Bear With Me: Advanced Search

Bear inside Tree

One of the inevitable truths of Living Card Games is that deck building becomes more difficult as the game grows. With an expanded card pool, there are so many cards to choose from, and unless you plan on building 70 card decks, there just is not enough room for every card that you want to play. For even the sharpest bear, we can find ourselves scratching our skulls, trying to remember that perfect card to round out our new shiny deck.

The need for an up to date and accurate search engine was the entire reason that I created The Hall of Beorn Card Search. But I am not a bear that it content to just sit still. One of the most requested features for the search engine has been for the ability to use multiple of the same filter. For example: what are all of the 2 cost allies from either the Spirit or Tactics sphere. Having made software for many years now, I have seen many dynamic query interfaces. There is one word that I would use to describe many of these interfaces: clunky.

At some point, I would love to create an elegant user interface to help users easily create searches with multiple filters and complex logic. With limited time to spend adding features to the card search, it does not make sense for me to spend hours and hours crafting the perfect advanced search interface – especially if not many users end up taking advantage of this feature. In the mean time, I have decided to provide the advanced search features that people have asked for, but leave the user interface alone.

The easiest way to do this was to define a special syntax for advanced searches, and update the search engine to check for searches that match this new syntax. Up until now, the search field has only been used to provide a string to match against the title and game text of each card. For example: searching for “Aragorn” will not only return the two hero cards with that title, but other cards that refer to him by name – his many attachments.

With the latest version, you can still use the search field for these types of basic search. In addition, you can use two special characters: “+” and “-“, to perform advanced searches. It is important to emphasize that advanced search in no way changes the preexisting functionality of card search. All of the filters that you select from drop down menus still work as expected. The best way to think of advanced search is another tool, that you can use in addition to the basic search features, to further refine your search.

bearbirdfeederThe “+” is used to include a filter in your search, but it supports multiple values. So if you want to filter by Sphere, but you need to include more than one sphere in your search, you can include “+sphere:Leadership,Lore” in the search box. Logically any advanced search criteria is added (or ANDED, for those familiar with Boolean Algebra) to the existing basic search. This means anything you enter into basic search drop downs must be true, in addition to any advanced search filters.

So if you were to select Spirit from the sphere drop down menu, then enter an advanced search of “+sphere:Leadership,Lore”, you would get no results. This is because no card has both the Spirit printed sphere AND the Leadership or Lore printed sphere. In short, if you want to search for a given filter by multiple values, stick to advanced search and do not use the basic search filter of the same type. You can still mix and match basic and advanced filters of different types and it works as you would expect. For example selecting “Ally” from the card type drop down menu, then adding a search field of “rcost:2,3,5″ would return all allies with a resource cost of 2 or 3 or 5.

The “-” adds a filter, just the like “+” character, and also supports multiple values just like it’s less pessimistic brother. The difference is that the “-” character indicates a negated filter. For example, what if you want to search for all cards with the text “Aragorn”, except for those with the Spirit sphere. The advanced search  “Aragorn -sphere:Spirit” will give you just that. So let’s combine a few of these examples together into a more complex query. Let’s say that we want all Spirit or Tactics allies or attachments that cost between 2 and 4 resources, but don’t have the “Dwarf”, “Weapon” or “Armor” traits. Here is that search: “+sphere:Spirit,Tactics +type:Ally,Attachment -trait:Dwarf,Weapon,Armor”.

It should also be pointed out that advanced search is case insensitive, so the following search is equivalent to the one above: “+sphere:spirit,tactics +type:ally,attachment -trait:dwarf,weapon,armor”. In the case of traits, keywords, and especially card sets, some of them can be rather long – which makes them cumbersome to type and far too easy to misspell. To aid with filtering these fields, advanced search supports the “*” character as a “wild card”. For example “cycle:*shadow*” would give you cards from both the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle and the Against the Shadow cycle. Likewise “+set:the_hills*” would match The Hills of Emyn Muil, so that you don’t have to type out such a long name.

This latest example also highlights a limitation of advanced search. If you want to search for something with a space (e.g. “The Hills of Emyn Muil”), you need to use a “_” character instead of any spaces. This is because the search sees any text that does not start with a “+” or a “-” as a normal search. So if you entered a search of “+set:The Hills*” the search engine would see this as two separate things. First it would add a filter for any set named “The”, then it would do a search for all cards for the text “Hills*”. Since there is neither a set named “The”, nor any cards which contain the actual text “Hills*”, this search would return no results. So just remember, if you need to do an advanced search with a value that contains strings, the “_” character is your friend.

Now this is a whole lot of complex gibberish, and it can make one’s head swim. As a bear, I prefer concrete examples to abstract theory. I can’t eat an abstraction. So here is one last example to tie everything together:

+trait:silvan,noldor +type:ally +cycle:shadow*,*dwar*,again* -rcost:5

This returns all Silvan or Noldor allies from the first three cycles of the game that do not cost 5 resources (sorry Gildor). You can test this fancy search out right here. Because all searches in Hall of Beorn card search are represented as URLs, it is easy to share your advanced searches with others, simply copy and paste the link. So head on over to the newly updated card search, and try out some advanced search goodness. This is a complex subject, and bears are not always the best creatures to explain such wonders (sadly, no wizards were available to write this post), so feel free to ask questions in the comments below.

Without further ado, here are the available filters supported by advanced search.

Filter Description Example Values
cycle Card Cycle Shadows of Mirkwood, Dwarrowdelf, Against*, gencon
set Card Set The_Dead_Marshes, *dunland*,
type Card Type hero,ally,attachment,enemy,treachery,objective-ally
sphere Sphere of Influence leadership,tactics,spirit,lore,baggins,fellowship
rcost Resource Cost 1,2,3,4,5,6
tcost Threat Cost 5,9,11,12
ecost Engagement Cost 20,25,32,50
threat Enemy Threat 1,2,3,4,5
wp Willpower 0,2,3,4
atk Attack 1,2,3,5,7
def Defense 0,1,2,4
hp Hit Points 1,2,5,10
trait Card Trait dwarf,orc,silvan,noldor,weapon,condition,item,naz*
keyword Card Keyword ranged,sentinel,*immune*,*cannot_have*
encounter Encounter Set sauron*,*mountain*
artist Artist magali*,ben_z*
category Category healing,direct_damage,encounter_scrying
victory Victory Points 1,2,3,4,5
Posted in Community, Deck Building, Hall of Beorn Card Search, Software | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Contest Winner: Just Desserts For A Dark Road

Passed Out Bear

After many wonderful desserts, Mrs. Beorn and I are ready for an early hibernation. We both really appreciate all of the delicious entries, and we plan on making them for our family in the coming holidays. At the end of the day, it was very difficult to choose just one winner – it makes me wish that I had extra prizes to award.

roasted-pearsBefore announcing the winner, I want to give an honorable mention to the following entries: Toffee Pudding (subtle and delicious), Hand Held Apple Pies (pure yummy), Cheesecake and Chocolate Caramel (I have no words) and Biscuits, Dutch Oven Cobbler (I love cobbler), Cream and Strawberries (great recipe, and hilarious instructions). There really were too many good recipes to eat in such a short time – even for a bear. I apologize to any readers whose recipes I have not mentioned, I promise I will get around to trying them soon. Just writing about all of those tasty dishes actually makes my mouth water.

