Ten Decks for New Players

One of the biggest challenges new players will face as they begin this game is learning how to build their decks. Figuring out how to balance cost curves, draw engines, and threat management takes time and dozens of decks and games to hone the craft and is something seasoned veterans of the game can continue to struggle with. This is before we get onto sphere balancing, stat spread, and deck tempo. There are some resources and guides here on Vision of the Palantir, while the chief treasure trove of them can be found on the Hall of Beorn blog, which anyone would benefit from. You are able to have a look at thousands of decks on RingsDB for inspiration, learn from them, or take them out yourself for a test run.

It should be said that the fastest way of learning what works in a deck or not is by actually playing with them yourself. There are a few suggested deck lists in the rule book, and there is a wee bit of deck-building potential in the Core Set, but it won’t be long before you want to try experimenting with different heroes and deck styles. There are a few options for where to go next, advice and thoughts about which can be found in the Buyers Guide and the reviews for the Starter Decks. For most of us on a budget, we will only be able to get one large expansion at a time, so it is important we choose wisely where we invest and which cards we acquire next. These decks can be exported easily onto DragnCards or Octgn for testing.

In that spirit, we have here ten suggested decks for new players to try when thinking about which purchase to make after the Core Set. Each of these are made up of cards that can be found in the Revised Core Set and one other purchase. These decks are certainly not prescriptive; they are suggestions only. However, we have tried to cover a broad range of decks here so that players can get a decent taste of how different factions play and operate. You should find a fair spread of styles and heroes, though there will be some small overlap given the relatively limited card pool. Remember that, as ever, the most important thing in this game is that you have fun. So if there are cards or heroes you’d really like to play, for whatever reason, don’t feel constrained by these suggestions. Swap in the heroes and cards you’d like, find a deck on RingsDB that includes them or build something new entirely. In any case, here are ten decks we would suggest new players try when deciding what to get after the Core Set. To view each deck, click on the header of each deck above the description below. For example, to view the deck constructed around the available Rohan cards, click on the header immediately following.

Rohan

The Riders of Rohan starter set is a fantastic start for anyone looking to get off the ground with a Rohan deck of any stripe. Here we’ve put together a deck that encompasses something from most of the main flavours. This deck has a relatively low-cost curve, with most cards only costing 1 resource, none of them costing over 3. It uses Horn of the Mark as a way to draw cards consistently, with Ancient Mathom providing bursts of additional cards.

Lothiriel will be your primary quester, bringing in an additional ally as well every quest phase. This ally will leave play, giving a boost to Eomer, who will be your primary attacker, while Fastred will cover your defense and threat management both at the same time. This deck will quest pretty strongly with allies like West Road Traveller, Westfold Lancer, and Eomund, each contributing 2 Willpower, while Riddermark’s Finest and Westfold Horse Breaker both provide 1 Willpower for only 2 cost. Should you require it, Astonishing Speed will give you a hefty Willpower bonus of 2 for each and every Rohan character committed to the quest. If you combine this with Lothiriel’s ability to bring in Eomund for the quest phase, only to have him return to your deck, then all of your Rohan characters will ready immediately following the quest phase, and you will be all set up for the combat phase.

Fastred will be your primary defender, bolstered by Unexpected Courage, Blade Mastery, and Hasty Stroke. Anything more threatening than that will need to be either Feinted, blocked by an expendable ally, or Eomer with Firefoot would need to preempt them with a Quick Strike. When it comes to attacking enemies, especially if the Westfold Lancer can soften them up first, you might be able to spread the damage around from Eomer using Firefoot’s effect to a second enemy, which he could then finish off after using Rohan Warhorse. Westfold Lancer and Riddermark Knight can both chip in for attacks with 2 Strength each, but Westfold Outrider can provide some potential beyond its attacking strength. Discard it for its ability to engage an enemy during the combat stage after the enemies have made their attacks. This will open it up to an attack from Eomer without the need for defending against it first or using a Feint on them.

As I’ve said, this deck gives you a bit of everything when it comes to Rohan. You have allies entering and leaving play with Lotheriel and Eomer, strongly built heroes that do most of the work with Eomer, and dealing with enemies in the staging area with Fastred. As you move forward and want to expand your collection, if you want to lean into the Rohan allies’ side of things, drop Fastred for Spirit Theoden and include Mustering the Rohirrim. Eomer could be swapped for Tactics Eowyn or Hama if you want to start recycling your events.

If you prefer the idea of having your heroes do the majority of the legwork, take out Fastred and Lothiriel and put in Tactics Eowyn, Tactics Theoden, Elfhelm, and even Spirit Eowyn if you want to keep a Spirit hero. Then bring the attachments you’d like to give your heroes the tools they need. Rohan Warhorse is almost certainly a must-have, as are the named horses that accompany their prospective riders, like Snowmane, Firefoot, and Windfola.

