The Lost Realm: Allies Review
My review of The Lost Realm’s two heroes certainly generated a fair bit of discussion, which is a great sign that these new additions are worth talking about. Getting heroes that barely elicited a peep would not be a good sign after all! What remains to be seen is whether the rest of the player cards are as intriguing and worthy of conversation. In my opinion, they certainly are, as we have received a highly focused set of player cards centered around the Dunedain trait and a new deck type focused on engaging enemies and deriving benefits from that engagement. When it comes to the five new allies in this expansion, only two of them actually give you direct benefits for enemy engagement. However, the other three provide supportive abilities that help the Dunedain deck type function or at least introduce a new and interesting wrinkle. Of course, it’s also important to keep an eye out for other possibilities and not become too Dunedain-centric, as there is the potential that some of these new allies and effects might play a key role in other deck types as well.
* Weather Hills Watchman (Leadership Ally, 2 cost, 1 willpower, 1 attack, 0 defense, 2 hit points):
For a long time, the Signal attachments of the Leadership sphere have been seen as strong utility attachments that have several advantages, among them being the lack of the “restricted” keyword. However, because it takes several copies of an attachment like Dunedain Warning or Dunedain Mark to match the pure power of weapons and armor that provide a similar function, one of the key disadvantages of these Signal attachments has been the potential time it takes to set them up at full power. However, the Weather Hills Watchman has arrived to save the day:
Response: After Weather Hills Watchman enters play, search the top 5 cards of your deck for a Signal card and add it to your hand. Shuffle the other cards back into your deck.
This is remarkably similar to other “fetch” effects we have seen, such as the one on Tactics Bofur that searches the top five cards of a player’s deck for a weapon. In this case, we get the first fetch effect for Signal attachments and this alone gives the Weather Hills Watchman a unique value. Of course, a fetch effect lives and dies by the strength of the particular cards it is fetching, and the Watchman is on firm ground here. While some of the Signals, like the oft-maligned Dunedain Quest, are of more dubious value, cards like the aforementioned Dunedain Warning and Dunedain Mark, as well as Dunedain Cache and Dunedain Signal in multiplayer, are all indisputably useful, especially if you can get them into play quickly. Of course, here I must mention that the Dunedain Cache is not in fact one of the Signal attachments, even though it is always lumped with them, as it has the Item trait and not the Signal trait. This is actually quite strange, as it was released at the same time as the Signal cards and shares a similar naming convention. There are two possibilities. One is that a mistake was made and the Cache was actually meant to have the Signal trait instead of the Item trait. The second is that it was intended thematically to be an item rather than a signal, as a cache of weapons or arrows would quite literally be an item, not a signal, whereas the other cards do appear to be signs and signals of various kinds (i.e. a warning, a mark, a signal, etc.). Based on the name (and the artwork), I think the latter appears to be the case, but I do wonder why this decision was made from a gameplay perspective. Moving on from that interesting, yet tangential, piece of information, the stats of the Weather Hills Watchman are not spectacular. Still, for two resources, you are getting the same equivalent stats as something like a Guard of the Citadel or Pelargir Ship Captain, and the cost is actually pretty reasonable for the Leadership sphere. One point of willpower or attack is certainly not game-changing, but every little bit helps. With Heir of Valandil, you could possibly even get this ally into play for free or for only one resource. However, the Watchman certainly has utility beyond Dunedain decks. Any deck that includes a decent ratio of Signal cards should probably think about including the Watchman, as it can allow these cards to get into play much more quickly, facilitating whatever attachment strategy you are aiming for in the process. It also can serve as a form of de facto card draw for Leadership. Granted, there will be times when the effect will not find a target, unless you are running an insanely high number of Signal cards, yet even with this likelihood on the table, the Watchman provides good value. It’s also worth considering that there aren’t a ton of options for two-cost Leadership allies, as many are restricted to certain deck types.