I must admit, this contest has involved a lot of drooling and holding my paws to a very full belly. It is highly appropriate that Lord of the Rings fans have such fantastic recipes to share, given the love of food shared by all of The Free Peoples of Middle-Earth. Without further ado, the winner of the contest, and a free copy of The Road Darkens is Tony K with his recipe for Beorn’s Honeycomb Pears. Congratulations to you sir, on a genuinely novel and delicious recipe. Feel free to contact the hall with your information and we will have your prize shipped to you by special eagle delivery. Thanks again to everyone who entered and do not despair if you did not win, we will be announcing a new contest soon enough.

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Contest: Just Desserts For A Dark Road (Updated)

grizzly-bear-eating-birthday-cake

 

It’s that time again, time for another contest here at The Hall of Beorn! After what seemed like an unbearable wait, The Road Darkens has finally be released here in the US, and it just so happens that I have an extra copy in my giant furry paws. As always, this contest is open to readers from all over the globe, as my trusty eagle friends will provide delivery.

The rules for this contest are simple. Provide in the comments below, your favorite dessert recipe. Extra consideration will be given for entries which are particularly thematic or appropriate to the World of Tolkien. Please, no honey cake - I already have my own recipe – and I can admit to a bit of bias when it comes to that particular dish. With the holidays approaching, Mrs. Beorn and I will be doing quite a bit of entertaining, so it is always good to have some new dessert recipes to share with friends and family.

The contest will run for 1 week, until next Monday October the 13th at Midnight. Please leave your recipes in the comments below, so that other readers can appreciate them as well. Feel free to enter multiple recipes as only the best recipe will win the contest. The winner of course gets a brand new copy of The Road Darkens, delivered anywhere except Mordor, free of charge. Good luck to all, and my tummy is growling with anticipation for the tasty treats to come!

UPDATE: Due to a large number of last-minute entries, I am going to wait until Friday, October the 17th to announce a winner. Only entries that made it in by yesterday are considered, but Mrs. Beorn and I need more time to try out these tasty recipes. Thanks for your patience everyone!

bear print

Posted in Community, Contest, Fun, Recipe, Theme | Tagged , , , , , | 22 Comments

Breaking of the Fellowship Did Not Break the Grey Company

Breaking of the Fellowship - 3 PlayerI just finished an epic 3-player game of Breaking of the Fellowship with Derek and Matthew. Though I am still not entirely sure that we played it correctly (I’ve only ever played that quest solo), it was a total blast. Look for our episode about The Road Darkens in the very near future.

For those that want to watch us play this scenario, here is the video.

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Bear Market: Tempo Archetype

Eomer-and-Aragorn-by-Abe-Papakhian

As the game evolves, new archetypes are introduced, and existing archetypes change in often unexpected ways. The tempo archetype is an interesting hybrid between low-threat control decks and high-threat aggro decks. Utilizing powerful heroes and taking advantage of allies entering and leaving play, these decks present an interesting middle ground that brings many tactical decisions. What follows are five cards with particular value in many of these tempo decks.

Horn of Gondor

Horn of GondorFor such a minimal cost, Horn of Gondor has always been a very efficient form of resource acceleration. However, as the meta game shifted to more conservative archetypes, this card was deemphasized. Many of those methodical decks were designed around playing powerful and expensive allies, and keeping them in play at all costs.

It is interesting to note that Silvan refugee fit perfectly into these decks when it was first released. The reemergence of Horn of Gondor has corresponded to a shift in the style of many decks. Between the Rohan/Gondor “leaves play” decks and the nascent Silvan decks there are multiple viable options for this new tempo archetype. Tempo exists in the spaces between conservative turtle decks and high-threat aggressive decks.

One of the distinguishing features of these tempo decks is that they are not aiming to field an army of allies. With Éomer/Prince Imrahil decks, allies are sacrificed as chump blockers to fuel all of the powerful responses. Silvan decks are a bit more nuanced but the outcome is the same – a steady stream of allies leaving play. This is where Horn of Gondor can trumpet its worth. In a multiplayer game that features multiple tempo decks, Horn of Gondor can actually be more powerful than its Leadership counterpart, which is a remarkable thought.

Valiant Sacrifice

Valiant SacrificeThis is a Core Set card that many, including me, overlooked at first glance. To be fair, almost any Lore card drawing effect is more powerful, and less situational, than this card. The fact that it provides a reasonably effective form of card draw to the Leadership sphere is precisely why this card is useful.

Whether it is Celeborn, Prince Imrahil, Sam Gamgee, Balin, or one of a host of other useful Leadership heroes, many tempo decks are built around this sphere. While healing is a much more common effect in slow-paced decks, it is less important in decks where allies are often the ones defending. Many tempo decks are focused around combat and questing, with less of a need for the trickery of the Lore sphere.

In short, some tempo decks do not have access to Lore and its hyper-efficient card drawing effects. For those decks, having an inexpensive form of card draw to supplement Sneak Attack and Gandalf is vital. With the addition of his hero to the card pool, card draw effects that do not rely on Gandalf are increasingly valuable. With tempo decks, there are plenty of characters leaving play, so Valiant Sacrifice can even be used to help another play draw cards, after one of their allies leaves play.

Lembas

Lembas (TiT)-smallWhen it comes to healing, players have almost universally preferred repeatable effects, particularly inexpensive cards like Warden of Healing. To be sure, there is power in a repeatable effect, but it also implies a certain strategy. The more conservative “turtle” style deck will take its time, building an ally army.

This more deliberate strategy has its disadvantages, however. Archery, direct damage from treacheries, and attrition from using a single hero as a dedicated defender can all take a toll. This precisely why Warden of healing is so essential to a control deck. Repeatable effects are more important when the game lasts so many rounds.

Tempo decks are different. More chump blocking is employed, and dead allies gain no benefit from healing. Heroes can be used as defenders, but it depends on the circumstances and they must be used sparingly. In many tempo decks, heroes spend most of their time questing or attacking.

Still, healing is necessary for tempo decks. Direct damage encounter effects are only becoming more common, and the recent uptick in ally-hate will mean that heroes must sometimes be pressed into defensive duties. Every action has a cost, and this why Lembas is such a perfect card for tempo decks.

A tempo deck can’t afford to spend too many rounds to finish the quest. Each hero has a clearly-defined role, so using a hero to block can reck your counter-attack strategy. If too many engaged enemies pile up, undefended attacks can fell a hero. In multi-sphere decks, the loss of a single hero can cripple a deck. Lembas allows a hero to defend, heal the damage suffered from the attack, then ready and counter-attack. Combining healing with action advantage makes this a particularly potent card for tempo decks.

Stand and Fight

Stand and FightControl decks and the proliferation of ally mustering effects pushed this card to the margins of many archetypes. Many decks specifically include Spirit for cancellation and threat-reduction effects. In this context, spending a bunch of precious Spirit resources just to bring an ally into play makes little to no sense. In a meta-game dominated by expensive allies, this card did not make as much sense.

Tempo decks have changed the equation for Stand and Fight. With a variety of useful 1 and 2-cost allies with “comes into play” or discard-based effects, this card gains maximum utility. The fact that it is an action should not be overlooked. If a large enemy is about to make an additional attack – one that would otherwise go undefended – Stand and Fight can be used to provide an emergency defender. Chump blocking is a zero-sum game in most control decks, but this strategy can reap benefits when so many allies have response effects to trigger.

Many tempo decks include two or three spheres. The heroes involved, and the cards to support them, are spread out over too many different sphere to be able to design a mono-sphere deck. In multi-sphere decks an unlucky draw can easily lead to a glut of one type of resource. Being able to use these resources to muster an ally from any sphere is quite a useful trick. Being able to trigger the enters play ability again gives this event great utility.

