Deck: The Might of Rohan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theoden-ToSEowynEomer-small

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

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

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

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

Side Quests: 1
Gather Information (TLR) x1

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

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Bear Market: 5 Invaluable Cards for Multi-player

Dúnedain Signal

Dúnedain-SignalHaving enough defense to handle an onslaught of enemies is one of the most critical aspects of multi-player games. IN a solo game, enemies can more often be handled one-by- one or even with threat control and leaving them in the staging area. With more than one player, too many cards are revealed each round for this kind of conservative strategy to be consistently effective. Sentinel allows support and questing deck to focus on what they are good at, and leave the combat to decks with more martial prowess.

Aragorn-TLR-smallThe new Tactics Aragorn is incredibly powerful, some on the forums are even arguing that he is too powerful. While the latest version of everyone’s favorite Dúnedain has many talents, one that is decidedly lacking is the sentinel keyword. Up until now, every version of Aragorn has possessed the ability to defend for other players. Not only is this thematic, but it is one of the reasons why Aragorn – in any incarnation – has remained among the most popular heroes.

The Core Set version has built in action advantage, which makes it that much easier to defend with Aragorn after he has contributed to the quest. While the Lore version lacks this action advantage, he is a perfect fit for A Burning Brand which has the potential to transform him into an invulnerable defender. Some might argue that Tactics Aragorn’s ability to pull enemies is better than sentinel, but this is not strictly accurate.

Zealous-TraitorWhile quick strike can effectively spare another player from defending, it requires you to already have an engaged enemy to kill before you can pull the enemy away from your partner. It also has the side effect of causing the other enemy to engage you. In a deck with Dúnedain, Hobbits and characters like Mablung, this will usually be a beneficial thing, however this is not always the case. In quests like Peril in Pelargir, for example, it can be very useful to have a player who does not have vulnerable allies be the one that engages the Zealous Traitor. Aragorn’s ability does not work well in this case, because it does not count as an optional engagement it will mean that your allies take the brunt of the traitor’s forced effect.

Weather-Hills-Watchman-smallThis is but one example of why Sentinel still holds an important place in the game. At a cost of 1 Leadership resource, Dúnedain Signal has long been the most efficient means for providing Sentinel. In Spirit, Arwen Undomiel has a very useful ability which happens to bestow Sentinel. Additionally, Tactics has Elven Mail, but this is more expensive and limited to Silvan and Noldor heroes. It is worth noting that the Signal can be attached to any hero. Thanks to the new Weather Hills Watchman, there is yet another way to get this useful attachment in hand. For decks that include Lore, there are other great options in Master of the Forge and a treasure-trove of general purpose card-drawing effects. Last but not least among the Dúnedain Signal’s virtues is the ability to move it between heroes as an action.

In a pinch, this card can be used as a kind of pseudo-action advantage. Does one player have a powerful defender with extra resources but no readying effects available? Dúnedain Signal is the perfect solution. Move it to the stout defender, after they have defended, they can spend a resource to move it to another hero. That second hero can then use Sentinel to defender a different attack. While this is expensive, from a resource standpoint, it is worth it if it means sparing a player from an undefended attack and the potential loss of a hero.

Hands Upon the Bow

Hands Upon the BowBetween Hobbits and Dúnedain, engagement mania has taken hold of the metagame. It makes sense. These decks are tremendously entertaining and feature many interesting decisions and a multitude of card synergies. However, all is not rosy in the world of engagement-style decks.

HummerhornsEver since the inception of the game, cards like Hummerhorns have been a nagging reminder that some enemies are best left alone. While it might be tempting to just leave these types of enemies in the staging area, their threat can serve to cripple your ability to make quest progress, particularly in a multi-player game where more cards are being revealed each round. On top of this, enemy effects like Archery and quests effects like the one in Intruders in Chetwood will punish players for leaving enemies in the staging area.

This is where Hands Upon the Bow comes to the rescue. For the low low cost of 1 Tactics resource, this card gives you the ability to remove an enemy from the staging area, before it has a chance to harm you or any of the other players. The fact that it requires a character with the ranged keyword is not too steep of a cost – given how useful this ability is in multi-player games in and of itself. The additional attack strength is a nice bonus as it can be the difference that allows you to kill an enemy immediately.

Great Yew Bow (small)Like many effects in this game, the most important aspect of this card is the fact that it is an action. Other effects like Great Yew Bow, Dunhere and Forth Eorlingas allow for attacks into the staging area, but these all occur during the combat phase. This does not help you make quest progress, or avoid engagement effects (for enemies with low engagement costs), or effects like Archery (which triggers at the beginning of the combat phase). The fact that it gives your character a plus one bonus for the attack is surely icing on the cake, but the real power of this card is in allowing you to manage the enemies in the staging area that otherwise could not be handled by the likes of Aragorn and Halbarad.

