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The Dread Realm: Hero Review

by on February 5, 2016



The ending of a cycle always seems a bit strange. It can feel like ages before a cycle gets going, but when it does, it appears to pass in a flash. As each cycle nears its end, one question begins to assume great importance: Which hero will end the cycle? Dain Ironfoot, who concluded the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, and Elrond, who wrapped up the Dwarrowdelf cycle, set the precedent for cycle-ending heroes as being powerful and representing some of the most notable characters in Middle-earth. However, more recent cycles haven’t necessarily held to this pattern. The Tactics version of Theoden appeared at the end of the Against the Shadow cycle, but was widely panned as a hero of limited use, in spite of being the incarnation of such a popular and important figure. Erkenbrand was the final hero of the Ring-maker cycle, and although he is a useful hero, he didn’t quite create the big splash that some were expecting for the finale. When The Dread Realm hit, the final hero of the Angmar Awakened cycle was revealed, and it was none other than Arwen Undomiel herself. The high profile of this character is certainly not in dispute. But is she more akin to Dain or her father, Elrond, or is she ultimately a let-down? Read on to find out!


* Arwen Undomiel (Spirit Hero, 9 threat, 3 willpower, 1 attack, 2 defense, 3 hit points):


Arwen Undomiel has had a long and storied history in LOTR LCG as first an objective ally in two scenarios and then, more importantly, as one of the best allies in the game. While the character herself doesn’t play a huge role in the events of the actual books, she is an important enough figure in the overall mythos that it seemed a certainty that she would one day have a hero version. The real question was what her ability would be, given that there isn’t a ton to go on from Tolkien’s actual words. In the end, Arwen came out in the same cycle that focused on developing Noldor, which provided an answer in that she could also play off of the new discard mechanic. In particular, she helps to generate resources through this card discard:

Action: Discard a card from your hand to add 1 resource to a Noldor‘s resource pool, or to Aragorn’s resource pool. (Limit once per round.)

As a lore aside, I think this ability can be supported in thematic terms, despite our lack of knowledge about Arwen. While what she is known most for is her beauty and her relationship with Aragorn, it’s easy to forget that, like most Elves we come to know in the story, she has been alive for the equivalent of many human lifetimes. This gives her access to the special wisdom that the Noldor in particular are noted for in the Third Age (Note: Arwen of course, like her father, is actually considered to be of the Half-elven, rather than Noldor, but the game for practical purposes has erased this distinction in favor of “Noldor” encompassing all “High Elves” and those associated with them, and “Silvan” covering the rest. From this point of view, Arwen fits in with the Noldor). The flavor text of the card itself gives a clue to this:

…the light of stars was in her bright eyes, grey as a cloudless night; yet queenly she looked, and thought and knowledge were in her glance, as of one who has known many things that the years bring.
–The Fellowship of the Ring

Here what is most notable is the “thought and knowledge” that shines from Arwen’s eyes. In the card game, cards in hand have often thematically symbolized knowledge, which is why Lore specializes in card draw and also why it makes sense for the Noldor of all peoples to use cards in hand to trigger effects. With this in mind, we can think of Arwen as using her knowledge and wisdom to bolster the cause of the Free Peoples. Of course, this can be given to other Elves (at least with the Noldor trait), but also Aragorn, as she does play a key role in motivating and inspiring him to his eventual destiny. Even a simple act like sewing the banner of Elendil that he would eventually use is a representation of this process.

Leaving lore aside, what does this relatively simple ability offer in terms of gameplay? The answer is: a whole damn lot. Resource generation and card draw are two fundamental abilities that can often improve a deck when they are added. Indeed, these abilities are often the difference between success and failure. Arwen essentially allows you to convert cards into resources. This ability is huge for Spirit, since resource generation, outside of Zigil Miner, is largely absent. In fact, there aren’t a ton of options for any sphere outside the Leadership sphere, and Arwen provides the opportunity to generate some wealth without having to include Leadership (by pairing Spirit with card draw-heavy Lore, for example). The ability can only be used once per round, which means that an additional resource per turn is the best case scenario. This seems to pale in comparison to Steward of Gondor, but really it’s enough to have a dramatic impact on a deck.

