Alternate Art: Nurn Hobbits

I’ve been meaning to make an alternate art deck for a Hobbit Bond of Friendship list for some time. However, I just haven’t found the right art. Then, in what was either a stroke of genius or madness, I decided to make an deck based on one of my all time favorite TV shows: The Simpsons!

This deck was designed by Chad and he used it to defeat The Fortresss of Nurn. I encourage you to check out RingsDB where he provides a detailed guide of how to defeat that troublesome quest with this deck. I’m not going to talk strategy here, as the intent is just to show off some zany alternate art. While a cartoon might at first seem an unorthodox choice as source of art, many of the cards worked out even better than I initially hoped. I hope players enjoy this slightly irreverent interpretation. I’m always open to fun ideas of alternate art, so feel free to make suggestions in the comments. Happy travels in Middle-earth!

Allies

Attachments

Events

Side Quests

Posted in Alternate-Art, Art, Cardboard of the Rings, Community, Contract, Media, Power, Series, Theme, Tribal, Tribute | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

News: A Long-extended Party – Beorn

I’m excited to present a spoiler from an upcoming A Long-extended Party release! The set itself has not been announced yet, so I’m going to keep quiet about it. Still, I figured my readers would enjoy an early look at my favorite hero from this upcoming set. The Tactics version of Beorn is already a popular choice for many, especially for decks in need of early-game combat. I’m curious to hear from other players about what kinds of decks you would use this version of the big bear. I welcome your feedback in the comments.

Posted in A Long-extended Party, Community, Custom Cards, Game Variant, News, News, Series | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Deck: Ride to Bruin

If you thought the hosts of Mordor were terrified to see the Rohirrim charging across the Pelennor Fields, just imagine if Rohan had been joined by giant bears. Without a doubt, this is one of the least thematic decks I’ve built in a while. On the other hand, it is more fun than a barrel of mead. Children of Eorl just released this week, and it provides this deck with a plethora of wonderful combinations.

The obvious use for Thengel is the fuel the Rohan Sacrifice archetype. Mustering Rohan allies after you sacrifice a Rohan ally allows a Rohan deck to avoid the tempo hit that these decks traditionally suffered. This remains the primary role that Thengel plays here, but the inclusion of The Last Alliance contract introduces an interesting, furry, wrinkle. After you discard a Beorning Skin-changer to bring big bears into play, you can use Thengel’s response to go fishing for a second bear. The ratio of allies in this deck means that it is safer to use this response for Rohan allies, so trying to muster a Beorning is the more high-risk decision. With a bit of luck, however, this deck can have some amazing starts.

What follows is an example first turn which is well within the real of possibility for this deck. Santa (Théoden) allows us to reduce the cost of Squire of the Mark to 0. Once we have a Rohan ally in play, our next Beorning ally costs 1 less (thanks to the contract). This allows us to play a Beorning Skin-changer for 1. During the combat phase, we first exhaust the contract to change the response on Squire of the Mark to read “Response: After a Rohan or Beorning ally you control is discarded from play,…”. Then we can discard the Skin-changer to put Papa-Bear (Beorn) into play from our hand. There are only 11 Beorning allies in the deck, so this next step is definitely a risk, but bears are nothing if not adventurous. We Trigger Thengel’s response for discarding the Skin-changer to search the top 5 cards of our deck for another Beorning and put it into play (exhausted). With any luck, we can find another Giant Bear or Beorning Bee-keeper. Next, we trigger the response of our (magically translated) Squire of the Mark to put the Beorning Skin-changer back into play (exhausted). Fortunately, the Skin-changer does not need to exhaust to shape-shift, So if we’re lucky enough to have another Beorning in hand, we can immediately discard the Beorning Skin-changer again, to put that Beorning into play.

Given the ratio of Beorning to Rohan allies in this deck, it is entirely possible that the Thengel response whiffs. Even so, this example setup would leave us with two large angry bears (11 resources or so) in play by the end of the first combat phase! If we got lucky enough for Thengel’s response to find a fuzzy friend, we could have as many as 16 resources worth of bears in play on the first round. The fact that we now have no Rohan allies in play simply means that we play the next one at a discount of 2 (1 for the contract, one from Théoden) on the subsequent turn.

If you’re worried about not having enough ursine targets for Skin-changer to choose from, you can use the contract to change his text to include Beorning or Rohan allies for mustering. One of my favorite uses for the contract is to change the wording on The Muster of Rohan to read:

While paying for The Muster of Rohan, each Rohan or Beorning hero you control is considered to have a Spirit icon.

Planning Action: Search the top 10 cards of your deck for up to 4 Rohan or Beorning allies and put them into play. Shuffle your deck. If any of those allies are still in play at the end of the round, discard them.

Note that both instances of the Rohan trait in the original text have been changed to Rohan or Beorning. This means that Grimbeorn the OId gains a Spirit resource icon to help pay for the event. Not only do we then get to summon an army of bears into play (along with any Rohan allies which may be helpful), but they then go to the discard pile where the Skin-changer can put them into play permanently. Don’t forget that you can respond to one of these four allies being discarded by triggering Thengel’s ability, brining yet another ally into play. The shenanigans in this deck are deeper than a winter cave.

There are many things to like about the work being done by ALeP. My personal favorite is how the new cards provide such a variety of interesting options. Without exaggeration, this article could have been twice as long and I still would not have scratched the surface of all of the different ways to play this deck. Rohan Sacrifice has intrigued me as an archetype since I opened my first Shadows of Mirkwood APs, but the resource and tempo hit always seemed to hold it back. Between Horn of the Mark, The Muster of Rohan, and all of the new toys we have in Children of Eorl, this archetype is truly ready for its day in the sun. That applies even if you make the (misguided) decision not to invite bears to your war party.

You can find the full deck list on RingsDB. Let me know in the comments what you think of this mash-up of a deck. I encourage everyone to check out Children of Eorl. I hope that my readers have as much fun building and playing decks with these new cards as I am having.

Posted in A Long-extended Party, Aggro, Combo, Community, Contract, Custom Cards, Decks, Game Variant, RingsDB, Series, Tribal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deck: The Second Coming

Renaissance Gandalf

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
—William Butler Yeats

Sometimes it feels like your unconscious is trying to bring your conscious attention to a specific idea. A song or a movie quote will stick in your head, and then other situations will seem to reinforce that idea, germinate the seed. A friend might mention watching the same movie, the song might show up unexpectedly in a playlist. Our brains are trained for pattern matching, so our senses are primed to connect our experiences with existing thoughts. The poem above has been on my mind, particularly the end of the first stanza: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Although it was written over a century ago, this is as timeless and succinct a description of life in the twenty-first century as I could formulate. Yeats is widely considered one of the greatest poets of the last hundred years so this isn’t too surprising. Still, there is an uncanny feeling when an author separated by oceans, literal and metaphorical, temporal and cultural, can speak directly to my current mood.

Tolkien had a lot to say about power. Specifically, the relationships his primary characters had to power are a useful lens through which to view his writing. Gandalf and Saruman were both Maiar, pseudo-angelic beings sent to Middle-earth to fight against evil. That they went about their tasks so differently is not a mere coincidence or narrative quirk. Gandalf and Saruman’s disparate strategies in the Third Age reflect their character archetypes. On a deeper level, I would argue that the differences between these two characters represents Tolkien’s view of the nature of power, and the risks to those who desire it.

He does not have many lines in the Lord of the Rings, but Saruman’s actions speak volumes. When we do hear from him, Saruman has a surety – an absolute certainty that his strategy is the correct one. In their fateful argument at Orthanc, he speaks to Gandalf of the inevitability of Sauron’s dominion of Middle-earth.

