The Antlered Crown: Hero Review
The holidays departed, a new year arrived, and The Antlered Crown Adventure Pack found its way into my waiting hands somewhere in between. Celebrimbor’s Secret seemed like it could wrap up the cycle all on its own, with an amazing hero, Galadriel, who recently won the unofficial hero championship over at the Fantasy Flight Games forums, and a compelling quest, complete with Indiana Jones-esque escapades! Still, The Antlered Crown marks the true finale of the Ring-maker cycle, wrapping up the story and the collection of player cards. While the heroes that have been released to end each cycle have tended to be “kings” of one kind or another (Dain Ironfoot, Elrond, and Theoden being the examples thus far), thus making Galadriel perhaps a more logical choice for this role, we instead have Erkenbrand to sing the swan song. Erkenbrand is surely a more low-key figure than his predecessors, yet he is not unimportant. Erkenbrand was Lord of the Westfold of Rohan and helped to build up the defenses of the Hornburg ere the Battle of Helm’s Deep. It was he that arrived with Gandalf in a moment of pure eucatastrophe to turn the tide and win the day of that same battle. As such, he may not be a king, but he is surely a figure that commands respect and proved his mettle!
* Erkenbrand (Leadership Hero, 10 threat, 1 willpower, 2 attack, 3 defense, 4 hit points):
Erkenbrand quite appropriately occupies the Leadership sphere, as he helped to organize and command the western defenses of Rohan against Saruman’s forces after the death of Theodred. As previously mentioned, he also strengthened the Hornburg and Deeping Wall, which was an important tactical and strategic move. In a rich thematic connection that might be easy to overlook, Erkenbrand focuses on providing defensive solidity:
While Erkenbrand is defending, he gains:“Response: Deal 1 damage to Erkenbrand to cancel a shadow effect just triggered.”
I was at first perplexed by the choice to make Erkenbrand a defensive hero, given that his most memorable moment was an epic charge down a hill into a field full of enemies, which seemed to translate into an attacking force. However, given his overall contributions to the War, he makes absolute sense as a defender, from striving to hold the Fords of Isen to fortifying Helm’s Deep. Even his arrival at Helm’s Deep can be seen as a form of defense, taking the pressure off those who were under siege. Furthermore, Erkenbrand drove away the “shadows” via a charge that entailed great danger (damage) to himself and others. All told, this is another example of a thematic win and connection to the source material.
So how valuable is Erkenbrand in terms of gameplay? Many players might instantly compare him to other strong defensive heroes in the game, especially Beregond. Erkenbrand has almost identical stats as that Gondorian stalwart, but with one fewer point of defense and one greater point of attack. This makes him slightly less one-dimensional, but also not quite as solid defensively. Of course, this is up for debate, as Erkenbrand has built-in shadow cancellation that Beregond lacks, guarding against shadow effects that can render the best-laid defensive plans obsolete. Still, I would hesitate to proclaim Beregond’s demise just yet, as he gets in-sphere access to Gondorian Shield for free with instant use of the +2 bonus for the Gondor trait. Being able to hit six defense on turn one with very little effort is not something to take lightly.
Still, the comparison between Beregond and Erkenbrand isn’t particularly fruitful given that they hail from different spheres. Part of the value of our new hero is that he provides a strong defensive option for Leadership that hasn’t previously been present. There have been a few heroes that can fill this role in the sphere, but Dain Ironfoot is mostly restricted to Dwarf decks, while Sam’s suitability really depends on managing threat. Erkenbrand is the first Leadership with 3 defense that can fit into almost any deck including Leadership and unequivocally fill a defensive role, which is enough to make him valuable. I’m looking forward to slotting him into my mono-Leadership decks, as an avid fan of such builds, and he also can serve as the go-to defender for decks that include Leadership but not Tactics. Each point of defense is actually quite meaningful in the game, as a character with a natural three defense is significantly better than one with two (and the same can be said for the difference between four and three as well, but that line between two and three seems to be especially meaningful from personal experience).
