GenCon 2015: Bear Draft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hero draft proceeds for one round, as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leadership (100 cards)

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

Allies (40)

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

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

Attachments (30)

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

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

Events (30)

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

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

Tactics (100)

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

Allies (40)

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

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

Attachments (30)

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

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

Events (30)

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

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

Spirit (100)

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

Allies (40)

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

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

Attachments (30)

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

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

Events (30)

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

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

Lore (100)

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

Allies (40)

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

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

Attachments (30)

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

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

Events (30)

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

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

Neutral (40)

Allies (13)

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

Uncommon x2 (4)
Saruman
Treebeard

Attachments (20)

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

Uncommon x2 (8)
Boots from Erebor
Palantir
Nenya
Resourceful

Events (7)

Common x3 (3)
A Good Harvest

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

Extras

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

Posted in Community, Fun, GenCon, Metagame | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

Helm's Deep - 3 Player Victory

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

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

Deck: Revenge of the Nerds

Bear Playing Chess

We all know that kid – the one sitting alone in a corner of the library. As difficult as is may be for readers to believe – given my current status as resident troll-killer of the hall – I was that kid as a wee cub. I think back fondly to those halcyon days playing primitive role-playing games on 5 and a quarter inch floppy disks. Between sips of Dr. Pepper, I learned to navigate the labyrinthine strategies of speed chess, all while trying not to be overtaken by the tidal wave of hormones threatening to overwhelm a young bear. Adolescence was no picnic, and now that I am an adult, I would not go back to that time for anything.

Peers at that age can be especially cruel. Something about that combination of an awkward blossoming awareness of ones own sexuality, combined with a total lack of empathy or shared experience, seems to bring out the worst in the more Orcish people. As part of my ongoing works of public service, I would like to dedicate a deck to the weird ones. I know what it’s like to be different, but don’t give up hope – there are others out there who will embrace and understand you.

Erestor-ToRThe fourth adventure pack in the upcoming Angmar Awakened cycle was just spoiled a few days ago. The hero version of Erestor is just the kind of card that I have been waiting for. His ability is so powerful, and so different, that it opens up an entire class of decks which simply did not exist in this game until now. Drawing at minimum four cards per round, and this with access to a sphere with far and away the best card draw effects, is just a tremendously powerful effect.

Erestor is without a doubt the nerd of the group, off in the corner discussing some nuance of strategy with his fellow Noldor. Other, more high profile heroes like Aragorn, Boromir, Glrofindel, Dain, and Elrond are like the jocks of Middle-earth. Everyone has heard of them, and when they come back victorious from battle all praise goes to them. Rightfully so, one might argue, as their abilities are what power the engines of some of the most powerful archetypes in the game.

nerds-ogreNerdy though he may be, Erestor belongs in that esteemed company. His ability is so powerful in fact that the once rigid proscription for 50 cards decks has at last been lifted from this game. We will soon see some very unique deck lists that no serious player would have dreamed of previously. Some decks will run with a larger card count, and pair Erestor with other card drawing effects to plow through mountains of cards over the course of the game. Other strategies might include the newly errata’d Will of the West to recycle the same deck multiple times (no more than three, which should still be sufficient). Add in some resource acceleration and it even becomes possible – though no doubt tricky – to actually play all of those extra cards before you are forced to discard them at the end of the round.

Granted, the downside of discarding your hand at the end of the round might at first seem too steep a cost for the extra 3 cards, but it can be mitigated. As the spoiler article mentions, there are plenty of effects in the game which allow you to discard cards for some benefit, and this deck will be taking advantage of several of these. In an earlier discussion of efficiency, I touched on how finding alternate uses for extra cards in your hand is an important form of efficiency. This is especially true because many decks feature multiple copies of unique cards, which then become dead once the first copy is in play. Being able to extract maximal benefit from each an every card in your deck is an important and often overlooked aspect of design.

Dúnedain-Hunter-smallOn the one hand we want to give ourselves options for what to do with the extra cards each turn, since they will all be discarded at the end of the round. At the same time, we are going to design a deck of low-cost cards, so that we don’t have to discard cards is we don’t want to. This deck features no less than 25 free cards (counting both Gondorian Shield and Spear of the Citadel as 0-cost since these play for free on Beregond). You read that correctly: half of this deck is 0-cost cards. While this might at first seem to doom this deck to mediocrity, the state of the card pool is such that you can actually make a surprisingly powerful deck with so many free cards.

