Deck-Craft: Secondary, Tertiary Elves

Inspiration
In The Lord of the Rings, there are elves and then there are elves. Arwen and Haldir are clearly secondary characters, whereas Erestor is a tertiary character, showing up only in the chapter “The Council of Elrond” and offering some sage advice. However, these three characters have all become strong heroes in our beloved card game in the last eighteen months, and so when MD and I decided to play a few quests at Level Up Games, I was really excited to put these three together. This deck performed admirably alongside a more combat-focused deck featuring Legolas, Bifur, and Beregond. So, without further ado, here’s the decklist for Secondary, Tertiary Elves.
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Total Cards: 54

Heroes: 3
1x Arwen Undómiel (The Dread Realm)
1x Erestor (The Treachery of Rhudaur)
1x Haldir of Lórien (Trouble in Tharbad)

Allies: 19
2x Galadhrim Weaver (The Treachery of Rhudaur)
2x Galadhrim Minstrel (Trouble in Tharbad)
2x Galadhrim Healer (The Dread Realm)
2x Silvan Refugee (The Drúadan Forest)
2x Curious Brandybuck (The Wastes of Eriador)
2x Erebor Hammersmith (Core Set)
2x Quickbeam (The Treason of Saruman)
2x Galdor of the Havens (The Treachery of Rhudaur)
2x Elrond (The Road Darkens)
1x Gildor Inglorion (The Hills of Emyn Muil)

Attachments: 19
1x Thror’s Map (Over Hill and Under Hill)
2x Silver Harp (The Treachery of Rhudaur)
2x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
2x Wingfoot (The Nin-in-Eilph)
1x Protector of Lorien (Core Set)
3x Song of Battle (The Dead Marshes)
1x Steed of Imladris (Across the Ettenmoors)
3x Elven Spear (The Treachery of Rhudaur)
2x Lembas (Trouble in Tharbad)
2x Rivendell Blade (Road to Rivendell)

Events: 14
2x Elrond’s Counsel (The Watcher in the Water)
2x Power of Orthanc (The Voice of Isengard)
2x Fair and Perilous (Across the Ettenmoors)
2x A Test of Will (Core Set)
2x Will of the West (Core Set)
2x Elven-light (The Dread Realm)
2x Mithrandir’s Advice (The Steward’s Fear)

Side Quests: 2
1x Scout Ahead (The Wastes of Eriador)
1x Double Back (Escape from Mount Gram)

Strategy
Like my last deck, Swift and Strong Steeds, there is no resource acceleration here, except what’s provided by Arwen. One interesting thing about her is she can be splashed in a deck to allow you to spam out 1-cost Spirit cards or play a 2-cost Spirit card right away on the first turn, provided you are willing to “convert” a card to a resource through discarding. In this deck, she can also discard a card to add a resource to Haldir or Erestor, allowing for a 3-cost Lore card to be played on the first turn. This provides a lot of versatility, as more expensive Lore cards that might not usually make it into a two-hero Lore deck are now viable.

In my starting hand, I like to look for a copy of Song of Battle so that the Elven weapons (Rivendell Blade, Elven Spear) can be put on Haldir right away. In hindsight, I would probably swap out Elven Spear for Bow of the Galadhrim, but I wanted to try it out. That massive ten-card starting hand is a lot of fun to play with. Here’s a look at what my heroes looked like at the start of Turn Two a few nights ago, with Quickbeam peeking in below:IMG_1839
This deck is not straightforward, since you need to think of every card as a potential resource if it’s discarded, or as a willpower, defense, or attack boost if it’s discarded to boost Protector of Lorien or Elven Spear, respectively. Keep in mind too that there’s no reliable way to keep hold of a card like A Test of Will until Galdor comes out, so you need to adopt a “use them or lose them” mentality. By turn three or four, however, Erestor’s draw ability should let you spam out cheap attachments to get attack, defense, willpower, and readying out of your heroes, and you should either have a swarm of cheap questers such a Silvan Refugee, Curious Brandybuck, and Galadrhim Weaver on the board, or a small band of beefier allies like Quickbeam, Galdor, and Gildor. Either way, you can muster significant willpower, chump block, and slay enemies with a powered up Haldir pretty easily. Meanwhile, playing cards like Unexpected Courage and Lembas across the table should ensure that you get a sentinel block from your fellow players every now and again.

