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I see many players who ask for a powerful deck using only one core set and I always let more experienced (on that subject at least) players answer. I recently improve my knowledge of deckbuilding with a core set thanks to the solo League set up by @DaleStephenson (thanks to him) so I now want to use that and create a deck that I can show to any further player with that specific demand.
What quest that deck can face?
This deck is not made to beat any specific quest. But it can handle very easily Passage through Mirkwood, can deal well with Journey to Anduin but it not that great against Dol Guldur (since we loose one entire sphere for most part of the game). But it can also behave quite honestly against the rest of cycle 1. But my explanation will mainly focuse on how to play it again the first two scenario of the core set. Cycle 1 scenario deserve each their own explanation of the path we must follow for the victory. Feel free to ask in the comment if you want for me to explain one or several of them.
I choose to include what are for me the three most powerful heroes of the core set: Éowyn with 4 of willpower. Any hero with 4 of a stat is powerful, and it is even more true when we deal with the most powerful stat: willpower. And it can even goes to 5. And it is in the most powerful sphere of the game. Eowyn was a staple for me for during a long time in this game.
Théodred in another hand have quite bad stats, since we almost never use his 2 attack but only his 1 willpower. But he produce one resource per turn and that help to have really fast many ally on the table so it is not a big problem. He is quite the opposite of leadership Aragorn who spend resource to ready, and so have many stats. But, in particular at the beginning of the game, solo is a lot about get a board of cool cards to face in early mid-game with threat. So I choose Theodred over Aragorn 1.000.000 times. It can be tricky to choose among Eowyn and Théodred himself in matter of giving the resource. I don't have any very good advice to give. Try to calculate so Theodred can play his card next turn and give the rest to Eowyn. She is full of resource but she also always have something to play. And think that you may spend all our spirit resource on planning phase and still get the possibility to counter (treachery or shadow) with the resource gained by Theodred ability.
To complete them Beravor assure us to draw anything we want. She is on the same time very good in combo with Theodred, and leadership in general, who gain resource and a solution to the 1x and 2x cards of the core set. But, despite Eowyn+Théodred, we may not to use it during fight, either to block or attack. It is a great character to keep aside to see if she is needed during fight, and when we see she is not we can use her ability. We mainly use that option on turn one because we have very few resources to use at this moment anyway, and usually not any ally that can do something during fight. Most of the time, though, we can exhaust her during planning phase to use our resource for the best cards available this turn.
We may want to keep it ready in case of a problematic fight but most of the time we draw, and even draw during planning phase to play more cards/more powerful cards/get answer to next treachery/shadow.
It result to a tri-sphere. And that is, except for Dol Guldur, more powerful. Of course it cut you from playing some key card on the turn 1 (mostly steward of Gondor) but it allow you to get the best mechanic of the game (cancel, resource production, heal and draw). That is why it is, for me, the best solo deck we can build. But it is far to be the most easy to play since we have constantly to choose how to make our heroes effects (who gain the resource? Did I want to put one more progresion tokens? When do I draw?) and choose what we want to play among the many cards we draw each turn.
Generalities about how to play the deck
Since we get many cards and resource each turn we will get way more powerful as the time go. Don't rush into enemies. Try instead to delay the moment you have to engage them (in particular the Hills Troll). Engage only when we can safely defend them and then kill them on one turn. On the long term you don't even be afraid of threat, treachery or shadow since we will draw all the answer we need, and even can get another shot of every of them with dwarven tomb and then will of the west to redraw all of them.
But beware of always get enough willpower in the quest. We must be sure that every location is cleared so we can travel to the next location. That way we may have some dangerous enemies laying in the staging area but we don't do any loss in quest. Since we don't are afraid of getting the game very long we don't care about putting any progress on the quest. Rushing into further quest stage can even be counterproductive. Just deal with the location, watch your threat and get many small allies so we will be able to deal with anything that show of later. If we have some difficulties of equaling the willpower on the staging area we must have to engage some enemies even if it is not safe (if we fear some shadow, if we can't kill it instantly). A loosing situation will be when we can't get enough willpower so we send everyone questing, but still loosing the quest, threat out and because of that engage multiple enemies, resulting in undefended attacks that kill heroes. Everything must be done to prevent such cases.
