I thought it was high time to write an article on my favorite archetype in Lord of the Rings the Card Game… trap decks. Traps have actually been around since the beginning of the game with the Forest Snare of the core set, which was probably the most reliable answer to the Hill Trolls of Journey Down the Anduin. They have progressed from being a collection of niche Lore toolbox cards to a budding archetype that was slightly ovecosted and unreliable (but fun!), and have only recently started to really come into their own as an extremely viable deck archetype.
The reason that I love traps so much is that they introduce a very unique feel and way to play the game. It’s sort of like the Lord of the Rings version of asymmetrical warfare. In Competitive LCGs, this is the type of archetype that you would generally classify as a “control” build, as it seeks to deal with enemies by “softer” methods than outright killing them. Ever since I read about the Rangers of Gondor harassing and ambushing the men of Harad on their march to Mordor, I have been hooked on the theme.
So what are they?
Traps are a set of specifically traited attachments that exist almost exclusively in the “toolbox” Lore sphere and have only recently begun to branch out into Tactics. There isn’t really that many of them so it’s worth discussing each card individually:
This was the original trap from the core set. Although arguably a bit over-costed, its effects are potent and it is the lynchpin of defensive trap decks. Taking an engaged enemy completely out of the fight for the rest of the game without killing them (in most cases) is very powerful, even if you do have to endure one round of combat with him. A little side benefit that many players may not realize is that a snared enemy still gets dealt shadow cards every combat round. This can be a great way to send horrendous encounter cards to the discard pile without having to see them in play since the shadow effects don’t go off unless the enemy specifically attacks (which Forest Snare prevents.) This card combos extremely well with cards that “grab” enemies out of staging and pull them into engagement during the planning phase, like Mablung or Son of Arnor; effectively allowing you to snare the enemy immediately if you have the resources on hand.
This is probably the most utilitarian of the traps. It does a lot of work for a reasonable price, locking enemies in staging and providing some threat reduction. This trap can be used offensively to lock enemies into the staging area in order to synergize with cards that attack the staging area, or power up off of enemies in the staging area, or it can even be a defensive measure to keep an enemy off of your back while reducing its threat. This is one of the traps that fit into a wide variety of decks and combos well with cards like Faramir, who is powered up by enemies trapped in the staging area.
This typically underrated card (Brandon from the COTR podcast originally called it “Crap-thilien Shit”😊) allows enemies in the staging area to be attacked by any character. It works best with lower threat decks, as the downside of it is that it isn’t very useful against enemies that will engage due to lower engagement cost than threat. It’s also probably marginally better in multiplayer because allowing “any” character to attack applies to other players as well. Regardless, it is one of the key cards for the staging area strike sub-archetype. Another great benefit is it’s 1 cost. With Damrod in play, it becomes a 0 cost attachment that at the very least, is going to draw a card if it functionally does nothing else, and 0 cost card draw is never a bad deal. As the game develops with more player cards having effects that synergize off of enemies with traps or attachments, “0 cost” traps continue to get better and better.
This trap deals direct damage to enemies it attaches to and is one of the key cards of that particular sub-archetype of trap decks. Although I haven’t fit it into too many of my decks, I am usually happy to see it because it in effect puts an expiration date on an enemy. It can be very effective combined with scrying to take out high armor/hit point enemies that you see coming. You probably aren’t going to bring it if your goal is to keep enemies in staging (or engaged) for other synergistic effects, but it is quite effective if you just want to kill off enemies. One nice aspect is that even if you engage the enemy it’s attached to, you only have to worry about defence; as the trap “does the attacking” for you and will eventually kill it. In a game where action advantage is king, not having to save heroes back to defend against a critical enemy can be very beneficial. It combos well with Forest Patrol for a total of 5 direct damage on one enemy by the end of the round. You can also redistribute the damage dealt to the enemy in the Stakes to another enemy with Infighting, potentially killing the other enemy and “healing” the one in the trap a little so he can take more damage at the end of the turn and spread more around the staging area.
