Copyright Nigel Buckle ©2002
Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion
This article follows on from my article last month covering facing Fallen Wizards. This time, I'll concentrate on how to approach building/playing a competitive deck against a minion opponent, including the Balrog (and the Lidless Eye/Sauron). Where possible, I will limit the suggested cards to those from the early sets (The Wizards, The Dragons and Dark Minions); where later cards are needed, I'll try to restrict them to just commons and uncommons.
The first thing to look at is the list of hazards that do not affect minions but do affect heroes. You need to be aware that your minion opponent can play any/all of these with impunity, as they will affect only you. This means you are much more likely to encounter some of these hazards when facing a minion than when facing a hero (or Fallen Wizard).
- You may not play the following cards if your opponent is a Ringwraith or Sauron. Additionally, if you are not a Ringwraith or Sauron, a Ringwraith or Sauron opponent can play these cards against you and not be affected by any of their global effects.
- All hazard events that require an agent
- e.g. Near to Hear a Whisper and Sudden Fury from Middle- earth: Against the Shadow and Great Need or Purpose may be played because they do not target a specific agent.
- Bane of the Ithil-stone
- The Black Enemy's Wrath
- Foul Fumes
- In the Heart of His Realm
- Mordor in Arms
- Worn and Famished
The following cards are also listed in the MELE Rules book as having no effect on a Ringwraith/Sauron player, but this interpretation has been modified.
- Chance of Being Lost and Winds of Wrath: You may play these cards against any opponent who is using the same type of location deck (hero sites or minion sites) as yourself.
- Great Secrets Buried There: This card may be played against a Ringwraith or Sauron player.
- The Nazgûl are Abroad: This card may be played against a Ringwraith or Sauron player. The only restriction is that the first two paragraphs are ignored when you play Nazgûl creatures against a Ringwraith or Sauron opponent. Any player can recycle Nazgûl hazards as stated on the card.
You are most likely to see Bane of the Ithil Stone, Mordor in Arms (especially as anti-one ring) and agents played against you. Minions treat agents (except the non-minion agents My Precious and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins) as characters, so your opponent can use resources to target agent cards in their deck, and agents are considered characters for deck construction. This means a minion could include a few choice agents in the character pool (remember your opponent can pick his choice starting party with no risk of duplication, so he has 4 or more slots available for these agents) and put them in the deck if you play particular characters. For example your opponent might have Pilfer Anything Unwatched in the deck and then include one of his agents from the character pool that has the same home site as one of your starting characters (particularly effective against Dwarves with Drór).
Additionally the environment is different when facing a minion - most hero resources do not benefit from Doors of Night being in play, and from a resource point of view most hero decks want Gates of Morning or no specific environment (a hazard deck may still benefit from Doors of Night of course). The reverse is true for minions - there are few minion resources that benefit from Skies of Fire (the minion equivalent of Gates of Morning) and a number that do with Doors of Night in play. This means minion decks are more likely to have a Doors of Night hazard strategy than a hero (or Fallen Wizard).
When building your deck, you need to consider the resources and hazards for your deck, but you also need to think about the likely resources and hazards your opponent will use (called playing the meta-game). I think it's easier to start with building a hazard deck that is likely to have some effect against a minion, and then build your resource deck with this hazard deck in mind. This is the opposite way to my normal method of deck building, where I start with the resources.
There are some positives when facing a minion, as you can chose which wizard you want to use and include 3 copies with no risk of your opponent playing your wizard first, and you can play your optimum starting company. Also there are some resources that your opponent does not have a minion manifestation of, so there is no danger your opponent beating you to the play of these, but be aware minions can play hero items (and vice versa) and there are dual manifestations of some resources (e.g. Stinker - Gollum, The Southrons, Scroll of Isildur, etc).
To build a hazard deck, you need to have some idea what your opponent might do. The problem is there is a huge variety of deck types a minion player can use, and this has been extended by the introduction of the Balrog (whose deck types are rather different, quite specialist and usually very effective).
Given this great variety of resource types, you have three real approaches to your hazard strategy:
1. Play the meta-game and try to predict the likely minion decks you will face (and include cards in your sideboard to adapt your deck once you recognise the type of deck you are playing against)
2. Play a more generic hazard strategy that is likely to be less effective against specific deck types but more effective overall (and hopefully more playable/fast than a specialist hazard deck)
3. Play a pure speed hazard strategy and pretty much ignore what your opponent is doing with their resources.
I recommend the generic approach especially if you are less familiar with the full variety of minion deck types.
It is beyond the scope of this article to detail all the possible minion decks and their likely hazards and propose decks to compete against them. Instead, I will list a sample minion hazard deck you might face, 2 prototype hazard decks and a resource deck that you could consider as a hazard deck (but more on that later). I'll try to explain why I've built these specific decks, and I'll leave it to you to try to design others.
