In line with tradition, the last month of the year sees me doing a tournament-style poll with the community. In previous tournaments, we have determined the best scenario in the game and the best hero in the game. For 2021, I had little inspiration for what to do until I found a recommendation from an anonymous user on the site who proposed that I should try putting all of the unique allies in a tournament to find out who is the best target for the Messenger of the King contract.
And so, I did. In the same style as the poll from 2 years ago, I divided the poll into two phases. The first would do Swiss-style rounds to get a feel for who the superior allies were. This gave a ranking of all the allies, from which I took the top 17 (I’ll explain later why not 16) who would move on to stage 2. That stage is then a single-stage elimination game, where the brackets eventually decide on a winner!
There were a couple of rules upfront that prevented this from being a “Unique ally” contest. The contract is an attachment, which ruled out allies like Bill the Pony. The contract also does not allow for Neutral unique allies to be selected. This eliminated a lot of Istari, as well as Thalion. In the end, I was left with 83 allies for phase 1 of the tournament.
I also did not include any of the fan-made projects in this tournament. Official content was the only way to go. This is for several reasons, like not everyone having played some of the fan-made content yet. While stuff like AleP is accessible now that it has been added to RingsDB, players may not yet have used the allies with the contract. It would also have been difficult to draw the line somewhere, where some fan-made projects would be included, and some wouldn’t. It also protects the poll from being outdated if a project would release a brand-new unique ally that would be perfect for this contract but didn’t make the poll due to the release date. So official content only, and I think that was for the best.
Phase 1: 7 rounds of Swiss
Initially, I had counted on 8 rounds for this phase, but apparently, you cannot change it once the tournament has started, the more you know… The first phase consisted out of random matches to determine a hierarchy with the 83 contestants. As the rounds go on, allies are paired up with allies of a similar score. Since this is an odd number of unique allies, one of them (at random) had to sit out one round and was awarded the number of points it would get in a tie. This could explain why certain allies are a little higher on the list than anticipated.
The results of the first phase can be found in the table below. This also shows the way the score was calculated. The first factor was the number of match-ups that the ally won. If this couldn’t decide a higher ranking ally (which is likely, thanks to a small number of rounds), then the percentage with which the ally won their matches was converted in a number and compared to the rest. This sorted the entire field as such:
If you scroll back all the way up, you’ll see that Firyal was the winner of this first phase. As a matter of fact, she won most of her matches without any votes against her opponent. Her near-flawless victory made me think that it would be unfair for the other allies to compete against her in the second phase, as an unlucky match-up would skew the results. Because of this, Firyal is hereby crowned as the winner of the tournament, as was predicted by many of you at the beginning. The numbers 2 to 17 move on to phase 2.
It’s also always fun to have a look at the bottom part of the list to see what allies really don’t work with the contract. Galadriel in the final place makes sense, as she will leave play at the end of the round, thus losing you a hero. Other allies like Lindir and Orophin have enter-play abilities that do not make sense during setup. Others like Fili and Kili need to be played from your hand to trigger their abilities, thus making them significantly worse than most other allies on this list. A special shout-out goes to Barliman Butterbur, who denies you the use of his textbox if you make him a hero. Hopefully, players will have more fun with the AleP version of him.
Phase 2: Single-stage elimination bracket
The second phase started earlier, with the first phase ending a little earlier than planned due to a missing round. Since I did want to continue on schedule when I completed certain rounds, I opted for the quarter-finals taking a few days longer. This allowed more people to vote and get to see the bracket.
Stranding in the final 16, we have some of the allies that are great to use in certain archetypes or if you are running into uniqueness conflicts with others. These allies are (in no particular order):
- Bilbo Baggins
- Gildor Inglorion
- Azain Silverbeard
- Henamarth Riversong
There are quite a few of the weaker allies on this list, which are cheap but also pretty fragile. Bilbo, Ioreth, and Henamarth are nice options if you can deal with combat with your other heroes. They also work well in Secrecy decks but aren’t exactly top-tier. They also had some tough matches against stronger allies.
The quarter-finals saw 4 allies drop out of the race. These allies are still great in many different decks but are either a bit too specific (Gamling) or had a tough match-up against an ally that made the top 5. Fun to note here is that all matches ended in a 60-40 split, except for Faramir vs. Elfhelm, where Faramir crushed the competition. The numbers 6 to 9 are as such:
- Elfhelm (Spirit)
- Arwen Undomiel
These allies are all excellent but aren’t the cream of the crop. Arwen has to compete with her very popular hero version and has an ally version in two quests. Jubayr also has that issue in The Long Arm of Mordor but is more held back by the fact that the contract does not allow the ally to ready more than once per phase. This makes Jubayr less of a dependable defender against masses of enemies than other heroes or even his base ally version. Elfhelm is a great ally to have on the table but will require readying if you want to actually use him and benefit from his effect. Otherwise, he is a passive presence on the board, which can be a problem for you later on. Not to say that any of these allies are bad; it’s just that the community deems 5 allies to be stronger than these.
