Oct 17, 2016

LotR LCG: Deckbuilding thoughts and probabilities, and the New Amazons

Alone Éowyn stood before the doors of the house at the stair's head; the sword was set upright before her, and her hands were laid upon the hilt. She was clad now in mail and shone like silver in the sun.
- The Lord of the Rings, book III, chapter VI

John Howe: Eowyn, no date given


I want to make a new deck. How many cards should it have in it?

First, the most basic probability: the odds of drawing a single card from a deck of 50 are 1/50: 2%. The bigger the deck, the lower the probability of any single card showing up. In a 51-card deck, the odds of drawing a single card are 1.96%; 52 cards, 1.92%, and so on. Here's a graph (click to zoom):

By the time the deck reaches 67 cards, the probability of drawing any single card has dropped from 2% to below 1.5%. Most Lord of the Rings decks will tend to have very few singletons, though; two or three copies of a card are more usual. Here are the probabilities for drawing a single card, one of two copies or one of three copies:

These sharply declining curves are why most people, myself included, have tended to prefer decks as close to 50 cards in size as possible. However, the optics are a little bit misleading here. At 50 cards, the probability of drawing a singleton is 2%, one of two copies 4%, and one of three 6%. At 60 cards, those probabilities have dropped to 1.67%, 3.33% and 5% respectively. That's actually not a very large difference in absolute terms!

Another set of probabilities to look at is the opening hand. At the start of the game, we draw six cards, and have the option of a mulligan, where the cards we drew are reshuffled into the deck, and a new hand is drawn. If you have three copies of a card in a deck of 50, and are willing to mulligan your hand if you don't get at least one on the first go, the odds of finding that card are actually pretty good: 54.34%, to be exact. For example, with my Silvan deck, I liked seeing a copy of None Return in my opening hand to get Rossiel her defense bonus. If I was willing to mulligan if I didn't see one, I'd end up with at least one None Return in my opening hand more than every second game. Here's how those odds decline as the deck gets bigger:

The probability only drops below 50% when the deck exceeds 56 cards; in that exact case, the probability of starting with at least one None Return is 50.01%. What about cards that you only have two copies of? We own two core sets, meaning we've got exactly two copies of Unexpected Courage. Here are the odds of getting Unexpected Courage in your starting hand, mulligan included:

In a 50-card deck, you have a 40.36% chance of getting at least one Unexpected Courage in your hand, provided you're willing to mulligan for it; if not, it's a 22% shot. At 60 cards, these percentages are 34.64% and 19.15% respectively. Again, not a massive difference in absolute terms.

To sum up, here's some key statistics for a 50-card and a 56-card deck.

Deck size:50 cards56 cards
Single card probability2%1.79%
At least one of three copies, opening hand32.43%29.29%
At least one of three copies, mulligan inc.54.34%50.01%
At least one of two copies, opening hand22.78%20.45%
At least one of two copies, mulligan inc.40.36%34.64%

To some extent, this is a prize example of creeping normalcy: 51 cards isn't that different from 50 cards, 52 isn't that different from 51, and so on until 56, 66 or 666. But my point is that in terms of actual numbers, whether your deck has 50 or 56 cards in it doesn't actually make that much of a difference: certainly not enough that decks dogmatically must be 50 or maybe at most 52 cards. Instead, I'd suggest there are two main determinants for how large a deck should be. First, are there specific cards that are absolutely necessary for the deck to function? If so, the deck needs to be leaner to make sure you can find those crucial cards. Second, how much card draw is there? If you can confidently draw through most of your deck during an average game, finding specific cards is a whole lot easier. I'd venture to suggest that these two should combine to form some kind of "deck index" that tells you whether the deck should be on the large or small side. For decks with average or less card draw that don't depend on some particular card or combination of cards to work, I'm inclined to say that the "tournament minimum" of 50 can safely be exceeded.


Now to get to building my actual deck. Back when I put together my very first deck, the theme I chose was Amazons: I used all three female heroes from the core set to create a questing-focused Spirit/Lore deck. Even though I designed the deck to work together with my partner's Tactics deck,I did also manage some solo success, perhaps in my mind most memorably against some trolls.

When I wanted to try something different, I built my Lore Silvan deck with Haldir, Mirlonde and Rossiel. I never really played this solo, but together with Team Boromir and my hobbit deck, we were pretty succesful, and Rossiel won a place in my heart as one of my favorite heroes.

Now it's time to move on again. Our experiences with the Ring-maker cycle highlighted the one major drawback of our Silvans-Boromir combo: early questing. As much as I'd enjoyed my Silvan deck, this and the then-upcoming Dream-chaser adventure packs encouraged me to return to a Spirit-Lore setup and focus on questing. In terms of deck abilities, what we need is questing and location control, with a side of healing and treachery cancellation. Luckily, there was one hero who was perfect for providing early questing power and returning me to my Amazon theme: Éowyn. With her long-awaited Tactics incarnation on the horizon, if I wanted to try her in a Spirit questing deck, the time was now.

Like I said, I love Rossiel, and the added value her victory display shenanigans provide to Keen as Lances, especially with several players using it, is huge. She fits perfectly into a Spirit deck as she can make up for Spirit's weakness on defence, and since none of us are crass enough to use Snorefindel, she's a perfect target for Light of Valinor to get the most out of her ability.

The choice of a third hero was a little bit more complicated. I considered Arwen, but with Spirit's weak defense, I tend to prefer her ally version. I'm a big fan of Eleanor, but she can't help us with questing. We could also do with some attack strength, which leads my thoughts to Idraen. I tried Idraen out in a Spirit deck I built, but still haven't been able to make my mind up about her: she has great stats and a potentially useful readying ability, but that comes with a very high starting threat. I suppose now would be a good time to find out if it's worth it.


For the deck proper, I was looking for something of a halfway house between my original Amazon deck and my Silvans: knowing that I'd mostly be playing with my partner's Tactics deck, I could pretty much leave combat to them and focus on questing. With the cardpool as large as it is these days, even with such a narrowly defined specialization, picking a deck isn't all that easy. To take an example: Rossiel is a very handy defender, especially with A Burning Brand attached, but with only three hit points, she's a bit fragile. During our Silvan-Boromir co-op days, it was expedient to play Elf-friend on Boromir so my Silvan Trackers could heal him. Because sentinel was also wonderfully handy on him, my partner would include Elven Mail for him as well. If a second copy showed up, or Elf-friend had failed to make an appearance, Rossiel really benefited from the +2 hit points, and being able to provide a risk-free defense is nothing to sneer at.

If I can confidently expect that my partner will be playing an attachment on one of my heroes and I'm playing Spirit, surely this is a perfect opportunity for Renewed Friendship? A zero-cost card, after all!

In a situation like this, Renewed Friendship looks great: any Tactics deck can use card draw and threat reduction. The problem isn't that it's a bad card; the problem is that I can easily name ten or more events that are more useful. Renewed Friendship may not cost any resources, but it takes up space in my deck, making it that much less likely that I'll see those more useful cards when I need them. Unfortunately, the card pool is already big enough that this is getting to be the paramount consideration. It's also why I still haven't been able to work out if including Curious Brandybuck in a deck is worth it!


In this case, the events chose themselves: Rossiel's victory display cards and Keen as Lances, and A Test of Will for treachery cancellation. The Lore attachments are also basically carried over from my Silvan deck, and Snowmane and Herugrim seem positively necessary in a deck that otherwise has no attacking power whatsoever, and hell, I wanna try them. For a little more card draw, I stole the Ancient Mathoms from the Rohan deck.

The allies are where the location control comes in, because no way am I not including the ayatollah of location controllah and Greyflood Wanderer. The Warden of Healing is still the best at what he does, to the extent that I might have to consider another copy of The Long Dark so my Amazons can work together with the hobbit deck. Finally, Galadriel's Handmaidens and West Road Travellers provide questing, and some Wandering Ents round out the deck.

Do I want to include Gandalf? For my Silvan deck, I dropped the seemingly mandatory core Gandalfs, because I never had enough resources to get him in play. This deck also has no resource acceleration at all, so I'll be looking at the same problem. With Rossiel around, Keen as Lances pretty much becomes a lower-cost Gandalf substitute. For now, I think I'll do without.

53 cards; 28 Spirit, 22 Lore, 3 neutral; 19 allies, 17 attachments, 15 events, 2 side quests. Starting threat 28.

Éowyn (Core)
Idraen (TTT)
Rossiel (EfMG)

Allies: 19 (13/6)
Northern Tracker x2
Greyflood Wanderer (TTT) x3
Arwen Undómiel (TWitW) x2
Galadriel's Handmaiden (CS) x3
West Road Traveler (RtM) x3
Warden of Healing (TLD) x3
Wandering Ent (CS) x3

Attachments: 17 (11/6)
Herugrim (TToS) x2
Unexpected Courage x2
Ancient Mathom (AJtR) x3
Light of Valinor (FoS) x2
Snowmane (TLoS) x2
A Burning Brand (CatC) x2
Asfaloth (FoS) x2
Cloak of Lórien (CS) x2

Events: 15 (3/9/3)
A Test of Will x3
Leave No Trace (EfMG) x3
None Return (AtE) x3
Daeron's Runes (FoS) x3
Keen as Lances (EfMG) x3

Side quests:
Double Back (EfMG)
Scout Ahead (TWoE)


Like I said, this deck has no attacking power whatsoever, so I'm not really expecting it to be able to handle itself solo. This was confirmed by an attempt at Passage through Mirkwood, where we just couldn't for the life of us destroy Ungoliant's Spawn. The proper use of this deck is in co-operation with my partner's Team Boromir: they fight, I quest. Together, we breezed through Passage, and then tackled the high seas. In Voyage Across Belegaer, we did pretty well until we strayed off course and were wrecked, but when we took on the then-brand-new Flight of the Stormcaller, we beat it on our first try! The Tactics deck routed the corsair boarders and sank their ships, while my Amazons sailed and quested. Despite losing several allies to Man Overboard!, we were finally able to catch the Stormcaller on the very last quest stage.

To demonstrate that my focus on questing was succesful, a three-handed run at Trouble in Tharbad with the Leadership/Lore deck was a breeze, Faramir boosting my willpower to unreasonable levels. Especially three-handed, when the encounter deck isn't overflowing with enemies, I've been able to focus on questing; when there have been more enemies, Idraen's action advantage has been useful. Éowyn and her willpower-boosting ability is a gift, and outfitting Rossiel with a Cloak of Lórien, Burning Brand and Arwen's bonus makes for a tremendous defender, and I've often ended up playing Unexpected Courage on her to defend multiple enemies. In Temple of the Deceived, with a little help from Arwen and my partner's Honour Guard, she defended both an Island Watcher and its pile of shadow cards as well as the Temple Guardian without so much as a scratch.

In general, the division of labor between our decks has worked excellently, and for whatever reason I really like a questing-oriented deck. Card draw is still a bit of an issue, and I've very rarely managed to get both Snowmane and Herugrim on Éowyn. There also aren't anything like as many resources to go around as I'd like, but I'm not playing Leadership so I guess I just have to live with it.


So far, then, I think my return to Spirit and a focus on questing has been succesful. Later, we're hoping we get to pay a visit to the desert...

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