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A Common Deck

Copyright Nigel Buckle ©2001

Edited by Nicholas H.M. Caldwell for The Guild Companion

One complaint players often make about CCGs are the rares are the most powerful cards in the game and you need them to build competitive decks. While it's true having access to all the cards in a CCG gives you the option to build any deck you choose, it is possible to construct tournament quality decks without using many, or even any, rare cards.

In this article, I will detail a tournament quality hero deck using only fixed, common and uncommon cards, mainly from Middle Earth: The Wizards. Of course it is possible to modify, and improve, this deck by including some rares, and I will discuss possible improvements to the basic deck at the end, but the deck is still viable in its non-rare form.

When building a tournament deck remember your hazards, resources and sites are related, so you need to examine the whole deck rather than each component in isolation, I've broken each part down in this article for convenience, but I usually build the deck, then revisit each part and modify if necessary to ensure the hazards and resources (and sites, especially auto attacks) are not in conflict.

I decided very early on that this deck must be fast to play (drawing many cards, all cards having a high playability, and hopefully playing multiple MP cards a turn) This speed would offset any advantage a rare-heavy deck may have.

The ultimate speed card for heroes is Radagast if you move through a wilderness you draw an additional card, so my deck is built around Radagast (with Alatar as a backup, as his ability gives card advantage too - your opponent draws one less card).

So I have 3 cards, 2x Radagast and Alatar, not much to start with, but as I'm planning to move Radagast to draw cards then 3 Bridges are the next obvious choice. If Radagast moves to a haven and draws a bridge, he can move again. I'll also include 3 smoke rings so I can recycle the bridges. Master of Esgaroth is another good card slightly less playable, as you have to play it in the organisation phase, so I'll just include 2 copies. I've already used up 8 of my 30 resource slots and I haven't included a MP card yet!

All these cards are great, but I'm relying on Radagast to make them work, so really I need a backup plan, in case I draw Alatar (or no wizard at all). Fortunately there is another common that fits the bill perfectly, A Short Rest. If I split my characters up into multiple companies and move them all to close sites, I will easily out draw my opponent, so 3 of these go in the deck too.

At this point I need to consider the geography of Middle Earth in that I need to base the deck around a haven, but which one? As I'm obsessed with speed I'm going for Rivendell. It's in a wilderness and there are plenty of wilderness regions nearby and suitable sites to visit. However this means my deck will be light on greater items as there are not many (non-rare) greater item sites near to Rivendell.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. I always consider allies first, as there is less choice, and much less choice if I can't use rare cards. I will use Gollum (anti One-Ring), Goldberry (anti Roadblock and I'm intending to move through many wildernesses) and a Noble Hound (playable at multiple sites).

For factions I will use the Rangers of the North (3 MPs), The Great Eagles (3 MPs), The Blue Mountain Dwarves (3 MPs) and finally Lossoth (2 MPs).

Now I have 18 cards picked (11 support, 7 resources) so there are just 12 more I can include. Before I go any further I'll include 3 Muster, even with the errata [Replace entire text with: "Warrior only. An influence check against a faction by a warrior is modified by adding the warrior's prowess to a maximum modifier of +5."], this is still a great card for warriors, so now I only have 9 slots left to fill.

Items next, Durin's Axe is a great major item, as in the hands of a dwarf it is worth 4 MPs. I'll also include Orcrist as that's an uncommon card worth 4 MPs too. I'll round the items out with a Hauberk of Bright Mail (2 MPs for only 1 corruption point, and it's non-unique) and a Sword of Gondolin (good for warriors, and another 2 MPs). Now I've only got 5 slots left and I've not included many combat cards. Risky Blow is the obvious one, it is by far the best warrior card, so I'll include 3. The remaining 2 slots I'll fill with 2 And Forth He Hastened, as un-tapping a character is always useful, especially as I'm concentrating so heavily on this being a fast deck.

