It has been a long time since I have dusted off this series, and a lot has happened since then. Most importantly, the Hunt for the Dreadnaught marked the final new player card, meaning that we now have a set selection of cards to pick out our staples from. This series won’t include any Boons that have to be earned in the new campaign modes of cycles that get a reprint, nor will it include any fan-made player cards that could surpass the staples of the base game. So with a rounded-out cardpool, it is time for me to cover the staple categories that I have not yet covered or new ones that I have come up with since I dropped the series.
As a reminder, this series is meant to showcase the strongest player cards in each sphere that do a particular thing. Some of these might be obvious, but if you are a new player looking to add something to your deck to enhance a particular aspect of it, the articles can give you answers to some questions you might have. And it also helps me to go back to the lesser-known cards and list them as alternatives. With that recap out of the way, let’s explore today’s topic:
Without willpower, you are not getting anywhere in this game. It serves as the main way to get progress on quests and is often used during tests. Without willpower in your deck, you will end up being stuck at the first stage, forced to raise your threat again and again. While there are some quests that do not require as much willpower to clear (Morgul Vale comes to mind), the truth is that every deck will require at least a little willpower to progress the scenario. Exceptions can only be made if you are building a multiplayer deck, where others are covering the quest phase, and your deck can focus on combat or encounter deck manipulation.
Because willpower is so important, it was deemed by the developers to be worth more than attack or defence. That’s why cards like Dunedain Quest and Favor of the Lady cost 2 resources to boost your willpower by 1 point, while Dunedain Mark and Dunedain Warning each cost 1 resource. You also see this with other player cards. During the Against the Shadow cycle, two attachments were introduced to boost your defence and attack by 1 point for each resource you have on that hero (Gondorian Fire and Blood of Numenor). But no such attachment was made for willpower, as that would likely break the game too much. Instead, the ability was restricted to an event (Lay of Nimrodel), which is one-time use per copy.
This increase in cost was reduced a little bit in later cycles, but at the price of some more restrictions on who’s willpower can be boosted. It is here where we find some of our staples, though there are plenty of good willpower boosts to be found all over the game’s expansions. I will go through them per sphere, starting with the ones that have the most and the best-costed willpower buffs.
From the early days of the Core Set, the Spirit sphere has been associated the most with willpower. It seems only natural to start with this sphere, which has the cheapest willpower available with some of its allies. Consider the 1 cost Silvan Refugee for 2 willpower, or the 2 cost Escort from Edoras for 4 willpower. You can also get some amazing value out of the Ethir Swordsmen once you get several out at once. Spirit might not get the best global willpower buffs of all the spheres, but it does give you a ton of variety if you are looking to get some cheap willpower. But one of the biggest staples in terms of willpower for this sphere has to go to a Core Set card that you can find in many decks.
From day one, Eowyn has been the face of the quest phase, and many players have fond memories of finally managing to beat early scenarios with her. The biggest contributing factor to this is her 4 willpower at the start of the game, which can only go up. This is one of those rare cases where heroes are super-specialized in one stat, forsaking balance for mastery in one aspect of the game. While other heroes have been released since her also with 4 printed willpower (Galadriel, Cirdan), they tend to have effects that require them to exhaust, so it is more of a choice between questing and the nice effect. Not so with Eowyn. She does one thing, and she does it well! Early willpower is just super important in many quests, and sending her early on can allow you to keep other heroes back for early combat if you start with an enemy early on. Her optional effect makes her even more efficient, where each player can discard a card of their choice from their hand to boost her willpower by +1. In a 4 player game, she can quest for 8 on turn one without needing attachments, which is something no other heroes can achieve. The effect can also be triggered after the staging step, allowing you to break even or make that final point of progress to clear a location/quest card, as long as players have a card to ditch.
