[Last Update: July 2022]
With the recent return of the game to the shelves of local game stores worldwide, a few things have changed in the format. Since the last buying guide I made, some other things have happened as well, such as the Print On Demand packs becoming rarer, and some new expansions have been released. Because of these reasons, I wanted to do an update on what packs are best to pick up as a new player and which packs might be worth getting extras of for veteran players looking to have multiple decks built at the same time. I do still stand behind most of my suggestions from the previous article, but enough has changed to warrant a fresh new article for you all.
Note that this article assumes you have some knowledge of the game and its terms. If you do not, then read this new player article first, or use the Urban Dictionary for the game. There is no shame in being a bit overwhelmed by the game in the beginning. It has been 11 years since its release, and a lot has been released for it since then. This article aims to clarify a few questions you might have concerning what to buy to get started. I will also share a few common routes that new players have taken to grow their collections recently.
The first steps into LOTR LCG
The starting point for the game is still the Core Set, though make sure that you buy the Revised Core Set instead of the traditional one. Yes, it will be slightly more expensive than the old Core, but it allows you to play the game with 4 players right out of the box. This immediately counters one of my earlier recommendations to buy two copies of the regular Core Set. You no longer need to do that if you can just find a single copy of the Revised Core Set. Besides getting access to 4-player games out of the box, the Revised Core also gives you 3 copies of all player cards (excluding heroes and Gandalf), a fresh new Campaign mode for the three quests in the box, and the latest rule sheets and card errata. This gives you everything you need to get started with the game. Once you have grown accustomed to the Core Set, there are several paths open to expanding your collection. I will go over the easiest ways to grow your collection first.
I want more quests to play
There are over 100 scenarios available in this game, and you have only seen 3 at this point. Some offer a bit of replayability, but you will soon grow tired of fighting the same Hill Troll over and over again. Luckily there are a few expansions that offer you an immediate increase to the number of quests you own, so you have more variety in quests to play. Note that the expansions mentioned here have no (or very few) player cards to grow your card pool. See the next segment on what to buy if you want stronger decks right away.
The first expansion worth considering is the Dark of Mirkwood scenario pack. This features two quests (The Oath and Caves of Nibin-Dum) that will continue the campaign from the Core Set. You are able to earn new boons and burdens while you traverse Mirkwood and the caves below it. The quests are not the hardest in the game, and even with just a Core Set, you should have enough cards to stand a chance against these quests (especially if your decks beat Escape from Dol Guldur).
Once you have had your fill of Mirkwood, there will be some other expansions that are a bit larger. While not released yet at the time of writing, we have had the announcement that certain cycles will receive a reprint in two parts, of which one part offers all 9 quests of that cycle with a campaign mode leading the players through the narrative. As of now, the Angmar Awakened cycle (cycle 5) is the first to receive this treatment. There are quite a few difficult quests in this cycle, but with new mechanics and card types, it is a great way to see how quests have evolved in complexity and narrative since the Core Set days. While these scenario boxes are definitely worth picking up, I would suggest also growing your player card pool at the same time to stand a better chance of beating the more difficult quests in the game.
I want stronger decks immediately
If you are being beaten by the Core Set quests or any other quests that you have picked up along the way, and you just cannot get passed it, don’t blame yourself. The game can be pretty difficult, especially with a limited card pool. The cards in the early life of the game do not really synergize well with each other (except for some combinations like Sneak Attack + Gandalf). So in order to stand a better chance, you will want to build a strong deck, preferably at as little cost as possible. While your decks will grow stronger over time, there is no shame in taking a shortcut towards a viable deck right away.
Luckily, as of this year, FFG has created 4 expansions that feature starting decks for you to play with. These four packs each contain a complete deck focused around a single archetype in the game (Dwarves, Rohan, Gondor, Silvan Elves). These are not all the archetypes out there, but some of the better-developed ones. These decks feature player cards from a bunch of different expansions both early and late in the game’s life. So there is no exclusive content in these decks; you could, in theory, buy 30 expansions and build the deck from the cards in those expansions. These starter decks are just a shortcut to the deck if you are not certain about your budget for the game yet.
My full thoughts on the starter decks can be found here, where I go into more depth on the strengths and weaknesses of each starter deck. I would also like to point you towards this excellent article by Beorn. He covers which expansions you could get for each of these expansions in order to get access to more cards in that archetype for some extra variety and power for your deck.
Player box expansions
Since the reprint of some cycles will be split into two parts, one part will feature nothing but player cards! So if you have limited funds and want a ton of new cards, these “Hero expansions” will give you what you want. Unlike the Starter Decks, these boxes will not feature self-contained decks but instead, give you all the player cards from a single cycle. These usually focus on a few archetypes and will give a lot of cards related to that archetype so that you can build a deck yourself.
As an example, the Angmar Awakened cycle focuses on a few archetypes. Ents, Side-quests, Victory Display cards, and many more can be included in your decks right away. But the biggest focus is the Dunedain archetype, which grows with 3 new heroes and a host of matching player cards. Add to this any Dunedain or generic cards you want to include from the Core Set, and you can build a decent deck right out of the box.
I want to follow the story of the books!
The books are of course the main inspiration for this game, but the cycles and many of the other scenarios are not taken directly from the pages. Luckily there are the Saga expansions, which will allow you to follow Bilbo’s journey to Erebor and back again, as well as the quest to destroy the One Ring. The Hobbit saga is divided among two Deluxe-style boxes, each with 4 heroes, a fair number of new player cards, and 3 quests per box. In 6 scenarios you travel from your encounter with the Trolls to the Battle of Five Armies. The boxes also focus a lot on the Dwarf archetype, so if you got the Dwarves of Durin starter deck, you might encounter some duplicates here and there. There are also some other characters featured in this saga, such as Beorn and Bard the Bowman.
The Lord of the Rings saga takes place over the course of 6 saga expansions. However, in July 2022, FFG announced that they will be bundling those expansions into just three boxes, one per volume of the books. The older saga expansions featured 3 quests, and the new one six (as it combines two Saga boxes). The player cards in these saga boxes remain the same, and tend to focus on certain archetypes, like Hobbits, Ents, and Rohan. If you have the Riders of Rohan starter deck, then these boxes will still be useful to you, since FFG did not include cards from the Saga for these decks. The quests follow a narrative much like the Revised Core Set, with boons and burdens that you can earn that last for many scenarios to come. These boxes are always a good purchase, since the quests are very unique, but accurately portray events that happened in the books. Even events that weren’t captured in the movies, like the assault on the boats as they flow down the Anduin, and the battle with Corsairs at Pelargir.
Of course, you may see a ton of other expansions in your local game store that have not been mentioned yet. These expansions will offer both new player cards and at least 1 new quest to play. A cycle is made up out of 6 small expansions called Adventure Packs (APs) with a narrative throughline (though no campaign!). The cycles can only be played with the corresponding Deluxe expansion, which gives you some of the encounter cards that you need in order to play any of the cycle’s quests. Keep this in mind when buying into a new cycle, since you won’t be able to play any new quests without a Deluxe expansion (though you can still buy the smaller APs for their player cards and then buy the Deluxe down the line). For more info on the different types of expansions within this game, see this article.
These expansions are the traditional way of expanding your card pool and have been well documented in other buying guides. Still, I will add my thoughts on each cycle here and suggest whether or not it is worth getting as a new player.
Note that while I may be listing some packs as “best” or “worst,” this does not mean that there are any packs not worth picking up. If you come across a pack, you do not own yet, just buy it. I am certain that there are cards in there that are worth the money. Do check the contents of the packs before you buy, just in case any duplicates from the starter decks are included that you do not like.
Shadows of Mirkwood
These six adventure packs offer some of the oldest quests and player cards in the collection. The quests can be played immediately after you buy the (Revised) Core set, so you do not need first to buy a Deluxe expansion. The quests are not top-tier, though, and you will recognize many encounter cards from having played the Core Set quests. Still, there are some useful lessons to be learned in these quests and they are not too confusing with new keywords for you to learn.
