What if I told you this card could be one of the best tactict cards? I love also hammer-foe, feint, gondorian shield but this one give to tactic a unexpected aspect. Tactic heroes Hama and Mablung gets a real boost thanks to it. It gave a good alternative to the classic Boromir shell.

For me wait no longer is so strong because it gave opportunities to control the encounter deck. When you reveal only one (or zero) card each turn you can plan everything way more easily. Energy can manage the encounter deck with a test of will and this card is the second best choice to ensure that all is going to be okay.

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This was a superb card for establishing an archetype - the archetype in question being Gandalf. Actually I'd debate whether Gandalf is exactly an archetype, but regardless, this card is the perfect enabler for whatever you want to do with Gandalf. It's certainly possible to play hero Gandalf without the Pipe, but it's hard to imagine why you would want to. Without the Pipe Gandalf is rather dependent on the whims of your random shuffle, helped along perhaps by Imladris Stargazer but still it's quite possible for his resources to end up being not so useful and out-of-sphere cards are a really risky idea in this case. With the Pipe everything works wonderfully. Card in your hand you can't otherwise play? Put it on top of the deck and let Gandalf play it. Card on top of your deck you want to play but you already played from top of deck this phase? Swap it into your hand then play it (ideally switching it with an event which you can then play in a subsequent phase). Want to spend all your resources but also hold one back for A Test of Will? Put AToW on top of your deck and you can play it with Gandalf's resource if need be. And so on. One of the greatest powers of Gandalf as a hero is the ability to have your deck function incredibly efficiently and careful use of the Wizard Pipe is a central part of that.

Beyond this it should be noted that it is possible though unusual to use the Wizard Pipe without hero Gandalf. Attached to OHaUH Gandalf or Radagast, it can still have some uses (these uses apply with hero Gandalf as well, but this way you can pass on his 14 threat if you want, albeit it'll be jankier). These uses are:

  • Setting up Elrond/Vilya. Obviously very powerful.
  • Getting draw from Expert Treasure-hunter. Potentially combined with Hidden Cache to generate resources at the same time. Powerful.
  • Setting up Well-Equipped with a good attachment or Ered Luin Miner. Both potentially pretty good.
  • Setting up Zigil Miner. Unlikely to be better than just using a Stargazer.
  • Setting up any deck mining effect to discard a superfluous card rather than an unknown. Not worth the combo, but another option if you're already doing it.
  • Setting up Flame of Anor with a high-cost card. Pretty powerful with any Istari other than Radagast.

There might be others but that's all I can think of. So these aren't terrible options in general, they're pretty good. It's just a lot of work to get them without hero Gandalf, and there may well be other routes to those effects requiring less expense or weird jank. But while it might be a bit much to go for these as ends in and of themselves, if you already have a reason to be using Hobbit Gandalf or Radagast you could certainly consider some Wizard Pipe shenanigans. Whether using hero Gandalf or not it should of course be noted that the Pipe can be fetched by a Master of the Forge, or even better by Bilbo Baggins.

Regardless if you use it in the standard context or something more unusual though, the simple fact is that the Wizard Pipe enables a lot of powerful other effects. It takes things which would otherwise be pretty thoroughly unpredictable and unreliable, and it lets you trigger those things consistently pretty much as and when you want them, only dependent on your card draw (which of course applies to basically everything). That's a level of enabling which cannot be undersold, and it's pretty incredible how much impact this simple 1-cost attachment can have.

You could also use it with Entmoot or the eagles are coming to maximise draw by swapping the to card for an ent or eagle card that you will imeadiatly draw back. Pretty weak but if you already have the pipe... —
Also pretty good with the tree people if you have an expensive ally in hand. —

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. :'( —

I have mixed feelings on this card when it comes to reviewing it. It's a card I like a lot and consider rather good (though severely under-rated by some in the community, he was not so well received on release), but I also still stand by some of the uncertainties I had about its design when first spoiled and released.

