This contract hardly needs an introduction. The concept of a single-hero deck is very old for the game, and cards in the past like Strider and Vanish from Sight have tried to bring a two-hero deck going. But once the Challenge of the Wainriders pack was released and the contract made its way into the hands of the community, solo-hero decks sprung up everywhere! For a good reason, too, it’s a fun concept to travel through Middle Earth alone, as you get a much lower threat and get to focus your deck a lot more on a single hero. But it also has some drawbacks, especially in quests that require a lot of early action advantage (like Sailing) or deal out a lot of damage to your characters. Let’s review the Grey Wanderer Contract and all the fun deckbuilding options it has opened up to us.
The first line might already be quite a shock; you cannot choose more than 1 starting hero. Where you are usually free to choose between one and three heroes, you can now only select one. This means that your deck will be centered around that single hero, so it is important that you make a good decision here. Usually, the more expensive heroes are better with this contract, like Gandalf and Elrond. But that does not have to be the rule, as Spirit Glorfindel and some Hobbits also make for excellent Grey Wanderers. The contract opens up a ton of variety depending on the starting hero you choose.
Note that this one line means that while you cannot choose more than one starting hero, that does not mean you can get more heroes as the game progresses. Thalion with 3 side-quests or a unique ally with Sword-thain can still add to the number of heroes you have. At that point, you could even sacrifice your starting hero and get ally Prince Imrahil upgraded to hero. You just need to remember that the contract only refers to the starting hero you have selected.
The A-side of the contract has one more bit of text that triggers at the beginning of the game. You get to search your deck for an attachment with a printed cost of 1 and put it into play. You then flip over the contract. I find it strange that you cannot choose an attachment of cost 0 for this effect, but I’m sure that most people won’t go for an early Love of Tales or something if they can save a resource on their first attachment. The attachment cannot be in your hand, though. You must find it in your deck. This rule is often ignored, as players take their attachment out of the deck before they draw their opening hand. It is technically the wrong order, but there’s nobody stopping you.
The attachments selected for this effect can vary depending on your starting hero, but most players enjoy using the Strider attachment for its free willpower and early action advantage during the quest phase. There is no real argument for proposing any other attachment over Strider, but in case you have multiple Grey Wanderer decks in the game, there are some other options to consider. Decks that also run the One Ring along with the contract can put their Master attachment in play from the start of the game. They can leave one attachment in the deck to play for free and take a different Master card into their hand for the One Ring’s setup effect. Other common attachments are Nenya when playing with Galadriel, Light of Valinor for Cirdan, Elrond, or Glorfindel (only if Strider is already in use, otherwise that one does the same but with more willpower), or a specific Weapon, Mount, or Armor attachment on your hero. There are a ton of options here.
Note that you do not actually have to play the attachment on your hero. You can also, for instance, start with Elf-stone on an active location (just make sure you are the first player when it goes off). The Long Defeat can also be played on the main quest, or players can start with a Secret Vigil on an enemy in the staging area. Traps can also be placed with this effect. I am not saying that this will help you more than starting with an attachment on your hero; all I’m saying is that it is possible.
Flipping over to side B of the contract, this is the part you will actually be using during your game. The Grey Wanderer contract cannot be flipped back to its A-side like, for instance, Fellowship, so you can just set this one aside from your hero and trigger it whenever.
There are two important effects on this side of the contract. The first is that you are allowed to play the first card in each planning phase without needing a resource match. This only counts for non-unique cards, preventing you from taking staple cards from spheres you do not have access to. You are also not allowed to use this effect to play off-sphere events outside of the planning phase, even if you didn’t play any other cards. The effect helps you to balance the deck a little with some cards you may need from other spheres, despite only starting with access to a single sphere. Now you can get some healing cards into play if you started with a Tactics hero, or use it to play events like Timely Aid to get allies into play faster without having the Leadership icon. You are, of course, restricted to one card per round, and it has to be the first non-unique card you play. If you, for instance, play Daeron’s Runes with your Lore hero and then draw a Spirit card you’d like to play, you will have to wait until the next round. In order to solve this, I would suggest running some cards that grant you access to other spheres, like the 1-cost Neutral Song cards. This effect also does not stack on similar effects like Tom Cotton’s ability or The Storm Comes. You can delay the effect if you are only playing in-sphere unique cards, though.
The action on this side of the contract will help you stay on equal footing with standard 3-hero decks. In exchange for raising your threat by 1 and exhausting your contract, you may select two of these three things to do:
- Add 2 resources to the pool of you starting hero
- Heal 3 damage from your starting hero
- Ready your starting hero
These effects are really nice, and you will probably find yourself using this effect every round. The action advantage with the readying isn’t quite as much as you would get by starting with 3 heroes, but play Strider or an Unexpected Courage, and you still get 3 uses out of 1 hero. This helps in the early game to cover questing, defending, attacking, and using abilities.
The extra resources are also a common pick, especially if you are still waiting to draw your resource acceleration cards like Resourceful. This way, you can still get 3 resources per round, which is the same as you would in a regular deck.
Healing damage is vital with this contract, as you will have fewer characters to defend or take direct damage on. And if your deck has no healing or draws it late in the game, you are going to lose your hero pretty quickly. Healing 3 damage is a lot as well, allowing you to recover from a fair bit of damage. In higher player counts during quests with a lot of Archery going around, a Grey Wanderer deck can usually take 3 points of Archery damage without any problem and then heal it off immediately at the cost of 1 threat and the use of the contract for the round.
Aside from the narrative win that is facing Middle Earth with just one hero, there are a few other positives about this contract. While not all heroes will work with this contract, you can build a few decks focusing on one particular hero without needing to keep the rest alive. This has produced some very weird decks with heroes like Gloin and Treebeard, who now carry an entire deck by themselves!
