Deck Spotlight: Defenders of Eriador
The Ranger theme is definitely one of my favorites in the game and in Tolkien’s world, whether we’re talking about the Ithilien Rangers under Faramir or the Dunedain Rangers of the North. I’m beyond excited for the upcoming The Lost Realm deluxe expansion, which will focus around the Dunedain and promises to greatly expand this trait in the game, along with the Ranger trait. While the cards that have been spoiled so far speak to a focus on engaging enemies, for a long time I’ve wanted to build a Dunedain Ranger deck around some of the existing cards and heroes with this trait, which cover a gamut of different abilities. This does require some thematic compromises and some mixture/overlap with the Ithilien Ranger themed cards, but with the arrival of the card I’ve been waiting with baited breath for, Wingfoot, I knew it was time to build a deck around this theme and this new attachment. Without further ado, here’s a Dunedain/Eriador/Ranger themed deck worthy of the name Wingfoot!
The “Defenders of Eriador” deck features Lore Aragorn, Beravor, and Samwise Gamgee as the heroes. Lore Aragorn is the perfect symbol of this theme, as this hero represents the character in his incarnation as “Strider”, a Dunedain Ranger who spent a great deal of his life patrolling the wilds of Eriador and keeping the people within that region safe from danger. While Aragorn is pretty much a hero that can do it all, from fighting to leading armies to mastering magical objects to ruling successfully as king, we first meet him as an accomplished tracker who uses his knowledge of the wild to lose the Nazgul’s pursuit, at least temporarily. Beravor, by contrast, is a character that doesn’t appear in the books and is a creation of Fantasy Flight Games. However, we can imagine her as one of the Dunedain of the North (who had Aragorn as their chief), with similar tracking skills to Aragorn, using the land to her advantage whenever possible. It has always struck me that her ability is more a gameplay mechanic than anything else, as I’m not sure what it is supposed to represent, and in the absence of an actual story about the character, there’s not much to go on. However, it’s easy to imagine that the ability is meant to symbolize her going on a scouting mission or foray into the wilds to find information and assistance (“cards”). Finally, our third hero is no Dunedain and certainly no Ranger. However, Samwise Gamgee is a resident of Eriador. More importantly, he brings in the Leadership sphere, which was important to this deck’s conception, along with strong willpower, which is vital for solo play.
Total Deck Size: 54
Expansions Needed (14): The Watcher in the Water, The Black Riders, The Road Darkens, Heirs of Numenor, Encounter at Amon Din, The Dunland Trap, The Long Dark, The Nin-in-Eilph, Conflict at the Carrock, The Hunt for Gollum, Foundations of Stone, Return to Mirkwood, Voice of Isengard, 2nd Core Set
Theme: Encounter Deck Scrying, Card Draw, Traps, Rangers
Spheres: Lore/Leadership (approximately 2/3 Lore and 1/3 Leadership)
Solo or Multiplayer?: Solo preferred due to Doomed effects and heavy reliance on scrying
Strategy: This deck is fairly heavy on attachments and there are two attachment/hero combinations that are particularly vital and need to be set up as early as possible. The first is Wingfoot on Beravor, preferably with Henamarth Riversong on the table (or Rumour from the Earth in hand as Plan B). This allows Beravor to quest, but also use her card draw ability as often as possible. Obviously, this is more important in the early few rounds, when Beravor’s 2 willpower can make a vital difference, but it is a key feature of the deck overall, and is in fact, the first part of it that I conceived. Once this is set up, consistent card draw should not be too much of an issue. The other key attachment to get on the board is Sword that was Broken on Aragorn. This allows the deck to make up for the deficit in natural willpower in the Lore sphere and actually allows this deck to quest better than might be apparent at first glance. Another side benefit is that Sword that was Broken gives Aragorn the Leadership icon, which helps with resource smoothing. Once these two elements are in place, the rest of the deck should fall into place fairly effortlessly. If one or both of these pieces are late in showing up, though, then things can fall apart, especially against more difficult scenarios. Therefore, I’m looking to get either Wingfoot or Sword that was Broken in my opening hand, preferably both.