MiruvorThe real key here is to balance the free cards with cards that actually cost resources. We want a deck which is no only effective, but can consistently put enough cards into play to make the gamble of Erestor’s ability a worthwhile one. This is where resource smoothing can be a tremendous boon. Without a Leadership hero – a decision that was decidedly difficult to make – this deck lacks access to most traditional forms of resource smoothing.

However, Miruvor ends up being an very effective solution to the problem of how to play the most cards each round. By essentially trading a Spirit resource for a Lore or Tactics resource, it is much more likely that we will not be stuck discarding one of our few powerful cards with an actual cost. This card has always been a personal favorite; adding versatility to a deck is akin to adding salt and pepper to a recipe – that is to say: essential. It is the most overlooked option on this card that makes it particularly intriguing.

Daeron's RunesIn a deck which draws two or – heaven forbid – one card per turn, the idea of willingly putting a minor card on the top of your deck is unthinkable. But this deck draws an average of about 5 cards per round, and in some test draws I was able to draw as many as 16 cards in the first round (counting the opening hand). This is an absurd amount of card draw, so much so that putting one card on the top of your deck in preparation for next round suddenly doesn’t seem to foolhardy.

Why would you want to put Miruvor on top of your deck, you ask, and it is a fair question. There are a couple of good reasons. As a bear, I can only count as high as my paws allow, but an Istari once told me about this dark magic called statistics. According to this mysterious arts, it is possible to judge the relative likelihood of a given event. For example, if I have already drawn half of my 50 card deck and have yet to see one of my 2-cost Lore cards, the odds are relatively good that I will see one in my new hand of cards next round. Because the deck has so much card draw, a new round will most often give you more than four cards, so these odds improve considerably. You might even be setting up for a particular combination of cards.

A Burning BrandIf for example, you have already attached Song of Wisdom to Beregond but you have not yet drawn A Burning Brand, it might make sense to put a Miruvor on the top of your deck. Because you will often have a Lore card already which you want to play, saving the Lore resource for the future is not always the best option. I like to think of this deck as the ultimate Aggro strategy as my goal is to play my entire hand every single round. As much as we want to maximize our play each round, we don’t want to miss out on attaching such a powerful card to our dedicated defender.

Because of the nature of this deck, we can’t afford to include events like A Test of Will and Hasty Stroke. As singularly powerful as those cards are, their utility is situational, and there will be rounds where no treacheries are revealed or no shadow effects triggered. In this deck, unlike all others in the game, we never want a card which is situationally useful, because the situation may never arise at the correct time, and we will be forced to discard these powerful cards at the end of the round. With many quests lasting only a handful of rounds, such a strategy becomes far too risky, even for this bear.

Leaves-on-TreeFor these reasons, A Burning Brand is the superior card for our deck. Likewise, with location control we will prefer repeatable effects like Asfaloth and Arod to events such as Ride to Ruin, Strider’s Path and Secret Paths. Why risk having to discard a card when you can put it into play and then wait for the right opportunity to use it? This underscores the most serious weakness of this deck, one that cannot be overstated. This deck can absolutely struggle against quests with a lot of attachment hate. With a full complement of 23 attachments – almost half the deck – we are definitely relying on them to bolster our already powerful heroes.

Like many decks, each of the heroes here serves a well defined and specific role. Beregond is our dedicated defender, and he receives help in this regard from cards like Gondorian Shield, Blood of Númenor, Lembas and the Song of Wisdom, A Burning Brand combo that was mentioned previously. Éowyn is obviously our dedicated quester and receives Expert Treasure-hunter (hint: you will almost always choose attachment with this effect). Additionally, her ability is a great way to make use of a card that we may have left over, before we would discard it at the end of the round.

Elven-Spear-ToR-smallDon’t worry too much about having to discard the single copies of these more powerful cards, you will see them again soon enough. With three copies of Will of the West, I have yet to have a game with this deck were I was stuck with any important card in my discard pile for long. The new Galadhrim Weaver also helps in this regard; when she enters play you shuffle the top card of your discard pile back into your deck.

Her ability and the one on Erebor Hammersmith do both require timing, though. Bear in mind that you always choose the order that you discard cards, not only to effects like Protector of Lórien and Elven Spear, but for Erestor’s passive effect at the end of the round as well. Discard pile management is yet another aspect of the game which changes dramatically with this new archetype, and upcoming cards in this cycle will only add to this. Between the discard-based effects and victory display shenanigans, It is exciting to see the powerful Noldor receive such a unique set of abilities. Long gone are the days when powerful but predictable Elrond and Glorfindel deck grind the game to a fine powder of banality.

