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.

Ranger Bow

  • Player Card Categories Willpower Bonus
    • Direct Damage
    • Staging Area Attack
    • Ally Attachment

A tool for Ranger decks looking to dispatch enemies in the staging area which is easier said than done.


The flavor text points the Ranger Bow as those carried by the Rangers of Ithilien. In fact, the text is from when Frodo and Sam first met the rangers after their capture:

If they were astonished at what they saw, their captors were even more astonished. Four tall Men stood there. Two had spears in their hands with broad bright heads. Two had great bows, almost of their own height, and great quivers of long green-feathered arrows. All had swords at their sides, and were clad in green and brown of varied hues, as if the better to walk unseen in the glades of Ithilien. Green gauntlets
covered their hands, and their faces were hooded and masked with green, except for their eyes, which were very keen and bright.

The Two Towers, Book 4, Chapter 4: Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit

It is later revealed these rangers are selected from people descended from Ithilien’s former residents. They secretly cross the Anduin to engage in guerilla tactics to harry the forces of Mordor.

Card Theme

The direct damage into the staging area is very thematic to the Rangers of Ithilien. Their job is set up ambushes and harass the enemy at every opportunity then fade away back into their secret hiding places. Keeping low threat or otherwise avoiding engaging enemies to damage them outside of direct combat represents their tactics very well.

Card Synergies and Interactions

Cheap Ranger Allies

The Ranger Bow of course requires a ranger character to use it. While ranger heroes are certainly an option, allies are better as heroes tend to have strong stats or abilities that require them to exhaust. Top ally candidates are Guardian of Ithilien, Ithilien Tracker, Ithilien Lookout, and Andrath Guardsman. All are or can be 1 or 2 cost making them cheap to play. Aside from Ithilien Lookout, they all have 1 stat scores that won’t be terribly missed if exhausted to use the bow.

Guardian of Ithilien is the first choice since can help get an enemy back up into staging but after it enters play, its utility is diminished. It could be useful for a chump block but with a Ranger Bow it provides more value turn after turn. The one direct damage into the staging area can allow it to damage an enemy on its own. It it kills an enemy, this could possibly reduce threat in the staging area for some pseudo questing.

Ithilien Tracker is a good second choice also with its one attack that won’t be missed. It’s ability can be hit or miss since it is an action that has to be triggered prior to staging. Ithilien Lookout is another useful inclusion for a secrecy deck with its cost lowered to one. While it has a more useful 2 attack than the others, the bow is a good option for it while avoiding engagements. Andrath Guardsman similar to the Guardian of Ithilien loses utility once played. The bow gives it some ongoing utility.

Engagement Control, Threat Reduction, and Return to Staging Area

All of these types of cards can help keep enemies in the staging area for Ranger Bow. The method just differs slightly. Engagement control cards like Take No Notice, Advance Warning, Mablung ally, and Lore Pippin hero, Noiseless Movement, and Rohirrim Scout either increase the engagement cost of enemies or prevent engagement.

Threat reduction helps keep you below the engagement of enemies so they don’t come down at all. In Lore with Ranger Bow there are only 2 options, but they’re great. Woodmen’s Clearing at 0 resource cost can lower your threat by 3 once the location it is attached to is explored. Location control effects are quite prevalent in Lore making this fairly easy to do. Lore Aragorn, which I like to think of as Strider because of the art, is the other option. His refresh action to reset your threat to its starting level is the biggest threat reduction effect in the game. Of course these are not the only options even in mono-Lore. There are a couple neutral options like core set Gandalf ally and Keen as Lances that work well too. There are more neutral cards and in other spheres. I’ll cover them later as they overlap with other synergies.

If you can’t avoid engagement there are cards to return them to the staging area. Guardian of Ithilien is a great double duty card here. It sends an enemy back up to the staging area and is a ranger for the Ranger Bow to go on. Best case is you’ve damaged an enemy the previous round, return it to the staging area with Guardian, and then shoot it dead with Ranger Bow. Another double duty card is Fastred hero. Not only will he send an enemy back, but he will also reduce threat for doing so.

