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Deck Building 101: Part 14 – Four Player Decks (Mono Sphere)

by on December 30, 2014

lord

Readers are often asking me for deck suggestions for four player games, especially with the idea of introducing new players to the game who don’t have their own cards or don’t know how to build their own decks yet. Previously, I haven’t really had the time to address these questions with the care and detail that they deserve, but after receiving variations of this question many different times, I realized that the topic probably merited its own Deck Building 101 article that could hopefully provide some type of satisfactory answer. There are actually many different ways to build four player decks, especially since more players means that each deck can be more highly specialized than in solo play or even two or three player games. This means that a great diversity is possible and there isn’t one magical set of decks that are perfect for this purpose. With that in mind, I’ve decided to run with one option that I find to be ideal for introducing new players and teaching them the game: mono sphere. Mono sphere decks allow players to quickly learn the game and enjoy themselves without initially worrying about resource smoothing, and this is also a way for new players to get acquainted with each sphere as well. The other advantage is that mono sphere perhaps reaches its full potential in four player games, where each sphere can fully specialize and together the decks can achieve a balance needed to touch all bases, from combat to healing to questing and more. This is exactly why the Core Set provided mono sphere decks, but thankfully the card pool is much larger now than was true then and thus these decks are much more functional and entertaining.

What follows are four mono sphere decks meant for use in four player games. I make no claim that these are the absolute best four player decks out there. Rather, they give players a fighting chance against many scenarios, play to the strengths of each sphere, and are meant to complement each other. When in doubt, I placed emphasis on simplicity, thus leaving out heroes like Galadriel or Grima that are fun and powerful, but a bit too advanced or complex for new players. Besides just adhering to a mono sphere focus, I also wanted each deck to roughly fill a certain role that players who are familiar with role playing games or video games might quickly recognize and understand.

The Decks

Disclaimer: These decks have been built with the entire card pool plus two copies of the Core Set. This choice was made mainly because most of the players who sent this question had access to the whole collection and needed help sifting through this wealth of cards to build decks for newcomers. If you don’t have this luxury, then these decks can be tweaked to match what you do have. The key is to replace like for like. For example, if you don’t have Greyflood Wanderer, then replace it with another ally that focuses on location management, such as Lorien Guide. Obviously, you won’t get exact substitutions, but the overall idea of each deck will remain in place. If there is enough demand for it, I may do a four player deck article featuring a more limited card pool.

hands-upon-the-bow-art

Deck #1 – Mono Tactics (The Fighter)

This deck is perhaps the easiest to understand for any new player. Find the player that really wants to bash heads in and enjoys the fighter or warrior role in other games and simply hand them the Tactics deck.

Hero
1x Beregond
1x Boromir
1x Legolas

Ally
2x Bofur
2x Descendant of Thorondor
3x Eagles of the Misty Mountains
1x Gwaihir
3x Knight of Minas Tirith
1x Landroval
3x Vassal of the Windlord
3x Westfold Outrider
3x Winged Guardian

Attachment
1x Black Arrow
2x Blade of Gondolin
3x Gondorian Shield
2x Horn of Gondor
2x Rivendell Blade
2x Spear of the Citadel
3x Support of the Eagles

Event
3x Feint
3x Foe-hammer
2x Gondorian Discipline
3x Hands Upon the Bow
3x The Eagles Are Coming!

Gameplay Focus: Direct Damage, Attack/Hulking, Defense/Tanking

Trait Focus: Eagles

Rationale & Strategy: Beregond is extremely new player friendly and is a perfect tank in multiplayer with sentinel and a strong six defense with Gondorian Shield. Boromir allows for flexibility by covering both defense (with Gondorian Shield) and attack, while Legolas gives the Tactics player a way of contributing to quest progress, which becomes even more important against the high threat numbers in four player games (Blade of Gondolin makes Legolas even better for this purpose). This extra progress can also help to clear out troublesome active locations as well. The heroes provide both sentinel and ranged, which is crucial for a four player game and allows the deck to serve as the true focus of combat, while teaching the value of these keywords to new players as well. While there are tons of great weapons and allies in the Tactics sphere, I chose to place the main focus on Eagles. This gives a clear trait focus for the deck, and also allows Support of the Eagles to turn Boromir into a combat machine, able to both defend and attack for huge numbers. The rest of the deck is filled out with Tactics staples like Feint, Foe-hammer, and Hands Upon the Bow. The Eagles Are Coming! helps to add even more card draw on top of Foe-hammer, while Gondorian Discipline provides some protection for Beregond and Boromir while defending (or from direct damage). Overall, this is a simple deck that a new player can pick up and play without worrying about crazy combos or fiddly mechanics, while giving them the sense of being a Middle-earth badass that can lay foes to waste without a second thought.

The Greeting of the Galadhrim-MagaliVilleneuve

Deck #2 – Mono Spirit (The Ranger)

While experienced LOTR LCG players might typically associate the Lore sphere with Rangers, considering the prevalence of that trait in the sphere and the presence of many effects that mimic tracking and exploring locations, it is actually the mono Spirit deck here that takes on the role of the ranger. What I mean by this is that this deck is focused on questing and exploring locations, leading the “party” through the wilderness or area of Middle-earth that they find themselves in.

Hero
1x Éowyn
1x Glorfindel
1x Eleanor

Ally
2x Arwen Undómiel
2x Emery
3x Ethir Swordsman
3x Greyflood Wanderer
3x Minas Tirith Lampwright
3x Pelargir Shipwright
3x Northern Tracker
3x The Riddermark’s Finest

Attachment
3x Ancient Mathom
2x Blood of Númenor
3x Light of Valinor
2x Thror’s Key
2x Unexpected Courage
2x Warden of Arnor

Event
3x A Test of Will
2x Dwarven Tomb
3x Hasty Stroke
3x Stand and Fight
3x The Galadhrim’s Greeting

Gameplay Focus: Willpower Boosting, Location Management, Treachery Cancellation, Threat Management

Trait Focus: Rohan and Gondor (Men)

Rationale & Strategy: In many ways, the mono Spirit deck is the direct opposite of the mono Tactics build, focusing on questing rather than combat. To this end, Eowyn is an automatic choice for pure willpower and is amazing in four player games, where she can be boosted up to eight willpower by each player discarding cards. Glorfindel simply makes too much sense for mono Spirit, adding willpower and attack power with easy access to both each round. Generally, I’ve been using Idraen for the third hero in my mono Spirit decks lately, but for a four player game, I think Eleanor is the right choice. There are just too many treacheries that don’t scale well and become game-enders in four player and you can’t always rely on having A Test of Will available. Unfortunately, this means that this deck will sometimes need help to kill enemies and defend. Continuing the theme of cancellation, Minas Tirith Lampwright is a worthy inclusion, as surge becomes absolutely unavoidable in four player games, meaning that revealing five to six cards during staging is the norm, rather than an exceptional occurrence. Anything that can mitigate this somewhat, even unreliably, is a blessing. Besides questing and treachery cancellation, location management is a major focus of this deck, with cards like Greyflood Wanderer, Northern Tracker, Thror’s Key and The Riddermark’s Finest all working to counter locations. The mono Lore deck also includes Asfaloth, which is meant to be played on Glorfindel. Oftentimes, it is easy to downplay the importance of locations in this game, but including location management is absolutely essential in four player games, especially for some of the newer scenarios. With locations making up around a third of the encounter deck, you can’t simply just ignore them, as location lock in four player games is a real possibility. Dwarven Tomb is important here to recycle A Test of Will and maximize treachery cancellation, while The Galadhrim’s Greeting is preferred to Elrond’s Counsel because it can be used to lower other player’s threat. Finally, Stand and Fight is a card that is immensely useful in four player and scales well as four different discard piles offer a wealth of allies to choose from and can be drawn upon during any action window. As far as a trait focus is concerned, the deck mostly includes either Rohan or Gondor characters, with a few exceptions.

beravor

Deck #3 – Mono Lore (The Mage)

The idea of mono Lore representing a mage character might seem strange at first, but it actually makes sense when considering the deck’s focus. This deck centers primarily around gaining knowledge (drawing cards), healing, and nullifying enemies and locations through trickery. Of the three decks, this is the one that would perhaps be the most complex for newer players due to the many different effects and subtle nature of the strategy involved.

Hero
1x Beravor
1x Denethor
1x Haldir of Lórien

Ally
2x Dori
3x Elrond
3x Erebor Hammersmith
1x Gildor Inglorion
2x Gléowine
2x Ithilien Archer
2x Ithilien Tracker
3x Wandering Ent
3x Warden of Healing
1x Treebeard

Attachment
3x A Burning Brand
3x Asfaloth
3x Protector of Lórien
3x Ranger Spikes
3x Wingfoot

Event
3x Gildor’s Counsel
3x Mithrandir’s Advice
3x Radagast’s Cunning
3x Secret Paths
1x Waters of Nimrodel

Gameplay Focus: Card Draw, Encounter Deck Manipulation, Healing, Threat Management

Trait Focus: Forest Denizens (Elves, Ents, Rangers)

Rationale & Strategy: This deck has clearly defined roles, but a measure of flexibility as well. Denethor is a strong defender, especially when equipped with A Burning Brand and Protector of Lorien and can be a good target for Arwen (from the mono Spirit deck) with her +1 to defense and granting of sentinel. He also can scry the top card of the encounter deck and drop it to the bottom, which is less useful in four player games, but still handy to avoid a particularly troublesome card. Haldir can snipe enemies engaged with other players and is a great multiplayer choice, while still having 2 willpower for questing (don’t forget that he can make use of a Rivendell Blade from the Tactics deck!). Finally, Beravor provides card draw to all players, and once she has Wingfoot, she can also participate in questing each round as well. Generally, this deck fulfills a support role, assisting other players and countering the encounter deck through indirect means. Elrond and Warden of Healing provide great healing options, while the single copy of Waters of Nimrodel is meant to save the day against scenarios with heavy direct damage/archery. Alternatively, it can be simply discarded to fuel Protector of Lorien or Eowyn if not needed. Dori serves as a great safety valve across the board when healing won’t be enough to save a character from death. Threat from the encounter deck can be countered through Ithilien Tracker, Ranger Spikes, Secret Paths, and Radagast’s Cunning, allowing for quicker progress through a quest. This makes this deck a stronger participant in questing than it might appear at first glance. Gildor’s Counsel can be pivotal when used during the right moments. While revealing three cards instead of four might not seem significant, this can actually make a crucial difference in many cases. Overall, this is a good deck choice for the most experienced player or one who likes tricksy effects or supporting other players. The theme/trait focus is on denizens of the forest, from Ents to Elves to Rangers.

erestor

Deck #4 – Mono Leadership (The Leader)

This is the hardest one to classify in terms of the usual RPG roles that people might know, as mono Leadership is a well-balanced build that can handle both combat and questing. Perhaps framing this deck in terms of being the party’s “leader” makes the most sense in terms of what the deck does and what the sphere is all about.

Hero
1x Prince Imrahil
1x Aragorn
1x Balin

Ally
1x Galadriel
3x Dúnedain Watcher
2x Erestor
3x Errand-rider
2x Faramir
3x Longbeard Elder
3x Squire of the Citadel
3x Warden of Helm’s Deep
3x Gandalf

Attachment
2x Celebrían’s Stone
3x Cram
2x Heir of Mardil
1x Path of Need
3x Steward of Gondor
3x Sword that was Broken

Event
3x A Very Good Tale
2x Campfire Tales
3x Sneak Attack
3x Strength of Arms
2x Valiant Sacrifice

Gameplay Focus: Resource Generation, Readying, Willpower Boosting

Trait Focus: Eriador and Gondor

Rationale & Strategy: Like the mono Lore deck, this build is mainly about support, but in a much different way. Through Steward of Gondor and Errand-rider, resources can be spread around the board as needed. Campfire Tales is a subpar solo card, but fantastic in four player games to enable each player to get closer to a card that they might need. That’s not all in terms of spreading card draw around, though, as Valiant Sacrifice can find plenty of targets in a four player game, allowing any player to draw cards after an ally they control leaves play. Readying is also a key feature of this deck, as can be seen in two of the three heroes. Aragorn and Prince Imrahil both have a readying function, with both likely to see frequent activation (Prince Imrahil particularly benefits from a four player game). I like including Balin here for his balance of two willpower and two defense and his incredibly useful ability. Theodred is also a great choice for this slot, as the flexible resource generation works well in a four player game, but I prefer to enhance the questing potential to complement that of the mono Spirit deck. I actually really love Sam for mono Leadership as well, but Balin’s shadow cancellation can be key in four player for a similar reason as Eleanor’s treachery cancellation. Readying is not just present with the heroes, however, but also can be dished out to the other players through generous lending of Cram and use of Strength of Arms, which can be absurdly good with four players’ worth of allies on the table. Heir of Mardil is also a form of readying that can be given to another player’s hero, especially since the heroes of this deck already have in-built readying. If all that wasn’t enough, this mono Lore deck can also come to other player’s rescue when it comes to defense as well, with the strong Warden of Helm’s Deep defending with sentinel for three (which can be bumped up to four with Arwen) and Dunedain Watcher serving as another line of shadow defense, with Balin of course also available to clean up any messes. Four player games mean more shadows and more chances for something to go horribly awry, and thus cancellation becomes even more important than usual. In terms of willpower boosting, this deck can hold its own in a big way, using Sword that was Broken and Faramir to create big questing numbers, and Faramir can apply his ability to another player if this is a better play as well. With this deck able to grants cards, resources, defense, readying, willpower, and shadow cancellation to other players, it should be clear that this deck well deserves the title of “leader”. As a final note, this is the one deck that uses Gandalf, in order to make use of Sneak Attack to snipe enemies and provide a needed boost in certain portions of the game. As far as the trait focus is concerned, this deck mostly revolves around characters from Eriador, either Dunedain, Dwarves or Elves, as well as Gondor.

 Deck Interactions

The four decks have been outlined, but there also is the small matter of interactions between the decks. Most of this will be fairly obvious, which is one of the advantages of the mono sphere setup. The mono Leadership and mono Spirit deck will take on the bulk of questing, with the mono Tactics deck handling the lion’s share of combat. Still, there are certain card interactions that have been directly built into the decks that are worth mentioning. In some cases, the intention should be evident, such as mono Lore including Asfaloth in order to attach it to Glorfindel. In other cases, attachments may find a variety of targets in a four player game. Rather than give one definitive answer as to who these attachments are meant for, I prefer to look at these cards as a teaching opportunity for new players. Deciding who the Steward of Gondor should go on, for example, is a debate that can help players learn about key concepts in the game. What follows is a list of cards that have potential deck interactions that are worth noting:

* Steward of Gondor – This attachment has several great targets here. Aragorn can use the resources to power his readying ability, while Balin can save up a stockpile for emergency shadow cancellation. These are probably the best uses, but keep in mind that other decks may be more in need of resources at a given moment. Also consider that the Steward confers the “Gondor” trait on its recipient, which can allow another hero to make use of Gondorian Shield (such as Aragorn).

* Horn of Gondor – See above.

* Unexpected Courage – Persistent action advantage is a great boon, and if anything, the decision as to which hero gets one of these valuable attachments is even more difficult than with Steward of Gondor, as almost any hero can benefit. There are a few exceptional candidates though. Beravor can make use of Unexpected Courage for maximum card draw, although she does have Wingfoot available. Eleanor can use the extra action to cancel a treachery and still be available for defense. Beregond is often a great choice for Unexpected Courage in multiplayer due to his ability to defend for any player, while Legolas also works for the opposite purpose, killing off multiple enemies engaged with other players and racking up progress tokens.

* Arwen Undomiel – This is actually the toughest bonus to decide, but fortunately the target can be changed each round. Ideally, the mono Spirit player should make use of Arwen’s ability to give sentinel to a strong defender that usually doesn’t have sentinel, with Denethor being a good example. However, don’t forget that this ability can also be used to give sentinel to a chump blocker, who can then cover defense for another player without good options for a given round.

Conclusion

Again, these decks are not meant to be the most powerful around. If that was the goal, then trotting out four Dwarf decks with Dain Ironfoot on the table should do the trick. However, I thought I’d aim for something a bit more interesting and more valuable as a teaching tool. After becoming accustomed to these decks, players will hopefully have a good handle on the spheres and the different mechanics of the game, and then be able to mix and match cards, spheres, and abilities to create the kind of decks they want. In future editions of Deck Building 101, I will give a glimpse into other four player possibilities beyond mono sphere!

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21 Comments
  1. Susan permalink

    Great article!

    One minor point:
    Doesn’t Denethor already have the Gondor trait? So, he doesn’t need Steward of Gondor to have a Gondorian Shield, I don’t think.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Thanks! Well, that was a “duh” moment if I’ve ever had one, with Denethor being the Steward of Gondor himself! I’ll attribute it to a holiday hangover.

  2. Dave permalink

    Awesome article! Not sure if you’ve addressed this, but if you were to build two two-player decks covering all spheres, which spheres would you combine to complement the other?

    • I really like to combine Tactics with Leadership and Spirit with Lore, but you can do pretty much do any combo nowadays and get it to work well.

    • I’m with Joe. Tactics/Leadership and Spirit/Lore seems to be the intuitive combination.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Can’t really argue with the others. Leadership/Tactics and Spirit/Lore was my go-to combination when I started playing this game and they still work well to give you that combat on one hand and questing/support on the other.

      • Gwaihir the Windlord permalink

        My go-to combo . . . Tactics, Tactics,cand more Tactics. 😉

  3. Futonrivercrossing permalink

    Only 3 Gandalfs ?

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yeah, I realize that’s a bit unusual, but I don’t necessarily throw Gandalf into every deck these days. Here, I wanted to maximize variety and Gandalf made the most sense in the Leadership deck with Sneak Attack. I wouldn’t have a gripe with anyone subbing out some of the cards in these decks if they really want Gandalf though.

  4. Figas permalink

    Great article. I like the idea of implementing the learning approach (teaching basics/red sphere as the easiest for beginners). I did the same thing when preparing for my 1st two-player game with a friend who had played the game.

  5. You should mention how Heir of Mardil + Horn of Gondor + Blood of Numenor on Denethor, Eleanor, or Boromir are amazing. A chump block will give the hero a resource, ready it and make it a better defender. Boromir has his own readying, so I’d likely put this on Denethor so he can use his scrying more consistently and still be around for defending.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Yeah, I think Denethor is probably the best candidate for that particular combo, although it does give Eleanor something to do as well. Getting enough resources on her to make a strong defender really helps out that mono Spirit deck and the board as a whole.

    • Nusse permalink

      Not to mention Denethor can be equipped with a Burning Brand – that may be overkill, but some quests have really nasty shadow cards.

  6. Jonathan permalink

    Fantastic article!

  7. Hawk Rose permalink

    Nice article! One question: why Warden of Arnor? Given that Haldir is the only viable target for it, and he’s more likely to be sniping than questing (sans Wingfoot, at least), it seems a big investment for a questionable payoff. There are so many good Spirit attachments that could fit into that slot.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Good question. It may seem marginal, but I’ve found more and more that every bit of location management is essential for 4 player games, especially for some of the newer scenarios. Warden can work with Haldir during the times he quests or if he gets Wingfoot attached. There are some other good Spirit attachments, but I really wanted to emphasize location control for that particular deck.

  8. Hello! This was one of my favorite articles on here and just wondering if you were to update it for the current card pool, what would your decks look like? Keep up the great works!

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      That’s a great question! I should hopefully have something on that topic sometime soon.

  9. Hi, TftC and the rest of you! Such a fabulous article. I particularly love the indepth explanations for the different decks. My three sons are 13, 10 and 7, and even though this is a game that is probably a bit too much for the youngest ones (we’re Norwegian, so the language barrier is an additional challenge for them), this awesome article is something that makes me want to try this out. We already do play MeCCG, and yes, we use English cards, so I’m confident this could work.

    Would you like to do additional articles for both 1p, 2p, 3p and 4p in the future to? I’m way too busy, having one-and-a-half jobs, three kids, and several positions in voluntary work, and as such I don’t have a lot of time to compose decks (and I suck at it too), so more help like this would be invaluable to me and others like me. Keep up the great work!

    You may not remember me, but I’m the crazy guy who asked you how to make several decks where you had to use all player cards, using three copies of the base game and one set of everything else. This is of course a very difficult and an extremely time-consuming task, of course, but I’ve meddled in it a bit over time, and even though these have to be pretty weak on average, due to a rather significant number of dud cards, it’s the greatest challenge ever to make x number of useable decks, IMHO! Have you had the interest and time to look at it at all?

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