Just as there are many paths to the same destination, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game allows for a myriad of successful deck designs. As the card pool grows, it becomes possible to create decks which incorporate some very unorthodox strategies. This deck is one such design. With cards like Timely Aid, A Very Good Tale and now Elf-Stone, it is possible to get expensive allies into play without actually paying their cost.
Fundamental to the design of this deck is the goal of getting as many allies into play as quickly as possible. Rather than risk getting stuck with duplicates in hand, this deck includes single copies of unique allies (with the obvious exception of Gandalf).
The theory here is that by including expensive unique characters with powerful abilities, it won’t really matter which allies we get into play. With a powerful army to deal with the challenges at hand, the randomness of our characters in play should not matter. Additionally we have some excellent card drawing effects, to help us quickly find to the key cards that drive this quirky deck.
A starting threat of 19, combined with some very powerful secrecy cards help get this deck running during the first few crucial rounds. With cards like Light of Valinor and Steward of Gondor, it may seem obvious which cards to look for in your opening hand. In fact, this deck is a bit more subtle than most decks that feature those powerful cards. Timely Aid is by far, the most important card to have in our opening hand. Indeed, this is the card that kick starts the ally-engine at the heart of the deck.
Typically, we will be able to find a high-cost ally within the top five cards of our deck. The fact that we are only paying one resource, and we get to pick the best ally of the five cards we examine, highlights just how powerful Timely Aid is. If we can’t find an expensive ally, we should at least be able to get a utility ally like Gleowine, Arwen or Master of the Forge. In any case, we are getting the ally for free, and it gives us one of the two allies that we need to pay for A Very Good Tale. Once we have two allies in play, we want to use A Very Good Tale immediately to further build our army.
The key with this strategy is not to hesitate. It may seem like a waste to exhaust two allies during the planning phase, because we can’t use them for the remainder of that round. This is looking at the problem backwards, however. With so many quality allies in the deck, we will often be able to replace the exhausted allies with allies as good or better. Even if we get inferior allies out of the deal, we still come out ahead.
Next round, where we had two decent allies, we now have four. Assuming we can stay in Secrecy for a few rounds (Elrond’s Counsel and The Galadhrim’s Greeting help with this), we may even have a chance to use a second Timely Aid or attach a Resourceful to one of our heroes. With just a bit of luck, this cycle can be repeated to amass a legion of allies.
Once we reach a critical mass of allies, we can safely use Peace, and Thought during the refresh phase to draw 5 cards. Again, exhausting two heroes may seem like a steep cost, but with Steward of Gondor, Resourceful, and Elf-Stone, we want to fill our hand with powerful allies.
Moreover, characters like Erestor, Gildor Inglorion and Beorn have stats that effectively replace a hero for questing, defending and attacking. If we can get any kind of resource acceleration early, we will actually be able to afford to pay for one ally, at least every few rounds. More important than drawing the allies, however, is the prospect of drawing more of the acceleration engine.
With only decent draws, this deck can easily fill the table with a handful of powerful allies within the first few rounds of the game. Once there is a location in play, Elf-Stone becomes another invaluable way to play expensive allies for little cost. Asfaloth and two copies of Northern Tracker provide plenty of help, should we desire to explore locations without traveling.
One favorite strategy is to send everyone to the quest, to ensure the active location is explored, and Elf-Stone triggered. Ordinarily, this would be unwise, as we don’t have a blocker for a low engagement cost enemy that might be revealed. In this case, as long as we successfully explore the attached location, Elf-Stone will provide our defense. With the Beryl’s ability to bring aid, Gandalf, Gildor or Beorn will be waiting for whatever enemy is foolish enough to engage us.
The resource acceleration helps us manage, even when we can’t find our threat reduction, and we leave secrecy too early. Other times we might need Gandalf to stick around a while, to help with an early rush of enemies. Thanks to Steward of Gondor, we can pay the extra resources for Resourceful or Timely Aid, even when our threat exceeds 20.
Make no mistake, with a deck filled with such stellar allies, Resourceful is even worth the 4 resources that it costs outside of secrecy. Coupled with Steward of Gondor, just one of these attachments will gives us 6 total resources per round, up to 4 on a single hero.
Because many of the expensive allies are Lore, Pippin will often be the target for these attachments. Alternatively, if threat-reduction and location control are priorities, Glorfindel is a great choice for resource acceleration. Because most of our Leadership cards are inexpensive, and we have alternate means for getting characters like Faramir into play, Sam should not need resource acceleration. With any luck, we will be able to collect enough resources in a single round to pay for Haldir or Anborn, without any help from other shenanigans.
Another interesting detail to note is the inclusion of both versions of Gandalf. The Hobbit version of Gandalf is an amazing card in a secrecy deck. Once we’ve benefited from Timely Aid or Resourceful, we can drop him into play and he will typically carry us to victory. With so much card draw, we will often draw the core set version of Gandalf at some point as well. This is the definition of a win-win scenario.
If we find that we don’t need the versatility that core set Gandalf provides, we can continue to use Hobbit Gandalf until we finish the scenario. If our threat has raised too high, or we are in desperate need of some card draw, we can let the Hobbit version of Gandalf leave play, then play the core set version on the next turn. Subsequently, we can even bring the other copy of Hobbit Gandalf back into play, if we want.
On the other side of the coin, Core set Gandalf is great to see early because we can use him for threat reduction. He will help us stay well below the secrecy threshold, and we can use him to pay for A Very Good Tale during the Refresh phase, but before he leaves play. If we find ourselves with an abundance of resources in the early game, drawing 3 cards is always nice too.
Some players will advocate using only one kind of Gandalf in a deck. While I have found this to be true for many archetypes, this deck is all about having flexibility to ensure that the ally-mustering engine stays primed. Depending on the situation, either version of Gandalf will be the one that you want. The fact that either version of him works great with Timely Aid, Elf-Stone and A Very Good Tale is why it makes sense for this deck to include both versions.
There are more intricacies to this deck than will fit into a single article. The deck can also easily be tweaked to deal with specific scenarios. Siege quests causing a problem? Swap out for some higher-defense allies. Chaining shadow cards an issue? Hasty Stroke fits perfectly along side cards like Dwarven Tomb. Condition attachments causing you fits? Increase the number of copies of Miner of the Iron Hills.
I encourage anyone interested in alternative strategies and unique builds to try out this deck and let me know what you think. It plays a bit differently than most decks, but with some careful planning and a little luck, it can be very effective. Like many things in Middle-Earth, the secret things are often some of the most powerful.
Pippin (The Black Riders)
Bill the Pony x1
Arwen Undomiel x1
Haldir of Lorien x1
Gildor Inglorion x1
Northern Tracker x2
Warden of Healing x2
Master of the Forge x1
Miner of the Iron Hills x1
Erebor Hammersmith x2
Beorn (Core) x1
Gandalf (Core) x1
Gandalf (H:OHaUH) x2
Light of Valinor x3
Steward of Gondor x2
A Very Good Tale x3
Elrond’s Counsel x3
Timely Aid x3
Peace, and Thought x3
A Test of Will x2
Dwarven Tomb x1
The Galadhrim’s Greeting x2
Here is a screenshot of this deck absolutely dominating Nightmare Journey Along the Anduin. For thematic bonus points, my likeness (in man form) is using his super move to finish off a nasty Anduin Troll Spawn!