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Deck Spotlight: Faithful Servants of Rohan

by on November 13, 2014

 

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When Grima was announced as one of the heroes of the Voice of Isengard expansion, I, for one, was ecstatic. While some questioned the decision to make one of the villains of The Lord of the Rings not just an ally, but an actual hero, the choice appealed to my sensibilities as a player. Although replaying and reliving events from the actual story does hold some appeal, I really enjoy alternate history and “what if” storytelling a whole lot more, so being able to weave a tale in which Grima overcomes the darkness within and takes the path of a hero is compelling stuff. In terms of gameplay, Grima is a Lore hero with a powerful ability that also takes some thought to get working properly, all things I love. Still, when I finally got a hold of Grima, my excitement dimmed a bit. I couldn’t quite find a Grima deck that I was happy with and that made me look forward to playing it. Some of them worked well enough, but there just wasn’t enough there to keep me engaged. Finally, though, something clicked in my head and I realized the answer was staring me in the face. I had teamed Grima up with all kinds of heroes, with Lore Aragorn and Spirit Glorfindel being obvious candidates, but his home is Rohan, and that’s where I needed to place him. With this in mind, an unconventional Rohan deck formed around the hero/villain known as Grima, and the whole process of creating this deck reminded me of why I was so excited in the first place.

The “Faithful Servants of Rohan” deck features Grima, Eowyn, and Eomer. The title is a bit of play on words and theme. In the chapter, “King of the Golden Hall”, of The Two Towers, Grima declares himself to always have been faithful to Theoden, while Gandalf reveals him as a traitor, and one that has rendered “faithful service” to Saruman, rather than the King of Rohan. In this deck, though, we have an alternate history where Grima is indeed a faithful servant of Rohan, although one who is undoubtedly continually tempted by darkness and the offers of Saruman. There also are obviously rich thematic connections between the three heroes that form an integral part of Grima’s story. It is implied that a major element in Grima’s betrayal was Saruman’s promise that Eowyn would be his, while Eomer was imprisoned for threatening Grima with death, in large part because of Grima’s creepy behavior toward his sister. Here, perhaps, we have a Grima that exists uneasily with the other 2 heroes, no doubt enamored with Eowyn and not fully trusted by Eomer, but working in partnership with them for the good of Rohan.

Deck List:

Hero (3)
1x Gríma
1x Éowyn
1x Éomer

Ally (24)
2x Gléowine
2x Isengard Messenger
3x Warden of Healing
3x Westfold Horse-breeder
3x West Road Traveller
2x Guthlaf
3x Escort from Edoras
3x Westfold Outrider
3x Gandalf

Attachment (14)
3x Keys of Orthanc
2x Rohan Warhorse
2x Firefoot
2x A Burning Brand
2x Protector of Lórien
3x Expert Treasure-hunter

Event (16)
3x Deep Knowledge
3x A Test of Will
3x Stand and Fight
3x The Galadhrim’s Greeting
3x Feint
1x Astonishing Speed

Total Deck Size: 54

Expansions Needed (8): Voice of Isengard, The Long Dark, Conflict at the Carrock, Return to Mirkwood, The Blood of Gondor, A Journey to Rhosgobel, The Dunland Trap, On the Doorstep

Theme: Doomed, Cost Reduction, Chump Blocking, Card Draw

Spheres: Lore/Spirit/Tactics

Strategy: The main strategy of this deck revolves around using card draw and Grima’s cost reduction ability to quickly get an army of cheap Rohan allies into play. Normally, finding the resources to pay for cards is difficult in tri-sphere, which is exactly where Grima proves his quality. Most of the Rohan allies in this deck, and most Rohan allies in general, cost 2 resources, which would normally require a round of saving to afford. However, Grima can reduce the cost of any 2-cost Rohan ally to 1, meaning that as long as 1 of these allies is in hand, at least 1 Rohan ally can be played each round without fail. This actually works out very well, and shows Grima to be a perfect component in a Rohan deck and Rohan strategy, rather than an outlier. With the constant activation of the Doomed keyword, Keys of Orthanc becomes very useful, and I generally give them to Eowyn, since this deck places a heavy emphasis on Spirit, both in terms of useful allies and events. With resources and cost reduction available, the other part of the equation is card draw, and Grima brings this to the table as well. In general, card draw is a noted weakness of Rohan, unless you’re willing to completely throw out theme, mostly because Spirit and Tactis, the main spheres of Rohan, are lacking in that department. However, Grima brings access to Lore and all the card draw a player needs. Again, far from being an odd man out, Grima actually helps to compensate for the weaknesses of Rohan and better enable the Rohan strategy of mustering allies to function. Expert Treasure-hunter is the repeatable card draw engine of this deck, and is the card that I’m usually looking to get in my opening hand. Although I don’t have a means to look at my own deck to make this draw foolproof, I’m perfectly happy even if Expert Treasure-hunter discards a card and essentially thins my deck, especially since I have Stand and Fight to bring back any useful Spirit allies that are discarded. Beyond Expert Treasure-hunter, Gleowine also provide repeatable card draw, while Deep Knowledge fits in with the Doomed theme and provides great value. With all this card draw, cost reduction, and resource generation, the core elements of the game are covered, allies can be continually dumped onto the table, Grima can even become a decent defender with the help of A Burning Brand, Warden of Healing, and Protector of Lorien (oh Grima, is there anything you can’t do?).