Or, if you like the idea of keeping enemies in the staging area, then swap out Eomer and Lothiriel and instead take Tactics Eowyn and Dunhere. Together they will have a relatively low starting threat, which means most enemies should stay in the staging area long enough for Dunhere to defeat them before they come down by themselves. Tactics Eowyn will handle questing and pay for weapons like Spear of the Mark for Dunhere so that he can do what he does and armour like Round Shield or Raiment of War for Fastred. You may have noticed a recurring theme in the next steps for a Rohan deck: Tactics Eowyn. Four Willpower, Tactics Resource Icon, low starting threat, and potential for a single massive attack of 10 Strength all add up to her being one of the best heroes in the game. The next thing you should get if you’d like a Rohan deck with any Tactics presence should be Flame of the West. Even setting aside Tactics Eowyn, you’re still getting Grimbold, Golden Shield, and Sterner than Steel, each and every one an asset to a Rohan deck. If you’d prefer a Spirit-focused ally-heavy deck, Treason of Saruman would be a better bet, netting you Spirit Theoden, Hama, Herugrim, and Helm! Helm! to bolster your forces. Together with the Rohan Starter Deck, either one of these would go a long way to getting your Rohan Deck up and running.

Gondor

Defenders of Gondor is likewise the best place to start with a Gondor deck, again providing you with bits and pieces from various styles and archetypes that Gondor does well in. With this deck, we have a very low curve, with the vast majority of cards costing either one or two resources. They are weighted more in the Leadership Sphere, but with three copies of Errand Rider in the deck, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem to rearrange resources as needed. The only draw effects we have are Foe-hammer and Lorien’s Wealth, so there may be a bit of an issue with card supply depending on how fast players find Steward of Gondor and start churning out their cards from their hands.

It should be said that there is an initial weakness in this deck when it comes to questing. Between the three heroes, they can muster 3 willpower. Once the deck gets up and running, then Willpower won’t be a problem, but for the first few rounds, this deck may struggle. Secret Paths will help mitigate some of the threat from locations until you get your deck up and running. Ranger Spikes will do the same for enemies and using Denethor to avoid some of the worse encounter cards that could throw a major obstacle your way. Angbor and Celebrian’s Stone will both increase your net Willpower by 2 each, while Visionary Leadership will increase the Willpower of every Gondor character by 1 each. This brings the Citadel Custodian, Soldier of Gondor, and Envoy of Pelargir all up to 2 Willpower each, which becomes very respectable once they are deployed en mass. The Emyn Arnen Rangers will derive their Willpower from the threat of whichever enemies fall prey to the Ranger Spikes, so if a 3- or 4-Threat enemy becomes Trapped by them, the Rangers will find themselves questing for 3 or 4 Willpower, respectively. Things get taken to a new level, however, when Faramir comes online as he is able to increase everyone’s Willpower again by a further 1 each.

This deck is spoiled when it comes to defense, with one of the best defenders in the game with Beregond. Unfortunately, we’ve only one card in the deck that complements that ability, Gondorian Shield, but that card in itself is no bad thing as it takes Beregond up to 6 Defense. Only one enemy in the Core Set, the Hill-troll, and one in the Dark of Mirkwood set, the Great Cave-troll, have 6 Strength attack, which runs the slight chance of being boosted up by a Shadow Card, but most of those cases can be covered by Behind Strong Walls. You need to get all the way to Return to Mirkwood to meet an enemy with a high enough attack to be of concern to Beregond, Attercop, Attercop, but in that case, all you need to do is to throw a Gondorian Spearman to it and have it dealt one damage as part of the bargain or just use a Feint. Defenders of Rammas will hold the line against most enemies, but for anything serious, Beregond will prove to be a solid wall.

When it comes to attacking, once again, this deck will find its strength in numbers. Leadership Boromir will provide a boost for each ally of 1 Attack Strength each. With nearly half the deck as allies, as long as Leadership Boromir keeps a resource set aside to power this ability, there will be a sizable swing in your favour. Defenders of Rammas, Gondorian Spearman, and Envoy of Pelargir all up to 2 Attack each, and Angbor up to 3 Attack Strength. Leadership Boromir himself comes up to 4 Attack with a Valiant Sword, 5 once your threat creeps above 40, which it surely will. This deck has no threat reduction; you will need to find room for some in quests that demand it, such as Trouble in Tharbad, Passing of the Grey Company, or Murder at the Prancing Pony.

Similar to Rohan, this deck provides you with a tasting platter of what to expect out of a Gondor deck. Personally, I think each performs best when run mono-chromatically, that is to say, when all three heroes are of the same sphere, but there are plenty of permutations mixing and matching the different spheres and styles.

If you enjoyed Beregond’s impregnable wall but wanted more, drop Denethor and the Lore cards, and pick up Mablung and some Weapons and Armour instead. Especially take Spear of the Citadel and Secret Vigil, the first makes your deck deadly, and the second keeps your threat in check. If you want to go mono-Tactics, swap out Leadership Boromir for Tactics Boromir, or Hirgon, depending on which way you want to take your deck. Hirgon will boost your allies slightly as they enter play, while Tactics Boromir can ready himself at the cost of threat. You’ll be relying on your heroes more if you only have the Tactics sphere, but Gondor has the tools to make that straightforward enough.

On the other hand, if it was the army of allies that excited you, then you could go one of a few ways: you could drop Tactics Beregond for Hirgon and add in more allies, both Tactics and Lore, or you could drop either Tactics or Lore, replacing their hero with Leadership Denethor. A new Lore hero would be needed if you wanted to go Leadership/Lore, like Lore Faramir or Lore Pippin. Either one of these ways would benefit from A Good Harvest, though we should point out that Leadership is typically the tent-pole in this build because of Visionary Leadership and Ally Faramir giving them the extra Willpower boosts needed to make this deck-type come into its own.

