“I am Gandalf, hear me roar!” Is not something Tolkein ever published (and the jury’s out on whether he even scribbled it in the marginalia). However, he captured the view of most players confronted by a non-core Gandalf: “Trolls are slow in the uptake, and mighty suspicious about anything new to them,” in the Hobbit.
I’ve got a separate article in mind for how we can replace core-Gandalf in our decks, but in this RTFC I want to go through the Hero Gandalf introduced in The Road Darkens saga expansion for Lord of the Rings LCG.
Let’s start with a picture of the old, bearded wanderer himself…
No errata applies to this card.
Title feels a bit blasphemous actually, but in this section we’ll get into the nitty gritty of him. So to speak.
His starting threat is quite high, but then so are his stats. He can quest, he can fight, he can defend (but really you probably want a more dedicated defender). Given how good his stats are across the board, it makes sense to try to have some readying for him so that you get as much use out of the investment in starting threat as possible.
His ability is equally as powerful. It essentially reads:
- Always play with the top card revealed (this includes in setup, and as soon as you play the top card you flip the next one face up)
- These cards are still in your deck; any effect that requires you to ‘reveal at the top of the deck’ is going to reveal the card you can see
- Once per phase (i.e. a possible 7 times per round) if you have resources and the rules allow it then you can play that card
- You can’t play attachments in the combat phase for instance
- Gandalf’s resources are the same sphere as the top card when considering sphere match for that card.
Having invested a lot of threat into this spirit from the time of creation, you’ll want to get the most from the character. You are going to be building your deck around this hero, and will probably call it “your Gandalf deck”. For the core stats you’ll want some form of readying, but for the ability you’ll want to trigger this as many times as you can.
Sphere match isn’t a problem, but resources and playability could be. 0-cost cards take away the requirement for resources, and 0-cost events grant the most opportunity to play them. Having a deck with as many sensible 0-cost cards means you’ve got the greatest opportunity to maximise those times as possible.
This ringsdb search lists the 75 0-cost cards in the game (as at The Drowned Ruins expac), excluding Side Quests and Treasures. However, you’ll notice that most of them are events or attachments and not all are going to be relevant. The best use of Gandalf in these circumstances is to take the attachments and events that are off-sphere for your other heroes, that make sense within your deck build and include them.
For instance, Daeron’s Ruins and Deep Knowledge are cracking card draw cards… If you have Lore. Gandalf get’s around that, so long as the card is on the top of the deck. Note that even 0-cost cards require a sphere match to play, and so long as they’re on the top of the deck, Gandalf Hero has a sphere for that.
You also have to fulfil other cost criteria. Elrond’s Council, for instance, still requires a unique Noldor character.
The other use is for cards that are 1 or 2 cost resources, but are quite important to your plan or are staples of a different sphere. Gandalf’s ability means that, so long as the card is on the top of the deck, you can have a form of resource smoothing in play. If Gandalf is sat with 1-resource and a Test of Will on his deck, then you’ve got cancellation available. Coupled with another spirit hero and one in hand, then you’re good for two cancellations. Feint, Sneak Attack, Hasty Stroke etc are all great candidates to include as a single resource and being top-of-deck means they can be played in the appropriate phase.
What makes Gandalf better?
Clearly, white robes and a peroxide clearly help, but in the absence of all of those things, let’s consider some natural synergies.
Let’s start by solving that ‘if its on the top of your deck’ problem. Wizard Pipe allows you to swop a card in your hand with a card on the top of your deck. This is important for setting up all the shenanigans we talked about just now. I would suggest having this as a three-of, or a one-of and play ally Bilbo.
Then we have the rest of his toys:
- His staff, which should be going everywhere with him all of the time. I would recommend a three-of mostly so you can point at it and promise your fellow players it’s all good
- His horsey, which is an expensive Unexpected Courage in solo, but a great card in multiplayer.
- His ring, which is great if you intend to swarm the place with low cost allies
Shadowfax opens up other cards to invest in him; anything that requires a Ranged hero or a Sentinel hero becomes available for him, as well as providing the readying that makes those heroes even more valuable.
Moving away from maximising return on his stats, how can we best abuse his ability? Well there are two ways. Firstly, we can take advantage of 100% knowledge of the card on top of the deck. Perhaps Gandalf is really very good at finding shinies (Expert Treasure Hunter). This helps get cards into hand. Wizard’s Pipe helps get those cards onto the top of the deck. Note that discards the card; ff that card is Hidden Cache, or Ered Luin Miner, for instance then further shenanigans can be kicked off.
Secondly, we can stack Gandalf with resources to increase the likelihood of being able to pay for the card on the top. A Steward of Gondor won’t hurt him. (Perhaps even stack Gondorian Fire or Blood of Numenor to get most benefit from the stats as well!).
I don’t have an official ruling, but I think that A Burning Brand would also work for him, so long as it was played off the top of the deck. Attachments are only checked for legality at the point of attachment, so you could argue that his text grants him the Lore sphere, so he is a Lore hero at that point and this is legit. A Burning Brand definitely works with a hero granted Lore through Song of Wisdom, for instance, and I see no real difference…
So, who should we couple him with?
Well, I like a 2-hero setup of Gandalf and Elrond, with a stack of the most expensive heroes from all spheres ever. This is basically a ‘good stuff’ deck, that has Elrond be equipped with Vilya. As you have 100% knowledge of what is about to be revealed, you know whether it’s worth it. If you’ve got a lot of low cost cards in there, you can time Vilya for something that will give you the most bang for the buck.
This is an absolute beast of a deck when it’s going, but it does take a bit of time to setup. It would also go well with Strider, released in the latest pack. This does feel like cheating though, as I’m not sure that the designers had a deck with a starting threat of 27 in mind when they designed the card…
The other option would be to go with Hobbits. I quite like taking Spirit Merry and Sam as that gives a nice balance of other solo friendly spheres. Their threat being low means that you offset Gandalf’s main disadvantage. There’s little point in taking Lore Pippin because the 14 threat from Gandalf mean’s his ability is not that likely to fire.
An alternative trio would be Spirit Merry, Legolas and Gandalf. Legolas has naturally low threat and this has a great balance of options that would even suit a multiplayer deck.
What makes Gandalf sad?
Quests that target heroes over and above everything else. You’ve invested masses in him, so it is quite a hit if he goes.
Attachment stripping quests. Gandalf without his toys is an amazing beard that’s just not quite there yet.
Quests that come hard and early (so to speak). A Gandalf deck takes time to setup usually, and very early aggro makes it hard to get sufficient presence early enough to manage.
Be brave, adventurer, get they cards out and build the deck. Take it down to a multiplayer event (preferably warning the other players first!) and enjoy the singular fun that is running a Gandalf deck.
Alternatively, throw him at the Balrog whilst saying “You cannot pass!” until someone tries to correct you and make sure they know the film was wrong!
I mean, you’re playing Gandalf hero, it’s not like you’re interested in what other people think, right?
If you reckon we’ve missed something, or want to comment in any way, do so below or through the usual channels!