As I said in the first instalment of Archetype Analysis, I intend to look at archetypes based around particular mechanics and playstyles as well as ones centred around certain traits. This is my first foray into that area. It’s an archetype with which I actually have little personal experience as it happens so this will be something of a learning experience for me. But before I get too in-depth I should probably define the archetype somewhat.
So how does one define the ‘superhero’ archetype? The immediate thought is that it’s a deck where you try to power up a single hero to do absolutely everything; but a careful examination of some of the best known examples of this archetype will reveal that that’s not necessarily the case – you may well in fact have Boromir only cover your combat requirements, while the questing is handled by other characters. So perhaps we define it as a case where a single character (usually hero, but ally options may be possible, such as OHaUH Gandalf) handles at least two of the three main areas – questing, defending, and attacking – more or less by themselves. In the case of questing it’s more likely that they provide a significant contribution rather than doing it all themselves, though there might be possibilities for that in, say, super-Eowyn with willpower boosts and Herugrim to handle questing and attack solo – if mono-Spirit you could even include Against the Shadow to let her defend from time to time if you really want.
Alright, definition is sorted, now let’s get into the systematic breakdown:
Readying – Essential – a single superhero can’t cover multiple areas if they only have one action per round.
Stat-boosting – The other essential component – even Gandalf’s 3/3/3 (or 4/4/4 in ally form) isn’t enough to solo everything without further boosts.
Card draw/fetching – While not strictly speaking a core mechanic of the archetype, this is nevertheless generally key to making it work consistently – you need to get your relevant cards out to power up your superhero so they can do everything and the usual one card per round isn’t going o cut it.
Slow start – Since your main strategy is focused on getting out a certain combination of attachments to power up your superhero, this kind of deck will often want to stall out a bit in the early-game while it digs out those key cards.
Attachment focused, Ally light – Attachments are usually the most important cards for this archetype because that’s where the superhero power comes from, and so they don’t necessarily have a lot of allies.
Inflexible – Where some decks if they come up against a uniqueness clash can find a suitable alternative, superhero decks by their nature tend to be particularly tuned such that they probably don’t work without the cards they were built around. At the very least, the deck would probably have to adjust its playstyle and probably wouldn’t be so much of a superhero deck any more.
Unexpected Courage/Fast Hitch
Readying as mentioned is a key mechanic, so the repeatable readying attachments are key components in turning most heroes into superheroes.
Blood of Numenor/Gondorian Fire/Lay of Nimrodel
Stat-boosting is the other key mechanic, and the three resource-based boosts from the Against the Shadow cycle are the biggest ones you can get since the amount of the boost is only limited by how many resources you can accumulate.
Galadriel/Mirror of Galadriel(/Silver Harp)
A combo is useless if you don’t find all the pieces of it. The Mirror of Galadriel works wonders in finding combo pieces. Silver Harp is optional, it ensures you won’t discard things you need, but it’s also an additional 2 resources to pay while you’re still setting up in the early game.
If you’re not using hero Galadriel and her Mirror, then the ally version is also perfect for this archetype, allowing you to stack your next four draws and bring an attachment into play for no additional cost.
Steward of Gondor
Since the biggest stat-boosts available are all dependent on the number of resources you have, and two of them depend on having a Dunedain or Gondor trait, Steward is a natural fit. Even aside from powering those effects, you need to be able to pay for all your stuff, and the faster you can do so the more reliable your deck.
Arwen Undomiel/Dunedain Signal/Dunedain Cache/Rivendell Bow/Elven Mail(/Elf-friend)
If you intend to bring your combat superhero into multiplayer, you want to get them Ranged and/or Sentinel as appropriate assuming they don’t have it already. I mean, the whole point of a superhero is that they’re supposed to try and help everyone, a superpowered individual who only attends to their own problems kind of loses their right to the ‘hero’ moniker.
A Burning Brand(/Song of Wisdom)
“The mightiest man may be slain by one shadow effect, and Boromir was pierced by many.” Not essential, but it makes you that much more secure while defending.