As for the green flavour of Gondor, here we’re talking about Rangers and Traps. Swap out Leadership Boromir or Tactics Beregond for Damrod, and basically put in as many Traps and Rangers as you have in your collection. Lore Anborn is a must for a Trap Deck as he keeps your traps cycling out of your discard pile into your hand. All the Gondor Ranger allies have their utility, especially if you take copies of Ranger Bow to keep chipping away at enemies still in the staging area. If you want to go mono-Lore, Lore Faramir and Ranger Spikes will give you a decent attacker, while the Emyn Arnen Rangers will keep your Willpower steady, and Mithrandir’s Advice makes sure you get to those Traps when you need them most.

Your next steps for a Gondor deck really depend on where you want to take them. Unlike with Rohan, who had an answer for all deck types with Tactics Eowyn, Gondor’s archetypes were spread across a wide variety of expansions. For the Deadly Defenders, the next most important card is probably the Spear of the Citadel. Now this card is one of the few in the Heirs of Numenor deluxe, which is not included in the Defenders of Gondor release, so it’s a difficult call as to whether or not it is a worthwhile purchase. One of the more helpful packs to get would be Temple of the Deceived, which has the Armored Destrier, an invaluable tool for any deck lacking access to Spirit, the primary sphere for Shadow Management and Action Economy. In addition, this expansion has Entangling Nets and Arrows from the Trees, the former of which is especially helpful for a Ranger/Trap deck and would probably make this expansion the next item to buy for that deck. Otherwise, Flight of the Stormcaller should be the next port of call for any Gondor deck with Leadership, as you’ll be wanting Leadership Denethor, one of the most splashable heroes in the game with relatively low starting threat, decent defense, and 2 extra resources at the beginning of the game. With him on the board, any deck with Leadership will be up and running that much sooner, regardless of whether you stick with Gondor or not.

Dwarves

As with both of the preceding decks, this deck gives you a bit of a taste of the chief Dwarf strategies that exist. This deck has an extremely low-cost curve, with only a fifth of the cards in the deck costing more than 2 resources each. There is a relatively even split in the cost between different spheres, but with Narvi’s Belt in the deck, resource matching won’t be a problem that you’ll face. You have a very efficient card draw engine with Ori, Legacy of Durin, and King Under the Mountain, meaning you will draw through your deck very quickly. So much so that we’ve added in Will of the West to recycle your deck and replay your events and regain access to your discarded cards.

Leadership Dain Ironfoot is the backbone of this deck. As long as he is ready, every Dwarf character gets 1 additional Willpower and Attack strength. This transforms to cost: the benefit ratio of every Dwarf ally, making the passable into good, making the good into great. Your first copy of Unexpected Courage should go straight onto him to keep him ready as reliably as possible. Remember that Dain himself also benefits from his ability, so once he is readied after questing or attacking, Dain will have 2 Willpower and 3 Attack. This is why we have two copies of Cram and three copies of Erebor Record Keeper, to ensure that there is never a reason why Dain should be exhausted. This is the foundation of the Dain Swarm deck, wherein you get as many Dwarves out on the table as you can, all boosted by Dain for the extra stats. A Very Good Tale plays a key part in this deck, which incidentally combos exceptionally well with Fili and Kili. Once you play one of the brothers, the other comes in for free. Exhaust them both with AVGT and potentially pull up to 6 cost worth of allies into play, a potential 12 resources worth of allies after only paying 3. We Are Not Idle, Durin’s Song and Lure of Moria provides general Dwarven utility that would fit well in any deck built around Durin’s Folk.

You will have decent questing out of the gates, with both Nori and Ori being boosted up to 3 Willpower each. Each Dwarf played from your hand will reduce your threat by one, thanks to Nori, and after you play Legacy of Durin, the first one played will also net you a card drawn as well. After you get only two allies into play, Ori will also allow you to draw an extra card at the beginning of each turn as well. When it comes to defending, your best bet would probably be Dain bolstered with Durin’s Song for the bigger enemies, countering with a host of allies with their boosted stats (once Dain is ready again) attacking so the enemy won’t get a chance at a second swing. For smaller enemies, the Erebor Guard should do the trick, and don’t be afraid to sacrifice a smaller ally or two in the name of the greater good. Your two different allies who will be able to muster 3 Attack each (after counting Dain) is Dori and the Longbeard Orc Slayer, though there are two copies of him as well, so don’t exhaust these guys questing unless you cannot possibly help it.

It should be said that the other Dwarf Swarm style is one built around the ‘5 or more’ mechanic, or Thorin’s Swarm. Here the focus would be on getting as many of those named Dwarves out as quickly as possible to make the most of their abilities, potentially with the opportunity to replay certain ones after they have been killed or discarded, such as Ally Bifur for more card draw. Now, this is not to say that Dain’s Swarm and Thorin’s Swarm are mutually exclusive, in that Dain’s Swarm will often include the named Dwarves with the ‘5 or more’ mechanic such as Ally Bifur, Ally Gloin or Ally Dwalin. And Thorin’s Swarm will certainly include allies found in a Dain’s Swarm, but the heroes around which the Swarms are named are almost always mutually exclusive. I’m afraid it is simply a case of most decks not being big enough for the two of them. Dain costs 11 threat, while Thorin costs 12, a total of 23 between the two of them. Now this in and of itself isn’t insurmountable, especially if you have Nori on the table, but the other problem is that they are both Leadership. A Dwarf Swarm will typically be a tri-sphere deck to make the most of the plethora of cheap allies that can be found in every sphere, and having two big heroes in one sphere can cause things to be slightly lopsided. Functionally they operate much the same, but there is a difference in where the emphasis is placed.

