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The Black Serpent: Hero Review

by on February 22, 2018

When The Black Serpent was first announced, it was teased that the pack would contain a brand new Spirit Rohan hero. This of course prompted a great deal of speculation within the community as to who this hero would be, with guesses ranging from Eometh (one of the FFG-created heroes from Middle-earth Quest) to a reskin of one of the Rohan heroes we already have. Ultimately, the new Rohan hero ended up being Fastred, a character that I did not see mentioned at all during the period of speculation. With good reason, as he is not one of the major characters in the text. However, this game has always thrived off of putting the spotlight on people and things in Middle-earth that were barely mentioned in The Lord of the Rings itself. Is that the case with this new Fastred hero? Or will he ultimately be a disappointment? Read on to find out!

HERO

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

 

Fastred’s ability is a fairly unique one that combines returning an enemy to the staging area with threat reduction:

Response: After Fastred defends an enemy attack, return that enemy to the staging area to reduce your threat by 2. (Limit once per phase.)         

First things first, who exactly is Fastred? The entry on Fastred in the Tolkien Gateway is quite short, which gives you an indication of how much of a minor character he is, but essentially Fastred’s claim to fame is riding with Théoden to the Battle of Pelennor Fields. He was killed in the battle and his name was immortalized in the Song of the Mounds of Mundburg. Does this bit of story context explain his ability? My best shot at providing a connection between the two would be to say that Fastred helps set up other Rohan heroes and abilities, as we will discuss shortly, and he similarly filled a support function during the Battle of Pelennor Fields as well.

When it comes to the ability in actual gameplay terms, Fastred received a bit of a mixed review from the community when he was first released. Returning an enemy to the staging area has been viewed as a net negative for much of the life of the game since doing so essentially adds threat back to the staging area, and you just will have to engage the enemy again. Of course, Fastred’s ability is specifically designed to avoid engaging that same enemy again by reducing your threat by 2. However, having a means of putting enemies back in the staging area can actually be a net positive if you happen to have another hero around that can attack enemies in the staging area…perhaps a hero that shares the same sphere and trait as Fastred himself?

The natural synergy with Dunhere is so obvious that it practically screams from the mountaintops. In fact, it is so obvious that it was likely designed this way on purpose. One of the problems with Dunhere is that if enemies do get to grips with you, either through rising threat or encounter card effects, then Dunhere’s ability becomes useless. Not only that, but sometimes when you build a Dunhere-focused deck, you end up having to neglect more traditional combat needs, such as a solid defender. Fastred can serve as that defender and also push enemies back into the staging area so that Dunhere can get the full benefit of his ability, all while lowering your threat so that it is easier to keep future enemies in the staging area as well. Keep in mind that the Spear of the Mark is a commonly used weapon for Dunhere and that also gets an additional boost if the enemy is in the staging area. There can be little argument, then, that Fastred has done a great deal to bring Dunhere back into prominence and, speaking from personal experience, Fastred/Dunhere decks can survive and thrive against even some of the more difficult contemporary scenarios (including the tough The Black Serpent quest itself).

However, while this bromance between Fastred and Dunhere is quite welcome in terms of revitalizing an old Core Set hero, there is likely some criticism to be had that Fastred might be too niche in this regard. In other words, a new hero that is so specifically tailored to work with an existing hero might not be as versatile as we might hope. This criticism becomes especially sharp when taking the Rohan trait as a whole and thinking about the ways in which Rohan might benefit from an ability that is more broadly useful for the whole trait rather than just one other hero. Rohan, after all, while becoming stronger over time, is still not at the same level of power as some other traits and archetypes in the game. It is only every so often that we get a new Rohan hero (or a hero of any trait, for that matter), so I could see some Rohan fans being disappointed at Fastred’s more niche ability.

This critique brings us to an important question, which is whether Fastred is truly limited to just Dunhere decks or does he have a life and identity of his own. Initially, while I quite enjoyed my experiences with Fastred and Dunhere, I too felt that there wasn’t much else for Fastred to do. However, I did recently experiment with a Fastred traps deck that didn’t use Dunhere, which focused on using Fastred’s ability to keep threat low and also throw enemies back into the staging area so that they would fall into waiting traps. The deck is quite fun and moderately successful and showed me that Fastred is not necessarily a one-trick pony. Fastred helps shore up some of the weaknesses of trap decks by providing solid defense and threat reduction. In addition, like Dunhere decks, trap decks can be blindsided by effects that put enemies into play engaged with you or quests that start with enemies engaged. One of my favorite tricks with a Fastred trap deck is to use an enemy that has been trapped in Ranger Spikes as a form of on-demand threat reduction. All you have to do is bring the enemy down when your threat is getting high, defend against it, then return it to the staging area. You have now reduced your threat and that enemy is still in Spikes so you can choose to ignore it for future turns or bring it down again when needed (although keep in mind that shadow effects are still something to worry about).

