Gandalf

Hero. Threat: 14. 3   3   3   5  

Istari.

Play with the top card of your deck faceup. Once per phase, you may play the top card of your deck as if it was in your hand. When playing a card this way, Gandalf is considered to have the printed , , , and icons.

"I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor." The Fellowship of the Ring
Matt Stewart

The Road Darkens #2. Neutral.

Gandalf
Reviews

Nobody's reviewed Gandalf yet? Is he just too obvious, or is he actually that unpopular??

Gandalf is one of the cornerstones of my favorite deck, which I call Three) Wise Men. Vilya is the other cornerstone, which in most decks is a hit-or-miss proposition. With Imladris Stargazer it becomes viable, but with Gandalf it is incomparably strong.

It's impossible to review Gandalf without a mention of Wizard Pipe, which can only attach to him or a small number of allies, half of whom leave the game at the end of the round. Once again, the Pipe is not a very good card in and of itself, but because of what you can do with it and Gandalf's ability. If you put a card on top of your deck that you can immediately play, you've effectively drawn the card you swapped it for.

It's also impossible to review this hero without mentioning Gandalf's Staff, which again is pretty much impossible use without him. I sometimes wonder why I'm paying 2 resources now for a card that will only get me on resource per turn, and it'll take two turns for me just to break even. Then I remind myself that I gladly pay 2 for Gléowine, in almost every deck I build, and the Staff will do exactly the same thing if I want it to. It also can discard a shadow card before it's revealed, which is handy in a pinch, and keeps it useful when all the cards have been drawn and played and there's no more need for more resources. It's also nice that Gandalf can pay his colorless resources for the Staff, which can then give resources to heroes of other colors, or even other players. This flexibility is a key difference from the normally stronger Steward of Gondor, and since Gandalf shows you what's coming, you can use that information to your advantage.

By now it should be obvious that we can't thoroughly evaluate this card on its own, but let's stop and take a look at the card itself. 14 threat is as high as it gets, and all I'll say to that is that you'd better make it worth it. You can see your next card on top of your deck, and up to 7 times a turn you can play it. Only once per turn can the card played be an ally or attachment, so this obviously tends toward an Event-heavy deck. He doesn't gain you any extra resources, so this leans towards events that are cheap, or preferably free. But, in a deck that's built for it, this is an incredibly powerful card draw engine. Every time you play off the top isn't just a card play, it's also a card you drew for free. For example, normally with Daeron's Runes you play one card, draw 2, and then discard one, so your hand size actually remained the same. Gandalf did all that without removing the card from your hand in the first place, so it was essentially a free draw of a card. Thus, Gandalf can draw up to seven cards per turn. Amazingly powerful! Almost completely unmatched! Peace, and Thought comes close, gaining 5 cards for a cost of 1 card, 1 resource, and 2 heroes exhausted just before the turn starts. That's not an insignificant cost.

Meanwhile, here we have the strongest hero statline in the game: 3/3/3/5. He's not the best quester in the game, but he comes close; not the best attacker, but though many can match him almost none will beat him; not the best defense, but he's still very close. He does whatever you need, making him an obvious target for things like Unexpected Courage. But let's take a look at another card that comes with him: Flame of Anor. This is an incredible chance to recover from certain disaster; in a tight spot, Gandalf readies himself and gains bonus attack for the phase. You can see the card you're about to lose and how much attack it will give you, or if desperately needed you can take a random discard by playing the Flame from your deck, again gaining a card draw. Many times it's actually irrelevant, if you just needed him to block something.

As my last word on the card itself, I invite you to read the text carefully. You may play the top card of your deck. When you do so, Gandalf is all colors. Nothing says that only Gandalf can pay for the card, so if you have for instance no resources on him and A Test of Will on top of your deck, you can still spend a resource from Glorfindel to play it. What could be better? The four colors give him even more flexibility for his effect, but I caution players against using too many cards that are off-color to their other heroes. Once you've drawn a card of the wrong color, it becomes a dead card unless you have some other way to play it, and the Wizard Pipe will only reactivate one such card per turn.

There are two more cards that I have to mention, and one of course is Shadowfax. Like the staff, this is really only viable on Gandalf or Gandalf, since Gandalf leaves the table at the end of the round. It's slightly more expensive than Unexpected Courage, but it makes him Ranged and Sentinel, and also can be paid for with any color. Assuming you're in a multiplayer game, and given Gandalf's amazing statline, the horse is usually well worth the extra resource.

And finally, more recently we have gained Narya for use with Círdan the Shipwright or Gandalf, the only Ring of Power with such a choice. It should be obvious that readying two allies for +1 and +1 is strong, and depending on the allies may well be stronger than Gandalf's own statline. This goes extremely well with the Vilya strategy I mentioned at the start, because expensive allies are strong allies, and thus Flame of Anor becomes even more powerful. Less obviously, the icon Gandalf gains from the ring makes him much less of a burden when trying to play cards already in your hand.

Obviously, there are costs to be weighed here. 14 threat is not cheap, and Gandalf remains one of the strongest allies we have, especially with Sneak Attack. When you decide to play Gandalf, your whole fellowship loses that opportunity, and I don't take that lightly. A lot of assumptions about deckbuilding have to be scrapped, if you're going to make full use of his ability. If you do, however, the results can be spectacular, and you will find that Gandalf could well be the strongest of all the Gandalves.

ohuerc 157

One of my favourite heroes. I might say actually a bit under-rated as well, though some might dispute that - it seems to me though that some people find it too difficult to look past that 14 threat cost and blocking of Core Gandalf and see the huge variety of options hero Gandalf can offer. If you put the effort into making him work though, I would say Gandalf is absolutely the most versatile hero in the game - there's nothing he doesn't work well with, except maybe Secrecy. Even then, shenanigans can be pulled.

So our first port of call is his stats, the best of any hero. Gandalf is an excellent choice for any of the three primary roles of quester/attacker/defender with 3 in each stat and 5 hit points. A lot of decks will want to maximise the use of those stats using readying effects such as Unexpected Courage and of course Shadowfax and obviously it's worth doing. Further to this another one of Gandalf's own particular cards comes into play for this in Flame of Anor, which can vary from just readying him to use his already formidable base stats to potentially readying him with a whopping +6 if you discard Beorn or Brok Ironfist from the top of your deck (probably the best use you'll ever find for Brok Ironfist). That's a pretty big deal for handling combat, but of all the cards specifically aimed at Gandalf I find it the least useful by a significant margin, which I think says something about the others. Likewise for all that his stats are amazing, they're not the true draw of the hero to me, just an incidental benefit. Yes, 14 threat worth of stats are an incidental benefit to me.

The real appeal of hero Gandalf is that ability. At first glance it might not seem so amazing - essentially your hand is just always one card bigger, right? But the thing is, any time you play that card from the top of your deck it is of course immediately replaced by another, new, top card of your deck. Thus effectively drawing you a card every time. If you have a stack of affordable events (perhaps set up by an Imladris Stargazer) you can do this multiple times per round, but even confined to the Planning phase it's pretty amazing - effectively drawing an extra card potentially every single round, not that easy an ability to come by usually. And as if it weren't enough that Gandalf's ability functionally is card draw, it also helps with more normal card draw in the form of Expert Treasure-hunter since you always know what to guess. And that can further be combined with Hidden Cache to generate extra resources as well. This is amazing, and there's still more. While playing a card this way, Gandalf is considered to have all four regular printed resource icons. The fact they're considered printed has minor benefit with some of the Against the Shadow mono-sphere cards; the fact he has the icons lets you play some attachments on him you otherwise couldn't, like Armored Destrier, A Burning Brand, Silver Lamp, or Support of the Eagles. The best aspect of it in this case though is the obvious - that he can play any card of any sphere, not only making his otherwise Neutral resources more useful, but also giving scope for decks using Gandalf to splash in any card they like that really fits the deck but doesn't match spheres with the rest. The applications of this are much the same as the comparable applications of A Good Harvest. Even with the amount of sphere bleed which has occurred over the years it can still be very nice to just slot in one or two cards you otherwise couldn't, depending on Gandalf to play them. Note also that since Gandalf is considered to have the icons he can play 0-cost cards like this, unlike Elrond's ability to play out-of-sphere allies.

