With the recent release of Heroes of Skyrim, The Elder Scrolls: Legends has seen its biggest injection of cards – 154 – since launch and its first attempt to really capitalise on a specific segment of The Elder Scrolls fanbase. Skyrim, after all, is the titan of the series. As much-loved and successful as games like Morrowind and Oblivion were, the release of Skyrim was the moment The Elder Scrolls series was truly embraced by the mainstream. Its legacy is such that the game is still being re-released and coming to new platforms.
Skyrim’s massive success meant that this was the game with which many players cut their Elder Scrolls teeth. They dove into the world of Tamriel and found imposing snow-capped peaks, sprawling valleys and swooping, fearsome dragons to battle. The idea of returning there in Legends is hugely appealing. Plus, y’know, dragons are never a bad idea, right?
Before we go any further, however, if you’ve landed on this page because you’re a Skyrim fan, but don’t know much about this game, I’d highly recommend reading my The Elder Scrolls: Legends review (or just watching the video review below) to get a good overview of the mechanics. The game is really clever, mixing in some of the best parts of Magic the Gathering (a class system based on mixing and matching attributes/colours) and Hearthstone (steadily increasing resources, additional resources for the player going second), while also incorporating lanes and a rune/prophecy system to allow for incredible comebacks.
With that baseline in mind, I thought I’d run through some of the elements in Heroes of Skyrim that will likely be of interest to fans of Skyrim. (Plus provide a little commentary for existing Legends players at the same time.) The most obvious in terms of mechanics would be Shouts. In Legends these are Action cards (spells) that grow more powerful each time you play one within a game. An easy to understand example is the Intelligence Shout Fire Breath, which costs three magicka to play and deals two damage to a creature. That’s awful value, but the next time you play it, it will be the level 2 version, which deals four damage. Level 3, after that, deals 10. Each attribute has its own Shout, most of which are more complicated than that example.
Endurance, for example, has Soul Tear, which lets you choose then draw a creature from your discard pile. You do the same for levels 2 and 3, but the creatures you choose are buffed by +2/+2 and +5/+5 respectively.
You might use that in a Warrior (Strength + Endurance) Orc-focused aggro deck to re-draw specific tools you need because there’s so much synergy in the deck and so many of the minions have an immediate effect when played. Or you might use it in a Scout (Agility + Endurance) control deck to take advantage of cards with summon effects that you want to use again to ramp up your magicka or build card advantage. You may even just need an answer, like another copy of Territorial Viper (which has Charge and Lethal so acts like hard removal provided you don’t have to go through a minion with Guard).
From a broad perspective it’s a clever way to introduce Shouts – and the idea of levelling up – into Legends, but the playability of the cards themselves are obviously varied, so the mechanic isn’t super central to what this expansion is trying to do. Dragons, on the other hand, very much are. Every attribute received at least a couple of dragons, as well as some form of support for dragon-based archetypes.
As you’d expect, several iconic dragons featured in Skyrim make an appearance, like Alduin the World-Eater, the dragon at the centre of the iconic RPG’s story, who is so named because he’s prophesied to destroy the world. He’s predictably epic; a 12/12 that destroys all other creatures then summons a random dragon from your discard pile at the start of your turn.
Legends’ version of Paarthurnax also fits his place in Skyrim lore neatly. As the leader of the Greybeards – an ancient order that have mastered Dragon Shouts – it should come as no surprise that this 9/9 beast gives you three random shouts and then reduces their cost to zero. Other dragons reference locations and lairs across Skyrim, such as Shearpoint Dragon or Karthspire Scourge, or reference older Elder Scrolls lore, like the Dragon God of Time, Akatosh.
It’s great fantasy flavour, but from a design perspective no doubt represented quite a challenge for developer Direwolf, who needed to make dragons impactful enough that they would see play, but not powerful enough that they squeezed out anything that wasn’t a heavy control deck. This early in the expansion’s life the jury is still out on whether the team got the balance right, as there are some ridiculously greedy and powerful control decks on the ladder right now, but perhaps that just indicates that the faster, more aggressive decks aren’t refined enough yet to keep them in check.
