Deck Spotlight: Float Like A Butterfly… (Hobbits Part 1)
I love Hobbits…unabashedly so. While the expansive and rich world of Middle-earth teems with powerful and intriguing beings that catch the eye, from Elves to Nazgul to Istari, it is Hobbits that have always provided the grounding for readers and viewers that are entering Tolkien’s world. The idea that a small, humble, peaceful folk could destroy the greatest evil, and be the ones best suited to do it, is a theme that has been endlessly riffed on by countless fantasy authors since Tolkien. It thus was a tall task for the designers of LOTR LCG to represent Hobbits within the game in a way that felt authentic and real to their iconic role in the story.
After all, in a game that can often be highly focused on combat, where do Hobbits fit in? The Shirefolk ultimately won the day not through martial skill but with heavy doses of grit, determination, loyalty, and wits. Ultimately, I feel that the designers have done a great job of building up the Hobbit trait as a viable and entertaining one. By allowing Hobbits to manipulate enemies and simulating the ability of the little folk to rise to the occasion through keying off of enemy engagement costs, the real flavor of their role in the story is embedded in the cards. Even better, I enjoy traits that allow for creativity and not just one deck type that simply builds itself. In the case of Hobbits, there are at least two main deck types (not including the use of Hobbits in non-Hobbit decks). The first focuses on avoiding enemies, questing, and using tricks to achieve victory. The second is the one that was developed by The Black Riders expansion, which allows Hobbits to actually engage in combat and be quite successful at it, to a point that is sometimes a bit incredible. To quote The Greatest, these two deck types show that Hobbits in this game can either “float like a butterfly” or “sting like a bee”. I will be sharing versions of each Hobbit deck type, starting with a more “classic” Hobbit build focused around evasion and questing.
The Galadhrim’s Greeting (Core) x3
Sneak Attack (Core) x3
A Test of Will (Core) x3
Small Target (EaAD) x3
Peace, and Thought (SaF) x2
Take No Notice (TBR) x2
O Elbereth! Gilthonial! (SaF) x2
Expansions Required (11): The Hunt for Gollum, The Black Riders, Encounter at Amon Din, Heirs of Numenor, The Watcher in the Water, The Steward’s Fear, Over Hill and Under Hill, The Dead Marshes, Conflict at the Carrock, Voice of Isengard, Shadow and Flame
Theme: Enemy Manipulation, Card Draw, Defense/Tanking
Strategy: This deck is all about completing a quest while avoiding enemies when possible and tanking them when necessary. The idea is to use the generous willpower provided by the Ethir Swordsman, Arwen Undomiel, Gandalf, and Faramir to overcome the threat of enemies left in the staging area. These questing powerhouses can also accelerate the pace of questing when the time is right or the number of enemies threatens to become overwhelming. Pippin and Sam also provide 5 willpower from the first turn on their own, which is a strong foundation on which to build.
In terms of roles, Bilbo is the resident tank and can accomplish this task surprisingly well. He is generally the recipient of the first Fast Hitch so that he can defend against multiple enemies in one turn. The most important attachment to draw and play on Bilbo early is A Burning Brand, which is important to defend against the possibility of an unexpected shadow taking advantage of Bilbo’s fragility. Protector of Lorien is also meant for Bilbo and helps to transform him into a truly epic defender. Since Bilbo himself provides card draw and Peace and Thought brings even more cards into hand, there is plenty of ammunition available to generate additional defense through Protector. Peace and Thought is a good choice for this deck, and actually replaced my first card draw choice, which was Daeron’s Runes. Generally, Peace and Thought can be problematic because of its requirement to exhaust 2 heroes, but Fast Hitch makes this a breeze, yielding an amazing 5 cards to make this deck a true card draw machine. Finally, Hobbit Cloak serves as a nice backup in case Protector of Lorien is tardy in making an appearance. Alternatively, it can simply beef Bilbo up even more (Arwen can also pile onto this madness, or help buff someone else). Hobbit Cloak also works well on SAm, as he can serve as an additional defender.
Speaking of Mr. Gamgee, Sam’s role within this deck is fairly versatile. His 3 willpower makes him one of the primary questers, but his readying and stat boost ability allows him to serve well as a back-up defender as well. In addition, since Bilbo often has defense covered, Sam often ends up being the primary attacking hero. While his 1 attack (sometimes boosted up to 2 or even 3) is not substantial, the reality is that this deck is not designed to destroy enemies and the more you can avoid that necessity, the better off you will be. Still, this deck can feel very Hobbit-like in that defeating foes will often depend upon using a crowd of heroes and allies to muster enough attack to do the deed. In many ways this feels a bit more true to the theme than Merry piling on multiple copies of Dagger of Westernesse and one-shotting The Watcher in the Water, although that can be fun. In terms of attachments, Sam will receive one of the copies of Hobbit Cloak, as well as the third copy of Fast Hitch (he is third string because he has his own in-built readying effect). The second copy of Protector of Lorien can also be useful to turn Sam into an even more effective questing force.
