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The Road Darkens: Hero Review

by on October 6, 2014

lotr-the-road-darkens-cover

Just the act of typing the words “The Road Darkens” before the word “review” feels a bit surreal. It was just a couple of months ago that I stood in Fantasy Flight Games’ line in Gen Con, disconsolate in the knowledge that The Road Darkens would not be mine after all. It’s been a long wait since then, and the excitement has only built with each new spoiler. Some players have been a bit disappointed with the relatively small number of player cards for a larger expansion, but I’m still too busy basking in the glow of finally being able to continue my Lord of the Rings campaign to complain much. Of course, this criticism has partially extended to the fact that we’ve only receive one new hero in The Road Darkens, rather than the four that have been part of previous Saga boxes and the two that are standard for deluxe expansions (I’m leaving aside Fellowship heroes from the count for what should be obvious reasons). However, if there was any one hero that perhaps deserves to occupy the spotlight by himself, it is surely Gandalf. While we may debate the relative merits and reasons for this hero count and that player card count, there is little doubt that finally getting a character of the import of Gandalf in hero form is a momentous moment in the life of LOTR LCG.

HERO

* Gandalf (Neutral Hero, 14 threat, 3 willpower, 3 attack, 3 defense, 5 hit points):

Gandalf

The Gandalf hero establishes quite a few firsts. This is the first Neutral hero, the first hero with 14 threat, and the first hero with a rating of 3 in each of willpower, attack, and defense. Everyone’s favorite Istari also has a completely unique ability that immediately answers the question of how a Neutral hero will actually pay for non-Neutral cards:

Play with the top card of your deck faceup. Once per phase, you may play the top card of your deck as if it was in your hand. When playing a card this way, Gandalf is considered to have the printed Leadership , Lore , Tactics , and Spirit icons. 

This ability may seem a bit odd at first, but there are a few ways to think about it that help frame it in the proper light. First, this is essentially a form of “card draw” in that it adds at least one additional card to your hand per round. Since this faceup card can actually be played once per phase, rather than once per round, this can actually add up to a net of 2, 3, or more extra cards that are played each turn that wouldn’t have been played otherwise. Second, Gandalf’s ability is also a form of scrying/player deck manipulation in that it allows a player to always know what the top card of one’s deck will be, which can be used in conjunction with a variety of effects. Finally, this is a way of granting spheres in a manner that is very roughly analogous to songs or Narvi’s Belt, but is built into the hero itself and actually adds “printed” resource icons, with the printed portion being meaningful for several cards.

Dealing with the card draw aspect of Gandalf’s ability, he is on the same level as hero Bilbo, who grants an extra card to the first player each turn, although the benefit is restricted to just the controller (barring Desperate Alliance shenanigans). However, as previously mentioned, the once per phase aspect can make this even more powerful. For example, you could play Steward of Gondor from the top of your deck during planning, A Test of Will during questing, and Feint during combat. In practice, I’ve found that playing 1-2 extra cards is a more typical experience with Gandalf, but this alone makes for some powerful, built-in card draw that you have access to from the very beginning of a game and is continuously active. Even better, since it doesn’t actually use the word “draw” and since the card doesn’t count as part of your hand, this ability completely sidesteps any card draw or hand size hate built into scenarios like the Fords of Isen. Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this draw, though, is actually the fact that it comes packaged as part of a Neutral hero. This means that spheres other than Lore can have access to meaningful card advantage, as long as they can find a way to swallow the high threat cost of Gandalf. Still, this is just one way in which Gandalf being Neutral significantly adds to his overall power level.

expert treasure hunter

Of course, knowing the top card of your deck at all times can allow you to take full advantage of several cards that benefit from such knowledge. Perhaps foremost is Expert Treasure-hunter, which allows you to draw the top card of your deck if you can guess its type correctly after questing successfully. Normally this is a bit of a gamble each turn, but Gandalf makes this completely automatic, which means that your Gandalf deck can become even more of a card draw machine, being able to benefit from at least 2 additional cards each round (assuming you are able to work around any resource match issues, but that’s where the Wizard Pipe comes in — which I’ll say about 1000 times more in this article). Since Gandalf always has a resource match with the top card of your deck and Expert Treasure-hunter is very conveniently a 0-cost card, you can also splash in Expert Treasure-hunter to non-Lore decks relying on Gandalf’s ability to play it (again, Wizard Pipe comes in here), bringing in even more draw to card poor spheres. With additional copies of Expert Treasure-hunter on other heroes, the rain of cards just gets even more ridiculous, since the top card of one’s deck is always turned faceup as soon as the old card is removed, since Gandalf’s ability is a passive effect, meaning that you could guess correctly on 2-3 copies of Treasure-hunter in one go. If you’d like to have some cash to go along with those extra cards, why not include Hidden Cache as well, to be discarded intentionally by the Treasure-hunter once it hits the top of your deck? In fact, Gandalf makes a great partner with Dwarven mining decks, being able to enhance the performance of cards like Zigil Miner, or even help to pump out key attachments more reliably withe Well-Equipped. Bifur could perhaps form a good partnership with Gandalf, siphoning off his Neutral resources when they are better used elsewhere for paying for Lore cards traditionally.

