Alternate Art: Zero is not Nothing

bear-painting

As much as I enjoy making mono-sphere decks, there is always the temptation to go the other direction and include three or even all four spheres in a deck. There are so many good cards spread across spheres that it is often difficult to narrow your choices down. Thankfully, the card pool now has a wide variety of zero cost cards to make multi-sphere decks less risky of a proposition. What’s more, some of these cards (I’m looking at you A Very Good Tale and Daeron’s Runes) happen to be among the most potent cards in their respective spheres.

Assuming you already have the sphere match, zero-cost cards function as a sort of glue; they help to hold all of the pieces of a multi-sphere deck together. This is not to say that these cards aren’t also valuable in more focused decks with only one or two spheres, their low costs and high impact just makes them all the more important in a deck which is splitting its attention among many disparate facets of the game. With that in mind, I wanted to make a bit of a present for anyone else in the community who appreciates the value of free cards.

What follows are alternate art versions of just some of my favorite 0-cost cards. This follows in the tradition of my previous post with alternate art staples, only this time we focus on cards which can slot easily into a wide variety of decks – thanks to their bargain prices. It speaks volumes about the state of the meta-game that so many of these cards are at the heart of many of the game’s most popular decks. It remains to be seen whether newer entrées, cards like Dúnedain Remedy, will similarly become staples. I have long been a fan of cards with that kind of efficiency and versatility. As a bonus, I’ve included a few heroes at the end of the list, since many people enjoyed my alternate art hero cards inspired by the art of Magali Villeneuve. I hope that you enjoy these cards, and as always you can contact me if you are interested in printable versions. Don’t forget, you can’t always judge the value of a thing by how much it costs.

All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

dunedain-remedy-front-face a-very-good-tale-front-face gondorian-fire-front-face foe-hammer-front-face blood-of-numenor-front-face elronds-counsel-front-face expert-treasure-hunter-front-face deep-knowledge-front-face good-meal-front-face hidden-cache-front-face elfhelm-front-face legolas-front-face beregond-front-face bifur-front-face

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Bear Draft v3: Card Pool

bear-diving-into-pool

Over the long weekend, the Austin LotR LCG group met and we had the opportunity to test the latest version of the Bear Draft. For the first time, we included the optional Signature Squad rules which I detailed in an earlier post. Being able to choose a General and receive 6 additional cards was a well-received tweak to the existing draft format. Players enjoyed being able to focus a strategy that was already present in their decks, or even add one that might have been lacking.

By it’s nature a draft pool is limited, so everyone is not going to be able to include 3 copies of each staple card in their deck. These constraints are a big part of the fun of draft – it forces you out of your comfort zone as a deck-builder and player. Still, players want to feel like their draft decks have some kind of strategic and thematic cohesion, and Signature Squads and Havens both allow for this.

argaladBecause of time constraints we decided not to include the optional Haven cards, but I hope to test those out in the near future. All told, we drafted a wide array of decks, including a staging area control deck built around Argalad. It was exciting to have my first exposure to this new hero be in a draft game.

The card pool for this game has slowly but steadily grown to the point where a limited format like draft is not nearly as difficult to play as it once was. In particular, the unique allies released in the last couple of Saga expansions have provided a notable improvement to the pool of available characters.

With so many characters appearing as both heroes and allies in multiple spheres, one important change to the games rules for draft is the uniqueness rule. Unique characters and attachments apply to each player rather than the entire group. This allows a player to play the Legolas ally while another player already controls the hero. With the number of duplicate unique cards in this game it would be very difficult to avoid this problem. In any case, the constraints of a limited card pool seem to more than make up for relaxing such a fundamental rule.

Before drafting player cards, we first drafted heroes. We took 1 copy of each hero printed to date, shuffled them up, and dealt out (mostly) even piles to each player. Since we didn’t want to eliminate any heroes, it was decided to allow for some players to receive larger piles than others. While this meant that some players ended up with one extra hero in their draft cards, it avoided having anyone’s favorite hero removed from the pool accidentally. With heroes drafted, we moved on to the main event of the Bear Draft, drafting the player cards.

glorfindel-allyWhat follows is a list of the player cards included in Bear Draft v3. Cards are divided into three rarities: common, uncommon and rare. Common cards have 3 total copies in the pool, uncommon cards have 2 copies and there is only a single copy of each rare care in the card pool. While this might at first seem too limiting for making a variety of decks, remember that Signature Squads and Havens both afford six additional cards for each player.

