Alternate Art: Bear Jamboree

I’ve been tinkering with various means for unlocking the fierce potential of Grimbeorn the Old, and this decks represents my current thinking. There are undoubtedly decks which focus more directly on Grimbeorn, but I also wanted to create something thematic. There aren’t enough Beornings in the card pool – at least not enough effective Beornings, so this deck is supplemented with Dúnedain, Hobbits, and a smattering of other factions.

This is one of a handful of decks which I will bring to Con of the Rings 2019. As such, it is not designed as a solo deck, but rather is intended to fulfill combat roles, with very limiting questing ability, and some card draw (thanks to Gildor Inglorion). That a deck featuring both Beorning heroes is primarily intended for combat is not in any way shocking, but what may be surprising is just how powerful this deck can be when it’s had a chance to setup properly. With Orcrist and The Day’s Rising attached to Grimbeorn, along with an Armored Destrier, he actually gains money by using his ability to kill an enemy, with the second attack being resource neutral (The Day’s Rising, sadly, is not repeatable).

In any case, once Grimbeorn has some gear loaded up, this deck will cut through most enemies like a hot knife through butter. Papa bear helps buy you a few rounds of setup, as Beorn can handle all but the strongest enemies without twitching a whisker. Gildor provides questing, and the all important card draw to help find all of our critical attachments. The decks skews more toward Leadership cards than would normally be advisable in a deck with only a single Leadership hero, but Grimbeorn’s resource is not really available to pay for cards, so in that regard the ratio is more reasonable.

The ideal first hand will include a copy of Tighten Our Belts, and any such hand should make one strongly consider passing on the first planning phase. You can still safely play Dúnedain Hunter as this costs no resources, but the rest of the cards can wait until the second round. Having 3 resources on each hero to start the second round is a huge early game boost, and Beorn makes this strategy less risky than it might otherwise seem. Critical early plays for Grimbeorn are Armored Destrier and Dúnedain Warning, to help him survive enemy attacks.

With Gandalf in hand, or possibly a Giant Bear, you will be ready to defeat whatever enemy might happen to guard Orcrist. On the off chance that a location is guarding the sword instead, a Sneak Attacking Meneldor can handle that. Whatever it takes, the goal is have Grimbeorn wielding Foe-hammer as quickly as possible. Of special note: the response on Orcrist does not require you to exhaust it, so with readying effects like Armored Destrier you can gain multiple resources to help pay for Grimbeorn’s ability.

The full deck list can be found on RingsDB. Anyone interested in printing these alternate art cards for themselves should contact the hall. I look forward to meeting many fine members of the community at the Con of the Rings. In the mean time, happy adventures in Middle-earth!




Posted in Aggro, Alternate-Art, Art, Beornings, Community, Deck Lists, Fun, Metagame, Multiplayer, The Hobbit, Theme, Tribal Deck | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alternate Art: The Three Hunters Aggro v2

Sands of Harad was not exactly my favorite deluxe expansion, when it was first released. The versions of Gimli and Legolas had obvious synergy, but their effects seemed a bit underwhelming. Spirit Legolas, in particular, was in an uphill battle to be more compelling than his Core Set Tactics version. At the risk of being a tad reductive, deluxe expansions fall into two main categories: iconoclastic, and insinuating.

Heirs of Númenor and Voice of Isengard are examples of iconoclastic expansions. The introduced the first exemplary defender in the game. Moreover, the quests completely shattered the way player decks interacted with the game. The turtle strategy, so effective in the first two cycles, essentially went into hibernation with the release of Heirs. Ranger Spikes ushered Traps decks into being, and represented a radical departure from traditional combat strategies. Blood of Númenor, along with the subsequent Gondorian Fire, remain such powerful combat solutions that they seem bound for some inevitable errata.

Likewise, Voice of Isengard’s affect on the metagame was felt almost immediately. The Doom keyword, particularly the events Deep Knowledge and Legacy of Númenor, brought about a seismic shift in early-game development strategies. Rohan Warhorse immediately joined the ranks of combat staples and remains one the best sources of action advantage for Tactics decks. In retrospect, the Warhorse was the crest of a wave of Mount attachments, which later even became it’s own archetype. While less impressive, the Westfold Horse-breeder is a staple support piece in Mount-heavy decks.

In contrast to these impactful releases, expansions like Sands of Harad have a less immediate and more subtle influence on the metagame. I’ve always been a fan of cantrips, so the value of Unlikely Friendship was immediately apparent. Still, the card lacks raw power, and its presence in a deluxe expansion leaves a question hanging in the air: are these multi-trait effects going to be worth it?. With the release of power-houses like Proud Hunters, Coney in a Trap, and Heirs of Eärendil, the question would ultimately be answered with an emphatic yes. Still, the two somewhat bland heroes, along with a clever but as yet unproven trait-based strategy, made for a less than stellar debut, at least in my estimation.

Fortunately, the quests in the Sand of Harad and the Haradrim APs were and remain some of the best in the game. So, if the player cards were in some cases less exciting it did little to detract from overall impression of many (myself included) for that deluxe expansion and cycle. A game with this level of complexity will inevitably have cards and archetypes which are not immediately power, or even where there are hints of power but it is not yet fully realized. I think back to Ian and myself, opening our packs of Blood of Gondor back at Gen Con 2013. Neither of us recognized the power of Caldara, and we were left puzzled to say the least. It wasn’t until later cards unlocked her potential that it became clear just how robust her archetype truly was.

One of my favorite things about Caleb’s design style is that he is constantly searching for ways to re-contextualize existing cards within the metagame. A perfect example of this are two attachments from the Sands of Harad which both serve critical roles in the deck featured here. Neither Mirkwood Long-knife nor Dwarven Shield seemed very impressive on arrival. While they were each obviously designed for Legolas and Gimli respectively, they seemed a bit over-priced at 2 resources, and a bit underwhelming when compared to existing options.