The Middle Days are passing. The Younger Days are beginning. The time of the Elves is over, but our time is at hand: the world of Men, which We must rule. But we must have power, power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see.

If you wonder what Yeats was talking about when he wrote “the worst are full of passionate intensity”, just think of Saruman. The next time you read The Lord of the Rings pay close attention to how often Gandalf talks about ruling, power, or control. I’ll save you the time. Except when he is talking about another character’s relationship to power, Gandalf does not use these words.

On the other hand, Gandalf seems uncertain. In contrast to Saruman’s certainty, one might even says that Gandalf “lacks conviction”. Gandalf’s uncertainty is rooted in his wisdom, a much deeper and more nuanced understanding than the “wisdom” Saruman refers to in his villain monologue. Saruman’s concept of “wisdom” can be summarized thusly: those who agree with me are Wise, those who do not are Fools!

Gandalf appreciates the difficulty of challenging Sauron’s dominion of Middle-earth. Rather than take the easy way out and seek alliance with Sauron, he uses his understanding of the enemy to exploit a weakness. This is a critical facet of Tolkien’s criticism of the desire for power. Both Saruman and Sauron have a fatal weakness: egotism. With passionate intensity they assume that their strategy is correct. Moreover, they are incapable of seeing how others would reject their assumptions. In their version of “wisdom”, the One Ring is only a weapon to be wielded. Saruman and Sauron both assume that none in Middle-earth could resist its temptation, and certainly that none could bring themselves to destroy it.

To be fair, this assumption was proved correct – to an extent. If not for the unforeseen tragedy of Gollum, Frodo would have ultimately failed in his quest to destroy the One Ring. This blind spot – that others cannot resist one’s own temptations – is a central theme in Tolkien’s legendarium. What it means to be “wise” becomes far less obvious, and far more interesting.

Rather than a weakness as Saruman sees it, Gandalf’s lack of certainty is a strength. Frodo offers him the Ring at the beginning of the story, and if not for Gandalf’s reticence to power, all of Middle-earth would have been doomed. Knowing yourself, including your limitations, is an essential skill for leadership. Gandalf shares this self-awareness bordering on self-doubt with another great leader of the Third Age: Aragorn son of Arathorn.

When we meet him, Aragorn is an unassuming Ranger, wandering the ruins of the North Kingdom. If we view the story in the context of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, Frodo is the obvious first choice as the hero. I would argue that Aragorn is actually an equally valid choice, though less obvious as we do not meet him until some ways into the narrative. Still, Tolkien builds an entire world around his characters, so your choice of hero (just as in the game) depends entirely on the perspective you choose to favor.

In any case, Yeats has been on my mind lately. It is interesting to me that The Second Coming not only fits well into the underlying themes of the Lord of the Rings, but also relates directly to what we see in the modern world. The world becomes more divided every day. When companies have a financial incentive to push the most incendiary, the most extreme views to us, they are complicit in the acceleration of this extremism. The best of society have the self-awareness of Tolkien’s heroes, with its concomitant self-doubt.

This is not a bad thing, surely, for it means that the best of us is capable of recognizing our flaws, of righting wrongs and changing course. Unfortunately, the worst of us is filled with a passionate intensity. An iron-willed certainty that one is right, that it is impossible for one’s beliefs in any facet to be incorrect or incomplete is at the heart of much of human tragedy.

Many who push back against science, against mask-wearing, vaccinations, democracy, social justice, against basic human compassion, do so without any doubt. Doubt is healthy. Questioning ones own beliefs – even those most deeply held – is an essential part of being a functioning adult. The nature of knowledge and wisdom is that there is always more for us to learn; always we have the capacity for a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the world around us.

Ignorance is simply the state of not-knowing. We are all ignorant about a great many things. What is essential is to not hide from our ignorance, nor fear it. This is what leads to covering it, to accepting with eager excitement the first convenient explanation which comes along. We all face daily temptations to ameliorate the uncomfortable feeling which ignorance brings, but without the hard work of learning. Just as Frodo had to resist the temptation of the Ring – the easy way out – so too must we resist the temptation of masking our ignorance. Rather than cover it with the convenient lie, we must shine the light of truth, knowledge, facts – casting out the shadows of ignorance and superstition.

For those who made it this far, I hope this meandering journey through poetry, hero archetypes, power, and modern problems resonated with you. In gratitude, here is a thematic deck built around Gandalf the White. It attempts to represent his return, his Second Coming if you will, to Middle-earth.

 

Posted in Books, Control, Decks, Legendarium, Series, Theme, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Key Concepts: Learning How to Lose

At times like these it can be tempting for a bear to hole up in his cave and hibernate. While waiting for my turn to receive the vaccine, I’ve had to find alternative venues in which to enjoy board and card games with friends. A weekly face-to-face meetup at the local game store is replaced with technology like Discord and Steam. While digital gaming is certainly better than nothing, I miss seeing my friends in person and playing with physical cards and game components.

Software ports of games have steadily improved in quality over the years, and Covid will undoubtedly accelerate this trend. The tactile feel of shuffling a deck or moving game pieces on a board is a big part of the appeal for those who use gaming as a vital outlet of socialization. As someone who spends hours a day working with, fighting against, and muttering cajoling intonations at technology, I find a break from the virtual world most welcome.

One the bright side, this new virtual game group has introduced me to some classic games which I had never had the chance to play. Games like Lords of Waterdeep and Through the Ages have become a staple of my gaming life in the last year – games which I had never played before the quarantine. Lords of Waterdeep in particular is a welcome new discovery. Like Lord of the Rings LCG, it fits squarely in the intersection between theme and mechanics. Waterdeep includes a mix of public and hidden information, luck and skill, and deep Euro-style worker placement strategy, wrapped in a classic Dungeons and Dragons theme. If we’re being honest, Dungeons and Dragons as a settings often feels like middle school student stole their friend’s book report on The Lord of the Rings, but the milquetoast fantasy setting works well in this case.

Aside from these design similarities, Lords of Waterdeep and The Lord of the Rings share another interesting feature. The first time I played each of these games, I lost horribly. In the case of Lords of Waterdeep, I lost my first three games against my friends by a considerable margin. Like the perfect wine, each loss was paired with invaluable lessons. I learned not only the rules of the game in the visceral sense as opposed to the abstract sense you get from simply reading the rules.

Losing at a game teaches you the underlying economies, themes and strategies. These are largely abstract concepts, and they often involve personal aesthetic or play style. Any good game is going to afford multiple viable paths to victory. Unless a game is shallow, it will often be necessary to lose – or at least win poorly – before these deeper lessons are learned. I took these lessons to heart and won my most recent game of Lords of Waterdeep, so this story has a happy ending. The important thing is not to let early defeat discourage you, but instead to use it as an opportunity to learn.

As much as the beautiful art, deep mechanics, and rich theme drew me to The Lords of the Rings there was another compelling feature. This game can be punishing in difficulty. I have lost more games of The Lord of the Rings than all of the other games I’ve ever played played. While that’s certainly not the kind of testimonial you will see on the back of a game box, it says something about what draws players to a game, and keeps them playing it years later. Players want to earn their victory, not feel like it was a foregone conclusion.

If not for the difficulty of this game, it is unlikely I would be writing this article right now. The satisfaction of defeating a difficult scenario, especially after countless defeats, is intoxicating. Outside of rants on various forums and the occasional mention in a podcast, the difficulty of this game is often left unspoken or at least remains a quiet bystander to most meta-game conversations. While this  difficulty may cause frustration, particularly for new players, many of us would never have stuck with this game if we defeated every quest on the first attempt.