* Dunedain Hunter (Tactics Ally, 0 cost, 1 willpower, 3 attack, 1 defense, 3 hit points):
I have to begin by saying that this is my favorite card in the entire box. Note that I am not saying that it is necessarily the most powerful, but there is something so unique and intriguing about a player card that dares the encounter deck to “bring it”:
At the most simple level, then, this is a strong attacking ally that can be brought into play for free, in exchange for the disadvantage or “alternative cost” of engaging an enemy. This is the kind of card that would have been unthinkable during the days of the Core Set, when combat seemed a more brutal and desperate thing with far fewer options for dealing with defense, attack, and combat in general. In the current card pool, however, the Dunedain Hunter definitely has a place, especially as part of the developing Dunedain deck type, which actually wants to engage enemies. First off, though, let’s discuss the fact that it is potentially possible for a player not to find any enemies in the top five cards of the encounter deck, meaning that the Dunedain Hunter would be discarded. How significant is this potential and how much does it detract from the Hunter’s value? In my opinion, it’s not worth worrying about and it doesn’t do much, if anything, to lower this card’s value. This is because the vast majority of quests tend to contain a high ratio of enemies, especially as compared against other encounter card types, enough at least that you should hit upon one in the top five cards of the encounter deck. After using this card quite extensively, I think there has only been one occasion where the effect has whiffed completely and I have had to discard the Dunedain Hunter. Even if this does happen, you didn’t pay anything, so you’re not losing any resources, just a card from hand and essentially a “wasted” spot in your deck, but if you’re playing the Dunedain Hunter, you’re the gambling sort already, aren’t you? If you have a Horn of Gondor out or someone like Eomer, then losing the Hunter could even be a positive, although I don’t think triggering “leaves play” effects is a primary use of this card, because of the very fact that it is unlikely to be discarded in this way all that often.
Leaving aside that matter, once the Dunedain Hunter is on the table, he is truly a force. Three attack is most notable and having it on an ally that you didn’t have to spend a single resource for is just plain amazing. However, that’s not all the Hunter has to offer, as one defense and three hit points means that he can actually take a punch or soak up archery or direct damage. As many of the newer quests tend to pile on the direct damage, it becomes more and more important to have allies around with decent hit point pools to soak up this damage. The Hunter definitely can help out in this regard. Finally, it is easy to ignore the one willpower, since the Hunter will likely serve in an attacking role most of the time. Yet any willpower on a Tactics ally is quite rare and usually comes at a high cost, so the Hunter does provide an unorthodox yet effective method of injecting a bit more questing power into your Tactics deck.
Beyond stats, the Dunedain Hunter’s “cost” of engaging an enemy actually can serve as a further benefit if you are playing a deck with effects that trigger off of engaging an enemy or being engaged with an enemy. Most obviously, this plays right into the hands of the Dunedain deck type and its various effects. For example, the Hunter could ensure that Halbarad is able to quest without exhausting on the very first turn. Similarly, you could combine the Hunter with the Sarn Ford Sentry to increase the number of cards you are able to draw with the latter. The Hunter can ever set up a nice chain of enabling other Dunedain allies to be played, as engaging an enemy with the Hunter could then lower the cost of the next Dunedain ally by one using Heir of Valandil. Having an engaged enemy can also set up Tactics Aragorn, as you could then use Quick Strike to kill that enemy with Aragorn during the quest phase, pulling an enemy out of the staging area. Or you could leave other enemies in the staging area and simply have a ready target to destroy during the combat phase in order to engage one from the staging area after enemy attacks are finished, and this could then lead to a chain of further attacks without having to defend, if you have readying available. If you’re really feeling cheeky, you could throw a Forest Snare on the enemy put into play by the Hunter, getting all the benefits of engagement without any of the danger, although you do have to pay three resources. Beyond Dunedain, though, Hobbits can also make good use of the Dunedain Hunter, although this synergy might seem a bit strange at first glance. If you are able to find an enemy with a higher engagement cost than your threat in the top five cards, then this could ready Sam and give him a stat boost or allow you to draw a card with Pippin. Having an on-demand trigger of Hobbit abilities during the planning phase is a nice option to have.
The final issue to mention is that this card is strong, useful, and works well with several deck types, but it still must be managed smartly and correctly. While a Dunedain-focused deck is likely focused around being able to handle combat, there still is the possibility that a swarm of enemies could crop up during staging that you hadn’t planned for through various encounter card effects. Then, the enemy you engaged with the Dunedain Hunter may end up being one too many, actually harming your overall position. Therefore, it’s wise not to be too audacious with the Hunter and throw him down as soon as you draw him. Rather, the smart move is to be patient and pick the moments when the enemy situation is manageable or when you are confident that the value and combinations you are able to bring to the table with the play of a particular Hunter will outweigh the danger posed by the enemies you will face. It is important to note that the enemy engaged by the Dunedain Hunter is “put into play” rather than revealed, which means you can avoid any keywords and “when revealed” effects on an enemy. This can actually help to pull out such enemies from the encounter deck so that there are fewer of them to face during staging. Overall, the Dunedain Hunter is a unique and innovative ally that is definitely powerful, but with a downside that must be carefully managed. He doesn’t fit into every deck because of this downside, but he can play an important role in those decks that do fit.
