The Sands of Harad: Heroes Review
The Sands of Harad is the latest deluxe expansion for our beloved game, one that takes us further afield in terms of geography and lore than we have ever been before. Our heroes venture into an area that was never really explored by Tolkien: Harad. This is a place that is far different in terms of climate, culture, and history than anything we encounter in the text of The Lord of the Rings, and while that might be slightly jarring at first, I welcome this chance at exploration and finally learning more about the southern lands! While the lands and foes we face might be different this time around, the heroes are actually some familiar faces. That’s right, we have received brand new versions of Legolas and Gimli to compete with the original Core Set incarnations. The theme of these new editions is the legendary friendship of Legolas and Gimli rather than their solitary exploits. But can these heroes actually help you win a game? Read on to find out!
* Legolas (Spirit Hero, 9 threat, 1 willpower, 3 attack, 1 defense, 4 hit points):
It is an interesting shift to suddenly think of Legolas as a Spirit hero. In Tactics he seems right at home as that keen-eyed archer we know and love, but I always figured his second version would be in Lore to represent his skills as a tracker. However, seeing him in Spirit does make some sense. On one level, his friendship with Gimli, which this card represents, is defined by loyalty and unity and is surely what the Spirit sphere is all about. On another level, Legolas in the books is often seemingly undeterred and almost cheery even in the face of grim circumstances. In terms of gameplay, having another option for a 3 attack hero in the sphere is definitely welcome.
Moving beyond this new Legolas version’s sphere, his ability centers around the rather Noldor-esque ability to discard a card from hand to ready another hero. The true flavor and interest perhaps comes in the second part of that ability, which gives a specific bonus to Gimli:
Response: After Legolas commits to a quest, discard a card from your hand to ready another hero. If that hero is Gimli, he gets +1 until the end of the phase. (Limit once per phase.)
Really this ability needs to be separated into two separate pieces to fully analyze it: its utility with Gimli and without Gimli. Taking the easy one first, this ability is obviously quite good with Leadership Gimli, as it allows you to quest with both heroes for a base 4, and have them both ready for combat later (Legolas is readied through Leadership Gimli’s ability, see the review later in this article). With Tactics Gimli, the potential is a bit muted by the fact that that version of Gimli does not have a built-in means of readying Legolas, so you would essentially be giving up Legolas’ action to have Gimli be ready, which may or may not be worth the trouble. Of course, the issue is that Legolas’ willpower of 1 so it’s only worth questing with him if you get some real benefit out of it, although there are some attachments in this very expansion that ramp up his questing ability. So overall Legolas’ ability is strong with Leadership Gimli and moderate with Tactics Gimli.
The really intriguing question is whether Spirit Legolas’ ability is at all worth it outside of a partnership with Gimli (whether within the same deck or somewhere across the table). Again, the issue is that if you quest without Legolas without some easy means of readying him, you are essentially only gaining 1 willpower while sacrificing Legolas’ action for that turn for another hero to have double actions. This is perhaps not the best use of the bodies you have available as this also means sacrificing the 3 attack of Legolas, which is his real strength. In that situation, you might be better off just to have 3 copies of Unexpected Courage to use on the hero you want to ready and just pick a different hero instead of Legolas. The ideal situation where Spirit Legolas might work without Gimli is if he has Light of Valinor along with a copy or two of Mirkwood Long-knife (also in this pack). Then, he can quest for 2 or 3, still be ready to use an attack of 4 or 5, and then use his ability to ready a hero when it is useful. There would be utility here of all kinds, from simply enabling another hero to both quest and participate in combat to getting use out of Beravor’s card draw to helping stand one of the Elven ring users and much more. The flexibility is nice that any hero on the board can be readied, not just one you control, but there are timing issues to consider. The main disadvantage here, beyond the cost of discarding a card, which can be a drain if you don’t have sufficient card draw, is that it does take a bit of setup to get Legolas in a place where he can truly shine without Gimli. The same can be said about other heroes of course. I do think this is an avenue worth exploring, but there are enough readying effects in the game now that it might only reach full potential in certain deck combinations.
