Key Concepts: Grading

Bear Clapping

Whether it is movies, books, or college professors a simple 1 to 5 star grading system is woefully one-dimensional. The reality is that anything worth grading in the first place, is worth analyzing with a bit more nuance than five choices. With a game like Lord of the Rings, this is most apparent not in the powerful cards, but the ones that exist on the edges. The card pool is large enough that there are now quite a few cards which are situationally useful.

Rather than being defined solely by player decks, as competitive card games are, the meta-game for Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is informed by scenarios. This means that the value of each player card must always be judged within the boundaries of a given scenario, otherwise it lacks the necessary context to have any real meaning. A card that can be a salvation in one game, can end up completely worthless in another scenario. Other cards, the so-called Staples, are universally valuable against almost almost every quest.

Power_of_OrthancTake a card like Power of Orthanc. In scenarios without encounter cards that manifest as Condition attachments, this card is worse than useless. Indeed, to use it in such situations would do nothing but raise every players’ threat with no benefit. Moreover, including it in your deck against the wrong quests would take up precious space that could be used by other, more generally applicable cards.

On the other hand, this card really shines in a multi-player game where the encounter deck is attaching multiple nasty attachments to characters or the current quest (e.g. Fords of Isen from The Voice of Isengard), this card can be amazing. In these situations, even the doomed cost can seem like a small price to pay. This is the very definition of a situational card. To try to give this card a simple 1 to 5 rating would be a disservice to the inherent complexity and variety of this game.

Campfire TalesAnother reason why it is difficult to rate every card on a simple linear scale is that each player has a different play style. While the competitive players are focused on which cards make their own deck stronger, support players will be more interested in cards that make everyone’s deck better. This is how cards like Campfire Tales can either be dead filler in a solo deck, but amazing in a four player game where the other decks don’t have enough card draw.

Love of TalesThematic players are more interested in cards that fit the narrative, or the feel that they are trying to achieve. I’m not personally a fan of Love of Tales, from a strategic point, but my wife loves to attach it to a Hobbit and then use Rivendell Minstrels to sing many songs. There is room in the game for everyone, even those that have a different goals, or a different focus than our own.

For all but Math tests, grading is an inherently subjective act. Everyone will find choices to disagree with here, and I look forward to reading comments from readers about which cards they think are overrated, underrated or just a hidden gem. I see myself as primarily a strategic player, but one who deeply cares about the myth and style of Tolkien’s world. I played and loved The Middle-Earth CCG almost 20 years ago, so my love for Tolkien-themed games is not new. It is important to bear in mind that these grades are based on my own experiences and mindset with the game. So please don’t take it personally if I grade one of your favorite player cards harshly.

One of the great things about a deck building game is that, with the right support, almost any card can be made to shine. If you strongly disagree with one or more of my grades here, I challenge you to create a deck which highlights whichever cards I have maligned. If someone can create a strong deck which prominently features any of the Filler or Coaster cards from this list, I will be happy to write an article about it. At the end of the day, grades are only a tool to help in deck-building, but having fun playing the game is the ultimate goal.

Universal Staples

These are the true power cards. As the name implies, universal staples will fit into almost any deck. However, even with effects as powerful as they provide, there are still reasons not to include these cards in a deck. For one thing, many of these cards are unique. While this does not matter as much for solo play, in a multi-player game it can have a tremendous impact. Two players should not both bring decks that rely on Steward of Gondor to the same game – someone is going to be disappointed.

Theme is another reason why some players will exclude a staple from their deck. As much as it makes strategic sense for a Dwarf deck to include Steward of Gondor, it does make any sense thematically. Besides, many players will find it more fun to use We Are Not Idle and Lure of Moria, along with an army of Dwarven allies, to replace the resource acceleration that comes with being the leader of Gondor. In this example, theme and strategy actually work hand-in-hand, because We Are Not Idle and Lure of Moria can be a more effective resource engine in a Dwarf deck than Steward of Gondor ever could.

In any case, this grade is not meant to imply that these cards must be in every deck. This grade indicates that a card will make most decks stronger, all else being equal. Those with the desire to be pedantic can certainly pick any card from this list, and make the case for a deck in which that card would not fit. While technically correct, this kind of contrarianism misses the larger point of a grading system. This grade does not mean that a card is automatically better than every card that falls further down this list. It does indicate cards which have the potential to vastly improve a deck that includes too many cards of lesser, or more situational, power.

Sphere-Leadership

Leadership
Allies: Errand-rider, Faramir (Core)
Attachments: Steward of Gondor
Events: A Very Good Tale, Sneak Attack

Errand-rider is quite simply the best utility ally currently available in the game. For 1 resource, you get an ally with a useful trait and an amazing ability. When used correctly, one copy of this card can often make it unnecessary to include other resource smoothing cards like Songs, Narvi’s Belt or Good Harvest. The fact that it has 2 hit points is relevant, particularly with scenarios that include archery and character direct-damage. With unimpressive stats, he may seem underwhelming, the ability to always have a resource where it is needed most should not be ignored.

FaramirIn any other sphere, Faramir would be too expensive, at four resources, to be considered a staple card. However, Leadership has resource acceleration to spare, so a four-cost ally is not at all difficult to pay for. Add ally mustering in abundance, and there are no shortage of ways to get Boromir’s oft-overlooked brother on the board. Once there, his ability is quite simply amazing. He even has two useful traits and can serve as a solid defender in a pinch, if his ability wasn’t enough. For multi-player, it is even worth including Faramir in a deck without many allies, as you can always choose another (probably Spirit or Leadership) player to receive the benefits of his ability.

There is not much to say about Steward of Gondor that has not already been said. It clearly remains the most efficient and repeatable resource acceleration in the game. A Very Good Tale and Sneak Attack both help form one of the pillars of the Leadership sphere – ally mustering. Being able to get allies into play quickly, without having to pay their full cost, makes Leadership a very valuable choice, even if it is just splashed into a deck.

A Very Good TaleSneak Attack in particular, makes a devastating combo with Core Set Gandalf, and can immediately transform an otherwise hopeless situation into winning round. Gandalf is not the only card that works well with Sneak Attack. Any ally with a response that can be triggered after the enter play is a good candidate for some sneaking around. In addition, Sneak attack works well with allies like Core Set Beorn or Escort from Edoras, which often leave play at the end of a given phase.

In contrast to Sneak Attack, A Very Good Tale can take a bit of planning to setup correctly. However, putting allies from any sphere directly into play, without paying their full cost, is essential for many scenarios. The trend is for newer quests to hit hard and not let up, so it is important for most decks to field multiple characters within the critical first few rounds. While one might argue that exhausting two allies is high cost, correctly designed decks can consistently gain two allies (or a single, more powerful, one) from this card. This makes A Very Good Tale action neutral on the turn you play it, but a tremendous action advantage on every subsequent round of the game. The fact that Sneak Attack and A Very Good Tale both work with non-Leadership allies should not be overlooked.