Now the resource portion looks like this (30 cards):
  • A Short Rest x3
  • And Forth He Hastened x2
  • Blue Mountain Dwarves
  • Bridge x3
  • Durin's Axe
  • Goldberry
  • Gollum
  • Hauberk of Bright Mail
  • Lossoth
  • Master of Esgaroth x2
  • Muster x3
  • Noble Hound
  • Orcrist
  • Rangers of the North
  • Risky Blow x3
  • Smoke Rings x3
  • Sword of Gondolin
  • The Great Eagles

Now onto characters. As I've already picked my wizards (Radagast and Alatar), that leaves 10 characters for the draft and any extras I want for the deck. Where possible, I only include characters in the draft, and put unused characters from the draft into the deck if necessary (and if they've not been played already by my opponent). Having additional unnecessary characters in the deck just increases the size of the deck and I'm keen to keep this deck as close to the 30/30 + 3 wizards minimum as possible. I need warriors (for the Musters and Risky Blows) and also rangers (to avoid hazards like River), and preferably high prowess characters as I've got no cancellers. I don't really need diplomats, sages or scouts, as I have no cards in the deck needing those particular skills.

Thranduil will be my main character, he's the only non-rare powerful Elf, and he has a reasonable prowess, 3 direct influence, the right skills and no negative MP effect if he's eliminated (other than losing the 3 MPs he's worth). I'll also use Beorn as he's the best man character, and is immune from Beorning Skin Changers. This leaves me with just 4 mind worth left, and 3 possible characters. I'll use Beregond and Hama. Thranduil can control one and Beorn the other.

So my ideal starting companies are:

Thranduil with Cram controlling Hama
Beorn with Cram controlling Beregond

I'll also include the following 6 characters in the draft, either as replacements for duplicated characters in the draft or to go in the deck.

  • Haldir
  • Beretar
  • Forlong
  • Gloin
  • Oin
  • Aragorn II

Assuming I can play my preferred starting company, I would include Beretar, Gloin and Oin in the deck (if they weren't played by my opponent in the draft). I need a Dwarf for Durin's Axe, and my Wizard can control two five-mind characters for the maximum MPs (2 each).

On to the hazards, and like the resources these need to be fast. However before selecting my hazard strategy it is worth considering the sites I am most likely to use, to see which regions they are in and the automatic attack types.

Havens: Rivendell, Lorien, The Grey Havens

Faction Sites: Bree, Blue Mountain Dwarf Hold, Eagles Erie, Lossadan Camp

Items: Moria, Mount Gundabad, Ruined Signal Tower, Mount Gram, The Glittering Caves, Isengard

Ally Sites: Old Forest, Goblin Gate (or Moria) the Noble Hound can be played at: Bree, Lossadan Camp & the Old Forest (or any other border hold).

Additionally I'd include other border holds near to Rivendell (for use with Master of Esgaroth and A Short Rest), for example, Dunnish Clan Hold.

The sites that have automatic attacks include the following types: Orcs, Spiders and Wolves, so I don't really want to use enhancers that boost those particular hazard creature types. I've decided to use a corruption strategy as that is fast, along with undead creatures as they fit in nicely with corruption. However I'm going to include men as additional creatures to cover the blind spots of coastal sea and border holds.

My 12 creatures are: 3 Corpse Candles, 3 Stirring Bones, 3 Corsairs of Umbar, 3 Sell Swords between Charters.

I could have used Chill Dousers, but I find you have to hold these in hand and play them in combination (or in combination with other undead) and I don't want to hold cards in hand for this deck cards will be played if they can be or discarded, rather than kept for a powerful combination later. The Corsairs cover coastal seas (and the regions with a coast) and the Sell Swords cover border holds and give additional creature cover for Shadow Holds.

I now have 18 slots left for corruption and other non-creature hazards. Firstly my undead (especially the Corpse Candles) need an enhancer, otherwise playing them will just give up creature kill MPs. The obvious support card is The Moon Is Dead, as this is a permanent event and does not require Doors Of Night.

This leaves 15 cards for my corruption strategy (along with the Corpse Candles, which are usually played to force corruption checks rather than wound/kill characters). I've decided on the following mix of corruption cards:

3 Lure of Nature, 3 Lure of the Senses, 3 Lure of Expedience, 2 Despair of the Heart

(None of these are rare, and most force fairly frequent corruption checks. Also none are race specific (such as The Burden of Time, which requires an Elf character).)

This leaves me with 4 more slots to fill. I want some cards to force corruption checks, so I will use 2 Greed and 2 Weariness of the Heart.

My final 30-card hazard deck comprises of:

  • 3x Corpse-candle
  • 3x Corsairs of Umbar
  • 3x Stirring Bones
  • 3x Sellswords Between Charters
  • 2x Despair of the Heart
  • 2x Greed
  • 3x Lure of Expedience
  • 3x Lure of Nature
  • 3x Lure of the Senses
  • 3x The Moon Is Dead
  • 2x Weariness of the Heart

Normally I would prepare a sideboard for a tournament deck, but I'll leave that as an exercise for you! I would certainly include more corruption (for the 2nd deck cycle), along with resources to sideboard in if necessary to counteract particular hazard decks (such as anti-agent cards). I would also include 3 Twilight in case my opponent was relying on environment cards.

