The Orthanc Guard is unfortunately competing with the Greyflood Wanderer for the title of 'Worst card in the Doomed deck archetype'. On the face of it, readying every time you raise your threat for Doomed sounds like a very handy ability to have - and I will note at this point that there is no limit on the ability, so if Doomed effects trigger multiple times in a round the Guard will ready every single time - but in practice it's only actually going to be useful if the extra actions you're gaining are worthwhile, which in general I'd say they aren't.

As a sidenote, one immediate issue is that if you are playing a Doomed deck then you may want to trigger a lot of your Doomed in the Planning phase, at which point the Guard probably isn't exhausted yet and thus his ability is wasted. Doomed from the encounter deck is certainly possible in the Quest phase but obviously you can't depend on it unless you've scried the encounter deck in advance. So if you want to be able to depend on readying your Orthanc Guard(s) you have to hold off on some Doomed cards (or Gríma's cost reduction) until later in the round specifically for that reason. Given the limited use of being able to ready him, is this really worth it?

So on to examining the use of those actions. The Orthanc Guard has 1 , which isn't exactly going to blow anyone away, and for combat he has 2 /2 , which will survive attacks from weak enemies or one attack from an average enemy barring shadow effects. And outside of truly universal effects which would work just as well on any other, more useful ally, those stats cannot be increased as there is no trait synergy for the Isengard trait (maybe we'll get some eventually, but I suspect if we do we'll also get some better allies for it than this guy). So maybe if you're playing a quest where you're going to get swarmed by 2 enemies then the ability to get extra defences from this guy in exchange for Doomed could be useful, but if the enemies are any stronger you'll be more at the mercy of shadow effects and you'll need to heal him between enemies. And/or you can get 1 extra on the quest in addition to that mediocre combat power. I'm not saying it's useless to have 1 extra and a chump-blocker in the same 2-cost ally, it's just that there are so many other allies you could include who would probably be more useful.

The one potential use for that readying would be if you have an effect which requires exhausting characters. A Very Good Tale is a decent one. Encounter card effects which exhaust characters can sometimes be devastating (when e.g. all your defenders/chumps get exhausted before combat) and this could let you get an action back. Otherwise these effects tend to require exhausting a specific character, or a character with a certain trait (Again, Isengard has no trait synergy), or a hero. Spare Hood and Cloak could be an odd one which might actually work out if you want to get into some shenanigans, but that's the only other option I can see. In general, while it seems like a decent ability, there are many better ones you could be using your deck slots for instead.

The additions in the Ring-maker cycle really breathed new life into the Secrecy archetype and the Ithilien Lookout is a very clear example of that. For one thing, it's the Secrecy cost-reduction done right - it's a good deal when discounted, but still palatable (if a little overpriced) if you happen to have left Secrecy. 2 resources for 2 and 1 for a useful enters play ability is still alright in the right context (and played in a Gondor deck his stats get better, increasing the value), and at 1 it's a steal. Much better than some of the earlier Secrecy cards which were more or less unusable outside of Secrecy.

The other aspect is that the ability really ties into how a lot of Secrecy decks like to work. The usual modus operandi of a Secrecy deck is to use its low threat to get some breathing room from the encounter deck while it amasses power and takes control of the board. so for starters the ability to scry the top card of the encounter deck directly ties into a strategy built around taking tight control of the game, and indeed into gradually taking control in a slow build-up, since it allows for more informed questing and thus more efficient general application of your available power, which in turn can make it easier to amass more power. More specifically though, the breathing room such a deck gains will often take the form of not needing to engage enemies. But leaving those enemies in the staging area can lead to an uncomfortable build-up of threat (whereas treacheries can be cancelled or otherwise dealt with and locations can be explored), and Secrecy decks tend to have less good options for potentially engaging and killing enemies than for simply acquiring high . The Lookout is thus a twofold boon to such decks, in that he provides cheap to kill what enemies do appear more easily, and he also allows you to potentially discard an enemy you can't deal with from the top of the encounter deck before it enters play, thus providing potentially very significant bolstering to what was otherwise something of a potential weakness in the archetype.

Overall, a very worthy consideration for any Secrecy deck using the sphere, and potentially also for some Gondor decks, or just decks built particularly around encounter deck manipulation. Certainly not a universally applicable card, but very useful to his particular archetypes.

An incredibly useful ally. First examine the stats: 2 for 2 resources is a good deal regardless of anything else. His single point of is unlikely to matter, but with archery and/or other direct damage flying around the second hit point could be useful. That statline is the same as the Veteran Axehand from the Core Set, who doesn't have an ability and still saw a decent amount of use just for those stats. So the Outrider is a good deal just as a generic cheap attacking ally. With Théoden he could be 1-cost, even. His Rohan trait also allows him to work with other Rohan cards, but most of those would involve discarding him for some reason other than (and probably less useful than) his own action - not to mention in a dedicated Rohan deck which runs those cards you probably have other Rohan allies you'd rather discard to trigger those effects. The two bits of Rohan synergy which definitely can work pretty well with the Outrider are Éothain and most significantly Gamling, since both of those can trigger on the Outrider's own ability - the ability is useful in and of itself though, without needing to get an extra ready or recycle the Outrider afterwards.

