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|Three Wise Men||6||6||0||2.0|
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Version 3.0 Changes:
1x Giant Bear and 1x Beorning Skin-changer make a great addition here. Flame of Anor can sometimes save my hide in a pinch, early game, but the number of times I actually use it is low, and it's completely unnecessary in the mid-to-late game. I cut one copy.
I added a Magic Ring of course, in place of one Unexpected Courage. It's almost better, because Gandalf can help pay for it. Mostly it's for readying Elrond, but occasionally a resource or an extra heal. The final cut to get back to 50 was tough, but in most quests it really should be The Galadhrim's Greeting: good for the final score, but it doesn't usually improve chance of winning. For quests that need it I might cut Gimli instead, now that Giant Bear takes over most of his blocks, but I'm finding the parade of allies so good that I might not even need two Unexpected Courage for heroes.
Sideboard: Power of Orthanc loses out to Bulwark of the West. I cleared some sideboard stuff from earlier that I don't even consider anymore. Ancestral Armor is just about ALMOST worth putting on Elrond; consider it for quests with giant enemies in them. Woodmen's Clearing is a cheap way to get a little extra threat reduction, but usually this deck won't need it. I tried a Wild Stallion for a little while, to build a bigger blocking ally, but it mostly just got in the way.
The Arkenstone sounds like it should be good, but it's only a boost of 5 to 7 quest (2 or 3 heroes, Arwen, Bilbo, Gimli, sometimes Gildor). Faramir and Gléowine rarely quest, and the tactics allies almost never do. The same is true for any Guarded card: this deck breezes through the late game, and there's no point making the first couple turns harder just to get a card I don't need anymore.
I've played so many variants on this thing, I wanted to establish a baseline for, what is THE essential Three Wise Men deck? The basics are what they've always been: Vilya accelerates by playing anything that costs 3 or more (seven of them, hopefully one per turn), and Elrond eventually becomes the main blocker with A Burning Brand. Gandalf lets you see it before you Vilya it, and also plays cheap events (and occasionally, cheap allies and attachments). He himself is the jack-of-all-trades, helping out with quests or defense or attack as needed, with Flame of Anor in tight spots. Glorfindel is low threat to balance the other two, and with Light of Valinor becomes quester and attacker, also doubling Asfaloth's ability to clear location jams.
Most of your extra money is fed to Elrond, from Steward of Gondor and from Zigil Miner. He plays all the 2-cost allies, and occasionally a 4-cost if the Vilya pipeline gets jammed with too many targets. Keep one or two resources handy on Gandalf, for the flexibility he brings when playing off the top, but don't overdo it. Heir of Mardil is definitely for Elrond; usually one Unexpected Courage is for Gandalf, and the rest for Elrond.
A Reliable Start??
In a nutshell: No. This deck contains many specific tools for various purposes, and they come up in random order. Most of them have more than one purpose, but sometimes you have all your questing tools and none of your attacking tools, or vice-versa, and the best you can do is break even while you look for what you need.
Obviously, mulligan to start with a Vilya in hand or on top of the deck - remember, you get to see it with Gandalf! The main thing after that is to keep drawing or discarding cards, so that you see as many different cards on top as possible. That's why there's no Peace, and Thought, no Ancient Mathom, etcetera. This deck doesn't want to draw a ton of cards, but instead has many ways to draw one or two.
You don't need all three Zigil Miners, but you definitely want one early. It cycles cards while making money, and thins the deck so that you eventually find everything. Don't worry too much about losing important cards, because every card is important eventually. As long as you draw one of Will of the West or Dwarven Tomb, you're fine. (You also don't need to worry about losing Unexpected Courage, with two of them and Heir of Mardil and Magic Ring. As long as you don't lose all of those at once.)
Ideally your Zigil Miners are throwing away Hidden Caches and extra Vilyas, but don't be afraid to do something weird. Every so often you need that one extra resource more than you need, say, Faramir for the next several turns. The flexibility and multi-purposing of the Zigil Miners is why I can run this deck with only one Steward of Gondor.