There are some rare cards that could easily be incorporated into this deck with the most obvious ones being:

  • Rare sites
  • Elves of Lindon
  • Tom Bombadil (instead of Goldberry)
  • A Palantir (greater item)
  • Another greater item (such as Wormsbane or the Mithril Coat)
  • Rare characters (such as Elrond or Thrain II)
  • Ren the Unclean
  • Lure of Power
  • The Mouth of Sauron

Also you may want some rare cards in the sideboard to stop One-Ring decks (such as Rolled Down to the Sea, The Precious, etc.).

Building a deck is only half the battle; you still need to play the deck effectively. To do this, you need to know what is in the deck and also have a plan in advance of how you expect to play the cards. This particular deck has plenty of marshalling point cards, so you can afford to discard some if you draw a handful early on the main 'engine' and design of the deck is card drawing, and there are actually 3 engines included:

  • Radagast moving through Wilderness, combined with Bridge or Master of Esgaroth;
  • A Short Rest moving through few regions (preferably with multiple companies), and combined with Bridge or Master of Esgaroth;
  • Hazards most are very playable, so you should be able to play hazards up to the hazard limit each turn, helping you to draw more cards. Don't forget to play cards on guard (even resources!) if you have enough hazard limit.

For example, say you have the following in your starting hand:

Master of Esgaroth, A Short Rest, Hauberk of Bright Mail, Lure of Nature, Stirring Bones, Despair of the Heart, Muster. You might be tempted just to move as one company to a suitable major item site and play the Hauberk (for 2 MPs), I would not do that (you would only draw 2 cards or so, and your opponent would draw a similar number and have the opportunity to play 4 hazards on your company). Instead I would do the following:

Split the company into two. Beorn and Beregond in company 1, Thranduil and Hama in company 2. Play A Short Rest (affects both), play Master of Esgaroth on company 2. Select Mount Gram as a site for Company 1 and Cameth Brin as the site for company 2. I now have 6 cards in hand, I reveal the site for company 1 and draw 4 cards (2 for the site, 2 from A Short Rest), my opponent draws 3 (and could play 2).

Then I move company 2 to Cameth Brin and draw 4 cards (1 for the site, 3 from a Short Rest), my opponent draws 1 (and could play 2). Then I can move company 2 to a more appropriate site (to play a drawn resource), hopefully nearby so I can benefit again from A Short Rest. Say I draw The Rangers of the North I could move to Bree, drawing 3 more cards (1 from the site, 2 from a short rest).

So in this example I have drawn 11 cards, my opponent probably 5.

To win with this deck, your main goal is to plan the card play to draw as many cards as you can each turn, and in your opponent's turn to play hazards (and on-guard cards) to the hazard limit. One of the MECCG mechanics some players struggle with is discarding cards at the end of each turn they have trouble deciding which cards to throw away. Furthermore I'm amazed at the number of players who decide not to discard a card at the end of each turn. Certainly with this deck you should do it every time you can. Playing this deck will give you practice discarding cards if you can't see yourself playing a resource this turn or the next, discard it, if you have a hazard that you don't think you can play next turn, discard it. The only cards you might want to hold are the smoke rings to either sideboard a crucial card or to recycle A Short Rest or a Bridge.

With a reasonable card draw, and Radagast in play on turn 1 or 2, you can expect to cycle your deck in around 5 turns. I would even risk moving Radagast on his own to draw cards (rather than wait for additional characters) so you have 3 companies moving. Of course you will have to adapt to the hazards you see your opponent playing if your opponent plays a few big triple wilderness creatures, you may decide not to move Radagast through quite so many wilderness regions each turn.

If you have Tom Bombadil in your deck, he is not that much of a movement liability, as you can still move him to/from Rivendell, Cameth Brin, The White Towers, etc. and draw several cards with A Short Rest in play.

A variant to this deck is forget the big characters, and play with a 5-mind character (say Beretar) and 4 3-mind characters, forming 5 companies on turn one and moving all of them! Sure some of the characters are going to be tapped, or wounded or killed, but you will draw lots of cards, and with the 2 Cram you can probably play 2 resources on that first turn (discarding the cram to un-tap the characters).

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