Sphere-Tactics

Tactics
Allies: Vassal of the Windlord, Defender of Rammas, Westfold Outrider
Attachments: Dagger of Westernesse, Gondorian Shield, Horn of Gondor
Events: Feint, Quick Strike

Above all else, the Tactics sphere excels at surviving enemy attacks, and killing enemies. It should come as now surprise then, that all but one of the universal staple cards for this sphere are focused on one of these two parts of the game. For one resource, Vassal of the Windlord is an absolute bargain. An ally with three attack strength, the Eagle trait, and the ranged keyword would be worth it as twice the cost. The fact the the Vassal leaves play after it attacks is honestly not a deal-breaker. This card is just so useful in so many situations – only more so in multi-player games where the extra ranged attack can make all of the difference.

Defender of RammasOn the other side of the combat coin, we have the Defender of Rammas. Still one of the best things to come out of Heirs of Númenor, the defender is amazingly efficient for only 2 resources. Unlike his Eagle equivalent, this Gondorian foot soldier does not automatically leave play after defending. Again, his trait can be useful, in a Gondor deck – though this is a secondary concern. Ironically, given his name, the Defender even has 1 attack, so he can help to finish off an enemy that is on the brink of death. Together, these two allies are an essential part of any deck designed to handle Battle and Siege quests. As for the Westfold Outrider, readers should see my thoughts of the Ring-maker cycle for an in-depth discussion of this card.

There are some very strong weapons and armor in this game, but many of them have trait-based restrictions. As far as weapons are concerned, Dagger of Westernesse is so good, because it lacks such a trait restriction. Granted, you only get the full benefit of this card when attacking enemies with a higher engagement cost than your current threat. While this can be difficult in a mono-Tactics deck, the best use of weapons is often in decks that only mix Tactics. The reason for this is that weapons are quite often overkill in a mono-Tactics deck, where each of the heroes is likely to already have 3 attack strength.

On the other hand, a deck which features only 1 or 2 Tactics heroes will find it much more manageable to ensure the full benefit of the Dagger. Regardless of whether or not it is providing the full bonus, Dagger of Westernesse is the only Tactics weapon without a play restriction which always gives at least +1 attack for only 1 resource. This is important, as weapons are essential for other powerful cards like Foe-hammer, Goblin-cleaver and Straight Shot.

Gondorian Shield (small)Gondorian Shield is less powerful when it is paired with a non-Gondor hero. However, because Steward of Gondor grants the Gondor trait, and is itself a universal staple, this limitation is easily overcome. When attached to a Gondorian hero, this card is game-changing. Go back and look at any early scenario, with larger enemies that attacked for 5 or more. For much of the game, these larger enemies were very difficult to defend against – leaving cards like Feint as the only option.

Without healing, or pairing card draw with Protector of Lorien, or drawing multiple Dunedain Warnings, there were very few ways for a deck to actually defend against these kinds of enemies. Chump blocking was certainly an option, but enemies like the Hill Troll were specifically designed to discourage this strategy. This is why Gondorian Shield is so important to the game. It now makes it viable to design consistent decks around a single super-defender. Beregond and Elrohir are two popular choices (after the elf is given Stewardship), but Tactics Boromir, Denethor and either version of Aragorn all make excellent defenders as well.

The key here is consistency. Whereas older decks would have to dedicate 6 or more cards to creating a super defender, Gondorian Shield immediately transforms these heroes into a strategic wall. Shadow effects can still be an issue, but these heroes can take a serious amount of punishment with the help of this one card. Pair this with healing effects and cards like A Burning Brand or Hasty Stroke, and you have a hero that is all but invincible. Having a dedicated defender becomes all the more valuable, as many recent scenarios punish chump blocking or include enemies which cannot be blocked by allies.

The last attachment here could arguably be considered situational, but I have chosen to grade Horn of Gondor as universally useful because of how rare resource acceleration is in Tactics. As one of the most expensive spheres, this is all the more important to a deck that features many Tactics cards. Moreover, this card is simply amazing in multi-player games. Because it lacks a limit on the number of times the effect can be triggered in a given round, it is not uncommon to gain 3 or 4 resources in a single turn, after other players’ allies leave play for various reasons. Being restricted might seem like a serious downside, but there it is often easy to attach this card to a questing hero, or one who does not often participate in combat and does not need other restricted attachments.

Quick StrikeThe two staple Tactics events are different edges of the same blade. Where Feint stops an attack from ever taking place, Quick Strike takes the initiative to overcome an enemy before they ever act. Both of these cards are amazingly powerful, particularly in decks that are designed to maximize their value. They each have their advantages and disadvantages. While Feint is great for avoiding an attack, and the attendant shadow effect, it doesn’t do anything about the attacking enemy. Feint does however have the advantage that it can be played to protect other players from one of their engaged enemies. Quick Strike can only be played on characters you control.

In a deck which features powerful attackers, Quick Strike can actually be more powerful than Feint. The key is whether or not you have a single character (most often a hero) with enough attack strength to kill an enemy in one attack. In this case, Quick Strike not only prevents that enemy from attacking, it entirely removes that particular threat from play. This effect is even more impactful when paired with a Tactics hero with a response that can be triggered after they defeat an enemy. Legolas and Hama are just two obvious examples, but less notable heroes like Brand and Merry can actually be even better choices.

Quick Strike can be more limited against powerful enemies, those with enough defense and hit points to withstand a single attack. In these situations, Feint is clearly the superior card. These cards work even better together – allowing you to pick and choose which effect you need, depending on the size of the enemy and the circumstances of the moment. There ability to control the flow of combat, makes these events applicable in virtually every deck which features Tactics.

Sphere-Spirit

Spirit
Allies: Arwen Undómiel, Imladris Stargazer
Attachments: Miruvor, Unexpected Courage
Events: A Test of Will, Hasty Stroke, The Galadhrim’s Greeting

Each sphere has their premier cards – the ones that embody the strengths of that sphere. In a sense, these cards help to define the true meaning of that sphere. It is one of the strange loops where the Sphere dictates the kind of effects on the card, which in turn helps to define the boundaries of the Sphere. Readers will have to forgive my Zen digressions, but cards like Arwen are powerful on a deep level.

Arwen UndomielTwo resources brings you a unique Noldor ally with two willpower, a defensive-boosting response, the ability to bestow the Sentinel keyword, and two hit points. It is remarkable to think that Spirit didn’t even have any other access to Sentinel until the relatively recent release of ally Dwalin. If that wasn’t enough, Spirit didn’t even get another consistent defense-boosting effect until Blood of Númenor. Put simply, Arwen Undómiel is the quintessential Spirit ally.

Another Noldor ally shares Arwen’s place among universal Spirit staples. The Imladris Stargazer is one of the great “glue” cards, that makes so many other strategies work. Deck scrying is always useful, and the ability to rearrange to top five cards of your deck can be even better than card draw, in the right situation. Whether it is to setup your use of Vilya with Elrond, or dig through a Hidden Cache or two with a Zigil Miner, or draw cards thank to Expert Treasure-Hunter, the Imladris Stargazer is at the heart of many of the games most powerful combos.

MiruvorOne of the core strengths of Spirit is readying effects, and these two staple attachments help support this theme. Miruvor seems to be an often-overlooked card, but its versatility for a 1-cost card is nearly unmatched. Being able to smooth resources, or boost willpower, in addition to a readying effect, means that it is very unlikely for this to ever be a dead card. Decks with multiple sources of card draw can even stick this card back on the top of the deck after use, so that they can draw it again.

