Bear Market: Rethinking Some Staples


The metagame shifts and wriggles, just like a salmon winding its way up-river. Some cards increase in value, enhanced by an emergent archetype, or a particular theme in new quests. Other cards, however, are diminished by one or more trends in quests and encounter decks. With new cycles come new keywords, novel and increasingly devious means for the designers to foil the heroes’ plans to save Middle-earth.

Soldier-of-IsengardWhen discussing shifts in the metagame, Toughness and Archery are two keywords that come to mind. More than another other high-level trends, these two keywords have had perhaps the biggest impact on the game. Toughness has seriously limited the power of the various direct damage effects in player cards. On the other side of the table, archery has put a real pressure on conservative or “turtle” decks that prefer to take their time and leave enemies in the staging area, waiting for the most opportune moment to attack.

Just as the encounter cards evolve to challenge players in different ways, so too have player cards progressed to better confront these new trials. While the Core Set included several Gondor and Rohan characters, neither of these factions manifested full-fledged archetypes until later in the games life. Even then, limitations in these archetypes seemed to continually push players to splash other, less thematic, choices into their decks. Marquee heroes for each of these archetypes, Théoden and Faramir to name two, along with a bevy of powerful unique allies and attachments, have finally catapulted these factions into prominence.

While the kingdoms of men have been emboldened by recent releases, we have also seen the emergence of an entirely new faction. Ents, long remaining hidden beyond the borders of Fangorn forest, have arrived on the scene as suddenly as they did at The Battle of the Hornburg. With consistently lower costs, and excellent stats across the board, Ents are already one of the premier factions in the game, even though they were only really viable after the release of The Antlered Crown. With all of the upheaval in the metagame – for both player cards and encounter cards – it seems only appropriate to re-examine some of the staple cards from the game’s early days.

A Very Good Tale (TH:OHaUH)

A Very Good TaleEarlier in the game, the cost curve for allies had a much more bell-like shape. In general, the more powerful allies were more expensive while the weaker allies would only cost 1 or 2 resources. The Ents have skewed the cost curve quite a bit. The tree-herders are not alone in causing this shift, some very powerful unique allies have been introduced in the Saga expansions, many of them at a reasonable cost.

Where it used to cost 4 or more resources to muster an ally with heroic stats, it now can be done for a bargain. Quickbeam alone represents a huge shift in the metagame. With fantastic stats and a useful trait, this ally doesn’t really have any drawbacks. As we’ve seen with the Treebeard hero, not be able to use restricted attachments is a minimal constraint, all the more so for an ally.

In any case, ally mustering is still useful, if somewhat less necessary with so many low-cost characters wandering about. Event cost-reducing heroes like Théoden and Damrod make ally-mustering less of a priority than it once was. Still, A Very Good Tale has its place in many decks but it does have one serious downside when it comes to Ents. Having to wait a round for exhausted Ents to ready can seriously put the brakes on the process of ramping allies. If the allies that you bring into play with A Very Good Tale happen to be Ents, the issue is only exacerbated as they too will enter play exhausted. With quests that can hit hard from the opening rounds, this loss of action advantage in the early game is something to keep in mind. Again, this does not have to be a death knell for A Very Good Tale, it might just be less universal of a card than it was when it was released.

Gondorian Spearman (Core)

Gondorian-SpearmanThe Gondorian Spearman was one of the original ally staples from the Core Set. There was an early deck built around Thalin and the Spearman that was dominant all the way through Dwarrowdelf. The first deck that I built for dealing with Into Ithilien even featured direct damage from Thalin, though the Spearman had by then been replaced by Defender of Rammas. With the damage prevention available to enemies with Toughness the direct damage of cards like Thalin, the Spearman and Spear of the Citadel has become less viable.

With Derndingle Warrior, Tactics has yet another Sentinel defender to further push Gondorian Spearman to the periphery. As much as his direct damage can be powerful against weaker or already-weakened enemies, 1 defense and 1 hit point are a hard sell for an ally in the modern game. There is so much ally-hate in recent quest, that a character with 1 hit point had better be providing an ability which is truly essential. While the Spearman does possess the newly-relevant Gondor trait, there are now more low-cost alternatives with useful traits as well. Even within the Gondor faction, Defender of Rammas and Honour Guard are always going to compete with this card for deck space.

