So far, the articles on this blog have been focused on more advanced topics. Most of the deck lists posted here assume ownership of a majority of the expansions and adventure packs printed to date. Many of the cards and strategies referenced will be unfamiliar to new players of the game.
What I want to do now is take a few steps back, and start from the beginning. The goal of Beorn’s Path is to help ease beginning players into deck building, and the basic strategies of play. With an understanding of deck building concepts, play strategies, and theme, a wonderful world of adventure in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth is opened up to players. Each article will introduce one new concept, and every subsequent article will build on the concepts in previous articles.
For this first part, the only assumption is that you own a core set of Lore of the Rings: The Card Game, and that you have played a few games with the pre-constructed decks to get a general idea of how the game is played. This article will help you to build your first deck using only the cards in the core set. Once you get a feel for deck building you will be ready to introduce new cards into your card pool and add these to your decks. Future articles will take you through the adventure packs, and expansions, while covering more advanced strategies and themes as the card pool grows.
Deck Building Basics
Playing with the four single-sphere decks that come packed with the core set is a great way to learn the game. After you have played with a few of the different spheres, you will start to notice differences in the style of each deck. Tactics mostly has heroes and allies with high attack, and attachments and events that are focused on combat. Leadership has a balance of characters with different supporting abilities, as well as cards for generating additional resources. Spirit has heroes and allies with high willpower to help on the quest as well as cards that lower your threat and cancel negative effects from the encounter deck. Lore has heroes and characters with, for the most part, good defense, and abilities like healing and card drawing.
For our first foray into deck building, we are going to take two of the 30 card pre-constructed decks and combine some of the cards from each of them into a single 40 card deck. This deck will specifically be designed for solo play against the first scenario in the core set, Passage Through Mirkwood. The rules manual mentions 50 card decks as being standard for “tournaments”. We’re not going to worry about that right now, this is casual play and 40 cards is a good number to start with. It gives us enough cards to experiment with some of the game’s main strategies, but not so many that we are forced to include a bunch of suboptimal cards. Later in this series, as we start discussing the Shadows of Mirkwood chapter pack cycle, we will gradually add more cards to our deck until we reach the “official” size of 50 cards.
Which Spheres Should We Include?
As you become more familiar with the game, you will find that certain spheres tend to work best with certain other spheres. Balancing the combat strength of Tactics with the superior questing of Spirit is one example of these kind of sphere combinations. This is not to say that you cannot make a good deck with any two spheres, but especially with the limited card pool in the core set, you will find that some sphere combinations work better than others.
The decision of which spheres to include in a deck comes down to personal preference, but one should also consider the scenario in question. Passage of Mirkwood has one particularly nasty enemy, Ungoliant’s Spawn, that we may have to face, and defeat, in order to complete this scenario. With 2 defense and a whopping 9 hit points, defeating the big ugly spider will be much easier if we include one of the martial spheres in Tactics or Leadership. Since Leadership also has resource generation, something that none of the other spheres have in the core set, we are going to choose Leadership as one of our spheres for this deck. Since healing and card draw are also nice things to have, and Lore is the exclusive sphere for these abilities in the core set, we will include it as the other sphere in our deck.
Which Heroes Should We Play?
Now that we have chosen Leadership and Lore as the spheres that we want to play, we need to decide which heroes to play. The core set includes three heroes per sphere, so of six heroes from these two spheres, which three are the best fit for our new deck. The first rule of choosing heroes is, always try to keep your starting threat below 30. A high starting threat is a dangerous thing. Not only are you that much closer to 50 threat and losing the game, but the bigger, tougher enemies will engage you immediately if your starting threat is too high. Later in the game you can be prepared and have multiple answers to the tougher enemies in the game, like Ungoliant’s Spawn. But having one of these brutes engage you on the first turn of the game is a certain path to defeat.