* Sarn Ford Sentry (Lore Ally, 3 cost, 2 willpower, 1 attack, 0 defense, 2 hit points):
If the Dunedain Hunter is my favorite ally and overall card in The Lost Realm, the Sarn Ford Sentry is probably my pick for the most powerful ally. On the surface, this may seem like a strange statement, but there is more than meets the eye when it comes to the Sarn Ford Sentry. First off, the Sentry brings decent card draw to the table:
Lore certainly is flush with plenty of card draw effects, but there is something to be said for an ally that also brings along card draw, as in this case you actually get a body that can contribute rather than just the card draw. A two-for-one deal always provides extra value, after all (this is the power of a card like ally Bifur), and means that you might not have to include a card draw effect and an ally, saving deck space for other cards. Gleowine, by contrast, is an ally that draws cards, but because his stats are so paltry, and because he needs to exhaust to access the draw, he really doesn’t play a role in questing or combat. Of course, this is not to say that Gleowine is not useful, he certainly is, but it points out the unique contribution that the Sarn Ford Sentry can provide, even in a sphere that specializes in card draw.
The big limitation here is that the draw depends on the number of enemies engaged, so that if you play it with no enemies engaged, you miss out on the card draw completely. This means that you either have to pay careful attention to when you play this ally rather than being able to play it at will, or you have to be comfortable with playing it just for its stats at times, rather than for the ability. Many decks that feature Lore are of the questing or support variety so it may seem as if the Sarn Ford Sentry won’t actually provide much draw as Lore decks won’t often be engaged with enemies. However, it’s likely that there will be at least a few times during a game when even a combat-light Lore deck will be engaged with an enemy. Even drawing one card with the Sentry is worth the cost in my book. However, a deck that includes Lore that is focused on enemy engagement, such as a Dunedain build using Beravor, for example, could get even more value out of this ally. With two or three enemies engaged, the Sarn Ford Sentry could draw two or three cards. When you consider that you could include three copies of this ally, and that you will probably see at least a couple of those copies given access to card draw, then the Sentry will net a good number of cards over the course of a game. A possible counter-argument is that Dunedain builds will not often include Lore, as Leadership/Tactics seems to be the best combination, but I have found great success in using Lore to facilitate a Dunedain deck.
However, leaving aside the card draw, it is the stats of the Sarn Ford Sentry that are the most compelling argument for this ally’s power, specifically the two willpower. At first, paying three resources for two willpower may not seem like the best deal, yet comparison to the cheap two cost, two willpower allies of the Spirit sphere is misguided, as that sphere specializes in such cheap questing allies. All other spheres have to pay more dearly for such willpower on allies. For example, the only other allies in the Lore sphere to have two willpower are the Rivendell Minstrel, Haldir, and the Wandering Ent (the Isengard Messenger can get up to two, but this is conditional on doomed triggers). The Minstrel also costs three, but has a more niche ability, while Haldir is more expensive at four. The Wandering Ent is the only two cost, two willpower ally that Lore has available and it comes into play exhausted as a penalty. With all this in mind, the Sarn Ford Sentry is actually one of the cheapest, best and most broadly useful questing ally the sphere has available, along with the Wandering Ent. When you combine the two, Lore actually can finally get some decent willpower from its allies. This is why it is always important to consider an ally and an ally’s stats in the context of their particular sphere, and this is the main reason why I consider the Sarn Ford Sentry to be the most powerful ally. Beyond the willpower, you also get a point of attack, which is better than nothing and could provide that last point you need to finish off an enemy. Two hit points means that the Sentry is also not as flimsy as some of the other two willpower allies that exist in the game. Overall, this is a solid ally that should find its way into many, if not most decks, that feature Lore from here on out.
