The Three Striders and the Test of Will
Hi everybody! My name is Miika, and I am honored to have the chance to write for this amazing blog. I have played lotr lcg since spring this year so I’m fairly new to the game but ever since I tried it for the first time I’ve been seriously addicted to it. In my writings, I will focus mainly on individual cards and deck construction and sometimes on the other more general aspects of the game as well, without excluding Tolkien’s writings themselves. Hopefully these articles give some insights into the game and are enjoyable to read!
It can be safely argued that Aragorn is one of the most prominent characters in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and in the entire history of Arda, particularly since the dawn of Numenor and the Second Age of the Sun. The entire life of the youthful chieftain of rangers culminated in The Return of the King, and by then the son of Arathorn had already devoted his lifetime to learning all aspects of Middle- Earth- of its races whether on the side of good or evil, of its kingdoms, and of course, of the lands themselves, battling against the servants of Sauron while travelling through enough forests to make any sane Silvan elf envious (that’s what happens when you’re living in the same woods for more than one Age). The humble, noble yet quietly wise stranger is not constantly pushing himself into the spotlight, yet when the time comes, his wisdom is often invaluable- whether aiding young hobbits to escape Ringwraiths to the safety of Rivendell, listening to the news from the earth in Eriador and Rohan or offering his advice for the Kings and Stewards across the kingdoms of men- all along with the friendship of everyone’s favorite wizard. All this nobility and lineage culminated in the renewal of the title of the King of the Reunited Kingdom of Gondor and Arnor, with the marriage with Arwen Undomiel and the beginning of a presumably more peaceful Age of the world at hand.
In this context, it is no wonder that Aragorn- if any hero- should be able to carry out not two but three different variations of himself as a hero and many more in a form of an ally or a guest star in various quests, and it would not be any surprise to potentially get a fourth version of him released in a future for the Spirit sphere. While this potential release is yet to become reality, I would like to introduce the current three versions of Aragorn we have available and discuss their power levels and potentiality at the same time. The idea is to see what each of these versions of Aragorn has to offer to the game and to various types of decks while taking into account if any of the three versions has the potential to possibly overcome another.
Without more introduction, let’s take a look at each of the Strider incarnations, starting with the Core version of Aragorn, the Aragorn of Leadership:
As usual, the first things to note in Aragorn, like in any other hero, are his statistics, which appear to be quite awesome. His threat of 12 is surely high, but along with the high threat cost you get a strong stat line of 2 Willpower, 3 Attack, 2 Defense and a good amount of 5 Health on top of that, making Aragorn a respectable contributor to any part of the game. It should be noted that all versions of Aragorn share the same stat line, making these evaluations more concerned with his abilities and the Spheres which he belongs to.
Speaking of abilities, the Leadership Aragorn has the following rules to support him:
Response: After Aragorn commits to a quest, spend 1 resource from his resource pool to ready him.
Bearing in mind that Aragorn is able to block enemies engaged with another player and is able to quest for every turn as long as you’re willing to pay the price of 1 resource to get the most effect out of him, the Core set Aragorn is a versatile hero who can excel in multiple areas of the game each turn, making him an ideal hero for beginners to start playing with. In terms of the book context, Leadership sphere fits Aragorn in the most excellent way, as he shows his abilities of being a natural born leader in many parts of the books along the journey. So flavor-wise, the choice is acceptable, but what about his actual usefulness in the game? Has he enough to offer to justify the cost for playing him in any reasonable amount of decks?
The short answer is a definite yes, the long answer is a bit more complex to deal with. Stat wise Aragorn surely justifies his threat cost of 12 and offers utility in the form of an early and natural readying effect, but this versatility which beginners might take pleasantly for granted is actually Leadership Aragorn’s biggest drawback – he is a really good hero to play with, but there is a fair chance for ending up in a situation where he really offers nothing special for your table. Okay, so let’s be clear: readying effects are surely the most powerful tools for heroes to have in the entire game, but in the case of Aragorn, you still have to spend one resource each turn to be able to do that, which can lead into a certain kind of a trap while playing the game if you’re not careful enough with your planning each turn.
