Welcome to what is the fourth post in a semi-planned series of posts outlining some beginner-level strategies to help you get started in the Lord of the Rings: Living Card Game. In a game that already has so much additional content out there, it can feel overwhelming to know how to begin and, even, how to get started with learning the game. Deck construction is a key component to the game, and even the Core Set itself will encourage you to explore this path with the small selection of cards in the pool. Before you even consider purchasing more content for the game, you’ll likely want to get familiar with how the game plays AND how to construct a deck in order to combat the scenarios you’ll encounter.
Why listen to me when I am a beginner, too? Because I love to deckbuild, and I am at a starting level of this game like you. I’m not five years into playing and looking back on things. I don’t know much of the cardpool that is out there in current meta play, I just know the cards in this core set really well after building dozens of decks and running through Journey Down the Anduin more times than I care to share.
So without any more ado, I will dive right into the topic that many of you are probably really curious to know: how to construct a deck that is capable of faring well against a specific quest. Sometimes that jack-of-all-trades deck in your arsenal just isn’t quite capable of handling everything a certain quest can throw at you.
In fact, this is one of the most rewarding aspects about the Lord of the Rings LCG, in my opinion. If a single deck was all you ever needed to build in order to win the game, there would be a lot less excitement. It’d be that deck versus the quest every time. What we have instead is a puzzle with every new quest that comes our way. Sometimes we’ll get lucky and our favorite deck will steamroll right through. Sometimes you’ll never see a glimpse of the really nasty cards waiting inside that encounter deck. Other times the quest will smack your heroes around and leave you feeling overwhelmed.
Which is where specialized deck construction comes in, where there are a few very important questions to ask yourself:
What are the cards that I definitely need to be able to overcome?
The one thing that I love about the Journey Along the Anduin is that it makes you have to answer this question. Some quests there is a chance of a certain card appearing. This one has an absolute certainty: the Hill Troll.
If you ever advanced to the second part of the quest, which means you placed your 8th progress on the quest while there was no Hill Troll in play then you’ve seen the other guaranteed challenge: you flip two encounter cards per player in Stage 2 of the quest. Which means that, not only do you need to place a whopping 16 progress on the quest, you need to be able to do it while taking care of up to two enemies, locations, or treacheries per player every round. This is the area where my constructed Aragorn/Theodred/Dunhere deck struggled mightily after being able to reliably take down the Hill Troll.
The first step, in building the deck, is to answer these questions, which leads you to:
How can I overcome the Hill Troll?
This can be a tricky thing to consider because there are several potential avenues. There are five important things to note about the Hill Troll:
His 30 Threat-engagement
His 9 Health
His 6 Attack
His 3 Defense
What this means is you will need to hit him hard, early, and often. You will also need a viable way to absorb his attacks or else be prepared to accept the surge in your overall threat. There are a few options to consider here:
Chump block with a weak ally and try to drop 12 damage in one round on the Troll. This is possible, but not easy to do and almost always will require multiple rounds to get your board set up to accomplish this. Your block will prevent it from being an undefended attack, but the excess threat will roll over. Furthermore, anyone dedicated to questing that round will not be likely to participate in damaging the troll so that is something to consider.
Block the first attack with Gimli and then block with a weak ally the next round. This is one situation where Gimli, whose attack increases with damage, can be really helpful. His defense and health are high enough that he can absorb a single attack from the troll and still live, making his attack stronger in the process. When one hero is swinging for 6, it is easier to take that troll down fast. Citadel Plate can be very useful for this.
Keep your threat low and chip away with Dunhere. This isn’t a very viable strategy because there are not enough ways, in the core set, to increase Dunhere’s base attack. Yes, he can attack for 3 when attacking alone…but the troll’s defense is 3. The best attachments will only increase his attack by 1, making it a long process to chip away…
Gandalfthe troll – bonus points for being sneaky about it! Gandalf can drop 4 damage right on the troll when he comes into play. He can also either defend the attack, leaving your other guys free to hack at it or else he can swing for 4 damage himself. Gandalf is expensive, requiring most of two turns’ resources to pay for him. And he only stays out for a turn. But he remains one of the best ways to drop damage on this beast. Sneak Attack + Gandalf is a devastating combo, allowing you to blast it even if it hasn’t engaged with you yet while bringing Gandalf right back to your hand.
Snare the troll and keep it idle. Damage mitigation central. The obvious method is using a Forest Snare on the troll, which will require 3 Lore resources and for the troll to be engaged with a player. But this makes it an idle threat, something to chip away at as you are able to while allowing you to focus efforts on questing and other enemies if you need to. Unless you are running two Lore heroes, it can be really hard to afford this card when you need it. Alternative option would be the use of Feint, which prevents it from attacking for a turn.
So you can see, there are many possible answers to the Hill Troll. Every deck will have Gandalf in there, but you can’t count on drawing that Gandalf early enough to make a difference. You should have at least one other plan in place, since most decks will get only a few turns at most to be set up before the troll engages you.
How Can I Overcome the Addition of Two Cards Per Player?
This is a hard one to answer because those cards will be variable every time. You could get lucky and see a pair of treacheries that whiff completely. You could see small, easy-to-kill enemies. You could get really unlucky and see two locations. The best way to plan for this is to look at some of the nastier cards in the deck and have an idea of how you could blast through those.
Eastern Crows is a card that seems innocent enough. Low threat in the staging area, one attack, no defense, one health. The problem comes with its surge effect, which has you reveal another card. Yep, this one will make you see three cards per turn. There is one real counter to them in the Core Set: Thalin’s ability to deal a damage as it is revealed will trigger before the surge, eliminating the card and its nasty effect.