With 512 total player cards in the draft pool, cards are shuffled and built into 16 card “packs”. Players then receive 4 such packs and draft them over four successive rounds. To keep things interesting we alternate passing cards clockwise and counter-clockwise with each subsequent round. When all is said and done, players have 64 player cards drafted. From there each player has the chance to improve their decks through the optional rules which I’ve outlined in previous articles.

Gandalf-CoreOf their drafted heroes, each player will select up to 3 (so far no one has had the guts to run a 2 hero deck, but it may yet happen). With heroes selected, players can then choose a General and receive the Signature Squad for that General. Then, players can choose a Haven and receive its corresponding haven cards. Any of these bonus cards are optional, so players can include any or all of them in their decks. If they feel that there deck is strong enough, people can even opt out of receiving bonus cards entirely. Lastly, we gave each player the option of adding one copy of Core Set Gandalf and 1 resource Song card to their decks.

The minimum deck size for draft is 40 cards. We have found that this size is easy to meet with a starting pool of 64 cards plus bonus cards. In our latest draft, I even took a risk and fielded a 50 card deck which faired well. We chose a quest on the easier side of the difficulty scale, again because draft decks tend to be less powerful. That said, there is no reason why you could not play draft decks against a more difficult scenario, to truly put your drafting and building skills to the test. Variant game formats like draft are something which I’ve always enjoyed in card game, and its an enjoyment that seems to be shared by many in my local playgroup. I’m interested to hear other players’ perspectives on the card pool, rarities and bonus features of this exciting format. Those with interest in draft are encouraged to leave me comments and feedback below!

Leadership (120 total cards)

Common x3 (36 total cards)

ALLIES

Errand-rider Naith Guide Warrior of Lossarnach Dwarven Sellsword

ATTACHMENTS

Steward of Gondor Dúnedain Mark Dúnedain Warning Cram

EVENTS

Sneak Attack A Very Good Tale Gaining Strength Campfire Tales

Uncommon x2 (64 total cards)

ALLIES

Squire of the Citadel Weather Hills Watchman Warden of Helm’s Deep Pelargir Ship Captain
Herald of Anórien Snowbourn Scout Dúnedain Watcher Guardian of Arnor
Veteran of Osgiliath Longbeard Elder Silverlode Archer Son of Arnor
Gimli Faramir Orophin Galadriel

ATTACHMENTS

Hobbit Cloak Rod of the Steward Armored Destrier Visionary Leadership
Heir of Mardil King Under the Mountain Heir of Valandil O Lórien!

EVENTS

Captain’s Wisdom We Are Not Idle Feigned Voices Valiant Sacrifice
For Gondor! Tighten Our Belts Legacy of Númenor Anchor Watch

Rare x1 (20 total cards)

ALLIES

Halbarad Anborn Bill the Pony Glóin Fili
Forlong Erestor Ingold Ceorl Eldahir

ATTACHMENTS

Narvi’s Belt Dúnedain Signal Dúnedain Cache Celebrían’s Stone Sword that was Broken

EVENTS

Grim Resolve Lure of Moria Reinforcements Timely Aid Descendants of Kings

Tactics (120 total cards)

Common x3 (36 total cards)

ALLIES

Vassal of the Windlord Defender of Rammas Derndingle Warrior Knight of the Swan

ATTACHMENTS

Gondorian Shield Rohan Warhorse Dagger of Westernesse Raiment of War

EVENTS

Feint Quick Strike Hands Upon the Bow Sterner than Steel

Uncommon x2 (64 total cards)

ALLIES

Veteran Spearman Gondorian Spearman Honour Guard Westfold Outrider
Galadhon Archer Winged Guardian Booming Ent Fornost Bowman
Dúnedain Hunter Eagles of the Misty Mountains Erebor Battle Master Marksman of Lórien
Bofur Legolas Skinbark Grimbold

ATTACHMENTS

Captain of Gondor Blade of Gondolin Bow of the Galadhrim Rivendell Blade
Citadel Plate Spear of the Citadel Gondorian Fire Dwarven Axe

EVENTS

Foe-hammer Hold Your Ground! Behind Strong Walls Horn’s Cry
Boomed and Trumpeted The Eagles Are Coming! Skyward Volley Hail of Stones

Rare x1 (20 total cards)