In a recent game, I found myself with 5 resources on Éowyn without cancellation in hand. Thanks to Stand and Fight, I pulled A copy of Gwäihir out of Mrs. Beorn’s discard pile. I triggered his response to resurrect a Vassal of the Windlord from my own discard pile. Once I was done with the Vassal, she was able to attach it to her Eagles of the Misty Mountains instead of letting it go back to the discard pile. After all that, I still had the copy of Gwäihir in play to help with questing or combat. Being able to trigger the “enters play” effect of the King of the Eagles made Stand and Fight the perfect card for this situation.

Saruman

Saruman-smallThis will probably end up being a controversial choice, but I have been reconsidering my initial reluctance about including the fallen Istari in my decks. To be fair, doomed cards are not auto-include in every deck. Secrecy decks and any kind of control deck that needs to carefully manage its threat will often find the he is not worth the cost. No matter what the circumstances, choosing to raise your threat (and that of every other player) by 3 is a hard pill to swallow. For this reason doomed is a very tough proposition for multiplayer games – unless everyone designs their decks with threat control in anticipation.

Still, in solo play Saruman can be an absolute beast. Both his stats and ability are amazing, and the tempo archetype is all about taking advantage of allies leaving play – so you can even derive benefit from the Wizard’s reluctance to stay around. Depending on play style, none of these arguments will sway some people, as Saruman is a card that places a deck decidedly more on the aggressive end of the tempo archetype. The ultimate reason why I chose to include him was because he is a “toolbox” card that can save you in many different situations.

For all decks with a full set of starting heroes, a 3 cost neutral card can be played in any round – no matter what the circumstances. This means that if you really need his ability and or stats, he will never be a dead card in your hand. One could make the counter-argument about drawing him when you are at 47 threat, and this is technically true. Still, in almost all of the games that I’ve won after getting to 47 threat I did so using the cards I already had in play, so this niche criticism is not enough to abandon the card altogether.

Depending on the scenario, his ability is nothing short of amazing. Being able to pull an Orc Vanguard out of play for a round (assuming you have a Tactics hero), to allow other players to actually play cards from their hands is just one example of how invaluable Saruman can be. Once he gets into play, the 5 attack strength can be a huge boost to help finish off enemies that your forces are struggling to overcome. The best way to think about Saruman in a tempo deck is like an emergency fire axe. If everything is going right, you aren’t going to need him – but if things go horribly wrong, having access to this tool can absolutely save your life.

Posted in Card Lists, Metagame, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Bear With Me: Text Analysis

bear-sitting-at-the-computer

 

In the course of writing this blog, being a member of The Grey Company, general involvement in the player community, and creating the Hall of Beorn Card Search, I have the opportunity to see this game from many different perspectives. In this new segment, I want to provide insights into some of the work that goes into these various activities. While these segues might not be of interest to everyone, I am confident that they will be sufficiently relevant (and short) to be entertaining to many readers.

When not slaying Orcs, writing blog posts, or recording podcasts, I am a professional software developer. One of the nice things about this game is that it provides me a chance to apply concepts that I learn at my day job to help create tools for one of my favorite games. I have worked on many search engines over the course of my career, and Hall of Beorn Card Search ultimately came out of my desire to have a search engine for this game that worked the way I wanted it to.

While it may not have every feature that everyone wants, it is fast, accurate and extensive. I continue to release new features and card sets on a regular basis and am always open to suggestions from the community. Many user requests have already been added to my list of features to add. So if you don’t yet see your favorite feature, it could be that I just haven’t completed it yet.

Many users have requested the ability to create and save deck lists via the search engine. This is something that I would very much like to add, but it takes time, and it is something that I want to get right the first time. I would rather spend the necessary time in order to have a deck-building app that works and gets users excited, than rush out an ill-conceived mess that no one wants to use. The biggest barrier to adding these type of marquee features is time. Between my various responsibilities, it is hard to find time to even play the latest scenarios, much less work on all of these supplemental tools.

Daeron's RunesOne of the challenges in deck-building is finding cards that fit a particular role within a deck. The best designed decks have a very focused idea of what it is they intend to do, and exactly how they aim to achieve their goals. With that in mind, I added a new Category filter to the Hall of Beorn Card Search recently. For example, here are cards in the “Card Draw” category. This filter is specifically intended to help with deck design, when it comes time to add a particular element to a deck.

While it might at first seem mundane, this filter is a dramatic evolution for the search engine. Up to now, all of the filters available on Hall of Beorn Card Search have been based directly on individual data elements printed on the cards. Everything from the title, card set, stats, traits and keywords – even the artist can be derived directly from the card. The category filter is the first to use a more advanced and meaningful understanding of the cards in the game.

Category is a somewhat abstract concept. It requires looking at the card text and analyzing its meaning to derive the “intent” of the card. While this might at first seem entirely subjective, my goal has been to avoid that. I may at some point in the future add user ratings (e.g. 1 to 5 stars), reviews (“this card sucks”) and other subjective data, the goal for now is to apply strictly objective analysis of the cards.

In order to do that, I have designed the categories to be applied algorithmically. This is a fancy way of saying that I have a recipe to automatically categorize each of the player cards based on their text. While I may at some point categorize encounter and quest cards, that would be decidedly less valuable for my needs – as those cards are not built into player decks. In general, all of the upcoming features for Card Search are aimed at helping players with deck-building.

There are many advantages of this approach, not the least of which is how quickly I was able to implement it. Rather than pore over the hundreds of player cards in the game and manually assign categories to them, I was able to define patterns for the initial 15 categories and have them assigned instantaneously. Another nice feature of this is that as cards are released, they too will automatically be categorized using this algorithm. This saves me from spending extra time categorizing whenever there are new releases. With the Nightmare Decks releasing at an accelerated pace, this is all the more important.

CramThis brings us to how the text analysis itself is performed. Unlike stats, keyword and traits, categories are a bit fuzzier of a concept. As a bear, I love anything fuzzy, but it is a bit harder to convince a computer of this. Take a category like Readying, for example. A card like Cram says “ready attached hero”, while Grim Resolve says “Ready all characters in play”, and Ever Vigilant says “ready 1 ally card”. While they are all worded differently, and have slightly different effects, they all represent a card that provides readying to a deck. The concept of a category would be far less useful if each of these cards was assigned a different category, so the goal will be to create groupings these kinds of similar cards.

This is where regular expressions come to the rescue. For those interested in software design, language theory, or automata, regular expressions are a fascinating subject worthy of their own study. For everyone else, it is enough to say that regular expressions are a kind of language that is used to analyze text for particular words and phrases. By defining more general patterns for each category, we can recognize the common thread that connects Cram, Grim Resolve, Ever Vigilant and other cards like them. By creating enough of these patterns, we can categorize most of the player cards in the game automatically, and spare my poor paws from the pain of doing everything manually.

As much as the categories themselves are objectively based on the words and phrases in question, the decision of which categories to create is of course a subjective one. The goal is for categories to serve as aids in deck-building – especially when it comes to suggesting cards that might otherwise go overlooked. With that in mind, they should provide real utility to the community as a whole, and not just be organization for its own sake.

So if anyone has suggestions for new categories please leave them in the comments below. I want to keep the categories to a manageable number, so I cannot promise that I will add every suggestion, but I will certainly give them their due consideration. Lastly, the patterns that I am using are incomplete, and some cards are not currently categorized. For anyone who enjoys using their red marker, and wants to spot check the categories to suggest cards that need to be included, that would be most appreciated.

