Deck Spotlight: Eleanor’s Big Adventure/Outlands Gone Wild
With the release of The Steward’s Fear, and the additional player cards and deck-building options it has provided, I thought I’d take the time to share two decks that I’ve been using against this particular scenario. The first deck germinated in my brain as soon as I saw the Gondorian Shield spoiled. While there were many Gondorian heroes who were attractive targets for the Shield, what I found most compelling was the opportunity to make Eleanor a far more useful hero than she has ever been before. With the Gondorian Shield along for the ride, Eleanor could not only fill the role of treachery cancellation, but also could serve as quite a respectable defender as well. On the other hand, the second deck featured in this spotlight is my version of an Outlands build. In my experience, Outlands decks construct themselves to a certain extent, but hopefully my version can provide some ideas for those interested in the game’s newest power faction. The deck is built on the foundation of a very simple lesson: powerful card draw optimizes Outlands in a big way. Since I’m covering two decks in this spotlight, I won’t be explaining them in as extensive detail as usual, but will instead outline the main facets of each.
FIRST DECK: ELEANOR’S BIG ADVENTURE
Theme: Eleanor as Defender, Quick Willpower, and the Legolas Progress Machine
Spheres: Tactics/Spirit (about 2/3 Spirit, 1/3 Tactics)
Strategy: This deck is designed to work well against a location-heavy quest like The Steward’s Fear. Since the Outlands deck is so powerful, I didn’t feel as much pressure to build an optimized deck, but could instead pursue my dream of making Eleanor an amazing hero. The strategy behind this deck is exceedingly simple: get Eleanor a Gondorian Shield as quickly as possible, and she becomes a Beregond-like wall with 4 defense that can also cancel treacheries. Unexpected Courage lets her do both in the same round. The rest of the deck is geared around covering for the Outlands deck’s main weakness: vulnerability in the early stages of a game. To that end, it makes good use of the classic Legolas/Blade of Gondolin combination to get progress going while the Outlanders are still struggling to muster willpower. In addition, powerful yet cheap and flexible questers like Escort from Edoras and Spirit Bofur can help in this endeavor as well. Finally, The Riddermark’s Finest and Northern Tracker provide additional location support. The best approach, as far as the opening hand is concerned, is to mulligan for Gondorian Shield, as the deck is lacking a true defender until Eleanor can take up this role. Obviously, Light of Valinor is important for Glorfindel as well, although the deck starts at a low, low threat of 21 (and there is free threat reduction through Elrond’s Counsel to boot), so a few rounds of additional threat are not too troublesome.
1) Eleanor + Gondorian Shield + Unexpected Courage (assist from Hasty Stroke): This is obviously the central combo of the deck. The only concern with Eleanor acting as defender is that she only has 3 hit points. Shadow-cancellation is therefore vital to prevent any attack-boosting shadows that push an enemy above 4 attack, and Hasty Stroke serves this purpose well. Unexpected Courage allows Eleanor to either defend multiple attacks, or cancel a treachery and defend in the same turn.
2) Legolas + Blade of Gondolin (+ Hands Upon the Bow): One of the classic combos in the game, Legolas and the Blade of Gondolin combine to put 3 progress tokens on a quest (or the active location) whenever they destroys an enemy. Hands Upon the Bow allows Legolas to potentially apply this ability to enemies in the staging area (which also has the endlessly useful benefit of taking threat out of the staging area if this event is used before quest resolution).
3) Escort from Edoras/Bofur + Horn of Gondor: These now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t questers also have the benefit of generating resources for the Horn of Gondor when they pop out of play.
Variations: As mentioned before, this deck was built to specifically handle the challenges of The Steward’s Fear. Adapting this deck to face a different quest could require dramatically altering the composition of allies. For example, the presence of the Zealous Traitor in The Steward’s Fear, which deals 1 damage to all allies a player controls when it engages them, persuaded me to avoid 1 hit point characters as much as possible. As far as events go, I considered including Behind Strong Walls, a 1-cost Tactics event that allows a defending Gondor character to ready and gain +1 to defense. This could help Eleanor defend multiple times with an additional defense bonus, keeping her 3 hit points secure. However, in the interest of keeping the deck trim and with Unexpected Courage already providing readying for Eleanor, I left it out.
Final Thoughts: This deck is fairly well-balanced, combining the questing power, location management, and treachery cancellation of Spirit with the combat prowess of Tactics. Eleanor and the Gondorian Shield work well in defense, however she might struggle against quests that feature high attack enemies (Into Ithilien and Siege of Cair Andros, I’m looking at you). Overall, this deck can muster decent attack power, with Glorfindel, Legolas, and the Trollshaw Scout pitching in to dispatch enemies quickly. Imladris Stargazer’s presence may seem odd in isolation, but her inclusion is designed to help the Outlands deck get allies into play (especially the Anfalas Herdsman) as quickly as possible, as well as to maximize the Hunter of Lamedon’s ability. While this deck will not perform well against all quests, it is clear that Eleanor and the Gondorian Shield is a perfectly viable combination that will allow me to use Eleanor far more often than I would otherwise.
