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Escape from Mount Gram: Allies Review

by on August 12, 2015

escape from mount gram

As the Angmar Awakened cycle continues, various new mechanics continue to be introduced. The Dunedain and Noldor traits are slowly getting some love, but the Escape from Mount Gram Adventure Pack, particularly the hero, also explores a brand new deck type centered around interacting with the victory display. How is this mechanic explored beyond Rossiel? And what other traits and strategies are supported by this expansion? Read on to find out!

ALLIES

Veteran of Osgiliath (Leadership Ally, 3 cost, 1 willpower, 2 attack, 1 defense, 2 hit points):

Veteran-of-Osgiliath

One great development is the continuing support of the Gondor theme long after the Against the Shadow cycle has ended. The Veteran of Osgiliath is a good example of this support. Of course, the Veteran doesn’t just fill a slot in Gondor decks, but also has an ability focused around the new valour mechanic as well:

Veteran of Osgiliath gets +1 , +1 , and +1 while your threat is 40 or higher.

First off, let’s consider the Veteran of Osgiliath purely in terms of his raw stats. I have no problem paying for the Veteran even without access to his in-built bonus or any other bonuses. One point of willpower is good enough to contribute at least some questing power, while two attack for three resources is decent in Leadership. He probably won’t be doing much defending in his basic form, but having two hit points rather than one is always nice to soak up some archery or direct damage. Altogether, these stats make the Veteran a solid ally to begin with, although not a spectacular one, and I would argue that he is actually not over-costed like many other Leadership allies.

How does this ally’s value increase when you have reached the valour threat level of 40 or higher? At this point, the Veteran of Osgiliath has two willpower, three attack, and two defense, making him strong in all areas of play and providing fantastic value for the cost. There’s really no denying this fact, so the real question is how easy it will be to attain this boost and how consistent this ability will turn out to be. As is so often the case, the answer is partially based on the quest you are facing and largely determined by how willing you are to craft a deck around this card specifically (and valour in general). There are certainly ways of getting into valour mode quickly. You can simply choose a set of heroes with a high total starting threat. You can also include doomed effects or other effects that raise your threat (such as Tactics Boromir). Of course, getting to 40 is one thing, but at that point, you also need to make sure that you don’t threat out, so threat reduction is a must, even if it is employed by another player, and heroes like Merry and Galadriel can be especially useful. The real issue is that while valour promises to be meaningful by the end of the cycle, there isn’t much at the moment beyond the Veteran to reward this play-style fully yet. So I imagine that the Veteran’s boost is more of a nice bonus towards the end of games, rather than something to purposely strive towards, but this will probably change in the future.

The bonus the Veteran can receive from his Gondor trait is another matter, though. A deck just using Leadership Boromir can turn the Veteran into a three attack ally quite easily, which is amazing for the sphere, while Visionary Leadership can grant him two willpower. If you combine these bonuses with the valour bonuses, then the Veteran becomes a three willpower, four attack, non-unique monstrosity. One positive bit of interlocking synergy is that Gondor decks often have a high starting threat anyway so that it should be relatively easy to attain both benefits. What all this means is that the Veteran of Osgiliath is a must-include for Gondor decks, and will eventually be a must-include for valour decks when such decks become viable. Outside of these types, the Veteran still merits strong consideration for any Leadership deck, and has value as a fairly non-specialized or restricted ally that can fit into almost any build.

Versatility: ♦♦♦♦♦

Efficiency: ♦♦♦♦◊

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦♦◊

Derndingle Warrior (Tactics Ally, 2 cost, 1 willpower, 1 attack, 2 defense, 3 hit points):

Derndingle-Warrior

The Ents have already emerged as a powerhouse trait with just a few cards. Allies like Treebeard, Quickbeam, Booming Ent, and Wandering Ent are all quite powerful, and it looks like the Ents will only be getting stronger. The Derndingle Warrior is the newest Ent ally, joining Booming Ent as the second Tactics Ent, focusing in on providing a defensive option instead of an offensive one:

Sentinel.

Cannot have restricted attachments. Enters play exhausted.
While Derndingle Warrior is defending, it gains: “Action: Deal 1 damage to Derndingle Warrior to give it +3 for this attack.” (Limit once per attack.)

The Derndingle Warrior is a ridiculously good ally, no doubt about it, and fully continues the trend of great Ent allies for a low cost. He does come with the “enters play exhausted” penalty, like all Ents, but again I’m of the opinion that his advantages far outweigh that one disadvantage. The base stats of the Derndingle Warrior are actually great for the cost, even without the boost from the ability. Two defense and three hit points makes for a solid defending body, albeit vulnerable against more powerful opponents, while just the hit points themselves provide a valuable damage soak. What is easy to miss and particularly notable is the presence of one willpower for only two resources. This is monumental for Tactics, which simply does not have access to cheap willpower in this way.