A fair warning: I slapped this deck together in five minutes before heading to the game store, so I recognize that there might be better card choices out there, but I was truly surprised how well it worked against The Dead Marshes.

Reward
The fun factor in this deck comes from the fact that Arwen and Erestor make me think about deck construction and play in very different ways. There’s really no need to include three copies of key cards, since you’ll get to them easily. That allowed me the space to put in a lot of what I consider “fun” cards like Curious Brandybuck, just to see how they work. So if you feel hampered by needing consistency all the time, and you feel like as a result many of those neat but “not quite top tier” cards are staying in your binder, play with Erestor and Arwen to give yourself some breathing space to test off-the-wall cards.

Happy new year, readers, and until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!

Voices at the Door: My Favorites of 2015

As we look ahead to the Christmas and New Year holidays, many websites and blogs are doing “year in review” type articles, and I’m no different. In my opinion, 2015 was the best year yet for our beloved card game. The developers have taken the structure of LOTR:LCG to a whole new level. This year alone saw the introduction of side quests, cards that manipulate the victory display, cards that attach to quests, and even cards that interact directly with your physical threat dial. So, without further ado, here’s my personal favorites of 2015.

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Favorite Quest
This is a challenging one, as we had so many to choose from this year: seven adventure packs, one deluxe expansion, two saga boxes, and two print on demand quests. (That’s eighteen quests, for those of you who are counting.) For me, The Ruins of Belegost, the GenCon quest, really takes the cake. Although very challenging, it is not all that complicated to set up and take down, and I thoroughly enjoy every play of it since, depending on what treasures you find, it plays out very differently. This one is going to see a lot of play at my table for years to come.

Favorite Hero
Once again, there are a lot of choices here, and they are made more difficult by the fact that so many of them are so powerful! However, the nod goes to Spirit Theoden. Rohan was a fun faction to play before he arrived, but it was challenging to get everything working because some of the early Rohan allies were steeply priced. In addition, since most Rohan cards are in the Tactics and Spirit spheres, which are not known for their resource acceleration, it was difficult to get those allies out unless you splashed in Leadership. Spirit Theoden has given us an elegant way to play around these weaknesses, giving a blanket 1-resource discount to one Rohan ally played each round, and that one tweak has sent Rohan into top-tier status.

Favorite Enemy
This one is easy for me: Cursed Dead, first found in the Lost Realm deluxe expansion. Each one is so easy to get rid of, but kill too many, and you’ll soon be swarmed with more spirits that you can shake a sword/bow/axe at. I love all kinds of zombie/undead action, and Cursed Dead is a great way to represent hordes of baddies rising from the grave again…and again…and again! Sure these nasty spirits have caused me to lose many a game, but it always felt right. “Gah! I’ve been swarmed by the souls of the damned! There’s too many of them!”

Favorite Ally
He found his way into many of my decks, and I was always happy to see him. That’s right folks, it’s everybody’s favorite brinksmanship ally: the Dunedain Hunter! Put him into play for free, discard a few cards from the encounter deck, hope you get an enemy, and pray the enemy isn’t too difficult to deal with. He’s introduced a great risk/reward mechanic into our favorite card game, one that was sorely lacking before. And heck, even if you don’t get an enemy, Horn of Gondor goes off. Toot toot! Someone is getting a resource.

Favorite Location
From the Treason of Saruman, the best location of 2015 is Eastemnet. The Uruk-Hai is a brutal quest, and it’s awesome to clear a location, only to find…well, gold, apparently. (Just hidden in the grass?! The Rohirrim don’t seem to think it valuable.) But seriously, one resource on each hero you control is such a relief, especially when you’re down a few heroes already. Thanks for making life easier for us, Eastemnet!

Favorite Attachment
Despite its depressing title, my favorite attachment this year is the 1-cost Lore attachment The Long Defeat. It’s the first player card that can attach to a quest card, and once that quest is cleared, each player can either draw two cards or heal up to five damage. That’s incredibly valuable, and as such, The Long Defeat has made its way into every Lore deck I run, right alongside other Lore staples like Warden of Healing and Daeron’s Runes. In multiplayer games, I like to place this on a player side quest that I think would be really valuable to clear, as it makes it even more likely that the first player will choose it. (My default choice is to place it on Double Back. Then you get to drop your threat by five and choose the best option on the Long Defeat.) Once I play this card, I can see the other players visibly relax, as if to say, “Okay. We’re good. There are option here, and they aren’t all bad.”

Favorite Treachery
This card resulted in more flipped tables for me than I care to admit this year, and maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment, but the award for Favorite Treachery of 2015 goes to Devilry of Saruman. Not only does it almost always clear the location in the quest (very bad in Helm’s Deep!), but it also blanks each character’s text box until the end of the round. I like to think of this as everyone suffers a concussion from the gunpowder blast, so no one can really do much of anything for the rest of the round. Flavor home run, because…well, who was really expecting gunpowder in Middle Earth on their first read-through of The Two Towers? No one!

Favorite Event
Art aside (it’s incredible, by the way), the strongest event released this year, and my current favorite, is the Lore event The Door is Closed! Though it takes more setup than A Test of Will, it does provide another form of cancellation by banishing your most-hated cards to the victory display. You’ll still have to take your licks while getting the combo set up, either with None Return or Leave No Trace, but it is oh-so-worth-it when a second copy of the same card shows up, everyone groans, but then you wag your finger and in your sassiest voice shout, “Nuh-uh! No sir! THE DOOR IS CLOSED!” High fives all around.

Favorite Expansion 
Hands down, the most bang for my buck this year was The Land of Shadow, the fourth Saga expansion in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which covers the second half of The Two Towers. Not only did the quests rock, but the player cards (check them out!) fleshed out Ents, Rohan, Hobbits, and Trap decks that much further. I’ve never seen a large or small expansion offer so many awesome cards as this one: Snowmane, Damrod, Damrod…I could go on and on.

Favorite LOTR:LCG Experience of 2015
I was fortunate enough to play a lot this year, which I am very thankful for. So I have a lot of options to choose from. And as much as I like sitting down to play with the developers at the Fantasy Flight Games Center, or attending the Fellowship event each year, my favorite LOTR:LCG experience this year was beginning a Saga campaign with my wife. We have enjoyed many nights journeying through The Black Riders, The Old Forest, Fog on the Barrow Downs, and The Road Darkens, and now we are poised to enter the Treason of Saruman together. It’s been an amazing experience, and she has commented that she now feels like she knows the game much better than she did, simply because we’ve played so much. The experience of eight attempts playing Fog on the Barrow Downs cemented her understanding of the rules like nothing else could, and we enjoyed every loss (and our one win!). I cannot wait to continue our journey during the holiday. The Quest must not fail!

Well, there you have it. With such a strong 2015, and with our beloved game in such good hands, I think we are have an amazing 2016 ahead of us. Until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!

Deck-Craft: Swift and Strong Steeds

After another great Sunday playing our beloved game at the Fantasy Flight Game Center has come and gone, and I was so pleased with the performance of my deck that I just had to share it. This deck shines in a four-player game and helped my teammates and I defeat A Shadow of the Past and the Treachery of Rhudaur handily.

Inspiration
As many skilled players of the game have pointed out in the past few years, four-player LOTR:LCG really lives and dies by everyone playing a particular role. You need a strong questing deck (or two!) and a strong combat deck. Meanwhile, one or two folks must play support in some way. Since multiple players can take on enemies, some of the combat responsibilities can be shared. However, since there can only be one active location at a time, location lock is a real threat. At the same time, my experience is that a lot of people find the travel phase to be one of the least interesting portions of the game, and very few people want to play the “travel deck”. My goal in building this deck was to make it fun (and easy!) to travel. To that end…I give you Swift and Strong Steeds.
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Total Cards: 50

Heroes: 3
1x Eowyn (Core Set)
1x Theoden (The Treason of Saruman)
1x Galadriel (Celebrimbor’s Secret)

Allies: 24
3x Escort from Edoras (A Journey to Rhosgobel)
3x Northern Tracker (Core Set)
2x Eomund (Conflict at the Carrock)
2x Westfold Horse-Breaker (The Hunt for Gollum)
3x Westfold Horse-breeder (The Voice of Isengard)
1x Elfhelm (The Dead Marshes)
2x West Road Traveller (Return to Mirkwood)
3x Gamling (The Land of Shadow)
3x Hama (The Treason of Saruman)
2x The Riddermark’s Finest (The Hills of Emyn Muil)

Attachments: 19
1x Protector of Lorien (Core Set)
1x Asfaloth (Foundations of Stone)
2x Herugrim (The Treason of Saruman)
3x Snowmane (The Land of Shadow)
2x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
1x Silver Harp (The Treachery of Rhudaur)
2x Nenya (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
3x Mirror of Galadriel (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
2x Thror’s Key (On the Doorstep)
2x Steed of Imladris (Across the Ettenmoors)

Events: 6
3x A Test of Will (Core Set)
2x Ride to Ruin (The Hills of Emyn Muil)
1x Astonishing Speed (Return to Mirkwood)

Side Quest: 1
1x Double Back (Escape from Mount Gram)

Strategy
Though this deck contains no resource acceleration, the discount you receive from Spirit Theoden is enough to ensure that you can always play one or two Rohan allies a turn. I mulligan for either Nenya, the Mirror of Galadriel, or Gamling, since the first can get you a Willpower boost, the second can let you go fishing for cards, or the third can help recycle those Rohan allies that are getting discarded all the time.

As the game progresses, Steed of Imladris, The Riddermark’s Finest, Asfaloth, and Northern Tracker can all allow you to rain down progress tokens upon various locations, clearing the dreaded location lock that can be the end of so many multiplayer games. I’ve found that the Riddermark’s Finest to be incredibly helpful in this regard, since when you discard it, you can drop two progress on a location, then use Gamling to bring it back to hand, and do it again next turn. Meanwhile, Westfold Horse Breeder will let you go fishing for three all-important mounts: Steed of Imladris, Asfaloth, and Snowmane, all of who supercharge the deck in various ways.

By the late game, it’s common to have out a host of strong Rohan allies, all of whom are getting recycled as long as you use their abilities sparingly. Theoden and his sword, Herugrim, are laying waste to enemies that engage with you, Galadriel is dishing out Willpower boosts, cards, and threat reduction left and right, and Eowyn is helping the team make it through difficult quest phases with her discard to Willpower conversion. Though this deck doesn’t muster a huge amount of Willpower (I still think Leadership is best for that!) and it’s definitely a second-tier combat deck, you won’t need to be constantly begging the Tactics player for a sentinel block or a ranged attack on your behalf, and other players will be thankful as you clear multiple locations a turn and cancel treacheries through A Test of Will. Go team!

Reward
For me, the real reward of this deck is that you can take care of locations in a lot of interesting ways–discarding to Steed of Imladris, placing progress with pinpoint precision with Asfaloth and Steed of Imladris, or using Ride to Ruin to discard an ally and place progress, just to name a few–while also providing questing, cancellation, and combat assistance. Mirror of Galadriel and Westfold Horse Breeder give you two fun tutoring mechanics, and leading the cavalry of Rohan as it does its thing is just plain satisfying.

The real power of this deck showed up this past Sunday, when, in a four-player game of A Shadow of the Past, we had several locations in the staging area and were trying to get to Buckleberry Ferry. However, since all locations must be cleared from the staging area before you can travel to Buckleberry, we were in a bit of a bind. But my Northern Tracker had been prepping several locations for a few turns, and Asfaloth and The Riddermark’s Finest were in play. In one fell swoop, I committed the Northern Tracker, clearing three locations at once, then exhausted the Riddermark’s Finest and Asfaloth to get rid of a location just revealed. Finally, we used Fellowship Frodo’s Ring ability to shuffle another location away, and then we finally quested hard enough to clear the active location (using Eowyn’s discard ability to make up the final progress). So my deck allowed for the clearing of five locations in one turn, and Fellowship Frodo took care of a sixth. Traveling never felt so good!

If you’re headed into a four-player game in the next few weeks, definitely build this one. Better yet, improve upon it and leave a comment. Until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!

Voices at the Door: Swarms, Utility Belts, and Fellowships

Almost four years ago, Nate French, the designer of the Lord of the Rings: the Living Card Game, wrote a post on the Fantasy Flight Games site about the three kinds of players he saw in our beloved game. French used the character of Bilbo to represent players who love theme over everything else, Boromir to represent the true power gamers, and Pippin to represent those who like exploring card combos and tricks. I think these are interesting categories, but they don’t quite fit together, since one relates to how a player sees the story of the game, and the other two relate to mechanics.

As I’ve played and grown in my understanding of the game, I haven’t seen people fit neatly into those three categories, but I have seen decks fit into three neat categories. These are swarm decksutility belt decks, and Fellowship decks.

  • Swarm Deck: This is probably the most obvious of the three. Simply put, a swarm deck revolves around getting as many smaller minions into play as possible. Whether by paying for them outright or “cheating” them in via an event like A Very Good Tale, these decks simply overwhelm the encounter deck by throwing bodies at the problem. For a swarm deck to be successful, you almost always need some kind of leader card (e.g., Dain Ironfoot, Celeborn, Leadership Boromir, Spirit Theoden) to either provide stat boosts to your weenie allies, or offer a discount when playing them.
  • Utility Belt Deck: Like Batman, who always had the right tool in his utility belt, this archetype revolves around loading your heroes up with as many attachments as possible to boost stats and provide readying effects. I think the best example of this deck is a basic Sam Gamgee, Lore Pippin, Tactics Merry deck, where Fast Hitches, Hobbit Cloaks, and Daggers of Westernese turn these three friends from weaklings into superheroes.
  • Fellowship Deck: This deck is a little harder to define, but it revolves more around getting beefy allies into play and doing whatever it takes to allow them to stay in the game. As with the swarm deck, some “cheating” is likely necessary (e.g., Elf Stone or Timely Aid) to get these folks in play, but once they are, you have a true fellowship: a group of diverse heroes and allies with a host of interesting abilities to defeat the forces of evil.

Of course, a lot could be said about how these three archetypes have rather fuzzy edges, that is, they can be mixed and matched. One of my favorite solo decks of all time was a Hobbit deck featuring the three fat friends mentioned above, but also included ways to cheat expensive allies such as Gildor Inglorien and Haldir of Lorien into play. In that way, it was both a utility belt and a Fellowship deck.

At the same time, I think these three ways of looking at decks are helpful as I sit down to build something new. Before I think about spheres or anything else, I usually ask myself if I want a swarm, three heroes who can accomplish a lot, or a smaller number of unique allies to get the job done. Once I’ve decided that, then I can start to look for specific spheres and cards to build around.

As I play more, I’m also challenging myself to look at recently-played decks and play against type. So if I’ve been playing a lot of trait-based swarm decks for a few weeks, I’ll intentionally break those down and build a utility belt or Fellowship deck. When my wife and I sit down to play our Saga campaign, we specifically try to stay away from building two decks of the same type. This helps protect against treacheries which can stop a particular kind of deck in its tracks. For example, any treachery or shadow that reads, “Discard a non-objective attachment from play” can really harm a Utility Belt deck, which is relying on attachments that boost up heroes.

Until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!