Poll Results: Favorite Core Set Staple

With over 500 votes, it’s time to tally the results of the latest poll. Readers were asked about their favorite staple cards from the Core Set. While many powerful cards have been released since the games inception, the Core Set remains the foundation upon which most decks are built and defines the basic constraints which shape the meta-game. The results reflect the continued influence of the game’s base set as the top choices can be found in a vast majority of decks.

Card Votes Percentage
Steward of Gondor 93 18.24%
Gandalf 90 17.65%
Unexpected Courage 75 14.71%
A Test of Will 56 10.98%
Sneak Attack 56 10.98%
Northern Tracker 39 7.65%
Faramir 28 5.49%
Feint 27 5.29%
Gondorian Spearman 13 2.55%
Horn of Gondor 12 2.35%
Erebor Hammersmith 8 1.57%
Protector of Lórien 6 1.18%
Gléowine 3 0.59%
Daughter of the Nimrodel 1 0.20%
Henamarth Riversong 1 0.20%

In an effort to illustrate just how relevant the Core Set still is, I decided to design a new deck around many of these staple cards. Rather than simply mix ever single staple into some strange soup, I decided to build a thematic deck where at least half of the cards were taken from the Core Set. Because I wanted to highlight as many Core Set staples as possible (even some cards that did not make it into the Poll), I actually included 30 Core Set staples in this deck.

Dain IronfootI chose Dwarves, since I haven’t played with them in a while, and I’ve been wanting to make a Dwarf deck without Dain Ironfoot. While he remains the undisputed King of the Dwarves in strategic terms, I find his presence in the vast majority of Dwarf decks has made that entire archetype feel somewhat stale. As I mentioned in my recent meta-game review, over-powered heroes like Dain have a tendency to dominate strategic thinking (my own included) and lead to repetitive designs.

I went with 60 cards instead of the usual 50, because of the incredibly powerful card-drawing effects available to Dwarves allow a larger deck to remain consistent. On a thematic note, I also wanted to play with as many of the unique dwarf allies as possible. Dwarf decks are particularly fun to play in that their strategical development can progress on pace with their theme. As more and more unique Dwarf allies enter play, the entire company benefits – not only from the individual abilities but from their collective might. While the absence of Dain mutes the overall strength of this deck, it can still must a formidable army given the opportunity.

Gimli (ToS)Astute readers will not that this list also includes a single copy of Gimli from the upcoming Treason of Saruman Saga Expansion. We are all eagerly awaiting the release of the latest installment of our campaign through Middle-earth, but for those who don’t want to use a proxy in the mean time, feel free to replace Gimli with an extra copy of his father Glóin. I am personally very excited about the new Gimli and Legolas allies, not only for how they represent a thematic “Fellowship” deck for the Saga expansions, but also for how well they will fit into their respective Dwarf and Silvan archetypes. Gimli in particular is an amazing addition to any Dwarf deck. His stats are fantastic, even before boosts for other global effects. In some ways, his built-in readying response is even more powerful than his well-rounded stats as it facilitates all sorts of trickery with cards like A Very Good Tale and We Are Not Idle.

This deck uses 2 copies of the Core Set, to make it more consistent, but it can easily be trimmed down to 50 cards for those who want to build it using a single Core Set. First, remove one copy each of the following Core Set cards: Erebor Hammersmith, Miner of the Iron Hills, Steward of Gondor, Unexpected Courage and Sneak Attack. This brings you down to the cards available from a single Core Set. Next, remove one copy of the following cards to bring the deck back down to the typical size:  Ered Nimrais Prospector, Bofur, King Under the Mountain, We Are Not Idle and Daeron’s Runes. As you can see, these changes end up take extra copies of some very powerful cards out of the deck, which is the entire reason I designed it to be 60 cards in the first place. Regardless, whether you play this as a 60 or 50 card deck, it should highlight the power of many of the Core Set cards, as well as being an entertaining Dain-free alternative to the traditional Dwarf decks.

Thorin-Oakenshield (THOHaUH)OinBifur

Thorin Oakenshield (OtD)
Óin (OtD)
Bifur (KD)

Allies: 29
Erebor Record-keeper (KD) x3
Veteran Axehand (Core) x3
Erebor Hammersmith (Core) x3
Ered Nimrais Prospector (TMV) x3
Miner of the Iron Hills (Core) x3
Zigil Miner (KD) x2
Fili (TH:OHaUH) x1
Kili (TH:OHaUH) x1
Glóin (TH:OtD) x1
Bofur (TH:OHaUH) x1
Dwalin (TH:OtD) x1
Dori (TH:OHaUH) x1
Faramir (Core) x2
Gimli (ToS) x1
Gandalf (Core) x3

Attachments: 14
Legacy of Durin (TWitW) x2
Protector of Lórien (Core) x2
Narvi’s Belt (KD) x2
King Under the Mountain (TH:OtD) x3
Steward of Gondor (Core) x3
Unexpected Courage (Core) x2

