Intrepid members of the community have designed an epic multiplayer version of Helm’s Deep, and I will be joining other esteemed members of the community to test it out this Saturday! The standard version of this quest is a personal favorite – with an ideal combination of theme and novel mechanics. Even in solo it is notorious for being difficult, so I’m curious to see how it scales to epic multiplayer scales.
The game will start at 4pm EST (9pm GMT) this Saturday (June 19th), and there will be three different streams:
For those who would like to watch me, I will be joining Durin’s Father (creator of Vision of the Palantir) and Wandering Took on his Twitch stream. Currently, I’m trying to decide between bringing Grimbeorn’s Path or Ride to Bruin. I’m leaning toward that latter, as there is something profoundly amusing about the thought of the Rohirrim being joined at the Hornburg by an army of Giant Bears. If you have time on Saturday, I encourage you to check out one of the streams. We may not be victorious, but it will be an epic battle.
For those interesting in trying out the epic version of Helm’s Deep themselves, have no fear. The Purple Wizard will be hosting a game on July 17th at 4pm EST, which is open to everyone. Reach out to The Purple Wizard on Discord for details.
Each release brings changes to the meta-game. Existing archetypes are strengthened, entirely new strategies emerge, and many of the cards in the pool must be reevaluated. A living card games is “living” in multiple senses. The relative strength of a card evolves and changes as the cards around it change. While Power-levels usually only increase, errata can even reduce the power of a card. This typically only happens to the most powerful cards,
Children of Eorl is unofficial but it has a similar impact on the meta-game, for those who add it to their collections. One could argue that ALeP has a more potent and immediate impact as it is explicitly designed to bolster existing archetypes. Specifically, ALeP aims to improve archetypes considered by many to be second tier. After all, no one is clamoring for Outlands or Dwarf Swarm to receive support in the form of community designed cards. On the other hand, making an archetype like Gondor Traps viable in a wider range of quests is good for the game, especially for players who enjoy experimenting with many different kinds of decks. On earth as Middle-earth, variety is the spice of life. On Arrakis, Spice is the spice of life, but that a discussion for spacefaring bear on another blog.
Before we get lost in the desert, here are eight existing cards which are worth a second look in the context of Children of Eorl. You may find that cards which stayed in the binder collecting dust are suddenly the exact solution to take a deck to the next level. Other cards which you already used may have a new utility, unforeseen when combined only with official cards. If I missed one of your favorites, let me know in the comments below.
Editors Note: Bear is grumpy. If you’re a troll who wants to comment about how you don’t play community content, my advice is simple. Spend 10 years becoming a master in origami, 10 years on chandlery, and another 10 teaching yourself calligraphy. Harvest your own sweat and tears for another 10 years, fashioning them into a single candle which encompasses the platonic ideal of illumination. After that, have a nice cup of herbal tea and a scone. Then, fold a thousand paper cranes, writing upon each your complaint in a flowing font of your own devising. Don’t just copy it from the first image search, lovingly craft a font which reflects who you are as a person. Make sure it has serifs. Serifs are cool. Then, one by one, throw each of your cranes into the flame of your candle. Finally, ask yourself this question: What would a world look in which you spent a fraction of the time you spend being an ass on the internet actually creating something? Maybe you’d be a mediocre creator and nothing would be different – there is that risk. Perhaps, and this is just the slimmest of chances, the ashes of your self-involved solipsism would provide a fertile soil upon which to grow something new and beautiful.
Gondor Valour Swarm
Veteran of Osgiliath
This is an ally which intrigued me from the beginning. Part of that speaks to the dearth of decent generic Gondor allies for the first half of the game. There is something to like about an ally which starts out relatively weak but becomes stronger in the late-game, when climbing threat makes the danger of larger enemies a constant danger. Three cost is relatively inexpensive in an archetype which obviously brings Leadership Denethor and Steward of Gondor.
The veteran is appealing even before you account for the myriad global boosts that Gondor affords. Cards like For Gondor!, Leadership Boromir, and Visionary Leadership all make the Veteran of Osgiliath that much more effective. In some decks, particularly those with low starting threat or repeatable threat reduction, you could argue that his bonus won’t be available for long enough to warrant player the veteran. Fortunately, Gondor Swarm is an aggressive archetype.
The new Ingold hero from Children of Eorl is the perfect way to ensure that you veteran receives his stat bonus as quickly as possible. Anyone who plays Deep Knowledge will tell you, drawing cards at the cost of raising your threat is almost always worth the bargain. The fact the Ingold has the card draw as a repeatable response makes him the engine that drives a Gondor Swarm deck. Throw in events like (my personal favorite) Pillars of Kings, and you’ll be in Valour range before you can say “cherry tomato”.
Favor of the Valar
After spending paragraphs expounding upon the virtues of the valour strategy, it should come as no surprise that the other card I’m covering has a threat reduction effect. It’s all well and good to play Pillars of the Kings on the first turn, draw a bevvy of cards, and swarm the board with Gondor allies. However, the game is not solitare and quests will include threat raising effects more often than not.
Favor of the Valor is a few important differences from similar powerful threat reduction effects. The Galadhrim’s Greeting can lower a player’s threat by 6, but many Gondor Swarm decks are mono-Leadership. Sneak Attack and Gandalf is another great option for threat reduction, with the advantage that it is in sphere. However, if I’m going to write an article recommending Sneak Attack and Gandalf I might as well retire now.
All of these forms of threat reduction are great, but they must be used proactively. If you happen to be right at or around 40 threat, reducing your threat so much from a single effect is a bit inconvenient. Threat reduction is usually a net positive, but losing all of your valour triggers and bonuses is not ideal for this archetype. Because it lowers your threat to 45 after you would be eliminated, Favor of the Valar will never take you out of Valour range.
The wording on this effect is subtle but important. It is a response to threat elimination. A replacement effect then sets your current threat to 45, regardless of what it would have been at the time of elimination. This means that there is technically no limit to the amount of threat reduction from this effect. As an example, some treacheries raise a player’s threat based on the number of questing characters, or total allies a player controls. These kinds of effects are often fatal for swarm decks.
For example, you could be at 48 threat and a treachery like Bitter Reek would leave you in a no-win situation. Either deal 1 damage to each of your questing characters, killing off many of your weak allies, or raise your threat by 1 for each questing character. With a Gondor Swarm deck in the late game, this could easily be a 10 threat raise. Because the threat raise happens as part of a single effect, you can use the response from Favor of the Valar to replace your 58 threat with 45. That is a net reduction of 13 threat for 3 measly resources.
Anborn is one of the first allies I reach for when building a Trap deck. As much as you want to include 3 copies of every Trap attachment, you need allies and events in your deck. Before the hero version of Celador, having multiple unattached Trap attachments in play had a limited advantage. Even with encounter deck scrying and new cards like It Should be Spared, there will be times when a trap ends up attached to the wrong enemy. This is where Anborn comes to the rescue. He gives you the option of killing the trapped enemy, returning the trap to your hand from the discard pile, then playing it again.
Recursion is great, but a 4 cost Lore ally is not the easiest card to play in most Trap decks. My early Trap decks used Master of Lore with some success, but that card received an unfortunate errata. Without splashing Leadership, an odd fit for Traps decks, most Lore decks are going to struggle to pay for Anborn in addition to all of the other cards they want to play. This is where Spring the Trap enters the discussion.
You usually don’t want to play Anborn in the early game. His stats are great, but his recursion ability doesn’t bring any value until there are Trap cards in the discard pile to target. It is often better to hold him in your hand, and play your critical early games Traps and support allies like Emyn Arnen Ranger.
Lore might not have resource acceleration, but it has an embarrassment of card draw options. If you happen to see Anborn in your hand but haven’t yet drawn Spring the Trap, you can use effects like Daeron’s Runes, Mithrandir’s Advice, Deep Knowledge or Drinking Song to find it. The response on Spring the Trap is trivial in any Trap deck worth its salt. You want to take maximal benefit from Damrod, which means having a Trap attaching to an enemy every round, if possible. This allows you to get Anborn into play for only 2 resources. A savings of two might seem minimal, and in a resource rich sphere like Leadership that would be true. However, any kind of cost reduction in Lore is worth it, as card draw will just about guarantee that you see these support cards.
Put Off Pursuit
Between Anborn, It Should be Spared, and the proliferation of encounter deck scrying effects, Trap Decks now have much more control over which enemies get traps attached. Live Bait even allows you to attach a Trap to an enemy which ordinarily cannot have attachments. Even so, the game features many enemies which you do not want to keep around in a trap. This single fact is the Achilles heel of trap decks.