It may also have more to do with some of the cards in the set that don’t specifically rely on dragon synergy but create ridiculous value. If you’re a control Mage (Intelligence + Willpower), for instance, you can run both Echo of Akatosh (a six cost 5/5 with summon: give each creature in your deck a random keyword) and Praetorian Commander (a six cost 3/3 with summon: give creatures in your deck +2/+2). As you can imagine, if you can live long enough to start seeing those cards pay off, your late game value is going to be insane.
Dragons aren’t the only tribe Heroes of Skyrim focuses on. This expansion also introduces werewolves in the Strength and Endurance attributes. Minions enter their “Beast Form” when you break an opponent’s rune, gaining stats and other abilities in the process. Fans of Skyrim will likely recognise Aela the Huntress, a card with this effect.
In The Elder Scrolls V, Aela’s a Nord werewolf, prominently featured in The Companions quest line, and who actually donates her blood to be drunk when you become a werewolf during those missions. In this expansion she’s a seven cost 3/3 unique legendary who does one damage when she’s summoned and gains +2/+2 and destroys a wounded creature when she enters Beast Form. If you can break a rune on the turn you play her, in other words, she can kill the creature of your choice. Aela has a couple of companion cards in the Strength attribute: Aela’s Huntmate and (as she’s a member of The Circle) Circle Initiate, both of which can enter Beast Forms.
Aela the Huntress isn’t the only Skyrim character you may remember. How about J’Zargo, the Khajiit Sorcerer at the College of Winterhold? He sent you out to test experimental scrolls in Skyrim and has the ability to summon an experimental scroll for you in this game, which is pretty interesting because it can have one of three – very different – effects when you play it.
And speaking of the College of Winterhold, Ancano – the Altmer mage you have to defeat in that questline – is in the game and so too is the college itself, in the form of a support card that allows you to discover actions.
You may also remember Delphine, who ran the Sleeping Giant Inn in the town of Riverwood, but was also investigating the re-appearance of dragons and was a member of the Blades. In Skyrim she winds up becoming the Grandmaster of the Blades, and all this storytelling is neatly encapsulated in her card – Innkeeper Delphine, a three mana 2/3 unique legendary with the text “After you play a Dragon or Shout, Innkeeper Delphine changes into Grandmaster Delphine,” which is a 5/5 that can’t be targeted or damaged by enemy dragons. Delphine is joined by Blades Lookout, a 3 cost 3/3 that draws a card when you summon a dragon.
There are plenty of other returning characters, including Lydia (one of the most popular companions), Balgruuf the Greater (the Nord Jarl of Whitehold Run), Brynjolf (a Nord thief in Riften), Emperor Titus Mede II (the Imperial Emperor of Tamriel), and Barbas (a talking dog that you can tell to Stay, Fetch or Roll Over). Also represented are locations like High Hrothgar, items of power, such as the Ring of Namira, and broad factions, such as the Nord Stormcloaks, Greybeards, etc.
I also love some of the other nods to the series as a whole, like Encumbered Explorer (a one cost 2/3 that shackles himself after he attacks), and Grisly Gourmet (a three cost 2/1 with the summon effect of transforming an enemy creature with two power or less into a Sweet Roll, which is a 0/1 that you can “eat” with a creature to heal it). And then there are cards that just have great flavour, like the two cost neutral action A Night to Remember, which has the text “A friendly creature disappears to who knows where, then returns in the other lane Shackled.” Useful for re-using summon effects, that one.
It all adds up to a set of cards that should evoke a fair amount of nostalgia for Skyrim fans, and is certainly shaking the meta up for existing players. What cards appeal? What characters, locations or lore would you like to see represented? Have your say in the comments.