In terms of stats and role within a deck, there isn’t much more to say than that Legolas is a strong attacker and that is all he will pretty much contribute unless you can boost his other stats. The Mirkwood Long-knife in this pack does make it quite easy to boost both his willpower and attack, making him a fierce questing/combat package. That attachment is thus probably your first choice for Spirit Legolas. It costs 2, but it really plays into exactly what you are doing if you are pairing him with Leadership Gimli. With 2 copies of the Long-knife, Spirit Legolas can quest for 3 and attack for 5 (6 with the boost from Leadership Gimli), which makes him an absolute monster. At that point, it is worth looking into other forms of readying, such as Unexpected Courage, to get extra attacks out of Legolas. You should definitely look into Light of Valinor if you are not planning on using Leadership Gimli, as previously discussed. In terms of other potential attachments, Legolas can make use of the usual weapons like Rivendell Blade and Bow of the Galadhrim, but these fight for restricted slots with the Long-knife, and the latter weapon is the better call for this version of Legolas.
More unconventionally, I really like Silver Lamp with Spirit Legolas. He will usually be ready for the combat phase, and seeing the shadow cards will make Leadership Gimli’s defensive job easier, especially when that hero is making use of Dwarven Shield and trying to figure out when to take or not take damage. Silver Harp is an option to reduce the drain on your hand by allowing Legolas to simply return the card back to hand that he uses to activate his ability. Beyond those options, there aren’t too many more attachments or events that I would put forward as strong considerations. Of course, there are a variety of effects that could benefit from Legolas’ Silvan, Scout, or Noble traits, but generally he seems to be best as a relatively straightforward option.
My overall take on Legolas is a bit difficult to separate from my overall take on Spirit Legolas and Leadership Gimli as a team, which will come at the end of this review. As a hero in isolation, without Gimli, it’s difficult to recommend him over some of the other fantastic heroes in the sphere, or even over his Tactics version. There is value in having a 3 attack ranged hero in Spirit, but of course Lanwyn is available for that purpose as well. It’s worth experimenting with the Light of Valinor/Long-knife build and so for that reason, I don’t think he is useless without Gimli. The ability to ready another hero on the board, rather than just readying the hero in question, is rare and noteworthy in that respect. But of course, his true value comes in partnership with his best friend.
Possible Attachment Choices: Mirkwood Long-knife, Light of Valinor, Unexpected Courage, Silver Harp, Silver Lamp
* Gimli (Leadership Hero, 11 threat, 2 willpower, 2 attack, 2 defense, 5 hit points):
Much like Spirit Legolas, the new sphere choice for Gimli is slightly jarring at first glance and not quite as natural as his old home of Tactics. After all, the main image we have of Gimli is as an axe-wielding warrior on the battlefield. However, it’s worth remembering that after the War of the Ring, he became the Lord of the Glittering Caves. But even leaving aside that title and his post-war life, he also was the Dwarven representative to the Council of Elrond, which surely can be seen as a form of leadership in itself. He obviously was picked for good reason and ended up serving as the representative for his people within the Fellowship as well. Throughout the events of the books, Gimli displayed bravery, courage, and a refusal to be cowed by anyone or anything (except the undead of Dunharrow, but who can blame him?!), and this must surely have been inspirational as well.
But while the old Tactics version of Gimli was all about epic attacks, this incarnation focuses on defense and his friendship with Legolas:
Response: After Gimli is declared as a defender, spend 1 resource from his pool to ready another hero. If that hero is Legolas, he gets +1 until the end of the phase. (Limit once per phase.)
Again, it’s best to look at this ability both with and without Legolas. When accompanied by Spirit Legolas, the synergy is obviously quite fantastic. Gimli can use a very strong 3 willpower to quest (with the bonus from Legolas), get readied by Legolas, and then be available to defend. This essentially makes him a 3 willpower, 2 defense hero that can do both of those each round, while readying Legolas with the second part of his ability. With Tactics Legolas, there is not as much value to be had. The reason is that Gimli won’t have a built-in way to ready if he chooses to quest, and although he could ready Legolas when declared as a defender, Tactics Legolas will never be questing. So the Leadership Gimli/Tactics Legolas combination is far worse than the Spirit Legolas/Tactics Gimli pair.
