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The Battle of Carn Dum: Hero Review

by on December 11, 2015

battleofcarndum

We’ve seen some tricksy heroes in this cycle, but many players have been waiting to see if we would receive a rock ’em, sock ’em Dunedain hero that could help lead that trait to higher levels of power. It turns out the signs were with us all along, as Amarthiul has been part of our adventures thus far as an objective ally. and has now stepped forth to lay claim to the mantle of hero. Does he deserve such a lofty title, however? More importantly, does he lift the Dunedain trait up to the heights players were hoping for, and does he bring enough value to the table to displace the competitors for his spot? Read on to find out.

HERO

* Amarthiul (Leadership Hero, 10 threat, 1 willpower, 3 attack, 3 defense, 3 hit points):

Amarthiúl (1)

Amarthiul is the first FFG-created objective ally to make the transition to the big leagues of being a hero. Doubtless this is because there actually aren’t many named Dunedain to choose from, once you take Aragorn and Halbarad out of the equation. This choice also continues the focus on narrative in each cycle that has continued to develop in importance over time. In game terms, Amarthiul is fairly unique, being only the second hero to grant an additional resource icon (Oin was the first) and also generating some actual resources of his own :

While you are engaged with at least 1 enemy, Amarthiúl gains the Tactics resource icon.

While you are engaged with at least 2 enemies, add 1 additional resource to Amarthiúl’s resource pool when you collect resources during the resource phase.

Being a Dunedain, of course both of these abilities are tied to being engaged with enemies. Let’s take them in turn. Having the ability to access a second resource icon actually built into a hero is quite valuable. It gives you two main options: 1) Being able to take advantage of a sphere that you wouldn’t be able to with just your hero icons (bringing Tactics into a deck without a Tactics hero, for example) and 2) Allowing a hero to use their resources for more than one sphere, depending on what is most needed at a given moment. Both of these uses are the kinds of underrated tools that never demand attention but can subtly play a part in winning you a game. While there are other options for gaining a resource icon (such as songs and certain attachments) or smoothing resources (such as Bifur or Errand-rider), Amarthiul provides the opportunity to get the second icon on the very first turn, no matter what your opening hand looks like, assuming that you can engage with an enemy.

Let’s look at the possibilities more specifically in regards to this particular hero and the Tactics icon. The Tactics icon is actually a great one to be able to splash (meaning it is not a main sphere of your deck, but you are bringing in a few cards from that sphere) because there are several low-cost events that are quite valuable, as well as weapons/armor that can help with combat, yet you may not always need to have a dedicated Tactics hero or spend a ton of deck space on that sphere. Feint, for example, is a powerful card and has been since the Core Set, and sometimes that cheap attack cancellation is all you really need from Tactics. The great aspect of Amarthiul’s ability is that the resource icon is granted from being engaged with a single enemy. This means you can engage an enemy, and then immediately gain the icon you need to play Feint on that enemy. Another example would be to use Amarthiul’s Tactics icon to be able to include Gondorian Shield for defense or Dagger of Westernesse/Rivendell Blade/etc. for attack. For the Dunedain trait/deck specifically, which is Amarthiul’s main role, as will be discussed later, the Tactics icon also allows for including and playing the Dunedain Hunter without needing to use Tactics outright.

As for resource smoothing, Tactics is often be a choice for Dunedain decks, and Leadership/Tactics is a popular sphere combination because of its suitability for handling and engaging enemies. This allows Amarthiul to serve as a perfect bridge between the spheres, giving you the extra resource(s) you need for either Tactics or Leadership depending on which cards you have in hand and which are most important to play. Even outside of Dunedain decks, Leadership/Tactics is a common setup and the trigger for gaining the Tactics icon, being engaged with an enemy, is exactly what such decks do on a regular basis. With this in mind, Amarthiul might be able to find a place as the third hero to round out such decks.

