Usually, players tend to destroy enemies by having more attack strength than the enemy has combined defence and hitpoints. However, there is also another way to do damage, one that bypasses the defence value of the enemy. This Direct Damage strategy is a popular archetype for quests where enemies have only a few points of health, or when they have a very high defence value. The archetype got so strong at one point, that the Toughness keyword was given to Uruk-hai enemies in order to bypass that. But when it comes to Direct Damage, there are some cards that are stronger than others. These staples to the archetype will be discussed in today’s article.
From the Core Set, the Tactics sphere has been the front-runner in this archetype. While it is still a powerful sphere to this date when it comes to dealing damage outside of the regular combat step, the Lore sphere has also been adding cards to the archetype. A successful Direct Damage deck will use both spheres. This does not take away that the Spirit and Leadership spheres don’t have damage dealing cards, but they are less powerful than their Lore and Tactics counterparts. Let’s go over each sphere and discuss what cards are the best in dealing damage.
Out of the Core Set, Tactics has really been trying to focus on dealing damage to enemies, bypassing their defence. The Core Set gave us a Direct Damage hero, who is still used to this day. The recent cycle also saw direct damage dealing cards, like Bow of Yew, which is a useful tool for allies to deal damage when attacking. Sting as well will prove to be a useful addition to the archetype. As there are so many cards in Tactics to discuss, I will go over each type, excluding side-quests.
This is an ancient card, but still used today in direct damage decks in the standard line-up. While Thalin is quite expensive for his stats, his ability to deal 1 damage to each enemy as it enters play is not to be understated. He has saved people from countless 1 hitpoint enemies, like Eastern Crows, which also bypasses their surge keyword. While he only has 1 point of willpower, there have been cards released over the years to either boost that value, or ready him so you can use his other stats as well. Necklace of Girion and Ring of Thror are some attachments that work well with him to make more use out of his stats. Thalin won’t be making a lot of progress for the group, but putting one damage on each enemy can really help the players to get the upper hand over the encounter deck, especially when combined with other direct damage cards. Seeing Thalin outside a full cardpool, non-Direct Damage deck is rare, as his stats aren’t really anything to write hom about. I would have loved to see him with one less point of attack, and trade it in for a point of willpower. But his 4 hitpoints make him sturdy enough to take some damage from being committed to the quest, so that helps at least a little. Recently, Thorin Stonehelm has also been added to the cardpool through the 2-player expansion, but as he hasn’t found his way into the general cardpool, he can’t be considered a staple yet.
Another Core Set card, the Gondorian Spearman will deal one damage to an attacking enemy if he defends that attack. Should this damage kill the enemy, then the attack doesn’t resolve and the Spearman takes no damage. This is good, as the Spearman has poor defencive stats for an ally with this ability. However, the ability has killed a lot of enemies for me in the past, and he works great as a defender in a direct damage deck. The Sentinel keyword is also great to have for multiplayer games, which is where you are more likely to encounter a direct damage deck. If Thalin has been hurting enemies when they enter play, the Spearman can kill them off without resolving the attack or the shadow card. This makes a 2 hitpoint enemy fall already, but enemies with more hitpoints will need some more attention. The Spearman works great with the Dale defensive attachments from this past cycle, but also with Outmatched, as he can ready if he first defends the enemy in the trap. If you find that the stats of the Spearman are too low for your deck, consider swapping him for a Defender of Cair Andros, who also gains the Spearman’s ability in Valour, but with better stats.
