Deck: For the Shire!

“Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!”
Then Merry heard in all sounds of the hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel.
“But no living man am I! You are looking upon a woman. Eowyn am I, Eomund’s daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him.”
The winged creature screamed at her, but then the Ringwraith was silent, as if in sudden doubt. Very amazement for a moment conquered Merry’s fear. He opened his eyes and the blackness was lifted from them. There some paces from him sat the great beast, and all seemed dark about it, and above it loomed the Nazgul Lord like a shadow of despair. A little to the left facing them stood whom he had called Dernhelm. But the helm of her secrecy had fallen from her, and and her bright hair, released from its bonds, gleamed with pale gold upon her shoulders. Her eyes grey as the sea were hard and fell, and yet tears gleamed in them. A sword was in her hand, and she raised her shield against the horror of her enemy’s eyes.”
― The Return of the King

Spirit Merry - croppedOne of the exciting things about LCGs is the way that new archetypes can emerge suddenly. The Black Riders formed the basis for some very solid Hobbit decks, and subsequent cards like Mablung and Westfold Outrider have added some excellent options for these strategies. With the Dúnedain-related engagement effects in the Lost Realm, Hobbits should be at the center of many strong decks in the foreseeable future.

However, the one archetype that I always wanted to do with Hobbits – Secrecy – never quite worked as smoothly as I would have preferred. With Leaf Brooch and the powerful psuedo-Secrecy events (Swift and Silent, Courage Awakened and Noiseless Movement), the tools were there, but it was difficult to use these cards consistently. Once your threat climbed above 20, Hobbit Secrecy decks tended to struggle. Without a consistent form of threat reduction, these decks only had a few rounds of Secrecy – particularly against scenarios with doomed or other threat-raising encounter effects.

Galadriel-SmallGaladriel offers one solution, but her 9 starting threat and lack of Hobbit synergy made the lady of Lórien an awkward fit. Another option is to pair powerful threat reduction events like The Galadhrim’s Greeting and Elrond’s Counsel with Hobbit Pipe, but these events are either expensive or require a unique Noldor ally so again are problematic. Good Meal can help the former problem and Arwen Undomiel or Spirit Glorfindel can make Elrond’s Counsel playable, but in either case the deck becomes less consistent.

As others have expressed recently, there is a bit of fatigue when it comes to including Spirit Glorfindel in decks. At 5 starting threat, he is such a natural fit in Secrecy decks, with access to Light of Valinor and Asfaloth makes him a true power in Middle-earth. No matter how solid a strategy is, if it is used too often it can becomes stale and repetitive. It is essential for an effective Secrecy deck to start at 20 or less threat, so that you can play Secrecy cards in your opening hand, so no matter how great the feeling of fatigue around Spirit Glorfindel grew, it was difficult to avoid including him in a Hobbit Secrecy deck.

fatty-bolger-tbr-smallThe three Spirit Hobbit heroes up to this point all have abilities which raise your threat – not the best synergy for maintaining Secrecy. The recently-spoiled Merry is the perfect solution to what Hobbit Secrecy needs. The Spirit sphere gives us access to important cancellation effects and quest boosting that we will need for our “hide and seek” strategy to be effective, his starting threat of 6 allows us to build a deck with 3 Hobbit heroes that starts at 20 threat.

Even more importantly, the consistent threat reduction will allow us to stay in Secrecy longer, without having to rely on conditional and less unpredictable events. Merry’s ability is particularly strong in the current meta-game as the printed threat on enemies has steadily climbed in the last few expansions. Many enemies in the Core Set and Shadows of Mirkwood Cycle had 1 or 2 printed threat, but it has become rather common in recent sets to see even generic, non-unique enemies with 3 or 4 printed threat.

While this trend represents a serious challenge for questing successfully, it makes Merry’s ability that much more useful. In multi-player especially, it should be possible to use Merry’s ability to lower your threat by at least 2, every single round. This may not have the versatility of Galadriel’s ability, or the card draw, but there sheer power Merry will open up the potential for Hobbit decks to stay in Secrecy for entire games. This is where the Hobbit Secrecy archetype transforms from an interesting idea, into a truly effective strategy.

Light of ValinorOne school of thought on deck-building holds that you should identity the best cards for your strategy and include 3 copies of each such card. This makes sense, especially in decks designed around powerful unique cards. Glorfindel with Light of Valinor, Elrond with Vilya, Galadriel with Nenya and Gandalf with his staff are all examples where it is vital to have that critical unique card in the opening hand.