The player cards are decent, with some stronger cards like A Burning Brand and Dain Ironfoot included in this cycle. The cycle also features strong Eagle allies and is very useful for starter decks since it offers ways to boost the stats on any hero and the ability to grant any hero any sphere to help decks made up of several spheres.
Best buy: Conflict at the Carrock
Worst buy: The Hills of Emyn Muil
Khazad-Dum / Dwarrowdelf
The second cycle has some of the most enjoyable quests to me, as well as being famous for some overpowered player cards. The designers were still busy balancing the game at this point so you may find some unfair encounter cards in these quests. If you were a fan of the Cave Torch mechanic from The Caves of Nibin-Dum, then there are several quests here that you’ll appreciate.
There are several great packs to get here, though if you already have some of the starter decks, you will recognize some of the player cards in this cycle. Shadow and Flame is not really worth picking up for its player cards if you already own the Elves of Lorien starter deck. The Watcher in the Water and Foundations of Stone also each feature a powerful hero and some useful attachments for them, but because of that reason, the packs are more difficult to find these days. Best buy: Foundations of Stone
Worst buy: The Redhorn Gate
Heirs of Numenor / Against the Shadow
The third cycle of the game is notorious for its sharp increase in difficulty. The quests introduced some new keywords that helped to make these quests some of the most challenging encounters you can face. Still, there is fun to be had with some interesting mechanics and fun interactions with the encounter deck from time to time. But the heavy focus on mono-sphere decks and the challenge of taking down Mumaks leads me not to recommend getting this cycle as a new player.
The player cards in this cycle mainly focus on the Gondor trait. So if you already own the Defenders of Gondor starter deck, there is no real reason to buy a ton of duplicates with this cycle. Instead, put your money towards some other cycles and expansions. If you do not yet own the Gondor starter deck, you will be able to make a decent Gondor deck by collecting this cycle. It also features some cards to help mono-sphere decks and introduces the Outlands archetype, which is an incredibly powerful archetype that you can use to beat a lot of quests if done correctly. Most of the cards are in one pack, though, so if you are on the fence about this cycle, just get that pack (and maybe the Deluxe).
Best buy: The Steward’s Fear
Worst buy: Encounter at Amon Din
Voice of Isengard / Ring-maker
Cycle 4 is a bit of a controversial one since the introduced Time keyword is not really a fan-favourite. This keyword comes into play in nearly all scenarios, so if you feel that you do not like the keyword, I’m afraid that it doesn’t get better this cycle. The quests are pretty unique, though, with a triple-boss battle in one and interesting takes on threat elimination levels in others. There are certainly good times to be had, just not with the Nin-in-Eilph quest, which is infamous for being a slog to get through.
The player cards in this cycle focused a lot on the Doomed keyword on player cards, which eventually blossomed into the Isengard archetype. The main focus was on the Silvan archetype, so if you already have the Elves of Lorien pack, you will find a ton of duplicates in this cycle. There are also some other gems in this cycle, such as ally Treebeard and some support for Rohan (again, if you have the Riders of Rohan pack, you may get duplicates).
Best buy: Trouble in Tharbad
Worst buy: The Voice of Isengard Deluxe. It focuses a lot on the Doomed keyword and does not offer a real deck right out of the box, unlike other Deluxes.
The Lost Realm / Angmar Awakened
Since this cycle is getting the repackaged treatment first, I would suggest buying the repacked boxes instead of hunting down the Deluxe and all six APs. Not only will the repacked boxes be a little cheaper than the traditional format, but it also gives you a campaign to follow with all 9 quests. Make sure you get both the Scenario and Hero box once they release so that you will have enough to play.
The quests are tough in this cycle, and new players will need the help of the player cards in this cycle or from earlier expansions in order to stand a chance. The Battle of Carn Dum is still a quest that veterans fear, and other quests like Wastes of Eriador are not easy either. But the story does tie in nicely with the lore of Arnor and Angmar, and you visit some cool places in the north that the books barely cover.
Best buy: The repackaged cycle in a Scenario and Hero box. If you are hunting APs, then Dread Realm is worth picking up if you manage to find it.
