Metagame: Part 4 – Core Set Supplements


One of the biggest challenges to introducing new players to this game is the Core Set. This statement might at first seem controversial, but anyone who has played this game this for long will begin to notice certain flaws in the game’s introductory set. A quick search in any of various forums for the phrases “Core Set” and “Tactics Deck” will serve to underscore this point.

The core set is designed to be an introduction to the game, and it is a wondrous game. Unfortunately, the game takes much more time to reveal its quality than I believe it should. On the forums, on my blog, and in person, I have had many people ask me how to build decks to handle the game’s early scenarios. The fact is, core set deck building is more limited and challenging than it needs to be.

This game is not easy, and I would not want it to be otherwise. It is possible to build viable decks using only the Core Set, as shown in Beorn’s Path, at Tales from the Cards, and elsewhere. However, these decks are at best marginally cohesive, thematically and strategically. Building strong decks, that also reflect the rich tapestry of Tolkien’s writings is one of the biggest reasons that I started this blog in the first place. The fact that it takes hundreds of dollars of investment to realize the true, deeper, potential of this game is a real shame.

core-setFor various reasons, political and practical, it is unrealistic for FFG to release a completely redesigned Core Set for this game. Instead, it makes more sense to supplement the existing product. Providing an easier introductory experience, for those less familiar with deck-building and card game strategy, makes all kinds of sense.

What I propose here are five decks, that could be provided as supplements to the core set. Whether they would be sold individually, or packaged together into a single more expensive product, is left to others to contemplate. To be clear, I am most interested in this problem from the perspective of new players and community building – the commercial aspects of productization are frankly boring. As a bear, and fearless Orc-slayer, the only gold that interests me is the honey from my hives.

There were several important goals that I had in mind when I was designing these deck lists. First and foremost, I wanted them to be fun to play. In each case, and often in very different ways, these decks provide excellent examples of the kind of dynamic and thematic game play that the game affords. At its best, this game is a battle of wits between players and the Dark Lord Sauron (or the encounter deck, if you prefer to be pedantic). To me, an good introduction would throw the players right into this fray.

Rather than puzzling about why their pre-built 30 card Tactics deck cannot achieve a single point of progress on the first quest in the entire game, it seems more interesting for a new player to puzzle over the best way to use their Gondorian army to overcome Ungoliant’s Spawn in the final stage. Purists might argue that an Army from Gondor amassing in the middle of Mirkwood is wrong, thematically. While they would not be wrong, the Core Set suffers from this same problem, only more so. What exactly is it that Aragorn, Théodred and Glóin have to do with each other again?

Tolkien-BooksUltimately, what makes this game unique are two key factors: deep strategy against a dynamic and evolving set of quests, and the wondrous setting of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. It seems only right then, that an introduction to the game would introduce players to both of these things. While the core set decks do teach the rudiments of in-game strategy, it is only in the most basic form. By mixing the decks, players can begin to understand certain deck-building concepts, but again, the limited pool means that there are only so many ways to combine those cards. Ideally, an introduction would provide a broader glimpse of this magical world.

The goal here is to provide ready-made decks, which are strong and thematic, and which also help players to understand key game concepts and learn to recognize combinations as well as general strategies. There is a reason why no strategy guide is included for the core set decks. The strategy with these decks, particularly Tactics and Spirit, is lacking in any sort of nuance. Each of the decks below would include a deck list, a thematic flavor text insert, and a brief description of the kinds of strategies recommended when playing the deck.

It is important to stress that these decks would serve as supplements to the Core Set. It is, after all, the Core Set which includes the game rules, threat trackers, and various tokens which are necessary for playing the game. The Core Rules should also be updated to include the most important of the games many errata. A player, having purchased the Core Set and any one of these decks, would be able to make a good showing against Passage Through Mirkwood and Journey Down the Anduin.

Hill TrollThe high threat decks might struggle against the Hill Troll at the beginning of Journey Down the Anduin. Likewise, the tri-sphere decks would be severely challenged by having a hero held captive before their Escape from Dol Guldur. The goal is not to make decks that will be equally successful against all scenarios – indeed this would be an impossible goal. The aim of these decks is rather to provide examples of cohesive and interesting archetypes, which provide a good introduction to the games deeper strategy.