Ithilien Archer and Terrible to Behold are other options but are just not worth it. The archer is expensive at 3 cost. It’s 2 attack usually isn’t going to damage an enemy on its own. If you can damage an enemy, you might as well try to kill it since that means the attack already has been defended. Terrible to Behold at least cancels the attack and returns it, but as the cost of exhausting a Noble character. At that point you might as well have defended the attack.


Hobbits can work quite well with the bow. They offer some of the lowest threat cost heroes in the game, additional threat reduction, and engagement control. Particularly in the Lore sphere with Ranger Bow. As mentioned earlier, hero Pippen its chief among them for increasing engagement cost of enemies per Hobbit hero you control. Folco Boffin also in the lore sphere is a great choice because his threat cost can be 4 when you’re running only Hobbit Heroes. Plus he can be discarded for an emergency threat reduction. The last in sphere option, Bilbo Baggins, is less optimal than others considering his 9 threat cost. He’s not bad when paired with Pippin and Folco for 19 starting threat, and more card draw is never a bad thing.

A couple of the spirit Hobbit Heroes also have very useful abilities to to pair with Ranger Bow. Spirit Merry with his threat reduction ability can help keep Heroes below the engagement cost of enemies. Spirit Pippin can send an enemy back up to the staging area to make it a target for the Bow. They also provide Spirit access for many threat reduction cards like Galadhrim’s Greeting, Smoke Rings, and the more Hobbit specific Elvenses. Lastly but certainly not least is The Shirefolk if using all Hobbits.

Robin Smallburrow offers another way to increase engagement cost of enemies. It’s a bit conditional with having to travel, but the increase by quest points can be significant. Particularly in later cycles when locations were given more quest points to counter direct location progress effects like Asfaloth.

Other Direct Damage and Staging Area Attack

Ranger Bow dealing only 1 damage means it is unlikely to kill an enemy in a single turn. Even with 2 or 3 copies out unless you’re playing earlier scenarios where enemies could have 1 or 2 hit points like Shadows of Mirkwood, Darrowdelf, or The Hobbit Saga. More cards with these effects make this strategy more effective and consistent. Heroes like Thalin from the Core Set, Argalad, and Tactics Bilbo can all do a direct damage to enemies in the staging area. Argalad besides being in sphere is the most flexible as his ability is an action that can be triggered after staging. Bilbo and Thalin on the other hand have to quest to get the damage. A number of allies also have direct damage effects typically from entering play like the Core Set Gandalf, Descendent of Thorondor, Galadhon Archer, and Rumil. There are some thematic options as well with Forest Patrol, Poisoned Stakes, Leadership Anborn ally, Arrows from the Trees, and Lore Faramir ally.

The other route is to use heroes that can attack directly into the staging area either to soften up or finish off targets of the Ranger Bow. Haldir hero, Dúnhere and Leadership Éomer all have staging area attack built in. They also have the staging area attack specific attachments, Bow of the Galadhrim and Spear of the Mark, to make them very effective at attacking into the staging area. Great Yew Bow and Hands Upon the Bow can allow any ranged hero to attack into the staging area as well.

Quest Specific

Ranger bow will really shine against enemies like the Core Set’s Goblin Sniper and Khazad-Dum’s Orc Drummer. High engagement cost, low hit points, and an incredibly annoying ability while they’re in the staging area. Little surging enemies in later cycles similar to Ered Mithren’s Stray Goblin are also good targets. It creates action advantage by not having to defend them and gets a little threat out of the staging area.

Quests to not bring the Ranger Bow against are definitely Intruders in Chetwood, Dungeson of Cirith Gurat, and Helm’s Deep. Intruders in Chetwood enemies can’t be damaged while Orc War Party is in play. The quest starts with one in play and there are 2 others in the encounter deck. More often than not, enemies won’t be able to take damage. In Dungeons of Cirith Gurat, enemies guarding objectives are immune to player card effects during stage 1. They’re often guarding objectives since they will capture allies as objectives. The second stage when the players have to avoid engaging enemies for 2 turns Ranger Bow would be great, except they’re all immune to damage. Helm’s Deep many of the enemies have the toughness X keyword that cancels the first X damage any time damage is dealt to them. Ranger Bow’s damage then will just get canceled every time it is used against them.