The best example of this is archery. An enemy with a high archery value is typically not something that you want to keep in play, trapped, for the entire game. Other enemies might have a passive effect which hurts you while that enemy is in the staging area or engaged. These enemies can continue to punish you, even after they have fallen into a trap. These are the enemies that you need to kill, then use Anborn to bring the trap back.
It’s all well and good to say that a Trap deck needs to just kill a Mûmak and then focus its attention on the weaker enemies. However, the archetype doesn’t have an easy way of dealing with such a powerful enemy. Super-defenders like Beregond can do the job, but are an odd thematic fit for a Trap deck. Effects like Feint and Coney in a Trap can spare you for a single round, but that is not always enough time to deal with the tougher enemies.
This is where cards like Put Off Pursuit and The Great Hunt can be invaluable. Both of these cards are an effective way to remove troublesome enemies, which would otherwise cause serious problems to a Trap deck. I choose Put Off Pursuit because it does not necessitate three Lore heroes and most of my Trap decks feature two Lore heroes and Tactics hero. If you are playing a mono-Lore Trap deck, definitely consider including The Great Hunt. The idea is that rather than wasting a Trap on a troublesome enemy, or engaging it and cobbling together some desperate combat strategy, we will simply discard that enemy from the staging area.
This is only necessary for the most dangerous enemies, most quests will include these types of enemies, precisely because they are so difficult for control decks like Secrecy and Traps to handle. Ideally, we can use scrying and control cards like Live Bait and It Should be Spared to manage all of the lesser enemies with Traps. Then, when one of these more difficult enemies comes along, we use the copy of Put Off Pursuit or The Great Hunt that we’ve been saving to discard that enemy. As long as we finish a quest quickly enough to avoid too many reshuffles of the encounter deck, we should not have to face that same enemy again. Obviously this strategy is less effective in longer quests or ones where the encounter discard pile is frequently shuffled back into the encounter deck.
Ride to Ruin
One of my favorite moments in a living card game is when a previously unplayable card suddenly becomes useful. Dating all the way back to the first cycle, I wanted to make a Rohan deck that could use Ride to Ruin in a thematically epic way. Make no mistake, the card has always been technically useful, especially when combined with our location control effects from the early card pool like Northern Tracker or Snowbourn Scout. The issue was not that this card did not work from a mechanical standpoint, it was just such a thematically underwhelming effect for this title.
That might at first seem like an odd criticism, but when you name a card after one of the most dramatic moments of an epic fantasy narrative, it sets up a certain expectation in many players’ minds. Thanks to Thengel, Ride to Ruin can finally play an appropriately critical role in a Rohan Sacrifice deck. Before Thengel and Horn of the Mark, Ride to the Ruin was only used as a location control effect.
Now, the benefits of discarding a Rohan ally are such that the location progress from Ride of Ruin is a nice side benefit, instead of the primary reason to play the event. Once per round, Thengel can muster any Rohan ally from the top five cards of your deck, once a Rohan ally is discarded. This transforms events like Ride to Ruin and Worthy of Remembrance, along with numerous Rohan allies, into their own mustering engines. Rohan has enough high cost allies to mean there is a good chance of trading a 1 or 2 cost ally for 3 or 4 cost ally.
The Muster of Rohan
Whereas Children of Eorl transformed cards like Ride to Ruin from underpowered to playable, it takes a powerful card like The Muster of Rohan and makes it one of the most effective events in the game. Because it was released late in the life of the game, The Muster of Rohan had plenty of powerful targets. Unique allies like Elfhelm (either version), Grimbold, Éomund, Háma, and Déorwine are all great options for mustering. In addition, many generic allies like Escort from Edoras, Westfold Horse-breaker, and The Riddermark’s Finest are a fine choice for this event.
Being able to search the top 10 cards of your deck for four Rohan allies is easily worth the cost of this event, especially when you account for responses like Thengel and Horn of the Mark that are available when you discard those allies at the end of the round. What really takes this card into the upper echelon is the new contract from Children of Eorl, The Last Alliance. The trait replacement effect from the Last Alliance means that you can search for and muster non-Rohan allies from your deck, as though they were part of the Rohirrim.
My Ride to Bruin deck is a good example of the potential power of this card when it is paired with Last Alliance. In one of my tests of that deck, I used The Last Alliance to change The Muster of Rohan to search for and muster Beorn, a Giant Bears, a Beorning Skin-changer, and a Beorning Beekeeper. Yes, these allies will all be discarded at the end of the phase, but it turns out that they each have an effect which either discards them or shuffles them back into my deck.
In addition, the contract readies at the end of the round, before the discard effect from The Muster of Rohan takes place. This means that I can exhaust the contract to change The Muster of Rohan to bring Beornings into play, but it also allows me to exhaust it again during the refresh phase, to change Gamling to save a “Rohan or Beorning ally”. This allows me to return a Skin-changer to my hand after it is discarded. I can replay the Skin-changer on the next turn, then transform it into a Giant Bear that was previously discarded.
Pairing Beornings with Rohan is just one example of the kind of strategies supported by The Last Alliance. This contract opens up so many different archetypes, some of the best decks using this contract might not even have been discovered yet. Children of Eorl was designed to unlock the potential of Rohan Sacrifice. It has undoubtedly done that, while also supporting many heretofore underutilized cards.
Rohan Staging Attack
Like Lore, Tactics is a resource poor sphere. Three cost allies with a discard effect are a tough sell, and I initially dismissed this ally as too expensive. Granted, I have used Grimbold to good effect in a few mono-Tactics decks, but the ability to prevent an enemy attack can be worth the loss of an expensive ally. On the other hand, 2 direct damage to an enemy in the staging area just seemed like too minimal effect for such a steep cost.
Two cards from Children of Eorl have changed my opinion of this ally, however. As mention in the above discussion of Thengel, the cost of a Rohan ally is no longer as linear as it once was. When I can respond to my Escort from Edoras leaving play to find a Lancer and bring it into play exhausted, suddenly the cost of this ally doesn’t seem so relevant. Many Rohan decks feature Théoden, so even when you cannot cheat the Lancer into play with Thengel, you can at least play him at a discount.
The other card which makes the Lancer’s effect more promising is Worthy of Remembrance. It bears pointing out that you do not want to use the Lancer to pay the cost of that event, but an inexpensive allies like Snowbourn Scout or Westfold Horse-breeder makes a great choice. In an ideal situation, you can discard a unique ally like Éomund to pay the cost of Worthy of Remembrance. Along with the Lancer’s effect this represents 6 direct damage into the staging area, which can even bit split (4 and 2) between two different enemies. Assuming this is enough to kill the enemy, Herubrand lets you draw a card to replace one of the allies you lost. If you’re fortunate enough to have a Horn of Mark in play, you could be drawing 2 cards.
That kind of direct damage in support of heroes like Leadership Éomer and Dúnhere and suddenly staging area attack seems a bit more viable. The easiest strategy is still to load your hero up with Spear of the Mark, Dagger of Westernesse and whatever other weapons or mounts you have on hand. This kind of direct damage should not be overlooked however, as it can provide the killing blow against a tougher enemy, or in the early game before your hero has donned all of his desired raiment. It is not as if this ally is useless in the mean time, because he quests for 2 willpower every round until you need him.
Any effect which provides an out-of-phase attack is powerful. Not only do these attacks occur before the enemy attack step, but they do not count against the limit that each character can only be declared as an attacker against an enemy once per round. This kind of combat control is vital for dealing with enemies that have powerful forced effects after they are engaged or after they attack. It can be particularly effective in Rohan Staging Attack decks because of the primary heroes used by those decks.
Every Rohan Staging Attack deck is built around either Dúnhere or Éomer. With Dúnhere, the strategy is straight forward. Since he can attack into the staging area when he attacks alone, Battle-fury acts just like Quick Strike. For 1 Tactics resource, you can target an enemy in the staging area. In a Forth, the Three Hunters deck, Dúnhere will likely have more than his base 1 willpower. This means you can pay the kicker cost of Battle-fury to commit him to the quest as a bonus.
Making use of Battle-fury with Éomer is trickier, but potentially even stronger. Since he can only attack into the staging area as a response to committing to the quest, you will need an engaged enemy to target with Battle-fury’s first effect. If you happen to have Firefoot attached, you might even be able to trample this first attack onto a second engaged enemy. Then, you can pay the kicker cost on Battle-fury to commit Éomer to the quest. Then, you can respond to his committing to the quest and pay 1 resource from his pool to have Éomer attack an enemy in the staging area. Assuming you have Éomer equipped with Gúthwinë, Firefoot, or a Spear of the Mark, you should be able to finish off that enemy.