Deck 1: Sample Minion Hazard Deck Vs. Hero (30 Cards)
This is an agent roadblock deck, which is often effective and very annoying to play against. Please note the Ranger agents necessary for this deck are treated as characters for a minion and go in the character pool or the resource deck [I've listed some possible agents at the end]. The Beorning Skin Changers are more roadblock hazards; the Mouth and Uvatha are used to recycle hazards (as are the Unexpected Outposts, although you might see corruption cards being side-boarded in if you play Promptings of Wisdom). The rest of the hazard strategy is a man hazards enhanced with Rank Upon Rank, along with a few events that affect heroes and not minions (Mordor in Arms – anti-One Ring and Southern Faction decks, Bane of the Ithil Stone – stopping deck manipulation, Worn and Famished – long event that keeps characters tapped unless they are in a haven, free or border hold).
3x Beorning Skin Changers
1x Mouth of Sauron
1x Uvatha the Horseman
1x Daelomin at Home
3x Sellswords Between Charters
3x Corsairs of Umbar
3x Seek without Success
3x Nobody's Friend
2x Rank Upon Rank
2x Worn and Famished
1x Mordor in Arms
1x Bane of the Ithil Stone
3x An Unexpected Outpost
[Sample Agents: Badulia, Dâsakûn, Gisulf, Herion, Jûoma, Nimloth, Ôm-buri-Ôm]
Deck 2: Sample Vs. Minion Hazard Deck (30 Cards)
This is a spider strategy, which is often effective against minion decks, including Balrog decks. Where I've used a card from a later set I've suggested a replacement card from the first 3 sets in brackets  afterwards. I'd prefer to use the later card, but the replacement is a viable option if you don't own the card. For example, Black Vapour is an excellent anti-cancelling card for spider decks, but it's a Balrog 'rare' (meaning you would need to purchase 3 boxes of Middle Earth: The Balrog Deck 1 (red box) The Shadow-Deeps to get 3 copies of this card), which might make it hard for some players to get.
[In fact I'd recommend that hero players try to get at least one Shadow-Deeps box as this contains a number of cards that a hero player may find useful, and given the fixed nature of the box it's unlikely you'll be able to trade for the cards:
Beorning Skin-changers, Monstrosity of Diverse Shape, Shelob's Brood (x2), Spawn of Ungoliant, Ungoliant's Foul Issue, Ungoliant's Progeny, Black Vapour, Unabated in Malice, Long Bottom Leaf and also Neeker Breekers (grey-bordered x2). ]
1x Lady of the Golden Wood [Andunaphel]
1x Mouth of Sauron
3x Giant Spiders
1x Spider of the Morlat
1x Ungoliant's Progeny [Uvatha the Horseman]
3x Lesser Spiders
3x Shelob's Brood [Neeker Breekers (promo)]
1x Intagast Ahunt
1x Pallando the Soul-Keeper [Smaug Ahunt]
3x Black Vapour [Searching Eye]
2x Full of Froth & Rage [Wake of War]
2x Flies and Spiders
3x Foolish Words
1x An Unexpected Outpost
1x Revealed to All Watchers
1x Redoubled Force
2x Lost in the Free Domains
Lady of the Golden Wood is the minion equivalent of Bane of the Ithil Stone. Unfortunately she's unique, but unlike Bane, using her counts as a half-creature for deck construction. Of course, you shouldn't include this card if you're planning to use Galadriel as a character. Just play the hazard permanent events out as you draw them and play the spiders when you can. The permanent events give the deck speed and the spider attacks are often not detainment (unless you choose to make them detainment with Ungoliant's Progeny), and occasionally you might capture an opposing character with Flies and Spiders. Use the Unexpected Outpost to bring in two Twilights from the sideboard if your opponent is playing a Doors of Night strategy (that you want to disrupt). Black Vapour should be saved to cancel attempts to cancel a spider attack and the Lost in the Free Domains is mainly there for some limited Free-Domain coverage - as the rest of the hazards don't really touch that sort of deck (be it overt big trolls burning down free-holds or covert characters raiding free-holds for items).
Deck 3: Sample Vs. Minion Hazard deck (30 Cards)
This is an undead strategy, which is also often effective against minion decks, including Balrog decks, especially decks that squat at shadow/dark holds. Where I've used a card from a later set I've suggested a replacement card from the first 3 sets in brackets  afterwards. I'd prefer to use the later card, but the replacement is a viable option if you don't own the card.
1x Lady of the Golden Wood [Adunaphel]
1x Mouth of Sauron
3x Chill Douser
2x Barrow Wight
2x Stirring Bones
3x Wisp of Pale Sheen
1x My Precious
3x Spells of the Barrow Wight
2x The Moon is Dead
3x Foolish Words
2x Lost in the Free Domains
1x Many Sorrows Befall
Similar to Deck 1, just play the hazard permanent events out as you draw them and play the undead when you can. The permanent events give the deck speed and the undead attacks are mainly detainment (which makes Wisp of Pale Sheen an excellent detainment creature, as it will tap a character with a mind of 6 (or 7 if the Moon is Dead is in play) using its special ability). Don't forget you can still use Spells of the Barrow Wight on detainment attacks. This deck is quite effective against Balrog decks, as you can play the undead as the 2nd automatic attack, and the Moon is Dead then duplicate those attacks. My Precious, if you get it into play first, will stop the play of the ally. Stinker and Drums is very effective at slowing underdeeps decks in general. Badulia can be used (discarded) to stop a company entering Goblin Gate or Mount Gundabad, or to attack (detain) the company entering the site. Just ensure your resource deck doesn't use sites with Undead automatic attacks, nor often moves through the areas affected by Drums.
