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Some Sort 1203

Most of the time when I'm building a deck I start with a specific goal in mind. "Let's get Háma to recycle Thicket of Spears every round!" "Let's dump all my Skyward Volleys with Erestor and then recycle them every round with Háma!" "Let's use Háma to..."

Okay, okay, I have a Háma problem.

Anyway, this deck started out more as a question. "Is a deck built around Hobbit Gandalf good?" I mean, I'm not asking whether Hobbit Gandalf is good-- he is! But if you build a whole deck centered entirely around him, is that good? So I figured I'd slap him in a deck with all of the toys and see how things shook out.

When I say all the toys, I mean ALL the toys. Narya, Gandalf's Staff, and Shadowfax, sure. But also Word of Command and Flame of Anor, plus the absurd Expert Treasure-hunter / Wizard Pipe / Hidden Cache combo. And also Sword-thain, because the fact that you can Sword-thain a Narya'd Hobbit Gandalf is one of my favorite bits of silly card interactions in the game. And if I had him Sword-thained, that opened up hero-only cards like Desperate Alliance and Dúnedain Mark. Basically, Hobbit Gandalf as Voltron.

That deck kind of sucked. It was just too janky, had too many moving parts, and really wasn't getting all that much out of having everything line up. I mean, sure, you CAN Sword-thain a Narya'd Hobbit Gandalf, but once you do he loses the ability to Narya the best Narya target in the game-- himself! Why would I want to waste one of my Voltron Gandalf's super-valuable actions to ready a couple weeny allies? And Unexpected Courage is sweet on him, but what's not sweet is needing to play three specific cards totaling 11 resources in cost-- in order-- just to get it down.

So then I started trimming. First to go was the "Hero Toolkit". Sorry Sword-thain, you were neat but pointless. I also tossed out the Expert Treasure-hunter / Wizard Pipe / Hidden Cache combo. I was devoting 18% of my deck for a janky 4-piece resource generation combo that, quite frankly, I didn't need. I had plenty of resources already.

Instead, I wanted to focus on keeping Gandalf as an ally and letting him Narya himself. At that point, I figured it'd be good to add a second uber-ally to benefit from residual Narya effects. If there's an ally who is in contention alongside Gandalf for "best in game", it's probably Treebeard, so in he went.

With that base in place, it was just a matter of filling out the rest of the deck with card draw and resource acceleration. Beravor is without question the most potent hero in the card pool when there's a certain card in your deck that you have to get out as early as possible, and she also gave access to Daeron's Runes, Deep Knowledge, and Heed the Dream.

With Heed the Dream in the deck, it just made sense to use Denethor, too-- he guarantees the ability to trigger the second effect in the first round, if necessary. And to go with the richest man in Middle Earth, there's Captain's Wisdom and Steward of Gondor to make him richer still. (Actually, Steward goes on Beravor, which lets Denethor pass her spare resources, too. It's okay to break theme, here; Denethor gives his permission.)

That makes a really solid deck core. Originally, I just used those two heroes + Vanish from Sight and some secrecy cards (Timely Aid, Resourceful, etc). But again, that led to a muddled deck. My Timely Aid hit-rate was way too low with such few allies, and I didn't really have anything to spend the extra resources on.

Instead, I swapped out the secrecy cards again and tossed in Merry and The Galadhrim's Greeting to offset Hobbit Gandalf's threat creep. And since I now had access to Spirit, I might as well toss in Arwen Undómiel, who turns Denethor into Beregond.

The deck was rounded out by some ally readying to take advantage of my crazy-buff Treebeard/Gandalf duo. Ever Vigilant, Spare Hood and Cloak, (which pairs fantastically with Ally Arwen), plus two character-specific, boss-killing versions in Flame of Anor and Boomed and Trumpeted. (How are you playing a Tactics card? It has the Ent trait, which means Treebeard can pay for it himself!)

