Using the Sideboard in the Middle Earth Collectable Card Game

Copyright Nigel Buckle 1999

I'll assume you've read my article in the June issue on deck building (you haven't? Well go back and read it now, we'll wait ...)

This article covers the 'sideboard', this is part of the deck that beginners (and experienced players for that matter) often struggle with. The sideboard has a variety of uses within a game of Middle Earth and I'll attempt to cover all the basics. Most of the time I'll assume you are playing as a Wizard, but remember some sideboard cards are minion specific.

What is the sideboard?

This is a deck of 30 cards that you put to one side (to form the sideboard), you can put any cards in the sideboard, in any ratio of hazards, resources and characters - but you may not duplicate a unique card or include more than 3 of any non-unique card in your deck and sideboard combined.

Why do I need one?

You do not need to play with a sideboard at all. However there are some cards (hazards and resources) that allow you to access your sideboard during play, and unless you are playing a 1-deck game, every time your deck cycles you can remove 5 cards from your deck and replace them with 5 cards from your sideboard.

The sideboard has a variety of uses, the most common and obvious one is dealing with 'holes' in your deck. Once you've built your deck you may realise that it has weaknesses against specific deck types (such as One-Ring decks, or faction gathering decks, or corruption decks, etc.), or you may only realise this once your deck gets pounded by an opponent. You can use the sideboard to include cards that either support resources (such as Dark Quarrels to cancel Orc, Troll and Man attacks, or A Friend or Three to support corruption checks), or boost your hazards. Often you try to second guess your opponent with your hazards, if you get it wrong there is a distinct possibility that your hazard deck will have no effect on your opponent. You can include hazards that complement your deck in the sideboard.

For example my sample deck in my previous article had no hazards to hit shadow holds, shadow lands or dark holds. If my opponent was playing a very active deck, going to Angmar (say) and knocking over the evil fortresses there (Carn Dum, Mount Gundabad) and rescuing prisoners, or even taking a trip to the dangerous Underdeeps - my hazard deck would have very little to stop this. I could include powerful hazard creatures keyable to these types of sites in my sideboard. Of course I did not include cards to access the sideboard in the deck either - so having an army of Olog-Hai or Undead waiting in reserve (in the sideboard) would be no use.

Another use of the sideboard is for the end of the deck cycle - you might want to include up to 5 cards to add into your deck for the second cycle. For example you can remove your additional Wizard cards at the end of the cycle and replace them with something more useful. One idea is to add 5 corruption cards, the chances are the game is going to end soon (as you've exhausted your deck), so the corruption cards have a chance of staying in play for the corruption rolls at the end of the game (assuming you draw them in time to play them). Or if your only ally has been killed you could add in another ally (or two) to try to stop your opponent doubling ally points at the Council.

A third use of the sideboard is actually during the game. Before I go into how and why you'd want to do this I'll just explain all the ways you can access your sideboard:

Okay now you know how you can access the sideboard during the game the next question is why would you want to?

I'm sure many players can devise clever decks that manipulate the sideboard, but below are some examples to get you started:


If you intend to play the White Tree in your deck, you may be better putting the White Tree in the sideboard, and waiting to get a Sapling in play. Then bring the White Tree into your deck, otherwise a bad shuffle might leave you holding the White Tree in your hand for several turns while you wait to draw and play a Sapling.

If Saruman is your wizard the most effective use of spells is to tap Saruman to put 5 spell cards in the discard pile and then use Saruman's ability to tap to retrieve a spell from the discard pile to get back exactly the spell you need. Otherwise you may draw the wrong spell, or worse have Saruman in play and all the spells still in your play deck.

If you want to play Aragorn and try for the Army of the Dead, you're better off putting the Army in the sideboard and waiting until Aragorn has moved south and you've drawn the Paths of the Dead (or your deck is getting quite thin).

If your deck is vulnerable to a particular hazard type, put in cards to help in the sideboard. For example Promptings of Wisdom to stop 'Roadblock' decks (hazard decks that return you to your starting site with Snowstorm, or prematurely tap your sites with Long Winter). In my play group I rarely see Agents being used as hazards, so I put a few anti-agent cards in my sideboard 'just in case'. I'd recommend putting in Wizard Uncloaked and Wizard's River Horses in the sideboard even if you are not playing Saruman. If your opponent is actively using Nazgul the River Horses can discard them all in one go, and the Wizard Uncloaked is an excellent anti-corruption Spell.