Beyond trap decks, Fastred is worth considering for any deck that wants to avoid combat as much as possible and is packing enough willpower to overcome enemy threat in the staging area. This was a strategy that I explored a bit in the past using Spirit Pippin. However, Fastred is superior in pretty much every respect to Spirit Pippin (although Pippin doesn’t have to defend at all), since he actually reduces your threat as opposed to increasing it, sustaining the enemy avoidance strategy rather than counteracting it (also keep in mind that Fastred doesn’t screw over other players when returning an enemy since this occurs in the combat phase rather than the encounter phase). He also actually gives you a safety valve in terms of defense if you can’t avoid an enemy for some reason. There are still many scenarios that require killing enemies to a certain degree, but for those that don’t (or require a minimal amount of killing), there are enough cheap questing allies and tools in the game to power past large amounts of threat in the staging area so that the old way of looking at returning enemies to the staging area as always being negative is no longer true. In addition, Fastred is strong enough defensively and competent enough offensively that you should be able to kill those enemies that you need to kill. One possible counterpoint to this particular approach is to ask why you wouldn’t just kill an enemy that engages you rather than push it back to the staging area. The answer is that for a theoretical deck that wants to just quest and avoid combat as much as possible, it might be better to reduce threat and keep that enemy (and future enemies) away, and also it’s worth considering that such a deck might lack the tools to quickly dispatch enemies as well.

All told, I think it is true that Fastred is not as versatile as some other heroes in the card pool and I would agree that his ability is niche. However, I would contend that Fastred is not as niche or narrow as might be commonly understood and there are some potential decks and combinations out there that have yet to be explored. For example, I haven’t even reviewed the multiplayer applications, which include having another player use Haldir or Leadership Eomer to snipe enemies that you place back in the staging area with Fastred (or maybe another player could even use a hero with Great Yew Bow). Note that those two heroes can be used in a solo deck with Fastred as well! (I’m particularly interested to try the Leadership Eomer/Fastred combination, which I haven’t yet tried.) There are also thematic events like Forth Eorlingas! that could allow all Rohan heroes on the board to pile on enemies in the staging area. So while Fastred’s natural home is with Dunhere (or Haldir), there are some other possibilities that are worth considering as well.

So you’ve chosen Fastred as hero, but what cards work well to support his ability? In terms of attachments, the main focus should obviously be to boost his defense. While I’ve mentioned that Fastred is a solid defender, as he has three defense, he does have one big weakness, which is that he only has three measly hit points. Usually, a good defending hero will have at least four. This doesn’t give you much breathing room to work with when it comes to high attack enemies or shadow effects that boost attack by a large amount. There are a few possibilities in terms of transforming Fastred into a safer line of defense. Gondorian Shield is worth thinking about, since it costs only one for one additional point of defense (unless you give him the Gondor trait) and it comes from the Tactics sphere, which you might be splashing into anyway if you are trying to include weapons for Dunhere (or Haldir). Golden Shield gives you the equivalent value, since Fastred has a willpower of one. Often I like including both, since you can only include one of each, and together they will give Fastred the equivalent of two additional points of defense. Another perfectly valid option is Raiment of War, especially if you want to use Fastred offensively as well as defensively. With the Raiment, Fastred boasts 4 defense, 5 hit points, and 3 attack, which are beastly good numbers. I also quite like Captain of Gondor, as it doesn’t take up a restricted slot yet gives a plus one bonus to both attack and defense. Combining Raiment of War with Captain of Gondor turns Fastred into a combat powerhouse, boasting 5 defense and 4 attack. If you are not including Tactics, then several copies of Dunedain Warning can do a similar job if you have access to Leadership. The Lore sphere’s best bet is Protector of Lorien, which can keep Fastred fairly safe as long as you are able to keep your hand filled with cards. One of the best defense boosting options you can have is not an attachment actually, but the venerable and powerful Arwen ally, which grants that crucial bonus to defense while also providing sentinel (useful if you are playing multiplayer).