Events: 17
We Are Not Idle (SaF) x3
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3
Sneak Attack (Core) x3
Feint (Core) x2
A Test of Will (Core) x2
Hasty Stroke (Core) x2
Lure of Moria (RtR) x2

Sideboard: 15
Blue Mountain Trader (TDT) x2
Cram (TH:OHaUH) x2
Legacy of During (TWitW) x1
Hardy Leadership (TWitW) x2
A Burning Brand (TWitW) x2
A Very Good Tale (TH:OHaUH) x3
A Test of Will (Core) x1
Waters of Nimrodel (TAC) x2

Posted in Community, Deck Lists, Poll Results | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Contest Winner: Recipes from a Halfling’s Pantry


With the deadline passed and the entries submitted, it is time to announce our winner. This lucky reader receives a free copy of the eBook of Recipes from a Halfling’s Pantry. The winner was chosen at random and it is Chad, with his reference to the Orc draught given to Merry and Pippin by the Uruk Hai in The Two Towers.

Uglúk thrust a flash between his teeth and poured some burning liquid down his throat: he felt a hot fierce glow flow through him. The pain in his legs and ankles vanished.
—The Two Towers

While Orc-drink certainly isn’t my first choice of Middle-earth cuisine, it is nonetheless significant in the story. The warmth and curative effects of the potent beverage gives Merry and Pippin enough energy to escape their captors and find their way into Fangorn forest. From there they meet Treebeard and the other Ents, and help to turn the tide in the battle against Saruman.

Congratulations to our winner (please contact the hall so that we can send you your prize) and thanks to everyone who entered the contest. I want to once again thank Amalia from Second Breakfast and encourage all of my readers who are interested in delicious Tolkien-themed food to go and buy her book. Happy eating!

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Contest: Recipes from a Halfling’s Pantry

Recipe's from A Halfling's Pantry - Cookbook Cover
Greetings, readers! I am delighted to announce a very special contest. Friends of the blog over at Second Breakfast have announced the release of cookbook that is near and dear to this bear’s heart. The book is called Recipes from a Halfling’s Pantry (lots of these) by Amalia and Amy Young Miller. After having the privilege of an advanced reading, I can personally attest to the many delicious treasures to be found within its pages.

I have a free copy of this ebook available to one lucky reader. This contest is simple, leave a comment about your favorite food or food-related incident from any of Tolkien’s works. No description or narrative is needed, even if you just want to cite the book and sentence  in question, that is fine. Since this is an ebook, there is no added cost for delivery, so I definitely encourage all of my international readers to participate.

The contest will run for the week, with a deadline for submissions at midnight on Friday, February 20th. For anyone who can’t wait to get their hands on these delicious recipes, the book is available for purchase immediately. As a special bonus, readers can purchase the ebook until Friday on a pay-what-you-want basis. After Friday it will be available at a fixed price so take heed and do not ignore that grumble in your tummy. This book truly is a labor of love, and one that any fan of Tolkien and food can deeply appreciate. I encourage all who enjoy good Tolkien-themed food to support a friend and purchase your own copy. Good luck, and may all of your Middle-earth adventures, culinary and otherwise, be filled with joy.

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Deck: Eagles and Ents


In the latest episode of The Grey Company Podcast, designer Matt Newman mentioned that it would probably be possible to make an Eagle and Ent deck, even though these archetypes are disparate and supplemental in nature. This inspired Matthew D to make an Eagle Ent deck and he joined Matt Hidalgo (honorary fifth member of the Podcast) on a recent Twitch stream of The Three Trials. I have yet to see Matthew’s deck list, but their game lead got me thinking about such a deck, and how I would go about blending these two traits. What follows is my first attempt at an Eagle and Ent deck.

Treebeard by Rodney Matthews-smallThe question was posed on the forums in a recent thread, “are Ents too strong?“. There have been some really solid arguments on all sides, but what is most remarkable to me is just how quickly the Ents have emerged as a power in the meta-game. We didn’t see our first Ent character until half way through the Ring-maker cycle. It wasn’t until the last AP that we got Treebeard, and the archetype as-such actually came into existence.

Just like the Eagles after the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, the Ents are by their nature a supplemental archetype. Regardless of where you would place them on the power continuum, there simply are not yet enough Ent cards to make an entire deck dedicated to this trait. This is a good thing, both from a thematic standpoint and for reasons of game balance. While they were undeniably powerful in the books, Ents were rare. It would feel more than a bit odd, thematically if you could field an army of 25 Ent allies and related attachments and events, to the exclusive of all other traits. As many on the forums have pointed out, this would also be far too powerful.

Treebeard-TACA real testament to the current designers of the game is the way Caleb and Matt have balanced thematic and strategic concerns in their design decisions. Ents are a perfect example of this as they are incredibly strong, but with a meaningful and appropriate drawback. Coming into play exhausted is a significant hindrance to a deck’s action advantage, but to offset this Ents are noticeably under-costed for their stats. This means that a deck featuring Ents will tend to be vulnerable in the early game, but should excel as the game progresses, and their patient Ents decide to finally take action.

