One of the biggest questions that recurs in forums and Facebook groups about the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is what to purchase after the Core Set. I wrote a post almost a year ago highlighting my own speculations on where to go next, and so here is a sort of follow-up post to that one.
My initial purchases were going into the Dream-Chaser Cycle (Grey Havens), and I also got a Sands of Harad deluxe at Christmas time due to the unavailability of The Black Riders. But I always knew that the Hobbits were the ones for me and my playstyle.
Now that I am nearly 100 logged plays (in about a 12-month period) into my second plunge of this great game, most of them being solo, it is time to expound on my thoughts for a great first deck to chase. The Hobbit deck won’t match everyone’s playstyle. There are a few other great deck archetypes out there to pursue that might match yours better, and I plan to explore a few of them soon myself (Rohan first, then Dwarves, then Silvan). But I will always be a Hobbit player, first and foremost.
So to address the question of where to begin, here is why I would recommend The Black Riders as a starting point for new players after the Core Set:
- This deluxe comes with a fairly complete and functional deck that has solid synergy out of the box. Even without any additional purchases, this deck can be used effectively on a reasonable number of quests.
- This deluxe provides three heroes rather than the typical two you’d find in other Deluxe boxes.
- This is the starting point for the Saga quests, which are designed to be a solid starting point for new players and, from my understanding, were designed so that even a player with just a Core Set could play and defeat the quests (losses are to be expected, but they are not insurmountable quests).
- With only two additional purchases (a Saga box and an Adventure pack – $45 MSRP investment) this deck goes from good to great by adding Rosie Cotton and Fast Hitch into the mix.
Those are good to hear, but what you really want to know is how the deck ticks, right? How can someone effectively pilot a Hobbit deck, especially if it plays differently than some of the other decks out there? Luckily, I can help with that. And to sweeten things a bit, I have also constructed a Hobbit deck on RingsDB using only a single Core Set, the Black Riders box, the Dead Marshes Adventure Pack, and the Mountain of Fire box so you can see an idea of how the deck would look with that minimal purchase. I will also make recommendations on other cards in the Saga cycle that would be worthwhile to include, as that would be the sensible next set of purchases if you start down this road.
A Hobbit Deck, a brief snapshot:
- The Heroes: This is a pretty standard lineup, and the one I’ve almost always used in there. Sam Gamgee is the MVP of the deck, thanks to his higher willpower and his ability to ready when engaging an enemy with higher threat. He is the Hobbit that I build up to be both a quester and a defender whenever possible and allow him to throw in an attack from time to time if he really gets built up with Fast Hitch, etc. to ready him more often. Merry is the other critical component in this deck, as he starts with 3 attack in this setup (and 4 when playing through the Saga quests thanks to Frodo being a hero). He, of course, gets stacked with anything that makes him hit harder or be able to attack more often. He is likely the 2nd Hobbit to get a Fast Hitch (the first going on Sam) so he can either quest and attack, or attack multiple enemies per turn. Finally is Pippin, whose abilities are solid but is honestly in here solely for access to Fast Hitch for the increased readying ability on the heroes. But his abilities do come in handy, increasing the engagement cost of all enemies in the staging area and allowing a card draw when engaging an enemy with a higher engagement. If I didn’t need Fast Hitch in the deck, I would likely look toward Spirit Frodo (Conflict at the Carrock) to fill that spot as a secondary defender, someone who could absorb direct damage treacheries (or effects like Archery), and someone who could absorb an undefended attack in a pinch.
- The Allies: In this deck there are four standout allies, each for varying reasons, and then a swarm of cheaper allies to help you defend while building up those Hobbit heroes in the early game. The MVP of allies is Rosie Cotton, who may not seem like much at first glance. However, her ability helps shine, as she can contribute to powering up Willpower, Attack, or Defense when needed (and it will be needed!). Farmer Maggot is a notable inclusion for two reasons: he is a Hobbit ally, making him a candidate for Raise the Shire if you have a Rosie, and because he drops damage onto an enemy you’re engaged with (making it even better when combined with Raise the Shire). Barliman Butterbur is a good ally to have around because he can take your undefended attacks, allowing you to be slightly more reckless in your decisions on how to attack and defend and who to hold back from questing. And Bill the Pony is that lonely card that seems simple but is so vital. Bill can help quest each turn, but that isn’t the real benefit. Not only does Bill come into play for free, he also boost the HP of every Hobbit. Not just your heroes, but the allies, too.
- The Events: Most of what I like to run involve the Tactics sphere and boosting your characters or stopping the enemy. The best of the ones outside of the Core Set would be the Halfling Determination, giving a +2 boost to all stats for the phase. It can help with questing in a pinch, but more importantly can boost Sam for a defense and a follow-up attack if he can ready. Its versatility of uses, and low cost, makes it one of the few 3-of cards I run (I typically run most cards with 2x as the max, apart from those critical to a strategy or ones that are cheap and efficient in some fashion). Raise the Shire was mentioned in the Allies section and with good reason: it helps you pull out Rosie and Farmer Maggot when engaging enemies, which is how this deck can run 2x of Rosie. Yes, they return to your hand at the end of the round but that is what makes it especially nasty to use with the Farmer. Take No Notice is the other noteworthy card in here, boosting the engagement level of all enemies and, hopefully, costing you nothing in the process. I’ve found it to be useful only at certain times, and so I run just 1x so it doesn’t clog the deck but still keep it around for when I need to draw it.
- The Attachments: Fast Hitch is almost an essential attachment, and I used to think it was the best card in the deck. However, I’ve survived plenty of quests where I never saw it appear. It is a nice card, and it allows you to be a lot more efficient, but it is far from being an essential card. Yet I hesitate to shed the Lore Sphere because I know it can really change the game when you get 1-2 of them out. Popping it onto Rosie can be an equally good idea as putting it on Pippin so I usually put the 3rd copy on her if I manage to get them all in a play. Steward of Gondor is in here because it is a nice card to see in an opening hand – likely placed on Merry to help fund the higher ratio of cards in the Tactics Sphere – but I can count on one hand the number of times I see the card. I’ve never needed it to be effective, it simply helps accelerate. Hobbit Cloak is the Sam Gamgee attachment I seek after and the card that makes this deck function, making it so ideally Sam is defending the first attack with a 4 defense, and every attack after that with a 3 defense (as long as your threat is low enough). Dagger of Westernesse, on the other hand, is the tool that Merry needs to become a lethal Balrog-killer. They are restricted, so I would avoid putting anything else Restricted on him so he can wield two of them. A third copy could be used in here, as it wouldn’t be a bad attachment to throw on Sam if you pull all three in a game. Friend of Friends is the other one to highlight, which is amazing when it pulls off. Sadly, I almost never get them both but consistently have one in my hand early. But getting the pair out will boost Sam and Merry and push them both to elite levels.
Ideal Starting Hand:
In a perfect world, I would draw Fast Hitch, Hobbit Cloak, Dagger of Westernesse, Bill the Pony, Friend of Friends x 2. In two turns, I’d be 80% of the way to having a stacked team. Continuing the perfect world, the next two card draws would be the other Dagger of Westernesse and a Rosie Cotton. Maybe some day I’ll have that happen!
How to play this deck effectively:
This deck takes time to set up, as could be surmised from the starting HP of the heroes. You can’t freely go all-in and expect to come out unscathed on the other side. The bad news is that this deck needs some of those allies and attachments to really function well. The cheap allies and the Tactics events are in there to help keep your deck from flaming out in the face of the first few rounds. The good news is that almost everything you need in this deck is inexpensive so you don’t need to spend a ton of time saving up resources, and that is part of the secret of how this deck can function well as a tri-Sphere deck.
Take advantage, in the early turns, of the low starting threat. Most of the time you’re going to be able to choose when to engage an enemy, and you always want to engage them before your threat surpasses their engagement cost. Those extra cards are always welcome, and Sam loves to quest and then ready to defend that attack. If the quest starts with no enemies in play, I might chance things and quest with all three Hobbits. Sometimes you might need that just to offset the starting threat in the staging area. But most of the game is spent using Sam, Pippin, and allies to quest and relying on Sam to ready for defense (or Barliman to take an undefended attack) and Merry to hopefully one-shot whatever engaged you.
This deck builds up slow, but once it hits its peak this deck is nearly unstoppable. I’ve taken down the Balrog and other massive, scary enemies with relative ease. I’ve had Sam reliably defend 5-6 attack swings every round without taking wounds. I’ve dropped big chunks of progress on quests. This deck can do it all, and it does things effectively once it gets going.
Surging enemies are this deck’s worst enemy, although this iteration is better suited to that than the high-cost unique ally version of a Hobbit deck I had been running (ally Gimli, Boromir, Legolas, Elrond, etc. are all fun, but take a LONG time to get out for such little return). Discarding attachments is a nasty shadow effect, but even more devastating will be anything that either ignores defense or simply drops damage on exhausted (or all) characters in play. Sometimes you’re going to lose and lose hard based on early turns or treachery cards that can’t be cancelled by the deck. However, those have proven to be the exception more than the experience, and losing early just means a quicker restart to challenge the quest again.
What to look for when adding to this deck:
Obviously there are a lot of other cards that could be added to the deck. A lot of the Saga cycle has cards with good synergy, providing at least a few cards in every box that mesh well with Hobbits. Anything dealing with having a lower threat than engagement costs should at least get some serious consideration, as that is the gimmick this deck works with. My current testing is using more Hobbit allies that exist, although there isn’t one good pack to pick up to bolster their numbers. But having 3 copies of Raise the Shire and being able to choose from a lot of allies is a good thing. Most of them are inexpensive and provide 2 Willpower to help with questing. Plus Bill boosts all of their HP in the process. I hope there are some better allies coming in the current cycle, but even with what exists there is enough to make it worth tossing a few cheap Hobbits into the mix. Anything with card draw or, if running Spirit, cancellation is going to help the deck either accelerate its setup or allow it to survive long enough to get running. Cards that help Sam defend better, such as the Armored Destrier (Temple of the Deceived) are great to include. Anything that boosts Merry’s effectiveness as an attacker, or provides allies to attack with him so they can ready and attack a second enemy, are equally beneficial.