The forum’s 2015 Hero Championship finished on new year’s day, and I wanted to write up a few thoughts as a retrospective. I enjoy the hero championship, I find it very interesting but also at times confusing to see the way the votes fall. Some I understand even though I don’t agree with them, but others mystify me. Perhaps the one which confuses me the most is the excessive and enduring love for Legolas – not that I don’t think Legolas is good, just I don’t rate him so highly compared with some of the competition, and I certainly don’t get how he won the first championship against Sam. Though I must say I was also somewhat bemused by the success of Theoden. Again, he’s certainly a good hero, but I would never have predicted him to finish in the top 4. And then some of my own choices I feel were unfortunately undervalued.
On the other hand, I don’t expect everyone to think the same as I do on the heroes, this variety makes things more interesting – so long as people don’t belittle other people’s preferences too far in supporting their own, but generally things remain amicable.
Of course, one thing which can make the voting even less predictable than it might otherwise be purely based on people’s differing opinions and experiences is the criteria. That is, that there aren’t any official criteria, just “whatever criteria you like”. We ended up having a bit of a debate about it partway through, which of course showed that even if we were all following the same criteria we’d still keep voting differently, but this variance increases massively because we’re all voting on different criteria (or as I said then, on a mixture of criteria). That conversation was what really inspired me to write this post, thinking about how things might go differently if we worked on more specific criteria. Of course I can’t give a full representation of how things would be different in those circumstances, since I’m only one person, with opinions clearly different to a lot of other people, since I think I would have picked at most 3 of the final 8 to make it that far. It’s still an interesting thought experiment though.
So what I’m going to do is separate out what are possibly the two most significant criteria for me in choosing which heroes I vote for, and certainly the most straightforward – how powerful the hero is, and how much fun I have playing with them – and figure out how my own personal 1-man, 1-vote version of the championship would go if I voted purely on one of those criteria. I’ll take you guys through my reasoning and voting for the final 8 through to the end in each case, and we’ll see how wildly divergent the results are.
Voting based on power
Honourable mentions go to Galadriel and Glorfindel, who were crushed by the advance of the Dain train; Erestor and Gandalf, who were dropped by the inexhaustible Tactics Boromir; and Hirluin the Fair, who was unfortunately doomed when he fetched up against Grima (a shame – I might’ve liked to see the Dwarves/Outlands matchup, but never mind – and also Dwarves win). Judging purely based on power level, I would’ve been inclined to expect them in the top 8 much more than Tactagorn, Mablung, or Frodo (though those three are also very powerful heroes, certainly reasonable top 8 material). But that’s how the matchups can fall out sometimes. So our hypothetical quarter-finals then are as follows:
A. Dain Ironfoot vs. Frodo Baggins
B. Grima vs. Mablung
C. Elrond vs. Boromir
D. Aragorn vs. Hama
As we can see, three heroes in common with the actual final 8 in Frodo, Elrond, and Tactagorn. But the potential for an actual repeated matchup was thwarted by Boromir narrowly pipping Gandalf in my estimation of power.
So, having said that three of the contestants at this point I would’ve expected less than my honourable mentions, some of the results here are obvious, but I’ll talk through them all anyway:
A – Frodo is one of the most potent defensive options in the game, with the amount of threat reduction available now. However Dain’s boost to the Dwarf trait, which is strong even without him, is a solution to basically everything. The dwarf swarm hasn’t seen much love since the Hobbit boxes, but it’s still excessively powerful.
B – Both these heroes effectively produce additional resources, but Grima’s can be applied to any sphere as required rather than being restricted to Tactics. Add in the possibilities for Keys of Orthanc as well, perhaps benefits from Valour effects after you raise your threat up far enough, the fact Grima can always trigger in the Planning phase without any additional support and thus can start rolling faster (with the early game being really crucial in LotR), and again the number of good threat reduction options in the modern card pool, and this looks pretty clear cut to me.
C – The closest contest. Elrond’s flexibility in paying for allies and healing boost are powerful already, add in Vilya and you get a board state which advances fast and maintains itself incredibly well too. On the other hand Boromir’s nigh-unlimited readying (again, lots of threat reduction in the game now, and unless you hit 50 the only disadvantage of high threat is engaging enemies, which is what Boromir is there for) is a solution to so many problems. He can just do so much all by himself, and given the proper support it’s easy enough to feel there’s pretty much nothing a well-tuned Boromir deck can’t do. Boromir wins this one.
D – Tactagorn can change the shape of combat, especially when supported by e.g. that crazy Aragorn/Merry/Pippin deck people touted as reason to errata one of those three heroes (it’s certainly crazy powerful, but I’d struggle to pinpoint just one of them as the problem which requires errata). On the other hand, Hama can also change the shape of combat with his event recycling. Comparing the two though, that crazy Tactagorn deck is in significant part about the support pieces allowing him to keep doing his thing and drawing all the cards. On the other hand, Hama can provide his own draw by recycling Foe-hammer and otherwise basically works by himself, which expands the amount of stuff you can do with him. And I’m judging based on power level of the heroes in any decent deck, not one specific deck that includes them.
E. Dain Ironfoot vs. Grima
F. Boromir vs. Hama
At this point we’ve completely diverged from the actual championship (which was inevitable, the only heroes we still had in common got knocked out in the actual quarter-finals as well).
E – Were this to come up in the actual championship of course I would vote for Grima because he has the flexibility to work in all sorts of deck types (including Dwarves), whereas Dain only works with Dwarves. However, Dain’s value in a Dwarf context I would still rate tremendously high, high enough to outstrip Grima’s mere flexibility. Which arguably is a reasonable assessment of Dwarves versus other power decks like Elrond/Vilya or Gandalf decks – the latter do a bunch of intricate fiddly stuff to gain their power, while Dwarves simply swarm and use their willpower as a blunt instrument to smash through quests to at least as good an effect. I prefer Grima, but I consider Dain more powerful.
F – Again we’re looking at two heroes who really change the shape of combat. And actually in some ways this is like the Dain/Grima comparison above – a Boromir deck may do some fiddly things to get set up, but once it is, it becomes very simple, as Boromir defends and kills everything, winning through brute force of his high numbers; whereas a Hama deck continues to be fiddly as it recycles events. And once again I feel that the brute force approach ends up more powerful than the intricacies. Boromir wins.
Third place playoff:
Grima vs. Hama
Thematically interesting. I must admit that this is perhaps not entirely fair, as I have never built a really powerful Hama deck, and only once or twice even seen one played, so I’m not in the best position to give a totally unbiased judgement of his merits. But I have to give the nod to Grima here, his cost reduction enabling so many different and powerful options. Hama also has the downside that his power only applies to combat, while cost reduction helps universally to get cards out for questing and combat both.
Dain Ironfoot vs. Boromir
I didn’t really think through the details before I started of how I expected this to turn out, but if I had, this is probably the final match I would have predicted.
Again a bit difficult. I don’t see Dwarves played so much any more, whereas superpowered Boromir decks are pretty popular still, and I’m guessing they can still solo pretty much any nightmare quest in the game. On the other hand, Dwarves are still very powerful. And in the end, two things lead me to pick Dain as the more powerful hero here: The first is willpower – Boromir doesn’t quest well, while Dain can easily end up providing double digit amounts of willpower. And the second is that Dain has greater potential power in multiplayer. True, with some setup Boromir can get Sentinel and Ranged to help out the entire table rather than just the person playing him, but Dain simply needs to be there for every Dwarf ally to be boosted. In a four player game, that could be a hell of a lot of Dwarves.
So our final rankings based on power are:
1. Dain Ironfoot
Interesting that there seems to be a bit of a bias towards heroes released earlier in the game’s life here. Perhaps a product of the game being newer, the designers still finding their feet as regards balancing abilities at the time, not realising how strong certain abilities could become.
Now the other side.
Voting based on fun factor
This one of course is much more subjective than power level (and that can be pretty subjective already). Now there’s some overlap, since playing something powerful can be rather fun if your tastes run that way (and depending on the nature of the power), but I don’t know before going through if any of that overlap will actually make it to the final 8. I will mention at this point that there were a couple of cases in the power-based voting where I struggled to choose and eventual picked the one I considered less fun, partly because I thought my preference for the fun factor of them might be skewing my view on their power level, and partly because I figured they’d get their chance in this one (one of those cases, incidentally, was the round 1 Arwen vs. Hama, so that could’ve been a significant difference, with Arwen getting 4th place instead). So, now lets skip forward to after I’ve gone through everything for the next paragraph:
Honourable mentions go to Gandalf, knocked out round 1 by Caldara; Haldir, Mablung, and Tactics Merry, eliminated by the charge of Dunhere; Treebeard, outdone by Erestor who himself lost out to Caldara; Sam didn’t quite make it because of Galadriel; Grima was denied his repeat appearance by Loragorn and Elrond lost his to Spirit Merry. In this case though I think all the top 8 I’ve ended up with definitely deserve it one way or another.
A. Galadriel vs. Beorn
B. Aragorn (Lo) vs. Dunhere
C. Merry (Sp) vs. Caldara
D. Amarthiul vs. Faramir (Ld)
So this list has nothing in common either with the final 8 we got in the actual championship, or my choices above based on power level. It doesn’t necessarily even have that much to do with which heroes are my personal favourites – favouritism is based on a mixture of fun, power level, appreciation for good design, and in some cases there’s a definite reliability factor, heroes I feel like I can always depend on. This, on the other hand, is based purely on the fun – “Ooh, this is neat that I can do this,” or “OMG that was so cool!” Not to say that I don’t have some of my definite favourites in here, just not all of them. Now continuing onwards:
A – Having just referred in passing to two different forms of fun factor, here we have perfect examples of the two. Galadriel is all about the “Ooh this is neat,” with the ability to spend the entire game at your starting threat, extra draw, fetching key cards with the Mirror (sometimes laughing when it immediately discards them), and getting action advantage out of allies; Beorn, on the other hand, is pure “OMG that was so cool!” with not exhausting to defend, cancelling damage to him with Honour Guards, redirecting it to Dori, killing him off and pulling him back with Landroval, and capping it off by smashing an enemy with his 5 attack. Thinking about it, Galadriel might work well with Beorn, since she’s good for helping to get combos established. Maybe I should try that some time. In the end what it comes down to is that Galadriel enables a lot of fun combos, while Beorn has a bunch of fun stuff focused on him (and even without it the dose of early game power he provides can be really handy), so the specific is going to win out over the variety. Beorn.
B – This is another case of an enabler versus a focus. Loragorn allows for freer use of tactics which raise your threat (Boromir, Frodo, Doomed cards, etc) or just the option to take more time winning a quest without hitting the big 50 before you reach the end. Plus he can use the Sword that was Broken. On the other hand Dunhere is super fun when you build around him and can get him charging into the staging area to attack for 7 (or more) and just kill everything without needing to engage most of it. On more general criteria Loragorn would win for sure because Dunhere is much more difficult to make work, requiring all players in the game to keep their threat low. However when you do get him to work, to my mind, he’s much more pure fun. Dunhere.
C – The fun factor of Spirit Merry is comparable to part of that of Galadriel, maintaining low threat, plus a certain amount of joy just at the action of it – it’s somewhat satisfying to have an annoying enemy end up actually helping you (by letting you lower your threat). An opportunity to kind of go “Yah boo sucks” to the encounter deck. On the other hand, Caldara is a whole different sort of playstyle, unlike almost anything else; plus since she’s not so great at first glance and a lot of players still don’t appreciate her, it lets me feel like a hipster when I find additional useful wrinkles of her ability and beat nightmare quests with her. I suppose that makes it a bit of an opportunity to go “Yah boo sucks” to the playerbase (in a nice way, no offense meant, obviously). Caldara.
D – Amarthiul is a hero I haven’t actually gotten a lot of use out of, his success here is perhaps more because I’m viewing him as an avatar of the entire Dunedain archetype, which I find really fun when it works (less so when it doesn’t of course, because then the engaged enemies just kill you), because it’s again a case of getting the encounter deck to help you by gaining benefits from engaged enemies, and the risk/reward aspect can be rather exciting. But then Faramir also has that aspect to him, benefitting from engaging enemies, plus I’m a fan of action advantage. In the end, I love both, but I’ve had more personal experience and success with my Faramir/Ent deck than any Dunedain builds thus far. Faramir.
E. Beorn vs. Dunhere
F. Caldara vs. Faramir
Now the choices get harder. All these heroes are a ton of fun when you get them to work properly.
E – Staging area attacks versus the big bear. With the additional bolstering Beorn has gotten from Honour Guards and Horn’s Cry, I’m inclined to give it to him. Given Beorn’s basic design is a hero who takes a bunch of hits in the early game while everything else gets set up, to keep him going all game long is very satisfying, whereas Dunhere is only ever doing what he’s intended to, however well you make it work. Finally, Dunhere strategies are much more easily messed up, by people’s threats getting raised so the enemies come down. Whereas if Beorn gets set up, he pretty much just works, guaranteed. Beorn.