Spirit Pippin is the final piece of the puzzle. Yes, indeed readers, I have actually built a deck around that most maligned of heroes. I wouldn’t say I’ve become a Spirit Pippin believer by any stretch of the imagination, but he does serve a useful role in this deck. Primarily, Pippin serves as a quester. He will receive the second copy of Fast Hitch, which allows him to pitch in towards attack (every little bit helps in this deck), but more importantly makes sure that he is ready for Silver Lamp. This latter attachment reveals all shadows as they are dealt, which might seem redundant in a deck featuring A Burning Brand. However, Silver Lamp serves two main purposes. First, when facing multiple enemies, it lets me know which one Bilbo should take and which ones it is safe to let Sam or an ally defend against. Second, the Lamp facilitates Small Target by making sure that I will only use it when it will actually have an effect. Pippin is also the main choice for Steward of Gondor, since the average cost of Spirit cards in this deck is higher than that of Leadership or Lore (he actually is a hero that actually thematically makes sense with Steward of Gondor as well). The Errand-riders play an integral part in spreading the wealth of Pippin to the other two spheres. Songs are also a possibility here, but I much prefer the flexibility of the Errand-riders, and their ability to serve as chump blockers if the need arises. Of course, Pippin does have an ability (pushing an enemy back to the staging area at the cost of 3 threat) that is controversial and that I have criticized as being too limited and expensive in the past. While my general opinion about this effect has not changed, I do think it has a place in certain decks, such as this one. Basically, this ability is useful, although it must be used strategically and sparingly, in that it allows me to push back an enemy in three main situations:
1) When enemies engage before my tanking set up is ready
2) When there are too many enemies to handle at once
3) When one particular enemy gets to grips that is just too big and powerful
Rounding out the deck are a variety of different tricks to avoid or manipulate enemies, and this is where the deck really gains its character. Take No Notice is a 0-cost event in this deck that pushes up all enemy engagement costs by 5. This serves as a form of de facto threat reduction, at least in terms of preventing enemies from engaging, while also helping to trigger the abilities of Sam and Hobbit Cloak, if they wouldn’t otherwise. O Elbereth! Gilthonial! is meant for specialized situations and enemies in order to clear them off the board completely. It isn’t designed to be used for any old random orc, but instead works well when you need to get rid of a certain foe (assuming it isn’t immune) but won’t be able to muster the attack to defeat it. Keep in mind that this event raises your threat to match the enemy’s engagement cost, so it is generally used towards the end of a quest, when it is time to sprint to the finish, or when your threat is equal to their engagement cost anyway. The final piece in the bag of tricks is Small Target, which gets my vote as the most entertaining card ever released. Small Target is amazing because it not only handles defense (by preventing the attack from going through), but also attack (by dealing damage to another enemy). It can be inconsistent, but that’s where Silver Lamp finds its place. Originally, I only had 2 copies included, but I had to up this to 3, simply because it’s so fun. If all else this tanking, tricking, and dodging fails, Dori can absorb undefended attacks or unexpected damage (he’s also great for attack purposes as well), while Bill the Pony provides some extra hit points. I originally included healing in the deck through Warden of Healing, but if the deck is being played right, damage should not be an issue (for quests with plenty of archery and/or direct damage, then I would bring the healing back into the mix).
There is not necessarily one ideal opening hand for this deck, but generally I look for a solid balance of spheres, card types, and at least one or two of the major attachments (A Burning Brand, Steward of Gondor, Fast Hitch, or Protector of Lorien).
How It Was Constructed: The genesis of this deck was really a desire to build something around Spirit Pippin. My favorite Hobbit build is a Lore/Tactics/Leadership deck with Lore Pippin, Sam, and Merry (to be unveiled in part 2), so I wanted to push myself to include Spirit. Frodo is the best Spirit Hobbit, in my opinion, but felt a bit redundant in a deck centered around Bilbo as a tank. Spirit Pippin fits very well into the theme of avoiding and manipulating enemies, and this gave me a chance to finally give this fool of a Took a fair shake.
With Spirit Pippin chosen and Sam an auto-include as the only Leadership Hobbit (I decided to leave out Tactics, as it didn’t fit the idea of enemy avoidance), this just left Lore. Obviously, Lore Pippin couldn’t be included, so this paved the way for Bilbo, and I’m really glad that it did. I haven’t used old Bilbo in many a long age, and it’s a shame, as I’ve forgotten how much I enjoy using him in solo play. While endless debates continue to rage around the value of Bilbo, especially as compared to his high threat of 9, he really is quite invaluable as a source of card draw. Essentially doubling the number of cards you draw without having to play or pay for any other cards (or exhaust a character) provides a level of consistency that is unmatched. This is particularly valuable in the early game, as Bilbo helps to draw out those essential cards that facilitate combinations much more quickly. Add to this Bilbo’s suitability for the tank role, and he really fits in well to this Hobbit deck. In fact, I would argue that it Bilbo’s inclusion in general, and his card draw in particular, that truly makes this deck viable and functional more than any other factor. While Bilbo’s high threat of 9 starts the deck out at 23, which is a bit higher than most Hobbit decks, this is still a low enough level to make the whole setup work. Although I still maintain that the general proliferation of card draw effects has lessened Bilbo’s value somewhat, he still can be a great choice, especially for Hobbit lovers.
