The Three Trials: Hero Review
It seems to be the way of LOTR LCG that famine is quickly followed by feast. After a long, at times interminable, wait between the Voice of Isengard expansion and the first Adventure Pack of the Ring-maker cycle, we now have quickly been bestowed the second AP, The Three Trials! As always, a new expansion means a look at the player cards contained in this newest expansion, as I keep an eye out for how they expand or add to the card pool. Unlike last time around, when the hero was spoiled in advance, players came into The Three Trials not knowing quite what to expect, other than some speculation based on the cover art. As it turns out, this art is indeed the art for our newest hero: Idraen. She continues a now established history of female FFG-created heroes, adding to the ranks of Eleanor, Beravor, Caldara, and Mirlonde. I have expressed support for this path in the past, and my feelings have not changed one iota. In fact, FFG have really upped the ante this time around by including a full page of story text adding some background flavor to Idraen. This is a great touch and helps to make players feel more connected to a brand new character. Now, I wish that the designers would go back and add a similar story for the other created heroes, although that is undoubtedly just a pipe dream. For now, though, we have an interesting new Dunedain hero to build decks around. Let’s investigate further…
* Idraen (Spirit Hero, 11 threat, 2 willpower, 3 attack, 2 defense, 4 hit points):
Idraen hails from the Spirit sphere and brings a balanced set of stats, along with a high starting threat to the table. In addition, she has a readying ability, one of the strengths of Spirit, that triggers off of locations:
Response: After a location is explored, ready Idraen.
In terms of length and complexity, this ability is the model of simplicity. Still, there is plenty to discuss when it comes to this new hero. Before we get to her ability, Idraen is notable for bringing plenty of uniqueness to the table. First, she is only the fourth hero to have the Dunedain trait (third if you count the 2 Aragorns as a single hero), and the first from the Spirit sphere. This adds a bit more life to the Dunedain archetype as the designers look to spread the love around. She is the very first hero to have the Scout trait, which is notable because of the brand new attachment, Warden of Arnor, which is also included in The Three Trials. It is assumed, although not certain, that this means that the Scout trait could become more meaningful in the future, which could add value to Idraen. Already, the fact that she is the only hero that can use Warden of Arnor enhances her overall place in the game beyond mere stats and ability. However, the biggest distinction is the fact that Idraen is only the second hero in the Spirit sphere to boast an attack strength of 3 (Glorfindel is the other).
In many ways, Idraen begs an inevitable comparison to Prince Imrahil, who also readies based on a certain trigger and has identical stats. In most cases, Imrahil is the superior choice, as having an ally leave play is much more common and much easier for the player to control than a location being explored. This is particularly true in solo play, as with only 1 card being revealed during staging, it is quite possible that only a few locations will be exploring during the course of an entire game, while sacrificing an ally each turn is quite feasible regardless of the number of players (although both heroes become better in multiplayer). In addition, timing plays an important role, as since allies generally leave play during combat, Imrahil can often both quest and attack/defend or defend and then attack. By contrast, locations generally leave play only during the quest phase, which means that Idraen is more restricted and will usually quest and then engage in combat, rather than engage twice in some aspect of combat, which makes her less flexible. Of course, such comparisons violate one of my cardinal rules, which is that you cannot compare 2 cards from different spheres without taking their respective place in their spheres into account. There are 4 heroes in the Leadership sphere with 3 attack, counting Imrahil, while, as mentioned before, Idraen is only 1 of 2 heroes in the Spirit sphere with such an attack value. This makes Idraen a potentially more valuable hero in her particular sphere than Imrahil is to Leadership. On the other hand, readying is much more prevalent in the Spirit sphere than the Leadership sphere, which perhaps gives him the edge in his realm in that respect. When you combine the readying and attack strength at once, though, the picture certainly becomes murky, far murkier than simply declaring Imrahil’s ability to be superior.
This is because for far too long, the only option available for mono-Spirit players in terms of a viable attacking hero has been Glorfindel. Long have I decried this state of affairs and a second 3 attack strength hero for Spirit has been near the top of my wish list because of this fact. Of course, this means that if Idraen is not being compared to Imrahil, then she is being compared to Glorfindel. However, I don’t think this is a fruitful comparison for a few reasons. First, Glorfindel’s amazing value in contrast to his starting threat means that almost any hero will come out looking worse for wear in comparison. However, that doesn’t mean that players (myself included) aren’t willing to take on a potentially inferior hero simply for the sake of having a much-needed alternative and something new. Second, oftentimes it is tempting to compare 2 heroes in the same sphere while forgetting the possibilities of them being used together! Idraen and Glorfindel can make a potent team in a mono-Spirit or Spirit-heavy deck, with a massive 5 willpower and 6 attack between the two of them, with the chance of having both of those stat combinations available during a round, with the help of Light of Valinor and Idraen’s ability. This all comes at a low starting threat of 16, which leaves plenty of choice in terms of a third hero. Rather than comparing the two then, teaming up Idraen and Glorfindel seems like a more tantalizing discussion point. Finally, Idraen has access to the Dunedain and Scout traits, whereas Glorfindel does not. While the Noldor trait perhaps has better options at the moment, with such cards as Light of Valinor, Rivendell Blade, and Elrond’s Counsel, being available, Idraen can have access to Blood of Numenor to be an incredible defender. In fact, this is an advantage that she has over Glorfindel, in that she can actually serve quite well in defense, and thus can cover all three areas of play quite competently. Beyond Blood of Numenor, Idraen’s traits mean that she can also make use of Gondorian Fire, as well as the brand new Warden of Arnor. With time and more Dunedain and Scout cards, the distinction between Glorfindel and Idraen will become more apparent.
Beyond the comparisons, how good is Idraen on her own merits? More importantly, what is the best way to maximize her power? With her readying ability being based around exploring locations, any cards that get rid of locations more quickly and allow you to pick when locations are explored are key in an Idraen deck. Keep in mind that locations that are explored in the staging area count just as much as the active location. Thus, cards like Ride to Ruin, Northern Tracker, Lorien Guide, The Riddermark’s Finest, and Asfaloth (another reason to pair with Glorfindel) can all play a part here. The idea here is that you could use Idraen to defend, then play Ride to Ruin, for example, to pop a location out of play in order to ready her for another defense or for attack. This would get around the usual quest resolution timing, which forces Idraen to normally only ready after questing. Although even just this form of the ability is useful, as it allows Idraen to contribute her 2 willpower to questing and still be available to either defend or attack, making her somewhat analogous to Leadership Aragorn in this respect. While Northern Tracker can’t help with controlling the timing aspect directly, he does indirectly help by putting progress on locations so that they are more easily explored by other effects. There may even finally be a reason to include Ravenhill Scout here, as if you are piling up resources on locations with other effects (or even on the active location), you could use the Scout to transfer 2 resources over to another location in order to explore it at the right time (when you want Idraen readied). As a final point on this topic, if you are using disposable cards like The Riddermark’s Finest and Ride to Ruin as your primary source of location exploration, it makes sense to include Dwarven Tomb and Stand and Fight to get more uses out of these.
There are also a couple of other cards that would work well in an Idraen deck, even though they don’t directly explore locations. Strength of Will works well, as you could quest with Idraen, ready her when the active location is explored, and then use her to activate Strength of Will on the next location. Of course, it could also just work in general as another way to put progress on locations even if you use another character to activate it. Strider’s Path is another strong option, as it can allow you to immediately move a location revealed during staging to the active location spot. This is helpful because you might face a turn where there is no active location sand no locations that can be explored in the staging area using effects, and thus you would have no way to ready Idraen. Normally, if a location was then revealed during staging, you would have to wait to travel to it and then explore it on the next round. Strider’s Path provides an opportunity to immediately make a location the active location, which means it could be explored during that turn’s quest resolution, thus readying Idraen when you really need her to be available. Finally, A Watchful Peace is a woefully under-utilized card (understandably so given the strong Spirit events that are competing for spots), and one that I haven’t seen mentioned yet in connection to this hero, that is gold for an Idraen deck. Especially in solo play, where drawing a location is not guaranteed, A Watchful Peace can help you to get more locations into play.