For example, when I started to play Lotr LCG, one of my first decks included Aragorn as a hero, and I soon realized that paying that seemingly low cost of 1 resource made my turns a lot easier- there was no need to worry about exhausting usually but 1 character max for questing when Aragorn was ready after declaring him to a quest. But I soon realized that – especially when playing with Aragorn as the sole Leadership hero- the progress I made on the table in form of Allies and other player cards had been put to rest because I had kept paying that resource each turn- my other heroes didn’t have to worry about that, they didn’t have the option. But they could advance at managing the table. So, either I want to quest and ready all the time or I can improve my table. This decision is of course depending a lot on the situation in the staging area- the less enemies you have engaged with or are waiting in the staging area the less problematic it is to simply let Aragorn exhaust and spare his resources for something else.
… and that’s about it when considering this Aragorn’s little drawback as such, since the other side of the coin is that there are numerous ways to avoid the disastrous situation where you start saving for your resources with Aragorn when it’s too late. One obvious counter for this is of course the structure of your deck, in this case the heroes that you end up playing with. When bringing two Leadership heroes or possibly even a mono- Leadership deck to play, you’re getting to play what you need anyway, so in that case paying 1 resource each turn is probably not going to ruin your game, and it makes your playing much easier as said earlier. Another possible solution is to just start with playing cheap allies to chump block if anything goes horribly wrong in the staging area (and that’s why you’re playing the Snowborn Scout after all) to save resources in the beginning, and later using them to ready Aragorn when you have most of the vital cards you need to get early in the game. And of course, there are always cards that create more resources- if you can slap Resourceful or Steward of Gondor on Aragorn (despite all the fun factor in terms of flavor) you can basically forget the issue of whether to ready Aragorn or not from that point on. And of course there are other readying effects to help your play, particularly the ever-useful Unexpected Courage, Cram, or Miruvor etc., you name it.
Therefore, Aragorn’s ability is after all not that hard to put to good use, and regarding the value of his traits, Dúnedain immediately comes to mind considering that the game currently has only 6 Dúnedain heroes to choose from, half of them being the 3 different Aragorns we have! Decks playing Ranger traits wouldn’t also be sad to have Aragorn as a hero option, although those kinds of decks might get more out of Halbarad or Faramir (or perhaps even Elrohir). Besides, considering the future adventure packs, options are always nice to have.
So overall, Leadership Aragorn is a very solid hero with good stats and a good ability. While the increase in the card pool has surely made Aragorn less unique and not as powerful a character in pure game terms (Prince Imrahil is a very good comparison although also being a fairly old card by now), his solid stat line, numerous traits and overall versatility still make him a great hero for the Leadership sphere – in fact, there is basically no Sphere where 2/3/2/5 stat line wouldn’t be at least solid if not really good- even as the card pool has grown and the options and variety for decklists are more numerous than during the Core set days.
First there was Lotr LCG, and along with it came Aragorn – the flagbearer of Leadership and the hero to set the bar for the future expansions for characters both balanced and perfectly suitable for their role- stat wise and in terms of flavor. But as usual with these kinds of games, more expansions were released and the card pool grew larger, and once the courageous adventurers of Middle- Earth decided to set up for a quest in search of the Doors of Durin, there was one character who came along, feeling that he had not yet given his last advice in this game- and probably wouldn’t do so for quite awhile.
… and then there was Loragorn.
So, the second incarnation of Aragorn came from the Lore sphere, a sphere known for wisdom, understanding and healing (not forgetting the effective card drawing skills). Flavor-wise the Lore version represents Aragorn in his Strider form, the one he had adapted for most of his lifetime. It is also probably one of most people’s favorite appearances of him in the books, and Lore is also a perfect sphere to represent this role- a ranger who has travelled far and long, gaining wisdom from the dwellers in Middle- Earth, both friend or foe alike, and working in the shadows along with other Dúnedain to keep darkness at bay until the time would come for him to prove himself worthy of what he was destined to become.
With all that excitement about Strider as we know him in mind, let’s take a look what Loragorn has to offer in game terms- his stat line is obviously the same as the Core set version of him, but his rules go as follows:
Refresh Action: Reduce your threat to your starting threat level. (Limit once per game.)
The Lore version of Aragorn effectively retains his old Dúnedain and Ranger traits, losing only his not-the-most-important Noble trait. He is also still Sentinel, but instead of making your questing look like a relaxed walk on the Great East Road, he gets a remarkably powerful ability to reduce your threat to its starting level once per game! As an ability, threat reduction is not a unique one, but this is easily the most powerful one available.
