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Sphere Analysis of LOTR LCG

by on July 30, 2013

sphere cards

Recently, as I wrote the last of my mono-sphere articles in the Deck Building 101 series, I realized that there are many common-sense assumptions about each sphere that we often take for granted in the LOTR LCG community (“Tactics sucks at questing”, “Lore sucks in combat”, etc.). For someone coming from a social science background, this made me wonder which of these assumptions are based on fact, and which rest on shakier ground. Of course, while I’m not necessarily the biggest math fan in general terms, I do have a deep, abiding love for charts, table, and statistics of all kinds, meaning there was only one solution to my question: an in-depth analysis of the spheres that would make any numbers nerd or fan of the game gush with glee. Be warned, though, once you follow me down this road, I cannot be responsible for your fate!

Final Warning: If you hate numbers and data, run away now! For those who are still left, “Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination…”

Overall Sphere Analysis

 

Hero Sphere Comparison

Heroes Comparison (By Sphere)

 

Ally Sphere Comparison

Allies Comparison (By Sphere)

Assumptions Confirmed: Tactics heroes and allies are pretty much badass all around, dominating in terms of attack, defense, and hit points, but are severely challenged when it comes to willpower. In terms of stats, Spirit heroes and allies are generally weak, but definitely pack the most willpower. Lore and Leadership characters are more balanced than Tactics and Spirit.

Assumptions Smashed: Lore heroes are actually on par with Tactics in terms of defensive strength, belying the sphere’s reputation as being weak in combat. On the other hand, another surprise is that Spirit allies are actually second best in terms of defense, while Lore allies are the weakest. Clearly, the defensive solidity of Lore is to be found in its heroes, not its allies, while Spirit has an unexpectedly tough band of characters. Finally, while both Lore and Leadership are balanced, Leadership allies are clearly the stronger of the two, which may or may not surprise players. What is striking is that Leadership allies are nearly on par with Spirit allies as far as willpower is concerned.

 

Table 1 – Sphere Rankings (Based on Allies)

Cost

Willpower

Attack

Defense

HP

Spirit

1st

1st

4th

2nd

4th

Tactics

3rd

4th

1st

1st

1st

Leadership

4th

2nd

2nd

3rd

2nd

Lore

2nd

3rd

3rd

4th

3rd

 

Spirit Analysis

 

Heroes

Total: 9

Average Threat Cost: 7.6

Average Willpower: 2.0

Average Attack: 1.4

Average Defense: 1.4

Average Hit Points: 3.1

Analysis: There is nothing too shocking here, with the average willpower being quite strong. I am, however, surprised that it is not higher. The next highest sphere in terms of hero willpower, Lore, boasts an average of 1.8, which is nearly as good. Of course, averages can be deceptive. What perhaps truly makes Spirit an exceptional questing force is a couple of heroes, mainly Glorfindel and Eowyn, that are able to provide such strong willpower. What does stand out is the remarkably low average threat cost of Spirit heroes, compared to the next lowest, Lore, which sits up at 9.5.

Allies

Total: 20spirit ally costs

Average Willpower: 1.4

Average Attack: 0.8

Average Defense: 1.0

Average Hit Points: 1.8

Average Cost: 2.5

Number of 1-cost Allies: 2 (10%)

Number of 2-cost Allies: 9 (45%)

Number of 3-cost Allies: 6 (30%)

Number of 4-cost Allies: 3 (15%)

Analysis: The high average willpower of Spirit allies is noticeable, albeit expected. In fact, this number is actually higher than the average willpower of Tactics heroes! Other than that, Spirit allies can hold their own surprising well in terms of defense. The average cost of Spirit allies is also the lowest among the spheres, with over half of them coming in at 2-cost or less. This makes Spirit perhaps the easiest sphere to run as the minority sphere in a dual or tri sphere deck.

Value Rating

* Value rating is a measure that I have created for this article. If you take the total stats of any ally, and divide it by its cost, you get the value rating of that character. This is admittedly an imperfect measure, as it cannot take into account cost-reduction effects or synergistic stat-boosting. It also cannot take into account how well the stats are distributed between each area. However, it does give a useful measure of the value an ally provides in terms of its stats, as long as you are willing to take it for what it is.