* Warden of Annuminas (Spirit Ally, 4 cost, 0 willpower, 2 attack, 2 defense, 3 hit points):
The Lost Realm has provided each of the spheres with its own Dunedain ally, and the Warden of Ammunimas is the entry for the Spirit sphere. It is the one whose value is perhaps most contentious, and it will take some unpacking to get the bottom of its true value. The Warden brings some strong combat stats along with a potential for questing power that is contingent on being engaged with enemies:
In a worst case scenario, this means that the Warden of Annuminas will have zero willpower, which is certainly a bit of an oddity for the sphere. In a best case scenario, the Warden may have two or three willpower. Any values higher than that will be outliers and not something that you can necessarily count on. This is especially true since decks including Spirit will likely be more focused on questing and so probably won’t be taking on many enemies at once. Of course, you could have a combat focused deck with one Spirit hero, but then the high cost of four means that the Warden fits best into a deck with two or three Spirit heroes, not just one. On the other hand, the Spirit sphere is becoming better at combat over time with the release of heroes like Idraen, so a Spirit deck that is combat capable might be the best fit for the Warden. Together with the Northern Tracker, the Warden of Annuminas could add some strong combat ability to such decks, allowing them to both quest and fight with the best of them. Such a possibility is certainly an intriguing prospect, and while the cost of four is high, having an ally with maybe two or three willpower, along with two attack, two defense, and three hit points, is a fantastic value. The Northern Tracker, who also has two defense and three hit points, has proved a strong defensive option over the years, and the Warden could add yet another option.
Still, there’s much that holds the Warden back. The most glaring is actually the existence of the Northern Tracker itself. That ally is the natural comparison for the Warden but also the natural competitor, as they share an identical cost and similar stats. However, the Northern Tracker has a consistent willpower of one at all times, along with an extremely useful ability (placing progress on locations in the staging area). The Warden of Annuminas, by contrast, may have no willpower at all, equal willpower to the Tracker, or greater, and this will vary throughout the course of the game. Beyond this “ability” of inconsistent willpower, the Warden does not have any other abilities to offer, unlike the Northern Tracker. Viewed in this light, it’s difficult to construct an argument in which the Warden is consistently better than the Tracker. Obviously, there will be corner cases where someone controlling the Warden is facing off against four enemies, in which case the Warden would certainly be quite powerful. But such cases will not be the norm, and it is the average case that we must use to make our judgment. Of course, it is sometimes too easy a trap to pit two cards against each other rather than imagining the possibility of both being included in the same deck. The problem is that both allies cost four. If they were both at two, then it would be no stretch to imagine them sharing many decks together. However, there usually isn’t much room for many allies at a cost of four, and so often it will indeed be a matter of choosing between the Tracker and the Warden. This does not bode well for the Warden at all.
That being said, there are a few decks that can make good use out of the Warden of Annuminas. The first is a mono-Spirit Caldara deck based around using her ability to bring out expensive allies from the discard pile and then bringing her back to life with Fortune or Fate. I have used such a deck quite a bit in the past and it works quite well. However, I always found myself wanting a few more strong, expensive Spirit allies to combine with Caldara. The Warden fits the bill perfectly, and with Caldara pulling multiple Northern Trackers and Wardens of Annuminas into play for no cost over the course of a game, such a deck could become quite powerful and definitely able to handle combat. The second type of deck would be a Secrecy build using Timely Aid and A Very Good Tale to bring expensive, strong allies into play quickly and for a low cost. Such decks can benefit from having a strong defender, as well as offensive help, so even assuming that the Warden will not be providing much questing help for such decks, he could still be quite useful. Therefore, while overall the Warden is certainly the weakest of the Dunedain allies and the allies in this box, and is not as generally valuable as I would like, he can find a spot in a few interesting deck types, which at least ensures that he is not a complete coaster.
* Ranger of the North (Neutral Ally, – cost, 2 willpower, 2 attack, 2 defense, 3 hit points):
Since the value and use of Ranger of the North is so intimately tied to the Ranger Summons event, I will review this ally as part of the events review rather than the allies review.
The Lost Realm provides players with Dunedain allies for each of the spheres, along with a unique neutral ally. These allies strike a nice balance, as none of them are overpowered, and only the Warden of Annuminas could be considered to be underpowered. All of them play into a Dunedain deck type revolving around engaging enemies, but all of them can also work outside of Dunedain decks as well. Overall, there’s plenty to be excited about here, especially with a card like Dunedain Hunter that hints at future possibilities for player cards and shows the way in which it is still possible to innovate and break new ground within the existing design space.
Readers, what is your favorite ally in The Lost Realm? What is your least favorite ally?