One of the only downsides to the super-defender strategy mentioned earlier, is that a deck can be very vulnerable when their super-defender is exhausted. Shadow cards that create multiple attacks, treacheries that cause enemies to attack from the staging area, and enemies which exhaust characters can all ruin a well-planned defensive strategy. Unexpected Courage (or some other repeatable readying effect)  is a vital component of many super-defender decks. Being able to defend with with Beregond for 6 is all well and good, but if he can only do so once each round, you risk being overrun by packs of enemies.

Giving your best hero two actions a round vastly improves the consistency of a deck. Some quests require willpower based “tests” to be performed. In others like The Drúadan Forest, willpower is used instead of attack, to persuade enemies of your cause. In this situations Unexpected Courage on a hero like Éowyn is very helpful. Instead of having to hold other characters back, especially ones who would be best suited for other phases of the game, Unexpected Courage allows you to dedicate one hero to the task for which they are most suited.

A Test of WillOf all the many strengths of the Spirit sphere, there response events are undoubtedly one of the greatest. To this day, there is not other way to completely cancel a treachery effect than A Test of Will. As treacheries continue to grow in power this card only becomes more essential. Many quests will have one or two “must-cancel” treacheries. These cards completely change the board state, and often quickly dash any hopes of a swift victory. While it can be fun to take the risk, and tackle these quests without treachery cancellation, having a Test of Will is often necessary to ensure a consistent chance of success.

Just as treacheries continue to pose a greater threat to decks, shadow effects are likewise getting stronger. Whether it is massive boosts to attack strength, threat raising effects, direct damage to the defender, or punishment for chump blocking, there are a plethora of shadow effects that can disrupt a deck’s defensive strategy. While there are more options for shadow effects, include another staple in the Lore sphere, Hasty Stroke remains an excellent choice, not only for the cost, but also for the fact that it is not limited to a single defender and can be used to help other players.

Threat reduction is another important part of many decks. While there is recent trend of more aggressive decks, some scenarios lend themselves to a more measured, thoughtful approach. For decks that lack access to Spirit, Core Set Gandalf remains the only consistent form of threat reduction. That fact that The Galadhrim’s Greeting can be used to lower another player’s threat makes it just that much more powerful. Unlike some cards which flourish in multi-player deck, it is just as useful in solo play. Three resources to lower your threat by 6 can completely change the tides, especially with decks featuring Rangers, Dunhere, or Haldir – that want to attack the staging without engaging enemies.

Sphere-Lore

Lore
Allies: Henamarth Riversong, Erebor Hammersmith, Gléowine, Warden of Healing
Attachments: Elf-stone, Protector of Lórien, A Burning Brand
Events: Daeron’s Runes

There is an interesting detail about the Lore sphere – it has probably the best overall 2-cost allies in the game. Erebor Hammersmith possesses a great trait, response effect and excellent stats; Gléowine provides super-efficient card drawing – even targeting other players; and Warden of Healing bringing the most efficient repeatable healing effect in the game. This list of staples Even if a deck simply splashes the Lore sphere, it immediately gains access to a plethora of incredibly efficient allies – all of whom possess useful abilities. These allies all represent on of Lore’s greatest strengths: support.

Henamarth RiversongWith Silvan decks in ascendance, another low-cost ally is now even more useful: Henamarth Riversong. His scrying ability has always been useful, especially when paired with Traps and effects like Expecting Mischief and Denethor’s ability. With the Silvan archetype centered around returning allies to your hand to trigger effects, having a 1-cost Silvan ally is very important to maximizing the potential of these cards. Paired with Celeborn, Henamarth now enters play with 2 willpower and 2 attack, for a single resource. Since you can plan on returning him to your hand at least a couple of times, this level of efficiency is not a one-time bonus.

Elf-StoneAlly-mustering is essential, and once you look beyond the 2-cost allies, Lore allies tend to be on the expensive side. In addition, it lacks convenient options for resource acceleration or cost-reduction. Also, a Lore deck will want to save resources to pay for its powerful attachments and events. It can dramatically accelerate a Lore deck to put powerful allies like Haldir, Anborn or Gildor into play, without paying their full cost. For multi-sphere decks, expensive allies from other spheres can also be put into play with the help of Elf-stone. This can also help other players, who may lack Ally mustering effects, in a multi-player game.

Another strength of Lore is defense. With the aid of healing, Lore decks can ensure that a defender survives repeated attacks. Protector of Lórien fits perfectly into this strategy, especially because of the amount of card draw available in the sphere. Protector is another great example of versatility – not only can it be used to boost a hero’s defense, but it can be used to help them with questing as well. This works particularly well with characters that possess a readying effect. The cost of discarding cards might at first seem too high, but Lore has so many ways to draw cards and most decks will run multiple copies of unique cards which can be safely discarded.

A Burning BrandAutomatic cancellation is a rare effect in this game. Anything that allows you to repeatably ignore one entire aspect of the game is incredibly powerful. A Burning Brand does have one limitation, in that it has to be attached to a Lore character. Still, once this card is attached, that defender is totally immune to shadow effects. Given that Lore has the potential for creating strong defenders, this is a perfect pairing.

When you combine the effects of A Burning Brand with the readying effects and staples from other spheres, it becomes possible to completely lock down combat. Newer scenarios have introduced the concept of shadow-chaining, where one shadow card can deal additional shadow cards to an attacking enemy. This can cascade out of control and lead to some truly horrific attacks against your characters. A Burning Brand is thus a natural fit for a super-defender, and life-saving card against these kind of scenarios.

Daeron's RunesThere are a plethora of card drawing effects in Lore, indeed it is the sphere with the most consistent and efficient of these types of effects. Still, many of these effects are dependent on a particular trait or strategy. Daeron’s Runes stands above all of the other card drawing effects in the game, in terms of efficiency and universality. Think  of a single copy of this card as making your deck 3 card smaller. For those unfamiliar with deck-building games, this might seem like a strange statement, and would lead one to ask: “why is that a good thing?”.

The answer is consistency. Having a deck filled with powerful cards is great, but what if you can’t get the cards that you need at the right time. There is nothing more frustrating than having a powerful card in your hand, that is useless for the current situation. Cards are always powerful within a context. A card that is invaluable in one situation, can be useless in another. This is precisely why the need to discard one of the cards that you draw from Daeron’s Runes is not as bad as it seems. The thing to ask, when deciding what to discard from this effect, is what is it that your deck needs most right now. Whatever is not immediately essential, can often be sacrificed. The fact that Daeron’s Runes helps you dig into your deck, to find the essentially card, without any resource cost, makes it a life-saver in many difficult situations.

Neutral
Allies: Envoy of Pelargir, Gandalf (Core)
Attachments: None
Events: None

GandalfOne of the biggest advantages of Neutral cards is that they can be fit into any deck. Even a tri-sphere deck does not need to worry about having the resources to play a Neutral card, as they can be spent from anywhere. While Neutral cards tend to be more expensive than their equivalents in a given sphere, always knowing that you can pay for them is a real benefit.

Core Set Gandalf is the original utility card. At 5 resources, he is not cheap, but there are now numerous ways to get allies into play at a reduced cost. Because Gandalf’s response can be triggered after he enters play, rather than requiring him to be played from your hand, there is incentive for finding creative ways to bring Gandalf to the fight.