Worst buy: None, all the packs are pretty decent, but don’t get any of them if you are getting the repackaged cycle!
The Grey Havens / Dream-chaser
In a lot of polls, this cycle ranks highest in popularity with the community. It introduces a new way for players to get around Middle-Earth: by boat! The Sailing mechanic and Ship-objectives/enemies really shake up the usual flow of combat and questing, making the scenarios a real treat. If ships aren’t your thing, there are still some quests here that take place on shore, where you explore forgotten islands and have to traverse dense jungles while making a map.
The player cards in this cycle are great, enhancing the Noldor archetype primarily. The other focus of the player cards in this cycle was improving existing archetypes and adding events that benefit players when playing with different sphere combinations.
Since almost no cards from this cycle were used to craft the starter decks, and because the community so loves this cycle, the theory is that after the Angmar Awakened cycle, this cycle will be the next one to receive the revised treatment with the two expansions. Because of this, it is advised to wait until Angmar Awakens has been released and the next product has been announced before buying into this cycle. It is generally well-stocked, though, so if you can find a complete cycle right away, there is nothing stopping you from buying them all.
Best buy: Flight of the Stormcaller
Worst buy: The City of Corsairs. For some reason, this pack is short 1 set of player cards that was added to A Storm on Cobas Haven.
The Sands of Harad / Haradrim
In terms of story, this cycle is my personal favorite, as you are stranded in the far south of the world and have to find your way back urgently to lands where you are safe. You are aided in this by local tribes, who bring you on quests to hunt and ride Mumakil in exchange for you rescuing their people from Spiders and Orcs. There are not that many new mechanics introduced in this cycle, allowing it to be picked up relatively easily for players after Angmar Awakened, where some of the more general keywords are introduced.
The player cards in this cycle do not meet the highs of other cycles but are a solid bunch of cards. The main archetype developed in this cycle is the Harad trait, though that is almost entirely packaged in a single AP. There is also some more focus on side-quests, and other traits are expanded too. This cycle puts a lot of effort into giving the players ways to make a multi-traited deck possible by, for instance, running Dwarves and Silvans in the same deck. There are also trait-granting cards here that can be useful in an extended card pool!
Best buy: The Mumakil
Worst buy: The Black Serpent
Wilds of Rhovanion / Ered Mithrin
This cycle was the game returning to its roots, moving back into Rhovanion, and even reusing some of the Core Set encounter decks. That is why the first two scenarios might seem a little dull if you just played through the Core Set and Dark of Mirkwood. But from the third scenario on, you are facing Dragons and armies of Orcs assailing the free peoples in the northern regions of Rhovanion. This leads to some amazing battles, though some quests like the Ghost of Framsburg and Withered Heath can last a long time before they are done. Reserve some more time for this cycle if you play its scenarios.
The player cards in the Deluxe build a complete Dale-trait deck right out of the box. This is a pretty powerful archetype that is very friendly to newer players. I would advise you to pick up this Deluxe if you can and if you are not interested in any of the Starter Decks. The rest of the cycle has a good variety of traits that are explored, including Dwarves, Woodmen, Beornings, and Creatures. If you already own the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, you will find that the two pair up really nicely.
Like the Dream-chaser cycle, this cycle also did not contribute to the creation of the Starter decks. While perhaps not beloved at the same level as Dream-chaser, the cycle is still very popular, even with newer players. Because of this, it is believed that this cycle will also receive the two-box bundle treatment that Angmar Awakened gets. This can still be far into the future, though, so if the sound of a Dale deck with bears and shirtless men appeals to you, try and get this complete cycle!
Best buy: Wilds of Rhovanion Deluxe
Worst buy: There is not a “worst pack” in this cycle in terms of player cards. Quests are very subjective, but I’d say Ghost of Framsburg in that case.
A Shadow in the East / Vengeance of Mordor
The final cycle released by FFG took the story into Mordor, where the players had to endure some tough quests to claim victory finally. And when I say tough, I mean TOUGH. This cycle is by far the most challenging of them all, even beating Against the Shadow. The difficulty rating of the quests even maxes out at 10 for Fortress of Nurn. I recommend you stay away from these quests if you like to win once every 10 tries.