So let's talk about that ability. Discard to engage an enemy. The Rohan trait in general can have some problems with the need to keep discarding its allies for benefits leaving a somewhat lacking board-state, and one has to debate if the benefits in question are actually worth losing the ally and the investment of resources it represents. The Westfold Outrider is definitely one of the good ones though. Of significant note is that the Westfold Outrider's ability is just a generic action, so it can be triggered in any action window where you want to engage an enemy. This gives great flexibility if pairing up the Outrider with Dunedain such as Halbarad, Halbarad or Heir of Valandil which will benefit from being engaged with enemies earlier in the round, or with heroes Mablung and Faramir whose abilities are limit once per phase. For particular uses, the Outrider can obviously be used to engage enemies which for one reason or another cannot be optionally engaged. The Outrider can be triggered in or before the Quest phase to engage an enemy from the staging area and thus stop its counting against you - this sort of 'quest insurance' can be incredibly valuable. It can also be used to make sure enemies end up engaged with the deck which is equipped to handle combat. In a situation where combat power is spread out, it may transpire that one deck has better (non-Sentinel) defenders while the other has better (non-Ranged) attackers, in which case if the Outrider appears on the attacking side he can be used to drag over an enemy after it has been defended. The extreme version of this is that if correctly timed the Outrider can actually prevent an enemy attack, as follows:

  1. Player 1 resolves the attacks from his engaged enemies. His enemy attacks step of combat is now over and we pass to player 2.
  2. Before player 2 chooses which attack to resolve first, there is an action window in which player 1 discards a Westfold Outrider to engage one of player 2's enemies.
  3. This enemy is now engaged with player 1, who has already resolved his enemy attacks, so this enemy does not attack this round.

This setup obviously isn't restricted to 2-player, it works at any player count so long as the player with the Outrider is earlier in the player order than the player whose enemy he is engaging. It also doesn't matter if the Outrider player has no engaged enemies, you are still considered to go through the step of resolving all his 0 enemy attacks and concluding that step. Now, as I said, that's an extreme example, which isn't going to come up very often. But then, it's also an extremely potent example, so it's not necessary to justify the Outrider's spot in a deck - it's just potentially icing on the cake of the other uses of the Outrider which will come up considerably more often. Very handy flexible control over enemy engagements, and solid stats to make use of until you need to trigger that ability. Well worth it.

Deceptively strong in singleplayer. One threat for one resource is a pretty good trade when Doomed only has one threat dial to increase. A very useful hero for breaking through the early game, as his 'resource generation' is great in Lore when you often have a glut of cards and nothing to pay for them with. Often nice even when you don't actually use his ability, as simply having him there can free up a resource that you'd otherwise want to save for events you may or may not even need this round (e.g. A Test of Will). The main advantage against him is his stats being worse than expected for his threat cost, so you have to be sure that you'll need his ability. Overall, a very strong contender for any solo Lore deck (especially without Leadership and other resource generation).

A hero who I tend to find doesn't get as much credit as he deserves. He's clearly not geared towards making flashy plays, but the flashy plays are often less significant than the consistent power of support abiilities like Mablung's resource generation. And let's look at that resource generation for a moment, comparing it to other heroes who generate resources - Théodred has to quest with only 1 , not really a cost but a minor restriction; Glóin has to take damage while Arwen Undómiel has to discard a card, an additional cost to gain the resources, even if it can be mitigated; Thorin Oakenshield requires you to reach 5 Dwarves and Amarthiúl requires two engaged enemies, so they take some setup (and the latter can be a somewhat risky prospect). But Mablung? His only requirement for generating additional resources is that you engage enemies, which in the vast majority of cases is something you're going to be doing anyway. They're basically completely free resources as much as the bonus two you get from Denethor, putting Mablung alongside the noble Steward as the easiest resource-generating glue hero to just drag and drop into any deck using his sphere without any other changes being required.

Further to this easy drag-and-drop nature is his flexible statline - other heroes' stats will dictate what they end up being used for and that will in turn have a bearing on what other heroes you pair them up with, but Mablung can fill whatever role you particularly need in your deck (and for that matter in any given round during the game). 2 makes him a creditable quester, especially in the generally -light sphere, he can be a decent attacker (and has excellent synergy with Gondorian Fire if you want to power him up in that direction) and he can also serve as a defender (especially given a Gondorian Shield).

While I've mostly focused thus far on the fact Mablung places few or no restrictions on your deckbuilding to make him work, you can also build around his ability effectively if you so choose. I already mentioned Gondorian Fire, obviously, and otherwise you can focus on triggering that ability more - it's limit once per phase, which means theoretically he could generate 7 resources in a single round if you have that many means to engage enemies (and that many enemies to engage). Son of Arnor, Dúnedain Hunter or Knight of Minas Tirith can get you an enemy in the Planning phase, in the case of the Hunter potentially getting you the extra resource you need to play another important card; Westfold Outrider can let you grab another enemy at any time you like; Tireless Hunters with Mablung becomes effectively a free event and can be very helpful; and of course Aragorn gets you extra enemies on killing the ones you have for a nice hero pairing. Alternatively for hero pairings, Mablung obviously also goes well with other heroes who trigger on engaging enemies, like Faramir, Sam Gamgee and Pippin so you can double or triple up the benefits you're getting.

For the reasons I've described - his extreme flexibility combined with the fact that resource generation is one of the most powerful effects in the game, I consider Mablung to be one of the most powerful heroes in the game, and creditably ranked in the full list of heroes from all spheres as well. He responds well to some specific attention in deckbuilding but doesn't require it, regardless providing an incredibly potent effect essentially for free and slotting into whatever role you feel like putting him into. Mablung is basically all upside.