Glóin decks were already well established by this point, making the shield seem like a trifling after-thought compared to the original Core Set resource powerhouse. Only available to Silvan, the Long-knife had a narrow niche of heroes on which it even made sense as an attachment. At 2 cost in a sphere lacking much resource acceleration, it was going to be hard-pressed to compare favorably to attachments like Rivendell Blade. Still, these items had positive aspects as well, particularly that they belonged to spheres which did not have many armor or weapon options available.

It wasn’t until the latest spoilers for The City of Ulfast that the potential of these two attachments was readily apparent. Forth, The Three Hunters! is a contract that is near and dear to my heart. The heroic efforts of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli to rescue Merry and Pippin is one of my favorite parts of The Two Towers. Because of the requirements for action advantage and raw stats, it has largely been impractical to run decks without allies. This is a challenge for thematic deck-builders, as representing passages like The Three Hunters becomes all but impossible. Something feels a bit off about trying to represent the Three Hunters’ valiant chase of the Uruks across Rohan, when your heroes are accompanied by a veritable army of supporting cast.

Finally, it is possible – even encouraged – to build a deck without any allies. This contract is exciting, and I cannot wait to see what possibilities the community uncover – the ground of ally-free decks is fertile and largely uncharted. In the mean time, I took this as an opportunity to resurrect my old Three Hunters Aggro deck. I removed what few allies that deck included, and added a laser focus on getting restricted attachments on each of the heroes as quickly as possible. The cost reduction built into the A-side of the contract is critical here.

While Mirkwood Long-knife and Dwarven Shield both feel a bit underwhelming at 2 cost, the immediately become compelling when you can play them for half cost. The decision making around which attachments to play on which heroes and when is the central question which makes this deck so much fun to play. Like is predecessor, the reliance on Doomed events to ramp our setup makes it a poor fit for multiplayer games. Again, this fits with the theme of the Three Hunters, who could rely on little to no external aid in their efforts to find and rescue their friends.

The full deck list is available on RingsDB, along with a brief discussion of strategy. Like all aggro-style decks, the strategy at play here is risky and exhilarating. With bad luck, it is possible to get stuck without critical attachments on one of our heroes, and without the willpower and healing provided by the B-side of our contract, this deck can easily falter. However, the absurd levels of card draw, and fetch via effects like Open the Armory, are included precisely to mitigate against these sorts of circumstances.

Enjoy the alternate art I’ve chosen for this deck, and the ridiculously aggressive play-style that it demands. I will be attending Con of the Rings in Minnesota in a few short weeks, so and I look forward to seeing some of you fine people while I’m there. In the mean time, have many wondrous adventures in Middle-earth!




Posted in Aggro, Alternate-Art, Art, Community, Complexity, Discussion, GenCon, GenCon 2013, Metagame, Solo, Strategy, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Alternate Art: Errata

The fate of any living game is that it will accumulate some cruft over the years. This game is no exception, with FFG releasing numerous FAQs to clarify rules and changes to fix broken cards. Some players voice frustration at the need for errata, and while I can understand this to some extent, it is important to remember that a game with an ever-growing card pool is essentially impossible to grow perfectly.

This set of alternate art includes 29 cards, many with only minor changes (per-phase and per-round limits, mostly). Looked at another way, having only 29 cards with errata – out of the pool of thousands of cards released – is an impressive accomplishment. Unfortunately, FFG does not have an existing solution for releasing errata cards to players. The only way to get the amended versions of these cards is to buy a new version of the associated product, with the new printing. For a game with so many products, each on their own printing schedule, it is simply not possible to have all of the most current printings.

With that in mind, I’ve created a set of alternate art cards for all of the cards (as of September 8th, 2019) with official errata. If you want to print them yourselves, I invite you to download them here (these are printable versions, which include bleed margins). Unfortunately, I cannot have them printed and then offer to sell them directly as this would be in violation of FFG’s community policies. That said, if you appreciate the work I do writing on this blog, creating alternate art decks, and maintaining the Hall of Beorn Card Search, I gratefully accept donations to help me cover the upkeep of these sites.

The cards are all included below, and it is an interesting overview of the game to see which cards were broken by players over the years. For the heroes, I preferred full-bleed versions of the existing art, since those are not available officially. All of the other cards have completely different art, to differentiate them from the official printings, and also to spice them up a bit. I tried to find the highest quality and most thematic art piece for each card, but if anyone has suggestions for alternatives please leave them in the comments below. Enjoy!









Posted in Alternate-Art, Card Lists, Community, Errata, Metagame | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

My favorites from The Wilds of Rhovanion and Ered Mithrin Cycle

Shadows in the East is finally available to many, so it’s a good time to look back on the Wilds of Rhovanion deluxe box and the accompanying Ered Mithrin Cycle. My deckbuilding approach over the years has increasingly focused on interesting card interactions in preference over raw power. That’s not to say that I don’t build decks around powerful cards, but all else being equal, I prefer the card effects which allow for surprising or novel outcomes. With that in mind, here is a list of my favorite cards from the preceding deluxe expansion and cycle.

Favorite Hero: Grimbeorn the Old

This choice should come as no surprise to readers of the blog. Upon first reading The Hobbit, I’ve been fascinated by Beorn and his people, the Beornings. Early in the first cycle, Grimbeorn the Old was presented in the form of an objective ally, but Beornings faded back into the mists of obscurity until the Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill saga expansion.

Beorn represented a wonderful departure from typical hero design, with bear-sized stats and correspondingly large drawbacks. As the son, it feels appropriate that Grimbeorn’s design would be a bit less out of the norm, while still retaining some of the ferocity of his father. Many heroes have prowess at one aspect of the game (questing, attack, defense, and support), but it is rare for a hero to excel in multiple roles.