How does Leadership Gimli fare outside of a partnership with Legolas? Quite well actually. In fact, I would argue that he does better in this respect than Spirit Legolas. The reason why is that his ability to ready another hero is triggered by defending, which he is better equipped to do out of the gate than Legolas is to quest. I also would argue that spending 1 resource in Leadership is less draining than discarding 1 card from hand in Spirit. Finally, the timing of Gimli’s trigger, which takes place during the combat phase rather than quest commitment, gives him a broader range of targets in multiplayer. There is also the fantastic in-sphere readying option of Armored Destrier for Gimli himself, which opens up all kinds of action advantage options. You could exhaust Gimli to defend, ready Gimli, have him ready a hero that quested (or that already defended), discard a shadow from another enemy using the Destrier, then defend against that second enemy with either Gimli or the hero that was readied (or Gimli or the second hero could be ready for attack). Even a simpler approach of using Gimli as a defender and readying another hero for 1 would be worthwhile. Action advantage is worth its weight in gold in this game and Leadership certainly has the coin to pay for it.
If you’re going to be defending with Gimli, then you will certainly need the right support cards for the job. I’ve already mentioned Armored Destrier, which is a must-add for Leadership Gimli decks. Dwarven Shield, contained in this expansion, also makes sense as a way to buff Gimli’s defense up to a more sustainable 3, while potentially giving him extra resource generation. If you’re going to be throwing Steward on Gimli, then Gondorian Shield is certainly an option, but a Dwarven alternative like Ring Mail can also do the job. Since Gimli is in Leadership, a few copies of Dunedain Warning are also a simple yet effective choice.
Beyond defensive buffs, King Under the Mountain is another must-add for Gimli decks. One of the key advantages of having a Leadership Dwarf hero is gaining access to this card, which is a strong and relatively cheap form of card draw. Raiment of War is available thanks to Gimli’s warrior trait, which could turn him into a 3 attack, 3 defense, 7 hit point monster. This option does take up his restricted slots and is best used if you have a form of readying for Gimli. Finally, typical Dwarven support cards like Durin’s Song, Khazad! Khazad!, and Well-Equipped are worth a look.
Overall, Leadership Gimli is a strong new hero for the sphere, and while he achieves his full potential when paired with Spirit Legolas, he is a solid choice without Legolas as well. In fact, I predict we’ll see some intriguing decks in the future that make use of his ability in combination with other heroes. As with Spirit Legolas, there’s value to be had in the rather rare ability to ready any other hero on the board.
Possible Attachment Choices: King Under the Mountain, Armored Destrier, Dunedain Warning, Steward of Gondor, Unexpected Courage, Raiment of War, Narvi’s Belt
As for my final thoughts on the Leadership Gimli/Spirit Legolas deck itself, it falls within the strong but not top-tier category. Granted, I feel like I still have a ways to go in exploring all its potential, as does the community at large. Some of the best choices for the third hero to accompany them are either Theodred, in order to feed resources to Gimli, or Beravor, in order to feed cards to Legolas’s ability. What this partnership has going for it is raw action advantage out of the gate, as well as some built-in ability buffs. However, the heroes themselves are not quite optimized at first for what they are doing (questing for Legolas and defending for Gimli), so it does require some setup time and support through attachments. The level of support isn’t quite as high as for some other decks that I can think of, but it is still something to consider. Once everything is operational, the deck can be effective in handling both questing and combat, but the key is in managing resource generation and card draw efficiently enough that Gimli and Legolas aren’t actually slowing your deck down and hurting more than they are helping. If you can strike the right balance, then the deck can function well in both solo and multiplayer, though my own experience has shown them to really hit the sweet spot in the latter. The inclusion of Unlikely Friendship does help the pair with this balance. Altogether, I’m a huge fan of having the legendary friendship of Gimli and Legolas directly represented in the game through card effects and hero versions, and while much of the deck builds itself, there seems to be some more room to explore as to how to best flesh out the rest of it.
Readers, what are your thoughts on Legolas and Gimli? What clever decks have you come up with to make use of these new heroes?