Core Gandalf

  • Player Card Categories 
    • Card Draw
    • Direct Damage
    • Threat Reduction
    • Enters Play

The most thematic Gandalf and so powerful that it’s a challenge to not include him in a deck.


Gandalf is one of five Istari, Maiar emissaries in the form of old men, sent to Middle Earth by the Valar in the Third Age. They were sent to help the elves and men against Sauron. He traveled the Westlands extensively combing to know the men, elves, dwarves, and hobbits. In the books, he is the architect of the plan to burgle treasure from Smaug and eventually remove the dragon. He recruits Bilbo Baggins to be that burglar. Then it is in Lord of the Rings, Gandalf learns Biblo’s magic ring that he discovered during the adventure with Thorin’s company is The One Ring forged by Sauron. Gandalf is the one to advise Frodo to leave the Shire initiating the chain of events leading to the formation of the The Fellowship of the Ring, the ring’s destruction, and Sauron’s ultimate defeat.

Card Theme

The biggest thematic element is that Gandalf only remains in play for a round. Just like the books, Gandalf shows up, helps tremendously, and is gone again for a while. Just take The Hobbit for example, Gandalf mysteriously disappears right before Thorin’s Company is captured by trolls and reappears later to free them. He leaves them again later at the beginning of Mirkwood to deal with the Necromancer. Then rejoins the narrative after Smaug is defeated and the Dwarves, Men of Dale, and Elves of Mirkwood are having a stand off over the ownership of Erebor’s treasure.

Card Synergies and Interactions

Put into Play and Return Ally to Hand Effects

Sneak Attack + Gandalf, the core set combo that cemented Sneak Attack as a Leadership staple and delivers tremendous value. It is so good, I’ve written and Dave made a video about it before in the Core Set Combo series For the low, low cost of one Leadership resource the player can draw 3 cards, lower threat by 5, or deal 4 direct damage to an enemy. Additionally you get to use Gandalf’s 4 willpower, attack, or defense for a phase. The value is very apparent comparing the cost of card draw, threat reduction, and direct damage on other cards. For example, Galadhrim’s Greeting can reduce a single players threat by 6 for 3 cost. Sneak Attack and Gandalf can reduce threat by nearly the same amount for a third of the cost.

There are a few more cards that can let players put Gandalf into play temporarily much like Sneak Attack and get additional triggers of his enters play abilities. Horns! Horns! Horns! is arguably a Doomed version of Sneak Attack costing 2 threat instead of resource and shuffling the ally into the deck instead of returning it to hand. Still a great way to get Gandalf into play cheaply especially if using the threat reduction which then it becomes a net reduction of 3 threat and can use Gandalf for a phase. Reinforcements is a double sneak attack for decks with 3 Leadership heroes, A Good Harvest, or some other resource smoothing. Gwahir’s Debt is a little trickier since Gandalf would have to be in the top 5 cards, but still an option particularly in an Eagle deck giving it more potential uses. Lastly, Born Aloft while free, doesn’t put Gandalf into play. A player can use it on a full cost Gandalf, get to use him for nearly the entire round and then return to hand during the action window in the refresh phase.

Ally Readying

Gandalf’s limitation of being in play for 1 round often means players aren’t able to take advantage of his amazing stat line. Readying effects that target allies or characters fix that issue. The Core Set gave players using Leadership Ever Vigilant to ready a single ally and Grim Resolve to ready all characters. As the game progressed many single target and global readying effects have been added. Narya (attached to Cirdan in this case) is very powerful to use with allies that already have strong stats since it further boosts their attack and defense. Flame of Anor is limited to Istari, but can make for huge attack if a high cost card is mined from the player deck. Leadership Faramir hero like Narya offers a repeatable ally readying effect rather than rely on one time events.

Stand and Fight

Stand and Fight notoriously is not a combo or nonbo in card game parlance with Core Gandalf. The first FAQ clarified that Stand and Fight can only target allies that belong to a sphere. Neutral cards do not belong to any of the spheres and therefore Gandalf is not an eligible target.

Ring Rating

Card Talk uses the highly scientific yet arbitrary scale of 1 ring for the card to rule them all to 10 to be cast back into the fiery chasm from whence it came.