Beyond the treasure hunting and mining, though, Gandalf can also facilitate a few other card effects. The most obvious combination is with Vilya. Gandalf and Elrond can form one of the most fearsome combinations in all of Middle-earth, albeit at a starting threat of 27, which is high considering that a third hero isn’t even in the picture yet!. Still, with these two working in tandem, you could always be sure of what Vilya would be playing, and could even use Wizard Pipe to set up Vilya in the most beneficial way each round. Elrond’s ability to pay for allies of any sphere could also work well with Gandalf’s inclination to splash from all spheres, and both heroes’ starting stats allow them to fill almost any role. Therefore, I could easily imagine using a two-hero Elrond/Gandalf deck and doing fine or adding a third hero and still being able to win with a ludicrously high starting threat. Beyond Gandalf/Elrond buddy cop hi-jinks, Gandalf can also rehabilitate a fairly marginal card, such as Taking Initiative, that has only found use in a small handful of Secrecy decks. Although the card is still likely reliant on seeing it early, at least you could use it with 100% effectiveness and net some extra card draw, as well as direct damage. While Gandalf can help cards that rely on player deck scrying, he also can benefit from player deck manipulation as well, with Gildor Inglorion and Imladris Stargazer both providing means to make Gandalf’s ability more effective.

Since Gandalf is a Neutral hero, he needs some way to pay for cards, and this is accomplished by granting him the resource icon of the top card of a player deck when that card is being played. This is a fairly ingenious solution that grants him powerful access to all spheres, but in a limited fashion. When the card was first spoiled, players speculated that this limitation would be a tough restriction on Gandalf’s power, as it would mean that he would be unable to pay for cards in hand (other than Neutral ones) without the aid of manipulation from Gildor or the use of songs or other cards that grant resource icons. This would mean that Gandalf would be limited to only paying for the top card of one’s deck otherwise, which would put decks including Gandalf at a significant resource disadvantage. The revelation of Wizard Pipe, however, effectively scuppered these ideas. What remains is a restriction that is not altogether meaningless, but can be circumvented with a single attachment, and the ability of Gandalf to gain access to any sphere quite easily. This makes building a deck with Gandalf quite fascinating, as you can pick and choose from all four spheres, opening up possibilities that were much more difficult to set up previously. It also means that Gandalf can make use of attachments that normally can only be used on heroes with a matching icon, such as A Burning Brand, as when the Brand is played from the top of the deck, Gandalf gains the Lore icon just long enough to complete the attachment process. Just imagine sticking Support of the Eagles on Gandalf as well and being able to boost either his (already high) attack or defense as needed. The specific granting of “printed” resource icons is also important in that Gandalf can play events such as Mithrandir’s Advice or Strength of Arms or one of the other mono-sphere events from the Against the Shadow cycle (as well as the resource specific Record attachments at a discount), which usually can only be played if all heroes have a printed icon or have an effect that counts the number of heroes with a printed icon. All of this just makes Gandalf more versatile and is great news for deck builders and combo lovers.

gandalf

Beyond his ability, Gandalf has impressive stats as well. With 3 willpower, defense, and attack, along with 5 hit points, he can excel in all areas, and, depending on your choice of attachments, can be customized to fit almost any role. The biggest problem, as with any hero with strong stats in multiple areas, is how to get the most out of these stats so that they don’t end up going to waste. Since you’re paying a hefty threat cost of 14, you better make the most of Gandalf at all moments! This implies a need to include plenty of readying effects, with a usual suspect like Unexpected Courage being an obvious choice, especially with built-in access to it. Beyond Unexpected Courage, Gandalf also his own specific readying in the form of Flame of Anor. I also really like The White Council for thematic and gameplay reasons, as it can either ready him, add a resource, or draw the top card/shuffle the deck in order to reveal a card on the top of your deck that may be more useful. Miruvor is also a powerful option, especially in conjunction with Wizard Pipe. For example, you could attach Miruvor to Gandalf, then use it at some point to ready Gandalf and add it to the top of your deck. Normally, this would mean that you have to face getting stuck drawing Miruvor again, but with Wizard Pipe, you could simply pull Miruvor to your hand, replace it with something in your hand that you were going to play anyway, and end up getting to the next card in your deck. This would then leave you free to repeat the process again, as long as you’re willing to pay the 1 resource for Miruvor each round.