ALLIES

Beorn Landroval Guthlaf Rúmil Gwaihir
Beechbone Farmer Maggot Boromir Déorwine Azain Silverbeard

ATTACHMENTS

Elven Mail Ring Mail Great Yew Bow Rivendell Bow Horn of Gondor

EVENTS

 Close Call  Straight Shot Hour of Wrath  Revealed in Wrath Thicket of Spears

Spirit (120 total cards)

Common x3 (36 total cards)

ALLIES

Galadriel’s Handmaiden Imladris Stargazer West Road Traveller Ethir Swordsman

ATTACHMENTS

Miruvor Unexpected Courage Ancient Mathom Light of Valinor

EVENTS

A Test of Will Hasty Stroke The Galadhrim’s Greeting Elven-light

Uncommon x2 (64 total cards)

ALLIES

Westfold Horse-breeder Escort from Edoras Zigil Miner Galadhrim Weaver
 Sailor of Lune Wandering Took Westfold Horse-breaker Northern Tracker
 Bofur Elven Jeweler Pelargir Shipwright Rhovanion Outrider
Arwen Undómiel Háma Lindir Elfhelm

ATTACHMENTS

Hobbit Pony Hobbit Pipe Silver Harp To the Sea, to the Sea!
Steed of Imladris Steed of the Mark Snowmane Blood of Númenor

EVENTS

Stand and Fight Fair and Perilous Dwarven Tomb Island Amid Peril
Tides of Fate Elwing’s Flight Free to Choose Elrond’s Counsel

Rare x1 (20 total cards)

ALLIES

Éomund Kili Dwalin Bilbo Baggins Sam Gamgee
Gamling Emery Damrod Prince Imrahil Glorfindel

ATTACHMENTS

Livery of the Tower Song of Earendil Silver Lamp Herugrim Ring of Barahir

EVENTS

Lords of the Eldar Scouting Party Will of the West Fortune or Fate Shadows Give Way

Lore (120 total cards)

Common x3 (36 total cards)

ALLIES

Erebor Hammersmith Warden of Healing Wandering Ent Anfalas Herdsman

ATTACHMENTS

Protector of Lórien Forest Snare Self Preservation Ranger Spikes

EVENTS

Daeron’s Runes Deep Knowledge Heed the Dream The Evening Star

Uncommon x2 (64 total cards)

ALLIES

Ithilien Tracker Daughter of the Nimrodel Galadhrim Minstrel Wellinghall Preserver
Ithilien Archer Sarn Ford Sentry Erebor Record-keeper Master of the Forge
Longbeard Map-maker Silvan Tracker Rivendell Minstrel Mirkwood Explorer
Gléowine Dori Elrond Quickbeam

ATTACHMENTS

Legacy of Durin Lembas A Burning Brand Entangling Net
Asfaloth Wingfoot Cloak of Lórien Ent Draught

EVENTS

Secret Paths Peace, and Thought Arrows from the Trees Distant Stars
Entmoot The Tree People Noiseless Movement Mithrandir’s Advice

Rare x1 (20 total cards)

ALLIES

Henamarth Riversong Gildor Inglorion Anborn (TBoG) Mablung Galdor of the Havens
Haldir of Lórien Bifur Barliman Butterbur Ghân-buri-Ghân Robin Smallburrow

ATTACHMENTS

Ranger Bow Fast Hitch Thror’s Key Expert Treasure-hunter Elf-stone

EVENTS

Quick Ears Take No Notice Word of Command Out of the Wild Advance Warning

Neutral (32 total cards)

Common x3 (9 total cards)

Envoy of Pelargir Resourceful A Good Harvest

Uncommon x2 (16 total cards)

Defender of the Naith Guardian of Rivendell Ered Luin Miner Ranger of Cardolan
Treebeard Elf-friend Sword-thain Hidden Cache

Rare x1 (7 total cards)

Saruman Radagast Good Meal Keys of Orthanc
Favor of the Valar Strider The Seeing-stone
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Bear Draft v3: Havens

Haven

The sheer volume of media based upon, or at least loosely inspired by, Tolkien’s writing is impressive. It speaks to the depth and detail of Tolkien’s world that there can be so many different, not to mention excellent, interpretations of Middle-earth. For some of us grey-beards, this fine LCG is not our first foray into a Tolkien-based card game. Middle Earth Collectible Card Game, by Iron Crown Enterprises holds a dear place in my heart, as I know it does for some others in the community.

