A Tribute to David Poage

We live in a society of over-used superlatives. In games we always play as the “hero”. Often these characters are amateurish, one-dimensional tropes, whose sole distinction is mindlessly hacking away at mountains of anonymous enemies. The meaning of this word has degraded to the point where even the most ordinary actions can be heralded as heroic.

The degradation of our language is not limited to this word, however. Viral aggregators have reduced our rapidly shrinking attention spans to puddles of banality. BuzzFeed would have us believe that everyday deeds are “unbelievable” and that every cat video is “amazing”. The original etymology of the word amazing was for something that was so incredible, it could be likened to enslavement in a labyrinth, where a giant minotaur would try to eat you. To call a cat in a costume amazing is facile hyperbole.

J.R.R. Tolkien passed away in 1973, before I was even born, but I am not willing to believe that the word hero died with him. As the casual heresy of social networking threatens to break the meaning of language, we are left with a very important question. What does it mean to be a hero?

The easy answer is what pundits and talking-heads have near at hand. Just as the words of Saruman in Théoden’s ears, deceit often has a sweet sound. But no amount of honey can make poison safe. These days, warriors are held as our heroes. Veterans are heroic in their sacrifice for their countries, but there is something dangerously jingoistic about deifying the dealer of death. As a veteran of World War I – now ironically known as “The War To End all Wars” – Tolkien knew first hand the folly of what is essentially a fatalistic ethos.

Some of the most incisive and insightful of Tolkien’s writings are the words from the lips of his most iconic heroes:

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.” -Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring

My father was a veteran, and he served in one of my country’s bloodiest conflicts, The Vietnam War. He served grudgingly, which is something that I have always respected. He was not eager to kill or harm others, even if his government told him that he must do so. Despite what zealots would have you believe, patriotism is a tricky and nuanced ideal. When a government can make mistakes, as all governments are wont to do, blind allegiance in the name of patriotism is a dangerous thing.

Faramir imparts a very important lesson about this kind of unthinking tribalism to Sam and Frodo:

“The enemy? His sense of duty was not less than ours, I deem. You wonder what his name was. Where he came from? If he was really evil at heart? What lies or threats lead him on this long march from home, when he’d rather have stayed there? Peace. War will make corpses of us all.” – Faramir, The Two Towers

In the narrative, these words were coming from Faramir, Prince of Gondor, of the proud line of Númenórean blood. Let us make no mistake though, as these words in truth came straight from the heart of Professor Tolkien. A man who survived the Somme – one of the bloodiest conflicts in modern warfare – had seen more than enough of war for one lifetime. Many of his closest friends died in that battle, and he held no illusions about worshipping war for its own sake.

In my father’s reticence to go to war – he only enlisted after it became clear that his country would draft him against his will – I see the blood of Númenor running still through the line of men. He served bravely, and when his time was done he went home to his family and left the weapons and mentality of war behind. Our media doesn’t want to hold up introspection, reticence or doubt as heroic traits, because they don’t make for a neat narrative. It is much easier to espouse the things which seem good on their surface, than to understand the harder truths which can only be grasped by digging deeper. Like the lure of The Ring, we must resist the temptation of the easy answer.

Right beside these hidden wisdoms, Tolkien did present the kind of simple archetypes which have now become a cultural obsession. Aragorn makes for a great narrative device, but he is more of the Platonic ideal of man than the kind of character that can be related to as flesh and blood. Real lives are much more complicated, and real men much more of a mix of good and bad to be so easily encapsulated by a simple “lost king regains his crown” narrative.

In passing, there is the tendency to canonize people. Death is when all men can become Aragorn, perfect in their heroism. In a hyperbolic arc which mirrors the virality of link-bait, a man’s virtues become the ideals of all of man-kind. Likewise, a man’s flaws are magically washed away, lost in a fog of nostalgia and selective memory. This is human nature, without malice or ill-intent. We naturally want to remember the best aspects of the ones we love.

As much as it might be comforting, the narrative of man as Aragorn is lazy and unhelpful. In an ironic twist, most men are more like the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield than they are similar to the son of Arathorn. Strong of will, Thorin was not without his flaws but he ultimately wanted what was best for his family. Even when he was under the spell of Dragon-sickness, the son of Thráin was protecting his fellow Longbeards. Ultimately, Thorin’s story is a redemptive one as he learns to value his family and friends over a dragon’s hoard.

Under the most unfortunate circumstances, I can now say that I truly understand the meaning of the word hero. My father has been fighting the most difficult of battles this year, a battle against his own body. He was diagnosed with bone cancer earlier this year and after a battery of radiation he was given a clean bill of health in May. The cancer returned suddenly in the last week, and this time his foe would not be turned aside.

To see someone you love slowly succumb to death before your eyes is actually unbelievable. Movies, TV, books, all of our media tends to imbue death with a certain romanticism. I can now say first hand that there is nothing romantic about death. It is not something to be worshipped and to revel in it is a blight on our culture.