Players could combine the cards from any of these decks with heroes and player cards from the Core Set and make new and interesting decks. As a new players expand their card pool with Adventure Packs and Deluxe Expansions, they could easily make changes to and improvements to these decks, or even combine them into entirely new archetypes.

A small but vocal minority has complained about the lack of 3 copies of each player card in the Core Set. As even the CEO of FFG has explained, it was a design decision to include a greater variety of cards rather than a more limited pool with a full set of each card. Honestly, with some of the cards in the Core Set, this is a completely irrelevant argument. I can’t imagine that anyone wants 2 extra copies of Brok Ironfist of Beorn’s Hospitality.

Unexpected CourageAs for the “power” cards like Unexpected Courage and Feint, I can certainly see the argument that it would be useful to have a full play set of these cards. As I stated at the outset, it is unrealistic to assume that the Core Set would change, even just to include 3 copies of each player card. One of the aims of these decks is to address this aspect of the Core Set, and fill in the gaps for these power cards.

As much as possible, the best cards with less than 2 copies have been included in these decks. This will allow players to build a full play set of the more powerful cards, without having to purchase multiple copies of the core set. In addition, players that prefer a particular sphere could easily use these decks to provide extra copies of key cards, to allow for building multiple decks. Ultimately, having options is a good thing, and being able to increase those options without having to purchase the same product twice is something that will appeal to many players.

In any case, there will no doubt be many who take issue with this proposal. Naysayers may well argue that the core set should not need supplementing to begin with. While the optimist in me would love to see a world where every hollow log was filled with honey; trolls never invaded my land – or online forums; and Wizards came to me with presents, instead of itinerant Dwarves. Sadly, that is not the world in which we live. As is so often the case, practical is the enemy of the ideal and expedient the death of perfection. 

By definition, the Core Set was designed before the game was ever released. Judged on its own merits, and despite what might seem are harsh criticisms, it has been an overwhelming success. These supplements were designed with the benefit of hindsight. Without exaggerating, I can say that this game is one of the best games, card game or otherwise, which I have ever had the pleasure to play. These proposals are made with the respectful goal of improving the game, particularly for new players. I welcome the feedback, criticisms and suggestions of all readers in the comments section below.

bear print

Guardians of Minas Tirith

Boromir (HoN)
Prince Imrahil (AJtR)
Denethor (Core)

Allies: 26
Errand-Rider (HoN) x3
Squire of the Citadel (TBoG) x3
Guard of the Citadel (Core) x2
Ithilien Tracker (HoN) x3
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Pelargir Ship Captain (TMV) x2
Ithilien Archer (EaAD) x2
Faramir (Core) x2
Anborn (TBoG) x2
Gandalf (Core) x2
Citadel Custodian (HoN) x2

Attachments: 12
Ranger Bow (AoO) x2
Steward of Gondor (Core) x3
Visionary Leadership (TMV) x3
Ranger Spikes (HoN) x2
Forest Snare (Core) x2

Events: 12
Wealth of Gondor (HoN) x3
Deep Knowledge (VoI) x3
Sneak Attack (C0re) x2
For Gondor! (Core) x2
Grim Resolve (Core) x2

Riders of Westfold

Éomer (VoI)
Éowyn (Core)
Dúnhere (Core)

Allies: 24
Westfold Horse-breeder (VoI) x3
Westfold Outrider (VoI) x3
Escort From Edoras (AJtR) x3
The Riddermark’s Finest (THoEM) x3
Westfold Horse-breaker (THfG) x3
West Road Traveler (RtM) x3
Horseback Archer (Core) x2
Éomund (CatC) x2
Elfhelm (TDM) x2

Attachments: 12
Spear of the Mark (TMV) x3
Rohan Warhorse (VoI) x2
Firefoot (TDT) x2
Ancient Mathom (AJtR) x3
Steed of the Mark (TMV) x2