The bottom line is that Gandalf is an extremely powerful hero, worth every point of that 14 threat. However, he is bound to be divisive. I have yet to mention the biggest oliphaunt in the room, which is the fact that including Gandalf as a hero in your deck means that no Gandalf allies can be included in your deck or anyone’s deck. In solo play, this isn’t much of an issue, as you only have yourself to disappoint, and the hero version can do enough (especially with his attachments) that you won’t miss the ally much. In multiplayer, this certainly becomes a much trickier proposition. Playstyle and preference will likely play a key factor here. Some players still swear by Gandalf and include him in every deck without fail. There’s little doubt that both Core Gandalf and OHaUH Gandalf are still extremely powerful and can make a huge difference in multiplayer. On the other hand, many players eschew Gandalf these days, at least in some decks, and prefer to use those extra slots for other purposes. The latter group of players is not likely to bat an eye at your inclusion of Gandalf, while the former might just feed you to a Balrog. You might be able to make an argument that Gandalf’s Staff and the overall power of the Gandalf hero should mean that your life should be spared, but such matters are not always tied to logic alone. If I had to venture an early judgement, I would say that the value of hero Gandalf diminishes as you add more players, but only because of the unique issue, the limitations of Gandalf’s Staff compared to the high impact effects of Core Gandalf, and the way in which the contribution of each individual player tends to decrease anyway in 3 or 4-player games. Still, I’m confident that a skilled Gandalf deck builder and player could make enough of an impact to quiet the doubters. (And if you’re feeling really desperate for approval, you could also loan out Gandalf for a phase with Desperate Alliance.)

The last point to make is Gandalf’s impact on the meta. Make no mistake that Gandalf will shake things up in a big way, and this is as it should be, considering the weight of this particular character in the story. Some, though, are perhaps justifiably worried that we may have another Spirit Glorfindel on our hands: an overpowered hero with a limitation that is easily circumvented with a single attachment and that will find its way into every deck under the sun. While I can certainly understand these fears, I don’t think they’re warranted, simply because of one crucial factor: threat. The main reason why Glorfindel makes it into so many decks is not his power level per se, but because his low threat of 5 allows him to fit into almost anything. By contrast, Gandalf’s towering threat of 14 means that he will only be able to fit into certain builds. This doesn’t mean there isn’t room for quite a bit of creativity due to him being Neutral and having universal sphere access, but the options are more limited. Time will tell if I am wrong on this point and perhaps I am merely blinded by the shiny newness, but I feel that Gandalf in this incarnation is a net positive for the game and the meta and hits the mark perfectly. Surely, designing this particular hero is one of the biggest challenges the designers have ever faced, but when I have Gandalf on the table, I feel like I am controlling Gandalf, and that’s the highest praise I can give.

Versatility: ♦♦♦♦◊

Efficiency: ♦♦♦♦♦

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦♦♦

Possible Attachment Choices: Gandalf’s Staff, Wizard Pipe, Steward of Gondor, Unexpected Courage, A Burning Brand, songs, and the list goes on…

Conclusion

Readers will perhaps notice that I didn’t discuss Gandalf’s Staff much at all and made only fleeting references to Wizard Pipe and Flame of Anor. This was intentional, as I want to give those cards the full review treatment later without spoiling all the fun now, so I’ve endeavored to focus on the Gandalf card itself as much as possible. When it comes to the hero, I find it likely that I will be playing plenty of Gandalf in the near future. However, I do wonder what his staying power will be? Will myself and others eventually tire of trotting out Gandalf at every opportunity? Will his toys and tricks eventually grow old? Or will he make an indelible mark on the game and be featured in decks years from now? Time will have to tell on these larger questions. For now, I have little time for such lofty inquiries, as I’m too busy shouting “You cannot pass!” at every adversary as I smash on the minions of Mordor with my new Istari pal.

 

Readers, what are your thoughts on Gandalf? What are your favorite Gandalf combos? Will you use him? Is he good or bad for the game? Can he make up for the loss of ally Gandalf in multiplayer? Is he the new Glorfindel? What is Gandalf’s favorite food? So many questions!

