Welcome to what is the third 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 many quests. This isn’t a way to build that One Deck to Rule Them All which can win every quest out there, but rather how to build the foundation for a successful deck.
What spheres do you want to use?
This is one of the more important questions to consider. At best, you will max out at using three of the spheres; however, I would definitely encourage avoiding even making a deck using three spheres. Why? Because resources in this game are going to come at a premium price if you have each hero belonging to a unique sphere. Consider this: each turn you gain one resource on every hero. Those resources can be used only to pay for cards in their sphere or to pay for the only neutral card in the Core Set. That means anything costing 3 or more resources is either going to require you to play nothing for a good chunk of the game or they will simply sit and clog up your hand. Yes, there are ways to gain extra resources, but in general you’ll get a lot better mileage when running only two spheres.
What Tactics can offer – This sphere excels at dealing damage, taking hits, and influencing enemy attacks. This is a fantastic sphere if you are playing with another person, and when paired with the right sphere it is also quite feasible for solo play. This sphere is very weak at questing, though, so it will need the other hero or two to be strong in that area.
What Lore can offer – This sphere provides ways to heal damage, draw cards, and some mitigation of threat in the staging area. Like the Tactics sphere, this one really shines in a 2-player game because it brings a lot of ways to dig into your decks for needed cards and ways to reduce what the encounter deck has thrown at you. This sphere isn’t very good with damage dealing, making it a sensible partner with Tactics.
What Spirit can offer – This sphere really shines at questing, and also offers good ways to reduce your threat track and to cancel the nastier effects that an encounter deck reveals. There are allies that can help to burn through locations, both active and those clogged in the staging area and is my must-have sphere in any solo deck. This sphere, like Lore, isn’t so great at attacking but is also not great at defending. Spirit and Lore make a fun deck to run, but not one that will progress quickly through piles of enemies that appear.
What Leadership can offer – This sphere provides ways to generate resources, making it a great partner for any sphere. They are reasonably good at questing, attacking, and defending which makes them a jack-of-all-trades sort of sphere in the Core Set. But while they are good at all of those, they do not excel at any of them so – although they are arguably the best sphere to use if running mono-sphere – they definitely benefit from pairing with one of the other spheres.
The vital things to include in a deck
Questing – Without high willpower, or other acceptable ways of dealing with what is in the staging area, there is little hope to find consistent success with any deck you make. This is the reason why Eowyn is, for me, pretty much an auto-include in any deck I construct. Her ability to quest for 4+ each round is simply too good in the Core Set to be ignored. Other good options include Aragorn because he can ready after questing, Faramir to boost all questing characters, the Northern Tracker to put tokens on locations that clog in the staging area, the Lorien Guide to auto-add tokens to the active location, and the Snowborn Scout for their effect when entering play. Attachments such as Favor of the Lady and Celebrian’s Stone are also fantastic to include in a deck.
Attack power – Few quests can be completed if you have a board full of enemies either engaged with you or in the staging area. The former will continue to damage you and/or require you to dedicate blockers each round instead of using them in other ways. The latter will require you to have insane amounts of willpower in order to progress through locations and the quest cards. Legolas and Glorfindel are the two strongest base attack heroes in the game. Other excellent cards include Beorn, For Gondor! to boost attack for all characters, Blade Mastery to boost one attack, Quick Strike to deal damage before an enemy, as well as Blade of Gondolin and Dwarven Axe to attach to heroes to boost their power.
Defense power – Enemies strike first, which means you have to be able to defend what is thrown at you. Heroes like Denethor are great for his high defense, and there are some like Gimli and Beravor who have a solid defense stat. Gimli in particular is nice to defend early so he can get his attack boosted. A popular line of thinking is to put out a host of cheap allies who can exist solely to defend. No one does this better than the Gondoran Spearman who deals a damage as he defends, but allies like Guard of the Citadel, Snowborn Scout, Wandering Took, and others can serve in that capacity. Beorn and Gandalf are both excellent blockers but are expensive. Cards such as Protector of Lorien to boost defense, Swift Strike to deal damage while defending, Citadel Plate to take more damage, and Feint to cancel an attack are all worthwhile to include.
The other stuff – This is where everything that doesn’t fit nicely into one of the three main categories can fit, and this is going to depend on your spheres used. If you are using Leadership, you will want cards like Ever Vigilant to ready characters, Sneak Attack to get out an expensive card for a turn, and Steward of Gondor for resource generation. If you are using Tactics, you’ll want to include Blade Mastery, Quick Strike, Feint, and Swift Strike to manipulate the attack/defense phases of the game. You’d also want attachments like the Horn of Gondor to boost resources as your cheap allies die. If running Lore, then cards like Lore of Indralis and Daughter of the Nimrodel to heal damage, Gleowine and Lorien’s Wealth for card draw. You may also consider Forest Snare, Secret Paths, and Radagast’s Cunning for their ability to mitigate the impact of certain enemies and locations. For Spirit, cards like Hasty Stroke and A Test of Will are vital to cancel encounter deck effects. The Galadhrim’s Greeting is a great way to reduce threat, and Unexpected Courage allows you to ready a hero each turn so you can use them for more things every round.
Putting things together into a deck
For the purposes of an all-around deck, I feel that Spirit and Leadership will make a great pairing because it can handle a little bit of everything. However, in the interest of undoing my dependency of Eowyn I am going to have us build a slightly different deck here:
Theodred and Aragorn will quest each round, with Dunhere holding back to be able to defend or attack an enemy in the staging area. With a 28 starting threat, this should allow him to chip away at a few enemies early in the game. Aragorn can gain the resource from Theodred in order to ready again if needed, and Theodred could also add a resource to Dunhere in order to boost that spirit generation as needed.
Brok Ironfist x 1
Faramir x 2
Gandalf x 3 (If playing two players with the same core, reduce a Gandalf and increase a Silverlode Archer)
Guard of the Citadel x 3
Longbeard Orc Slayer x 2
Lorien Guide x 2
Northern Tracker x 2
Silverlode Archer x 1
Snowbourne Scout x 3
Celebrian’s Stone x 1
Power in the Earth x 1
Steward of Gondor x 2
The Favor of the Lady x 2
Unexpected Courage x 1
A Light in the Dark x 1
A Test of Will x 2
Common Cause x 2
Dwarven Tomb x 1
Ever Vigilant x 2
For Gondor! x 2
Grim Resolve x 1
Hasty Stroke x 2
Sneak Attack x 2
Stand and Fight x 2
Strength of Will x 2
The Galadhrim’s Greeting x 2
Valiant Sacrifice x 2
Will of the West x 1
Cards to look for in a starting hand:
Sneak Attack + Gandalf – This combo would let you get a Gandalf out immediately, either to drop some damage on an enemy on the board or to drop your threat, allowing even more time to get set up before the big nasties have to engage with you.
Steward of Gondor – This is an excellent resource generator, and getting this Turn 1 onto Dunhere will allow you to be able to afford a lot more of the Spirit items early in the game, such as Lorien Guides and Northern Trackers to help with the questing and location resolution.
Unexpected Courage – Getting this onto Theodred early would allow you to quest with 2-3 heroes and have 2-3 ready after the questing phase. Or, putting it on Aragorn will allow you to quest, defend, and attack with him every turn.
Celebrian’s Stone OR The Favor of the Lady – Either of these are great additions, and putting one of them onto Aragorn will boost his questing ability. The Stone, in addition, will allow him to spend on either Spirit or Leadership cards which would make him become the ideal candidate for a later play of Steward of Gondor.
Okay, so there is a fairly basic deck to start with. Want to make questing a little easier? Sub Dunhere out for Eowyn. It will leave you needing to get allies out in order to defend so Aragorn can attack them (unless you get an Unexpected Courage right away) but you’ll be able to chew right through a ton of locations and quests. I’ve built it myself and will run this through the first two quests in the Core Set three times each solo and then I’ll report on my results in the final post in this series for the month.
By all means, feel free to throw this together as well and let me know how it worked for you!
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