This early-game vulnerability has a perfect answer in the form of Eagles, however, which is why this deck concept is less crazy than it might at first seem. Having inexpensive allies which help a deck to survive the early game is exactly what an Ent deck needs. If we manage to get an Eagles of the Misty Moutains into play early (using ally mustering like Elf-stone or A Very Good Tale), these smaller Eagles won’t have to die in vain. Regardless, this deck does not rely on Eagles as heavily as some of the other decks I’ve designed in the past. Ents provide a measure of versatility to our strategy.

A Very Good TaleAt first glance, a card like A Very Good Tale might seem like an odd choice, given that Ents already have a deficit of action advantage. The key to maximizing the benefit of this card is deciding which allies to exhaust. For example, once we get a 4 cost ally into play, we can exhaust it and any other ally we have to help pay for A Very Good Tale. Having at least 5 points worth of allies exhausted for this effect ensures that we will be able to field at least one, often two powerful allies.

Along with the two non-unique Ent allies, there are several powerful allies with a lower cost, including the Westfold Outrider, Warden of Healing and Gléowine. Even with only 5 points worth of allies to muster, we have options. We can bring two low-cost allies into play and have a tremendous numerical superiority on the following round. Alternatively, we can muster one larger ally like Faramir, Treebeard, of Gandalf, and use their abilities to help swing the tide of battle. In this case we are taking advantage of the Ent’s low cost to potentially bring multiple into play, without having to exhaust multiple powerful allies to pay for A Very Good Tale. Over the long run, the cost efficiency of these allies allows us to outpace the encounter deck.

Even though the Ents and Eagles are both inexpensive relative to their power, this deck features multiple forms of resource acceleration. With any multiple-sphere deck, resource acceleration is a good idea, since we have only one hero for each sphere. Bifur’s resource smoothing is also quite useful, as it allows us to consistently muster 2 cost Lore allies the same round that we draw them. The other reason why resource acceleration is key is because this deck essentially wants to overwhelm the encounter deck.

By fielding bigger and better allies, more quickly than the encounter deck can summon enemies, the hope is to never give the scenario the chance to obtain the upper hand. As any player of the game knows, there are often rounds where the situation quickly turns from “under control” to “uh no, we’re all going to die!” in a matter of a single quest phase. The goal of this deck is to avoid that situation by providing us with more options than the encounter deck could possibly handle.

King Under the MountainWith that in mind, the last major piece of our strategy is card drawing effects. The aforementioned Gléowine is a nice repeatable source of extra cards, while Daeron’s Runes and The Eagles are Coming! will help us find the allies which are so important to early-game survival (or late-game dominance). But the engine really gets running hot once we have King Under the Mountain attached to Bifur.

This deck features quite a few duplicate copies of unique cards. These cards are essential to our overall strategy and the deck is at risk of stalling when one or more of them are not on the table. To some extent, this limitation is present in all decks, but it is particularly evident in this one. Because we are merging too different archetypes, with traits that lack any explicit synergy, we are that much more dependent on the key pieces. For Ents, this is Treebeard. For Eagles this could be an Eagles of the Misty Mountains, or even just one of the smaller allies to help us deal with an immediate threat. A general rule that hold true for most strategies in this game and is certainly applicable here: when in doubt, add card draw.

As I mentioned at the top of the article, this is a first attempt at this hybrid archetype. Initially I was skeptical that there was much potential here. However, the sheer power of the Ents, combined with the efficient synergies that Eagle cards share with each other, has me convinced that there is some promise to this idea. I have no doubt that we will see more Ent cards in the upcoming Angmar Awakened cycle, probably even some attachments or events. We might just see this amusing amalgamation of cards coalesce into a new dominant archetype, but it is entertaining in any case.


Mablung (NiE)
Théodred (Core)
Bifur (KD)

Allies: 30
Vassal of the Windlord (TDM) x3
Winged Guardian (THfG) x3
Westfold Outrider (VoI) x2
Booming Ent (TAC) x3
Gléowine (Core) x2
Wandering Ent (CS) x3
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Eagles of the Misty Mountains (RtM) x3
Faramir (Core) x2
Treebeard (TAC) x3
Gandalf (Core) x3

Attachments: 10
Gondorian Shield (TSF) x2
Elf-stone (TBR) x2
King Under the Mountain (TH:OtD) x3
Steward of Gondor (Core) x3

Events: 10
A Very Good Tale (TH:OHaUH) x3
The Eagles Are Coming! (THfG) x2
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3
Sneak Attack (Core) x2

Sideboard: 15
Errand-rider (HoN) x3
Radagast (AJtR) x2
Gondorian Shield (TSF) x1
Ring Mail (TLD) x2
Support of the Eagles (RtM) x2
A Burning Brand (CatC) x2
Feint (Core) x3

Posted in Community, Deck Lists, Fun | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Deck: Wisdom, Bravery and Folly

war-of-the-ringThe doomed player cards were first spoiled in August of last year. Ever since then I have been thinking about how best to build a deck around these powerful effects. As powerful as they can be, these cards bring an obvious risk. Still, the right deck should be able to take advantage of their strengths and mitigate the risks as much as possible.