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72 Comments
  1. edvandofilho permalink

    One way to overcome the only one Gandalf in the table is to not care about it. Here in my meta, ppl dont care and sometimes Aragorn appears 3 times in the same table! Maybe not legal, but when playing with Random ppl better then not to play.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      That’s certainly one way around it! I tend to be a bit more on the stickler side of things personally BUT I also don’t look down on anyone who chooses to go about things in this way. Whatever keeps the game fun for you or gets people playing is ok in my book.

  2. Thaddeus Papke permalink

    Hero Gandalf’s biggest impact on the meta is how he prevents Ally Gandalf from being played.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Definitely. I wonder if this will pretty much play out based on how people already feel about ally Gandalf. In other words, if they feel he is indispensable, then hero Gandalf won’t see the light of day in their particular circle. If they view him as not necessarily essential, then Gandalf will find a bigger place.

  3. kidohearts permalink

    There is going to be a ton of Gandalf love so I’m going to play devil with my first quick impressions.

    1. Blocks ally Gandalf and I’ve seen many and played many games where ally version is absolutely clutch, especially with Sneak Attack. And if you play with unknown players they may get stuck with Gandalf in their hand.

    2. Very high threat which I think will limit players with the heroes to combine with him, I mean seriously how many Gandalf decks are going to have Spirit Glorfindel

    3. Do you want to rely on super combo deck. How many games will you play where he piles up resources or you need to draw your songs or play a decent amount of neutral cards or your really hoping for Steward so you can play the card before you draw it. Are people going to mulligan if they don’t get staff or pipe. If you play out of sphere cards and then draw them, or someone plays draw cards and then there in your hand with no way to play them. He will combo greatly with many cards, but when you don’t get the combo going…… We had a friend rely so heavily on Elrond-Vilya that when he didn’t going he only brought our fellowship down.

    Overall I think he will be amazing but I also think some people will deem him the savior of Middle Earth.

    Just quick, late at night thoughts

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Nice thoughts! And I appreciate the devil’s advocate view. To reply quickly:

      1. This definitely makes pick up play even more difficult than it already was. Now, one player will reveal his Gandalf hero and other players will groan and either have to do a quick substitution of their ally Gandalfs or just run with dead cards in hand.

      2. Yes, and this is why I think he won’t be quite as “broken” or at least over-used as Spirit Glorfindel. That high threat limits the available options, although perhaps it will make two-hero decks more popular.

      3. He definitely requires some careful deck building and I could see someone maybe going overboard and trying to splash in too much off-sphere stuff. I think you really have to be selective in doing that and just pick the key cards, set up a few main combos/areas of focus, and not get too over the place. Gandalf also really suits particular play-styles, and players that don’t like the tricksy, manipulation style of play probably won’t find much appeal in the new hero.

  4. Luis Fernández permalink

    I’d have a question about the other hero in the box, Frodo, must you play with him for the campaing quest of Road Darkens or can you play with the other ringbearer (also Frodo) of the Dark Riders box?

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      You can choose either version of Frodo to use, which is great, because it gives you choice. Road Darkens Frodo is great for that attack cancellation ability, but Black Riders Frodo’s ability to get a mulligan on an encounter draw is still pretty crucial. Fortunately, the choice is up to players!

  5. Fouilloux permalink

    The first idée I havé os pairing him with Sam. You could go for the whole hobbit synergie with its one hobbit. Imagine Sam loaded with hobbit cloak, dagger of westerness and the rope. You would have two incredible hero for a starting threat of 22, which is not that bad. For the rest of the cards, I would say that any good card in any sphere that cost 0, 1 or 2 would be good in it. Imagine arwem, daeron’s rune, feint, spirit cancellation etc…

    The other kind of deck in which Gandalf would be amazing would … Outland. But I guess that would be two much…

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I definitely think Gandalf will open up way more possibilities for two hero decks than there has ever been before and Sam does make a nice companion. And you could load up the pipes as well!

  6. Love him! Finally Gandalf Hero. I’m going to fight the Balrog, Saruman and The Witch-King with him! Bring it on, foul creatures!

    But seriously he is strong. He is surely no Splorfindel which we need a cure for, because his threath is really to high. Also, you have to deckbuild around him really well! If you don’t stumble arcross Wizard Pipe you could end up with a hand of dead cards.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yeah, I think that’s one reason he doesn’t bother me as much as Splorfindel: he does give tons of choices and requires some skill in deck building (or at least thought), where as Glorfindel is pretty much a plug and play type character.

