There’s a bit of a story behind how I came to build this deck. A while back, with the full LotR Saga campaign being on OCTGN, my brother and Qwaz and I started a three-player campaign (which I may have other things to say about in future). Qwaz just wanted to play one of his favourite pre-existing decks tweaked appropriately for each quest, while me and my brother built specially for the campaign – but we figured we’d also go for favourites, in our cases picking favourite heroes to build around rather than existing decks. In my case that meant Gandalf, and as a result of the sphere distribution of the other two I had the Leadership sphere all to myself. After some thought I came up with two possible ideas, built them both and picked the one I thought I’d prefer. One was using Elfhelm for all the Mount synergy around the table, the other Kahliel for a Harad deck. In the end I picked the Elfhelm deck for the campaign as I felt he would be more interesting for cross-table synergy, whereas the Harad deck would be much more focused on itself. But of course this left me with another deck ready for testing. This is that deck.
So my starting point was Gandalf and Kahliel. It seems a good combination – Gandalf can help play the Harad allies from the top of the deck, he helps with card draw which can be important for Kahliel, and the Harad deck’s reliance on strong allies means it pairs very nicely with Narya. The one downside is that two heroes in the deck already has a starting threat of 24, and this is a deck which might prefer to have a little bit of setup time. Initially my immediate thought was Spirit Merry, who is great for keeping threat under control – he was my choice for the deck I ended up using in the campaign as well. Glorfindel would also be a decent choice of course, just throw in 3x Light of Valinor and 3x Elrond’s Counsel, maybe sideboard Asfaloth and you should be alright, but since I was initially doing this for the campaign he wasn’t a consideration as he was in Qwaz’s deck already.
So Gandalf/Kahliel/Merry was how I started out. And had I used the deck for the campaign that may well have been fine. However when I came to test the deck in solo Merry was not such a good fit. His ability doesn’t go off that often when you reveal only one card per round leaving you stuck with the threat, and Hobbit Pony lacked the synergy it had in the Elfhelm deck (and since Mounts weren’t a focus here I didn’t have room for Horse-breeders to find it more consistently). On top of that as I mentioned Kahliel/Harad really likes to have good card draw (because to use Kahliel’s ability you need a steady stream of Harad allies), and I felt I wasn’t quite getting enough. But threat is still a concern, so what could I do? Well, it so happens there are a couple of great Hobbit heroes in Lore, which gives me access to more draw. Pippin would be a good choice, the boost to engagement costs also giving a longer respite from enemies and providing some additional draw of his own, but my actual choice was the more extreme threat solution in Folco Boffin. Also the first time I’ve used him.
After that I did a little more testing and tweaking. There weren’t a lot of huge changes though – I can still play some Spirit cards using Gandalf, and there weren’t that many in the first place, Merry’s resources being intended more for the various Neutral cards. This also in turn means I don’t need that many Lore cards to have a use for Folco’s resources, but the Lore cards I have I can still play after discarding him with Gandalf. Also A Good Harvest, which slots neatly into a deck with a selection of out-of-sphere cards like this. One other great fit was Peace and Thought, which of course I already knew was great with Kahliel since he can discard one of the allies drawn t ready himself, but it also goes nicely with Folco given that if you just discard him to drop one’s threat immediately afterwards you’re not using his action anyway.
Kahliel’s Tribesman x3
Southron Refugee x3
Envoy of Pelargir x3
Warden of Healing x2
Steward of Gondor x3
Kahliel’s Headdress x3
Gandalf’s Staff x3
Wizard Pipe x3
Unexpected Courage x2
We Are Not Idle x3
Daeron’s Runes x3
Peace, and Thought x3
A Good Harvest x2
Bulwark of the West
Flame of Anor
Send for Aid
Prepare for Battle
So first off, the sideboard is a bit big. That’s due in large part to the fact I was originally building it with a campaign in mind where I might have wanted to sub in some of these things, but they’re still potentially useful alternatives to have available. A lot of it essentially divides up into two modules – a sidequest module, which is situational, and a Ranged/Sentinel module, which is only relevant in multiplayer (Shadowfax has the advantage of being Neutral, but between Gandalf and A Good Harvest the Courages should still be playable and they’re cheaper). Campfire Tales is also included only as an option for multiplayer. Deep Knowledge and Magic Ring are options for if you’re not so concerned about your threat going up for whatever reason. Galadriel can help grab the important attachments, but then she’s expensive so I found it preferable to just have more draw and play them normally. Treebeard is a good Narya target and goes in any deck. Flame of Anor can be good for big plays and obviously the Harad deck has some expensive allies to fuel it, plus a means of retrieving them from the discard afterwards. The condition removal of Bulwark of the West is of course situationally very important, and once again the discarded ally can be retrieved if it’s a Harad ally.