I didn’t mention this card when discussing the Gondorian Spearman, but this is the best attachment for him. The Spear of the Citadel can attach to any Tactics character, making it one of the few non-Ered Mithrin cards that can attach to allies. When the attached character defends, the attacking enemy takes a point of damage. This works exactly like the Gondorian Spearman, but instead of an ally, you get it as an attachment. Good targets for this Spear are Beregond, Gondorian Spearman, Defender of Cair Andros, Deorwine, and any other Tactics character you find yourself defending with. With the Spearman and the Defender, the combo deals 2 points of damage to the attacking enemy, which is more likely to kill the enemy before the attack resolves. There are a few drawbacks to this Weapon though. The first is the high cost of 2 resources in Tactics. This is pretty substantial, but not too bad if you have resource acceleration or Tactics Beregond. The weapon attachment is also Restricted and limited to one per character. This is to limit your character to only wielding one of these spears, and only allowing him one other restricted attachment, so that his defence won’t be very high. A nice bonus of this weapon is that it doesn’t have to exhaust to trigger the ability. This allows you to also exhaust the Weapon for Foe-Hammer or Goblin-Cleaver, the latter dealing even more direct damage to the enemy. Having multiple copies of this attachment in your deck will be great, allowing your defenders to deal more damage across the board.
While not one of the most popular Tactics events, I will argue that Hail of Stones is particulary useful if you have an enemy in the staging area that you really don’t want to deal with at the mid to late stage of the game. This is usually the case for enemies with engagement effects, like Hummerhorns, and enemies with enough hitpoints to survive the other effects you have available. Hail of Stones is not a card for the early game, as it requires quite a few characters if you want to pull it off. But for 1 cost, you may exhaust X characters to deal X damage to an enemy in the staging area. This effect can knock out an enemy during the quest phase as well, potentially getting you those last few points of progress you need. If you are not going to be doing combat that round, you can use your characters to deal damage to enemies in the staging area. This is also useful for enemies like Wargs, who keep going back to the staging area where traditional decks can’t hurt them. Exhausting your characters may seem like a steep price, but if you have some support characters like Master of the Forge, Ioreth, Soldier of Dol Amroth etc, you can use those to get rid of an enemy with a lot of hitpoints while it is still in the staging area. Even if you just need 1 or 2 more points of damage, this event is really useful and you should at least have 1 copy in your deck.
After Tactics, Lore is the next best sphere to have for your direct damage decks. The archetype got this upport during the Against the Shadow cycle, when the Rangers started to be introduced. Cards like Poisoned Stakes and Forest Patrol were some of the early cards that also matched the Traps archetype to Direct Damage. As time moved on, other cards also got added, creating the Tactics-Lore dual sphere deck that really deals a solid amount of direct damage.
Halfway through the Dream-chaser cycle, we were introduced to this hero. Argalad is a Lore Silvan hero with the Ranged keyword, but doesn’t have a weird stat line. Instead, Argalad has an ability that makes use of his attack stat during the quest phase (usually). Once per round, you may exhaust Argalad to lower the threat of an enemy in the staging area by Argalad’s attack strength. If this effect lower the threat of an enemy to 0, you also deal a point of damage to that enemy. This ability becomes some sort of pseudo-questing which is really useful. Even if you don’t need this ability during the round, Argalad can still use it in the combat phase to finish off an enemy in the staging area. Without using his ability, you will still get a solid Ranged attacker once you equip Argalad with some weapons. Direct Damage decks tend to have enough weapons available, so Glamdring and Bow of the Galadhrim are excellent toys for Argalad. You can even use both his ability and his willpower during the quest phase if you have a readying attachment for him (Leather Boots, Unexpected Courage). Argalad combined with Thalin can result in a 2 hitpoint enemy dying after it got revealed from the encounter deck, no matter its defence
A great tool if you are planning to bring some Ranger characters in your Direct Damage deck is the Ranger Bow. This Weapon attachment can attach to both allies and heroes, and makes for a good way to place the final point of damage to an enemy in the staging area. While you do have to exhaust the bow and the attached character, the Rangers have various ways to ready themselves with Wingfoot and Leather Boots. And some Ranger characters aren’t even all that useful for their stats, like Ithilien Lookout, Mablung, and Guardian of Ithilien. Having multiple bows out on different characters can allow you to snipe enemies out of the staging area as you please, lowering the threat in the staging area that way. Ranger decks have various ways to keep enemies in the staging area, so there will usually be a target for the bow during the round.
While not nearly as powerful in this archetype compared to Lore and Tactics, Leadership has had a few cards in the early game that deals some direct damage to enemies, bypassing their defence. But the sphere hasn’t focused on this archetype in a long time, so not many cards can be considered staples.
While in no way a staple, Fresh Tracks is one of the few cards that people forget exists. After an enemy is added to the staging area, you can pay 1 Leadership resource to deal a damage to that enemy. Then, the enemy won’t make engagement chaecks until the end of the round. This is great when you are overcome with enemies and can’t handle another one this round, so you can pin it in the staging area for at least a turn. The fact that you can choose to trigger this event after an enemy has been added, making this more of a pinpoint solution against a certain enemy you are afraid of. This makes it better than Expecting Mischief, which has the potential to whiff. The cost isn’t too high as well, especially in Leadership, but this card gets cut from a lot of decks if they are found to be bigger than 50 cards during deckbuilding. Dunedain players will enjoy this card, and perhaps even Gondor players if they have the resources to pay for this event.
Of all spheres, Spirit is the least focused on dealing damage to enemies. As such, the sphere has only one card that can be considered Direct Damage. It is unlikely we will see much more of effects like this in the sphere going forward, but perhaps one or two extra cards would be nice.
This event is an interesting one, as it allows a heavy questing Spirit deck to deal a lot of damage to a single enemy in the staging area. During the quest phase, the player may pay 2 Spirit resources to play the event and chooses an enemy. Then, the players as a group resolve the staging step as normal. Any progress that the group now makes is first applied to the active location, and is then assigned to that enemy as if it was damage. This makes it a great card for quests where you don’t need progress on the main quest and nobody is running side-quests. You can also reliably get rid of enemies like the Hill Troll in Journey along the Anduin stage 1 with this effect. While any left over damage is not put on quest cards, you will be able to get rid of an enemy in the staging area that would otherwise have proved difficult to defend or to pierce its defence. The event does require quite an investment in resources. Wait until after the staging step to play this event though, as maybe a new enemy that is a better target will appear. Note that this event is not suitable if you need progress on the main quest or on a side-quest, as this will stall you for a round.
The Neutral cards have also been known to deal damage to enemies, with one card being the absolute master of direct damage for a long time. Not many other cards have been dealing damage since, but there is a pretty good chance that more will be added in the future.
When people opened their Core Set, they got introduced to the wonderful card that is Core Set Gandalf. While the wizard has many tricks up his sleeves, today we are interested in his Direct Damage dealing ability, which is quite a popular choice for many players. When Gandalf enters play, you can choose any enemy on the board that is not immune to player card effects, and deal 4 damage to it. This is huge, as there are a lot of enemies in the total card pool that have 4 or less hitpoints and would be destroyed through this effect immediately. Even enemies with Toughness will have a tough (!) time to block all of Gandalf’s damage. The impact Gandalf has made on the early card pool has been significant, and he is still a staple in many decks to this day. Compared to all other forms of direct damage, his 4 still outclasses any other effect mentioned in this article for one particular enemy. The Gandalf-bomb is a weapon that will haunt the weaker enemies for a long time.
The Ranger was the first player card that could get shuffled into the encounter deck by using Ranger Summons. Once in the encounter deck, the players would have to keep playing until the Ranger was revealed. Unlike some other encounter player cards, this ally does surge, but also has some good stats and both the Ranged and Sentinel keyword. The part of him that we are interested in however, is his ability, which can make the first player choose to either place 2 progress on a location, or deal 2 damage directly to any enemy in play. Combined with other damage dealing effects, this 2 damage can cause you to kill an enemy in the staging area or deal the final blow to an enemy engaged with a player. It is always a nice moment when this guy gets revealed from the encounter deck, and it makes for fun decks to play as well.
Do you think I left any staples out? Then feel free to let me know. I hope to have some more inspiration in the following weeks to make another one of these articles, which are a lot of fun to make. I am open to suggestions to what mechanic you’d like to see covered next. Until next time!
No cards were harmed in the creation of this article’s thumbnail. People have been calling Card Protective Services on me since the last article. Rest assured, all cards are in sleeves or binders and are being kept healthy.
Except for Brok