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Ring Theory – CCG Concepts in LOTR LCG: Card Advantage

by on November 19, 2015

Hello Tales from the Cards!  My name is Shane Murphy, but here on the interwebs I go by HawkRose.  This is my inaugural post as a guest author for TftC.  Thanks to Ian for having me, and I hope you enjoy!


Losing is the worst.  And no loss feels worse than the one that leaves you wondering, “Why did I lose?”  In a game where deckbuilding is a factor, this can be doubly frustrating, as it is often difficult to separate play mistakes from flaws in the deck, or flaws in the deck from sheer bad luck.  As a player of many games, I have struggled with this problem over the years in a number of contexts, including the LotR LCG.  However, I have come to understand some key concepts from competitive CCGs, which have proved extremely useful in approaching this game.  This article is the first in a series of short pieces in which I discuss these concepts, and attempt to apply them to our beloved LCG.   Our first topic is card advantage.

Card advantage is a concept at the core of what we do when we play the LotR LCG.  As a result, a discussion of the concept may seem remedial, but is ultimately worthwhile in the way that it informs our deckbuilding and gameplay decisions.  The idea is this: the rulebook and the encounter deck combine to present a challenge to the player.  Player cards are the tools the player must use to overcome this challenge.  The player combines these cards to build a deck.  The cards chosen describe the deck’s core strategy.  For example, a hypothetical mono-Spirit deck uses Glorfindel, Eowyn, and Frodo as its Heroes; it contains cards like Galadhrim’s Greeting, Elrond’s Counsel, Northern Tracker, and Pelargir Shipwright.  For such a deck, we might articulate the core strategy as, “Keep threat low (hero selection, Galadhrim’s Greeting, Elrond’s Counsel), and focus on location control (Tracker) and willpower boosting (Shipwright and Elrond’s Counsel again) to blow through the quest while avoiding combat challenges.”  In other words, if we play enough of the component cards that make up our core strategy, and that strategy is appropriate for the quest at hand, we should triumph.  By sheer probability, the more cards we draw from our deck, the more likely we are to acquire that winning combination of cards.  This is the essence of card advantage: draw more, play more, win more.

To better appreciate the power of card advantage, consider the following situation.  Your mono-Spirit deck is currently the first player in a three-player game versus Journey Along the Anduin.  The Tactics player started with a high threat level, and has taken on the lion’s share of the combat, including a pair of Hill Trolls.  So far he has prevailed, but a few turns in his heroes are suffering, and his threat is sitting at 36.  To make matters worse, the Lore player has divined that the top card of the encounter deck is an Evil Storm which will completely wipe out the Tactics player, and in typical Lore fashion, there is nothing he can do about it.  If only there were some way to lower his threat…But wait!  When you explored the active location in this turn’s questing phase, you forgot that an Ancient Mathom was attached.  You tear three cards from the top of your deck.  Northern Tracker.  Pelargir Shipwright.  And ah, Galadhrim’s Greeting.  If you had waited to draw it naturally, it would have come three full turns too late to save the Tactics player.  Instead, you get to swoop to the rescue immediately.  That is the power of card advantage: to increase the probability that you will have what you need, when you need it.

But this explanation is slightly simplified.  After all, “advantage” is not a condition that exists in a vacuum, unto itself.  One has advantage over something; usually another person, or a system of some kind.  In competitive card games, one player has card advantage over the other.  Generally speaking, the player with card advantage is the one who has more cards in his hand on a given turn.  But in this game, our opponent is the encounter deck, which doesn’t operate in the same way an opposing player might (ie, it doesn’t have a hand of cards, and draw a new one each turn).  So determining who has card advantage in the LotR LCG can be difficult at first glance.  I’ll give you a hint: it’s the encounter deck.

Here’s why: there is a limiting factor on card advantage.  It’s those little silver tokens.  Dem resources.  You can draw your whole deck, but without resources they do you no good.  The encounter deck laughs at your petty limitations. Effectively, it has drawn its deck, and all its cards cost zero.  It is going to play at least one card per player, per round until Ar-Pharazon emerges from the Caves of the Forgotten.  Worse yet, once it has played its final card, it gets to redraw its entire deck.  When people say the encounter deck is unfair, this is part of what they mean.

So we have a staggering problem before us.  The encounter deck has a nigh unshakeable stranglehold on card advantage.  Things look bleak.  But lo, beyond all hope, a boon comes to us in our need: the encounter deck doesn’t know how to play the game!  It slaps down cards at random, instead of playing the card that would best demolish us at every moment.  We can take advantage of its sub-optimal plays, and wrest card advantage from its unthinkable fingers, or stomp it into submission before it can leverage its superior position.  We’ll do this through a solid understanding of value and tempo, which I’ll discuss in upcoming articles.