Allies, who are they and how to play them?
Since we choose to slow down the game but be able to do everything later we need to be able to gather many willpower at the beginning of the game and an army for attacking later. And many small ability will be use at their maximum.
Daughter of the Nimrodel is obviously here to heal. We don't block that many will heroes, sometime with Beravor. And we take damage from undefended attacks (quite dangerous without hasty stroke, safe when we have one). We only need to put one where a hero is already damage, until then we have usually better allies to put in play, who have effects of can quest or attack for a cheaper cost. We usually only heal when a new effects occur and try to kill someone, or right before the
Erebor Hammersmith is close to a 1 attack / 1 willpower ally for 2 without ability. But we can also use his ability to get back an attachment than have been discarded by an encounter effect earlier. And if we know we will play a hammersmith next turn we can easily boost Eowyn ability. It is usually with a latent forest snare since most of the others attachements are played right away since they are so great. We do use it also to block small attack since he have 3 life, but we even more often let those attack undefended.
Faramir have a wonderful ability of making us cleaning a quest stage each turn when we are set up, because we send many ally in quest at this time. He is here only for the end of game (so having only one is not a problem), and we usually only be able to have him if we discard it to Eowyn and then playing a stand a fight.
Gandalf is here a lot because of his interaction with sneak attack. But we do play it for 5 from time to time. Almost never to draw cards, since we are efficient enough on this domain. But rather to kill an enemy that disturb us from the staging area or, reduce our threat. We usually use it to attack or defend after that.
Gléowine is another drawing engine. Even if we draw well he is quite cheap for drawing one more card each turn. And can contribute to the quest as well as the allies of the same cost (but usually we rather draw, since many cards help us as well for the quest).
Henamarth Riversong is a key card in many cases. I will definitely play more if there was more in a core set. From 1 willpower / 1 attack for 1 resource (best ratio of the core set), it turn to be a great way to plan perfectly your turn when we don't need if to the fight. I usually use his effect right before the refresh phase so I can play in such manner that some treachery does not affect me (send everyone in quest if a treachery deal me 1 threat for each character not in the quest, send few people if a treachery deal one damage to every exhausted character, etc...). He is goldlike in many cases where we don't want to advance to next stage of the quest (like if we have to kill the troll very fast on the Anduin, but we don't want to reveal two encounter card per turn). We can send the exact amount each turn.
Lórien Guide is the worst ally of the deck. We don't have that often an active location and even like it is still only like he gain 1 willpower. Doesn't worth the 3 cost ally. But since we want to have steward of gondor on Eowyn for even matter we rather play it than additional allies in other sphere.
Miner of the Iron Hills is very useful in the core set and the first cycle. We encounter many condition attachment that could get us in big trouble. It can save us, or at least save us a test of will for a 1 attack ally. Don't be afraid to play it even if there is no condition to remove, especially the first one, and consider his ability as a bonus if we encounter a condition. His 1 attack is still is main contribution in the major part of the game I played ^^. Don't forget also that a response ability is not mandatory. So you never need to discard your own unexpected courage because of him.
Northern Tracker is still not very good when comparing Stats/cost. 4 is really expensive for only one willpower of 2 attack. At least, not like lorien guide, his ability can be very useful sometime: there is location that annoy us when it is active location so we can clear it from staging area and never actually have to travel to it. If there is not such location we usually keep northern tracker to attack or defend.
