Copyright Pierre Jonas Castillo ©2001
Edited by Nigel Buckle for The Guild Companion
Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk
agh burzum-ishi krimpatul
One ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to
bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
For me, the most interesting deck to play in a MECCG game will always be the One Ring deck. I have read and reread The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and I have always been intrigued with the power of the One. Luckily, MECCG has provided players the opportunity to wield it. Nothing compares to that feeling of trying to test a gold ring and successfully revealing the One; and then try to destroy it at Mount Doom (or retrieve it or claim it for your own, depending on what alignment you are playing). Plus, in the tournament level, a One Ring victory always gives a player more tournament points compared to the usual marshalling point decks.
MECCG has provided its players the chance to set up their own One Ring storylines through their different expansions. In Middle-earth: The Wizards (METW), a player can play the good guys and attempt to destroy the Ring at Mount Doom (as what happened in the trilogy). Middle-earth: The Lidless Eye (MELE), a player can join the bad guys (or be Sauron himself) and try to hunt and/or retrieve the One, take it back to Barad-dûr to give it to Sauron (or get it yourself if you're Sauron), and find out what could have happened to Middle-earth if the Dark Lord wielded the One during the Third Age. In Middle-earth: The White Hand (MEWH), a player, as a Fallen-wizard, has the chance to take the Ring and use it for his own purposes - similar to what Saruman was hoping to achieve. Finally, in Middle-earth: The Balrog (MEBA), a player can find out what would have happened if the Balrog got hold of the One. However, playing a One Ring deck is not as easy as it looks. A player should always take into consideration which characters to use, which ring item cards to place inside the deck, and which support resource cards will be used in helping achieve that victory. This article hopes to provide the reader an in-depth look at the various One Ring strategies and help him in his One Ring deckbuilding; as well effective ways of defeating One Ring strategies.
I will discuss first the basics that are common to all One Ring strategies. When playing a One Ring strategy, your deck will first need gold ring items, without them, you cannot get the One out into play (Note: Fallen-wizard, Ringwraith/Sauron and Balrog players have a non-gold ring item option - see below). Second is the testing part. Playing a "test" resource tests gold ring items and this usually requires a sage character. A roll will be made and the result will determine whether the One was successfully revealed or not. The bottom line here is, the higher the roll (usually an 11 or 12), the better your chances of getting the One Ring out. You must therefore figure out a way to modify your roll to get the desired effect. This is where the Scroll of Isildur (a resource item) and the Under-grottos (an Under-deeps site) play a big role. Finally, once the Ring is in play, the next step is what to do with it. This depends on what alignment you are playing, which will be discussed below. This involves traveling to a certain site and once you get there, you will have to play certain cards (except for Ringwraith/Sauron players) in order to claim victory. Another important thing to consider is corruption. The One Ring carries the biggest corruption points (6 CPs and a +1 CP to each character in the company) of any item in the game, so it is important that you find some means to prevent your characters from succumbing to the lure of the One while you are trying to move to victory. With these in mind, I will now proceed with One Ring strategies of the different alignments.
HERO ONE RING STRATEGIES
Middle-earth: The Wizards provided Tolkien aficionados the chance to do what Frodo did in the books: go on a quest to Mount doom and destroy the One. However, in METW, you get the chance to choose which character will be the Ringbearer and how to destroy it.
Hero One Ring strategies are perhaps the easiest to play compared to the other alignments. First, most of the gold ring items used by heroes provide better chances for you to play the One and do not carry excessive corruption. Make sure to pack in three Precious Gold Rings in your deck as these will allow you to play the Ring with an unmodified roll of at least 10. Second, the hero version of the Scroll of Isildur provides a +2 to your ring test rolls. Using a Precious Gold Ring, you can get the One with a roll of 8. Be sure to pack extra gold ring items (Fair and Beautiful) in case of bad rolls as well as to protect yourself from certain hazards. If ever your opponent gets the Scroll first, your other option is to go to the Under-grottos and test your gold rings down there. Any ring test at that site is always modified by +2 - a similar ability like the Scroll's.
Testing these gold rings is of little difficulty. Just include 2 copies of Saruman into your play deck and play him as your Wizard, tap him to place Wizard's Test from your sideboard to your discard pile and tap him to bring it to your hand when you need to test a gold ring. Wizard's Test is the best test card as it allows you to roll twice and choose which result to use. This means you have a second chance in case your first roll is not high enough. If ever your opponent manages to play Saruman as his Wizard, Gandalf will be a good backup. His tapping ability to test a gold ring will save you deck/sideboard space for test cards. Gandalf can also use Wizard's Test, and usually a Gandalf player would prefer using this. In the event that both Saruman or Gandalf are in play by any of your opponents (in a multi-player game), there are still two test cards that can be used to bring the One Ring into play: Test of Form and Test of Lore. Both of these cards only require a sage character, which means Bilbo can use these cards. Test of Form is much better as your roll is modified by -1 if you use Test of Lore.