I rate Core Set Gandalf at 1. His power is very apparent with 4s across all his stats which few heroes has equal printed values in either willpower, attack, and defense and only 1 surpasses in printed attack. On top of these amazing stats, he gives players 3 fantastic choices for an enters play effect. He’s neutral which means any deck can play him without having to plan in resource smoothing. Core Set Gandalf is what Magic the Gathering players would call a bomb card. He has such a big effect on the game that it change the course of it. It is a testament to that card that veterans often talk about getting tired of putting this version of Gandalf into decks. He’s so good there’s often no reason to not include him and became seen as a crutch in deck builing to the point veterans will avoid using him.

  • Dave – 2
  • Grant – 2
  • Ted – TBR
  • Matt – 1
  • Average – 1.67

External Links

Sample Decks

Play Gandalf Every Turn by Dale Stephenson

A combo deck that uses The Elvenking + Elf-friend + Bard Son of Brand to be able to play Gandalf every turn. Basically the player plays Gandalf and attaches Elf-friend to him. Later The Elvenking can return Gandalf to the player’s hand. Bard Son of Brand’s ability returns Elf-friend to the players hand. Steward of Gondor + Arwen or Steward + Necklace of Girion supplies the 6 resources to be able to play Gandalf and Elf-friend round after round.

Main Deck

Hero (3)
Arwen Undómiel (The Dread Realm)
Bard son of Brand (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
Thranduil (Fire in the Night)

Ally (8)
1x Galion (Fire in the Night)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
1x Henamarth Riversong (Core Set)
1x Legolas (The Treason of Saruman)
2x Marksman of Lórien (The Drowned Ruins)

Attachment (17)
2x Ancestral Armor (Roam Across Rhovanion)
1x Cloak of Lórien (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
1x Dúnedain Remedy (The Drowned Ruins)
3x Elf-friend (The Treachery of Rhudaur)
1x Mithril Shirt (The Fate of Wilderland)
1x Necklace of Girion (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
1x Self Preservation (Core Set)
2x Staff of Lebethron (The Land of Shadow)
3x Steward of Gondor (Core Set)
2x The Elvenking (Fire in the Night)

Event (25)
2x A Test of Will (Core Set)
3x Elf Guide (Mount Gundabad)
3x Elrond’s Counsel (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Elven-light (The Dread Realm)
3x Feigned Voices (The Three Trials)
3x Island Amid Perils (The Nîn-in-Eilph)
3x Reforged (The Fate of Wilderland)
3x Sneak Attack (Core Set)
2x The King’s Return (The Fate of Wilderland)

Player Side Quest (1)
1x Gather Information (The Lost Realm)

3 Heroes, 51 Cards
Cards up to The Fate of Wilderland

Decklist built and published on RingsDB.

Cirdan’s Solo Support Group by The Purple Wizard

This deck is designed to play Reinforcements multiple times through recycling the discard pile with Will of the West. It also features Cirdan and Narya to ready and boost the allies Reinforcements puts into play.

Main Deck

Hero (3)
Balin (On the Doorstep)
Círdan the Shipwright (The Grey Havens)
Denethor (Flight of the Stormcaller)

Ally (18)
1x Arwen Undómiel (The Watcher in the Water)
1x Beorn (Core Set)
2x Elrond (The Road Darkens)
3x Envoy of Pelargir (Heirs of Númenor)
1x Erestor (The Long Dark)
3x Galadriel (The Road Darkens)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
1x Gimli (The Treason of Saruman)
1x Glorfindel (Flight of the Stormcaller)
1x Orophin (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
1x Squire of the Citadel (The Blood of Gondor)

Attachment (20)
2x Armored Destrier (Temple of the Deceived)
3x Dúnedain Warning (Conflict at the Carrock)
3x King Under the Mountain (On the Doorstep)
3x Light of Valinor (Foundations of Stone)
3x Narya (The Grey Havens)
3x Silver Harp (The Treachery of Rhudaur)
3x Steward of Gondor (Core Set)

Event (12)
3x A Test of Will (Core Set)
1x Captain’s Wisdom (The Thing in the Depths)
3x Reinforcements (The Treachery of Rhudaur)
3x Sneak Attack (Core Set)
2x Will of the West (Core Set)

3 Heroes, 50 Cards
Cards up to Temple of the Deceived


Ally (3)
1x Beorn (Core Set)
2x Squire of the Citadel (The Blood of Gondor)

Attachment (4)
1x Magic Ring (The Crossings of Poros)
2x Tome of Atanatar (The Blood of Gondor)
1x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)

Event (4)
2x Legacy of Númenor (The Voice of Isengard)
1x Second Breakfast (Conflict at the Carrock)
1x Will of the West (Core Set)

Decklist built and published on RingsDB.

1 thought on “Core Gandalf”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s