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|The Bester Deck||78||64||90||1.0|
|Tame & Flame: a Radagast + Gandalf Deck||25||16||7||2.0|
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I'm officially calling this, to my own surprise, a legitimate ONE DECK. It's cleared, rather handily, the entire Nightmare Reduced Quest Gauntlet, and only took more than 5 tries for a single quest on the list (NM Return to Mirkwood) [props to Seastan for the curation of that list] (giving it a Power Deck Score of 0.94). It's also been thrown against a handful of other quests here and there. See the Quest Logs for more details, which I add to periodically. I suspect that there isn't a quest this deck can't handle, but happy to hear suggestions for other quests that it should be thrown against.
"Radagast the Brown is, of course, a worthy Hero, a master of spheres and questing unexhausted; and he has much lore of pipe-herbs and birds fetch him cards, and bears especially are his friend." -- JRR Tolkien (paraphrased)
This is my attempt at a Glamcrist-style BESTer Deck (see 'Inspired By' section for Glam's BESTER Deck). This is a ONE DECK, meaning it's built to be able to beat any and every quest in the game at the hardest difficulty. It's also built using a full modern cardpool of FFG's cards (though no ALeP) and it's played using all the most recently available errata and rulings (e.g. Burning Brand is Restriced and must exhaust to use its Response).
I present... The BEARST Deck (because it's got Big, Big Bears, and BESTer + Bears = BEARST).
This is a Radagast deck, through and through. But, notably, it's not a typical Radagast deck that is chalk full of eagles... and in fact BEARST only has two eagles in the entire deck. It's also not a Radagast deck because Radagast is the coolest wizard (he is) or because I used to main Radagast the Brown in the old Middle-Earth CCG (I did), but because Radagast is legitimately the best possible hero in this deck lineup, which is the best possible deck I could come up with. In a quest for the best One Deck I could craft (that was distinct enough to not just be a purely derivative clone of other great One Decks, like The One Deck, the Ultimate Solo Deck, or the BESTer Deck). After trying a variety of Messenger of the King and other Bonds of Friendship options in the pursuit of the best One Deck I could find, I settled here, and it is by sheer happy coincidence that it happens to be a Radagast Deck. BEARST has a lot of BESTer Deck influences (see the 'Inspired By' link for Glamcrist's deck), and is ultimately a BEST-ish Archetype kind of One Deck, of course, as I think Glamcrist's has really made a convincing case for BoF and cards like Nori, Strider, Thorongil, and Helm of Secrecy as pretty much obligatory One Deck inclusions (just to highlight a few key cards shared between BESTer deck and BEARST). Nevertheless, BEARST feels and plays quite differently from the BESTer Deck thanks to the presence of Eowyn, Radagast, and the Bears/Birds. Namely, BEARST can quest for really solid WP right of the gate and has a lot of tricks for handling early combat through Eowyn's ability and multipl options to pop a Gandalf, Giant Bear, or Beorn into play during the early game to solve early pressures. Of course, this early-game power and reliability comes at the cost of not having as reliable card draw nor a stout super-defender that can be build up to harmlessly block every attack in the game, so there are trade-offs and sacrifices made.
- Denethor - Resource Acceleration, Defense, Encounter Deck Control (once Thorongil'ed)
- Eowyn - Questing, Emergency Attack, Secret Helm target (often)
- Glorfindel - Quester+Attacker, Asfaloth-enabler
- Radagast - Resource Acceleration (staff), Quester+Attacker/Defender
What's distinct about this deck, and a surprise to me, is that, of all the other variants I tinkered with, Radagast ended up in the best-performing line-up, despite having a generally creature-light spread of cards available to him. I certainly haven't encountered the Brown Wizard in any other One Decks or BoF lineups before, nor have I really seen him outside of a dedicated eagle deck, but he's certainly got the skills. While the power of the Master of Rhosgobel is obvious in dedicated eagle decks, he's no slouch even without a flock of eagles, as this deck has proven.
As a 2/2/3 he's great as an unexhausted quester and switch defender/attacker. Most of the time Radagast gets Steward of Gondor (since his resources can pay for any of the creatures, Firyal, and fuel the healers), and this also lets him become a 5 DEF defender via a Gondorian Shield (6 with Arwen out, and effectively 7 with the Honor Guard, while also having the emergency protection of the Loyal Hounds), and he can importantly also wield the Burning Brand. Denethor can pick up the second Gondorian Shield and the Armored Destrier in quests where you need lots of additional blocks or shadow discard against swarm enemies, but ideally Denethor is going to be scrying the Encounter Deck for you once Thorongil'ed rather than blocking.