If that were it, Gandalf would be interesting but very tricky, with his effectiveness rather depending on the shuffle of your deck as to whether a useful card was on top at the right time. But then of course they also gave us the ultimate enabler for him in the Wizard Pipe. There's little more to say about the Pipe other than the fact it can be conveniently fetched by Bilbo Baggins - it does nothing of itself, but it makes Gandalf's ability massively more reliable, and that ability is amazing as I've just been saying. Without the Pipe there'd be inevitable fear of drawing your out-of-sphere cards, but with the Pipe it's no problem as you can just stick them back on top of your deck again from your hand. The one additional point I can bring up is that it makes a ridiculously strong combo with Elrond and Vilya.

Now an important thing to note is that despite his big stats, Gandalf's ability - sphere-smoothing and effective card draw - is a support ability rather than one about his personal power. This is where I think a number of people fail to see the potential in hero Gandalf - they look at the statline and reason the only way to make use of him is to load up on readying and focus everything on turning Gandalf himself into a powerhouse. Now this is a valid approach to take, but it's only one of so many possibilities, and I feel much more interest can be derived from the other possibilities, where Gandalf's personal power is of less significance and he's more just a support hero, using that ability to enable something else. Admittedly he's a 14 threat support hero which can present problems, but he makes everything work so much better I'd say it's worth it. His position as a 14 threat support hero is solidified by a couple more of his toys - Narya obviously is great for any setup which has some powerful allies who will benefit from extra actions, while Gandalf's Staff is just good in any context, adding to the smoothing and draw Gandalf already provides by himself with the addition of flexible resource generation and card draw (two absolutely central mechanics to deck power); and just as a bonus you also have the option to take some of the risk out of your game by discarding shadow cards. I fully intend to review both of these cards properly so I won't go into too much detail, but the basics are enough. Despite his high threat cost and stats, Gandalf's biggest impact on a game can be in a supportive role. One further point I will note about all of Gandalf's toys is that they all have the advantage of being Neutral like him, making them easier to play than they otherwise would be.

The one non-Neutral Gandalf card is one which preceded his release - Word of Command. I've already reviewed that card, obviously it's very powerful, though exhausting a hero as powerful as Gandalf certainly can be a wrench. It's not an option that I necessarily use too often, but it can make Gandalf an excellent choice for a deck which depends on some particular combo to work properly.

The final point I want to bring up is this: I've mentioned a lot of cards which work very well with Gandalf, many of which were specifically designed to work with him. However I shoul stress that just because these cards work well with Gandalf in no way obligates you to use them with him. I've seen people complain about the number of 'required cards' for a Gandalf deck being too high, but personally, the only ones I never omit are the Pipe and the Staff - because the Pipe makes Gandalf's ability work so much more reliably, and the Staff just makes a deck work so much better in my experience. Everything else is optional. Sure, if your focus is to get as much out of Gandalf as possible then you'll probably want a lot of them, but if instead your goal is to just have Gandalf enable some other idea then you take those basics and any others which fit with that idea, which might be none of them.

Decks I've used hero Gandalf in vary between Vilya, Secrecy shenanigans, Pipes, Silvans, Glóin, and Dúnhere; and I know I've barely scratched the surface of what he can do. There are just so many possibilities, so many opportunities for creative deckbuilding from a hero who can do pretty much literally anything that it's possible to do in this game. Gandalf is every bit as interesting as he should be by rights. He is a wonder.

Now you made Brok sad. :'( — spequlator 11