Average Total Stats: 5.0

Average Value Rating: 2.0

–> Best Value Rating: Silvan Refugee

Analysis: The Silvan Refugee may not immediately leap out as the best ally around, but paying just 1 resource for 2 willpower is a near-unbeatable deal. Of course, it does have a built-in drawback (it must be discarded when a character leaves play). Still, this ally gaining the top spot is surprising, considering some initial reactions to this character (including my own). If you are wondering which allies are the runner-ups in the Spirit sphere, that honor goes to Arwen, the Escort from Edoras, Ethir Swordsman, and the oft-overlooked Wandering Took!

–> Worst Value Rating: Imladris Stargazer

Analysis: The Stargazer unfortunately has the worst value of any Spirit ally, but remember that this rating only takes into account stats. The Imladris Stargazer is far from worthless, and the designers doubtless gave it such low stats to compensate for an extremely powerful effect. The second worst ally in terms of value is the Lorien Guide, which has low stats for a high cost of 3, not to mention an ability that is perhaps not as strong as many others that are available in this sphere. Thus, that would probably be my true choice for worst value.

Traits

spirit traits

Favorite Traits: Rohan, Dwarf, Noble

Analysis: Spirit is still largely the sphere of Rohan, although Dwarven representation has increased over time. 

Types of Effects

spirit card effects

Favorite Abilities: Threat Reduction, Readying, Willpower Boost

Analysis: Spirit’s wealth of threat reduction and willpower boosting effects is hardly surprising. However, I was surprised to see in a concrete visual how much this sphere concentrates on readying effects and location management. Also, while Spirit is known for treachery and shadow cancellation, there are only a few effects available in these areas, but of course they are uniquely powerful (A Test of Will and Hasty Stroke).

Tactics Analysis

 

Heroes

Total: 10

Average Threat Cost: 10.2

Average Willpower: 1.2

Average Attack: 2.6

Average Defense: 1.9

Average Hit Points: 4.7

Analysis: Tactics heroes blow away the competition when it comes to pure attack strength. With hard-hitters like Beorn and plenty of 3-attack heroes floating around, there just is no comparison. However, I was surprised that Tactics heroes are not as strong defensively as one might anticipate. Beregond certainly pulls the average up a bit, but there just aren’t that many other Tactics heroes that stand out in terms of this stat. However, Tactics heroes are the most durable of all the spheres (hit points). The biggest drawback is that they also boast the highest average threat cost, as well as low average willpower.

Allies

Total: 17tactics ally costs

Average Willpower: 0.5

Average Attack: 1.8

Average Defense: 1.5

Average Hit Points: 2.4

Average Cost: 2.9

Number of 1-cost Allies: 2 (12%)

Number of 2-cost Allies: 6 (35%)

Number of 3-cost Allies: 3 (18%)

Number of 4-cost Allies: 4 (24%)

Number of 5-cost Allies: 1 (5.5%)

Number of 6-cost Allies: 1 (5.5%)

Analysis: Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Tactics allies are really, really terrible at questing (unless it’s a battle or siege stage, of course). With an average willpower below 1, most Tactics allies do not possess a single point of willpower. Fortunately, they do have average attack and defense ratings that are heads and shoulders above the competition. In terms of average cost, Tactics allies are the second highest, but this is inflated by the presence of a 5 and 6-cost ally, as well as a handful of 4-cost characters. In practice, Tactics has plenty of quite powerful 1, 2, and 3-cost allies that make it easy to run as a minority sphere in a dual or tri sphere deck.

Value Rating

Average Total Stats: 6.1

Average Value Rating: 2.2

–> Best Value Rating: Vassal of the Windlord

Analysis: The fact that the Vassal of the Windlord can only attack once before being discarded should not blind you to the sheer value it offers. 3 attack for 1 resource is an even better deal, in terms of pure numbers, than the Silvan Refugee’s 2 willpower for 1 resource in the Spirit sphere. With battle stages around, the Vassal becomes even more valuable. The runner-up spot goes to the Defender of Rammas, who provides an amazing 4 defense for only 2 resources, perhaps covering for the slightly underwhelming defense of Tactics heroes (besides Beregond). He also has 1 point of attack, which can sometimes give you just the extra edge you need to kill an enemy.

