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Archetype Spotlight: Dwarven Throng

by on October 20, 2015

dwarf art

Hey folks! My name is Daniel, and Ian has so graciously given me the chance to write for this wonderful blog. For this series, I hope to delve deep into each lore-based archetype and explore how we can best build decks that are both strictly Tolkien-friendly and still good enough to beat even the hardest quests…

One of the most exciting and enjoyable aspects of Lord of the Rings: The Living Card Game is the unparalleled amount of effort the designers have put into blending the theme into the game, making sure it’s not just a game, but a complete experience through the world of Middle Earth that J.R.R. Tolkien meticulously created so many years ago. Ever since I picked this game up 6 months ago, I’ve always enjoyed the thematic game above all else, and the most rewarding experiences have always come from beating a difficult quest with a deck that is not just mechanically cohesive, but thematically appropriate as well. In this series, I hope to explain the methodology of creating these types of decks—ones that will win with as little suspension of disbelief or thematic hand-waving as possible.

Dwarven Throng

I will begin this series and introduce the thematic limitations I place on my decks with one of the simplest archetypes in the game: The Dwarves. The Dwarf deck was the first archetype-based deck in this game that was both powerful and thematic, dwarfing (sorry) Rohan and Eagle decks with the sheer statistical advantage that our vertically challenged friends received from simply having a trait. So how do we go about creating a deck that lives up to the dwarven identity, and what sorts of weaknesses or challenges might we face in doing so?

Heroes

Although the Hobbit saga boxes provided tremendous support to the Dwarf trait, unfortunately, the majority of the quests in this game occur many years after the Battle of Five Armies, which means we will be tailoring our deck towards this time period and will therefore be unable to use characters like Thorin Oakenshield, Balin, Kili, and Fili. To begin with, we need Dáin Ironfoot, the cornerstone of most dwarf decks for the crazy stat boost he provides. With such high threat cost and access to Leadership already granted, we must then move to Lore, where we have most of our cheap dwarf allies. Bifur is my logical choice, because of his low threat, good willpower, and fantastic ability. Although Ori is a great hero as well, his ability doesn’t get us through the early game, which, as we’ll discuss later, is one of the biggest weaknesses of our deck. Bombur is not exactly useful in our deck either.

For our final hero, with a threat level of 18, we want to look for a decently low threat hero who gives us access to either the Spirit or Tactics sphere. Thalin is an okay choice, especially in the early quests where enemies like Eastern Crows are instantly killed by Thalin’s ability, but Oin has higher willpower, lower threat, and an ability that gives us access to all four spheres. Perfect.

Erebor-Battle-Master

Allies

Building a dwarf deck is easy because it mostly comes down to throwing in as many dwarf allies as possible. We can start with some Erebor Record Keepers, Erebor Hammersmiths, Miners of the Iron Hills, Veteran Axehands, and Zigil Miners. Unfortunately, there aren’t any more cheap dwarf allies, but that shouldn’t be the biggest problem. Bofur gives us a nice early game willpower boost, followed by a permanent strong ally once we get going. Bombur is very quest dependent, while Dori, Glóin, and Dwalin are great additions. Erebor Battle Master is one of the most important allies in this deck, able to achieve monstrously high attack values with only 3 or 4 allies down on the table. Longbeard Elder can provide some conditionally useful scrying, while Longbeard Map-Maker is a high-costed but useful ally. At this point, we can add in some copies of Gandalf, but we’re getting a bit ally-heavy. If you can’t get access to any of the other threat reduction we discuss later on, I’d highly recommend adding Gandalf, but he’s not an auto-include by any means.

Attachments

There are a few unique attachments that really make the dwarven archetype work. King Under the Mountain and Legacy of Durin provide some much needed card-draw, and Hardy Leadership is also a good card that provides another passive stat-bonus, but I’m not sure how much I find myself making use of the extra health point it grants. From there, we can pick up a few copies of Unexpected Courage, quite useful for Dain in particular. If we happen to playing a quest from the Dwarrowdelf cycle, Ever My Heart Rises is a great card for threat management.