Snowbourn Scout is ready to die for us. Is 1 cost ally make it a feint-like card. He have no stats so it is basically his only use anyway. But it is quite useful. We even use to get him back with stand and fight if we experienced some issue on blocking. His ability to put one progress can be use either from trying to explore one location directly from the staging area (very powerful since we get immediately ride of his threat) or help us to travel faster among location we have. In the first case we have to put it on the worst location on the staging area (the one we want never to travel to) and in the second case on the easier (the one who is already active, or the one we want to travel this turn) so think carefully ;). If we already have one snowbourn scout in play and no interesting target for it ability you usually have a better interest to keep the other in hand. But don't forget that they contribute to 1 willpower to the quest if we have Faramir in play.
Son of Arnor is the better 2 attack ally available. As I say we look more to willpower than attack but we still have to kill the small enemy that engage us with a small threat engagement (like spider or warg) so we need to kill them. His ability is a bonus, we often don't use it. But it sometime can be useful, it could be in combo with forest snare (engage an enemy and trapped him instantly ) or it could be because we will engage it anyway this turn, so engaging him now will remove his threat from staging area for the next quest phase.
Wandering Took is a 1 attack / 1 willpower ally. Nothing more, nothing less. His ability require another player so we can't even activate it. He is still better than Lorien guide to me ^^.
Attachments, who carry them and are they fashion enough?
Celebrían's Stone is the best way to get willpower on this deck. We put it on Eowyn because we are 100% sure of sending her questing every turn, and we can't afford to loose them anyway. But having it on Théodred will be the same the major part of the time.
Forest Snare is quite expensive so we usually kill the enemy, even if two turns are needed for that (we don't like to not be able to one turn kill an enemy though). Sometime it can be gain changer on an enemy with many health and many attack though. But usually we are able to avoid the fight with this kind of enemy. Let's say it is a safe button, and that we don't have anything better to play anyway.
Steward of Gondor is the best card of this deck. Just that. We usually mulligan if it is not on our beginning hand and keep the hand if it is in it. It goes to Eowyn because half of the deck require spirit resources (it was part true when we pick what cards are the best, and it was ensure because we know steward go on her so she have more resource than the two other heroes together). We can't play it turn one (and that is the main reason why drawing with Beravor before the fight on first turn isn't essential) but we need to have it on turn two, so we usually draw from Beravor on planning phase no matter what since we found it. And then we draw because we can use those resources for getting more allies. If there was no steward of Gondor I wouldn't play this line-up, especially not Beravor.
Unexpected Courage is one of the best card of the core set. We don't play the perfect heroes to get along with it by Beravor wear it pretty well, with the possibility to quest, defend or attack all well in addition to his action. Warning: Since Beravor was errated (a long time ago) we can't draw two time per turn so this is not why I put unexpected courage. But if you don't follow the errata you must do this as well.
Events, to make sure everything happens according to the plan
A Test of Will is another key-card of the deck. Most of the encounter decks have terrible when revealed effects, most of them on treachery, that could kill many character, bring one enemy (or even multiple), deal massive damage or increase threat. Cancel that just for 1 resource is strong. Too strong even in fact since we spend only a small part of our turn resource to annul completely the encounter's one. We alway want to have a resource up and a a test of will in hand. That way we can be sure everything go right. Only one test of will get on a way between me and the most defeat I got in this game, no matter what deck I got. Drawing a lot allow us to play many test of will during the game, and that's one of the reason to the success of the deck.
Dwarven Tomb is usually to get back a spirit event. Sometime a galadhrim's greeting because we need more threat reduction. Sometime a hasty stroke (beware: you have to get the hasty stroke in hand when the shadow is revealed to cancel it, so you have to play your dwarven tomb in advance). But most of the time it is for another A test of will of course.
Fortune or Fate is here to raise a hero in case something bad happen. But there is only a very cases where I'm able to play it (have enough resources) and it still matter. Most of the time when a hero die on the beginning of the game we loose before being able to raise it, and a hero die at the end of the game and I can complete the scenario without him or her. There is some corner case though so I'm packing this just in case.
