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Monday, June 1, 2015

To Me! O My Kinsfolk! Mustering: Getting Your Ally Cards Into Play through Card Effects

by Grant "pfcamygrant" Ellis
Mustering refers to the act of assembling a number of troops, be it to participate in battle or to receive other orders. In the context of the Lord of the Rings Living Card Game, it refers to playing a card that allows you to move Ally cards into play in an attempt to gain numerical advantage over the enemy by concentrating your forces. The effect might be triggered through an Ally allowing you to search the discard pile, or an Event that permits playing a card from your hand, or an Attachment that brings Ally cards into play for clearing locations. The current card pool has a variety of methods to rally your troops and this article will explore the options through the various spheres of influence.

The Leadership Sphere has multiple methods of bringing Ally cards into play. Naturally, each card has its own limitations, benefits, and circumstances in which it would be ideal to play. Within the Core Set, we gain access to the 1 Cost event card Sneak Attack. To quote the card:  Action: Put 1 ally card into play from your hand. At the end of the phase, if that ally is still in play, return it to your hand. The card is of excellent value at a cost of 1 in the most resource-rich sphere. You can play expensive Allies such as Gandalf (Core) for his powerful Enter Play effects, the 6 Cost Tactics ally Beorn for his immense battle prowess, Landroval if you have a need for emergency Hero Recursion, or want to attempt a Mustering Combo with a Sneak Attack + Gwaihir to bring him into play and an additional Eagle Ally from your discard pile. Circumstantially, many other characters might also be worth a Sneak Attack. (The Hammer-stroke + Sneak Attack + Warden of Annuminas for a final crazy quest push is not out of the question.) The drawback to the event is the hero leaves play at the end of the phase, but circumstantially that can have a benefit, be it boosting Eomer’s attack, readying Prince Imrahil, or resource acceleration through Horn of Gondor.

The Leadership Sphere contains several other cards that allow you to muster. The normally cost-prohibitive Timely Aid is much more affordable if you are running a Secrecy deck, but even at 4 cost, when the need is great, the ability to bring an ally into play from your deck is amplified should you have any form of Scrying, such as with the Imladris Stargazer or Gildor Inglorion. Playing a 5 cost Ally for 4 resources still saves you a resource. The 0 Cost A Very Good Tale exhausts Allies, potentially losing action advantage and key cards, but allows you to use the cost of your exhausted allies to pay for allies you discard from the top of your deck. A card like this combos well with Erebor Hammersmith (which can bring back lost Attachments should they be discarded), High Cost Allies, or Readying effects that are on the table. The 1 Cost To Me! O My Kinsfolk! requires a Dwarf Hero, so it is ideal for decks running that theme.  To read the card: Action: If you control at least 1 Dwarf hero, put a Dwarf ally from your discard pile into play under your control. Put that ally on the bottom of your deck at the end of the phase. While it is universally applicable to Dwarves, I find it especially applicable to Dwarves that have Enter Play effects, such as the Longbeard Orc Slayer for its Direct Damage, Miner of the Iron Hills to remove Condition Attachments, or the Ered Nimrais Prospector for mission critical Card Recursion. For extra value, Dwarven Synergy is still incredibly powerful, and Hero buffs might make these discarded dwarves even stronger.

Moving to the Tactics Sphere, we have one form of Mustering in the previously mentioned Ally Card Gwaihir. Gwaihir's card text reads as follows: Cannot have restricted attachments. Response: After Gwaihir enters play, search your discard pile for an Eagle ally and put it into play under your control. At the end of the round, if that ally is still in play, add it to your hand. This card works well with retrieving expensive and/or powerful Eagles that often leave play after using their elevated attacks or heightened defense. A 5 Cost Ally is quite expensive, and Tactics is not necessarily the richest sphere, but in decks that are running an Eagle theme or want to take advantage of their inherently high stats, Gwaihir is a decent include despite the price point.

The Spirit Sphere sees two cards that have Mustering effects. We're going to start with one of the most unique cards in the game, the Hero Card Caldara. Her card reads as follows: Action: Discard Caldara to put 1 Spirit ally from your discard pile into play for each other hero you control with a printed Spirit resource icon. That is a huge price to ask a player to pay. Unless you have means of retrieving Fortune or Fate (perhaps through a Side Quest) it is an intense move to make. However, bringing in the highest cost Spirit Allies, or those with the most favorable effect to your state of play, should not be overlooked. Still, that is a heart-stopping decision to make, and while I have seen a few deck lists that work Caldara into their strategy, I don't think she will be seeing play in my campaign.  The second card in the Spirit Sphere, with a cost of X (where X is the cost of the discarded Ally you are attempting to muster) is Stand and Fight. As we read the card: Action: Choose an ally with a printed cost of X in any player's discard pile. Put that ally into play under your control. (The chosen ally can belong to any sphere of influence.) If you have the funds, you can make a grab for a high cost ally, or perhaps there is another circumstantial Ally you may need to pull, such as a card with high defense or willpower stats. Maybe you are looking to take advantage of a Once Per Game effect that could be the clutch play that brings you to quest completion. It is a versatile card, I personally don't play it too much, but it still has its uses.

Another pair of cards with Mustering effects are found in the Lore Sphere. The first is the incredibly useful 1 cost Elf Stone. Elf Stone attaches to a location, adds a Quest Point, but rewards you for clearing the location with allowing the First Player to put one Ally into play from their hand. Lore Allies are historically expensive, but it allows for characters such as Gildor Inglorian, Haldir of Lorien, or Anborn for the cost of one resource. It also combos well with decks that can manipulate who the First Player is, as that is an overlooked requisite for the Mustering Effect. Cards that add progress tokens and bust through locations combo well with Elf Stone, such as the in-sphere Mount Attachment Asfaloth. The second Lore Sphere option for Mustering comes in the form of the Silvan-centric 0-cost event The Tree People. This card plays into the Silvan theme of Entering Play and Leaving Play, especially powerful with Hero Cards like Celeborn or Galadriel, which gives perks to their Silvan friends. I am a big fan of this card in Silvan decks as it plays right into their theme and can make the most use of their effects.

Within the Neutral Sphere, it is important to note that the 13 Threat Cost Hero Elrond can receive his 2 Cost Attachment Vilya. Elrond has the inherent benefit of being able to play Allies of Any Sphere. Being able to play the top card at no cost is an effects truly fitting for a Ring of Power, and Elrond is an adequate defender, good fit for the Shadow Cancelling A Burning Brand, and he might just be the key to a mustering strategy. However, he costs a hero slot and then you either need to use scrying, card draw, or some other method of retrieving his ring and bringing him up to full power.

I feel it warrants mentioning the Dwarves Fili and Kili, who can bring out the other should one be played from your hand during the Planning Phase. It is an Enter Play effect that occurs at this time, allows you to Search for the brother in question, and put them directly into play. This form of mustering is incredibly useful in Dwarf theme decks, especially should there be buffs given to the two. Three cost is a bit steep, but they average out at 1.5 since you get to pull the other.

Whether you are retrieving eagles from the discard pile, tree-hopping with woodland elves, or setting a much needed Spirit hero card on fire to play a discarded copy of Wandering Took (which you just might need to do one day) Mustering effects can go a long way to create a numerical advantage with your in play force. Understanding your action timing windows (have you heard the latest podcast?) and learning the options you have available will help you form an effective stratagem for employing the many mustering methods within the current card pool.

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