My father is a very strong man, but his last deeds were the bravest of any in his life. My brother was unable to make it to see my father until late last night. With his body betraying him, my father held on to life until his eldest son could look upon his face one last time. The threat of an excruciating death, more terrifying than any Balrog of Morgoth, was held at bay by this brave old man. His body and mind enfeebled, he no longer even looked like the man who I knew as my father. But this man, heroic to the very end, refused to let go until all of his family could be with him.

The trend of diluting our language looks to continue unabated. Our anti-social media and a deepening obsession with “going viral” only exacerbates this loss of meaning. If anything, no matter how trivial, can be called amazing or unbelievable, then nothing is amazing and unbelievable is just another word to use for attracting page clicks. The tides of culture may wash on, but I can stand firmly on the rocks of this experience and know with certainty what true heroism looks like.

Words cannot express just how grateful I am for the lessons that my father taught me. If he had not read The Hobbit to me as small child – and instilled a love of Tolkien – no one would be reading the words which I am writing now. To try to distill a man’s life down into simple words is a disservice to both the man and the power of words. Thank you David Poage, for teaching me the true meaning of the word hero.

David Poage

11/29/1947 – 7/19/2015

David Poage
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Deck: A Walk with Fangorn

Treebeard with Merry and Pippin

Lately, we have been seeing quite a few marquee heroes with well-rounded stats. These do-everything characters can form the potent core of a deck’s strategy, but they rely heavily on readying effects. Some heroes have built-in readying effects, but with the exception of Tactics Boromir, those effects tend to have limitations. Having attachments and events for readying your most powerful heroes thus becomes essential.

As good as his ally version was from the last cycle, in my experience the Treebeard hero has been even better. True, his starting threat elevates him to the level of such luminaries as Elrond and (almost) Gandalf – but Treebeard is not to be trifled with. Not being able to have restricted attachments effectively means that you cannot attach weapons or armor to the leader of the Ents. The pedantic reader might also argue that Treebeard cannot have non-martial attachments like Horn of Gondor – but that card is not in any way thematic, nor does it fit the strategy of our deck, so it is no great loss.

Instead, we will be taking advantage of a multitude of powerful Lore and Spirit attachments that should help Treebeard protect his newfound Hobbit friends while they wander through his eponymous forest. I take particular joy when a new card brings older cards out of mothballs, unlocking previously hidden potential. In the case of Treebeard, his stat-boosting is based on repeatedly dealing damage to himself. It is only appropriate then, that Self Preservation would be prominently featured in this deck.

Daughter of NimrodelGranted, an ally like Daughter of the Nimrodel has a similar effect, but these cards are not identical. Scenarios increasingly include ally-hate, which can make a 1 hit point character like the Daughter a liability, especially at a cost of 3 resources. To be fair, this deck does include Warden of Healing (one of the few thematic concessions), but costing 1 less resource is not a trivial difference, especially with only 2 Lore heroes. In any case, the deck should have enough healing for most quests, and the sideboard can bring succor for the most treacherous journeys.

Let us not perpetuate the mistake of underestimating our halfling friends. Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrine Took both play roles which are vital to this undertaking. In the case of Merry, he brings repeatable threat reduction, as well as access to the readying and cancelation effects of the Spirit sphere. Pippin helps us to avoid many of the more troublesome enemies, while supplementing our card-drawing ability and providing a second Lore hero.

MiruvorWith Ents rounding out our list of allies, the deck relies heavily on Lore for its ability to quest and support Treebeard in combat. Fangorn may be slow to anger, but when he does at last decide to fight, Treebeard is a formidable figure. Surrounded by his brethren, even the mighty armies of Saruman do not stand a chance. The relatively low starting threat, along with Pippin’s ability, should buy us time to muster some Ent allies.

As discussed above, readying is critical so that we can make use of his ability during multiple phases of the game. This is where a card like Miruvor is so important to our plans. With mostly Lore cards in the deck (and what Spirit cards there are tending to be less expensive), it can happen that extra resources pile up on Merry. Miruvor gains maximum utility in this case as it not only allows Treebeard to take multiple actions in a round, but it serves as resource smoothing by allowing you to spend one of Merry’s extra resources on an Ent ally or a key attachment.

Power-minded players will note that this deck is by no means top tier. While I find the building of top tier deck to be a fulfilling mental challenge, they can often be boring to play solo, as they tend to completely dominate the quest. On the other hand, I particularly enjoy building decks like this one – which blend strategy and theme so closely. Not only are they a bit more challenging to play, but it feels more rewarding to win with a deck that omits less thematic cards in the name of a bit more thematic purity. In any case, feel free to change the deck list and sideboard as you see fit, but I do believe that you will find a walk through the ancient forest with two brave Hobbits to be a most worthwhile experience. Safe travels!