On the player card side of the packs, the developers wanted to leave the community with some inventive ways to take a new approach to deckbuilding. Each expansion comes with a contract that restricts what you can include in your deck, but at the benefit of better stats, faster setup, or other boons to make up for what you lost. You can get really creative with these contracts, but I do not recommend you start with this. The cycle also completed some archetypes, and especially the Defenders of Gondor starter deck took a lot of the cards from this cycle into its decklist. There is not really a deck ready to be constructed out of just these packs, so I would avoid taking this cycle immediately after you start the game. It will be a good reality check once you think you’ve got the hang of this game and are looking for a non-Nightmare mode challenge!
Best buy: The City of Ulfast
Worst buy: Under the Ash Mountains
Aside from the nine cycles, there are also eight larger boxes that contain player cards and scenarios lifted from the pages of the books. These allow you to set out on your own adventure through a familiar story, but with the freedom to choose your own members of the Fellowship or Thorin’s Company (you don’t even need to bring Thorin!). These are easy recommendations for newer players, as they already contain a campaign mode and feature many recognizable characters and locations. Some notes about either set need to be mentioned, though.
The Hobbit was the first attempt by FFG to make a campaign stretch between scenarios. As such, the execution leaves some room for improvement, but if you have read the books, you can fill in the blanks. The scenarios can be pretty difficult if you are just starting out, with The Lonely Mountain and Battle of the Five Armies being pretty challenging without proper decks. Gameplay-wise, the scenarios are a bit rough compared to the later expansions and can take some effort to get past. The Riddle-mechanic from the third quest is a common nuisance of community members.
Player card-wise, you can expect a lot of Dwarves. But in a campaign box from the Hobbit book, that seems fitting. This does mean that if you have the Dwarves of Durin starter deck, you already own a lot of the cards in these boxes. There will be some useful Dwarf cards to add to the deck, but be aware that you will have a lot of duplicates. Still, you get a few heroes to swap in and out of your Dwarf deck, and you can perhaps even construct a second Dwarf deck for a thematic 2-player setup. There are also some non-Dwarf cards in this deck, with characters like Beorn and Bard the Bowman standing out. These are great heroes to have access to and make up for the slightly worse quest quality in these boxes.
The Lord of the Rings
The second attempt at a campaign mode was more effective, with an 18 (or 20 if you include PODs) quest gauntlet where your actions in one quest may have lasting consequences down the line. These quests can be played by themselves but offer more fun if you are bringing a few friends along every weekend to fight your way to Mount Doom slowly. You will follow the Fellowship from the Shire through Moria towards some of the biggest battle quests in the game. This all culminates in a fight against the final two quests at the same time, buying time to drop the Ring into Mount Doom. Each quest tries something different, and most of them are very enjoyable. Do be warned that doing a complete campaign will take commitment and a lot of time perfecting your decks, so if that is not something for you, just play the quests by yourself to discover the mechanics and familiar sites.
The player cards in these six boxes are all excellent. They feature some of Middle Earth’s biggest names during the War of the Ring and offer support to many different archetypes. The first box (The Black Riders) is especially a good buy for new players, as it gives you a complete Hobbit deck out of the box (though owning some other expansions can help). Rohan, Ents, Rangers, Gondor, and many more archetypes are also supported, though not in the same amount as the Hobbit trait. You can easily use these boxes to grow your card pool and gain access to some solid supporting heroes and other cards, but outside hero Gandalf and the Hobbit deck, it won’t build a traited deck on its own. You will be able to recreate the Fellowship, though, as the Road Darkens expansion gives you ally versions of some of the members, allowing you to run a deck containing every member!
One curious thing to note with these expansions is that, like some of the cycles, no cards were used to build the Starter decks. There are some really good cards in these boxes for the traits, though, such as ally Legolas and hero Theoden. But because no cards were used from these sets, it was believed that the LOTR Saga boxes will be bundled up at some point in the future. This proved to be correct, when the Fellowship of the Ring Saga expansion was announced in July 2022. The campaign mode was not updated, and the contents of the box are identical to the older Saga expansions. This gives us hope that the rest of the saga’s will also receive the same treatment soon, allowing people to play the campaign without certain expansions missing. You could mix and match these expansions, since it has no impact on your campaign or card pool.