Slow start – Once again, this is not a deck type which naturally lends itself to hitting the ground running. No hero starts the game with stats high enough to be considered a proper superhero, and no-one except Boromir starts the game with enough actions either. So as much as it can be limited with good deckbuilding, you do need some time to get your superhero established before the deck can really function quite as intended.
Attachment heavy/Character light – The way you power up a superhero is with attachments, not allies, so any effect which discards attachments you control is likely to cause problems, and any effects which require lots of characters (e.g. Sailing tests in Grey Havens) may be a weak point for this kind of deck.
Two out of three ain’t bad… Don’t be sad. If, as is more common, your superhero is only covering two of the three main aspects of questing, defending and attacking, the third may be a weak point. Boromir decks may not quest so well. That hypothetical super-Eowyn I was talking about above probably wouldn’t be so good at defence, etc.
This is a part of the breakdown particular to non-trait-based archetypes and particularly central to this one. Without a trait as our guiding principle we have to see which heroes best fit the archetype, and in this case specifically we need to pick out our prospective superheroes (I could put them under key cards, but the point is no one of them is key, rather they’re a selection of good candidates). Now in principle you could probably make it work reasonably to turn just about any hero into a superhero if you were so inclined, but some are definitely better suited to it than others.
As mentioned, a key component in the superhero formula is lots of actions, so it should come as no surprise that Boromir is the poster child for this whole archetype since the amount of times you can ready him is limited only by your threat (which is a lot more manageable these days).
Aragorn has a lot going for him as a potential superhero. He has three attachments designed specifically for him in Celebrian’s Stone, Sword that was Broken and Ring of Barahir, giving him access to multiple spheres, which in turn makes him a great candidate for Steward even when you’re not loading him up with Blood and Fire (which he can have even without Steward since he’s a Dunedain). Two of him are natural Sentinels, one is a natural target for Burning Brand, one has in-built readying. Tactagorn is perhaps the odd man out, but he can become quad-sphere without resorting to singing, the defence reduction on enemies is like a natural attack boost and his ability to pull enemies can save on defences if that’s your weak point. Meanwhile Loragorn allows you to jump-start your deck with a load of Doomed cards if you want to go that route, secure in the knowledge that you can reset afterwards. All three versions of Aragorn are also targetable by hero Arwen’s resource generation and Tale of Tinuviel for extra boosting.
An odd option, to be sure, but if we accept the principle that any hero can become a superhero with Blood/Fire/Steward and readying effects, that makes the Hobbits natural choices since they can ready with Fast Hitch as well as Unexpected Courage. Even if you don’t need 7 actions per round, having 6 readying effects in the deck instead of only 3 makes it more consistent and the fact you save a resource on Fast Hitch vs UC could make a bigger difference than you’d imagine in the early-game.
While not on the same level as Boromir, both these heroes have in-built readying effects, which may give you a head start on your superhero setup.
In-built resource generation and Gondor trait gives great synergy with Blood/Fire.
No helpful trait, but the ability to take someone else’s resource does still mean stacking up resources on Bifur is slightly easier than on other heroes.
In-built stat-boosting here, and very controllable of course, so you don’t have to boost any further than you have to at a given moment. Treebeard may be hampered somewhat by his inability to have restricted attachments, but really the natural way to try and build a deck around Treebeard is to try and turn him into a superhero – load up on Unexpected Courage and healing so he can use his ability for both questing and attack, and he’s also a good natural defender with 3 base def and Lore sphere for Burning Brand (however nonsensical that seems in context).
Gimli is naturally inclined to be good at attacking, obviously, but it’s not too unreasonable to get him a setup where he can also cover defence pretty well, and with the release of Grappling Hook he can contribute to the occasional big quest push as well.
Gloin is ridiculous for resource generation so long as you can boost up his hit points. He can use some of those resources to pay for healing so he can take more damage and generate more resources. He can potentially cover defensive duties simply by taking everything undefended if you’re not worried about the shadow effects. So Gloin is an easy way to have the resources both to use Fire/Blood and also to pay for all your other cards at the same time.
