This deck caught my eye when it was first published on RingsDB but I didn’t have a chance to play it right away. A couple days later a friend of mine recommended it to me so I’m going to take it for a spin!
Gandalf Stormcrow was created and published on RingsDB by pconners. The deck concept is to start deep in Secrecy and get Strider on Eowyn for strong initial questing numbers in spite of the 2 hero starting handicap. Thurinder will provide decent questing numbers as well and he gives us either easy access to one of the key starting cards with Gather Information or helpful resource smoothing with The Storm Comes.
This looks like a really fun deck! An Ent deck with some secrecy flavor and some hero buffs as well. I like seeing the Eowyn/Golden Shield combo. With the Necklace of Girion and Strider she could defend for 9 (until you get more than 5 characters)!
It looks like the deck relies on Entmoot to draw cards and with 24 Ent cards in the deck that’s not a bad bet but if you don’t draw Entmoot, you might find yourself a little starved for cards by the 4th round or so. Rohan Warhorse stands out as an interesting choice here. It appears Eowyn is the target and if she has the Legacy Blade she could potentially attack a couple times for 3 alongside the herd of Ents.
The deck will change tempo when you play Gandalf as your power level will increase dramatically and your threat will start to climb faster. With no threat reduction in the deck I’m assuming the timing of when to play Gandalf is one of the key decisions this deck offers.
Test 1 – Passage Through Mirkwood – Loss/Win/Win
This quest isn’t always easy for Secrecy decks since it has several low threat enemies. I had to restart a couple times after drawing Dol Guldur Orcs or another low threat enemy in the first turn or two.
The deck has a slow start. Between starting with only 2 characters, running two spheres, all the allies costing 2+ and those allies taking a whole turn to ready after they enter play you really need several turns to get things moving. The 6 starting willpower is great for staying on top of questing for a couple of turns but you better hope the threat doesn’t build very quickly because you won’t be able to take down an enemy for a couple turns. The threat built up for me here and it took me several turns of the midgame to dig my way out of a location pileup. Another attempt I had the same thing happen with enemies. I had 4 Forest Spiders all in the staging area at once!
I dropped Gandalf and his attachments near the end and won on turn 13.
Test 2 – Trouble in Tharbad – Win
With an easy way to get back into secrecy mode in this quest I was able to keep my momentum up by using Eowyn’s +9 attack fairly in the game to keep threat from building up in the staging area.
Again, I didn’t really have a chance to increase my willpower output until turn 3 unless I found Strider right away. I agree with the creator’s deck description: you really need Strider in your opening hand. The Necklace of Girion is like a Strider WP bonus and a Resourceful wrapped into 1 but I hesitate to play it right away because I know I won’t have a good way to take care of any enemy that comes out right away. It seems better to wait a few turns until I have a few allies out before I give the encounter deck another opportunity to get an advantage over my willpower numbers.
I played Gandalf after I hit stage 2 and finished the quest in two more turns. With Gandalf and Nalir in play I was raising my threat by 4 every turn!
Test 3 – Desert Crossing – Win
This was a fun game! This quest has a good pacing and progression and that Forced damage from stage 2 let me power up my Booming Ents to Were-Worm-smashing proportions! I used Eowyn’s ability early in my game again just so I didn’t get behind the encounter deck. I got on copy of Resourceful out and between that and Treebeard’s resources I had about enough for the cards that I was drawing. I wish I had a little more card draw here.When I get the necklace or 2 copies of Resourceful into play I find myself with too many resources and no cards to play.
Test 4 – The Fords of Isen – Loss/Win
Pillaging and Burning jacked my threat right out of Secrecy in the early game on both runs which forced me to start engaging enemies fairly quickly. I got swarmed on the first attempt but managed to fight my way through on the second game.
Gandalf came out near the end but got taken out by a nasty shadow card (I should have saved his staff to discard that shadow!).
Two-hero decks are still fairly difficult but these two heroes are a good match. With an extremely advantageous starting threat-to-willpower ratio, these heroes can get started on the quest and keep up for a couple turns while they start to build up some allies to overcome that lack of a third hero. While I give this deck credit for actually working as a two hero deck, I would consider the Ent deck type be a challenging style to build as a two hero deck. Realistically you aren’t going to get an ally to really help out in any way until turn 3 (hasty Quickbeam is an exception). For many quests that can just be too slow.t
I know it can feel gamey, but I would suggest using Folco Boffin as a third starting hero. You could still start in Secrecy so you can get those turn 1 Resourcefuls but you have an extra resource for that first planning phase and another 2 willpower to get a foothold on the quest. Worst case scenario you can’t play anything with his resource, you quest with him then discard him during the engagement phase to avoid a 15-20 threat enemy. You still come out ahead in all ways. If you draw Strider in your opening hand and really want that “doesn’t exhaust to quest” effect you can play it with Folco’s resource, then discard him in the first planning phase and still come out ahead. Folco is a little silly and very helpful for this style of deck!
