Contest: Unicorn Power

Unicorn-4It’s that time again – time for a new contest! From my various photos here and on The Grey Company podcast Facebook page, many readers may notice that I enjoy using some rather “unique” card sleeves. While the more thematically inclined might see this as blasphemy, there is a method to the madness. As a giant anthropomorphized bear, I enjoy absurdity in all its forms.

Besides tickling my sense of humor, these sleeves also serve a purpose. In a four-player game – with attachments getting passed around the table – it can be easy to forget and accidentally keep other players’ cards after the game ends. When other players see a rainbow-backed unicorn or rampant kitten resplendent among their cards, it serves as a good reminder that those cards did not originate from their deck.

For those that enjoy these silly sleeves, this is the contest for you. Others may shake their head in wonderment, puzzling at what ailment of the mind could possibly have overcome the poor bear. In that case, you will probably want to pass on this particular adventure. Your time will be better spent on your Tengwar to Valmaric dictionary anyway. As wise and powerful as they are, elves have always been a bit too austere and self-serious for my liking.

Unicorn Power Comic

The premise of this contest is simple: we’re looking for a fun game photo. Enter your favorite, most epic, funniest, or otherwise most interesting photo for the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. It can be a photo of an actual game, or – for you wizards who Scry through your Palantiri – a screenshot from OCTGN or Card Warden. Post a link to the photo (and an optional caption) in the comments below. If the photo is not hosted anywhere online, you can send it attached to an email and I will post it for you here. The contest runs until midnight next Friday, April 3rd. Once the deadline passes, I will use my highly-scientific method (hint: it involves mead and a bag of rocks) to determine my favorite photo. The winner will receive one pack of Unicorn Power sleeves (featured in the image at top) shipped anywhere in the world. Good luck, and I look forward to your epic game photos.

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Deck: For the Shire!

“Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!”
Then Merry heard in all sounds of the hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel.
“But no living man am I! You are looking upon a woman. Eowyn am I, Eomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.”
The winged creature screamed at her, but then the Ringwraith was silent, as if in sudden doubt. Very amazement for a moment conquered Merry’s fear. He opened his eyes and the blackness was lifted from them. There some paces from him sat the great beast, and all seemed dark about it, and above it loomed the Nazgul Lord like a shadow of despair. A little to the left facing them stood whom he had called Dernhelm. But the helm of her secrecy had fallen from her, and and her bright hair, released from its bonds, gleamed with pale gold upon her shoulders. Her eyes grey as the sea were hard and fell, and yet tears gleamed in them. A sword was in her hand, and she raised her shield against the horror of her enemy’s eyes.”
― The Return of the King

Spirit Merry - croppedOne of the exciting things about LCGs is the way that new archetypes can emerge suddenly. The Black Riders formed the basis for some very solid Hobbit decks, and subsequent cards like Mablung and Westfold Outrider have added some excellent options for these strategies. With the Dúnedain-related engagement effects in the Lost Realm, Hobbits should be at the center of many strong decks in the foreseeable future.

However, the one archetype that I always wanted to do with Hobbits – Secrecy – never quite worked as smoothly as I would have preferred. With Leaf Brooch and the powerful psuedo-Secrecy events (Swift and Silent, Courage Awakened and Noiseless Movement), the tools were there, but it was difficult to use these cards consistently. Once your threat climbed above 20, Hobbit Secrecy decks tended to struggle. Without a consistent form of threat reduction, these decks only had a few rounds of Secrecy – particularly against scenarios with doomed or other threat-raising encounter effects.

Galadriel-SmallGaladriel offers one solution, but her 9 starting threat and lack of Hobbit synergy made the lady of Lórien an awkward fit. Another option is to pair powerful threat reduction events like The Galadhrim’s Greeting and Elrond’s Counsel with Hobbit Pipe, but these events are either expensive or require a unique Noldor ally so again are problematic. Good Meal can help the former problem and Arwen Undomiel or Spirit Glorfindel can make Elrond’s Counsel playable, but in either case the deck becomes less consistent.