Westfold_Horse-breeder

Moving beyond Grima, the other 2 heroes have fairly straightforward roles. Eowyn will quest every single round, and is the first recipient of Expert Treasure-hunter for that reason. Eomer is there to take care of all attacking duties, and with Firefoot and the bonus from an ally leaving play, can swing from 7 all on his own, with the Westfold Outriders providing extra support, if needed. Even better, the Rohan Warhorse can allow him to attack twice if necessary, which is great since he is the main attacking option. In terms of allies, the main questing support is provided by the West Road Traveller, Isengard Messenger, Escort from Edoras, and Gandalf. The latter two work well within the deck, as they can trigger Eomer’s bonus without the need for chump blocking. Speaking of sacrificial lambs, the Westfold Horse-breeder is the main chump blocker of choice because she is so cheap, although many of the other allies can fill the same role. Chump blocking is indeed the main defensive strategy of the deck, with Grima serving as  Plan B. Thankfully, Stand and Fight is a fantastic option to bring back allies after they are discarded, and since it is an event, I can use it to bring back one of those 1-cost Horse-breeders during the combat phase in case of an emergency or simply to bring back a useful ally that was trashed by Expert Treasure-hunter. With all the threat boosting effects and Doomed floating around, threat reduction is definitely necessary, and this is where Gandalf and The Galadhrim’s Greeting enter the picture, both of which can be played for a reduced cost thanks to Grima.

How It Was Constructed: The deck began with the idea of a Rohan deck centered around Grima and quickly coalesced from there. With Spirit and Tactics being the main Rohan spheres, Eowyn and Eomer leapt out as clear choices from each of the spheres, with the former bringing the questing and the latter bringing the combat. Thematically, the trio made perfect sense as well. From there, it was really a matter of figuring out the right balance of Doomed effects, ally types, as well as determining how closely I wanted to stick to the Rohan theme. I found card draw to be a bit lacking for my tastes, even with Deep Knowledge and Gleowine, and adding in Expert Treasure-hunter really made everything work more smoothly. Since Gleowine is the only Rohan ally from Lore, one difficult aspect was figuring out what other allies from the Lore sphere I should choose. Eventually, Warden of Healing turned out to be the best choice in order to further cover for defensive weaknesses, as well as guard against archery and direct damage, especially since the heroes have to be do the most soaking in the absence of big, unique allies with large hit point pools. Steed of the Mark was an early choice to fit the theme and to help Grima both quest and defend, but it simply ended up sitting in my hand far too often for my liking. Rohan Warhorse replaced it and proved more useful.

Possible Combos:

1) Deep Knowledge + Isengard Messenger + Grima: It’s always nice to have some willpower that you can manipulate at will to provide flexibility. With Deep Knowledge being an event, I can use it in the middle of the quest phase to not only draw cards, but boost the willpower of Isengard Messenger by 1. Grima, of course, can do this as well with his own ability if I play an event with it, or do it proactively during the planning phase.

2) Eomer + Firefoot + Westfold Horse-breeder: The Westfold Horse-breeder can fetch Firefoot for Eomer, which boosts his attack by 2. Then, during the combat phase, the Westfold Horse-breeder can be used as a chump blocker, ramping Eomer’s attack up to an impressive 7. Take one for the team, little Horse-breeder!

3) Eomer + Firefoot + Escort from Edoras: The Escort from Edoras provides great value in this deck. He can be played for only 1 resource using Grima, while contributing 4 willpower for those big quest pushes. Then, when he leaves play after the quest resolves, he boosts Eomer’s attack by 2 for use in the combat phase.

4) Grima + Protector of Lorien + A Burning Brand + Warden of Healing: Chump blocking may be the order of the day, but long-time readers of this blog will know that I’m all about building in redundancies and back up plans. In this case, when taking into account the card draw this deck has available, Grima can use Protector of Lorien and A Burning Brand to defend against strong enemies. Even without Protector of Lorien, A Burning Brand can allow him to take a hit of up to 4 attack strength, with the Warden of Healing available to heal some of that damage afterwards.