At this point I believe it is fair to say that this game has far surpassed all other card games set in Middle-earth. Between deluxe cycles, Saga campaigns, Fellowship and Gen Con quests, there truly is something for everyone. The attention to detail continues to be what impresses me the most. As a lifelong fan of Tolkien, it is the little touches that remind me that the designers of this game, unlike many franchise-based games, have a deep affection for the source material.

MECCG LórienEven so, there are some elements from Middle-earth CCG that I miss. One of the aspects of that game that I really enjoyed was the way that locations had an impact, both geographically and in terms of the kinds of allies you could recruit. This allowed for a wide variety of deck strategies, and helped keep your enemy guessing about where you might travel next. I’ve taken inspiration from Middle-earth CCG’s concept of strategic locations in Middle-earth with this wrinkle to my latest draft format.

The idea is simple: after players have finished drafting, they will have the option of selecting a haven from which there party of heroes begins their quest. This takes places immediately after players select their General and add his signature squad to their draft cards, so the decision adds to the strategy of how you will finish building your deck.

Wellinghall-PreserverHavens are thematically and strategically tied to the group of beings which inhabit them. For example, Wellinghall is filled with Ents and Ent-related cards. On the other hand, Meduseld is where you will find the Rohirrim and their majestic steeds. Imladris is where you can find the household of Elrond have-Elven. Likewise the Grey Havens of Lindon house the shipwrights who take the Noldor to the undying lands. Any take of refuge from the horrors of the world would of course be incomplete without mentioning The Shire, bustling with the indomitable Hobbits.

Starting with whichever player last picked their General, players will choose a Haven from the list below and add those cards (in the specified quantity) to their draft cards and the signature cards for their General. All havens include six cards, just like signature squads, and players are encouraged to choose a haven which matches well with their choice of hero. For example, selecting Celeborn as your General and then choosing to start in the Haven of The Naith makes all kinds of sense.

Unless otherwise specified (e.g. x2 or x3), haven cards come with only a single copy of each card. Just as with signature squads, havens do not allow you to break deck-building rules of 3 per card by title, so players should keep that in mind when they are selecting. Each of these cards is optional – you can play with as many or as few haven cards (from your selected haven) as you want. With a wise choice, many haven cards will be beneficial to your overall strategy. As a final option, players can choose not to begin at a haven at all and take a more Ranger-like approach. Instead of receiving haven cards, these itinerant players gain one copy of Core Set Gandalf and 2 songs from this list: Song of Kings, Song of Battle, Song of Travel and Song of Wisdom.

For those interested in variant format and draft, be on the lookout for the final article in the series of Bear Draft v3, in which I detail the new draft pool. In the mean time, happy travels through Middle-earth – may you found yourself in many happy havens to rest your weary feet!

The Shire

Bree: Bill the Pony x2, Hobbit Cloak, Staff of Lebethron, Taste it Again!, Timely Aid
Bamfurlong: Farmer Maggot, Ring Mail, Dagger of Westernesse, Halfling Determination x2, Unseen Strike
Bag End: Bilbo Baggins (The Road Darkens), Hobbit Pipe x2, Smoke Rings x2, Hobbit-sense
Buckland: Curious Brandybuck, Wandering Took, Hobbit Pony x2, Elevenses x2
The Prancing Pony: Barliman Butterbur, Robin Smallburrow, Fast Hitch x2, Expert Treasure-hunter, Take No Notice
Chetwood: Strider x2, Resourceful x2, Vanish from Sight x2

Arnor

Weather Hills: Dúnedain Signal, Dúnedain Cache, Dúnedain Mark, Dúnedain Warning, Dúnedain Remedy, Dúnedain Message
Amon Sûl: Halbarad, Guardian of Arnor x2, Son of Arnor, Heir of Valandil, Roheryn
Fornost: Dúnedain Hunter x2, Fornost Bowman x2, Tireless Hunters x2
Annúminas: Greyflood Wanderer x2, Warden of Annúminas x2, Northern Tracker x2
The Old Road: A Burning Brand, Elf-stone, Weather-stained Cloak, Strider’s Path x2, Quick Ears