Each of his effects are tremendously powerful, especially because they can be used in decks that would otherwise lack that kind of ability. He can provide direct damage for a Spirit deck, card draw for a Leadership deck, or threat reduction for a Tactics deck, making him unrivaled in ability. With such amazing stats, he is a great boon in combat, or for any type of quest.

Envoy of Pelargir improves on the advantage of Neutral allies, by allowing you to effectively move your resources between heroes. To be clear, this effect only works with Gondor or Noble heroes, but most decks will have at least one such hero. Indeed many of the strongest heroes in the game are noble. The stats and versatility of this ally, for a net cost of 1, make the Envoy a good choice for many different kinds of decks.

Trait Staples

Traits are increasingly becoming one of the most important parts of the game. Players who started when only the Core Set was available might not have suspected this outcome, but it is now impossible to ignore. One of the first trait-based decks, and still one of my favorites, is Eagles. Rohan quest decks, with Éowyn leading the charge, have existing since the beginning of the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. Then came the Dwarves, lead by Dáin Ironfoot, they showed the sheer might of a trait-based strategy and that archetype has only become more powerful and varied with each expansion.

The Noldor received attention in the Dwarrowdelf cycle, championed by one of the most powerful heroes in the game: Spirit Glorfindel. The Gondor trait received similar treatment in the Against the Shadow cycle, with Leadership Boromir being powerful in his own right – though not quite as impressive as Glorfindel. That cycle also brought Hirluin, and with him the Outlands trait. Outlands is something that doesn’t get discussed much here at the Hall of Beorn, as I’m admittedly not much of a fan of that particular strategy. Still, it remains a viable archetype against many scenarios, and it is undeniably an easy way to introduce new players to the game. Throughout the Ring-maker cycle, the Silvan trait has been steadily receiving support, and it brings a new and interesting strategy to the game.

Trait-specific strategies are only going to continue to get stronger – even the Dwarves have been given a new wrinkle with the recent “delving” sub-theme. It is important to remember is that the most effective trait-based decks often include cards outside of that particular trait as well. This is where the universal and situational staples come into play. The idea is to mix and match the powerful cards that fit a deck’s particular style and overall strategy.

Because trait-specific cards are limited to that particular race or faction, they tend to be less expensive, or more powerful than their universal equivalents. A great example of this is Lure of Moria when compared to Grim Resolve. Lure of Moria is the Dwarven-specific version of Grim Resolve, with the advantage that it costs 2 less resources to play. In other cases, there is no universal equivalent to a powerful trait-specific card. Legacy of Durin is probably the most effective card-drawing effect in the game, in a Dwarf deck, and there is obviously no generic equivalent for this card that can be used in other decks.

Leadership
Allies: Bill the Pony, Fili, Glóin (TH:OtD), Longbeard Elder, Naith Guide, Silverlode Archer, Warrior of Lossarnach, Forlong
Attachments: Hardy Leadership, King Under the Mountain, Visionary Leadership, Lord of Morthond, Sword of Morthond, O Lórien!, Hobbit Cloak
Events: Wealth of Gondor, We Are Not Idle, Lure of Moria, For Gondor!, Durin’s Song, Men of the West, Feigned Voices

Tactics
Allies: Veteran Axehand, Winged Guardian, Eagles of the Misty Mountains, Erebor Battle Master, Knights of the Swan, Guthlaf
Attachments: Dwarrowdelf Axe, Gondorian Shield, Rivendell Blade, Elven Mail, Firefoot, Rohan Warhorse, Support of the Eagles, Ring Mail
Events: Khazad! Khazad!, Heavy Stroke, Halfling Determination, The Eagles Are Coming!, Behind Strong Walls, Gondorian Discipline

Spirit
Allies: Silvan Refugee, Lorien Guide, Bofur (TRG), Blue Mountain Trader, Kili, Dwalin, Ethir Swordsman
Attachments: Light of Valinor
Events: Elrond’s Counsel, Astonishing Speed, Children of the Sea

Lore
Allies: Longbeard Map Maker, Erebor Record Keeper, Bifur, Dori, Haldir of Lorien, Silvan Tracker, Mirkwood Runner, Anfalas Herdsman, Hunter of Lamedon, Ered Nimrais Prospector, Barliman Butterbur
Attachments: Asfaloth, Fast Hitch, Legacy of Durin, Lembas
Events: The Tree People

Neutral
Allies: Defender of the Naith

Archetype Staples

Personally, Nothing is more satisfying than seeing a plan come together. An archetype gives you a basic plan, a blueprint for creating a powerful deck. Rather than being limited to synergies based on a trait, many archetypes can be more abstract. The idea is to take advantage of a particular strategy or aspect of the game.

A great example of a powerful archetype that has gained prominence recently is the Gondor/Rohan “leaves play” deck. These decks are not dependent on traits, or even one specific card combo, but on the idea of taking advantage of allies leaving play each round. By utilizing heroes like Éomer and Prince Imrahil, and allies like Squire of the Citadel and Westfold Outrider, along with events like Sneak Attack and Valiant Sacrifice, these decks take advantage of different cards that all build to a single basic strategy.

Decks with more general strategies like this tend to be very resilient, as they do not rely on any one trait or ability to be successful. Archetypes are flourishing in an expanding card pool, and can be designed to handle many of the common challenges that a quest will manifest. Because their strengths are not necessarily trait-based, archetypes can mix and match powerful cards, often to dramatic effect.

Leadership
Allies: Snowbourn Scout, Squire of the Citadel, Herald of Anórien
Attachments: Cram, Celebrían’s Stone, Tome of Atanatar, Path of Need, Dúnedain Mark, Dúnedain Warning, Dúnedain Cache, Sword that Was Broken
Events: Strength of Arms, Valiant Sacrifice, Timely Aid, Gaining Strength, Swift and Silent

Tactics
Allies: Gondorian Spearman, Bofur (TH:OHaUH), Trollshaw Scout, Knight of Minas Tirith, Rúmil, Farmer Maggot
Attachments: Black Arrow, Spear of the Citadel, Gondorian Fire, Book of Eldacar, Spear of the Mark, Great Yew Bow
Events: Unseen Strike, Hands Upon the Bow,The Hammer-Stroke, Foe-Hammer, Goblin-Cleaver

Spirit
Allies: Escort from Edoras, West Road Traveler, Northern Tracker, Westfold Horse-breaker, Westfold Horse-breeder, The Riddermark’s Finest, Minas Tirith Lampwright, Pelargir Shipwright, Emery, Greyflood Wanderer
Attachments: Silver Lamp, Blood of Númenor, Ancient Mathom, Warden of Arnor, Thrór’s Key
Events: Dwarven Tomb, Stand and Fight, Lay of Nimrodel, Will of the West, Stand and Fight, A Watchful Peace, Courage Awakened

Lore
Allies: Master of the Forge, Galadhrim Minstrel, Rivendell Minstrel, Miner of the Iron Hills, Anborn, Gildor Inglorion, Ithilien Tracker, Ithilien Archer, Ithilien Lookout
Attachments: Expert Treasure-Hunter, Ranger Spikes, Ithilien Pit, Ranger Bow
Events: Secret Paths, Strider’s Path, Out of the Wild, Word of Command, Mithrandir’s Advice, Noiseless Movement, Take No Notice

Neutral
Allies: White Tower Watchman, Gandalf (TH:OHaUH)
Attachments: Song of Battle, Song of Kings, Song of Travel, Song of Wisdom
Events: Shadow of the Past, Hidden Cache

Expensive but Powerful

Some of the most power cards in the game cannot be considered staples simply because of their cost. It should be noted that the term expensive is not necessarily referring to resource cost. A card can be expensive if it has a threat cost (Legacy of Númenor), has additional constraints on how it can be played (Thicket of Spears), or some alternate cost (Hail of Stones). Smart decks will work to mitigate these costs, as all of the cards at this grade can be very powerful when used wisely. Still, because of the extra cost, these cards should not be considered automatically applicable to all decks.

