Deck Spotlight: March of the Wormbeard
One of the great things about a game like this is that over time players develop their own personalities in terms of the decks they build and the way that they play. If I were to characterize myself, I would say that I tend to be a balanced player who aims to experience as much of the game as I can, whether we’re talking about different spheres, deck types, strategies, or scenarios. So while I do enjoy building thematic decks that aim to recreate aspects of the books or tell a story of some kind, I also get great satisfaction out of throwing preposterous combinations of heroes and characters together that are united only by their utility in terms of game mechanics. I bring all this up because the deck I am sharing today falls firmly in the latter category. It would take an absolutely Herculean feat of the imagination to conjure up a scenario in which Grima Wormtongue, Treebeard, and Frodo Baggins would find themselves working together to thwart the machinations of Sauron (not to mention Saruman), yet they end up working so well together that I don’t really care. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the absurdity only adds to my enjoyment. If you too don’t mind flirting with the strange, odd, and incongruous, then read on!
The “March of the Wormbeard” deck focuses around the aforementioned three heroes: Grima, Treebeard, and Frodo Baggins. As with any successful or at least somewhat viable deck, each of these heroes brings something to the table that allows the whole to be more than the sum of its parts. While the deck began with Treebeard, and he still remains the main focus of the deck, Grima and Frodo both provide valuable support functions. I hesitate to even venture a thematic explanation for this deck, but if I was forced at sword point to do so, I would start off by pointing out that Grima, who resided at Edoras as Theoden’s adviser and reported to Saruman at Isengard, spent a great deal of time in fairly close proximity to Fangorn forest, the home of Treebeard. It is therefore plausible that Grima and Treebeard could have run into each other at some point. While Treebeard would never leave Fangorn unless prompted by some urgent cause, like during the War of the Ring, we could imagine a scenario in which Grima was sent into the forest on an errand of Saruman’s or ended up there through an accident. Of course, it’s hard to imagine a meeting between Grima and Treebeard playing out in any other way than the former ending up smashed into a fine paste by the latter, but perhaps Grima’s wily tongue could save him from that fate. Even more unlikely, but intriguingly, Grima’s eventual partnership and friendship with Treebeard could lead him from his path of evil towards redemption. How Frodo fits into this picture is a bigger challenge, but as Bilbo said, “You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to,” including into the waiting arms of Wormbeard (the amazing buddy cop duo/mashup of Wormtongue and Treebeard).
Total Deck Size: 50
Expansions Needed (12): The Treason of Saruman, Conflict at the Carrock, Voice of Isengard, The Long Dark, Celebrimbor’s Secret, Shadow and Flame, The Watcher in the Water, The Steward’s Fear, The Dead Marshes, Foundations of Stone, 2nd & 3rd Core Set
Theme: Healing, Card Draw, Readying, Willpower/Attack Boosting
Spheres: Lore/Spirit (2/3 Lore, 1/3 Spirit)
Solo or Multiplayer?: Solo preferred because of Doomed effects, but can function in multiplayer with more threat reduction
Strategy: The main strategy and focus of this deck is to enable Treebeard to do what he does best as quickly and effectively as possible. In other words, the goal is to turn Treebeard into a questing and attacking machine. In order to accomplish this goal, Treebeard needs Unexpected Courage, Ent Draught, and Self Preservation. As previously discussed in my review of Treebeard, action advantage is absolutely key to getting the most out of this hero, since it allows him to use his ability to both quest and attack with a great deal of effectiveness. Unexpected Courage is the readying attachment of choice here, and it is a good example of Grima’s contribution, as normally Unexpected Courage would take two rounds to pay for in a deck with only Spirit hero, but Grima allows it to be paid for with only a single Spirit resource. This opens up the possibility of an invaluable first round play. With readying in place (note that Miruvor is included as a backup plan if Unexpected Courage hasn’t arrived), Self Preservation and Ent Draught both serve the purpose of enhancing Treebeard’s capacity to use his ability. Ent Draught allows for the full boost of five while Self Preservation heals the damage so that Treebeard can use the ability again. Grima is key here once more, as Self Preservation can become a two resource attachment rather than a three resource one, potentially shaving off a round. In this way, Grima helps to compensate for one of the key weaknesses of Treebeard decks that I have found: their slow pace. Grima gets the key attachments onto the board more quickly, greatly accelerating the pace of this deck. The ideal situation is to get multiple copies of Self Preservation onto Treebeard, possibly in tandem with Warden of Healing, so that Treebeard can increase his attack and/or willpower as much as possible, while being able to shed that damage immediately so that the ability can be used the next round or even later in the same round (questing for seven and then smashing for eight, for example).