Mirkwood

Hall of Beorn: Glóin, Fili, Kili, Cram, A Very Good Tale, Second Breakfast
Bee Pastures: Beorn, Beorning Beekeeper, Honour Guard x2, Close Call x2
Rhosgobel: Radagast, Gwaihir, Winged Guardian, Eagles of the Misty Mountains, Support of the Eagles, The Eagles Are Coming!
Emyn Fuin: Henamarth Riversong, Mirkwood Runner x2, Silvan Tracker x2, Secret Paths

Erebor (and The Iron Hills)

Lonely Mountain: Glóin, Fili, King Under the Mountain, Hardy Leadership, “To Me! O My Kinsfolk!” x2
Gates of Erebor: Bofur, Veteran Axehand x2, Dwarven Axe x2, Heavy Stroke
Dale: Rhovanion Outrider x2, Celduin Traveler, Warden of Arnor, Scouting Party x2
Iron Hills: Erebor Record Keeper, Miner of the Iron Hills x2, Bifur, Legacy of Durin, Ancestral Knowledge

Imladris

Trollshaws: Erestor, Rivendell Scout, Dawn Take You All! x2, Swift and Silent x2
The Bruinen: Trollshaw Scout, Watcher of the Bruinen, Rivendell Blade, Rivendell Bow, Elven Mail, Revealed in Wrath
Last Homely House: Elrond (The Road Darkens), Imladris Caregiver, Master of the Forge x2, Vilya, Lore of Imladris
Hithaeglir Foothills: Glorfindel (Flight of the Stormcaller), Woodland Courier x2, Elrond’s Counsel x2, Lords of the Eldar
Hidden Refuge: Arwen Undomiel, Imladris Stargazer, Ring of Barahir, Tale of Tinuviel x3

Khazad-dum

Dimrill Stair: Longbeard Elder x2, We Are Not Idle, Durin’s Song x3
Nanduhirion: Veteran of Nanduhirion, Longbeard Sentry x2, Dwarrowdelf Axe x2, Khazad! Khazad!
Zirakzigil: Zigil Miner x2, Ever My Heart Rises, Hidden Cache x2, Thror’s Key
Dimrill Dale: Longbeard Record-keeper, Longbeard Map-maker, Dori, Thror’s Map x2, Ancestral Knowledge

Isengard

Orthanc: Saruman, Keys of Orthanc, Legacy of Númenor, The Wizards’s Voice, Power of Orthanc, Deep Knowledge
Wellinghall: Treebeard (The Antlered Crown), Quickbeam, Wandering Ent x2, Ent Draught, Entmoot
Derndingle: Treebeard (The Antlered Crown), Beechbone x2, Skinbark, Booming Ent, Boomed and Trumpeted
White Council: Gandalf (Core), Gandalf (Over Hill and Under Hill), Radagast, Saruman, Elrond (The Road Darkens), Galadriel (The Road Darkens)

Lórien

The Naith: Galadriel (The Road Darkens), Orophin, Naith Guide, O Lórien! x2, Feigned Voices
Borders of Lorien: Rúmil, Marksman of Lórien, Galadhon Archer x2, Pursuing the Enemy x2
The Nimrodel: Haldir of Lórien (A Journey to Rhosgobel), Galadhrim Minstrel, Daughter of the Nimrodel, Lembas, Tree People, Waters of the Nimrodel
Cerin Amroth: None Return, Leave No Trace, The Door is Closed!, Out of the Wild, Keen as Lances x2
Caras Galadhon: Galadriel’s Handmaiden, Galadhrim Weaver, Nenya, Mirror of Galadriel, Island Amid Peril, The Galadhrim’s Greeting
Golden Wood: Woodland Courier, Lórien Guide, Children of the Sea x2, Lay of Nimrodel x2

Gondor

Minas Tirith: Denethor, Ingold, Steward of Gondor, Rod of the Steward, Visionary Leadership, Captain’s Wisdom
Map Room of the Citadel: Emery x2, Map of Earnil, Shadows Give Way x2, Against the Shadow
Tower of the Citadel: Knight of Minas Tirith x2, Book of Eldacar x2, Thicket of Spears, White Tower Watchman
Library of the Citadel: Master of Lore x2, Palantir, Scroll of Isildur, Mithrandir’s Advice x2
War Room of the Citadel: Tome of Atanatar x2, Strength of Arms x2, Reinforcements x2
Houses of Healing: Ioreth x2, Warden of Healing x2, Healing Herbs, Athelas
Rammas: Boromir, Defender of Rammas, Gondorian Shield, Captain of Gondor, Gondorian Fire, Behind Strong Walls
Osgiliath: Faramir, Herald of Anorien, Veteran of Osgiliath, Visionary Leadership, For Gondor!, Grim Resolve
Ithilien: Anborn, Mablung, Ithilien Lookout, Ambush, Entangling Nets, Forest Patrol
Dol Amroth: Prince Imrahil (The Flame of the West), Emery, Pelargir Shipwright, Ethir Swordsman, Will of the West x2
Morthond: Forlong, Warrior of Lossarnach, Ethir Swordsman, Sword of Morthond, Lord of Morthond, Men of the West
Pelennor: Horseback Archer x2, Guthlaf, Westfold Outrider, Spear of the Mark  x2

