So I decided I wanted to do something list-based for this blog. It’s a kind of content which can be interesting so I may revisit it for other things as well. Anyway. I tend to be a fairly vocal advocate for some under-rated cards, when a lot of people will dismiss them as just bad I will leap to the defence of all sorts of cards to say how they totally can be worthwhile – but for all that I don’t necessarily put my money where my mouth is and actually use the cards that often myself. Obviously there are nuances to this sort of thing – sometimes the card in question is a situational sort of thing so opportunities for good use may be rarer. And of course related to this in The Line Unbroken I make a point of deliberately trying to find uses for every card that has been released, but still this in some cases has equated to using a card, going “Hey, this is actually pretty good,” and then dropping it again and not using it in regular decks. A couple of those cards will definitely be featuring in this list.
Before I begin the list proper I will give some sort of honourable mentions to four recent heroes – Beregond (Sp), Prince Imrahil (Ta), Gimli (Ld) and Legolas (Sp), all of whom I think are very good but have yet to put in a deck which I’ve finished. Three of them I have decks I’m still working on, but Imrahil I don’t as yet, for all that in principle I think he’s the most interesting of the four. This will I’m sure be only a temporary thing though, soon enough I’ll have some decks with all of them.
Also before I get into it, just a word on the format – I won’t be exactly reviewing the cards here, since I already review cards on RingsDB, and I think all these cards are ones I plan to review (or already have). Rather I’ll be talking about why they’re on this list – that is, the respective reasons why I like each card so much and why I don’t use it that much. Now, on to the actual list, my Top 10 Cards I Never Use:
10. Fall of Gil-Galad
This card does better on the “Never use” aspect than the “favourite” aspect, but I do have a certain fondness for it. On the occasions I have managed to use it its turned out very well, of course, but that’s not the reason for my fondness – or at least, not all of the reason. The reason is that it has turned out very well despite the fact that this card has generally been pretty severely panned, for reasons which a cursory glance make very obvious. It’s limit 1 per deck and works by you sacrificing a hero, it was doomed to be hated from the start. But it turns out, if you do build particularly around making it work, that big threat reduction can be well worth it.
I have used Fall of Gil-Galad in two places. One was The Line Unbroken for The Three Trials, where I doubled down on it to drop my threat by a whopping 22 when I killed Gimli (and I revived him with Landroval). Sure it was gimmicky, but it worked wonders. And the second instance was when I updated my mono-Lore ally Gandalf deck, having realised that since it could take a little while to get going, just the Loragorn reset wasn’t necessarily enough threat reduction to fully compensate for keeping Gandalf in play the whole time, and I was delighted when I realised the solution to my problem lay in the application of an incredibly niche card almost no-one likes rather than a ubiquitous power card. Despite these two stellar examples though, Fall of Gil-Galad is still a card I generally dismiss without even considering when deckbuilding.
9. Silver Lamp
I recall when Voice of Isengard was still new someone polling people on what their favourite new player card from the box was and I picked the Silver Lamp. If I were asked again now I’d choose differently, but still Silver Lamp is a card which rather appeals to me, as there’s definite value to that kind of advance knowledge which can often be under-rated. Despite this, though, I almost never use the Silver Lamp. The reason knowledge gets undervalued at times is because it’s not a tangible improvement to your board-state, and as such it’s easy to focus instead on allies and attachments which help with the basic areas of the game when deck-building, while skimping on cards which give you knowledge but nothing else.
Looking on RingsDB, I have 3 decklists which include Silver Lamp – of which one is a gimmicky deck designed primarily to be good at answering riddles, one is the questionably unfocused original version of my mono-Lore ally Gandalf deck (I took out the Lamp when I updated the deck), and the third is my mono-Spirit ally Gandalf deck (where it’s in primarily because of the potential synergy with Gandalf’s Staff). That latter case is a good one, but just that one case doesn’t really seem like much for a card which I at least claim to really like. I don’t think it turns up in many offline decks of mine either.
8. Word of Command
The first time I saw Word of Command I thought it was amazing. Search your entire deck for any card you want? That’s such a useful ability to have available. Sure, you have to exhaust an Istari, but it’s worth it, surely? Especially since that Istari could enter play cheaply via Sneak Attack or you could exhaust them in the Refresh phase before they get discarded anyway? Or if you’re using hero Gandalf then OK you lose an action, but you often want to stack readying effects on him anyway.
In practice, though… it hasn’t worked out like that. Word of Command is admittedly a regular feature in the deck I’ve been running through a solo campaign, but that and a Line Unbroken deck are it. And yet by contrast I use Gather Information all over the place, and the much more recent Heed the Dream has already found its way into a few of my decks without so much trouble. Is the Istari exhaust requirement that much more of a demand than it initially seemed? Is the whole deck search not as widely applicable as one might think, with decks preferring to draw a higher number of unspecified cards than a smaller number of specific ones? Or am I just making a mistake and I could be doing better with some decks by sticking in Word of Command more often?
7. Shadow of the Past
Wandering Took recently wrote a guest article on Tales from the Cards about this card and how its usefulness has diminished over time as the game has developed. Personally I think it still can have a place in some decks at least, but in practice, unless I am playing one of those quests where I can use it to recycle objective allies, I’ve found myself quite a few times sitting looking at it in my hand and thinking “I like this card, but it seems like it’s never the right time to play it. Maybe it’s not as good as I thought.” The main issue I suppose is the cost. If it cost 1 instead of 2 I imagine I’d use it more. Alternatively maybe I should put it in decks with more resources to spare, but on the other hand there are still probably better things they could do with those resources in a lot of cases.
Anyway, the crux of the matter is that I do still sometimes put this in decks which have somewhat of a focus on encounter deck manipulation, but I don’t play it with great regularity. I love the card, but it’s gradually becoming more and more niche.
6. Henneth Annun Guard
Since his release I’ve felt that the Henneth Annun Guard is a card which should be good, but it seems every time I try to put him in a deck I end up cutting him for something else. His optional Doomed ability can be potentially useful, and it is after all only Doomed 1, but he suffers a lot of the time from the same problem as the more recent Raiment of War in that a lot of the time you’d rather have two different cards to give you more attack and defence respectively than one card which gives you a little of both for a higher cost. In principle if you’re alright for resources and want flexibility in combat then this guy is good and saves you some deckspace where you’d otherwise likely want 2 different allies to get that flexibility, but in practice so often it’s easier to just go for the 2 different allies version.
5. Brand son of Bain
Hills of Emyn Muil was one of the first few expansions my brother got when we started getting more into the game (not a choice, just what our local games shop had available), and while I was told that the general attitude towards Brand was somewhat negative, I couldn’t really understand it. On first reading his ability just sounded so good – I love being able to ready heroes. Also I really like the co-operative aspects of this game. I’m now more aware of some of the limitations to the ability, but I still feel similarly to back then that it’s a useful and fun ability which doesn’t get anything like the credit it deserves because the LotR LCG community at large has a somewhat unwarranted obsession with Legolas. Brand remains to this day one of my favourite heroes.
That being said, I still don’t actually put him in that many decks. Partly this is because I’m often going for some weird idea and what Brand brings to the table is relatively straightforward so it doesn’t necessarily fit my shenanigans; but I think the most significant reason is that co-operative aspect. For all that I really like that about him, the fact is his ability doesn’t directly benefit the deck he is in, so if designing a single deck in isolation to make it function alone, Brand has no means of contributing to that. He can be put in to help other players, but then you’re depending on them to have characters worth readying so it’s a bit unreliable unless decks are built in tandem as a fellowship. In that context Brand shines much more, but that’s more difficult to do.
4. Message from Elrond
This is a card which the community in general largely rejected on release, but which when you actually put the effort into using it can do some truly amazing things for a fellowship. That’s the thing though – it’s for a fellowship, not an individual deck. It has the same problems as Brand in that it’s a card really designed to help out other players or the group as a whole rather than just yourself, and as such is hard to justify including in a deck designed in isolation to be paired with just whatever other people happen to have. You don’t know if there’ll be good targets for moving around the table without knowing what other players’ decks are going to be. Potentially ridiculous card for fellowships, very difficult to put into a random deck.
My one use of Message from Elrond was of course for The Line Unbroken when I was playing The Ring Goes South to get me more copies of Hands Upon the Bow. It worked incredibly well there, which is why I now really like the card, but fitting it in is still a challenge.
3. Warden of Arnor
Obviously I like this card. I named my blog after it because I quite like it and feel it’s a bit under-rated (also because it sounds cool). But that doesn’t change the fact that from time to time someone will mention Warden of Arnor and I do a bit of a double take before I realise they’re talking about the card, not about me. The card sees so little play, and that does include that I don’t play it that much myself. I mean, since the release of Argalad in The Drowned Ruins I’ve been tinkering with a Scout deck (which hopefully I’ll get to a somewhat finished state before too long), and I was onto testing at least the third iteration of it before I realised I’d omitted Warden of Arnor. And that deck is kind of a perfect place for it, since a lot of the Scout trait in general is all about progress on locations.
The thing is, it is kind of a niche card. Until the most recent cycle, Idraen was really the only good target for it, and even then it’s only really going to be useful if you’re definitely focusing on location control as a significant part of your strategy, because just 1 progress per round, on a different location each time, isn’t going to be exploring anything by itself.
Another one which I used in The Line Unbroken and found that I really liked. I’d never thought that much of this card until I stuck it in one of my decks for Redhorn Gate, but it worked out quite nicely there, to the point where I wanted to try and make more use of it… which ended in me putting it in one deck and then mostly forgetting about it again. There are so many cards now, and it can’t be denied that if you want this card to work consistently you have to build around it a bit by having other cards which will give you spare damage that you can subsequently move (you can get that damage from attacks, but at some point you should be strong enough to one shot a majority of enemies, so you won’t have that spare damage (though it could be argued that Infighting is less useful at that point in the game as well).
A lot of people tend to complain about the Palantir, that it’s not so good and they want a new one to be released that’s better, and whenever this happens I tend to jump to the defence of the Palantir, protesting the ubiquity of threat reduction in the card pool nowadays and the power of scrying. And I stand by all those comments. The Palantir is an incredibly powerful card. Unfortunately my position on this point is somewhat weakened by the fact that I haven’t actually used the Palantir a whole lot myself. I’m working on rectifying this, of course I put the Palantir to great use in The Line Unbroken against Celebrimbor’s Secret, and I also have a couple of more generic Palantir decks I’ve been working on, though comparing to the TLU instance I feel like maybe the Palantir is another card which works better in a proper co-operative fellowship rather than just a single deck to be thrown in with whatever else people have handy.
Anyway, I love the risk/reward of the Palantir, and the very thematic trade-off of threat for knowledge (both in the form of scrying and card draw), and if you build your deck properly around it then it’s incredibly powerful. The problem is it can be also somewhat difficult to build a deck around. It’s certainly not a card you can just throw into a deck at random, you pretty much need to go “I want to build a Palantir deck” and then put in the effort to make it work. Thus the limited usage.
And there you have it, my top 10 cards which I never use. There are plenty more cards which could fit into this category, I shortlisted about 30 before cutting it down to this list. Between that and actually ranking the cards coming up with this top 10 was an interestingly difficult experience in places. I’d be interested in hearing other people’s comparable lists if they feel like making them!