Without further ado, here are the current categories, along with a few examples of the kinds of phrases that they match:

Category Matches
Resource Acceleration “Add 1 resource”, “Add 2 resources”
Resource Smoothing “Move 1 resource”, “Pay 1 resource from a hero’s resource pool to add 1 resource”
Ally Mustering “ally into play”, “allies into play”
Willpower Bonus “+1 Willpower”, “+2 Willpower”
Attack Bonus “+1 Attack”, “+2 Attack”
Defense Bonus “+1 Defense”, “+2 Defense”
Hit Point Bonus “+1 Hit Point”, “+4 Hit Points”
Card Draw “draw 1 card”, “draw 3 cards”
Card Search “search your deck”
Player Scrying “looks at the top 5 cards of his deck”
Encounter Scrying “look at the top card of the encounter deck”
Combat Control “enemy cannot attack”, “enemies cannot attack”
Healing “heal 1 damage”, “heal 2 damage”, “heal all damage”
Readying “ready all characters”, “ready attached hero”, “ready him”, “ready 1 ally”
Recursion “return 1 spirit card from your discard pile”, “shuffle your discard pile”
Direct Damage “deal 1 damage”, “deal X damage”, “deal damage to the attacking enemy”, “excess damage dealt by this attack”
Encounter Control “deal 1 damage to each enemy as it is revealed by the encounter deck”, “cancel the ‘when revealed’ effects”
Shadow Control “cancel a shadow effect”, “look at 1 shadow card”, “cancel any shadow effects”
Location Control “place 2 progress”, “switch the active location”, “location enters play”
Threat Control “reduce 1 players threat”, “lower your threat by 2″, “reduce your threat to your starting threat level”
Staging Area Attack “target enemies in the staging area”, “against an enemy in the staging area”
Staging Area Control “that enemy does not contribute its Threat”, “that location does not contribute its Threat”, “Choose an enemy in the staging area”
Enters Play “After Son of Arnor enters play”, “After Snowbourn Scout enters play”
Leaves Play “after Descendant of Thorondor enters or leaves play”, “after an ally leaves play”
Played From Hand “after you play Rivendell Minstrel from your hand”, “After you play a Dwarf character from your hand, draw 1 card”
Posted in Community, Deck Building, Fun, Hall of Beorn Card Search, Software | Tagged , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Key Concepts: Grading

Bear Clapping

Whether it is movies, books, or college professors a simple 1 to 5 star grading system is woefully one-dimensional. The reality is that anything worth grading in the first place, is worth analyzing with a bit more nuance than five choices. With a game like Lord of the Rings, this is most apparent not in the powerful cards, but the ones that exist on the edges. The card pool is large enough that there are now quite a few cards which are situationally useful.

Rather than being defined solely by player decks, as competitive card games are, the meta-game for Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is informed by scenarios. This means that the value of each player card must always be judged within the boundaries of a given scenario, otherwise it lacks the necessary context to have any real meaning. A card that can be a salvation in one game, can end up completely worthless in another scenario. Other cards, the so-called Staples, are universally valuable against almost almost every quest.

Power_of_OrthancTake a card like Power of Orthanc. In scenarios without encounter cards that manifest as Condition attachments, this card is worse than useless. Indeed, to use it in such situations would do nothing but raise every players’ threat with no benefit. Moreover, including it in your deck against the wrong quests would take up precious space that could be used by other, more generally applicable cards.

On the other hand, this card really shines in a multi-player game where the encounter deck is attaching multiple nasty attachments to characters or the current quest (e.g. Fords of Isen from The Voice of Isengard), this card can be amazing. In these situations, even the doomed cost can seem like a small price to pay. This is the very definition of a situational card. To try to give this card a simple 1 to 5 rating would be a disservice to the inherent complexity and variety of this game.

Campfire TalesAnother reason why it is difficult to rate every card on a simple linear scale is that each player has a different play style. While the competitive players are focused on which cards make their own deck stronger, support players will be more interested in cards that make everyone’s deck better. This is how cards like Campfire Tales can either be dead filler in a solo deck, but amazing in a four player game where the other decks don’t have enough card draw.

Love of TalesThematic players are more interested in cards that fit the narrative, or the feel that they are trying to achieve. I’m not personally a fan of Love of Tales, from a strategic point, but my wife loves to attach it to a Hobbit and then use Rivendell Minstrels to sing many songs. There is room in the game for everyone, even those that have a different goals, or a different focus than our own.

For all but Math tests, grading is an inherently subjective act. Everyone will find choices to disagree with here, and I look forward to reading comments from readers about which cards they think are overrated, underrated or just a hidden gem. I see myself as primarily a strategic player, but one who deeply cares about the myth and style of Tolkien’s world. I played and loved The Middle-Earth CCG almost 20 years ago, so my love for Tolkien-themed games is not new. It is important to bear in mind that these grades are based on my own experiences and mindset with the game. So please don’t take it personally if I grade one of your favorite player cards harshly.

One of the great things about a deck building game is that, with the right support, almost any card can be made to shine. If you strongly disagree with one or more of my grades here, I challenge you to create a deck which highlights whichever cards I have maligned. If someone can create a strong deck which prominently features any of the Filler or Coaster cards from this list, I will be happy to write an article about it. At the end of the day, grades are only a tool to help in deck-building, but having fun playing the game is the ultimate goal.

Universal Staples

These are the true power cards. As the name implies, universal staples will fit into almost any deck. However, even with effects as powerful as they provide, there are still reasons not to include these cards in a deck. For one thing, many of these cards are unique. While this does not matter as much for solo play, in a multi-player game it can have a tremendous impact. Two players should not both bring decks that rely on Steward of Gondor to the same game – someone is going to be disappointed.

Theme is another reason why some players will exclude a staple from their deck. As much as it makes strategic sense for a Dwarf deck to include Steward of Gondor, it does make any sense thematically. Besides, many players will find it more fun to use We Are Not Idle and Lure of Moria, along with an army of Dwarven allies, to replace the resource acceleration that comes with being the leader of Gondor. In this example, theme and strategy actually work hand-in-hand, because We Are Not Idle and Lure of Moria can be a more effective resource engine in a Dwarf deck than Steward of Gondor ever could.

In any case, this grade is not meant to imply that these cards must be in every deck. This grade indicates that a card will make most decks stronger, all else being equal. Those with the desire to be pedantic can certainly pick any card from this list, and make the case for a deck in which that card would not fit. While technically correct, this kind of contrarianism misses the larger point of a grading system. This grade does not mean that a card is automatically better than every card that falls further down this list. It does indicate cards which have the potential to vastly improve a deck that includes too many cards of lesser, or more situational, power.

Sphere-Leadership

Leadership
Allies: Errand-rider, Faramir (Core)
Attachments: Steward of Gondor
Events: A Very Good Tale, Sneak Attack

Errand-rider is quite simply the best utility ally currently available in the game. For 1 resource, you get an ally with a useful trait and an amazing ability. When used correctly, one copy of this card can often make it unnecessary to include other resource smoothing cards like Songs, Narvi’s Belt or Good Harvest. The fact that it has 2 hit points is relevant, particularly with scenarios that include archery and character direct-damage. With unimpressive stats, he may seem underwhelming, the ability to always have a resource where it is needed most should not be ignored.