–> Worst Value Rating: Knights of the Swan

Analysis: This one is another prime example of stats not telling the whole story, and Outlands characters in general demonstrate why pure numbers cannot tell you everything you need to know. With 2 or 3 copies of the Knights of the Swan on the table, suddenly their value increases to obscene levels. The 2 allies which would be next in line for worst value would be the Gondorian Spearman and Descendant of Thorondor, but of course both of those cards have strong effects that make up for any stat deficiencies. Given all this, I’d have to say that there are no truly terrible allies in the Tactics sphere, at least in terms of value for cost. 

Traits

tactics traits

Favorite Traits: Warrior, Dwarf, Creature/Eagle

Analysis: Tactics is loaded with warriors? That is perhaps the least surprising conclusion ever reached. Other than that, this sphere does not have one clear dominant trait, with Eagles, Dwarves, and Men of Gondor sharing space together.

Types of Effects

tactics card effects

Favorite Abilities: Attack Boost, Direct Damage, and Defense Boost

Analysis: Tactics does not have as diversified a set of effects as the other spheres, with a strong focus mainly on boosting attack and defense, as well as dealing direct damage. The other effects that it does possess are similarly restricted to combat, for the most part, although it does have a surprising amount of card retrieval. Tactics also possesses a couple of readying effects, but they are limited to heroes (Brand son of Bain and Boromir). Finally, card draw is available, but only through Foe-hammer, which requires killing an enemy, and The Eagles Are Coming!, which needs to be used in a deck that features Eagles.

Leadership Analysis

 

Heroes

Total: 10

Average Threat Cost: 10.1

Average Willpower: 1.7

Average Attack: 2.2

Average Defense: 1.6

Average Hit Points: 4.4

Analysis: Leadership heroes share the dubious honor of highest average threat cost along with the Tactics sphere. For this high cost, Leadership heroes provide strong average attack values and are usually fairly durable. Powerhouse characters like Aragorn, Thorin Oakenshield, Prince Imrahil, and Dain Ironfoot do much to contribute to this strength in stats. The willpower of Leadership heroes is also quite respectable, although not exceptional. Perhaps their biggest weakness as a group is defense. One thing to keep in mind is that Hirluin the Fair will likely have much higher stats in practice than the his printed values, which would substantially raise the average values for the Leadership sphere. If we gave Hirluin stats of 3 in willpower, attack, and defense, for example, the average ratings of Leadership heroes in all those areas would nearly reach the top spot. 

Allies

Total: 19leadership ally costs

Average Willpower: 1.2

Average Attack: 1.0

Average Defense: 0.9

Average Hit Points: 2.3

Average Cost: 3.2

Number of 1-cost Allies: 2 (10.5%)

Number of 2-cost Allies: 3 (16%)

Number of 3-cost Allies: 7 (37%)

Number of 4-cost Allies: 4 (21%)

Number of 5-cost Allies: 2 (10.5%)

Number of 6-cost Allies: 1 (5%)

Analysis: Leadership allies are by far the most expensive, with an average cost of 3.2. More than half of them cost 3 resources or more. However, there are a few mitigating circumstances that make this expense easier to stomach. First, the Leadership sphere has the best access to resource generation, and thus they can more easily afford expensive allies. Second, the current collection of Leadership allies is perhaps the most well-balanced of all the spheres. They come in 2nd in terms of willpower, attack, and defense. In fact, their average willpower of 1.2 compares quite favorably with the average willpower of Spirit allies (1.4). A well-constructed Leadership-heavy deck can be as strong a questing powerhouse as a Spirit-heavy deck, even more so in some cases. Tactic’s edge in attack value, by contrast, is quite significant, but Leadership can at least hold its own. The one true weakness of Leadership allies, as with this sphere’s heroes, is defense.

Value Rating

Average Total Stats: 5.4

Average Value Rating: 1.8

–> Best Value Rating: Warrior of Lossarnach

Analysis: This Outlands ally is a great value, when you consider that he comes onto the table with 2 defense, and only costs 2 resources. With 1 willpower and 1 attack, he can also contribute to other areas of play. Of course, with more Outlands allies in play, his value exponentially increases, but just considering him in isolation, he takes the top spot in our value rankings. Of course, this is a bit deceptive, as an ally with strong defense but only 1 hit point is not as useful as it appears on the surface. The runner-up here is Gloin. In general, the unique Dwarven allies in the game provide some of the best value in the game (that is, unique Dwarven allies that are not named Brok Ironfist). Gloin definitely is an outstanding value in the Leadership sphere, with a strong 2 willpower and a beefy 3 hit points to go along with 1 point each of attack and defense. Add Dain Ironfoot to the table, and Gloin is even better, with 3 willpower and 2 attack. If that wasn’t enough, if he is played with 5 Dwarves under your control, he generates 2 resources. This means he would really only cost 1 resource in real terms.

–> Worst Value Rating: Citadel Custodian

Analysis: Another odd card that throws the value rating system off, as he costs 5 resources, but of course is meant to be played for less, if not for free, with enough Gondor allies in play. Thus, his stats are meant to reflect a lower cost, and not an expense of 5. Even just bringing his cost down to 3 raises him up from the bottom spot. This would give the new title of worst value to the Dunedain Wanderer. However, this ally is meant to be played under “secrecy” conditions, which would raise his value dramatically. This leaves Brok Ironfist, Erestor, Keen-eyed Took, and Longbeard Orc Slayer to fight it out. My pick would definitely be Brok Ironfist for the worst value in this sphere, as he has nice stats, but no useful abilities, as the other characters do, and can only be played for free if one of your heroes dies, which is not something that should be happening often.

Traits

leadership traits

Favorite Traits: Dwarf, Noble, Gondor

Analysis: The Leadership sphere is a strong home for Dwarves, with two of the most important Dwarven heroes featured (Thorin and Dain). Obviously, the Noble trait is also well-represented in a sphere that revolves around “leadership”. Finally, Leadership is in many ways the current home for the Gondor trait. 

Types of Effects

Leadership card effects

Favorite Abilities: Readying, Willpower Boost, and Resource Generation

Analysis: One could say that Leadership provides the opportunity to have access to many of the advantages of the Spirit sphere while avoiding its glaring weaknesses. For example, it brings heavy doses of readying and willpower boosting effects to the table, as does Spirit. However, what makes Leadership particularly strong is that it specializes in one of the most important effects in the game, resource generation, as well as substantial access to the other vital effect, card draw. In this way, Leadership can grease the wheels and turn any deck into a remarkably well-oiled machine. It also focuses on boosting the stats of characters, whether attack, willpower, or defense, and can even grant “ranged” and “sentinel”. It has been an assumption among players that is Leadership is the most well-balanced of all the spheres, and this is definitely borne out by statistics.

Lore Analysis

 

Heroes

Total: 10

Average Threat Cost: 9.5

Average Willpower: 1.8

Average Attack: 1.8

Average Defense: 1.9

Average Hit Points: 3.7

Analysis: Lore heroes have two main strengths: willpower and defense. Characters like Denethor and Elrond best exemplify the potential strength of this hero collection in warding off attacks, and this sphere’s access to A Burning Brand makes this prospect even stronger than numbers can show. As far as willpower is concerned, Lore heroes nearly rival the levels of Spirit heroes, which is definitely a surprise. Their weakness is in attack strength (although they can muster far more than the last place Spirit) and hit points. What is notable is that the average willpower, attack, and defense of Lore heroes are all in the 1.8 to 1.9 range. This means that this group of heroes is balanced as an overall unit, and hero choice can allow you to effectively customize the kind of stats you want out of Lore.