5) Stand and Fight + Westfold Horse-breeder: Stand and Fight really pulls its weight in Rohan decks, but is especially useful here. I can sacrifice a Horse-breeder to block one attack, then immediately play Stand and Fight to bring her back to block a second attack! This not only covers 2 attacks with one puny 1-cost ally, it also helps search for Mounts, as the Horse-breeder’s ability triggers each time she enters play. Even better, if you don’t use Grima’s ability earlier in a turn, you can still activate it in order to use this combo for free during the combat phase.

6) Astonishing Speed + Grima + Rohan ally army: I only have 1 copy of Astonishing Speed in the deck, but it’s designed to serve as a late game play to facilitate an all-out quest push. With a large ally army on the table and Grima cutting the cost of Astonishing Speed to 2, this is a great way to boost all Rohan character’s willpower by 2 and just demolish the last stage of a quest.

Variations: The three heroes of this deck really need to stay the same in order for it to be a variation of this deck, rather than a completely new deck. However, there are a few cards that I either cut or considered adding that could create some variations on this theme:

* Forth Eorlingas – I really wanted to make this work, as I love the card and have had some success with it in other decks. The idea of a pumped up Eomer running rough shod over an enemy in the staging area is certainly appealing. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t fit well in a deck where Grima is constantly pushing the threat dial up and forcing enemy engagement. While present in early builds of this deck, it was replaced by Astonishing Speed.

* Steed of the Mark – I mentioned earlier that I tried to make Steed of the Mark work, but ended up cutting it in favor of Rohan Warhorse. I liked the idea of providing thematic readying for Grima so that he could both quest and defend, with Protector of Lorien available to help either, but there always ended up being something more worthwhile to play. This may change though with a couple of upcoming cards…

* Helm! Helm! – This upcoming event from The Treason of Saruman allows a Rohan ally to exhaust to discard a non-unique enemy after enemy attacks have been resolved. This is a fantastic ability that can wipe out huge enemies with a single 1-cost Westfold Horse-breeder, for example. Grima will be able to drop the cost of 2 down to 1, and this deck can make great use out of it with the focus on cheap Rohan allies. You could even chump block with a Horse-breeder, then use Stand and Fight to bring it back in order to use it for Helm! Helm!, discarding that enemy from play! Helm! Helm! indeed.

* Charge of the Rohirrim – This upcoming event from Celebrimbor’s Secret is a 2-cost Tactics event that gives +3 attack to each character with a Mount attachment. I might be tempted to add Steed of the Mark back in, and have Grima join with Eomer in an epic ride for the ages. And just when you thought Grima couldn’t attack!

* Westfold Horse-Breaker/The Riddermark’s Finest: It came down to choosing between the Horse-Breaker and The Riddermark’s Finest. The thought of discarding the Horse-Breaker to ready Eomer (or Grima), bumping Eomer up by 2 if he hadn’t yet received a boost, was certainly tempting. I could even defend with Eomer, then discard the Horse-Breaker to ready him for attack in full rage mode. However, the addition of Rohan Warhorse made further action advantage for Eomer a bit redundant, and the potential location control of The Riddermark’s Finest seemed more consistently useful. Ironically, though, I ended up cutting The Riddermark’s Finest as well, in favor of Guthlaf. I needed some more balance in the spheres, and Guthlaf costs only 2 (1 with Grima’s discount), while providing a balanced set of stats.

* Saruman: I would love to include Saruman in this deck, as pairing him with Grima just feels right. Unfortunately, without the massive threat reduction of Lore Aragorn that many other Grima decks rely upon, the Doomed 3 of Saruman (Doomed 4 if you take Grima’s cost discount) is just too much to bear.

Final Thoughts: Grima really comes into his own in a Rohan deck, which really makes sense when you think about it. Not only does Rohan support Grima, though, but Grima actually works well to cover up some of Rohan’s key weaknesses (card draw and defense), mostly thanks to access to Lore. All of this is not to say that this is the only viable build for a Grima deck, far from it. Grima can work well in a wide variety of decks and is not tied to his Rohan trait by any means. There are some definite weaknesses to this deck. One is that the threat reduction available doesn’t keep threat under control as much as having Lore Aragorn or using a low threat hero like Glorfindel would. It’s important to be able to keep the pace of questing going, because if things bog down, threat may become too much of an issue. Obviously, this becomes more of an issue against scenarios that ramp up player threat as well. Another weakness is the vulnerability of the allies, with several of them only having 1 hit point. Against quests that directly damage allies, this can be deadly and wipe half your board with a single effect. Due to the use of Grima, this also is a deck that is better used in solo play than multiplayer. Despite all those caveats though, it’s great fun to play a thematic fun centered around Grima that really brings out the story behind the character, rather than reducing him simply to his mechanical elements. So spare a thought for the one known as Wormtongue; he is working hard for his redemption on my table!

