Shortly after the Revised Core Set was announced, two other products were announced to complement the card pool and to help new players with easy products to buy after their Core Set. The first of these was the Dark of Mirkwood scenario pack, which contained 2 “new” scenarios for players to play in campaign mode. The downside of this product was that it did not have any player cards to add to the collection. This is sort of an issue for many players, as the decks straight out of the Core Set aren’t fantastic.
But this was resolved with the announcement of 4 new Starter Decks. Pre-made decks centered around a particular trait, with cards taken from almost the entire collection so that people can get a taste of how strong decks can become when they are built around a trait synergy. For a long time, it was a question of what cards would be included and whether or not new cards would be added to the decks to persuade veteran players to buy them. But at the start of March, some members of the community got their hands on the packs and shared the decklists. For a complete overview of all four starter decks, see this Fellowship on RingsDB.
For this article, I will go through each of the packs individually and discuss whether or not they are worth the money. If you are a new player reading this, then know that they are very much worth your money, as you get a very strong deck out of these packs, which saves you a lot of time and money if you were to instead buy the Adventure Packs where the player cards originally come from.
What cycles are these cards from?
We weren’t sure exactly what cards were included when the packs were announced; we only knew the heroes. There was some speculation on what cycles and Saga boxes would be used to construct these decks, but we finally have an answer with the release of the decklists. The following table shows where each of the new cards comes from.
It is curious to see that 3 cycles and the LOTR Saga’s remain untouched. While I would suggest that this is because those cycles mainly focused on other archetypes (Noldor, Dale, etc.), there are still good cards for the four archetypes in these cycles, like Leadership Denethor from Flight of the Stormcaller for Gondor and the many Dwarf cards from the Ered Mithrin cycle. The exclusion of these cycles makes sense now that the first repacked cycle was announced to be the Angmar Awakened cycle. This also raises the belief that Dream-chaser and Ered Mithrin will be next in line to receive the same treatment.
The complete exclusion of the LOTR Sagas does give me hope for a combined product of those in the future. These boxes still have good Gondor and Rohan cards that would have been worth including, so it is curious that they didn’t. I suppose time will tell if this indeed meant that FFG didn’t want to give us a ton of duplicate cards right away. It would also have been an explanation as to why we didn’t get a Hobbit starter deck.
Elves of Lorién
This starter deck develops the Silvan trait, which is one of the Elven factions represented in the game. These Wood-elves first received proper attention in the fourth cycle of the game but also received cards later on in the game’s life. The Silvan synergy all revolves around playing cheap allies who have an effect when they enter play. These allies do not often stay in play, as the trait also has cheap events that require you to return a Silvan ally to your hand. This is good though, as that means that you can play the ally next turn for its ability again!
The heroes in this pack are all top-tier. Galadriel is a fantastic hero as she allows for reliable card draw and threat reduction. Together with her ring Nenya, she can also add her willpower to other characters. The most important ability from her for the Silvan trait is that allies that enter play under your control do not exhaust to quest that round. This is useful for all allies you own since the Leadership hero Celeborn will give each Silvan ally +1 to their stats for the round that they enter play. This makes newly played Silvan allies even better value. For combat, you get Haldir as a Ranged hero. He can be swapped out for Legolas from the Core Set, as this deck’s side-board gives you some extra Tactics weapons and events for Legolas that are better than what you get in the Core Set. Haldir is also very good, as he can attack enemies engaged with other players before they attack or attack enemies in the staging area. The only requirement is that you did not engage an enemy that round.
The sideboard for this deck has one of the most expensive heroes in the game, Elrond. He is expensive for a reason though, as resources from his pool can be used to pay for any ally (you do not require a resource match with him), and he increases the ability to heal in your deck. On top of this, Elrond comes with his own ring of power, which you can use to play the top card of your deck for free. This is one of the most powerful abilities in the game, and I am surprised that people can easily access this. Other cards in the sideboard are meant to be used with Legolas, as you do not get access to the Tactics sphere with just this deck.
Is it worth picking up?
This deck is probably the best value you can get for veteran players. You get some super useful heroes if you want to have multiple decks ready at the same time. Having both Galadriel+Nenya and Elrond+Vilya available for a second time allows you not to make any compromises when deckbuilding. I think that out of these four decks, it is the one worth most to pick up if you are just curious about what these starter decks are. Other important cards in this pack worth buying it for are:
- Elrond’s Counsel
- Silvan events and allies if you want several Silvan decks ready to go at the same time
- A Test of Will
- Daeron’s Runes
- Hands Upon the Bow
For newer players, consider that the Silvan trait is quite dynamic, so a lot of things can happen at the same time with this deck. You will also struggle with defense, but mastering this deck will make you understand timing windows a lot better.