Leadership
Allies: Dúnedain Watcher, Erestor, Longbeard Orc-Slayer
Attachments: None
Events: Grim Resolve, Legacy of Numenor

Tactics
Allies: Beorn (Core), Landroval, Gwaihir, Veteran of Nanduhirion
Attachments: Dwarven Axe, Citadel Plate
Events: Thicket of Spears, The Wizard’s Voice, Swift Strike, Hail of Stones, Close Call

Spirit
Allies: Damrod, Elfhelm
Attachments: None
Events: Light the Beacons, We Do Not Sleep, Untroubled by Darkness, Fortune or Fate

Lore
Allies: None
Attachments: Forest Snare, Self Preservation, Scroll of Isildur
Events: Lórien’s Wealth, Gildor’s Counsel, Peace and Thought, Deep Knowledge

Neutral
Allies: Saruman
Attachments: Palantir
Events: The White Council

Limited or Situational

In a competitive game, these cards would often be considered “sideboard” cards. These cards are often very focused, to the point of being useless outside of their intended context. As a cooperative game, the scenarios are our enemies. Although these cards may be limited against many scenarios, they can be invaluable for certain quests.

Leadership
Allies:  Son of Arnor, Denethor
Attachments: Dúnedain Signal
Events: Campfire Tales, Second Breakfast, Parting Gifts, Dawn Take You All, Mutual Accord, Fresh Tracks, To Me! O My Kinsfolk, Taking Initiaitve

Tactics
Allies: Horseback Archer, Beorning Beekeeper, Descendant of Thorondor
Attachments: Blade of Gondolin, Spear of the Citadel, Born Aloft, Song of Mocking, Mighty Prowess
Events: Rain of Arrows, Stand Together, To the Eyrie, Heavy Stroke, Forth Eorlingas, Pursuing the Enemy, Straight Shot

Spirit
Allies: Wandering Took, Éomund, Rider of the Mark
Attachments: Map of Earnil, Nor Am I A Stranger, Song of Eärendil, Ever My Heart Rises, Ring of Barahir, The Fall of Gil-Galad, Hobbit Pipe
Events: Smoke Rings, Small Target, Late Adventurer, Strength of Will, Mustering the Rohirrim, Ride to Ruin, Out of Sight, O Elbereth Gilthonial, Renewed Friendship, Power of Orthanc, Free to Choose, Desperate Alliance

Lore
Allies: Harbor Master, Master of Lore
Attachments: Dark Knowledge, Love of Tales, Healing Herbs, Poisoned Stakes, Thrór’s Map, Infighting
Events: Radagast’s Cunning, Ancestral Knowledge, Needful to Know, Short Cut, Advance Warning, Forest Patrol, Message from Elrond, Expecting Mischief, Ravens of the Mountain

Neutral
Allies: Radagast
Attachments: Leaf Brooch, Keys of Orthanc, Good Meal
Events: Hobbit-Sense, Well-Equiped, A Good Harvest

Filler

These cards are not necessarily bad, they just take up space where other cards could be of greater benefit. In most decks, there would be at least a handful of cards that would be more effective than any of these cards here. They can be useful, but their usefulness has very real limitations. For example, Citadel Custodian is a perfectly useful card in a Gondor deck. Even in such a deck – with global effects from Boromir, Visionary Leadership and For Gondor! – the custodian is still just taking up space. Some Gondor decks will include 25 or more allies, in which case the Custodian makes sense. Still, his stats are so weak, and he has no ability once in play; so, in a sense, he is just taking up space.

Leadership
Allies: Guard of the Citadel, Pelargir Ship Captain, Citadel Custodian, Dúnedain Wanderer, Rivendell Scout
Attachments: Dúnedain Quest
Events: Ever Vigilant

Tactics
Allies: Watcher of the Bruinen
Attachments: None
Events: Blade Mastery, Meneldor’s Flight

Spirit
Allies: None
Attachments: Favor of the Lady, Spare Hood and Cloak, Steed of the Mark
Events: A Light in the Dark

Lore
Allies: Ravenhill Scout
Attachments: None
Events: Rumour from the Earth, Risk Some Light, Gandalf’s Search

Neutral
Allies: None
Attachments: Boots from Erebor
Events: The Seeing-Stone

Coasters

There is really no nice way to put it – these cards are not worth playing. They are weak, or too situational, or simply don’t fit into their sphere. In all but the most specialized decks, players will find superior alternatives to cards on this list. Even the cards here that have useful effects will take up valuable space in our deck.

This is know as opportunity cost. It is not enough for a card to be useful, in order to warrant inclusion in a deck. A card needs to be worth the opportunity that is lost from not including a different card. This is why I have graded these cards so harshly. In essentially every case, no matter the deck, I would rather draw another card than one of these listed here. As I mentioned earlier, I am open to be proven wrong. If someone has a deck which makes consistent and effective use of one or more of these cards, I would love to hear about it.

Leadership
Allies: Keen Eyed Took, Orthanc Guard, Brok Ironfist
Attachments: None
Events: Common Cause, Rear Guard, Ever Onward, Grave Cairn

Tactics
Allies: None
Attachments: Keeping Count
Events: Trained for War

Spirit
Allies: None
Attachments: Power in the Earth
Events: Strength of Will, Against the Shadow

Lore
Allies: Bombur (RtR), Isengard Messenger
Attachments: None
Events: Beorn’s Hospitality

Neutral
Allies: None
Attachments: None
Events: The End Comes

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30 Responses to Key Concepts: Grading

  1. diedertk says:

    Hey Beorn,

    Nice article! I enjoyed reading it. I only disagree much with your verdict of Veteran of Naduihirion. I think he should belong by the ‘more traitpowerful cards’. He’s a real asset in our Dwarfdual decks and with Dains bonus, a Dwarrowdelf axe and a Boots from Erebor/Warden of Healing he’s a real fightingmachine and Gimli can be used to quest or defend. We only posses till KD and WitW, so I can understand that maybe in the futere his utility declines, but for now he’s really could in our thematic Tactics/Spirit Dwarfdeck.

  2. John says:

    Very helpful article, Beorn! (And wow, that must have taken a long time to play.) A few points:

    –Definitely agree with Watcher of the Bruinen. He can’t survive one attack, much less the several his response is designed to take. Trollshaw Scout, on the other hand, is amazing.

