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Some Sort 1563
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.