So, in order to keep our starting threat within a reasonable range, we will include one captain hero with a starting threat of over 10 and two supporting heroes with starting threat values under 10. Aragorn is an appropriate, and strategic, choice to be a captain. His stats are very good across the board, and his ability to ready after committing to the quest is excellent, particularly with cards like The Necromancer’s Reach that do damage to each exhausted character. You will often want to design major aspects of your deck around your captain, and Aragorn provides ample opportunities for this. The core set even includes a card that specifically names him, Celebrían’s Stone. In our case, we are not using Spirit cards so the extra ability on this card will not come into play.
Since we know that Aragorn’s ability costs resources to trigger, we will want as many ways to generate extra resources as possible. A natural fit in this deck will be Theodred, another hero in the Leadership sphere. As long as Theodred is committed to the quest, he can add a resource to any questing hero’s resource pool, even his own. So now we have two heroes with abilities that naturally work together. Because you can respond to the same trigger with multiple different effects, and you can choose the order in which you trigger the responses, Theodred and Aragorn make a perfect pair for questing together.
The sequence works like this: commit Theodred and Aragorn (and any other characters that you want) to the quest. Respond first with Theodred’s ability to add 1 resource to Aragorn’s resource pool. Next, respond with Aragorn’s ability to ready him. You can spend the resource that was just added to Aragorn’s pool by Theodred’s ability. This means that, even if you spent all of your resources from Aragorn during the planning phase, you will always have the option of readying him after committing him to the quest, so long as you commit Theodred to the quest as well. Being able to use Aragorn to both quest and participate in combat, each turn, is going to be an important part of this deck’s strategy.
For our last choice, we know that we need to include a hero from the Lore sphere in order to make this a Leadership and Lore deck. Since we want to keep our starting threat below 30, that leaves us with Denethor as the obvious choice. His abilities work well with out other heroes. With a defense of 3, he makes a natural choice as a blocker so that Aragorn can focus on combat. In cases where he is not needed on defense, Denethor’s ability is quite useful, as it lets us peek at the encounter deck and put any potentially hazardous cards onto the bottom of them deck, so that we avoid seeing them in the next round. Since we only have 1 Lore hero, it will be harder to pay for our Lore cards, particularly early in the game. Fortunately, there are other Leadership cards that will help us with resource generation, and if nothing else we always have option of committing Denethor to the quest along with Theodred so that we can generate more Lore resources that way.
Which Cards Should We Include In Our Player Deck?
So we have our heroes picked out, now it comes to building our player deck. If we take the 30 cards each from the Leadership and Lore decks in the core set, we have 60 cards from which to build our 40 card deck. Typically, you want a good mix of allies, attachments and events in your player deck. The ratio can differ from one deck to another, but a good rule of thumb is to include 50% allies, 25% attachment and 25% events. Again, some decks will skew these ratios, but the limited card pool in the core set means that we don’t yet have the freedom to be wildly divergent in our designs.
With that in mind, let’s aim for about 20 allies to include in our deck. Since each hero gains 1 resource a turn, we want to have a mix of allies of different costs, with most in the range of 2 to 3. The other thing to keep in mind is that we have 2 Leadership heroes and 1 Lore hero, so we need to be careful about including too many expensive Lore cards. We do have Theodred to help mitigate this. Also, when we look at which attachments to include in the next section, we will find that Leadership has another great solution to help with resource generation. In general we want a mix of allies that can aid in questing, attacking, and defending. In additional, unique allies like Gleowine and Faramir have powerful abilities that will be invaluable to cover for areas where our deck might otherwise be weak.
Henemarth Riversong x1
His ability works well with Denethor, he can also help on the attack.
Snowbourn Scout x2
Helps clear locations, chump blocker
Guard of the Citadel x3
Helps with questing and attacking, boosted by For Gondor!
Erebor Hammersmith x2
Good defender. If you time it right, he can sometimes get back a Forest Snare
Miner of the Iron Hills x2
Gets rid of Caught in a Web, extra attacker
Card draw is invaluable, make sure to use him after the quest phase to avoid treacheries
Son of Arnor x2
Good attacker, can also be used to quest if you have Faramir
Daughter of Nimrodel x2
Heals defenders, make sure to use her after the quest phase to avoid treacheries
Essential to boost the relatively low willpower of our allies
The most important ally in the deck, he does everything. Use him with Sneak Attack.