On one level, simple arithmetic dictates that having 4 resources per turn is better than 3. But Arwen’s power runs deeper than that. Those who have played the game for a reasonable length of time quickly discover that “resource smoothing”, meaning the ability to move resources between spheres or otherwise change the distribution of resources between the spheres you control, is often just as important as simply generating more resources. For example, imagine a situation in which I have Elladan (Tactics), Elrohir (Leadership), and Arwen (Spirit). Without Arwen’s ability, I am pretty much limited to paying for cards based on the 1 resource generated for each of the 3 spheres each turn (assuming no other resource smoothing abilities of course). With Arwen, I can have an additional resource each turn, but, more importantly, I can choose which sphere will get that resource. This provides a great deal of flexibility to be able to respond to a changing game and prioritize the most important cards regardless of sphere. It also gives more flexibility for deck building in terms of the costs of cards that you can include.

Every ability has limitations of course. In Arwen’s case, the resource can only be given to a Noldor hero (or Aragorn). Fortunately, there is an Aragorn in each of the 3 non-Spirit spheres, and several Noldor options in the card pool. On the other hand, Elladan is the only Noldor hero in Tactics and Elrohir is the only Noldor hero in Leadership. If you aren’t planning on using Aragorn or the twins, Arwen won’t be very useful in conjunction with Tactics and Leadership, unless you don’t really care about giving resources to those spheres. Arwen’s ability also uses up cards in your hand, which is a real cost for generating the resource. Presumably, you will be including substantial card draw in your deck so that this penalty does not become too punishing. For example, if you are running Arwen as part of a Noldor deck, then you’ll probably be including a ton of card draw anyway to fund all those effects that rely off of discarding cards from hand. If you’re not running Arwen, then you’ll need to make sure that you have enough card draw available that you can use her ability on at least a semi-consistent basis without draining your hand of options (after all, it’s no good having resources if you have nothing to play!). Fortunately, this pack also comes with Elven-light, which is often enough by itself to get Arwen going, but that matter will be discussed further when that card itself is reviewed. In sum, there are enough limitations to prevent Arwen from being overpowered, but they are simple enough to overcome that she is still amazing (don’t forget, she can always just give the resource to herself!).

What about her stat line and role in the game as a body? With 3 willpower being her highest stat, her obvious role seems to be as a quester, and, in this case, I wouldn’t overthink the matter. Arwen can help out in attack or defense in a pinch, but most of the time you’re going to be exhausting her to quest each turn and that’s about it. Since her threat is only 9, this kind of a one-dimensional role is fine. She probably won’t be a common target for readying effects, unless it’s to use Tale of Tinuviel (also to be discussed in another review).

If not readying, what attachments are best suited for Arwen? There actually aren’t a ton given her questing role. Steed of Imladris is a good fit to help with questing and to further play off of card discard from hand. Silver Harp is probably the number one consideration when deck building with Arwen, as this attachment can allow you to gain the resource without actually losing anything from hand. It actually might not be necessary to include in every instance (if you have a ton of card draw, for instance), but it is probably the top choice. Protector of Lorien is also a decent choice to help boost Arwen’s willpower and further play off of discard shenanigans. Expert Treasure-hunter can also work well to potentially draw some cards from a hero that will almost always be questing (it also helps to feed the discard pile for those Noldor effects that play off of this aspect and will play off of it). Heir of Mardil is a great choice, not necessarily for Arwen, but for another hero that you are including alongside her. Anytime Arwen uses her action to give that hero a resource, they can exhaust Heir to ready, which is fantastic on-demand readying.

