Horseback Archer

Horseback Archer, a nostalgic core set card. Anyone who’s played the classic Tactics deck from the original core set has held this card in their hand. At the time it was somewhat of a special card as it was one of two ally cards including the “Ranged” keyword. Furthermore, it has a fair line of stats, as far as core set cards are concerned, and only cost 3 resources to put into play. Horseback Archer is also one of three Rohan allies in the core set, and one of three allies with the “Archer” trait. Add that to the cool artwork and Horseback Archer becomes an instant classic. Or does it? A quick show of hands, how many people still use Horseback Archer? As the game had aged, so had the meta and power creep. The question now becomes has Horseback Archer aged like fine wine, or like the ruins of Weathertop or the Dead Marshes? Let’s take a look, shall we?

Background / Lore

It is evident in the lore that horseback archers actually existed. The quote on the card references The Two Towers, specifically from “The Uruk-Hai” chapter. We all now the scene. Merry and Pippin are held captive by Uglúk and his band of Uruk-Hai near Fangorn while on their way to Isengard. They stop for camp, have a little “disagreement” with the orcs from Mordor, talk about what’s on the menu for dinner, and then next thing you know it they’re surrounded by the Rohirrim who could care less about Uruk dinner etiquette. Well, that’s how Peter Jackson told the story anyway. In the movie I don’t recall a single horseback archer in that scene. They are in the books, though. The book reads:

“A few of the riders appeared to be bowmen, skilled at shooting from a running horse. Riding swiftly into range they shot arrows at the Orcs that straggled behind, and several of them fell; then the riders wheeled away out of the range of the answering bows of their enemies, who shot wildly, not daring to halt.”

—The Two Towers

Here we get a glimpse of Rohirrim tactics demonstrated by the horseback archers. In their effectiveness they provided the shock value needed to allow Merry and Pippin escape. I’m sure Eomer slaying Uglúk helped too, but that will be for another review. In any case we get a strong sense of the important role of the horseback archer, both in the above quoted text and in the battle of Pelennor fields.

Card Theme

Horseback Archer fits quite nicely in some of the Rohan-themed battles in the game. For example, they would most certainly be thematic in “The Uruk-Hai” and “Battle of Pelennor Fields” quests where they are specifically mentioned in the book. The trouble may come if you’re trying to build around them. In which case you will be up against a challenge. First off, you are going to want to ensure you’re playing multiplayer to make use of Horseback Archer’s “Ranged” keyword which is strongly tied to their theme. Merry and Pippin would be excellent choices for heroes in the adjacent deck if playing a thematic multiplayer game. Unfortunately, Horseback Archer cannot wield any bow in the game which ends up being a thematic setback. Somehow they forgot how to use the “Bow of Yew” used by their ancestors I guess? It ends up being reasons like these that the use of Horseback Archer in thematic builds might be based on quest theme versus effectiveness. 

Now, that is not to say there aren’t any thematic options for Horseback Archer. You could really throw them in any Rohan deck with special consideration for multiplayer games. For this you’re going to want to include ***Theoden who allows Horseback Archer to enter at a reduced resource match. Playing him this way makes his cost palatable whereas the 3-cost is hard to justify at times. The goal here would be to put him into play solely for his Ranged keyword which could make quite a big impact in many scenarios. 

Speaking of the Ranged keyword, you could also make a thematic Ranged deck. There is something like 20 Ranged allies in the game across all four spheres. Luckily for Horseback Archer there are several Tactics heroes and allies with the same keyword which would make it a viable option in bigger multiplayer games. The Horseback Archer might be among the more expensive allies with the keyword but it also has good stats to trade off making. This makes him a good deal if you can afford it. Ideally, you are including several allies with Ranged along with several attachments which boost their attack. All of this could add up quickly if the players can control the board state for long enough. Just make sure there is a good questing deck along for the ride!

Card Synergies and Interactions

While thematic options are not too middle-earthshattering, how about general deckbuilding? Horseback Archer is a great addition to early deckbuilding where ranged and Tactics are needed. You could throw him in a lot of decks to achieve combat across the board. Full disclosure: we are going to have to get pretty creative and a bit silly to make him work well. The problem is his value decreases the farther you get into the game. Why? Because later on you get cards like ***Fornost Bowman and ***Marksman of Lorien who are both 3-cost allies with Ranged and perform other functions that often make a bigger difference AND have access to better attachments and synergies. Still, Horseback Archer has a solid 2 attack which is wonderful in the right situation. The only thing you would need to do is add to his attack somehow.

There are a few options to add to Horseback Archer’s combat effectiveness. When trying to recall attachment cards I was surprised to find there were no “attach to a character with ranged” cards that he was eligible to wield. Luckily there are still some good options that I will highlight below.

Spear of the Mark

Spear of the Mark is thematic option, just not in terms of what an “archer” might wield. It does increase his attack by +1 which would significantly increase his value. If you can find a way for him to attack the staging area that would be a +2 boost which ends up doubling his attack. ***Hands Upon he Bow and ***Ithilien pit could be extremely useful combos here as well.

War Axe

War Axe grants you a general increase of +1 attack and +2 with another restricted attachment. That’s potentially a +4 base ranged attack if you have a Spear of the Mark and attacking the staging area. Sure, it takes a few combos but I’d have to say it’s worth it!

Raiment of War

Not quite as powerful in terms of boosting attack but very powerful in boosting overall combat effectiveness. Raiment of War is sometimes a card just sitting in your hand if you already have one out. Attaching it to Horseback Archer would mean you give it the ability to perform a ranged attack better and give yourself the option to defend with 2 defense and 4 HP. Not bad! I would only consider this option if I were playing Spirit Theoden as 5 resources is spendy.

Hands Upon the Bow

No Ranged character is complete without it!

Other Obscene Combos

Keep in mind these are not the most ideal combos. With that being said we are here to have a bit of fun while this game destroys our morale and bank account! So why not have a bit of fun with it? And what better fun than going full Voltron with a Spear of the Mark, War Axe, ***Self Preservation, ***Spare Pipe, and ***Valiant Determination? Better yet, break out that ***Elf-friend and load him up with things like ***Bow of the Galadhrim, ***Rivendell Bow, and ***Rivendell Blade. Amplify this with ***Hands Upon the Bow! Let’s get Rhovanion Wild in here!

Quest Specific

There are not many specific quests that come to mind that Horseback Archer is a “must include” card. I think it really comes down to what your objective is. Multiplayer clearly poses the best scenario where he becomes viable. I personally only use him in Rohan or Ranged archetypes beyond my early days in the game. Let us not forget the thematic quests such as “The Uruk-Hai” and “The Battle of Pelennor Fields” which would make Horseback Archer quite appropriate to use, but still not necessarily a must.

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 think Horseback Archer deserves a complex analysis for his ring rating. We have to consider the following variables: use for new players, multiplayer, Rohan decks, and general deckbuilding. 

  • I feel Horseback Archer is a solid option for new players and should be used as a decent attacker and emergency defender. He deserves a 3 for newer players (in part because of a lack of overall options). 
  • Multiplayer, especially a Ranged theme deck, is perhaps his best inclusion. He gets a 4 here for utility. 
  • For Rohan decks, Horseback Archer should really only be included if you need a Ranged or Tactics character, or need more allies in general. A 6 here.
  • For general deckbuilding, he gets a 9. Sorry bud, there are just too many better options. Thankfully for you there are worse options too!
  • This all averages out to a 5.5. If we round up we get a 6 which I feel is fair all things considered.
  • Dave – 10
  • Grant – 8
  • Ted – 9
  • Joe – 6
  • Average – 8.25

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