Aren’t you the burglar? And isn’t sitting on the door-step your job, not to speak of getting inside the door?
–Thorin Oakenshield to Bilbo Baggins
Just as with Thorin and Company, the best groups are ones where each member knows their role and is best suited to fulfill it. Aside from character abilities and miscellaneous effects, there are three main actions that a character can take each round: commit to the quest, defend an enemy attack, and attack an engaged enemy. There are exceptions, but most of your characters are going to spend their time either questing, defending or attacking. The others, support characters like Gleowine, Imladris Stargazer and Erebor Record Keeper, are only really used for their exhaust abilities, but in order to make a successful deck you are going to need to include characters that will be taking part in these three essential actions. Tales from the Cards has a great series of articles about deck building that is an essential resource for understanding this process of deciding which characters, attachments and events you will include in your deck.
While you can technically perform any of these three actions with any hero, a deck that uses my eponymous hero card as its primary quester is going to be in for a rough time, unless they happen to be tackling one of the new Heirs of Numenor scenarios that are chock-full of Battle quests. The simple fact is, some heroes were just made to perform a single function. The most obvious example is the shield-maiden of Rohan.
With an impressive 4 willpower, but only 1 attack, 1 defense and 3 hit points, it is very clear what Eowyn’s primary role in your party will be. On top of the amazing stats, her ability allows you and the other players, once each round, to discard a card from your hand to increase her willpower even more. Eowyn is so good, in fact, that you can often run her as the only questing hero in your party. The last point that must be mentioned is the importance of traits when considering whats roles your heroes will play. On top of all of the other reasons why Eowyn is great at questing, she is from Rohan. That all important trait means that she can take advantage of such quest-enhancing cards as Astonishing Speed and We Do Not Sleep as well as the effects of allies like Eomund.
Just as Eowyn was made to be your primary quester, Beregond, from the new Heirs of Numenor expansion is tailor-made to be your defender extraordinaire. With zero willpower, he is not allowed to leave his post as a guard of the citadel of Minas Tirith. His 4 defense and sentinel make him an ideal defender and the fact that attachments are cheaper to play on him means that you can easily get a Citadel Plate on him to push him up to 8 hit points. The new weapon, Spear of the Citadel is another ideal candidate as an attachment because it allows him to damage attacking enemies every time he is declared as a defender.
The tactics sphere also includes an example of one of the premier attackers in the game, Legolas. An attack power of 3 and the ranged ability make him great at knocking out enemies, no matter who they are engaged with, but it is his response ability that is so critical for tactics decks that can struggle to contribute much willpower to questing. After Legolas participates in an attack that destroys an enemy, you can play 2 progress tokens on the current quest (or active location, if there is one). This is a good example of where a character’s abilities, in addition to their stats, will dictate what role they play in your party. Sure, in a pinch you may need to commit his 1 willpower to the quest, and with 4 hit points, he can be used as a defender in an emergency. But, to truly get the most out of the elf from Mirkwood, you want to be using him to attack, and finish off enemies, as much as possible. Ranged is a great ability for Legolas; he should almost always have a target somewhere to be shooting at, even if you don’t have any enemies engaged with you, any engaged enemy is a fair target.
Deciding on a character’s role then frees you to look for card synergies that play off of that role. Cards like Hands Upon the Bow and Quick Strike work really well with Legolas because they let him get his attack off during the quest phase so you can knock a troublesome enemy out of the staging area (with Hands Upon the Bow), or save another player from having to deal with an engaged enemy (with Quick Strike). Likewise, Beregond benefits greatly from the new tactics event, Behind Strong Walls:
Using this card on Beregond gives you a character with 5 defense that can block 2 separate attacks. If you are fortunate enough to have a Spear of the Citadel on him, he is doing damage to each of the attackers, in addition to sparing your others characters from having to block. Ideally, each of your heroes excels at their assigned role, and you want to build a deck that exploits any synergies that make them even better at what they do. This kind of aggressive optimization is essential for success on the harder scenarios in the game, like Into Ithilien.