There are some negatives with Eowyn too, but they are minor. Her 3 hitpoints mean that you have to be careful with sending her to the quest since direct damage effects can hurt her a lot. Necromancer’s Reach is worth looking out for. If you are forced to remove a character from the quest, and she is the only one you sent, it will be a big hit in total willpower, so invest in Windfola to keep her committed to the quest (and boost her willpower further!). There’s also a uniqueness issue since her Tactics version is really popular. It keeps the 4 willpower, but that’s super rare in Tactics, so you will often see it there. Luckily, there are no allies or objectives that share her name, so you can just bring her to every quest if you want to.
I mentioned it earlier, but where Spirit has the larger selection of good willpower boosts, Leadership has some of the strongest. Many of these are trait-specific, with attachments and heroes boosting all characters of their trait with willpower and perhaps more. But Leadership also has some attachments like Dunedain Quest and Celebrian’s Stone that are easier to afford thanks to the many resources the sphere can generate. This is also a sphere with a lot of variety in willpower boosts and even got the Master attachment Power of Command to boost willpower before the Spirit sphere. There are two cards that are worth the spotlight, though, since they are able to boost the willpower of any character, regardless of traits. I had a hard time deciding between the two, so Leadership gets a double entry for this segment.
Another Core Set card and a staple to this very day, Faramir is not known for his stats but is played purely for his ability. Exhausting Faramir for this ability allows you to choose a player. That player gains +1 willpower on all their characters, even those that aren’t questing. The best part of this is that it is not limited to a certain number of times you can use this effect. Because of that, you can just load up Faramir with readying attachments or use events like To Arms and Ever Vigilant to ready him and use him again. You also do not have to select yourself for his ability. If there is a player questing with more characters than you are, you can select them and enjoy an even bigger boost in willpower. It is my personal belief that this ally is among one of those that are responsible for Messenger of the King‘s limit to readying when you make an ally a hero.
He is rather expensive, though, at 4 resources. But being in Leadership does soften the blow a little. Steward of Gondor will make it easy to afford him (though the steward himself is not a fan of Faramir for personal reasons…). You will also have some competition, as there are two hero versions and a Lore ally version of Faramir. They are not as popular as the Leadership ally, though, and you can usually get away with playing this version in your deck. Not many people can deny his insane willpower boost in the mid-to-late game. The only time you are not allowed to run him is during The Blood of Gondor and The Morgul Vale quests when there are objective versions of him in play.
Sword that Was Broken
The second generic boost to all characters that Leadership gets is a bit more restrictive but more of a thematic win. The Sword that was Broken is a more expensive version of Song of Kings on most heroes, but on any version of Aragorn, it does more than just grant the Leadership sphere. Once attached to Aragorn, it grants every character you control +1 willpower as a static bonus. This is super powerful against quests that require willpower for things other than questing, such as the Orcs from the Haradrim cycle that need to be defended by a high-willpower defender, or during the Redhorn Gate, where characters are discarded if their willpower is ever 0. This attachment adds a layer of protection to that and can help your characters to quest more easily. It is not as repeatable as Faramir, but it is also not as vulnerable to direct damage than an ally. The Artifact trait also combos well with the Ring of Barahir, providing additional hitpoints to the wielder, ensuring that they don’t die. The high cost of 3 resources is a lot to consider, but if you happen to get lucky with ally Galadriel, you can get it out for free (after having paid for her, of course). This is one of the puzzle pieces that make Aragorn into a fantastic quester, and when paired with more willpower boosts (Fellowship contract, Arkenstone, Faramir), you can get stupid amounts of willpower on the table.
Having had two spheres where we are spoiled for choice when it comes to willpower boosts, we now get to the two spheres that don’t have it as easy. Lore does have some characters with solid willpower, and heroes like Thurindir and Treebeard can certainly get to 4+ willpower on their own. But aside from Protector of Lorien, there aren’t a ton of willpower boosts for the sphere. And having discussed two Core Set cards already, I didn’t want to include a segment on that one. It would just turn into a Core Set card analysis. Though I do suppose it is a good thing we get access to many strong willpower boosts early in the game’s life. But I want to discuss a relatively recent card that has become a staple in many of my decks lately.