Many words have been written thus far and still no discussion of Amarthiul’s second ability! To my mind, you play Amarthiul for the extra resource icon, and the resource generation is gravy. This is not to say that you can’t build specialized decks to take advantage of it, it’s just that the condition of being engaged with 2 enemies is significantly more difficult to satisfy than just 1 enemy. Consider that in order for the resource generation to take effect, you need to be engaged with 2 enemies at the beginning of a turn, meaning that not only did you take on 2 enemies during the previous combat phase, you had to leave them intact as well. Generally, although a dedicated combat deck will often take on multiple enemies at once, especially as player counts rise, it will also be pretty efficient at destroying said enemies, usually not leaving 2 around for the start of the next round. Again, this may not be the case in a Dunedain deck that is designed to keep enemies around, likely using Forest Snare or continuous defending with A Burning Brand/shadow cancellation. Fortunately, although this is a niche deck, this seems to be exactly the type of deck that Amarthiul is designed for. The upside of all of this is to say that Amarthiul has some flexibility in that he can be included in several different deck types if you really only care about his first ability, however if you want his full power and use of the second ability, then you’ll probably need to use him in a Dunedain deck. Even then, it won’t always be a sure thing. When it does work, however, a passive extra resource without need for another card is clear gold.

So Amarthiul has some winning abilities, but how does he hold up as a body? The stat line of 1 willpower, 3 attack, 3 defense, and 3 hit points is quite unconventional. On the one hand, having both an attack of 3 and a defense of 3 is quite stellar. Usually heroes are either specialized in one aspect, having a 3 in attack and low defense, for example, or 3/4 in defense and a low attack, or they have the jack-of-all-trades 2/2/2 distribution. Having the “specialty level” number of 3 in both attack and defense makes Amarthiul a bit of a combat prodigy. On the other hand, 3 defense and 3 hit points makes Amarthiul a dodgy prospect in defense (I do like designer Matt Newman’s explanation that this reflects his youthful and sometimes reckless nature). Usually, you want your defending heroes to have at least 4 hit points, if not 5, to give them a bit of a buffer for when they have to deal with the inevitable shadow effects that boost enemy attacks or deal damage directly. Denethor, the premier defender back in the early days of the game, had the same defense/hit point stats, but he also had in-sphere access to Protector of Lorien and A Burning Brand to provide a security blanket. Amarthiul doesn’t have the same luxury. For that reason, I would be hesitant to rely on Amarthiul as my primary defender without some form of damage cancellation, hit point boosting, and/or shadow cancellation. With Amarthiul’s strength in both attack and defense, the best strategy would be to include some readying, whether of the disposable kind (like Descendants of Kings) or a permanent attachment, so that he can soak up an enemy attack and still do some damage against the enemy. While specialization is usually valued in a hero, being able to take advantage of a hero that is actually specialized in both attack and defense, all for 10 threat, is too good to pass up…at least in theory. The challenge is getting enough action advantage for him to turn this theory into practice.

A look at Amarthiul in action...

A look at Amarthiul in action…

With all of this in mind, which attachments can get the best out of Amarthiul? Dunedain Mark and Dunedain Warning are both great choices, allowing you to boost his already high attack and defense, and if you are playing a Dunedain deck, the Weather Hills Watchman can grab them for you. Dunedain Cache/Dunedain Signal could also be valuable in multiplayer for ranged/sentinel. If you are really struggling to find enough readying, I wouldn’t mind Cram for one of the only in-sphere options. Of course, Amarthiul provides access to the Tactics sphere as well. From that sphere, Captain of Gondor is a fantastic choice, probably a must-add. It allows you to boost Amarthiul to 4 attack and 4 defense when optionally engaging an enemy (which you’ll be doing often with this hero), making him an even more advanced combat specialist.