But all of this was true before Children of Eorl was released, you might say. That would be a good way to lose an arm. Remember, do not taunt the bear. That arm is more useful for attacking enemies in the staging area, making tea, or writing calligraphy. All fun aside, Battle-fury is made that much more effective with Herubrand.
Assuming your attack into the staging area defeats the enemy, Herubrand lets you draw a card to replace Battle-fury. This type of card advantage is critical to an archetype like Rohan Staging Attack, because you want to be able to maintain pressure against the staging area every round. If you are unable to kill an enemy when you first see it, a treachery might raise your threat. Suddenly, your threat means a forced engagement with one of the troublesome enemies. If Fastred is not able to handle that enemy, suddenly your entire combat strategy, and the lives of your heroes, are lost.
Beyond the card draw, Rohan Staging Area Attack decks require weapons to ensure that your attacker can defeat enemies when attacking along. Moreover, you want to commit as many characters to the quest as you can afford. You don’t want to fail to quest, risk raising your threat, and engaging all of these dangerous enemies you’ve been leaving in the staging area. Herubrand gains willpower was you attach weapons to your attacker and armor to Fastred, assuming you even have defender. If instead your other hero is a dedicated quester, their restricted willpower-boosting attachments will benefit Herubrand.
Battle-fury not only gives you an out-of-phase attack like Quick Strike, but it also gives you the option to commit to your attacker to the quest after the attack. Depending on who that hero is, this may have a dramatic impact on the quest phase. Either way, every little bit of willpower helps to make Rohan Staging Attack that much more effective. Ideally, these decks want to perform all combat during the quest phase. This avoids all of those pesky things like shadow cards, and enemy attacks, and archery.
No hungry generations tread thee down; The voice I hear this passing night was heard In ancient days by emperor and clown: Perhaps the self-same song that found a path Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home, She stood in tears amid the alien corn; The same that oft-times hath Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
-from Ode to a Nightingale by John Keats
My last poetic inspiration was a hundred year old Yeats poem, so I decided to double down with a Keats ode from 1819. The alternate art this time around features the talents of renowned wildlife painter John James Audubon and the inimitable Georgia O’Keeffe. If I’m not careful, people might start mistaking me for a genteel bear.
Fear not, dear readers, I will dispense with the commentary about symbolic poetry and commence with the pretty pictures. I’ve been intrigued by Radagast lately, so this deck is built around his ability to play out of sphere Creature allies. Hence the avian theme of the poem above. Elrond’s ability for out of sphere allies compliments the Wizard’s and the synergy between Wizard’s Pipe and Vilya is well established and undeniable. Put succinctly, the goal here is storm the board with a zoo of powerful creatures.
Recently, I’ve been attempting to create powerful Lore decks. The hero compliment means that this deck technically fits that description. However, the allies are almost entirely out of sphere so that feels a tad disingenuous. The incongruity of a Lore deck with all Tactics allies underscores one of my major frustrations with where the sphere fits in the meta game.
Elrond and Vilya are one of the most powerful combinations in the game, but nothing about them actually requires Lore cards. Moreover, many of the most powerful Vilya decks feature only a smattering of Lore cards. Every other sphere has at least one powerful mono-sphere archetype, Spirit arguably has several. Lore has Ents, but they are a bit slow for some quests and they frankly work better with non-Ent heroes and at least a splash of Tactics cards.
There is a mono-Lore Victory Display deck which – while viable – is second tier at best. That deck lacks the combat prowess to even attempt many of the more difficult quests. It’s not to say that every sphere must have viable mono-sphere archetype, it just seems odd that Lore is the only sphere without one. The Great Hunt is a nice addition to the sphere, but it feels too little too late for mono-Lore archetypes. My hope is that, given time, ALeP is able to breathe some life into mono-Lore decks.
In any case, this deck is thematic and powerful, which was what I was aiming for. If you enjoy the work of Audubon or O’Keeffe, the beautiful alternate art is a nice bonus. For those interested in trying it out, you can find the deck list on RingsDB. May you all have happy adventures in Middle-earth and a safe 2021.
The original plan was to design a new version of the Bear Draft for Con of the Rings 2020. The pandemic had other ideas, so here we are in May of 2021 and I’ve finally finished updating the draft pool. While it was disappointing for the Con to be cancelled, the delay does mean that I was able to include cards from A Long-extended Party in this version. Even if we only considered official content, the card pool has grown to a size where difficult decisions have to be made when it comes to designing a draft.
As Children of Eorl focuses on bolstering Rohan and Gondor, it makes sense for this version of the draft to give those factions a chance to shine. What better way to highlight the excellent work put into ALeP than to design a draft pool centered around the various Rohan and Gondor archetypes. These are not the only decks you will be able to make with Bear Draft v6, far from it. Even a cursory inspection of the cards will reveal that the Silvan and Noldor factions are well represented, along with Ents, Eagles, and even Harad characters. Less emphasis has been placed on Dúnedain, Dwarf, and Dale archetypes, though Havens should allow viable decks to be crafted for those factions as well.
The goal of a draft format is not to make every faction or archetype viable. Because this format of draft involves two teams of four players each, certain archetypes are specifically avoided. For example, Gandalf hero is not in this pool as such a deck not only blocks everyone else on your team from playing ally versions of Gandalf, but it also risks boring them to death as they wait for you to finish your planning phase.
I hope to run Bear Draft v6 at this year’s Con of the Rings in the fall. In the mean time, much of the local Austin LotR group is vaccinated so I should be able to test out the draft sooner than that. After more than a year without multiplayer gaming (other than digital) it will be sweet relief to get back to meeting, gaming, and socializing with friends.
The Bear Draft is designed for 8 players, split into two teams of 4 players each. It consists of the following stages, in order. The first two stages are required, the next four are optional and can be skipped if you have less time available to play. As for which quests to play, I suggest having each team build a dynamic encounter deck for the other team. The custom scenario kits are The Wizard’s Quest, The Woodland Realm, The Mines of Moria, and Escape from Khazad-dûm. The dynamic quests have a good difficulty level for draft decks, where some quests have very specific deck-building requirements which can be difficult to meet with a draft deck.
1. Hero Draft: 40 total heroes, 1 pack of 5 heroes per player. A single round, at the end of which each player has drafted 5 heroes.
2. Player Card Draft: 480 total cards, 4 packs of 15 cards per player. Four rounds, at the end of which each player has drafted 60 player cards. The minimum player deck size is 30 cards.
3. Select a Contract (Optional): 8 total contracts, each player has the option to choose one. A single round, at the end of which each player has drafted at most 1 contract.
4. Select a Haven (Optional): 16 total havens, each player has the option to choose one. Each haven has 1-3 heroes heroes and 6 player cards. If a player selects a haven they may add any or all player cards associated with that haven to their deck. In addition, they may trade up to 2 of their 5 drafted heroes for heroes associated with that haven.
5. Add Signature and Bonus Cards (Optional): Each hero has 3-6 optional signature cards. Players may add any or all signature cards for each of their starting heroes to their deck. Also, players may add 1 copy of Core Set Gandalf and 1 resource Song (Kings, Battle, Travel, Wisdom) to their deck.
6. Add Achievement Cards (Optional): 8 total achievement cards, with an associated goal. Some of the achievements involve constraints to deck construction (e.g. “build a Strider deck with 2 starting heroes”) and some represent challenges which must be met in-game (e.g. “play And Justice Shall be Done in a game where you are eliminated by your team is victorious”). Each player has the option of taking a single achievement card.
I will outline each stage of the draft below. For those unfamiliar with the Bear Draft format, you may also want to search my blog for previous versions to get a sense of how this format differs from normal deck construction. This article will be a bit lengthy, so I’m not going to give too much detail on limited formats here.
There are 40 heroes in the draft pool, 10 from each sphere. They each include 3-6 signature cards. These cards represent characters, weapons, armor, mounts, titles, and thematic events which are associated with that hero. Signature cards are optional, but they often help to build a viable deck around a given hero.