    –Rumour from the Earth definitely belongs where it is at the moment, but Wingfoot (Nin-in-Eliph) will definitely bring that up to the level of Situational.

    –Ah, Power in the Earth. In our very first game with the core deck, my wife read the card and asked, “What is THIS good for?” It’s been in the binder ever since!

    Keep up the good work!

  3. Gwaihir the Windlord says:

    Now this is what I have been trying to accomplish for months, although I never found the time. Therefore, I have found some points to debate/discuss with you.
    1. The amount of Silvan cards surprises me, especially Lembas, a you must have a Noldor or Silvan hero in play to use it. It is not a bad card – on the contrary! – but there are only six or so Elf heroes out fifty-odd others in all. my vote would be for archetype staples instead.
    2. Love of Tales. So situational I would almost call it a coaster: almost, but not quite, and I agree with the Limited/Situational evaluation.
    3. The End Comes. Has anyone actually used this card? Ever since I laid eyes on it, it fell to the bottom of my Neutral stack, simply because the price of a Dwarf is (I think) a bit too high.
    4. I believe Strider’s Path to be exceptional and have included it in almost every Lore deck I have built since getting my hands on it. Did you consider it for the staples list?
    5. (Last one, I promise) Trained for War. I would have put it under the Limited/Situational list simply because it can be a life-saver in the Tactics sphere (to which I am addicted) when willpower is at a loss. Why do you consider it a coaster.
    Another great article, Beorn, and I would go for doing this sort of post for heroes, too, if you can find the time. Thanks!

    • Beorn says:

      In the initial draft of this article, I accidentally had Lembas in Universal Staples, I have since fixed this error and moved it under Trait Staples, where I believe it belongs. Assuming you have a Noldor or Silvan hero, this card is amazing – especially if your deck does not have access to Spirit for other readying effects. The only reason Strider’s Path is not in Universal Staples is because you hhave to respond to the location being revealed from the encounter deck, which means that it only works within a very specific window. While I agree that this card is very powerful, it does not have the versatility that I would like in order for it to be considered universal. As it is, I listed in in Archetype Staples, which is only one level down from universal (in my mind, trait are archetype staples are about equivalent – B grades instead of A for universal). I only used Trained For War in one deck, and at 2-cost I always would have preferred to draw another card, every single time I drew it.

      • Gwaihir the Windlord says:

        That’s true about Strider’s Path. I had almost forgotten the situation one must be in to play it, as I rarely play Lore. And, I must admit, I have only played Trained for War two or three times since its release (in The Siege of Cair Andros) but found it extremely useful in Tactics solo, although I have to agree that in multi-sphere games it is not ideal.

  4. banania says:

    This is a nice article, and I would gladly recommend it to part of the annoying (IMO) part of the community which ALWAYS assess new cards in comparison to power cards, which, I guess, should not be the reference.

    That being said, I TOTALLY disagree about two of your coasters: Strength of Will and Common Cause. This is actually funny because I had totally forgotten about those two cards a while ago. I make use of both of these cards in many decks with great success. Those, are IMO, staple cards.

    – Common Cause is great because in a hero lineup, I always want a hero to fill a purpose. For example, I use Denethor in a Gondorian deck with Boromir and Faramir. Well, obviously, I’m going to use him to defend. And if he’s still ready at the end of the round, scrye a little by using his ability. Just as anyone would do. BUT, I like that Common Cause is giving me the flexibility to exhaust Denethor to ready Boromir or Faramir and make a final blow. This is just an example. Any deck where you have a hero you keep ready because he/she has an ability that you MAY use this turn and require to exhaust can make use of Common Cause (exhaust Eleanor to ready say… Aragorn?). In those situation, it’s better than say a Cram (and Cram is just so good).

    – Strength of Will has a 3 slot in any deck with Eleanor and now Idraen. Elenor you keep ready, always. And when no treachery pops, you just end up with a useless hero. It provides a bit of cheap location management which you might need if Spirit is a minor sphere and you don’t play Lore for your other heroes. With Idraen, it’s plain amazing. You exhaust, place tokens, explore, ready Idraen, for 0.

    So those two cards may be “situational” in a sense that they fit perfectly with certain strategies and/or heroes. But Coaster, no, they’re not 🙂

    Waddya think?

    • Master Beta says:

      They’re not “staple” because they are quite situational, as your description showed. Common cause just seems inferior to cram and spare hood and cloak for the most part. I do look putting a spare hood and cloak on Elanor.

    • Beorn says:

      The issue is opportunity cost – the cost of NOT having another card in your hand. Strength of Will requires you to travel to a location, then immediately exhaust a Spirit character. This is such a specific requirement, that this card is almost useless to me. I can see an argument for grading it as Filler, instead of a Coaster, but the distinction doesn’t mean much to me. I wouldn’t use the card in either case. I understand that it is useful in your example, but in my style of play, I am usually clearing the active location, when I want to, so the extra 2 progress won’t often help. Unlike West Road Traveler, Thror’s Map, Thror’s Key and Strider’s Path, it doesn’t help you avoid the travel effects of a card – all it does is place progress. So many other cards are so much more versatile, and do not have a cost of exhausting a character. It’s great that you have found a good use for this card, and I agree that it works well with Eleanor, but personally this card will never make it into one of my decks.

  5. Master Beta says:

    I think you’ve underestimated king under the mountain. You only need a dwarf hero to attach it to, which really doesn’t require an all out dwarf deck: The likes of Thalin, Gimli, Bifur, Balin and even Dain himself can easily appear in decks that aren’t going for all out Dwarfiness. In fact, such is the power of King under the mountain, that it almost forces you to make sure you do have at least one dwarf hero in play specifically so that you can take it.

    I think you’ve massively overrated Miruvor. Especially when compared to cram from leadership, and even spare hood and cloak, both of which I think are better. Spare hood and cloak costs nothing, and can give you multiple readies over the course of a game, although it is more situational. Cram is free, and hence I would much prefer to see a cram in my opening hand than a miruvor. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a decent card, but it’s certainly not a card I definitely take in a spirit deck, unlike UC or ToW.

    I think you’ve overrated burning brand. I’ve actually stopped taking it in my multiplayer decks, despite the fact that I run with Elrond – the perfect candidate for it. The reason is simple, a leadership/tactics or pure tactics deck does most the combat and I would often find myself holding a copy of it in my hand, not seeing any reason to play it, because Elrond wasn’t going to be doing any defending – support of the eagles sentinel Mecha-Boromir was doing the defending. It’s absolutely a great card, but it’s only great if your going to be using a lore character for defending, which makes it situational. There are plenty of lore heroes you might take and not do any defending with them (Beravor).

    Finally, I wouldn’t call Galadhrim’s greeting a spirit staple. The cost of 3 can put it out of reach of some multisphere decks (if you take only one spirit hero), plus you don’t always need threat management. A dwarf deck with Nori has little need for it, nor does any deck abusing Loragorn and his best pal Frodo.

    • Beorn says:

      I agree that King Under the Mountain is a very powerful card – I include it in essentially every deck that I build with a Dwarf hero and access to the Leadership Sphere. However, it requires a specific trait to play so as much as I want to call it universal it would be disingenuous to do so. If King Under the Mountain is a universal staple, then Rivendell Blade, Light of Valinor and Lembas are. At that point, the distinction between universal staples and trait staples would be so blurred that the terms would lose all meaning.

      • Master Beta says:

        Difference is, KutM is so much better than the the other cards you mention though. Rivendell blade doesn’t just require a noldor/silvan, it requires one who you are going to attack with, which is pretty much just Glorfindel and Legolas or the new Haldir. Likewise, a Light of the Valinor on Legolas is only worth 1 questing. It’s pretty much only worth while on Glorfindel and Elrond. KutM woks on absolutely any dwarf though, and there are more dwarfs than silvan/noldor, and on top of that the effect is better than those other cards. The only other card that rivals it for power and is the mighty Steward of Gondor.
        Basically, I’m arguing that the Dwarf trait isn’t very restrictive for this card, and it’s massively powerful for any deck.

        Also, how can you justify calling Burning Brand a staple by that criteria? You can only attach it to a Lore hero for a start, and not all Lore heroes are good enough defenders to justify it. Would you use a Burning Brand clad Bilbo to defend or would you use Dain? I think it’s only worth it on Elrond or Denethor, or if you can use a song on someone else. Which all makes it about as situational as Light of the Valinor and Rivendell blade.
        Basically, if not for the lore character restrictment, I would be in complete agreement. I would always take 3 and whack one on the best defender as soon as, whether it’s Boromir, Dain, Beregond or Elrohir. But because it only works on a lore character, I always found it was just sitting in my hand in multi-player games. What’s the better defender? Boromir with a Gondorian shield and support of the eagles? Or Elrond with a Burning Brand? I’ll give you a clue – it’s Boromir.

      • John says:

        “What’s the better defender? Boromir with a Gondorian shield and support of the eagles? Or Elrond with a Burning Brand? I’ll give you a clue – it’s Boromir.”

        I don’t think this is a fair comparison. Burning Brand is a one-card boost to your defending ability, vs. the three-card combo you mentioned with Boromir (Gondorian Shield + Support of the Eagles + at least one Eagle in play). Lore has an in-sphere way to fetch the Brand (Master of the Forge), whereas Tactics has no in-sphere way to fetch the Shield or the Support card.

        So I guess the question is this: is there a better one-card boost to defending than Burning Brand? Perhaps there is, Beta, but let’s not cloud the issue by thinking up three-card combos that can beat it.

      • Beorn says:

        This. Thank you John, for putting it so succinctly. A staple should never be judged in isolation. I would even argue that A Burning Brand is a staple for me *because of* the existence of Master of the Forge and Daeron’s Runes.

      • Beorn says:

        To me, anything with a trait-specific requirement is not a universal staple. A Burning Brand has a sphere-specific requirement, which means that you could argue it is an archetype staple. The reason why I consider it a universal staple is because of how powerful it is. In any deck that also features readying effects, this card can completely remove combat as an unknown variable in the game. That power cannot be overstated. I don’t use A Burning Brand in every Lore deck that I play, but I definitely ask myself whether or not it is worth including. This, by my definition makes it a universal staple. Doubtless, your universal staples are different. I understand that you will include King Under the Mountain in any deck that you play with a Dwarf, but for me a trait restriction is more limiting to my overall play style than a sphere restriction.

        The reality is that all of the the cards in the first 3 grades are all very powerful, at a certain point arguing between an A and and A+ is not worth much. As someone who likes Lore and looks to include it in many of my decks, I consider A Burning Brand more universal than King Under the Mountain. This is not to say that one is more powerful (card draw and shadow cancellation can’t be directly compared), just that I find myself looking to use one more than the other, because of how dramatically it impacts the game. Of the trait-based attachments, King Under the Mountain is one of the very best, so not including it in universal staples should not be perceived as a slight – more of an acknowledgement that you can’t simply include it in every deck. You make the argument that the same applies to A Burning Brand, and I agree, to a point. There are quite a few worthwhile Lore characters to serve as a defender, and healing makes it easier to offset a defensive weakness, since you won’t need to worry about unexpected attack boosts. The most important distinction to me is that a sphere restriction gives me more freedom in choosing my heroes than a trait restriction does. This is actually the entire reason I created Trait Staples as its own grade.

        Thanks for your feedback!

  6. John Michel says:

    Add Favor of the Lady to “coasters” in my opinion. I can’t imagine ever using this card – ever. If my defeat ever comes down to a single point of willpower on one hero, I’d still coaster this card and blame my self for the loss. 🙂

  7. Rob Jennings says:

    I’ve found a single use for “The End Comes”, but it’s actually a pretty good one. In the first quest of the hobbit saga you can often win the quest by running out the deck before you have the troll key and enough resources on bilbo to actually claim the treasures. If you’re playing a dwarf deck for theme, and you’re questing rather than killing the trolls, The End Comes way to consistently not run out the deck before you’re ready.

    Aside from that one specific use, I can’t imagine using it. It’s awful.

  8. MPK says:

    This is a great write up, and I really enjoyed reading it! In the future, it would be great to see an article expanding the ‘archetype’ section, seeking to define a few others.

    I do have issue with your classification of ‘Keeping Count’, however. While I fully understand why you put it as a coaster (need to draw two, situational end-game card at best), I really love this card. It shines when you have a strong attacked paired with a dedicated defender, and access to readying: Elladan and Elrohir are a perfect fit.

    If you draw one copy early (yes, a limitation), you can rack up kills with Elladan. Elrohir won’t kill things, and I can often get the difference as high as 4-7. This gives a huge boost when something awful inevitably shows up. Since many scenarios now feature ‘boss’ type enemies at the end, this can be incredibly powerful (I also like the idea of Elrohir getting jealous of his brother’s success and killing a nazgul with a single blow).

    Of course a lot of things need to go well for this to work out… but with same-sphere card draw (foe hammer) and a character that generally doesn’t attack but can remain ready, it can be an awesome (and super fun!) card.

    Its just sad that it doesn’t work well with Legolas and Gimli.

  9. Scott W. says:

    Beorn,

    Great article. Thank you!

    I have a question about one of your “filler” cards. Are Boots from Erebor really that useless?

    I’ve spent most of my career walking your path with the Aragorn (Leadership), Theodred, Denethor triad. Recently, I’ve tried to wean myself off of scrying and plentiful resources that it provides.

    I am now experimenting with a tri-sphere Bilbo (Lore), Eowyn, Gimli deck. In this situation, card draw is never an issue (w/ Gleowine and Bilbo I am often drawing 3 cards per turn!) but resources are in short supply. The crux of the deck is keeping Bilbo alive and defending, powering up Gimli, and letting Eowyn quest her heart out. For this strategy, Bilbo and Gimli need all the HP they can get and I’ve a never ending flow of card draw. Therefore, a free HP for either or both of them is a form or hospitality rivaling even your own!

    Of course, they aren’t totally free, as there is the opportunity cost of whatever else I might have drawn, but resources are my bottleneck and these cost none. I’m not saying that The Boots are a power card, but they seem to fit in nicely here.

    What say you? Am I as loony as a smoked out beehive or as sharp as a bear claw in the spring?

    (For your reference, I own one core set, kazad-dum, and the first three packs of both the mirkwood and dworrowdelf cycles.)

    Thanks again for the great blog. It’s great fun to read!

    • Beorn says:

      You make an excellent point, Scott. In your deck, Boots of Erebor is a very card useful – especially because of the 0 cost. In other Dwarf decks, particularly those that feature resource acceleration via Thorin (w/ Narvi’s Belt) and We Are Not Idle + Lure of Moria, resources are less of an issue and it makes sense to go with stronger cards that are more expensive. I realize that I should have made the disclaimer for this article that I own the entire card pool, with multiple copies of the Core Set. Thus, all of my grades are given from the perspective of having access to everything. In a more limited card pool, many of these grades change as cards like Boots of Erebor are the only realistic option for a deck like yours. Regardless of your card pool, don’t worry if I grade a card as filler – I have my own particular style for playing this game. If you find that a card works for you, and you’re not often wishing that you had drawn something else, then you should keep it in your deck. This is what I meant about the grades being a subjective and personal analysis of the cards – they are by no means an absolute rule.

      Thanks for your kind words, and good luck with your Éowyn, Gimli, Bilbo deck – it sounds like a lot of fun!

  10. TalesfromtheCards says:

    Great article! I myself love rating cards on a number scale as it gives a place for people to hang their hats and begin a conversation, as well as just being fun. However, as seen by my long-winded discussions of every card, I agree with you that more qualitative discussion is the only way to truly rate a card. And I think rating cards on a few different categories is much more useful than just a blanket rating that tries to cover everything.

  11. scwont says:

    Bears may be powerful, but they’re not so good at sneaking around!

    I’ve played with a Lore/Spirit secrecy deck a fair amount, and tested out all the secrecy cards in those spheres. Needful to Know and Risk Some Light have proven themselves staples in that archetype for me. Out of the Wild, on the other hand, I ended up cutting entirely. I might consider it for specific quests where there are certain cards I want to avoid at all costs, but in the majority of situations I’ve found Out of the Wild to be much more useful (and in secrecy mode it’s cheaper).

    • Beorn says:

      Your last sentence is confusing – I’m guessing you went to say something other than “Out of the Wild”. In any case, I agree that the usefulness of Out of the Wild depends on the scenario. When it works, it really works though. Being able to remove the worst treacheries from the game, especially now that the encounter decks tend to be smaller and get reshuffled at least once, can make a huge difference.

      • scwont says:

        Oops! Yes sorry, that last sentence should’ve said “…I’ve found Risk Some Light to be much more useful…”

        Another factor in comparing the two is solo vs multiplayer, since scrying is more valuable in solo play(althought RSL is more effective than most scry effects since you get to see and rearrange multiple cards). With Risk Some Light in solo you not only get rid of a card you don’t want to see right now, but also set up your next staging card and shadow card, or take the edge off a surge by determining what the second card is going to be, etc. And, presuming you’re in secrecy where you want to be – this is all free!

        Good point about the smaller encounter decks in recent times; this does make a card banished to the bottom of the deck more likely to resurface. This is also more likely to happen in multiplayer. Still, deferring a threat can at least buy you more time to draw/play a couple more cards of your own to deal with it if it does make a reappearance.

        So for me, Risk Some Light is the archetype staple and Out of the Wild the filler.

      • Beorn says:

        Gotcha. That makes sense. Scrying effects like Risk Some Light and Palantir are definitely much more powerful in solo play. I think they can still have utility in multi-player, they just tend to be more situational.

  12. burek says:

    I’m a relatively new player, but I have quite some experience with CCGs. I find that some cards in this game are simply too powerful in comparison to their alternatives (Steward of Gondor, A Burning Brand, Unexpected Courage, Spirit Glorfindel). I think this promotes lazy deckbuilding and doesn’t encourage players to look for alternatives.

    Do you agree? Do you think FFG should add some power-level errata to the obvious outliers? I think a lot of them can be very simple (Steward enters exhausted or adds 1 resource; A Burning Brand dooms 1 or exhausts when used; Unexpected Courage wounds on use; Spirit Glorfindel raises threat on every exhaust) and would reward players for looking at other options.

    • Beorn says:

      I agree that some of the player cards, particularly from the early sets, are on the over-powered side. However, I’m not entirely convinced that errata is the best solution. As a cooperative game, there is not the same incentive for most players to make a deck that is more powerful than everyone else. You are competing against the encounter deck for a given quest, so the nature of the game is asymmetrical. I can see the purpose of errata in the case of cards that actually break the game (e.g. ones that create broken combos), but my experience is that many players limit themselves by avoiding these over-powered cards, instead building more thematic decks. Every play group is different, but this trend is the norm for our local group. The other thing to bear in mind is the Nightmare scenarios. Some of them are almost absurdly difficult. Even with these over-powered cards, it can seem almost impossible to defeat the more challenging Nightmare quests, so in that context the power balance of the game is fine.

      You absolutely have a valid point about a bit of a power imbalance, and subsequent player cards have addressed that by avoiding the power-creep that seems inevitable in many competitive card games. Ultimately the game already has several pages of errata and FAQ, something that is unfortunate but probably unavoidable. Even so, the game has been in print for 4 years and I cannot in good conscious advocate major errata that fundamentally changes the way staple cards work. There are too many copies of Steward of Gondor in print, and the shape of the current metagame has already formed around this and other essential cards. I guess where we disagree is in our take on the overall heath of the metagame. I don’t include Unexpected Courage in every one of my decks with Spirit, or Steward in all of my decks with Leadership. There are in many cases more thematic alternatives to these staples. Rather than uproot a relatively healthy (and becoming more so with every release) metagame, it would make more sense to address these issues in a second edition of the game. It’s an interesting discussion, with solid points on either side, so I may have to write about it in a metagame article. Thanks for your feedback.

      • burek says:

        I want to focus on something you pointed out: the really difficult quests. I’m just going to use Steward of Gondor as an example, though it applies to other cards as well.
        Given the difficulty ot some scenarios, it can definitely be true that the only way to beat them is with extremely powerful cards such as Steward. But is that a healthy solution? It not only means that you have to include the most broken cards, but also that you have to draw them, preferably right away. With my limited card pool, I’ve noticed consistently that the only way I can beat my hardest quests with my Leadership deck is by having Steward in my oppening hand. WIth no drawback and almost doubling my resource output, quests often go from unbeatable to boring, and from carefully managing time/resources/cards/actions to just jamming stuff in there and not really playing the finer points of the game any more.
        So why is this bad? We want people to be able to beat the difficult quests, right? The problem is that in order to keep things interesting, FFG need to keep releasing quests of rising difficulty. Unlike competitive play, where players will eventually find counters to the powerful stuff and create a proper metagame, the designers have to preemptively hike up the difficulty of quests and include artificial counters to the prevailing strategies that players employ. This means that cards with “regular” power level get left behind even more than usual. So, once again, FFG is forced into pushing power into their player cards to make them appealing. It is a cycle that is almost impossible to break while a card such as Steward can readily be played in any deck as a 3-off.

        Players handicapping themselves by not playing the power cards, or playing linear strategies that seek to do even more broken things than just jamming Steward into everything are reasonable options, but I honestly believe that the game would be healthier with a systematic approach to fixing this issue. Anyway, I’d love to talk more about this, as it is a very complex topic.

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