Losing repeatedly against a difficult scenario is even a merit badge, of sorts. All new players must earn it if they are to survive long enough to become experienced players. The best quests are like puzzles. Until you have discovered the right kind of deck to bring and the right strategy to utilize during the game, they can seem nigh impossible. Once you have solved the riddle there is a sense of grim satisfaction. Without exception, my favorite games have been a final victory against a quest which had previously left me flummoxed.

With that in mind, I aim to outline some of the essential criteria to use when evaluating a loss. Think of these as a toolbox which you can use, to disassembled and deconstruct your losses (or even possibly some victories) and ultimately improve your game. It is here worth pointing out that Lord of the Rings really consists of two smaller games: building a deck, and playing a deck.

Some players prefer to use decks built by others, and focus on the second mini-game. Others, like myself, love to process of brainstorming decks, even ones they might not ever play. This is especially true when devising combo decks. The building of the deck is almost always significantly more enjoyable than playing the deck. These concepts will span both deck-building and in-game strategy, but have no fear if you have a preferred area of focus. For those who don’t build their own decks, knowing which cards to include from the sideboard can still be a critical skill. Likewise, if you are less enamored with in-game strategy, you can mitigate this by bringing the right kind of power deck. A powerful deck will often be more forgiving to player mistakes. This is appropriate as the most powerful characters in Middle-earth represent the Free Peoples’ best chance at defeating Sauron.

Bad Luck

Let’s address the Mûmak in the room. No discussion of strategy can ignore that the game involves a certain amount of luck. The other sections will address various strategies for mitigating bad luck, but there is only so much you can do. Many scenarios are at the most dangerous in the first two or three rounds. Sometimes, even after a mulligan, none of your critical cards are in your opening hand. If you don’t find any of these cards within the critical early turns, you’re likely in trouble.

Luck applies just as much to the encounter deck as to player decks. If you’re playing A Journey to Rhosgobel in a two player game, the first quest phase could end your hopes of saving Wilyador instantly. Unless you have A Test of Will in hand, or one of the players is using Eleanor, you’re in for a rough day in southern Mirkwood when Exhaustion turns into Festering Wounds. Sometimes, the best thing to do is laugh in the face of fate, and scoop your cards. The more cards revealed from the encounter deck, the more likely that the encounter deck can reveal combinations like this. This is why multiplayer games often involve wider swings of good and bad luck. We’ll look at different strategies for mitigating bad luck, but sometimes victory is just not in the cards.

Mulligan and Setup

Players are given the option of a single mulligan and the decision of whether or not to take it can be difficult. Your entire hand must be shuffled back into the deck, so hands with one or two desired cards can lead to the agonizing decision: Do you give up a few cards you want for the hope of an even better hand? Some losses can be traced back to this decision. Knowing your deck and the specific demands of a scenario is critical to deciding when to mulligan.

One of the most important factors in deciding to mulligan is whether or not your deck relies heavily on  single card. An obvious example would be an Elrond + Vilya deck. Barring statistically unlikely extremes, any opening hand that includes Vilya is a hand which should be kept. Likewise, a deck built around any single powerful attachment (Steward of Gondor, Narya, Gandalf’s Staff, etc.) is happy to see that card – even if the rest of the opening hand is underwhelming.

For more general purpose decks choosing when to mulligan is less clear. What you want in your hand is often determined by the scenario. This is where understanding the particular challenges of a quest and your own deck’s strengths and weaknesses is critical. If a quest threatens to overwhelm you with locations, looking for location control or high willpower allies in your opening hand is the way to go. Similarly, an early engaged enemy might necessitate a first turn weapon or armor, or combat trick like Feint. Knowing what your deck needs for early survival is a skill worth cultivating.

Some heroes help, directly or indirectly, with the mulligan process. Galdor from the Havens actually replaces the basic mulligan with a modified effect which not only lets you keep some of the cards from your first hand but also lets you seed your discard pile with critical events like Elven-light and Lords of the Eldar. It’s also fun to throw a copy of Glorfindel ally into the discard pile as it gives you another card and you always just play him later, as though he were in your hand.

Another hero who helps mitigate a poor opening hand is Thurindir. Gather Information is one of the most powerful player side quests and the search effect is perfect for any deck that builds an engine around a few cards. Even more general purpose decks can use Gather Information to find whatever card best solves the challenge at hand. Some scenarios will punish a side quest strategy. For example, they may require you to place progress on the main quest to avoid negative effects. On the other hand, side quests are actually helpful against some scenarios, where turtling is a viable strategy.

Gather Information is not the only choice with Thurindir. The Threat reduction from Double Back can provide players an extra few rounds to get setup, before enemy engagement looms. The encounter deck control from Scouting Ahead can be used as a shield against bad early luck. This side quest is particularly strong in solo where you can potentially control multiple rounds worth of revealed encounter cards to your benefit.

The One Ring only just became available as a player card, but it must be included in any discussion of mulligan and setup. It is not included in your deck proper, so choosing The One Ring effectively means that you have a 49 card deck. More importantly, it allows you to fetch a single Master card into your opening hand. This effect is most often used with one of the Master attachments, but as we will discuss in the next section it can also be used with an event. In fact, the one viable strategy is to include multiple Master cards in your deck and choose the one which best suits the current scenario.

Starting Threat

Your chosen mix of heroes is probably the most important deck building decision you make. Beyond the stats and abilities your heroes provide, they also set your starting threat. When we talk about a deck archetype, the starting threat plays an oversized role in how a deck is played. A Hobbit deck with 19 starting threat certainly implies Secrecy, though there are powerful low threat Hobbit decks which eschew these cards. On a deeper level, you know that early game enemy engagement is something that such a deck is likely trying to avoid.

On the other end of the spectrum, a deck with a starting threat in the high 30s is clearly designed to be aggressive. If your starting threat is 36, most enemies are coming straight for you – whether you like it or not. Most players’ first experience with the importance of starting threat is the Hill Troll in Journey Along the Anduin. Many a player learned the hard way that bringing an aggressive deck to that quest can quickly end in a bloodbath of trampled heroes.

When I was writing Beorn’s Path, I was tempted to change up the hero lineup for Journey, and lean in to a turtling strategy. This is clearly the optimal strategy for beating the quest, especially with a deck built using only the Core Set. Seastan and Xanalor both have excellent tri-sphere decks with low starting threat which can consistently handle Journey Along the Anduin without much trouble. It was actually intentional that I stuck with the same hero lineup, but it is worth mentioning here.

Card combinations were something I wanted to highlight, and they are a great example of one way to mitigate a high starting threat. Son of Arnor and Forest Snare can feel like a bit of a one trick pony, but there are other ways to buy time for a deck with higher starting threat. As always, Core Set Gandalf is a solution to most problems. Whether you cheat him into play with Sneak Attack or pay the full cost thanks to an early Steward of Gondor, the 5 threat reduction fro Gandalf can be all that you need to setup your troll defense. A spirit heavy deck will likely have lower starting threat, but it also gains access to threat reduction like The Galadhrim’s Greeting and Double Back.

With a modern card pool, a simple solution to the enemies like the troll can be a dedicated defender. Beregond with a Shield of Gondor can easily just defend the troll every round, while you rally your attackers. There are two trolls in Journey, so you don’t want to spend too much time mustering combat strength, but having a powerful defender certainly makes life easier. With readying, your defending could even potentially handle multiple powerful enemies. Attack cancelation like Feint, Coney in a Trap, and Grimbold can help buy some time as well.