In terms of events, Tale of Tinuviel and Elven-light are the first two priorities (Elven-light is pretty much a must-include). Since cards will be filling up your discard pile from Arwen’s ability, Dwarven Tomb and other recursion cards can be useful as well. You can even use the old trick of discarding an off-sphere ally with Arwen’s ability and then playing Stand and Fight to put that ally into play as a means of splashing.

Overall, this is one of the easiest reviews I’ve had to do. Arwen is an amazing hero and will likely be used frequently in the years to come. There are some heroes in Spirit that are versatile and can fit into all kinds of decks and thus show up all the time, such as Eowyn and Glorfindel. Others are useful, but perhaps more situational, like Eleanor and Dunhere, or fit into a certain deck type, like Caldara. Arwen falls into the first category, and it’s great to have another option in this regard for Spirit. When she is working in conjunction with Elven-light, she becomes even better, as you can essentially trade resources for cards, when you need more options, and cards for resources when you need the cash to pay for a certain card, allowing you to best adapt to your situation. All in all, Arwen is immediately in the top tier of heroes in my book. She won’t necessarily single-handedly win you a game like a Boromir or Gandalf, but she’ll do the quiet work that doesn’t always get noticed, but really greases the wheels of a deck.


Versatility: ♦♦♦♦◊

Efficiency: ♦♦♦♦♦

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦♦◊

Possible Attachment Choices: Silver Harp, Protector of Lorien, Expert Treasure-hunter, Steed of Imladris, Heir of Mardil (placed on another hero)


Well, Arwen has certainly re-established the reputation of cycle-ending packs as being the place to feature a fantastic hero. The rest of The Dread Realm player cards also contain some wonders to rave about, as well as some that might be more controversial. But that tale is for another day…

Readers, what are your thoughts on Arwen? How would you rate her overall as a hero? What about in comparison to other Spirit heroes

From → Reviews

  1. fifthranger permalink

    I have really liked what Caleb and Matt have done with the heroes this cycle (Dori excluded). There are a lot of interesting choices to be made with deckbuilding now, especially with the question “Which Spirit hero do I splash to access A Test of Will and Elrond’s Counsel?” I don’t think that there is a bad choice between Glorfy, Galadriel, and Arwen. With Aragorn having three different versions, it could be that she is the most flexible in terms of what type of deck she will fit into. Glorfy and Galadriel really require their own suite of cards to get the most milieage out of them. Figurative gun to my head, I would rank them Galadriel, Arwen, and Glorfy. Just my opinion. As a side note, I salivate at the deckbuilding possibilities of a mono-Spirit deck if we get a Spirit Aragorn hero.

    • Charlotte permalink

      Agree with most of what you’ve said, but I can’t understand your ranking; we all want to let go of Glorfindel because he’s been around for so long and is so undeniably strong but he is maybe *the* most splashable hero in the game. 3 Light of Valinor and you’re good to go. He has the usual drawbacks but he’s still just such a fantastic value at 5 threat, even if you don’t find Valinor for a few turns. Arwen’s good, no doubt, but I don’t think she’s anywhere close to the most flexible of the three. She has the same slots as Glorfindel because I can’t see a reason not to run three Elven Light. I agree with the article that it’s a must-include. Galadriel’s also more splashable even with the extra card slots, and her ability is already so good. I would go Glorfindel, Galadriel, Arwen, the reverse of yours, but I could be swayed fairly easily to swap Glorfindel and Galadriel.

      • fifthranger permalink

        Maybe a bit hyperbolic on my part, but the more I think about it, the more I hold to my ranking. Glorfindel is a good hero, but I think that he has lost a bit of his luster. Here are a few reasons:
        1) As the game seems to be pushing us to build more Trait-based decks, I don’t think that Glorfindel really has a home. The willpower, attack, and threat value are good, but he doesn’t really add anything to the Noldor build.
        2) Resource acceleration and management is probably the most important thing in this game, and that extra resource you get a turn from Arwen can make a huge difference in the game. In addition, she lets you splash more expensive cards the you otherwise wouldn’t have considered with just one Spirit hero.
        3) Glorfindel isn’t the best target for Light of Valinor anymore. Cirdan, Elrond, Rossiel (if you can build the right deck), and possibly even Arwen (for Tale of Tinuviel), are all better targets.
        4) We are not being as punished for high starting threat than we were at the inception of the game.
        In situations where I would need both the attack and willpower, Glorfindel would be the choice, but for my playstyle and the types of decks I build, I find her way more interesting and having a lot more to offer.