      Just to share my experience with Gandalf so far, I have yet to play a game where I didn’t get Wizard Pipe attached within the first 3 rounds. Ally Bilbo is so helpful in this regard that getting the Pipe on Gandalf is actually easier than getting LIght of Valinor on Glorfindel.

      • Bilbo is indeed a great friend of Gandalf and with Word of Command you could include many 1deck cards. I might even include Fal of Gil-Galad against Balrpg and sacrifice Gandalf. Then use Fortune or Fate to get him back asap. 🙂 fooled you Balrog! 😉

  7. I think we’ll be house-ruling to let Gandalf have Light of Valinor (thematically, aside from Glorfindel, he probably makes the most sense, certainly more than any of the Elrond family, or the Silvans) – I think at that point, he’ll be able to pull his weight…

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      With all the Gandalf love in this expansion, it’s interesting that he got disposable readying (through Flame of Anor) rather than the permanent readying of something like LIght of Valinor. I have to imagine this was some kind of intentional limitation on the part of the designers, although it’s fairly trivial to just throw Unexpected Courage on him.

  8. Gandalf makes Radagast a useful ally again! This is because Radagast can carry an extra copy of Wizard Pipe since Gandalf is limited to one.

    • And of course using Radagast outside of Gandalf decks becomes an interesting possibility! Partnered with Wizard Pipe, Radagast becomes a poor man’s Gildor Inglorion.

      • TalesfromtheCards permalink

        It’d be interesting if we get more Istari love in the future now that Gandalf is around, which could only benefit Radagast. Will we ever get a Radagast’s Staff as well? One of the main ways they could make Radagast even more relevant in the future would be to introduce creature allies aside from the Eagles. That said, I’m not sure if many players would be happy to see player card slots devoted to bunny #3 and hedgehog #37.

        • Silver Swan permalink

          A thematic and powerful way to add more creature allies would be to expand the Beorning trait, perhaps with a hero Radagast. (FFG would have to do something like that to put out Radagast’s staff with.)
          Beorn (and his descendants) could turn into a bear, he had all sorts of creatures serving him, and he already knew Radagast when Thorin and company first meet him. Beorn says, “Yes, I know Radagast. So you’re his brother?” Also that’s a trait that hasn’t been developed yet.

          • TalesfromtheCards permalink

            I personally would love to see this kind of thing happen. Although we technically got a Mirkwood cycle, we didn’t really get to explore the people of that land yet, not in an extensive way. I want to see a hero Radagast, more Beornings, helpful creature allies, Thranduil and his Elves, Dale stuff, and more!

            • Kjeld permalink

              I recently tried my hand at creating some custom cards for a Wilderlands set. I was designing some custom quests set out in the wild areas of Middle Earth, and realized that the card pool was more limited thematically in this area than I would have liked. So I created the characters and cards I would like to see, including a bunch of Beornings, Radagast and his staff, some creatures, a few Dale and Woodman characters, and some other odds and ends. It’s all up on a google drive, I may get around to making them available on OCTGN at some point, once I’ve tested them some more. Here’s the link: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B5qvgQXfhT75VUJOc3lkc2JMUjQ&usp=sharing.

              • TalesfromtheCards permalink

                Those are some nicely designed cards! I’d love to see some stuff along these lines in a future expansion.

        • Don J. permalink

          One: another great review, love this stuff; two, If I get to travel from Bag End to Mount Doom with a couple of Istari and an army of bunnies, I’ll die happy.

  9. Nusse permalink

    I’m wondering if Gandalf can attach a burning brand to himself? While playing it, he is considered to have a Lore icon, so does that make him a valid target as the attachment is being played?

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yes, and it’s a great choice for him!

  10. Nusse permalink

    oops, never mind…

  11. Gwaihir the Windlord permalink

    Hero Gandalf: what we’ve all been waiting for! Yet there is one slight drawback. Has he come too late?

    Core Gandalf was a hit right off the bat, and became a must-have in every deck built. It’s been four years since the initial release of Gandalf, and he is included in many, many decks (especially Tactics, as there is currently no other form of threat reduction for mono-red decks) as a form of a game-saver. Hobbit Gandalf? I, for one, find it much better to use a one-time option (out of Gandalf’s three) than to have a semi-permanent, threat-raising ally, even despite the readying. Now we have a hero Gandalf. Sticking him in any old deck will not do. Indeed, I think he will see much less table time than Core Gandalf, for the simple reason that Core Gandalf becomes the savior of All Things Tactics. Not that the hero versionis useless – on the contrary! However, the high threat cost of Gandalf will be his downfall, unless FFG comes out with some more two-hero-friendly cards. At least on my table, he will see less playing time than his Core counterpart.