Keeping-CountWith Beregond defending and Éowyn questing, that leaves Erestor to attack (with help from our Dúnedain Hunters). At first, his two attack might not seem all that impressive, but Rivendell Blade and Elven Spear (amazing in this deck), will help to transform him into a formidable combatant. Unfortunately, Gondorian Fire can only be attached to Beregond, but he can sometimes be used as a backup attacker with readying effects, or in the cases where we chump block.

With these roles established, it is merely a matter of getting the necessary cards on the chosen heroes, something that this deck does more quickly and consistently than most decks I’ve ever built. Heck, I even included Keeping Count because getting two copies in play has proved to be a fairly painless process with such a wealth of card draw. Revitalizing what was for me a long-dead cards like Keeping Count is a great sign for the impact that Erestor has on the metagame. His ability is so powerful that it requires you to go back and re-evaluate the entire card pool to judge older cards within a fresh new context.

Love of TalesThe strategy I’ve implored here is certainly not the only way to go about building around Erestor. I’ve intentionally stayed with a 50 card deck, to maximize our ability to draw all of these singular cards in a timely fashion. As I mentioned at the top, there is ample space within this archetype for vastly different designs. By sticking with cheap cards, we do not need resource acceleration in this deck, but that is another viable route. I am particularly intrigued by the idea of a heavier Lore-based approach, that uses many Songs and Love of Tales to build a resource engine. That deck is still in the early stages of design so I will leave it for a later article.

In any case, this is more than enough of my rambling, and it fulfills the second in my ongoing series of community service articles. I hope that my parole officer approves of this deck, although the level of trickery it contains does border on the criminal. As I see it, this entire concept is still very much an experiment, and I have no doubt that it will improve and evolve over the course of this cycle and even have unexpected interactions with later releases. I am interested to hear from other players on this; feel free to leave me comments about your Erestor deck ideas or how you would build this deck differently. Remember, just because that nerd is sitting quietly in the corner of the library reading Mad Magazine and writing his own sequel to Monty Python, doesn’t mean that you should ever underestimate him. It is after all the nerds of the world who end up doing some truly amazing things.

Beregond-smallErestor-ToR-smallEowyn

Heroes:
Beregond (HoN)
Erestor (ToR)
Eowyn (Core)

Allies: 12
Dunedain Hunter (TLR) x3
Galadhrim Weaver (ToR) x2
Westfold Horse-breeder (VoI) x1
Vassal of the Windlord (TDM) x1
Henamarth Riversong (Core) x1
Erebor Hammersmith (Core) x1
Galadhrim Minstrel (TiT) x1
Gléowine (Core) x1
Master of the Forge (SaF) x1

Attachments: 24
Elven Spear (ToR) x1
Gondorian Fire (AoO) x1
Keeping Count (TRG) x3
Blood of Númenor (HoN) x1
Spare Hood and Cloak (TH:OHaUH) x1
Expert Treasure-hunter (TH:OtD) x1
Healing Herbs (FoS) x1
Song of Wisdom (CatC) x1
Arod (ToS) x1
Gondorian Shield (TSF) x1
Rivendell Blade (RtR) x1
Light of Valinor (FoS) x1
Miruvor (SaF) x3
Song of Earendil (RtR) x1
Lembas (TiT) x2
Protector of Lorien (Core) x1
Spear of the Citadel (HoN) x1
A Burning Brand (CatC) x1
Asfaloth (FoS) x1

Events: 12
Elrond’s Counsel (TWitW) x3
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3
Deep Knowledge (VoI) x3
Will of the West (Core) x3

Side Quests: 2
Gather Information (TLR) x1
Scout Ahead (TWoE) x1

Posted in Aggro, Combo, Deck Building, Deck Lists, Fun, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Helms Deep Falls to an Onslaught of Uruk-hai

Helm's WTF

After a hard-fought battle, Matthew and I finally succumbed to a veritable army of Urak-hai at the Battle of Helm’s Deep. It is telling of a major shift in the relative power of enemies that even when I wanted to use Boromir to make one final sacrifice, I would have been unable to even damage most of my enemies because of their toughness. Still, it was a very enjoyable quest and I look forward to designing a multiplayer deck with the specific goal of surviving this challenge. As always, keep an eye out for our Twitch stream (and blame any mistakes on me playing at midnight after a long day at work).