Weapon, Armor, Mount, Heirlooms
Title, Song, Skill
Sword that was Broken, Roheryn, Ring of Barahir, Celebrían’s Stone
Heir of Valandil
Gaining Strength x2
O Lórien!, Feigned Voices
The Day’s Rising
Hobbit Cloak, Bill the Pony, Red Book of Westmarch
Taste it Again!, Friend of Friends
Rod of the Steward
Heir of Mardil, Steward of Gondor, Visionary Leadership, Wealth of Gondor
Dwarven Shield, Ring Mail
The Day’s Rising, Khazâd! Khazâd!, Unlikely Friendship
Gildor’s Counsel x2
Angbor the Fearless
Need Drives Them, Open the Gates (ALeP)
Weapon, Armor, Mount, Equipment
Title, Song, Skill
Rivendell Blade, Bow of the Galadhrim, Arod
Hands Upon the Bow, Unlikely Friendship
Sword of Númenor, Shining Shield, Horn of Gondor, Shining Shield
Captain of Gondor, Horn’s Cry
Spear of the Citadel, Raven-winged Helm
Dagger of Westernesse
Prince of Dol Amroth, Gondorian Discipline
The Red Arrow
Grimbeorn the Old
Beorn’s Rage x2
Elfhelm (Tactics Ally)
Spear of the Mark
Charge of the Rohirrim
Weapon, Armor, Mount, Equipment
Title, Song, Skill
Spear of the Mark
Sting, Mithril Cloak, Hobbit Pony
Friends of Friends, Free to Choose
Haldir of Lórien
Mirror of Galadriel, Nenya
Steed of Imladris, Silver Harp
Elfhelm (Spirit Ally)
Herugrum, Golden Shield, Snowmane, Horn of the Mark
The Muster of Rohan
Círdan the Shipwright
Galdor from the Havens
Lords of the Eldar
Tides of Fate
Bofur (Spirit Ally)
Ring of Thror
King Under the Mountain
Prince Imrahil, Damrod
Nor Am I a Stranger
Ride to Ruin
Weapon, Armor, Mount, Equipment
Keen Longbow, Dúnedain Pipe
Legacy of Durin, Ancestral Knowledge
It Should be Spared (ALeP)
Haldir of Lórien
Bow of the Galadhrim
Take No Notice
Galdor from the Havens
To the Sea! To the Sea!, Will of the West
Faramir (Lore Ally)
Anborn (Lore Ally)
Spring the Trap (ALeP)
For the hero draft, each of the 8 players will receive one pack consisting of 5 random heroes. The heroes will be drafted in a single round. Each player will draft one hero from their pack, placing it facedown in their draft pile. Once each player has selected a hero, they will pass the remaining cards in their pack clockwise to the next player. This continues until all of the heroes are drafted. Each player will end this stage having drafted 5 heroes.
Fortunately, players are not limited to only the heroes they’ve drafted. Subsequent stages in the draft will give players an opportunity to trade one or two of the heroes they drafted for different heroes. The heroes drafted will provide a starting point for players, and they should start to form an idea of the kind of player cards they want to draft, based on their 5 heroes.
Player Card Draft
There are 480 player cards in the draft pool, consisting of cards from each sphere as well as neutral cards. These 480 player can be further broken down into three categories, based on the number of copies of each card. There are 196 Common player cards, with 3 copies of each card. There are 184 Uncommon player cards, with 2 copies of each card. Finally, there are 90 Rare player cards, with 1 copy of each card.
Players will draft player cards in 4 rounds. During each round, each player takes one pack of 15 cards. They select one card to draft, placing it facedown in front of them. Once each player has selected a card from their pack, all players will then pass the remaining cards in their pack to the player sitting next to them. The direction cards are passed depends on the round: rounds 1 and 3, cards are passed clockwise; rounds 2 and 4, cards are passed counter-clockwise. A round continues as long as cards remain in a pack. Once a pack is finished the next round is started, until four rounds of player cards are complete.
Envoy of Pelargir
Defender of the Naith
Ranger of Cardolan
Ered Luin Miner
Favor of the Valar
A Good Harvest
Open the Armory
Host of Galadhrim
The Storm Comes
Player Side Quests
Angbor the Fearless
Warrior of Lossarnach
Veteran of Osgiliath
Warden of Helm’s Deep
Soldier of Gondor
Weather Hills Watchman
Deeping Bowman (ALeP)
Knight of the White Tower
Steward of Gondor
Heir of Mardil
King Under the Mountain
Hauberk of Mail
Lure of Moria
A Very Good Tale
Legacy of Númenor
Man the Walls
Tighten Our Belts
Horns! Horns! Horns!
Send for Aid
Prepare for Battle
Player Side Quests
Knights of the Swan
Defender of Rammas
Warrior of Dale
Vassal of the Windward
Marksman of Lórien
Eagles of the Misty Mountains
Rammas Sentry (ALeP)
Captain of Gondor
Dagger of Westernesse
The Red Arrow
Raiment of War
Hands Upon the Bow
Thicket of Spears
The Wizards’s Voice
The Eagles Are Coming!
Sterner Than Steel
Hour of Wrath
Behind Strong Walls
Oath of Eorl
Wait No Longer
Need Brooks No Delay (ALeP)
Delay the Enemy
Player Side Quests
Escort from Edoras
Sailor of Lune
North Real Lookout
Knight of Belfalas
Rammas Lookout (ALeP)
Light of Valinor
Steed of Imladris
To the Sea! To the Sea!
Spare Hood and Cloak
King of Dale
Armor of Erebor
Horn of the Mark
Light-footed Steed (ALeP)
A Test of Will
Light the Beacons
Shadows Give Way
The Galadhrim’s Greeting
Island Amid Perils
Stand and Fight
Heirs of Earendil
Lords of the Eldar
The Muster of Rohan
Rally the West
Player Side Quests
Daughter of the Nimrodel
Warden of Healing
Miner of the Iron Hills
Master of the Forge
Sarn Ford Sentry
Guardian of Ithilien
Deeping Defender (ALeP)
Emyn Arnen Ranger
Morwen Steelsheen (ALeP)
Protector of Lórien
Legacy of Durin
A Burning Brand
Song of Healing
Lore of Imladris
Out of the Wild
The Tree People
Heed the Dream
The Hidden Way
Coney in a Trap
The Great Hunt
Spring the Trap (ALeP)
Explore Secret Ways
Player Side Quests
Select a Contract
There are eight contracts available to the players. Just as with standard player decks, contracts are optional. Rather than being drafted as a pack, contracts are placed on the table faceup and the players take turns selecting a contract, or passing. The contracts were designed for standard constructed decks, without the constraints of a draft format. For this reason, each contract has the following errata when used in the Bear Draft:
When you control exactly 7 unique characters, flip this card over
The Burglar’s Turn
You cannot include Item or Artifact attachments in your deck. Choose as many as 14 different Item or Artifact attachments and shuffle them together. This is your loot deck.
Forth, The Three Hunters
Refresh Action: If each of your heroes has at least 1 restricted attachment, flip this card over.
Council of the Wise
You cannot include more than 1 copy of a unique card or event card, by title, in your deck.
Messenger of the King
Setup: Before drawing your opening hand, choose a non-neutral unique ally from your deck and put it into play.
Bond of Friendship
You deck must be at least 35 cards and include the same number of cards from each of these four spheres: Leadership, Lore, Spirit, and Tactics.
A Perilous Voyage
Your minimum deck size is 50 cards.
The Last Alliance
At least one of your starting heroes and at least 6 allies from your deck must have the printed A trait. At least one of your starting heroes and at least 6 allies from your deck must have the printed B trait.
While contracts are selected immediately after player cards, a player does not have to meet the deck requirements for a contract until they have completed the remaining stages of the draft (select a haven, add signature cards, add achievement cards). This allows each player to bolster their drafted cards in order to meet the deck building requirements of a contract, should they select one.
Select a Haven
The Free Peoples of Middle-earth are beset upon all sides by the forces of evil. Whether it is behind the walls of a stronghold, or hidden in the deep forests, they turn to havens for protection. This narrative theme helps to solve one of the problems of a limited format in a game with so many faction-based mechanics. A draft pool filled with faction-specific cards like O Lórien and Legacy of Durin, is diluted for the purposes of drafting a solid general-purpose deck. At most one or two players will be interested in such a faction-centric effect and for all other players it will be a dead card.
For this reason, faction-specific cards have been kept to a minimum in the main draft pool. On the other hand, each player may select a Haven for their heroes to start their adventure. Each haven has from 1 to 3 heroes and 6 player cards which follow a theme. Most of the havens are centered around a faction but one (The Misty Mountains) is centered around a single character (Sméagol) and His Precious (The One Ring). Havens are optional but many players will find them beneficial to making one of the factions in their deck more consistent and effective.
