The Might of Caldara

Caldara - Passing of the Grey Company Round 2

This photo was from a game that we played last night against The Passing of the Grey Company, at our local Austin LotR LCG group. It must seem unbelievable, but it captures the end of my second planning phase. Prince Imrahil, in addition to having amazing art, is the last piece to catapult Caldara decks into the upper echelon. I’ve built an Aggro Caldara deck, inspired by the one I used last night, that you can check out over on RingsDB.

Prince-Imrahil-FotWOne of the nice things about card games is that, every once in a while, the randomness falls in your favor. In over 20 years of playing card games, last night’s game was one of the best starts I’ve ever had – in any game. There is a rush when your deck gets the perfect draw and is firing on all cylinders, with everything is playing out exactly as you planned. It more than makes up for the frustrating defeats and false starts of past games. In a way, I’m glad that made changes to the deck that I used last night, because there was no way for that collection of cards to ever again achieve such a start. For those who are curious about the details, I’ve reposted them here from the deck description.


The setup for The Passing of the Grey Company allows you to raise your threat by 3 in order to gain an additional resource on each of your heroes. Whether or not you decide to take these extra resources, you have to discard your hand at the end of the first planning phase. Both of these changes to the normal setup proved to be instrumental to a wonderful turn of events. Caldara decks are pretty unique, in that forced discard actually ended up being beneficial.

I opened my first planning by playing Emery for free, and got lucky when she discarded Glorfindel, Damrod and Prince Imrahil from the top of my deck. With six resources, I then played Sword-thain on Emery and paid for an Imladris Stargazer (in retrospect, I should have played the Stargazer first and used her to setup Emery – but it worked out anyway). Next, I discarded Caldara to put Glorfindel, Damrod and Prince Imrahil into play (Emery being a hero allowed me to put 3 allies into play). I discarded Elven-light to give a resource to Arwen. At the end of that planning, I had to discard A Test of Will, Ethir Swordsman and two copies of Pelargir Shipwright.

On my second, with no cards in my hand, Prince Imrahil showed just how powerful he is with Caldara. Thanks to Elven-light and the Stargazer, I was able to draw into Fortune or Fate and a Northern Tracker. I discarded the Northern Tracker to Arwen, then played Fortune or Fate to return Caldara to play. She was not long for play however. I immediately discarded her again, which turned Prince Imrahil back into a hero and put me at 4 Spirit heroes (thanks to Emery). This allowed me to put Northern Tracker, Ethir Swordsman and two copies of Pelargir Shipwright into play on my second turn. For essentially the entire game I had ~25 willpower to commit to the quest.

Posted in Aggro, Community, Deck Lists, Fun | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Hero Showdown


I was traveling when my compatriots in the Grey Company where recording the Hero Showdown episode, but I wanted to add my voice to the discussion here. Below are my top three heroes for each sphere, along with my seven favorites (to round out a top 10). I then discuss one overrated hero that I consider less useful than their reputation might suggest. Finally, I complete each sphere with my least favorite hero.

It goes without saying that these ratings are more reflective of my deck-building and play style than any sort of objective metrics. Still, I am interested to hear other players’ feedback about my choices. My opinions about many of these heroes have evolved over time and I have no doubt that future cards and play experiences will continue to change my perspective. Add your voice to the discussion in the comments below.


Sam Gamgee.
Sam-Gamgee-Front-FaceBefore Leadership Denethor was released, Sam was my first choice for splashing a Leadership hero into a deck. His primary stat to threat ratio is amazing, providing a major questing boost to any deck. The fact that he comes with his own free ally and has an ability which is powerful and easy to trigger is what pushes him over the top. He even has some fun toys in the form of Hobbit Cloak, Staff of Lebethron and Taste it Again!, if you want to make him the focal point of your strategy. He works as the lynchpin to a Hobbit deck or simply a supporting character in some other archetype, which makes him an excellent fit for a great many decks. Believe it or not, other than Tactics Boromir I have never had one hero do so much in a single round (hint: There is no per-round limit to his ability).

Aragorn-Front-FaceThe original captain for any deck with Leadership. His readying ability would be expensive for any other sphere, but Leadership has no shortage of resources. This is especially true now that Captain’s Wisdom exists because this version of Aragorn has the Noble trait. Thanks to readying, his stats are all useful so he can easily fill any role within a deck. In sphere access to powerful artifacts like Celebrían’s Stone and Sword that was Broken are what really pushes him over the top. He sits at the center of many of the game’s most powerful archetypes. In decks that include other spheres, you also gain access to the game-breaking might of Blood of Númenor and Gondorian Fire.

Denethor-Front-FaceFor anyone who might be skeptical of just how amazing Leadership Denethor is, I encourage you to try him out. The early game boost that Denethor provides is breath-taking. I can’t even count the number of times he has allowed me to drop powerful cards on the first turn. These are cards which I would not otherwise have been able to afford with the usual allotment of 3 resources.

Leadership has the best resource acceleration and many of the best global boost attachments, so being able to play one of these cards on the first turn puts your decks in the driver’s seat. Early game survival is one of the absolute keys to most quests, which is why Denethor’s setup ability is so important. In the late game, his secondary ability to move resources to other Gondor heroes ensures that you are never stuck with money in the wrong place. Versatility combined with early game strength make Denethor a force to be reckoned with.