The other main Dwarf strategy introduced in this deck is the Dwarven Mining deck. First introduced to the game with the Zigil Miner, this deck revolves around effects that discard cards from your deck to gain bonuses of some description or another. Sometimes the benefit comes from the card triggering the discarding, such as Erebor Guard or Zigil Miner, or from being the one that is discarded, such as Hidden Cache or Ered Luin Miner, neither of which were included in this deck but did come with the Dwarves of Durin expansion. Will of the West is ideally part of this deck type to keep the flow of cards you are able to discard uninterrupted, but other cards like Dwarf Pipe and Erebor Hammersmith will help forestall you from running out of cards as well.

As for where you go from here, this expansion has left you in a bit of a difficult situation in that there are three Deluxe-style expansions released that focus heavily on the Dwarves, Khazad-dum, and both Hobbit boxes, but the Dwarves of Durin expansion cherry-picks most of the best cards from each of these, leaving you with maybe half of each deluxe that would be redundant. Over Hill and Under Hill would net you Thorin Oakenshield, Beorn, Tactics Bofur, a new version of Gandalf and Foe-hammer, but not much else, while On the Doorstep gives you the heroes Balin, Bombur, and Oin for the Dwarves, and four decent Tactics cards in the form of Bard the Bowman and his toys. Khazad-dum might be your best bet for a general expansion of your Dwarf cards, as it would give you two new heroes and some extra attacking options with Khazad-Khazad! and the Dwarrowdelf Axe. In addition to this, it gives you some questing help with Untroubled by Darkness and Ancestral Knowledge. Otherwise, I might suggest you’d be better off going after individual Adventure Packs, but that’s your call. If you wanted to expand your Swarm decks, you could do worse than The Long Dark for Erebor Battle Master and Ring Mail or Mount Gundabad for the Erebor Toymaker and Armor of Erebor. There are a few Adventure Packs you could opt for with the Mining deck, but the best is almost certainly Ghost of Framsburg, which provides Spirit Dain, Soldier of Erebor, and Ring of Thror, all of which will go a long way in bolstering the various capabilities of your deck, though it does mean forfeiting the Willpower and Attack bonuses for your allies. The fact that Spirit Dain can successfully defend an attack of 6 Strength from the first turn, however, is not to be underestimated, granting you peace of mind when it comes to enemies until you are able to get your deck up and running under its own strength.

Silvan

Unlike the Rohan, Gondor, or indeed the Dwarves, the Silvans don’t have wildly different flavours, strategies, or styles. Their allies enter play; they trigger an ability, and they may or may not leave play again. There aren’t enough attachments geared toward Silvan heroes to make them a top heavy deck outside of one or two highly specialized builds. So the questions the Silvan player must ask then becomes which allies bounce in and out of play, and which heroes do I bring to support them? This deck has a rather low-cost curve spread relatively evenly across three spheres, with a couple Tactics allies for some seasoning; you can get in by discarding them to Protector of Lorien and then using Stand and Fight. Card draw here will be very consistent with Galadriel able to give you an extra card every turn and Daeron’s Runes accelerating that rate of draw for you.

The strength of Celeborn and Galadriel together is that on the turn an ally enters play, it gets a boost of 1 to each of its stats, and it does not exhaust to commit to a quest. This last clause means that players are able to make the most of that ally and their boosted stats when it enters play. Allies will be expected to carry this deck, and there are a handful of toys that let us return allies to our hand in order to play them again. But returning to the questing, Naith Guide will allow Celeborn to help with his Willpower as well as being ready for combat, while Galadriel’s Handmaiden quests for a very respectable 3 Willpower when she is first played, as well as reducing your threat by 1. Henamarth will allow you to see the first card of the encounter deck and plan accordingly, like whether or not to use Nenya and add Galadriel’s Willpower indirectly to the quest or if you need to plan a Minstrel to search for A Test of Will because of some awful treachery just round the corner.

As for combat, there are a handful of options here. If you have managed not to engage anyone, Haldir is able to pick away at enemies in the staging area, though he won’t do much to stronger enemies as we’ve no toys to boost his attack strength with. Again, it will be your allies carrying the day here. It could be Galadhon Archers entering play before the Encounter Phase ends with a Tree People to help chip away at weaker enemies or doing that crucial single point of damage needed to make that enemy killable when it does engage you. It could be the Defender of the Naith absorbing an attack, only to be later healed by the Silvan Trackers, so that massed bow fire from Greenwood Archers take them down. It could be an ally being returned to your hand with Feigned Voices, preventing the enemy attack in the first place, or Celeborn with Protector of Lorien discarding cards from your hand so you can defend an attack successfully. It could even be Rumil entering play with Stand and Fight after Shadow Cards are dealt, but before the enemy gets to attack, nuking that enemy with up to seven points of direct damage.