The other great tools for cycling the deck are Gléowine and Gandalf's Staff, because they can draw you a card at any time. Don't like what's on top? Draw it and see something new! Wizard Pipe is also effectively a card draw, because you swap the top card out for something you'll immediately play or Vilya or Zigil Miner away. Gildor Inglorion can do the same, although sometimes he needs to be questing or fighting instead.
When all else fails, changing the top card out for a random card will do. (Or at least, it beats stalling out.) Master of the Forge can be very nice early on, although sometimes all it does is reshuffle your deck. Playing Bilbo Baggins also causes a reshuffle, and finds the Wizard Pipe which is important enough to want early, but not important enough to run multiple copies. Imladris Stargazer will let you plan your next few plays and Zigil Miners, but it's important to note it does not draw anything, so it doesn't move you forward. Sometimes it just sees junk you don't need, at which point Master of the Forge is your best friend.
Last but not least, Daeron's Runes is fantastic in a Gandalf deck. Normally you would play it, draw two, then discard one: you've lost two cards and gained two. In this deck, playing it off the top of the deck is like drawing an extra card for free. (As, in fact, is any time you play the top card of your deck.) It's also nice to see a Flame of Anor on top right when the combat phase starts: cycle two cards by playing it off the top, plus ready Gandalf and get a random bonus to his attack.
And finally, last and sort of least, one Expert Treasure-hunter, and Legolas. They lose out to other options because you can't control the timing of them, but one is a good attacker with a bonus, and the other is free, especially on Glorfindel who will always quest with Light of Valinor. Remember, all Responses are optional, so you don't have to take the card if it messes up a beautiful plan.
And finally... actually least. As your very last resort, you can play Hidden Cache if you don't have a Zigil Miner yet - from the top of the deck, or from hand - to draw the next card and see something different. It costs one resource, but it's still better than stalling.
- Elrond is the best. He can have A Burning Brand, and with a boost from Arwen Undómiel he blocks for 4. If you need more than that, chump with someone unimportant.
- Beorn is usually next, with his bazillion hit points. Mostly he wants to kill things and shuffle back into the deck and be played again with Vilya, but often he can soak up some damage first. Shuffling in is like healing him for free.
- Similarly, Giant Bear can take the heavy hits (not quite as heavy), then ready itself to attack and shuffle back in.
- Gimli is like a pressure release valve, because he pops up as a blocker exactly when you need him most. For that reason, he's my favorite blocker for little stuff. (He and Zigil Miners can also make money from We Are Not Idle.)
- Gildor Inglorion is here to help get what you need on top, but he also makes a good blocker (or a decent attacker) in a pinch. Especially with Narya, so he gets the same 4 defense as Elrond, except you don't care if he dies.
- Faramir, and/or Northern Tracker. Usually they're exhausted, but Narya makes them handy in a pinch.
- Jubayr is a fantastic blocker, but that's all he does. I prefer cards with multiple uses. Any other blocker that used to be in the sideboard is worse than him.
About the Rest of the Sideboard
- Bulwark of the West: the ONE card in here that's truly a sideboard for swapping in and out. Sometimes Conditions are just that bad.
- Warden of Healing, Flame of Anor, Hasty Stroke: at times I've run more copies of these than are in this version, but the extras get in the way more than they help.
- Landroval, The Houses of Healing: I don't like to include cards that are only useful if I'm already dying. It's so rare that this deck actually needs them, that in the few cases where I do, I may as well just resign and start over.
- Elf-stone: in theory I can smooth out the Vilya wrinkles with this, but for one card there's just not much benefit compared to others. If I can already clear a location reliably I'm doing well enough. Beorning Skin-changer is better.
- Firyal: similarly, a useful effect that's hard to get from any other card. But, I don't really need it, and the deck already has just about the right balance of Vilya targets to cheap events.
- Erebor Hammersmith: this remains a tricky decision, but I still used it so rarely that it was best to cut it. More events and attachments made for a better start most of the time.
- Shadowfax: this is only relevant when adapting the deck for multiplayer, at which point it's pretty awesome.
- Eleanor: I use her in place of Glorfindel for certain Saga quests.