Riders of Rohan
Much like the Silvan synergy, the Rohan synergy revolves around allies popping in and out of play. But where Silvans return to your hand to be played again, Rohan allies are discarded. This makes the cost a bit higher, but luckily there are plenty of cheap allies in this pack to make the synergy work. It’s curious that Spirit Theoden was not included here, as his cost reduction is fantastic with the trait. Still, you get enough ways to play allies and to replace the ones you discard.
Your heroes are the driving factor behind this. Lothiriel gets the Rohan trait when Eomer is on the table, so these two are a great pair. Lothiriel allows you to play an ally for free each quest phase, committing it to the quest at the expense of shuffling it back into your deck after the quest phase. This, in turn, triggers any effect that starts with “when an ally leaves play.” The most important one of these is Eomer, who gets +2 attack until the end of the round, allowing him to attack for 5 without attachments! You can get this combo pretty reliably each round, helping you in both questing and attacking back. Hirgon is also a great hero, adding in some more early willpower. This is rare for a Tactics hero, but if you manage to quest successfully with Hirgon, you get to play a Tactics ally at the end of the quest phase at a reduced cost. There are many solid targets for this in the deck. You can even raise your threat by 1 to boost the stats on this ally some more, getting you closer to the Valour action on the Red Arrow.
The sideboard features Fastred, a Rohan defender who can send enemies back to the staging area after they attack. This gets you some threat reduction and sets up other effects like Dunhere from the Core Set to attack the enemies in the staging area. To help deal enough damage this way, the sideboard includes the Spear of the Mark, which deals more damage to enemies in the staging area, and the Rohan Warhorse, which allows an attacker to ready after killing an enemy with which you can likely attack a different enemy afterwards. The sideboard also puts some more focus on Mount attachments, which sets up the Charge of the Rohirrim. This event gives each Rohan character with a Mount attachment +3 attack. Combine this with Eomer+Firefoot, and you get a very powerful attacker to take down big enemies like the Hill-troll.
Is it worth picking up?
New players will soon likely get some more Spirit Rohan characters and events in the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, so this would be a logical place to slot those cards into. It also expands on some ideas in the Core Set with Dunhere but does lack a good defender if you are not bringing Fastred. Without Golden Shield, there isn’t much in terms of defensive equipment you can bring for this deck, so that you will depend on chumping with small allies.
I don’t think this is a pack to pick up for anything specific for veteran players. There are some good cards here, but if you want to play a Rohan deck, look at the cards in your collection or explore the AleP expansions. These cards could be worth getting the pack for:
Defenders of Gondor
Gondor is a solid archetype that is known to rely a lot on resources. Expensive allies and abilities that require heroes to have resources on them are examples of this. The typical Gondor is one that tries to play a lot of allies and uses those to win the game. In the final cycle of the game, Gondor also gained a stronger tie with the Valour mechanic. This means that players try to keep their threat between 40-50 threat during the game and get boosts for staying in this zone. To help get to 40 threat quickly, the deck has Pillars of the Kings, which is a free event to get to 40 threat, after which it serves as threat reduction back down to 40. This allows the archetype not to have to rely on Gandalf alone for this. The biggest crutch for the archetype remains resource generation. Steward of Gondor is essential to get the more expensive allies on the table, but this is offset by some cost reduction that you get on other things.
Leadership Boromir fills a more offensive role in the deck. He has good stats all-around, but his attack buff to allies will make him important to hit enemies with. For this, you require 1 resource in his resource pool. You do not need to spend this resource for the ability, but you have to make sure you have at least 1 remaining after playing cards for the round. This ability is similar to Visionary Leadership, which will solve most of your willpower issues early on. Leadership Faramir ally can also help with this. Mablung is another all-rounder and can be a flexible hero in your deck, adapting to what is required. 2 willpower is decent for a Tactics hero, but he can also get various weapons and armor to be more useful in the combat phase. You will want to start engaging enemies with Mablung, as you get 1 resource per phase that you engage an enemy. This helps to fund the more expensive cards in your deck, but you can also move the resource with Errand-riders to ensure that Boromir gets his ability back. Prince Imrahil is a fun hero to play with, as he has an ability that allows him to ready whenever an ally leaves play. Playing this alongside a Silvan or Rohan deck ensures this will happen, but you can also sacrifice allies like Squire of the Citadel with this deck to ready Imrahil if you need him. This makes him useful for attachments like Celebrian’s Stone and any weapon that you would like on him.