Each player may only select a single haven. After selecting a haven, they may include any of the heroes and/or player cards in their deck. The following havens are available:
Beorning Skin-changer x2
Brand son of Bain (Leadership)
Guardian of Esgaroth
Hauberk of Mail
Bard son of Brand
North Realm Lookout
King of Dale
Long Lake Trader
Necklace of Girion
Hirluin the Fair
Lord of Morthond
Prince Imrahil (Leadership)
Spear of the Mark
Need Brooks No Delay (ALeP)
Horn of the Mark
Dain Ironfoot (Leadership)
Nori (Tactics Ally)
Gwaihir (Tactics Ally)
Support of the Eagles
The Eagles Are Coming! x2
Eagles of the Misty Mountains
Treebeard (Neutral Ally)
Elrohir (Spirit Ally)
Glorfindel (Spirit Hero)
Glorfindel (Spirit Ally)
Elladan (Lore Ally)
Emyn Arnen Ranger
It Should be Spared
Galdor from the Havens
Galdor from the Havens (Lore Ally)
To the Sea, To the Sea!
Lords of the Eldar
Defender of the Naith
Bow of the Galadhrim
The Tree People
Defender of Cair Andros
Spear of the Citadel
Sméagol (+ Stinker x2)
Power of Command
The Master Ring
Strength and Courage
The Ruling Ring
The One Ring
Frodo Baggins (Leadership)
Add Signature and Bonus Cards
Once each player has selected a haven (or passed), the next stage is to choose their starting heroes and add signature card. Each player will have from 1 to 4 starting heroes (the latter is only allowed with the Bond of Friendship contract). For each of their starting heroes, a player may add any number of signature cards for that hero to their deck. Players may have added or or more heroes from a haven to their deck. Haven heroes do not have signature cards, only the cards associated with their haven. If a player chooses a haven hero as their starting hero, they will not have the option of adding signature cards for that hero.
The one exception to this rule is when a haven hero has the same title as a draft hero. For example, if a player drafts the Tactics version of Boromir and then chooses Minas Tirith as their haven. They would have the option of replacing Tactics Boromir with the Leadership version of Boromir from their haven. If they then choose Leadership Boromir as their starting hero, they would still be allowed to add the signature cards for Boromir to their deck. In this way, signature cards are associated with a character, not the specific sphere of that character which happens to be included in the main draft pool.
In addition to the signature cards, each player has the option of adding a single copy of Core Set Gandalf ally to their deck. Also, they may choose and add 1 resource Song (Song of Kings, Song of Battle, Song of Travel, or Song of Wisdom) to their deck. These bonus cards are available even if a player chooses not to add signature cards to their deck.
Add Achievement Cards
Before finishing the draft each player has the option of adding a single achievement card to their deck. Each of the achievement cards is powerful and adds a goal which the player must attempt to meet when playing their deck. As with havens and signature cards, achievement card are optional. The achievement cards and their associated goal are listed below:
You can only have 2 starting heroes. In order to earn this achievement, you must defeat the quest with 2 or fewer heroes. Add Strider to your opening hand and draw 1 fewer card.
Justice Shall Be Done
In order to earn this achievement, you must be eliminated by playing Justice Shall be Done and your team must go on to defeat the quest. Add Justice Shall be Done to your opening hand and draw 1 fewer card.
The Free Peoples
In order to earn this achievement, play The Free Peoples during the game and defeat the quest. Add The Free Peoples to your opening hand and draw 1 fewer card.
Helm of Secrecy
In order to earn this achievement, play Helm of Secrecy during the game. The replacement hero must then defeat an enemy with at least 5 hit points. Add Helm of Secrecy to your opening hand and draw 1 fewer card.
Knowledge of the Enemy
In order to earn this achievement, you must play Knowledge of the Enemy to add at least 3 resources to a hero’s resource pool. Add Knowledge of the Enemy to your opening hand and draw 1 fewer card.
Charge Into Battle
In order to earn this achievement, you must use Charge into Battle to defeat at least 3 enemies in the staging area. Add Charge Into Battle to your opening hand and draw 1 fewer card.
The Fall of Gil-galad
In order to earn this achievement, you must trigger the response on The Fall of Gill-galad after one of your heroes is destroyed. Your team must defeat the quest with you still in the game. Add The Fall of Gil-galad to your opening hand and draw 1 fewer card.
In order to earn this achievement, you must play Beorn’s Hospitality to heal at least 6 damage from heroes in play. Add Beorn’s Hospitality to your opening hand and draw 1 fewer card.
I’ve been wanting to make an alternate art deck for a Hobbit Bond of Friendship list for some time. Whatever artist or style I sought, I just could’t found the right art. Then, in what was either a stroke of genius or madness, I decided to make a deck based on one of my all time favorite TV shows: The Simpsons!
This deck was designed by Chad and he used it to defeat The Fortresss of Nurn. I encourage you to check out RingsDB where he provides a detailed guide of how to overcome that troublesome quest. I’m not going to talk strategy, as the intent here is just to show off some zany alternate art. A cartoon might at first seem an unorthodox choice as source of art, but many of the cards worked out even better than I imagined they would. I hope players enjoy this slightly irreverent interpretation. I’m always open to fun ideas of alternate art, so feel free to make suggestions in the comments. Happy travels in Middle-earth and may you find more doughnuts than doh’s.
I’m excited to present a spoiler from an upcoming A Long-extended Party release! The set itself has not been announced yet, so I’m going to keep quiet about it. Still, I figured my readers would enjoy an early look at my favorite hero from this upcoming set. The Tactics version of Beorn is already a popular choice for many, especially for decks in need of early-game combat. I’m curious to hear from other players about what kinds of decks you would use this version of the big bear. I welcome your feedback in the comments.
If you thought the hosts of Mordor were terrified to see the Rohirrim charging across the Pelennor Fields, just imagine if Rohan had been joined by giant bears. Without a doubt, this is one of the least thematic decks I’ve built in a while. On the other hand, it is more fun than a barrel of mead. Children of Eorl just released this week, and it provides this deck with a plethora of wonderful combinations.
The obvious use for Thengel is the fuel the Rohan Sacrifice archetype. Mustering Rohan allies after you sacrifice a Rohan ally allows a Rohan deck to avoid the tempo hit that these decks traditionally suffered. This remains the primary role that Thengel plays here, but the inclusion of The Last Alliance contract introduces an interesting, furry, wrinkle. After you discard a Beorning Skin-changer to bring big bears into play, you can use Thengel’s response to go fishing for a second bear. The ratio of allies in this deck means that it is safer to use this response for Rohan allies, so trying to muster a Beorning is the more high-risk decision. With a bit of luck, however, this deck can have some amazing starts.
What follows is an example first turn which is well within the real of possibility for this deck. Santa (Théoden) allows us to reduce the cost of Squire of the Mark to 0. Once we have a Rohan ally in play, our next Beorning ally costs 1 less (thanks to the contract). This allows us to play a Beorning Skin-changer for 1. During the combat phase, we first exhaust the contract to change the response on Squire of the Mark to read “Response: After a Rohan or Beorning ally you control is discarded from play,…”. Then we can discard the Skin-changer to put Papa-Bear (Beorn) into play from our hand. There are only 11 Beorning allies in the deck, so this next step is definitely a risk, but bears are nothing if not adventurous. We Trigger Thengel’s response for discarding the Skin-changer to search the top 5 cards of our deck for another Beorning and put it into play (exhausted). With any luck, we can find another Giant Bear or Beorning Bee-keeper. Next, we trigger the response of our (magically translated) Squire of the Mark to put the Beorning Skin-changer back into play (exhausted). Fortunately, the Skin-changer does not need to exhaust to shape-shift, So if we’re lucky enough to have another Beorning in hand, we can immediately discard the Beorning Skin-changer again, to put that Beorning into play.
Given the ratio of Beorning to Rohan allies in this deck, it is entirely possible that the Thengel response whiffs. Even so, this example setup would leave us with two large angry bears (11 resources or so) in play by the end of the first combat phase! If we got lucky enough for Thengel’s response to find a fuzzy friend, we could have as many as 16 resources worth of bears in play on the first round. The fact that we now have no Rohan allies in play simply means that we play the next one at a discount of 2 (1 for the contract, one from Théoden) on the subsequent turn.
If you’re worried about not having enough ursine targets for Skin-changer to choose from, you can use the contract to change his text to include Beorning or Rohan allies for mustering. One of my favorite uses for the contract is to change the wording on The Muster of Rohan to read:
While paying for The Muster of Rohan, each Rohan or Beorning hero you control is considered to have a Spirit icon.
Planning Action: Search the top 10 cards of your deck for up to 4 Rohan or Beorning allies and put them into play. Shuffle your deck. If any of those allies are still in play at the end of the round, discard them.