Posted in Community, OCTGN, Screenshot | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Beware the Spirits of the Deadmen’s Dike

Deadmen's Dike - Derek, Dan and Chris #1 - small

After a long hiatus from online play, tonight I had the pleasure to play a three player game with Derek and friend of the show, Chris S. Our quest to escape from Deadmen’s Dike ended in tragedy for the ranger Iârion, but it was still a lot of fun. This quest reminds me a bit of Into Ithilien in that it is masochistically difficult and requires a different kind of deck design but it does reward strategic play. Overall I must say that I am really enjoying the quests from The Lost Realm. Hopefully I will have the chance to play some Treason of Saruman this weekend.

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Deck: The Wind Beneath My Wings

The-Wind-Beneath-My-Wings

As a giant shapeshifting bear, I appreciate absurdity. Like any traumatic experience, it has taken time to process that atrocity that was The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. But time truly does heal all wounds. After leaving the theater, my inevitable rampage was a sight to behold. Years hence, scholars will marvel at the carnage left in my wake. After the fires were finally extinguished and the wounded were treated, a tense series of negotiations ensued – wizards even testified on my behalf.

Laugh if you dare, but a skin-changer cannot be blamed for his reaction to the most egregious mockery of a cultural icon since the Choco Taco. The conditions of my release include a minimum of 200 hours of community service and this deck is the first of many mandated sanctions. Any complaints should be directed to the Texas department of Corrections at (936) 295-6371.

Peter_JacksonLet this serve as public notice, that I do hereby irrevocably foreswear any future privilege to make violent reactions to the dropping of bears, wolves, foxes or other skin-changing creatures from the backs of eagles. My attempt to kidnap Mr. Jackson and drop him from the top of The Carrock was an unwarranted and wholly immoral act. My subsequent attempts to subject his unctuous gaggle of lickspittles (apologists of Mr. Jackson’s crimes, let it be known) and subject them to death by bee-sting was equally abhorrent. For these and other crimes – of which we shall not speak among such genteel company – I am, and shall forever remain, deeply apologetic.

With the obligatory legal disclaimers out of the way, it’s time to get to the heart of the matter. In order to illustrate that I do not in fact want to savagely maul anyone who implies that bears and other noble creatures can be unceremoniously used as Eagle cargo, I have designed a deck which serves as a public declaration of my newfound open-mindedness. This deck goes one step further and includes Ents among the ranks of decent inhabitants of Arda which might be used as ballast by an avian carrier.

Does the thought of Treebeard being callously hurled earthward from the back of a servant of Manwë strike you as flatly ridiculous? Well, let me disabuse you of such an anachronistic and close-minded belief. If Peter Jackson taught us anything – which he didn’t – it is that no creature under Eru Ilúvatar is safe from being carried and then dropped by an eagle. Eagle-dropping is an inevitability.

beorn-botfa
Today we are going to teach Ents how to fly. Take a second to let the sheer enormity of this concept sink in. Recovered? Good. Now we can begin the task of designing the optimal aerial Ent delivery system. Once we have subverted our natural revulsion to the concept and embraced the radical concept of airborne tree-herders, we might as well go all-in with our strategy. This deck aims to air-drop Treebeard – eldest of the Ents and their unquestioned leader – from as many eagles as we can find. Fortunately, the Treason of Saruman has provided us with a Treebeard hero with which to practice our bombardments.

Wellinghall CustodianThe designers of this game clearly have access to some deeper knowledge that escapes Mr. Jackson, and they have wisely prevented hero Beorn from being used and discarded like some child’s toy. With his immunity to player card effects, the Beorn hero card cannot be normally be chosen as a target for Support of the Eagles (aka “The Eagle Drop Express”). However, with more quests blanking the text of hero cards (I’m looking at you, Weather Hills), it will sometimes be possible to do the unthinkable and recreate Mr. Jackson’s rage-inducing fever dream of dropping a giant bear from the heavens. In any case, as part of the aforementioned legal agreement, I am obligated to include the Beorn hero card in the proceedings of this farce. For those unsure as to my intentions, allow me to reiterate: under no circumstances should you ever drop a bear from the back of an eagle. IF YOU DO, I WILL FIND WHERE YOU LIVE AND K■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■■ [REDACTED BY THE TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS].