FaramirIn any other sphere, Faramir would be too expensive, at four resources, to be considered a staple card. However, Leadership has resource acceleration to spare, so a four-cost ally is not at all difficult to pay for. Add ally mustering in abundance, and there are no shortage of ways to get Boromir’s oft-overlooked brother on the board. Once there, his ability is quite simply amazing. He even has two useful traits and can serve as a solid defender in a pinch, if his ability wasn’t enough. For multi-player, it is even worth including Faramir in a deck without many allies, as you can always choose another (probably Spirit or Leadership) player to receive the benefits of his ability.

There is not much to say about Steward of Gondor that has not already been said. It clearly remains the most efficient and repeatable resource acceleration in the game. A Very Good Tale and Sneak Attack both help form one of the pillars of the Leadership sphere – ally mustering. Being able to get allies into play quickly, without having to pay their full cost, makes Leadership a very valuable choice, even if it is just splashed into a deck.

A Very Good TaleSneak Attack in particular, makes a devastating combo with Core Set Gandalf, and can immediately transform an otherwise hopeless situation into winning round. Gandalf is not the only card that works well with Sneak Attack. Any ally with a response that can be triggered after the enter play is a good candidate for some sneaking around. In addition, Sneak attack works well with allies like Core Set Beorn or Escort from Edoras, which often leave play at the end of a given phase.

In contrast to Sneak Attack, A Very Good Tale can take a bit of planning to setup correctly. However, putting allies from any sphere directly into play, without paying their full cost, is essential for many scenarios. The trend is for newer quests to hit hard and not let up, so it is important for most decks to field multiple characters within the critical first few rounds. While one might argue that exhausting two allies is high cost, correctly designed decks can consistently gain two allies (or a single, more powerful, one) from this card. This makes A Very Good Tale action neutral on the turn you play it, but a tremendous action advantage on every subsequent round of the game. The fact that Sneak Attack and A Very Good Tale both work with non-Leadership allies should not be overlooked.

Sphere-Tactics

Tactics
Allies: Vassal of the Windlord, Defender of Rammas, Westfold Outrider
Attachments: Dagger of Westernesse, Gondorian Shield, Horn of Gondor
Events: Feint, Quick Strike

Above all else, the Tactics sphere excels at surviving enemy attacks, and killing enemies. It should come as now surprise then, that all but one of the universal staple cards for this sphere are focused on one of these two parts of the game. For one resource, Vassal of the Windlord is an absolute bargain. An ally with three attack strength, the Eagle trait, and the ranged keyword would be worth it as twice the cost. The fact the the Vassal leaves play after it attacks is honestly not a deal-breaker. This card is just so useful in so many situations – only more so in multi-player games where the extra ranged attack can make all of the difference.

Defender of RammasOn the other side of the combat coin, we have the Defender of Rammas. Still one of the best things to come out of Heirs of Númenor, the defender is amazingly efficient for only 2 resources. Unlike his Eagle equivalent, this Gondorian foot soldier does not automatically leave play after defending. Again, his trait can be useful, in a Gondor deck – though this is a secondary concern. Ironically, given his name, the Defender even has 1 attack, so he can help to finish off an enemy that is on the brink of death. Together, these two allies are an essential part of any deck designed to handle Battle and Siege quests. As for the Westfold Outrider, readers should see my thoughts of the Ring-maker cycle for an in-depth discussion of this card.

There are some very strong weapons and armor in this game, but many of them have trait-based restrictions. As far as weapons are concerned, Dagger of Westernesse is so good, because it lacks such a trait restriction. Granted, you only get the full benefit of this card when attacking enemies with a higher engagement cost than your current threat. While this can be difficult in a mono-Tactics deck, the best use of weapons is often in decks that only mix Tactics. The reason for this is that weapons are quite often overkill in a mono-Tactics deck, where each of the heroes is likely to already have 3 attack strength.

On the other hand, a deck which features only 1 or 2 Tactics heroes will find it much more manageable to ensure the full benefit of the Dagger. Regardless of whether or not it is providing the full bonus, Dagger of Westernesse is the only Tactics weapon without a play restriction which always gives at least +1 attack for only 1 resource. This is important, as weapons are essential for other powerful cards like Foe-hammer, Goblin-cleaver and Straight Shot.

Gondorian Shield (small)Gondorian Shield is less powerful when it is paired with a non-Gondor hero. However, because Steward of Gondor grants the Gondor trait, and is itself a universal staple, this limitation is easily overcome. When attached to a Gondorian hero, this card is game-changing. Go back and look at any early scenario, with larger enemies that attacked for 5 or more. For much of the game, these larger enemies were very difficult to defend against – leaving cards like Feint as the only option.

Without healing, or pairing card draw with Protector of Lorien, or drawing multiple Dunedain Warnings, there were very few ways for a deck to actually defend against these kinds of enemies. Chump blocking was certainly an option, but enemies like the Hill Troll were specifically designed to discourage this strategy. This is why Gondorian Shield is so important to the game. It now makes it viable to design consistent decks around a single super-defender. Beregond and Elrohir are two popular choices (after the elf is given Stewardship), but Tactics Boromir, Denethor and either version of Aragorn all make excellent defenders as well.

The key here is consistency. Whereas older decks would have to dedicate 6 or more cards to creating a super defender, Gondorian Shield immediately transforms these heroes into a strategic wall. Shadow effects can still be an issue, but these heroes can take a serious amount of punishment with the help of this one card. Pair this with healing effects and cards like A Burning Brand or Hasty Stroke, and you have a hero that is all but invincible. Having a dedicated defender becomes all the more valuable, as many recent scenarios punish chump blocking or include enemies which cannot be blocked by allies.

The last attachment here could arguably be considered situational, but I have chosen to grade Horn of Gondor as universally useful because of how rare resource acceleration is in Tactics. As one of the most expensive spheres, this is all the more important to a deck that features many Tactics cards. Moreover, this card is simply amazing in multi-player games. Because it lacks a limit on the number of times the effect can be triggered in a given round, it is not uncommon to gain 3 or 4 resources in a single turn, after other players’ allies leave play for various reasons. Being restricted might seem like a serious downside, but there it is often easy to attach this card to a questing hero, or one who does not often participate in combat and does not need other restricted attachments.

Quick StrikeThe two staple Tactics events are different edges of the same blade. Where Feint stops an attack from ever taking place, Quick Strike takes the initiative to overcome an enemy before they ever act. Both of these cards are amazingly powerful, particularly in decks that are designed to maximize their value. They each have their advantages and disadvantages. While Feint is great for avoiding an attack, and the attendant shadow effect, it doesn’t do anything about the attacking enemy. Feint does however have the advantage that it can be played to protect other players from one of their engaged enemies. Quick Strike can only be played on characters you control.

In a deck which features powerful attackers, Quick Strike can actually be more powerful than Feint. The key is whether or not you have a single character (most often a hero) with enough attack strength to kill an enemy in one attack. In this case, Quick Strike not only prevents that enemy from attacking, it entirely removes that particular threat from play. This effect is even more impactful when paired with a Tactics hero with a response that can be triggered after they defeat an enemy. Legolas and Hama are just two obvious examples, but less notable heroes like Brand and Merry can actually be even better choices.

Quick Strike can be more limited against powerful enemies, those with enough defense and hit points to withstand a single attack. In these situations, Feint is clearly the superior card. These cards work even better together – allowing you to pick and choose which effect you need, depending on the size of the enemy and the circumstances of the moment. There ability to control the flow of combat, makes these events applicable in virtually every deck which features Tactics.