Note that both instances of the Rohan trait in the original text have been changed to Rohan or Beorning. This means that Grimbeorn the OId gains a Spirit resource icon to help pay for the event. Not only do we then get to summon an army of bears into play (along with any Rohan allies which may be helpful), but they then go to the discard pile where the Skin-changer can put them into play permanently. Don’t forget that you can respond to one of these four allies being discarded by triggering Thengel’s ability, brining yet another ally into play. The shenanigans in this deck are deeper than a winter cave.
There are many things to like about the work being done by ALeP. My personal favorite is how the new cards provide such a variety of interesting options. Without exaggeration, this article could have been twice as long and I still would not have scratched the surface of all of the different ways to play this deck. Rohan Sacrifice has intrigued me as an archetype since I opened my first Shadows of Mirkwood APs, but the resource and tempo hit always seemed to hold it back. Between Horn of the Mark, The Muster of Rohan, and all of the new toys we have in Children of Eorl, this archetype is truly ready for its day in the sun. That applies even if you make the (misguided) decision not to invite bears to your war party.
You can find the full deck list on RingsDB. Let me know in the comments what you think of this mash-up of a deck. I encourage everyone to check out Children of Eorl. I hope that my readers have as much fun building and playing decks with these new cards as I am having.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
—William Butler Yeats
Sometimes it feels like your unconscious is trying to bring your conscious attention to a specific idea. A song or a movie quote will stick in your head, and then other situations will seem to reinforce that idea, germinate the seed. A friend might mention watching the same movie, the song might show up unexpectedly in a playlist. Our brains are trained for pattern matching, so our senses are primed to connect our experiences with existing thoughts. The poem above has been on my mind, particularly the end of the first stanza: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
Although it was written over a century ago, this is as timeless and succinct a description of life in the twenty-first century as I could formulate. Yeats is widely considered one of the greatest poets of the last hundred years so this isn’t too surprising. Still, there is an uncanny feeling when an author separated by oceans, literal and metaphorical, temporal and cultural, can speak directly to my current mood.
Tolkien had a lot to say about power. Specifically, the relationships his primary characters had to power are a useful lens through which to view his writing. Gandalf and Saruman were both Maiar, pseudo-angelic beings sent to Middle-earth to fight against evil. That they went about their tasks so differently is not a mere coincidence or narrative quirk. Gandalf and Saruman’s disparate strategies in the Third Age reflect their character archetypes. On a deeper level, I would argue that the differences between these two characters represents Tolkien’s view of the nature of power, and the risks to those who desire it.
He does not have many lines in the Lord of the Rings, but Saruman’s actions speak volumes. When we do hear from him, Saruman has a surety – an absolute certainty that his strategy is the correct one. In their fateful argument at Orthanc, he speaks to Gandalf of the inevitability of Sauron’s dominion of Middle-earth.
The Middle Days are passing. The Younger Days are beginning. The time of the Elves is over, but our time is at hand: the world of Men, which We must rule. But we must have power, power to order all things as we will, for that good which only the Wise can see.
If you wonder what Yeats was talking about when he wrote “the worst are full of passionate intensity”, just think of Saruman. The next time you read The Lord of the Rings pay close attention to how often Gandalf talks about ruling, power, or control. I’ll save you the time. Except when he is talking about another character’s relationship to power, Gandalf does not use these words.
On the other hand, Gandalf seems uncertain. In contrast to Saruman’s certainty, one might even says that Gandalf “lacks conviction”. Gandalf’s uncertainty is rooted in his wisdom, a much deeper and more nuanced understanding than the “wisdom” Saruman refers to in his villain monologue. Saruman’s concept of “wisdom” can be summarized thusly: those who agree with me are Wise, those who do not are Fools!
Gandalf appreciates the difficulty of challenging Sauron’s dominion of Middle-earth. Rather than take the easy way out and seek alliance with Sauron, he uses his understanding of the enemy to exploit a weakness. This is a critical facet of Tolkien’s criticism of the desire for power. Both Saruman and Sauron have a fatal weakness: egotism. With passionate intensity they assume that their strategy is correct. Moreover, they are incapable of seeing how others would reject their assumptions. In their version of “wisdom”, the One Ring is only a weapon to be wielded. Saruman and Sauron both assume that none in Middle-earth could resist its temptation, and certainly that none could bring themselves to destroy it.
To be fair, this assumption was proved correct – to an extent. If not for the unforeseen tragedy of Gollum, Frodo would have ultimately failed in his quest to destroy the One Ring. This blind spot – that others cannot resist one’s own temptations – is a central theme in Tolkien’s legendarium. What it means to be “wise” becomes far less obvious, and far more interesting.
Rather than a weakness as Saruman sees it, Gandalf’s lack of certainty is a strength. Frodo offers him the Ring at the beginning of the story, and if not for Gandalf’s reticence to power, all of Middle-earth would have been doomed. Knowing yourself, including your limitations, is an essential skill for leadership. Gandalf shares this self-awareness bordering on self-doubt with another great leader of the Third Age: Aragorn son of Arathorn.
When we meet him, Aragorn is an unassuming Ranger, wandering the ruins of the North Kingdom. If we view the story in the context of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, Frodo is the obvious first choice as the hero. I would argue that Aragorn is actually an equally valid choice, though less obvious as we do not meet him until some ways into the narrative. Still, Tolkien builds an entire world around his characters, so your choice of hero (just as in the game) depends entirely on the perspective you choose to favor.
In any case, Yeats has been on my mind lately. It is interesting to me that The Second Coming not only fits well into the underlying themes of the Lord of the Rings, but also relates directly to what we see in the modern world. The world becomes more divided every day. When companies have a financial incentive to push the most incendiary, the most extreme views to us, they are complicit in the acceleration of this extremism. The best of society have the self-awareness of Tolkien’s heroes, with its concomitant self-doubt.
This is not a bad thing, surely, for it means that the best of us is capable of recognizing our flaws, of righting wrongs and changing course. Unfortunately, the worst of us is filled with a passionate intensity. An iron-willed certainty that one is right, that it is impossible for one’s beliefs in any facet to be incorrect or incomplete is at the heart of much of human tragedy.
Many who push back against science, against mask-wearing, vaccinations, democracy, social justice, against basic human compassion, do so without any doubt. Doubt is healthy. Questioning ones own beliefs – even those most deeply held – is an essential part of being a functioning adult. The nature of knowledge and wisdom is that there is always more for us to learn; always we have the capacity for a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the world around us.
Ignorance is simply the state of not-knowing. We are all ignorant about a great many things. What is essential is to not hide from our ignorance, nor fear it. This is what leads to covering it, to accepting with eager excitement the first convenient explanation which comes along. We all face daily temptations to ameliorate the uncomfortable feeling which ignorance brings, but without the hard work of learning. Just as Frodo had to resist the temptation of the Ring – the easy way out – so too must we resist the temptation of masking our ignorance. Rather than cover it with the convenient lie, we must shine the light of truth, knowledge, facts – casting out the shadows of ignorance and superstition.
For those who made it this far, I hope this meandering journey through poetry, hero archetypes, power, and modern problems resonated with you. In gratitude, here is a thematic deck built around Gandalf the White. It attempts to represent his return, his Second Coming if you will, to Middle-earth.
At times like these it can be tempting for a bear to hole up in his cave and hibernate. While waiting for my turn to receive the vaccine, I’ve had to find alternative venues in which to enjoy board and card games with friends. A weekly face-to-face meetup at the local game store is replaced with technology like Discord and Steam. While digital gaming is certainly better than nothing, I miss seeing my friends in person and playing with physical cards and game components.
Software ports of games have steadily improved in quality over the years, and Covid will undoubtedly accelerate this trend. The tactile feel of shuffling a deck or moving game pieces on a board is a big part of the appeal for those who use gaming as a vital outlet of socialization. As someone who spends hours a day working with, fighting against, and muttering cajoling intonations at technology, I find a break from the virtual world most welcome.
One the bright side, this new virtual game group has introduced me to some classic games which I had never had the chance to play. Games like Lords of Waterdeep and Through the Ages have become a staple of my gaming life in the last year – games which I had never played before the quarantine. Lords of Waterdeep in particular is a welcome new discovery. Like Lord of the Rings LCG, it fits squarely in the intersection between theme and mechanics. Waterdeep includes a mix of public and hidden information, luck and skill, and deep Euro-style worker placement strategy, wrapped in a classic Dungeons and Dragons theme. If we’re being honest, Dungeons and Dragons as a settings often feels like middle school student stole their friend’s book report on The Lord of the Rings, but the milquetoast fantasy setting works well in this case.
Aside from these design similarities, Lords of Waterdeep and The Lord of the Rings share another interesting feature. The first time I played each of these games, I lost horribly. In the case of Lords of Waterdeep, I lost my first three games against my friends by a considerable margin. Like the perfect wine, each loss was paired with invaluable lessons. I learned not only the rules of the game in the visceral sense as opposed to the abstract sense you get from simply reading the rules.