Hero players usually deal with the One's CPs by starting off with Hobbit characters. Bilbo and Frodo provide the biggest corruption bonus at +4 to all their checks, which means these two are the prime candidates for Ringbearers. Plus, Hobbits are immune from some of the most played corruption cards in the game. Additionally, there are many resource support cards that can help in corruption (A Friend or Three, Free to Choose, New Friendship, Halfling Strength if you're playing Hobbits, etc.).
Another important resource to put in the deck is Gollum. If you are successful in playing him first, your are safe from having your opponent use Gollum's One Ring discard ability; as well as from possible attacks from Gollum's agent manifestation, My Precious. Additionally, Gollum provides an easier way of achieving victory. Just play Gollum's Fate (one of the two hero One Ring destruction cards) if your company has Gollum and the One Ring at Mount Doom just play Gollum's Fate and you need not worry about the second method of ring destruction at all. The second Ring destruction card, Cracks of Doom, is much easier to play. Unlike Gollum's Fate which is a unique card and requires Gollum, you can have up to three copies of Cracks of Doom so you have better chances of drawing the card when you need it. However, it forces the Ringbearer to make a corruption check at -4 before you win the game. Failing this corruption check can prove disastrous; so make sure you have corruption check resource modifiers in hand to ensure victory.
Traveling can be a problem with hero One Ring strategies. Since hero companies start off at Rivendell, they need to travel across the map to get to Mount Doom. This means that companies will face the risk of being attacked (or worse, eliminated) by creatures. They also need to travel to collect gold rings and necessary resources like the Scroll and Gollum. Fortunately (if you're playing Hobbits), you can avoid these creatures by packing in avoidance resource cards in your deck (Concealment, Halfling Stealth, Escape, etc.) so as to save your characters from harm. You may also want to use minor items that cancel certain attacks or strikes so as you won't be troubled by combat.
The travel to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring can also be a problem. In sanctioned tournaments, you can only get to Gorgoroth (the region where Mount Doom is located) by using specific region movement by passing through Nurn or Ûdun; or by specific movement from a site in Imlad Morgul. This means you have to stop over through any of these regions if you want to get to Mount Doom. Master of Esgaroth can be of help here by allowing you to move to Easterling Camp (or Variag Camp if you take the lower route) then to Mount Doom in one turn. This is much safer compared to stopping over at Imlad Morgul where the Nazgûl could be waiting for you. However, watch out for Mordor in Arms as you will face three nasty attacks as you pass along Nurn. You may lose your company even before they reach Mount Doom. Additionally, any company moving to Mount Doom has their hazard limit increased by 2. This means that it is best to go there with the minimum company size so you'll only face a maximum of 4 hazards.Speaking of Nazgûl, these are some of the creatures you should look out for. The Nazgûl are Abroad (a hazard permanent-event) can make these baddies attack the Ringbearer at any non-Haven/non-Free-hold site. Most One Ring players will play them as permanent-events so as to prevent their opponents from attacking their companies as creatures.
RINGWRAITH/SAURON ONE RING STRATEGIES
In Middle-earth: The Lidless Eye, you get the chance to let Sauron recover his long lost ring and rule over all of Middle-earth. Ringwraith/Sauron One Ring strategies differ greatly compared to the heroes'. The most obvious is the presence of Black Rain. This is a resource short-event that allows a player to play the One Ring without gold ring items. The second difference is that this is the only One Ring strategy where you don't need to play any additional cards once you have the One just to achieve victory. Simply take the Ring to Barad-dûr and you automatically win the game. However, One Ring strategies for Ringwraiths/Sauron are much harder to pull off.
There are two options you can use: the ring test option or the Black Rain option. If you prefer to play the One through gold ring testing, there are some factors to consider, especially if you have been used to playing hero One Ring strategies. First of all, minion gold ring items carry more CPs compared to their hero counterparts. At 4 CPs, minions have a greater risk of getting corrupted away if they roll a double one on the dice. This means that you need to control your gathering of gold rings so as to avoid the CP buildup on your characters. The three types of minion gold ring items that actually have results for the One Ring when tested are A Little Gold Ring, Gold Ring that Sauron Fancies and The Least of Gold Rings. Of the three, A Little Gold Ring and Gold Ring that Sauron Fancies can only be played at the minion version of Bag End or any Ruins & Lairs where gold rings are playable, which limits their frequency of play. Most minion companies would think twice when moving to Bag End, as it can be a site where some of the nastier Free People hazards can be keyed. As for Ruins & Lairs sites, there aren't that many sites with a weak automatic-attack (Gladden Fields, Bandit Lair and Hermit's Hill). You don't want to end up as Dragon dinner just to get a gold ring. Second, the gold rings mentioned above have very high values listed to get the Ring into play: 11 or 12. This means the Scroll of Isildur is very important to the minion One Ring deck.