SECOND DECK: OUTLANDS GONE WILD
Gandalf (Core) x3
Warrior of Lossarnach (TSF) x3
Anfalas Herdsman (TSF) x3
Hunter of Lamedon (HON) x3
Faramir (Core) x2
Miner of the Iron Hills (Core) x3
Knights of the Swan (TSF) x3
Ethir Swordsman (TSF) x3
Spheres: Lore/Leadership (with splashing of Tactics and Spirit in the form of Outlands allies)
Strategy: This deck is designed for one goal: pumping out Outlands allies as quickly as possible. Once enough Outlands characters are in play, this deck becomes nigh unstoppable. Previously, I experimented with different set-ups for an Outlands deck, including a Hirluin, Legolas, and Beregond build that was designed to be a bit different than the more natural Outlands sphere and hero combinations. However, this deck is a more optimized build, as a good Outlands deck really needs a solid draw engine to reach its full potential. This is the reasoning behind the inclusion of Bilbo Baggins. While Beravor was also a possibility, I preferred the slightly lower threat cost of Bilbo, and the consistent card draw he provides without the necessity of readying effects. Expert Treasure Hunter is another powerful element of the card draw engine, as after questing successfully, I can simply guess “ally” in order to help get Outlands characters into my hand. Finally, Peace and Thought is extremely useful in the first couple of rounds. Usually, I can spare Hirluin and Bilbo, and exhaust them using this event to draw 5 cards (and I should mention that this feels very thematically appropriate when Bilbo is involved), which can often cut down the length of time it takes to get the Outlands synergy working by as much as a few turns. I must give credit here to TftC reader, Tracker1, who was the first person I saw to use this card in an Outlands deck. It is an event that I have always dismissed as being too costly in terms of actions to justify its inclusion, but I will now be more willing to use in other builds after seeing how effective it can be. As far as paying for the Outlands characters once I have them in hand, Steward of Gondor allows for resource generation to pay for Outlands allies, while Elrond helps out Hirluin by also being able to pay for Outlands characters of any sphere. A Very Good Tale is another great way to get Outlands allies into play quickly, and their cheap cost makes this a play that hits more often than it misses. In general, I’m fine with sacrificing some actions in the first few rounds in order to focus on card draw and resource generation in order to get the Outlands synergy going, because, as I mentioned before, once it hits critical mass, defeat is pretty much impossible.
1) Steward of Gondor + Hirluin/Elrond: The classic resource generator can work on both heroes, as either can pay for Outlands allies. Whether I put it on Hirluin or Elrond ultimately depends on the cards I have in hand, and what seems like a better play in a particular game.
2) Anfalas Herdsman + A Burning Brand (assist from Warrior of Lossarnach): This actually is a fairly amazing combo. With all three Warriors of Lossarnach in play, the Anfalas Herdsman has a stunning defense of 3. Throw A Burning Brand on him, which is possible since it can be placed on any Lore character, not just heroes, and he can defend any enemy attack of 3 or lower without fear of shadows. If his brother Herdsman are in play, he has 4 hit points, which is a hero-like buffer for those enemies that are more powerful. To put it another way, this is essentially like having another Elrond in play (3 defense and 4 hit points), who is usually the go-to target for A Burning Brand. In this case, you don’t even have to bother using a hero.
3) Sneak Attack + Gandalf: Can be used for uber-card draw, but more likely for threat reduction or enemy removal.
4) Faramir + Ethir Swordsman and other Outlands allies: Outlands allies not only can end up with some amazing stats, but there are usually tons of them in play. This serves as perfect fodder for Faramir, who can ramp an already monstrous willpower engine (courtesy of the Ethir Swordsman) up to insane levels.
Variations: This is already a fairly tight deck without much fat. There are, however, a few cards that could be replaced if it was not paired with the Eleanor’s Big Adventure deck (i.e. Asfaloth is clearly meant to be attached across the board to Glorfindel). Similarly, Gildor’s Counsel could be cut if this was run as a pure solo deck. Miners of the Iron Hills can also be safely substituted in quests that don’t feature condition attachments. Another possibility I considered was replacing Bilbo with Balin. This would shift the sphere distribution a bit, but would have a few advantages: 2 Leadership resources would allow a first turn play of Steward of Gondor, Balin’s ability could provide useful shadow cancellation in the early game, and having the Dwarf trait on a hero could allow the inclusion of the card-drawing King Under the Mountain attachment to compensate for the loss of Bilbo’s card draw. Ultimately, I chose to pursue maximum card draw, but the Balin version would likely be just as effective.
Final Thoughts: What can be said about this deck that hasn’t already been said about Outlands in general? It is not uncommon to end up with 10-15 allies on the board, each with 3’s or 4’s in every stat. In this context, Gandalf can often hit the table only to be met with a shrug of relative indifference. The main weakness of this deck is definitely in the first few turns, when the Outlands allies and Hirluin himself are fairly weak. Thankfully, Elrond’s powerful stats allow him to carry some of the slack early on. I look for Steward of Gondor in my opening hand, but I’m also on the hunt for Peace and Thought as well to provide the quickest start possible. I spend the first few turns focusing on drawing as many cards as I can, while setting a fairly moderate pace when it comes to questing until the Outlands engine is up and running. All in all, this deck can confidently handle most quests, and can be paired with a wide variety of decks, although they might end up feeling jealous about always being in the Outlands’ shadow!
Readers, feel free to share your Outlands builds below! I’m also curious to see anyone else’s experiences with turning Eleanor into a more effective version of herself, using Gondorian Shield and/or any other attachments and tricks.