The real utility of Radagast lies in his staff. While the cost reduction is often the most common usage, I've found that here it's often best used to ready a Giant Bear, and one trick is that you can Sneak Attack a Giant Bear, have it block/attack, ready it with the Staff, have it block/attack again, and even use it's own innate ability to ready and block/attack once more, all before returning back to your hand via Sneak Attack's delayed effect. There's not a lot of times when you'll need three exhausts from one Snuck Bear, but when you do it can entirely save a quest. Also, more than I would have expected, I've used the Staff to banish a creature enemy back to Staging when you're a bit overwhelmed in combat (snakes, bats, birds, oliphaunts, marsh-dwellers, spiders, wolves, warges, sea-monsters, etc. ... the quest gauntlet has more creatures than you'd typically think). For instance, in NM Conflict at the Carrock, I just kept staging the poisonous muck-adders during the fight with the trolls, so I'd banish them back to Staging to relieve some of the combat pressure so I could dedicate as many bodies as possible to putting down Trolls. I've found the staff similarly useful in NM Rhosgobel, NM Nin-in-Eliph, and NM Wastes of Eriador, just to name a few quests.
Other synergy comes in the form of the Messenger Raven, which act as pseudo card draw and allows Radagast to easily quest unexhausted every round. As unassuming of a card as the Messenger Raven is, it may be one of the best cards in the entire deck. An early Raven often makes for a successful quest. If you use the Wizard Pipe, you have perfect knowledge of the top-deck card, so the Raven is a safe (automatic) draw. Even without that, I frequently use the Raven(s) to guess the cardtype of the card which I am most hoping to see in the next round... even if the Raven "misses" you're still getting one card out of the way and thus closer to the card you most want for next round's draw. More often than not, in the early game if I'm Raven'ing blind I will say attachment (pending my hand and the quest) because a lot of the attachments are potent pieces to get out early in the game (Steward, Staff, Pipe, Shield, Asfaloth, Brand, and Light are always welcomed sights in the early game).
Card draw is, far and away, the deck's biggest "weakness." Fortunately, the deck doesn't need a lot of cards to get rolling and has no multi-piece linear combos to setup. For card searh there is Word of Command and Gather Info, and card draw comes in the form of Gandalf (Core), Gleowine, Messenger Raven, and Wizard's Pipe. Draw usually starts out a bit slow at first and ramps up exponentially as you build (barring a more pressing need, I'll usually use Gather or Word early to fetch a Gleowine or the missing piece of a Pipe/Raven combo).
On the note of Core Gandalf, there are four events to try and play him multiple times per game (2x Sneak, 2x Horns!). These Leadership events are also nicely utilized with the entering/exiting effects of Meneldor when there is a particularly troublesome location, and the events can useful during combat to get Beorn or a Giant Bear into the fray quickly (e.g. you can Sneak a Giant Bear or Beorn into combat, use their action, and then still return them back to your hand before they shuffle into your deck, since both "at the end of the phase" conditions can be resolved in the order of your choosing).
The typical ideal attachment placement, I find, tends to look like this:
- Denethor + Gondorian Shield + Armored Destrier + Thorongil + Unexpected Courage(s)
- Glorfindel + Light of Valinor + Asfaloth + Silver Circlet + Celebrian's Stone
- Radagast + Steward of Gondor + Radagast's Staff + Gondorian Shield + Burning Brand + Unexpected Courage(s)
In quests where you might need a lot more defenses, stacking the Unexpected Courages onto Radagast makes sense. In quests with particularly nasty Encounter Cards, you might want to stack the Unexpected Courages onto Denethor so, once Thorongil'ed, he can scrye the Encounter Deck thrice per round. In a quest where you know you'll have a big spike in combat, you might want to Unexpected Courage Eowyn so that she can use her once-per-game 10 ATK 3-4 times in the same round.