This is the true strength of the Silvan deck: their options. While the Silvans lack a great deal of strategic variety, they more than make up for it with tactical variety. Compared to the Silvans, who have a tool for every job, occasion, and season, Rohan, Gondor, and the Dwarves seem like blunt instruments that build their decks and throw them at the encounter deck, and it is simply a case of which will break first. The Silvans are flexible and bendable while at the same time being more fragile and delicate, the scalpel to the sledgehammer of the other factions. Timing is everything, and this is a difficult faction to master, but once you get the hang of when your action windows are, you will have Elves flitting in and out of the trees and line of sight at will.

The Silvan trait received consistent support throughout the course of the game’s life, in large part because they never got a Deluxe expansion focused heavily on them. As a result, there is a wide plethora of options you can pick when it comes to your next steps. Treachery of Rhudaur might be worth the purchase for the Galadhrim Weaver alone as she keeps your crucial events in your deck, allowing you to see them more and more frequently as your deck thins and is depleted of other cards. For my money, however, I would suggest either The Drowned Ruins or Fire in the Night. The former gives you Argalad, who will help pick away at enemies in the staging area, as well as Marksman of Lorien and Woodland Courier, who will be invaluable for combat and questing, respectively, essentially more of the same good stuff. The latter gives you Thranduil, The Elven King, Galion, and Quicker than Sight, all four of which will certainly take your Silvan decks to the next level. But I’ll leave those cards for another deck.

Dunedain

And so we move away from the Starter Decks and onto the other expansions for the game. First, we come to the Angmar Awakened cycle and the Dunedain. Now the Dunedain are similar to the Silvans in that they need to be carefully managed and controlled by the player. For the Silvans, this was because of their specialist nature, with the right tool needing to be applied to the right job at the right time. With the Dunedain, this is because they like to play with fire, pedal to the metal, go big or go home, ride or die. You see, with the Dunedain, they get stronger the more enemies there are engaged with them. But it’s a balancing act: too many enemies and the Dunedain action economy might not keep up; too few enemies and all it can take is one really big enemy to blow apart the Dunedain. This is the archetype of high risk, high reward. This deck has a mid-range cost curve, with about a fifth of its deck costing 3 or more. In a tri-sphere deck, this can be a problem, but Berevor should be able to help us draw Heir of Valandil. This card should be mulliganed for as it will transform the resource economy of your deck once you get a couple of enemies engaged with you. Speaking of which, Berevor ought to have a copy of Unexpected Courage on her so that you can be sure of drawing three of your cards each and every turn.

This deck can struggle in the opening few rounds while you get your engine up and running. Amarthiul can defend the first enemy until you get out an ally to start helping cover attacks, preferably a Guardian of Arnor, though a Weather Hills Watchman will do as well. An early-game Forest Snare will go a long way to keeping your deck consistent going forwards. Ranger of Cardolan and Feint can act as stop-gap measures to release pressure for a turn if you are close to getting a Guardian of Arnor or if you need to kill an enemy to take the foot off the accelerator, but your action economy is struggling. Ideally, you will have as many enemies engaged with you as you have Guardians of Arnor, plus a few extra for Forest Snare. Once you are able to keep two or three enemies engaged with you safely consistently, the deck truly starts to sing.

First of all, Heir of Valandil reduces the cost of allies by the number of engaged enemies. Those Northern Trackers and Wardens of Annuminas suddenly aren’t so expensive, and you can realistically get Fornost Bowmen or Sarn Ford Sentries in for free, the latter of which will draw you more cards concurrent with how many enemies you have engaged with you. Expert Trackers lets you pick off locations, while Ranger Summons allows you to seed the encounter deck with your allies. You only pay one resource for them; they have decent stats across the board and have an ability that triggers when they enter play. The catch is you have no idea when they will show up, if at all. High risk: high reward.

There are a few purchases that would stand your Dunedain in good stead. If you wanted to get into the side-quest aspect of the Dunedain, then Race Across Harad for Thurindir would be the next step, especially as side-quests tend to feature in most quests post-Angmar Awakens, best seen in Treachery of Rhuduar, Fire in the Night and Under the Ash Mountains. The Three Trials would net you Idraen, who ties in with your Northern Trackers and Blades of Gondolin as she gets to ready every time a location is explored. Temple of the Deceived might be worth it for Armored Destrier alone, which gives you Shadow Management and Action Economy, two things that every Dunedain deck loves the sound of.

Noldor

The Noldor discard mechanic can be one of the more powerful in the game, but it is also one of the hardest to master. Fortunately, their baseline stats and functions are usually strong enough by themselves so that you will have ample opportunity to learn the ropes as you go. This deck has a consistently low-cost curve, with only one card costing more than 2 resources (Leadership Ally Faramir). Card draw will hopefully not be too much of a problem. Cirdan will allow you to draw an extra card each turn, though you do need to discard one of them so it acts as a filter for your cards, Lorien’s Wealth will allow for an extra burst of cards here and there, and if your hand is ever depleted, then Galdor will be able to reset your hand size to six once in the game. The ability to discard cards to fuel abilities effectively turns the cards themselves into resources to pay for various effects, especially once you start using them in conjunction with To the Sea, to the Sea!. Will of the West is necessary for this deck due to the amount of drawing and discarding that will be going on.