To get up to 50, I added a little bit of healing and buffing to make my super-allies more durable-- Ent Draught, (which helps make an Arwen'd Denethor sturdier as a blocker, too), Wellinghall Preservers, (who also give extra willpower to the quest), and Wardens of Healing, (who gives us a place to dump all of the extra resources that build up over the game). The Warden, in particular, is useful as a resource-dump. You can play this entire deck with about 50 resources, so odds are good you'll find yourself with some spares piled up at some point.

Despite being reliant on an ally and possessing multiple moving parts, it sets up extremely fast. Thanks to Denethor's bonus, you can play Gandalf as soon as he hits your hand-- even on the first turn. In fact, with Captain's Wisdom and Steward, I'll frequently get both Gandalf and Narya or his Staff in round one, then Treebeard and the other Gandalf attachment in round 2. (And thanks to Narya, Treebeard's "enters play exhausted" ain't no thang.)

Play-wise, obviously mulligan aggressively for Gandalf. Also, play your Daeron's Runes and Deep Knowledges and trigger Beravor's ability during the resource phase action window, (especially for the first 2-3 rounds), just in case you wind up drawing into a Captain's Wisdom.

In terms of sideboard, you can very easily turn this build into a full-on Ent deck. Swap out 3x Spare Hood and Cloak, 2x Gandalf's Staff, 1x Flame of Anor, and three combined copies of Warden of Healing and Shadowfax. Swap in the nine cards sitting in the sideboard. It's a solid change against quests with a lot of attachment hate or where you want extra allies on the table, (sailing tests!), but by and large if you want an Ent deck, you should probably build a dedicated Ent deck rather than trying to repurpose a perfectly good Hobbit Gandalf deck.

Anyway, back to the initial question. Is a deck built around Hobbit Gandalf good? Yup, sure is.

9 comments

Jul 13, 2016 teamjimby 248

Cool deck and nice write up! I love that you are running 3x Spare Hood and Cloak. With all the duplicates of uniques, have you thought about any discarding effects? Maybe Erestor ally or Protector of Lorien? I also think I would add at least 1 Fast Hitch. It's effectively 2 free willpower so you can quest with Merry and use his ability.

Jul 13, 2016 Some Sort 1203

Thanks, Jimby! I'm not always a Spare Hood fan, but there are several attributes of this deck which make it really ideal. For one, Ally Readying is much more important than Hero Readying. For another, there aren't a whole lot of "cloak-stoppers". By that, I mean there are a lot of characters who often want an extra action, but don't always want an extra action. If you toss a cloak on Hero Galadriel, she's never giving it back, which means it was really just a 1-time ready like Cram. If you toss a cloak on Hobbit Gandalf, though, you'll find yourself with some rounds where he's not really needed for combat, or you attack with him once and then Shadowfax pops him back up and he has nothing left to do. This means there are opportunities to pass a cloak back and bank that extra ready again for a round where you really need it. (Plus I'm a sucker for the Ally Arwen + 2x Cloaks combo.)

I've had some discard effects in the deck at various points. Replacing Merry with Eowyn, for instance, makes it a much faster YOLO deck. You're getting five extra willpower a round, but you're also eating a lot more threat gain. I like the swap in solo where you can't rely on Merry getting you threat reduction every round anyway. (In multiplayer, I'd rather be across the table from an Eowyn player, who I would gladly feed with a steady supply of WP boosts.)

I had Hero Arwen in for a while, too, giving me 3 WP, some resource acceleration to speed up those Galadhrim's Greetings, and easy access to Elrond's Counsel to help offset the loss of Merry. That's another solid iteration, but again, in multiplayer there's just a lot of value to a hero who essentially offsets Hobbit Gandalf's threat gain all by himself, even if he's not contributing much else. (Plus Hero Arwen precludes Ally Arwen, who is just so great in this deck, especially with as much ally readying as it has.)

Fast Hitch is another card I had in for a bit, (as a 2-of, since even with as much draw as I had, a 1-of can be kind of inconsistent). Ultimately it wound up getting scrapped for more allies, (those Wellinghall Preservers and Arwens give as much or more willpower as a Fast Hitch, while all providing the ability to do some really sneaky Narya shenanigans).