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 Ranger Bow at 7 rings. It can be useful, but you have to build in some encounter control, low threat, or return to staging area effects to use continually. Otherwise, it just softens up enemies when engaged and there are attack boosting attachments that would be a better use of deck space. The 1 direct damage isn’t enough to kill an enemy at least every other turn without 2 copies in play. This direct damage also is generally outclassed by staging area attack. Dunhere, Haldir, and Leadership Eomer can all get their attack up to kill an enemy in a single turn with a couple attachments. It is not unplayable, but the card pool generally has better options for what this is trying to do.

  • Dave – 8
  • Grant – 9
  • Ted – 7
  • Matt – 7
  • Average – 7.75

Sample Decks

Ye Olde Ranger Trap Deck by Matt Duckworth

The main idea is enemy manipulation in staging. The focus is to either trap enemies as they come into play, or use Ithilien Archer or Mablung to bounce select enemies you engage back into traps in staging. As you are laying traps and trapping enemies, Damrod functions to both accelerate resources and fuel additional card draw. The main attack power comes from Faramir, who is boosted both by sticking enemies in staging with low threat and Ranger Spikes, as well as equipping Dagger of Westernesse.

Ye Olde Ranger Trap Deck

Main Deck

Hero (3)
Damrod (The Land of Shadow)
Faramir (Assault on Osgiliath)
Mirlonde (The Drúadan Forest)

Ally (22)
2x Anborn (The Blood of Gondor)
2x Gandalf (Over Hill and Under Hill)
1x Henamarth Riversong (Core Set)
2x Ithilien Archer (Encounter at Amon Dîn)
2x Ithilien Lookout (The Dunland Trap)
2x Ithilien Tracker (Heirs of Númenor)
3x Mablung (The Land of Shadow)
3x Master of the Forge (Shadow and Flame)
2x Mirkwood Pioneer (The Nîn-in-Eilph)
3x Rivendell Minstrel (The Hunt for Gollum)

Attachment (23)
2x Ambush (The Land of Shadow)
2x Dagger of Westernesse (The Black Riders)
2x Forest Snare (Core Set)
2x Ithilien Pit (Encounter at Amon Dîn)
2x Poisoned Stakes (The Blood of Gondor)
2x Protector of Lórien (Core Set)
2x Ranger Bow (Assault on Osgiliath)
3x Ranger Spikes (Heirs of Númenor)
3x Secret Vigil (The Lost Realm)
1x Song of Battle (The Dead Marshes)
2x Wingfoot (The Nîn-in-Eilph)

Event (6)
2x Distant Stars (Escape from Mount Gram)
2x Forest Patrol (Assault on Osgiliath)
2x Mithrandir’s Advice (The Steward’s Fear)

Player Side Quest (1)
1x Scout Ahead (The Wastes of Eriador)

3 Heroes, 52 Cards
Cards up to The Black Riders

Decklist built and published on RingsDB.

Smoke Screen Alliance by Matt Kell (kattattack22)

A Ranger Hobbit Last Alliance deck also featuring Pipes. General game plan is mulligan for Hobbit Pipe(s). Multiple if possible. Once some Hobbit Pipes are in play use the threat reduction events to draw cards. Last Alliance provides some resource acceleration throughout the game. Smoke and Think helps pay for the high cost Ranger allies.

