So while writing the article about which is the most essential sphere, I inevitably found myself musing on the different ways we then combine the different spheres. Starting from the thought of “Since I’m reckoning Leadership and Spirit to be the most essential, does that mean Leadership/Spirit is the best dual-sphere combo?” To which the answer is “Probably not.” And then moving onto the follow up “Why not?”
So that’s the discussion I’m now moving onto here. All the different sphere combinations. Leaving out mono-sphere since I covered the particular points of the individual spheres well enough in that previous article. I should note that I’m talking about generalities, so obviously there will be specific examples of decks which don’t fit the patterns I’m ascribing to their sphere combinations here.
Leadership/Lore – Efficiency
Leadership being the master of resource generation and Lore of card draw, it’s not an uncommon experience for Leadership to produce a mountain of resources with nothing to spend them on, or Lore to find itself with a hand full of cards it can’t afford. So it naturally follows that a highly efficient course of action is to simply pair the two together. Lore also brings all those nice support abilities to supplement the raw power of Leadership. Plus that raw power in Leadership tends to be dependent on drawing the right things, cards like the Sword that was Broken, Visionary Leadership, Faramir, that sort of thing, so the card draw comes in really handy.
This combination and the next I feel are perhaps the most natural and effective in solo play. They present you with the means to handle every part of the game by yourself.
Tactics/Spirit – Specialisation
As I said above, this I feel is also one of the most natural and effective solo setups. Spirit provides questing, Tactics provides combat. Those are their specialisations and they do them very well. A deck with this combination is likely to be fairly tightly defined as to who does what, in contrast to Leadership/Lore which can have a lot more versatile characters. Another contrast is that a Tactics/Spirit deck probably won’t do so well on card draw, unless maybe if it uses Galadriel. The flipside, however, is that it can probably manage better without that draw. While Leadership really wants its global boosts to get that power amped up to insane levels, Spirit and Tactics can achieve perfectly effective ones by having characters who are better statted at base. As such, it’s not so important for it to draw itself quickly, because no matter what it draws, it should contribute to one of those two key areas. Plus those spheres contain heroes like Eowyn and Boromir, who can kind of handle questing and combat (respectively) by themselves. And if your heroes can do everything themselves, what does it matter what other cards you have? So probably a less powerful endgame than Leadership/Lore, but more front-loaded rather than taking time to get set up (though a well tuned Ld/Lo deck can get setup very quickly).
Leadership/Tactics – Aggression
This pairing and the next were the ones me my brother and a friend used to mostly default to, and they’re very natural and effective ones for two player (or two-handed). Leadership and Tactics have a majority of high threat cost heroes, which means this combination by necessity tends to engage enemies early. While a Sp/Lo questing deck may well hang around below engagement costs and let others do the majority of the fighting for them, Ld/Ta is more likely to march out its high starting threat and challenge the encounter deck to a fight. This, of course, is why the new Valour keyword is going to be primarily or exclusively (obviously we don’t know for sure yet) in Leadership and Tactics. May struggle a little for questing power, at least early on, but Leadership is no slouch in that department once it gets up and running.
Spirit/Lore – Control
By contrast, as noted, Sp/Lo is likely to have a low threat, allowing it to avoid most enemies when it doesn’t want to deal with them. Spirit provides threat reduction so you can continue this state of affairs, plus willpower so you can quest past the enemies you’re ignoring and not raise your threat by being unsuccessful. Meanwhile Lore gives the means to manage the staging area and the encounter deck, plus card draw to minimise the time you spend holding position while you sift through your deck for whatever key cards you need. As such, this sphere combination naturally lends itself to the approach of controlling the board state to a lesser or greater extent and manipulating it to your advantage while maintaining a questing status quo.