Ally Erestor is one I hadn't really considered much. The idea was to cost-curve Leadership really, really low and essentially have Denethor dump all of his spare resources onto Beravor. Adding a single Erestor would actually double the cost of all Leadership cards in the entire deck. Not that that's a dealbreaker or anything. With as much draw as I have, I don't know how useful another (expensive) draw piece would be, especially since he's not much of a Narya target besides.

Protector of Lorien was a late cut during playtesting. My heroes were rarely questing or defending once I got set up. Protector helped a bit with the "getting set up" stages, but typically the glut of unusable uniques wasn't really piling up until the mid-game.

Dead cards are annoying, but I haven't found that they negatively impact deck performance enough for me to go out of my way to turn them into something useful. Once I've got my key pieces out, most of my draw-- Beravor, Heed the Dream-- can be played across the table to prevent my hand from getting too clogged. The one big exception, of course, is Daeron's Runes... but that takes advantage of multiple uniques in its own way. It's rare to have a Runes that forces you to toss a card you actually wanted.

While it hasn't come up yet in testing, in theory it could occasionally be useful to let Hobbit Gandalf lapse for a round or two so Merry can bring your threat back down, and it'd nice to have another Gandalf and suite of toys ready to go again afterwards. So some of those "dead" uniques aren't quite as dead as they might otherwise seem.

Ultimately, the deck isn't maximally efficient, and that's kind of okay. I definitely sacrificed some elegance and efficiency for pure speed. On the other hand, speed can be a form of efficiency in its own right-- it's hard to put a price on the ability to get Hobbit Gandalf and Narya out in round one, then Gandalf's Staff and Treebeard out in round two.

Jul 13, 2016 teamjimby 248

I hear what you're saying about Erestor, so maybe he doesn't quite fit in the deck. After thinking about Spare Hood and Cloak more, I think I would definitely put in 3x Fast Hitch. That way, in addition to being able to quest with Merry, he can hold all of the Cloaks when they aren't needed. Maybe replace the Ent Draughts.

Jul 13, 2016 Some Sort 1203

The Wardens typically serve as my cloak racks in quests that don't have worrying direct-damage effects. Healing isn't needed in most rounds, (and the Wellinghall Preservers can take care of most of it if it is), and they have built-in readying if I absolutely need to pass one (or more) cloaks.

Arwen also makes a really nice cloak rack. There's always the fun trick where you toss a cloak on Arwen and someone else, exhaust Arwen to quest, exhaust the second character and pass a cloak to Arwen, exhaust Arwen and pass a cloak back. This gives you a second exhaust on Arwen, a second +1 defense, and doesn't otherwise change the board state (other than exhausting both cloaks). Narya just increases the potential for Arwen shenanigans. If a big attack is coming down the pick, Gandalf can Narya himself and Arwen, defend the attack, and then Arwen can pass him a cloak to ready him and give him another point of defense.

(In the most extreme scenario: Arwen has two cloaks, someone else has one. Arwen quests and gives Gandalf +1 defense. She then performs the cloak-swap trick above and gives Gandalf another +1 defense. She then performs the Narya trick above and gives Gandalf another +1 defense, plus the +1 defense from Narya, leaving Gandalf with 8 defense-- enough to handle the printed attack of any enemy in the game.)

If I'm going to toss a cloak on a hero, I'll usually opt for Denethor instead of Merry, because by the time you have Gandalf and Treebeard rolling you probably don't need to reserve him as a defender anymore, and it's not like he contributes much in the way of willpower or attack.

In practice, Gandalf + Treebeard + Narya + Shadowfax already gives me five actions per round from those characters. For example: free quest from Gandalf, Treebeard defends, Narya readies him and boosts both, Gandalf defends, Shadowfax readies him, Gandalf and Treebeard both attack. In my experience, those five actions plus any leftovers from Denethor, Beravor, or the Wellinghall Preservers are more than enough to pull weight against the encounter deck in most rounds, leaving a few spares at the end for passing Cloaks back. In occasional rounds, I'll find myself one or two actions short and the cloaks can get me the rest of the way. Most of the time, though, they're just passing back and forth on Arwen to get another +1 defense and Sentinel.

