I feel like I've blinked and the Angmar Awakened cycle is almost complete. The second to last adventure pack has come out and we are seeing the promises made in the preview articles really flesh out.
We've seen him as an objective ally in three of the quests of this cycle, and now Amarthiúl is getting the hero treatment. Sporting the same stats as his objective version, we see him as a Leadership hero, but with a very strong Tactics feel. This becomes even clearer in his abilities. As with other Dúnedain, he benefits from engaging enemies. In this case, he gains the Tactics sphere when engaged with one enemy, and gains extra resources. Armarthiúl combines Song of Battle and Resourceful into his hero ability. Leadership is rich, forgive the pun, with resource acceleration, and being able to smooth resources between both Leadership and Tactics is beneficial. Unfortunately, there aren't any Dúnedain cards in the Tactics sphere which truly need the resources. Dúnedain Hunter is a zero cost card which, while you need the resource match, you don't need any of the additional resources. Gondorian Fire, on the other hand, benefits strongly from Armarthiúl being able to gain extra resources. If you access to Spirit, then Blood of Numenor is another benefit to Armarthiúl's resources. Many times, I find putting these attachments on Boromir, since he can use his readying effect to take advantage of the combat boosts multiple times, but with readying effects such as Athelas or Unexpected Courage you can get similar utility.
Beechbone joins the Ent army as another Tactics ally. His ability allows you to declare him as a defender, and immediately take damage to then deal damage to the attacking enemy. Just like core set classic, Gondorian Spearman, direct damage becomes more and more important as we see the game evolve. To counter the larger player card pool, we have seen nastier enemies come out with higher hit points, and higher defense. Being able to throw some direct damage on enemies, especially if Beechbone is going to die from the attack, is an excellent form of action advantage. If he survives, Boomed and Trumpeted gives him the chance to ready and attack strongly. Damage effects boost Booming Ent's attack, and at the end of the round, Wellinghall Preserver can heal him up.
Guardian of Arnor is yet another card to add to the strong Dúnedain archetype. In this case, this sentinel defender gains additional defense for every enemy engaged with the player. A solid ally for sure, especially at three cost. My immediate comparison is to Warden of Annuminas, which gives additional willpower for every enemy engaged, but at a cheaper cost. With the higher cost, you do get slightly better stats, but considering that the Guardian is in Leadership vs Warden's Spirit sphere, the cost difference is even rougher. If you're using Dúnedain with access to Leadership, this is definitely an inclusion. Be careful, however, when using his sentinel ability, since the defense boost only works based on how many enemies you have engaged.
In the books, Lindir role is as the smug Elf Lord who listened to Bilbo's poetry. That smugness is definitely clear in the art for this card. For three cost, you get an ally with decent stats, as well as the possibility to draw cards, up to a hand size of three. This plays right into the Noldor trait that has been in development this cycle. Obviously, if you're using Erestor, card draw is not typically an issue. With other builds, however, especially in Lindir's Spirit sphere, some form of card draw is needed. This could be a more reliable form of Ancient Mathom, with card draw in the planning phase rather than questing. Paired with Leadership, I could see Lindir as a good candidate for Sneak Attack, with him popping in for cheap, drawing some cards, and then returning to hand. Alternatively, he could be a target for Children of the Sea, where he quests for four, then gets shuffled back into the deck, to be used later.
Favor of the Valar is the first attachment to attach to a player's threat dial. Tying right into the valour trait, this card, in a fairly clumsily written fashion, triggers when a player would otherwise be eliminated by threat. Instead, the player's threat is dropped by five, and player sticks around. When running valour, it behooves you to stay at 40 threat for as much of the game as possible. Typically, threat management has been seen in Spirit, but this is not what you would expect to see in a valour deck. Tactics did get some threat management with Secret Vigil, but it is not as reliable as other forms of threat reduction. This allows you to get some threat reduction, but only at the last moment. It could be very difficult if RNG keeps you from drawing this card, but such is the ever present concern in this game of ours. In addition to valour, playing doomed cards introduced in the previous cycle could also take advantage of this card.