Once you factor in his ability, the Derndingle Warrior is a fantastic defender, possibly the best defending ally in the game. He becomes a five defense character with two hit points (assuming the damage placed to activate it), which far outpaces the four defense and one hit point of Defender of Rammas and Winged Guardian (the difference between five and four defense is huge and the extra hit point is an important line of defense, especially for shadow effects that deal direct damage). The Derndingle Warrior also has the sentinel keyword, which is key for multiplayer games. There is a disadvantage here, which is that the ability requires damage to activate, which lessens this ally’s effectiveness as a defender and limits the number of times the defense boost can be used. However, many Ent decks will include healing as a matter of course, so this might not be too substantial of a restriction (keep in mind that Self Preservation can be placed on allies, not just heroes, although that is a bit of an expensive option). In fact, the Wellinghall Custodian, spoiled on the Spanish LOTR LCG site Susurros del Bosque Viejo, is an upcoming Ent ally that heals a point of damage from an Ent character when he readies. When combined with Derndingle Warrior, the Warrior could essentially defend over and over again, with the damage being constantly healed.

The final aspect of Derndingle Warrior to consider is how he interacts with the Booming Ent. By dealing a damage to activate the Warrior’s ability, you also boost the attack of any Booming Ents in play, setting up a strong counter-attack. This is definitely a nice bit of developing Ent synergy centered around damage. Outside of Ent decks, the Derndingle Warrior certainly has a place as a strong defensive solution, damage soak, and even a quester for Tactics, all for only two resources. I don’t think Defender of Rammas and Winged Guardian are completely displaced, however, as they still allow for immediate defending during the round they enter play and also have a strong base defense without the need for damage dealing/healing. The versatility of the Warrior is certainly hampered a bit by the potential need to include healing. Still, the Derndingle Warrior is a strong new ally in the upper tier of Tactics allies.

Versatility: ♦♦♦◊◊

Efficiency: ♦♦♦♦♦

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦◊◊

Elven Jeweler (Spirit Ally, 2 cost, 1 willpower, 1 attack, 1 defense, 2 hit points):

Elven-Jeweler

We’ve been promised Noldor support in the Angmar Awakened cycle, but haven’t seen much of that trait yet. The Elven Jeweler looks set to kick things off, however, and is potentially a hint of what is to come. That is because this ally isn’t too impressive at first glance, but actually has some value buried under that potentially underwhelming exterior, all centered around the discard of cards from hand:

Action: Discard 2 cards from your hand to put Elven Jeweler into play from your hand, under your control.

This ability basically provides a means of playing this ally for free, at least in terms of resources. The idea of playing an ally outside of planning for no resources has become a bit of a theme for Spirit, with Emery and Curious Brandybuck previously blazing the trail. While Emery is based off of discarding cards from the top of your deck and Curious Brandybuck enters play through traveling to a location, the Elven Jeweler uses the discard from hand mechanic of the Noldor. There is no question that a free ally is valuable. Having such an ally frees up resources to pay for other important cards while still getting a body on the table for questing or combat. The question is whether the Elven Jeweler does quite enough, even as a free ally to justify a spot in your deck, and this question really takes on special meaning in the context of the Spirit sphere, which has many great allies for only one or two resources.

The overall stats of the Elven Jeweler are good for a two cost ally, assuming you paid for her outright, giving five points of stats. These stats look even better when you consider that you can get them for no cost (other than discarded cards). Still, sometimes a concentrated distribution of stats is better than a broad one. For example, the many two cost Spirit allies that have two willpower are superior to the Elven Jeweler, as they can simply focus on questing well, which is what the sphere is mostly concerned with after all. However, there is certainly value in even a single point of attack in the sphere, especially for free, and two hit points makes the Jeweler far more durable than most Spirit allies. Even though one willpower may not seem like much in the sphere, getting it for free does make it sweeter. Finally, one defense and two hit points doesn’t make the Jeweler a viable defender, but she can be a great chump blocker, as she can be easily put into play to respond to an impending threat (even if chump blocking is not as useful as it once was).