Treebeard-ToS-smallMerry-TWoEPippin (TBR)

Heroes:
Treebeard (ToS)
Merry (TWoE)
Pippin (TBR)

Allies: 22
Westfold Horse-breeder (VoI) x2
Imladris Stargazer (FoS) x2
Gléowine (Core) x1
Ithilien Tracker (HoN) x1
Master of the Forge (SaF) x1
Wandering Ent (CS) x3
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Quickbeam (ToS) x3
Wellinghall Custodian (EfMG) x3
Gandalf (Core) x3

Attachments: 17
Hobbit Pony (TWoE) x2
Expert Treasure-hunter (TH:OtD) x2
Miruvor (SaF) x3
Fast Hitch (TDM) x2
Protector of Lórien (Core) x2
Ent Draught (ToS) x2
Unexpected Courage (Core) x2
Self Preservation (Core) x2

Events: 10
Entmoot (ToS) x3
A Test of Will (Core) x3
Hasty Stroke (Core) x2
Peace, and Thought (SaF) x2

Side Quests: 1
Gather Information (TLR) x1

Sideboard: 15
Westfold Horse-breaker (THfG) x3
Ranger Spikes (HoN) x3
Self Preservation (Core) x1
Noiseless Movement (TTT) x3
Secret Paths (Core) x3
Lore of Imladris (Core) x2

Posted in Deck Lists, Fun, Strategy, Tempo | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Poll Results: Favorite Attacking Hero

gimli_painted_sketch_card_by_greatart4jeff

My apologies, dear readers. I have been busy lately with testing out a draft format for the Grey Company listener event at Gen Con 2015. Most recently, Derek and Matthew visited for the first of what will hopefully be an annual tradition at Ranger Con here in Austin. Still, it is long past due to close out our poll and tabulate the results.

Voters were asked which hero was their favorite to use for attacking enemies. Being able to kill enemies quickly as increasingly become one of the most important aspect of a deck’s strategy, and the game now offers a variety of heroes who are up to the task. Thanks to Idraen and now Santa Théoden, Spirit even has multiple options beyond the obvious choice of Glorfindel.

Treebeard-ToS-smallThere is one caveat to make about the results, before we get into details. This poll was created before The Lost Realm or Treason of Saruman were released, so both Tactics Aragorn and Santa Théoden were not included in the original list of options. Both heroes were included as write in votes, but I have no doubt that they would have received more votes if they were included in the poll from the beginning, and players had the time to play with them before voting. I have had quite a bit of success with the new Treebeard hero, and his ability makes him particularly well suited as an attacker. As for Tactics Aragorn, he fits well in a Dúnedain deck, but I feel that this strategy needs a few more cards (for example: a readying effect) to be truly viable.

The list of most popular attacking heroes is filled with some predictable choices. Legolas, Tactics Boromir, Éomer and Haldir of Lórien can all be turned into powerful attackers. The one interesting exception is Gimli. The son of Glóin was commonly featured as the main attacker in many early decks, especially because Citadel Plate was also included in the Core Set. He seems to have since fallen out of favor as most Dwarf decks moved to a swarm strategy built around Dain Ironfoot. To be fair, Gimli allows for an attacking strategy that is not Dwarf-specific. With the release of an ally version of Gimli in The Treason of Saruman it will be interesting to see if this has any impact on the use of hero Gimli.

One of my favorite aspects of the draft format that we’ve been playing lately is the way it pushed you to use cards that you would not normally include in your decks. With that in mind, I have included a deck list at the bottom of this post that features the three most popular attacking heroes from this poll. It is obviously not what I would call a balanced deck as it focuses almost entirely on combat, but for combat heavy scenarios it should be brutally effective. Thanks again to all of those who voted, and be sure to participate in the latest poll. Safe travels in Middle-earth!

Hero Votes Percentage
Legolas (Core) 170 22.94%
Gimli (Core) 103 13.9%
Boromir (TDM) 67 9.04%
Éomer (VoI) 65 8.77%
Haldir of Lórien (TiT) 54 7.29%
Beorn (TH:OHaUH) 35 4.72%
Merry (TBR) 33 4.45%
Dúnhere (Core) 30 4.05%
Bard the Bowman (TH:OtD) 21 2.83%
Gandalf (TRD) 20 2.7%
Aragorn (Core) 20 2.7%
Háma (TLD) 18 2.43%
Glorfindel (FoS) 18 2.43%
Boromir (HoN) 17 2.29%
Elladan (RtR) 16 2.16%
Faramir (AoO) 10 1.35%
Glorfindel (Core) 8 1.08%
Idraen (TTT) 8 1.08%
Prince Imrahil (AJtR) 7 0.94%
Aragorn (TWitW) 4 0.54%
Thorin Oakenshield (TH:OHaUH) 4 0.54%
Théoden (TMV) 3 0.4%
Brand Son of Bain (THoEM) 3 0.4%
Aragorn (TLR) 3 0.4%
Celeborn (TDT) 2 0.26%
Treebeard (ToS) 1 0.13%
Fëanor (FA) 1 0.13%

Deck: The Fellowship Attacks

Heroes:
Gimli (Core)
Boromir (TDM)
Legolas (Core)

Allies: 18
Dúnedain Hunter (TLR) x3
Envoy of Pelargir (HoN) x3
Booming Ent (TAC) x3
Westfold Outrider (VoI) x3
Bofur (TH:OHaUH) x3
Treebeard (TaC) x3