Next up, we need to choose which attachments will best compliment our heroes and allies. We know that we want to take advantage of Leadership’s ability to generate additional resources so we will include both copies of Steward of Gondor. We also want to include some healing, enemy control, and defense boosting attachments from the Lore sphere.
Steward of Gondor is central to the design of this deck. Along with Aragorn, Steward of Gondor is one of the main reasons why our deck includes the Leadership sphere. The choice of which hero to attach Steward to can be tricky, and ultimately depends on what is in our opening hand. If Faramir is in our opening hand and we want to get him out quickly, we can play Steward of Gondor on Aragorn. In other cases, we may draw more expensive Lore cards and playing Steward of Gondor on the Steward himself, Denethor, will make more sense.
Steward of Gondor x2
Essential, attach to Denethor to offset only having 1 Lore hero
Protector of Lorien x2
Best on Aragorn since he will be questing and defending, also good on Denethor
Forest Snare x2
Makes killing Ungoliant’s Spawn much less daunting, save for big enemies
Self Preservation x2
Best on Denethor and Aragorn, since they will be defending
Celebrian’s Stone x1
Best on Aragorn or Theodred, since they are our primary questers
Last but not least, we have events. Since we have 30 cards in our deck so far, we are going to aim for 10 events in the deck to keep our total count to 40. Leadership has some great utility events for bringing allies into play cheaply, readying heroes and boosting the stats of our characters.
From the Lore sphere we will include some cards for temporarily reducing the threat in the staging area. This should help offset the fact that our Lore hero has such low willpower. Because we are not including the Spirit sphere in our deck, we are reliant on our allies for much of our willpower. These Lore events are a short-term solution to mitigate staging area threat in the early game while we establish an army of allies.
Sneak Attack should be saved for Gandalf, if possible. The ability to play the same Gandalf multiple times, without paying full price, can often be the difference between winning and losing. Allies with a response ability that can be triggered after they come into play are also good candidates for Sneak Attack. For location-heavy quests, Snowbourn Scout can be a cheap way to get two quick progress on a location. Likewise, in quests with a lot of nasty condition attachments, Miner of the Iron Hills can discard an attachment every time he enters play.
Secret Paths is another important card in the deck, especially if we don’t draw Faramir early. Having too many locations in the staging area can cause problems for this deck. The ability to ignore the threat from one location can be essential for making progress, particularly when it allows us to explore the active location so that we can travel to another location in the staging area. A very important aspect of the game is not getting stuck at a location while the staging area fills up with threat. Secret Paths and Radagast’s Cunning are included to keep the deck from stalling.
Common Cause x2
Another way for Aragorn to get multiple actions in a turn
Sneak Attack x2
Best with Gandalf, can also be used with Snowbourn Scout to clear locations
For Gondor! x2
For finishing off enemies, also helps Denethor block Ungoliant’s Spawn
Radagast’s Cunning x2
Avoid getting stuck with high-threat enemies in the staging area
Secret Paths x2
Avoid getting stuck with high-threat locations in the staging area
So at last, we have our 40 card deck built. In our next article we will playtest this deck against the first scenario from the core set, Passage Through Mirkwood. Deck building is only part of the bigger picture; playtesting is essential to see how our newly-designed deck actually performs in a real game. After we have a few games under our belts, we will go back and analyze the performance of our deck, to see if there are areas where we can improve it.
We may be surprised at what we find. Often, after playtesting, cards that seemed weak in design can prove to be invaluable in the course of a game. Likewise, cards that seemed very strong in our minds can end up being too expensive, or conditional, to be useful in real-game situations. This process of designing, building and playtesting is an iterative one, we can always continue to improve our skills in each facet of the game.
That’s all for today, the bees are buzzing and the sun is shining, it’s time for a nice stroll to the Carrock. Check back soon as we continue our journey down Beorn’s Path.