Another positive of this deck is that you will start with a threat of 14 or below, depending on what hero you choose. This gives you a lot of time to build up your board and only take enemies when you want. You are limited to engaging just 1 enemy per round now and cannot be swarmed. Of course, when running a Dunedain deck with this contract, you can still engage more enemies if you choose to, but those decks tend to thrive on Valour instead of Secrecy.
Speaking of Secrecy, it really got a revival with this contract. You can now start below 20 threat more easily without giving up resource generation or action advantage. You are also not restricted to playing Hobbits or Spirit Glorfindel anymore. You will stay in Secrecy for at least a few turns, depending on the quest and the number of times you use the contract. But be sure to include some Secrecy cards in your deck that otherwise never leave the binder. Even something weird like Taking Initiative is now possible (if you are looking for an excuse to use that card again).
This contract also has a few downsides, making it a problem against certain scenarios. Any scenario where you are getting captured heroes, like Escape from Dol Guldur, Foundations of Stone, and The Dungeons of Cirith Gurat, are not going to last very long if you only have one hero. You are also quite vulnerable to effects like Hummerhorns in Shadows of Mirkwood and Sudden Pitfall in the Dwarrowdelf cycle since losing a single hero is game-over for you. Quests with a lot of direct damage like Desert Crossing are also going to be nasty. While you get an option to heal your hero with the contract, some quests just deal too much damage for you to heal off in time. And if you happen to get Cold from Angmar, your one hero is now useless. The same is true for condition attachments that restrict your readying or constantly deal damage.
You will also be pretty vulnerable in the early game to enemies with a really low engagement cost. A good example of this are the Tentacle enemies from Watcher in the Water, which have engagement costs lower than 20. You can find yourself getting swarmed quickly and then find yourself without enough action advantage if you didn’t play enough allies at that point. This is, of course, dependent on the deck you play. If you are playing Shadow and Flame, the fact that you start with only one hero will not really help you since all decks will start at 0 threat, so you are actually at a disadvantage here.
And that’s another thing. You may start with a low threat, but you will find that you are gaining threat a lot faster with this contract than your fellow players. Especially if you are not bringing threat reduction to the table, you are going to be engaging enemies sooner than you might expect. This, of course, depends on the quest you are playing and the amount of threat-raising abilities there are, but if you are using the contract every turn, you should really consider bringing threat reduction to buy you more time.
Cards to include
There are a lot of cards that can work really well with this contract. The first one to consider is the attachment you get to pick for setup. Go with Strider for this, as you get both willpower and action advantage out of it. It is a unique card, so make sure no other players are bringing it. It is in almost every Grey Wanderer deck, so be ready to switch it for something else if several Grey Wanderer decks are on the table.
Since you start at such a low threat, you are going to get great use out of the Secrecy cards. These give you nice discounts in the early game, allowing you to quickly set up your board state. Resourceful is essential to get more resource acceleration in any deck so that your single hero can eventually start to pay for expensive allies in just a single turn. Timely Aid is also very popular. This 4 cost event is reduced to just 1 cost if your threat is 20 or below. With it, you get to play an ally for free from your top 5 cards. Even in the latter stages of the game, you can even pay full price to get allies out faster if you have left-over resources. Just note that this might not match the sphere of your starting hero, so it must be the first card you play each round if you do not have access to Leadership.
Speaking of spheres, it might be an idea to get some extra sphere icons on your hero so that you do not have to rely on a single sphere and can play off-sphere cards multiple times per round. The 1-cost Song attachments work well, but if your starting hero is Aragorn, he also has some options. Players can also use the Elven Rings of Power to get extra sphere icons on specific heroes. Dwarf players will want to include Narvi’s Belt. General solutions like A Good Harvest and Thorongil can also work here. The more spheres you have access to, the easier it will be to get your cards on the table. Or just play a mono-sphere deck.
Archetypes that work well
Certain archetypes will not really feel the impact of having just one hero, because that hero will still have access to the complete cardpool of its archetype. By this, I mean that some heroes have text on them that will allow them to pay for traited cards of any sphere directly. Kahliel does this for Harad cards, Hirluin for Outlands, Radagast for Creatures, and Elrond can just play any ally. These archetypes will still be powerful outside of a three-hero lineup, and you can benefit by stalling a little with low threat while you build up your army. These archetypes also have a lot of powerful allies after a few turns, so you should be good to go after a few rounds.
Other than that, most of the archetypes work with this contract; it just depends on which hero you pick as your starter hero. You can pretty quickly get any archetype to work with this and can even mix and match powerful cards from different archetypes to build a solid deck around nearly every hero in the game. Just give it a shot, and I can promise you a lot of fun during the deckbuilding process.
There are a ton of decks that all play very differently, so I am sure I am leaving out a lot of amazing ones from this list. These are just the decks that I have enjoyed in the past. I would urge you to have a look around RingsDB by searching for this contract in combination with your favorite hero and see what options there are.
- Gandalf: https://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/20012/thesecondcoming-1.0
- Gwaihir: https://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/17215/thewindlordradagastallyredeemed-1.0
- Galadriel: https://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/15784/allshalllovemeanddespair-1.0
- Thorin: https://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/16168/thewanderingking-1.0
- Glorfindel: https://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/17121/glorfindelfindstheringlosesallhisfriends-2.0
- Haldir: https://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/19287/haldirdreadsnaught-1.0
This concludes the overview of the Grey Wanderer contract. These articles are pretty quick to make and are very instructive for those that just got the contract. So I will be continuing this month with the Three Hunters contract next, though work is also being done on the AleP contracts and A Perilous Voyage. I hope to bring you all of these articles soon!