This deck takes a different approach, for two reasons. First of all, other than two key Secrecy cards (Resourceful and Timely Aid) there is no single card which this deck relies on in order to function. With Merry in the party, threat reduction is handled by a hero rather than relying on drawing one of these effects. The idea of an ally-army deck like this one is to get as many characters into play as quickly as possible. Who we get in play is a secondary concern to how many we get in play, and when.

With a bit of luck, Timely Aid can bring a large ally into play on the first or second turn. Along with playing a cheap ally like Bill, Ithilien Lookout or Celduin Traveler, we can then use A Very Good Tale to get even more allies into play. Once we have four or five allies in play, the heroes are for the most part saved the trouble of dealing with enemies. This is good, because with Hobbits that feature 2 or 3 hit points, we don’t want to be facing many attacks against our heroes.

Hobbit-Cloak-smallStill, Sam Gamgee is no slouch with the right gear. Thanks to Hobbit Cloak, Dúnedain Warning and the super-versatile Protector of Lórien, everyone’s favorite gardener can become a formidable defender. This still leaves attacking, something which Hobbits are not well known for. The only Hobbit hero with consistent attacking prowess is Tactics Merry, who for obvious reasons is not an option in this deck.

Steward of GondorThe other reason why this deck features so many 1x copies of cards is because it makes it more interesting to play. There are only so many decks that I can play with 3x Steward of Gondor, 3x A Test of Will, 3x Gandalf and 3x Light of Valinor before the game can start to feel stale. Such decks are undeniably powerful, but after a while they can detract from the magic of this game, and reduce what should be tense and exciting quests into an exercise in power-gaming.

To be sure, I still play decks like that against more challenging scenarios, particularly Nightmare quests. Still, I find that decks like this one are much more fun to play. Make no mistake, this “everything and the kitchen sink” strategy is not just for fun, however. With so many different options, this deck has an order of magnitude more versatility than decks which feature 3x copies of a handful of power-cards. Thanks to powerful search effects like Word of Command and Gather Information, having only one copy of a card does not guarantee that you will never see it, either.

This deck is not without it’s weaknesses as low-engagement enemies can cause a particular problem, especially if they show up before our allies have been mustered to help out. The sideboard can help to some extent, but ultimately this deck will not work well against some scenarios. Any scenario with a lot of ally-hate is going to pose a real danger, as we rely so heavily on allies to help carry the load. Archery is another challenge, as we have very little hit points to spare on our heroes, so getting allies (and side-boarding extra healing) becomes essential.

Northern TrackerIn losing access to Spirit Glorfindel, this archetype also loses the single best location control card in the game: Asfaloth. The hope is that we can outrun the locations by questing heavily and traveling is much as possible, but that strategy is not always possible with punitive travel effects. Thror’s Map is included in the sideboard to help avoid travel costs, and Northern Tracker can serve as an able substitute for Glorfindel’s amazing steed, providing you can muster your Dúnedain friend early enough.

Like any Secrecy deck, the strategy involved is quite different from more traditional decks. With the promise of consistent Secrecy effects through Merry’s ability, this deck can shine in the right situations, and it presents a strategy which was not entirely viable up until now. I encourage players to try this deck out, and leave feedback in the comments below. Also, feel free to change the Sideboard to help handle whatever particular challenges a scenario might throw at you. Good luck, and may you defend the Shire from those who would threaten it!

Sam GamgeePippin (TBR)Spirit Merry - cropped

Sam Gamgee (TBR)
Merry (TWoE)
Pippin (TBR)

Allies: 24
Errand-rider (HoN) x2
Henamarth Riversong (Core) x1
Bill the Pony (TBR) x1
Rivendell Scout x1
Arwen Undomiel (TWitW) x1
Bilbo Baggins (TRD) x1
Barliman Butterbur (TBR) x1
Galadhrim Minstrel x1
Gleowine (Core) x1
Wandering Ent x1
Warden of Healing (TLD) x1
Celduin Traveler x1
Elrond (TRD) x1
Ithilien Lookout x1
Faramir (Core) x1
Gimli (ToS) x1
Boromir (TRD) x1
Legolas (ToS) x1
Gildor Inglorion x1
Gandalf (Core) x1
Gandalf (TH:OHaUH) x2
Treebeard (TAC) x1

