Well, I was listening to episode 33 of the Grey Company podcast a little while back where they were talking about cards which used to be staples and whether or not they still are (You should probably listen to it yourself if you haven’t, to put what I’m saying in context – and also because it’s a great podcast). And since I, like probably numerous other people, will find myself sometimes listening to podcasts and thinking “I have an interesting point on this subject which none of these guys has made,” and I have a blog that I always need to think of things to write about for, I figured I’d just steal some of their content wholesale and give my own perspective on it! (Seriously though, getting different perspectives on things is always interesting and I have way more to say than I could really fit into just leaving a comment on that episode of the podcast). So here goes, very simple, let’s just run down the exact list of staple cards the Grey Company talked about and I’ll give my own thoughts:
Steward of Gondor – I’ve got a fair bit to say on this one. This is one of the old staples which most people would say is still an absolute staple, auto-include, so long as you’re playing Leadership (and perhaps even if you’re not, with A Good Harvest). Now, I don’t necessarily disagree with this, but I do think there’s more to it. The thing is, if I’m building a deck with Leadership, yes I will put Steward in it, but in some cases I will subsequently remove it. Specifically, if I’m playing mono-Leadership it’ll almost certainly stay in though I may find in this case that I have more resources than I know what to do with. In dual-sphere is where Steward really shines for me, because it evens out the resources between the spheres. In tri-sphere I’m much more likely to go without Steward, because being tri-sphere I tend to deliberately build my deck to avoid anything too expensive, so I don’t really need the extra resource generation. It’d still be helpful, but if I can already afford my cards without it I’ll prefer another use for the deckspace, and someone else can have Steward, since it can be one of the most contentious uniqueness clashes in multiplayer. An example of this would of course be my Faramir/Ent deck, where I left Steward in the sideboard to play cross-table but don’t find I really need it myself (especially since I already have Mablung, Treebeard and Errand-riders to pass Faramir’s resources around). The fact there’s more resource generation in the game now, and resource generation which does other things (like Mablung or Treebeard) also makes it much easier to go without Steward.
Two more points on this are firstly, while Ian made the positive point that Steward doesn’t have any kind of tempo hit since it replaces itself, this is not 100% true, as if you play Steward cross-sphere it accelerates that other sphere but slows down your Leadership resources, which can be an issue in some decks. The other point is related to this and it is that it may be more important to get more of a spread of resources rather than stacking them all on one hero, potentially making the more recent Ranger Provisions and Tighten Our Belts more useful options for such decks. With that being said though, I’m still liable to include it in multiplayer to play cross-table if I can’t use it myself since it is just that good.
Unexpected Courage – This is a card that I love, and which I’m almost as likely to include three copies of in every Spirit deck as A Test of Will, because I love readying effects to get more uses out of powerful heroes. That said, not all heroes really benefit from multiple actions, and even the ones that do can only use so many in general. For example my Caldara deck has no use for Unexpected Courage unless I include Herugrim and/or Nenya (which I can, but don’t always). Plus there are more readying effects now, a point which the Grey Company did make – if you have e.g. Idraen and Glorfindel with Light of Valinor how many more actions do you really need from them. On the other hand, once again this is a card which will get put in for multiplayer because there will doubtless be a good target somewhere on the table. This is going to be a recurring theme, as the reason all these were staples is because they’re incredibly good, which hasn’t changed; it’s much more possible now to build decks which work fine without them, but then other players can still benefit.
A Test of Will – This one is absolutely still a staple. There’s no substitute for it and it makes such a difference to have it.
Feint – I basically agree with them on this one. The point was made on the podcast that Feint is less necessary now there are many more options for improving your defensive power and thus you can save deckspace by leaving it out. I almost never have actually left it out, but I’ve certainly found it on occasion sitting in my hand completely unnecessary. And once again it becomes more relevant in multiplayer when not all decks are kitted out for defence (and you may have a limited number of sentinels or not enough readying effects on the sentinels you have).