Card draw is obviously one part of the equation, and one that is provided by Beravor along with Daeron’s Runes, but resources are necessary to make sure these extra cards don’t go to waste. This is where Steward of Gondor plays its usual role. Aragorn is the best recipient for the Steward, once he has the Sword that was Broken, as he can then use these extra resources for Lore and Leadership cards. However, if playing the Steward on Sam early on gives me enough of a benefit, such as playing Sword that was Broken a turn or two earlier than would otherwise be the case, then I will definitely make that play, even if it means wasted resources on Sam later in the game. Besides Steward, another key component, and a card that was added as a tweak to the deck, is Legacy of Numenor. Here, I’m taking advantage of Lore Aragorn’s ability to reset threat to really go for a quick start. Ideally, I’ll draw at least 1 copy in my opening hand. However, if I draw 2, I’ll gladly take the 8 threat to net 6 extra resources on turn one and this can allow me to get the major elements of my deck ready from the very beginning. Obviously, this can put me under early pressure, but I have Aragorn’s threat reset as an option. Finally, in the arena of resource generation/cost reduction, Galadriel proves to be quite useful here, as with 19 attachments in the deck, she will usually hit upon something useful to play, and her 3 willpower helps make up for any willpower deficits (4 willpower with Sword that was Broken).
Of course, this wouldn’t really be a Dunedain or a Ranger deck without some Dunedain or Ranger elements. Encounter deck scrying is a part of the deck that really gives me the sense as a player that I am scouting the land and using those nifty tracking skills that Dunedain and Rangers possess. Obviously, the aforementioned Rumour from the Earth and Henamarth Riversong play a part in this, but Ithilien Lookout is really a fantastic card for this purpose. Not only can the Lookout provide scrying if my other scrying effects haven’t shown up yet, but it can allow me to avoid the nastiest of enemies if I see them looming at the top of the encounter deck. In addition to the Ithilien Lookout, the Ithilien Archer and Ithilien Tracker help round out the Ranger theme in terms of allies. Obviously, they hail from the Ithilien region, rather than Eriador, but I still find the flavor to be where I want it to be, even if the theme isn’t an exact match. I also wanted to include some traps, settling on the always useful Ranger Spikes to help neutralize enemies. With some enemy management included, I also chose to add in a couple of copies of Strider’s Path for some thematic location control, allowing me to both avoid nasty travel effects and get some threat out of the staging area immediately. Finally, Take No Notice is free in this deck and can help to avoid enemies under the right circumstances or to make sure that Sam’s ability triggers.
The hero roles in this deck are somewhat fluid, depending on the game situation and what attachments have hit the board already. Generally, though, Sam is the designated quester, as his 3 willpower (4 willpower with Sword that was Broken) is the foundation upon which the rest of the questing machine is built. He doesn’t get to ready and defend as much as in other decks, because of the high starting threat, lack of threat reduction, and tendency to push threat even higher through cards like Legacy of Numenor. Still, the possibility of him readying and defending does exist as an option in some situations, particularly with Take No Notice, which can be a nice piece of flexibility, just not one that you can count on consistently. With 3 attack, Aragorn typically will occupy the attacking role and with Beravor’s ability to quest and then ready through Wingfoot, she will typically assume the questing/defending role. The copies of Dunedain Warning and Dunedain Mark are meant to flesh out these roles and A Burning Brand makes the designated defender even more solid. Still, I don’t want Beravor to be defending too much at the expense of drawing cards, so if I have a few of the stronger attacking allies on the board, then they can cover the attack while Aragorn defends. The great thing about the Dunedain attachments is that you can pay to switch heroes, so even if I choose Beravor to defend early on, for example, I can switch the Warnings over to Aragorn later on or even to Sam, if needed.
How It Was Constructed: This deck began with a simple desire to use Wingfoot, and Beravor seemed like a perfect candidate to receive the attachment as it facilitated her card draw ability perfectly. Aragorn slotted effortlessly into the deck afterwards, as I began to develop the idea of a Dunedain/Eriador based theme. The third hero was the trickiest to figure out. I initially thought about running a full mono-Lore deck, but then decided that I really wanted Leadership to bring in Sword that was Broken and some resource generation to accompany the card draw. I really wanted a Leadership hero with lower threat and high willpower, and this is pretty much Samwise Gamgee in a nut shell. The rest of the deck fell into place from there, with a focus on either Dunedain or Ranger themed elements taking precedence. The 2 new unique allies from The Road Darkens, Galadriel and Elrond, actually found a nice place in the deck as well, although this wasn’t my original intention. After a few early tests of the deck against The Nin-in-Eilph, I realized that condition attachment removal was sorely needed, at least against quests featuring them, so I decided to add in Elrond. Galadriel was a no-brainer with as many attachments as I have in the deck and with the need for extra willpower. Fortunately, I feel that both allies are appropriate to the theme, with Elrond being a key part of Aragorn’s life and the region of Eriador, while Galadriel has ties to Aragorn as well, albeit a bit more indirectly. The final piece of the deck that came as quite a surprise was the inclusion of Legacy of Numenor. I kept feeling like this deck needed a little extra kick to get going more quickly, as in early testing, I found the deck running aground at times because the pieces would sometimes take too long to assemble. Tighten Our Belts seemed like it might be a good option, and I’ve been dying to use it, but Legacy of Numenor was the better choice here. Lore Aragorn allows me to compensate for the threat gain and it provides an immediate boost on turn one that Tighten Our Belts can’t.