At least in the games I played, if there was one thing I rarely found myself hurting for, it was more actions, whereas those Ent Draughts can be gold for making my Super-allies more durable or direct-damage proofing a character, (especially important on a Warden of Healing, who can heal off any damage he incurs provided he survives through it in the first place). At least, that's my reasoning, but as always, your mileage may vary, so feel free to substitute liberally. :)

Jul 13, 2016 Some Sort 1203

The Wardens typically serve as my cloak racks in quests that don't have worrying direct-damage effects. Healing isn't needed in most rounds, (and the Wellinghall Preservers can take care of most of it if it is), and they have built-in readying if healing is needed but I also need to pass one (or more) cloaks.

Arwen also makes a really nice cloak rack. There's always the fun trick where you toss a cloak on Arwen and someone else, exhaust Arwen to quest, exhaust the second character and pass a cloak to Arwen, exhaust Arwen and pass a cloak back. This gives you a second exhaust on Arwen, a second +1 defense, and doesn't otherwise change the board state (other than exhausting both cloaks). Narya just increases the potential for Arwen shenanigans. If a big attack is coming down the pick, Gandalf can Narya himself and Arwen, defend the attack, and then Arwen can pass him a cloak to ready him and give him another point of defense.

(In the most extreme scenario: Arwen has two cloaks, someone else has one. Arwen quests and gives Gandalf +1 defense. She then performs the cloak-swap trick above and gives Gandalf another +1 defense. She then performs the Narya trick above and gives Gandalf another +1 defense, plus the +1 defense from Narya, leaving Gandalf with 8 defense-- enough to handle the printed attack of any enemy in the game.)

If I'm going to toss a cloak on a hero, I'll usually opt for Denethor instead of Merry, because by the time you have Gandalf and Treebeard rolling you probably don't need to reserve him as a defender anymore, and it's not like he contributes much in the way of willpower or attack.

In practice, Gandalf + Treebeard + Narya + Shadowfax already gives me five actions per round from those characters. For example: free quest from Gandalf, Treebeard defends, Narya readies him and boosts both, Gandalf defends, Shadowfax readies him, Gandalf and Treebeard both attack. In my experience, those five actions plus any leftovers from Denethor, Beravor, or the Wellinghall Preservers are more than enough to pull weight against the encounter deck in most rounds, leaving a few spares at the end for passing Cloaks back. In occasional rounds, I'll find myself one or two actions short and the cloaks can get me the rest of the way. Most of the time, though, they're just passing back and forth on Arwen to get another +1 defense and Sentinel.

At least in the games I played, if there was one thing I rarely found myself hurting for, it was more actions, whereas those Ent Draughts can be gold for making my Super-allies more durable or direct-damage proofing a character, (especially important on a Warden of Healing, who can heal off any damage he incurs provided he survives through it in the first place). At least, that's my reasoning, but as always, your mileage may vary, so feel free to substitute liberally. :)

Jul 17, 2016 emorlecallor 783

Really awesome deck and write up! I'd just like to point out that it's a good thing that you cut out Sword-thain, because had you left it in Gandalf would be an illegal target. He does not belong to "any sphere of influence." It's the same ruling as Stand and Fight.

As always, great concept and deck. Looking forward to more!

Jul 17, 2016 Some Sort 1203

@emorlecallor On his own he does not, but Narya reads "attached character gains a leadership resource icon"... which makes Gandalf a viable target. Like I said in the write-up, it's one of my favorite bits of silly card interactions. (And ultimately pointless, as in playtesting it proves completely counterproductive.)

Jul 17, 2016 emorlecallor 783

Oh. Missed the Narya bit. Now I might just have to go crazy with a borderline idea I've had for a while.

Thanks for the clarification! Always appreciate your decks and ideas.

Jul 21, 2016 radAGHAST 49

Wow, what a cool idea! Thanks for sharing! You've also got me curious about somehow making Sword-thain work with Hobbit Gandalf...