The sideboard for the Gondor deck features 2 heroes, one more than the other decks. I suppose the developers couldn’t decide between all the amazing heroes that the trait has. The first of these heroes is Beregond, known in the community as one of the best defenders early in the game. All Weapon and Armor attachments on him are reduced in cost by 2, allowing you to quickly build him up with attachments like Gondorian Shield, Citadel Plate, and Captain of Gondor (if you need the buffs). His Sentinel keyword can also help other players at the table to reliably defend against enemy attacks. The other hero is Faramir, who brings a bunch of new Lore cards to the deck. These Lore cards form the basis of the Trap deck, which puts attachments on enemies to debuff them or prevent them from engaging. It is a really different deck than the base one since you do not necessarily want a high threat with Trap decks. You will also need to swap out the ally version from the deck, as Faramir is a unique character.
Is it worth picking up?
There are many different types of Gondor decks out there, and I think this pack represents many of them. It can be used to build a solid deck or allow you to build 2 Gondor decks at the same time. The extra hero and trap cards really help with this. I would also recommend picking up this pack for the player cards because they come from cycles with notoriously difficult quests (Against the Shadow and Vengeance of Mordor). This is a good place to start if you do not have the stomach for these quests but want to experiment with a Gondor deck. It is not perfect though, as you will be missing some solid cards like Veteran of Osgiliath for bigger stats. These player cards are included to make you worth considering buying the pack for:
- 5 heroes
- Steward of Gondor
- Ranger Spikes
- Gondorian Shield
- Envoy of Pelargir
- Angbor the Fearless
Dwarves of Durin
The Dwarf trait is famous for being the first one in chronological order to really get any form of synergy going in the game. This happened early on when both Hobbit Saga boxes and the Khazad-Dum Deluxe were released around the same time. Most of the cards in this starter deck are from that era, though some more recent cards are added to help the Dwarven Mining mechanic a little more.
The main mechanic for this deck is to get a large army of Dwarves assembled and to keep them in play. Dwarves are a lot stronger than Silvan and Rohan characters but are also a bit more expensive on average. Several bonuses will start to trigger in your deck once you reach 5 Dwarf characters, and you already start with 3 with your heroes. So if you manage to play 2 more Dwarves, you can start drawing extra cards with Ori and get resources with Gloín.
The other mechanic with the Dwarf trait is that there are effects that allow you to discard cards from the top of your deck in order to pay for things. Erebor Guard can be played for only 2 resources if you also discard 2 cards from the top of your deck, for instance. There are hidden bonuses in your deck that you get to enjoy if you discard them from the top of your deck, such as free allies and extra resources! And you don’t have to worry about delving too greedily or too deep, as there is no Balrog in your deck.
The Dwarf heroes are pretty solid in this pack. Dain Ironfoot is a staple of the trait and will grant each Dwarf character bonus willpower and attack strength while he is ready. Use Cram to keep him ready in case you need him as a defender, which he can also reliably do. Bifur is a useful target for Narvi’s Belt, as you can move resources to Bifur and then use the belt to spend the resources for any sphere. This also allows you to, for instance, add the Veteran Axehand to your deck from the Core Set. Ori is an average hero, but once you have 5 Dwarf characters, he draws you an extra card each round. Combine this with Legacy of Durin, and you can be sure that you will have enough cards to play each round.
The sideboard introduces the Spirit sphere to the deck, which is more centered around the mining mechanic. Dwarf Pipe allows you to recycle your discarded cards, allowing you to keep mining for longer. Nori is the hero for this sphere, bringing some reliable threat reduction to the deck whenever you play a Dwarf ally. This solves one of the larger problems with Dwarves, who usually rely on Gandalf to help with threat reduction. If you are going to use the Magic Ring from the sideboard, then your threat could become a concern.
Is it worth picking up?
With Dwarves being developed so early on in the life of the game, it won’t be long before you start getting duplicates. Usually, this is not terrible, as there are enough good Dwarf cards to make 2 reliable Dwarf decks. This deck can help with it. But if you are going to purchase the Hobbit Saga boxes and Dwarrowdelf cycle soon, you may get more variety out of the other decks first. For veteran players, the following cards are worth considering to buy the pack for:
Updates to original cards
People have noticed that the new cards included in these starter packs have some changes compared to the original versions. Some of these are mistakes, others are intentional errata to the cards. Below is an overview of the official rulings and updates to new cards by Caleb Grace. Shoutout to Eric Shell for getting this information.
I hope that this overview of the packs has been useful to you. Again, if you want to grow your card pool quickly, buy them all, but know that you will eventually get duplicates. As for me, I only bought the Silvan deck because I feel it is the best value and because it is one of my favorite archetypes. I would like to thank FFG for making these packs and hope they do a second wave of these with other major archetypes. Noldor, Hobbit, Dale, Ents would be a fun next wave of these starter decks! Make sure to continue checking RingsDB for decklists making use of these starter decks and the Core Set, but don’t be afraid to do some deckbuilding for yourself. This is a great tool to see how you can alter a deck with new cards.