This is another trap that probably has a lot of utility outside of trap decks, as it “softens up” enemies and makes them considerably less risky to engage. It also carries the “1 cost trap” benefits mentioned above. When combed with cards like Keep Watch, Rivendell Blade, and Aragorn; it can strip even high attack, heavily armoured enemies to almost nothing and also opens up a lot of potential for Straight Shot instant kills. It’s also great in Dunedain decks as a way to take the edge of an enemy you may want to leave engaged with you. This is a very solid card that you are never unhappy to draw.
Like Poisoned Stakes, I’ve found this to be one of the more niche trap cards, and it feels just a little bit over-costed at times. However, it’s basically a Quickstrike that allows multiple characters to attack, and can be extremely effective in the right deck. If you have a lot of attack power on standby, it’s an excellent card, because being able to kill an enemy before it attacks is very potent. However, if you can’t kill an enemy in one attack, then there isn’t much value gained here…which is why this card has a little less general utility and requires some building around to play. It combos well with entangling nets, making it more likely that you will be able to outright kill an enemy. I’m not always happy to see it in my hand but when I am, I’m generally very happy. It’s a high risk/high gain card.
As of the time of writing, this is the most recent trap released and has the distinction of being the first outside the Lore sphere. This card has had nearly as big an impact as hero Damrod has had on transforming the trap deck archetype from a fun thematic corner case deck to a serious contender for top tier builds. It turns enemy threat into a staging threat reduction, essentially causing an enemy to “quest” for you in a sense….which is pretty thematically appropriate if you think about it. The best part is, that like all traps, it’s not limited in any way so it is possible to load up and enemy with 3 Followed’s and a Forest Snare, ironically making an enemy into your most solid quester for the remainder of the game. If that enemy has 3 threat (very common in modern scenarios), that’s 3-9 “negative” willpower in staging every turn! This has flipped one of the traditional problems with trap decks; struggling to keep to keep up on willpower, on its head. Its combo with Forest Snare is so powerful as to make it nearly foundational to the archetype. On top of all of these other benefits, it also carries the “1 cost trap” benefit as well! This is also a fantastic card in Dunedain decks where you want to stay engaged to enemies but not necessarily kill them. As wonderful as this card is, it does carry the downside of needing to be prepared to have an intimate and long-term relationship with an enemy. That alone means it probably doesn’t slot into just any deck, but man is it effective in the decks that it does!
That is all the trap attachments that we have in the card pool up to this point.
My favorite thing about traps is that unlike some trait/archetypes (here’s looking at you secrecy), there really are no bad trap cards. Some are more niche and generally less useful than others, but they all serve a purpose and all can be made to work for you without too much effort. They also open up a high diversity of deckbuilding options, which we will discuss next…….
Before diving into the player card support that makes trap decks, I’d like to take a moment to discuss general deck-building strategy. Although one of the appeals of the Trap trait is a large diversity of deckbuilding archetypes and support archetypes it opens up, I tend to see 3 main sub-archetypes at this time.
- Staging area Strike – These Trap decks want to fix enemies in the staging area and attack them there before they can engage. They utilize Ranger Spikes, Ithilien Pits, and player card abilities that enable or trigger off of attacking the staging area.
- Direct damage – Similar to Staging area strike, these also want to attack enemies in staging, but do it through means of direct damage rather than the old-fashioned way. They utilize Ranger Spikes, Poison Stakes, and direct damage effects. I think this is traditionally a tricky build in solo and is more common for multi-player support, but its value increases with increasing average enemy defence.
- Low-risk engagement – These are the more defensive oriented trap decks, that rely on lowering the risk of engaging enemies and even turning them into assets. These rely heavily on Forest Snares, Followeds, and Entangling nets to soften engaged enemies and perhaps even Ambush to occasionally kill them outright before they can even attack. These tend to work well when incorporated with the Dunedain trait which leverages enemy engagement.
Many variations tend to mix and match so that for example, even a Staging area strike will probably use some low-risk engagement mechanics, etc.