With a pony-load of attachments, any hero can be made proficient in multiple roles, but the more setup a hero requires, to slower decks built around that hero become. My favorite thing about Grimbeorn is that it only takes a single attachment to turn him into an excellent combat participant. Because his ability includes defense and an immediate counter-attack, attachments which boost both attack and defense are of greater value to the son of Beorn. Two of my favorites are Raiment of War and Captain of Gondor.

Amid the excitement over his response ability, it is easy to take Grimbeorn’s sentinel keyword for granted. As someone who predominately plays multiplayer games these days, his sentinel and base of 3 defense are both critical to Grimbeorn’s success in his designed role of cross-table defender. All of the strategy around choosing which enemy to defend – and hopefully dispatch – is what makes Grimbeorn so much fun to play. I especially enjoy using him against enemies which attach during the quest phase, or immediately after engaging, as killing these enemies on the counter-attack avoids subsequent attacks later in the round.

Featured Deck: Carrock and Eyrie
Honorable Mentions:
Dain Ironfoot (Spirit) and Radagast.

Favorite Unique Ally: Gaffer Gamgee

Among the bounty of gifts delivered by the Black Riders saga expansion, my personal favorite is that it made all-Hobbit decks into a viable archetype. The Dwarrowdelf cycle introduced the Secrecy keyword, but outside of the grossly overpowered Glorfindel, Asfaloth, Light of Valinor trifecta, these decks saw little play. The keyword always intrigued me but it’s initial form was odd, both from a narrative and mechanical standpoint. There are many words one could use to describe a resplendent lord of Eldar, astride his noble steed, striking fear into the Nazgûl. Secrecy, however, does not feel like an appropriate description.

On the other hand, three young Hobbits sneaking out of the Shire and quietly avoiding the Black Riders does a much better job of capturing the idea of secrecy. From the outset, Hobbit decks have excelled at questing, and thanks to Tactics Merry and Dagger of Westernesse, largely held their own when attacking. Defense, on the other hand, is chronic weakness in many Hobbit decks.

Sam with a Bill the Pony and a Hobbit Cloak is a decent option, for some enemies, but he is a risky choice as your dedicated defender in many scenarios. Alternatively, you can rely on using Resourceful and Timely Aid to get a defensive ally into play. This is all well and good, in theory, but a defensive strategy which relies on allies can be woefully inconsistent. Traditionally, the most common solution for Hobbit decks is to avoid engaging the enemy in the first place, but this approach comes with its own risks.

Ideally, the low starting threat and staging area control effects like Lore Pippin allow a Hobbit deck to leave larger and more troublesome enemies in the staging area. Unfortunately this is not always possible. Many quests punish players for leaving enemies in the staging area. Most Hobbit heroes have only two hit points, with the heartier among them sporting 3 hit points. This makes archery a particularly dangerous threat to Hobbit decks, doubly so when the enemies with archery have high attack values.

This is where Sam Gamgee’s father fills a perfect role in Hobbit Secrecy decks. There are times when your deck needs to engage a powerful enemy, get it out of the staging area, and hopefully defeat it. However, you don’t necessarily want to face the attack from one of these powerful enemies. Gaffer to the rescue! For the low cost of 2 resources, you can avoid the attack and come away from the encounter unscathed. With a resourceful attached to your Lore Hobbit hero you can even play the Gaffer again next round. Between Rosie Cotton and Gaffer Gamgee, it feels appropriate that the two most powerful recent additions to the archetype are both related to Samwise the Brave.

Featured Deck: Gaffer Ever After
Honorable Mention: Meneldor

Favorite Generic Ally: Wild Stallion

As an inveterate tinkerer, I’m consistently drawn to cards with versatility, especially when they enhance the best cards in your deck. Will Stallion is a perfect example of this kind of versatility. Aside from Arod and Shadowfax, the game hasn’t had Mount attachments for allies before. Even those two are limited in that they can only be attached to ally versions of Legolas and Gandalf, respectively. A mount which boosts all stats and can be attached to (most) any ally is a major coup for ally-heavy decks.

You don’t even have to outside of the Spirit sphere for prime choices to ride the Wild Stallion. Jubayr is already one of my favorite allies, but give him a Wild Stallion and some form of readying (Narya, for example) and he can swing the tide of battle all by himself. If you’re interested in being a bit more tricksy, pair Wild Stallion with ally Háma and Bard Son of Bran. The 3 defense and 3 hit points, Háma should be able to weather attacks from most enemies. Then, on the critical turn when a horde of orcs come rushing, trigger Háma’s ability and defend twice for 6. At the end of the phase, when Háma leaves play, you can return the Stallion to your hand thanks to Bard’s response.

Dedicated defenders are not the only good options as riders of the Stallion, otherwise it would not be very versatile. Any ally with readying, or some other form of action advantage, can be an excellent target for the Stallion. In the featured deck, I attach it to Hobbit Gandalf, who does not exhaust to quest. Because Gandalf also wields Narya and Shadowfax in that deck, he is takes maximal advantage of Wild Stallion’s stat boosts. He can quest for  for 5, then defend of attack for 6, your use Narya. With Shadowfax and the Ring, Gandalf can handle your enemies all by himself.

Another favorite target is Rider of Rohan. Once you have a side quest in the victory display, the Rider does not exhaust to quest. Their two willpower and two attack are excellent stats for 3 cost, but boosting both of those to three with the stallion makes them a force to reckoned with. After years of allies consistently staying in the background, it’s nice to see archetypes like Dale and card effects like Wild Stallion which give allies their day in the sun.

Featured Deck: A Weary Pilgrim
Honorable Mention:
Giant Bear

Favorite Attachment: Ancestral Armor

There are obviously more powerful attachments in this deluxe and cycle, with King of Dale at the forefront. The most compelling reason which I chose not to talk about King of Dale is that it is so powerful, it doesn’t leave much room for debate. The recipe goes something like this: play King of Dale, play Dale allies with some Dale heroes, play attachments, win.

While Ancestral Armor is less powerful than these high-profile unique attachments, it fills an important niche. Most decks need a dedicated defender. I say “most” because some decks can do manage to defend without a designated defender. Some use defense by committee, other employ chump blocking, while others use combat effects like Gaffer Gamgee, Feint and Feigned Voices. Any of these alternate strategies can work for some quests, but each has their own downsides.

Many unique “boss” enemies are immune to player card effects, making combat events and allies like Gaffer and Grimbold useless against these foes. Likewise, chump blocking is often punished – whether through passive effects on cards in play or via shadow effects. Lastly, defense by committee can be inconsistent, and an ill-times treachery which causes large enemies to engage, or attack from the staging area, can lead to a loss by attrition.

For these reasons, having a dedicated defender is often the most consistently effective strategy. One of the many improvements to the card pool that the Ered Mithrin cycle offered is the ability to use allies to fulfill roles which previously had been filled almost exclusively by heroes. To be clear, heroes are still an excellent choice for roles like dedicated defender, but they are no longer the only choice. Ancestral Armor can attach to heroes and allies, as long as they meet the trait or sphere requirements.

In the featured deck, Denethor is the primary choice for Ancestral Armor. Along with Armored Destrier, the armor enables the Steward of Gondor to defend most attacks with ease. However, that deck has solid backup choices for this attachment, especially in heavy combat quests where having multiple strong defenders is essential. For a mono-Leadership which includes Steward of Gondor, the 4 resources are an reasonable cost.

Knight of the White Tower, for example, is another choice to wear Ancestral Armor. With 3 defense and 3 hit points, he has solid base stats. After donning the armor, 5 defense and 5 hit points puts him into the category of elite defenders. These are just two examples of quality targets for this powerful attachment.

As armor goes, the natural comparison for Ancestral Armor is Citadel Plate. They are both 4 cost restricted attachments, and they both boost 4 stats in total. The differences between these attachments help to highlight why I am such a fan of Ancestral Armor. First of all, Citadel Plate can only be attached to heroes, eliminating a host of powerful allies as options. The other critical difference is the sphere to which they belong. With the plethora of resource acceleration tools afforded to Leadership, paying 4 resources for a powerful suit of armor is not a problem. On the other hand, Citadel Plate belongs to the sphere with the least resource acceleration available, making it much more difficult to play without resorting to trickery. Speaking of using trickery to get expensive attachments into play, see the next entry in my favorites.

Featured Deck: Seven Stars and Seven Stones
Honorable Mention: King of Dale

Favorite Guarded Attachment: Ring of Thrór

It is often the case with games that live long enough to have multiple expansions, that the designers do their best work as the game expands. The design process is a conversation with the players: the designers poses questions in the form of new cards and the players answer by building surprising new decks using those cards, or in some cases a card misses and remains dormant in the card pool until future cards unlock its potential.

Many of my favorite tribal decks are not the first version of the archetype for that particular tribe. Like everyone else who picked their jaw up off the floor after opening The Return to Mirkwood Adventure Pack, I recognized the game-altering power of Leadership Dain Ironfoot. Unfortunately, Dain was so powerful that he warped the metagame for multiple cycles after his arrival.

The recent emergence of the Dwarven Digging archetype is a welcome reprieve from the ever-present Dwarven Swarm archetype which has consistently dominated the game since the release of Khazad-dûm. Swarm decks always involved an engine built around ally mustering and the superior stat boosts provided by Leadership Dain. These decks were powerful, but the level of decision-making they afforded was anemic at best.

In contrast, the mining archetype focuses on milling cards off the top of your deck and benefiting from effects like Hidden Cache and Ered Luin Miner. While these decks might lack the sheer power of the Dwarven Swarm decks, they involve more interesting decisions and interactions. For an inveterate tinker like me, decks which play with combinatorics between multiple congruent effects are always going to hold a stronger appeal. At the heart of this new archetype is a new, and I would dare to argue superior (from a design standpoint, not a power standpoint) version of Dain Ironfoot.

A hero with a built-in deck mining ability helps make the archetype significantly more consistent. The fact that his ability transforms him into one of the best dedicated defenders in the game is a nice bonus, too. Without access to Leadership Dain, mining decks needs to offset the global stat boost with some other strategy. Rather than apply a swarming strategy, most mining decks instead use attachments to empower their characters. This is where Ring of Thrór enters the conversation.

When it is played, a guarded attachment is the opposite of card advantage. You are adding an extra encounter card to play for the promise of future power, so the guarded card you are playing needs to be worth this steep cost. Ring of Thrór in a Dwarven mining deck is exactly the kind of lynch-pin card that makes guarded attachments so intriguing. It is with expensive attachments like Ancestral Armor (see above) that the power of this card is fully realized.

You can obviously use deck scrying effects like hero Gandalf and Imladris Stargazer to ensure that an attachment is on the top of your deck. However, even without these effects the Ring of Thrór is still incredibly powerful. In order to excel, a mining deck wants to be mining as much as possible. If the Ring hits on an attachment that’s a bonus, but even when it misses there is still a good chance of striking the rich ore of Hidden Cache or an Ered Luin Miner. Getting one of more of these on top of the action advantage for your designated defender is when the Dwarven mining archetype shows its true potential.

Featured Deck: The Greatest Adventure
Honorable Mention: The Arkenstone

Favorite Event: Reforged

Sometimes a design doesn’t seem obvious until after it is released, and then you are left wondering “how did this not exist before?”. This was precisely my reaction to seeing the spoiler for Reforged. After all, we’ve had Stand and Fight since the Core Set, so an equivalent effect for attachments makes all kinds of sense.

That said, I actually think Reforged will be more powerful than Stand and Fight, and many of the decks already designed around it can attest to this potential. The reasons for this card to emerge as a staple are manifold, but foremost among them is the way that attachments have stayed more true to their sphere’s theme than allies.

Case in point, every sphere now has multiple options for questing, combat, and (to some extent) support. Dale makes this point into a rather ridiculous understatement, but even mono-Sphere decks have ways to fill roles which were previously only available by splashing other spheres. Tactics now has a plethora of 2 willpower allies. Thanks to Glorfindel, Spirit now has a 3 attack ally, to go along with the host of other quality options. Even when it comes to support, cards like Honour Guard and Lindir provide equivalent effects to those which were traditionally the domain of other spheres.

This is all well and good for allies, but attachments have hewed much closer to the themes established for each sphere in the Core Set. Look at Steward of Gondor, even all these years later, no other sphere even remotely has resource acceleration options to hold a candle to Steward. It is not a coincidence that so many of decks are RingsDB which feature Reforged also feature Steward of Gondor. This is not to say that Steward is the only logical target for Reforged, it is probably the most obvious.

Each sphere has attachments which embody the strengths of that sphere, and thus are prime choices to be Reforged. Tactics brings weapons and armor like Rivendell Blade, Gondorian Shield, and one of my favorites – Raiment of War. Beyond resource acceleration, Leadership also has stat bolstering cards like Celebrían’s Stone and Visionary Leadership. Lore brings powerful location control like Asfaloth, as well as healing effects like Self Preservation and Lembas. Undoubtedly, someone will discover a less obvious choice which highlights the latent potential of this card. The fact that we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of potential uses for cards like Reforged is a huge part of the fun of this game.

Featured Deck: Discard That Card
Honorable Mention: Beorn’s Rage

With this list, I’ve shared a few of my favorite cards from the last deluxe and cycle. I’m curious to hear from readers. What are your favorites? Do you agree with any of my choice, vehemently disagree? Leave your feedback in the comments below, also check out the new poll located in the panel to the right. Happy travels in Middle-earth, and keep digging for that hidden treasure!

Posted in Beornings, Card Lists, Community, Discussion, Opinion, Strategy, Theme, Tribal Deck | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alternate Art: Seven Stars and Seven Stones

Even as Pippin gazed in wonder the walls passed from looming grey to white, blushing faintly in the dawn; and suddenly the sun climbed over the eastern shadow and sent forth a shaft that smote the face of the City. Then Pippin cried aloud, for the Tower of Ecthelion, standing high within the topmost wall, shone out against the sky, glimmering like a spike of pearl and silver, tall and fair and shapely, and it pinnacle glittered as if it were wrought of crystals; and white banners broke and fluttered from the battlements in the morning breeze, and high and far he heard a clear ringing as of silver trumpets.

These word instantly captivated my imagination as a young man. Visions of battlements, trumpets, and banners gleaming in the sun fueled a life-long appreciation for mythology and tales of legendary feats. Tolkien’s world-building is renowned to such an extent that it spawned an entire genre. Of his Third Age legendarium, Gondor has long held a specific fascination for me.

It is no surprise then, that I continue my quest to build a powerful and thematic Gondor deck. As with all of my recent decks, I’ve created alternate art cards to accompany this list. Magali Villeneuve’s illustrations, in no small part, help sets the art for this game above most other card games. In particular, her pieces of Boromir, Denethor, and Faramir are among my favorites. Ever card in this deck uses art by Magali, and I hope you enjoy the beautiful work featured here. You can find the deck list on RingsDB.

A Marxist would summarize the strategy of this deck as follows: “seize the means of production”. In other words: play Steward of Gondor… then profit. I jest, but Gondor as an archetype is not exactly known for its complexity. In the Leadership sphere effects like Boromir, Faramir, Visionary Leadership, and For Gondor! all provide global boosts. We will use resource acceleration to field an army of (mostly) generic soldiers which we then strengthen using global effects.

With the exception of a few powerful unique allies like Faramir, most of the Gondorian army consists of ordinary soldiers. Many of the low-cost allies like Errand-rider, Square of the Citadel, and Envoy of Pelargir, have resource-smoothing abilities. Even the more expensive allies like Veteran of Osgiliath and Knight of the White Tower tend to be lacking in distinguishing abilities. Still, if you find Steward of Gondor early enough, and survive the early game until your army is established, Gondor can be relatively powerful in the late game.

With a high starting threat, and no healing or treachery cancellation, this deck can struggle mightily against some quests. It also quests poorly in the critical early rounds, until you get a few allies in play and Visionary Leadership attached. Accordingly, this deck would do well paired with high willpower decks like Noldor and Rohan, decks which can cover for many of its weaknesses.

It’s all well and good to talk weaknesses, but this deck has strengths as well. With Sneak Attack and Reinforcements in a mono-sphere deck, mustering allies quickly should be no problem. Gandalf in particular, is a balm which cures many early game ills. Prince Imrahil thrives with all of these allies jumping into and out of play. Also, do not hesitate to allow your Squire of the Citadel test their mettle against the nearest Troll or Giant, just be careful that the Valar (or the encounter deck) to not punish your heartlessness.

Ancestral Armor is fast becoming one of my favorite attachments for its sheer power. With his suite of armor and a mount (Armored Destrier) Denethor becomes a formidable defender. His ability gives you an early game cash infusion, and also ensures that Boromir can always boost your army’s strength. Visionary Leadership and Faramir are both critical for quest power, and this deck can become one of the better questing decks in the late game. With relatively well-balanced ally stats, this deck should also perform capably in Battle quests, which feels thematically appropriate.

Knight of the White Tower is a revelation for this archetype, as his base stats are among the best for any generic ally in the game. Boost these with your various passive effects and events, and you can must multiple allies with hero-level stats. Man the Walls helps to reduce the burden of having to pay for the Knight from a single hero’s resource pool. I’ve included it here because I mostly play multi-player games and it is an amazing effect with four players. Obviously, if you plan on playing this deck solo you will want to replace it with Wealth of Gondor.

I hope that the wealth and grandeur of this still-proud Kingdom inspire you the way they did me as a young lad. Also, enjoy the gorgeous art of Magali Villeneuve. As always, contact the hall if you would like a printable copy of this deck, and happy adventuring in Middle-earth!




Player Side Quests

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Alternate Art: The Greatest Adventure

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said
The chances, the changes are all yours to make
The mold of your life is in your hands to break.

The greatest adventure is there if you are bold
Let go of the moment that life makes you hold
To measure the meaning can make you delay
It’s time you stop thinking and wasting the day.

A man who’s a dreamer and never takes leave
Who thinks of a world that is just make believe
Will never know passion
Will never know pain
Who sits by the window
Will one day see rain.

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead
Today and tomorrow are yet to be said
The chances the changes are all yours to make
The mold of your life is in your hands to break.

The greatest adventure is what lies ahead.

–Lyrics by Glenn Yarbrough

Nostalgia is one of the most powerful emotions, all the more so because we are often blissfully unaware of its hold on our hearts. It is impossible for me to judge The Hobbit with an objective eye, as it is one of the first stories I ever read. Before that, when I was still too young to read any but the shortest books, my father would read Tolkien’s word to me as bedtime stories. Even now, all these years later, I can close my eyes and imagine my father sitting on the end of my bed. His words echo down through time; visions of dragons and elves, magic swords and goblin kings, taking me back to my childhood.

Long before Peter Jackson even conceived of bringing Tolkien’s stories to the silver screen, Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass created an animated version of The Hobbit. This adaptation is not without its flaws, but its evokes fond memories in me, in no way diluted by the passage of time. The animation was drawn by a precursor to Studio Ghibli, and much of it holds up even 40 years later. Also, John Huston was a brilliant bit of casting as Gandalf, his gravely baritone summons the wizard as if out of thin air.

Continuing in my series of alternate art designs, I’ve built a Dwarven Digging deck with art taken from the 1977 animated classic. This deck represents several firsts for me. It is the first deck I’ve designed around hero Gandalf. It is also the first Dwarven Digging deck I’ve been able to build that plays with an acceptable level of consistency. I’ve wanted to feature the Spirit version of Dain Ironfoot, but this list took some twists and turns before it arrived at this version.

The full deck list can be found on RingsDB. Gandalf’s passive ability of making the top card of your always visible is powerful in any deck, but doubly so when we want to be digging specific cards off the top. Without the insane stat boost of Leadership Dain, the deck lacks the late game punch of traditional Dwarf Swarm decks, but Spirit Dain gives us an impressive defender for the critical early rounds.

I usually put the first copy of Unexpected Courage on Dain, though Gandalf can be a good choice. Armor is obviously intended for Dain, and the allies typically help with questing. With so many attachments, the new Erebor Toymaker is a perfect fit for our strategy, giving us an attachment and and additional quester for a relative bargain. Without a Leadership hero, remember to wait until Gandalf has Narya otherwise Leadership cards must be played using Gandalf’s ability from the top of the deck.

Unlike traditional swarm decks, combat is mostly handled by our heroes – which makes action advantage on them all the more important. Nori provides consist threat reduction, which is key in a deck with a high starting threat. The heroes do most of heavy lifting here, which is a nice change of pace. I mostly play multiplayer games these days, so this deck intentionally omits key components to a well-rounded solo deck.

Healing, location control and shadow cancellation are absent here. As much as possible, I tried to hew to a thematic interpretation of the story of The Hobbit. This naturally leaves many strategically powerful cards for other, more mechanically inclined decks. Even so, this deck can be quite effective, particularly in multiplayer where Dain and Gandalf prove a stalwart defensive presence once they are loaded up with gear.

Guarded attachments are here, and are central to the theme of the deck. Some quests require the players to race, which can turn the early tempo hit of Guarded attachments into a very risky proposition. In those situations, I would recommend using the sideboard to replace these Guarded cards with additional support in the form of A Test of Will, Narya and Gandalf’s Staff. Reforged is another valuable option, as the Dwarves, in their overly enthusiastic digging, will sometimes bury desirable attachments in your discard pile.

My favorite aspects of heavily narrative decks such as this one is when small touches work both thematically and mechanically. As case in point is when ally Bilbo is used to fetch Gandalf’s Wizard Pipe. That attachment is critical among a long list of useful attachments, as it lets us stack cards like Hidden Cache and Ered Luin Miner back on top of our deck, after they end up in hand. Gandalf’s ability to see into the future is such a natural fit with the Dwarven Digging archetype, that it makes this style of deck a thematic and strategic success.

I hope you enjoyed this trek down memory lane, and for younger readers who may not have experienced the animated version of the Hobbit, I encourage you to seek it out. As always, contact the Hall if you are interested in printing these alternate art cards for yourself. May you all have the greatest of adventures down memory lane, and throughout Middle-earth!




Posted in Alternate-Art, Community, Deck Building, Deck Lists, Fun, History, Lore, Movies, The Hobbit, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Alternate Art: A Weary Pilgrim

Gandalf by Donato Giancola

When evening in the Shire was grey
his footsteps on the Hill were heard;
before the dawn he went away
on journey long without a word.

From Wilderland to Western shore,
from northern waste to southern hill,
through dragon-lair and hidden door
and darkling woods he walked at will.

With Dwarf and Hobbit, Elves and Men,
with mortal and immortal folk,
with bird on bough and beast in den,
in their own secret tongues he spoke.

A deadly sword, a healing hand,
a back that bent beneath its load;
a trumpet-voice, a burning brand,
a weary pilgrim on the road.

A lord of wisdom throned he sat,
swift in anger, quick to laugh;
an old man in a battered hat
who leaned upon a thorny staff.

He stood upon the bridge alone
and Fire and Shadow both defied;
his staff was broken on the stone,
in Khazad-dûm his wisdom died.
―J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

In retrospect, the Dwarrowdelf was the most powerful cycle ever released. This opinion is uncontroversial if one simply looks at the number of cards from this cycle which have subsequently received errata. The poor Erebor Battle Master is so unbalanced, his text was amended twice. When compared to the power packs which came later in the cycle, The Redhorn Gate is less impressive. Even so, it introduced what remains one of my favorite cards – and a keystone of an entire archetype – Timely Aid. Mustering any ally from the top 5 cards of your deck for a single measly resource was powerful way back in 2012, but the pool of high cost and powerful allies has grown exponentially since those halcyon days.

The Hobbit saga expansions added two more vital pieces to the nascent Secrecy archetype: A Very Good Tale and Gandalf. Secrecy decks were finally viable, with two hyper-efficient ally mustering events and the perfect ally to target. In particular, Hobbit Gandalf’s amazing stats and built-in action advantage were essential for decks which rely so heavily on heroes with less than impressive stats. Still, early secrecy decks were overly reliant on Spirit Glorfindel – they were waiting for alternatives as low threat heroes.

It wasn’t until The Black Riders saga expansions introduced the Hobbit heroes from the Fellowship of the Ring that Secrecy really took off as an archetype. Going all the way back to that release, I have tinkered with some iteration of a Hobbit secrecy deck. Many of these iterations are among my more powerful decks. As a long time fan of the Hobbit secrecy archetype, I am overjoyed with the support provided by The Ered Mithrin cycle.

The Shirefolk and Drinking Song are incredibly powerful. In many decks, Drinking Song is better than Daeron’s Runes, which is quite an accomplishment. Removing Spirit Glorfindel from the hero lineup has a serious downside. With only Hobbit heroes, these decks can struggle to amass enough attack strength to kill enemies. While a Secrecy deck typically wants to keep enemies in the staging area and quest pass them, there are low engagement enemies and plenty of quests which punish this turtle strategy. If we are going to rely exclusively on our allies for combat strength, we will need every advantage we can find to empower them.

So the last missing piece to my favorite iteration of my Hobbit secrecy decks is the Wild Stallion. In this last deluxe and cycle, Dale introduced the idea of decks where the heroes have a supporting role, and allies do most of the heavy lifting. While the Wild Stallion is good in a Dale deck, you still need action advantage to benefit from it multiple times per round. It turns out that Wild Stallion is an even better fit with one of the long-time staples of the Secrecy archetype: Hobbit Gandalf.

As threat reduction goes, The Shirefolk is the most efficient event in the game – even better than another Dwarrowdelf staple in Elrond’s Counsel. Merry replaces Spirit Glorfindel, which provides repeatable threat reduction. In most decks, this level of threat reduction would be overkill, but we want to keep Gandalf in play as long as possible. Keeping the wizard around means that we can truly build around him. To that end, this decks includes Narya, Gandalf’s Staff and Shadowfax. It is risky to build so much of a deck around an ally, but the mustering and card draw should be sufficient to get setup within the first few rounds.

Drinking Song effectively gives a Hobbit deck three extra mulligans, a feature of which we will take full advantage. We’re looking for Timely Aid in the opening hand, and to a lesser extent Resourceful. After your mulligan, if your hand does not include any secrecy cards but does include Drinking Song, feel free to shuffle your entire hand back into your deck for another chance at early game secrecy cards. It cannot be overstated just how much Drinking Song improves the consistency of secrecy decks. Between Timely Aid and A Good Harvest, you should be able to have two expensive allies in play by about the third round.

At that point, A Very Good Tale will transform a strong start into an onslaught. Most decks will use A Very Good Tale during the planning phase, but Gandalf changes that strategy just a bit. Because he does not exhaust to quest, we can benefit from his 4 willpower committed to the quest, then we can use A Very Good Tale later in the round. Another option which Narya affords us is to immediately ready the two allies that we exhausted to pay for A Very Good Tale, with the added benefit of a stat boost. Narya’s boost only lasts until the end of the phase, so be sure to do this during the combat phase.

One of my favorite things to do with this deck is to exhaust Gandalf and Narya to ready Gandalf and another powerful ally, giving them both a boost. Between Arwen, Wild Stallion, and Narya, it is not uncommon to have Gandalf defending for 7. With his staff, he can even discard shadow cards from non-unique enemies. Speaking of uniqueness, it might seem odd to only include one of each ally (other than Gandalf and Wild Stallion). I have intentionally eschewed the traditional strategy of 3x every powerful ally.

While it cannot be argued that three copies of Firyal are incredibly powerful in a control deck, I find decks which play the same every time quickly become stale. One of the benefits of this deck is that it plays differently every time. It’s a funky tool box, where I can almost always pull out something useful, but it is not guaranteed to be the same one that I used last game. If you prefer power and consistency over surprise, feel free to swap out some of the lesser allies for extra copies of staples like Arwen, Faramir, and Firyal. Personally, I find that having only a single copy of unique allies gives the deck a more thematic, almost RPG-like feel. Everyone is encouraged to play the game in whatever way they enjoy.

It should come as no surprise to regular readers that I’ve made alternate art cards for this deck, seeing as how the archetype is near and dear to me. This time I’ve chosen to focus on another favorite Tolkien artist: Donato Giancola. I recently picked up the updated edition of Middle-earth: Journeys of Myth and Legend, and the paintings are even more beautiful in print than they are online. For fans of Tolkien-themed art, particularly those who appreciate a renaissance style of painting, I give this book two massive paws up.

In any case, what follows are alternate art cards for my latest Hobbit secrecy deck, A Weary Pilgrim. The art featured is mostly Donato’s, with only a few cards by other artists. You can find the full deck list on RingsDB. I hope that you enjoy the art and please contact the Hall if you are interested in printing these for yourself.




Player Side Quests

Posted in Alternate-Art, Card Lists, Combo, Control, Deck Building, Fun, RingsDB, Secrecy, Strategy, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Alternate Art: Aggro Outlands

Continuing in my series of alternate art decks, I’d like to present an Aggro Outlands deck which I keep in case of emergency. As listeners of the Grey Company podcast may recall, my view of Outlands was less than favorable when The Steward’s Fear was first released. Oft is time the salve, to the blunt the sting of extreme opinions.

The game has come a long way since the inception of Outlands, and my play style has naturally evolved and changed with the passing of years. During the Against the Shadow cycle, I was much more concerned with designing the cleverest most unique decks – all the more so as Battle and Siege threw the conventional archetypes in disarray.

These days, I typically only have time to play multiplayer games at my Austin LotR meetups, and what deck I play is much less of a priority. My primary concerns in selecting a deck for multiplayer are twofold. Above all, I want to avoid unique characters and attachments which will conflict with another player’s deck. This can be a logistical challenge, as the metagame often means that multiple players want to try out the new unique cards as they are released.

Aside from avoiding conflicting unique cards, my other concern in multiplayer games is to field decks which support the other players. Encounter card effects with text like “Each player does *something bad*” can be devastating in 3 and 4 player games. Not only does this make cancellation like A Test of Will and Eleanor that much more valuable, but it puts added pressure on any deck which does not excel at any facet of the game.

In all but the easiest quests, there will be rounds where there are one too many enemies in play, or the staging area is suddenly flooded with locations, or an ill-timed treachery pushes one players threat dangerously high. This is why a well-rounded deck with versatility is even more important with higher player counts. Solo favors unorthodox decks, where many turns will result in only a single encounter card revealed. Four-player games can be punishing to decks with gaps in their capabilities.

This is where the Aggro Outlands deck enters the discussion. This is probably the most pure aggro deck I’ve ever built, so nothing in the deck list should be too surprising. At its heart, it uses Erestor and Denethor as the engine of an ally swarm. All the way back in my Beorn’s Path articles, I discussed how powerful it can be to  pair card draw with resource acceleration in the same deck. Put simply, the goal here is to outrun the encounter deck.

To that end, we have a nice mix of 27 allies and 20 events. The events all either function as additional card draw or resource acceleration. The only attachment in the deck is 3 copies of Steward of Gondor. If another player absolutely needs Steward for their deck, this can easily be replaced with an event like Man the Walls, or Wealth of Gondor. If you include Man the Walls, make sure to play your Ethir Swordsman second during the planning phase (when possible), so that they can still quest.

The number of zero-cost cards in this deck coupled with the 3 extra cards per round granted by Erestor can lead to a sort of feedback loop. In an ideal round, you will drawing into more card draw, with which you can draw into more resource acceleration and allies. The goal is to play at least two allies ever turn. By the time Faramir shows up, you should have an army of allies ready to capitalize on the willpower boost.

Enough about strategy, you can here for the alternate art and the bear does not disappoint. Enjoy the art, and let me know what you think. As always, contact The Hall if you would like printable copies of these cards.




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Beorn 2020

For far too long, the needs of Skin-changers have been ignored in modern politics. This slight against multi-body beings is becoming unbearable. It is high time that someone addressed the needs to this historically under-represented group, and I’m just the bear for the job. It is with great pleasure that I am announcing my candidacy for the 2020 presidential election.

The Bear Party might be new on the political landscape, but we have hundreds of years of policy experience, with particular expertise in slaying trolls. Our platform is pro-creature and open to all who do not serve Dark Lords or Fallen Gods. Unlike some members of other political parties, we support an open immigration policy – even uninvited Dwarves are welcome. We envision a future where the free peoples band together in fellowship, against our common enemies of ignorance and xenophobia.

In these trying times, the first questions many voters have for a new candidate are about economic policy. The defense budget for 2019 was 716 Billion Dollars. Such a gross waste of money might be necessary for human beings to “defend” themselves, but we bears are gifted which natural defenses of extra thick hides and razor sharp claws. Additionally bears have a long-standing allegiance with the eagles, so drones will no longer be used to “spread freedom”.

These savings will be used to improve the woeful state of our health care system. We spend more than any other country on health care, and yet our average life expectancy is decreasing. Health care is a complicated issue, but clearly our privatized health care system is not working for many citizens. After months of hibernation, I am ready with answers to these tricky questions.

Infrastructure might not be an exciting subject for many voters, but we have cities without clean water. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure all citizens the opportunity to be successful in their adventures, and a functioning infrastructure is critical to that opportunity. In addition to clean water and air, the Bear Party platform includes government supplied honey for all citizens. Not only is it delicious, but honey provides numerous benefits to the immune system and is essential for growing cubs.

I encourage anyone who shares my vision of a brighter future to donate to my campaign. Check back here for exciting updates on my quest to reclaim our government from the clutches of usurpers, plutocrats, and sycophants.

This message was approved by the Bear Party Super Pack.


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