With such a strong defensive hero, one could potentially stand pat and not seek to boost his strength. This is especially true if one is planning on including healing. However, there are many enemies out there in various quests that will lay waste to a character with three defense, even with shadow cancellation, so some form of defense boosting will often be necessary for Erkenbrand. The best in-sphere option is Dunedain Warning. A single copy for a cost of one could give Erkenbrand four defense, achieving parity with Beregond. Further copies could enhance this strength, with three copies of Dunedain Warning maxing him out at six defense (equivalent to Beregond with Gondorian Shield). Generally, however, drawing all three copies will be pretty rare, so you’re realistically looking at boosting Erkenbrand up to four or five defense on a fairly consistent basis.
There are also some out-of-sphere options with Gondorian Shield being the clearest example. Normally, this will give you a similar bonus to Dunedain Warning, however if you give the Gondor trait to Erkenbrand with Mutual Accord or Steward of Gondor, he can take advantage of the +2 bonus and defend for five. It turns out that the Gondor trait grants access to several other valuable defensive effects, so giving Erkenbrand the Steward seems to be a pretty good bet if you want to get full value out of him. Beyond Gondorian Shield, For Gondor! can grant an extra boost, Behind Strong Walls can serve as a form of readying, while Blood of Numenor can combine well with resource generation to make Erkenbrand a stalwart. Although I had grand ideas of using Gondorian Discipline, Close Call, Dori, and even Song of Mocking to pull the damage dealt to Erkenbrand away, thus getting around the “cost” of his ability, a quick rules query to Caleb quickly scuppered this notion. You have to actually deal and place the damage on Erkenbrand to trigger his ability, so put those shenanigans back in the can as there’s no free lunch here! My dreams of Erkenbrand funding Gimli/Gloin goodness with Song of Mocking will sadly go up in flames faster than a crazed Denethor. Honestly, I think this ruling is the correct one as getting around the only real cost of Erkenbrand’s strong ability would be a bit too much of an easy way out otherwise. Perhaps my favorite option for boosting Erkenbrand is the new Tactics attachment, Captain of Gondor, which can boost Erkenbrand up to 3 attack and 4 defense when you optionally engage an enemy, making this hero of Rohan into a true warrior to be reckoned with on both ends of combat. Finally, Arwen Undomiel is always reliable for consistent defensive boosts as well, and can combine with other effects to turn Erkenbrand into a true tank.
Of course, there’s always healing, which makes a Lore and Leadership partnership perhaps the best environment for Erkenbrand to thrive. Alternatively, if you are playing multiplayer, it’s really a matter of convincing a fellow player to run plenty of healing. Any healing effect can do the job, considering that only a single damage is dealt with each use, although there is no limit, so if you can ready Erkenbrand to defend multiple times, then you could use it each time (until he is destroyed). Even poor old neglected Lore Glorfindel can play a role here, as his ability makes him a potential best friend to our newest hero, if you can get over the combined threat cost of 22 between the two. Self Preservation is a great choice here, as this allows Erkenbrand to use his ability in a potentially limitless fashion. I imagine that the most common combination will be the use of the ever popular Warden of Healing to continuously heal damage from Erkenbrand every time he uses his ability.
Beyond healing, action advantage is perhaps most essential to really taking Erkenbrand to the next level. In the past, Unexpected Courage and Spirit access would be the main game in town without many permanent alternatives in Leadership. However, this has changed dramatically over the course of the last few packs. Heir of Mardil could potentially allow Erkenbrand to ready whenever he gains resources, which means you could trigger an attached Steward of Gondor to ready him after defending. In addition, The Day’s Rising, also part of The Antlered Crown, seems tailor made to get the most out of Heir of Mardil and Erkenbrand as well, as it can be placed on a hero with sentinel and allows that hero to gain a resource when they defend without taking damage. You could thus defend with Erkenbrand, take no damage, then gain a resource with The Day’s Rising, which would ready him through Heir of Mardil. Unfortunately, there’s one small problem with this whole combination: Erkenbrand does not have the Noble trait and can’t make use of Heir of Mardil! This seems like a real shame and lost opportunity for synergy, although I suppose that it is thematic in the sense that Heir of Mardil has no business anywhere near Erkenbrand. Speaking of sentinel, though, the presence of this keyword enhances Erkenbrand’s ability as a defender even more in multiplayer and he can at least still make use of the resource generation from The Day’s Rising, as long as he doesn’t take damage or trigger his ability. In terms of readying, though, Erkenbrand has to make do with Cram in-sphere while Unexpected Courage remains his best friend out of sphere. This is a bit boring and predictable, but is the sad reality without access to Heir of Mardil.
