Lord of the Rings TCG » Articles » The Evolution of a Deck » Pick Your Battles - Part One
"Always start with a quote", someone once told me when we were introduced. I won't say who because it must have been a quote anyway. Still, just in case, I've decided to include a definite quote from Dale Carnegie. (I've no idea who this guy is, but the quote fits the article perfectly and it only took one minute of Google searching!).
"Any fool can criticize, complain, condemn, and most fools do. Picking your battles is impressive and fighting them fairly is essential".
If Dale were talking about Lord of the Rings TCG, his first sentence would be referencing everyone's Love/Hate relationship with Dwarven fellowships. Since the advent of Reflections, which introduced a whole bunch of new cards for the loveable beardy folk, they've been one of the top fellowships, mainly due to their ability to become very strong with minimal twlight expenditure. They are also seeing frequent play at the moment due to their awesome card drawing abilities, fueling combo-intensive Shadow sides such as the new Underground Orc Swarm or Morgul Orcs.
For this reason, it's not unusual to meet a Dwarven fellowship in a few games every tournament (5 of the top 8 players in this year's online Territorial Open Championship used Dwarves) and fairly common to see some in the casual lobby. One of the biggest complaints I hear from people meeting Gimli and his posse in a match is that it's very difficult to win skirmishes against Dwarves due to their choke and because their number one fighter, Durin III, is an absolute powerhouse. Yeah, we all love him when he's on our side, but when he's decimating our toughest minions repeatedly, he soon becomes a right royal pain in the underdeeps.
Thankfully, in the second part of the quote, Dale suggests a solution to all this pain: picking your battles. (I'm not sure where fighting fairly comes in though.) If you can take Durin III out of the equation, you've got a far greater chance of causing some damage to your opponent's fellowship.
So, how can we put this sage advice into practice? Well, in the past, I've tried all of the following:
Each of these approaches has its problems though:
It's also worth noting that none of these "solutions" can be achieved with cards from War of the Ring Block. This makes it quite hard for new players to get a counter to the most common Free Peoples deck type at the moment.
Perhaps most importantly, what if you don't face Dwarves? How useful will your deck be then? What if you face that pesky Eowyn who dishes out more wounds than Chainsaw Juggling 101?
In light of these issues, I've decided to try another tactic, using a new card from the latest expansion, Black Rider - someone who can take TWO tough companions out of the picture: Uruk-hai Guard.
THE ROOT OF THE DECK
The Uruk Guard from the Fellowship of the Ring was a rarely used minion; strength of 9 was nothing to write home about, directed archery from Greenleaf and Aragorn's Bow was in abundance, and there were plenty of ways to cancel even the ring-bearer's skirmishes. In the current environment, where however, the Guard's younger (identical-looking) brother, who boasts an extra 2 strength, is far more handy.
"Whoopdy-doo!" I hear you say. "So what if I can't assign Durin III to him, I've usually got another companion out who can deal with him!"
"Well, what if I up his vitality with a Bow and stop two people from fighting," I respond.
"Touche!" I hear you say.
(I should probably do something about these voices I keep hearing - must be the trauma from that Chainsaw Juggling class I went to.)
So there we have it, the root of the deck. Tool your Uruk-hai Guard up with an Isengard Bow, and you can stop him fighting two different people. If there's only 3 companions out, he's instantly on the ring-bearer. Provide him with an Isengard Sword as well and he's a one-minion overwhelming machine!
The final ingredient in this disasterpiece is the zero-cost skirmish event Ferocity. If you're at a battleground site, you can get this beast up to 14 strength, whilst his sword drops the skirmishing companion down by 2, making anyone who is usually strength 9 a prime target for this nasty piece of work.
If you're at site 4 or less, these four cards will cost 8 pool to play. It is not unusual to get this much to spend at this site. (3 for the region and at least 3 for the companions will mean you only need your opponent to spend 2 in the Fellowship phase or allow you to choose a site with a shadow number of 2.)
At site 5 or more, you only need 6 pool! This is virtually guaranteed.
To sum up, the root of this deck requires 16 cards, to give maximum chance of getting this combo:
Although there's a good chance you'll see a lot of characters with strength of 9 or less during the average game, you'll probably also want to pick off bigger companions on occasion, or step on weak companions who've got a few skirmish events stored up to protect them. In this case, you'll be needing some back-up.
If you can manage to get out both Saruman and Gollum, you have an extra +8 worth of pumpage for your guard, who will fight first because these two are lurkers. These guys also serve as excellent archery pin cushions against Elves and can perform some neat tricks on their own: Saruman is a beast when tooled up with a Bow and Sword; Gollum adds Threats when played with Captured By The Ring (good for stopping Smeagol, Always Helps, getting up to his tricks), can exert twice to play a Guard or Saruman from your discard pile with Evil Smelling Fens and can also discard himself to wound someone (hopefully fatally) with Horribly Strong - and all of this can be done in the same Shadow Phase!
Finally, I've put in Suffered Much Loss, which makes the Guard stronger when you have initiative and also makes every site a battleground, so that Ferocity is always a +3 pump and whoever bears an Isengard Bow is always an Archer.
For those who like pretty pictures, I've included a screenshot of this complete Shadow side.
The aim of this Shadow side is to avoid strong companions and keep picking off weaker companions until you can get down to the ring-bearer. If this happens to be an alternate ring-bearer, you might win just through the fighting penalties of that companion (e.g. Boromir, Isildur, Gimli).
A big thorn in the side of this deck, who seems to show up in a lot of Dwarven fellowships at the moment, could be Smeagol, Always Helps. He can assign the Guard to himself before you can perform your Assignment action. In this case, you have to either take a few hits until your opponent is maxed-out on threats, or get some threats on with Captured By The Ring. This deck will probably also suffer against a lot of companions. If that happens, I might drop in some copies of Shingle in a Storm.
The deck is only 30/30 to increase the chance of pulling off the combo. The Free Peoples side should either be good at drawing cards (which sadly might mean Dwarves) or cycling. I'll opt for the latter first, but might have to give Dwarves a try if I'm having trouble getting the right cards for my combo.
END OF PART ONE
After coming up with this deck idea many hours ago, I'm desperate to go off and try it out. In Part Two, I'll let you know how I got on and what changes were required. I'll also suggest the optimum Free Peoples side to go with this Shadow.
Until next time, I'll leave you with the complete deck list and say that feedback is appreciated. (Also contact me if you want to help me conduct my playtesting.)
You can download the decklist .ldc file here.
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