Having a low starting threat is probably the easiest way to avoid troublesome enemies, but the modern card pool means that this is not the only viable strategy. An example of a fun modern troll solution is to bring a mono-Lore deck and use card draw to find a first turn The Great Hunt. This card is difficult to play because of the resource constraints but it is incredibly powerful as a way to completely nullify a powerful enemy which starts in play. It won’t work on immune enemies, but those are best handled with a dedicated defender in any case.

If all else fails, chump blocking is another way to handle an early enemy, but this strategy should be used with caution. Many scenarios will punish you when characters are defeated. Even when they do not, there is the simple problem of keeping up with the encounter deck. Each round, it can bring more enemies into play. If you keep chump blocking with your allies, you are going to need excellent card draw and resource acceleration in order to stand a chance of keeping pace.

Treachery Cancelation

In the section on Bad Luck, we discussed horrible treachery chains. These are the cause of many a lost game. Fortunately, the game now includes multiple forms of treachery cancelation to help guard from these sorts of calamaties. The One Ring has a hefty cost, lowering our threat elimination by 5. However, it allows you to add a Master card to your hand at startup. This means that you can start the game with cancelation in hand, every game. The Master Ring does not cost resources, which is important in the early game when resources are at a premium. Having to choose between spending spirit resources on an Unexpected Courage and saving for treacheries is one of the classic decisions which every Spirit deck faces.

Eleanor provides repeatable cancelation, though she can only cancel treacheries. Unfortunately she is decidedly underwhelming as a hero, aside from her ability. The opportunity cost of including Eleanor, especially in a solo game, may be too steep. On the other hand, Eleanor can be an invaluable inclusion in multiplayer and the deficit of stats is easier to amortize when there are more heroes in play.

A Test of Will is the gold standard of treachery cancelation effects, and for good reason. It works against all When Revealed effects and costs only 1 resource. For any quest with troublesome treacheries this card is basically an auto-include, as long your deck includes at least one Spirit hero. It can be tempting to see these options and immediately make a deck with Eleanor, The One Ring, and three copies each of A Test of Will and The Master Ring. While this will certainly be the foundation of a powerful control deck, we have to remember to include tools which actually allow us to defeat quests. Progress tokens and damage tokens don’t place themselves, and we need characters with willpower and combat stats if we want a chance at victory. By itself, cancelation only holds back the encounter deck for a round, it does not further our goals. The best decks include a mix of proactive and reactive effects.

Early Game Willpower

If you find you are consistently losing games with an overwhelming level of threat in the staging area, your deck may need more willpower. Alternatively, you might consider giving a greater priority to questing allies and willpower boosting effects in your opening hand. One way or the other, location and progress will always be required to defeat a quest. It’s not enough to kill all of the enemies – you’ve got to meet the non-combat requirements as well.

This is an area of the game where Tactics has traditionally struggled. On average, Tactics heroes have the lowest willpower of any sphere. Likewise, the allies available in the sphere are not much better. Only a few Tactics allies have two willpower, and they tend to be more expensive or have abilities which make them less suited to questing. Still, things have improved considerably thanks to Tactics Éowyn. It is now possible to field even field a mono-Tactics deck which can hold its own at questing.

The other spheres have plenty of options, when it comes to early-game willpower. Over time, most decks should be building their total willpower, either by mustering allies or playing attachments like Sword that was Broken and Visionary Leadership. With Three Hunters decks, every restricted attachment ultimately yields a willpower boost, but cards like Silver Circlet and Celebrían’s Stone are of particular import to ramping up early willpower.

Burst willpower is worth considering, especially for decks which take a few rounds to build up. The “burst” refers to cards which provide a temporary boost which does not necessarily stick around. Escort from Edoras is a perfect example of this. For two Spirit resources he quests for 4 willpower, then he is discarded. He can be brought back using cards like Gamling, Guthwine, or Stand and Fight, but you will not necessarily have these cards ready at hand in the early game. Even if you are just using him for a one round boost, that one round might be all that you need. As your resource acceleration and card draw effects become available you can find other, more consistent, forms of questing.

One last note about questing, if you find yourself getting pincushion to death by archery, your immediate instinct may be to add 3 copies of Warden of Healing to your deck and call it a day. While this can be a viable way to solve encounter for direct damage, it is risky as there is only so much healing you can include before you start to dilute your deck. Instead, consider including more willpower (or attack/defense for Battle or Siege quests). The reasoning here is that you only have to face archery and direct damage for each round that you play. If you can shorten the game by taking an aggressive questing approach, you lessen the amount of damage you will take from treachery. You also decrease the likelihood of deadly encounter deck combinations. This is the strategy that I used successfully against Nightmare Into Ithilien, among many quests.

Early Game Combat

Journey Along the Anduin posed a future threat, with the Hill Troll waiting in the staging area. Some quests are even more direct, with players starting engaged with an enemy. Scenarios like Intruders in Chetwood instead punish players for leaving enemies in the staging area, making it vital for your deck to be able to handle combat quickly or risk precipitous consequences. Whatever the specific reason, a lack of early game combat ability can often spell doom for a deck.

To the surprise of none, it turns out that bears are excellent at combat. Beorn is one of the best solutions to early game combat available, especially in quests which swarm you with multiple pesky enemies. He defends multiple attacks, his hit point pool makes him much more likely to survive an early onslaught of enemies that most heroes. Best of all, his 5 attack is often enough to kill many enemies by himself, without the help of weapons or other combat boosts.

Tactics offers several other excellent choices for shoring up your early game combat. Boromir has built in action advantage, so long as you can mitigate the threat cost. Na’asiyah is a formidable warrior, so long as your have resource acceleration on hand to pay for her ability. Tactics isn’t the only sphere with character to help with early combat.

Leadership has excellent defenders like Erkenbrand, Amarthiul and the original version of Dain. For attack you have Aragorn, Prince Imrahil, and Éomer, to name a few. This is not to say that your combat needs necessarily must be solved in the leadership sphere. A common pattern is to include a hero like Denethor, Gildor Inglorion, or Théodred, and use them as support for heroes from other spheres. With resource acceleration, readying, stat boosts, and shadow cancelation, Leadership is an excellent sphere to support in combat, without having to specialize in that aspect of the game.

Spirit and Lore have evolved over the life of the game. They used to relegated to support spheres, simply because they lacked many heroes who excelled in combat. That is no longer the case. Lore has excellent attackers like Haldir, Haldan, and Lore Aragorn. It also has stout defenders like Elrond and Radagast, made all the more durable by A Burning Brand and defensive attachments like Protector of Lórien.

Spirit, likewise has added some impressive combatants over the life of the game. Glorfindel, Idraen, Lanwyn, and Legolas all fill the role role of attacker admirably, with Lanwyn and Legolas even bringing ranged to a sphere which used to lack that keyword. For defense Spirit Dain is probably the best early game defender available. No matter how bad your hand seems after the mulligan, it is nice to have a hero who can defend for 6 on the first turn.

There are many reasons why a game can be lost, not all of them are under our control. As mentioned at the top, sometimes it just comes down to bad luck. This is why persistence and patience are are key skills when playing The Lord of the Rings LCG. Even the most unlucky games offer some small nugget of useful information. If not, you can always just shuffle up and try again. Other defeats have a much more obvious cause, and these are the games to which we should especially pay heed.