Note that Keys of Orthanc helps with the acceleration of the deck, generating resources while Grima reduces cost. With the Keys on Grima and one resource on each hero, for example, you could use his ability to pay one for Unexpected Courage, generating an additional Lore resource, then pay three for Self Preservation. In terms of the ideal opening hand, you are looking for some combination of Unexpected Courage, Self Preservation, and Keys of Orthanc. Most of the time, you won’t be fortunate enough to get all three, or even two, and this is where card draw comes in as a major focus of the deck. It’s no good having cost reduction and resource generation if you don’t have anything to play ! Daeron’s Runes and Deep Knowledge both are great zero cost card draw options, drawing cards while saving resources for other uses. Deep Knowledge has the added benefit of triggering the Keys of Orthanc. Master of the Forge provides repeatable card draw directed towards attachments, which is invaluable given this deck’s focus on attachments and getting them out as quickly as possible. For this reason, the Master is preferable to someone like Gleowine. Of course, with Grima and Deep Knowledge around, as well as a moderately high starting threat of 29, some threat reduction is in order. The main options are The Galadhrim’s Greeting (available for 2 with Grima, although you are essentially cutting the threat reduction by 1 in this case), Galadriel’s Handmaiden and Gandalf. This is usually sufficient for solo play, but you’ll probably want to add in some extra threat reduction in multiplayer if you don’t want your friends to strangle you.
In terms of hero roles, Grima is primarily a quester, while Treebeard is both a quester and attacker, at least once he has Unexpected Courage. I’ve found that another weakness of other Treebeard decks I’ve built is actually defense. Treebeard is a superb defender himself, but you’ll usually want to use him for questing and attacking because of his ability, which you can’t do if you’re “wasting” him on defense. On the other hand, his high threat of 13 means you often won’t have the luxury of including a strong defending hero. Frodo solves this problem ably as a 7 threat hero with a natural defensive ability, and he is helped by the presence of Arwen. Even better, he grants access to Spirit and the invaluable Unexpected Courage in addition to threat reduction. He can also contribute his 2 willpower to questing as well once Fast Hitch is in play, although that is usually a lower priority. With Frodo as a capable line of defense, Treebeard can be free to push the deck forward in terms of raw questing power and the ability to smash enemies aside. Of course, when necessary Treebeard can defend, especially with multiple forms of readying attached. There are also several strong defending allies in the deck who can assist in this area as well. The main disadvantage of Frodo is that he adds to the overall threat gain of the deck, which is already exacerbated by Grima and Deep Knowledge, so developing other defensive options and using Frodo wisely is important.
Finally, I couldn’t resist including at least a few Ents in a Treebeard deck. Quickbeam is a no-brainer in a Lore deck, and together with Treebeard can attack for 6 before any attack boosts are triggered. The Wandering Ents can be played for only 1 resource by Grima, so that while they take a round to become operational, they can be dumped into play much more quickly, so that the deck can ramp up from minimal power to a swarm of mighty Ents in a short amount of time.
How It Was Constructed: The genesis of this deck was really a desire to build a deck around Treebeard, along with dissatisfaction at the first crop of Treebeard decks I constructed. An early Elrond/Spirit Glorfindel/Treebeard deck was decent, but far too slow for my tastes. I am sure that it could be modified into a strong deck, but the bigger problem was that I was too bored by using Elrond and Glorfindel once again to have much motivation to work on it. From there, I moved to experimenting with variations of the Hobbits + Treebeard theme. This combination, especially pairing Merry and Pippin with Treebeard, makes fantastic thematic sense and also works well in terms of mitigating starting threat and setting up some interesting mechanics (like Merry readying an attack-boosted Treebeard after attacking with him). However, I also felt a bit of a lack of inspiration here since this seemed like such an obvious combination and because I’ve used both Merry and Pippin so much in other decks. Now, I’m not one to necessarily dismiss a deck because it’s popular or obvious, but I do tend to gravitate more towards combinations that are a bit more unconventional (horrifying thought: does this make me a deck hipster?). With this in mind, I decided to partially keep to the Hobbit theme, but use a different Hobbit altogether: Frodo. Playing several Treebeard decks had outlined some core weaknesses that I’ve already mentioned: potential defensive problems and a slow pace. Frodo provided a neat defensive solution, low threat, and the necessary access to Spirit. From there, I considered how to address the long period of ramping that seemed to plague Treebeard decks, and whether I should add a Spirit or Lore hero. Adding a Spirit hero ensured I could pay for Unexpected Courage more quickly, including during the first round. However, a second Lore hero also seemed necessary in order to help pay for the expensive Self Preservation and other healing options. Grima ultimately emerged as a handy answer to this dilemma, as he could help pay for both Spirit and Lore cards, while improving the overall pace of the deck. With this trio in place, the rest came together in a logical way.
1) Treebeard + Unexpected Courage + Self Preservation + Ent Draught: This is really the heart of the deck, allowing Treebeard to add tons of willpower to questing each round, as well as to control the pace of questing since you can wait to trigger his ability until after staging. It also allows him to destroy many enemies all on his own, and he can even take down “boss” level enemies more quickly than might otherwise be possible in conjunction with other characters.
2) Grima + Keys of Orthanc + any other card: In my opinion, the Grima and Keys of Orthanc combination is gravely underrated. It essentially allows for a two resource swing (saving one resource while generating another one). Even better, the possibilities for resource smoothing between spheres is amazing.
3) Erebor Hammersmith + Miruvor: Although both of these cards can be considered “secondary” cards, as they aren’t essential to the deck’s functioning, they can be quite useful both independently and in tandem. I always try to build in contingency plans for essential effects, and Miruvor helps to cover for Unexpected Courage if it is tardy in appearing, while it can also work in a versatile way to provide extra willpower or resources. Erebor Hammersmith is a strong and well-rounded cheap ally, and his ability can help to recycle Miruvor. He also guards against attachment hate by helping to bring back key attachments that are discarded by encounter card effects. This is especially important for a deck that is reliant on attachments.
Variations: This deck came together relatively quickly without major experimentation. I did mention other hero combinations for Treebeard, but those are essentially different decks. Therefore, I will suggest possible alternatives just for this particular combination of heroes:
* Elrond (ally) – If you’re not into Erebor Hammersmith, ally Elrond is a possible replacement. He’s a bit more expensive, but can help with healing, card draw, questing, and condition removal. Grima and the Keys can help to cover the extra expense.
* A Burning Brand – Shadow cancellation is a weakness of this deck, so you could add A Burning Brand if you plan on using Treebeard for defending. You could also combine A Burning Brand with Song of Wisdom to make Frodo into a foolproof defender.
* Protector of Lorien: This attachment could work well with Frodo to allow him to defend even more effectively or to help with questing.
* Spare Hood and Cloak: This attachment could be combined with Frodo and Fast Hitch to allow the Hobbit to ready a Wandering Ent more quickly or to give Treebeard an extra action.
* Hasty Stoke: This event would add some shadow cancellation as an alternative to A Burning Brand.
* Don’t Be Hasty!: A thematic choice, if not the most optimal, this event could help with action advantage in the early game, possibly as an alternative to Miruvor.
* Henamarth Riversong: It’s always difficult to pass up one of the most useful allies in solo play!
Final Thoughts: This deck is a fun and novel option if you want to try something a little different with Treebeard. Obviously, though, it probably won’t appeal to those who prefer to hew close to theme. There are some weaknesses to the deck, namely the lack of shadow cancellation, the reliance on certain attachments, and the risky nature of intentional threat gain. On the other hand, this is a Lore/Spirit deck that can actually smash enemies fairly easily, while still taking advantage of what those spheres can offer, especially in terms of card draw and questing. The pace of this deck can be quite decent with the help of Grima, far better than most other Treebeard decks I’ve built. With all of this in mind, don’t be afraid to join in the adventures of Wormtongue and Treebeard, the most delightful odd couple this side of the Anduin! Wormbeard the feature film to come to a theater near you in 2025.