Leadership/Spirit – Force
Leadership and Spirit seems like a fairly natural pairing. As noted, Spirit can muster good willpower by just having cost-effective characters with good willpower, while Leadership achieves it by mustering lots of allies with less and then boosting them. So why not use those powerful effects to rapidly muster lots of Spirit allies with their already good willpower, and then boost it further? It seems like that should be a highly effective means of getting lots of willpower out and blowing through the quest at an accelerated rate; combat power might suffer a bit if we’re really focusing down the questing aspect, but you should still be able to manage, and in any case it’s the progress tokens which make you win, not the damage.
The reason this doesn’t necessarily hold is that you are neglecting other aspects of the game by having this sort of focus, and that a setup like the one I just described probably gives you noticeably more willpower than you actually need. Big willpower numbers are nice to throw around and marvel at, but it’s a ‘win more’ thing, when all you need is ‘win’.
Tactics/Lore – Survival
In some ways Tactics/Lore also seems like a natural combination. Put the sphere devoted to handling combat and pair it with the sphere containing healing so you can keep you defenders healthy when things go wrong, or when their defence just isn’t high enough (which I suppose could be considered a case of things going wrong if it’s because you haven’t drawn your defensive boosts in time). Plus card draw will help you find those key attachments which can buff up the combat powerhouses to where they need to be, and encounter deck manipulation can help you avoid some of those cases where things go wrong. Song of Wisdom + Burning Brand, scry the deck to see the bad shadow effects coming, stuff like that. It’s a combo which comes up more now, since on the one hand Haldir is one of the best attacking heroes in the game, and on the other it’s the setup which provides you with Ents. Still not common though, perhaps because it’s combining the two spheres which can’t really quest too well, so it’s not really a viable solo setup (see the most essential sphere article for the discussion of this point). Also because as with Ld/Sp above, adding all this stuff together may be superfluous a lot of the time.
These last two would both make more sense in three or four player, because they probably entail more specialised approaches, which is much easier if the other decks can pick up the slack. Plus more players means more chances of the kind of things going wrong which might leave you needing the kind of overkill power they can bring to their respective areas of the game.
Tri-Sphere – Versatility
I’m not going to bother going through all the possible tri-sphere combinations. I’ll note that it’s rare to have tri-sphere without Leadership, as resource generation and movement (by Errand-Rider) can help immensely to smooth things out; that Lore and Tactics are the most common omitted spheres as they contribute less in terms of willpower and there are often other ways to get what they give you. Lore perhaps gets the nod over Tactics more often because card draw will also help a tri-sphere deck to run by hopefully avoiding getting flooded by cards of one sphere so your other two heroes are stuck twiddling their thumbs on their mountains of resources.
Obviously they’ll be different in significant ways, but in broad strokes, all tri-sphere decks kind of have a similar feel to play. Compared to a mono or dual sphere deck, they have more options, because of the additional sphere(s) they incorporate, but in deference to the fact you only have one hero of each sphere, and thus only one resource per sphere per round, you probably want to confine your card choices to the cheaper options available to you, so you miss out on some of the more powerful stuff because it simply wouldn’t be affordable consistently. So a jack of all trades, master of none kind of thing. With effective means of resource generation and resource smoothing, you could instead try going for a master of all trades sort of thing, including some of the most powerful options from all spheres, but it’ll probably be slow to get going and the encounter deck may just brutally murder you a round or two before you’re ready for it. Tri-sphere is an approach I’d consider primarily for solo play, as there you can’t rely on those key effects being present in other decks round the table – you have to bring them yourself. If you bring a tri-sphere deck to multiplayer, it may be worth asking whether the decks would be more efficient with a hero swap so the spheres were less spread. Won’t necessarily be the case, and obviously if you have pre-built decks it doesn’t make sense before playing to decide the combination would be more efficient a different way and thus break them apart and reassemble them a different way, all just for the sake of one random game. But it’s a point to consider, at least.
So those are my thoughts on the basics of how spheres combine in decks. As I said above, obviously I’m generalising a lot. Do you think any key points got lost in the reduction? Do you agree or disagree with my views? What key characteristics do you think are found in the different sphere combinations? Please discuss in the comments.