Hasty Stroke is another appreciate tool. It allow us to block with confidence all along the game. In most of the case anyway the shadow won't affect the fight but having this to make EVERY fight to go that way, and even to allow undefended attack when we need it to kill the enemy after (and when it won't kill any of our heroes of course ^^).
Radagast's Cunning & Secret Paths are usefull to avoid to struggle against a staging area with too many locations or enemies. So we can pass the active location or just avoid to threat out. They aren't often useful but can buy a game once in a while.
Sneak Attack is only here to support Gandalf as the most famous combo of this game. For 1 resource we can draw 3 cards, deal 4 damage on an enemy or reduce our threat by 5 and enjoy Gandalf stats for a phase. It is very powerful, and get us out of many problematic situation. Since we draw many cards we can assemble the combo very early in the game. We use it sometime in the quest phase to reduce our threat (and then avoid to take any enemy) and to send 4 more willpower to the quest. For the damage part we usually use it when two enemies engage us, so we can kill one instantly and then help to block and kill the others. The draw 3 option isn't much used in this deck, except in particular setup (like you are looking for a test of will, have anyway way to make a second sneak attack during the fight or to reduce the threat with galadhrim's greetings. We could imagine to do a sneak attack on Faramir to get a quest boost, or on daughter of the nimrodel to get a quick heal of 2 damage. I never get an use of this but it could definitly worth the shot. We can also Sneak attack a Son of Arnor and engage an enemy after the enemy attacks, so only us (including son of arnor) can attack.
Stand and Fight is obliviously for getting back some allies that die too soon. But also when we may are short of lore of leadership resources but have plenty of spirit: we only have to discard them on Eowyn (like in the beginning of quest phase) and play stand and fight on the ally. It is in fact the most common way to get Faramir in play ^^. We use them also to get more 1 cost trash allies (snowbourn scout) that enemies kill instead of attacking our heroes. Take care: we, sadly, can't make a stand and fight on Gandalf, since he don't belong of any sphere.
The Galadhrim's Greeting is useful quite early in the game since we want to get gown on threat to avoid enemies. It will of course also spare us to die at threat, but as we are very efficient to lower our threat it is not supposed to be something that we are afraid of. Of course we always choose to reduce our own threat by 6 because we are the only player of the game ^^.
Valiant Sacrifice is a drawing engine not that useful. But it work when we play a Gandalf (either with sneak attack or by paying it 5), or when we sacrifice snowbourn scout. It help us to reach more valuable cards.
Will of the West is only here when we want a full control of the deck that stay very long. Once we play all our event that reduce threat and cancel, and even dwarven tomb to replay one of our choice we can play will of west and redraw all of them on a few turns. We can survive many more turns thanks to them.
Possible change with cards of the core set
There was some hesitation on the decklist (there are always some), especially for some event that don't get use often. For Gondor! and Grim Resolve can be find place instead of valiant sacrifice, fortune or fate, secret paths or radagast's cunning.
How to improve this deck when acquiring new players cards?
The heroes core is good so I advice you not to touch on them. The deck is based on what they can build together. Later in the game we face Erestor, Arwen Undómiel and Denethor who are basically improved version of those heroes, but who still need a deckbuilding around them.
This deck will enjoy some additional cards that are only in 1 or 2 in the core set. Steward of Gondor, Test of will, sneak attack, dwarven tomb, unexpected courage are the best examples of the cards we want. Some attachements that help to build a defensive Beravor (dunedain's warning, a burning brand) can be usefull, both for beginning of the game (as long we don't have many allies) or for the moment we get a unexpected courage.
We also haven't enough of willpower allies. We want 2-cost allies with 2 willpower. There is so many in the game but none on the core set (Celebrian's Stone is quite close though). Allies of the core set aren't that great, except for Gandalf, Gleowine and Henamarth so feel free to make some chance, just ensure that the new allies you put in aren't more expensive that the one you remove: we need cheaper allies, not the opposite ;).
Thanks for reading me.