Eowyn is most frequently the target for Helm of Secrecy. After she's used her once-per-game and your boardstate is built a bit, she's excellent to replace. Galadriel is an obvious choice, as she gives you reliable threat-reduction and card draw. Similarly, Frodo Baggins can give you threat control with some questing power retained. If you need big emergency threat reduction, Folco Boffin is an option. Of course, the best choice of Helm of Secrecy will always be quest dependent. For instance, in Journey to Rhosgobel you can swap into a Ranged hero to help with combat against the Bats/Birds. In Mount Doom, I like to swap Denethor into Sam Gamgee, which grants additional (and all-important) WP for Fortitude tests (and has some nice synergy when Gollum surprise-ambushes you and readies Sam). Sometimes, turning Eowyn into Hama can let you get squeeze extra uses out of your Feint, which in certain quests can be incredibly valauble. Lots of options for lots of quest demands.
NOTABLE QUEST ATTEMPTS (Solo/1-Handed):
(Updating periodically: I'm attempting to play the notably hard quests at least three times each, even if I win the first and/or second attempts, to control a bit for the chance of lucking past a bad quest on the first go. The Quest Logs on this page will offer some level of detail about individual games.):
- NM Escape from Dol Goldur: 2 Wins, 1 Loss (3 plays)
- NM Conflict at the Carrock: 2 Wins, 0 Losses (2 plays)
- NM Journey to Rhosgobel: 1 Win, 0 Losses (1 play)
- NM Return to Mirkwood: 1 Win, 7 Losses (8 plays)
- NM Into the Pit: 1 Win, 0 Losses (1 play)
- NM Foundation of Stone: 1 Win, 0 Losses (1 play)
- NM Shadow & Flame: 2 Wins, 0 Losses (2 plays)
- NM Into Ithilien: 3 Wins, 0 Losses (3 plays)
- NM The Druadan Forest: 1 Win, 0 Losses (1 play)
- NM Encounter at Amon Din: 3 Wins, 2 Losses (5 plays)
- NM Blood of Gondor: 2 Wins, 1 Loss (3 plays)
- NM The Dunland Trap: 2 Wins, 0 Losses (2 plays)
- NM The Three Trials: 1 Win, 0 Losses (1 play)
- NM Nin-in-Eliph: 1 Win, 2 Losses (3 plays)
- NM Wastes of Eriador: 2 Wins, 0 Losses (2 plays)
- NM Mount Gram: 2 Wins, 0 Losses (2 plays)
- Battle of Carn Dum: 1 Win, 1 Loss (2 plays)
- NM Raid on the Gray Havens: 3 Wins, 0 Losses (3 plays)
- NM Flight of the Stormcaller: 1 Win, 0 Losses (1 play)
- NM Storm on Cobas Haven: 2 Wins, 1 Loss (3 plays)
- Under the Ash Mountians: 1 Win, 0 Losses (1 play)
- The Fortress of Nurn: 1 Win, 0 Losses (1 play)
- The Ruins of Belegost: 1 Win, 1 Loss (2 plays)
- Hard-Mode Hunt for the Dreadnaught: 6 Wins, 0 Losses (6 plays)
- NM The Lonely Mountain: 1 Win, 1 Loss (2 plays)
- NM Battle of Five Armies: 2 Wins, 1 Loss (3 plays)
- NM The Fighting Uruk-Hai: 1 Win, 0 Loss (1 play)
- NM Journey to the Crossroads: 2 Wins (2 plays)
- Mount Doom: 1 Win, 4 Losses (5 plays)
All in all, I'm pretty happy with the balance this deck has struck. As noted, the Descendant of Thorondor was swapped for the incredibly useful Beorning Skin-Changer pretty early in the trial run of this deck, but beyond that I don't think I'd change much else and every card in the deck serves some purpose (some more quest-specific than others). Notably missing cards that could be really good to add might be an Angbor the Fearless or Faramir (Core), possibly in the place of a Horns! Horns! Horns!, or perhaps a second Word of Command or Quickbeam, possibly in the place of a Loyal Hound. Being able to squeeze a Favor of the Valar into the mix would be great as well, but not quite sure where that might find a spot. If you have any thoughts/suggestions, I'd love to hear them! The least useful card, I think, is Nori, and a second Skin-Changer, Feint, or even a Revealed in Wrath or T-Pippin (ally) would be really valuable, I think. But, Nori exists pretty much as a silver-bullet for Under the Ash Mountains, and has some added utility in decks that drain your deck quickly (e.g. Fortress of Nurn) or require you to have a card in your deck for some sort of quest-specific effect (e.g. the Dark Pit in NM Shadow & Flame), so while he's generally an inefficient 2 ATk, it's hard to let him go for those couple of very specific purposes he serves.
Thanks for reading!