It’s not as if the direct damage deck suddenly lost relevance – it had been slowly declining from neglect for a while. It remains to be seen whether the resurgence of Traps with Damrod and direct damage from Leadership Anborn will bring Gondorian Spearman back into the spotlight. Paired with Thalin and attachments like Ranger Bow and Poisoned Stakes, the direct damage deck may yet see a return to relevance.

Dúnhere (Core)

DúnhereStaging area attack has long been an alluring but illusive strategy. It takes major effort to get Dúnhere to the point where he can kill anything. Even so, he was a staple of early decks that embodied the conservative or “turtle” strategy. Even with Rohan receiving a steady stream of support, this is one Rohan hero who find himself on the outside looking in.

With so many enemies featuring 2 and 3 defense, along with toughness, it is no longer as easy to kill enemies as it used to be. Most decks now feature multiple characters dedicated to killing enemies (often thanks to action advantage). Multiplayer strategies now involve having other decks designed to help with combat. A conservative strategy is often not viable in multiplayer, especially with Aggro decks gaining in popularity. While the staging area control strategy may still be viable in solo, there are new alternatives for this niche.

In many ways, the Haldir decks are a better version of what Dúnhere was trying to be. Not only does the Silvan guardian of Lorien feature the ability to strike his foes before they have even moved, he is also capable of attacking enemies that are engaged with other players – an ability which Dúnhere lacks. With more and more enemies featuring low engagement cost this latter ability is very important, particularly in multiplayer games.

In a strange twist for the faction, Forth Eorlingas! did further damage to Dúnhere’s stock. Éomer, riding his steed Firefoot, makes for a much more formidable attacker against enemies in the staging area than the lowly Chieftain of Dunharrow. Tactics is simply the best sphere for improving Dúnhere’s prowess, but that sphere has its own mighty warriors among the Rohirrim.

Thanks to the strength of Spirit Théoden, accompanied by attachments like Herugrim and Snowmane and allies like Háma and Gamling, the Spirit Rohan deck is back with a vengeance. While this might at first hint at a place for Dúnhere, his stats make this a very real challenge. The natural choice to help gather an army of Spirit allies is to pair Théoden and Éowyn. This leaves one hero slot for either Tactics (Éomer or Háma) or Leadership (Théodred or Erkenbrand). Alternatively, you can even go with Lore and the additional cost-reduction afforded by everyone’s least-favorite creeper, Gríma Wormtongue. Sadly, outside of some very focused and limited decks, there seems to be little room in modern Rohan decks for Dúnhere.

Haldir of Lórien (AJtR)

Haldir of LorienSpeaking of Haldir, this ally has been pushed to sideline with the introduction of his hero card. Especially in multiplayer, hero Haldir is so powerful that it is hard to argue for the ally version. In the Shadows of Mirkwood and Dwarrowdelf cycles, allies with well-rounded stats were few and far between. Now with Ents taking the metagame by storm, there are easier ways to get allies with these kinds of stats.

Even in decks or games that do not feature the Haldir hero, the denizens of Fangorn provide excellent stats for a lower cost. Haldir benefits from the Silvan trait, but his relatively high cost makes him a less than ideal choice for the events that would return him to your hand. Even his ranged and sentinel keywords are less valuable now that Galadhon Archer and Defender of the Naith exist. Without an ability that triggers from Silvan characters (or himself) entering or leaving play, he does not fit as well into his faction as one would hope.

For two resources, Quickbeam is a more potent ally than anything else in the game. Granted, an ally like Arwen has a more useful ability, but nothing bests Quickbeam from a power vs. cost standpoint. It might not seem fair, but with Quickbeam being another unique ally in the same sphere, one has to compare Haldir to Quickbeam when considering which to add to a deck. As unfair as this comparison may be, there is very little contest there. While his ranged keyword and ability to wield trait-specific weapons can make him a powerful ally, it is likely that ally Haldir will find his way into fewer modern decks.

Gandalf (Core)

Gandalf-CoreThe original grey wizard had a long reign as the obvious high-cost ally choice for the vast majority of decks in the game. With the emergence of the Gandalf hero, the ally finds itself in unfamiliar territory. While the versatility of Core Set Gandalf is undeniable, there is now a lot of competition for this character. His effects and stats are powerful, but 5 resources for an ally that doesn’t stay around can be a steep cost for some decks.

The repeatable threat-reduction from Galadriel and Spirit Merry makes it much easier to design a deck around the Hobbit Saga version of Gandalf. It is unlikely that Secrecy will ever be a dominant archetype, but the options available now do open up a couple of different variants that will be powerful against many scenarios. The more persistent ally Gandalf is an important figure in Secrecy decks, as he serves the role of a fourth hero. It is even possible to use his powerful and versatile attachments with the other ally Gandalf, given that he will be staying in play for longer.

Even in decks that do not use other versions of Gandalf might have reason to exclude the Core Set version. For any deck that lacks traditional resource acceleration – essentially anything without Leadership – the cost of playing an ally that only stays around for one round is not trivial. Thankfully, there are alternatives that make sense for many decks. At four resources, the ally version of Treebeard can be a great replacement for Core Set Gandalf. This is particularly true for decks without a standout hero to serve as an attacker.

Treebeard-TACWhile Fangorn obviously lacks the versatility and willpower of Gandalf, he does not wander away at the end of the round and can be used as the centerpiece of a powerful Ent-based strategy. To be fair,it is not strictly necessary to include any Ents beyond Treebeard – his resources can always be used to ready himself. In either case, he makes an excellent choice for a “fourth” hero, something that which cannot be said for any of the allies which leave play at the end of the round.

As with other cards in this article, it must be stressed that this criticism should not be interpreted as damning. Core Set Gandalf is still a great fit for many decks, most especially any deck which features the Leadership sphere with access to Sneak Attack. That combo remains one of the most incredibly versatile and efficient uses of this staple card. It is a sign of a more mature card pool however, that Core Set Gandalf and many of these other cards are no longer auto-include in every deck which could remotely make use of them.


As in life, variety is a good thing for the health of a game. With the continuation of the Angmar Awakened cycle and the promise of new releases over the horizon, it will be exiting to see which staples are knocked from their mighty perches as “must-haves”, and which hidden gems becoming suddenly valuable in a shifting metagame. Of this we can be sure, there are fun times ahead for the game.

Posted in Aggro, Card Lists, Control, Metagame, Opinion, Strategy, Tempo | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Deck: Refuge at Henneth Annûn

The Terrace at Henneth Annûn, by Ted Nasmith

The Terrace at Henneth Annûn, by Ted Nasmith

The work put before Faramir and his rangers of Ithilien was nigh impossible. Tasked with holding off the onslaught of the Dark Lord’s forces from Mordor into Osgiliath, they were sorely undermanned. The still proud people of Gondor lay directly in Sauron’s path to dominion over Middle-earth, with Faramir and his men in Ithilien were the vanguard of those in Gondor attempting to hold the line. Noble though they were, there attempts were doomed in much that same way that a child cannot hold back the incoming tide of the sea.

Into this tumultuous situation was thrust two travel-worn Hobbits Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee, along with their erstwhile guide Sméagol. That the One Ring – a weapon of unimaginable power – should stumble into his midst just as he was attempting to hold back his enemy must have been a might temptation to Faramir.

However, unlike his brother, Faramir shows great strength of will to resist the lure of the Ring. Indeed, Faramir stands alone with Aragorn as the only men to be in a position to easily take the Ring of Power who were able to master their restraint and leave it in Frodo’s hands. This moment represents an critical turning point in the narrative, as once the Ring leaves Faramir’s company, it enters Mordor and is beyond the reach of any further influence from the Free Peoples of Middle-earth.

mapofithilienRecently, I have been finding great enjoyment in trying to build decks which hew as closely as possible to a particular point in the narrative. Some players eschew so-called “theme” decks, as they tend to not be as powerful as decks which are built without concern for a cohesive narrative. While it is true that the most powerful decks are build using all cards regardless of faction or flavor, the card pool has grown to a point where it is now possible to make effective decks that still remain true to a given narrative.

This deck is an attempt to capture the brief respite offered to Frodo and Sam, while they stayed with Faramir and the Ithilien rangers at the hidden refuge of Henneth Annûn. With the necessary exception of Gandalf, all of the characters have been chosen because they were present at this point of the story. Ally Faramir has been chosen instead of his new hero version simply to keep the starting threat to a reasonable level.

That decision ends up being fairly important for this deck, as many of the effects are designed around controlling enemy engagement and benefiting from powerful effects like Sam Gamgee’s response, passive effects like Hobbit Cloak, as well as the intriguing new card In the Shadows. One area where the deck can struggle is with combat, for the few enemies that manage to sneak through our well-hidden defenses. As always, Gandalf provides a great emergency contingency. Additionally, Anborn is well-equipped to slay enemies when he is not resetting our various traps.

Henneth-annun Waterfall

Between these engagement effects and the reduced cost for traps provided by hero Damrod, the deck has a multitude of solutions for dealing with enemies and should prove a lot of fun to play. As players well know, combat is not the only facet of the game, which is where ally Faramir comes into the story. His quest boosting ability, supplemented by Faramir’s own Visionary Leadership, and aided by the indomitable spirit of Middle-earth’s most valiant gardener, Sam Gamgee, provides this deck with plenty of solutions for questing.

Sword-thain-TDRFor those who worry about Faramir’s seemingly diminished role in this deck, have no fear. The recently previewed Sword-thain attachment from The Dread Realm comes to the rescue, allowing us to elevate Faramir to his rightful place among the heroes of this deck. Alternatively, if Lore resources are of greater importance, Anborn can be an excellent target for this card as well.

Because this attachment changes the targeted character’s type from Ally to Hero, one particularly amusing combo is to play Sneak Attack during the planning phase, to get the unique ally into play. Once you play Sword-thain on that character they are no longer of the ally type, so Sneak Attack does not return them to your hand at the end of the phase. Not a bad deal for 5 resources, especially because it allows the newly-created hero to take advantage of cards like Gondorian Shield, Wingfoot and Dagger of Westernesse.

Though they faced insurmountable odds, the rangers fought bravely to protect their homeland. The Hobbits personally witness Faramir, Damrod, Anborn and their company ambush a contingent of Southrons on the outskirts of Ithilien. Players who want a more dominant deck are welcome to make changes to improve the potency and consistency of what is included here. It remains a fun example of the constantly improving prospects for thematically-designed decks in this fine game. Enjoy, and be ever on the lookout for danger!

Mablung-smallSam GamgeeDamrod

Mablung (NiE)
Sam Gamgee (TBR)
Damrod (TLoS)

Allies: 20
Errand-rider (HoN) x3
Defender of Rammas (HoN) x1
Ithilien Tracker (HoN) x1
Warden of Healing (TLD) x2
Veteran of Osgiliath (EfMG) x1
Henneth Annûn Guard (CS) x1
Ithilien Archer (EaAD) x1
Ithilien Lookout (TDT) x1
Anborn (TBoG) x3
Faramir (Core) x3
Gandalf (Core) x3

Attachments: 20
Gondorian Fire (AoO) x1
Hobbit Cloak (TBR) x1
Staff of Lebethron (TLoS) x1
Dagger of Westernesse (TBR) x1
Gondorian Shield (TSF) x2
Secret Vigil (TLR) x1
Wingfoot (NiE) x1
Steward of Gondor (Core) x2
Visionary Leadership (TMV) x2
Ambush (TLoS) x2
Ranger Spikes (HoN) x2
Forest Snare (Core) x2
Sword-thain (TDR) x2

Events: 9
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3
Sneak Attack (Core) x2
For Gondor! (Core) x1
In the Shadows (TLoS) x1
Take No Notice (TBR) x2

Side Quests: 1
Gather Information (TLR) x1

Sideboard: 15
Warden of Healing (TLD) x1
Gondorian Fire (AoO) x2
Dagger of Westernesse (TBR) x1
Secret Vigil (TLR) x1
Ranger Bow (AoO) x2
Wingfoot (NiE) x1
Steward of Gondor (Core) x1
Distant Stars (EfMG) x2
Feint (Core) x2
Noiseless Movement (TTT) x2

Posted in Control, Deck Lists, Fun, Staging Area Control, Strategy, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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
Posted in Tribute | Tagged , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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)

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 (AtE) 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, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Poll Results: Favorite Attacking Hero


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

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

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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 , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Deck: Champion of Gondor


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

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