Losing at a game teaches you the underlying economies, themes and strategies. These are largely abstract concepts, and they often involve personal aesthetic or play style. Any good game is going to afford multiple viable paths to victory. Unless a game is shallow, it will often be necessary to lose – or at least win poorly – before these deeper lessons are learned. I took these lessons to heart and won my most recent game of Lords of Waterdeep, so this story has a happy ending. The important thing is not to let early defeat discourage you, but instead to use it as an opportunity to learn.
As much as the beautiful art, deep mechanics, and rich theme drew me to The Lords of the Rings there was another compelling feature. This game can be punishing in difficulty. I have lost more games of The Lord of the Rings than all of the other games I’ve ever played played. While that’s certainly not the kind of testimonial you will see on the back of a game box, it says something about what draws players to a game, and keeps them playing it years later. Players want to earn their victory, not feel like it was a foregone conclusion.
If not for the difficulty of this game, it is unlikely I would be writing this article right now. The satisfaction of defeating a difficult scenario, especially after countless defeats, is intoxicating. Outside of rants on various forums and the occasional mention in a podcast, the difficulty of this game is often left unspoken or at least remains a quiet bystander to most meta-game conversations. While this difficulty may cause frustration, particularly for new players, many of us would never have stuck with this game if we defeated every quest on the first attempt.
Losing repeatedly against a difficult scenario is even a merit badge, of sorts. All new players must earn it if they are to survive long enough to become experienced players. The best quests are like puzzles. Until you have discovered the right kind of deck to bring and the right strategy to utilize during the game, they can seem nigh impossible. Once you have solved the riddle there is a sense of grim satisfaction. Without exception, my favorite games have been a final victory against a quest which had previously left me flummoxed.
With that in mind, I aim to outline some of the essential criteria to use when evaluating a loss. Think of these as a toolbox which you can use, to disassembled and deconstruct your losses (or even possibly some victories) and ultimately improve your game. It is here worth pointing out that Lord of the Rings really consists of two smaller games: building a deck, and playing a deck.
Some players prefer to use decks built by others, and focus on the second mini-game. Others, like myself, love to process of brainstorming decks, even ones they might not ever play. This is especially true when devising combo decks. The building of the deck is almost always significantly more enjoyable than playing the deck. These concepts will span both deck-building and in-game strategy, but have no fear if you have a preferred area of focus. For those who don’t build their own decks, knowing which cards to include from the sideboard can still be a critical skill. Likewise, if you are less enamored with in-game strategy, you can mitigate this by bringing the right kind of power deck. A powerful deck will often be more forgiving to player mistakes. This is appropriate as the most powerful characters in Middle-earth represent the Free Peoples’ best chance at defeating Sauron.
Let’s address the Mûmak in the room. No discussion of strategy can ignore that the game involves a certain amount of luck. The other sections will address various strategies for mitigating bad luck, but there is only so much you can do. Many scenarios are at the most dangerous in the first two or three rounds. Sometimes, even after a mulligan, none of your critical cards are in your opening hand. If you don’t find any of these cards within the critical early turns, you’re likely in trouble.
Luck applies just as much to the encounter deck as to player decks. If you’re playing A Journey to Rhosgobel in a two player game, the first quest phase could end your hopes of saving Wilyador instantly. Unless you have A Test of Will in hand, or one of the players is using Eleanor, you’re in for a rough day in southern Mirkwood when Exhaustion turns into Festering Wounds. Sometimes, the best thing to do is laugh in the face of fate, and scoop your cards. The more cards revealed from the encounter deck, the more likely that the encounter deck can reveal combinations like this. This is why multiplayer games often involve wider swings of good and bad luck. We’ll look at different strategies for mitigating bad luck, but sometimes victory is just not in the cards.
Mulligan and Setup
Players are given the option of a single mulligan and the decision of whether or not to take it can be difficult. Your entire hand must be shuffled back into the deck, so hands with one or two desired cards can lead to the agonizing decision: Do you give up a few cards you want for the hope of an even better hand? Some losses can be traced back to this decision. Knowing your deck and the specific demands of a scenario is critical to deciding when to mulligan.
One of the most important factors in deciding to mulligan is whether or not your deck relies heavily on single card. An obvious example would be an Elrond + Vilya deck. Barring statistically unlikely extremes, any opening hand that includes Vilya is a hand which should be kept. Likewise, a deck built around any single powerful attachment (Steward of Gondor, Narya, Gandalf’s Staff, etc.) is happy to see that card – even if the rest of the opening hand is underwhelming.
For more general purpose decks choosing when to mulligan is less clear. What you want in your hand is often determined by the scenario. This is where understanding the particular challenges of a quest and your own deck’s strengths and weaknesses is critical. If a quest threatens to overwhelm you with locations, looking for location control or high willpower allies in your opening hand is the way to go. Similarly, an early engaged enemy might necessitate a first turn weapon or armor, or combat trick like Feint. Knowing what your deck needs for early survival is a skill worth cultivating.
Some heroes help, directly or indirectly, with the mulligan process. Galdor from the Havens actually replaces the basic mulligan with a modified effect which not only lets you keep some of the cards from your first hand but also lets you seed your discard pile with critical events like Elven-light and Lords of the Eldar. It’s also fun to throw a copy of Glorfindel ally into the discard pile as it gives you another card and you always just play him later, as though he were in your hand.
Another hero who helps mitigate a poor opening hand is Thurindir. Gather Information is one of the most powerful player side quests and the search effect is perfect for any deck that builds an engine around a few cards. Even more general purpose decks can use Gather Information to find whatever card best solves the challenge at hand. Some scenarios will punish a side quest strategy. For example, they may require you to place progress on the main quest to avoid negative effects. On the other hand, side quests are actually helpful against some scenarios, where turtling is a viable strategy.
Gather Information is not the only choice with Thurindir. The Threat reduction from Double Back can provide players an extra few rounds to get setup, before enemy engagement looms. The encounter deck control from Scouting Ahead can be used as a shield against bad early luck. This side quest is particularly strong in solo where you can potentially control multiple rounds worth of revealed encounter cards to your benefit.
The One Ring only just became available as a player card, but it must be included in any discussion of mulligan and setup. It is not included in your deck proper, so choosing The One Ring effectively means that you have a 49 card deck. More importantly, it allows you to fetch a single Master card into your opening hand. This effect is most often used with one of the Master attachments, but as we will discuss in the next section it can also be used with an event. In fact, the one viable strategy is to include multiple Master cards in your deck and choose the one which best suits the current scenario.
Your chosen mix of heroes is probably the most important deck building decision you make. Beyond the stats and abilities your heroes provide, they also set your starting threat. When we talk about a deck archetype, the starting threat plays an oversized role in how a deck is played. A Hobbit deck with 19 starting threat certainly implies Secrecy, though there are powerful low threat Hobbit decks which eschew these cards. On a deeper level, you know that early game enemy engagement is something that such a deck is likely trying to avoid.
On the other end of the spectrum, a deck with a starting threat in the high 30s is clearly designed to be aggressive. If your starting threat is 36, most enemies are coming straight for you – whether you like it or not. Most players’ first experience with the importance of starting threat is the Hill Troll in Journey Along the Anduin. Many a player learned the hard way that bringing an aggressive deck to that quest can quickly end in a bloodbath of trampled heroes.
When I was writing Beorn’s Path, I was tempted to change up the hero lineup for Journey, and lean in to a turtling strategy. This is clearly the optimal strategy for beating the quest, especially with a deck built using only the Core Set. Seastan and Xanalor both have excellent tri-sphere decks with low starting threat which can consistently handle Journey Along the Anduin without much trouble. It was actually intentional that I stuck with the same hero lineup, but it is worth mentioning here.
Card combinations were something I wanted to highlight, and they are a great example of one way to mitigate a high starting threat. Son of Arnor and Forest Snare can feel like a bit of a one trick pony, but there are other ways to buy time for a deck with higher starting threat. As always, Core Set Gandalf is a solution to most problems. Whether you cheat him into play with Sneak Attack or pay the full cost thanks to an early Steward of Gondor, the 5 threat reduction fro Gandalf can be all that you need to setup your troll defense. A spirit heavy deck will likely have lower starting threat, but it also gains access to threat reduction like The Galadhrim’s Greeting and Double Back.