To start with the obvious point, a trap deck is going to be tied to the Lore sphere and is often a great mono-lore option. 6/7 trap cards and most of the support cards for trap decks are found in the Lore sphere, with Tactics being a distant second. Since most (but not all) trap decks benefit from keeping enemies in staging and engaging them at leisure, lower starting threat and threat reduction are usually handy, which can be a bit difficult to find within Lore. It’s also worthwhile to point out that many traps are pretty generally useful and can constitute a “mini-theme” within other archetypes. The other major deckbuilding point that has become a theme with growth in the card pool is “secondary effect synergy” with traps….that is deriving value beyond their immediate printed effect..such as card draw with Damrod or triggering Forest Patrol, Interrogation, etc. Your suite of “secondary” effect cards can be the added value that maximizes your trap deck efficiency.
- Damrod– This is the obvious hero that basically provides a trap deck engine (card draw + cost reduction) right at setup! He is pretty much the “auto-include” hero for traps, since heroes providing engines are rare and powerful; and traps always feel a little overcosted without him. As I mentioned above, his ability to reduce by 1 to a minimum of 0 combined with the card draw and several player cards that key off of enemy attachments introduces the “0 cost trap” dynamic. Even if you have a perfectly worthless trap (like Ithilien Pit in a high threat/low engagement environment), you are still deriving value out of a 0 cost play by drawing a card and maybe “marking” an enemy for another player card’s triggered effect. Typically the first card you pull out of a binder when set out to make a trap deck.
- Faramir – Maybe it’s personal bias, but since I’m the guy writing the article I get to have it! Faramir might be my favorite trap hero. His biggest downside is a relatively high threat that is at odds with an ability that is maximized in a low threat/high engagement environment, so he does require building around…but that’s the point of a trap deck in the first place! He really synergizes well with Ranger Spikes and Ithilien Pits, and combos with Hands Upon the Bow to make a formidable staging attack machine. He does have some competition for his role (as I’ll mention next) but I would make the argument that his open-ended attack boost, higher hit points, and a plethora of secondary options for allowing him to attack the staging area makes him a superior choice in Staging area strike Trap decks.
- Haldir of Lorien – When this guy first came out, he was pretty quickly nominated as Faramir’s successor, and is certainly competing for the same role in the same deck. He does bring some distinct advantages to the table, including a lower threat (always helpful with traps) and a higher base attack + the ability to strike the staging area without combo support. I would say that he is a more consistent lower risk/lower gain version of Faramir, who’s lower threat makes him a bit easier to build around. For that reason, I’d probably recommend him for players new to the archetype. Faramir has much greater high side potential, and can actually play the role of defender, but is a bit more finicky to build around and play. Either one will perform, so it really comes down to personal preference.
- Eowyn – At this point, you are probably thinking…well of course! What deck doesn’t Eowyn slot into and make better? That is true and she has definitely become one of the games most powerful and easily slotted heroes…especially in solo play where she is crucial in rounding out many solo decks. The reason I give her a special mention here is because she actually contributes some much needed attributes to a trap build, essentiall addressing two of the archetype’s traditional weaknesses. She provides early willpower (at a threat level to make trap decks happy) and gives you an answer for that one annoying enemy that escapes all of your trap shenanigans and engages what often amounts to the “soft underbelly” of an archetype that doesn’t like to engage enemies not on it’s own terms.
- Argalad – I include Argalad because like Faramir/Haldir, he is a hero that you can build one of the trap deck archetypes around, in this case the direct damage deck. His ability doesn’t seem like a lot naked, but when you find ways to boost his attack (thus boosting his threat reduction) he in a sense simultaneously direct damages enemies while “questing”. 1 point might not seem like a lot with the behemoth enemies we see in modern quests, but it can add up fast when combined with Poison Stakes, Ranger Bows, Forest Patrols, and other direct damage effects…especially over the course of multiple rounds.
- Denethor – This hero may not see much play these days and might seem like an odd inclusion for a trap deck, but in fact he has a very powerful support ability for traps…the ability to see what enemy is coming and “trap” appropriately. Have an enemy you can kill easily? Play Ambush. If an enemy has archery, might consider Poison stakes or Entangling nets rather than Ranger Spikes. Different types of enemies match up better with different traps.
- Master of the Forge – It’s incredible how much value this guy adds in jump-starting decks that rely on a lot of attachments. In attachment heavy trap decks, he is almost a guaranteed attachment fetch every single turn. This ability to quickly fill your hand with a plethora of trap options is necessary to add a ton of consistency to a trap deck. As a pro tip, if you can stand the delayed gratification from the turn you played him, it can be effective to use his action at the end of the combat phase. This can ensure that he remains standing should you need an emergency chump blocker.
- Trap recurring – The mileage with being able to pull traps out of the discard pile varies based on the specific build, but it’s usually worth it to include at least a couple of Erebor Hammersmiths just to recur traps that are “used up” like Ithilien Pits or Ambushes. Sometimes you end up catching an enemy in Ranger Spikes that is not really ideal (such as an archery enemy), and it’s worth it to kill the enemy and recur the spikes. Erebor Hammersmith is the obvious budget option that has the dual benefit of putting an efficient body on the table as well. For trap decks that are going to rely heavier on recurring traps, such as direct damage builds, Anborn might be an expensive but worthy investment. He is probably more of a mid-late gameplay, but can continually retrieve traps from the discard pile ala carte, while providing decent attack support when he is not recurring traps.
- Secondary effects – As mentioned above, part of the efficiency of a trap deck relies on using combos that further leverage traps beyond the trap card’s text. The most critical one is the Emyn Arnen Ranger, who turns the threat of trapped enemies into willpower, adding much-needed willpower support to the archetype. There are also two events that target trapped enemies, Forest Patrol which deals a considerable amount of direct damage for 1 cost, and Interrogation that provides scrying ability (to better know what enemies are coming for trapping purposes!). Of course, there is also Damrod’s card draw as has already been discussed.
- Enemy Manipulation – These are cards that put the enemy where you want them, which is usually in a waiting trap! This can be useful if you end up engaging an enemy that you’d rather have trapped, and have the trap waiting in staging. The traditional means of doing this was the Ithilien Archer, who provided attack support and the ability to bounce enemies at will back into the staging area, so long as it was able to damage them. The budget version is the Guardian of Ithilien which provides a “one time bounce back” as well as a decent chump blocker. The most utility of them all is probably Mablung. He does a lot of work giving the one time option of bouncing an enemy back to staging while raising an enemy’s engagement cost so he is more likely to stay there for a round, or pulling an enemy from staging into engagement during the planning phase…..preferably after you play Followed and before you play a Forest Snare! He is also efficient willpower in sphere that is often hurting for just that.
- Secret Vigil – This is the card I refer to as an “honorary” trap. Although not technically traited as such, it works very well with trap decks that like enemies in the staging area….providing staging threat reduction and providing a means of player threat reduction.
That about does it for general trait strategy and deckbuilding! Trap decks are great for providing a very unique game experience, offering some unconventional options for dealing with enemies. What makes them fun is all of the nuance and meaningful decisions they introduce. They are a good fit for the player who is bored with turning powerful cards sideways to win and wants to try a dynamic and interesting way to play the game. Here are some decks to get you started. Enjoy!
Staging area strike
- My own personal favorite creation (Faramir version): http://www.ringsdb.com/decklist/view/9113/ye-new-ranger-trap-deck-peak-faramir-1.0
- and an interesting Haldir version from Twelvesmallsquares: http://www.ringsdb.com/decklist/view/8879/trap-a-lap-a-ding-dong-6.0
- A multiplayer deck from WingfootRanger: http://www.ringsdb.com/decklist/view/8927/ithilien-ambuscade-1.0
- Here is a version that combines with Thalin’s direct damage from Arrhias: http://www.ringsdb.com/decklist/view/3982/direct-damage-1.0
- The classic Seastan deck that sort of jump-started the Dunedain/Trap theme: http://www.ringsdb.com/decklist/view/28/dunedain-trappers-1.0
- A more recent updated version from WingfootRanger: http://www.ringsdb.com/decklist/view/8114/the-remnant-of-westernesse-1.0