This latest came from a combination of two factors, an existing deck and a desire to use an unpopular option. Combining the two didn’t work out quite as I initially envisioned, the original concept is a difficult one to reliably and consistently make work if it’s not planned in tandem with other players. Regardless of the fact it’s not what I originally had in mind, it does seem to work out pretty well and I’ve managed to get it into a form I’m reasonably happy with, so here it is.
The existing deck was one I’ve been toying around with for a while designed for combat support. The exact ratio of combat to just general support has varied through different iterations. The basic principle always involved using a couple of my favourite combat related heroes – Balin, for shadow cancellation, and Brand Son of Bain for attacking, providing readying as a result (thus, supporting via combat), and a third hero. Can’t remember who I started with, but at some point I started using Erkenbrand, which led to a certain amount of redundancy in shadow cancellation, but then Erkenbrand can’t defend everything, especially since this deck is intended more for 3-4 player games than anything less so enemies may be numerous. Another significant feature was the use of the Signal attachments from the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle – they weren’t in the original build because that had two Tactics heroes, but once I switched over to Erkenbrand they made more sense than Tactics-based combat boosts, and they’ve stuck (This is where the name came from, I googled ‘combat support’ and one of the things mentioned on Wikipedia was the US Signal Corps which seemed really fitting in the context).
The original idea was, as I said, to provide combat support in 3-4 player, on the assumption that the other decks would handle a certain amount of combat, and this deck would just help it all go smoother. But like I said at the start, that’s difficult to achieve if you’re not planning in tandem with your fellow players. With unpredictable companions it’s easier to actually definitely have the ability to handle combat myself as well, with a good defender in Erkenbrand as well as an attacker in Brand. Even with that adjustment though, there’s still a lot of that original flavour in there, with the Signal attachments being able to add attack and defence wherever its needed since you can move them around (though it’s rare that I actually do move them).
And on the subject of adding defence wherever it’s needed, we come to the unpopular option I wanted to find some use for.
As soon as hero Dori was released, like pretty much everyone else I was struck by how not very good he seemed, but it also occurred to me that he seemed like a very good fit for this deck of mine, being a hero whose ability is really dedicated to helping others solve combat problems rather than just solving them himself. And as it turns out, the more I’ve used him in this deck while tinkering with it, the more I’ve started to feel that his ability is definitely better than it appeared on first impression. I still wish it wasn’t quite so limited, but it can work out quite neatly for the kind of defensive flexibility it was intended to provide – whereby if you have lots of little enemies then Dori can take one of the many defences himself, but if you have one big enemy he can instead combine with Erkenbrand to take it. And if you’ve got defence covered without him he has 2 attack you can use.
That’s one of the respects in which the deck didn’t turn out quite as I envisioned – I initially thought Dori could be a replacement for Erkenbrand, but it ran into the problem I mentioned further up that you can’t necessarily rely on your team-mates having suitable combat capabilities, defenders in particular, for you to support. This is exacerbated with Dori in the mix because he needs a defender to target, though admittedly having Dori available can potentially help a hero less suited to defence become good at it. But regardless, it occurred to me a couple of iterations into this version of the deck that I’d get more use out of Dori’s ability if I kept Erkenbrand and swapped out Balin. That way Erkenbrand defends and Dori buffs him, rather than just ending up with Dori defending. And since I do have Dori I can still use King Under the Mountain for card draw. I still have Balin in the sideboard though, because I’m sure under some circumstances I could make that alternative version work (Or another alternative again would be if other decks could handle attack maybe I could have Balin/Dori/Beregond for the ultimate in defensive power).
An interesting point I found once I reached that point is that you don’t necessarily want to buff Dori’s defence – if you’re going to devote a bunch of deckspace to defence boosts you want them on your actual primary defender. At 2 def/5 HP, Dori is already a good secondary defender, and if you have a good defender already in the mix just that base +2 is probably enough most of the time. If there are defence boosts going spare then sure you can give them to him, but equally you could give him attack boosts, because in some cases at least he’ll be more there to cover the early game until your main defenders are fully set up, and then they won’t need him any more (mostly) so he can switch to attack instead. That’s the flexibility I was mentioning that can be more helpful than you’d think.
Otherwise, there are some other possibilities that can synergise pretty well with Dori, but the one which particularly grabbed me and ended up becoming a serious focus of the deck was the event Hold Your Ground!
Getting into Valour again, which is such a fun mechanic if you can get it to work, the idea appealed of a high threat play where it’d ready both Erkenbrand and Dori, plus assorted other Sentinels. So then the plan becomes to get as many Sentinels onto the table as possible while still maintaining the core functionality of the deck. I’ve talked enough without showing, so let’s move onto the decklist, with one last comment – the sideboard is mostly stuff that I would kind of like to have in the deck but I ran out of space, and the last two or three iterations of the deck were nothing more than me changing my mind about which cards should be main deck and which should be sideboard, trying to tweak for consistency and better sphere-balance. I’m still not 100% decided on it. Here’s the list:
Middle Earth Signal Corps
Brand Son of Bain
Derndingle Warrior x3
Galadhon Archer x3
Gandalf (Core) x2
Honour Guard x3
Weather Hills Watchman x2
Dunedain Mark x3
Dunedain Warning x3
Dunedain Signal x3
King Under the Mountain x3
Rohan Warhorse x3
Secret Vigil x2
Steward of Gondor x3
Hold Your Ground! x3
Legacy of Numenor x2
Sneak Attack x3
Henneth Annun Guard x3
Warden of Helm’s Deep x3
Weather Hills Watchman x1
Dunedain Cache x2
Gondorian Shield x3
Ring Mail x2
Secret Vigil x1
The Day’s Rising x2
So let’s start by talking about what, as I said, became kind of a focus of the deck once I hit on the idea: Hold Your Ground! Legacy of Numenor can get us to Valour faster (Sneak Attack Gandalf and Secret Vigil are then intended to stop us threating out as a result), in scenarios with plenty of threat-raising or if other players bring Doomed cards of their own (e.g. Deep Knowledge) you may well be able to manage without it. Then in addition to Dori and Erkenbrand, HYG will ready our Derndingle Warriors, ally Gimli, Wardens of Helm’s Deep and Landroval if they’re subbed in from the sideboard, and most interestingly, anyone we give a Dunedain Signal to (or target with a Henneth Annun Guard, sideboard again). With this in mind, while the Dunedain Signals obviously make most sense on good defensive heroes, you can also stick them on just anyone you think you might want to ready in an emergency (though of course you can transfer the Signal with a resource if you find it’s on the wrong hero at the wrong time). The Henneth Annun Guards may be a decent sub-in if there’s a deck with some more significant allies e.g. Treebeard that you’d like to get more use out of. This deck also loves ally Arwen for the targeted Sentinel.
To cover the rest of the sideboard, Balin I mentioned, there are a couple of third copies of things that are x2 in the deck; The Day’s Rising makes perfect sense since Dori can help you not take damage, but I don’t tend to find myself too short on resources, and it doesn’t synergise so well with Erkenbrand; Gondorian Shield is good for more defence since Erkenbrand gets Steward, Ring Mail for Dori if you do want to buff him up, so may be good for quests with more big enemies; Landroval can be Sneak Attacked to save a hero in an emergency; and of course the Dunedain Cache can help spread the attack power around if necessary, though I think that’s less of an issue now I put the Galadhon Archers back in the deck to get a bit more attack besides Brand and Legolas. On potential things to swap out, this is one of those decks that’s good enough on defence to make me debate whether or not I actually need Feint in the main deck, you could potentially do without Legacy of Numenor and Secret Vigil and just assume HYG will be more of a late-game play (you could probably manage with only 2 copies of it as well under those conditions). Galadriel isn’t really essential, just useful for speeding up the deck, same goes for the Weather Hills Watchman.
So for the main strategy, as I said, Erkenbrand gets Steward, churn out those good attachments. Warnings for Erkenbrand or some other defender in another deck, Marks for Brand so he can get kills and use his ability. Brand also gets two Warhorses so you can be readying characters all over the place. Doom your way up to Valour for big ground holding plays, and generally just help out in combat.
Other possible cards for this deck: Dunedain Watcher’s a bit on the expensive side but would fit nicely as an emergency valve for attacks defended not by Erkenbrand. Raven-winged Helm would fit nicely especially with the Sentinel-spam approach. Other Sentinel allies could work.
Good companions for this deck: Obviously other decks need to cover questing. With Erkenbrand and Derndingle Warriors, there better be some healing on the board. I mentioned that the HYG idea loves ally Arwen, anyone using Elven Mail could also be nice for that reason, and of course anyone who just has some useful Sentinels (besides the obvious defenders, Aragorn and Theoden spring to mind). Unexpected Courage for Erkenbrand can make a world of difference to your defensive security. Obviously it makes a lot of sense to match this deck up with decks which might normally have difficulties on the defensive side of things in particular, because that’s an area where this deck can really excel.
I tried testing this deck against Battle of Carn Dum (because clearly I’m a glutton for punishment), but found that Erkenbrand struggles when Thaurdir has four shadow cards, since he can only cancel one per attack, and that I also have issues if I’m relying on this deck to cover all defences and then Thaurdir ends up attacking more than once during the quest phase, not to mention the other enemies. There’s no shame in losing to Carn Dum though, and I felt like I might have possibly stood a chance, especially maybe with better suited companion decks and a slightly different version of this deck.
I then went to Nightmare Journey Down the Anduin instead, which was way more successful. A companion deck with Elrond plays one Warden of Healing in the first round, and Erk+Dori can tank the hill Troll for days, no trouble. Got out an Honour Guard and a Derndingle Warrior and could tank two Hill Trolls simultaneously (it was after this I realised that I possibly needed some more attack power so I could kill things a bit faster, hence the return of the Galadhon Archers back from an earlier, pre-Dori form of the deck). Basically after not even that much set up, I never had to worry about defensive issues for the rest of the game, and Dori meant that even the early game wasn’t that worrying.
So that’s the latest form of my combat support deck, and my first attempt at a somewhat viable deckbuild using hero Dori. As always, feel free to try out the deck, leave comments here or on RingsDB if you have any questions or thoughts, and let me know if you liked it!