Hasty Stroke – This is an interesting one. A point made on the podcast was that Hasty Stroke doesn’t feel like it’s enough any more, so if you want shadow cancellation you go further. On the other hand, I tend to omit shadow cancellation from a lot of decks so if I can usually manage without any shadow cancellation, why shouldn’t I go to a lesser form before jumping all the way up to Burning Brand, Balin or Erkenbrand? It may rather depend on the quest of course. With the aforementioned increase in defensive options it’s fairly possible to reach the point of combined defence, shadow cancellation and healing where your average attack-boosting shadow becomes irrelevant and there may be only one or two really horrible shadow effects which you’ll then really need to cancel. So while I certainly don’t view Hasty Stroke as that much of a staple, I do think it still very much has its place. Shadow cancellation has become more relevant again as some shadow effects have gotten worse (I made the comment recently that taking a deck without shadow cancellation against Battle of Carn Dum felt like you were playing Russian Roulette every time you defended an attack), but I think you can still manage in that middle ground. Possibly even for Carn Dum, but I’ll leave more detailed discussion of that quest for another post I have planned.
Gandalf (Core) – When I first started getting into this game, I put 3 copies of Core Gandalf into every deck I built. Now, though, with the benefit of more experience and a larger card pool, he’s not always such a great choice, being temporary rather than a permanent advance to your board state, and a bit on the expensive side. I still include him in every deck with Leadership, because he’s still amazing with Sneak Attack, and I tend to include him in a lot of Tactics decks, because Tactics can often get some decent stuff out for fairly cheap, at which point the resources sometimes begin to stack up and you can afford to blow 5 on a temporary ally plus some card draw or threat reduction. Lore and Spirit, on the other hand, tend to be shorter on spare resources for such things, so I’m a lot more likely to either omit Gandalf, or include the in my opinion vastly under-rated Hobbit Gandalf instead (assuming hero Gandalf isn’t somewhere in the mix).
Faramir – Based on comments I see and hear flying around the internet, and particularly the forum’s Unique Ally Championship, I know ally Faramir is one of those subjects where I’m somewhat at odds with the rest of the LotR community. It’s not that I don’t think Faramir is good, it’s that I tend to feel he’s something of a ‘win more’ card, with the willpower boost being in a lot of cases superfluous, also he’s a little on the expensive side. I imagine this may be because I don’t play so many three or four player games, where the chances of everything spiralling out of control to the point where you’ll need that boost are much greater (Or to put it another way, like so many others, he becomes more of a staple in multiplayer).
Arwen Undomiel – Still a staple. The more in multiplayer thing applies since Sentinel obviously is mostly pointless in solo play, so there may be decks for solo play where other benefits can outweigh the defence boost, meaning preference could be given to other 2 cost, 2 willpower allies. But in multiplayer or even in solo outside of those more niche cases, it’s really hard to think of a reason not to use Arwen, unless someone’s using the new hero version.
Daeron’s Runes – I’ve had an interesting relationship with Daeron’s Runes over the time I’ve been playing and building decks for this game. Its power is unquestionable, of course. A free draw two is fantastic. The only disadvantage is the need to discard something afterwards, and that’s something that I’ve felt differently about over time. When I was new I didn’t like it because I tended to struggle with picking something to discard if I didn’t have a duplicate unique. That I attribute to a kind of gaming immaturity, with additional experience I’ve realised that (outside of ridiculous game-breaking circumstances), you’re never going to play every card in your deck, and there’s always something you need less than everything else. On the other hand, now I fall into a middle ground – while there’s always a worst card in your hand, sometimes (especially if you have access to other card draw effects) you can wait until you draw a worse one. And while you’re never going to play every card in your deck, there are certainly cases where you can view your hand as a toolkit, from which you at least want the option of every card you have. In those circumstances, Daeron’s Runes isn’t really a card you want to see. So, very rare situations, but there are cases where you don’t want it, where you have enough other card draw so you can pull out all the stuff you need and don’t want to discard. That said, I can’t think of any specific examples. When updating my Faramir Ent deck to fit in the newer Ent allies I considered removing it, because between Pippin and Entmoot I don’t know that I really need it, but even in that instance it is still there.
So there you go. A few more thoughts for you on these staples. For the most part I do agree with what the Company said on the podcast, I just feel there were a couple more points to be made – in particular in some cases I thought it was worth bringing up the kinds of decks where I feel they’re not staple-y enough and thus omit them. If you feel there were even more that I’ve missed, please leave comments.