Events: 14
Feint (Core) x3
Quick Strike (Core) x3
A Test of Will (Core) x3
Hasty Stroke (Core) x3
Mustering the Rohirrim (THfG) x2

Legacy of Durin

Dain Ironfoot (RtM)
Balin (TH:OtD)
Bifur (KD)

Allies: 26
Erebor Record-keeper (KD) x3
Erebor Hammersmith (Core) x3
Miner of the Iron Hills (Core) x3
Ered Nimrais Prospector (TMV) x3
Longbeard Elder (FoS) x2
Longbeard Map-Maker (CatC) x2
Dwalin (TH:OtD) x2
Fili (TH:OHaUH) x2
Glóin (TH:OtD) x2
Kili (TH:OHaUH) x2
Erebor Battle Master (TLD) x2

Attachments: 12
Cram (TH:OHaUH) x3
Legacy of Durin (TWitW) x3
Hardy Leadership (SaF) x3
Narvi’s Belt (KD) x3

Events: 12
A Very Good Tale (TH:OHaUH) x3
We Are Not Idle (SaF) x3
Durin’s Song (KD) x3
Lure of Moria (RtR) x3

Lords of Imladris

Elrond (SaF)
Aragorn (TWitW)
Glorfindel (FoS)

Allies: 21
Arwen Undomiel (TWitW) x3
Imladris Stargazer (FoS) x3
Master of the Forge (SaF) x3
Harbor Master (TDF) x2
Rivendell Minstrel (THfG) x2
Northern Tracker (Core) x2
Gandalf (TH:OHaUH) x3
Gildor Inglorion (THoEM) x3

Attachments: 18
Light of Valinor (FoS) x3
Miruvor (SaF) x3
Vilya (SaF) x3
Unexpected Courage (Core) x3
A Burning Brand (CatC) x3
Asfaloth (FoS) x3

Events: 11
Elrond’s Counsel (TWitW) x3
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x3
Lore of Imladris (Core) x3
The Galadhrim’s Greeting (Core) x2

Watchers of the Woods

Celeborn (TDT)
Legolas (Core)
Mirlonde (TDF)

Allies: 24
Henamarth Riversong (Core) x3
Naith Guide (TDT) x3
Galadhrim Minstrel (TiT) x2
Silverlode Archer (Core) x2
Daughter of the Nimrodel (Core) x3
Mirkwood Runner (RtM) x2
Silvan Tracker (TDM) x3
Rúmil (TTT) x2
Haldir of Lórien (AJtR) x2
Gandalf (Core) x2

Attachments: 14
Elf-Stone (TBR) x3
Protector of Lórien (Core) x2
Horn of Gondor (Core) x2
Rivendell Blade (RtR) x3
Rivendell Bow (TWitW) x2
Elven Mail (TTT) x2

Events: 12
Feigned Voices (TTT) x3
Gaining Strength (TSF) x3
Foe-Hammer (TH:OHaUH) x3
The Tree People (TDT) x3

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26 Responses to Metagame: Part 4 – Core Set Supplements

  1. Thanatopsis says:

    I’ve had my ups and downs on this subject, but the thing that always bugs me is that even with two core sets there are not enough cards to make a 50 card mono-sphere deck.

    Anyway, I love the decks and will definitely use them for thematic introductions to the game.

  2. Ian says:

    This is so close to what I am looking for. Good decks that have a good theme, and are good for teaching. The only issue I have Is that isn’t the 3 sphere decks a bit daunting? I think as a new player, you want to pay for cards easily, but with trisphere, you have to save up a lot of money to start playing stuff. Am I overlooking key ways that the decks can counter that?

    • Beorn says:

      Hello Ian, and welcome to the Hall of Beorn. You make a very good point about tri-sphere being a difficult choice for beginning players. I may ultimately change the Dwarf deck to just be Leadership and Lore. I included Nori to allow for a bit more variety in the allies. As for the Silvan deck, unfortunately there are currently not enough Silvan heroes to avoid a tri-sphere deck. I suspect that by the end of the Ring-maker cycle it will be possible to make a two-sphere Silvan deck, and this will probably be a superior build to what I have here. In any case, these are by no means perfect deck lists, and I can really see problems with the Dwarf deck in its current form, but I think that this is a good start. Thanks so much for your feedback!