I hear the objections already though. If you explore a location and put it back on top of the encounter deck, then it will simply be discarded as a shadow if there is an enemy in play, and if there is no enemy in play, then on the next turn you will explore another location, but you won’t need the readying because there still won’t be enemies around! Fear not, my friends, as there is still a use for this card. Note that A Watchful Peace, like Idraen, can be used anytime a location is explored, not just the active location. This means you could explore the active location, ready, and fight in combat with Idraen. Only after would you trigger an effect like The Riddermark’s Finest or Asfaloth to explore a location in the staging area (or even a new active location), playing A Watchful Peace to put it back on top of the encounter deck for next round’s staging. Anything that helps to control locations and when they will emerge is useful for Idraen, so Shadow of the Past could work here as well, although A Watchful Peace is cheaper. For similar reasons, scrying can be quite helpful with this hero, as it at least can help you figure out when locations are coming. Denethor is even more useful, as he can drop non-locations to the bottom of the encounter deck in the hopes that a location will end up on top of the encounter deck instead. Finally, Ravens of the Mountain can serve a dual role here, both shuffling the encounter deck in case you see that the top card is not a location and potentially putting progress on the active location. This means that outside of mono-Spirit, Idraen also plays well with Lore because of its scrying and location management. Obviously, all these methods are not as necessary in multiplayer, where you are more likely to have plenty of locations to use for readying Idraen.
With some methods and tricks in hand to ready Idraen as often as possible, how can we get the most out of her actions? The key as usual is in attachments. I have already mentioned Blood of Numenor, which can make Idraen into a strong defender, as long as you can stockpile some resources in her pool. Gondorian Fire is a great choice for attacking in the same vein. Blade of Gondolin is a weapon that seems to have long fallen out of favor, but may be worth a shot to pour some extra progress on locations, especially if you can get 2 attached to Idraen (or another hero). Pairing Idraen with Legolas, either in the same deck or in another player’s deck, is extremely useful for the same reason. All of the Dunedain Signals of course make useful and thematic options as well. Within the Spirit sphere, I really like Miruvor as an option for Idraen. This utility attachment could allow her to ready whenever her ability can’t be activated, or could provide a resource for Blood of Numenor or add some willpower during questing. Silver Lamp also finds another viable Spirit candidate aside from Glorfindel, as Idraen can be ready during combat (even after questing) and thus can make use of the Lamp to reveal shadows. This can be especially handy since she may end up acting as the defender at times.
With all this in mind, the final verdict beckons. It is clear that Idraen is better in multiplayer than solo, just based on the frequency of locations being revealed and explored. It is also clear that Glorfindel is better in a pound-for-pound, threat-for-threat analysis. Critics might also point out the easy availability of Unexpected Courage in the Spirit sphere to grant more consistent readying to any Spirit hero. All of that does not detract from the value and utility of Idraen, even in solo play. More than anything, I would say that the balanced stats and strong attack of this hero, within the context of her sphere, is what counts the most and helps her to provide what most other Spirit heroes can’t, even with Unexpected Courage or other readying. The further development of either the Dunedain or Scout traits (or both) will also give her a boost in the future. While some might worry that introducing too much attack strength into Spirit might unbalance the spheres or ruin their distinctiveness, as long as this is restricted to only a couple of heroes, I don’t believe that there is too much to be concerned about. Idraen is not overpowered and perhaps is not among the most powerful of heroes. What she does bring to the table is support for a much-neglected trait, much needed interaction with locations, and strong and balanced stats to fill a weakness for her sphere. In fact, more than her strong attack, it is this balance that is so crucial, with almost every Spirit hero being biased towards a particular area of play in some way. Sometimes you just need versatility, and this is what Idraen provides in spades.
Possible Attachment Choices: Blood of Numenor, Gondorian Fire, Dunedain Warning, Dunedain Mark, Celebrian’s Stone, Warden of Arnor, Miruvor, Silver Lamp, Blade of Gondolin
Idraen continues the Ring-maker trend started by Celeborn, which is a powerful, yet not overpowered hero, that helps to build a certain trait. How do the rest of the player cards compare to those found in The Dunland Trap? You’ll just have to catch up with the allies, attachments, and events reviews to find out!
Readers, what are your thoughts on Idraen? Useful and balanced hero? Or a redundant and inconsistent addition?