Attachments: 21
Arod (ToS) x2
Blade of Gondolin (Core) x2
Captain of Gondor (ATC) x2
Dagger of Westernesse (KD) x2
Gondorian Shield (TSF) x3
Horn of Gondor (Core) x2
Rivendell Blade (RtR) x3
Secret Vigil (TLR) x3
Citadel Plate (Core) x2

Events: 11
Foe-hammer (TH:OHaUH) x3
Feint (Core) x3
Hands Upon the Bow (SaF) x3
Quick Strike (Core) x2

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

Bear Draft was a hit with the Austin LotR Group

Austin LotR Draft 6-11-2015
For the second week in a row, we tried out a modified version of the Bear Draft format at our weekly Austin LotR Group. This time we had 6 players participate in the draft, followed by two 3-player games. One group chose Conflict at the Carrock and was able to navigate their decks past the trolls to victory. The other group was quite a bit more ambitious and tackled Escape from Dul Guldur. Had it not been for Éomer being held prisoner in the dungeons they may have escaped, but losing one of their best attackers was a bit too much for the players to overcome. Still, everyone found the draft format thoroughly enjoyable, and players were able to build some very strong decks.  I can’t wait to run an 8-player draft at our Grey Company listener event at Gen Con 2015 this year. For the curious, the hero lineups were as follows:

Group #1
Eowyn, Balin and Mablung
Legolas, Frodo and Nori
Beorn, Thalin and Theodred

Group #2
Sam Gamgee, Pippin (Lore) and Celeborn
Eomer, Halbarad and Galadriel
Aragorn (Lore), Bifur and Dwalin

Posted in Community, Draft, GenCon, The Grey Company | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Deck: Champion of Gondor

boromir

There has been some talk on the forums lately about the need to include Spirit in every deck. While I agree that quests increasingly are including “must-cancel” treacheries, I do enjoy building decks that defy the trends. This deck does not include any Spirit or Lore, but it can dominate against many different kinds of quests. As much as these treacheries can be devastating, there is an opportunities for alternatives in many quests. Some quests are simply too punishing without cancellation and healing (see: The Weather Hills), but an aggressive deck can often mitigate all but the most niche quests.

Secret-VigilThe Lost Realm gave a big boost to aggro decks, and the upcoming cycle with its valour keyword should continue that trend. In many ways, this deck is a traditional Eagle deck, but there are some new tricks that have refined the foundational strategy to a razor-edge. In particular, giving Tactics access to threat-reduction with Secret Vigil has provided a huge boost to the action advantage of the original Boromir hero. This card, coupled with the staple combo of Core Set Gandalf and Sneak Attack, should allow us to maximize our ability to ready Boromir.

With Boromir take part in all aspects of combat, we want to load him up with everything possible. In fact, the only attachment in this deck which is not intended for the eldest son of Denethor is King Under the Mountain. The consist card drawing that we can from this card paired with Balin is one of the keys to the consistency of this deck. The Eagles are Coming will help thin our deck of allies, while fetch abilities from Weather Hills Watchman and Galadriel will help us to equip Boromir with his all-important gear.

Weather-Hills-Watchman-smallThe watchman is another new card that helps to reinforce what was already a solid core. With only 5 signals in the deck (not counting the sideboard) there will be times that his effect will miss, but he is still worth inclusion. With solid stats, his effect does not need to hit for him to be a worthwhile foot soldier in our deck. Faramir can boost his willpower to 2, he can chump block in the critical early game, and he can even soak archery damage to spare his general from an enemy onslaught. In any case, I look at his ability as a nice bonus when it hits – by no means is deck reliant on this fetch ability in order for it to be effective.

Galadriel serves two important roles in this deck. Until Faramir shows up, this deck can sometimes struggle to quest – especially against the more location-based quests. We are obviously well-prepared for all but the most monstrous enemies, but this deck is decidedly lacking in location control. This is by design. Aggro decks are best when they focus on a single basic strategy, and excelling at the chosen task. This deck is all about unleashing the power of Tactics Boromir, so polluting it with location control cards – which are relatively less prevalent in Tactics and Leadership – doesn’t make much sense. Galadriel adds 3 willpower that can be critical to push through and make quest progress in the early game. As importantly, she helps get our critical attachments into play with appropriate haste.

King Under the MountainTwo attachments in particular: Steward of Gondor and King Under the Mountain, are absolutely essential to the success of this deck. With two Leadership heroes and a deck of expensive Tactics cards, we need to resource acceleration of Steward on Boromir. Resource acceleration always works best with card draw – lest we find ourselves with an abundance of money with nothing on which to spend it. King Under the Mountain will allow us to play meaningful cards on almost every round. If either of these two cards is not in play, Galadriel will allow us to get them into play, without any additional cost. Because we can stack our deck as part of their ability, she works particularly well with King Under the Mountain and fetch abilities like Weather Hills Watchman and “The Eagles Are Coming!”.

