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TftC Mailbag: Deck Testing and Asking Questions

by on March 13, 2015

bilbo mail

It’s been awhile since I dipped into the TftC mailbag, but this seems like the kind of Friday for just that sort of thing. Recently, I wrote a set of articles that dove deeply into the process of testing a deck and using questions to guide making changes to decks, in a kind of Socratic method of deck building. One reader found this approach useful, but was left with some questions about these questions, as it were:

Your articles about testing decks have been eye-opening for me, and I am trying to test a pair of decks which I hope will work well together: a Tactics/Lore deck and a mono-Spirit deck.  I have run into a difficulty, though.

One of the things you emphasize in your testing in practice articles is asking questions of your deck to see if it is performing as you wish it to.  But nowhere in your articles to you suggest how to formulate these questions or what to do with the results of the testing.

I do not have the full card pool, so I have thus far tested my decks on Journey Down the Anduin (3/3 wins) and Hills of Emyn Muil (1/3 wins).

Could you please be more specific about how to come up with the questions your decks need to answer via testing, and what to do with the results?  Thank you in advance.

This is actually a really good question and it points to one of the dilemmas inherent in attempting to communicate experiences or accumulated knowledge about LOTR LCG deck building, or any other skill for that matter. While I would hesitate to label myself with the “expert” or “veteran” tag lest a cloud full of pretentiousness-eating wasps descend from the sky and bring me to a quick end, it is fair to say that I’ve put countless hours into this game, and over time anyone who does this will tend to develop a certain level of automatic “muscle memory” (“brain memory”?) when it comes to certain aspects of strategy. This development is good from the viewpoint of getting better at a game, but tricky when it comes to trying to explain how you made certain decisions or arrived at certain conclusions when this has becomes a reflex in some sense. The question posed by this reader forced me to come face-to-face with this issue, as generating meaningful questions about one’s deck as part of the testing process is to some extent a product of having experience with it. For example, playing many games and building many decks may teach you that an Elrond/Vilya deck is heavily reliant on card draw and/or attachment retrieval effects in order to bring out the ring as quickly as possible. So one of my main initial questions for such a deck might be: Do I have enough card draw to get Vilya out consistently within the first three rounds? This is a preliminary question, but one that is built on prior experience, and therefore the thought process behind where such a question comes from is more difficult to easily share. On the other hand, there are more general questions that can apply to any deck and can serve as the core of a good deck building and testing practice. This is the approach I took in my response:

You bring up a good question. Some of the questions come up just through playing the game quite a bit, which is a bit more difficult to quantify or share. But there are some generic questions that I think apply to almost every deck:
– Do I have enough options during a game? In other words, am I drawing enough cards to really have at least one meaningful option of something to play, if not more, during each round?
– Do I have enough resources to pay for cards? If I don’t, is this because the cards I’ve chosen are too expensive? Is it because I too many cards of one sphere and not enough of another?
– Do I have a good defensive solution? Am I getting killed by enemies too often?
– Do I have enough attack power to kill enemies quickly (within one or two rounds)?
– Do I have enough questing power to make progress each round? (If I am questing unsuccessfully more than a couple of times per game, then something is probably off)?
– If I lost, was it because of threat? A particularly bad treachery? Too much damage?
Then, in terms of what to do about these questions, it depends on the question. For example, if you find you are not drawing enough cards, then you need to look through the cards you have available and add some more card draw effects. This will probably involve cutting other cards to make room, and you have to decide which cards are giving you the least value each game. If you find that you keep losing because of threat, then you might need to add in more threat reduction effects or more willpower, again cutting out other cards that are not pulling their weight and/or are not giving you what you need. It’s all about thinking of a deck as a balancing act between the different areas of combat and questing and threat management, etc. I would recommend visiting the hall of beorn search engine and using the category filter for player cards. This allows you to look through different types of cards for card draw, resource generation, etc., which can provide solutions to these different problems. I hope this was helpful, and feel free to ask further questions!

In the end, I fear that my response was not quite as useful as I would hope, but for newer players, I would say that the getting into the habit of asking questions about your decks is more important initially than the exact questions you ask. Over time, as you build experience with the game, these questions will come to you more naturally and more quickly, especially as you gain a greater knowledge of the cards that are out there. A great training ground is also asking questions specifically of the scenarios you face, which you can quickly become an expert on with each new play. For example: During Journey Down the Anduin, did I have enough time to get ready before the Hill Troll beat my body into a fine paste? is one of the first questions that every new LOTR LCG player asks, but that very specific question can be evolved into a more general question useful for deck building: Does my deck get set up quickly enough to deal with the encounter deck? This then leads to other questions. If the answer is no, why not? Is my starting threat too high? Do I not have enough defenders to handle enemies? Am I lacking enough willpower to compete from the first turn? Engaging with this whole idea of questions is not just useful for new players, though. I mentioned earlier that experienced players may build up certain habits and skills until they work almost automatically. While this is generally a good thing, sometimes we develop bad habits, or at least unjustifiably unquestioned ones, and trying to explain our thought processes to newer players can be a valuable tool in forcing us to question some of our own assumptions or develop them to greater heights.

I hope today’s installment of TftC has been useful. Feel free to share your own responses to the reader’s question, as I’m sure the many avid deck builders that visit this site might have some valuable advice to share. Remember, if you have questions of your own, click on the Contact TftC! button above, and you might be featured in the next TftC mailbag. Enjoy your weekend!

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2 Comments
  1. Tony F permalink

    While you covered most of the big ones, here are some other questions I consider after playing with a new deck:

    -Which cards were in my hand much of the game but never got played? That could be an indication that the card was too expensive or too situational. Perhaps the card can be removed, or at least reduced to fewer copies.

    -Do I have too many resources or too many cards? This may seem like a ridiculous question, but it is important. If you have too many resources, it means you’re not drawing enough cards to spend them on, so you might add more card draw or more expensive cards to take advantage of your resource glut. Similarly with cards, if you have too many cards, it probably means you need more resources to pay for them. You might consider removing some of your card draw for additional resource acceleration, or even just find alternate uses for cards in your hand (e.g. Eowyn’s ability, Protector of Lorien).

    -Do I have too many resources on one hero and not enough on another? This was touched on in the mailbag, but I think deserves more detail. If you find yourself in this situation, it means that you need to rebalance the spheres included in your deck. Possible solutions to this problem include:
    –changing the balance of cards from each sphere in your deck.
    –changing the sphere of one or more of your heroes.
    –adding cards that add spheres to heroes.
    –adding cards that move resources between heroes.

    -If I lost, was it due to a deck weakness, a bad draw, or a strategic error? This can be a tough one to answer, but gets easier with experience. Sometimes you just draw that first turn troll or mumak and there’s no way you were going to win, regardless of how good your deck was. These are some other questions you can ask to try to get to an answer on this question:
    –Did I see the encounter deck’s best card early? If so, the loss may have had more to do with luck, or maybe I need to have a plan for dealing with that card.
    –Do I have a counter for the card that killed me somewhere in my deck, but just not in hand/in play? If yes, then maybe I need more card draw or resources to get that counter into play, or maybe I should try to mulligan for it in the future. If no, then I definitely need to find some kind of counter and put it in the deck.
    –Was the cause of my loss due to something specific to this quest, or could it occur in any quest? Each quest has its own wrinkles, and it is impossible to build a deck that is equally successful against all quests, so if your loss was something quest-specific, you might consider creating a sideboard of cards that could be swapped into your deck for this particular quest.
    –Could I have played the quest differently to avoid the loss? This is a big one to think about. Having Eowyn die to a first-turn Sudden Pitfall likely doesn’t reflect a bad deck, but rather a mistake in strategy. If I know such a possibility exists, I can plan for it by having a chump quester (even one with no willpower) join my heroes on the quest. An inexperienced player can have the best deck in the world and still lose if they don’t know the best way to use it. That’s why it’s important, particularly for new players, to not only analyze the performance of their deck in the game, but their own performance as well.

    There are probably other questions I’m not thinking about right now, but these are a few big ones for me.

  2. OssderOssmane permalink

    While I usually don’t design decks for a specific quest, I usually have an idea for what types of quests it should be good against. This leads to the question: is my deck as good as expected in its favored quests? How does it handle other quests? Can you work something out with a sideboard? Does a different strategy with the same deck help?
    Sometimes you can find that a deck is surprisingly good outside its comfort zone. I once had a Loragorn, Mirlonde, Legolas deck that was build for willpower questing but handled into Ithilien surprisingly well.

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