You also need to consider which sites you're going to use to get these gold rings. Fortunately, minion companies can start at either Minas Morgul or Dol Guldur or both. The disadvantage of starting at Minas Morgul is that it is far from the better gold ring sites compared to Dol Guldur. On the other hand, if you center your strategy around Dol Guldur, though you can reach Barad-dûr in one turn once you get the Ring out, it is more dangerous as some nasty hazards might be played on you on the way there (e.g., Smaug/Daelomin Ahunt).
The minion version of the Scroll is not as strong as its hero counterpart as well. It only provides a +1 modification to the ring test roll, which means you need to roll at least a 10 if you want to successfully bring the One out. Same goes for the minion version of the Under-grottos, as it only provides +1 to the ring roll. You may try testing your gold rings down there with a Scroll in hand, but you might waste a turn just by going down.
There is also the difficulty of the actual testing and test cards. There is only one test card: Test of Fire. Similar to Test of Form, this card requires a sage. This is the only test option where there are no minuses to the ring roll. The other methods will not bring the One out. Another thing to remember when you take the ring test option is that you have to make sure you test your gold rings away from your Ringwraith as his presence in the company will provide a -2 modification to the ring roll (you will be forced to test each ring in the Ringwraiths company at the end of your turns). This means your characters are the ones to carry those rings until you successfully get the Ring out.
You can also try the non-ring test option by using Black Rain. As long as you have a sage in the company, you might just get the One into play. However, the conditions set in Black Rain can be hard to meet. First, your opponent must have a non-Wizard, non-Ringwraith character in his hand to reveal. If he does not have one, Black Rain is useless. Once he reveals one, you still have to make a roll. Only a roll of 10, 11, or 12 will successfully bring the Ring out. Take note that the Scroll of Isildur cannot modify this roll, so you have to rely entirely on your good dice rolling skills and luck. Do not make your Ringwraith play Black Rain, as your roll will be modified by -2 (that is unless your roll is a 12, which will still bring the One out). So how do you make sure you see a character in your opponent's hand? One way is to pack your deck with hand-viewing cards like An Untimely Whisper. If you are playing as Sauron, you can do this every turn using The Lidless Eye's discard-to-peep ability. Influence destruction and Call of Homes can cause your opponent's crucial characters to return to his hand and can help in playing Black Rain successfully. The trick here is figuring out when will your opponent have a character in his hand.
Perhaps the best way to get the One Ring out is by using both options. You can gather and test gold rings as well as use Black Rain as a back-up, or vice versa. This brings in the importance of sages, as they are the best (and the only) characters that can perform both tasks. Plus, sages can make us of Voices of Malice to get rid of those nasty hazard permanent-events (including those that affect One Ring decks).
Once you get the Ring out, the final mission is to take it to Barad-dûr. If you opt to let your Ringwraith take it there, it will be in safe hands once your Ringwraith bears it as they do not make corruption checks. A corruption check in your Ringwraith's company is modified by +2, and if you have enough characters to tap to support, the transfer of the One from a minion to your Ringwraith will be a breeze. Just move your Ringwraith to the Dark Tower and you win. Ren the Ringwraith is a good Ringwraith t use, as he may provide another +2 to the corruption check (his special ability). Other cards worth putting in your deck are I'll Be at Your Heels (overt companies only) and Orders from Lugbúrz (if you will not use Ren as your Ringwraith and you will use overt companies) as they have corruption check bonuses.
If you are playing as Sauron, Ring delivery can be much more difficult. As there is no Ringwraith to carry it, your minion Ringbearer will risk corruption checks as he tries to get the Ring to Barad-dûr. Sauron cannot help his minions in their checks unlike Ringwraiths, so make sure you surround the Ringbearer with other characters to tap to support in his checks. This can also be helpful in preventing your opponent from playing Alone and Unadvised. Remember also that unlike the heroes, there is no card for minions that is similar to Free to Choose. This means the One will carry with it a full 7 CPs - enough to eliminate any minion character.
FALLEN-WIZARD ONE RING STRATEGIES
Middle-earth: The White Hand provided a new dimension in playing the One Ring strategy as this time around, you get the chance to use it not for the purposes of the Free Peoples (to destroy) or for the Dark Lord (to recover). Instead, you take the Ring for your own as a particular Fallen-wizard and achieve victory by doing so.
In MEWH, you can play hero and minion resources to become the new Ringlord. At first, this may seem very appealing given that you will now have the speed of getting the One Ring out like the heroes' plus the added option of using the minions' Black Rain. However, Fallen-wizards will also have difficulty in getting a One Ring victory.
The first thing to consider is which gold ring items are you going to put into the deck. Since the deck construction rules for Fallen-wizards differ from heroes and minions, your chances of getting the One also drop. This is mainly because instead of having 3 Precious Gold Rings in the deck, you will only have two. The next option is a Fair Gold Ring, followed by either A Little Gold Ring or Gold Ring that Sauron Fancies. Also, you get to choose which version of a site you want to play these gold rings. You can play gold rings at certain minion versions of the sites (if you include minion gold rings in your deck), but it is highly suggested that these be used only if you ran out of hero gold ring sites.
The test roll modifiers also differ. Instead of getting a +2 from the hero version of the Scroll of Isildur (you will definitely use this instead of the minion version which only gives a +1), you only get a +1 because all ring tests by Fallen-wizard companies are modified by -1 (hence, no modifications if you use the minion Scroll). You might want to increase your chances by going to the hero version of the Under-grottos to get a +3, but you might waste 1-2 turns just for testing rings.
You will almost definitely use Hobbits (just like heroes) as characters so as to ensure the safety of the Ring before it is transferred to your Fallen-wizard. Remember: your Fallen-wizard should bear the One in order to win. This where the hard part comes in.
A New Ringlord is the stage resource card that will enable a Fallen-wizard player to win a One Ring victory. However, this card carries with it 1 CP which means your Fallen-wizard will be forced to carry a great deal of corruption (a total of 10 CPs - 7 from the Ring and 3 from the three Ringlord cards). Take note that your chances of winning is greater if you have 3 copies of this card on your Fallen-wizard, as each card will modify the roll that you have to make during the end-of-turn phase by +1. If you only have one copy of this, you might end up with a dead Fallen-wizard and a big loss. Additionally, if you want 3 copies of this card in play, you will have to spend three turns sitting at the Wizardhaven to bring each Ringlord card down. These three turns might be all that your opponent needs to win the game, so make sure you have the necessary hazards to slow him down while you are waiting. You must also find a way to deal with unexpected corruption checks your opponent might throw at your Fallen-wizard. Free to Choose will help in lowering the Ring's CPs, while having corruption check modifiers like A Friend or Three can help in the actual checks. It will also be good to surround your Fallen-wizard with other characters to tap to support for the corruption checks.
It does not end with the successful play of 3 A New Ringlord cards. You still need to get to the Information site and there determine your Fallen-wizard's fate. This roll is perhaps the most decisive roll for a Fallen-wizard One Ring strategy. The dice will determine victory. Characters tapping or the play of other resource cards cannot modify it. Only the 3 Ringlord cards can help you in achieving victory. Given you have 3 Ringlord cards in play; a double one on the dice roll will automatically kill your Fallen-wizard. You will need to roll at least a seven if you want to win it. If you roll a value between 2-6, nothing happens and you will have to wait another turn to roll again. Again, this can be the time your opponent needs to catch up and win.
To sum it up, a Fallen-wizard One Ring strategy is probably as fast as the heroes' in terms of getting the One into play (gold ring acquisition and testing). However, the actual win from A New Ringlord might slow down if the dice do not roll in your Fallen-wizard's favor.
BALROG ONE RING STRATEGIES
Middle-earth: The Balrog presented a new twist in playing a One Ring strategy. It gave us a glimpse of what could have happened if the Ring was taken by The Balrog of Moria.
Unlike a Ringwraith/Sauron One Ring strategy, you need to play a card similar to the Fallen-wizard's A New Ringlord when playing as The Balrog. It does not end with the Balrog bearing the One. He must be able to harness its power.
The Balrog's One Ring strategy is similar to a Ringwraith/Sauron strategy in a number of ways (which I need not discuss here anymore - refer to Ringwraith/Sauron One Ring strategies above). Take note that all rules and card text referring to Ringwraiths apply also to The Balrog:
1. Gold Ring Items used (CPs, where playable)
2. Testing (use of the Scroll and the Under-grottos, Test of Fire, presence of the Balrog)
3. Ability to use Black Rain
Though the Black Rain option is available for The Balrog, it will definitely be a backup as his companies would prefer to stay underground rather than be upstairs. They would not risk going to a Ruins & Lairs site just to play Black Rain. It might just be a waste of a turn instead of collecting gold rings below.