So far we’ve talked about the Elven Jeweler in terms of being played for “no cost”, but there is a cost in the form of cards. How meaningful is this cost? It really depends upon the deck you’re using. The Spirit sphere doesn’t tend to have much card draw, so including the Elven Jeweler in such a deck is really a dubious proposition, as getting rid of two cards in hand without being able to replace them easily is actually not a winning approach. On the other hand, Elven Jeweler is pretty much a slam dunk in an Erestor hero deck, as since your cards will be discarded at the end of the round anyway, they become a disposable resource to the extent that you won’t be able to play them all anyway and so can be used to fund a card like this one. In addition, if you do have card draw and/or are including a bunch of duplicate uniques, then the Elven Jeweler can be a good fit as well. Don’t forget that since the Elven Jeweler does have a cost of two, even if you put her into play for nothing, she can be used to trigger A Very Good Tale. You even could potentially set up a chain where you put Emery/Curious Brandybuck and an Elven Jeweler into play, then exhaust both for A Very Good Tale to pull in four cost worth of allies. This could make for a big swing, bring four total allies into play for no resources if everything falls right. Finally, getting cards into the discard pile itself can even be a benefit, setting up Caldara’s ally resurrection, for example.

With all that said, I’m not arguing that Elven Jeweler is a powerhouse. She is certainly not (Middle-)earth-shattering. However, any ally that can be put into play for no resources is worthy of serious consideration, especially when they have a decent level of stats. My opinion on this point has only been confirmed as I have modified my opinion of Curious Brandybuck a bit since the last AP review. Such “free” allies can be easily underrated and won’t win you a game on their own, but they can serve as the kind of flexible utility piece that you can use as a stepping stone towards victory. We don’t know yet what is in store for the Noldor trait, but it does seem likely that this ally may gain further value as the cycle continues as well. Even now, Children of the Sea can be used to boost the Elven Jeweler to three willpower for no cost. For a more marginal use, you could even stick Rivendell Blade on her to lower an enemy’s defense. To conclude, if you are skeptical of the Jeweler, give this ally a second look.

Versatility: ♦♦♦◊◊

Efficiency: ♦♦♦◊◊

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦◊◊

Conclusion

The allies of Escape from Mount Gram are a versatile bunch, helping to flesh out the Gondor and Ent traits while adding a building block for a Noldor deck. The Veteran of Osgiliath and Derndingle Warrior are both hard-hitting allies for their respective deck types. The Elven Jeweler, on the other hand, is a more subtle and understated card, as perhaps befits the Noldor trait. Overall, I consider this a solid bunch of allies that won’t be relegated to the dusty pages of player binders. In that respect, we can consider this expansion a success in terms of the allies.

Readers, what is your favorite ally in this pack? What is your least favorite? Are the Ents becoming too powerful? How strong is Gondor now? And is the Elven Jeweler an underrated ally or a coaster-in-training?

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21 Comments
  1. I really like the subtle benefits of Elven Jeweler. Just like Curious Brandybuck (who I really like for the reasons I will give now), can be played for free, and seemingly without needing a resource match. This is great for non-Spirit decks. As a Tactics player, I see this as a huge boon. 😀

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Definitely. The ability for the Jeweler and Brandybuck to be played out of sphere gives both of these allies even more versatility.

  2. Ericf permalink

    Nowhere on the Jewler does it say you need a spirit hero. I envision it seeing a lot of play in heavy lore decks, or leadership decks with Celebrins Stone.

    • Grimbeorn the Old permalink

      This raises an interesting question, as the core rules state that in order to play a card from your hand, you must have a “resource match”. Essentially this is a zero cost card when you discard the 2 cards, but don’t you still need to have a resource match between one of your heroes and a zero cost card? Or can any zero cost card be played regardless of a resource match?

      • TalesfromtheCards permalink

        No resource match is needed because you are not playing the card “from hand” but are putting it into play using an action. The only thing that counts as playing a card from hand is actually paying resources to play it during the planning phase. So because the Jeweler enters play through the action, you don’t actually need a Spirit hero.

        • Nusse permalink

          Are you sure about that? If you play a Spirit action card, you need a resource match even if it costs no resource (Free to Choose or Children of the Sea, for example). I understand that you can play this card as an action, but a zero-cost action card doesn’t waive the requirement for a resource match.

          I’m only asking because we had a similar issue with my group of players (I don’t remember which specific card it was but similar situation anyway).

          • TalesfromtheCards permalink

            Good question. The difference is that playing an event like Free To Choose or Children of the Sea counts as “playing” that card, which always requires a resource match. With Elven Jeweler or Curious Brandybuck, the action text instructs you to put the ally into play. “Putting into play” doesn’t require a resource match, whereas “playing” a card does.

