With orcs, goblins, trolls, giants, wargs and even fell beasts roaming the world, the races and peoples of Middle-Earth have to stick together to have a chance of survival. Traits are one of the underrated aspects of the Lord of the Rings LCG that allow it to more deeply reflect the rich setting of Tolkien’s works. The game uses traits to define everything from a character’s race (Dwarf, Noldor, Hobbit) to their ancestry (Gondor, Rohan, Dunedain), station (Noble) or even occupation (Warrior, Scout). In addition, non-character cards use traits to describe, in greater detail, what they are and how they fit into the narrative. Weapons, armor, artifacts, traps and conditions are all examples of different kinds of attachments.
Player cards are not the only cards with trait synergies; encounter cards too, have traits that can be important to consider. Orc enemies, for example are much easier to kill than other kinds of enemies because of a number of player cards that key off of that trait. Some treacheries become condition attachments on player cards, which are easier for a player to discard than other kinds of attachments.
What follows is an overview of the Dwarf trait, the most powerful trait in the game, at this point. Included are suggestions on how to design Dwarf decks to maximize these trait synergies. As more traits are introduced, and existing traits are strengthened in upcoming expansions and cycles, look for continuing articles in this series.
Any discussion of the Dwarf trait has to begin with Dain Ironfoot. His ability to boost the willpower and attack of all dwarves (including himself) while he is ready is one of the most powerful character abilities in the game. This is an example where a single card choice has a tremendous impact on the other deck-building decisions that you make. If Dain is one of your heroes, it is to your advantage to choose dwarves as your other heroes and to include as many dwarf allies as you can. Minor trait synergies can be added to your deck without having much of an impact on the overall card pool that you choose from, but Dain is so powerful that you want to maximize his impact. Sure, you can still splash other allies in a deck with Dain, to provide abilities like healing that dwarves don’t provide, just know that the more non-dwarf allies you include, the weaker your decks synergy with Dain. As a general rule, using a hero with 10 or more starting threat that has weak synergy with the cards in your deck is a bad idea.
The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill saga expansion gave us more heroes with dwarf synergy. Thorin Oakenshield, Ori and Nori, all have abilities that necessitate playing dwarf allies in your deck. In the case of Thorin and Ori, they both require you to have 5 dwarf characters in play (for an extra resource, or card drawn, respectively), something that is easy to do if you play 3 dwarf heroes and some inexpensive dwarf allies. Nori has a particularly interesting ability in a dwarf deck. His ability reads:
Response: After a dwarf ally enters play under your control, reduce your threat by 1.
This ability is amazing in a deck with dwarf allies, especially because it is triggered by the ally “entering play” rather than being “played from your hand”. (Editor’s Note: Since this article was written, Nori received errata so that his ability only triggers when a dwarf is played from a player’s hand.)
This means that Spirit Bofur, Kili and his brother Fili, or any dwarf ally brought into play using Stand and Fight, all trigger this ability. Bofur in particular is quite good with Nori, as he allows you to lower your threat by 1 each round as long as you can pay the single spirit resource to add him to the quest using his ability. One resource to contribue 2 willpower to the quest (3 if Dain is in play) and lower your threat by 1 is quite a bargain. If you or another player happens to have the Horn of Gondor in play there is not even a net resource loss from this little trick. (Editor’s Note, Again: Since this article was written, Horn of Gondor received errata so that it can only be triggered when a character is destroyed.)
There are a few allies worth highlighting that have excellent synergy with the dwarf trait. One is the Erebor Record Keeper. For a single Lore resource, he is a cheap, but weak ally with an interesting and potentially powerful ability. He cannot attack or block, so unless you are using his ability or have Dain and are using him to quest, he is probably not worth including in your deck. His ability however, can be quite strong in the right situation. For the cost of 1 Lore resource and exhausting the Record Keeper, you can stand any dwarf character in play. You could, for example, quest and attack with Thorin, or defend and attack with Gimli, or even attack twice with our next ally, the Erebor Battle Master. This ability may seem weak, but it is a truly synergistic one because the more powerful your other dwarf characters become, the more valuable the Record Keeper’s ability is. Conversely, in a deck with few dwarves, the Record Keeper is useless because you cannot even use him as a chump blocker.
The Battle Master is a great example of just how powerful synergies can become when you build with them in mind. In a deck with all dwarves, especially including cheap allies like the Record Keeper, you can easily have 7 or 8 dwarves in play, fairly early into the game. This means that a Battle Master who cost you 3 Tactics resources to play can be attacking for 7 or more.
This means that, in the right deck, the Erebor Battle Master has the best attack for his cost of any character in the game. Again, deck-building is essential for realizing this kind of synergy; including him in a deck with very few dwarves is a waste because his stats, in and of themselves, are not very good. It is only in heavily to exclusively dwarf decks that cards like the Battle Master make sense.
Synergies with the dwarf trait are not limited to characters, the are a few great attachments and events that can be invaluable in a dwarf deck. One of the best attachments for a dwarf deck is Legacy of Durin. At a cost of 1 it is a cheap, unique attachment that you put on a dwarf hero. It’s response allows you to draw 1 card every time you play a dwarf ally from your hand.
Unfortunately this doesn’t work with “comes into play” cards like Bofur, Fili, Kili or Stand and Fight, but Lore some good, inexpensive dwarf allies that work wonders with this card. As a cost of 1 resource, with the potential to draw you several cards throughout a game, this card is one of the most efficient sources of card draw, in the right deck.
Another noteworthy attachment is Hardy Leadership. It costs 2 Leadership resources and you must attach it to a Leadership hero, but its effect is quite powerful. While Hardy Leadership is in play, all dwarf characters gain +1 hit point. In a deck of mostly dwarves, or better yet, played multiplayer with other dwarf decks, this card can be ridiculous. Again, your need to build around it, spending two resources just to give the 2 Miners of the Iron Hills in your deck an extra hit point is a complete waste of a card slot.
There are some good dwarf-centric events but I want to focus on two of them that happen to have great synergy with each other. We Are Not Idle and Lure of Moria fit together like hand and glove and can be tremendously powerful in a dwarf deck.
As long as you have more than 3 ready dwarf characters in play, you can exhaust all of your dwarves to pay for We Are Not Idle, draw a card, then use 3 of the resources that you just gain to pay for Lure of Moria and stand all of your dwarf character back up. It is important to point out that these cards do not, strictly speaking, represent a combo, because they are not useless without each other. As a matter of fact, each of these cards is quite good on its own, they just happen to work particularly well together.
If you recall, in my earlier article about synergy, I emphasized that cards which are useful in their own right but work even better together are always preferable to cards that only work as a combo. We Are Not Idle is a fantastic example of a high-synergy card. Even if you draw this card and you don’t have any ready dwarves in play that you are willing to exhaust, you can always just play it without exhausting anyone and you still get to draw a card. This kind of versatility is what makes the difference between a good deck and a great deck because you minimize the number of dead cards that you can possibly draw.
Even Lure of Moria will rarely be a dead card in the right deck. Sure, at three resources it is kind of expensive, but in a deck of nothing but dwarves, the effect is so powerful that you can use it to swing the entire course of the game. The power of questing with everyone, and having them ready to avoid treacheries, and still participate in combat should not be underestimated.