Stone of Elostirion
No, I’m not biased because this is a Palantir… ok, maybe a little. But my point still stands that this is some of the most affordable willpower in Lore that you can get (outside of spamming Anfalas Herdsmen when 3 Ethir Swordsmen are already on the table). 2 willpower for 1 cost is a steal in any sphere, and you also get the added benefit of drawing an additional card each turn. While you might not struggle for cards when playing Lore, drawing through your deck faster can never hurt, and at worst, you can fuel cards like Eowyn and Protector of Lorien if you have no need for the additional cards. You can also be generous and have another player take this attachment, giving them the additional willpower and card draw.
This does come at a cost aside from the 1 Lore resource, though. This is a Guarded (location) attachment, meaning that you have to clear a location with this attached before you get to claim it. But that is no problem for Lore, having access to Asfaloth, The Evening Star, and Mirkwood Explorer. As long can get progress while in the staging area, you should have no problem clearing it and claiming the attachment. Playing this card can even get rid of nasty enemies and treacheries that are on top of the encounter deck!
Willpower has never been Tactics’ strong suit, and it shows in their selection for willpower buffs. It is rare to find affordable willpower in this sphere, and many allies with 2 or more willpower end up being unique. The only attachments you can really use are Sting and Red Arrow, but those just add +1 to only the attached character. So it is slim pickings for deciding on the staple for this sphere, but I think I have found the best card that matches the criteria I set for myself.
Yes, it is another Rohan hero, but you cannot blame me for including him on this list. Coming in at the very end of the Against the Shadow cycle, Theoden was the first sign that a mono-Tactics deck might actually be viable. It took a little longer after that to get a lot of willpower for the sphere, but he was a noticeable change in direction for the willpower-starved sphere. Theoden is a well-rounded hero with the benefit of having the Sentinel keyword to do double duty for your deck. The reason he is on this list is that he provides a global willpower boost to all Tactics heroes in the game. This goes for other players as well! Tactics heroes might not be known for being sent to the quest very often, but it can certainly make an impact in the early game when not everyone has to be kept back for combat. Heroes like Thalin, Tactics Eowyn, and Hirgon are common targets for this effect, and you often see them in the same deck together. But the boosted willpower benefits Theoden as well. He can go on the quest for 3 willpower by himself, readying with Snowmane if you are successful. You can also use Herugrim and Golden Shield to add your boosted willpower to your attack and defence, respectively.
The downside of Theoden is that his Spirit version is also pretty popular, as it allows the Rohan spam to start in earnest, so you might have to compete with that. He is also not the cheapest hero to include in your deck, and he definitely needs some attachments to make the most of his stats. But considering you get 13 stats for 12 threat, he is a good deal, especially if you have two additional Tactics heroes in your deck.
There are quite a few ways to boost willpower that you can include in any deck, thanks to the Neutral cards. This can definitely help Tactics decks to make up for their lack of willpower buffs. Certain attachments like Strider and Nenya require more specific decks, but there are some neutral Guarded attachments that can be brought into play for nearly every deck. The Necklace of Girion provides a steady +2 willpower on the attached hero and earns them a resource every turn. The Arkenstone will buff all your unique characters and is great in combination with the Fellowship contract. But the most interesting willpower buff is an event that I’d like to spend some extra time on.