With the announcement of the valour effects of the Angmar Awakens cycle, the doomed effects are suddenly cast in an entirely new light. Using the doomed player cards to quickly get to 40 threat might not seem so foolish, assuming we can avoid elimination. The key to making these high-risk decks function is going to be balancing our threat on that razor’s edge between danger and death. This is not only exciting as a new archetype, but also thematically representative of the dangers faced by the fellowship in the Lord of the Rings.

Galadriel-SmallAs many on the forums were quick to point out, the Lore version of Aragorn is the most obvious choice to serve as a foundation upon which to build a doomed deck. While I would love to say that I’ve been able to find an alternative to this strategy, of all the doomed decks I’ve tried, Aragorn really is the best choice. Some players might argue that Galadriel, with her repeatable threat-reduction ability, is the best choice for a doomed deck. Certainly, once the valour cards are released, I can see the value in having the lady of Lórien guide us on a safe path to victory. In particular I am intrigued about designing 4 decks specifically for multi-player: two with heavy Spirit and threat reduction and two featuring Leadership and Tactics that are designed to stay at 40 threat for most of the game.

In the mean time, however, the doomed effects we are utilizing here will be raising our threat far more rapidly than the bearer of Nenya could ever hope to withstand. Besides, we don’t yet know which valour cards will ultimately best fit with this archetype. For the time being, we will content ourselves with building a doomed deck around Aragorn’s once per game ability to reset our threat. In the future, we can look forward to making modifications to this deck to take advantage of the new cards in The Lost Realm and subsequent Angmar Awakened cycle.

In keeping with my recent interest in Aggro decks, the starting threat of this deck will be relatively high. While this can decision can spell disaster in certain scenarios, with the right early game, this deck can survive to establish itself. The idea is to quickly build up an army to surround our heroes, so that our threat is no longer an issue. As with any aggressive deck, it should be abundantly clear that this is a risky strategy. There is a bit of an adrenaline rush tempting fate in this way, and this deck can be quite entertaining to play.

Legacy-of-NúmenorGríma Wormtongue, disgraced and oft-maligned though he may be, is a natural compliment to this aggressive strategy as he provides us a built-in means for mustering cards quickly. We are planning on resetting our threat a few rounds into the game – once our army is in place – so any early threat raising as a result of Gríma’s ability is essentially free. Between his cost-reduction and the resource acceleration garnered from Keys of Orthanc, Steward of Gondor and Legacy of Númenor this deck should have little problem fielding an impressive army of allies. Possessing the Gondor trait, these allies will not only benefit from Boromir’s ability, but global effects of cards like Visionary Leadership and For Gondor!.

GleowinePairing card drawing effects with resource acceleration is generally a solid plan, otherwise we risk having extra resources to spare but an empty hand. Gléowine, the minstrel of Rohan, headlines an impressive array of card drawing effects. For those players who only ever include three copies of each card in your deck, this is the advantage of card draw. Because this deck includes so many ways to draw extra cards, we can get away with only two copies of many cards and still have a very good chance of drawing what we need. The sideboard includes Protector of Lórien to maximize the deck’s efficiency if you find yourself drawing a lot of duplicates of unique cards.

We will, of course have to contend with enemies engaging us, often much more quickly than we would like. This is where traps come into play. Ranger Spikes and Forest Snare can both be played from the first round, thanks to Gríma’s ability. In the mid-game, if we need to reuse either of these traps we can even recycle them thanks to Anborn’s ability. For quests with troublesome shadow effects, A Burning Brand is included in the sideboard. Warden of Healing also allows us to keep our heroes alive as we are busy fielding our army.

For those who want a less aggressive version of this deck, you can swap out Boromir for Théodred and go with a more traditional starting threat. You might also consider replaced the two copies of Visionary Leadership with Heir of Mardil as the first card would only be playable when paired with Steward of Gondor. That version of the deck would lack somewhat in attack strength but feature an impressive level of resource acceleration. In any case, the core engine of this deck is consistent enough to provide some freedom of choice for the Leadership hero.

With the closing of the Ring-maker cycle, the doomed archetype felt powerful, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was yet to reach its full potential. It is encouraging to see the designers include an effect in the next cycle which integrates so well with this archetype in specific, and the burgeoning Aggro style in general. There is very real risk having a threat at or above 40, so having more options when we face these dangers will only make Aggro decks more interesting to play.

