being used by a encounter deck manipulation deck at some point. But I will likely choose a less desperate path for my travels. Nice theming though!
Our final contract is one that was also rumoured might happen, especially after Grey Wanderer promoted single-hero decks. This contract allows players to start with 4 heroes, but it has a long list of restrictions. The first of these is that each hero must belong to a different sphere. This prevents quad-hero mono-sphere decks which would make the Record attachments free from the start of the game. The limitation of having one hero per sphere will influence your deckbuilding, but there are plenty of options for most archetypes to still get a cohesive deck together. The next limitation concerns your deck itself. It can only contain a maximum of 50 cards. This is the first time we get a hard limit towards the maximum size of your deck. This is probably to limit players from adding in all power cards from each sphere, and having some solid card draw with a hero like Erestor to get your tools quickly. Of these 50 cards, exactly 10 cards must belong to all four major spheres of influence (Leadership, Tactics, Spirit, Lore). The other 10 cards must be Neutral cards, or saga-sphered cards if you are bringing this contract to a Saga quest. To limit you even further, you cannot include more than 2 copies of each card in your deck. This prevents Outlands from getting to maximum power, since you can only have 2 of each ally in your deck. It also lowers the consistency of you drawing certain cards in this deck. All these rules make the contract a little tricky to build for, but the extra hero does make up for it. You start with more stats on the table, an extra resource each round, and an extra ability to use.
The biggest drawback to the contract for me is the fact that you will have a very high starting threat depending on your heroes. Since you have to add up the starting threat of 4 heroes instead of 3, you will very easily get to 35+ threat. The only consistant way to have a managable threat is to pick 4 Hobbit heroes, which will get you low enough to avoid engaging all enemies right away. 4 Hobbit heroes also opens up Shirefolk, which is a free way to drop your threat even further. Outside of Hobbit decks, the contract will be a careful balance of your high threat and your improved start. Do note that with you playing a quad-sphere deck, you won’t have a lot resources to pay for high cost sphered cards, unless you pack A Good Harvest, which you definitely should! You can also come up with several cases where you will lose immediately because your threat is 50 (or 45 when you have the One Ring), so keep an eye on that when designing your deck around this contract.
I love the theme of this one, and the fact that Dwarf decks with Bombur in their lineup can now start with 5 Dwarves in play from the very beginning. The contract is something that people have been asking for since contracts were announced, and while the deckbuilding part of the contract is a little restrictive, you can get a very fast start with such a deck, which might be all you need against certain quests.
Being the final quest of the game for now, the scenario had big expectations to meet. But with early leaks reporting that Nate French (original developer of the game) designed the quest, hype was starting to build. The given difficulty of 10 was also a cause of hype, as that is the highest difficulty rating ever given by the developers to a quest. We know from experience that the official difficulty rating doesn’t mean much (Into Ithilien being a 4 for example), but having our first 10 was quite interesting.
And then the pack arrived. It features another double sided rulesheet with plenty of flavour text to wrap up the story. Players also get to read some of the design notes about this cycle, and how the different developers have tried their best to make each scenario feel different. I would like to take this moment to thank the designers, playtesters, artists, and all the others who have worked on the game up to this point for their amazing work.
On to the quest, because there is a lot to discuss here. First of all, this quest limits you again to just 50 cards in your deck, much like Under the Ash Mountains did. However, you have to work your way to get to those cards, since the majority of the cards are captured at the beginning of the game. You are not eliminated from the game when your deck runs out, but you will have a harder time getting all the cards you need. The start of the game will capture the first 40 cards from your deck underneath the main quest and the four side-quests. You have to defeat the different stages to have a chance at reclaiming your cards and shuffling them back into your deck. To make matters worse, the start of the game will also see you placing 4 out of 5 Power of Mordor cards underneath each of the side-quests, so you are going to have to deal with those as you try to advance. Even better, you also start with a copy of Ulchor’s Guard engaged with you, and will have Ulchor in the staging area for the majority of the game.
Stage one requires you to defeat at least 3 side-quests that start in play. You do not know what each side-quest will do, but do know what Power of Mordor card will enter play when you make it the active location. Clearing these side-quests will get you more cards to work with, but it will still be an uphill battle. The locations in this quest don’t make playing cards any easier, as they will increase the cost of cards, or will prevent you from gaining resources during the refresh phase. It is paramount that you clear these locations so that you stand a chance at playing cards and advancing.
The second stage (if you ever get to it) will see you face off against Ulchor. You will have to defeat him once and for all, but this won’t be easy. Ulchor can only take damage equal to the number of progress on the main quest, so you will have to beat that first before killing Ulchor. Ulchor has another trick up his sleeve that will make it very difficult to stay on top of him. Each time he attacks, he reveals the top card of the encounter deck. This means that treacheries will go off (stage prevents any form of cancellation) and more enemies and locations will hinder your progress.
You will complete the game by defeating Ulchor, bringing down his hitpoints to 0. This will not be easy, as the quest is very tough and I have not yet managed to defeat it in true solo. Since Ulchor keeps adding more encounter cards when he attacks, it is very difficult in solo to stay on top of him, as you are revealing double the encounter cards per round. The encounter cards aren’t mild either. There are some tough enemies, including trolls in this pack, and we finally get another version of Necromancer’s Reach, this time called the Dark Lord’s Reach. As you might imagine, this is a more brutal version, as it also discards attachments from damaged characters. Considering that all of this comes on top of the five Power of Mordor cards potentially being in play at the same time, and you might begin to believe the difficulty 10 rating of this quest.
I am looking forward to hearing your stories about this quest and what strategies you have all developed to get around the tough mechanics of this quest. Feel free to share decklists when you have beaten the quest, as I am sure it will help others.
I think we are done now, all the packs of this cycle have been covered in this series, and the player card pool is now finalized for a while until the game comes out of hiatus. We do get one more contract in the Hunt for the Dreadnaught pack, but that is just one card. Because we now know the entire card pool, Vision of the Palantir can now start to do a few things. The first is to start the analyses of the entire Vengeance of Mordor cycle. This is gonna be tricky, as so many quests have interesting and weird mechanics that deserve to be covered in depth. Secondly, the blog will now begin to go back to the first cycle, and start the scenario analyses again for that cycle to include cards of the Ered Mithrin and Vengeance of Mordor cycle. This would also bring them up to the level of quality that the current articles are up to. When the blog started, the articles didn’t go as much in depth as the new articles, so you all deserve an update on those. Whether or not I will continue to update other cycles remains to be seen. Lastly, the blog has known about these spoilers since mid-May (during which this article got drafted) and has been updating the trait articles ever since. Check those out for an updated view on the different archetypes in the game that got updates this cycle.
While official content might stall, the blog will continue to push out content, but this does conclude the First Impressions series. We’ve gone on for 2 cycles of great cards, and I’m glad to see the articles getting a lot of attention each time they got published. Stay tuned for the scenario analyses of the cycle, and various other articles that will be released at a regular schedule while we try to cover as much of the game as possible.