Should we have take a mulligan, even though our opening hand had two good cards? Is our deck lacking in early game willpower? Do we need to bring a bit more threat control, or maybe even swap out a powerful hero for one who puts our starting threat below a critical threshold. Maybe just swapping out a “shoot for the moon” combo for three copies of A Test of Will is all it takes to turn ignominious defeat into glorious victory. These concepts and more, are there to teach us if we are open to learning from our losses.

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Contest Winners: Celebrating 8 Years

The time has come to announce the winners of the latest contest. Last month, I asked readers to comment with their favorite articles and decks and you all delivered. Thank you to everyone who left comments, your support is what makes this blog a success. For those who were not fortunate enough to win, know that there are more contests planned in the future.

Without further ado, the winners of the contest are:
ScrawlKnight, Nathan Boone, KaiRong, Chad, Hall of Heroes, nclavio, Todd Wagner, and Florian.

Congratulations to all of the winners, if you could reach out and Contact the Hall we can start the process of having everyone pick their prizes. Bear-sized appreciation goes out to everyone who participated, and be on the lookout for a new contest to be announced soon.

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Custom Cards: A Little Help from our Friends

Readers enjoyed my last round of custom cards, so I’ve decided to design a few more. I’m continuing where I left off, designing allies cards for characters who are (mostly) featured as heroes. Unique allies fill an important role in many decks, especially decks built around a specific trait. More than foot soldiers, their abilities often enhance the deck’s core themes, or even mitigate for its weaknesses.

Without leadership Faramir, a Gondor swarm deck lacks the willpower necessary to quest successfully. Gamling is essential for many Rohan decks built around discarding allies, otherwise you quickly run out of cards in your hand. Ioreth is the most cost effective way to add healing to many different archetypes, and her ability is especially useful in multiplayer when anyone can pay for its use. Ally Legolas is good in any deck, not just Silvan decks built around Galadriel and Celeborn. Repeatable card draw is always welcome, no matter the archetype.

Just like the examples above, these cards were designed to supplement existing archetypes. Each of these allies has an ability which fits into well-established decks. With the game ending when it did, not all of these archetypes received the same level of attention. As I’ve mentioned previously, the A Long-extended Party project will be adding content to the game. Whereas these ideas here are just the idle musings of a curious bear, that project has a whole team of creative folk working to continue the game. For anyone who enjoys my custom designs, I strongly encourage you to go check out that project. There are many exciting new cards being designed by that team. We are fortunate to have such dedicated and skilled individuals working on our behalf.

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Poll Results: Favorites from Wilds of Rhovanion and Ered Mithrin

Last year was a strange year, to put it mildly. It’s only fitting then, that my last poll from 2020 was stuck in limbo. I’ve finally awakened it from hibernation so we can see what readers chose as their favorite cards from the Wilds of Rhovanion deluxe expansion and Ered Mithrin cycle. Before we dive into the results, I’ll share a few of my favorites.

Grimbeorn the Old makes me a proud papa. He is one of the most powerful Tactics heroes, with built-in action advantage and defense reduction. While there are many reasons to like Grimbeorn, one of my favorites is how effective is against enemies which (ordinarily) attack multiple times. For example, it has become more common to see enemies which attack when they are revealed or immediately after they engage a player. Under other circumstances, this would mean that players must face multiple attacks from such enemies. Grimbeorn solves this problem nicely, as long as he has enough attack strength to dispatch the enemy after their first attack. Fortunately, Tactics gives you all sorts of fun options for boosting his attack strength.

As I’ve covered at length in Beorn’s Path and Key Concepts articles, card draw is one of the fundamental pillars of deck-building. Ideally, you don’t spend all of your resources on a card draw effect as you want to be able to play whatever it is you draw. This is why expensive draw effects like Lórien’s Wealth don’t see much use, outside of the Core Set. Any effect which lets you draw cards for zero resource cost is worthy of consideration, and Drinking Song is no exception. At worst, this card lets you take an additional mulligan (not counting itself). You can play the cards you like and replace the ones you don’t, making this one of the strongest early game draw effects available. Bring along a Hobbit, and the brew becomes just a bit stronger. While this is an obvious include for all Hobbit decks, there are many Hobbit heroes worth splashing into a deck any Hobbit character will do.

You know a card is strong when the question that immediately follows its release is “is this going to receive errata?”. Reforged was greeted with this very question, which should give some idea of how versatile and powerful it is. Granted, the theme of this card can be a bit questionable. What exactly does it mean to reforge a title attachment like Steward of Gondor or a Boon like Support of the Eagles? We’ll leave these riddles for enterprising readers to theory-craft. To be fair, I’ve always wondered what exactly happens when you Stand and Fight a Giant Bear, but some mysteries are best left unexplored. One of the reasons why this card is so powerful is the fact that it belongs to the Spirit sphere. Between Éowyn, Arwen, and Círdan, the sphere has a bevy of heroes which make it easy to seed the discard pile with attachments. Granted, there are other uses for this card, including retrieving attachments which have been discarded by encounter card effects. Still, the most common usage of this card is to sneak out-of-sphere attachments into play, without having to include a hero of that sphere. Don’t ignore that you play this card during any action window, which can lead to some interesting effects. With no more errata in sight, it appears that this card will remain over-powered.

These were a few of my favorites and you can find the full results below. I would also encourage you to vote on the latest poll to the right, if you have not already done so. Happy travels in Middle-earth and may you all have a safe and healthy 2021.

Card % Votes
Radagast 12.8% 58
Grimbeorn the Old 9.5% 43
Thranduil 8.8% 40
Drinking Song 6.2% 28
Reforged 5.5% 25
Ancestral Armor 5.3% 24
Meneldor 5.3% 24
Hauberk of Mail 4.8% 22
Wild Stallion 4.6% 21
Gaffer Gamgee 4.6% 21
Haldan 4.4% 20
King of Dale 4.0% 18
Ring of Thrór 3.1% 14
Other 2.6% 12
Necklace of Girion 2.6% 12
Bow of Yew 2.6% 12
Brand son of Bain (Leadership) 2.6% 12
Redwater Sentry 2.0% 9
North Realm Lookout 2.0% 9
Loyal Hound 1.7% 8
Bard son of Brand (Spirit) 1.7% 8
Warrior of Dale 1.3% 6
Long Lake Trader 0.8% 4

 

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Bear Market: Tier 2 Favorites

As a Living Card Game grows, the best cards become apparent. The cream, as they say, rises to the top. While this game is technically in some kind of torpor, the same principles apply. A quick perusal of the most popular cards yields predictable results. Cards like Steward of Gondor, A Test of Will, Feint, and Daeron’s Runes are featured in hundreds of decks.

It would be easy to make a list of the best cards in the game, and including these would indeed help you to make powerful decks. That would make for a boring article, and I have little interest in boosting the popularity of the tier 1 cards. Bears are notorious scavengers, and while a gourmet meal is nice, nothing is more satisfying than cobbling together a feast from unexpected ingredients. In the spirit of offering less obvious suggestions, I’ve constrained myself to player cards with a popularity of 6 or less on the search engine. Think of this as a set of recipe ideas using whatever odds and ends you happen to have in your pantry.

Leadership

Hero: Gildor Inglorion

The tricky thing about popularity is that cards released earlier in the life of the game are always going to have an advantage; they’ve been available to include in decks for longer than cards which were released recently. A case in point, I strongly suspect that Gildor Inglorion would be more popular if he had been released earlier in the life of the game. Technically he was released twice, once in the Two Player Limited Edition and again in the Under the Ash Mountains adventure pack. Even so, the limited edition is not widely available, and Under the Ash Mountains has only been sporadically available for a number of months.