Aragorn (TWitW)Boromir (HoN)grima-small

Aragorn (TWitW)
Boromir (HoN)
Gríma (VoI)

Allies: 25
Errand-rider (HoN) x3
Gléowine (Core) x3
Ithilien Tracker (HoN) x2
Herald of Anórien (TiT) x2
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Envoy of Pelargir (HoN) x2
Ithilien Lookout (TDT) x2
Faramir (Core) x3
Anborn (TBoG) x2
Gandalf (Core) x3

Attachments: 13
Keys of Orthanc (VoI) x2
Steward of Gondor (Core) x3
Visionary Leadership (TMV) x2
Ranger Spikes (HoN) x2
Sword that was Broken (TWitW) x2
Forest Snare (Core) x2

Events: 12
Legacy of Númenor (VoI) x2
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3
Deep Knowledge (VoI) x3
Sneak Attack (Core) x2
For Gondor! (Core) x2

Sideboard: 15
Wandering Ent (CS) x2
Elrond (TRD) x3
Elf-stone (TBR) x2
Protector of Lórien (Core) x2
A Burning Brand (TWitW) x2
A Very Good Tale (TH:OHaUH) x2
Secret Paths (Core) x2

Posted in Deck Building, Deck Lists, Spoilers, Strategy, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Metagame: Part 5 – FAQs and an Evolving Metagame

Confused BearThe latest FAQ is hot off the presses, so it seems like a good time to take a step back and take stock of the meta-game. The Ring-maker cycle has just completed, and players are eagerly anticipating the release of the Lost Realm deluxe expansion and the next installment in the ongoing narrative of the Saga expansions. The general consensus is that the game is improving with each release, and this is certainly an opinion which I share. Still, with familiarity and love for this game comes a desire to see it become the best possible version of itself.

The Good

The most recent cycles and saga expansions have given us some great player cards. As cycles go, Against the Shadow might not have had the strongest heroes, but it bestowed a wealth of important cards, including Visionary Leadership, Gondorian Shield, Pelargir Shipwright and Mithrandir’s Advice.  Even the mono-sphere cards, which might seem like a missed opportunity now, will only become more powerful as the pool of available heroes grows. Ever card does not need to be a game-changer for the metagame to shift; support cards play important roles too.

Celeborn-TDT-smallBy contrast, the Ring-maker cycle gave us fantastic heroes like Celeborn, Mablung, Galadriel and Haldir. The deluxe expansions themselves bolstered Gondor and Rohan respectively, with Beregond and Éomer opening up new dimensions for Tactics decks. The saga expansions introduced Hobbit decks and one of the most powerful characters in the game in the hero version of Gandalf. These brief highlights don’t even begin to cover all of the other player cards in these expansions. All told, the player card pool has not only increased significantly in quantity, but quality as well.

Celeborn is a good example of a change in the design of recent heroes. Powerful, but not overly so, he forms the core of a new archetype, but not in a one-dimension way. Whereas the bonus from Dáin leads to Dwarf decks that play in a very straight-forward manner, Silvan decks involve a lot more decisions. When to play which ally, when to return a Silvan, and which one to return are all up for grabs. It even makes a big difference which event card you use to return a Silvan and the all-important moment when you stop the holding pattern and make a concerted push for victory.

Dain IronfootAll of these decisions are present in a Silvan deck, because of the various effects that form the core of this strategy. This is not to say that Dwarf decks don’t involve choices – every deck involves many decisions. However, the nature of “enters play” and “leaves play” effects is that they involve a great variety of decisions, and lead to decks with flexibility but less brute strength. This represents an interesting change in the style of archetypes in the game. Where a competitive card game might ban or restrict a card like Dáin, this game has wisely give him a more subtle but effective punishment – it has made him boring.

Many of the new heroes in the recent sets lead to these kinds of more nuanced strategies. Like the Silvan archetype, decks that feature Éomer and Prince Imrahil play with less traditional rhythm. Rather than try to get as many allies into play as quickly as possible, these decks tend to stay at a fairly constant number of characters. There aim is less about using an army to overwhelm the enemy, and more about taking advantage of heroes with powerful abilities and attachments. While this might at first seem to be a strictly inferior strategy, quests like The Dunland Trap underscore how a deck designed to utilize fewer characters and more response triggers can have tangible advantages.

If tempo decks aren’t your preference, the new cycles have provided plenty of support for Aggro decks as well. Mablung is an interesting example of a theme that we should see more of in the upcoming Lost Realm expansion: engagement-related effects. Not only is resource acceleration a great benefit for the cash-strapped Tactics sphere, but this ability fits in perfectly with other Aggro-style cards like Westfold Outrider and The Hammer-stroke. His Gondor trait is also quite useful as it allows him to use attachments like Gondorian Shield and Gondorian Fire – the latter a particularly good fit.

Aragorn-TLREnts and Dunedain look to bring their own unique twists on strategy. The nice thing about having a sizable card pool is that we have a decent number of Dúnedain cards already, so it should not too many more cards before a new archetype emerges for this trait. Tactics Aragorn in particular should be at the heart of some very interesting Aggro-style decks. Ents are still in a nascent form, with Treebeard having just been released, but they are already powerful, while still presenting unique challenges to deck-building. These are all signs of a growing and healthy metagame, and speak well for the future of the game as a whole.