If you’re going to attach Steward of Gondor to Amarthiul to turn him into a gargantuan dual-sphere resource engine, then Gondorian Shield should fit right in to give a bit more defensive security. If you are going to be running Lore, then trying to set up A Burning Brand with a Song of Wisdom could be a winning approach (in fact, it might be worth a try even without an actual Lore hero to help pay for the Brand). If you have Ents available, Amarthiul is a prime candidate for Ent Draught to remedy his small hit point pool. Finally, the Spirit sphere brings the most coveted attachment for Amarthiul: Unexpected Courage. This kind of repeatable readying to help him be both an offensive and defensive machine is otherwise difficult to come by in the other spheres. Unfortunately, Spirit is perhaps the hardest to fit into the kind of decks that Amarthiul wants to be a part of, which are usually Dunedain decks and/or combat decks. However, it’s not an impossible task, as there is a Dunedain component in Spirit with Idraen/Northern Tracker/Warden of Annuminas, and combat decks can afford at least one Spirit hero at times. Still, finding readying for Amarthiul is perhaps the single biggest task for those who want to build a deck featuring this new hero. It’s not strictly essential, as you can use him primarily in one role or the other, or use him for whichever you need most on a given turn, but it’s a shame not to maximize the stats that are on offer.

So what kind of decks does Amarthiul truly fit into, now that we’ve danced (and stomped) through the issue a few times throughout this review. Obviously, he makes a great choice for Dunedain decks. In fact, out of the three heroes we’ve gotten in this cycle that seem to be dedicated to the Dunedain archetype (Tactics Aragorn, Halbarad, and Amarthiul), it’s possible to make the case that Amarthiul does the most to drive the archetype forward and is the most important choice for such decks. Why? Well, it’s important to consider that many trait decks, though not all, are fundamentally made possible by an effect or set of effects that allow cards/pieces to be put out as quickly as possible through resource generation or cost reduction (even though the stat boots get more attention). These are effects like O Lorien! for Silvan, Spirit Theoden for Rohan, Thorin/We Are Not Idle for Dwarves, and Hirluin for Outlands (and Grima for everyone!). Amarthiul fills a similar role for Dunedain by smoothing resources between needed spheres and actually generating additional resources as well. The question of how powerful he is for his trait compared to those other effects is an open one, but I don’t think it can be denied that he does help serve as an engine for the archetype. What truly holds back his power in this regard is the condition of needing to be engaged with 2 enemies, as previously discussed (although it’s perfectly appropriate for the sphere). So far the best methods I’ve found are either using Forest Snare or having Beravor defend over and over against with A Burning Brand, as repeatedly defending against multiple enemies is a recipe for disaster without shadow cancellation, but he will become much better as a resource generator if more options develop in the future.

While Amarthiul will probably see the most play in Dunedain decks, he is a viable option for any decks that wants to be able to splash Tactics and plans on engaging enemies often enough to gain the icon. He also is a great “third hero” choice for Leadership/Tactics decks. In addition, any deck that can include some action advantage might want to look at Amarthiul as a way of having a solid offensive and defensive presence all at once.

Oddly, I was not too impressed with or excited by Amarthiul when he was first revealed. I’m not quite sure why, but heroes like Spirit Merry, Rossiel, and Erestor all inspired me much more, perhaps because their abilities are so unique and encourage some experimental deck building. Amarthiul, by contrast, is a far bolder and obvious hero in the way he operates. However, after taking time to play with and think about Amarthiul, I’m actually quite impressed with the hero, as probably comes through in this review. He isn’t necessarily a top-tier hero or a power player, yet he is a piece that the Dunedain needed (although a bit more help is necessary), has a unique stat line, provides another “dual sphere” hero option, and has been built up in story terms throughout the cycle. All of this adds up to a hero that you should definitely give a chance if you were initially underwhelmed like I was.

Versatility: ♦♦♦◊◊

Efficiency: ♦♦♦◊◊

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦♦◊

Possible Attachment Choices: Dunedain Mark/Warning, Captain of Gondor, Steward of Gondor, Gondorian Shield, Ent Draught, Unexpected Courage, A Burning Brand/Song of Wisdom

Conclusion

The Battle of Carn Dum Adventure Pack review has now begun in earnest, and we’ll try to tear through the rest of the cards as The Dread Realm, the concluding pack of the cycle, is due to be released soon. Amarthiul is certainly a worthy hero in what has been a great cycle for heroes so far, with only Dori of questionable quality. Surely, the last hero will be something special…

Readers, what are your thoughts on Amarthiul? Is he what the Dunedain needed? How would you rate him overall as a hero? What are some ways to ensure his extra resource consistently triggers?