Song of Eärendil

Song-of-EärendilA long overlooked card, Song of Eärendil looks to gain new relevance with the recently announced valour effects. Threat control has always been important, all the more so in multi-player games where the more combat-heavy decks will tend to have a dangerously high starting threat. Most all of the the threat-control effects exist in the Spirit sphere and Spirit heroes have, on average, the lowest starting threat. This creates one of the central asymmetries of the game: Spirit has the greatest ability to control a player threat, which is most needed by every sphere except Spirit.

Galadriel-SmallCards like Galadriel, The Galadhrim’s Greeting and Galadriel’s Handmaiden all help lower other player’s threat. This task can still be challenging against quests which multiple forms of repeated threat-raising effects. With valour, Spirit decks will face an even greater challenge as they now must strive to keep other players’ threat right at 40.

Even secrecy decks don’t have this kind of constraint, as there is no danger in reducing a player’s threat too low. While the valour effects look to be very powerful, the plethora of encounter cards with the doomed keyword will ensure that the valour strategy is a dangerous one. Using threat-control with precision can tricky, even with the above-mentioned effects at your disposal.

Rivendell MinstrelSong of Eärendil has always been a solid multi-player card. One of the interesting bits of trivia about this card is that it remains one of the only cards in the game that replaces itself with a new card when you play it. The fact that it is an attachment with the Song trait means that it can be fetched by a variety of means. This allows you to get away with only 1 or 2 copies in your deck, and still have excellent odds of seeing it in play.

The real value of this card is that it is a repeatable response that can be triggered each time another player would raise their threat. More and more quests are chock-full of threat-raising effects. The Song allows you to control other players current threat to a level of exaction that would not be possible with only events. Coupled with a repeatable effect like Galadriel’s and it should be possible to have more than one deck take advantage of valour effects without a major risk of elimination. It will be exciting to see what other valour cards are released in the Angmar Awakened cycle.

Gléowine

GleowineTargeted card draw is crucial for multi-player games. If everyone shows up with their own solo deck and just plays them together, this is less of an issue, but for true multi-player decks the ability to choose another player to draw cards is vital. The reason for this is the focus of many powerful multi-player archetypes.

For example, I have a mono-Spirit deck called Brave Explorers which I like to play in three and four-player games. This deck fulfills many of the important aspects of a multi-player deck. By design, it is a very focused deck, and it excels at its chosen roles of questing, cancellation, location-control and threat control. It had to be a mono-sphere deck, in order to do an adequate job at these four distinct roles.

Ancient MathomMono-Spirit can do many things, but card draw has never been one of its strengths. Galadriel is one of my heroes, and the deck also includes Ancient Mathom, but neither of these forms of card draw can be considered consistent. In the case of Galadriel, she will often be used to manage the threat of one of the other players around the table, meaning that I cannot benefit from the card draw. Likewise, Ancient Mathom is a powerful form of card draw when coupled with heavy location-control, but it can be difficult to time the use of this card to give you the cards. I include the card anyway, as there is always some at the table that can benefit from 3 bonus cards, but it is best viewed as more of a support card than one that directly benefits our deck’s core strategy.

So all this analysis of multi-player deck design brings us the humble minstrel of Rohan. The Rohirrim were not known for their learning or lore, save for horse-craft, yet Gleowine must have been an inspiring poet indeed. His ability to give any player a card at action speed has always been on of the most efficient effects on any 2-cost ally. Still, as the card pool has grown, he has found himself on the outside looking in, as other more powerful draw options like Daeron’s Runes, Mithrandir’s Advice, Expert Treasure-hunter and the absurdly overpowered Legacy of Durin form the card draw engine of most decks which feature Lore.

Elf-StoneAll of these cards are undeniably powerful, with one Balrog-sized drawback – none of them can be used to give other players cards. In multi-player, player order matters a great deal. It effects everything from engagement, to who gets targeted by treacheries (sorry, bro – this is going to hurt), to who benefits from cards like Ancient Mathom and Elf-stone. One of the unheralded things about actions like Gléowine’s is that they essentially ignore player order. Rather than having to wait for just the right moment, Gléowine can be used immediately.

If I am the first player, I cannot give the bonus resource from Theodred to any other player’s hero, but I can use Gleowine to give that player an extra card before it is their turn to play allies and attachments. Even if I am the last player, I can still give the first player a card (assuming I already have Gleowine in play) while it is still his turn to play cards. Throw in expensive ally readying effects like Strength of Arms and Grim Resolve – effects which don’t often see play in solo decks, but are incredibly powerful in multi-player – and Gleowine is one of those do-everything allies that are critical to success in multi-player.

Gather Information

Gather-Information-smallI briefly mention my appreciation for this card in the most recent episode of The Grey Company, but this is effect is worthy of praise in greater detail. Word of Command is at the heart of many “combo” decks, but is not what I would call a mainstream card in the metagame. The addition of the Gandalf hero has changed this somewhat, as it removes the biggest drawback of this card in having to rely on an ally that was not always in play. Before anyone tries to argue – no, Radagast is not worth it – even for this powerful magic.

Word-of-CommandStill, Word of Command is the kind of card that is intriguing, but outside of already crazy-powerful engines (The Gandalf deck is simply overwhelming against many scenarios), Word of Command sees little play. This is unfortunate, because the lack of a good tutor has lead to some serious stagnation in the current meta-game. If I see one more deck with 15 cards listed at 3x I am going to spit out my trout and fall onto my fury back-side.

VilyaIts understandable why the tendency would be towards consistency, understandable but unfortunate. Powerful attachments like Light of Valinor, Vilya, Nenya, Wizard’s Pipe (and to some extent Gandalf’s Staff) all play a central role in these powerful archetypes. When your deck is so dependent upon one particular card it becomes a necessity to include 3 copies to maximize the chance that it appears in your opening hand. Likewise, with events like A Test of Will, Feint and Sneak Attack, if you are going to include the card at all, it makes the most sense to include 3 copies.

While these design decisions make sense strategically, they lead to a very static and dare-I-say boring metagame. This is why Gather Information has me so excited. In a multi-player games, there is no reason why each player cannot make room for this card. Even if it means bumping your deck size up to 51 cards, the benefit to the group is so great. Not only does this search effect provide more consistency to decks that rely so heavily on one or two cards, but it loosens the stranglehold of “3x” on deck-building and frees players to experiment with 1 and 2 copies of many more cards.

Dunedain-Message-smallThink of it this way, if Gather Information shows up (which in a four player game it has a very good chance of doing) and you already have your core engine setup, wouldn’t you rather be able to go fetch some “nice to have” card out of the depths of your deck? If you follow current orthodoxy and limit your deck to 3 copies of each of the most powerful cards, you will not even have the option to go get those niche cards. The cost of consistency is lacking the flexibility to deal with different situations.

The just-spoiled Dúnedain Message allows you to fetch any player side quest from your deck. Clearly that event is going to get more useful as the cycle continues and more player side quests are released. It also kills the argument that the “limit 1 per deck” constraint on Gather Information card makes it too inconsistent to build around. While I look forward to making crazy combo-decks around this effect, more than anything I await a metagame were players are more willing to include one and two copies of cards in their deck, without the specter of inconsistency looming large over everything.

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Contest Winner: Unicorn Power

Unicorn Anatomy

The deadline for submissions has passed and it is time to announce a winner of the Unicorn Power contest. We had some great submissions and I would like to thank everyone who entered a photo. This was a fun contest and I am happy to see that there are readers who share my appreciation for silliness. This time around I had Mrs. Beorn choose her favorite entry and she had a hard time deciding upon her favorite.

Unicorn-4As a married couple who enjoys gaming together, we could relate to Grant’s photo with its reference to a game that “almost ended two marriages”. Mrs. Beorn is from Mexico, a country which we both love to visit, so we have a special connection with Manuel as a fellow Spanish-speaker. Last but not least, Alistair’s photo of his daughter playing with his Lord of the Rings cards touched both of our hearts.

So, we are pleased to announce that each of the three entrants will be awarded the prize and receive a free copy of these glorious sleeves. Please contact the Hall of Beorn with your shipping information and we will have your prizes sent to you by special eagle delivery. Thanks again to everyone who entered and may your days be filled with rainbows and unicorns.

Children have one kind of silliness, as you know, and grown-ups have another kind.
—C.S. Lewis

bear print

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Appalachian Bear Rescue

Black Bear Rescue

It is with great joy that I share some exciting news. I am pleased to announce that I will be joining the Appalachian Bear Rescue as a volunteer. Located near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in Townsend Tennessee, ABR is a nonprofit organization which has been returning black bears to the wild for almost 20 years. I have always cared a great deal about nature – bears most especially – and this is a great opportunity to do my part in helping to preserve these magnificent creatures.

Unfortunately, as a volunteer working in a remote area, my time to contribute to community of the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game will be limited. Effective immediately, the blog will be on hiatus. I will do my best to remain a part of the The Grey Company podcast and be active on the forums, but the majority of my time will be dedicated to bear rescue. I realize that this may be upsetting to some members of the community, but this is a dream that I have always wanted to fulfill. I appreciate your understanding.

For those interested in the rescue and rehabilitation of black bears, stay tuned as I will have more information forthcoming on the blog. For everyone else, I encourage you to head on over to Tales from the Cards and The Grey Company Podcast pages for all of your LotR LCG needs. It’s been a great 2 years and I cannot thank everyone in the community enough!

Posted in Bear Rescue, Community, Fun, Nature | Tagged | 11 Comments

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.

Posted in Key Concepts, Metagame, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments