Observant readers may have noticed that my recent deck lists have included a “sideboard”. For those unfamiliar with this term – prevalent in competitive card games – allow me to explain. A sideboard is a list of cards that are not part of the main deck, but which can be added to the deck to handle specific situations. The sideboards that I have been posting are intended to supplement the main deck and ameliorate weaknesses in a given strategy or archetype.
The classic example in competitive games is the sideboard to handle a the “bad matchup”. In any meta-game, a deck will have some decks that it performs well against, and some that it struggles to deal with. Although it is cooperative, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is not different. Player decks are competing against the encounter deck, and each encounter deck is unique. Some player deck archetypes will do well against aggressive scenarios like Into Ithilien, that require heroes who hit hard from the first round. Other decks, particularly of the control and “turtling” variety, are better suited for slower scenarios that afford time to build up answers to the encounter decks various threats. As much as some players might seek the holy grail of deck-building, there is no “one deck to rule them all”.
Using the new encounter card category filter on Hall of Beorn Card Search, we can see a list of encounter cards which become Condition attachments. These attachments give the encounter deck another means for hindering player decks for multiple rounds, beyond enemies and locations. Depending on the effect and which player card it is targeting, these cards can cripple your deck’s strategy. Including cards that allow you to mitigate the effects of these Condition attachments is an important part of deck design. Scenarios are increasingly unrelenting in their attacks on your cards, and the effects of these Condition cards can in some cases be game-ending.
This is where the concept of sideboarding comes into focus. In addition to the recently spoiled Athelas, there are a handful of player cards which can remove Condition attachments. While those cards are the most direct means for dealing with Condition attachments, they are the exclusive domain of the Spirit and Lore spheres. Decks which do not feature these spheres will need to come up with other solutions to Condition attachments.
With the exception of Elrond and now Athelas, Condition control player cards are largely useless against quests that do not feature Condition attachments. For this reason, Condition control is a great example of the kind of strategy that belongs in a deck’s sideboard. When you know you will be facing a quest that features nasty Condition effects, you swap in your Condition control cards. In quests that do not feature Condition attachments, you can free up space in your deck for other cards that will better address the challenges of that particular quest. With challenging scenarios, it is of particular importance that each card in your deck provides maximal benefit to achieving victory – dead cards are not an option.
This highlights the versatility of cards like Elrond and Athelas. Because these cards have other useful effects, they allow you to build a deck that is less dependent on a sideboard. Even so, there is no reason why you can’t mix the more versatile cards with the focused ones. In particular, Power of Orthanc can be great in three and four player games. With more encounter cards being revealed each round, the odds are good that multiple Conditions will be attached over the course of the game, in quests that feature such cards. Being able to play one card (and some threat) to remove multiple Condition attachments makes this card an excellent choice for your sideboard.
As mentioned above, not every deck will have access to Spirit or Lore for these Condition control cards. Even if a deck includes one of these spheres, it may not fit the overall strategy to include these cards. The doomed effect of Power of Orthanc, for example, does not work well with Secrecy decks that are trying to keep their threat low at any cost. This is where decks can use other strategies to mitigate an encounter deck’s effects.
In the case of Condition attachments, the other obvious solution is to use “when revealed” cancellation to prevent the cards from being attached in the first place. Because some of these Conditions only target based on certain criteria (e.g. having a hero committed to the quest), another potential solution is to use scrying to scout the encounter deck and avoid having any valid targets for the card once it is revealed.
As a bear, and shameless troll-killer, I would be remiss if I did not mention one more solution to these nasty Condition attachments, and it does not require any sideboarding. Because the Beorn hero card cannot have attachments, he is completely immune to any sort of Condition attachments. It is important to understand however, that since he cannot be chosen to receive encounter card attachments, you must choose another valid target instead. This means that cards like Local Trouble, which targets your highest threat hero, must instead be attached to your next highest threat hero. Even so, it is nice to know that your trusty bear hero is not going to succumb to any of these silly conditions.
Whether you choose to include a sideboard to handle these kinds of effects, or use some other strategy to mitigate them, it is important to have some solution. There is nothing worse that having your strongest hero, loaded with gear and ready to go to battle for your, brought low by an ill-timed Condition attachment. Sideboard cards might not be the most exciting or celebrated player cards, but they can nonetheless be of vital importance for your deck’s survival.