A Growing card pool allows for decks which are both thematic and powerful. In the past, these two attributes tended to be mutually exclusive for all but a few powerful traits. With both branches growing in parallel, saga cards and cycle cards are combining to provide an interesting mix of cards. Archetypes like Hobbits and Gandalf decks obviously did not exist before, but there have also been more subtle shifts in the metagame. Cards like Dagger of Westernesse, Elf-stone and ally versions of Boromir and Galadriel can fit into many different kinds of decks, for example.

Another advantage of all of this diversity is that we can finally ween ourselves off of Dain, Glorfindel, Elrond, and other power cards. This is not to say that these are bad, but an over-reliance on any set of cards leads to an anemic metagame. Variety is important for keeping the game fresh and challenging. What’s more, these heroes can also been included in decks in which they are not necessarily the sole focus, but play more supporting roles.

We have also seen old traits and embryonic archetypes given new life. As of the Dwarrowdelf cycle, Rohan had the first glimmer of a Tactics deck. Certainly, Háma represented an eponymous archetype ever since The Long Dark. Thanks to Éomer, Firefoot, Rohan Warhorse and the fantastic Westfold Outrider (one of my personal favorite cards), Tactics Rohan is more than just a one trick pony.

Mablung-smallAs mentioned above, Celeborn and Galadriel bring new relevance to previously overlooked cards like Daughter of the Nimrodel and Silverlode Archer. Despite the disappointment that some may have felt after the Agaist the Shadow cycle, Gondor continues to see incremental improvement thanks to heroes like Mablung and interesting cards like Ithilien Lookout and Herald of Anórien. Even the seemingly forgotten Eagle decks received a lordly boon in the form of Gwaihir.

The latest errata is ultimately a good thing as well. When a card ends up being used in a way that is completely contrary to its original design, it can warp the metagame. Blue Mountain Trader is the perfect example of this. The card is useful in a multi-player game, and any piece of cardboard with the Dwarf trait is useful in some capacity. But the designer’s clearly never intended for this card to provide unlimited resource smoothing. This has been clarified, to the betterment of the game.

Will-of-the-WestIn a somewhat more controversial move, Will of the West is now removed from the game after it is played. I just want to say that I completely agree with this decision. The game does not need infinite combo decks. Some players on the forums have complained that this will prevent them for cycling their decks multiple times per game. The fact that this is even possible is a symptom of the fact that card drawing is somewhat out of control at this point.

Regardless, this errata does not prevent a player from getting their discard pile back after drawing half of their deck. It simply means that it is no longer possible to recycle your deck indefinitely. In a solo game, players are obviously welcome to play however they want and even ignore the errata, if they so choose. From the perspective of someone who plays primarily multi-player games now, I cannot think of many things less exciting than watching another player cycle through their deck a dozen times in a single game. To me, that is is opposite of fun. To put it another way, my play style is decidedly aggressive, so a game should be over with a dozen rounds at most. The fact that you have the time to use the same copy of Will of the West multiple times in a game is a sign that something has gone terribly wrong.

The Bad

The Ring-maker cycle had some great quests. The Dunland Trap and the Three Trials have become personal favorites and I look forward to revisiting them with different decks in the future. Even the easy quest of the bunch, Trouble in Tharbad can be fun as a testing ground for more thematic or experimental decks. That said, I feel like the time mechanic has been hit or miss in this cycle. Sometimes it works really well a creating a sense of urgency and serving as a deterrent to past tendencies of decks to “turtle” while they setup for later stages (Conflict at the Carrock is a great example of a quest that can be ruined by the turtle strategy).

Raven-Chief's-Camp-smallHowever, there were times for me playing this cycle when time, along with many of the other forced effects and passive abilities on encounter cards just felt mechanical. As this point, the pedantic reader might be tempted to reply that every effect in the game is mechanical – that is, after all, why they call them “game mechanics”. While true, this misses the larger point. At its best, what makes this game so great to me is that the game mechanics fall into the background, to the point where I don’t even notice them. Between the theme, the narrative aspects and the strategy of successfully overcome adversity, the game can be as engrossing as anything I have ever played.

Every game has rules, and as a game of deep strategy this game has a rather large and complex set of them. Still, when the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is at its best the mechanics don’t feel like mechanics, they feel like part of the story. This is not easy to accomplish, and players of this game who might be new to card and board games in general might not even realize how good they have it. Sad to say, there are a lot of bad games out there.

Raising-the-Cry-smallLazy design, amateur artwork, non-existent playtesting, broken rules and whorish money grabs (I’m looking at you, almost ever movie-tie-in game ever created) can all lead to a poorly executed game of limited entertainment and no replay value. The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a great game, precisely because it has avoided all of these traps that so many game fall into. However, because it is so good it gets held to a higher standard. Most quests do an excellent job of representing an adventure through Middle-earth, accompanied by your brave companions, on a perilous quest, to overcome the forces of Sauron. However, this excellence means that when a quest falls short, when the gears of the machine poke through, it is more noticeable in contrast to its superior counterparts.