So, how does this ability affect gameplay with Aragorn? Considering that there is not a single threat reduction card available for the Lore sphere besides Needful to Know, the ability becomes even more powerful. In fact, if you play Loragorn, you probably don’t need to worry much about threat reduction when constructing your deck unless you’re facing a really threat- heavy encounter deck of course, but most of the time, even a few copies of Galadhrim’s Greetings or Elrond’s Counsel in a deck is enough to get you where you want with your threat until the game is over, and this ability tops those cards simply by a mile. So, not only does the ability let you take care of one entire aspect of this game in one swing, it also helps your deckbuilding, since all those cards which would be otherwise used to manage your threat can be used for something else (or at least players should really reconsider whether the usual amount of threat reduction is really needed in a deck with this Aragorn).
Another good thing about this version of Aragorn is that he is a really effective hero option for Secrecy decks to have as a main hero. Sure, his 12 threat is annoyingly high in those decks for a single hero considering how useful he would otherwise be, but pairing him with Spirit Glorfindel/Merry/Pippin for a 2- hero deck might just make the deck work. Outside the Secrecy decks, Aragorn’s ability also lets you to play a little more recklessly in general in a sense that when the staging area starts to have traffic and you have issues with your questing while handling all the enemies at the same time, taking a little more threat wouldn’t hurt since you can always set the threat to its starting level when the situation starts to be hopeless, or simply to allow you to get basically one more turn to take more threat in order to get rid of most of the enemies or possibly other encounter cards you’re dealing with.
So now the real question will be- how powerful is this ability compared to Core Aragorn? I’m too tempted to say that it is much more powerful than what Leadergorn can hope to bring to the table and I’m not going to pass on that statement, sorry everyone. This of course doesn’t mean that the Core version of Aragorn is no longer a valid choice because of the existence of Loragorn- there are times when you’re already having Lore in your decks (it’s really about the choice of traits, theme and your personal interests in deckbuilding) and the last hero you need has to be from other spheres, in which case the two other versions of Aragorn might become handy. Also, despite the usefulness, Loragorn is certainly not suitable for every deck- if you can handle your threat with other cards which you would use anyway (Elrond’s Counsel, Secret Vigil and Core Gandalf immediately come to mind), then Aragorn’s ability and stats considering the amount of threat he has might just be overkill for your deck- sometimes less just can be much more. But, if you’re including Lore in your decks, you’re not sure how your threat management is going to be handled out, and you want to start with a hero with strong stats and a powerful ability, then Lore Aragorn is the hero for you. Stat wise, Loragorn is just as useful as the Core versions.
All in all, Lore Aragorn fills his role nicely on the table, bringing in a groundbreaking ability while maintaining his solid stats and multiple roles in the table, if not handling as many issues in a turn than he used to. He is a really powerful character and in terms of pure power level he might actually top the Core version of Aragorn, but not by much, and without making Core Aragorn any more less useful and powerful a hero option for your decks.
But is there anyone else who might top Leader- or Loragorn, or both in fact? There might just be, since there is still one candidate who is yet to appear in this review…
“I serve no man,” said Aragorn; “but the servants
of Sauron I pursue into whatever land they may
go.” -The Two Towers
As far as the flavor texts, stats and just the personal card appearance goes, Tactics Aragorn is just a hero who speaks for himself. So, with the Lost Realm deluxe expansion, we get the third and so far the latest incarnation of Aragorn as an official deck support for your heroes. This time, Aragorn is Tactics- he is on the hunt, and he is all about leading the Three Hunters through time and peril to pursue a couple dozen of Saruman’s finest servants and introduce them to a world of hurt while rescuing the two hobbit comrades of the fellowship- all this with only light equipment available, running for days and nights, barely pausing for a moment, and with earth and wind as the sole clues to figure out in which direction the hunted are even heading to.
You just can’t get more boss than that.
Alright, now when we know what Tactics Aragorn is all about, lets delve deeper into his true value- will he equal or perhaps even top his former incarnations or does he end up being something entirely not that great? Rules wise, he has the following:
Dúnedain. Ranger. Warrior.
Each enemy engaged with you gets -1 Defense. Response: After Aragorn participates in an attack that destroys an enemy, choose an enemy not engaged with you and engage that enemy.