The Brown Lands is a location that, in a perfect world, you’ll see only when you have no active location. It is easily quested through by traveling there, making it so that 5-threat only applies once. There are two other good answers for this in the Core Set: playing a Snowbourn Scout from your hand to put a progress on it, or questing with a Northern Tracker while this is in the Staging Area. If none of these are true, and the Brown Lands makes it so you didn’t successfully quest through your previous location, then this one can be a game-ender with that high threat to overcome.
Goblin Sniper seems innocent enough. High engagement cost, reasonable threat, weak defense and health and attack. The problem is that you cannot optionally engage him if you are able to engage anything else. Which means your one engagement has to go elsewhere every single round that at least one enemy appears. Which means his other effect, dealing a damage to a hero at the end of each round, will chip away at your health unless you can plow through enemies. Being able to optionally engage only one enemy per turn will make it hard to get through everyone. The best answer to him, of course, is Dunhere because he can attack the staging area. He doesn’t even need the attack boost from attacking alone, making him ideal to take this goblin down.
Hordes of enemies will be appearing, both small and large. Being able to deal with them, especially if two are appearing each turn, is essential for success. Getting overrun by enemies in the staging area is a very real threat, and pairs with the next thing that has to be answered. You don’t even need to necessarily kill all the enemies at once, just be able to engage and survive as long as possible. A second Hill Troll, the Marsh Adder, and the Chieftain Ufthak are the biggest baddies in there and can wreck even the best-laid plans.
The ability to quest exceptionally well is essential. The best way to get past this part of the quest is to get through it quickly. The more rounds you spend getting that 16 progress, the more bloated the board will become. And, yes, the harder it will be to get those progress tokens out there. This is where Eowyn, Faramir, and Legolas all become stars. In fact, Legolas might be one of the more useful heroes here because he can hack at enemies (especially if equipped with a Gondolan Blade) and place progress tokens at the same time. The other reason it is essential to quest well is that failure will bring about a rise in your threat. Get to 50 threat and it is game over.
So where do you begin with the deckbuilding?
As you have seen, every sphere has a benefit that it can offer in here. Lore is great for drawing cards, healing damage for survival, and using the Forest Snare. Tactics can deal with the Hill Troll and the threat of an endless horde of enemies. Leadership can boost willpower, resource generation, and Sneak Attack to get even more uses out of your Gandalf. Spirit can blast through the questing phase, allowing you to move with all haste through the quest.
Using the Core Set only, I would say that either Eowyn or Glorfindel will need to be in your deck for their pure questing. Eowyn would get priority, but if you really don’t want to use Spirit then a Glorfindel/Theodred/Aragorn combo might function well enough but at the cost of a high starting threat.
I’ve run Tactics/Spirit using Gimli/Legolas/Eowyn and had a reasonable amount of success with the deck even into the Mirkwood cycle quests. This group is almost ideal for the Anduin quest, as you have plenty of tools for handling and defeating the Troll and a way to get progress on the quest even if the staging area gets a little flooded. I threw pretty much every Tactics card in there, and then filled the rest in with low-cost Spirit and a copy or two of the higher-cost cards.
I’ve run Spirit/Lore with Denethor/Beravor/Eowyn and had reasonable success by being able to stall long enough to Forest Snare onto the Troll. It isn’t a fast-killing deck, but it proved capable of managing if given the chance. This was probably the hardest of the decks to play successfully, as Gandalf is really your only consistent way to drop batches of damage.
I’ve also run Aragorn/Theodred/Eowyn using pretty much the same deck as last time. One simple change, from Dunhere to Eowyn, takes that deck to a whole new level which was why I left Eowyn out…so that you could see how a deck functions without that super-questing power. I found the deck did just fine against the Mirkwood quest, going 2/3 on there, but when I faced Anduin it fell short. The troll was a non-issue for two of the games but the Stage 2 part of the quest flooded the board with too many locations both times and not even Celebrian’s Stone was able to salvage the attempt.
This is a game, especially when playing solo, where you are likely going to have to tweak and rebuild decks often. Every quest is different, and certain quests are going to require different approaches in order to overcome the obstacles they throw at you. My preference so far is to use a deck that can handle a little bit of everything and then, after a few losses on a particular quest, to try and build around that specific quest once I’ve seen what nasty cards it has in store. You could, of course, look at those ahead of time and build that deck before ever running the quest. But the key, if you are stuck on a specific quest, remains to plan a way to counter the nasty cards in that deck. Sometimes those are simply planning ways to overcome those things you know will come out every time (like the Hill Troll). Other times you might need to have a specific way to handle something that could appear but might end up never showing up, such as the Hummerhorns in the Mirkwood quest. The game isn’t meant to be “I have a deck here and I can use this 100% of the time and find a great success rate”, but rather it is designed to push you to test new cards and decks and be willing to adapt. Which I think is great, because that means there are many cards in the pool, once you purchase more, that might seem useless but become critical for success in certain quests.
Here are the other posts I’ve made so far in this series, as well as a few other bonus posts that I plan to make in December regarding this game:
Strategy Post #1: First Steps After Purchasing a Core Set
Strategy Post #2: Evaluating the Core Set Heroes
Strategy Post #3: Constructing a Deck without Knowing the Next Quest
Strategy Post #4: Constructing a Deck to Defeat a Specific Quest
Bonus Post #5: Where to Go After the Core Set?
Bonus Posts #6 & 7: The Fellowship Event