Welcome to what is going to be the first 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 twelve heroes that come in the core set, looking at them each in turn and then considering some synergies between certain heroes and their abilities.
The Tactics Sphere Heroes
Gimli – This dwarf is one of the early stars of the Core Set for heroes, simply because he is so beefy. His five health, combined with the increase in his damage output as he takes more damage, allows him to contribute to defending early in the game and to mercilessly slaughtering the tougher enemies later in the game. He even has reasonable willpower for questing, allowing you to plunk down progress tokens when there isn’t any visible threat to deal with. His biggest drawback is the threat of 11, which isn’t horrible for what you can have out of him but is still on the high end.
Legolas – There are three important things to note on Legolas’ card: Ranged, 3 Attack, and his ability to place progress tokens when helping defeat an enemy. That 3 attack is really nice, and helps make up for his unimpressive willpower and defense. He’ll often be a hero you keep back along with a dedicated blocker, allowing Legolas to cut through swaths of enemies via the only efficient way that Tactics can quest in this Core Set. Ranged is a keyword that is nearly meaningless in a solo game playing with one deck, but as soon as you add another player it can become important because it allows him to attack an enemy that is engaged with another player.
Thalin – His willpower is his weakest stat, but it is probably the one you’ll use him for the most often because of his ability to deal damage to enemies as they are revealed. That means anything with one health dies instantly, something very important in certain scenarios as we’ll discuss in the fourth post. His defense is better than Legolas, allowing him to take hits a little better, but he seems to be really only worth including if you plan to quest with him every round.
The Lore Sphere Heroes
Beravor – Her stats are solid. As a very well-rounded hero, this alone would make her stand out. Her threat is a little on the high side, but it is one less than Gimli (who is identical apart from health) and two less than Aragorn (whose attack is one higher) so in comparison that actually isn’t a bad cost. Where she shines, and why so many people are thrilled to use her in their decks, is for her action to draw cards. Being able to dig in your deck is no small benefit, allowing you to get that event, ally, or attachment you really need. She can be held back until the end of the round in case you need a defender or a boost to an attack more than a card. They have errata’d the text on her to make that ability once per round, but even with that change she’s definitely one of the more useful heroes in the Core Set.
Denethor – There are three things I really like about Denethor, and they are why I usually add him into a deck when I want Lore: his low threat, his 3 defense, and his ability to peek at the encounter deck. He is perfect for sitting back while the other heroes quest, leaving you a capable defender if an enemy gets revealed. In those best-case scenarios where an enemy never appears, his ability allows you to see the top card of the encounter deck and either put it on the top or the bottom of the deck. This is not only useful at the end of a round so you could possibly plan on what comes next, but it also could allow you to peek ahead of dealing shadow cards when the enemies attack. More often than not, the card I see goes right back on top but then I can plan my questing and combat phases for the next round based on that information. Better to deal with the threat you know is coming than to risk revealing something even nastier, right?
Glorfindel – The knee-jerk reaction is that this guy is a great hero. Five health. Three willpower. The ability to heal. Three attack. If you need a quester and don’t want to include Eowyn or Aragorn, then he is a good replacement. But that threat is so high, and his ability is one that I find I rarely make use of during a game. That one resource could be put toward a card in my hand, or saving up for those expensive cards in my hand. Lore has a lot of cards that allow you to heal, including some ally cards that will let you do that every round once they are in play. So he ends up being that hero who is really only in there if you don’t use Aragorn or Eowyn instead, either of whom I would include over him. I suppose if you are running Tactics/Lore…
The Leadership Sphere Heroes
Aragorn – This is arguably the best hero in the entire Core Set. His stats are all excellent. His threat can be an issue, but if you pair him with two lower-threat heroes then it isn’t as much of a detriment. His ability to ready by paying a resource is invaluable, allowing him to quest and attack, or to quest and defend. In a solo game his Sentinel keyword is useless, but in a multiplayer game that adds even more benefit to bringing him in a deck because he can take an attack directed at another player. As you will see in the next article, there are also some very specific cards that synergize with Aragorn in this Core Set so that raises his value even more. If you are including Leadership in a deck, he is the hero you probably want to be using.
Gloin – In a deck with lots of healing, this dwarf might actually become useful. As it stands, he is one of the other heroes that never sees the chance to appear in one of my decks because he is, overall, unremarkable. Sure, his stats themselves aren’t horrible. And his response isn’t a bad one, really. You get resources for every point of damage he suffers. But the limitation is that its usefulness caps at around 3 unless you have healing or a way to take additional damage. His problem is that he just isn’t as good with ability or stats as some of the other choices for the same, or very close, threat in your deck.
Theodred – The real reason why Gloin is left behind is because of Theodred. Yes, his stats are a little worse for one threat less. But where this guy wins is his response to add a resource to the pool of a hero who is committed to the quest. Which, guess what? It gives you the resource to ready Aragorn. This combo right here, as I’ll discuss soon, is what makes Theodred a fantastic hero to field when you want to use two Leadership heroes. Plus he also is handy to have when you need to boost your resource generation of a specific sphere in order to play an expensive card.
The Spirit Sphere Heroes
Dunhere – Welcome to the sphere of mostly unimpressive stats. His low threat is a great thing, but the real reason you’re going to want to consider him in your lineup is because of that ability. Normally you have to engage an enemy in order to attack it, which means it will get a chance to hit you first. Not with Dunhere on your side! He can sock an enemy for 3 when attacking alone, which is enough to deal with some of the lesser enemies you might see in an encounter deck. It isn’t a spectacular ability, but it definitely works well in a deck designed to keep threat really low.
Eleanor – I will be the first to admit that I do not use her nearly as much as I should, and I think the problem is because I play solo. Denethor is great to keep back until late in a round because he excels at blocking with that 3 defense. Eleanor’s 2 isn’t bad, but there are too many chances she’s going to take some damage if left to defend. But that ability, allowing you to cancel the effect of a card revealed from the encounter deck, can be huge. She might not be designed for solo play, but I could see her being very welcome in any multiplayer game you might play.
Eowyn – If I were to log my decks that I built, not counting mono-sphere decks, I am almost certain Eowyn would be on every one of them. And why not? As a solo player, it is hard to beat her 4 willpower each questing phase. Not to mention her ability to boost that by a point if I need it to advance that quest, clear a location, or to avoid an increase in threat. Every deck I build in the core set begins with her and with very good reason. Just don’t put any unnecessary damage on her – encounter cards getting revealed can kill her off and leave you floundering to scrape by the last leg of a quest. Trust me on that.
A few basic pairings
Aragorn + Theodred + Eowyn – As I mentioned already, these two have some excellent synergy because they can both quest each round and then Aragorn can essentially ready for free. Or not, if he isn’t needed. Throwing the two of these with Eowyn can lead to a deck that is able to blaze past almost anything quest-wise. Just be sure to field lots of cheap allies to block so Aragorn can attack when needed.
Legolas + Denethor + Eowyn – I’ve grown less fond of tri-sphere decks lately because it can be hard to afford cards, and this grouping would be no different. Where they have synergy, though, is in having a strong attacker, a strong defender, and a strong quester for a starting threat of only 26. Most decks I make start between 28-31, so having those few extra rounds to set your board up for whatever is flipped is a great benefit. Plus consider Legolas’ excellent addition to questing whenever he attacks.
Eleanor + Denethor + Beravor – This wouldn’t be as great in a solo situation, but if you want a strong support deck to field when playing with friends this is where it is at. You can cancel treacheries, peek ahead at the encounter deck, and help whoever is in need to draw cards. If you want to go all-in on playing a supportive role you might really enjoy this deck. The card pool for Lore and Spirit also help to support that idea. And I actually find that one of my favorite dual-sphere combos to play solo is Lore and Spirit, just not with this trio. You guessed it, swap out Eleanor of Eowyn and you have one of my favorite solo combos for a slow, but steady, progression that is very dependent on some card draws for certain quests.
Gimli + Legolas + Aragorn – On the other side of things, maybe you like going all out and being able to attack and defend at will. This would actually pair really well with the above deck for two players running through the Core Set together, as this gives you both Sentinel and Ranged to help pull off any threats that go after the support deck. The biggest problem with this deck is the starting threat of 32, which means there are a lot of nasty enemies that won’t just sit and wait for you to be ready for them. Meaning you need to not only draw that card you need in an opening hand, but also be able to hold off until you have the resources to play it.
So there you have it, a brief evaluation of each of the heroes in the core set, some of my thoughts on them, and four pairings that you could take and test against the Core Set scenarios. How would I build the deck at this point? For a dual-sphere deck, throw all of the cards in both spheres together, add in three Gandalf cards (or two if building a second deck to use), and run with that. Pay attention to the cards you always try to play as those should definitely stay in the deck. Also pay attention to the cards that seem to always sit in your hand, either because they aren’t ever useful or are too expensive. Those are likely good candidates to trim from the deck.
Running three spheres in a deck and don’t want to deckbuild yet? Grab two of each card in those spheres and some Gandalfs and see how that plays with the same parameters as before. Even if the deck is too large, this will let you see a great number of cards during game situations to see how they perform. At this point, that is the most important thing you’re wanting to find: how useful are these cards?
I’d love to hear if you try out one of these decks going through Journey Through Mirkwood. Got a combination of heroes from the Core Set that you prefer? Comment below and let me know what that is as well!
Here are the other two planned posts for this month, 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