 

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18 Comments
  1. cool stuff, I love my Grima deck(s), and like you I was excited to see one of the less savory characters given a chance to hit the tabletop. Whereas my Grima deck is primarily built for multi-player I like how yours can be quite strong in solo play. Right now my play is split roughly 50-50 between solo and multi-player so I’ll definitely give this a shot!

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Awesome. What heroes do you typically use with Grima?

  2. JoeNotCharles permalink

    I’d love to try this deck out, but I’m missing the key Expert Treasure Hunter card. What’s a good alternative for card draw in this deck? (I have all the Shadows of Mirkwood expansions, Voice of Isengard, and Dunland Trap to draw from.)

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      With the card pool you have, I think the best bet is probably Ancient Mathom. You could potentially play it for free with Grima and it can net you 3 cards.

  3. I was so excited about Doomed decks when VoI was released, but I’ve really been disappointed in the theme since then. It’s just impossible to use outside of solo play. I very rarely get the chance to play by myself, and convincing 1-3 other people to play around my doomed deck is a no-go.

    If the benefits were more outrageous people would find a way to make it work, but the power of Doomed effects rarely seems to warrant the cost of threat on even one player, much less four. I think I imagined doomed cards would have you taking this absurd gamble with threat but reaping incredible rewards in the short term as a result. Instead the effects are mostly average to above average.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Certainly. Doomed needs more development, and it hasn’t ended up feeling as cohesive as I thought it would. I find myself splashing in Doomed cards a lot to other decks, especially Deep Knowledge and Power of Orthanc, but outside of certain Grima builds, I don’t find myself building Doomed decks per se, as I did find them not to provide enough power for the cost in threat. The real trick is in using these effects to enhance other deck types, rather than having them stand on their own, it seems.

  4. Glowwyrm permalink

    I just threw together a Celeborn-Galadriel-Grima silvan deck and it’s awesome. The extra resources Grima provides usually mean an extra silvan hits the table per turn. And Galadriel makes the deck more multi-player friendly because I can lower their threat (and give them a card) if Grima sends it too high, while lowering my own threat with Galadriel’s Handmaiden and Island Amidst Perils.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Awesome! I think that combo works so well for the same reason as this one: I think Grima’s sweet spot is tri-sphere in a deck type focused around relatively cheap allies. The use of Galadriel to mitigate the threat is awesome though.

      • Ichthys permalink

        Can he also work together with O Lórien to lower greatly the cost of silvan allies?

        • TalesfromtheCards permalink

          Yeah, definitely. You can combine the 2 effects and get Silvan allies out for ridiculously cheap or even free.

          • Luke Hector permalink

            Ooooh idea. . . . . . . . tried Silvan Lore/Leadership recently and it just barely got me through the Ford at Isen and failed miserably on To Catch An Orc. So I broke it up! 😛 Unfortunately no deck I’ve got has helped me with Into Fangorn as I think I broke up my Rohan Ultra-Hyper Quest deck a while back!

            • TalesfromtheCards permalink

              Grima works really well in Silvan. I’ve got a deck these days that uses him in a similar way as this Rohan one, although even better with O Lorien around. Grima is actually one of my favorite heroes in solo play, just makes everything tick so much faster.

    • I really like your idea Glowwyrm, it really looks like a good idea. I guess it is designed for multiplayer? I say it because of the lack of a hero good on attack, which can cause a flood of enemies. I am right or maybe I am missing something?

  5. AKA ‘The Super Awkward Suitor’ deck

  6. sweetnesswhachacha permalink

    Interesting build! Tri sphere really is made much easier with Grima! Nice build and thematic to boot! Bravo!

  7. Benji permalink

    So…. Grima is actually good before Saruman becomes corrupted, he is later hired by the wizard… Sorry, I just had to correct your lore. It isn’t a “what if” situation.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      It’s a “what if” scenario in that during the time period of many of the scenarios in the game (roughly 3017/3018), Grima was already under the influence of Saruman. Grima’s history isn’t well-detailed but his time as a “faithful servant” would have been much earlier. So the game allows you to explore the alternate story of Grima not coming under the influence of Saruman and taking a hero’s path instead.

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