It would seem remiss not to mention the Grey Wizard here. He doesn’t have an ability which exactly synergises with a superhero setup (though it does accelerate the deck, which certainly helps), but he has the highest all round base stats of any hero in the game, and Flame of Anor while not permanent is a potent form of stat-boosting befitting a superhero. He’s less of a natural pick to turn into a superhero mechanically than he is thematically, but he’s a good pick nonetheless.
On to the build! Now, the super Boromir deck has been done to death, and I doubt I could put together anything particularly different to what has already been done, so I knew when I decided to write this post that I wouldn’t be going that route. The two possibilities I considered were that perhaps I could try to build a super Boromir (or similar) deck using a more limited card pool (so finding an alternative to Blood/Fire), or alternatively that I could try to focus on a less typical option for a superhero deck. At this point I think I’m definitely going to go for a less typical option, and I’m debating whether to also try and deliberately avoid the standard Fire/Blood/Steward setup.
OK, so after some thought and a few RingsDB searches to see what other people have done before, I’ve settled upon a couple of ideas and I’m going to try and do both as separate things.
So idea 1: Superhero Sam. Classic Steward/Blood/Fire, but the target in this case is Sam Gamgee. My initial pass was Sam/Hama/Pippin (Lo), I had visions of recycling The Hammer-stroke every couple of rounds to boost Sam up to ridiculous levels even without the attachments and draw a bunch of cards. The issue was that my starting attack wasn’t enough to dispatch the enemies I was pulling so they just mounted up; or if I left them in staging I had issues with questing and I wasn’t getting my card draw out of Pippin. Also I had little to spend my Tactics resources on, and there were too many things I was looking for early to make the whole thing work. The principle of powering up Sam seems effective enough though.
Back to the drawing board, let’s try something a bit more obvious – Galadriel and hero Arwen. I’ll need Song of Battle for Gondorian Fire, but I stand decent chances of getting it since my card draw isn’t conditional any more. Tested it out against Shelob’s Lair. It was… interesting. Once I started getting set up I had tons of superfluous resources, though one could argue this was OK since once I was set up I didn’t need to be playing so many cards any more, and the important thing was getting set up in the first place. Having more starting willpower while I was setting up certainly helped, as did having access to threat reduction, but I’m still not sure about the resources, and more card draw still wouldn’t go amiss. The thing with the resources is I feel like if I had only 1 Spirit hero then my Unexpected Courage might be too slow, but with two I don’t need the extra resource generation from Arwen (which I barely used). Maybe just including Errand-riders or A Good Harvest with 1 Spirit hero would be enough. Another notable point was that since Sam can get a Gondorian Shield and a Hobbit Cloak, Blood of Numenor is perhaps less significant than Gondorian Fire, so maybe I’d be better with a Tactics hero for immediate access (or, again, more card draw to find Song of Battle faster might be an idea). And given the excess resources, another solution for the Spirit hero to Unexpected Courage ratio could be to include Song of Travel for Sam and then I could also use Lay of Nimrodel. Hmm.
So next thoughts, Glorfindel would give me low starting threat and some starting attack if I don’t get Gondorian Fire quickly enough. There’s a reason Galadriel/Glorfindel are the other two heroes in Seastan’s Boromir deck, and the reason is that they work. On the other hand I could go back to Pippin for easier access to Fast Hitch and more card draw, or I could go back to Hama for easier access to Gondorian Fire and potential event shenanigans. All seem like reasonable options in a vacuum, but I suppose the question is more how they hold up if I actually try to build these versions of the deck. Let’s go with Pippin.
