Play Gandalf Every Turn

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Loss - The Black Serpent - 1 Player - 2020-11-06
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Loss - The Black Serpent - 1 Player - 2020-11-10
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dalestephenson 1747

Gandalf is the most awesome ally in the entire core game. He can draw cards, lower threat or cause direct damage entering play. He can quest for four, or attack for four, or survive a 7 strength attack. Every turn that you play Gandalf is a good turn. But the question then becomes -- how do you play him every turn?

In the core set (well, with two core sets), with the help of Sneak Attack, you can play Gandalf six times. Add Tome of Atanatar and you can play him nine times,twelve if you draw your whole deck and get back to those Tomed Sneak attacks. That's pretty good, but it's still not every turn.

Radagast in an Eagles deck can improve on that using Gwaihir's Debt, Book of Eldacar and Háma. With the help of Wizard Pipe you can keep putting Gandalf back atop your deck for the event to find, and between Hama and the Books you can play the event nine times, then three at full price -- nine at full price with the help of Born Aloft and Erebor Hammersmith. 18 times is pretty swell, but it's not infinite. What we need is a way to return an ally to our turn every hand. Curse you Hama nerf!

Enter The Elvenking. With one attachment, you can return an ally to your hand every turn, guaranteed. OK, it has to be Silvan, but that's nothing Elf-friend won't fix. Only trouble is, Elf-friend gets discarded when Gandalf does -- unless you happen to be playing Bard son of Brand. Then you get back Gandalf and Elf-friend and can do the same thing next turn. Repeat forever.

The only trouble now is that unlike repeating Sneak Attack or Gwaihir's Debt, we're now paying six resources every turn and we only get three. Our old friend Steward of Gondor gets us to five. And Arwen Undómiel gets us to six, at least until the cards run out. And by then we'll have a copy of Necklace of Girion in play, getting us to a flat six. (Note -- Theodred would get us to six indefinitely, but as I chose Thranduil as my Elvenking target I wanted more questing.)

The only problem now is that we're talking about a four-card combo. How do we survive until then? Well, some of the pieces are independently useful, and we start out questing for five with a good defender, so hopefully we'll eek along. Gandalf/Elf-friend once together (and if you have the resources) can be used with the leadership/spirit Silvan events, one of which (Island Amid Perils) will conveniently reduce your threat by five when you use it to return Gandalf.

The combo pieces take much of the deck. Thranduil is the target for most attachments, once he has Steward on him he's eligible for Staff of Lebethron for shadow discard if threat is low -- which it eventually will be if you're playing Gandalf every turn. Bard can plop Cloak of Lórien on him, but Reforged is the only way to give him Self Preservation. Reforged can help to play other attachments at need; Arwen can toss the attachment and use the resource she gave herself to help put Ancestral Armor on our heroic defender. The very few non-Gandalf allies are Galion (to give Elvenking something to do when the combo isn't ready yet), and three Silvans that can only be played in the combat phase with Thranduil's ability, Henamarth Riversong for scrying, Marksman of Lórien for attack, and Legolas for attack and card draw. Elven-light and Gandalf are the other sources of card draw, Gather Information can fetch a combo piece, and The King's Return can fetch the necklace or the defense-handy Mithril Shirt.

The only essential ingredients of this combo are Elf-friend and Gandalf in hand, Bard (anywhere at the table), Elvenking on one of your heroes and six resources per turn of any color. If you don't have a native Silvan hero Elf-friend can provide one, and indeed none of the native Silvans can always benefit from readying if Gandalf goes away after attacking. Besides Arwen and Steward and the Necklace, repeatable resource generation can come from Sword-thain, Resourceful, Miruvor (use for resource and back-on-deck), Dwarven Shield (requires being attacked and taking damage), The Day's Rising (requires being attacked and not taking damage), Keys of Orthanc with Gríma (this will also reduce the resources needed to five, but you'll use Gandalf for threat reduction more often), Magic Ring, Prince of Dol Amroth (requires Outlands swarm), a non-errataed Horn of Gondor, Errand-rider in another deck, Thalion with three side quests completed, Théodred, Bifur with another player to steal from, Denethor in another deck and a Gondor hero, Glóin and a way of taking damage each turn, Thorin Oakenshield and five dwarves, Mablung in a combo with Fastred (requires enemy that will never kill Fastred), and Amarthiúl with two enemies engaged. There's a lot of options out there, none of which will enable you to start playing Gandalf on turn one -- but think of the fun you'll have once it starts!

9 comments

Aug 01, 2019 Jtothemac 475

Its funny- I was just thinking the other day about the elf-friend attachment and how I would like to play it on ally Gandalf for a lot of the purposes outlined here. I never thought about the challenge of playing Gandalf every turn!

I know you suggest using Gandalf for threat reduction but honestly card draw might be your primary use (at least initially) so that you can get the cards you need for the later expensive combos.

What are your thoughts on using celeborn instead of thranduil? Would his effect trigger, or since Gandalf wasnt a silvan when he enters play, theres no boost?

Aug 01, 2019 Christian_Medic 985

This is awesome! I highly approve of the madness.

Aug 02, 2019 dalestephenson 1747

Celeborn would not boost Gandalf because it is a response to a Silvan entering play, and Gandalf isn't a Silvan (yet) when entering play. However, if you're running more Silvan allies than I do in the deck, Celeborn has an advantage there. He also has the highest willpower of the native Silvans. Both Thranduil and Celeborn also provide leadership, which you need for Elvenking (and most resource generating attachments).

