Decks: The Wisdom and Spirit of the Istari

So the idea of building a deck around the second ally version of Gandalf, from the first Hobbit box, is certainly not a new one. Checking the properties of the OCTGN file, it seems I started trying to build one at the end of May last year, over a month before Ian posted his on Tales from the Cards. As I recall my initial attempt just didn’t work though, and it was following his post that I was inspired to go back and try to untangle the mess of my initial attempt. As it turned out, I think the problem was similar to the one I had with my Cirdan/Gondor idea, that I had two separate sets of cards I was trying to shove into the same deck and I didn’t have enough room for both of them, so dividing them made for much more coherent resulting decks. Also like my Cirdan/Gondor decks, one of the ideas worked a lot better than the other in practice, though I still hold out some hope that the other might be salvageable.

So on the one hand I figured since Hobbit Gandalf boosts your threat I’d benefit from just playing off threat reduction, so I put in Galadriel, Greeting, Counsel and Hobbit Pipes (Of course I already had ally Bilbo to find the Wizard Pipe, though it’s not so useful in this context. Meanwhile the other was focusing on the use of the Wizard Pipe to set up Elrond/Vilya. That’s the one which doesn’t work so well, because you want to get Gandalf out, but you also want to get Vilya, and then you need the Pipe for predictable Vilyas, and it’s a lot of moving parts. Given I’ve had resource issues when testing it, I suspect this might be a poster child for Seastan’s favourite combo: Good Harvest+Steward of Gondor. I could muster enough draw to find the combo fairly consistently, Steward could also be put in by Vilya.
Most of the key stuff is the attachments that were designed for hero Gandalf which is pretty self-explanatory. I think I’ll find it easier to put up the decklists, then talk about them, rather than preamble them too far. Starting with the less polished and also less effective version:

Aragorn (Lo)

Allies (17):
Gandalf (OHaUH) x3
Master of the Forge x3
Beorn x1
Gildor Inglorion x1
Haldir of Lorien x1
Landroval x1
Northern Tracker x1
Quickbeam x1
Treebeard x1
Warden of Healing x2
Curious Brandybuck x2

Attachments (22):
Vilya x3
Wizard Pipe x3
Unexpected Courage x3
Gandalf’s Staff x2
Shadowfax x2
A Burning Brand x2
Asfaloth x1
Light of Valinor x1
Ranger Spikes x3
Silver Lamp x1
Wingfoot x1

Events (9):
A Test of Will x3
Flame of Anor x3
Mithrandir’s Advice x3

Side-quests (2):
Gather Information x1
Scout Ahead x1

Decklist on RingsDB

OK, so first off let’s just say that this deck clearly suffers from an overabundance of shiny things. I’ve taken everything that I thought could fit in and thrown it all in and this is probably why it has difficulty functioning. Scout Ahead isn’t a great fit for this deck, it was just fairly new when I built this version so I threw it in out of excitement. Ranger Spikes are great in pretty much any deck, but I could probably use the space for other stuff to make the core more consistent, same potentially goes for Burning Brand. Wingfoot isn’t really needed, Silver Lamp I could do without but it has great synergy with Gandalf’s Staff so maybe I should keep it. On the other hand since I potentially have issues with resources and drawing the right cards I might want the Staff for those things instead. Oh, and while most of my costly allies to be Vilya’d into play are good, Landroval probably isn’t the best choice.
So, I think that deftly sums up a lot of the issues with this, and the other one I mostly covered above with the fact that you really want a three card, 8 resource combo down to get properly rolling. Ideally another card and 2 resources for Unexpected Courage. I guess I should try it with more draw and probably Good Harvest+Steward (though the Staff can help with resources once I get it). The thing is that while I have Loragorn’s threat reset working for me, with Hobbit Gandalf sucking up the threat and starting at 30, I’m still kind of on the clock with this deck and I can’t afford to take too long getting set up.
Oh yeah, Curious Brandybuck might seem like an odd choice – in principle I like them with Gandalf/Wizard Pipe/Elrond/Vilya, because those things need cards in your deck to function and potentially burn through it pretty fast, so if you empty your deck, shoving a Brandybuck back on the bottom of it re-enables your shenanigans. On the other hand, this is dependent on getting set up and burning through the entire deck, so they’re another possible good cut. As frustrating as being stuck unable to Vilya can be, by the time you get that far you tend to have enough stuff on the table to manage without any extra.
…and while Asfaloth is still good even without Glorfindel, his absence makes it much less of an auto-include, so that’s another thing I could swap out.

