As we eagerly await the release of The Voice of Isengard, now is a good time for a bit of a diversion. Whether they were designed for thematic realism, brutal efficiency, or were some hybrid of the two, most of the decks on this site are what you would call traditional. They include a mix of allies, attachments and events designed to create an advantage against the encounter deck, and ultimately solve whatever particular challenge the scenario presents. This is not one of those decks.
This is a combo deck. Scanning the deck list, some of the most notable aspects of this deck are what it lacks. Even though it includes a Spirit hero, there is no treachery or shadow cancelation. Even though it includes a Lore hero, there is no healing. Even though it includes a Leadership hero, there is no Steward of Gondor or Sneak Attack. To anyone familiar with the decks on this blog, these omissions are an immediate and loud declaration that this is not an ordinary deck.
From a strategic standpoint, a combo deck is aiming to create an engine. This is why the deck is designed in such a particular way. Every card in the list is designed to fill one of two goals: to setup the engine, or the run the engine once it is setup. So what, you might ask, is an engine?
In card games, as in the mechanical world, an engine can be thought of as a loop. More than just some simple loop, there are components to an engine. These components can be broken down into a few distinct categories: the fuel, the catalyst, the mechanism, and impurities. In an ideal situation there would not be impurities, but just like the physical world, it very difficult to design a perfect engine in a card game.
The fuel in our case is moving cards off the top of the deck. Notice the distinction there, card drawing effects are simply one way to move cards from the top of the deck. There are other ways to get cards from the top of your deck. Zigil Miner, before errata, was powerful enough to be the basis for an entire archetype. Now, with the addition of Hidden Cache and Ered Nimrais Prospector, there are finally enough cards that work with cards being discarded from the top of your deck.
The catalyst in our case is one of the most efficient and powerful cards in the game. In a deck filled with Dwarf allies, We Are Not Idle is the perfect effect to start a loop. Even better, because it allows you to draw a card, We Are Not Idle actually serves as fuel and catalyst. Being able to generate one resource for each of your Dwarves can create a tremendous resource advantage. Obviously, you can’t go into the quest phase with all of your Dwarves exhausted, so we need a way to reset the engine and ready our characters.
In our case, the mechanism for resetting the engine will be Grim Resolve. While Lure of Moria may at first seem like a better option to reset, this deck includes non-Dwarf characters that we also need to ready. In particular, Imladris Stargazer is essential for ensuring that the right cards are always on the top of our deck. The combination of Imladris Stargazer and Zigil Miner, along with a Hidden Cache on the top of our deck can net 3 or 4 resources for exhausting only two characters. Alternatively, if the top cards of our deck are cards that we don’t want to see, of even multiple copies of Hidden Cache, Ered Nimrais Prospector is a good option. In addition to giving us resources to drive the engine, this also trims the impurities out of our deck and gets us to the essential cards to keep everything running.
Thanks to Legacy of Durin, Daeron’s Runes and Deep Knowledge, this deck draws a ridiculous number of cards. When we get to the end of the deck, we have Will of the West to get all of the goodies from the discard pile back into our deck. In case both copies of Will of the West somehow end up in the discard pile at the same time, we can use the Ered Nimrais Prospector to shuffle one of them back into the deck.
Like any combo deck, the early game strategy is just to survive. Until we have Bifur setup with all of his attachments, we need each of our heroes for resource matching. Don’t be afraid to chump block with allies – any character killed will be back in your hand faster than Bofur running for seconds.
Also, even if you don’t have a Grim Resolve in hand, don’t be afraid to use We Are Not Idle around round 3 or 4. Work out the math to be sure you don’t leave yourself vulnerable, but remember that you will gain resources for each Dwarf you exhaust. With the right allies in hand, and a bit of luck, you can often play enough allies with the extra resources to offset the ones that you just exhausted. The overriding goal of this deck is to get as many dwarves into play, as quickly as possible. Some of them may die to cave-ins, Orc attacks, or the odd Balrog citing. Such is the risk of running a Dwarven mining company.
Once you get to about 13 Dwarf allies the deck starts really humming. With 15 Dwarves in play you will net 10 resources, even after paying the 5 for Grim Resolve. Being able to use Imladris Stargazer before and after the Grim Resolve means that you can get double use of your Prospectors and Miners. In my testing, this deck was easily able to gain a dozen resources, even in the early rounds. Combined with all of the card draw, and barring extremely bad luck with the encounter deck, you will often be able to field a massive army of Dwarves by about round 4 or 5.
As far as the first few rounds, the two most critical cards for this deck are Legacy of Durin (to get the “play a Dwarf, draw a Dwarf” chain going) and Imladris Stargazer. You absolutely need the scrying that the elf provides to ensure that you are consistently drawing the cards that you want, and digging the ones that you don’t want into the discard pile. In the early rounds, Bifur ensures that you should always be able to play at least one dwarf. All of the attachments go on him, and once he has all of the songs and you have a sufficiently large mining crew, you can place all of the resources from We Are Not Idle on Him.
Just like any engine, the wrong mix of fuel can cause an engine to stall. This is where all of the card drawing and scrying come in. Gildor Inglorion is indispensable for putting copies of Hidden Cache that you draw back onto the top of your deck. From there the Miners and Prospectors can do their thing.
Another card that helps prevent this deck from stalling is Born Aloft. If you need to draw one more card and possibly move some resources around, use it to play Glóin again. Or perhaps you need to kill an enemy that is going to cause problems this round, return Gandalf to your hand so that you can play him again. If you just want to trade resources for card draw, use it with Erebor Hammersmith. Assuming you have Horn of Gondor on Bifur, this will give you an extra card and lower your threat by 1 for each Lore resource you can spare.
There are more nuances to playing this deck, and like any combo deck it can have problems with aggressive scenarios that do not give it time to setup. That said, Dain is a fantastic defender, and you really only need to stall for a few rounds while you get everything setup. Dain will mean that you Dwarven army can fell all but the most impressive enemies, and chump blocking shouldn’t hurt you unless it thins your ranks too severely.
For the truly pathological, you can skip the quest phase entirely and just win the game once you get the loop going. Ravens of the Mountain can be cycled infinitely through your deck. It requires you to exhaust a hero to place progress on the current quest, but Grim Resolve solves that problem quite nicely. To be honest, I have never actually completed a game using this card, as I find that strategy extremely tedious, but the card is included to prove the theory and make the infinite loop actually do something. This deck is not recommended for new players, as some of the critical early game decision making might not be intuitive to those without more experience. So if you like clever tricks that border on breaking the game, and you really enjoy shuffling your deck, then you should check this out.
Imladris Stargazer x3
Gleowine (Core) x1
Master of the Forge x1
Zigil Miner x3
Erebor Record Keeper x3
Miner of the Iron Hills x3
Erebor Hammersmith x3
Ered Nimrais Prospector x3
Glóin (THOtD) x1
Dwalin (THOtD) x1
Gandalf (Core) x1
Gildor Inglorion (THoEM) x1