Overall, I tried to keep to theme when possible, but as should be obvious from the deck list, I often prioritized gameplay when needed. There were several choices made during deck building that emphasize this point. For example, while it was hard for me to overlook Hobbit Pipe and Smoke Rings for threat reduction, which absolutely ooze with theme, The Galadhrim’s Greeting is simply a much more consistent and stronger option. While it is admittedly a tad expensive, reducing threat by 6 with just 1 card (and the cost is compensated by Steward of Gondor on Pippin) is well worth the resources. By contrast, you have to draw 3 Hobbit Pipes and 1 Smoke Rings to obtain a threat reduction of 3, which is half as effective as The Galadhrim’s Greeting. While the Pipes/Rings combination serves an alternate purpose in also bringing card draw, this deck doesn’t need the added help in that department. Rather, The Galadhrim’s Greeting is much more efficient.
Another decision revolved around Steward of Gondor vs. Resourceful. While I will often use the latter in Hobbit decks that start at 20 in the hopes of hitting the Secrecy discount (and for thematic reasons), Steward of Gondor is the clear choice here..
1) Sneak Attack + Gandalf: The classic combination of all classic combinations in this game works quite well in this context. Gandalf provides direct damage and attack power to the deck, helping to compensate for its main weakness. However, versatility is the name of the game here, as extra threat reduction, questing power, or card draw can also be useful depending on the situation.
2) Silver Lamp + Small Target: Small Target is a fantastic card that redirects an enemy attack against another engaged enemy if there is no shadow effect. Silver Lamp eliminates the risk of Small Target whiffing by revealing all shadow cards as they are dealt. This makes Small Target a sure thing, helping to handle both defensive and offensive needs at the same time. My favorite moment was playing through Foundations of Stone and facing down three Goblins at once. Small Target led one Goblin to smash another to pieces, nullifying two Goblins in one fell swoop, just before the cavern opened up and drowned everything else. Of course, even if Silver Lamp reveals all the shadow cards, if all of them have a shadow effect, then there is nothing you can do.
3) Fast Hitch + Peace, and Thought: Fast Hitch is probably the best readying effect around, as it is basically an Unexpected Courage for half the cost (albeit restricted to Hobbits). Here, it allows 2 of the 3 heroes to easily ready and satisfy the exhaustion condition of Peace, and Thought, netting 5 cards.
4) Errand-rider + Steward of Gondor: While Steward of Gondor will tend to pile resources on Pippin over time, the Errand-riders allow this wealth to be distributed out to Sam and Bilbo, smoothing out the resources between the spheres.
5) Faramir + Ethir Swordsman: Faramir is an all-star in almost any deck, and this is no exception. The Ethir Swordsman can usually be drawn pretty quickly, boosting up to 3 or 4 willpower each, only for Faramir to bump them up even further (as well as other questers). By the time this willpower engine gets running, which usually isn’t long, questing becomes a breeze.
Variations: The main variation to this deck is a combat focused version using Tactics, which will be spotlighted in part 2. Beyond this alternative, there are other Hobbit combinations that can also enable the enemy avoidance/manipulation strategy. For example, you could switch out Bilbo for Lore Pippin, while bringing in Frodo instead of Spirit Pippin to fill the tank role. There are also mono-sphere and dual-sphere variations, but I really prefer running tri-sphere with Hobbits, which is definitely their sweet spot. Since key Hobbit cards are scattered across different spheres, restricting yourself to mono- or dual- really limits your options with this particular trait. Of course, one of the great aspects of the Hobbit heroes is their low threat, which allows them to fit into almost any non-Hobbit deck.
Final Thoughts: To put it bluntly, this is not “one deck to rule them all”. It will not do well against quests that require destroying a tough enemy to succeed or against battle/siege quests, but then again, why are you sending Hobbits to take on a Balrog or serve as the bulwark of an army anyway? Instead, this deck works well for those who are looking for something a little bit different. Instead of simply bashing your way through a quest, there are plenty of strategic decisions to make here. More importantly, there are moments of glee as Bilbo dodges out of the way of an enemy blow, only for that strike to lop the head off of another unsuspecting enemy, or as that fearsome troll charges down only to be led away and diverted by Pippin. While the “sting like a bee” version of the Hobbit deck remains my favorite and is by far the stronger of the two builds, this one has raised my estimation of Spirit Pippin (even if it’s ever so slightly) and provided an important reminder that old Bilbo can still get the job done even if he is a bit long in the tooth. Now I just wish we had a non-treasure version of Sting…