Wizards are the focal point of the game, easily the most powerful characters and the basis for the game. You are represented by your wizard, and thus your will is his command. But with that comes the danger of death or corruption, taking you out of the game.
Despite the important role of the wizards, they are usually the result of your deck, rather than the basis. The choice of your wizard, however, can make or break your deck. Which should you chose?
Alatar - Character - 0 MP - 0 Mind - 10 DI - 6/9 - Warrior/Scout/Ranger/Sage
Wizard - Home Site: Edhellond
Unique. During the movement/hazard phase, the number of cards that opponent draws based on Alatar's company's movement is reduced by one. If in a Haven when a hazard creature is played on another company, he may join that company and face one of the hazard creature's strikes; he must tap and make a corruption check immediately following the attack.
Alatar is a difficult Wizard to use effectively. While his first ability is always "on," and is very useful if you would rather avoid hazards than fight them or would like to slow down your opponent's draws. His other ability, however, doesn't work too well in conjunction with his first ability. He must be in a haven and can dash off to help other companies. First, this ability is only useful if you are planning on having several companies running around. Second, Alatar's allies stay with him, but his followers stay behind, so you have to make sure to have enough influence around to cover for that (and thus Alatar shouldn't have too many followers). One strategy for Alatar is to have is party move first, so he can end up at a haven after protecting one company of wimps, and then have him rush off with a spell or weapon or two to save another company of wimps.
Gandalf - Character - 0 MP - 0 Mind - 10 DI - 6/9 - +1 Corruption -
Warrior/Scout/Sage/Diplomat Wizard - Home Site: Any haven
Unique. All of his corruption checks are modified by +1. Can tap to "test" a gold ring.
Gandalf, for all of his coolness and importance in the books, is bettered by other wizards. His basic stats are the same as all of the other wizards, so there's no bonus there. His +1 corruption check modifier is nice, but it's duplicated by Radagast. His ring testing is useful, but can be duplicated by Saruman with a Wizard's Test. Saruman's ring testing takes a bit longer, though, but has a better chance of getting the ring you want. There are four reasons to play Gandalf. #1: he is the easiest to bring out, coming in at any haven. This isn't much of a factor in standard and longer games, but it can make a difference in shorter games. #2: You need his specific skills (Saruman lacks warrior and Radagast lacks sage, which is really useful). This reason can easily be remedied. #3: You want a backup. Radagast, and to a certain level Saruman, are popular wizards, so if your opponent gets out one first, you can bring in Gandalf. #4: Coolness. It's just fun to have Gandalf loaded up with a couple of items, Narya, a SacForm, etc. Gandalf would be marginally better if they had kept an ability he had that was printed in a pre-release advertisement: "May bring Hobbits in to play at Rivendel."
Pallando - Character - 0 MP - 0 Mind - 10 DI - 6/9 -
Warrior/Ranger/Sage/Diplomat Wizard - Home Site: Grey Havens
Unique. His controlling player may keep one more card than normal in his hand. Opponent must discard his cards face-up.
Pallando is the most versatile wizard. His abilities are useful in any deck and, while they are duplicatable, they are not easily duplicated. His ability to hold an extra card works well in decks where combos are important (which is most) and his second ability can give you an idea of your opponent's strategy (which isn't as good as the first, but still kinda useful early on). Pallando is, as I mentioned, very versatile and is useful in any deck. His abilities may be used if he's hanging around at a haven (controlling, say, Cirdan) or on the road gathering MPs. Sure, you can duplicate his card holding ability with a few other cards, but Emerald of the Mariner is hard to bring out, the Elven lords eat up a lot of DI, and the Book of Mazarbul gives an extra CP to a sage (and can be hard to get out). Plus, if you have all of those AND Pallando, your hand size becomes 14!
Radagast - Character - 0 MP - 0 Mind - 10 DI - 6/9 - +1 Corruption -
Warrior/Scout/Ranger/Diplomat Wizard - Home Site: Rhosgobel
Unique. If his company moves to a new site during the movement/hazard phase, he may draw 1 additional card for each Wilderness region in his company's site path. +1 to all corruption checks.