Other Favorites

Dain Ironfoot


Erkenbrand-TAC-smallThis might be a controversial choice – especially after the release of the Armored Destrier. Still, I feel that it takes too many cards to make Erkenbrand work as your primary defender. I would certainly rather he had 1 attack or 0 willpower and 4 defense instead. I never want to be using him for questing or attacking. Leadership and Lore, which you are essentially forced into if you want to keep using him, is an awkward combination for Rohan decks.

If I’m not running a Rohan deck then there are better dedicated defenders to choose from, even in the Leadership sphere. Without the Gondor trait, Erkenbrand cannot take full advantage of Gondorian Shield and is instead left with cards like Dúnedain Warning and the Armored Destrier. The destrier is an odd fit as he already has shadow cancelation so you are basically doubling up on that ability. Unfortunately, in-trait armor cards like Golden Shield provide him very little benefit. His stats and ability clearly mark him as a defender, yet I feel like Erkenbrand requires too many cards in my deck to use effectively in that role.

Least Favorite

HalbaradHalbarad is okay, but his ability is pretty minimal for a hero. He can be amazing in the right Dúnedain deck, but outside of that he is mediocre for his threat cost. It’s a compliment to the Leadership sphere that its lesser heroes are this good. Still, I will often drop him in favor of Amarthiúl in my Dúnedain decks.

The added smoothing and resource acceleration, along with more a appropriate stat distribution, makes Amarthiúl the superior option unless you really need that 1 extra willpower for questing. Because of Sword that was Broken (a staple of most any Dúnedain builds), it is difficult for me to rationalize Halbarad over Amarthiúl. Even with these criticisms, Halbarad is a hero which I actually find cause to use in some decks, so he fairs better than my least favorite heroes from other spheres.


Beorn-Front-FaceAnyone familiar with my deck-building style will notice that there are three pillars which form the basis of most all of my decks. Resource acceleration, card drawing and action advantage. With very few exceptions, the best decks in the game are all going to feature these three facets in some fashion. Often, the game-breaking decks take one or more of these concepts and push it to extremes.

As I mentioned in my discussion of Denethor above, the early game is a critical time for most decks. Until you have mustered supporting allies, or attached critical attachments to your heroes, or built up your hand with game-saving events, you are at your most vulnerable. A hero with built-in action advantage on defensive and a massive attack stat is an invaluable asset for the early game. Alongside any other 3-attack hero (the standard for any good attacker), Beorn can kill all but the biggest enemies in a single round. Being able to deal with these early threats – without support from any other cards in play – will see you through until your deck’s primary strategy comes on board. Even quests with archery or direct damage are no problem as Beorn has the largest hit point pool of any hero. I’m obviously biased when it comes to this hero, but anyone who doesn’t recognize that he is top tier has simply never used him in the right quests (e.g. Massing at Osgiliath).

Mablung-Front-FaceAt this point the theme with my choices for favorite heroes should be fairly apparent. Of any Tactics hero, Mablung has the most consistent resource acceleration. He is one of the few Tactics cards of any kind which helps, and with the recent errata to Horn of Gondor his value has only increased. His ability can be triggered in each phase, which means that with a bit of creativity you can easily maximize his strengths.

Thanks to the relatively new Dúnedain archetype, engaging an enemy can bring multiple benefits, which makes Mablung pair very well with other heroes like Amarthiúl and Tactics Aragorn. His traits are both useful and his well-rounded stats are a benefit. Some players will complain about a hero with 2’s in each of their main stats. The argument goes that these stats are “wasted”. While I can see their point when it comes to heroes with a single obvious role, but I actually prefer versatility when it comes to my support heroes. With the ability to wield Gondorian Fire on the Attack, Gondorian Shield and Behind Strong walls on defense, or simply quest for 2, Mablung is one of the most versatile Tactics heroes.

Boromir-Front-FaceAfter all of this talk about the importance of action advantage, my final choice for favorite Tactics hero is a fait accompli. Tactics Boromir remains the single most powerful hero in the game when it comes to action advantage. As the card pool widens, and the number of options for threat reduction continues to grow, the son of Denethor becomes ever stronger. His traits provide an embarrassing number of options for boosting his already excellent stats. Essentially every weapon and armor which is not limited to some racial trait works perfectly with Boromir.

In particular, anything which boosts his stats for more than one attack is a huge win as Boromir can keep swinging until no enemies are left standing. He is so powerful in combination with combat boosts that there are even rumblings in the community about potential errata. The prevalence of resource acceleration, in concert with multiple copies of Blood of Númenor and Gondorian Fire, practically makes Boromir invincible. Even if you take the unconventional route and choose not to make Boromir the focus of a deck, his ability is always useful – especially in scenarios with multiple exhaust effects. The number of times he has single-handedly turned a losing situation into victory is almost mind-numbing.

Other Favorites

Brand son of Bain


Bard the Bowman.
Bard the BowmanBard is nice in multiplayer, but it takes too much effort to make Great Yew Bow consistent that it feels wasted. Unfortunately, he doesn’t work well with most other weapons. Because the bow exhausts, it doesn’t pair with any of the Weapon-related events. Assuming you do have some other weapon, you can take advantage of Straight Shot, but this is an all-or-nothing kind of strategy and many enemies now have three or more defense.