    What about the rest of the community? Who do you think will see more playing time of the three Gandalfs: Core, Hobbit, or Hero?

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I imagine that Core Gandalf will continue to see the most use because: 1) he is the easiest to fit into almost any deck, 2) he doesn’t create any unique clashing issues, 3) players are used to using him. The hero version will probably see heavy use for the next bit of time until the new hotness comes around, while I anticipate the Hobbit version in 3rd. I’ll add that I think Hobbit Gandalf is continually underrated and can almost single-handedly win scenarios for decks. He’s even better now with Gandalf’s Staff and Flame of Anor lurking around.

      • Gwaihir the Windlord permalink

        Thanks for the response! That is true about Hobbit Gandalf. I do underrate him for three simple reasons: 1) I love Tactics, 2) Mono-red all the way, and 3) did I mention I love Tactics? 😉 Core Gandalf is just the better choice to keep my threat under control.

  12. Pengolodh permalink

    Just a quick question: Can Hero Gandalf pay for cards outside of neutral in a player’s hand? Also, I think Gandalf is amazing just by stats, and his ability is out of this world. And, in Journey in the Dark, Fall of Gil-galad may come in use. Attach it to a hero who you are going to discard (Gandalf, for theme?) and have your threat lowered by a huge amount.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      No, he can’t pay for cards in your hand, because he doesn’t have a resource match. He only gains a match when playing the top card of your deck.

  13. Master Beta permalink

    You’ve not mentioned what I think is his biggest weakness – no more sneak attack Gandalf and no more ally Gandalf in general. This will be especially significant in multi-player games as you will be blocking everyone from doing a sneak attack big G.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      ” I have yet to mention the biggest oliphaunt in the room, which is the fact that including Gandalf as a hero in your deck means that no Gandalf allies can be included in your deck or anyone’s deck.”

      In the article, I devote some time to discussing the issue, concluding that it really comes down to the preferences of the group you’re playing with and how dependent they are on big G and Sneak Attack in the first place. With the people I tend to play with, Gandalf isn’t necessarily omnipresent, so I could see using hero Gandalf with them. This isn’t to say that Sneak Attack/Gandalf still isn’t one of the strongest combos around and that this isn’t a weakness of the hero. I think it’s actually a positive that he has some kind of built-in weakness and losing use of ally Gandalf at least makes using the hero hurt a little bit to prevent him from being overpowered.

    • kidohearts permalink

      And that was my first point

  14. Surprised no one has mentioned Word of Command yet. With ally Bilbo and Word of Command, plus a Spirit and Lore hero, you can very often get Wizard Pipe out on turn one, and almost certainly by turn two.

    Plus, Word of Command lets you put a lot of one-copy cards in your deck, vs. 2x or 3x of everything. One ally Beorn? Sure! One ally Haldir? Yup! Just dig ’em out with Word of Command, and use Scroll of Isildur to recycle it.

    Miruvor and Unexpected Courage are must-haves though, to ready Gandalf after you used Word of Command…

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      That’s a good shout. Word of Command is a good choice to go fetching. On the Wizard Pipe issue, you’re definitely correct about how easy it is to get it into play. I’ve played quite a bit with Gandalf already, and I can’t remember a game where I got the Pipe into play later than round 3, and round 1 or 2 is the norm.

  15. Hey there, nice article. I have been playing with Gandalf a ton and he is so good that he might be overpowered. The card advantage and color fixing is insane so that you can put him in any three color deck. He combos exceptionally well with stargazer and 0 cost event cards (because he can play them in the resource phase, travel phase, etc.) Gathering strength, for instance, is basically an auto include. The staff is amazing, totally replacing any lack of Gandalf ally. It is basically a less powerful steward of gondor that can discard shadow cards in a pinch (the card draw is the least important ability because Gandalf already draws you so many cards). The pipe is essential, but Bilbo takes care of that.

    Mainly, I love Gandalf because the decks he makes are totally different, stylistically. The flavor of Gandalf is spot on.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I would agree that he tends towards the overpowered side, especially when his goodies get into play. I’ll probably say more about it in the attachments review, but I think Gandalf’s Staff is pretty insane. It is just such an amazing and versatile tool for only 2 resources.

      That being said, I also agree with you that I’m fine with how he is because of how well he hits the theme and the deck building fun he brings to the table.