In general you can build any resource deck you like when facing a minion opponent, and you know you are guaranteed your optimum starting company - so you can have an Aragorn/Return of the King deck and know that you won't get Aragorn (and Strider) bounced at the draft. However you need to be aware that some hazard decks are more popular with a minion opponent than a hero opponent (for example roadblock - which uses Snowstorm and Long Winter). You also might compete for resources that have a hero and minion equivalent, your opponent might decide to influence away your resources either with agents or using characters, and finally your companies might get attacked by minions using Company vs. Company Combat.
Minion characters tend to have a higher prowess than heroes, so combat is a definite possibility - and much more likely if your resource deck takes your characters close to where the minions are likely to be. So, for example, it is probably best to avoid Moria if you are facing a Balrog opponent, as that site is a haven for Balrog characters. Similarly you might want to avoid Mirkwood, Mordor and Angmar.
On the other hand, you can use Company vs. Company Combat yourself, if you build a deck that creates strong characters. The sample resource deck below is designed to visit popular minion sites where characters squat for the whole game, and your company attacks the characters it finds there. With Company vs. Company Combat, you enter the site (facing the auto attack) then play any resources and then finally you can attack your opponent if you want to. This means it's possible to visit a shadow/dark hold, gain a greater item (say a sword) then attack your opponent's company with the weapon you just found.
Deck 4: Sample Resource Deck
Again, where I've used a card from a later set I've suggested a replacement card from the first 3 sets in brackets  afterwards. I'd prefer to use the later card, but the replacement is a viable option if you don't own the card
controlling Elrohir (who has Cram)
Elladan (who has Elven Rope [Cram])
Characters for the deck:
Alatar (x3), Haladir, Celeborn, Cirdan, Legolas
MP Cards (10):
1x Bow of the Galadrim [Great Shield of Rohan]
1x Sword of Gondolin
1x Wood Elves
1x Men of Dorwinion
Support Cards (20):
3x Risky Blow
3x Smoke Rings
2x Marvels Told
2x Forewarned is Forearmed
The idea is to form 2 companies, the starting company and then a 2nd one comprising of Alatar and some of the Elves (ideally Celeborn and Haladir). Bring Alatar into play at Rivendell. You could teleport him to the first company if things are really going badly. Vilya and The Hunt are prime cards for the sideboard. Move the starting company to Lorien on turn 1 (unless you draw a playable resource to play on the way, for example Gwahir or Quickbeam, or visit Mount Gundabad to play a greater item or The Wind Throne for a major item). Use the Smoke Rings to either sideboard or recycle the combat cards (Alatar can tap to sideboard while waiting for the other characters to turn up). With the Elven Rope you should get some kill MPs or your opponent will stop playing creatures - which then means you can use the combat helper cards against auto attacks or in Company vs. Company Combat. Don't overlook the ability to move 5 regions with Elven Rope - but you are probably better saving the Cram for untapping characters. You could consider including a Dwarf faction in the sideboard and Alliance of Free Peoples - I haven't put these in the deck as Alliance is a card from Against the Shadow, similarly you could consider including Biter and Beater! If it looks like your opponent isn't playing corruption then it's worth sideboarding in Vilya to make Elrond stronger, and possibly a Wizard's Ring so Alatar can control more characters (and get more MPs) - if your opponent is using corruption these cards are not recommended! Bow of the Galadrim is a card worth trading for if you don't have it (it is an uncommon from Against the Shadow so it shouldn't be that hard to find) as it is great for removing minion allies and it is worth 2 MPs for just 1 corruption point. If you want to, you could consider a quick trip to the underdeeps to collect Aglios (along with another weapon) - this is worth considering even against a Balrog deck as Elrond bearing Aglios (without Doors of Night in play) is 9 prowess, 10 body with +5 DI vs. Elves and gets -2 to body of creatures/characters he fights - with Doors of Night in play his prowess leaps to 11, and don't forget the 5 MPs Aglios provides.
This deck should rack the MPs up quite quickly, as the resources average 2.8 MPs each and influencing the factions should not be too hard if you use Muster. Use Bridge to move quickly to where your opponent's company is hiding, or to get to faction sites and hold Forewarned is Forearmed in hand as protection from Slayers and Assassins (play Forewarned in response to the play of the creature and then chances are you can kill it for 2 MPs).
The main weakness of this deck (and Elves in general) is corruption. If you are facing a corruption deck then limit the items your characters bear and try to bring in corruption helper cards from the sideboard (A Friend or Three, Wizard Uncloaked, Glamour of Surpassing Excellence, Old Friendship), also consider including Emerald of the Mariner in the sideboard and bring that in to play at the Lonely Mountain - this item is great against corruption decks.
I hope this series of two articles has given hero-only players some ideas and suggestions for playing against the later alignments - even if you don't have many cards from the later sets. If you think you've built a good anti-minion deck, contact me and we'll publish it as a future article in The Guild Companion.