As the centerpiece of the deck, Boromir will be facing an army of enemies. Thanks to all of his defensive attachments, he will often be immune to most enemy attacks, but shadow effects become a concern when one character is defending so often. While shadow effects that boost enemy attacks will seldom concern him, direct damage effects and attachment hate can wear down even the doughty Boromir. To avoid this attrition, Balin allows us to cancel the most troublesome shadow effects. For this reason, it is advisable to always spend Leadership resources from Sam before spending them from Balin. Over the course of the game, Leadership resources can pile up a bit, which the Errand-rider can move over to Boromir for use with Eagle cards. Until Boromir’s brother has joined him, it is often wise to leave one or two Leadership resources on Balin, so that you can play Faramir when you draw him.

Gather-Information-smallIt is notable that there are single copies of a few cards in this deck. This is where heavy card draw and multiple search effects allow for more versatile decks. I don’t want to limit my draw with duplicates of non-essential unique cards like Captain of Gondor and Horn of Gondor. While both of these cards are powerful, as well as wonderfully thematic, neither of them is central to the deck’s strategy.

We may on occasion find ourselves in a situation where we need one of these cards, which is why Gather Information is such a useful card. Still, more often than not we will be searching for one of our staple cards like Gandalf, Eagles of the Misty Mountains or Support of the Eagles. The more that I use it, Gather Information is quickly becoming a staple of my new deck designs as it is just so helpful in so many situations. For the most difficult scenarios, particularly with some sideboard tweaks for multi-player, this deck has been a lifesaver. Chime in at the comments below about your favorite aggro decks – I am curious to hear from other players about this rapidly evolving archetype.

Boromir (TDM)BalinSam Gamgee

Heroes:
Boromir (TDM)
Balin (TH:OtD)
Sam Gamgee (TBR)

Allies: 22
Errand-rider (HoN) x3
Vassal of the Windlord (TDM) x3
Weather Hills Watchman (TLR) x2
Winged Guardian (THfG) x3
Galadriel (TRD) x2
Faramir (Core) x3
Eagles of the Misty Mountain (THfG) x3
Gandalf (Core) x3

Attachments: 21
Dúnedain Mark (THfG) x2
Dúnedain Warning (CatC) x3
Captain of Gondor (TAC) x1
Gondorian Shield (TSF) x3
Horn of Gondor (Core) x1
Secret Vigil (TLR) x2
King Under the Mountain (TH:OtD) x3
Steward of Gondor (Core) x3
Support of the Eagles (RtM) x3

Events: 6
The Eagles Are Coming! (THfG) x3
Sneak Attack (Core) x3

Side Quests: 1
Gather Information (TLR) x1

Sideboard: 15
Gimli (ToS) x1
Legolas (ToS) x1
Arod (ToS) x1
Secret Vigil (TLR) x1
Dúnedain Signal (RtM) x2
Dúnedain Cache (TDM) x2
Wealth of Gondor (HoN) x2
Gondorian Discipline (EaAD) x2
Feint (Core) x3

Posted in Aggro, Deck Lists, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

GenCon 2015: Bear Draft

GenCon 2015 Banner

With GenCon 2015 fast approaching, I’ve been thinking a lot about having something special for The Grey Company Podcast listener event. With so many fans of the game in one place, we have a rare opportunity to try different game formats. Recently on The LotR LCG Subreddit there was an interesting thread about a draft format that piqued my interest. Looking a bit further back, another player devised a cube draft format on Board Game Geek. What I ended up with here is a bit different from those formats, but I wanted to give proper credit to others who have also worked on this idea.

Unexpected CourageBack when I still played competitive CCGs, one of my favorite game formats was booster draft. For those unfamiliar, draft is what is known as a limited format. Normally in card games, you can build a deck with whatever cards you want – as long as it still follows the standard deck building rules. For example, if you own three Core Sets, you can build a deck which includes three copies each of Horn of Gondor and Unexpected Courage. You would also be able to include 3 copies of A Test of Will, Sneak Attack and ally Faramir. These cards are all very powerful, and being able to include the maximum number of copies in a deck will improve the consistency of that deck. Limited formats, among other things, address this power imbalance.

The most obvious problem with constructed formats – an issue which is an order of magnitude worse in CCGs – this is that it rewards the players with the most money. By paying the extra money for the additional copies of the Core Set, you are allowing yourself to create decks that simply are not possible for a player who only owns a single copy of the Core Set. While this is much less of an issue in a cooperative LCG, it can still lead to a negative play experience. Players with a limited card pool might feel that their deck is being overshadowed and marginalized by a “top tier” from a player with access to a larger card pool. Anyone who has ever seen a Core Set deck played next to a well-tuned Elrond or Gandalf deck will know exactly what this looks like. Limited formats like draft ensure a balanced card pool and a fair place experience for all. Draft also reintroduces experienced players to the thrill and challenge of deck-building with a limited card pool.