The enemy of elegance is complexity. At its best, there is a pristine elegance to the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. Characters have three primary stats, which are used in three primary aspects of the game. The decisions that you make are all spokes on a wheel which revolves around these aspects. I think that the time keyword can be elegant, and when it is I appreciate it just like all of the other elegant features of this fine game. As my art teacher used to say, some techniques are best used sparingly, lest they overwhelm a piece. In my opinion, time, and any of these more maintenance-intensive effects need to be added to encounter cards very carefully, or they risk marring the beauty of a scenario and overwhelming other elements.

As much as it is nice to have a large card pool from which to build decks, there are downsides. One disadvantage is that it can be intimidating for new players. It also becomes increasingly difficult to ensure that cards are balanced, because of the sheer number of potential combinations with earlier cards. To be clear, this is not a criticism of the game, rather an observation of the inevitable consequences of a game growing and maturing. In other words, this is a good problem to have because it means that the game has lived long enough and grown large enough to have “big game” issues. It is worth pointing out these issues nonetheless, as there are steps that can be taken to help mitigate many of them.

Conquest-smallFFG has adopted a new format for rules books in their recent games. This is a very welcome decision from my perspective. As someone who owns quite a few FFG games, I have always felt that the rule books were one of their games few weak points. In that regard, the rule books for their latest LCG Warhammer 40K: Conquest are a revelation. One rule book serves as a “getting started” guide, which allows you to start playing the game immediately, and slowly introduces concepts rather than trying to inundate you with new concepts and rules all at once. The other rule book is an appendix of rules and keywords which serves as the definitive reference for more experienced players to ensure that they are playing the game correctly down to the smallest detail. You start with the one rule book to get your feet wet, then as you become more familiar with the game you only really need the second rule book as a reference for specific rules questions.

The decision to have two rules books was an excellent decision, and I applaud FFG for realizing that they could improve the “out of the box” experience of their products. Now I only hope that they release a version of the Core Set with this new style of rule books. It would also be the perfect opportunity to provide easy mode rules with the game. As it stands, new players will often end up at one forum or other asking a series of (mostly the same) questions, and hoping desperately for assistance. Fortunately we have a warm and helpful community so these new players are in good hands and will quickly find answers to their questions. Resources like Ian’s New Player Buying Guide are an essential part of introducing new players to the game.

However, something as fundamental as Easy Mode is the kind of thing that should be presented in the rule book of the Core Set, so that the community does not have to point them to a PDF buried in the bowels of the FFG site. While I have long since abandoned my pipe dream of an improved Core Set, I think that having improved rule books is a very reasonable expectation. As an experienced player who has links to all of the rules sheets and FAQs this is not something that I want for me, it is for the benefit of the new players the come to this game and find themselves a bit overwhelmed.

As much as I appreciate the  latest errata, it brings attention to a simple fact. There is too much errata for this game. The latest FAQ is 17 pages long. While not all of those pages represent changes to existing cards, this represents a burden of knowledge that new players must carry if they want to play the game correctly. It is unfortunate whenever a card does not play according to its printed text, but as the game grows this problem grows with it. Fortunately, the newer printings of the game are starting to include previous errata, along with the gold rings used for easy mode.

Still the longer a game lives, the further the actual metagame moves from the product itself. Some of the errata is so specific that it stops being entirely intuitive (e.g. gaining, adding and moving resources). It is becoming very difficult, especially with a large number of new players, for people to even keep track of which cards work differently than what is printed on the card. No doubt this was at least part of the impetus for the decision to stop A Game of Thrones LCG and reboot it with a second edition.

To be clear, I am not advocating something so radical as a reboot for this game. A Game of Thrones LCG, and the CCG that preceded it, has been around a lot longer than The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. Because the encounter cards make up at least half of each release, the player card pool for this game grows at a much slower rate. Still, a large body of erratum can certainly be an impediment to new players, and is something to keep an eye on. It be time to think about taking steps to clean up some of the game’s edge cases.

The Future

The-Lost-Realm-smallLest anyone mistake my criticisms above as pessimism, the future of the game is as bright as ever. Deluxe Expansions and Cycles are running at full speed, with anticipation for both The Treason of Saruman and The Lost Realm approaching a fever pitch. Nightmare decks are steadily catching up to the latest content, and we now have Fellowship Event decks joining the GenCon quests as objects of expert-players’ desire.

The larger card pool means that player decks are as creative and innovate as we’ve ever seen. Rather than power creep with ever more game-breaking heroes, we have instead a plethora of options to facilitate vastly different archetypes and strategies. With a greater focus on narrative and the ongoing evolution of campaign mode, the game has even evolved beyond its episodic origins. There is no doubt that the game is in good hands with Caleb and Matt and a I look forward to an exciting 2015!

As always, these are one humble bear’s opinions, and I invite everyone to share their thoughts, rebuttals, questions and concerns in the comments below.