This deck opens strong before the game even begins with what is essentially a tailored mulligan. Galdor lets you craft your opening hand, allowing you to discard cards that will not be useful to you immediately and draw different cards from your deck in the hopes of something better. Ideally, you’ll find copies of Unexpected Courage and Narya. Once you enter your first quest phase, assuming you have added no allies, you can still achieve an impressive combined willpower of 11, allowing you to make progress quickly before the encounter deck can marshall its forces. Lindon Navigator and Sailor of Lune will be your primary questers from your allies; just be sure to use Eowyn‘s ability to discard an event to give the Sailor that extra Willpower as well. After Faramir is in play, this will quickly get to ridiculous levels of Willpower, so take advantage and blow through those quest stages at your leisure. It should be said at this point that while Eowyn is a Rohan hero, her ability fits too perfectly into the Noldor discard mechanic to exclude her from this deck. Once you get copies of Evening Star and Elwing’s Flight into your discard pile, subsequent occasions you play them will yield greater results. The former will allow you to nuke locations from orbit, blowing them out of the water entirely, while the latter boosts more of your characters’ Willpower and readies them for subsequent rounds.

Combat will largely need to be handled by your Mithlond Sea-watchers and Wardens of the Havens, who will cover attacking and defence, respectively. Assuming you can find your Unexpected Courage and Narya, use Cirdan and his Ring to boost your allies even further so they can stand up to more enemies for you and hopefully survive those punches. Key to this deck’s consistent performance, however, is Protector of Lorien, which not only boosts your defence and Willpower when you need it, but it allows you to manipulate the top of your discard pile as many as three times per phase. As much as Unexpected Courage and Narya, you should be looking for this attachment to gain as much control over your board state as possible. That said, combat is not this deck’s strong suit. Avoid enemies if you can, focus your attacks if you can’t, and quest as hard and as fast as you can. Sacrifice an ally or two if you need to chump some attacks; you can always bring them back through Stand and Fight or recycle them with Will of the West.

The next steps for a Noldor deck are fairly straightforward as you ask yourself which hero you would like to get next. In The Dread Realm, Arwen Undomiel can literally turn cards into resources and comes with Elven Light, perhaps the single best utility card in a Noldor deck. Treachery of Rhudaur gives you Erestor, who will send the number of cards you can draw through the roof; as combined with Cirdan, you would be getting 5 new cards in your hand each and every turn. Now you will discard anything unused at the end of the phase, but you are Noldor, so you don’t worry about that. Foundations of Stone gives you Hero Spirit Glorfindel, one of the best-value heroes in the game, though it does shy away from the Noldor discard mechanic. Imladris Stargazer lets you sort which cards you draw next, while Trollshaw Scout is the attacking version of Lindon Navigator. Asfaloth helps with location control, but it is Light of Valinor that would be the main draw with this Adventure Pack, allowing Cirdan to quest without the need to exhaust when questing, freeing up his action economy and further enabling him to support his allies with Narya.

Hobbits

While the Noldor get has some pretty powerful capabilities, you would expect nothing less when paying their higher starting threat cost. The Hobbits have a lower starting threat of 20 but punch well above their weight. With most of their cards costing two or less, an even spread of sphere costs, and a decent draw engine with Pippin, this deck should have no problem in getting itself up off its feet.

The chief mechanic of this deck is interacting with enemies that have a higher engagement cost with your threat. This fuels Pippin’s card draw, as well as Sam’s readying, the extra attack for Dagger of Westernesse, and extra defence from Hobbit Cloak, not to mention a few others besides. Once your threat begins to creep up, you can either use Take No Notice to make sure you still get to trigger your effects, or you can resort to using Gandalf to lower your threat back down to a safe level. To begin with, your heroes will need to handle questing, with Sam’s readying ability and a Hobbit Cloak ensuring you won’t be left without a suitable defender. Use Radagast’s Cunning and Secret Paths as needed to make sure you are able to make consistent progress.

When it comes to combat, Samwise, with a Hobbit Cloak, should be able to defend against most enemies. Consider Ally Boromir as well, who could ready after an attack if he takes damage and be able to help you with a counterattack. If you have them ready, Elrond or Galadriel are ideally positioned to block an attack from a larger enemy. They will be leaving the board at the end of the round in any case, so it will be no skin off your nose if they were to be killed as a result. Similarly, Barliman and the Gondorian Spearman are all there to soak up attacks for you.

Your counteroffensive will be led by Merry. With two Daggers, he will be swinging for 5-7 Attack by himself, and that’s before we factor in any Halfling Determination, but ideally, he’ll be attacking alongside someone else who he would be able to ready with his ability after they kill an enemy. Sam, with the other Dagger, could be attacking for as much as 4 alongside him if you engage a qualifying enemy, readying him after questing and boosting his stats for combat. Together that is an attack for 11 strength, and there’s not much that will stand up against that, and then Sam can go and attack a second enemy as well, thanks to Merry. You will have other allies able to weigh in as well, like Farmer Maggot, Beorn, even Gandalf, if you didn’t use him for questing, but the majority of your offensive capabilities will derive from your heroes.