In the semi-finals, Rosie Cotton (29-71) and Gléowine (14-86) lost their respective matches against Legolas and Faramir. This made them duke it out in the loser’s final, which determined the fourth and fifth place, as Firyal was already deemed the winner of the event. During this match, it was Gléowine that was victorious. He beat Rosie quite unexpectedly by a decently wide margin. Rosie is, of course, a bit locked into the Hobbit archetype, but I have seen what MOTK Rosie decks can do, and honestly, it is scary to see in action with how powerful it can be.
However, Gléowine is the ally that can be splashed into more decks without much effort. His low stats don’t increase your deck’s threat too much, and the fact that he has repeatable card draw for you is worth a lot. He is a diet Beravor, but Beravor had to get an errata to limit her ability to once per round. Gléowine does not share this errata, allowing you to get a ton of cards in play for any player. It goes to show that Core Set cards are still decently powerful when promoted to hero. But there are three allies that stand above him, making him just miss the podium.
Another Core Set ally takes home the bronze medal. Leadership ally Faramir was one of the first characters that players thought of when the contract was released. He has decent stats, but being able to slap an Unexpected Courage on him and trigger his ability twice will triple a player’s willpower. That has the potential to quest much harder in the early game and can easily put you over 100 willpower in a swarm deck. Again, it is a shame you cannot ready him more than once per phase, limiting you to just 2 uses of his ability, whereas his ally version could, in theory, be triggered more often with effects like Spare Hood and Cloak, Ever Vigilant, and Strength of Arms. Nevertheless, Faramir is still an excellent hero this way and does not have as much competition from his other versions (I can’t believe Faramir is one of only a few characters with 4 versions in the game, not counting objective allies). Faramir as a hero will be really useful to swarm-style decks of any kind (Gondor, Dale, Dwarves, Silvan, Outlands…) and is still decently cheap for a Leadership hero at 8 threat. A well-deserved third place for Faramir, who finally shows his quality. (take that #73 on the list)
If you are only one of a handful of cards in your sphere that solves a particular problem in the sphere, then you have a decent chance of scoring high in the ranking. Legolas is one of only a few effects in Tactics that draws cards consistently for you, which immediately makes him an interesting hero option. Combine this card draw with an iconic character and 3 attack with Ranged out of the gate, and you are faced with a very popular MOTK hero. I have personally used Legolas in this fashion a lot. Tactics has plenty of Ranged heroes, even Legolas’ original hero version, but combining it with card draw is amazing for the sphere. It is also very easy to increase the card draw of Legolas with any weapon (he can wield quite a lot of them thanks to the Warrior trait), and not only do you make him a more efficient killer, but you can also now use Foe-hammer with him for more cards! His card draw effect is not even limited to once per round or phase, meaning that you can use cards like Swift and Strong to ready him and kill another enemy for more cards. Effects like Hands Upon the Bow can even draw you cards in other phases, which is super useful if you are digging your deck for specific cards. Legolas does have 2 other heroes who share his name, but I rarely see them being used, so he is an easy hero to add to your lineup for 8 threat.
But standing above all of these allies, Firyal is the clear winner of this tournament. So much so that I didn’t want to include her in the bracket because it would be unfair to whoever had the misfortune of facing her. Firyal was mentioned early on in the tournament as one of the potential winners, thanks to her amazing ability and strong stat-line. Her ability to scry the top card of the encounter deck each time you quest with her makes the surge keyword obsolete on the top card and can even save you from some deadly cards. You do not get to adjust your willpower by committing more or fewer characters to the quest, but the fact that you discard the looked-at encounter card is worth a lot. By making Firyal the Messenger of the King, you save 5 Lore resources, which is worth quite a lot. There are also no attachments needed to make her work better, unlike the Silver and Bronze medalists. You can, of course, boost her willpower and give her attachments like Map of Rhovanion, but those are just icing on the cake. Her 9 threat cost is high for a MOTK hero, and I don’t believe that Mirlonde’s effect works on her since it takes place before MOTK, so you are stuck with a higher starting threat. But you get a lot of control in return, especially in lower player counts!
I’m glad that this poll has been a big success and that we now have a decent ranking of the unique allies that can potentially become heroes. I do have one more announcement at the end of this article. I will stop doing the monthly polls on the blog for the foreseeable future. This is in part because I can better put that time elsewhere and also the fact that I am running out on topics. It’s been difficult to find proper topics as of late, especially since there is no new official content coming out that is not reprints of old stuff. So I am shutting down the polls for now, but they may return in some form later on. I might also keep doing these tournaments if I am given some good topics or come up with some myself. I hope you won’t mind it and will appreciate the extra effort put into the rest of the articles in 2022.