His ally version is excellent, so hero Gildor Inglorion has some big elven shoes to fill. At 9 threat with an ideal stat distribution and an excellent ability, Gildor delivers. I’m a fan of “glue” heroes, especially in Leadership. Anyone who follows my decks over the years will notice how often I’ve included Sam Gamgee. He is one of the best “glue” heroes: one powerful stat, a useful ability, low threat, and access to a critical sphere. Gildor is another great “glue” hero, and will likely take Sam’s place in some of my future decks. He gives you strong early game willpower, his trait allows him to attach many useful items and mounts, and he gives you access to resource acceleration and the ally mustering effects of Leadership. Best of all, his ability gives you card draw out of the gate, so you can setup your deck quickly.

Ally: Knight of the White Tower

As a fan of the Gondor archetype, it was frustrating to see a series of lackluster allies added to its ranks over the years. Even with effects like Leadership Boromir and Visionary Leadership, an ally with 1 (or even 0) for its base stats is just not going to engender much excitement. For this reason, Gondor was always a swarm archetype. However, few of the generic Gondor allies had interesting abilities, so the archetype languished as a swarm of mediocre chumps. When Leadership Faramir hero was introduced, the lack of effective Gondor targets for his ability were all the more galling. For a captain of Gondor to be more effective when paired with Ents than with his own men was almost too much to bear.

The resurgence of Gondor as an archetype has been long in coming, but it is a breath of fresh Spring air after leaving a long, dark tunnel. Knight of the White Tower is exactly what the archetype needed. Even his downside is laughably easy to overcome, given the overabundance of resource acceleration in the archetype. With help from any of numerous events, the Leadership version of Denethor can actually pay for a Knight on the first turn. His stats are hero-like, and once you boost it with the aforementioned effects, as well as events like For Gondor!, the Knight of the White tower can handle all but the most troublesome tasks.

Attachment: Ancestral Armor

Citadel Plate features in many powerful decks in the early game, typically paired with Gimli. Expensive attachments are beguiling with their power, but waiting multiple rounds to save the resources for them is a risk. Many a deck was overrun because they held back resources waiting for a power attachment. This risk can be most keenly felt in the early game, when those resources are needed for many other purposes. The sphere of a player card has an outsized affect on its cost. If this were a Lore attachment, it would be considerably more difficult to play – and not feature in so many of my recent decks. Ancestral Armor as a Leadership attachment is much less daunting to equip. It is likely to see play sooner, giving your dedicated defender the support he needs to weather the toughest onslaughts.

Many Weapon and Armor attachments target Warrior and Tactics heroes, so Ancestral Armor differs in more than just sphere. Early in the life of the game, the limitations of Noble or Leadership hero would be more constraining, but the full card pool offers many viable targets, and it’s not even limited to heroes. For maximum comedic effect, try attaching it to Squire of the Citadel. Joking aside, with the armor attached a good defender becomes nigh invincible. The extra hit points are great for taking smaller enemies undefended or soaking archery and other direct damage. As for the bonus defense: your dedicated defender will welcome it, when facing stronger enemies.

Event: Pillars of the Kings

For each of the previous Leadership cards, the resource acceleration available to the sphere has played a role in their relative power level. As any aficionado of Beorn’s Path will recall, resource acceleration with card draw is a fool’s errand. All of the gold in the world isn’t much use if you have no cards in your hand to play. Leadership decks got by with Sneak Attack + Gandalf, and to some extent Valiant Sacrifice. Even Rod of the Steward helped a little bit, when Flight of the Stormcaller was released. Still, these all lacked the first turn punch provided by Lore cards like Daeron’s Runes, Deep Knowledge, and especially Heed the Dream. Most decks are looking for one or two critical pieces – the sooner you find them, the greater your chances of victory.

Pillars of the Kings is truly inspired design. Not only does it work mechanically, but it fits the existing Valour theme perfectly. As long as your deck starts under 31 threat, you can play this event first turn for no cost and draw 4 cards. The timid or those who prefer Secrecy archetypes, may scoff at this cost, dismissing it as too steep. However, for a deck designed to take advantage of Valour effects, the cost of immediately raising your threat is a boon, not a hindrance. What’s more, the card pool now offers myriad forms of threat reduction, some of it repeatable. This makes it possible in many scenarios to hover your threat around 40 for the entire game. Do not underestimate just how much more consistent your deck will become after drawing 4 additional cards on top of your starting hand and first turn’s draw. This event is incredibly powerful, especially in the early rounds when card draw is essential.

Tactics

Hero: Hirgon

For the first couple of cycles, Tactics was a fairly one-dimensional sphere. Aside from a few cards (Thalin and Hands Upon the Bow come to mind), the only phase in which Tactics participated was the combat phase. This makes sense, as it is the martial sphere. However this meant that heavy Tactics didn’t have many tricks or interesting decisions to make. Even cards like Feint and Quick Strike just play into the existing strengths of the sphere. Without a doubt, combat is important, but building decks around simple defense and attack can become tiresome.

This is where heroes like Hirgon and Prince Imrahil give the sphere a much-needed capacity for trickery. The best designs add nuance and texture to an existing sphere or tribe while staying true to the theme or narrative elements of Tolkien’s world. Hirgon is one such design – he does an excellent job of portraying Gondor’s call for help from Rohan, while dramatically increasing the importance of the quest phase for Tactics. Just off the top of my head, allies which can work well with Hirgon: Knight of Gondor (maximum theme), Descendant of Thorondor and Meneldor (he’s great in an Eagle deck), and Marksman of Lórien. Even if you’re not running allies with “enters play” triggers, Hirgon grants cost reductions so you can more easily play allies which will help you later in the round (Defender of Rammas, Boromir, Vassal of the Windlord). Last but not least, the option of raising your threat to give the ally a boost plays perfectly into the Valour archetype, if you choose to take that approach.

Ally: Meneldor

It is no coincidence that this ally with synergy in my hero choice. I prefer decks with flexibility, so-called “toolbox” decks which offer solutions that can be combined in different ways to address the problems presented by a scenario. Easier quests may accommodate a rigid strategy. Also, a powerful enough deck can brute-force its way to victory, even against more difficult scenarios. While these approaches are effective, they lack nuance and can grow stale over time. For those who like to tinker, it’s often more fulfilling to tailor your strategy mid-game, solving the puzzle one piece at a time as the game unfolds.

This is where cards like Meneldor are essential. Because his ability triggers on him entering and leaving play, there is ample room for interesting strategies. Best is cheating him into play with Hirgon, Sneak Attack, or Gwaihir’s Debt, because you can choose the precise timing. Even if you’re playing him the boring way during the planning phase, locations tend to stay in play longer than enemies, typically with a Tactics deck. The idea is to time when he enters and leaves to maximize his benefit. With Eagles of the Misty Mountain in play, you can even benefit if he falls to an attack or direct damage. Also, cards like Flight of the Eagles give you another means for controlling this timing. However you use him, Meneldor gives Tactics an effective form of targeted location control, all with a reasonable cost, excellent stats, and a valuable trait.

Attachment: Firefoot

Clearly the primary intent of Firefoot is as an attachment for Éomer. While it remains an excellent choice for either version of the son of Éomund, there are several other heroes which can make effective use of this mount. Seastan’s recent deck: Strength and Courage ft. Grimbeorn gives a perfect example of just how powerful Firefoot when unleashed. The key is to see the “trample” effect as a form of action advantage, especially when the hero with Firefoot has other attack boosting effects.