  16. Glowwyrm permalink

    I haven’t built with him yet because I’ve been focused on continuing my campaign, but I want to try a Gandalf-Tactics combat deck. If you’re the combat deck in a two-player or more environment, the starting threat isn’t as much of a problem because you want to start high. And Gandalf solves the biggest weaknesses of Tactics: consistent resource generation and card draw (he does this by himself, but you can splash from other spheres to do this too). And, you could splash some threat reduction to make sure you don’t threat out. I think he offers a lot of of interesting building possibilities, which is always what I’m looking for in a hero.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      This is where Gandalf’s value as a Neutral hero really comes in. He can bring in card draw, questing, shadow cancellation, and resources to Tactics to actually make a “mono-Tactics” deck work really well. Obviously, it wouldn’t truly be mono-Tactics, but I think it definitely opens up some more possibilities for that sphere in particular. The only issue is that most Tactics heroes already have high threat, but you could always throw in Merry, which starts you off at 20, and then the third hero will start you off somewhere between 29-32 for Tactics, which is pretty normal.

  17. kidohearts permalink

    I hope people remember that with the Staff if you use the discard Shadow card it has to be before you flip it, once it’s flipped only responses such as Hasty Stroke are allowed until after resolution. But still great if you could get a Spirit character out with Silver Lamp.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I’ve actually seen this question asked quite a few times of late, so it’s definitely a good reminder. I actually use the shadow cancellation function of the staff quite a bit. An extra card and resource is great, but I find that shadows are one of the few things that can actually derail my Gandalf deck, so I’ll gladly just discard a shadow blindly to play it safe and forego the card or resource.

  18. this was the exchange the other night with my buddy:

    Him: “You’re gonna need to drop your ally Gandalfs b/c i’m bringing the new hero version”
    Me: “No problem! I’ll sub in the new ally Elrond – he’s awesome”
    Him: “Actually…I’m taking hero Elrond…and Spirit Glorfindel”
    Me: “Oh…”

    His deck wrecked everything that it came across from turn 3 onward. Hero Gandalf isn’t a fad, he’s here to stay. I’m glad that I started weening myself off the ally version a while ago

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Just hogging up all the good characters, isn’t he?! In seriousness, that’s definitely a potent combination. Such a deck could probably handle most scenarios.

      • The only possible scenario where I see the deck suffering is decks that throw a ton at the players right off the bat, like Nightmare Journey Down the Anduin. If the players are forced to chump the Hill Troll then the Gandalf deck’s threat would get real high real fast

    • kidohearts permalink

      And again, Spirit Glorfindel, lol

  19. I put together a deck with Gandalf, Elrond,and Glorfindel. 32 Starting threat. Honestly, it almost feels like cheating, much like running an Outlands deck. It will be a great deck for playing with newbies or my kids, as it can handle most situations. I am also experimenting with Loragorn in place of Elrond. Not as OP, but more thematic for TRD scenarios.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yeah, there are certain hero combinations with Gandalf that do seem overpowered, mostly revolving around Elrond. I have a hard time imagining scenarios that can actually slow them down. My preferred combination at the moment is Core Aragorn, Gandalf, and Spirit Glorfindel, and that can already get pretty potent, but would be even stronger with Elrond included.

  20. I have been playing a deck with Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel recently to mix sucsess. Gandalf opens up a lot of deck space in the standard Elrond builds as you really dont need Stargazer or Gildor. Biggest issue is the 36 starting threat and the hoards of enemies that swarm me right from the start. If I get past the first onslaught, the deck works really well.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I think we’re starting to move into a new era of the game where high starting threat is not as big of an issue as it was in the past, simply due to the pure power of certain high threat heroes. Of course, it still has to be managed well because of the issue with enemy swarms that you bring up, but it’ll be interesting to see how this trend develops.

      • Master Beta permalink

        It’s also much better to kill enemies right from the get go, and thus remove them from the board completely, than it is to leave them in the staging area.

  21. kidohearts permalink

    And just when you think starting with high threat was fine…. BAM, encounter deck fires back, or I would if I was Caleb and Matt, lol

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Knowing Caleb and Matt and how they like to screw with the meta, that actually seems pretty likely!

      • kidohearts permalink

        And I hope they do, you should never get too comfortable while exploring Middle Earth, lol.

  22. hildargo permalink

    I’m interested to see the builds that everyone is coming up with. I just got my The Road Darkens expansion and built a Lore Aragorn/Denethor/Gandalf quad-sphere deck. A lot of fun to play with, and there are a lot of choices to make when playing and deckbuilding. Powerful? Yes. Broken? No.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I’ve been using Core Aragorn/Spirit Glorfindel/Gandalf so far, but I’d like to explore 2 Hobbits and 1 Gandalf. I’m thinking Gandalf/Sam/Lore Pippin.