1) Henamarth Riversong (Rumour from the Earth) + Beravor: This is what it’s all about. Henamarth Riversong tells me what’s coming so that I can guess correctly with Wingfoot, giving Beravor an extra action every single round. This allows her to draw cards as much as possible, or to participate in combat, if necessary. Without Henamarth Riversong or Rumour from the Earth, I will generally guess “enemy”, so that she can be ready if one appears. If I’m already engaged with an enemy, then I will either avoid taking the risk on Wingfoot or guess based on the card type ratios that seem most likely.
2) Aragorn + Sword that was Broken + Faramir: Decks that are heavy on Lore can sometimes struggle with questing, and that’s where Leadership comes in, especially with Sword that was Broken. However, when you combine the Sword with Faramir, then this deck can put up some quite decent willpower numbers.
3) Take No Notice + Sam + Dunedain Warning: Take No Notice can push up enemy engagement costs so that Sam can ready for defending, and then another character can throw over their copy of Dunedain Warning to make him even more solid.
4) Sneak Attack + Elrond/Ithilien Lookout: Sneak Attack works really well with Elrond, making sure that I can get extra uses out of this ally beyond what the 3 copies might suggest. This not only lets me eke out extra healing/condition removal/card draw, it also makes sure that I can get more consistent use out of Elrond’s fantastic stats. However, Elrond is not the only Sneak Attack candidate here. I find the Ithilien Lookout so useful that I will use Sneak Attack to strategically remove upcoming enemies and get more use out of this ability. If I already have scrying through Henamarth Riversong/Rumour from the Earth, then I will know exactly when to use this combo.
Variations: This deck actually went through a few different iterations during testing, and I could imagine it undergoing some further revisions in the near future. Here are some cards that were part of the deck in one of its original versions:
* Forest Snare – I originally wanted this deck to have more traps and Forest Snare is a card that I haven’t used in a long while. It seemed to fit well with the theme and seemed a feasible way to provide another option for dealing with enemies. Unfortunately, it just seemed more efficient to cut out the 3 copies of Forest Snare I had and replace them with Dunedain Warning for more long-term defensive security. This also helped to make the deck more usable against scenarios that feature enemies that are immune to attachments (like The Nin-in-Eilph).
* Protector of Lorien – Protector of Lorien seems like an obvious include in a Beravor deck, especially with A Burning Brand around. I loved sticking this card on Beravor and giving her the flexibility of discarding cards to either help with questing or defending. However, at the end of the day, deck space was extremely tight and I didn’t find myself using the Protector as much as I thought it would, which put it on the chopping block.
* Celebrian’s Stone – Extra willpower is always welcome and the Stone fits well in any Aragorn deck. However, between Sword that was Broken and Faramir, the Stone seemed like too much of an extravagance and was cut for other options.
* Out of the Wild/Ravens of the Mountain/Infighting – There were quite a few fun Lore events that I wanted to include that could do some interesting things with the theme or other cards. Out of the Wild is a great way to make up for the lack of A Test of Will, by hopefully removing the nastiest of treacheries, but you really need to include at least a couple of copies to make the whole thing worth it, and the 3 resources is a huge ask. Generally, I only run Out of the Wild in mono-sphere decks or decks with some type of cost reduction strategy or heavy resource generation. Ravens of the Mountain could help with making progress, but just didn’t add enough value to keep, especially since I only had enough room for maybe 1 copy. Finally, Infighting was an intriguing option when paired with Forest Snare, but without the Snare, it became surplus to requirements.
Final Thoughts: This deck really works well if you are looking for something a bit different to play. In some ways, it is pretty simple to use and doesn’t really rely on intricate combos. On the other hand, it does take some time to set up properly. When the central elements are in place, and you’re scouting ahead with Henamarth Riversong, readying Beravor with Wingfoot, and drawing cards on a consistent basis, then there’s plenty of enjoyment to be hand. Certainly, the deck can hold its own against several different scenarios and a variety of different scenarios as well. It does have some notable weaknesses, though. Even with A Burning Brand and Dunedain Warning, this is not a deck that can hold its own defensively against the biggest of enemies. If you are playing a quest that really relies on tanking, then this one will struggle. Similarly, while attack power can be mustered through the allies and Aragorn/Dunedain Mark, this deck obviously isn’t in the same weight class as a solid Tactics deck. That all being said, I’ve had a great deal of fun running this deck and exploring the Ranger theme to its fullest, and if you play to its strengths, it can bring you success.