  3. lleimmoen says:

    Nice decks. As for the Rohan deck, Quick Strike is really a great card. It is one of the few instances when Quick Strike trumps Feint: when used with Dúnhere or Éomer on Firefoot, either killing an enemy during the quest phase or two before they attack.

  4. lleimmoen says:

    My current decks, with all the card-pool, of course, are not very dissimilar to yours:
    Boromir (HoN), Imrahil, Beregond: Gondor
    Dúnhere, Éowyn, Éomer: Rohan
    Denethor, Faramir, Pippin: Pippin in Gondor (mono-Lore)
    Théoden, Háma, Merry: Merry in Rohan (mono-Tactics)
    Elrohir, Elladan, Legolas: Elven Support
    + Rivendell and Lórien line-up with future cards

    • Beorn says:

      Those are some nice decks. One of the decks that I am bringing to GenCon is Elladan, Elrohir and Legolas, with Elven Mail and some Silvan tricks. It will be interesting to see how it fares.

      • Arnold says:

        I play an Elladan / Elrohir / Legolas deck and it has recently become my new favorite deck. ʕ•͡ᴥ•ʔ

  5. Ian says:

    lleimmoen – Good theme decks. Will take a look at those set ups to see how I may build something close.

    Beorn – Thanks! Long time reader, but decided to start posting. I agree, Ringmaker will flush out a good bit of silvan elves. The best part of the decks you posted was no duplicate cards were used between decks(least that I saw). Our group is 4 strong, me having the collection, so having no duplicates really helps. Tonight me and the wife are building so I will use both of your lists here and see what we come up with and let you know.

    PS- Do you have a decklist somewhere for your Elladan,Elorhir, Legolas deck? I have wanted to use the brothers for awhile but not sure how they build.

    • dumpynose says:

      There is some duplication – Sneak Attack, for example, appears in both the Guardians of Minas Tirith and Watchers of the Wood decks.

      Beorn, any thoughts on updating these so that there’s no duplication across the decks?

      • Beorn says:

        Yes, I can go back and do that. To be honest, it wasn’t a priority for me when I designed them, but I can see how people would want to use them without duplicating cards from the other decks.

    • Arnold says:

      I think a good place to begin is Silvan Bow and Silvan Blade. With six weapons, Foe Hammer and Goblin Cleaver slide in quite nicely as well. Cards with low cost are great in this deck, as they allow you to conserve resources to trigger Ellodan/Elrohir. If you aren’t married to theme, Steward of Gondor and Horn of Gondor will keep the resources flowing. Horn of Gondor has great synergy with Sneak Attack. If you Sneak Attack Gandalf or Descendant of Thorondor, the direct damage will make your Goblin Cleavers even better. Dunedain Warning and Elven Mail can make Elrohir a champion defender.

  6. I think your decks perfectly illustrate the ‘problem’ with this game. I’ve been playing for 7 or 8 months, I’ve sunk a fair amount of money into this game, and I still don’t have quite enough cards to make all these decks!! This isn’t a game for the faint hearted, or casual gamer, it requires a big investment in time/money to get the most out it, and really only appeals to core gamers. FFG know this and the core set is designed so that you need to buy at least 2 copies to get the most out of it, FFG know that their audience will fork out for an extra set. Imagine introducing a new player to the game with one of your fine decks above, said player enjoys the game, then realises he need a to spend hundreds of dollars to enjoy the game!

    Frankly, if I hadn’t discovered Beorns Path, I might have given up of this game altogether, your blog has helped me get through Anduin, and enjoy the game.

    • catastrophic09 says:

      Well said, this game definitely requires time and money to fully enjoy it. I’m glad you stuck with it!

  7. Re quick strike, I really like ‘swift strike’ (+2 attack when declaring defender) played in conjunction with spear of the citadel on Beregond, say, and supposing you’re playing Thalin as well , that’s 4 damage before a shadow card has been revealed, enough to see off a lot enemies.

  8. Eucatastrophe says:

    Absolutely brilliant. Here’s hoping there’s someone listening. This would even make the game gift-able. Core + 1-2 starters wouldn’t destroy the bank.

  9. TalesfromtheCards says:

    They should definitely implement this idea. As the game continues to grow, it will become more and more daunting for new players to enter the game. I was fortunate to enter early enough in that I could simply keep up with new releases, but I know that I stay away from other games that I would love to play because there is just too much to buy to ever catch up without spending hundreds of dollars.

    I think your pre-made deck ideas is the best for this particular game. If FFG weren’t happy with that model, they could even run with the “draft deck” model they’ve run with for some of the other LCG’s.

  10. Well it seems that FFG have a solution for new players…………… Called Gandalf (hero version) , I’ve just played him paired with Glorfindel and Merry. If you can get his staff attached first, you can pay for the Steward of Gondor, so Gandalf can pay for anything, card draw is huge, with a Stargazer you can arrange what cards Gandalf can play. I wouldn’t say I’ve just strolled though Into Ithillien, but let’s just say it was the first win against this scenario for a while!

  11. Nice decks!
    What I think would be really helpful for new players, however, is some solid decks that were made with the cards from just 2 or 3 packs. Purchase guides I’ve seen have been approached from the perspective of the scenarios more than the player cards therein.
    The audience for this article seems to be FFG itself rather than new players. But this is helpful for us who are teaching the game to new players. I usually give a new player a mono-sphere deck anyway (which usually ends up including a lot of the core set cards because they’re less complicated) to keep things simple for them.
    Honestly, a new player getting into the game today has a huge advantage over us who got the Core Set back in April 2011, they can just go ahead and buy a couple adventure packs with their purchase. What was hard was ONLY having the Core Set for those couple months before Hunt for Gollum! But we made it work.
    Wow, what and old fogey I sound like!

    Cheers, Narsil0420

    • Eucatastrophe says:

      That’s a killer idea too. Hey Beorn, what if you and The Grey Company ran a cross-blog contest: best decks made with only Core Set + 2 packs? Winner gets the undying gratitude of everyone who wants to see the game grow? You could even have an OCTGN tournament? 🙂

  12. Sean says:

    Think the problem with those decks is that it would be like giving away the store…. Hits too many decks/expansions that you buy just to get a essential cards… Though we could always wish!
    Or if you want to give up the store then’ simply put out a deluxe tin with a set of all player cards with a reasonable price point like $150-200ish….

  13. Sean says:

    Though for the record the core set is the worst thing about the game… I am fortunate in that I bought about half the card pool before I even played it… If I hadn’t done that it would of ended up on eBay like so many that play the core set and just say screw this…

  14. Sean says:

    Actually i thought on this a bit… A deluxe factory tin set version of core with all the stuff in core set needed to play (or maybe not a complete set but most of the power cards needed)… At an msrp of $200 could be a strong Christmas seller, and bring in a lot of new blood.

  15. Sean says:

    Set to coincide with the last hobbit movie…. If it is done right it could extend the life of the game after the movies are gone…. Will always be a good ip, but the last movie could spell an eventual death for this product line at least for ffg. They have a lot of more popular games sadly… I push this game hard, and it is hard… Even with people having access to my full set of cards.

  16. Sean says:

    It has so many good angles for an lcg… It’s franken-game nature is unique… It is a deck builder that does play like a board game with an ever changing board and has RPG elements through saga expansions… It allows solo play! It is non-competitive!
    These are the reasons I bought it (after long research of all the lcgs), and I would think it would make it an easy sell! However, something went wrong somewhere and it didn’t get the audience it should have (the core set is bad, but has to be more to it).
    As a late comer I wonder if they really touted the strengths enough or if the advertising wasn’t handled properly, or am i just biased towards that format and I am not typical of the average magic-convert lcg gamer?

  17. Pingback: Metagame: Part 5 – FAQs and an Evolving Metagame | Hall of Beorn

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