Concept Showcase: Elf Magic Show


Heroes (3)Erestor

Erestor (TToR)

Rossiel (EfMG)

Glorfindel (FoS)

Allies (12)

Erebor Hammersmith x 2 (Core)

Gleowine x 1 (Core)

Henemarth Riversong x 1 (Core)

Quickbeam x 1 (ToS)

Silvan Refugee x 2 (TDF)

Wandering Ent x 3 (CS)

Warden of Healing x 2 (TLD)

Attachments (19)

Asfaloth x 1 (FoS)

A Burning Brand x 2 (CatC)

Lembas x 2 (TiT)

Light of Valinor x 3 (FoS)

Miruvor x 2 (SaF)

Protector of Lorien x 2 (Core)

Resourceful x 2 (TWitW)

Scroll of Isildur x 2 (TMV)

Silver Harp x 2 (TToR)

Steed of Imladris x 1 (AtE)

Events (16)

Daeron’s Runes x 3 (FoS)

Elrond’s Counsel x 3 (TWitW)

Fair and Perilous x 2 (AtE)

Out of the Wild x 3 (RtR)

The White Council x 2 (TDT)

Will of the West x 3 (Core)


The newly released support for the Noldor trait, and particularly hero Erestor, establish it as an archetype based heavily on card advantage.  Because the Noldor abilities are fueled by discarding cards from the hand, the number of cards you have available can be even more important than the quality of those cards.

The Elf Magic Show deck keeps its threat low, while using Erestor to burn through cards, gradually assembling a variety of allies, and piling attachments onto heroes.  Excess cards can be pitched for Daeron’s Runes, Protector of Lorien, or Steed of Imladris, as needed.  Silver Harp can preserve cards while you muster resources to play them, or hold onto events like Fair and Perilous for tactical deployment.  Because the deck cycles so quickly, Rossiel can comfortably eschew her usual complement of lackluster victory display cards, and become a potent quester and defender using only Out of the Wild.  An array of readying attachments make sure you can get the most out of her boosted stats, or allow the other heroes to do double duty as the need arises.  And if you discard something you need, Scroll of Isildur, The White Council and Will of the West can recycle your deck.

This deck is by no means overpowered, but functions as a proof-of-concept for decks built around a card-advantage strategy.  When it draws the right cards, it can handle both questing and combat with aplomb, and drawing cards is what the deck does best.

out of the wild

If you do want to see card advantage at full power, and you have a spare hour, watch this.



From → Strategy

  1. burek permalink

    I think you took the wrong approach to explaining what the encounter deck does, especially in an article about card advantage. The encounter deck draws one card per player every turn and plays all the cards it draws immediately. Each player naturally draws one card per turn. Therefore, to keep parity, each player should generally spend one card per turn to deal with one encounter card. In order to gain an advantage, players need to deal with more encounter cards than were revealed in a turn.

    We can define card advantage in different ways, of course:
    1) The way you explained it, which is basically card selection – if you see more cards, you are more likely to find exactly what you are looking for.
    2) Simply having more cards – if you generally use one card to deal with an encounter card, having more cards allows you to deal with more encounter cards.
    3) One card dealing with multiple encounter cards – if you use one Galadhrim’s Greeting to “counter” two cards with Doomed 3 (and no other effect), you have effectively gained an advantage of one card.

    Obviously, the encounter deck has plenty of ways to generate card advantage of its own, the most obvious being Surge. There are also heroes and their actions to acknowledge, as well as the need for questing, defending etc. All in all, however, I feel like the topic of card advantage is relatively poorly explored in articles on LotR LCG, so thanks for writing about it! 🙂

    • kwitee permalink

      How do you evaluate card advantage against enemies in your example? There are at least 3 things that player have to do to deal with an enemy: quest over it, defend it and destroy it. It’s easy in a situation that you provided (treatchery vs. event), bud I don’t see a way to calculate it without taking acount of action advantage.

      • burek permalink

        I agree, that’s why I wrote practically the same thing in my second paragraph. The concepts of card advantage, action advantage and tempo are different in this game as compared to other card games like Magic or Hearthstone. We can try to show a basic example:

        Let’s say you have Eowyn/Gimli (wounded)/Beregond. There is currently one enemy engaged with you. You play a chump blocker and a second enemy is revealed from the deck that engages you immediately. You block one with Beregond, chump the other and kill one with Gimli. You are now in the same position as before, so you’ve achieved parity with one card against one opposing card.

    • You are correct. I’m trying to deal with each of the concepts I discuss in this series atomically, but it’s difficult to do because the concepts are so heavily interconnected. I think I’ll address the issues you raise in the upcoming articles on value an tempo.

  2. johngarrison1870 permalink

    An enlightening discussion! Deck building remains a struggle for me, so I look forward to the next article on card advantage!

  3. ChasmosaurusChris permalink

    An excellent idea for a series. This made me laugh, “in typical Lore fashion, there is nothing he can do about it.” Haha very good.

  4. raven614 permalink

    Yes excellent article most times these articles go over my head but you explained it very well and in short length. Kudos to burek for raising questions but in a constructive way. Looking to more from HawkRose.

  5. raven614 permalink

    Just built your deck really want to try it out and get the full measure of your article but noticed it only has 47 cards.

  6. Raven614 permalink

    Very fun deck. Thanks for sharing.

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