Trying to use Elf-friend to give him access to Rivendell Blade is simply too finicky for my play style. If I’m not using elves and I want a Ranged Tactics hero for multiplayer, I much prefer his grandson Brand (even with the questionable art). With 2 willpower, he can serve as a quester, but this is a dubious role for a Tactics hero with an 11 starting threat. For a dedicated attacker who isn’t central to my deck, I would much prefer one of the many Tactics heroes with 9 starting threat.

Least Favorite

DoriThis is another example of a hero whose ability is too limited and his stats are too lackluster for the threat cost. When you are using him in his primary role, he basically gets no benefit from Dain – which is a cardinal sin in most Dwarf decks. If his ability was just a bit less constrained he could be good, but Tactics has far too many options for combat support to waste a hero slot on a so-so ability.

Even Dori’s sentinel keyword is strange as it overlaps with his primary ability. If his stats were a bit more asymmetrical (say 1 attack and 3 defense), his ability might have real value, but as it stands he requires additional cards to offset the cost of a hero action. It is also worth noting that ally Dori’s ability has everything that this card lacks. You can use it after damage is assigned, and it can even redirect damage to heroes like Beorn who are otherwise difficult to affect. I would much rather a player bring ally Dori to the table than this version.


Arwen Undómiel
Arwen-UndómielThanks to Elven-light, Arwen gives you both card draw and resource acceleration in Spirit. Obviously she is not as consistent of a resource engine as Leadership can build, but the she gives you access to all of the Spirit staples along with all of the Noldor tricks – quite a potent mix.

Again, you will notice that her ability works from the first round. Early-game strength is a theme in many of my favorite heroes. Arwen is one of the few heroes, in fact, who is completely unhindered by a bad opening hand. Her limitation of targeting only Noldor and Aragorn might at first seem too harsh, but she can give resources to herself and she opens the potential for viable decks Spirit decks without Leadership for resource acceleration. This archetype simply did not exist outside after the errata of Zigil Miner.

Galadriel-Front-FaceThe lady of Lórien is deceptively powerful. Consistent card draw and threat reduction are not to be discounted. Even without her ring, the action advantage for ally-heavy decks means that she has an immediate impact on the game. Her ability is not limited to you, which makes her a welcome sight in multiplayer games.

She is a foundational piece of a very strong Silvan archetype, yet has the low threat cost and flexibility to fit into so many different decks. Add to all of this the underrated quest control of Nenya and the amazing search capabilities of her Mirror, and Galadriel is one of the most potent Spirit heroes. Some players might mistake her inability to directly participate in the key phases of the game as a weakness, but really Galadriel is the ultimate support hero.

Glorfindel-FoSIt was difficult choosing between Glorfindel and Éowyn, but I ultimately chosen Glorfindel because his stats and supporting cards are so consistently useful. Éowyn can use cards like Herugrim and Golden Shield, but making her into a well-rounded hero takes much more work for her than it does for Glorfindel. For the longest time, he was the only hero in Spirit who provided combat prowess without requiring some other trickery.

Glorfindel excels at multiple facets of the game and as much as the fatigue of overuse is real, he remains the best choice for a wide range of decks. Asfaloth continues to be the standard by which all other location-control is judged. Light of Valinor is criminally low-cost action advantage which completely negates his one weakness. Lastly, his meager 5 starting threat makes Glorfindel far more versatile than even recent heroes in terms of the decks that he supports. Until more Hobbits were introduced, Secrecy decks with 3 heroes simply did not exist without Glorfindel. He is probably the best “glue” hero in the game.

Other Favorites



Idraen-smallI’ve used her in a fair few decks now, and I honestly find that I am looking to replace her in many of them. Like Lanwyn, her readying ability can be difficult to consistently trigger in some scenarios. Certainly you can pair her with location control to make this easier to manage, but have still be burned by a lack of (non-Immune) locations in play to choose from. Her stats are useful, no doubt. Still, her starting threat is high for Spirit, so she changes the kind of deck that I end up making with her.

If I’m looking for 3 attack strength Glorfindel and Lanwyn seem like better choices in many decks. Of the trait-specific title attachments, I consider Warden of Arnor to be the weakest, so that is certainly not a mark in her favor. Her traits can be useful, but it still feels resource intensive to use resource acceleration and Blood of Númenor to turn her into a defender. I have no doubt that she will make an appearance in Scouting Party decks, but I still prefer Lanwyn for that trait so that I can keep my threat low and just focus on questing. I’m not saying that she is bad, but I just feel like her ability is not as consistent as I would like and her starting threat forces me to build the kind of decks that I would rather make using other spheres.

Least Favorite

Fatty Bolger
fatty-bolger-tbr-smallNot much to say here. His ability can help in multiplayer, but the Hobbit archetype is so strong at questing that this strategy does not make a whole lot of sense. Thanks to Hobbit Pony and cards like Elevenses, it is now possible to control exactly how much willpower is committed to the quest.

In a way, his ability implies that you are failing at questing, otherwise the cost is too high. If you’re already questing successfully there is no way that you want to pay 3 threat for 3 additional progress. Spirit gives you so many less-expensive ways to go about boosting your quest progress, even after staging. Regardless of threat reduction and Hobbit Pipes, consistent threat raising is far too steep a cost when other Hobbit heroes bring so much more archetype synergy to the table.