Attachments: 12
Dúnedain Warning x1
Hobbit Cloak (TBR) x1
Ancient Mathom (AJtR) x1
Miruvor (SaF) x1
Elf-stone (TBR) x1
Fast Hitch x1
Protector of Lórien (Core) x1
Leaf Brooch x1
Forest Snare (Core) x1
Resourceful x3

Events: 13
A Very Good Tale (TH:OHaUH) x2
Daeron’s Runes (FoS) x1
Sneak Attack (Core) x1
Swift and Silent x1
A Test of Will (Core) x2
Courage Awakened x1
Noiseless Movement x1
Word of Command x1
Timely Aid x3

Side Quests: 1
Gather Information (TLR) x1

Sideboard: 15
Warden of Healing (TLD) x2
Northern Tracker (Core) x2
Anborn x1
Thror’s Map x1
Ranger Spikes (HoN) x2
Forest Snare (Core) x1
Power of Orthanc (VoI) x2
Hobbit-sense x2
A Elebereth Gilthoniel! x2

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12 Responses to Deck: For the Shire!

  1. This looks like a lot of fun! Until now, I have eschewed Secrecy decks with a strategy of ally mustering, because it seemed antithetical to the entire theme of Secrecy. What is secret about a huge company blundering around in Mirkwood or Minas Tirith?

    About halfway through this article though, I reconceived the Secrecy concept to mean that it is only the heroes who are moving in secret and that, in fact, the huge ally mustering is what enables them to remain secret. In the same way Aragorn marched on the Black Gate as a diversion to preserve the secrecy of Frodo and Sam’s quest to Mount Doom, this deck allows the hobbit heroes to accomplish the task by getting all hands on deck to keep them away from the spotlight.

    With this mental hurdle out of my stubbornly thematic mind, I’m now incredibly excited about the Merry hero and trying out a new Secrecy build. Thanks for the awesome deck!

    • Beorn says:

      Yes, I understand why others find ally mustering to be a thematic mismatch with Secrecy. However, with such unassuming heroes, you need powerful allies from a strategic standpoint, or you have no hope of survival. I like your explanation for what this means, it also adds a deeper meaning to the cost of taking undefended attacks. Allies are not literally standing in front of your heroes, but rather their efforts are drawing the enemy’s attention away from your vulnerable heroes.

  2. When I started reading this article, I hadn’t been on the forums in the past few days, so I didn’t know where this Merry card had come from. At first I thought you made it up… then after realizing it was a photo of a printed card, I expected to see this as an exclusive spoiler that you got from FFG. After getting all the way through it, I realized the card had to have been spoiled on the forums, so I went and checked and there it was! Sooooo confused for so long.

  3. TheBeardedGoat says:

    Usually I’m happy waiting for a hero to come out, but this is the first time I am going to proxy so I can test out a similar secrecy deck. I agree with the points you’ve made, secrecy has always interested me but has just been a little too inconsistent (and reliant on a certain elf). Thanks for the article!

  4. shipwreck says:

    Making this with proxies!

  5. divad1126 says:

    Gandalf (OHaUH) has been a lot of fun. I recently started playing exactly 2 and 1 Core Gandlaf. I was surprised and pleased to confirm I had a good idea when I saw this deck built by the big bear himself.

    The OHaUH version is fantastic for boosting will power in the final two or three rounds. Heck even earlier if you start with low threat and a few G Greetings.

    • Beorn says:

      Absolutely. If I do end up with Core Gandalf in my opening or early hand, I will often use him to lower my threat. This gives me a few more rounds of Secrecy and allows me to keep OHaUH Gandalf out for a few more rounds. Having that versatility is nice.

  6. Maeglas says:

    I’ve just finished listening to the latest Grey Co. podcast (Ep. 24.5). Was it this deck, or a derivative thereof, that you talked about using to defeat Deadmen’s Dike solo? Thanks for the great article (and blog of course) btw.

  7. I must admit I have not tested the deck yet, but I wonder if putting Legolas in it is a good choice. It’s wonderful cheating him into play with ‘timely aid’ or ‘a very good tale’ (or one turn with ‘sneak attack’, but if you draw him in a standard way, then he gets stuck in your hand, or do I miss something?

    • Beorn says:

      You can also use Elf-stone to get Legolas from your hand into play, but your point it well taken. If this is a real concern, you could increase the number of copies of Elf-stone in the deck to 2 or 3.

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