Deciding which heroes to include in your party is an art. One might be tempted to just take three characters that each excel at a role and call it done. For example, you could use Dain Ironfoot, Aragorn (Core), and Glorfindel (Core) as your heroes. As much as these heroes are statistically amazing, you will run into quite a few problems trying to make a deck around them. With a starting threat of 35, you are at risk of immediately being overrun by enemies. Dain is a great defender, but his ability works with dwarves and your other heroes are a Dunedain and a Noldor. Aragorn has great stats to offset the high threat and a very useful ability, but his ability requires resources to work, and unless you get your Steward of Gondor in your opening hand you are going to be severely resource constrained. Glorfindel (Core) is very powerful, but again, he has a high threat and his ability is resource intensive.
As much as these powerful heroes are good at their assigned roles, they do not work well together. Which allies and attachments would you even play in this deck? How would you pay for anything? What happens when you draw some early doomed cards and find yourself approaching 40 threat and engaging the biggest enemies in the encounter deck in round 3? A better deck would have more synergy between the characters themselves. You still want to pick characters that are good at their assigned roles, but ones with lower starting threat, and traits and abilities that work together. This is the tricky thing about roles, you want to choose heroes that are good at performing their roles, but they also need to work well with each other. To avoid being overrun by enemies too quickly you probably want to only run one hero with a starting threat above 10.
A great example of heroes that work well together are the sons of Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir. In fact, these are two heroes that pretty much aren’t worth using apart from each other. As long as his brother is in play, Elladan has 3 attack and his ability means that, if you have resources to spare, you can ready him after he attacks. Likewise, Elrohir has 3 defense while his brother lives, and at the cost of 1 resource from his pool, can be readied after he is declared as a defender. Separately, they are two heros with good stats, a useful trait and decent abilities, but nothing to at which they excel. Together, they have real synergy. Assuming you have another hero to help with questing and some resources to spare (Steward of Gondor is great for this, if not thematically ideal), you can turn Arwen’s brothers into dedicated combat machines.
A deck that uses Elladan, Elrohir and Glorfindel (FoS), is an example of a deck with well defined roles, and synergy between the characters. A starting threat of 25 means that you have a few turns of breathing room before you have to engage the bigger enemies. Since each of the characters has the Noldor trait, cards like Elrond’s Counsel, Rivendell Blade and Light of Valinor are a perfect fit (the later was practically made for spirit Glorfindel). The brothers’ bonuses mean that you can usually hold them back for combat while Glorfindel quests. Once you get Light of Valinor on Glorfindel, he can even help Elladan finish of enemies if you don’t have any tactics resources to spare.
Because you know the roles that each hero will be playing, you can tune the deck with attachments and events that take advantage of this. Since Glorfindel is your primary quester, Celebrian’s Stone is a great fit for him, likewise Dunedain Mark and Dunedain Warning work well with Elladan and Elrohir respectively. If you don’t mind venturing into combo territory, a Rivendell Bow or Dunedain Cache and Hands Upon the Bow works great on Elladan — just be careful because without the Bow the event card can be dead in your hand. The other great thing about this kind of deck design, is how thematic it is. One can easily imagine Elrond’s sons leaving Imladris with Glorfindel to go on an orc-hunting expedition, in fact this is specifically mentioned as something that they did before the time of the War of the Ring. On the other hand, with my earlier example, it is much harder trying to explain why the King Under the Mountain, Dain would be adventuring with Aragorn and Glorfindel. Granted, it can be fun to make powerful decks with characters that would have no business being in the same party, but I much prefer to make strong decks that hold some semblance of thematic cohesion.
That’s all for today, I have some bees that need to be smoked out of their hive. Check back soon for more in the continuing series of key concepts, next up we will cover deck types where I plan to discuss the importance of support decks. I have included a deck list below to give an idea of the kinds of decks that I like to build, feel free to leave your comments, criticism and suggestions for future articles.