Voices at the Door: The Trap Deck has Arrived!

Note: Voices at the Door is the title I’ll be using for musings on how our beloved LCG is changing.

On Friday I headed to my favorite local game shop, Level Up Games, in South St. Paul, MN. It’s just a six-minute drive from my house, the staff is friendly, the gaming space is large, and they always have LOTR:LCG in stock. My buddy M and I have been playing there on-and-off for about two years. Over time we’ve developed a simple routine: each of us builds a pair of decks that work well together, and then we play each pair in turn against the same quest. This way, we don’t really have to coordinate much over email about deck-building, we each can explore deck designs that interest us, and each of us gets insight into how the other plays the game. Ideally, this is how I would play all of my games, because it leads to many fun surprises as you’re playing a deck someone else built for you.

Since I’m starting a new work project this week, I only had about fifteen minutes to slap together two new decks. For the first, I settled on a simple lineup: Eowyn, Galadriel, and Legolas with a ton of strong Spirit allies (e.g., Silvan Refugee, Galadriel’s Handmaiden), some cancellation, and a lot of cheap Tactics cards to power up everyone’s favorite Core Set elf (Rivendell Blade, Rohan Warhorse, Arod).

With the second deck, I took a risk: a Gondor trap deck featuring Leadership Faramir, Damrod, and Denethor. The first two heroes are fresh off the boat from the Land of Shadow expansion. I included a number of Gondor allies such as Lore Anborn, Squire of the Citadel, and Ingold, and copies of strong trap cards like Forest Snare, Ambush, and Ranger Spikes. I wasn’t so sure about this deck, since I have never felt that Trap decks were very powerful. But with the inclusion of some of these new Land of Shadow cards, I was blown away at how good the Trap archetype has become.

We played Wastes of Eriador, starting with M’s decks: a powerful Rohan lineup featuring strong questing allies and beefy heroes, and a Ranged/Sentinel lineup boasting mighty Ents. Amazingly, we played a ten turn game and lost due to threating out, despite having a veritable army of Ents on the board. After that playthrough, I was feeling pretty stupid about bringing the decks I outlined above, predicting we’d have a host of dead heroes by turn four or five. But M and I were astounded to beat Wastes of Eriador in a mere five turns.

Though neither the Eowyn, Galadriel, Legolas lineup or the Faramir, Damrod, Denethor lineup featured a lot of combat power, each held its own. By game’s end, each deck had drawn over half of its cards. Here’s the staging area after we killed the pack leader:
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Yup, that’s two scary Wargs trapped by Ranger Spikes, and Damrod smiling because he’s awash in Lore resources. Here’s a quick look at the entire board at the end:

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Previous to this game session, I had always assumed that Traps were a sort of “third player” archetype. By this I mean to say that in a typical game, the first player has a strong questing deck, the second has a strong combat deck, and if a third person shows up, the Trap deck sort of fills in some gaps. Previous to Land of Shadow, I would have always said that in a two-player game, there was no way the second player could play a trap deck and pull his or her weight in the game. But Friday’s playthrough showed us the Trap deck is alive and well. Here’s why:

  • Damrod: The 1-resource discount on Traps cannot be overlooked, especially if you play with two Lore heroes. Ranger Spikes, Ambush, and Poisoned Stakes can be played on Turn 1 with a resource to spare on your second hero. Amazingly, Ithilien Pit can come in for free. And the card you get to draw when a Trap attaches to an enemy comes at an interesting time: during staging. This might mean you suddenly end up with a Sneak Attack, Feint, Radagast’s Cunning, or Secret Paths at a critical moment: as you resolve questing and look ahead to combat.
  • Ambush: This brand-new Trap from the Land of Shadow expansion is a bit like Quick Strike, saving you the trouble of defending against an enemy because you can kill it before it attacks. In our game, Legolas with Rohan Warhorse and Rivendell Blade just loved this card. An enemy would reveal during staging, end up in the Ambush, would be optionally engaged and destroyed, and then Legolas would ready up to help destroy another enemy. This also left defenders free to help out elsewhere.
  • Lore Anborn: I’ve always thought Poisoned Stakes was a terrible card, but I’m happy to run the other four Traps (Ithilien Pit, Ranger Spikes, Forest Snare, and Ambush). Now that we have a number of them, and Lore has such good access to card draw, I feel comfortable running two copies of each Trap. Ally Anborn can call these Traps back to hand after they’ve been used. So our four awesome Traps only take up eight slots in the deck, and Anborn only takes up another two (I never run three copies of a unique ally in a lore deck), and–TA-DA!–you’ve got a real Trap deck going with 40 more slots to do other things.

I think the value of a real Trap synergy based on just one hero, two copies of a unique ally, and two copies of four strong Traps cannot be overstated. You’re left with so much room to build that I can honestly say shout from the rooftops that Traps have arrived. In my deck, I used that extra space to build in a bit of Gondor synergy (For Gondor!, Wealth of Gondor, Envoy of Pelargir, Squire of the Citadel) and a bit of Ranger synergy (Wingfoot, Expert Trackers), provide healing to the table (Warden of Healing, The Long Defeat), and get in some ally mustering (A Very Good Tale) without feeling like the deck was pulling in too many directions.

To borrow a term from the Star Wars LCG, I’m now going to consider using Damrod, Lore Anborn, and those two copies of four strong Traps as a pod: a set of ten cards and one hero that can be slotted into several different sorts of decks to provide a lot of value. And never again will I show up to play LOTR: LCG and have the other players roll their eyes and mutter, “Oh brother, JR brought a Trap deck.”

Until next time, mára mesta: good journeys!

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