Lindon

Gulf of Lhûn: Erestor, Warden of the Havens x2, Mariner’s Compass x2, Anchor Watch
Ered Luin: Blue Mountain Trader x2, Ered Luin Miner x2, Hidden Cache x1, Well-equipped x1
Mithlond: Mithlond Sea-watcher x2, Grappling Hook x2, Skyward Volley x2
Lune: Lindir, Sailor of Lune, “To the Sea, to the Sea”, Elven-light, Elwing’s Flight, Lords of the Eldar
Lindon: Galdor from the Havens (The Treachery of Rhudaur), Lindon Navigator, Narya x2, Explorer’s Almanac, Evening Star

Rohan

Harrowdale: Snowbourn Scout x2, Éothain, Sneak Attack, Mutual Accord x2
Westfold: Grimbold, Déorwine, Westfold Outrider, Rohan Warhorse, Charge of the Rohirrim, Forth Eorlingas!
Meduseld: Gléowine x2, Rumours from the Earth x3, Isengard Messenger
Hornburg: Gamling, Háma, Elfhelm, Snowmane, Steed of the Mark, Mustering the Rohirrim
Edoras: Eomund x2, Escort from Edoras, The Riddermark’s Finest, Ride to Ruin, Astonishing Speed

As a reward for those who’ve made it this far, here is the latest animal helper to join us at the Hall of Beorn: his name is Kitty.

Kitty_Closeup

Posted in Card Lists, Community, Deck Building, Fun, Game Variant, Strategy, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

The Might of Caldara

Caldara - Passing of the Grey Company Round 2

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Hero Showdown

two-grizzly-bears-fighting

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

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

Leadership

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

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

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

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

Other Favorites

Dain Ironfoot
Balin
Théodred
Elrohir
Celeborn
Amarthiúl
Elfhelm

Overrated

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

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

Least Favorite

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

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

Tactics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Favorites

Beregond
Aragorn
Legolas
Merry
Brand son of Bain
Háma
Elladan

Overrated

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

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

Least Favorite

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

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

Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Favorites

Éowyn
Frodo
Caldara
Théoden
Merry
Eleanor
Beregond

Overrated

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

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

Least Favorite

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

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

Lore

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Favorites

Bifur
Haldir of Lórien
Denethor
Beravor
Gríma
Rossiel
Aragorn

Overrated

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

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

Least Favorite

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

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

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

Community Deck Spotlight: Defenders of Annuminas

Bear Light

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

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

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

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

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

Bear Hug

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

Bear Draft v3: Signature Squads

bear_squad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thorin Oakenshield (Over Hill and Under Hill)
Longbeard Orc Slayer, Narvi’s Belt, To Me! O My Kinsfolk!

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

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

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

Tactics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prince Imrahil (The City of Corsairs)
Boromir (The Road Darkens) x1, Captain of Gondor x1, Prince of Dol Amroth x1, Last Stand x3

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

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

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

Éowyn (The Flame of the West)
Golden Shield x2, Sterner than Steel x2, Battle-fury x2

Spirit

Éowyn (Core Set)
The Riddermark’s Finest, Ancient Mathom x1, Astonishing Speed x1, Ride to Ruin x2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beregond (The Flame of the West)
Livery of the Tower, Tides of Fate, Desperate Defense

Lore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pippin (The Black Riders)
Barliman Butterbur, Robin Smallburrow x1, Fast Hitch, Take No Notice x1

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

Damrod (The Land of Shadow)
Anborn, Ithilien Pit x1, Ambush x1, Forest Patrol

Argalad (The Drowned Ruins)
Distant Stars, Ranger Spikes, Expecting Mischief

Neutral

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

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