So, first off, obviously those stats are nothing special. 1 , can take 1 point of direct damage without dying, these things are not irrelevant but they're nothing to write home about. The reason you play this ally is for the ability, which is a very good one. There are limitations of course - unlike the similar Secret Paths and Radagast's Cunning the card in question has to be in the staging area during the Planning phase so you can't cancel threat after staging. But especially as player count rises, having a high card hanging around in the staging area which you might like to ignore while questing is not that rare. For obvious targets, there are a few boss enemies which stay in the staging area but are not immune to player card effects, like Thaurdir in Carn Dum for example, but then there are also generic high high engagement cost enemies, and indeed high locations. Of course you could just run the two events I mentioned further up, but while they are cheaper, they're also less flexible and don't come with an ally attached. I recall a comparison I've come across for this ally is the Escort from Edoras - assuming you cancel 3 or 4 with the ability, the Pioneer will effectively quest for 4-5 the round he enters play, then stick around as 1 and a couple of hit points subsequently, whereas the Escort would just quest for 4 and then be discarded. It's a decent comparison, and expresses well why I like this card. It's good.

My problem however is in the balance of quality between the ability and the cost in resources/Doomed. Because the ability is an optional Doomed ability, it's kind of separate to the ally - suggesting that we're paying Doomed 1 for the ability and 2 resources for just the stats, which as noted are not that impressive. I absolutely think that the full package of the ally plus cancelling the threat is worth 2 resources and Doomed 1, but I don't think the ally without that ability is worth 2 resources. I think I'd be more comfortable with the design if it were 1-cost for the ally and Doomed 2 for the ability, though I imagine more people would balk at Doomed 2 for that effect than Doomed 1. The Pioneer is just an excellent example of how the optional Doomed allies all feel kind of worth it including the Doomed effect, but if you don't trigger the Doomed then they feel more overpriced like Secrecy cards out of Secrecy - but with the difference that the Secrecy cards always give full effect but may cost more, while with the Doomed allies you're overpaying and not getting the full effect because there's an additional cost associated with that effect.

Honestly, thinking about it more carefully and thanks to the fact I have played with this ally a reasonable amount I find him not so bad, mostly because if I play him without triggering the Doomed it's probably because I have a good enough board state I don't need the boost, which tends to mean resources to spare and I don't mind so much overpaying for an ally at that point. It's certainly better than the Greyflood Wanderer and arguably the Henneth Annûn Guard where it feels like they'd still be fine balance-wise if their abilities were just innate with no Doomed required. And obviously it is preferable that the Doomed is optional so you can disregard it if the effect is unnecessary, however rare it may be that one plays it without the Doomed. It's just that the fact of the Doomed inevitably prompts these thoughts of separating out the costs and make me question the division of the said costs.

Returning to the actual quality of the Pioneer though, I would like to reiterate that he's very useful, and Doomed 1 is really not that big a price to pay for that effect. Pull him out for some big quest pushes, especially in multiplayer where the staging area can get really out of control at times.

A favourite of mine, and one of the best executions of the optional Doomed card. One of the best uses for Doomed cards is to accelerate your early game when resources are scarce but threat is plentiful, and this does exactly that. By paying 2 resources for this ally and then triggering Doomed 2 you, or another player of your choice, can bring in another ally of cost 2 or less. Of course one could take the view that in this circumstance you've effectively just paid the 2 resources for the other ally and then gotten an extra 1 or chump out of the deal; but on the other hand, for one there are benefits to having extra bodies on the table such as the further early game acceleration of A Very Good Tale or perhaps global boosts like Visionary Leadership, Sword that was Broken or Faramir, and for another even without such benefits this still allows for some significant resource-smoothing between spheres and indeed players.

To give examples, allowing a or player to bring in, for example, Arwen Undómiel or an Honour Guard while still retaining a resource for A Test of Will or Feint could be a very valuable early game play well worth your 2 resources and a bit of threat. An early Warden of Healing could also be significant in a damage-heavy quest. Of note is of course the fact that the player with each of these allies might have only one hero of the relevant sphere and thus be slower to afford the ally under normal circumstances. A further option with this is any ally with a useful enters play effect - such as Envoy of Pelargir or Soldier of Dol Amroth each of whom effectively reimburse a resource, any of the variety of 2-cost Silvan allies, and so on.

But even leaving aside the (significant) co-operative benefits and the potential for resource-smoothing, at its core the natural purpose of this ally and his optional Doomed effect is simply to accelerate an ally swarm. Given that swarming allies to overwhelm the encounter deck by force of numbers is an incredibly effective course to victory in a wide variety of quests, and that the early game is the most difficult part of the game for the most part, the opportunity to immediately bring in two allies for the price (in resources) of one can be a massive boost and set you well on the path to that eventual victory. Whichever purpose you put him to, the Herald of Anórien is just an incredibly useful ally to have.