  2. Thaddeus permalink

    Great great hero. And I think your assessment is right on; she’s has lots of great synergistic combos, but is also just a strong hero who will always pull her weight without having to build around her. And all without being overpowered.
    So far I’ve just used her for Spirit splashing in what is otherwise a Beorn-centric eagles deck. Just being able to discard a card to get that extra resource does a lot to help pay for my Spirit cards, but even just a few of her goodies and she gets even better. The last time I played her I got Steed of Imladris and SIlver Harp on her, which meant she was effectively questing for five. And just pulling a single copy of Elven-light suddenly meant I had access to recurring card draw! And that’s huge for a Tactics/Spirit deck!

  3. Totally agree. No controversy here – she can quest and give you an extra resource with some smoothing when paired with card draw. Very strong – although the biggest weakness is that her ally version is so damn good – holds me back from using her a bit

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      That’s definitely a good point to consider. Actually, that might be hero Arwen’s biggest weakness. Her ally version is so good that it’s hard to give it up, but this will end up depending largely on the type of deck you want to play.

  4. Gonzalo permalink

    The burning question is how she stacks up against Eowyn (I’m surprised the article doesn’t do this comparison).
    I think we will still see Eowyn in more decks as a staple hero, while Arwen will be in more specific decks built around her.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      It’s an interesting question to ponder, but in the end I didn’t include it because I don’t think it’s that instructive. People will use Arwen when they are playing Noldor or want extra resource generation, while Eowyn will be the choice for when you really just need maximum willpower. In most cases, the choice will probably be fairly clear cut for a particular deck, but I don’t think either is clear winner over the other.

      • tomtomiszcze permalink

        Eowyn all the way and it’s not even close. Elven light works with her, she’s much better at questing and there’s no Eowyn ally that we would miss. I must also disagree with resource generation vs max willpower argument. In my opinion, mono spirit decks starve for resources primarily to generate more willpower, so +2/+3 WP provided by Eowyn makes them less hungry. And spirit splashing? Sadly, Glorfindel will haunt us forever in that regard. On the other hand, Psychorocka has recently updated his Two Handed Decks by throwing poor Sam Gamgee to the snakepit and replacing him with Arwen to accompany her brothers, but I’m afraid that setup will miss her ally version and her sentinel sharing ability.

        • TalesfromtheCards permalink

          A mono Spirit deck focusing on questing is just one example though. This ignores the whole issue of resource smoothing. When you’re choosing a Spirit hero to go along with heroes from two other spheres, for example, Arwen is going to be able to give you something that Eowyn just can’t. This is why the comparison isn’t as easy as it first seems. There’s a lot of factors that have to be taken into account that are deck-specific.

  5. tomtomiszcze permalink

    OK, I might have gone a bit too far, but still prefer Eowyn+ally Arwen over hero Arwen+any ally.

    • mpk permalink

      I feel that they fulfill completely different functions. If you really need wilpower, Eowyn is great. If you need resources, Arwen is awesome. Arwen is still one of the best questing heroes in the game (not many have 3 willpower), and as the single spirit hero in a dual or tri sphere deck allows you to include a lot more spirit cards. That extra resource can have a huge impact.

  6. Can I discard 1 card for both actions on Arwen Undómiel and Protector of Lórien?

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      No. Basically, the discard of a card is the cost you need to pay to trigger one of those actions, and each trigger need to be paid separately.

  7. Jabberwock permalink

    Absolutely love this hero!

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