With a modern card pool, a simple solution to the enemies like the troll can be a dedicated defender. Beregond with a Shield of Gondor can easily just defend the troll every round, while you rally your attackers. There are two trolls in Journey, so you don’t want to spend too much time mustering combat strength, but having a powerful defender certainly makes life easier. With readying, your defending could even potentially handle multiple powerful enemies. Attack cancelation like Feint, Coney in a Trap, and Grimbold can help buy some time as well.
Having a low starting threat is probably the easiest way to avoid troublesome enemies, but the modern card pool means that this is not the only viable strategy. An example of a fun modern troll solution is to bring a mono-Lore deck and use card draw to find a first turn The Great Hunt. This card is difficult to play because of the resource constraints but it is incredibly powerful as a way to completely nullify a powerful enemy which starts in play. It won’t work on immune enemies, but those are best handled with a dedicated defender in any case.
If all else fails, chump blocking is another way to handle an early enemy, but this strategy should be used with caution. Many scenarios will punish you when characters are defeated. Even when they do not, there is the simple problem of keeping up with the encounter deck. Each round, it can bring more enemies into play. If you keep chump blocking with your allies, you are going to need excellent card draw and resource acceleration in order to stand a chance of keeping pace.
In the section on Bad Luck, we discussed horrible treachery chains. These are the cause of many a lost game. Fortunately, the game now includes multiple forms of treachery cancelation to help guard from these sorts of calamaties. The One Ring has a hefty cost, lowering our threat elimination by 5. However, it allows you to add a Master card to your hand at startup. This means that you can start the game with cancelation in hand, every game. The Master Ring does not cost resources, which is important in the early game when resources are at a premium. Having to choose between spending spirit resources on an Unexpected Courage and saving for treacheries is one of the classic decisions which every Spirit deck faces.
Eleanor provides repeatable cancelation, though she can only cancel treacheries. Unfortunately she is decidedly underwhelming as a hero, aside from her ability. The opportunity cost of including Eleanor, especially in a solo game, may be too steep. On the other hand, Eleanor can be an invaluable inclusion in multiplayer and the deficit of stats is easier to amortize when there are more heroes in play.
A Test of Will is the gold standard of treachery cancelation effects, and for good reason. It works against all When Revealed effects and costs only 1 resource. For any quest with troublesome treacheries this card is basically an auto-include, as long your deck includes at least one Spirit hero. It can be tempting to see these options and immediately make a deck with Eleanor, The One Ring, and three copies each of A Test of Will and The Master Ring. While this will certainly be the foundation of a powerful control deck, we have to remember to include tools which actually allow us to defeat quests. Progress tokens and damage tokens don’t place themselves, and we need characters with willpower and combat stats if we want a chance at victory. By itself, cancelation only holds back the encounter deck for a round, it does not further our goals. The best decks include a mix of proactive and reactive effects.
Early Game Willpower
If you find you are consistently losing games with an overwhelming level of threat in the staging area, your deck may need more willpower. Alternatively, you might consider giving a greater priority to questing allies and willpower boosting effects in your opening hand. One way or the other, location and progress will always be required to defeat a quest. It’s not enough to kill all of the enemies – you’ve got to meet the non-combat requirements as well.
This is an area of the game where Tactics has traditionally struggled. On average, Tactics heroes have the lowest willpower of any sphere. Likewise, the allies available in the sphere are not much better. Only a few Tactics allies have two willpower, and they tend to be more expensive or have abilities which make them less suited to questing. Still, things have improved considerably thanks to Tactics Éowyn. It is now possible to field even field a mono-Tactics deck which can hold its own at questing.
The other spheres have plenty of options, when it comes to early-game willpower. Over time, most decks should be building their total willpower, either by mustering allies or playing attachments like Sword that was Broken and Visionary Leadership. With Three Hunters decks, every restricted attachment ultimately yields a willpower boost, but cards like Silver Circlet and Celebrían’s Stone are of particular import to ramping up early willpower.
Burst willpower is worth considering, especially for decks which take a few rounds to build up. The “burst” refers to cards which provide a temporary boost which does not necessarily stick around. Escort from Edoras is a perfect example of this. For two Spirit resources he quests for 4 willpower, then he is discarded. He can be brought back using cards like Gamling, Guthwine, or Stand and Fight, but you will not necessarily have these cards ready at hand in the early game. Even if you are just using him for a one round boost, that one round might be all that you need. As your resource acceleration and card draw effects become available you can find other, more consistent, forms of questing.
One last note about questing, if you find yourself getting pincushion to death by archery, your immediate instinct may be to add 3 copies of Warden of Healing to your deck and call it a day. While this can be a viable way to solve encounter for direct damage, it is risky as there is only so much healing you can include before you start to dilute your deck. Instead, consider including more willpower (or attack/defense for Battle or Siege quests). The reasoning here is that you only have to face archery and direct damage for each round that you play. If you can shorten the game by taking an aggressive questing approach, you lessen the amount of damage you will take from treachery. You also decrease the likelihood of deadly encounter deck combinations. This is the strategy that I used successfully against Nightmare Into Ithilien, among many quests.
Early Game Combat
Journey Along the Anduin posed a future threat, with the Hill Troll waiting in the staging area. Some quests are even more direct, with players starting engaged with an enemy. Scenarios like Intruders in Chetwood instead punish players for leaving enemies in the staging area, making it vital for your deck to be able to handle combat quickly or risk precipitous consequences. Whatever the specific reason, a lack of early game combat ability can often spell doom for a deck.
To the surprise of none, it turns out that bears are excellent at combat. Beorn is one of the best solutions to early game combat available, especially in quests which swarm you with multiple pesky enemies. He defends multiple attacks, his hit point pool makes him much more likely to survive an early onslaught of enemies that most heroes. Best of all, his 5 attack is often enough to kill many enemies by himself, without the help of weapons or other combat boosts.
Tactics offers several other excellent choices for shoring up your early game combat. Boromir has built in action advantage, so long as you can mitigate the threat cost. Na’asiyah is a formidable warrior, so long as your have resource acceleration on hand to pay for her ability. Tactics isn’t the only sphere with character to help with early combat.
Leadership has excellent defenders like Erkenbrand, Amarthiul and the original version of Dain. For attack you have Aragorn, Prince Imrahil, and Éomer, to name a few. This is not to say that your combat needs necessarily must be solved in the leadership sphere. A common pattern is to include a hero like Denethor, Gildor Inglorion, or Théodred, and use them as support for heroes from other spheres. With resource acceleration, readying, stat boosts, and shadow cancelation, Leadership is an excellent sphere to support in combat, without having to specialize in that aspect of the game.
Spirit and Lore have evolved over the life of the game. They used to relegated to support spheres, simply because they lacked many heroes who excelled in combat. That is no longer the case. Lore has excellent attackers like Haldir, Haldan, and Lore Aragorn. It also has stout defenders like Elrond and Radagast, made all the more durable by A Burning Brand and defensive attachments like Protector of Lórien.
Spirit, likewise has added some impressive combatants over the life of the game. Glorfindel, Idraen, Lanwyn, and Legolas all fill the role role of attacker admirably, with Lanwyn and Legolas even bringing ranged to a sphere which used to lack that keyword. For defense Spirit Dain is probably the best early game defender available. No matter how bad your hand seems after the mulligan, it is nice to have a hero who can defend for 6 on the first turn.
There are many reasons why a game can be lost, not all of them are under our control. As mentioned at the top, sometimes it just comes down to bad luck. This is why persistence and patience are are key skills when playing The Lord of the Rings LCG. Even the most unlucky games offer some small nugget of useful information. If not, you can always just shuffle up and try again. Other defeats have a much more obvious cause, and these are the games to which we should especially pay heed.
Should we have take a mulligan, even though our opening hand had two good cards? Is our deck lacking in early game willpower? Do we need to bring a bit more threat control, or maybe even swap out a powerful hero for one who puts our starting threat below a critical threshold. Maybe just swapping out a “shoot for the moon” combo for three copies of A Test of Will is all it takes to turn ignominious defeat into glorious victory. These concepts and more, are there to teach us if we are open to learning from our losses.
The time has come to announce the winners of the latest contest. Last month, I asked readers to comment with their favorite articles and decks and you all delivered. Thank you to everyone who left comments, your support is what makes this blog a success. For those who were not fortunate enough to win, know that there are more contests planned in the future.
Without further ado, the winners of the contest are:
ScrawlKnight, Nathan Boone, KaiRong, Chad, Hall of Heroes, nclavio, Todd Wagner, and Florian.
Congratulations to all of the winners, if you could reach out and Contact the Hall we can start the process of having everyone pick their prizes. Bear-sized appreciation goes out to everyone who participated, and be on the lookout for a new contest to be announced soon.