Several paragraphs of text have flown by without even mentioning Erkenbrand’s Rohan trait yet! This Leadership hero is indeed the newest addition to Rohan, but he is a bit of an odd man out in many respects. Rohan is a trait that has traditionally focused on willpower and attack, without much thought spared for defense. In fact, chump blocking has been the main form of defense for most Rohan decks due to this lack of a strong defender and the fact that this deck type is built around allies leaving play. On the one hand, this context means that Erkenbrand helps to rectify an essential weakness of Rohan. On the other, it means that he doesn’t quite fit in with Rohan decks that focus on allies leaving play, such as an Eomer deck. Still, there’s always something to be said for having a strong defender available when needed, especially against quests that heavily punish chump blocking. Erkenbrand also has two attack, which makes him a bit more versatile than most tanks, and he even has one point of willpower that could be pumped up to three with Astonishing Speed. While the mounts of Rohan are probably wasted on Erkenbrand, with Steed of the Mark not adding much value and Rohan Warhorse/Firefoot not fitting well with his defensive bias, there are other Rohan cards that could work, such as Spear of the Mark, Forth Eorlingas!, or Charge of the Rohirrim (although the aforementioned lack of mount synergy might undermine the last one). All in all, though, while Erkenbrand can fit into Rohan decks, I don’t think it’s wise to reductively think of him just as a Rohan hero. He is a versatile defensive force that can actually fit into almost any deck that needs a strong defender.
As for final thoughts, while Erkenbrand is probably going to be your dedicated defender, I wouldn’t overlook his two attack. It’s just as easy as slapping a Dunedain Mark on him and Erkenbrand can attack for three, which is on par with some of the strongest attackers around. Defensively, in-built shadow cancellation is not something to be taken lightly. One of the reasons why A Burning Brand is widely regarded as one of the strongest cards ever printed is because removing the unpredictability of shadow effects out of the equation turns combat into a mere numbers game that can be easily controlled. Erkenbrand can do the same without the need for an attachment, and this certainly makes him powerful. Whether it’s preventing an enemy from making an additional attack or stopping a catastrophic attack bonus or canceling some other ungodly effect, the value is plain. Still, the cost of inflicting a damage is not negligible, especially since defenders are the ones most likely to incur damage in the first place and need their full pool of hit points as much as possible. Of course, shadow cancellation helps to prevent some damage, at least the unexpected variety, and healing can mitigate this cost. This does limit Erkenbrand’s versatility a bit, as he seems tied to healing and Lore, unless you’re planning on using his ability very judiciously, which kind of undermines the whole reason for devoting a whole slot to shadow cancellation in the first place. The other major weakness of Erkenbrand is that he can only cancel shadows while he is defending. By contrast, Balin can cancel any shadow on the board, although a new one must be revealed, which may be equally bad or worse. Still, that flexibility can be key, especially when multiple attacks are the norm and Erkenbrand can’t soak them all. That all being said, if you’re the kind of player that likes the tank approach of relying on one hero to soak up most attacks, then Erkenbrand is a great new option for this purpose.
Possible Attachment Choices: Self Preservation, Unexpected Courage, Cram, Captain of Gondor, Dunedain Warning, Dunedain Mark, Support of the Eagles, Gondorian Shield, Citadel Plate, The Day’s Rising
Erkenbrand is perhaps not as earth-shattering as Dain Ironfoot or Elrond, although I would give him the nod over his king, Theoden. He is essentially a specialized defensive hero and may not excite those who are looking for something more flashy to end the cycle. However, I find great comfort in a strong tank and Beregond has given me many nights of restful sleep, feeling safe and sound and free from danger. Erkenbrand can serve a similar function, although he perhaps requires a few more pieces in place than Beregond. Still, most strong defensive heroes require a few attachments and pieces to reach their full potential, so Erkenbrand is certainly not unique in that respect. Overall, Erkenbrand caps a cycle that has given us six useful heroes, without a dud in the bunch, and for that we can surely be thankful.
Readers, what are your thoughts on Erkenbrand? What kind of deck will you be using him in? How do you rate him in the pantheon of defensive heroes? How does he stack up against other heroes in general?