Elrond-SaFThis will not be a very controversial choice, but even before you talk about his Ring, Elrond is one of the most powerful heroes in the game. Boosting healing will always be strong, especially so when direct damage remains a near-constant presence in modern quests. Being able to pay for allies from any sphere makes him the cog that runs a plethora of amazing and unique decks.

With his stats and the Lore sphere he has the capability to be a stellar quester or defender (and no slouch as an attacker). You can of course attach Vilya and include any kind of deck scrying to transform Elrond into a game-breaking hero. In reality, he is incredibly versatile and powerful even without any supplemental cards. His high threat is perhaps his only downside, but the advantages that he brings to the table make it worth it, and you can always surround him with lower threat supporting heroes.

Pippin (TBR)He is probably my favorite “glue” hero. At the bargain cost of 6 threat, he gives you access to the Lore sphere. He has a built-in card draw ability himself, so even if you only a few Lore events with him your deck just gained a ton of consistency. He slots perfectly into a Hobbit deck that wants to pick its enemies carefully and then benefit from optional engagement. Even if he is the lone Hobbit in your deck, he still improves the control that players exert over the staging area.

Like all Hobbits, his stats are weak, but he spends most of his time questing, a skill at which he excels. Pippin pairs particularly well with other Lore heroes like Haldir that want to avoid engagement and snipe enemies from the staging area. In addition to Hobbit-only decks, he facilitates cards like Take No Notice, In the Shadows and now Arrows from the Trees. A cheap and versatile hero with innate card draw is a welcome addition to most any deck.

Erestor-Front-FaceNot many heroes single-handedly create a new archetype overnight. Erestor is undoubtedly one of the most unique heroes in the game. While his drawback at first looked questionable, now that the Noldor strategy has become more clear Erestor has truly come into his own. With so many cards that either play from the discard pile, or gain benefits from other cards in the discard pile, the idea of quickly discarding your entire deck suddenly seems pretty appealing. One of my favorite aspects of Erestor is the way that he makes niche cards and combinations viable.

A great example of this is Keeping Count. This was a card which I always dismissed as garbage, because even with all of the search and card draw effects in the game it was just too difficult to make that card work. When you start with the sheer card drawing might of Erestor, and bolster it with other free card drawing effects like Daeron’s Runes and Deep Knowledge, it suddenly becomes almost impossible not to see multiple copies of Keeping Count. A card which was essentially unplayable is now consistently a factor in my silly Erestor-based experiments. This card is but one example of the power of card draw. Other players have found a wide variety of ways to exploit Erestor’s ability, and I have no doubt that future cards will only add to his potential.

Other Favorites

Haldir of Lórien


Treebeard-ToS-smallI have a few decks which feature hero Treebeard, and I enjoy them quite a bit. I still feel like he is overrated as a hero because his ally version is such a perfect design. To say nothing of amazing stats, being neutral and generating multi-purpose “Ent” resources each turn makes the ally version of Treebeard a perfect splash in almost any deck. Even if you have no other Ent characters, you can use his resources to ready himself every other round.

Hero Treebeard is much like hero Beorn to me – a giant killing machine. While that is fun, the cost is high and it requires a very specific deck focus. Without built in action advantage, you end up having to dedicate ton of deck space to both healing and readying, otherwise Treebeard is not being used to his full potential. I enjoy the design of the Treebeard hero and I will continue to tinker around with decks that use him, but the existence of his ally version is always going to put him at the losing end of an unfavorable comparison.

Least Favorite

Faramir (AoO)I really wanted to like this version of Faramir. It’s not for a lack of trying, but I just have never been able to make a Faramir deck with which I was truly satisfied. His combination of starting threat and stats makes for an awkward deck. Perhaps the upcoming focus on two-hero decks will bring some support for him (my most consistent deck featured him and Sam Gamgee as my only heroes), but I’m not going to hold my breath.

Now with Damrod, I feel like Lore Gondor/Ranger decks have a much more consistent and powerful way to attack into the staging area than trying to setup some combo with Faramir. It is true that Faramir can be very powerful in the right multi-player scenarios, but his fundamental strategy strikes me as far too niche for such a high profile character. Either version of Leadership Faramir seems far superior in most cases.

Posted in Card Lists, Discussion, Metagame, Strategy, The Grey Company | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Community Deck Spotlight: Defenders of Annuminas

Bear Light

I want to thank my Grey Company compatriot Ian, over at Tales from Cards, for developing this segment. When it comes to community, the variety of voices adds to the value of the conversation. So I am shamelessly stealing his idea. RingsDB has taken the community by storm and has become the place to go for deck lists. With only four slots to highlight new decks, it can be difficult for players to get exposure for their best deck ideas. Those of us with blogs and podcasts or a presence on the forums have a decided advantage when it comes to getting recognition.

There are so many great decks on RingsDB, but without the added exposure it will always be a challenge for intrepid deck-builders to receive much-deserved accolades. With that in mind, I am going to follow Ian’s lead and start highlighting some these hidden gems from RingsDB. I’ve taken the same rules that Ian uses in his segment:

  • The decks I choose will generally have fewer than 5 likes.
  • I will avoid decks from prominent community contributors.
  • The decks I choose will have a write-up/description of some kind.