Still a Celeborn/SpBard/Galadriel lineup would be pretty awesome, because not only could you play Gandalf every turn, Gandalf quests without exhausting. If you use a non-leadership Silvan, I think Faramir (ready ally when you engage an enemy), and Prince Imrahil (ready himself when someone goes away) both synergize well. Gimli and Legolas would be amusing, though Gimli's ability consumes resources rather than generates them. Círdan the Shipwright gets leadership with Narya, can use Narya to ready Gandalf, and lets you search your deck for combo pieces faster.

Some other thoughts -- if you have lore access, pack Word of Command, you can use it to find extra combo pieces anywhere in your deck, at the cost of exhausting Gandalf. Since Gandalf is expensive and one of the combo pieces, perhaps a good starting hero would be Radagast, who can find combo pieces quickly and cheaply with that card.

If you can generate more than six resources per turn, you can also give Gandalf Wizard Pipe for 1, or Narya for 2 (ready himself and another ally for the combat phase), or Shadowfax for 2.

Aug 02, 2019 PeaceAndThought 318

This writeup reads like that guy that corners you at a party and wants to talk about how awesome his level 20 wizard is. And I love that about this deck. Because you ARE a level 20 wizard, `@dalestephenson'. Middle Earth is your oyster.

Aug 06, 2019 Thanee 144

This deck could benefit from Galadriel also, since you could then use Gandalf for questing (without exhausting him) and in the combat phase.

Aug 06, 2019 Seastan 42434

What turn, on average, do you reach the board state that allows for endless Gandalf recursion? I'm wondering if it's faster than this method:

ringsdb.com

You deck also seems like a good fit for the Elrond and Galadriel allies, as they offer some alternate enter-play effects to Gandalf.

Aug 10, 2019 dalestephenson 1747

Elrond and Galadriel would also be excellent recursion targets, but I have no sphere match to play Elrond, and Galadriel requires four leadership resources. The beauty of Gandalf is that it doesn't matter who has the resources. However, Galadriel could certainly be a help in getting the pieces together. (So could Galadriel the hero, with her Mirror of Galadriel. Thanks to Reforged, tossing a critical attachment accidentally isn't as much as an issue as it used to be.)

I'm still trying to get a feel for how consistently this fires. Playing against the two quests in the Starter, it came together quickly, but in my two wins for the solo league it took far longer (the last game, all three elf-friends happened to be in the bottom half of the deck). Between surplus Gandalfs, Sneak Gandalf, Legolas, and Elven-light the draw is actually pretty good in this deck, and if you clear Gather Information it can fetch a piece.

Lore Access for Heed the Dream and Word of Command would probably be the quickest accelerants, perhaps Théodred with a Lore Silvan. Radagast with Denethor could find the cards quickly, but they'd need a second Elf-Friend to make Elvenking work.

Aug 11, 2019 dalestephenson 1747

I did some experimenting with the card draw, using the following rules -- Mulligan unless the first six cards had Elven-light, Sneak Attack with Gandalf, or two pieces of the four-piece combo. This resulted in 6 mulligans in 25 attempts. I also assumed the best case search, where all resources that could were devoted to draw, and Gandalf was always used for draw prior to combo pieces being found -- and also that the encounter deck wasn't discarding resources, etc. OTOH, I ignored possible card draw from Legolas killing enemies or getting a piece from completing Gather Information.

Under those circumstances the median and mode for all pieces in place was 7 rounds, with a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 20 (!). The 20%/40%/60%/80% rounds were 6/7/8/10. But that's not the full story -- in many cases Gandalf was played repeatedly before all the pieces were in place -- without Elven-King there are plenty of silvan events to recur Gandalf, and even without Elf-friend spare Gandalfs and Sneak Attack can be used. Without Steward of Gondor you can still play Gandalf every other turn. Indeed, I think my Mulligan criteria was too broad and I might have better results mulliganing on Gandalf alone.

If instead of identifying the time where all pieces are in place and instead of identifying the first round the Gandalf streak begins we can shave some of the times off, because in cases where I wasn't waiting to draw into Gandalf, Gandalf was used to draw into a piece. In that case the median is still 7 and the mode is tied for 6/7/8, but the minimum drops to two rounds (twice) and the quintiles are at 4/6/7/8. There were 5 runs where one of my 3x parts were at card 35 or beyond, which I think statistically should happen less than 10% of the time instead of 20%, but it made a dramatic difference what part was missing.

In two cases, Steward of Gondor was the missing piece. In run 11, Steward of Gondor wasn't found until card 36 -- but I played it on round 8, because I had played Gandalf in 6 of the previous 7 turns with the help of Sneak Attack, I only had to pass on expense once. The other time the first Steward of Gondor was card #44 (!), but I played it on round 10, having played Gandalf seven times in the previous nine rounds, again with the help of Sneak Attack.

When elf-friend is the missing piece, I'm limited to spare Gandalfs and sneak attack. So when Elf-friend was card 36, I was limited to two previous plays as I only drew into one sneak attack and one spare Gandalf.

When Gandalf is the missing piece, it just gets brutal. The first Gandalf at card 39 meant I didn't play him at all until turn 17, even though I had opened the game with Elven-light. When I kept a hand including Steward and Elf-friend, but Gandalf was at 35, I didn't find him until turn 20 -- Elven-light only showed up on turn 13. My 11-round run had Gandalf at 29 or 30, I had Elven-light from the beginning, but without Gandalf what could I do.

Here's the percent of runs that played Gandalf each of the first ten turns, bearing in mind that I think I was statistically unlucky in my Gandalf-missing runs.

1) 16% 2) 36% 3) 24% 4) 28% 5) 40% 6) 48% 7) 60% 8) 80% 9) 80% 10) 80%

Oct 01, 2022 Christian_Medic 985

Awesome idea!