  23. Chris S permalink

    Great write up as always! Very excited to try him out. I am, however slightly disappointed that there was no Narya attachment for him.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Me too. I’m really hoping that we get a Narya attachment soon. Something that represents inspiration or encouragement.

  24. Tracker1 permalink

    After playing with Gandalf Hero now for a bit in solo decks, I’d say he is probably the most interesting hero to build a deck and play with than any other we have. Many heroes are some what one sided in what they bring to the table. Even Spirt Glorfindel has a pretty defined role in a deck quest/ attack etc.

    When building a deck with Gandalf he can fill the role of any of the main roles in a deck (quest, attack, defend) or some or all of them with action advantage.

    Wizard staff, which is incredible, also provides me with some interesting choices about what to use it for.

    Before Wizard Pipe came out Gandalf’s limitation was quite obvious, but now with the pipe there is no worry about getting dead cards stuck in hand or relying on 5 cost Gildor. Any card from any sphere can be played put in a deck with him, regardless of the resource match of the other heroes. There are just so many possibilities to explore.

    The big limiting factor is the high threat, and I’ve been having to stomach making decks with him that start in the mid 30’s which for many scenarios is not bad, but others a real killer. An interesting dilemma that i’m realizing is that with these high threat decks i don’t have Gandalf core ally to help reduce it. So, spirit threat reduction cards are about it, other than a lore event which i never use. Right now i’ve been playing him with Aragorn lore get that job done with out spirit.

    With the need for reducing threat coupled with Gandalf’s high starting threat only makes the appeal of paring him with Spirit Glorfindel even more apparent, the two of them together are pretty nuts. Through in Elrond and 32 threat is not so bad. One elrond’s counsel in opening hand brings down to 29.

    So, overall Gandalf offers a completely new way to play the game and it seems like anything goes, but he is a bit limited in how he can be paired with other heroes, and may suffer as having Glorfindel as the third wheel in many of his decks, similar to how Grima and Aragorn lore work. But there are still may more heroes and player cards to come which may change things around in the future, but to some it up the developers did a great job crafting this hero, they captured the characters uniqueness perfectly in how he plays.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I think the fact that deck building with him is actually interesting is why I don’t have a problem with Gandalf being on the powerful side of things. My problem with Outlands has never really been just with their insane power level, but with the way in which they tend to feel really boring to me. There’s no interesting deck building to be had there. By contrast, there’s plenty of room to explore with Gandalf and interesting combinations to try out. The only thing I don’t like about hero Gandalf is what you mentioned: that he is tied at the hip a bit to Spirit Glorfindel. However, I look forward to looking for ways to get around this, with Hobbits, low threat heroes, two hero decks, etc.

  25. The lack of being able to Sneak Attack Gandalf into play is a pain, but I think there are several other alternatives for Sneak Attack that can be explored by these new decks.

    Ally Faramir has always been a useful alternative for me, to provide that extra boost whilst questing if there aren’t enough resources for him yet. Erebor Battle Master has saved my bacon a couple of times as well in the combat phase, especially when faced with an extra Hill Troll I wasn’t expecting. The new Ally Elrond is a possibility as well (I assume Galadriel is a no no as her ability says play from hand, shame). Being able to bounce him in and out with that healing effect is sweet. Assuming no one else is playing the hero of course

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I’m still a big fan of Sneak Attack/Beorn!

  26. Noccus permalink

    60th comment! It’s a new record!!!

    Oh and Gandalf is awsome. Period.

  27. Kooltone permalink

    I’m a new player, so I may be wrong about this, but couldn’t you include hero Gandalf and two copies of Core Gandalf in your in deck and play an ally Gandalf after hero Gandalf is defeated? That would be interesting.

    • Thaddeus Papke permalink

      That seems legit. Although, planning on losing a Hero usually isn’t the best strategy.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      That would totally be legit. As Thaddeus said, the only problem would be that it would be inconsistent as you wouldn’t always be losing a hero (hopefully).

  28. Aeglos permalink

    Gandalf+Elrond+Glorfindel (spirit, obviously) = much pain to nightmare quests in pure solo! For a starting threat of 32, you get 3 heroes with 3 willpower, 2 heroes with 3 attack, and 2 heroes with 2 defense!

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      It’s funny you mention that, because I just recently took that same hero lineup and obliterated quite a few of the nightmare quests. It’s really a top tier deck, on the same level as Dwarves.

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