Spare-Hood-and-CloakIn draft, players take turns selecting cards from a fixed pool of cards. The cards that they select are then built into a deck and they are typically not allowed to add outside cards – except perhaps certain fundamental cards which are universal to all decks (e.g. basic lands). This not only solves the problem of the player who buys three of everything to build the uber-decks, but it also rewards players who are good at deck building. Being able to create a viable deck with cards that others players ignore as “worthless” is precisely what separates a good deck-builder from a player who simply sticks 3 of each power card in all of their decks.

In a CCG booster draft, the card pool is completely random because the cards are taken from packs which themselves use a random distribution model. This randomness is a big part of the appeal for players of all skill levels. New players know that every player will be spending the same amount of money, and will have the same opportunity to build a good deck – money does not help you in a limited format. Experienced players know that the random card pool offers the opportunity to prove their worth as deck builders with what would otherwise be sub-optimal cards. Some of my favorite moments of competitive play have come from winning a game using a card that my opponent was convinced was “garbage”.

While LCGs do not use a random distribution model, there is no reason why you cannot define a limited card pool and create random “packs”. This is precisely what I am proposing with the “Bear Draft” format. The card pool consists of 440 player cards and 40 heroes. Player cards are divided into common cards (3x of each) and uncommon cards (2x of each).

The reason for creating commonalities is twofold. First of all, cards like Unexpected Courage and Steward of Gondor are simply more powerful than most other cards in the card pool. The entire point of a limited format is to reign in the power imbalance that comes from decks with the maximum number of copies of each “top tier” card. Odds are very good that whichever player opens a “pack” with one of these power-cards is going to immediately select that card – regardless of what else is in the pack. By limited power cards to two copies in the card pool, the odds are significantly decreased that a single player has multiple copies of any one of these game-bending cards.

Feigned-Voices-smallSecondly, many cards are context specific. Visionary Leadership and Feigned Voices are both excellent cards, for example, but they can both be totally useless in the wrong decks. Each of these cards requires multiple cards in a deck with the given trait, so they are not globally useful for all decks. Because we want to maximize each player’s ability to create useful decks, most cards which rely on a specific trait or archetype are limited to 2 copies in the card pool. This reduces the odds that any player is stuck with a deck filled with dead cards.

With caveats about card quantity out of the way, its time to look at the distribution of by sphere and card type. We don’t want to favor any one sphere so each of the spheres gets 10 hero cards and 100 player cards. Since allies are an important staple of all but the most niche decks (shoutout to Tracker, proponent of the no-ally archetype), 40 of the 100 player cards will be allies. Attachments and events then make up 30 cards each with a given sphere. Lastly, we have 40 Neutral cards consisting of 13 allies, 20 attachments and 7 events. The reason why the Neutral card ratios are so skewed is because we have included three copies of each of the Song cards – essential for a limited card pool such as this.

Glorfindel-FoSAttentive readers who have scanned the list of heroes may have already noticed some notable omissions. This is not an accident. Not only has Gandalf hero been left out from the card pool (along with his many toys), but each sphere is missing one powerful hero. One of the biggest problems with powerful cards, especially heroes, is that they can become a crutch. Every deck that needs Spirit will inexorably be drawn to Spirit Glorfindel. With 5 starting threat and access to such “auto-includes” as Light of Valinor, Asfaloth and Elrond’s Counsel, you would be crazy not to consider him for the final slot of a deck that needs Spirit. The problem is that his power makes the meta-game stale and it leads to lazy deck-building. This is nothing against Glorfindel, I’ve used him in dozens of my decks, but at a certain point it gets boring to use the same hero with the same 9 to 12 supporting cards.

Dain IronfootWith that in mind, each sphere is missing what I consider to be its most over-played or game-breaking hero. Dain Ironfoot has taken a much-needed vacation to the Iron Hills. Tactics loses ever-ready Boromir and his uncanny ability to defend against 7 enemies in a round. Spirit is without do-everything Glorfindel and his ability to create huge hero lineups with low starting threat. Another Noldor is also absent, as Elrond is busy writing poetry at his haven in Imladris. Some players will no doubt complain at these choices, but the idea is that the undeniable power of these heroes is only compounded in a limited card pool. Besides, when was the last time you actually used Fatty Bolger in one of your decks?

Now that we covered the card breakdowns in detail, its time to discuss how to actually run a draft with this card pool. There are many ways to do it, and I encourage players to devise their own methods to suit their play-styles, number of players, and situations. What I present here is the format that I plan to run at GenCon 2015 for our listener event and it is specifically designed for 8 players.

First, the 40 hero cards will be turned into 8 five-card hero “packs”. The process for doing this is as follows: randomly select a hero from each sphere and use it as the basis of each pack (8 x 4 = 32). Then, take the remaining 8 heroes and shuffle them together and add 1 to each of the existing packs. This creates 8 packs of five heroes with at least one hero from each sphere.

For the player cards, we will first create two giants decks consisting of each card with the same rarity. Unless you have giant bear paws like me, it is not physically possible to hold these as a single deck so feel free to pile them as stack on the table. One stack will consist of the 264 common player cards and the other stack will consist of the 176 uncommon cards. Together these two stacks comprise our 440 player cards.