Erkenbrand-TAC-smallThe first community deck that I want to draw attention to is Defenders of Annuminas by Relmbob. I’ve always had a soft spot in my giant furry heart for mono-Leadership decks so this choice should come as little surprise. Erkenbrand fits well with the Dúnedain, helping to manage the onslaught of enemies. The aggressive nature of the deck is what I like best. Liberal use of Legacy of Númenor and powerful mono-only effects like Reinforcements and Strength of Arms are going to make this deck an absolute monster in the late game. The prospect of playing a Reinforcements to pull Gandalf and Beorn into play on the same turn is a particular delight to this old bear.

Head on over and check out Relmbob’s deck description. He built the deck in preparation for the upcoming GenCon quest and I look forward to hearing back about how it fares. In general I want to encourage readers to give a look to the recent decks on RingsDB. You just might find your new favorite deck. If not for all of the wonderful people in this community, I would not have started this blog, nor created a search engine or joined my friends in the Grey Company. Any time is a good time to give thanks, so let me voice my appreciate to everyone in the community. I love you all.

Bear Hug

Posted in Community, Deck Lists, Discussion, RingsDB, The Grey Company | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bear Draft v3: Signature Squads


One of most interesting aspects of deck-building in the Conquest LCG is the signature squads. When making a deck, the first decision is which Warlord to use. Warlords are somewhat like heroes in Lord of the Rings LCG. They begin in play, and they constrain the cards that can be  included in a deck. In addition, each Warlord in Conquest comes with signature cards. These are eight cards which must be included in any deck which includes that Warlord. These cards cannot be included in any other decks (without that Warlord), and they support the ability and strategy of their Warlord.

As much as this idea of a signature squad might be intriguing, it doesn’t fit well with traditional Lord of the Rings deck design. First of all, most decks have more than one hero – most often three. Secondly, the idea of limiting a deck’s design by forcing 8 cards (16% of a 50 cards deck) into it would not sit well with most players. With a larger card pool and the potential provided by multi-sphere decks, it just doesn’t make sense to force cards on players. Lastly, there really isn’t a need for something like signature squads. Even in the case of mono-sphere decks, Songs and events like A Good Harvest allow any deck the flexibility it needs to implement most strategies.

While all of these criticisms might apply to traditional deck-building, the area where I can see signature squads making the most sense is in a draft format. One piece of consistent feedback that I received from running the first version of Bear Draft at Gen Con last year was the difficulty in drafting and building a deck with a cohesive strategy. In retrospect, this makes complete sense, but it is often best to see a system in action before you decide how to improve it.

Celebrian's StoneAn example of the challenge to cohesive deck-building is a card like Celebrían’s Stone. In a traditional deck, this card will almost always be included with a version of the Aragorn hero. Granted this card is excellent even in decks without him, but the secondary ability on this attachment makes it a great tool in multi-sphere decks built around Aragorn. However, a player who might have already drafted Leadership Aragorn could be hard-pressed to be able to draft even one copy of Celebrían’s Stone, as this is the kind of highly efficient card which other players will be looking to draft. Two resources for 2 bonus willpower is good in essentially every deck that features Leadership.

This is where signature squads come into play in the latest version of the Bear Draft. The concept is simple, and it should provide some much-needed cohesion and consistency for draft decks. After drafting their hero and players, each player will select their three starting heroes. Then, they may optionally select one of these heroes to be their General. Much like a Warlord in Conquest, a General has its own signature squad. Instead of 8 cards, the signature squad in Bear Draft v3 consists of 6 cards. Instead of these cards being a requirement they are optionally available to include in a deck which features that General.

Galadriel's-Handmaiden-smallThe idea is to give a few extra cards to help flesh out the core strategy of your deck, not to force you to include cards which may not match your overall deck design. To provide an example, let’s say that I choose the following as my starting heroes: Celeborn, Arwen, and Beregond. For the sake of this hypothetical, let’s say that I was able to draft a good mix of Silvan allies among my player cards. Before building my deck, I can choose one of these heroes to be my General. In this example, the choice is an easy one as I want to build a deck around the powerful synergy that Celeborn brings to Silvan allies.

Celeborn-TDT-smallBy choosing Celeborn as my General, I have the option of adding the following cards to my deck: Naith Guide, O Lórien!, and Feigned Voices (see the list of signature squads at the end of this article). Unless otherwise specified, up to two copies of each signature squad card can be added to a player’s deck. Exceptions are for more niche cards, or cards like Black Arrow which have a limit of 1 per deck. These are marked with a (x1) in the list below.

This means that I can add these cards to my deck, and combine them with whatever player cards I have drafted. My minimum deck size is still 40 cards, but I know that 6 of them are directly relevant to the strategy of my chosen General. Because I was able to draft some Silvan-related cards to add to my signature squad, there is an excellent chance that my 40 card deck will play consistently. I might not be able to field a deck where every ally is Silvan, but I can have enough of them to avoid having Celeborn’s unique ability go to waste.

This solves one of the biggest problems with earlier versions of the Bear Draft, which was that is was very difficult to build a solid decks around most archetypes because of the limited availability of critical cards. The same deck-building limitations still apply, so no more than 3 copies of a card can be included in a deck – regardless of whether that card is part of a signature squad. If I happen to draft two copies of Naith Guide, I can only add one of those drafted cards to the two from Celeborn’s signature squad, leaving me with 3 total copies of that card. Signature squads do not let you break basic deck-building rules.