Posted in Community, Metagame, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Decks: The House of Elrond

Elrond's Family Tree

Of all the characters in Tolkien’s legendarium, Elrond is one of the most fascinating. The half-elven descendant of Beren and Lúthien, Elrond and his brother Elros were given a very unique choice. After the War of Wrath and the destruction of Beleriand, the Valar gave the twins the choice over their race and fate. Elros chose the “Gift of Men” and was blessed with the longest life of any mortal. Elrond chose to live as an elf and to one day return to Valinor with his kindred.

Elros founded Númenor, the kingdom which preceded Arnor and Gondor. This means that Elrond is not only Aragorn’s father-in-law, but also his great, great, great… uncle. That must make for some interesting conversations at family reunions. These decks are a thematic take at representing the House of Elrond, one of the last powers of the Eldar in Middle-earth.

Valley-of-Rivendell-by-Soni_Alcorn-HenderThe founding of Imladris was an accident of sorts. During the Second Age, Elrond and an army from Lindon were sent by Gil-galad in an effort to face Sauron in Eriador. Celeborn brought a detachment from Eregion to strengthen Elrond’s army, but even with the reinforcements, they were overwhelmed. Trapped near the headwaters of Bruinen, Elrond established Imladris. This stronghold would henceforth be a refuge for those seeking shelter from Sauron’s onslaught in the west.

By S.A. 1700, Sauron had overrun all of Eriador and Imladris was under siege. Gil-galad’s forces routed Sauron’s armies and drove him out of Eriador, lifting the siege. A Council held at that time made Elrond Gil-galad’s vice-regent in Eriador, and Imladris his seat. Imladris remained an Elvish stronghold in the region into the waning of the Third Age. Gil-galad bestowed Vilya upon Elrond in secret, and with it the lord of Imladris made it one of the centers of Elvish strength in the west.

The strategy behind these decks is fairly straight forward. The first deck takes advantage of versatile heroes and a multitude of readying effects to overwhelm any opposition. The second deck uses Vilya to muster allies and powerful attachments while proving support through healing and card draw. Neither deck has particularly low starting threat, but the heroes are powerful enough to handle themselves while each deck gets setup.

The two decks are definitely designed to work together. Elrond is a mighty Elven lord with the mastery of Vilya, but the Imladris Stargazer makes the ring much more effective.  Likewise, Elrohir is an valiant defender, but Elven Mail makes him much less vulnerable to enemy attacks. Asfaloth is similarly most effective when ridden by his master Glorfindel. I have included a sideboard with some options to help deal with specific scenarios, but these decks should be effective against many different kinds of challenges.

Deck #1: Watchers of the Valley


Aragorn (Core)
Elrohir (TRG)
Glorfindel (FoS)

Allies: 20
Rivendell Scout (TTT) x3
Naith Guide (TDT) x3
Arwen Undómiel (TWitW) x3
Imladris Stargazer (FoS) x3
Silverlode Archer (Core) x2
Orophin (CS) x1
Erestor (TLD) x2
Gandalf (Core) x3

Attachments: 20
Dúnedain Warning (CatC) x3
Ancient Mathom (AJtR) x2
Light of Valinor (FoS) x3
Miruvor (SaF) x3
Celebrían’s Stone (Core) x2
Steward of Gondor (Core) x3
Unexpected Courage (Core) x2
Sword that was Broken (TWitW) x2

Events: 10
Elrond’s Counsel (SaF) x3
Sneak Attack (Core) x3
A Test of Will (Core) x2
Hasty Stroke (Core) x2

Sideboard: 15
Blood of Númenor (HoN) x2
Dúnedain Mark (THfG) x3
Ancient Mathom (AJtR) x1
Celebrían’s Stone (Core) x1
Sword that was Broken (TWitW) x1
Valiant Sacrifice (Core) x3
A Test of Will (Core) x1
Hasty Stroke (Core) x1
Ride them Down (TAC) x2

Deck #2: Keepers of Imladris



Allies: 20
Henamarth Riversong (Core) x2
Trollshaw Scout (FoS) x2
Galadhon Archer (NiE) x2
Master of the Forge (SaF) x3
Daughter of the Nimrodel (Core) x2
Rivendell Minstrel (THfG) x2
Rumil (TTT) x1
Haldir of Lorien (AJtR) x1
Gildor Inglorion (THoEM) x2
Gandalf (Core) x3

Attachments: 22
Expert Treasure-hunter (TH:OtD) x2
Dagger of Westernesse (TBR) x2
Rivendell Blade (RtR) x3
Rivendell Bow (TWitW) x2
Elf-stone (TBR) x2
Lembas (TiT) x2
Elven Mail (TTT) x2
A Burning Brand (TWitW) x2
Asfaloth (FoS) x2
Vilya (SaF) x3

Events: 8
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3
Feint (Core) x2
Mithrandir’s Advice (TSF) x3

Sideboard: 15
Ranger Bow (AoO) x2
Wingfoot (NiE) x2
A Burning Brand (TWitW) x1
Asfaloth (FoS) x1
Ranger Spikes (HoN) x2
Foe-hammer (TH:OHaUH) x3
Feint (Core) x1
Quick Strike (Core) x3

Posted in Deck Lists, History, Strategy, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments