The Grudge

white tower of Gondor

Power is fickle. Men think to themselves, and indeed proclaim to others, that they “possess” it. As though power is some physical thing, with heft and dimension, a good which can be ferried to and fro. At best, this belief is a dangerous abstraction, at worst it is mortal folly.

In reality, power is more like the ocean. It ebbs and flows, but to think that one can command the waves is the worst kind of arrogance. It takes years, and not a little blood and sweat to build a kingdom. Generations spent amassing the kind of power that men might call “great”. Yet all can be lost in the blink of an eye. The power so carefully garnered, slowly crumbling away in the span of one man’s life.

PalantirSo it was with Denethor II, son of Ecthelion II, and steward of Gondor at the time of the War of the Ring. A proud man, from a long line of proud men, tasked with governing a once great empire as it fall into decrepitude. One can imagine the ambivalence of such a man. To watch everything that your ancestor’s have built crumble to a memory. The blood of Númenor was not yet spent from his people, all wisdom had not yet been lost. Yet what wisdom he had at hand – literally, in the case of the Palantir – only cast a shadow on the future of Gondor.

War was on his very doorstep. From the South and East, enemies bayed and snapped like packs of hyenas, eager at the scent of wounded prey. Still the Easterlings and Haradrim were no more than henchmen. The real threat came from Mordor. Gondor’s mortal enemy had returned in force, and its menace was a existential threat to a kingdom which had stood since the Second Age.

The idea that the any of the blood of kings still existed in Middle-earth must have seemed to Denethor like a dangerous fantasy. The kind of story that boys daydream about in their moments of idle play. The lord of a dying land would have no time for such optimistic fictions. He held on to what power his office still possessed with the grim determination of a man who has foreseen his own death.

ruins of osgiliath

With a game as narratively rich as LotR LCG, there is a wondrous potential for writing alternate histories. The “what if?” question is fascinating part of any game as deeply rooted in its source text as this one. The Denethor of the Lord of the Rings was a bitter man. Years of watching the decline of his people had poisoned his optimism, even turned him against his second-born son. To push matters from bad to worse, his reliance on the seeing-stone of Anárion allowed his enemy to fill his mind with hopelessness and doubt.

Whether we are joining in the new adventures of Deluxe expansions and cycles or following in the footsteps of the Fellowship in Saga expansions, players are constantly writing their own story. Like all stories, the most interesting parts are filled with contrast – the surprises that no one sees coming. This deck represents one such surprise. What if Denethor were not overcome with bitterness, was not ruled by his grudge for a king who had been missing for generations?

Rod-of-the-StewardThe story might seem familiar, but the outcome is decidedly different. Rather than begrudge the wisdom of Gandalf, and the lineage of Aragorn, Denethor accepts his king as the last in the true line of Westernesse. Rather than live in exile as a ranger in the wilds of Arnor, Aragorn is given a kingly welcome to the Citadel. If Denethor had given all of the support of his office to the rightful king, the War of the Ring would have run a different course.

Aragorn and Arwen live as king and queen in the citadel, with Denethor and his sons Boromir and Faramir at their side. All give their support, their unconditional allegiance to the last king of the Third Age. In Aragorn, the power of Men is restored in Middle-earth.

From a strategic standpoint, this deck is a straight forward affair. All attachments by right belong to Aragorn. Most critically, Steward of Gondor and Sword that was Broken form the heart of our strategy. Once Aragorn has the Gondor trait, Denethor can transfer resources to his king. Likewise, Arwen’s ability allows us to transform duplicate cards into resources for her husband.

While this deck runs light on allies, Aragorn’s extra resources will not be going to waste. Gondorian Fire and Blood of Númenor are very powerful when used on a hero with such a surplus. What allies we do have serve to support the deck’s main strategy of revealing Aragorn as the king returned. Arwen’s grandmother Galadriel helps to fetch critical attachments and grant them to Aragorn at no cost. She also helps bolster the deck’s questing efforts.

FaramirBoromir (RD)Boromir and Faramir, brothers united by their father’s love rather than divided by his bias, serve their king well. Boromir brings excellent combat stats and an ability that can be useful against certain forms of direct damage. Faramir supplements our already impressive questing power, and can serve as a defender in a pinch. Galadriel’s Handmaiden and Honour Guard are quintessential support allies, with minor abilities that help us survive while Aragorn is rebuilding his kingdom.

It is only fitting that Mithrandir’s role is different in this brighter alternate universe. Rather than ostracized as a bringer of bad news, Gandalf is heeded for his wisdom and welcomed for his power. The versatility of the wizard can overcome whatever early game challenges might assail us. Sneak Attack works with Gandalf to form one of the earliest and most effective combinations. Once we have readying and Blood and Fire attached to Aragorn, we will be less reliant on tricks like this, but it is always nice to have an Istari in the case of an emergency.

Allowing us to write our own narratives in such richly populated worlds is a unique strength of LCGs. Tolkien’s world is one of richest in literature – it features characters that we know like our own family. When playing an LCG don’t hesitate to surprise yourself, to craft a new narrative. This kind of creativity affords tragic characters like Denethor the opportunity for an honorable redemption which seems fitting to Tolkien’s themes.

Denethor (FotS)Aragorn-TLRArwen-Undómiel

Hero (3)
Aragorn (The Lost Realm)
Arwen Undómiel (The Dread Realm)
Denethor (Flight of the Stormcaller)

Ally (17)
2x Boromir (The Road Darkens)
3x Errand-rider (Heirs of Númenor)
2x Faramir (Core Set)
3x Galadriel (The Road Darkens)
2x Galadriel’s Handmaiden (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
2x Honour Guard (The Wastes of Eriador)

Attachment (21)
3x Blood of Númenor (Heirs of Númenor)
2x Celebrían’s Stone (Core Set)
3x Gondorian Fire (Assault on Osgiliath)
2x Gondorian Shield (The Steward’s Fear)
2x Miruvor (Shadow and Flame)
1x Rod of the Steward (Flight of the Stormcaller)
3x Steward of Gondor (Core Set)
2x Sword that was Broken (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)

Event (12)
3x A Test of Will (Core Set)
3x Elrond’s Counsel (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Elven-light (The Dread Realm)
3x Sneak Attack (Core Set)

3 Heroes, 50 Cards
Cards up to Flight of the Stormcaller

Decklist built and published on RingsDB

This entry was posted in Deck Building, Deck Lists, History, Theme, Tolkien and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Grudge

  1. xophnog says:

    I love the narrative you’ve crafted around the deck and it looks powerful enough to function without easy mode.

  2. anonim says:

    The concept has got one sad downside: the hobbits would probably never left Bree-land alive without Strider. The Nazgul would catch them and take the One Ring, but like you said: “If Denethor had given all of the support of his office to the rightful king, the War of the Ring would have run a different course.”

    • Beorn says:

      Quite true. It is possible, however, that Sauron would have been distracted by the presence of a king in Gondor. This might have held his focus South and given the Hobbits time to escape to Rivendell. There’s no way to know for sure, but it is fun to play “what if?”.

  3. David W. Griffin says:

    Every time I see a “what if” Middle Earth video on YouTube, the author invariably seems to start with the assumption that any variation in the actual story will result in disaster, or at least a worse outcome than we saw. This is similar to what we see in Time Travel movies. Rarely does “meddling with time” result in a better outcome. I’m a bit more optimistic. The denizens of Middle Earth didn’t always make good decisions, and it seems a little counterintuitive to think that making better ones would lead to worse outcomes. I like this idea.

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