Allies

Total: 24Lore ally costs

Average Willpower: 0.9

Average Attack: 0.9

Average Defense: 0.8

Average Hit Points: 2.0

Average Cost: 2.6

Number of 1-cost Allies: 3 (13%)

Number of 2-cost Allies: 7 (29%)

Number of 3-cost Allies: 12 (50%)

Number of 4-cost Allies: 1 (4%)

Number of 5-cost Allies: 1 (4%)

Analysis: Lore has traditionally been known as the sphere of expensive cards and expensive allies. It may be surprising, then, to learn that its allies have the second lowest average cost. 42% of Lore allies cost only 1 or 2 resources. However, I think what really lies behind this perception is that a whopping 50% of Lore allies cost 3 resources. This is what really sticks out, and it does have a significant effect in gameplay terms. I think what really lies behind the numbers is that the Lore sphere does not possess the extremely high-cost allies that Tactics and Leadership do that push their average cost numbers up, but their everyday allies, the ones that get played the most often, do tend to be in the moderately expensive 3 range. In terms of stats, Lore allies are pretty lackluster, coming in at 3rd or 4th place among the spheres in every category. Their true value comes from their effects, definitely not their stats. 

Value Rating

Average Total Stats: 4.7

Average Value Rating: 1.8

–> Best Value Rating: Erebor Hammersmith and Henamarth Riversong

Analysis: The Hammersmith is the kind of working stiff that quietly gets the job done without much acclaim. However, he shares the top value rating for the Lore sphere. The Erebor Hammersmith has an amazing 3 hit points for only 2 resources, along with 1 point in each of the other stats. I don’t think I truly realized the astounding value of this ally until doing this statistical analysis. He also has a useful ability to boot (returning an attachment from the discard pile), especially with the continuing hate on attachments provided by the encounter deck. Henamarth Riversong is also a deserving recipient of the top spot, as he costs only 1 resource, yet contributes 1 willpower, 1 attack, and a great ability (scrying the top card of the encounter deck). 

–> Worst Value Rating: Daughter of Nimrodel

Analysis: For 3 resources, the Daughter only has 1 willpower and 1 hit point. This is a staggeringly terrible value, although she does have a fairly powerful ability (healing 2 damage from a hero). Still, with plenty of other healing effects available, the Daughter’s value has steadily decreased over time in an overall sense. 

Traits

Lore traits

Favorite Traits: Dwarf, Silvan, Noldor

Analysis: The Lore sphere is flush with Dwarves, although that could be said for most spheres. It also is the home of the Elves, whether of the Noldor or Silvan persuasion. Finally, the Ranger trait is gaining strength, especially in the latest cycle, and it will likely only increase with the next few releases. 

Types of Effects

Lore card effects

Favorite Abilities: Card Draw, Healing, and Location Management

Analysis: The Lore sphere certainly lives up to its reputation as the pre-eminent card draw powerhouse in the game. It also specializes in healing, which is an area that the other spheres are sorely lacking. Beyond that, it focuses on either peeking at or manipulating the encounter deck. What will really elevate Lore to the next level is if it gains more access to resource generation in the future (right now, it just has Love of Tales), or if it dabbles in some of the treachery cancellation of Spirit. Of course, this always raises the question of how “pure” to keep each sphere, as maintaining the strengths and weaknesses of each is important in order to preserve their distinctiveness. The best way to handle this is when the designers allow a sphere access to an ability it usually doesn’t have, while putting restrictions on these that limit their power.

Further Sphere Analysis

 

sphere effects comparison

Card Effects Comparison (By Sphere)

Analysis: Here, I used 10 of the most common card effects, and compared the frequency that each of those effects appears in each sphere’s card pool. 

Value Rating Comparison (By Sphere)

sphere value ratings

Analysis: Which sphere reigns supreme, at least in terms of allies? The numbers are too close to call, but Tactics actually rules the day in terms of highest average total stats and the average value rating of their allies. This perhaps is compensated for by the fact that the allies of the other spheres tend to have more powerful effects. 