Sphere-Spirit

Spirit
Allies: Arwen Undómiel, Imladris Stargazer
Attachments: Miruvor, Unexpected Courage
Events: A Test of Will, Hasty Stroke, The Galadhrim’s Greeting

Each sphere has their premier cards – the ones that embody the strengths of that sphere. In a sense, these cards help to define the true meaning of that sphere. It is one of the strange loops where the Sphere dictates the kind of effects on the card, which in turn helps to define the boundaries of the Sphere. Readers will have to forgive my Zen digressions, but cards like Arwen are powerful on a deep level.

Arwen UndomielTwo resources brings you a unique Noldor ally with two willpower, a defensive-boosting response, the ability to bestow the Sentinel keyword, and two hit points. It is remarkable to think that Spirit didn’t even have any other access to Sentinel until the relatively recent release of ally Dwalin. If that wasn’t enough, Spirit didn’t even get another consistent defense-boosting effect until Blood of Númenor. Put simply, Arwen Undómiel is the quintessential Spirit ally.

Another Noldor ally shares Arwen’s place among universal Spirit staples. The Imladris Stargazer is one of the great “glue” cards, that makes so many other strategies work. Deck scrying is always useful, and the ability to rearrange to top five cards of your deck can be even better than card draw, in the right situation. Whether it is to setup your use of Vilya with Elrond, or dig through a Hidden Cache or two with a Zigil Miner, or draw cards thank to Expert Treasure-Hunter, the Imladris Stargazer is at the heart of many of the games most powerful combos.

MiruvorOne of the core strengths of Spirit is readying effects, and these two staple attachments help support this theme. Miruvor seems to be an often-overlooked card, but its versatility for a 1-cost card is nearly unmatched. Being able to smooth resources, or boost willpower, in addition to a readying effect, means that it is very unlikely for this to ever be a dead card. Decks with multiple sources of card draw can even stick this card back on the top of the deck after use, so that they can draw it again.

One of the only downsides to the super-defender strategy mentioned earlier, is that a deck can be very vulnerable when their super-defender is exhausted. Shadow cards that create multiple attacks, treacheries that cause enemies to attack from the staging area, and enemies which exhaust characters can all ruin a well-planned defensive strategy. Unexpected Courage (or some other repeatable readying effect)  is a vital component of many super-defender decks. Being able to defend with with Beregond for 6 is all well and good, but if he can only do so once each round, you risk being overrun by packs of enemies.

Giving your best hero two actions a round vastly improves the consistency of a deck. Some quests require willpower based “tests” to be performed. In others like The Drúadan Forest, willpower is used instead of attack, to persuade enemies of your cause. In this situations Unexpected Courage on a hero like Éowyn is very helpful. Instead of having to hold other characters back, especially ones who would be best suited for other phases of the game, Unexpected Courage allows you to dedicate one hero to the task for which they are most suited.

A Test of WillOf all the many strengths of the Spirit sphere, there response events are undoubtedly one of the greatest. To this day, there is not other way to completely cancel a treachery effect than A Test of Will. As treacheries continue to grow in power this card only becomes more essential. Many quests will have one or two “must-cancel” treacheries. These cards completely change the board state, and often quickly dash any hopes of a swift victory. While it can be fun to take the risk, and tackle these quests without treachery cancellation, having a Test of Will is often necessary to ensure a consistent chance of success.

Just as treacheries continue to pose a greater threat to decks, shadow effects are likewise getting stronger. Whether it is massive boosts to attack strength, threat raising effects, direct damage to the defender, or punishment for chump blocking, there are a plethora of shadow effects that can disrupt a deck’s defensive strategy. While there are more options for shadow effects, include another staple in the Lore sphere, Hasty Stroke remains an excellent choice, not only for the cost, but also for the fact that it is not limited to a single defender and can be used to help other players.

Threat reduction is another important part of many decks. While there is recent trend of more aggressive decks, some scenarios lend themselves to a more measured, thoughtful approach. For decks that lack access to Spirit, Core Set Gandalf remains the only consistent form of threat reduction. That fact that The Galadhrim’s Greeting can be used to lower another player’s threat makes it just that much more powerful. Unlike some cards which flourish in multi-player deck, it is just as useful in solo play. Three resources to lower your threat by 6 can completely change the tides, especially with decks featuring Rangers, Dunhere, or Haldir – that want to attack the staging without engaging enemies.

Sphere-Lore

Lore
Allies: Henamarth Riversong, Erebor Hammersmith, Gléowine, Warden of Healing
Attachments: Elf-stone, Protector of Lórien, A Burning Brand
Events: Daeron’s Runes

There is an interesting detail about the Lore sphere – it has probably the best overall 2-cost allies in the game. Erebor Hammersmith possesses a great trait, response effect and excellent stats; Gléowine provides super-efficient card drawing – even targeting other players; and Warden of Healing bringing the most efficient repeatable healing effect in the game. This list of staples Even if a deck simply splashes the Lore sphere, it immediately gains access to a plethora of incredibly efficient allies – all of whom possess useful abilities. These allies all represent on of Lore’s greatest strengths: support.

Henamarth RiversongWith Silvan decks in ascendance, another low-cost ally is now even more useful: Henamarth Riversong. His scrying ability has always been useful, especially when paired with Traps and effects like Expecting Mischief and Denethor’s ability. With the Silvan archetype centered around returning allies to your hand to trigger effects, having a 1-cost Silvan ally is very important to maximizing the potential of these cards. Paired with Celeborn, Henamarth now enters play with 2 willpower and 2 attack, for a single resource. Since you can plan on returning him to your hand at least a couple of times, this level of efficiency is not a one-time bonus.

Elf-StoneAlly-mustering is essential, and once you look beyond the 2-cost allies, Lore allies tend to be on the expensive side. In addition, it lacks convenient options for resource acceleration or cost-reduction. Also, a Lore deck will want to save resources to pay for its powerful attachments and events. It can dramatically accelerate a Lore deck to put powerful allies like Haldir, Anborn or Gildor into play, without paying their full cost. For multi-sphere decks, expensive allies from other spheres can also be put into play with the help of Elf-stone. This can also help other players, who may lack Ally mustering effects, in a multi-player game.

Another strength of Lore is defense. With the aid of healing, Lore decks can ensure that a defender survives repeated attacks. Protector of Lórien fits perfectly into this strategy, especially because of the amount of card draw available in the sphere. Protector is another great example of versatility – not only can it be used to boost a hero’s defense, but it can be used to help them with questing as well. This works particularly well with characters that possess a readying effect. The cost of discarding cards might at first seem too high, but Lore has so many ways to draw cards and most decks will run multiple copies of unique cards which can be safely discarded.

A Burning BrandAutomatic cancellation is a rare effect in this game. Anything that allows you to repeatably ignore one entire aspect of the game is incredibly powerful. A Burning Brand does have one limitation, in that it has to be attached to a Lore character. Still, once this card is attached, that defender is totally immune to shadow effects. Given that Lore has the potential for creating strong defenders, this is a perfect pairing.

When you combine the effects of A Burning Brand with the readying effects and staples from other spheres, it becomes possible to completely lock down combat. Newer scenarios have introduced the concept of shadow-chaining, where one shadow card can deal additional shadow cards to an attacking enemy. This can cascade out of control and lead to some truly horrific attacks against your characters. A Burning Brand is thus a natural fit for a super-defender, and life-saving card against these kind of scenarios.

Daeron's RunesThere are a plethora of card drawing effects in Lore, indeed it is the sphere with the most consistent and efficient of these types of effects. Still, many of these effects are dependent on a particular trait or strategy. Daeron’s Runes stands above all of the other card drawing effects in the game, in terms of efficiency and universality. Think  of a single copy of this card as making your deck 3 card smaller. For those unfamiliar with deck-building games, this might seem like a strange statement, and would lead one to ask: “why is that a good thing?”.

The answer is consistency. Having a deck filled with powerful cards is great, but what if you can’t get the cards that you need at the right time. There is nothing more frustrating than having a powerful card in your hand, that is useless for the current situation. Cards are always powerful within a context. A card that is invaluable in one situation, can be useless in another. This is precisely why the need to discard one of the cards that you draw from Daeron’s Runes is not as bad as it seems. The thing to ask, when deciding what to discard from this effect, is what is it that your deck needs most right now. Whatever is not immediately essential, can often be sacrificed. The fact that Daeron’s Runes helps you dig into your deck, to find the essentially card, without any resource cost, makes it a life-saver in many difficult situations.

Neutral
Allies: Envoy of Pelargir, Gandalf (Core)
Attachments: None
Events: None

GandalfOne of the biggest advantages of Neutral cards is that they can be fit into any deck. Even a tri-sphere deck does not need to worry about having the resources to play a Neutral card, as they can be spent from anywhere. While Neutral cards tend to be more expensive than their equivalents in a given sphere, always knowing that you can pay for them is a real benefit.

Core Set Gandalf is the original utility card. At 5 resources, he is not cheap, but there are now numerous ways to get allies into play at a reduced cost. Because Gandalf’s response can be triggered after he enters play, rather than requiring him to be played from your hand, there is incentive for finding creative ways to bring Gandalf to the fight.

Each of his effects are tremendously powerful, especially because they can be used in decks that would otherwise lack that kind of ability. He can provide direct damage for a Spirit deck, card draw for a Leadership deck, or threat reduction for a Tactics deck, making him unrivaled in ability. With such amazing stats, he is a great boon in combat, or for any type of quest.

Envoy of Pelargir improves on the advantage of Neutral allies, by allowing you to effectively move your resources between heroes. To be clear, this effect only works with Gondor or Noble heroes, but most decks will have at least one such hero. Indeed many of the strongest heroes in the game are noble. The stats and versatility of this ally, for a net cost of 1, make the Envoy a good choice for many different kinds of decks.

Trait Staples

Traits are increasingly becoming one of the most important parts of the game. Players who started when only the Core Set was available might not have suspected this outcome, but it is now impossible to ignore. One of the first trait-based decks, and still one of my favorites, is Eagles. Rohan quest decks, with Éowyn leading the charge, have existing since the beginning of the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. Then came the Dwarves, lead by Dáin Ironfoot, they showed the sheer might of a trait-based strategy and that archetype has only become more powerful and varied with each expansion.

The Noldor received attention in the Dwarrowdelf cycle, championed by one of the most powerful heroes in the game: Spirit Glorfindel. The Gondor trait received similar treatment in the Against the Shadow cycle, with Leadership Boromir being powerful in his own right – though not quite as impressive as Glorfindel. That cycle also brought Hirluin, and with him the Outlands trait. Outlands is something that doesn’t get discussed much here at the Hall of Beorn, as I’m admittedly not much of a fan of that particular strategy. Still, it remains a viable archetype against many scenarios, and it is undeniably an easy way to introduce new players to the game. Throughout the Ring-maker cycle, the Silvan trait has been steadily receiving support, and it brings a new and interesting strategy to the game.

Trait-specific strategies are only going to continue to get stronger – even the Dwarves have been given a new wrinkle with the recent “delving” sub-theme. It is important to remember is that the most effective trait-based decks often include cards outside of that particular trait as well. This is where the universal and situational staples come into play. The idea is to mix and match the powerful cards that fit a deck’s particular style and overall strategy.

Because trait-specific cards are limited to that particular race or faction, they tend to be less expensive, or more powerful than their universal equivalents. A great example of this is Lure of Moria when compared to Grim Resolve. Lure of Moria is the Dwarven-specific version of Grim Resolve, with the advantage that it costs 2 less resources to play. In other cases, there is no universal equivalent to a powerful trait-specific card. Legacy of Durin is probably the most effective card-drawing effect in the game, in a Dwarf deck, and there is obviously no generic equivalent for this card that can be used in other decks.

Leadership
Allies: Bill the Pony, Fili, Glóin (TH:OtD), Longbeard Elder, Naith Guide, Silverlode Archer, Warrior of Lossarnach, Forlong
Attachments: Hardy Leadership, King Under the Mountain, Visionary Leadership, Lord of Morthond, Sword of Morthond, O Lórien!, Hobbit Cloak
Events: Wealth of Gondor, We Are Not Idle, Lure of Moria, For Gondor!, Durin’s Song, Men of the West, Feigned Voices

Tactics
Allies: Veteran Axehand, Winged Guardian, Eagles of the Misty Mountains, Erebor Battle Master, Knights of the Swan, Guthlaf
Attachments: Dwarrowdelf Axe, Gondorian Shield, Rivendell Blade, Elven Mail, Firefoot, Rohan Warhorse, Support of the Eagles, Ring Mail
Events: Khazad! Khazad!, Heavy Stroke, Halfling Determination, The Eagles Are Coming!, Behind Strong Walls, Gondorian Discipline

Spirit
Allies: Silvan Refugee, Lorien Guide, Bofur (TRG), Blue Mountain Trader, Kili, Dwalin, Ethir Swordsman
Attachments: Light of Valinor
Events: Elrond’s Counsel, Astonishing Speed, Children of the Sea

Lore
Allies: Longbeard Map Maker, Erebor Record Keeper, Bifur, Dori, Haldir of Lorien, Silvan Tracker, Mirkwood Runner, Anfalas Herdsman, Hunter of Lamedon, Ered Nimrais Prospector, Barliman Butterbur
Attachments: Asfaloth, Fast Hitch, Legacy of Durin, Lembas
Events: The Tree People

Neutral
Allies: Defender of the Naith

Archetype Staples

Personally, Nothing is more satisfying than seeing a plan come together. An archetype gives you a basic plan, a blueprint for creating a powerful deck. Rather than being limited to synergies based on a trait, many archetypes can be more abstract. The idea is to take advantage of a particular strategy or aspect of the game.

A great example of a powerful archetype that has gained prominence recently is the Gondor/Rohan “leaves play” deck. These decks are not dependent on traits, or even one specific card combo, but on the idea of taking advantage of allies leaving play each round. By utilizing heroes like Éomer and Prince Imrahil, and allies like Squire of the Citadel and Westfold Outrider, along with events like Sneak Attack and Valiant Sacrifice, these decks take advantage of different cards that all build to a single basic strategy.

Decks with more general strategies like this tend to be very resilient, as they do not rely on any one trait or ability to be successful. Archetypes are flourishing in an expanding card pool, and can be designed to handle many of the common challenges that a quest will manifest. Because their strengths are not necessarily trait-based, archetypes can mix and match powerful cards, often to dramatic effect.

Leadership
Allies: Snowbourn Scout, Squire of the Citadel, Herald of Anórien
Attachments: Cram, Celebrían’s Stone, Tome of Atanatar, Path of Need, Dúnedain Mark, Dúnedain Warning, Dúnedain Cache, Sword that Was Broken
Events: Strength of Arms, Valiant Sacrifice, Timely Aid, Gaining Strength, Swift and Silent

Tactics
Allies: Gondorian Spearman, Bofur (TH:OHaUH), Trollshaw Scout, Knight of Minas Tirith, Rúmil, Farmer Maggot
Attachments: Black Arrow, Spear of the Citadel, Gondorian Fire, Book of Eldacar, Spear of the Mark, Great Yew Bow
Events: Unseen Strike, Hands Upon the Bow,The Hammer-Stroke, Foe-Hammer, Goblin-Cleaver

Spirit
Allies: Escort from Edoras, West Road Traveler, Northern Tracker, Westfold Horse-breaker, Westfold Horse-breeder, The Riddermark’s Finest, Minas Tirith Lampwright, Pelargir Shipwright, Emery, Greyflood Wanderer
Attachments: Silver Lamp, Blood of Númenor, Ancient Mathom, Warden of Arnor, Thrór’s Key
Events: Dwarven Tomb, Stand and Fight, Lay of Nimrodel, Will of the West, Stand and Fight, A Watchful Peace, Courage Awakened

Lore
Allies: Master of the Forge, Galadhrim Minstrel, Rivendell Minstrel, Miner of the Iron Hills, Anborn, Gildor Inglorion, Ithilien Tracker, Ithilien Archer, Ithilien Lookout
Attachments: Expert Treasure-Hunter, Ranger Spikes, Ithilien Pit, Ranger Bow
Events: Secret Paths, Strider’s Path, Out of the Wild, Word of Command, Mithrandir’s Advice, Noiseless Movement, Take No Notice

Neutral
Allies: White Tower Watchman, Gandalf (TH:OHaUH)
Attachments: Song of Battle, Song of Kings, Song of Travel, Song of Wisdom
Events: Shadow of the Past, Hidden Cache

Expensive but Powerful

Some of the most power cards in the game cannot be considered staples simply because of their cost. It should be noted that the term expensive is not necessarily referring to resource cost. A card can be expensive if it has a threat cost (Legacy of Númenor), has additional constraints on how it can be played (Thicket of Spears), or some alternate cost (Hail of Stones). Smart decks will work to mitigate these costs, as all of the cards at this grade can be very powerful when used wisely. Still, because of the extra cost, these cards should not be considered automatically applicable to all decks.

Leadership
Allies: Dúnedain Watcher, Erestor, Longbeard Orc-Slayer
Attachments: None
Events: Grim Resolve, Legacy of Numenor

Tactics
Allies: Beorn (Core), Landroval, Gwaihir, Veteran of Nanduhirion
Attachments: Dwarven Axe, Citadel Plate
Events: Thicket of Spears, The Wizard’s Voice, Swift Strike, Hail of Stones, Close Call

Spirit
Allies: Damrod, Elfhelm
Attachments: None
Events: Light the Beacons, We Do Not Sleep, Untroubled by Darkness, Fortune or Fate

Lore
Allies: None
Attachments: Forest Snare, Self Preservation, Scroll of Isildur
Events: Lórien’s Wealth, Gildor’s Counsel, Peace and Thought, Deep Knowledge

Neutral
Allies: Saruman
Attachments: Palantir
Events: The White Council

Limited or Situational

In a competitive game, these cards would often be considered “sideboard” cards. These cards are often very focused, to the point of being useless outside of their intended context. As a cooperative game, the scenarios are our enemies. Although these cards may be limited against many scenarios, they can be invaluable for certain quests.

Leadership
Allies:  Son of Arnor, Denethor
Attachments: Dúnedain Signal
Events: Campfire Tales, Second Breakfast, Parting Gifts, Dawn Take You All, Mutual Accord, Fresh Tracks, To Me! O My Kinsfolk, Taking Initiaitve

Tactics
Allies: Horseback Archer, Beorning Beekeeper, Descendant of Thorondor
Attachments: Blade of Gondolin, Spear of the Citadel, Born Aloft, Song of Mocking, Mighty Prowess
Events: Rain of Arrows, Stand Together, To the Eyrie, Heavy Stroke, Forth Eorlingas, Pursuing the Enemy, Straight Shot

Spirit
Allies: Wandering Took, Éomund, Rider of the Mark
Attachments: Map of Earnil, Nor Am I A Stranger, Song of Eärendil, Ever My Heart Rises, Ring of Barahir, The Fall of Gil-Galad, Hobbit Pipe
Events: Smoke Rings, Small Target, Late Adventurer, Strength of Will, Mustering the Rohirrim, Ride to Ruin, Out of Sight, O Elbereth Gilthonial, Renewed Friendship, Power of Orthanc, Free to Choose, Desperate Alliance

Lore
Allies: Harbor Master, Master of Lore
Attachments: Dark Knowledge, Love of Tales, Healing Herbs, Poisoned Stakes, Thrór’s Map, Infighting
Events: Radagast’s Cunning, Ancestral Knowledge, Needful to Know, Short Cut, Advance Warning, Forest Patrol, Message from Elrond, Expecting Mischief, Ravens of the Mountain

Neutral
Allies: Radagast
Attachments: Leaf Brooch, Keys of Orthanc, Good Meal
Events: Hobbit-Sense, Well-Equiped, A Good Harvest

Filler

These cards are not necessarily bad, they just take up space where other cards could be of greater benefit. In most decks, there would be at least a handful of cards that would be more effective than any of these cards here. They can be useful, but their usefulness has very real limitations. For example, Citadel Custodian is a perfectly useful card in a Gondor deck. Even in such a deck – with global effects from Boromir, Visionary Leadership and For Gondor! – the custodian is still just taking up space. Some Gondor decks will include 25 or more allies, in which case the Custodian makes sense. Still, his stats are so weak, and he has no ability once in play; so, in a sense, he is just taking up space.

Leadership
Allies: Guard of the Citadel, Pelargir Ship Captain, Citadel Custodian, Dúnedain Wanderer, Rivendell Scout
Attachments: Dúnedain Quest
Events: Ever Vigilant

Tactics
Allies: Watcher of the Bruinen
Attachments: None
Events: Blade Mastery, Meneldor’s Flight

Spirit
Allies: None
Attachments: Favor of the Lady, Spare Hood and Cloak, Steed of the Mark
Events: A Light in the Dark

Lore
Allies: Ravenhill Scout
Attachments: None
Events: Rumour from the Earth, Risk Some Light, Gandalf’s Search

Neutral
Allies: None
Attachments: Boots from Erebor
Events: The Seeing-Stone

Coasters

There is really no nice way to put it – these cards are not worth playing. They are weak, or too situational, or simply don’t fit into their sphere. In all but the most specialized decks, players will find superior alternatives to cards on this list. Even the cards here that have useful effects will take up valuable space in our deck.

This is know as opportunity cost. It is not enough for a card to be useful, in order to warrant inclusion in a deck. A card needs to be worth the opportunity that is lost from not including a different card. This is why I have graded these cards so harshly. In essentially every case, no matter the deck, I would rather draw another card than one of these listed here. As I mentioned earlier, I am open to be proven wrong. If someone has a deck which makes consistent and effective use of one or more of these cards, I would love to hear about it.

Leadership
Allies: Keen Eyed Took, Orthanc Guard, Brok Ironfist
Attachments: None
Events: Common Cause, Rear Guard, Ever Onward, Grave Cairn

Tactics
Allies: None
Attachments: Keeping Count
Events: Trained for War

Spirit
Allies: None
Attachments: Power in the Earth
Events: Strength of Will, Against the Shadow

Lore
Allies: Bombur (RtR), Isengard Messenger
Attachments: None
Events: Beorn’s Hospitality

Neutral
Allies: None
Attachments: None
Events: The End Comes

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