O-LórienAnother advantage to this approach is that is allows me to reduce the number of cards like “O Lórien!” which are included in the main draft pool. While a card like this is essential in a dedicated Silvan deck, it’s narrow focus gives it limited value to other decks. By reducing the number of these kinds of trait and archetype-specific cards in the main draft pool, it leaves more room for general purpose cards which will fit into many kinds of decks. Ultimately, cards like Sneak Attack and Cram – cards with versatility – are necessary to ensure that each player can draft and build viable decks.

This article is the first in a series detailing the latest version of the Bear Draft format, but as signature squads are the biggest change I wanted to cover this concept first. When reviewing the list below, readers will no doubt notice that some heroes have very powerful signature squads. This is by design. Characters like Aragorn, Elrond and Galadriel are very powerful and play important roles in Tolkien’s stories. It is fitting that they should have access to the powerful rings, swords and other artifacts with which they are so closely associated. On the other hand, lesser characters might not be the best choice as Generals, at least for players who care most about making powerful decks.

Free-to-ChooseEven so, I tried my best to make the signature squads thematically appropriate. There are cases where the most powerful combinations where left out of a signature squad in favor of cards which I consider more iconic or thematically appropriate. For those interested in the draft format, or limited formats in general, I am curious to hear feedback on my choices. For some heroes, it proved most difficult to pare down their signature squad to only six cards. With others, especially the lesser-known characters, it was a stretch to come up with a list that made any kind of sense.

You can look forward to a post on the updated player card pool for Bear Draft v3 in the near future. My goal is to find the right mix between the unique challenge of a limited format and the joy which comes from playing a well-crafted deck. Hopefully I can run this updated version of the Bear Draft in the near future, to see how signature squads work in practice. In the mean time, it is a fun exercise to think about which General is your favorite, or which signature squad best fits your aesthetic.


Aragorn (Core Set)
Sword that was Broken, Celebrían’s Stone, Gaining Strength

Theodred (Core Set)
Snowbourn Scout, Heir of Mardil x1, Sneak Attack, Gaining Strength x1

Gloin (Core Set)
Boots from Erebor, Hardy Leadership, Well-equipped

Prince Imrahil (A Journey to Rhosgobel)
Squire of the Citadel x1, Prince of Dol Amroth, Sneak Attack x1, Valiant Sacrifice

Dain Ironfoot (Return to Mirkwood)
Ered Luin Miner, Cram, A Very Good Tale

Elrohir (The Redhorn Gate)
Galadriel, Rivendell Scout, Dunedain Warning

Boromir (Heirs of Numenor)
Guard of the Citadel, Visionary Leadership x1, For Gondor!, Grim Resolve x1

Hirluin the Fair (The Steward’s Fear)
Warrior of Lossarnach x1, Knights of the Swan x1, Ethir Swordsman x1, Anfalas Herdsman x1, Lord of Morthond x1, Men of the West x1

Celeborn (The Dunland Trap)
Naith Guide, O Lórien!, Feigned Voices

Erkenbrand (The Antlered Crown)
Snowbourn Scout x1, Warden of Helm’s Deep x1, Armored Destrier x2, The Day’s Rising x2

Halbarad (The Lost Realm)
Weather Hills Watchman x1, Son of Arnor x1, Dunedain Mark, Descendants of Kings

Amarthiul (The Battle of Carn Dum)
Guardian of Arnor, Sword of Numenor, Feint

Denethor (Flight of the Stormcaller)
Rod of the Steward, Steward of Gondor, Captain’s Wisdom

Elfhelm (Temple of the Deceived)
Ceorl, Armored Destrier, A Good Harvest

Thorin Oakenshield (Over Hill and Under Hill)
Dwarven Sellsword, Narvi’s Belt, To Me! O My Kinsfolk!

Balin (On the Doorstep)
Longbeard Elder, We Are Not Idle, Lure of Moria

Sam Gamgee (The Black Riders)
Bill the Pony, Hobbit Cloak, Taste it Again!

Faramir (The Land of Shadow)
Anborn, Ranger Provisions, Visionary Leadership x1, Ever Vigilant x1


Gimli (Core Set)
Legolas x1, Song of Mocking, Arod x1, Citadel Plate

Legolas (Core Set)
Arod, Blade of Gondolin, Hands Upon the Bow

Thalin (Core Set)
Azain Silverbeard, Hail of Stones, Swift Strike

Brand Son of Bain (The Hills of Emyn Muil)
Black Arrow (x1), Great Yew Bow, Skyward Volley, Hour of Wrath (x1)

Boromir (The Dead Marshes)
Captain of Gondor, Horn of Gondor, Horn’s Cry

Elladan (Road to Rivendell)
Rivendell Blade, Elven Mail x1, Rivendell Bow x1, Revealed in Wrath

Hama (The Long Dark)
Spear of the Mark, Foe-hammer, Forth Eorlingas!