Since you are limited only to certain characters, sages are a hot commodity for The Balrog. You can only use a maximum of two sage characters: Umagaur and Doeth. Add the ally Evil Things Lingering and you have three sages in a company. As with other strategies, sages are very integral to a One Ring strategy. However, in the case of The Balrog, they also play a role in determining victory.
Challenge the Power is a card very similar to A New Ringlord in that it requires The Balrog to bear the One. however, unlike A New Ringlord, it is easier to play. You need not be at a certain site to play it, though you would definitely want to play 3 copies of this card. Also, you need not move to another site to get its desired effect and it does not carry any CPs. However, the problem with this card is that once you play it, The Balrog will make the win roll. This problem can be solved with the help of the sages. Each sage character in the company modifies this roll by +1, which means that if you have three sages in the company and one Challenge the Power card, your roll is modified by +4. Just avoid getting a 1-4 result on the dice roll, though, as The Balrog will either be eliminated or Challenge the Power will be discarded. Try to roll high and you will win the game
In conclusion, hero One Ring strategies are perhaps the fastest of the four. With a good shuffle, the gathering of rings, their testing and eventual play of the One Ring, and its destruction is fast as there are a lot of resources to support it. For the Ringwraiths, ring acquisition is much slower due to the CPs and corruption checks, plus the difficult test process. However, the mission to return the Ring to the Dark Tower is perhaps the easiest of the four as it needs no cards to achieve victory. For Fallen-wizards, it is very much similar to the heroes' but is slower due to the play of their Ringlord cards and unexpected bad rolls on the dice to achieve victory. As for the Balrog, its pace is similar to the Ringwraiths' in terms of getting the Ring out, but is a little bit faster compared to Fallen-wizards in achieving the actual victory with their Challenge the Power card.
ONE RING-RELATED HAZARDS
Below are some hazards a One Ring player should be wary of. Most of these will come from your opponent's sideboard once they figure out you are playing a One Ring strategy. They fall into two categories: corruption-related hazards or hindrance hazards. Corruption-related hazards are those that give CPs and/or force corruption checks. Hindrance hazards are those that tries to stop or slow you down from winning a One Ring victory. Most of the hindrance hazards below are more focused against Hero/Fallen-wizard One Ring strategies as some of the cards are ineffective against minions (as stated in the rules), but this does not mean minions are at an advantage.
1. Corruption cards - Lure of Nature, Lure of Expedience, Lure of the Senses, and Alone and Unadvised. These are the top four best corruption hazard cards in the game, and you will almost definitely see these cards at any game. While Lure of Nature and Lure of Expedience does not affect certain characters, they are strong enough to stop any One Ring strategy.
2. The Ring's Betrayal, The Precious and The Will of the Ring - hazard short-events that forces nasty corruption checks and could cause the discard of the One.
3. The Balance of Things - a hazard long-event that doubles the CPs of any one corruption source of each character.
1. Rolled Down to the Sea - a hazard short-event that forces a company to discard a ring in the company. Just make sure you don't store your untested gold rings even if you have the One in play so you have some ring to discard other than the Precious. For heroes, using Leaf Brooches will help a lot.
2. The Ring Will Have But One Master - a hazard permanent-event that forces one character in the Ringbearer's company to be discarded. A card that, when played in combination with Alone and Unadvised, can prove to be disastrous for the Ringbearer.
3. Mordor in Arms - Most heroes prefer the "through Nurn" route to get to Mount Doom, and this card can stop them from destroying the Ring by forcing them to face three vicious attacks if they do use that route. Enough to make Hobbit Ringbearer companies bleed.
4. Nazgûl creatures/The Nazgûl are Abroad - Nazgûl attacks any company moving to Gorgoroth, the region where Mount Doom is located. The Nazgûl are Abroad is a hazard permanent-event that increases the Nazgûl creatures' frequency of play by being able to attack the Ringbearer if he is not at any Haven or Free-hold. Take note that the One Ring does not cancel Nazgûl attacks and just one attack could mean the death of the Ringbearer.
5. Roadblock hazards - River, Snowstorm, Foul Fumes, and Long Winter. These cards can either send you back to where you came from or prevent you from doing anything during the site phase. Another bunch of hazards that you will definitely see in almost every game.
6. My Precious - Gollum's hazard agent manifestation. If revealed first, you may not get the chance to play Gollum or Gollum's Fate. If you don't defeat his attacks he might steal the One from you.