They are rare these days, but there are 50 expansions labeled as Nightmare expansions. These offer a 20-card expansion to existing scenarios to make them more difficult. The expansions require that you own the corresponding quest (+Deluxe box for APs). Let me just be clear about these for new players: Do not buy these! Not only will these quests be difficult to find and track down, but there’s also a lot of other content out there that will be worth your money more than a reskinned version of a quest you might already own. Not to mention that you likely need a very specific deck to beat this tougher version, and you do not have the cards for this yet. If you come across these packs for sale, I would request you alert the community, as people have been looking for these packs ever since FFG stopped reprinting them. If you want to try your hand at these quests, try them online instead.
POD and other content advice
The POD (Print on Demand) expansions are scenario packs that feature a stand-alone scenario with a very special gimmick connected to it. These are fantastic to play in multiplayer but can be a bit difficult in solo. They also do not come with any player cards, hence why I do not recommend you go after these packs. The biggest reason, though, is that FFG is no longer printing them. The company does not have the printer anymore after they were taken over by Asmodee, so it is very rare to find these POD packs in the wild. If you come across one for cheap, it might be an idea to pick them up for later, but I would urge you to put that money into a different expansion containing some player cards. If I were to recommend one of these scenario packs (aside from Dark of Mirkwood), it would be The Hunt for the Dreadnaught. It features the Ship objectives and enemies from the Dream-chaser cycle, has variable difficulty, and can be played with an infinite number of players (though each group of 4 needs a copy of the quest). It is a fantastic quest to bring to conventions and offers some unique deckbuilding options as well.
There will also be a lot of talk about other content not yet mentioned here. That can be about fan-made content, which has been developed by many community members over the years, with some projects still releasing expansions to this day. The expansions are free, though you will have to have them printed somewhere, which will cost you. I recommend going to this page for more info about them. In short, these were designed with the idea that players have a (nearly) complete card pool. Because of that, it is not recommended you pick these up yet, as they will be quite difficult to understand as a new player and might be too hard for now. Consider downloading them at a later date, or play them online!
- Do not pay much more than MSRP for an expansion, especially if you are starting out. On sites like eBay, some packs may be offered for triple the price, but that’s not worth it. The expansions will continue to be reprinted, so just spend money on some other expansion and wait until the next reprint.
- If you have the option to buy a second-hand collection, do it! Not only do you help someone offload their game, but you can immediately get a large amount of product for a reasonable price compared to when you buy everything new. Sometimes you can even adopt their storage solutions like binders and boxes.
- In general, if you see an expansion, you do not own yet, just buy it (if funds allow). Every expansion will feature new and useful player cards, as well as fun scenarios for you to play. You cannot really go wrong with any purchase.
- Get yourself a collection list, either on RingsDB, a physical list, or something you find in the community. This allows you to tick off the list of which expansions you own already, preventing a situation where you buy duplicate packs of something.
- Look up some other buying guides if you want more details on whether or not an expansion is worth picking up. I cannot discuss every expansion ever released in this article, but others have done their part to help you decide. See the following list:
- Video explanation by CardTalk, going over the various expansions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUn1t45GL5c
- An older guide by TalesftCards, which reviews every old expansion and ranks them: https://talesfromthecards.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/new-player-buying-guide/
- Cardboard of the Rings, a podcast for the game, has done various episodes for newer players, see for example, episodes 188 and 189: https://cardboardoftherings.com/2021/11/15/episode-188-help/
Common buying questions
Can I just buy the game chronologically?
I do not advise you do so. The game has been improved a lot since the days that the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle was released. You will be stuck with buying the first product ever released, the Core Set, but there is no penalty in jumping ahead a few cycles to buy some better quests and stronger player cards. Once you have a (near) complete collection, then it would be a nice challenge to go through the quests chronologically and unlock new player cards as you complete scenarios. This is called “Progression mode”, and mimicks what deck options players had back in the day. This requires clever deck building and sub-optimal decks against some frustrating scenarios, so don’t start with this!