Moving right along… this deck requires a third victim, or if you prefer, hero. This poor soul will serve as witness to the crimes, both canonical and logical, which we are about to commit. May Eru have mercy on our souls for the transgressions which will soon transpire. In all of my dealing with the Sons of Durin, Bifur has seemed to me the least troublesome. Granted, this might be damning him with slight praise, but I will nonetheless bring him along to pass on a warning to the mortal races of Middle-earth. With our party chosen, it is now time to select the allies which will embody our air superiority.

cone of shame
The most obvious choice is to include as many Eagles and Ents as we can, and here we have done just that. We have however excluded the more noble Eagles, Landroval and his brother Gwaihir, so that they may be spared the indignity of this entire sad affair. The only other allies that we require are some elves to help us sing a lament, and some craftsmen to help fashion a cone of shame which we will be obligated to wear in perpetuity. With our allies out of the way, we are left with the attachments and events that comprise the rest of the deck.

Now that I have met my minimum word requirements, I promise that I will never criticize Charles Dickens again for as long as I live. My parole officer, to whom this article is dedicated, is a real stickler for spelling, grammar, and word count. I am now going to dispense with the unwarranted verbosity and summarize the remaining cards in this deck in brief.

Song-of-BattleIf a player was to attach Song of Battle to Treebeard, it might naturally follow that they would also attach Support of the Eagles to him as well. It would also make a fair amount of sense to attach Ent Draught to Treebeard, as his ability is best used when he has a large pool of hit points. Likewise, Self Preservation would be a logical accompaniment, to allow the mighty Fangorn to heal his wounds. All of these cards work together to create a formidable force, on both offense and defense. The allies in this deck can then focus on questing.

Now all of these suggestions might seem tactically sound – reasonable even. But you must under no circumstances ever use them. I may have been legally obligated to write this article, but you dear readers are under no such strictures. Please, I beseech you upon pain of death by tragic gardening accident, do not lower yourself to this facile stratagem. Ents are a noble race, one which has sadly been diminished in numbers by time and the silent tyranny of apathy. A wayward Istari reads one too many Ayn Rand books and suddenly their home is chopped to ruins and they are in danger of extinction. Do not, I pray, compound this ignominy by dropping these fair tree-herders from the backs of eagles! In fact, please pretend that you never read this article and promptly forget the deck list which I am legally obligated to provide below.

BeornTreebeard-ToSBifur

Heroes:
Beorn (TH:OHaUH)
Treebeard (ToS)
Bifur (KD)

Allies: 27
Vassal of the Windlord (TDM) x3
Booming Ent (TAC) x3
Winged Guardian (THfG) x3
Master of the Forge (SaF) x3
Wandering Ent (CS) x3
Quickbeam (ToS) x3
Rivendell Minstrel (THfG) x3
Wellinghall Custodian (EfMG) x3
Eagles of the Misty Mountains (RtM) x3

Attachments: 14
Expert Treasure-hunter (TH:OtD) x2
Ent Draught (ToS) x3
Song of Battle (TDM) x3
Support of the Eagles (RtM) x3
Self Preservation (Core) x3

Events: 9
The Eagles Are Coming! (THfG) x3
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3
Entmoot (ToS) x3

Posted in Aggro, Community, Deck Lists, Fun, Movies, Strategy | Tagged , , , | 24 Comments

Deck: The Might of Rohan

Eowyn and Theoden
An interesting dilemma for any game series that is based on a book is what to do when you run out of source material. Fortunately, the world of Middle-earth is vast and the nature of this game is open-ended, so it will be a long time before we reach that point of this game. Still, when it comes to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, there are only so many named characters to portray as heroes. At a certain point, it becomes inevitable that each of the iconic characters has multiple hero cards. With the release of a third version of Aragorn and the imminent arrival of his Fellowship version, we appear to have reached that point.

Theoden-ToSSome players are annoyed at multiple versions of a hero, as it cramps the metagame a bit to have multiple powerful versions of the same unique card. This can be particularly problematic in multi-player games, when different people want to run different versions of the same hero. Still, I am excited to see new versions of heroes, as it gives us a chance to look at a familiar character from a new perspective. As someone who prefers to play powerful decks that are also thematic, new hero versions can be vital as they provide a sphere that might have been missing from an archetype, or they bolster that archetype’s influence within a sphere.

Such is the case with the new version of Théoden spoiled from the Treason of Saruman. Ever since the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, many of the best allies in the Spirit sphere have had the Rohan trait. To this day, Escort from Edoras is one of the most efficient means for quickly putting progress on a quest. Though they boast excellent willpower, Spirit Rohan allies are not just about questing as the sphere includes many excellent support allies.