The Long Defeat thematically captures the feeling of the Elves, as they slowly are losing the battle against darkness over their immortal lives. As we saw the first time an attachment attached to a threat dial, this is the first time we see a player attachment that attaches to the quest. For one lore resource, after the attached quest is defeated, each player gets to either heal 5 damage among the characters he controls, or draw two cards. Obviously, card draw is great, but with Elrond, the healing could be bonkers. Elrond's text reads that whenever a character is healed by card effects, heal one additional hit point. Based on card text, as written, if you heal one hit point, Elrond heals another. Therefore, if you heal five separate characters, this could heal a total of 10 hit points! Spread across four players, and this could be incredible value for the cost. In most cases, this card would be wasted on the final quest card, but in a quest like A Journey to Rhosgobel, attaching this card to quest 2B could give you the boost to make sure Wilyador is fully healed.
Typically, cards that interact with quest are meant to improve your willpower, Doom Hangs Still is there to protect you in case you quest unsuccessfully. Similar to Ever Onward, this card protects players from raising your threat after questing unsuccessfully. A reactionary card, to be sure, I prefer to be more proactive. I have never included Ever Onward in a deck, as I rather be in control at the start than wait for something bad to happen. Furthermore, this card is played as a Planning Action, so it can't even be used in response to questing successfully. It could be argued that these cards could be used to save characters for combat, but since staging still occurs, you will still have to deal with any when revealed effects on cards. This is where Doom Hangs Still's valour action comes into the play. For effectively Doomed 2, you skip the quest phase entirely. This is the best part of the card, as it allows you to not worry about questing, but at a significant cost. This seems like a last ditch effort in most quests, where you already have quested sufficiently, but you still need to finish some other condition, such as defeating a boss enemy. That said, it still seems like a last ditch effort, where the game is on the line and that doesn't feel like the way I want to play, except in very specific scenarios, such as Helm's Deep.
Hold Your Ground! adds a new dynamic to sentinel characters. Previous to this card, sentinel had no utility outside of multiplayer and The Day's Rising. While a small step, this card begins to give value to the trait in a single player game. For one resource, a sentinel character can ready, or in the case of valour mode, all sentinel characters can ready. This one is fairly cut and dry, but being able to ready a bunch of characters, or even just one, can be clutch when fighting some rough enemies. In a recent game with COTR, I played a deck with a heavy sentinel focus. Had this card been in the deck, the utility of the deck would be even great, including utility that could of been had from other players' sentinel characters.
Over the course of the cycle, we have seen many ways to put cards into our discard pile in exchange for various abilities. Lord of the Eldar takes full advantage of this. Only playable from the discard pile, this relatively expensive spirit event boosts the stats of all Noldor on the board, for the entire round. When paired with a Noldor-focused deck, or Noldors across multiple decks, this card could give so much utility. Any Noldor, equipped with Light of Valinor will see a nice boost to two different actions that round, and Galadriel acts like a double boost as see gets the boost to her willpower which she can give to a fellow Noldor that had already been boosted. Throw in Arwen, and she'll be questing for three, and giving someone else yet another defense boost.
Quick Ears gives Dúnedain and Rangers access to encounter cancellation similar to Eleanor. Exhaust a character from one of these archetypes, and shuffle the card back in, revealing a new card. As the deck gets smaller, the chance of getting the same character gets greater, but it does give a chance to remove a card which would really be deadly. Since it's a response that occurs when the card is revealed, surge and doomed keywords are also cancelled. It's an OK card. I see the utility, but its effect isn't that exciting, especially when you consider you could get the same card back, possibly. If you have cheap rangers, such as Ithilien Tracker or Mablung, and it could be decent.
This impressions took a bit of time to write. I don't know if it's as we get later in the year, and we get busier, or if it is an expression of my excitement for the adventure pack. There are good cards in this pack, but definitely a lot of cards which didn't excite me. I'm thankful to have it, though I found some cards boring or outside of playstyle, we continue to see development in Dúnedain and Noldor which are very fun ways to play the game. No side quest included in the pack makes me wonder if we've seen the last of player side quests, which I hope is not the case.