            • Nusse permalink

              Ok, thanks for the clarification

              • Nusse permalink

                On second thought, i still have doubts… I see the difference between “playing” and “putting into play” but you could see it one of two ways:

                1/ you are playing an ability on the ally card (putting it into play), and don’t need to match resources. No problem there.

                2/ But on the other hand, you could consider that using the action on that card means you are “playing” that card, and thus need a resource match. You don’t need a resource match to put the ally into play but you need it for that action to be played.

                I see no problem with the effect of the action (putting the Jeweler into play), but isn’t there a cost of triggering (=playing) the action in the first place?

                It’s kinf of like “A Very Good Tale”: you can put allies from any sphere into play, but you need the Leadership resource to play the card itself.

                Oh well, sorry for insisting so much… i’ll shut up now and FAQ this question.

  3. Fouilloux permalink

    What about using the jeweler in a secrecy deck? I can see a noldor secrecy deck coming.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Definitely. If you add in some other free allies like Rivendell Scout, Bill the Pony, and Curious Brandybuck, then combined it with A Very Good Tale, you could get a serious ally swarm going.

  4. NathanH permalink

    Some nice allies here. I like that the Ent is usually going to be better than your other Tactics defensive allies, but doesn’t completely dominate them. It’s good when cards don’t obviously dominate older ones. I like the Jeweller because she’s not exactly strong but she fits nicely into lots of different situations: lore-heavy decks, adventures that hate big hands, Caldara, hobbit-filled Saga decks with Frodo’s Intuition…

    I don’t have much to say about the Veteran, he’s just a strong non-unique Leadership ally and I always find I want a few of those.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I agree about liking it when cards improve on past cards but don’t totally displace them. The Jeweler is like that dependable, utility player on a sports team that doesn’t get any fame but helps get the job done.

  5. Gwaihir the Windord permalink

    I was most excited about the Derndingle Warrior in this pack, as the Ents hadn’t had a true ally defender until this point. I find the Warrior pairs very well with Boomed and Trumpeted, not only readying him but giving him +3 attack as a bonus. These cards forced me to build a power Ent deck the moment I opened the box. As for Ents being too powerful, I don’t think so. An Ent deck is not a guaranteed win, as I find it takes several rounds just to get up and running. Playing without resource generation (Lore/Tactics) calls for several rounds of waiting (in some cases) before purchasing an ally, which enters play exhausted. This is a quality balance to the power of Ents once they ready; it takes time to get them on the table.

    Great review, sir. You opened my eyes to the potential value of the Elven Jeweler. With Erestor, she could be especially useful.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Thanks! I do think strong beginnings are still emphasized in this game, which does limit the power of the Ents somewhat. Otherwise, they would be off the charts into overpowered territory. The key really is to focus on heroes and a strategy that can hold off the encounter deck and give the Ents time to warm up. Once they do get going though, then it’s pretty much game over for the encounter deck.

  6. No mention of Elven Jeweler fueling the new Noldor subtheme?

    “To represent the inner strength and resolve of a fading people, these new Noldor cards grow in power as cards are discarded from your hand. Some of them have powerful effects that require you to discard cards from your hand as a cost. Others can only be played while they are in your discard pile, requiring you to first discard them, and giving you an avenue with which to trigger other discard effects.”
    https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/en/news/2015/5/8/the-treachery-of-rhudaur/

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I did mention it a few times in the article, but didn’t go into too much depth as we don’t yet know exactly what this will look like. Once we start seeing some of these specific Noldor cards, I think we’ll have a better idea of exactly how the Jeweler fits into the big picture. I’m definitely very excited for a Noldor deck to be a thing!

  7. Yay new fodder for Gondor! I think Valour is a very thematic ability for Gondor in particular, and it should be pretty playable for that archetype, as I believe you mention.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yeah, Gondor and Valour fit really well together. First, Leadership and Tactics are the valour spheres and Gondor is really concentrated in those spheres as well. Then, Gondor tends to run high threat anyway. Thematically it makes sense too, as Gondorians were really a valorous people.

  8. Gizlivadi permalink

    I love the Veteran of Osgiliath. My favorite of the allies for sure. Don’t forget about the synergy with Sword that was Broken! If you get all the bonuses including Faramir, he could hypothetically be a 5 willpower, 4 attack and 2 defense ally (and even more with For Gondor!). And in a normal mono Leadership Gondor deck you’ll be able to use two of his stats thanks to Strength of Arms. Alone he is certainly good, but he is even better when surrounded by all the Gondor and Leadership goodness.

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