Westfold Horse-breaker provides action advantage that cane be invaluable in an emergency. West Road Traveller and The Riddermark’s Finest both help with location control, which only strengthens the archetype’s already impressive ability to make quest progress without suffering from location-lock. With a wide array of useful mount attachments, Westfold Horse-breeder’s ability ensures that your heroes will have their best horses, ready for battle.

Éomund is a natural fit for any pure Rohan deck, providing the potential for massive action advantage. Up until now, the problem with Éomund was his relatively high resource cost and the fact that most Rohan heroes tend to be focused on a single aspect of the game. Éowyn always commits to the quest, but readying her does not provide much help during combat. On the other hand, you can ready her brother Éomer after sending him questing, but his willpower is not providing much help. With the new Théoden hero, combined with some powerful attachments, we finally have a good reason to take full advantage of Éomund’s response.

Herugrim-ToSWith 2 defense, 4 hit points and sentinel, the king of the Rohirrim can serve as a solid defender against lesser enemies. More often, Théoden will be the aggressor. His 3 attack along his mighty sword Herugrim will allow him to battle even the hardiest of enemies. Éowyn is also an excellent choice to wield the famous sword, assuming you can provide her with readying. A well-timed Ride to Ruin can even discard Éomund during an action window, to provide your characters the opportunity for additional actions.

Between the action advantage provided by their mounts and Éomund’s ability, our heroes will be busy on most rounds. Action advantage is all well and good, but without an army to follow him into battle, Théoden will not realize his true potential. This is where his cost reduction ability is so critical to this archetype. It’s worth noting that unlike previous cards like Master of Lore, his effect is allowed to reduce an ally’s cost to 0, so you can play Westfold Horse-breeder for free. This can definitely be useful on turns when we want to save our resources for events and attachments.

Mustering-the-RohirrimThéoden’s reduction is not limited to Spirit allies, so he can aid us in playing Guthlaf or the excellent Westfold Outrider. The deck is chock full of helpful allies, so it is important to be able to find the right character for a given situation. This is where we get to dust off a seldom used search card from The Shadows of Mirkwood cycle in Mustering the Rohirrim. Ancient mathom helps with some addition card drawing, and the previously mentioned Horse-breeder is probably the single most important search effect in the deck.

Gather-Information-smallObservant readers will notice that the events in this deck are included in only one or two copies. As I mentioned in my most recent Bear Market article about The Lost Realm, I am growing tired of building decks with only 3 copies of each card. Thankfully, the new side quest Gather Information has given players an amazingly powerful search effect. This frees up deck designs to experiment with fewer copies of certain cards, knowing that we can use a multitude of search effects to find what we need in an emergency.

The one obvious downside to Side Quests, aside from all of the negative effects in the latest encounter cards, is that it takes time to actually complete them. This is where Rohan decks excel. With access to global effects like Astonishing Speed, this deck has the potential to generate a tremendous amount of quest progress, even with a staging area filled with location. This questing strength does much to mitigate the potential dangers of taking detours to complete a side quest. More importantly, it allows us to provide a wider variety of interesting effects to provide versatility and make this deck enjoyable to play.

Theoden-ToSEowynEomer-small

Heroes:
Théoden (ToS)
Éowyn (Core)
Éomer (VoI)

Allies: 23
Westfold Horse-breeder (VoI) x3
Escort from Edoras (AJtR) x3
The Riddermark’s Finest (THoEM) x3
West Road Traveller (RtM) x3
Westfold Outrider (VoI) x3
Westfold Horse-breaker (THfG) x3
Guthlaf (TBoG) x1
Éomund (CatC) x3
Elfhelm (TDM) x1

Attachments: 14
Rohan Warhorse (VoI) x3
Ancient Mathom (AJtR) x2
Steed of the Mark (TMV) x3
Firefoot (TDT) x3
Herugrim (ToS) x3

Events: 12
Feint (Core) x2
Quick Strike (Core) x2
A Test of Will (Core) x2
Mustering the Rohirrim (THfG) x2
Ride to Ruin (THoEM) x2
Charge of the Rohirrim (CS) x1
Ride Them Down (TAC) x1

Side Quests: 1
Gather Information (TLR) x1

Sideboard: 15
Horseback Archer (Core) x2
Rider of the Mark (RtR) x2
Elfhelm (TDM) x1
Secret Vigil (TLR) x3
Hasty Stroke (Core) x2
Ride to Ruin (THoEM) x1
Charge of the Rohirrim (CS) x1
Ride Them Down (TAC) x1
Astonishing Speed (RtM) x2

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