With the stacks created, we will build “packs” of 11 cards that include a mix of common and uncommon cards. 16 of the packs will include 6 random common cards and 5 random uncommon cards. The remaining 24 packs will consist of 7 random common cards and 4 random uncommon cards. The packs with a 6-to-5 ratio should be kept separate from the ones with a 7-to-4 ratio of common to uncommon cards. These 40 packs of 11 cards make up our 440 card pool. Note that the card list below will be provided to each player before the draft, so that everyone knows which heroes and player cards are available, and the rarity of each of the player cards.

The hero draft proceeds for one round, as follows:

1. Player split themselves up into two 4-player teams
2. All players sit around a single table, alternating so that no two teammates are sitting next to each other.
3. Each player receives a random 5-card hero pack.
4. Each player selects a hero card from their pack and places it in front of them face-down
5. Once each player selects a hero card, they turn their choice face up and pass their remaining cards clockwise.
6. Hero choices are public so that teammates can strategize and all players are less likely to get stuck without a viable hero lineup.
7. Repeat this process until each player has drafted 5 heroes.

This completes the hero draft. Players will ultimately make a deck with three of the heroes that they drafted, but they won’t have to choose which three heroes until after they have drafted their player cards.

The player card draft proceeds for five rounds, as follows:

1. Each player receives a random 11-card pack.
2. For odd-numbered rounds (1,3 and 5), use the packs with a 7-to-4 ratio of common to uncommon cards. Cards are passed clockwise in odd-numbered rounds.
3. For even-numbered rounds (2 and 4), use the packs with a 6-to-5 ratio of common to uncommon cards. Cards are passed counter-clockwise in even-numbered rounds.
4. Other than the ratio of the cards and the direction cards are passed, each round proceeds in identical fashion.
5. Unlike hero cards, player cards are not revealed after they are selected but should be kept secret. Heroes are public information so that players can form high-level strategies about the decks and their overall draft strategy, whereas player cards are known only be the player who drafts them.
6. Repeat this process until each player has drafted 55 player cards (11 x 5 = 55)

This completes the player card draft. Player will now build decks that consist of a minimum of 40 cards. Standard deck-building rules apply, but with the given card pool it is not possible for one player to have more than 3 of any one card, and no cards with limit 1 per deck are included in this draft. In addition to their 55 cards, each player will receive  1 copy of Core Set Gandalf which they may add to their deck (bonus points if you can build a deck without such an powerful ally) . As a final option, each player may also include one the following Song cards from outside of the card pool (Song of Battle, Song of Kings, Song of Travel, Song of Wisdom), if they so choose. These Song cards will be provided by whoever runs the draft, or proxies can be used – as long as the player clearly indicates which Song card the proxy represents.

With the decks built, each team of four players will then play against an agreed-upon scenario. Because of the limitations imposed by this draft format, it is highly encouraged that this scenario be of lesser difficulty. If all of the players agree, easy mode can be employed for the chosen scenario – so long as both teams play their game against the same mode of the chosen scenario. Score is kept for each of the games, according to the latest rules in the FAQ. At the end of the games, the team with highest score wins the tournament and is awarded with bragging rights, or a round of beers, or magical rings of indeterminate provenance.

This is just one bear’s take on a limited format for The Lord of the Rings LCG. If you have your own ideas, or suggestions for how to improve upon what I have proposed here, feel free to leave them in the comments below. I will be testing this format at the meeting of the Austin LotR group next, so be sure to check back for my report on whether or not I can pull off this crazy idea.

Leadership (100 cards)

Heroes x1 (10)
Sam Gamgee
Theodred
Balin
Halbarad
Boromir (HoN)
Celeborn
Erkenbrand
Prince Imrahil
Aragorn (Core)
Thorin Oakenshield

Allies (40)

Common x3 (24)
Errand-rider (HoN)
Snowbourn Scout (Core)
Pelargir Ship Captain
Naith Guide
Weather Hills Watchman (TLR)
Longbeard Elder
Silverlode Archer (Core)
Warden of Helm’s Deep

Uncommon x2 (16)
Bill the Pony
Herald of Anorien
Dunedain Watcher
Galadriel (TRD)
Orophin
Denethor (EaAD)
Gimli (ToS)
Longbeard Orc Slayer

Attachments (30)

Common x3 (18)
Cram
Dunedain Mark
Dunedain Warning
Dunedain Signal
Dunedain Cache
Dunedain Quest

Uncommon x2 (12)
O’ Lorien
Celebrian’s Stone
King Under the Mountain
Narvi’s Belt
Steward of Gondor
Visionary Leadership

Events (30)

Common x3 (18)
Gaining Strength
Parting Gifts
We Are Not Idle
Campfire Tales
Sneak Attack
Swift and Silent

Uncommon x2 (12)
A Very Good Tale
Feigned Voices
Dawn Take You All
For Gondor!
Lure of Moria
Grim Resolve

Tactics (100)

Heroes x1 (10)
Merry
Legolas
Thalin
Beregond
Brand son of Bain
Eomer
Mablung
Bard the Bowman
Gimli
Beorn