Onto the alternative:

Frodo Baggins
Glorfindel (Sp)

Allies (15):
Gandalf (OHaUH) x3
Bilbo Baggins x3
Arwen Undomiel x2
Saruman x2
Treebeard x2
Westfold Horse-breeder x3

Attachments (21):
Asfaloth x2
Fast Hitch x2
Gandalf’s Staff x3
Hobbit Pipe x2
Light of Valinor x3
Nenya x2
Shadowfax x3
Unexpected Courage x3
Wizard Pipe x1

Events (13):
A Test of Will x3
Elrond’s Counsel x3
Flame of Anor x3
The Galadhrim’s Greeting x3
The White Council x1

Side-quests (1):
Gather Information x1

Decklist on RingsDB

Of course Wizard Pipe here is only really good for setting up Flame of Anor, but that’s still something. Naturally I considered the Mirror of Galadriel, but with the number of significant cards I was too concerned about the random discard, and this deck draws pretty well without it to be honest, between Galadriel, the Staff and Hobbit Pipes. Saruman and The White Council were more thematic choices than strategic ones, though both are somewhat under-rated cards and can certainly be useful. Overall, this deck operates on very simple principles – get Gandalf set up with his attachments, keep your threat down with Galadriel and events, draw cards like crazy. Oh, Unexpected Courage is actually of limited use for this deck, you can only use one copy to put on Galadriel, while Frodo can have Fast Hitches as the cheaper alternative. However in multiplayer extra copies of UC are always welcome in my experience. Still worth bearing in mind since this deck should be pretty solo-viable. Confusingly it seems I omitted Silver Lamp from the Spirit version of the deck while leaving it in the Lore one? Not entirely sure about that, it’d make perfect sense here since Glorfindel with LoV will always be ready come combat and given the aforementioned synergy with Gandalf’s Staff.

Of course both of these decks were built well before the release of Narya, which is an obvious addition now. Double Back would be another decent option to offset the threat increase, though since it takes up a round of questing, factoring in normal refresh and Gandalf I guess it’ll only save 2 threat in most cases. Good for multiplayer though. I’m struggling to see much else I could really add from more recent releases though, the Spirit version is still pretty good as is and I think the majority of the changes I’ll be making to the Lore version involve cards which were around when I built it the first time and I just omitted them for some reason. Look out for those changes when I 2.0 the RingsDB decklists if you’re interested. The Lore deck’s probably getting a complete overhaul, the Spirit deck some small tweaks, but those were my attempts at the ally Gandalf deck. Make of them what you will.

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3 Responses to Decks: The Wisdom and Spirit of the Istari

  1. Back when Silvan were still shiny and new and the Ring-Maker cycle was maybe half-released (I proxied most of the Silvan cards from spoilers), I made a pseudo-Silvan deck that made good use of Gandalf:

    Celeborn, Loragorn, Galadriel.

    Galadriel’s threat reduction doesn’t matter a whole lot at first, but after you reset your threat with Aragorn, you’ll want it every round. Also, there were a lot of Doomed cards in the deck to help set up quickly: Legacy of Numenor, Deep Knowledge, Seeing Stone, Saruman. Once you get Gandalf up and running, you generally use these a lot less, but they’re very nice for getting the core set up and Aragorn completely wipes away they’re effects. Celeborn was there for Legacy of Numenor, Sword that was Broken, Steward of Gondor, and to facilitate the Silvan archetype. The Silvan’s weren’t particularly necessary, but they were fun, we needed something to fill the deck up with, and they synergized well with Galadriel. Moving forward, I might prefer a lower-threat Leadership hero (Sam?) and focus more on ents, using Narya on Gandalf to ready them on their first turn so they can synergize with Galadriel.

    It was a super fun and powerful deck once set up, which would take one or two rounds since Gandalf is expensive. I look forward to trying the new iteration I just mentioned.


    • I also really want to try it now that Gandalf has some toys 🙂


    • PocketWraith says:

      Yeah, that sounds like a really fun deck. The whole “Spam Doomed cards for a quick setup then reset with Loragorn” approach is one I’ve never really gotten round to trying myself but I know it can obviously be very effective for a variety of archetypes.


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