As others have expressed recently, there is a bit of fatigue when it comes to including Spirit Glorfindel in decks. At 5 starting threat, he is such a natural fit in Secrecy decks, with access to Light of Valinor and Asfaloth makes him a true power in Middle-earth. No matter how solid a strategy is, if it is used too often it can becomes stale and repetitive. It is essential for an effective Secrecy deck to start at 20 or less threat, so that you can play Secrecy cards in your opening hand, so no matter how great the feeling of fatigue around Spirit Glorfindel grew, it was difficult to avoid including him in a Hobbit Secrecy deck.

fatty-bolger-tbr-smallThe three Spirit Hobbit heroes up to this point all have abilities which raise your threat – not the best synergy for maintaining Secrecy. The recently-spoiled Merry is the perfect solution to what Hobbit Secrecy needs. The Spirit sphere gives us access to important cancellation effects and quest boosting that we will need for our “hide and seek” strategy to be effective, his starting threat of 6 allows us to build a deck with 3 Hobbit heroes that starts at 20 threat.

Even more importantly, the consistent threat reduction will allow us to stay in Secrecy longer, without having to rely on conditional and less unpredictable events. Merry’s ability is particularly strong in the current meta-game as the printed threat on enemies has steadily climbed in the last few expansions. Many enemies in the Core Set and Shadows of Mirkwood Cycle had 1 or 2 printed threat, but it has become rather common in recent sets to see even generic, non-unique enemies with 3 or 4 printed threat.

While this trend represents a serious challenge for questing successfully, it makes Merry’s ability that much more useful. In multi-player especially, it should be possible to use Merry’s ability to lower your threat by at least 2, every single round. This may not have the versatility of Galadriel’s ability, or the card draw, but there sheer power Merry will open up the potential for Hobbit decks to stay in Secrecy for entire games. This is where the Hobbit Secrecy archetype transforms from an interesting idea, into a truly effective strategy.

Light of ValinorOne school of thought on deck-building holds that you should identity the best cards for your strategy and include 3 copies of each such card. This makes sense, especially in decks designed around powerful unique cards. Glorfindel with Light of Valinor, Elrond with Vilya, Galadriel with Nenya and Gandalf with his staff are all examples where it is vital to have that critical unique card in the opening hand.

This deck takes a different approach, for two reasons. First of all, other than two key Secrecy cards (Resourceful and Timely Aid) there is no single card which this deck relies on in order to function. With Merry in the party, threat reduction is handled by a hero rather than relying on drawing one of these effects. The idea of an ally-army deck like this one is to get as many characters into play as quickly as possible. Who we get in play is a secondary concern to how many we get in play, and when.

With a bit of luck, Timely Aid can bring a large ally into play on the first or second turn. Along with playing a cheap ally like Bill, Ithilien Lookout or Celduin Traveler, we can then use A Very Good Tale to get even more allies into play. Once we have four or five allies in play, the heroes are for the most part saved the trouble of dealing with enemies. This is good, because with Hobbits that feature 2 or 3 hit points, we don’t want to be facing many attacks against our heroes.

Hobbit-Cloak-smallStill, Sam Gamgee is no slouch with the right gear. Thanks to Hobbit Cloak, Dúnedain Warning and the super-versatile Protector of Lórien, everyone’s favorite gardener can become a formidable defender. This still leaves attacking, something which Hobbits are not well known for. The only Hobbit hero with consistent attacking prowess is Tactics Merry, who for obvious reasons is not an option in this deck.

Steward of GondorThe other reason why this deck features so many 1x copies of cards is because it makes it more interesting to play. There are only so many decks that I can play with 3x Steward of Gondor, 3x A Test of Will, 3x Gandalf and 3x Light of Valinor before the game can start to feel stale. Such decks are undeniably powerful, but after a while they can detract from the magic of this game, and reduce what should be tense and exciting quests into an exercise in power-gaming.

To be sure, I still play decks like that against more challenging scenarios, particularly Nightmare quests. Still, I find that decks like this one are much more fun to play. Make no mistake, this “everything and the kitchen sink” strategy is not just for fun, however. With so many different options, this deck has an order of magnitude more versatility than decks which feature 3x copies of a handful of power-cards. Thanks to powerful search effects like Word of Command and Gather Information, having only one copy of a card does not guarantee that you will never see it, either.

This deck is not without it’s weaknesses as low-engagement enemies can cause a particular problem, especially if they show up before our allies have been mustered to help out. The sideboard can help to some extent, but ultimately this deck will not work well against some scenarios. Any scenario with a lot of ally-hate is going to pose a real danger, as we rely so heavily on allies to help carry the load. Archery is another challenge, as we have very little hit points to spare on our heroes, so getting allies (and side-boarding extra healing) becomes essential.

Northern TrackerIn losing access to Spirit Glorfindel, this archetype also loses the single best location control card in the game: Asfaloth. The hope is that we can outrun the locations by questing heavily and traveling is much as possible, but that strategy is not always possible with punitive travel effects. Thror’s Map is included in the sideboard to help avoid travel costs, and Northern Tracker can serve as an able substitute for Glorfindel’s amazing steed, providing you can muster your Dúnedain friend early enough.

Like any Secrecy deck, the strategy involved is quite different from more traditional decks. With the promise of consistent Secrecy effects through Merry’s ability, this deck can shine in the right situations, and it presents a strategy which was not entirely viable up until now. I encourage players to try this deck out, and leave feedback in the comments below. Also, feel free to change the Sideboard to help handle whatever particular challenges a scenario might throw at you. Good luck, and may you defend the Shire from those who would threaten it!

Sam GamgeePippin (TBR)Spirit Merry - cropped

Heroes:
Sam Gamgee (TBR)
Merry (TWoE)
Pippin (TBR)

Allies: 24
Errand-rider (HoN) x2
Henamarth Riversong (Core) x1
Bill the Pony (TBR) x1
Rivendell Scout x1
Arwen Undomiel (TWitW) x1
Bilbo Baggins (TRD) x1
Barliman Butterbur (TBR) x1
Galadhrim Minstrel x1
Gleowine (Core) x1
Wandering Ent x1
Warden of Healing (TLD) x1
Celduin Traveler x1
Elrond (TRD) x1
Ithilien Lookout x1
Faramir (Core) x1
Gimli (ToS) x1
Boromir (TRD) x1
Legolas (ToS) x1
Gildor Inglorion x1
Gandalf (Core) x1
Gandalf (TH:OHaUH) x2
Treebeard (TAC) x1

Attachments: 12
Dúnedain Warning x1
Hobbit Cloak (TBR) x1
Ancient Mathom (AJtR) x1
Miruvor (SaF) x1
Elf-stone (TBR) x1
Fast Hitch x1
Protector of Lórien (Core) x1
Leaf Brooch x1
Forest Snare (Core) x1
Resourceful x3

Events: 13
A Very Good Tale (TH:OHaUH) x2
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x1
Sneak Attack (Core) x1
Swift and Silent x1
A Test of Will (Core) x2
Courage Awakened x1
Noiseless Movement x1
Word of Command x1
Timely Aid x3

Side Quests: 1
Gather Information (TLR) x1

Sideboard: 15
Warden of Healing (TLD) x2
Northern Tracker (Core) x2
Anborn x1
Thror’s Map x1
Ranger Spikes (HoN) x2
Forest Snare (Core) x1
Power of Orthanc (VoI) x2
Hobbit-sense x2
A Elebereth Gilthoniel! x2

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

Key Concepts: Sideboarding

Battle Scene

Observant readers may have noticed that my recent deck lists have included a “sideboard”. For those unfamiliar with this term – prevalent in competitive card games – allow me to explain. A sideboard is a list of cards that are not part of the main deck, but which can be added to the deck to handle specific situations. The sideboards that I have been posting are intended to supplement the main deck and ameliorate weaknesses in a given strategy or archetype.

The classic example in competitive games is the sideboard to handle a the “bad matchup”. In any meta-game, a deck will have some decks that it performs well against, and some that it struggles to deal with. Although it is cooperative,  The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is not different. Player decks are competing against the encounter deck, and each encounter deck is unique. Some player deck archetypes will do well against aggressive scenarios like Into Ithilien, that require heroes who hit hard from the first round. Other decks, particularly of the control and “turtling” variety, are better suited for slower scenarios that afford time to build up answers to the encounter decks various threats. As much as some players might seek the holy grail of deck-building, there is no “one deck to rule them all”.

Caught-in-a-WebUsing the new encounter card category filter on Hall of Beorn Card Search, we can see a list of encounter cards which become Condition attachments. These attachments give the encounter deck another means for hindering player decks for multiple rounds, beyond enemies and locations. Depending on the effect and which player card it is targeting, these cards can cripple your deck’s strategy. Including cards that allow you to mitigate the effects of these Condition attachments is an important part of deck design. Scenarios are increasingly unrelenting in their attacks on your cards, and the effects of these Condition cards can in some cases be game-ending.

AthelasThis is where the concept of sideboarding comes into focus. In addition to the recently spoiled Athelas, there are a handful of player cards which can remove Condition attachments. While those cards are the most direct means for dealing with Condition attachments, they are the exclusive domain of the Spirit and Lore spheres. Decks which do not feature these spheres will need to come up with other solutions to Condition attachments.

With the exception of Elrond and now Athelas, Condition control player cards are largely useless against quests that do not feature Condition attachments. For this reason, Condition control is a great example of the kind of strategy that belongs in a deck’s sideboard. When you know you will be facing a quest that features nasty Condition effects, you swap in your Condition control cards. In quests that do not feature Condition attachments, you can free up space in your deck for other cards that will better address the challenges of that particular quest. With challenging scenarios, it is of particular importance that each card in your deck provides maximal benefit to achieving victory – dead cards are not an option.

Power-of-Orthanc-smallThis highlights the versatility of cards like Elrond and Athelas. Because these cards have other useful effects, they allow you to build a deck that is less dependent on a sideboard. Even so, there is no reason why you can’t mix the more versatile cards with the focused ones. In particular, Power of Orthanc can be great in three and four player games. With more encounter cards being revealed each round, the odds are good that multiple Conditions will be attached over the course of the game, in quests that feature such cards. Being able to play one card (and some threat) to remove multiple Condition attachments makes this card an excellent choice for your sideboard.

As mentioned above, not every deck will have access to Spirit or Lore for these Condition control cards. Even if a deck includes one of these spheres, it may not fit the overall strategy to include these cards. The doomed effect of Power of Orthanc, for example, does not work well with Secrecy decks that are trying to keep their threat low at any cost. This is where decks can use other strategies to mitigate an encounter deck’s effects.

Song-of-SleepIn the case of Condition attachments, the other obvious solution is to use “when revealed” cancellation to prevent the cards from being attached in the first place. Because some of these Conditions only target based on certain criteria (e.g. having a hero committed to the quest), another potential solution is to use scrying to scout the encounter deck and avoid having any valid targets for the card once it is revealed.

BeornAs a bear, and shameless troll-killer, I would be remiss if I did not mention one more solution to these nasty Condition attachments, and it does not require any sideboarding. Because the Beorn hero card cannot have attachments, he is completely immune to any sort of Condition attachments. It is important to understand however, that since he cannot be chosen to receive encounter card attachments, you must choose another valid target instead. This means that cards like Local Trouble, which targets your highest threat hero, must instead be attached to your next highest threat hero. Even so, it is nice to know that your trusty bear hero is not going to succumb to any of these silly conditions.

Whether you choose to include a sideboard to handle these kinds of effects, or use some other strategy to mitigate them, it is important to have some solution. There is nothing worse that having your strongest hero, loaded with gear and ready to go to battle for your, brought low by an ill-timed Condition attachment. Sideboard cards might not be the most exciting or celebrated player cards, but they can nonetheless be of vital importance for your deck’s survival.

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Poll Results: Favorite Core Set Staple

With over 500 votes, it’s time to tally the results of the latest poll. Readers were asked about their favorite staple cards from the Core Set. While many powerful cards have been released since the games inception, the Core Set remains the foundation upon which most decks are built and defines the basic constraints which shape the meta-game. The results reflect the continued influence of the game’s base set as the top choices can be found in a vast majority of decks.

Card Votes Percentage
Steward of Gondor 93 18.24%
Gandalf 90 17.65%
Unexpected Courage 75 14.71%
A Test of Will 56 10.98%
Sneak Attack 56 10.98%
Northern Tracker 39 7.65%
Faramir 28 5.49%
Feint 27 5.29%
Gondorian Spearman 13 2.55%
Horn of Gondor 12 2.35%
Erebor Hammersmith 8 1.57%
Protector of Lórien 6 1.18%
Gléowine 3 0.59%
Daughter of the Nimrodel 1 0.20%
Henamarth Riversong 1 0.20%

In an effort to illustrate just how relevant the Core Set still is, I decided to design a new deck around many of these staple cards. Rather than simply mix ever single staple into some strange soup, I decided to build a thematic deck where at least half of the cards were taken from the Core Set. Because I wanted to highlight as many Core Set staples as possible (even some cards that did not make it into the Poll), I actually included 30 Core Set staples in this deck.

Dain IronfootI chose Dwarves, since I haven’t played with them in a while, and I’ve been wanting to make a Dwarf deck without Dain Ironfoot. While he remains the undisputed King of the Dwarves in strategic terms, I find his presence in the vast majority of Dwarf decks has made that entire archetype feel somewhat stale. As I mentioned in my recent meta-game review, over-powered heroes like Dain have a tendency to dominate strategic thinking (my own included) and lead to repetitive designs.

I went with 60 cards instead of the usual 50, because of the incredibly powerful card-drawing effects available to Dwarves allow a larger deck to remain consistent. On a thematic note, I also wanted to play with as many of the unique dwarf allies as possible. Dwarf decks are particularly fun to play in that their strategical development can progress on pace with their theme. As more and more unique Dwarf allies enter play, the entire company benefits – not only from the individual abilities but from their collective might. While the absence of Dain mutes the overall strength of this deck, it can still must a formidable army given the opportunity.

Gimli (ToS)Astute readers will not that this list also includes a single copy of Gimli from the upcoming Treason of Saruman Saga Expansion. We are all eagerly awaiting the release of the latest installment of our campaign through Middle-earth, but for those who don’t want to use a proxy in the mean time, feel free to replace Gimli with an extra copy of his father Glóin. I am personally very excited about the new Gimli and Legolas allies, not only for how they represent a thematic “Fellowship” deck for the Saga expansions, but also for how well they will fit into their respective Dwarf and Silvan archetypes. Gimli in particular is an amazing addition to any Dwarf deck. His stats are fantastic, even before boosts for other global effects. In some ways, his built-in readying response is even more powerful than his well-rounded stats as it facilitates all sorts of trickery with cards like A Very Good Tale and We Are Not Idle.

This deck uses 2 copies of the Core Set, to make it more consistent, but it can easily be trimmed down to 50 cards for those who want to build it using a single Core Set. First, remove one copy each of the following Core Set cards: Erebor Hammersmith, Miner of the Iron Hills, Steward of Gondor, Unexpected Courage and Sneak Attack. This brings you down to the cards available from a single Core Set. Next, remove one copy of the following cards to bring the deck back down to the typical size:  Ered Nimrais Prospector, Bofur, King Under the Mountain, We Are Not Idle and Daeron’s Runes. As you can see, these changes end up take extra copies of some very powerful cards out of the deck, which is the entire reason I designed it to be 60 cards in the first place. Regardless, whether you play this as a 60 or 50 card deck, it should highlight the power of many of the Core Set cards, as well as being an entertaining Dain-free alternative to the traditional Dwarf decks.

Thorin-Oakenshield (THOHaUH)OinBifur

Heroes:
Thorin Oakenshield (OtD)
Óin (OtD)
Bifur (KD)

Allies: 29
Erebor Record-keeper (KD) x3
Veteran Axehand (Core) x3
Erebor Hammersmith (Core) x3
Ered Nimrais Prospector (TMV) x3
Miner of the Iron Hills (Core) x3
Zigil Miner (KD) x2
Fili (TH:OHaUH) x1
Kili (TH:OHaUH) x1
Glóin (TH:OtD) x1
Bofur (TH:OHaUH) x1
Dwalin (TH:OtD) x1
Dori (TH:OHaUH) x1
Faramir (Core) x2
Gimli (ToS) x1
Gandalf (Core) x3

Attachments: 14
Legacy of Durin (TWitW) x2
Protector of Lórien (Core) x2
Narvi’s Belt (KD) x2
King Under the Mountain (TH:OtD) x3
Steward of Gondor (Core) x3
Unexpected Courage (Core) x2

Events: 17
We Are Not Idle (SaF) x3
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3
Sneak Attack (Core) x3
Feint (Core) x2
A Test of Will (Core) x2
Hasty Stroke (Core) x2
Lure of Moria (RtR) x2

Sideboard: 15
Blue Mountain Trader (TDT) x2
Cram (TH:OHaUH) x2
Legacy of During (TWitW) x1
Hardy Leadership (TWitW) x2
A Burning Brand (TWitW) x2
A Very Good Tale (TH:OHaUH) x3
A Test of Will (Core) x1
Waters of Nimrodel (TAC) x2

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

Contest Winner: Recipes from a Halfling’s Pantry

hobbit-meal-planning-530x282

With the deadline passed and the entries submitted, it is time to announce our winner. This lucky reader receives a free copy of the eBook of Recipes from a Halfling’s Pantry. The winner was chosen at random and it is Chad, with his reference to the Orc draught given to Merry and Pippin by the Uruk Hai in The Two Towers.

Uglúk thrust a flash between his teeth and poured some burning liquid down his throat: he felt a hot fierce glow flow through him. The pain in his legs and ankles vanished.
—The Two Towers

While Orc-drink certainly isn’t my first choice of Middle-earth cuisine, it is nonetheless significant in the story. The warmth and curative effects of the potent beverage gives Merry and Pippin enough energy to escape their captors and find their way into Fangorn forest. From there they meet Treebeard and the other Ents, and help to turn the tide in the battle against Saruman.

Congratulations to our winner (please contact the hall so that we can send you your prize) and thanks to everyone who entered the contest. I want to once again thank Amalia from Second Breakfast and encourage all of my readers who are interested in delicious Tolkien-themed food to go and buy her book. Happy eating!

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Contest: Recipes from a Halfling’s Pantry

Recipe's from A Halfling's Pantry - Cookbook Cover
Greetings, readers! I am delighted to announce a very special contest. Friends of the blog over at Second Breakfast have announced the release of cookbook that is near and dear to this bear’s heart. The book is called Recipes from a Halfling’s Pantry (lots of these) by Amalia and Amy Young Miller. After having the privilege of an advanced reading, I can personally attest to the many delicious treasures to be found within its pages.

I have a free copy of this ebook available to one lucky reader. This contest is simple, leave a comment about your favorite food or food-related incident from any of Tolkien’s works. No description or narrative is needed, even if you just want to cite the book and sentence  in question, that is fine. Since this is an ebook, there is no added cost for delivery, so I definitely encourage all of my international readers to participate.

The contest will run for the week, with a deadline for submissions at midnight on Friday, February 20th. For anyone who can’t wait to get their hands on these delicious recipes, the book is available for purchase immediately. As a special bonus, readers can purchase the ebook until Friday on a pay-what-you-want basis. After Friday it will be available at a fixed price so take heed and do not ignore that grumble in your tummy. This book truly is a labor of love, and one that any fan of Tolkien and food can deeply appreciate. I encourage all who enjoy good Tolkien-themed food to support a friend and purchase your own copy. Good luck, and may all of your Middle-earth adventures, culinary and otherwise, be filled with joy.

Posted in Community, Contest, Fun | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Deck: Eagles and Ents

the-eagles-the-eagles-are-coming

In the latest episode of The Grey Company Podcast, designer Matt Newman mentioned that it would probably be possible to make an Eagle and Ent deck, even though these archetypes are disparate and supplemental in nature. This inspired Matthew D to make an Eagle Ent deck and he joined Matt Hidalgo (honorary fifth member of the Podcast) on a recent Twitch stream of The Three Trials. I have yet to see Matthew’s deck list, but their game lead got me thinking about such a deck, and how I would go about blending these two traits. What follows is my first attempt at an Eagle and Ent deck.

Treebeard by Rodney Matthews-smallThe question was posed on the forums in a recent thread, “are Ents too strong?“. There have been some really solid arguments on all sides, but what is most remarkable to me is just how quickly the Ents have emerged as a power in the meta-game. We didn’t see our first Ent character until half way through the Ring-maker cycle. It wasn’t until the last AP that we got Treebeard, and the archetype as-such actually came into existence.

Just like the Eagles after the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, the Ents are by their nature a supplemental archetype. Regardless of where you would place them on the power continuum, there simply are not yet enough Ent cards to make an entire deck dedicated to this trait. This is a good thing, both from a thematic standpoint and for reasons of game balance. While they were undeniably powerful in the books, Ents were rare. It would feel more than a bit odd, thematically if you could field an army of 25 Ent allies and related attachments and events, to the exclusive of all other traits. As many on the forums have pointed out, this would also be far too powerful.

Treebeard-TACA real testament to the current designers of the game is the way Caleb and Matt have balanced thematic and strategic concerns in their design decisions. Ents are a perfect example of this as they are incredibly strong, but with a meaningful and appropriate drawback. Coming into play exhausted is a significant hindrance to a deck’s action advantage, but to offset this Ents are noticeably under-costed for their stats. This means that a deck featuring Ents will tend to be vulnerable in the early game, but should excel as the game progresses, and their patient Ents decide to finally take action.

This early-game vulnerability has a perfect answer in the form of Eagles, however, which is why this deck concept is less crazy than it might at first seem. Having inexpensive allies which help a deck to survive the early game is exactly what an Ent deck needs. If we manage to get an Eagles of the Misty Moutains into play early (using ally mustering like Elf-stone or A Very Good Tale), these smaller Eagles won’t have to die in vain. Regardless, this deck does not rely on Eagles as heavily as some of the other decks I’ve designed in the past. Ents provide a measure of versatility to our strategy.

A Very Good TaleAt first glance, a card like A Very Good Tale might seem like an odd choice, given that Ents already have a deficit of action advantage. The key to maximizing the benefit of this card is deciding which allies to exhaust. For example, once we get a 4 cost ally into play, we can exhaust it and any other ally we have to help pay for A Very Good Tale. Having at least 5 points worth of allies exhausted for this effect ensures that we will be able to field at least one, often two powerful allies.

Along with the two non-unique Ent allies, there are several powerful allies with a lower cost, including the Westfold Outrider, Warden of Healing and Gléowine. Even with only 5 points worth of allies to muster, we have options. We can bring two low-cost allies into play and have a tremendous numerical superiority on the following round. Alternatively, we can muster one larger ally like Faramir, Treebeard, of Gandalf, and use their abilities to help swing the tide of battle. In this case we are taking advantage of the Ent’s low cost to potentially bring multiple into play, without having to exhaust multiple powerful allies to pay for A Very Good Tale. Over the long run, the cost efficiency of these allies allows us to outpace the encounter deck.

Even though the Ents and Eagles are both inexpensive relative to their power, this deck features multiple forms of resource acceleration. With any multiple-sphere deck, resource acceleration is a good idea, since we have only one hero for each sphere. Bifur’s resource smoothing is also quite useful, as it allows us to consistently muster 2 cost Lore allies the same round that we draw them. The other reason why resource acceleration is key is because this deck essentially wants to overwhelm the encounter deck.

By fielding bigger and better allies, more quickly than the encounter deck can summon enemies, the hope is to never give the scenario the chance to obtain the upper hand. As any player of the game knows, there are often rounds where the situation quickly turns from “under control” to “uh no, we’re all going to die!” in a matter of a single quest phase. The goal of this deck is to avoid that situation by providing us with more options than the encounter deck could possibly handle.

King Under the MountainWith that in mind, the last major piece of our strategy is card drawing effects. The aforementioned Gléowine is a nice repeatable source of extra cards, while Daeron’s Runes and The Eagles are Coming! will help us find the allies which are so important to early-game survival (or late-game dominance). But the engine really gets running hot once we have King Under the Mountain attached to Bifur.

This deck features quite a few duplicate copies of unique cards. These cards are essential to our overall strategy and the deck is at risk of stalling when one or more of them are not on the table. To some extent, this limitation is present in all decks, but it is particularly evident in this one. Because we are merging too different archetypes, with traits that lack any explicit synergy, we are that much more dependent on the key pieces. For Ents, this is Treebeard. For Eagles this could be an Eagles of the Misty Mountains, or even just one of the smaller allies to help us deal with an immediate threat. A general rule that hold true for most strategies in this game and is certainly applicable here: when in doubt, add card draw.

As I mentioned at the top of the article, this is a first attempt at this hybrid archetype. Initially I was skeptical that there was much potential here. However, the sheer power of the Ents, combined with the efficient synergies that Eagle cards share with each other, has me convinced that there is some promise to this idea. I have no doubt that we will see more Ent cards in the upcoming Angmar Awakened cycle, probably even some attachments or events. We might just see this amusing amalgamation of cards coalesce into a new dominant archetype, but it is entertaining in any case.

Mablung-smallTheodredBifur

Heroes:
Mablung (NiE)
Théodred (Core)
Bifur (KD)

Allies: 30
Vassal of the Windlord (TDM) x3
Winged Guardian (THfG) x3
Westfold Outrider (VoI) x2
Booming Ent (TAC) x3
Gléowine (Core) x2
Wandering Ent (CS) x3
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Eagles of the Misty Mountains (RtM) x3
Faramir (Core) x2
Treebeard (TAC) x3
Gandalf (Core) x3

Attachments: 10
Gondorian Shield (TSF) x2
Elf-stone (TBR) x2
King Under the Mountain (TH:OtD) x3
Steward of Gondor (Core) x3

Events: 10
A Very Good Tale (TH:OHaUH) x3
The Eagles Are Coming! (THfG) x2
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3
Sneak Attack (Core) x2

Sideboard: 15
Errand-rider (HoN) x3
Radagast (AJtR) x2
Gondorian Shield (TSF) x1
Ring Mail (TLD) x2
Support of the Eagles (RtM) x2
A Burning Brand (CatC) x2
Feint (Core) x3

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