F – Caldara is good for mustering allies, whereas Faramir gets you more use out of them. Faramir depends on engagement effects, while Caldara depends on messing with the discard pile. Faramir is more flexible since he works with any kind of allies, whereas Caldara is restricted to mono-Spirit. I could see Faramir’s stock rising as I use him more, but for the moment I’ll take the mustering and messing-with-the-discard effects. Caldara.
Third place playoff:
Dunhere vs. Faramir
For this and the final I find the decisions really hard to make. In the previous ones I’ve had an initial gut feeling which further mulling over of the question made me more confident in being my pick. Here my gut is telling me nothing, so I’m going to have to try and get my brain involved instead. Dunhere charging into the staging area has a certain epicness to it, but it could be argued that by bypassing the need to defend you remove some of the tension from combat. On the other hand there’s some pleasure to be had from cheating the encounter deck in that way. It’s all a matter of how you look at it. In the end, it’s very close, but I suppose I’ll go by the same rationale I did for the Beorn/Galadriel matchup – Faramir’s fun factor is based on what your allies do, whereas Dunhere’s is based on what he does himself. Dunhere.
Beorn vs. Caldara
Again, I didn’t think through at the start how I expected this to turn out, and if I had, I wouldn’t have had much of an idea right from the beginning. However, as soon as I fined it down to the top 8 I saw this final coming.
And again, really difficult choice. Unlike the third place playoff, there’s no division of who does what, both heroes pull off their big effects themselves, with support around them to make them work. And both heroes have in common a predilection to try and cheat death one way or another. In my own decks, Caldara is more solo-viable since the Tactics/Lore Beorn deck doesn’t quest so well, but then I could equally build a Beorn deck with Spirit and use Fortune or Fate to revive him instead of Landroval. Both heroes have received some recent support with Beorn benefitting from Horn’s Cry, while Caldara works well with Noldor discard mechanics and Sword-thain. I’m honestly tempted to just call this a draw, as I sit here staring at the two hero’s names in the hopes that I’ll have some sort of epiphany, but that would be the easy and less satisfying solution.
Alright, let’s go for the obvious tie-breaker: I’m going to play a game two-handed, Caldara on one side and Beorn on the other, and see how I feel at the end of it.
Well, having taken a cheerful stroll through The Weather Hills, I’m still not entirely sure. The Caldara deck perhaps put in a better showing, but then that was partly because all those wimpy Spirit questers were able to hide behind a bear while he tanked all the incoming Orcs. Caldara got discarded and revived 5 times in the course of the game (7 completed rounds); but then Beorn (including damage redirected to Dori and cancelled by an Honour Guard) soaked up over 20 damage from attacks. The Beorn deck didn’t get the best draws, and so I think he could have shown himself off to better effect if it had. And of course, at the end, as I said, it certainly felt like the Caldara deck did better, but that was at the end, once it had time to build up into a powerhouse, whereas Beorn’s big triumphs were earlier in the game as you’d expect, and thus slightly fainter in my memory.
I still kind of want to call it a draw, but in the end if I have to choose (and I’ve decided that I do), I think I’ll say that Beorn barely scrapes by into first place.
So our final rankings based on fun factor are:
Definitely more of a tendency towards later released heroes than the power-based rankings. The designers have gotten more creative with weird abilities since the early days. The other thing which is slightly notable, though not surprising, is that three of the top 4 feature in decks I’ve posted on this blog, and the remaining one in a deck which I plan to post on the blog fairly soon.
So there we go. Those are my opinions on the Hero Championship based on power, and based on fun factor. Feel free to argue for your own perspectives on either version in the comments, either thoughts on my choices, or giving your own (I don’t expect anyone else to go through the effort of going through the matchups to produce their own top 8/4 to be ranked like me, though obviously if you want to go right ahead). The voting based on fun factor is obviously hugely subjective so we’ll just be discussing opinions there, but I’d be interested to know how far people agree with me on the voting by power levels, since that has more of an objective basis to it. Or if you can think of any other criteria you think it could be interesting to fine down to, you can bring that up as well. Thanks for reading!