An astute reader will notice that we have not included one of the strongest cards in this game: Steward of Gondor. Truth be told, it turns out that the Dwarf deck is quite difficult to successfully pull off without this card, which gives unparalleled resource acceleration for an archetype which has little access to anything of the sort. Unfortunately, because the card is so explicitly tied to Gondor, it wouldn’t be right for us to include it in this deck, so we’ll tackle this problem with some creative problem solving.

We-Are-Not-Idle

Events

Besides Bifur, who smooths resources within our deck and can “steal” resources from a companion player, the only other access to any sort of resource acceleration we have is the Lure of Moria + We Are Not Idle combo. This combination relies on a few things: We must have both cards in hand, and we must have at least 4 dwarves to make it a net-positive action, since Lure of Moria costs 3 resources to begin with. Besides King Under the Mountain and Legacy of Durin, we will also add in Daeron’s Runes to make sure we have enough card draw that we can reliably execute this 2 card combo repeatedly. Otherwise, we may find ourselves starved for resources. To finish our deck, we’ll throw in a couple copies of A Test of Will and Sneak Attack.

Concluding Thoughts

Of course, the best quests to tackle with this deck would be those in the Dwarrowdelf cycle. To account for this, a number of cards will be included in the sideboard as good inclusions both mechanically and thematically, such as Ever My Heart Rises, Untroubled by Darkness, Thrór’s Key, Thror’s Map, and Bombur. You’ll also find that a number of strong cards besides Steward of Gondor were omitted, such as Arwen Undómiel, Warden of Healing, and The Galadhrim’s Greeting. That’s simply the sacrifice we thematic players must make, and we have to find other ways to patch up the weaknesses that are presented by such limitations. To put it bluntly, this deck has a number of problems.

First, there wasn’t any room for the strong dwarven attachments like Ring Mail or Dwarrowdelf Axe. As a result, we’ll have to rely on chump-blocking and mustering an army of allies rather than empowering our heroes. Fortunately, that’s exactly what we aim to do with our 30 allies in the deck.

Second, this deck is rather poor. Even with our Lure of MoriaWe Are Not Idle combo, we will likely find ourselves strapped for resources to play all the cards we need. Fortunately, this is counteracted by a plethora of cheap allies, combined with a ton of card draw, which means that we’ll always be able to find the low-cost allies when we need them. In addition, both Dwalin and Glóin have cost-reducing abilities once we get enough dwarves out, which means once we get going, we’ll be unstoppable. Zigil Miner’s ability should not be used without his pal the Imladris Stargazer, which, of course, is not a dwarf, so don’t even think about it.

Third, the first few rounds will prove rather difficult, especially in modern quests. We simply won’t have the overbuffed heroes or action advantage that a lot of other archetypes find in abundance. An ideal starting hand might include an Erebor Record Keeper, Legacy of Durin, Sneak Attack, and Gandalf. The good thing is that any 2 cost Lore ally is playable because of Bifur, and besides, most of your allies will be playable by round 2 anyway. Between Bifur and Oin, 6 Willpower is usually adequate for turn 1, and Dain is hardy enough to block most enemies.

Fourth, Gandalf is our only reliable source of threat reduction. This means that some quests, like Conflict at the Carrock or Return to Mirkwood may be surprisingly difficult, with “threating out” a very real possibility to anyone not careful.

Fifth, this deck relies on being semi-quad sphere. Typically, the more spheres a deck encompasses, the less reliable it tends to be, and the easier it is to not have enough of whatever resource you happen to need at any given moment. On a quest like Escape from Dol Guldur, this is basically a death sentence, so we’ll have to rely on our card draw to make sure all of our resources can be used for one card or another.

Sixth, this deck has no healing. Outside of Healing Herbs, the dwarven archetype simply does not have any sort of healing mechanism, but that’s okay. No respectable Longbeard would deign to heal when he could just smash his enemies. Besides, because this is an ally-focused deck, healing will often be suboptimal compared to simply chump-blocking.

That’s quite a list of weaknesses! Then what exactly does this deck do well? Besides giving us a chance to play out our hairiest LotR fantasies, it is also a late-game powerhouse, easily committing 20+ willpower and attacking the scariest of enemies for 20+ attack. The Erebor Battle Master in particular can obtain double digit attack values, and with each successive ally placed down, the deck only gets stronger and better, due to our trait-boosting passive abilities from King Dain, Hardy Leadership, and Erebor Battle Master. This deck also naturally includes a condition-removing card in Miner of the Iron Hills, which is usually quite the conditional (sorry, again) card type to include—think Power of Orthanc, Athelas, etc. Finally, the deck has quite a bit of action advantage later in the game, between Unexpected Courage and Erebor Record Keeper, which it can either use on power cards like Erebor Battle Master or on a companion deck.

As a result, despite its many weaknesses, this deck is definitely worth its salt. It plays decently well in single-player, as long as you either avoid quests that require heavy threat management or you get some lucky first draws. My advice for most reliability and fun would be to pair this with another deck that shores up all of its weaknesses and complements its strengths. After all, this is Lord of the Rings, a saga which emphasizes the importance of the different races and kingdoms coming together to fight a common enemy. It’s only right that we play the same way.

theodred

The best complementary archetype to the Dwarves is one that has plenty of resources, a strong early game, and/or threat reduction. A Rohan deck with Théodred could be just all the resource acceleration you need, which in turn would allow you to make it through the early game. On the other hand, a Silvan deck has access to The Galadhrim’s Greeting, which is a very powerful way to reduce threat. The Silvan elves are also very strong in their own way, providing that early game cushion we need. Finally, a Grey Company deck, between Elrohir, Elladan, and Aragorn, could easily take care of any enemies dumb enough to attack, giving the dwarves time to prepare their army. Elf-stone would also be useful to bring in the 3-cost allies. A Noldor deck would provide us with useful heroes like Glorfindel and Elrond to power through the early game, and the Imladris Stargazer would pair nicely with the Zigil Miner to give the Dwarf deck extremely potent resource acceleration. Some less-than-ideal companions would include a Hobbit secrecy deck, sadly, because of similar early game power issues, as well as an Outlands deck.

Of course, with this deck we haven’t even touched the other interesting aspect of the Dwarf archetype—mining. Zigil Miner, Longbeard Sentry, Expert Treasure-hunter, and Ered Nimrais Prospector all provide thematic ways to discard cards off the top off the deck, while Hidden Cache offers rewards for doing so. If the designers were to flesh out this mini-archetype with more cards like Hidden Cache that directly provide a benefit for discarding from the deck, and perhaps some thematically conditional way to reliably scry the top of our deck (like the Stargazer), it would be an interesting answer to the absence of a Dwarven Steward of Gondor, and would make the archetype all the more interesting. Although the dwarves are still probably 1st in the sheer number of cards within the archetype, there are still some interesting ways that the designers could provide further support to the archetype, and I think the Longbeard Sentry is a great example of that. Giving each archetype multiple dimensions makes for greater deckbuilding flexibility and additional thematic fun, and is something I hope we continue to see.

Of course, the most important thing to do is have fun, which I hope you’ll find is inevitable when you play thematically. Next time in our series, we’ll tackle an archetype that takes a bit more nuance and creativity to build: The Outlands! Just kidding. Look forward to a Rohan deck in the near future.

Dwarven Throng
Total Cards: 50

Heroes (starting threat: 26)
Bifur (Khazad-Dûm)
Dáin Ironfoot (Return to Mirkwood)
Oin (On the Doorstep)

Allies (28)
2x Glóin (On the Doorstep)
1x Longbeard Elder (Foundations of Stone)
3x Erebor Battle Master (The Long Dark)
2x Veteran Axehand (Core Set)
2x Bofur (The Redhorn Gate)
2x Dwalin (On the Doorstep)
3x Zigil Miner (Khazad-Dûm)
2x Dori (Over Hill and Under Hill)
2x Erebor Hammersmith (Core Set)
3x Erebor Record Keeper (Khazad-Dûm)
1x Longbeard Map-Maker (Conflict at the Carrock)
2x Miner of the Iron Hills (Core Set)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)

Attachments (9)
2x Hardy Leadership (Shadow and Flame)
2x King Under the Mountain (On the Doorstep)
3x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)
2x Legacy of Durin (The Watcher in the Water)

Events (13)
3x Lure of Moria (Road to Rivendell)
2x Sneak Attack (Core Set)
3x We Are Not Idle (Shadow and Flame)
2x A Test of Will (Core Set)
3x Daeron’s Runes (Foundations of Stone)

Sideboard (Mining)
Ered Nimrais Prospector (The Morgul Vale)
Longbeard Sentry (Across the Ettenmoors)
Hidden Cache (The Morgul Vale)
Dwarven Tomb (Core Set)
Stand and Fight (Core Set)

Sideboard (Dwarrowdelf)
Untroubled by Darkness (Khazad-Dûm)
Thror’s Map (Over Hill and Under Hill)
Thrór’s Key (On the Doorstep)
Ever My Heart Rises (The Long Dark)
Bombur (Road to Rivendell)
Deck built with Rivendell Councilroom

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8 Comments
  1. Matthew D. permalink

    You lost me at “Ever since I picked this game up 6 months ago, I’ve always enjoyed the thematic game above all else, and the most rewarding experiences have always come from beating a difficult quest with a deck that is not just mechanically cohesive, but thematically appropriate as well.” Haha!

    Actually, I found this very well written and a joy to read! Looking forward to the next installment! 😉

  2. A good read. I’m less tied to thematic restrictions because of how I interpret the mechanics of the game, and I don’t have the time to deckbuild too much. I love that your column presents a base from which semi-thematic players can start.

  3. Dries permalink

    Good Read thanks very much .. i’m trying it out now !

  4. sm5574 permalink

    Lots of good ideas here. One thing not really touched on but which makes me laugh when I hear people talking about how important theme is to them: Dwarves don’t generally go on quests in large numbers unless treasure is involved. That was the whole point of The Hobbit, after all. And in LOTR, Gimili is as much interested in keeping Legolas from stealing the Ring as he is in stopping Sauron…at least initially.

    So playing a strictly dwarf deck for the first two quests in the core set, for example, is highly unthematic, I believe. In general, I would say that if you are using more than one dwarf hero, it should be a quest dwarves would realistically be interested in. (All of this, of course, assuming you care about theme.)

  5. Phillos permalink

    I haven’t done it in a while, but I always liked making Dwarf decks in pairs. A Leadership/Tactics and a Lore/Spirit deck. I also tried to keep away from Steward for thematic reasons. A Dain/Gloin/Gimli deck can use Gloin’s ability quite a bit to generate resources since your Lore/ Spirit deck has way more room for healing for Gloin (and Gimli if he needs it). For the Lore/ Spirit deck I like Bifur, Nori and Oin. With Bifur, Narvi’s Belt and Blue Mountain Trader you can get quite a bit of smoothing in their between the two decks. The Leadership/Tactics deck has more room for attachments. If just feels like it works a bit better. It goes without saying that both decks needed tons of card draw and the Leadership/Tactics deck needed Sneak Attack/Gandalf because it doesn’t have many other options for managing threat and Dwarf decks take a bit to get going.

    What I liked about this setup is that it’s really not too dependent on hitting 5 dwarves in either deck. Gimli can do the heavy lifting on attack until the Battlemasters come online. Battlemasters slot easily in both decks (probably as the only tactics card in the Lore/Spirit deck). Also by the time Battlemaster is worth playing in the Spirit/Lore deck Oin has already achieved his tactics icon.

    The thing is I can’t imagine much will change from how I use to build those decks a cycle or two ago accept now Longbeard Sentry slots right into the Leadership/Tactics deck because Sentinel was sorely missed in these decks and chump blocking was definitely needed if the Lore/Spirit deck got in trouble.

  6. How many packs you got? If you only started recently. I started 10 months ago, and am up to FoS. Official Spoiler: My New Player Guide article will be coming hopefully within the next week.

  7. If you exclude Balin from a thematic dwarf deck that takes place in the timeframe of our beloved card game, then you would also have to exclude Oin, since he (and Ori) accompanied Balin on his quest to reclaim Moria.
    Other than this little piece of nit-picking I really enjoyed your article 🙂

    • sinekure permalink

      Yes, that’s quite true! I actually have another deck that replaces Oin and Bifur with Ori and Nori to use for the Dwarrowdelf cycle, but it’s… unreliable at best. I didn’t want to rely on a Song of Battle to get the crucial Erebor Battlemaster into play, so I decided to put Narvi’s Belt in and modified the deck heavily to have 26 2 cost cards and make Zigil Miner kind-of-not-terrible to blindly use, as my main form of resource acceleration. It doesn’t work great on its own, surprisingly enough!

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