Allies (40)

Common x3 (24)
Vassal of the Windlord
Booming Ent
Defender of Rammas
Galadhon Archer
Gondorian Spearman
Veteran Axehand
Westfold Outrider
Winged Guardian 

Uncommon x2 (16)
Dunedain Hunter
Trollshaw Scout
Bofur (TH:OHaUH)
Erebor Battle Master
Boromir (TRD)
Eagles of the Misty Mountains
Legolas (ToS)
Landroval

Attachments (30)

Common x3 (18)
Blade of Gondolin
Dagger of Westernesse
Gondorian Shield
Rohan Warhorse
Secret Vigil
Dwarven Axe

Uncommon x2 (12)
Rivendell Blade
Elven Mail
Support of the Eagles
Arod
Captain of Gondor
Horn of Gondor

Events (30)

Common x3 (18)
Unseen Strike
Blade Mastery
Feint
Hail of Stones
Hands Upon the Bow
Quick Strike

Uncommon x2 (12)
Close Call
Foe-hammer
Gondorian Discipline
Khazad-khazad!
The Eagles Are Coming!
Halfling Determination

Spirit (100)

Heroes x1 (10)
Eleanor
Fatty Bolger
Frodo Baggins
Dunhere
Eowyn
Dwalin
Galadriel
Nori
Idraen
Theoden

Allies (40)

Common x3 (24)
Minas Tirith Lampwright
Silvan Refugee
Westfold Horse-breeder
Blue Mountain Trader
Imladris Stargazer
The Riddermark’s Finest
Wandering Took
Zigil Miner

Uncommon x2 (16)
Arwen Undomiel
Escort from Edoras
Galadriel’s Handmaiden
Bofur
Lorien Guide
Northern Tracker
Eomund
Hama

Attachments (30)

Common x3 (18)
Blood of Numenor
Spare Hood and Cloak
Ancient Mathom
Miruvor
Song of Earendil
Steed of the Mark

Uncommon x2 (12)
Light of Valinor
Ring of Barahir
Thror’s Key
Silver Lamp
Unexpected Courage
Herugrim

Events (30)

Common x3 (18)
Late Adventurer
Power of Orthanc
A Test of Will
Hasty Stroke
The Galadhrim’s Greeting
Stand and Fight

Uncommon x2 (12)
Elrond’s Counsel
Island Amid Perils
Ride to Ruin
Dwarven Tomb
Astonishing Speed
Untroubled by Darkness

Lore (100)

Heroes x1 (10)
Pippin
Bifur
Denethor
Bilbo Baggins
Ori
Haldir of Lorien
Beravor
Aragorn
Glorfindel (Core)
Treebeard

Allies (40)

Common x3 (24)
Erebor Record Keeper
Erebor Hammersmith
Ithilien Tracker
Galadhrim Minstrel
Miner of the Iron Hills
Wandering Ent
Daughter of the Nimrodel
Silvan Tracker

Uncommon x2 (16)
Henamarth Riversong
Gleowine
Master of the Forge
Quickbeam
Warden of Healing
Rivendell Minstrel
Dori
Elrond

Attachments (30)

Common x3 (18)
Expert Treasure-hunter
Healing Herbs
Elf-stone
Protector of Lorien
Ranger Spikes
Self Preservation

Uncommon x2 (12)
Fast Hitch
Legacy of Durin
Lembas
A Burning Brand
Asfaloth
Forest Snare

Events (30)

Common x3 (18)
Daeron’s Runes
Rumour from the Earth
Noiseless Movement
Radagast’s Cunning
Secret Paths
Lore of Imladris

Uncommon x2 (12)
Entmoot
The Tree People
Expecting Mischief
Strider’s Path
Gildor’s Counsel
Take No Notice

Neutral (40)

Allies (13)

Common x3 (9)
Envoy of Pelargir
Defender of the Naith
White Tower Watchman

Uncommon x2 (4)
Saruman
Treebeard

Attachments (20)

Common x3 (12)
Song of Battle
Song of Kings
Song of Travel
Song of Wisdom

Uncommon x2 (8)
Boots from Erebor
Palantir
Nenya
Resourceful

Events (7)

Common x3 (3)
A Good Harvest

Uncommon x2 (4)
The White Council
Shadow of the Past

Extras

Gandalf (Core) x8 [one for each player]
Songs x8 [one for each player, of that player’s choice]

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Epic Victory Defending Helm’s Deep from The Treason of Saruman!

Helm's Deep - 3 Player Victory

To give an idea of just how punishing this scenario is in multiplayer, this is a photo of the staging area on the round that we were victorious in a three player game. Of all the (non-Nightmare) quests that I’ve played, this is probably the most challenging. Still, victory is that much sweeter after overcoming such an overwhelming onslaught. Healing, Eleanor for Devilry of Saruman, Galadriel for threat control, Boromir loaded with attachments, and Treebeard and Éowyn questing all helped contribute to the win. What an amazing quest!

Posted in Community, Screenshot, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments