Most people who have been reading this blog for a while, probably won’t be particularly surprised to know that, for a long time, I’ve been trying to put together a good, Rohan, true solo deck. My first aim was to solo the whole of the Mirkwood cycle with it, trying out some of the campaign-style modes that fans have created, before moving on to see if it can survive in the big wide world.
The problem is, that there has never really felt like there was a viable solo deck buildable. Various things were tried without success, and gradually the (Ro)Han Solo deck became more and more of a dream, less and less likely to hit the table. A mono-sphere deck is always tricky for solo: a Spirit deck is going to struggle for combat, and a tactics deck, even with Theoden, is probably going to come up short on will-power (not to mention cancellation and threat reduction). It might be possible to plug some gaps with one or more of the custom cards I’ve created, but at least initially, I wanted to do it the official way round.
Back in the autumn, I created a tri-sphere deck that I hoped might be up to it – Eowyn for questing, Eomer for killing things, and Theodred for resource acceleration. Unfortunately, it was still a bit lightweight- chump-blocking is good up to a point, as lots of Rohan things synergise off of characters leaving play, but eventually you’ll need a decent defender – with “eventually” being about turn 3, if you’re tackling Journey Down the Anduin. As a tri-sphere deck, it also struggled to get allies out, particularly on turn 1, as there just aren’t that many 1-cost allies around.
There was also a question of theme – Increasingly I was convinced that the best Leadership hero for my Rohan deck was Prince Imrahil. Now admittedly, if you’re going to have a non-Rohan hero in a Rohan deck, the father-in-law of the King (Eomer, not Theoden) seems like a sensible choice, but it still felt a bit wrong. If you start with Imrahil, where do you stop? – Gondorian shield, Knights of the Swan? All could potentially strengthen the deck, at each step, wandering further from the initial aim.
Fittingly, fresh hope came for the beleaguered Rohirrim with the arrival of Erkenbrand in the final pack of the Ringmaker Cycle. A starting 3 defence allowed him to block small / medium enemies out of the gate, with his ally accomplices adding a little more backbone to the deck as a whole, whilst maintaining the in-sphere access to Steward of Gondor, sneak attack etc. Finally, it seemed, we might have a solo Rohan deck ready to take on the perils of Mirkwood.
The first iteration I came up with was a bit flabby (most of my decks end up 60+ cards) and it lacked for card-draw (making it good against Dunlendings), but it was a good enough place to start.
It’s worth pausing for a moment at this point to consider what exactly it is that I was expecting from this deck – aside from being able to make the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs! – My current expectation of a successful (Ro) Han Solo deck, is that it will cope fine with Passage Through Mirwkood, and probably be ok on about half of the other Mirkwood quests. I worry about Dol Guldur, as a captured hero could choke things completely, as well as the trolls of the Carrock, the Healing (and ranged requirement) of Rhosgobel, and the Threat of Return to Mirkwood.
When it came to the actual play-testing, things ran less smoothly than I might have hoped. I got through Passage Through Mirkwood ok, but came up short against Journey Along (or is it “down,” they never seem entirely sure) the Anduin. The opening Hill Troll, which has to be engaged on turn 2, is just too much of a problem – twice I lost all 3 of my heroes (the turn where Evil Storm wiped out 5 characters, including all three heroes was particularly special) and only once did I successfully make it through to stage 2 in order to threat out under the weight of that second card per turn.
Unfortunately, the deck feels pulled in too many directions. Chump-blocking is always dangerous against a Hill Troll, just because of the huge amount of threat you have to swallow, and even with Dunedain Warning in opening hand, Erkenbrand can only really defend it once.
As far as I can tell, to even have a hope in this quest, you probably need the troll to be the revealed card in set-up. You then need some early treacheries that just mis-fire completely, and/or a benign location or two – that way, with a lot of luck, you can quest on turn 2 with an Escort from Edoras who leaves play, use Erkenbrand to pay for an Envoy of Pelargir, transferring the resource to Eomer. He then feints the Troll, and with Firefoot, attacks for 7, plus two from Erkenbrand, putting six damage on the Troll. At the start of turn 3, sneak-attack Gandalf finishes the troll off, and you’re good to go.
The sheer amount of luck involved in this sequence of events is mind-boggling, and makes it clear that there is simply no way this deck will ever beat the second quest. Aside from lack of combat power (and questing, due to constantly having to chump-block), I noticed that this deck either ran constantly short of cash or – if you managed to make Eowyn Steward of Gondor, ran out of cards – I therefore threw in a few mathoms, having taken out some cards like Elfhelm, which were never likely to see the table. It helped – as did the fun combo of letting Eomer smash some Eastern Crows, then use Firefoot to carry the damage over to the troll, but not enough. This deck just wasn’t going to cut it.
Even before the dismal failure of the first incarnation, I had realised that some quests would prove beyond me, I thought I’d look at some alternatives for the specific quests. The most obvious one to me that was most likely to throw a large spanner in the works is Journey to Rhosgobel, and I thought I’d have a look at combatting this by swapping in some Lore. The focus of the deck means that I basically have to pick Leadership as the sphere to be dropped, and the determination to keep this thematic, means that Grima comes in, standing on the far , where Eomer can keep his eyes on him, well out of the way of Eowyn.
Without Leadership, I need an alternative way to deal with resource acceleration, and in a solo deck with Grima, “Doomed” seems the obvious choice, with a copy or two of the Keys of Orthanc. Although typically a card I avoid as being too expensive, Forest Snare suddenly looked like a plausible answer to over-sized enemies which might come my way (this isn’t ideal for the Carrock Trolls, as their powers rely on being engaged with you, but anything which avoids multiple attacks of 5 or 6 has got to be good). Healing was going to be a definite necessity – it’s one of the obvious drawback of this deck in its non-Lore version, along with card draw.
Even with this alternative version, I still felt that a sidebar was required for Rhosgobel – events for healing rather than allies (due to the “remove from game” requirement) along with some eagles to cover the combat against bats and flocks. I even threw in Radagast as (hopefully) a means of eagle acceleration, and a last-ditch method for eagle healing.
All this, though, is getting ahead of myself. I still needed to test out the deck on some more normal quests. Once again, the result was the same. The deck coped well with Passage Through Mirkwood, the addition of healing (when I could draw it) made it much more solid in combat, and the card-draw was nice too. I did get a bit concerned by threat, but never actually threated out.
Out on the banks of the Anduin though, it all went wrong again. I managed to kill the troll a few times, and the mix of attack, healing and blockers made me at least feel like it might be possible to eventually clear this quest (maybe 1 time in 30 as opposed to 1 in 100 for the previous deck) but I just don’t have the time for that many play-throughs.
It’s been interesting building, and testing these decks, even though it’s delayed this article by a few weeks. Sadly though, I don’t think there’s a properly viable Rohan True Solo deck out there. Hopefully Treason of Saruman will come with a new version of Theoden that will spring things into life, but for now, it will have to be left to others to fight on alone.