The Free Peoples
When it comes to theme, this is one of my personal favorites. It symbolizes the diversity of the deck that you can make in this game and rewards you for thinking outside of the regular trait deck. The Free Peoples can only be played if you control at least 9 different traits on your characters. This can be set up early if you have heroes with various traits at the start of the game, but reaching 9 is quite the challenge with just heroes. In most cases, you have to take advantage of some niche traits like Archer, Steward, Craftsman, and Healer to get to 9 traits without breaking the theme of your deck too much. As a reward, you get to play this event, spending 5 resources for a global readying effect. All characters from all players will be readied, and your own characters will get +1 willpower. It is a shame that the cost of this event cannot be reduced easily, but the event being Neutral makes it as easy to afford as Gandalf. You also do not get to decide which player gets the +1 willpower, unlike Faramir. But considering that this effect would ready Faramir if he is in play, you can trigger his effect again for even more willpower! This is an amazing multiplayer card that feels really satisfying to pull off. Being able to ready all characters for a tough combat phase will really help your situation, and having sent everyone to the quest ensures a solid chunk of progress. Yes, it requires some setup, but by the time you have your nine traits ready, there will be enough characters on the table to ready and to boost willpower. In lower player counts, this might not do as much, but it is still a better version of Grim Resolve.
Trait Specific willpower boosts
As a special section for the article, I have lumped all cards together that provide willpower buffs to their own faction. These are usually pretty powerful, providing more willpower than you’d think for the initial cost of the card. But there are extra criteria to be met before you can benefit from these willpower boosts. They are:
- Visionary Leadership: +1 willpower to all Gondor characters in play (including other players). This is only active when the attached hero has a resource in their resource pool, but it can certainly flip the game on its head when you have an army of Gondor allies.
- Celeborn: He is a staple in Silvan decks, providing a +1 willpower boost to each Silvan ally that enters play until the end of the round. A great combo with Galadriel, who prevents the allies from exhausting to quest during the same round. Allows you to use their boosted attack and defence stats as well.
- Brand son of Bain (Leadership): While Brand is in play, each Dale character with a player card attachment gets +1 willpower. This helps to boost the allies even more and makes free attachments even more worth the deck slot.
- Dain Ironfoot (Leadership): An icon of willpower boosts, Dain can be found in most Dwarf decks. A static +1 to willpower and attack to all Dwarves on the table is fantastic, as long as you can keep him ready. Throw in some readying attachments for him to make sure he does more than just buff the army.
- Astonishing Speed: A costly event at 3 resources in Spirit, but in exchange, all Rohan characters in play get +2 willpower. Fantastic if you ever need to power through a quest. Also allows some weaker allies, like the Snowbourn Scout, to quest pretty decently.
- Untroubled by Darkness: Another Dwarf buff, this time providing +1 willpower to all Dwarf characters, but +2 if the active location is Underground or Dark. Set this up with Dain Ironfoot, and you will have no problem questing through any stage!
- Lords of the Eldar: A global buff to all Noldor in play, providing additional willpower, defence, and attack. It is quite a costly event that also requires some setup, but a dedicated Noldor deck will have no issue playing this event.
- Red Book of Westmarch: The global Hobbit willpower boost came in the last cycle, so I’m glad I waited a little with the article until after this was released. It doubles as a form of resource generation, though the upfront cost can be a bit steep for multisphere Hobbit decks.
- Kahliel’s Headdress: A global +1 willpower boost to all Harad characters in play, though that might not be as many as with other traits. Luckily, the headdress doubles as a recursion effect to return Harad allies from your discard pile into your deck. The fact that it is neutral also helps with the cost.
- Scouting Party: A relatively cheap effect to boost all of your Scout characters that got sent on the quest with +2 willpower. The catch is that no non-Scout characters must be sent to the quest by you, so only include this in your deck if you have a large population of Scouts.
- Captains of the West: +1 willpower to all Noble heroes in play, and they do not exhaust to quest. The action advantage might be more worth the cost over the +1 willpower, but seeing how common Noble heroes are, you can definitely make this worth the cost in multiplayer games.
I hope this article has given you plenty of examples of cards you can add to your deck in order to make sure you quest through that location lock and on to victory! More articles in this format will follow soon, alternating between the Custom Scenario Kit reviews. Let me know if there is any category that’s not currently on the list that you’d like to see.
–No cards were harmed in the making of this article’s thumbnail–