Top 5 Best Allies (By Value Rating)

1. Vassal of the Windlord

2. Silvan Refugee

2. Defender of Rammas

2. Erebor Hammersmith

2. Henamarth Riversong

Bottom 5 Worst Allies (By Value Rating)

1. Daughter of Nimrodel

2. Imladris Stargazer

2. Citadel Custodian

2. Master of the Forge

2. Ravenhill Scout

Conclusion

 

I’d like to wrap up by saying that numbers are obviously not the whole story of this game. If they were, then I would enjoy it far less, as it would be reduced to a mere math exercise, and player skill would not enter into the picture at all. It would merely be a matter of crunching the numbers and determining the statistically ideal deck. However, thankfully this is not the case. While the analysis I have provided here can certainly serve as an aid to players, and I obviously hope it will, the effects that are so much a part of the game, whether on attachments, events, allies, or heroes, dramatically impact the game in a way that cannot be easily quantified. Although, that doesn’t mean I won’t try again, in the near future…

After all has been said and done, I’m left with a great appreciation for the strength of the Leadership sphere, and if you ever catch me playing a game on OCTGN or see me at Gen Con, you will likely see me running a mono-Leadership build similar to the one from my Deck Building 101 series. I also really have a new understanding of the statistical strength of Tactics allies. Finally, the Erebor Hammersmith will now be brought out of the shadows and into the light, as I buy him the well-earned pint at the Prancing Pony that he so rightly deserves!

Readers, let me know your thoughts about all this statistical mumbo-jumbo below!

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From → Strategy

38 Comments
  1. You, sir, are a gigantic nerd… I wonder whether or not there should be a more profound warning at the start of this thread 🙂

    Love the post, thanks for the effort! It’s amazing how many of the preconceptions from the Core Set have remained even as the card pool has increased. A lot of these ideas stemmed from back in the few months we were all playing mono sphere with a choice of three out of four heroes.

    Certainly the status quo has changed

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Guilty as charged! Glad you enjoyed the article!

      • I want to be a nerd too.

        Can you provide a link or email with the database to run these cacluations? I have wondered if the OCTGN deck builder is available for download. If you have made them all yourself WOW.

        • TalesfromtheCards permalink

          I created a spreadsheet and ran all the statistics. I have to update it for the newest cards (Voice of Isengard) and then I’ll see about putting it in a place where people can download it for themselves.

  2. Oh my goodness, what an incredible post. I’m into sabrmetrics and advanced baseball statistics, so this is right up my alley! Keep it coming from time to time, please!

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Thanks! I don’t know too much about sabermetrics, but when I was working on the “value rating” measure, it did remind me of some things I have heard about it. There will definitely be some more statistical goodness in the future.

  3. This is awesome. Fantastic post!

  4. I take a certain misplaced pride knowing that my hero card totally skews the curve for hero hit points 🙂

    Great article, Ian!

  5. Casey permalink

    You spent some serious effort to provide this quality analysis of each sphere! This is really amazing information to read and dwell on. Now that I’ve gotten more Adventure Packs, I can do more willingly create mono-sphere decks while playing two-handed solo quests. However, I did have something I’d like to ask you. With the large amount of player cards now available for each sphere, do you like playing mono-sphere decks more than double or tri-sphere ones while you play a two-handed solo game? My biggest problem with playing two mono-sphere decks is that you lose out completely on some of the features that make each sphere unique (questing/attack/healing/threat reduction/etc.)

    Also, which double-sphere deck combinations do you find -most- effective? I’ve paired Leadership with Spirit as well as with Lore. Then, Tactics with either Spirit or Lore (depending on which one Leadership did not pair with.) However, I have not tried pairing Leadership with Tactics or Lore with Spirit. I have also not attempted any tri-sphere decks just yet. I would be most curious to know your thoughts on all this!

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I am a big proponent of mono-sphere, primarily playing two-handed. For some reason, I really like this style of play, and have found mono-sphere decks can be really powerful. You are right though that you miss out on key abilities when doing this. Dual-sphere decks are really strong, and I do tend to use these quite often as well (tri-sphere is probably the one I use the least, but they can work well too, you just have to really have a gameplan for managing and generating resources).

      As for best dual-sphere combinations, any of them can work well together. My initial preference was to use one Leadership/Tactics combat-focused deck and one Spirit/Lore support and questing deck. More recently, I tend to really like pairing Leadership/Lore and Spirit/Tactics. Leadership can generate resources to pay for all those 3-cost Lore cards, while Lore provides card draw. With the other deck, Tactics handles combat, while a single Spirit hero gives access to treachery cancellation and threat reduction. Generally, a lot of quality Spirit cards are cheap, so this works out well. You can do Leadership/Spirit and Tactics/Lore, with the former being an absolute questing powerhouse, but I sometimes find the latter has problems paying for things.

