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This is, without doubt, one of my best ideas for a deck ever! As such, I've decided to write up an in-depth strategy for playing the deck and explain some of the more subtle card choices. In playtesting, the deck lost only 2 games out of about 15 played online, but the reason I think this deck is so good is not because of its performance (I only went 4-3 with it in the the online May PSQ anyway), but because of its originality compared to the other decks you will meet nowadays.  


The idea behind this deck is to double-move a lot early-game and then stroll to site 9 for a Free Peoples win. There are two main ways of doubling: having 4 cards in hand at the start of Regroup and using Dervorin's text; using events such as What Are They? (discard a roaming minion in the Maneuver phase) and Gondor's Vengeance (discard a minion in the Regroup by exerting a Ranger). The rest of the FP side is all about surviving skirmishes and making the aforementioned cards effective.  


The Shadow is just an enhanced starter deck (I added Rabble Rouser, War Club and Hides), designed to slow the opponent down and punish their early double-moves, which will be required to keep up with you. The Shadow cards also cycle very well due to their low cost and only roaming at site 2; this gives you more chance of tooling-up your Fellowship quickly. Moria could probably be used to similar effect (if I had any Goblin Armories!), but Dunland have more stopping power, in my opinion.  

The Deck  
Frodo, Hope of Free Peoples  
The One Ring, Answer to All Riddles  
Adventure Deck  
[1] Steps of Edoras  
[2] West Road  
[3] Hall of the Kings  
[4] Anduin Banks  
[6] Minas Tirith Sixth Circle  
[7] Osgiliath Channel  
[8] Northern Ithilien  
[9] Haunted Pass  
[5] City Gates  
Free Peoples (33 cards)  
Faramir, Captain of Gondor (starting)  
Dervorin (starting)  
Aragorn, King in Exile x3  
Boromir, Lord of Gondor  
Denethor, Wizened Steward  
Ranger of Osgiliath  
Garrison of Gondor  
Faramir's Bow  
Footman's Armor x4  
Andril, Flame of the West  
Sting, Bane of the Eight Legs  
Boromir, My Brother  
The Saga of Elendil  
Second Level x3  
Noble Leaders x3  
What Are They? x4  
Gondor's Vengeance x2  
Might of Nmenor x2  
Shadow (33 cards)  
Band of Wild Men x4  
Dunlending Madman x4  
Dunlending Robber x4  
Dunlending Warrior  
Dunlending Savage x2  
Saruman, Rabble-rouser x3  
Hill Clan  
lair Enqua  
Hides x4  
War Club x3  
Constantly Threatening  
Dark Fury x3  
Too Long Have These Peasants Stood  

A lot of people are bidding 0 nowadays, so you should usually bid 1 with this deck, to have a reasonable chance of going first. Bidding 2 would make you almost certain to go first, but there is no burden removal, so you become instant bait for Easterlings and Twilight Nelya and also can give a +4 strength boost to Shadow minions at Anduin Banks (if that site comes out). There is always the option of adding Sam, Son of Hamfast, to the deck, but he may not come out at the right time, and it's not essential that you go first, as with Dwarf condition-based decks or site control decks, for example. If you do end up behind, doubling from 5 to 7 is a good way to catch up.  

Starting Hand:  

Ideally, you will have gone first and your starting hand will contain a footman's armor and/or a What Are They? The former should be played on Dervorin, so you can block a big minion or two with him (your site 1 makes all Gondor folks defender+1) and then discard cards from hand to get down to 4 in time for the Regroup phase; the latter will virtually always be usable at site 2. It's especially satisfying when someone uses up all their pool and puts down a big bad roaming minion that you can discard and move straight to site 3. If you don't have these cards, play a companion if you get one. The key is to work out how to have 4 cards at the start of the Regroup phase. If you need to play a few conditions like Second Level or Noble Leaders early, then so be it.  


But what if your starting hand is really duff? Well, I say: Mulligan! You now only need to use up 2 cards by the Regroup phase to use Dervorin's text, so this can actually be of benefit, since you will give up less pool. If your mulligan hand is duff, you can use Faramir as a blocker at site 2, and hopefully survive because he is +2 against roaming minions. You may not then be able to double to site 3, but that's not too bad: you can double from 2 to 4 next turn.  


If you end up going second, you will hopefully be able to unload some Shadow cards to prepare a good FP hand for your turn, so your starting hand isn't as important. The same goes for if you had to stop at site 2; get rid of whatever is required to get some good FP cards.  

Early Game:  

You will almost always be able to double to site 3. If your opponent does, they should be hit hard with some Dunlendings and a Dark Fury or two. You want to try and get up to five companions as soon as possible, so you have more people to put footman's armors on and less chance of having Frodo killed in a fight. Ideally, it will be Aragorn and Boromir who join the party, but any other two are good. Aragorn is a key man though, so that's why there are three of him. Another useful guy is Derufin, who is great against possessions, engines and machines, since you have all the means to get the right number of cards in hand.  


If your FP manages to sweep the board at site 4 and leave little twilight, you should double to 5, unless you are still on 3 companions and there's no way of taking out a minion with What Are They? at site 5. Frodo is the weakest link in this deck, so you don't want to let him die in a skirmish, while your Gondorian warriors can only watch in dismay - without a single scratch on any of them!  


If you get a Noble Leaders in hand, when another is in play with less tokens on than if you played one fresh, I recommend completely using up the other one, so you can replace it next turn. This is the only pump in the deck and is very useful for winning the odd skirmish and completely killing off high-vitality minions, so you want it at maximum capacity.  


Your Shadow should be very effective at sites 4, 5 and 6, because you can get a good amount of cards down there. Remember: if you're in the lead, you want to try and stop the opponent and/or play Shadow cards just to get them out of your hand and set up a good FP hand for next time.  

Late Game:  

If Anduril is down by site 5, you will be able to play your site 6 with it and double through to 7 and get one heal on each person while you're at it. If you've gone first and have already doubled once more than the opponent, it may not be worth the risk of another double though. Still, it's a lot safer to double from 5 to 7 than 6 to 8 or 7 to 9, so you should play it by ear. If any of your companions die, just replace them. No particular companion is that vital to the deck late-game - except maybe Derufin, if someone has stacked a lot of besiegers on a site to unload cheaply due to having engines out - so don't worry about losing people to get rid of threats, for example.  


The Shadow can be ineffective against some fellowships (e.g. heavy archery or 9-companion Merry's Sword-abuse), so you will need to push extra hard to stay in front. Otherwise, the Shadow should help you to stop the opponent doubling behind you, to take the pressure off late-game.  

Combo and Card Choices  

Second Level + What Are They? - a nice way of getting rid of low-site number minions at later sites or for ditching big nasties like Sauron at sites 6 and 7.  


Second Level + Ranger of Osgiliath + Faramir's Bow - I did this in the PSQ to Sauron at sites 8 and 9. I had to use two Second Levels and Ranger of Osgiliath at site 8 to make Sauron exhausted and roaming, and then assigned him to Faramir at site 9 and exerted to kill him off.  


Footman's Armor + Dervorin - stop someone from dying by discarding cards to get down to 4 and then use Dervorin to get rid of a minion, if you managed to get down to 4.  


Boromir, My Brother + Dervorin - pump up Faramir by discarding Gondor cards from hand and also get down to 4 cards for Dervorin.  


Second Level + Footman's Armor - if you've already got the right number of cards in hand, get rid of a spare Second Level from play to stop someone being overwhelmed.  


Second Level vs Gondorian Merchant - the merchant costs the same as Second Level to have in play and he can achieve the same effect in the Maneuver phase, by discarding two cards from hand when you have initiative. However, it's normally the case you will end up losing initiative to use his text and play What Are They?. You want to end up at 4 cards by the Regroup on the first turn, so this would mean starting off with 7. This does not give you much chance to set up your FP in the Fellowship phase. Also, after a double move, using the merchant will likely make you drop below 4. Even though Dervorin is no use setting up a double after you've already done one, he can be used to ditch minions before they use any of their Regroup abilities.  


Footman's Amor vs Gondorian Sword - whilst a sword will get you closer to winning some skirmishes against smaller minions, it won't be anough to beat big minions and may not help you survive a potential overwhelming, since your strengths will range from 8 (Dervorin) to 10 (Aragorn). The armor means you will never be overwhelmed unless you run out of cards in hand and you can deliberately assign weak people to big minions to discard down to 4 cards and use Dervorin's text. It's OK to lose skirmishes if you can get rid of the minion in the Regroup anyway.  


Might of Numenor vs Athelas - both of these offer healing for a cost of 1, but the Might of Numenor might (if you parden the pun) give you a big pay-off and it is used in the Maneuver phase, so can help you out after a double-move. It is a risk, as you may reveal something with 0 twilight cost, but you will usually get at least 1 or 2 - sometimes much more. Athelas is great for getting rid of Shadow conditions such as Blade Tip, but no particular companion is essential to the deck, so it's OK to let them die. You may actually be able to keep them alive with Might of Numenor at appropriate times to reach a sanctuary anyway.  

Future Changes  

I'm tempted to change the Shadow to something that is more effective than Dunland at stopping the opponent, since I met two FP sides in the PSQ that I couldn't hurt. Also, Shadow cards should cycle reasonably well by discarding them on your FP turn anyway, so there is less need to have cheaper Shadow cards. The FP discarding can also allow the creation of some good Shadow combos, by discarding incompatible parts.  


As for the Fellowship, I'm thinking about trying a Gondor ringbearer, but that would require adding a couple of Scrolls of Isildur and more Gondor artifacts. I doubt this will be an improvement, but it will be fun to try. A more serious change might be the introduction of Aragorn's Bow and four Gondor Bowmen, to thin out the minions pre-skirmish.  


Recent use in three 8-person Constructed Standard tournaments online have given me mixed results: I went 3-1 (achieving 2nd place), 2-2 and 2-2. Three losses were Fellowship losses, against Threat Nazgul and Dunland site control: the former likes to put Black Breath and Blade Tip on you and hit you hard with Morgul King and Cantea; the latter takes advantage of winning skirmishes to take sites and unload some nasty Dunland Elders on you. The other two losses were against Dwarves, who made it to site 9 and survived. I have a few ideas that might make the deck more viable in the current Online Meta, but I'm keeping these to myself, for obvious reasons.  


Overall, I think that this deck is unlikely to win any tournaments given the current Meta, but it is fun to play in casual games and use for pure surprise value. It kicks the ass of Sauron and Uruks every time, so if these become very popular, then it might be worth trying in tournaments again. I've pretty much played the deck to death now, so I'm going to try something else. Feel free to give it a go yourself and let me know how you do.  

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