If looking for cards to swap out to include things from the sideboard, neither Envoys of Pelargir nor A Good Harvest are strictly necessary. The biggest reason for keeping them in is that they provide more ways of playing Steward of Gondor on round 1, but it should be entirely possible to manage without them. You should not remove We Are Not Idle even if you go oversized – usually there’s not point in running WANI in an oversized deck since it effectively just makes the deck smaller, but with Gandalf if you can play it from the top of your deck it effectively draws you 2 cards (because every time you use Gandalf’s ability it effectively draws a card by revealing a new top card of your deck). If you’re sideboarding for multiplayer then you probably have someone else running Spirit and so don’t need to bring your own Unexpected Courages. It’s also possible someone else will bring healing in which case you can easily sub out the Wardens.
On to the main deck. A certain amount of the guidance for this deck will be familiar to anyone who has played a Harad deck before – Steward goes on Kahliel, don’t be afraid to discard allies you can’t afford for readying because you can get them back later with the Headdress, perhaps even refrain from playing an ally so you can use them for readying instead depending on circumstances.
Obviously, prioritise spending resources from Folco as you don’t want to lose them when you discard him. As far as that goes, I have no particular feeling about the ‘right’ time to discard him. The extra resource and 2 willpower/attack is useful to have so in general I’d say hold on to him until you really feel you need to drop your threat. That said, once you get Steward out resources become less of a problem, and early on Strider can compensate for the loss of stats and then some by giving you an extra action out of Gandalf, so don’t be too afraid of managing without him either. I suppose the other cause for discarding him would be if you have Strider and want to have Gandalf available for questing and Narya or combat.
Gandalf is the top priority for action advantage. He should get Strider and the first Unexpected Courage. The second Courage is more flexible but probably goes on Kahliel because that allows for easier pooling of attack. Gandalf’s Staff should probably be used for resources when you’re still trying to play the allies in your hand, and for card draw when you’re running out of allies in hand and need more either to play or to fund Kahliel’s readying. Unless of course shadow cards are a concern in which case discard the shadow cards.
Mulligan card should probably be Steward, but I’d consider keeping the Staff, especially if the hand also contained some decent card draw. Beyond that early priorities are pretty flexible – the good all-round stats of both Gandalf and Kahliel mean that none of the 3 unique allies is particularly valued over the others as the heroes can pick up the slack wherever it happens to be. Obviously there’s little point to playing the Headdress or Narya before you have some decent allies in play, unless the encounter deck is really pushing you it’s probably better to play Southron Refugees first and the big allies later, but beyond those general points you should be able to play it by ear.
Between Narya and Kahliel you don’t have to worry too much about exhausting your allies. It can be entirely practical if you want to quest with Yazan and your Tribesmen, secure in the knowledge that you can ready them if they’re needed for combat. And between Narya and the Tribesmen, strong enemies aren’t that much of a problem – in theory you could boost Jubayr to defend for 7, discarding the shadow card, and then he can counterattack for 6 on top of any other attackers.
There are certainly more cards you could slot into this deck which I haven’t. Given the big expensive allies, both Elf-stones and A Very Good Tale could make sense. If you still have threat issues even after discarding Folco, Woodmen’s Clearing could be a consideration. If you’re playing multiplayer and someone else wants to use Steward of Gondor then Captain’s Wisdom could work well (I think using both at once would be a bit much though). I still struggle to fit the Haradrim Spear into a Harad deck, but it would of course be a thematic choice. I omitted that old favourite Gandalf draw option of Expert Treasure-hunter, not feeling it to be necessary, but it could certainly be added. I’m sure there are other possibilities, but then the deck already seems to work just fine.
I feel like this deck should be pretty well suited for most quests, though certainly some sequences of reveals could cause it problems, e.g. too many low engagement cost enemies early on (one you can probably cope with until you amass the means to kill it, but beyond that it’ll start to get difficult). Effects which blank text boxes probably have the biggest potential to stop this deck working, since that switches off the emergency buttons of discarding Folco and discarding allies from hand to ready Kahliel/other allies, to say nothing of the useful abilities on all those allies (Jubayr and the Tribesmen perhaps being the most significant).
I started out just testing the deck against random quests, but then on reflection during a Discord conversation it occurred to me that this deck would probably stand a pretty good chance against Battle of Carn Dum, so never being one to shy from a challenge I did that. I took my time, but it went quite well: