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Lord of the Rings TCG  »  Articles  »  The Evolution of a Deck  »  Pick Your Battles - Part Two
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In Part One, I described a Shadow side called Pick Your Battles: I had a decklist and I had a strategy ... but I didn't have a clue how it would perform in a match. Now, one month on, I've completed my playtesting, I've made my deck alterations, and I'm ready to tell you all about how it went!


INITIAL PLAYTESTING

When I wrote the first part of this article in early May 2005, Dwarves were running rampant and the top Shadows were Nazgul Corruption and Corsairs. As such, I chose to pair my new Shadow with an experimental Hobbit/Ranger/Gandalf deck which could deal with burdens and losing companions fairly well. Through the use of Targon and Brooding on Tomorrow, I had reasonable condition-removal and a decent cycling engine that provided better chances of assembling a decent Shadow hand for my opponent's turn.

In my first game, I met a pretty strong Gondor fellowship that included both Elendil with Narsil and Elessar Telcontar bearing Anduril. I managed to get my Guard bearing a sword onto Aragorn and after three pumps with Saruman and one Ferocity, I got the overwhelm on a strength 10 Aragorn. It's moments like that that make me glad I didn't have my White Hand of Saruman tattoo removed! Although my opponent played only 6 companions in the entire game, I was starting to run low on minions by site 7 or 8 and had to go for the Free Peoples win, which I just managed.

In the next game I played, I had my worst match-up of all my playtests, facing a Hobbit/Ent G for Grand fellowship. With no way to add burdens, remove conditions or deal with big fellowships in my Shadow side, I just got owned. It was clear to my opponent that I couldn't do anything and I made a desperate dash for site 9 that got me killed. I also suffered from lack of crowd control in my next game, but resisted making any deck changes because I felt the decks I was meeting in the casual lobby were not representative of what I might meet in tournaments.

In game four, I came up against a Hobbit/Smeagol fellowship that really gave my deck a chance to shine. Things weren't actually going too well at first though because when I played my Guard/Sword/Bow combo at site 3 that would have killed either Sam or Frodo, I got hit with a Make Haste! Those pesky hobbitses! The Karma Police arrived on the scene at site 6 though, where I played Saruman, a Guard and two swords against Frodo, Smeagol and Pippin. My opponent plays Make Haste again, returning Pippin to hand, and I respond by returning Saruman to hand. Due to the 2 threats I've managed to get down using Captured By The Ring earlier in the game, Smeagol can't assign my Guard to himself, so I exert my Guard and he stomps on Frodo.

With a 50% success ratio so far, it was clear that the deck needed some changes; it needed to evolve! I decided to use my next few games to note down what cards could be dropped/added as I went along. Previous games were all about evaluating whether the deck was any good; now it was time to work out how it could be made better. Ironically, in my next game, the deck performed its best so far against a starting fellowship of Frodo, Gamling and Eomer. Once he'd moved to my site 2, there was exactly 8 in the pool and I played the Guard/Sword/Bow combo. Two exertions later, my Green Giant had sidestepped the strawheads and taken Frodo to Overwhelm City! At this point, I didn't know what to think!

After a couple of days off from playtesting, I returned to experience the complete opposite of my previous game, but against what I can only assume was a similar deck to the one my previous opponent was using (I only got to see 6 of my opponent's cards in that game, including The One Ring.) Things started off well, when I had the perfect hand again before he moved to site 2, but how would I ever get the chance to improve my deck if it kept winning? I began reflecting on Frodo's impending death with a sense of ambivilance, but then out came Gandalf and Theoden and things were looking much more interesting. At this point, I knew it would be a challenge and I'd be able to spot some required deck changes. Still, things were looking good for my Shadow until those darn Riders of the Mark hit the table at site 4 and exhausted Saruman to make my Uruk Guard who was facing Eomer pretty impotent. From there on in, my opponent continued to play more companions and I was again forced to try and run for site 9. Needless to say, I got stomped on. It was time to make some changes.


DECK ALTERATIONS

The above playtesting demonstrated two main weaknesses: firstly, it has no ways to punish large fellowships; secondly, it has a distinct lack of stamina, so it's easy to run out of minions before the end. As expected, its strengths were all based around the Guard/Bow/Sword combo, with Ferocity and Saruman as pumps. In light of these findings, I decided to abandon the Gollum package, which turned out to be pretty ineffective, and addressed the weaknesses with the following cards:

4x11S190  Invincible Uruk  (Uruk-hai Minion)  
4x12R150  Uruk Decimator  (Uruk-hai Minion)  
2x12C145  Shingle in a Storm  (Uruk-hai Condition)  

The Invincible Uruk is just made for this deck. Firstly, he matches the Guard's raw stats (11/2/d+1 for 4 twilight), so he can fill in when his friend's guarding the bottom of the draw deck. Secondly, when at a battleground, which is guaranteed when Suffered Much Loss is on the table, he can't take wounds. Most importantly, any time there are six companions out, every single one of my minions can't take wounds. Wow!

Before making this deck, I could never see the value of the Uruk Decimator. His basic stats were only average (12/3 for 4 twilight) and triggering his bonuses seemed too much like hard work. well, not any more! With a very good chance of seeing some battlegrounds (where he is +2 strength) and landing one of my eight possessions on him (making him damage+1), he's more than capable of causing some trouble.

To round out the deck, I decided on two copies of Shingle in a Storm, to make each of my minions damage+1 if six or more companions were in play. This took me to 32 cards, but since both can be played for free with no spotting requirements, I figured it wouldn't slow me down too much. It also gave me an opportunity to bolster my Free Peoples side slightly.


FURTHER PLAYTESTING

In my first game, I met Noble Rangers with Ninja Gollum. Mainly thanks to Brooding on Tomorrow, my Free Peoples managed to stay out of trouble enough to do some double moves. Meanwhile, the Uruk-hai Guard was doing a great job of avoiding Faramir (the strongest companion in play) to make sure some wounds got dished out and his new friends were causing enough trouble to prevent double moves and extra companions hitting the table. The game ended with me surviving at site 9.

The next game I met an Elf deck that started Frodo, Glorfindel and Arwen, Fair Elf Maiden. Being given only 6 pool at sites 2 and 3, I had to wait until site 4 to start my onslaught, which began with the death of Glorfindel w/ Elven Sword at a battleground, at the hands of an Uruk Decimator and two Ferocities. I completed my win at the following site with an Uruk Guard who exerted to make sure he got Frodo. (I guess he was too shy to try it on with Arwen.)

In game three, I went second against a classic Noble Leaders deck. I got two Shingles out early on, which scared my opponent from playing more than five companions, and at site 5 I killed Strider with Anduril and Pledge of Loyalty (+3 strength) with a Guard, a sword, two Ferocities and three exerts from Saruman, giving me 23 strength to his 11! Both of us moved only one site at a time until site 6, where he healed fully, but decided not to grab Elendil, for fear of being Shingled to death after playing a replacement for Strider at site 5. I hit him for 4 wounds at site 7, so he decided to stop. I then ran three sites using Radagast, two Out of the High Airs and a Pathfound Neekerbreeker's Bog for healing and won the game!

My last game, I came up against a big bad Elf Archery deck, who made light work of my Guards and Saruman early on. My opponent then made a critical error at site 4 and played a sixth companion: enter Invincible Uruk and friends. I deliberately didn't kill anyone so that there would be six companions at the next site too. Amazingly, my opponent didn't let one of them die at 6, so he got really hammered at site 7 when an Invincible Uruk and a Shingle in a Storm landed on the table. While all this was going on, my Free Peoples managed to double to site 8. My opponent could only manage a single move to site 8 after me, so I danced to site 9 for the win.


THE EVOLVED DECK

From the results above, it should be clear that the deck really has evolved. What started out as a hit-and-miss Shadow Kill deck has become a very reliable Balanced deck. This was achieved through retaining the main strengths of the original deck and supplementing it with some stopping power, which allowed my versatile Fellowship to run to site 9 when a Shadow win wasn't possible. All in all, I'm very proud of this Shadow side, both for its performance and originality.

4x12R156  Uruk-hai Guard  (Uruk-hai Minion)  
4x11U191  Isengard Siege Bow  (Uruk-hai Possession)  
4x11C192  Isengard Sword  (Uruk-hai Possession)  
4x4C151  Ferocity  (Isengard Event)  
4x12S144  Saruman, Agent of the Dark Lord  (Uruk-hai Minion)  
2x10U35  Suffered Much Loss  (Isengard Condition)  
4x11S190  Invincible Uruk  (Uruk-hai Minion)  
4x12R150  Uruk Decimator  (Uruk-hai Minion)  
2x12C145  Shingle in a Storm  (Uruk-hai Condition)  

You can download the complete decklist .ldc file (which includes my Fellowship side and Adventure deck) here.


CLOSING THOUGHTS

I'd like to close this article with some things I've learned from writing it:

Firstly, the Uruk-hai Guard is evidence that there are great cards out there that people just aren't using. Whether it's down to lack of imagination or lazy reliance on tried-and-tested decks and raw playing ability, I don't know. What I do know is that in about 100 games I've played since Black Rider debuted, I've not seen a single player use Uruk-hai Guard, yet it should be clear from my playtesting that he can be a real menace against small fellowships, or just ones based around one or two very strong characters.

Secondly, it's important to stick to your original strategy and deck list for a few games before making changes. If you respond to every loss by dropping cards that were of no use that game and adding cards that would have been, I can guarantee you will go off on a tangent and lose some of what made your deck special in the first place. After making my changes, I did not kid myself that it was just a tweaked version of the original. It was now a completely different deck, that could handle both small and large fellowships. I knew that I'd lost the ability to add threats and get back non-Gollum minions, but I'd gained some potent crowd control and stopping power. This made my accompanying fellowship side much more likely to get to site 9 first.

Thirdly, it's important to keep in mind what you were trying to achieve with the deck during its evolution. I wanted to make a tournament-level deck that could punish Dwarven fellowships, but then ended up not meeting many in the casual lobbies during playtesting, getting owned by some big fellowships instead. By only teching against those rather than making a new deck based around punishing large fellowships, I was able to retain the essence of my original deck, but also win games that my deck was not designed to face. In making my original deck, I'd wrongly made the assumption that people fear playing large fellowships, but that's not the case at the moment due to the absence of someone as potent as the Lieutenant of Morgul himself, Mr. Enquea from Fellowship of the Ring.


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