Like all the other versions, he is Dúnedain and a Ranger, but this time he is also Warrior. So, that’s probably enough keywords to explain that he is a fighter. A minor drawback is that Tactics Aragorn doesn’t have Sentinel like the other versions. Stat wise, 2 Willpower is really good for Tactics, although you might want to have some readying effects to make the most of Aragorn’s other abilities. Otherwise, he is just as efficient as he usually is, and continues the long list of effective Tactics heroes. The traits here are a bit different than they are with the two other versions of Aragorn since this Aragorn is all about comboing with those deck types, more so than the former ones. How does that happen? Simply because of his effects which are, once again, simply great. So, each enemy is getting -1 Defense, and if that wasn’t enough, Aragorn engages another enemy each time he destroys something in combat.
That being said, Aragorn is almost an auto- include if you’re playing a Dúnedain deck with any Tactics in mind because of his solid stat line and ability to engage more enemies and, in fact, enemies which you wouldn’t normally be able to engage, and with Dúnedain decks the defense reduction becomes just plain ridiculous – not only because the ability gets more powerful the more enemies you engage, but also because you will engage the creatures in that deck archetype without hesitation for good times and profit. Cards like the hero Halbarad (who begs to search for troubles and likes them), Dúnedain Hunter, Sarn Ford Sentry, Warden of Annúminas, etc. the list is pretty impressive, and Aragorn allows you to put great synergy into these decks, since the passive ability just follows all the other Dúnedain effects and offers a built-in engagement during combat on top of that.
So, Aragorn’s abilities support the Dúnedain deck type fairly well, but how powerful is the ability in pure game terms? Unless you’re facing entire cohorts of naked maniacs, the ability basically says that all your characters have +1 Attack. What makes it more significant is that there are countless situations in the game in which the 1 Defense or the lack of 1 more Attack makes all the difference, or the enemies are having Defense values such that dealing damage to them is often just one step away from either being doable for the desired result (read= the enemy is dead) or even being possible – for against natural 3 Defense enemies, your fighter heroes and combat allies become more powerful, against 2 Defense, most of the characters who possess at least moderate combat abilities become better, and against 1 defense, almost everyone can do something. This of course doesn’t mean that the essential role of your characters will change completely – Eowyn combined with Aragorn is just as likely to quest rather than attack as she usually is- but having more possibilities and simply that little more edge in the game can make all the difference in one combat round, which also might affect the planning for your future turns- in short, making you more likely to succeed in what you’re doing, since combat as a whole becomes much easier.
So all in all, Aragorn appears here to be almost an essential choice for Dúnedain decks, while in other decks he offers you one other tool to deal with combat, and since you might just sometimes want to engage enemies you normally couldn’t, Aragorn lets you to take care of those issues. This might be a little more of a quest-specific issue than a common problem to deal with but still. The real question here will be: are these capabilities the ones you actually want in your deck? Once again, we are dealing with the same question- you are able to go and do something really efficient, but if the abilities don’t match the threat cost or you don’t (or don’t need to) make the most of them then you’re just wasting the threat cost and excluding more useful heroes available. A great example here is a mono- tactics deck: I would usually consider heroes like Legolas, Beregond, Hama, Beorn or perhaps even Boromir over Aragorn because of their consistently great roles in the game, in which case Aragorn is perhaps not needed. Of course Tactics decks are all about attacking and thus Defense values are not as big a deal as they usually are, but the heroes mentioned here are still worth considering over Aragorn in most of the other types of decks, too, in which the Sphere selection is more diverse and so forth.
Therefore, Tactics Aragorn bolsters the Tactics sphere with an interesting alternative, helps balanced decks to deal with whatever they are facing in their quests, and offers a fantastic hero addition to Dúnedain decks- making him therefore a bit more focused than his other versions are. But bearing in mind that this is a third different version of the same hero this should not be that much of a surprise.
So, there you have them. The Three Striders making everyone’s day in Middle- Earth, lightening the hearts of the free peoples, beating down enemies for a good time and offering a fair amount of variety for your deck construction. Each Aragorn we have is flavorful, offers something creative and powerful for your decks and, surprise surprise, there are no rankings for them : ) So choose with passion, continue playing like you got a pair and most importantly, have fun.