Main Deck

Hero (3)
Aragorn (The Watcher in the Water)
Frodo Baggins (Conflict at the Carrock)
Pippin (Encounter at Amon Dîn)

Contract (0)
1x The Last Alliance (ALeP – Children of Eorl)

Ally (20)
1x Bilbo Baggins (The Road Darkens)
2x Cautious Halfling (Wrath and Ruin)
2x Curious Brandybuck (The Wastes of Eriador)
2x Gaffer Gamgee (Mount Gundabad)
3x Guardian of Ithilien (The City of Corsairs)
2x Ithilien Tracker (Heirs of Númenor)
1x Mablung (The Land of Shadow)
2x Northern Tracker (Core Set)
1x Odo Proudfoot (Under the Ash Mountains)
2x Ranger of Cardolan (The Wastes of Eriador)
1x Robin Smallburrow (The Drowned Ruins)
1x Sam Gamgee (The Thing in the Depths)

Attachment (13)
3x Dúnedain Pipe (The Black Serpent)
3x Hobbit Pipe (The Black Riders)
3x Ranger Bow (Assault on Osgiliath)
3x Spare Pipe (The Land of Sorrow)
1x Thorongil (The Fortress of Nurn)

Event (18)
3x Deep Knowledge (The Voice of Isengard)
3x Drinking Song (Mount Gundabad)
3x Smoke and Think (The Land of Sorrow)
3x Smoke Rings (The Black Riders)
3x The Galadhrim’s Greeting (Core Set)
3x The Shirefolk (Mount Gundabad)

3 Heroes, 51 Cards
Cards up to ALeP – Children of Eorl


Hero (5)
Aragorn (Core Set)
Aragorn (The Lost Realm)
Aragorn (The Fortress of Nurn)
Frodo Baggins (A Shadow in the East)
Pippin (The Black Riders)

Ally (14)
2x Bilbo Baggins (The Road Darkens)
1x Cautious Halfling (Wrath and Ruin)
1x Curious Brandybuck (The Wastes of Eriador)
2x Elladan (The Mountain of Fire)
2x Elrohir (The Mountain of Fire)
1x Gaffer Gamgee (Mount Gundabad)
1x Odo Proudfoot (Under the Ash Mountains)
1x Ranger of Cardolan (The Wastes of Eriador)
1x Robin Smallburrow (The Drowned Ruins)
1x Sam Gamgee (The Thing in the Depths)
1x Súlien (The City of Corsairs)

Event (7)
3x Elrond’s Counsel (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Old Toby (The Black Serpent)
1x Will of the West (Core Set)

Deck built on RingsDB.

Ranger Bow Target Practice by Jim H (teamjimby)

A Secrecy deck with scrying and card draw to support using Ranger Bow.

Main Deck

Hero (3)
Glorfindel (Foundations of Stone)
Mirlonde (The Drúadan Forest)
Pippin (The Black Riders)

Ally (19)
1x Bilbo Baggins (The Road Darkens)
3x Celduin Traveler (The Nîn-in-Eilph)
3x Guardian of Ithilien (The City of Corsairs)
2x Henamarth Riversong (Core Set)
3x Ithilien Lookout (The Dunland Trap)
1x Ithilien Tracker (Heirs of Númenor)
1x Mablung (The Land of Shadow)
3x Master of the Forge (Shadow and Flame)
2x Warden of Healing (The Long Dark)

Attachment (16)
1x Asfaloth (Foundations of Stone)
1x Hobbit Pipe (The Black Riders)
3x Light of Valinor (Foundations of Stone)
3x Poisoned Stakes (The Blood of Gondor)
3x Ranger Bow (Assault on Osgiliath)
2x Ranger Spikes (Heirs of Númenor)
3x Resourceful (The Watcher in the Water)

Event (14)
3x A Test of Will (Core Set)
3x Daeron’s Runes (Foundations of Stone)
3x Elrond’s Counsel (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Risk Some Light (Shadow and Flame)
2x The Galadhrim’s Greeting (Core Set)

Player Side Quest (1)
1x Scout Ahead (The Wastes of Eriador)

3 Heroes, 50 Cards
Cards up to The City of Corsairs


Ally (1)
1x Warden of Healing (The Long Dark)

Attachment (3)
1x Asfaloth (Foundations of Stone)
1x Ithilien Pit (Encounter at Amon Dîn)
1x Ranger Spikes (Heirs of Númenor)

Event (4)
3x O Elbereth! Gilthonial! (Shadow and Flame)
1x The Galadhrim’s Greeting (Core Set)

Decklist built and published on RingsDB.