There are a few places to go next with a Hobbit deck, especially as they received support across the different cycles of the game. Wastes of Eriador has Spirit Merry, probably one of the best threat-management tools in the game, as well as Curious Brandybuck and Hobbit Pony. The Dead Marshes only gives you Fast Hitch, but this single card will transform the action economy of your Hobbit deck, while Dungeons of Cirith Gurat will provide Folco Boffin, who makes the idea of a secrecy Hobbit deck much more tenable. Probably the single best expansion to go for next, however, would be The Mountain of Fire, giving you Tom Cotton, the cornerstone of a Hobbit Swarm, Rosie Cotton, Raise the Shire, and Friend of Friends. This last card represents the bond of friendship between Frodo and Sam as they complete their quest and can only be attached to two different heroes. As a result, they will both get an additional point added to each of their statistics, making both Hobbit heroes stronger for their mutual bond.

Gandalf

On the face of things, a Gandalf deck is a complex thing that requires a high level of skill to play. In actuality, this deck is incredibly straightforward, with little variation of the core substance of the deck. Unless you are taking a Three Rings deck, a Two/Three Wizards Deck, or an Aragorn/Gandalf deck, the chief principle is the same: Gandalf is the engine, wheels, and firepower of a Gandalf deck, and so every card is added with the primary purpose of enabling this. This deck has a very low-cost curve, with very nearly half the deck costing less than one and the vast majority of cards costing either Tactics or Spirit resources. Gleowine and Gandalf’s Staff will help with your card draw, so you should see a steady stream of cards into your hand.

Wizard Pipe is integral to this deck, being the card that allows you to swap out any card in your hand for the top card of your deck, which Gandalf can then pay for as well. Mulligan for this Pipe, or for Bilbo Baggins, who can search for it in your deck and bring it to your hand. Since Gandalf’s ability can be used once per phase, putting an event on top of your deck, like Feint or Quick Strike, allows you to make the most of his ability more than once each round. Steward of Gondor ought to go on Gandalf as he can pay for all the different spheres.

Out-of-the-gate players can quest for 8, though it might be advisable to keep back Legolas so you can use his ability to place progress by killing enemies as opposed to questing. At least two, maybe three copies of Unexpected Courage should go on Gandalf to make the most of his truly impressive stats, with the third potentially going on Legolas to make the most of his ability. Your allies will primarily be questers as together, Gandalf and Legolas will be able to handle nearly all the enemies the encounter deck can throw at you, especially when you consider Gandalf’s Staff can discard Shadow Cards and Flame of Anor can ready him back up again with an increased attack. Now, this is not to say that your allies can’t pitch in if needed, but your heroes will have most of it covered.

Gandalf’s toys are scattered far and wide across the cycles, always ever only one card in each release that has anything, though. The Long Dark has Word of Command, which allows you to dig out your key pieces of the deck. Treason of Saruman gives you readying, Ranged and Sentinel in the form of Shadowfax, while The Grey Havens offers ally support with Narya. Glamdring is in Roam Across Rhovanion and provides an increased attack strength and the ability to draw a card every time an enemy is killed. Spare Pipe is found in Land of Sorrow, giving Gandalf an extra hit point and helping to dig out an event for you. All are fantastic pieces of a Gandalf deck, and you should have room for each of them in your collection.

Dale

Of all the traits in the game that can support an entire deck by themselves, heroes and all, Dale was the last one to be introduced, and when they were, they arrived all at once over the Rhovanion cycle. This deck has a relatively low-cost curve, with costs loaded more into the Spirit and Leadership spheres. This is less of a concern in this deck, however, because Bard can pay for Item attachments of any sphere, and King of Dale provides not only a way to sidestep the sphere requirements for allies but also provides a discount on their cost, flattening that cost curve for you. Between Berevor, Brand‘s abilities to generate card draw, and Gleowine thrown in for good measure, you won’t have a problem with having a full hand each turn, so much so that we’ve put a copy of Will of the West in there to keep our deck’s engine going for a bit longer.

Brand is the lynchpin of this entire deck, especially once you get King of Dale on him. Every Dale ally with an attachment gets an additional point of Willpower thanks to his ability, and we’ve already considered the card draw above. It may take a turn or two to get its feet under the table, so to speak, until you get a couple of attachments on whoever has King of Dale and can start getting allies in for lower costs, then playing attachments on them. It doesn’t matter so much which attachment goes on which ally initially, just as long as they are getting their willpower boost from Brand and can activate their special abilities. At first, it won’t be as imoportant if your North Realm Lookout has a Hauberk of Mail or a Bow of Yew; he will still be questing for 3 without exhausting. Once you get out your Long Lake Traders, you can start shuffling your attachments around from one ally to the other and ideally give your lookout a Map of Rhovanion, your Warriors of Dale get Bows of Yew, while Redwater Sentries get Hauberks of Mail.

Once you start getting your allies up and running, this deck will find its feet relatively quickly. With the correct attachments, your Lookouts each quest for 3 and put a point of progress on the active location; your Warriors each have Ranged, attack for 3 and deal 1 point of damage to the defending character; and your Sentries each have Sentinel, 4 Defence, and 4 Hit Points. These are Hero-level stats and abilities on allies. Don’t forget to use Grim Resolve if things ever get desperate; Traffic from Dale will make sure you can always afford it.

So, where does a Dale deck go next? Well, the obvious answer is to get more allies and attachments. Temple of the Deceived comes with the Rhovanion Outrider, who places progress in the staging area when he quests. Wiglaf is essentially a demi-hero in stats and ability, can be readied by exhausting an attachment, and is found in Roam Across Rhovanion. I’d suggest getting the Withered Heath next for some cheap ally attachments, some deck-fishing, and an absolutely bonkers Dale ally. If you want to know more, attach Raiment of War on a Guardian of Esgaroth and watch as your deck can say goodbye to most of its potential shortcomings.

Outlands

While The Wilds of Rhovanion provided a deck in a single Deluxe Expansion, The Steward’s Fear goes one better and provides a deck in a single Adventure Pack. This AP has long been considered one of the best value purchases in the entire game, not just for the Outlands cards that come with it but also for the plethora of additional cards in there that provide so much utility for other decks as well. Any mono-Lore deck worth its salt ought to be including Mithrandir’s Advice, for instance, a Gondor deck with any form of Tactics hero should have Gondorian Shield, and any deck with lots of attachments for Aragorn will be served well by a copy or two of Ring of Barahir. But as for this deck itself, here we have a moderately low-cost curve; about 3/4s of the deck costs 2 or fewer resources. Card draw may prove to be a bit slow until you get Gleowine out, but Lorien’s Wealth will help counter that with bursts of additional cards. There are more resources demanded from the Leadership sphere, but once Steward of Gondor is out on Hirluin, you won’t find that to be a problem. He is also able to spend his resources on Outlands allies of any sphere, providing a measure of resource smoothing while we are at it.

The core mechanic of this deck is a very simple one: put Outlands allies into play. That’s it; that’s as far as it goes. You see, each core Outlands ally has a very simple ability that boosts the stats of all the Outlands characters on the table. Each Ethir Swordsman says, ‘Each Outlands character you control gets +1 Willpower.’ This means when you have all three out, every Outlands character will get an extra three Willpower. When you consider this is not ‘every Ethir Swordsman’, but every single Outlands ally, you realise this will stack up very quickly and that with each new Outlands ally you put down, their value increases exponentially. Once the second Ethir Swordsman is played, you aren’t merely getting a second 2-Willpower ally, but now you have two 3-Willpower allies. Put down a Warrior of Lossarnach, and now you have three 3 Willpower allies, all with 2 Defence each. Your board stat advances not by increments but exponentially with every new addition. Your Outlands hero Hirluin will also get boosted with each new addition, so don’t forget to make the most of his utility as well. By the time you have three of any single type of Outlands ally, each ally will have a 4 Strength stat in whichever attribute that may be.

As I said, it can take a turn or two for your deck to get up and running, so we have built in a few countermeasures to keep you in the game until that happens. You are particularly vulnerable to treacheries, not having access to the Spirit sphere, but Denethor is able to look at the top card of the encounter deck with the potential to discard it if it is not a particularly palatable one. Similarly, for larger monsters, until your allies get their defences up and running, there is a danger they will fall prey to even a smaller enemy. And so we’ve brought Gimli to help absorb those blows, with the help of Citadel Plate to keep him up and running even longer. We have put in Sneak Attack/Gandalf and /Beorn to give you a bit more flexibility depending on what you need at the time, and a couple of other cheap allies to throw under the bus if you are unable to survive a big attack, like your Gondorian Spearmen for instance.

Expanding on your Outland’s deck presents a wee bit of a challenge in that there is not really that much more that needs to be added here specifically for the Outlands trait. We have Forlong in the Druadan Forest to give you more action economy. Lord of Morthond in Encounter at Amon Din for more card draw. And both Sword of Morthond and Men of the West in Assault on Osgiliath, respectively, make another Gondor ally eligible for the Outlands boost and to return Outlands allies to your hand from the discard pile. The only other suggestion I would make is City of Corsairs, which gives you Tactics Prince Imrahil, and the attachment ‘Prince of Dol Amroth‘, which gives Imrahil the Outlands trait and allows him to get more resources each turn. Beyond that, this is one of the most complete decks you could ask for in a single release, with the most straightforward of deckbuilding requirements needed to train up new players in how to assemble their own deck and take on the challenges of the game.

Conclusion

For new players, this is the best of times; this is the worst of times. With reprints, repackagings, and revised sets, it is easier than it has been for decades ever to get into the game. But with many releases out of print, difficult to find, or exorbitantly overpriced on the second-hand market can be extremely hard to complete your collection. We can see above how quickly you are able to put together a flexible, functioning deck with only a single purchase now, one that would have a decent chance against most quests in the game. But however you choose to go about building your collection, I hope that we have demonstrated how easy it is to get started in this game, inspired you to continue building your deck-building skills, and encouraged you to join us. It is truely a pleasure to have each and every one of you in this community as we explore the world of Tolkien together. The road goes ever on; it is for us to pursue it with eager feet.

One thought on “Ten Decks for New Players

  1. Thanks for the post, it’s very useful for us newbies!
    Just a question: I started with the old core set and not the revised one (it was a present), could you suggest some replacements for the missing duplicates?
    Eg. I’d love to try a Gandalf deck using only cards from the old core and the Fellowship saga box, but I’m not sure it would work without three Unexpected Courage.

    Like

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