If your deck design ends up with too many resources, put some of the resources in the sideboard and replace them with Long Bottom Leaf (assuming you have the card) - each Leaf can retrieve 2 resources, so a deck with 3 copies of Long Bottom Leaf could bring in 6 resources.

The sideboard is quite a good place for character specific cards too (such as The Hunt), if you don't get the specific character into play the card is useless. On the other hand if the character and the card are vital to your deck's success then putting the card in the sideboard will lengthen the time it takes to draw the card - which could be a major draw back.

You might also consider putting characters into the sideboard (this is probably more viable for Minions, with their access to non-unique characters). Some players add characters to their decks as potential replacements for eliminated characters, if the characters never get eliminated then the excess characters are a waste of deck space, better to put a few characters in the sideboard and bring in the one with the missing skills when a key character is killed. If you are building a deck that really needs a particular wizard, so you intend to include 3 copies of that wizard, you might want to put 2 different (backup) wizards in the sideboard, then if your opponent gets 'your' wizard out first at least you have a chance of playing a different one.


The ultimate use of the sideboard is probably the Nazgul Machine. This hazard deck has some Nazgul in the deck along with Doors of Night and the Nazgul are Abroad. The first Nazgul you draw you play and tap to put 5 hazards in your discard pile, these should be Uvatha the Horseman, The Mouth of Sauron and 3 other hazards. Once you've played Doors of Night and the Nazgul are Abroad, every turn you may bring a Nazgul back to your hand from the discard pile. If you bring back Uvatha next turn you can play him and then tap him to bring back a hazard creature from the discard pile - ie. The Mouth of Sauron, then you can play the Mouth to bring back ANY hazard. This strategy requires a high hazard limit and is very rare intensive.

If your opponent is using a particular resource strategy you can bring in cards to stop it. The most obvious one is a One- Ring deck, what cards you should use to stop a One-Ring deck is an article on its own! You could bring in anti-hobbit cards (Tookish Blood, Short Legs are Slow, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins and Pilfer Anything Unwatched, Call of Home, etc) against a hobbit stealth deck - the hazard limit is going to be so low anyway, if you haven't got any hazards in hand to hurt the company (and the opposing wizard is in play) halve the hazard limit at the earliest opportunity. It might be worth putting in cards that increase the hazard limit (Daelomin at Home and Power Built By Waiting) or Searching Eye (to cancel the effects of scout skill cards like concealment and stealth).

You may also put specialist hazard cards in the sideboard - and only bring them in if necessary (I suppose the anti-hobbit cards come under this category). For example: The Burden of Time (against Elves), Unhappy Blows (against Elf/Dwarf or Orc/Troll companies), The Roving Eye & Bane of the Ithil Stone against Palantir decks. Will Shaken is another candidate for a sideboard card - your opponent will rarely play a deck that looks at your hand, but when you face that kind of deck typically it will look at your hand continually (it's an all or nothing type), have a Will Shaken or two in the sideboard - eventually you'll get a chance to play it on your opponent, who will then be worried about forcing you to reveal your hand from then on (in case you have another one). Will Shaken is a hazard card from Against the Shadow which you can not play, but if your opponent sees it by playing an effect that forces you to reveal your hand you may put it in your opponents MP pile and it's worth -2 points.

Finally I use the sideboard as an active part of deck design and tuning. When you plan a deck you always seem to end up with too many cards, and dropping some is hard. Instead put the cards you're rejecting into the sideboard - assuming you have methods of accessing the sideboard, you'll have a chance to get the cards into your deck anyway. If after playing a few games you find you are just not using some cards you can drop them completely, and if some cards in your deck only see very occasional use you could move them to the sideboard and bring in a more useful card.

In summary, do not ignore the sideboard, consider the construction of your sideboard along with the main deck when deck building - it may just supply you the edge you need.

Editor's Note

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