      • Casey permalink

        Thank you for all the advice!

        I have been blasting through some quests the past few nights using an all Tactics deck featuring Boromir, Bard, and Hama and featuring the full cast of eagle allies and abilities. On the other side, I have an all Spirit deck featuring as much Rohan goodness as I can dish out (they are simply amazing at questing!)

        After playing with both mono and dual sphere decks, I can safely say that I like both styles because each have their pros and cons, as you said. However, I don’t know if I’m quite ready to try out a tri-sphere deck; that might prove to be too frustrating to get all the desired cards in play.

  6. Glowwyrm permalink

    Awesome analysis! I really liked the breakdowns of card abilities by sphere. What surprised me was how easily Spirit can be replaced by Leadership. Unless I specifically need cancellation or threat reduction (very powerful and important things to have in some scenarios), I’d prefer to run Leadership over Spirit.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Thanks! Yes, that is something interesting that has developed over the course of the game. I’m really curious to see if Spirit is strengthened again by adding new abilities or strengthening its cancellation effects.

  7. Jakub permalink

    Hello, this is Jakub from Deck-building Middle-earth (I know I’ve been neglecting the site for a while, I am sort of waiting till the cycle is over to make some more serious updates, since many strategies are in the process of development.

    First off, wonderful work. I too love statistics.

    I will write more in the span of the future, I will just start with the very first point you make, that is about allies and their stats. It is true, based on the stats, that Spirit allies are sturdier defenders, however, in terms of playing the game, one has to often wonder if this matters. The numbers help, the average defence value for Spirit allies is still below 1. So when does this actually matter? Mostly for siege questing, so not very often. Cause you will not have a successful defender with the defence value of 1. Also, for chump blockers, it is much more useful to look at hit points than defence. But all this is the big problem of numbers and statistics. Of course, I am not discouraging this great analysis, just pointing something out.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Hi Jakub! The big issue with statistics, and averages in particular, is that they can be useful in some ways but are also inherently flawed in the sense of giving you a picture of ground-level reality for individual cards and game scenarios. For me, I think the average defense value for Spirit allies was notable mainly because it was unexpected, mainly in comparison to other spheres. As far as what effect this has in actual gameplay, I would agree with you that it doesn’t actually have that big of an impact. Perhaps more telling would be a calculation for each ally of their total defense and hit points in comparison to cost. That measure would give a better idea of how effective they could be as a chump blocker.

      • Jakub permalink

        Yes, that is a very good point. Nonetheless, keep this, you have a wonderful lay-out and features.

        And I don’t want to self-promote myself at all, and the site I run is really very minimalistic in comparison, I just came to a similar thing: dividing player cards into categories in what they do in a game (as you did in the bottom of each sphere evaluation). I think it is quite useful when choosing a strategy for a deck to build.

      • TalesfromtheCards permalink

        Feel free to self-promote!

  8. Jakub permalink

    I will add one point about mono-sphere decks. They’re still in the development, they will surely (or hopefully) improve much yet. I agree 2-player coop is probably the best way to do this. For a single sphere solo, only Outlands mono-Leadership seems to be a real strong deck that can handle most of the quests repeatedly, I like to combine a mono-sphere with a multi-sphere (mostly tri-sphere) for coop. It is also fun, when going against the full cycle of quest, to prepare four mono-sphere decks (one per sphere, of course) and choose two of them (or even one for solo) against the first quest, then choose a different combination (or a different one) against the next.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Mono-sphere has definitely been getting better over time, and will doubtless continue to do so. However, I would argue that two-handed mono-sphere play was actually viable even before the most recent AP’s, which introduced more mono-sphere support. For my Deck Building 101 series, I matched a mono-Lore and mono-Leadership deck against almost every quest, and they successfully beat even some of the toughest quests, like Massing at Osgiliath, Escape from Dol Guldur, Peril at Pelargir, etc. They did struggle against Into Ithilien, but came very close on several occasions to beating it (coming within one progress token during one game). I guess my point is that non-Dwarf and non-Outlands mono-sphere decks are very strong, and have been since at least the end of the Dwarrowdelf Cycle/release of Heirs of Numenor. They are not at the power level of well-constructed Dwarf and Outlands decks, but I would say, if they are built correctly, they can be in the second tier just below those builds. Of course, this is all in terms of two-handed play. You are correct that mono-sphere in a pure solo setting needs more help, with mono-Leadership of any variety probably having the best chance.

      • Jakub permalink

        Yes, I found that out right after HoN, just before the second Hobbit box. I had been neglecting the idea of mono-sphere decks before running into the idea quite by chance. It surprised me how well it went. Certainly a great coop option.

        And I think it will grow as a solo option too. Even now, probably the easiest way, or I would surely say the easiest way, to win Cair Andros is with a mono-Tactics deck. But of course such a deck will alone struggle in about every other quest.

        The big advantage of mono-Leadership compared to other spheres is Sneak Attack, I would say. Because Gandalf can reduce threat and draw cards (among other things) which are two very essential things. Without the easy access to Gandalf (without Sneak Attack), it is hard to do such things, especially in the Tactics deck (where willpower is also lacking terribly, of course).

        I am really eager about trying mono-Lore deck solo soon, especially when I lay my hands on Osgiliath. However, resource acceleration, as you point out above, is the biggest problem of that sphere. With all the card draw, you often end up with too little money. Secrecy may be of great help with Resourceful but right now secrecy is not really possible (or reliably so) for mono-Lore. But perhaps with the likes of Pippin or other Lore heroes of low threat, this will be an option.

      • TalesfromtheCards permalink

        I’m a big mono-Lore fan, but it definitely can be a struggle in a pure solo game. Master of Lore was a great help as a form of de facto resource acceleration, but ever since the errata, it hasn’t been nearly as effective. It’s a shame really.

  9. Gobliin permalink

    Love the article. It open your eyes on some aspect of the game that I didn’t see. Continue your good work.

  10. Jakub permalink

    Yeah, this is what I don’t understand about the way errata is done in this game. Master of Lore was certainly one of the milder cards. Ok there was the infinite combo, it was really nothing to win you every game – not by a long shot – and it was totally tedious to try. Yet, the designers felt the need to shaft Master of Lore, what worse, they turned him into a totally dead card. When they made the limit to one per phase, they could have at least scratch the cost limit of 1, so that one could play 1-cost cards for free (once per Master per phase). It was indeed an interesting resource acceleration for the Lore sphere, but it is now all but gone.

  11. Tiandes permalink

    Great article.

    Would be great to do this but with a limited sample of cards from all the spheres (most used cards) to see if it changes the results and explain the common-sense assumptions.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yeah, that’s definitely a good idea. There are so many more statistical possibilities!

  12. Fantastic stuff. It will be interesting to see the breakdown at the end of the current cycle.

    It also shows how poorly Hobbits have been represented despite their critical roll in the fiction. Hopefully, the next saga expansion will correct that. And I’m still hoping for a second version of Bilbo, maybe a younger burglar oriented tactics hero.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I’m sure the Black Riders box will give a ton of Hobbit support. It’ll definitely be interesting to watch just how powerful they get.

  13. mel permalink

    now that u are at gencon, did the Black Ridders box end up giving Hobbit support?

    also, can you do a statistics thing with the bad guys?

  14. Reread the article with more attention. How is the Hammersmith treating you?

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I still love the Hammersmith quite a bit and still think he has great value. There are a bunch of useful 2-cost allies in the Lore sphere though, so he doesn’t always make the cut, as which ones you pick really depends on what you want out of your Lore deck/cards.

  15. I think I just had a stat-gasm. You are a legend. Only just starting out with LotR LCG but my word this is getting used!

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Haha. Thanks! And welcome to the game! I’m planning on doing an updated version of this article now that a cycle has ended and there have been quite a few cards released since I did this one. Look for it sometime soon!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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