Radagast is another generally useful wizard, especially if you want him to take part in the action. He can carry an item without too much worry about corruption, and he can really increase the chances of drawing the cards you need or cycling when you have enough MPs. Radagast is the easiest wizard to build a deck around, the idea being to run around and grab some specific cards. Radagast's only problem is he lacks sage skill (which has annoyed me several times) and that his home site is in a Dark Domain (but Rivendel isn't too much of a problem, especially because it's surrounded by lots of wilderness).
Saruman - Character - 0 MP - 0 Mind - 10 DI - 6/9 Scout/Ranger/Sage/Diplomat Wizard - Home Site: Isengard
Unique. May tap to use a Palantir. At the beginning of each of his end-of-turn phases, he may tap to take one "spell" card from his discard pile and return it to his hand.
Saruman is the most specific wizard, useless unless your deck has certain
cards, but powerful if it does. There is no reason to use Saruman if your
deck does not contain any Palantiri or spells unless you HAVE to have a
character with his skills and you can't have someone come up with some magic
rings. But with Palantiri and Spells, he can fly. His Palantir ability can
be duplicated by a sage with Magic Ring of Lore, at the cost of 2 CP, or
anybody with an Align Palantir, at the cost of 2 CP and not moving. His spell
ability can be duplicated by a Wizard's Staff, but that's even more difficult
than getting Emerald of the Mariner to duplicate Pallando's ability. Probably
the best use for the spell recycling is Wizard's Test, which he can even bring
in from the sideboard. This is more useful than other spells because a) it
has a lower chance of a failed corruption check and because most of the other
spells are most useful if you have them in your hand when an attack happens,
not at the end of the turn.
So, which wizard should you chose, and which wizard style? If you deck is without spells or palantiri, don't chose Saruman (and if it only has one or two, you might think twice). If you deck has rings, any wizard (except maybe Radagast) will do, but Gandalf and/or Saruman will be the best choice. If you are going for card advantage, you will probably want Radagast first and Alatar second. If you just want a general wizard you will want to go with any combination of Pallando, Radagast, and Alatar, slightly depending on deck idea (Radagast won't work well in a coastal deck, etc.).
The wizard strategy you use is another factor to consider. Do you want your wizard to run around and take part in the action? Or do you want him to sit in a haven and do some stuff? Or do you even want to reveal a wizard?
The first option is probably the most fun, but also the most dangerous. It allows for a strong protector, provided you have an event or two to save your wizard, and allows for larger parties (so you can control your characters).
The second option is to leave your wizard in a haven to test rings, use palantiri, control Elven lords, etc. Any wizard can be used in this fashion except Radagast (who can, but it would be stupid). You can have Gandalf (or Saruman w/ Wizard's Test) sit and test rings, Saruman use a palantir, Pallando holding an extra card or looking at discards, and Alatar waiting for something interesting to happen to your companies.
Thirdly, you might not reveal a wizard. One reason to do this is if you have a nasty play group and you seem cursed with snake eyes. This is also viable in a tournament situation where one bad roll can cost more than the end of the game (cause you're not just out for fun). Also, you could build a deck with cards like Stormcrow to mess up wizards, and not hurt yourself. Keep in mind, however, that revealing your wizard is almost always an advantage, and going without one is most likely giving your opponent an advantage that you could also take.
Isildur's Ratings for the Wizards (in general, not in specific decks, and
as wizards, not compared to other characters):
Gandalf: 4.0 (sorry Gandalf :-)
Wizards in general compared to other charcters: 9.5
Farmer Maggot: P/S/R/G/A
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Card names and text copyright 1996 by Iron Crown Enterprises, all rights reserved. This document copyright 1996 by Trevor Stone. Permission given to duplicate so long as no profit is made and the copyright notice is kept in tact, blah, blah, blah.