The goal is to kill two enemies with your first attack, saving the need to defend the other enemy later. Once our hero is capable of killing two enemies, we can use various means to allow your hero to attack out of the normal framework step. It’s not to say that Firefoot is bed when used for normal attacks, but the best action advantage is unlocked when you use it before enemies attack. Grimbeorn’s response is probably the ideal match, in that the first time he defends, he can immediately counter-attack. Any time you are killing an enemy before it attacks you are not only saving defense but avoiding potentially game-ending shadow effects. Even without Grimbeorn, effects like Quick Strike, Battle-fury, and even Roheryn can be used to facilitate a more aggressive strategy.

Event: Oath of Eorl

Carrying on with the theme of working around the constraints of framework effects, this is an event which fundamentally changes the order of the combat phase. Shadow Effects a very real threat for Tactics decks. With the exception of Sterner than Steel, Tactics doesn’t have a way to directly cancel shadow effects. Tactics has traditionally worked around this by having characters with more defense and hit points than other spheres, and this is often an adequate answer. However, so quests feature shadow effects which are far more insidious than a simple stat boost. In that case, the only recourse is cancelation or using some trickery to avoid the enemy entirely.

Lesser enemies can have their attack canceled by cards like Feint, but many of the most troublesome enemies in the game are immune to player card effects. As discussed above in the strategic value of Firefoot, one effective way to circumvent shadow effects is aggressively, but destroying the enemy before it attacks. This event takes that aggressive strategy to a whole new level. By allowing all of your characters to declare attacks first, it is even more powerful than a card like Quick Strike. Because it does not target a specific enemy but instead changes the order of framework steps, Oath of Eorl can be used to kill enemies which are immune to player card effects.

This means that multiple characters can gang up to attack a larger enemy, just as you would in your normal attack step. It is worth noting that every other declared attack effect is limited to a single character, attacking alone. Lastly, your ranged characters can even declare ranged attacks against enemies engaged with other players, all before those enemies attack. The potential power of this event cannot be understated, the key is building a deck to take full advantage of it, especially with high attack characters like Beorn and Tactics Éowyn.

Spirit

Hero: Merry

Threat reduction effects have proliferated as the game expanded, which has had wide ranging impact on the metagame. Not only has this made Secrecy decks more consistent, but it has allowed for more aggressive Valour decks to keep themselves in the game, riding the line between triumphant power and ignominious defeat. Spirit has always been the primary sphere for threat control effects. With cards like Secret Vigil, Woodman’s Clearing, and Leadership Frodo, these effects have bled some into other spheres, but Spirit is the source of the best repeated threat reduction effects in the game. Among this, Merry is one of my favorites.

So many quests feature enemies with three or four threat, that his ability often has ample worthwhile targets. If you’re forced to use his response on an enemy with 1 threat, you’re still getting the equivalent threat reduction offered by hero Galadriel. Repeatable threat control is tremendously valuable, especially in a Hobbit deck which does not want to engage enemies in all but the most favorable circumstances. In solo, the risk of a round where no enemy is revealed is worth holding Merry back, as those are the rounds that a Hobbit deck often prefers anyway. If you want to ensure that Merry has maximum utility, use Hobbit Pony to guarantee he is committed whenever his ability it not needed. Alternatively, Lore gives scrying effects like Henamarth Riversong and Far-sighted which can serve a similar role.

Ally: Elfhelm

Continuing the theme, we have the best ally option for repeatable threat control. Elfhelm has been available almost since the beginning of the game, and somehow still manages to be underrated. As mentioned above, threat control effects have proliferated, which has lead to a corresponding shift in the meta game of scenario design. It is much more common to see scenarios which feature repeated threat raising effects. These may be based on the number of enemies in play each round, enemy engagement, or some other core mechanic of the game. No matter what the trigger, this single most effective answer is often Elfhelm.

With a different mix of stats, having to leave Elfhelm ready in order to trigger his response might seem more onerous. As it is, you will want to hold him back for combat and use other allies with more willpower to contribute to questing. Earlier in the life of the game, a four cost Spirit ally was more difficult to play. At this point, there are many ways to get him into play without paying his full cost. Caldara can put him into play for free, but there are other less sacrificial options. Spirit Théoden can reduce Elfhelm’s cost by 1, and Arwen Undómiel allows a mono-Spirit deck to play Elfhelm on the first turn. However you muster him, Elfhelm is an critical piece in any deck which wants to consistently control its threat.

Attachment: Windfola

My initial reaction to Windfola was mild disappointment. When you look at character-specific Mount attachments available to other Rohan heroes, Windfola can seem underwhelming. It doesn’t offer readying like Snowmane, or combat-based action advantage like Firefoot. From a theme perspective, it is fitting that Éowyn’s horse is a bit more subtle in its effect. Given her stats, the Willpower boost is welcome, as either of her two versions are dedicated questers.

While paying one resource for a minor stat boost is nice, the real power of Windfola became apparent more recently. On its release, the restricted keyword seemed like minor but unfortunate downside. Like transmuting lead into gold, contracts transformed the value of the restricted keyword. In a Three Hunters deck, Windfola becomes free, as long as it is the first restricted attachment you play on its recipient in the planning phase. Better still, the B-side of the contract doubles the willpower bonus on Windfola from 1 to 2. Not bad, for a free attachment which can keep your dedicated quester committed.

Event: Light the Beacons

According to the popularity stats, this event doesn’t see much use. At a cost of five in a sphere without much resource acceleration, such a snub might seem warranted. However, seeing this effect in action, especially in a multiplayer game, should convince you of its immense power. Global action advantage is valuable, but there is not other effect in the game which pairs that kind of economy with a stat boost. Assuming the best defender on the table has Sentinel (which they often will), they can block ever single attack during an entire round.

That round distinction might at first seem odd. After all, defense usually only takes place during the combat phase. However, this is another aspect of the game which has evolved over the years. Many enemy attacks now take place during the quest phase, as part of a travel cost, or upon enemy engagement. Because of this, the duration of Light the Beacons is a critical aspect of its strength. Many games come down to one critical round, often the final stage. The theme is familiar: a swarm of underlings rally to defend the boss enemy. Surviving this final desperate push is often the difference between victory and defeat. Even if it involves saving resources for a round, playing this event on a critical round will make all subsequent combat significantly less dangerous.

Lore

Hero: Bifur

Another of my favorite “glue” heroes, Bifur helps offset the lack of resource acceleration available in Lore. A convention followed by most heroes is that their threat cost is the sum of their stats. Some infamous heroes like Bilbo Baggins and Théoden even have a threat cost greater than this sum. Bifur is one of the rare heroes with a lower starting threat than his stats warrant. This makes Bifur an excellent choice to fit into many multi-sphere, even as the only Lore hero.

Contracts have had a curious impact on the resource economy of the middle-game. A Fellowship deck has far less need of resources after it has 9 unique characters in play. Once a Three Hunters deck flips to the B-side it may still play a few attachments, but the need is far less urgent as most of the critical cards are often already in play. Even a Grey Wanderer deck will often reach a point where resources pile up unused; between the 2 bonus resources afforded by the contract and the inevitable copies of Resourceful, those decks have ample forms of specie.

This is where friendly Bifur becomes even more useful than he was when Khazad-dûm was released. He gives your deck a built-in means in multiplayer for acquire excess resources from contract-based decks sitting across the table. The cost reduction and resource acceleration of these contracts will make those resources less valuable to the decks that share them. As many of Lore’s best cards are expensive, these resources can be invaluable to the deck with Bifur, all the better that he makes them readily available.

Ally: Silvan Tracker

The first few cycles of a living card game are bound to be a bit hit or mess. The designers not only have to figure out what the game is going to be in the immediate term, but how to lay the foundation for future expansion and archetypes. There can be no greater commendation for an expandable game than for it to survive indeed to thrive for as long as this game. Another way to look at this, think about how many other expandable games came and went while the game was only improving.

One can see the rough sketches of archetypes in the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, but it wasn’t until Heirs of Numenor that cycles felt like a narrative and thematic whole. To be sure, individual player cards and scenarios from the first two cycles stand out, but there isn’t as much cohesion as we would see in later cycles. By the time we got the   Angmar Awakened and Dream-chaser cycles, the narrative and thematic elements were highlighted in a way that made this game one of the best blending of theme and mechanics players are like to see. That last sentence was not hyperbole, we could easily wait another decade or two before we see a game on the level of Lord of the Rings.

Silvan wasn’t much of an archetype until Celeborn and Galadriel were released in the Ring-maker cycle. Tactics Legolas (hero) was joined by a smattering of somewhat haphazard allies and attachments. Rivendell Blade is an excellent weapon, although it’s shine has diminished somewhat with the proliferation of immune enemies. Light of Valinor and Asfaloth are both incredibly powerful, but more often they find Noldor targets. Other than Legolas, Silvan Tracker was one of the few bright spots for Silvans in the early card pool.

What a bright spot, indeed. To see the power of this card, simply bring a Silvan deck to any quest which features heavy direct damage. Most healing requires some additional cost, exhausting the character, spending a resource, discarding a card. Silvan Tracker heals all Silvans (with more than 1 hit point) passively, at the end of every round. This can be thought of as an indirect form of action advantage, but the more obvious benefit is that it keeps your heroes and sturdier allies alive. Granted, Silvan decks feature many allies with only 1 hit point, but those are the allies you want to be bouncing with Elven-king at the various 0-cost events. Even after all these years, Silvan Tracker is still somehow underrated as form of healing, even across the table in multiplayer.

Attachment: Woodmen’s Clearing

As mentioned in the suctions about Merry and Elfhelm, threat reduction has proliferated to the point where more scenarios now feature repeated or at least more potent threat raise effects. Other than Aragorn, Lore hasn’t had much in the way of the way of threat control for most of the game. Folco Boffin came along more recently, but he is best suited to a Hobbit tribal deck. Quality, low-cost, threat control that can easily give to other players is just not something that the sphere could do, until the Woodmen archetype introduced Woodmen’s Clearing.

Elrond’s Counsel is one of the most popular events in the game. An attachment which is discarded after use is closer to an event mechanically than you might first think. Sure, it can only be played during the planning phase, but there will almost always be a location in play to target. A critical detail is that the location does not need to be active, either when this card is attached or when the response is triggered. This allows for the same sort of location control shenanigans that work with cards like Ancient Mathom and Ranger Provisions.

Like those attachments, there is a bit of a timing issue in multiplayer. Often, one particular player is desperately in need of threat reduction (I’m looking at you, Tactics Boromir player). This means that you will need to wait until they are the first player before clearing the attached location. Fortunately, the Woodmen archetype includes all sorts of fun tricks for controlling where locations are and when they will be explored. It’s not always practical to include Spirit in your deck for threat reduction. Between quality Doomed player cards and an increase in threat raising effects in scenarios, a 0-cost solution like Woodmen’s Clearing is perfect for a resource-starved sphere like Lore.

Event: The Hidden Way

Yet again, one suggestion segues cleanly into the next. We were just discussing above how Lore-based location control decks have myriad ways to manipulate where locations are and when they are explored. Among my favorites are Distant Stars (another criminally underrated card) and The Hidden Way. When you consider how much control this card gives you over a quest phase it is somewhat remarkable that more players don’t make use of it.

When Wait No Longer was released many players suspected that their would be a Location-centric equivalent in the same cycle. It turns out, The Hidden Way was not available until the Ered Mithrin cycle. Beyond the delay, the more surprising aspect of this event is that it is considerably more forgiving than its Tactics equivalent.

Wait No Longer is a simple card with a simple premise. Search the top 5 cards of the encounter deck for an enemy and put it into play engaged with you. Your reward is that you reveal 1 less encounter card that round. In solo, this basically gives you a free pass on the quest phase. The downsides of this card are real. In the rare case there are no enemies in the top 5 cards you just spent 2 resources for no effect. Other times, there might only be a single enemy among the top 5 cards and you’re now stuck engaged with a Mûmak or a Troll. Suffice it to say, that is an unpleasant experience.

Outside of Nightmare scenarios, locations tend to be less overtly dangerous than enemies. Additionally, many locations are more troublesome in the staging area than while active, which this event specifically circumvents. The Hidden Way thus involves less risk than its Tactics twin. Moreover, it is much less likely to whiff in location-heavy quests. More likely is that you have choices for which location to put into pay. That is the crux of why this card is underrated: you aren’t simply adding the chosen location to the staging area.

By allowing you to choose a location to immediately become active, you are circumventing the travel cost on that location. Many scenarios feature notoriously brutal travel cost, so The Hidden Way gives you another effect (along side cards like Thror’s Map and West Road Traveller) to bypass these costs. As if all this wasn’t enough, the event even gives you one more potential benefit. By returning the existing active location to the staging area, The Hidden Way can be used in the same way as effects like South Away to queue up location-laden attachments for the next travel phase. The versatility and power of this card make it an excellent choice for many Lore decks.

What are you favorite tier 2 cards? Which cards do you consider criminally underrated? Let me know in the comments below. I hope that 2021 finds you all safe and healthy and I wish you all many happy adventures in Middle-earth!

Posted in Aggro, Archetypes, Bear Market, Combo, Contract, Power, Series, Tribal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Contest: Celebrating 8 Years

After the closing of a particularly challenging year, it’s a good time to catch my breath. It also happens to be the 8 year anniversary of the blog, so it’s the perfect excuse to celebrate with a new contest. Before I get to the contest, I just want to spend a moment to reflect in gratitude. Being a part of this game, and more specifically the community surrounding it, has brought so much joy to my life. Those who have replied here with encouraging comments, fans of the Podcast, Convention attendees, Patreon supporters, Discord friends – there are simply too many positive experiences to capture with words. From the bottom of this bear’s heart, thank you. Your support and friendship over these years means the world to me, particularly in difficult years like this last one.

Hobbits have a wonderful tradition of giving presents to their friends and family on their birthday. It reminds us the importance of thinking beyond ourselves and spreading generosity and joy. With that in mind, I’d like to celebrate 8 years of the blog by giving away several Lords of the Rings LCG Products. The list of prizes is as follows: Massing at Osgiliath (1 copy), Murder at the Prancing Pony (1 copy), The Land of Sorrow (2 copies), The Fortress of Nurn (2 copies), The Fortress of Nurn Preorder Promotion (1 copy), and The Hunt for the Dreadnaught (1 copy).

The rules of the contest are simple. Leave a comment below with your favorite article or deck from the blog’s history. You can leave as many comments as you want, but each person is entered into the contest only once. A month from now, I will draw 8 names in a random order. In order, the winners will get to pick from the remaining prizes. The Hall will ship your prize you, anywhere in the world, via Eagle delivery. Good luck to all who enter, and may 2021 be a happy and healthy year for everyone!

Posted in Community, Contest, Patreon, Series, Thanks, The Grey Company, Tribute | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 61 Comments