Beregond (Heirs of Numenor)
Defender of Rammas, Gondorian Shield, Behind Strong Walls

Theoden (The Morgul Vale)
Guthlaf x1, Deorwine x1, Rohan Warhorse x1, Golden Shield x1, Charge of the Rohirrim

Eomer (The Voice of Isengard)
Westfold Outrider, Firefoot, Quick Strike

Mablung (The Nin-in-Eilph)
Gondorian Spearman, Knight of Minas Tirith x1, Gondorian Fire, Tireless Hunters x1

Aragorn (The Lost Realm)
Dunedain Hunter, Legolas, Rohan Warhorse x1, Tireless Hunters x1

Dori (Across the Ettenmoors)
Veteran Axehand, Longbeard Sentry x1, Ring Mail x1, Raiment of War x1, Hold Your Ground! x1,

Beorn (Over Hill and Under Hill)
Landroval, Honour Guard, Close Call

Bard the Bowman (On the Doorstep)
Black Arrow (x1), Great Yew Bow, Straight Shot, Hands Upon the Bow (x1)

Merry (The Black Riders)
Dagger of Westernesse, Halfling Determination, Unseen Strike


Éowyn (Core Set)
West Road Traveler, Escort from Edoras, Ancient Mathom x1, Astonishing Speed x1

Eleanor (Core Set)
Minas Tirith Lampwright, Blood of Numenor, A Test of Will

Dunhere (Core Set)
Westfold Horse-breaker, A Light in the Dark, Ride them Down

Frodo Baggins (Conflict at the Carrock)
Sam Gamgee, Free to Choose, Courage Awakened x1, O Elbereth! Gilthonial! x1

Dwalin (Khazad-dum)
Bofur, Ever My Heart Rises, Dwarven Tomb x1, Untroubled By Darkness x1

Glorfindel (Foundations of Stone)
Imladris Stargazer, Light of Valinor, Elrond’s Counsel

Pippin (Encounter at Amon-din)
Wandering Took x1, Hobbit Pipe, Smoke Rings, Elevenses x1

Caldara (The Blood of Gondor)
Emery, Map of Earnil, Fortune or Fate

Idraen (The Three Trials)
Northern Tracker, Warden of Arnor, A Watchful Peace

Galadriel (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
Galadriel’s Handmaiden, Mirror of Galadriel, Nenya

Merry (The Wastes of Eriador)
Curious Brandybuck, Hobbit Pony, Courage Awakened

Arwen Undomiel (The Dread Realm)
Miruvor, Steed of Imladris, Elven-light

Cirdan the Shipwright (The Grey Havens)
Sailor of Lune, Narya, Elwing’s Flight

Lanwyn (The Thing in the Depths)
Minas Tirith Lampwright x1, Celduin Traveler x1, Rhovanion Outrider, Warden of Arnor x1, Scouting Party x1

Nori (Over Hill and Under Hill)
Blue Mountain Trader, Dwalin, Untroubled By Darkness

Oin (On the Doorstep)
Fili x1, Kili, Blue Mountain Trader x1, Dwarrowdelf Axe x1, Dwarven Axe x1

Fatty Bolger (The Black Riders)
Curious Brandybuck, Wandering Took, A Light in the Dark

Theoden (The Treason of Saruman)
Westfold Horse-breeder, Snowmane, Herugrim


Denethor (Core Set)
Master of Lore, Palantir, Heed the Dream

Glorfindel (Core Set)
Elrond, Elf-stone, Asfaloth

Beravor (Core Set)
Sarn Ford Sentry, Forest Snare, Distant Stars x1, Expert Trackers x1

Bilbo Baggins (The Hunt for Gollum)
Rivendell Minstrel, Love of Tales, Peace and Thought

Bifur (Khazad-dum)
Erebor Record Keeper, Thror’s Map, Secret Paths

Aragorn (The Watcher in the Water)
Wingfoot x1, A Burning Brand, Strider’s Path, Expert Trackers x1

Elrond (Shadow and Flame)
Imladris Caregiver, Vilya, Lore of Imladris

Mirlonde (The Drúadan Forest)
Galadhrim Minstrel, Scroll of Isildur, Mithrandir’s Advice

Faramir (Assault on Osgiliath)
Mablung, Ranger Bow, Ranger Spikes x1, Arrows from the Trees x1

Grima (The Voice of Isengard)
Isengard Messenger, Keys of Orthanc, Deep Knowledge

Haldir of Lorien (Trouble in Tharbad)
Silvan Tracker, Lembas, Noiseless Movement

Rossiel (Escape from Mount Gram)
Leave No Trace, None Return, The Door is Closed! x1, Out of the Wild x1

Erestor (The Treachery of Rhudaur)
Guardian of Rivendell, Protector of Lorien, The Evening Star

Galdor of the Havens (The Grey Havens)
Lindon Navigator, Master of the Forge, The Long Defeat

Ori (Over Hill and Under Hill)
Erebor Hammersmith, Legacy of Durin, Daeron’s Runes

Bombur (On the Doorstep)
Dori, Healing Herbs, Ancestral Knowledge

Pippin (The Black Riders)
Barliman Butterbur, Fast Hitch, Take No Notice

Treebeard (The Treason of Saruman)
Wellinghall Preserver x1, Wandering Ent x1, Ent Draught, Entmoot

Damrod (The Land of Shadow)
Anborn, Ranger Spikes, Forest Patrol


Gandalf (The Road Darkens)
Narya, Gandalf’s Staff, Shadowfax

Posted in Community, Draft, Fun, GenCon, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

An Unexpected Party

Hobbits Leaving Home

Travel is a recurring theme in Tolkien’s works. Every one of his stories, from world-renowned The Lord of the Rings to lesser-known works like Children of Húrin, has a protagonist who must venture from the safety and comfort of their home out into the wide world. This is by no means a coincidence. Tolkien’s adventure stories are rooted in a panoply of European myths. These ancient tales are woven into the rich history of wars and migrations of various peoples across the medieval world.