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13 Comments
  1. ChasmosaurusChris permalink

    I believe he’s the best card in the pack. He’s resource generation and smoothing. If you use tactics Boromir enemies are easier to keep around than they first appear.

  2. Tonskillitis permalink

    I would be interested to hear how people think he compares with Halbarad given his equal threat cost. I’m not sure that they complement each other particularly well as utility style heroes. I recently tried Amarthiul for a campaign but ending up subbing him out for Halbarad’s extra willpower in the end, not finding his abilities to be very useful. I do think that Amarthiul brings a degree of credibility to the risky Dunedain strategy for players willing to include power defenders like Boromir or Elrohir…

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      There’s not really direct synergy between the two, other than what they share as both working within the Dunedain framework. I find Halbarad to work well in multiplayer, but tend to like Amarthiul more for solo and in the right deck types.

  3. Gizlivadi permalink

    When he was initially revealed I too was a bit lukewarm on him. Now that I’ve played with him, I can say that he is an excellent hero for sure. Now, I will be the first to say: he is NOT Celeborn or Theoden (or Dain, for that matter) for the Dúnedain trait, but he is a great utility hero in Dúnedain decks. If you’re running mono-Leadership he give you access to Feint and Shield, which is amazing, and you can totally abuse him if running Dúnedain with Lore and multiple Snares. He’s definately cool. I kinda wish there had been a bit more Dúnedain support in this cycle, as the aggro Leadership-Tactics archetype they were building with The Lost Realm kinda stopped without getting enough development, but oh well.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Agreed on the need for some more Dunedain support. I think it’s definitely fair to say that the Silvan were much further along at this point in the Ring-maker cycle than the Dunedain are at this point in the Angmar Awakened cycle.

  4. mpk permalink

    I really feel that the Dunedain deck – that Amarthiul was so clearly designed for – needs something to make it more viable to have so many enemies engaged at once. Forest snare is nice, but expensive – and at the moment it seems essential. Dunedain don’t have enough good defenders to not be destroyed by shadow effects from 2-3 attacks per round.

    Maybe an ally that can exhaust to lower an enemy attack value prior to an attack? Or some type of more reliable shadow cancellation than Dunedain Watcher?

    • Chris permalink

      I’ve had great success with Halbarad, Aragorn (T),and Boromir (T) for the current cycle. Works pretty well with taking heaps of enemies. Of course this does rely on Boromir and his Gondor trait a lot, and admittedly it doesn’t include many Dunedain support cards, but the concept remains the same. I must try Amarthiul in this deck as a replacement for Aragorn.

      I haven’t had any experience playing a true Dunedain ally deck yet so I can’t really speak to that. However I have a theme deck along these lines made up for the Black Riders box. I look forward to giving it a go.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yeah, it does need a few more pieces. I’ve only had success with either Forest Snare or having a pumped up Beravor with Burning Brand and Unexpected Courage defend multiple times. I wish there were some more Dunedain specific options.

      • mpk permalink

        Beravor + burning brand is a good idea – defending that many times really is begging to get killed by shadow effects. But again, this approach essentially requires Lore (and your version also has spirit) – resources are definitely spread pretty thin. Do you also use the tactics cards? If you are thinking about posting another deck spotlight, I’d love to see a Dunedain deck.

        Dunedain Watcher can be a great emergency option, but I feel you simply can’t keep that many enemies engaged (and not dead) without access to lore.

  5. Silver Swan permalink

    One Dunedain that hasn’t come out in card form yet is Gilraen. She dies 6 years after Bilbo’s farewell party, so this is one of the few non-FFG creation named characters for whom you don’t have to explain away a death as part of the game.
    Gilraen is Aragorn’s mother. We get a sense of her character in the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen in Appendix A.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I’d love for there to be a Gilraen hero! Definitely an interesting character in the lore, from what little we get and she could play an interesting support role for the Dunedain deck.

  6. Forgive my ignorance, but with Amarthiul being unique, does this mean I can’t play him as a hero against Across the Ettenmoors or Treachery of Rhudaur, which have him as an objective ally?

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      No worries. Yes, that’s correct, you can’t use him against those scenarios.

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