In the course of editing the deck I unexpectedly find myself removing Galadriel in favour of Glorfindel, the Mirror’s function being taken over by 3x Master of the Forge. This change actually puts me into Secrecy, but I really don’t want to actually use the Secrecy reduction because it would clash with my Deep Knowledge. Besides, with how cheap the deck is, the extra resources from Resourceful would be largely superfluous later in the game, while the 1 cost to play it in the first place would be an unfortunate hit to my early game power ramp. Aside from some difficulties cutting down to 50 cards I think I’m reasonably set, though I still feel like there should be better ways to work it. Maybe I’ll have to branch out into a two-handed version subsequently. At any rate, time to enter official recorded testing now.
Galadriel’s Handmaiden x3
Master of the Forge x3
Gandalf (Core) x2
Steward of Gondor x3
Hobbit Cloak x3
Gondorian Shield x3
Light of Valinor x3
Unexpected Courage x3
Fast Hitch x3
Song of Battle x3
Blood of Numenor x2
Gondorian Fire x2
A Test of Will x3
Daeron’s Runes x3
Deep Knowledge x3
Elrond’s Counsel x3
Sneak Attack x3
Tighten Our Belts x3
And the second idea is a superpowered Gimli with lots of hit points to smash enemies. In order to be counted as a superhero deck of course he needs to cover two aspects of the game, but this is doable – with the ridiculous power that can be derived from Gloin jank decks one inevitably wonders if the massive hit point pool + healing thing could be a viable defensive solution in other contexts, to which the answer is yes but it’s more difficult to pay for it without Gloin just bleeding resources everywhere. Nevertheless, if Gimli gets set up he can solve defence (either with actual defence or undefended attacks), healing up when he needs it in order to not die, and then killing everything with his massively inflated attack value. For an added bonus, he can use the Grappling Hook attachment from Grey Havens to commit that huge attack value to questing as well. As far as the increased cost goes, that just means we need ways to cheat attachments into play. Totally doable.
My initial pass on this deck (other two heroes are Elrond for healing and Galadriel for extra draw plus theme) worked out pretty well but had some potential issues with early willpower, and I’d still like to be able to go faster. On the other hand, I think I can tread water well enough until I either get out what little willpower I have or get Gimli his Grappling Hooks. Here’s the pre-testing version of the deck:
Galadriel’s Handmaiden x3
Imladris Stargazer x3
Master of the Forge x3
Citadel Plate x3
Ent Draught x2
Grappling Hook x3
Light of Valinor x3
Self Preservation x3
Unexpected Courage x3
A Test of Will x3
Daeron’s Runes x3
Deep Knowledge x3
Elrond’s Counsel x3
The White Council x2
So to testing. Botomir gave me To Catch an Orc, Wastes of Eriador, and Road to Rivendell as my testing quests for the first deck. So once again I’ll be sticking a Nightmare on the last one, though even then I think one could debate which is more difficult between Nightmare Road to Rivendell and regular Wastes of Eriador.
Second deck gets randomly assigned to Weather Hills, Shelob’s Lair and Flight from Moria.
So after full testing, my conclusion on the first deck is that it just stays as it is with an adjusted sideboard to include more options – and then also a couple more copies of Erestor, because it’s entirely possible that making the deck even bigger by including more draw will actually even out to make it run more consistently faster. The ideal version of this deck is probably to divide up into a two-handed setup to be honest, but it works pretty well as things stand.
As to the second deck, initially I had the same thought – keep the list the same but include more of a sideboard, but on further reflection after I finished the test-questing, given how little I really wanted to use Master of the Forge for fear of pulling my expensive attachments into my hand rather than keeping them in the deck for Vilya/Well Equipped, I’ll probably do better with some of the intended sideboard cards in the deck instead, those being Galadriel’s Mirror, Silver Harp and Protector of Lorien (the latter is more to give an additional use to the Harps but it’s still a useful thing to have).
So, thanks for reading and watching, I hope your like the decks! These are by no means the only routes to a viable superhero deck – Steward/Blood/Fire works on anyone to be honest, while alternatives are rarer, but there’s definitely more than just Gimli. I actually have another couple of deck ideas in the works which fit into the superhero mould, so hopefully I’ll get them polished off and post them up soon enough, so look out for those. In the meantime, happy questing!