Card Spotlight: Radagast
Surely, of all the characters created by Tolkien, the Istari are some of the most mysterious, powerful, and compelling. Tolkien reimagined the ancient figure of the wizard, a mortal man with access to magical powers, as an immortal spirit (Maiar) sent with a divine purpose to counter the return of evil (Sauron). While Gandalf is the most recognized of the Istari and the one that is ultimately successful in his mission, there were four others sent to Middle-Earth. Radagast the Brown is one of these Istari, but unfortunately he’s a character that we learn almost nothing about in Tolkien’s works, other than his love for birds and beasts. As such, he has always been an object of fascination for some fans, including myself, and LOTR LCG gives us the opportunity to take him on some proper adventures at last. However, as much as we might like the character, there is the lingering question of whether Radagast is worth summoning from Rhosgobel at all, at least in terms of gameplay considerations. To answer that question can mean only one thing: it’s Card Spotlight time!*
* Bunny sleigh not included.
Radagast, like Gandalf, is a 5-cost Neutral ally. He comes with a deliciously thematic ability:
Radagast collects 1 resource each resource phase. These resources can be used to pay for Creature cards played from your hand.
Action: Spend X resources from Radagast’s pool to heal X wounds on any 1 Creature.
Surely, there could be no more appropriate ability for Radagast the Brown than the ability to summon and heal creatures. With Radagast appearing in the middle of the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle generally, and the A Journey to Rhosgobel pack specifically, there seemed to be two intended functions for this ally: 1) to pay for all those Eagle allies that appeared in the cycle, and 2) to help heal Wilyador. Let’s examine each of those abilities in turn to determine whether Radagast is worthy of inclusion in your next deck.
On a surface level, Radagast’s extra resource every turn and ability to pay for creatures seems quite useful, as it is essentially a neutral form of resource generation, albeit one that is limited in application. However, we need to consider both the high cost of Radagast and the available pool of allies for these resources before we can really understand the relative utility of this ability. Radagast costs an extravagant 5 resources, while generating 1 extra resource per turn after he hits the table. This means that logically it takes 5 full rounds for Radagast to pay for himself. In other words, by spending his own resources to pay for allies with the creature trait, Radagast saves you resources from your hero pools, but you initially had to spend 5 resources from your hero pools to play him in the first place. The problem is that 5 rounds is an absolute eternity in this game. This leads to a dilemma where you should probably get Radagast onto the table within the first 2 or 3 rounds to make the whole endeavor worth the trouble, but spending 5 resources so early in the game is usually not possible or could possibly harm your overall position by preventing more game changing cards from being played. Thus, Radagast is by necessity a late game card, but has an effect that needs to be put in place in the early game (see Beorn’s excellent article on resource curves for more information about these terms). Since Radagast isn’t a hero, you can’t even get clever and play a resource acceleration attachment/event or song on him either (assuming you would want to do such a thing). At the end of the day, you have to ask whether you expect a scenario to last long enough (i.e. more than 5 rounds) to justify Radagast’s expense. To put it yet another way, from a limited perspective, it may seem like a good deal on any particular turn when you can use a Radagast resource to put a Vassal of the Windlord into play for “free”, but you would’ve had 5 resources available for that Vassal (and much more besides) if you hadn’t used them for Radagast. It may seem unfair to lay this “burden of repayment” on Radagast when other allies aren’t held to that same expectation and don’t pay for themselves at all, but when a card’s ability revolves around resource generation, then such an analysis is logical. Thus, based on just his resource ability, Radagast doesn’t seem to justify deck space.
Fortunately, Radagast does have a second ability, and perhaps this will be enough to save him. Radagast can heal any amount of wounds on a creature, assuming you have the resources to pay for it. This was most obviously intended to help you heal Wilyador during A Journey to Rhosgobel, and it is quite worthwhile in the context of that one quest, but a single scenario does not a card make. To be truly valuable, this healing ability should be more broadly useful. In taking a closer look, we can identify the limited set of allies with the creature trait that are currently available in the card pool: Winged Guardian, Landroval, Descendant of Thorondor, The Riddermark’s Finest, Vassal of the Windlord, Eagles of the Misty Mountains, and Bill the Pony. Of these 7 creature allies, 2 have only 1 hit point and so cannot be healed. Of the remaining 5, only 2 appear to be worthwhile candidates for healing: Landroval and Eagles of the Misty Mountains. Descendant of Thorondor is an ally that you generally want to go out of play, The Riddermark’s Finest is a fairly weak ally and is meant to be ultimately discarded, and Bill the Pony is probably not strong enough to justify special healing attention. This places the limited nature of Radagast’s healing in stark relief. It appears that this healing is best suited for two situations: saving Wilyador and and keeping powered up copies of Eagles of the Misty Mountains in play. If more allies with the creature trait are released in the future, then Radagast’s healing may become more worthwhile. This means that until that Sebastian the hedgehog ally is released, both of this Istari‘s abilities seem to be falling flat.
There is one last hope for Radagast, as allies are not defined by their abilities alone. With 2 willpower, 1 attack, 1 defense, and 3 hit points, Radagast’s stats are decent, if not spectacular. At a cost of 5 resources, you are getting 1.4 stat points per resource, which is mediocre value (see this sphere analysis article for comparison). The best thing that can be said about his stats are that 2 willpower on a neutral ally can be used to inject some questing power into the Tactics sphere. However, this has become less important over time, which is a trend that will likely continue as Tactics allies with decent willpower continue to trickle into the card pool. At the time that Radagast was released, the selection of allies was more limited, and so his set of stats was more valuable. Now, however, he is simply outclassed in terms of value. On the other hand, he does have the Istari trait, which allows a player to use Word of Command, but since most players are making using Gandalf, this unfortunately doesn’t make much of a difference. Perhaps if more Istari cards emerge in the future, then Radagast might see his stock rise (note the recurring theme).
Before Radagast faces the final verdict, let’s take a step back a moment to the issue of resource generation. We assumed that it takes 5 rounds for Radagast to pay for himself and bring a net benefit to players, but what if we could get him into play for a lower cost or for free? This might change the picture completely. A Very Good Tale, as always, is a strong option for getting allies into play for free. Unfortunately, this event is great for getting allies in general into play, but not so useful for getting specific allies into play. Timely Aid would work well for a secrecy deck, but outside of secrecy, you’re only looking at a discount of 1, which isn’t worth the effort. By far the best option for making Radagast work seems to be Elf-stone. For a cost of 1, you can get Radagast into play, meaning that he will pay for himself within one round. Under these circumstances, Radagast would certainly be worth playing. A thematic Lore/Tactics deck focusing on Eagles and appropriate Lore cards such as Radagast’s Cunning might be a good home for Radagast. With Elf-stone along for the ride, you could also include expensive Lore/Tactics allies like Beorn, Landroval, and Gildor to provide multiple targets for that attachment. So if you are truly looking to make Radagast work, I highly suggest Elf-stone as a viable solution.
Well, ladies, gentleman, and wizards, the time has come for judgement. I do really like the idea of an ally that can generate resources, and would like to see this idea return again. However, while Radagast is a thematic and intriguing card, and one that can find a place if you are working with a limited card pool, he currently just doesn’t do enough to warrant consideration (outside of the combination with Elf-stone, which is actually legitimate). As such, he’ll have to resign himself to the coaster tag, with much hope for a brighter Istari presence in the game in the near future. Saruman anyone?