Should I buy cycles or Sagas first?
This is a very common debate, and a question that you might also be asking yourself after reading through this article. I am in the cycle camp, because I believe that the cycles are in general a bit easier to pick up as a new player, and offer better utility cards than the sagas. Not every cycle is ready to be picked up by new players though, as I do not recommend getting the Against the Shadow, Ringmaker, or Vengeance of Mordor cycle if you are just getting started. Buying the Sagas first will get you some familiar faces right away, but the Sagas do not explore all the archetypes and only retell familiar stories. This can appeal to you, in which case I would suggest starting with the Black Riders Saga expansion or the Fellowship of the Ring expansion (which contains Black Riders and The Road Darkens) and see how you like it.
If I can only buy 6 expansions, which should I get?
In my opinion, after you have the Revised Core Set and you only have limited funds, I would get the following expansions (assuming they are in stock).
- The Dark of Mirkwood scenario pack for 2 additional quests and a continuation of your campaign.
- Any one of the Starter decks. My personal preference is the Elves of Lorien, but any deck will be a great help to you.
- The Black Riders Saga box/The Fellowship of the Ring Saga box. This gives you a Hobbit deck and the start of the LOTR Saga. You can see if you enjoy it enough to continue buying Saga expansions with it.
- The Khazad-Dum Deluxe box. This gives you 2 extra heroes and a bunch of Dwarf cards, but I recommend this mostly for the three excellent medium-difficulty quests and because this is the gateway to the Dwarrowdelf cycle. If you enjoy this Deluxe, get some of the Dwarrowdelf APs.
- The Sands of Harad Deluxe. While this is more difficult and only gives you heroes that you already have the Tactics version of, this box invites more creative deckbuilding between different traits. The three quests here are also enjoyable and give you a taste of what relatively recent quests look like. It is also a required expansion to get The Mumakil, which is one of the best quests in my opinion, as well as containing some powerful new cards.
- The Wilds of Rhovanion Deluxe. While two of the quests are reskinned versions of Core Set quests, they give you some extra card mechanics and offer more difficulty. But the main reason I recommend this box is because you get a Dale deck included, which is very powerful and easy to play for a new player. You can expand into the Ered Mithrin cycle if you want more allies and attachments, and are a fan of slaying Dragons!
Can I just buy any expansions and build a deck with them?
That really depends on which expansions you get. If they are all from the same cycle, then there’s a good chance that you get a cohesive deck out of it. But if you just pick up random packs here and there, You will just get a random assortment of cards. While I am sure that you can build something decent out of it, it will not be as strong as if you bought some packs that share cards from the same archetype. For an overview of which archetypes are in which packs, see the many articles I have listed on this page.
One way to check whether or not someone has already made a deck with the expansions you currently own, is to go to RingsDB. There, you can select which packs you own, and filter decklists on only those cards. You can then copy such a decklist, and maybe tweak it to your liking before trying it out against a quest.
One problem with buying packs at random, is that you might not be able to play every quest that you bought. As mentioned, the quests in the Adventure Packs can only be played with the corresponding Deluxe box, because that has some of the encounter sets needed to build the full encounter deck. If you have the AP but not the Deluxe, you can still use the player cards for other quests, but you cannot use the quest until you buy the Deluxe box. See the images shared earlier to find out which box belongs to what cycle.
If you are randomly buying products, then the larger boxes (Saga and Deluxe), will usually be a good purchase, since that gives you several heroes and three quests to play from the box itself.
Here is a flowchart you can use to decide what you want to buy. It will be updated as time goes on and new products are released.
I hope that this extended buying list is enough of an introduction to the game as you may need. There are several other buying guides out there in case you have not yet found answers to your purchasing questions. You can also always join one of the game’s communities on Reddit, Discord, and Facebook to ask questions about the game. Or you can leave a comment below, and I’ll get around to answering them.