Beyond defense boosts, I’ve found readying attachments especially critical for Fastred. The reason why is that many enemies and encounter card effects trigger additional attacks, so you can’t count on dealing with a maximum of one attack per round, even in solo. In addition, if you plan on using Fastred offensively, then he’ll need some way to ready. Unexpected Courage is in-sphere and is still unparalleled, so three copies (if you have them) is a must in most Fastred decks. Since Fastred won’t need readying every single round, low-cost Spirit options like Miruvor or Spare Hood and Cloak are also worth considering. With Miruvor, you can keep the drink handy until you need it, and then gain an additional benefit as well. With Spare Hood and Cloak, on those rounds where Fastred doesn’t need to defend, which should happen fairly often in a Fastred deck because of how this hero works, you can exhaust him to give the Cloak to someone else so that it is available to ready Fastred in turn when he needs it.

There are also several events that might be worth considering when planning out a Fastre deck:

  • Hail of Stones: With this event, you can push an enemy back into the staging area, then exhaust any ready characters you have to deal direct damage to that enemy. This is especially useful for those decks that are light in attack power but might have bodies available to contribute to Hail of Stones. I’m thinking specifically here of that archetype that primarily wants to avoid enemies, but other decks might find this approach useful as well.
  • Ride Them Down: Similarly to Hail of Stones, if you’re lacking in attack power, Ride Them Down provides a means of dispatching enemies that you have returned to the staging area using Fastred’s ability. In this case, you are able to use your questing power.
  • Hunting Party: Hunting Party goes even further than the previous two events and straight up discards the enemy returned to the staging area by Fastred, albeit at the cost of revealing another encounter card. Fastred provides one half of the trait requirement with the warrior trait, so you just need to provide a unique scout character to play this card.
  • Tides of Fate: One thing to consider when building a deck that relies on a central defender is including some form of shadow control. Hasty Stroke, of course, is always a valid option, but Tides of Fate is great too. With that fragile set of three hit points, Fastred can be destroyed by an untimely shadow effect that boosts enemy attack, and Tides of Fate provides an effective safety valve. If you have Tactics resources available, you can even ready Fastred and give him an attack boost (or simply ready him for another defense in a dire emergency).

All told, it should come as no surprise that ultimately I fall on the side of positivity when it comes to Fastred. Although I still would like to see another Rohan hero that has direct synergy with the Rohan discarding allies style of play, Fastred has really taken Dunhere decks to a whole new level to the point that we now have another competitive option against stronger quests. I also like that we are at last seeing a change in the meta so that returning enemies to the staging area is a viable approach, and Fastred has played an important role in this shift. So while it’s always great to get new heroes that are incredibly versatile and can serve as the glue for dozens of different deck types, it’s also useful to get heroes that can fill particular functions and drive a certain archetype further than it has gone before.

Versatility: ♦♦◊◊◊

Efficiency: ♦♦♦♦◊ (within the context of a dedicated deck)

Uniqueness: ♦♦♦♦◊

Possible Attachment Choices: Golden Shield, Gondorian Shield, Unexpected Courage, Miruvor, Spare Hood and Cloak, Dunedain Warning

Conclusion

With Fastred filling his given role with aplomb, what will be the verdict on the rest of the cards in this pack? Will they be similarly niche? Or will there be some general use cards as well?

Readers, what are your thoughts on Fastred? What are your favorite Fastred decks?

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10 Comments
  1. Nice review. I find Raiment of War a nice attachment for Fastred as well. Now I want to build a new Fastred deck…

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Agreed! Raiment of War is a great choice, especially if you plan to do quite a bit of attacking with Fastred.

  2. Tom Drury permalink

    I use Sterner than Steel for shadow cancellation once I’ve got Raiment of War on him

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Another good choice, especially if you don’t want to worry about conserving a resource for Hasty Stroke.

  3. I love Fastred a great deal! One of the defensive options that might be worth considering is Livery of the Tower. Of course, you need the Gondor trait for it, but if you’re running LdEomer, Steward of Gondor is both in-sphere and gives you the extra resources to make cancellation worth it.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      That could be a good choice if you want an option for soaking up some archery and direct damage as well, which Spirit doesn’t have a ton of.

  4. Rokafuchs permalink

    Great review, as always. Your postings brought me into this game, so thankyou very much. I would mention Arwen as another in sphere way to boost his defense. You inspired me to build a new Fastred deck (http://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/7975/fastred-stays-secret-1.0).

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Thanks! Nice deck. I haven’t tried Fastred in a secrecy build yet.

  5. I’ve had success with Mablung and Faramir exploiting Fastred’s ability to get at least two uses of their abilities each round!

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