Many of us have played several variations on the Black Riders Hobbit deck with Sam, Pippin and Monster Killer Tactics Merry. That only problem with that classic hero lineup is that it lacks the threat control and support of the Spirit sphere. This deck featuring Spirit Merry and the more permanent version of ally Gandalf was created by RingsDB user TheGreatOne and submitted for testing via my blog.
The description is helpful but not too long. In his submission, TheGreatOne said this deck was built “just for fun” but it also highlights the power of the Over Hill and Under Hill version of Gandalf.
I think Spirit Merry is one of the underutilized heroes in the game so I’m happy to get to play a deck that includes him! I can’t say I’ve ever played a deck with this lineup of heroes before. It looks like swapping out Tactics Merry for the Spirit version will change things up a lot.
I’m sure the deck will totally switch gears from “sneaky hobbit” feel to “Gandalf kicking ass” feel later in the game. I’m guessing the deck might have trouble killing any enemies until Gandalf comes out which could become problematic if enemies pile up or hit the heroes with archery. I’m eager to give it a try!
Test 1 – Conflict at the Carrock
TheGreatOne recommended Conflict at the Carrock and Escape from Umbar as good challenging quests to test against so that’s where I’ll start.
I didn’t get a great draw in my opening hand but I turtled for plenty of time and had a good game. I didn’t get any copies of Send for Aid, Master of the Forge or Test of Will for the first 10 turns! But I kept my threat low and quested carefully and slowly built my board state. I put my first Resourceful on Sam and was able to get Grimbeorn on my side midway through the game while I was sitting at stage 1. I drew Gandalf early, but decided not to play him for a while so I could find some more key cards and get my little support army set up before letting my threat start to move up.
Without any Noldor allies on the board for the first half of the game I relied on Keen as Lances and Merry for threat reduction and it worked fine. By the time I proceeded to stage 2 I had plenty of willpower on the board and Sam was set up to easily defend against the trolls.
I played Gandalf the first turn of stage two and proceeded to kick some trolls all over the place. I killed one per turn (including the cheeky Hill Troll who popped up right before I was planning to kill lone Louis) and finished the game on turn 19 with a threat level of 16 and abundant resources on each hero.
At one point my threat dropped to 7! The game was long, but fun. I was unlucky with my card draw, but with the ability to keep my threat low, I was able to coast along for a while until I got the cards I needed.
Test 2 – Escape from Umbar
I’m expecting this quest to be a good bit harder. The archery alone should make it a challenge (though I only had to use a Warden of Healing once in the Carrock).
Oof this was hard! I eventually won, but I very well may have missed some archery distribution that would have ended the game for me. At one point I had 2 Harad Archers and 2 Umbar Sentries hitting me for 6 archery every turn!
I would have been fine if I had drawn Gandalf earlier in the game, but I wasn’t able to draw him until turn 8 (which was the first turn I was able to kill anything as well). As soon as Gandalf was in play, I was able to start killing one enemy per round and make some progress on the quest. I’m certain I missed some archery and maybe another trigger and there, but I got an “asterisk win” on turn 19 with my deck empty.
I played three more games against this quest and lost the first two, but finally solidly won the last one. Getting Gandalf out early makes the game possible. Between Merry and all the threat reduction events, I was able to keep my threat down in Secrecy mode all the way to the end. I won on turn 7 with a threat level of 12.
Test 3 – Voyage Across Belegaer
This was another long game, but a success! While it took a while to build up enough to actually face a ship with the boarding enemies as well, I had the willpower and allies to keep questing over the top of the ships that accumulated in the staging area for the first half of the game. There were a couple challenging moments when I got off course and couldn’t get back on, and one time when I was in a fog bank and engaged with a enemy ship. I couldn’t attack the ship in the fog bank, and I couldn’t clear the fog bank without questing with my ship, but if I did, then I’d have to take the ship’s attack undefended. I finally took a risk on my sailing tests and cleared the location and finished off the ship.
A Corsair Warship came up but I didn’t feel excited about engaging that monster so I just took the 4 archery every turn which was offset by my 2 Wardens of Healing. With the sailing tests using a lot of the support allies, it took the deck a little longer to set up. I won on turn 16 with a threat level of 25 in spite of having Gandalf in play most of the game.
Sam was a rock-solid defender when set up. With the enemies engaging in groups of 2-3, his stats were crazy in combat. With Fast Hitch and the Armored Destrier, I got plenty of actions out him as well. His Staff of Lebethron could cancel one shadow, then the Destrier could discard another, and Gandalf Staff could discard the shadow card off the ship so I didn’t have to face any shadow effects for most of the game.
Test 4 – Into the Pit
Might as well test it against one more “standard” quest.
This was a very weird game. I had Gandalf in my opening hand so I played him around turn 3 but then proceeded to not draw any threat reduction cards until round 7. This quest has plenty of Doomed cards as well so my threat skyrocket up to the 40’s before I won on round 11.
I pulled a copy of Friend- of-Friends early with a Master of the Forge, but a When Revealed effect forced me to randomly discard it which meant the other copy was useless in my deck. When my threat got too high Gandalf had to cover the defending since Sam’s tricks turned off, but it worked out fine. I was able to remove shadow cards with Gandalf’s staff which kept me from getting swarmed by Swordsmen and Spearmen.
It was bizarre to not draw any threat reduction but Gandalf hauled the hobbits straight through Moria and I won anyway!
This deck has two distinct stages that it has to build for. It has to survive the early game but then everything changes when you get Gandalf out. It’s a Secrecy deck for the first half of the game, then it’s a “race to the finish” deck after Gandalf starts his keister-kicking . Selecting cheap cards for early game and powerful cards to compensate for the low hero power level in the late game is a real trick.
Gandalf is the key card in this deck and as such I think there should be a full 3 copies. I know that those duplicates take up space and you’ll not need more than one, but if you don’t draw Gandalf, this deck won’t work. If you don’t draw Gandalf, you’ll be unable to kill things for way too long and you’ll get bogged down with enemies in the staging area. Other than Gandalf, Bill the Pony is the “best” attacking ally at 1 attack. The heroes can get some attack strength in the late game, but none of them have a printed attack higher than 1 either. Heed the Dream can fetch Gandalf but that’s only a sure shot if you have 4 of the correct resources to spend on it. I think 3 Gandalfs is a must. I found it smart to mulligan for Gandalf no matter what else was in that opening hand.
I wish there was a little more room for some secrecy cards in the ally selection. Getting that Celduin Traveler in for 1 is a huge deal in the early game. The only other available Secrecy allies are the Rivendell Scout who is mediocre, the Ithilien Lookout, and the Dunedain Wanderer. The Ithilien Lookout would be a great choice, but it’s not thematic at all which it seems is important in this deck. I’m wondering if a couple copies of the Dunedain Wanderer might be a good fit. It seems the deck really needs some early game attack power. It may sound heretical, but I think you could cut 1 copy of Master of the Forge to make a little room for an attacking ally.
Erestor is expensive for his 2 WP, but his card cycling is vey helpful and it’s nice to have another unique Noldor character to help make Elrond’s Counsel viable. In fact, it might be nice to include another big ally like Gildor. As it is the deck only has a couple good targets for Timely Aid. Gildor could also set up a great Timely Aid!
I found the attachment selection nicely balanced overall. While the Armored Destrier was super helpful in the Voyage Across Belegaer, I’m not sure it’s the most efficient card for this deck. It’s good for it’s readying, but I don’t think this deck want to engaged with more than one enemy at a time. If that’s the case, a third copy of Fast Hitch (which is cheaper and more flexible) and 1x Hobbit Pony (which is so good on Merry) might be more helpful.
Friend-of-friends is a fantastic card on Sam since every stat counts. I’ve always used it as a “3-of or none at all,” because one in hand does nothing and by the time you find both copies, it’s not as helpful. I know people who successfully use 2x in a deck, but I think 3 is worthwhile.
The event selection is dominated by threat reduction cards. Elrond’s Counsel and The Galadhrim’s Greeting are easy choices. I ended up using Keen as Lances for its -4 threat effect as well It’s not very efficient, especially without any other victory display cards in the deck, but it’s affordable in the late game if you get your Resourceful attachments out. Another possible option for threat control would be Dwarven Tomb. You could recycle The Galadhrim’s Greeting for 4 resources or Elrond’s Counsel for 1. That might be cheaper threat control, although it’s not as flexible as Keen as Lances could be. It costs 12 to play all three copies of Keen as Lances so even if you payed for Dwarven Tomb and the Galadhrim’s Greeting, you’d be getting better reduction for your money with the Tomb/Greeting combo.
The other option to make Keen as Lances more attractive would be to add Out of the Wild to the deck. If you’re in Secrecy it would only cost 1, remove a card from the encounter deck and reduce Keen as Lances by 2 which would be fantastic.
I see Raise the Shire in the deck list, but I’m not sure if that’s a RingsDB/OCTGN bug or what because it never loaded into the deck when I was play on OCTGN and there’s no resource match to play the event either. It certainly doesn’t need to be in the deck. Fetching Rosie would be nice, but with no resource match, its not going to do anything!
I copied the deck and made some of my own alterations and this is what I come up with. For some lame reason OCTGN decided that this deck is “corrupt” so I didn’t get to test it out, but I’ll try to put the deck together with real cards and give it a try.
Solo or Multiplayer?
This deck would probably work well in a group as long as some other decks had some combat prowess to cover for it in the early game. It will support a group with decent willpower, Pippin’s +3 to all enemies’ engagement cost and eventually Gandalf’s Sentinel and Ranged if he gets Shadowfax. It won’t be able to handle the tougher quests as a solo deck, but with a little luck, it can win some good games!
This isn’t a “power deck,” but it’s viable and fun to play. One of the standard Hobbit deck strategies is to cheat as many large allies into play as you can and have the allies carry the game. This deck relies on one big ally to carry the game and it feels fresh and fun! It’s fun to see this version of Gandalf in action.
This seems to be the ideal setting for this version of Gandalf. The heroes can sneak along by themselves but those hobbits are bound to get into trouble at some point and Gandalf will be along to kick some orc butts and haul them out of whatever mess they’ve made. Gandalf is seriously good. When he hits the table its like having a free Eowyn strength quester and a Beregond level defender or Quickbeam (hero) level attacker all in one character! Seeing the game swing your way just because of his presence is very satisfying.
The deck isn’t foolproof but the low starting threat and abundance of ways to keep that level down keeps it fairly safe for several turns before things can really get nasty if Gandalf is delayed.
I got to play a good 10 games or so with this deck and had a good time! Thanks to TheGreatOne for creating the deck and sending it my way! This deck was published on RingsDB a couple months so it’s not on the front page but you can find it here. Head over and give it a like and try the deck! You can also find TheGreatOne’s entertaining “Fall of Gil-GaBeard deck under his profile.