All but 4 of the 23 allies included in the deck are Ents! That really helps Entmoot hit reliably. I would probably tend to run 1 each of Beechbone and Skinbark (unless the quest was Orc-heavy) instead of 2 and maybe even sneak a Leaflock into the deck as well. Quickbeam’s fast setup is worth running 2 or even 3 of in this deck in my opinion but I think it can be a little annoying to draw a second copy of a unique Ent that you already have in play. I don’t think the unique Ents’ power level is that much higher than the generics to warrant running 2 or 3 copies in most decks. Treebeard is the exception and I would encourage running the full 3 copies! His resources and Ent-readying are usually worth the possible annoying duplicates.
The theme and drama of bringing Gandalf and his attachments into play in the late game is awesome, but you could change the deck up entirely and leave Gandalf out and still have a good deck! If you were to drop the 10 cards devoted to Gandalf and his attachments and events you could bring the tempo of the deck up a little by including either more card draw to give you more options faster or you could include some cheap allies you could get out faster. While he’s entirely out of the theme of the deck, the Ithilien Lookout would be a nice Secrecy ally that could give you some early game momentum and scrying. Daeron’s Runes, Ithilien Lookout and Risk Some Light would all be great cards to include if you wanted to go “Gandalf-less.” The Gandalf drop is cool, but I found that if I got far enough into a game to play Gandalf I was in a fairly dominant position and didn’t have to get Gandalf into play to win the game.
The attachment selection includes 3 each of the “auto include” Resourcefuls and Striders, 5 cards for Gandalf, a couple helpful Ent Draughts and 6 more attachments that look like they target Eowyn. If she gets several of these attachments she can become a monster! If she has Strider, Necklace of Girion and Golden Shield she can defend for 7-9 defense. If you’d rather go offensive you can attach the Legacy Blade and Rohan Warhorse and she can attack for 3 twice a turn (if she’s not exhausting to quest). In a perfect world she could attach 3 different enemies for 12 attack when she triggers her ability with this set up: declare attack 1 with a +2 from both sidequests completed, trigger her +9 response and ready, attack a second enemy, ready with the Rohan Warhorse and attack again! This crazy combo is very unlikely to happen, but the possibility is awesome! If the game has gone well enough to get that combo set up you will likely have 2-3 Booming Ents ready to eat up anything that comes at you.
The other difficulty with powering up Eowyn is that she is going to be exhausting to quest once you get 4 allies on the board. Then you have to give up that big willpower number to get that attack or defense.
Entmoot is a key event card here since it’s almost your only form of card draw and it will usually net you around 3 cards. Waters of Nimrodel is an awesome card but I never found myself needing it bad enough to play it in my games with this deck. The Ents have some built in healing with the Wellinghall Preserver but sometimes the heroes get pretty beat up and this is the only way to heal them in this deck. This is a fun card but with only one copy in the deck you can’t really rely on it to keep your heroes alive. If you need some hero healing I would suggest a couple Warden’s of Healing or Ioreth. By the late game when that hero healing becomes urgent, you should have extra lore resources coming in from Resourceful on Thurindir.
I didn’t find myself playing Flame of Anor in my games either. I suspect I played this deck more conservatively than the creator did because by the time I got Gandalf into play, I didn’t need extra actions out of him. My Ents were barooming and Gandalf was just urging them on!
I enjoyed the deck enough that I built my own version. I change the theme to focus more on Ents and less (as is none) on Gandalf. I added Folco to get the deck moving a little faster in the first few turns and I liked the result. The deck is a little less thematic and more “mechanical” but it’s a lot of fun! I tested it against PtM and it did well. I’ll play some more quests with it just because it’s enjoyable!
Here’s my variation:
Two hero decks are still hard but this one is viable! Eowyn is a great option for this style of deck and she can really shine here once you get those attachments on her.
As it is, this deck is pretty slow out of the gate just because the Ents take a while to get moving but with some gamey modifications I think it could overcome that early game “meekness,” as the creator aptly describes it, and be more resilient against more quests.
That moment when you get Gandalf on the table is always fun and you pretty much know you’re going to win after he joins the marching Ents!
Thanks to pconners for creating the deck and sharing it with us all! Go over to RingsDB and give it a like! He’s published several more interesting decks since Gandalf Stormcrow including a two-hero Eowyn/Leadership Eomer build that intrigues me!