Sigurd_and_Regin_1960This love of adventure is one of the many things about Tolkien which has always appealed to me. I have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel outside of my native country several times in my life. Like the characters from my favorite stories, I always return from my journeys changed in some way. Mrs. Beorn and I just returned from one such journey, this one with a special significance.

As many of you know, my father passed away suddenly last summer. Being the one who first introduced Tolkien’s writing to me, my father shared a love of travel. It was tragic that his life ended before he could ever take advantage of his retirement and see the world. One of the journeys in particular that we often discussed was going to Ireland, to see the land of our ancestors.

We can trace our family name all the way back to Ireland in the 18th century. We talked wistfully of finding our village and sharing a beer in the pub which bears our family name. After his passing, my family decided to honour my father’s memory and go on the trip to Ireland that we had always planned. While bittersweet, this trip was one motivated by love and respect.


Traveling outside of the friendly confines of our homes gives us the opportunity to meet people who live in very different places but who share similar interests and passions. Just as the Hobbits grew from the many peoples they met in their travels, we too grow and expand our understanding of the world by making friends from distant lands. On our way back from Ireland, my wife and I were fortunate enough to pass through France. Spending time in and around the City of Light was the perfect ending to our journey.

Chateau de Versailles - Galerie des Glaces

Chateau de Versailles – Galerie des Glaces

On our last day before returning home, we visited a game store in Versailles called Les Fous Du Roy (The King’s Fools). As yet another happy benefit to come from this blog, I made contact with a local player there named Xavier. I just so happened that their LotR game night in Versailles lined up perfectly with the day that my wife and I would be in town. After spending a glorious day exploring the palace and gardens of Versailles, we joined a great group of people for conversation and games at their FLGS.

Les Fous Du Roy

We had three tables of four-player games running, two in French and one in English. It was fascinating to hear the game played in a language which I don’t speak. While I couldn’t understand every word they were saying, I could follow the flow of their game. Discussing quest strategies, coordinating enemy engagement and combat, sharing in the agony of an ill-timed treachery – all of the elements are there, albeit spoken in a more beautiful tongue. The language of fun is a universal one.

Les Fous Du Roy 2

Having a night of gaming and talk with good people, who share my love of this game, was the perfect ending to an important chapter in my life. In addition to helping deliver us back at our flat in Paris after the last train, they were gracious enough to provide us with some beautiful alternate arts cards. As someone who loves to design alternate art and custom cards, it was a treat to receive such elegant examples. I want to extend a giant merci beaucoup to Xavier, Emmanuel, and all of the wonderful people that we met at Les Fous Du Roy.

If you ever find yourself in Versailles, I wholeheartedly recommend visiting their store and meeting the fine people who play there. In a similar gesture, I want to extend a welcome to any readers of this blog. If you ever find yourself in the far away Republic of Texas, we would love to have you join us for for games, or mead, or troll-slaying, or just a good conversation. I like to think that both Tolkien and my father would smile to know that they have inspired fellowships like these between travelers from distant lands.

French EowynFrench DenethorFrench Sneak Attack

Posted in Community, Custom Cards, Fun, Thanks, Tolkien, Tribute | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Bear on Board


For the first time in ages, I was able to play a game on OCTGN with a fellow member of the Grey Company. Tonight, Derek and I narrowly prevented the Flight of the Stormcaller. Derek used For Gondor!, a deck designed by Matt Newman and outlined in the most recent spoilers of Temple of the Deceived. I must say that it is exciting to see the Leadership Gondor archetype come together.

I was piloting a deck called Party Animals, that is my own twist on one originally designed by Sean from Cardboard of the Rings. It was an exciting game, with our forces racing to catch the eponymous ship before we were overcome by an onslaught of nautical foes. The jury is still out on Lanwyn – her ability never triggered in this game. Still, ranged on a Spirit hero is very helpful, and she will obviously be much more consistent in three and four player games.

Flight of the Stormcaller with Derek 6-21-2016

Posted in Community, Deck Building, Fun, OCTGN, Screenshot, Strategy, The Grey Company | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Alternate Art: Magali Villeneuve

Blood of Numenor

The physical constraints of a card game mean that amazing artwork is hidden on small cards. With many talented artists contributing to this game, it is shame to have beautiful images limited to 3.5 by 2.5 inches. With the promotional Aragorn card at Gen Con 2014, it was exciting to see a new template which highlighted the art and minimized the other design elements on a card. With that in mind, I’ve created some alternate art cards to showcase the amazing art of one of the game’s best artists: Magali Villeneuve.


Sam-Gamgee-Front-Face  Denethor-Front-Face

Mablung-Front-Face  Aragorn-Front-Face

Éowyn-Front-Face  Théoden-Front-Face

Haldir-of-Lórien-Front-Face  Erestor-Front-Face

Galadriel-Front-Face  Gimli-Front-Face

Boromir-Front-Face  Legolas-Front-Face

Bilbo-Baggins-Front-Face  Glorfindel-Front-Face

Anborn-Front-Face  Elrond-Front-Face

I hope that everyone enjoys these alternate art cards. If anyone wants high-quality printable versions, please contact me.

Posted in Art, Community, GenCon, Tribute | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments