The One Deck has been born! Seastan has built a new deck that he has successfully played every quest in the game with and the community is enjoying it! This deck clearly doesn’t need further testing after being played through every quest in the game (in nightmare mode when available) but I wanted to play through some quests with it and see if average but experienced player like myself could win quest at a similar ratio.
While I don’t think we need a “one deck to rule them all,” it is a remarkable and impressive feat to build a deck that can do it and honestly the time he spent testing the deck is just as impressive as the deck itself! That’s a lot of time preparing one deck! Seastan has my respect for his excellent understanding of the game, his contributions to the community and the massive amount of work he put into this deck in particular!
The deck description is very long but worth a read if you intend to play the deck. Each card is discussed and you’ll pick up plenty of good tips and tricks.
Passage Through Mirkwood
Win in 6 turns. Primary challenge in this quest and cycle is the direct damage. A bad combination of Dol Guldur Orcs and Necromancer’s Reach nearly killed Eowyn early and with no condition removal, Arwen ended up stuck in a spider web most of the quest.
Journey Along the Anduin
Success. Eowyn is key to taking out the troll early.
Escape from Dol Guldur
Loss. Not enough action advantage with only two heroes and only 2 or 3 resources per turn.
Into the Pit
Success. Almost lost turn when two Goblin Swordsmen engaged me with only one defender ready. I had to use Eowyn’s ability to ready her so that undefended attacked wouldn’t kill a hero.
The Seventh Level
Success. Almost got swarmed and lost some big allies, but managed to quest through before the Cave Troll caused me too much trouble. Those little goblins that continually spawn from shadow cards are a bit of a problem…
Flight from Moria
Success. This isn’t too hard solo and Firyal is great for dodging A Foe Beyond. The Nameless Fear got up to 9 threat/attack/defense, but by that point Vilya had done it’s work.
Peril in Pelargir
Failure. These Battle quests really force you to use Eowyn’s 10 attack on turn one to get through the opening active location. I was able to get through the first few turns but I got Local Trouble attached to Elrond and without enough attack power, I couldn’t kill and quest fast enough and I hit 50 threat on round 7.
Failure. I tried this one 4 times and I had one good game going and I could have probably won but I had to stop. The other 3 didn’t get far. Again, I had to use Eowyn’s 10 attack on the first turn to clear the Ithilien Road. I was able to get Vilya out on turn 1 or 2 in most cases, but just couldn’t keep up with the enemies coming out of the encounter deck and my threat was high enough to be dangerous. I usually lasted 2-3 turns before being overwhelmed. If things came out right, I’m sure I could beat it, but after 3 games going the same way, I moved on.
Siege of Cair Andros
Failure. This deck loses so much of its early game momentum when willpower becomes useless! I held on for a couple turns, but soon my threat level was high enough that massive enemies were engaging with no way to kill them. I tried it 4 times with games lasting 2-3 turns.
Fords of Isen
Lose, Lose, Lose, Success.
I knew the deck could handle it so I played several times. The Dunlandings kept stealing Vilya right off Elrond’s hand! If I got more than one enemy drawn in the first two turns it became very difficult to kill things off before threat reached a place where I was swarmed.
To Catch An Orc
Success. This deck is a great match for this quest. Lots of willpower, a little time to setup and a boss killer for when Mugash shows up. Everything worked great except I didn’t get a Stargazer until the last couple turns. In spite of triggering it blindly I always got good value out of Vilya and I never hit a useless card.
Success. Easy win in 4 turns. Fast willpower is great for this!
Intruders in Chetwood
Success. Fairly easy game. Gandalf kept my threat down and Eowyn was great for knocking out that first Orc War Party. 8 round game and plenty of allies out! Felt like a Vilya spam deck!
The Weather Hills
Success. Elrond’s healing boost is the way to go with this quest! I got Vilya and Unexpected Courage out on turn one and everything played just like it should!
Failure. I’m sure this deck could beat this quest with a couple attempts, but I just lost too many allies into my discard pile. Without Faramir on the table I couldn’t quest through to the end after I loaded Thaurdir up with damage and my deck ran out of cards on turn 11 which made me lose the game. While Jubayr is a great defender, he doesn’t enjoy defending against 6 attack unique enemies!
Voyage Across Belegaer
Success. The main challeng here was sailing successfully on the first few turns. I chose the ship that reduces your threat by 3 to avoid the ships as long as I could and Firyal was able to dodge some more nasty ships.
It wasn’t always easy, but I won!
Fate of Numenor
Success. This is an ideal quest for this deck since most of the cards are high cost and you have some good breathing room to set up. I was pushed pretty hard by enemies a couple turns in, but by turn 6 or so I had an overwhelming presence. I won on turn 11 with 68 resources of allies on the board.
Raid on the Grey Havens
Failure, Success. My first game I didn’t get enough willpower committed and revealed an enemy leaving me with high threat and 2 enemies engaged which would kill a hero.
The second game was ideal in that I got a Stargazer, Vilya and Firyal out on turn 1. With a nice sequence of encounter cards, I cruised to victory with zero damage ever hitting the Dream-chaser location. I killed both Na’asiyah and Sahir the turn they came out and won the game on turn 10. This is the most impressed I’ve been with the deck!
Escape from Umbar
Failure, Success. I drew surging Sentry and the Nowhere to Hide treachery that fetches another enemy on turn one so I had 3 enemies engaged on turn 1 so I restarted. The second game a sound victory with complete control of the quest.
Success! High willpower is the way to go here! 8 rounds and good luck filled the board with big allies.
The Long Arm of Mordor
Success. My threat got jacked in the first couple turns, but Gandalf brought it down again. It was a long game that dragged for a couple extra turns at the last stage because I couldn’t engage the Uruk Chieftan since there weren’t any other orcs in play! But that gave me the entertaining chance to get every single ally on the board!
This is what the deck looks like when playing at full power:
The beginning was very hard as it always is, but it ended in a massive victory.
I don’t have much to say here! These are excellent choices! Seastan has done an excellent write up on the deck that gives thoughtful comments on every card in the deck. Nothing I write will really add to what he’s written.
I find it entertaining that this deck doesn’t include Daeron’s Runes! I know Seastan loves that card and has pointed out that it makes any deck better even if it brings the deck over 50 cards.
I didn’t play every quest in the game so I can’t speak definitively to the essential nature of every card when considering it as a “One Deck to Rule Them All” context, but I will list some of the cards that were most and least valuable.
Gildor and Jubayr were some of the most valuable allies. With Elrond exhausting in the early game to get allies into play, you really need a decent defender up since both of the other heroes are questing and they’re squishy with only 3 hp each. The Stargazer is essential for getting value out of Vilya and without her you’re relying on Lady Luck and I had some good and some bad experiences with that! It sucks to exhaust Elrond on turn 1 to play a Test of Will for free… Gandalf was the other MVP, mostly for his effects. The threat drop was what I found most useful, but destroying an enemy saved a couple games as well.
Heed the Dream was excellent value. I often need it to fetch that Warden of Healing for some reason… The Galadhrim’s Greeting was always a welcome sight as well and since Arwen’s resources weren’t always in high demand and Elrond could help pay for it, it was never hard to play.
Cards I found less valuable than usual include Treebeard, Northern Tracker, Steward of Gondor and Master of the Forge and while Elfhelm didn’t do much in my 30 odd games, he would be essential for something like The Passing of the Grey Company or Fog on the Barrow Downs. Treebeard didn’t shine mostly because his slowness hurts so much if you exhaust Elrond to play him. Exhausting a big hero to play a big exhausted ally can make you very weak for a turn and I couldn’t manage it until the late game and I found it was best to just pay for him rather than Vilya him.
The Master of the Forge is Vilya insurance but once you have Vilya in play, he becomes less valuable. He’s great for shuffling your deck if you Stargazer sees a bunch of cards you don’t need, but with only 7 attachments in the entire deck, he’s not going to grab you many cards. He’s probably still worth the full 3 copies just to make sure you get Vilya, but don’t expect him to do his normal awesome job through the entire game. I know it’s usually considered high-handed heresy, but I would be tempted to reduce Master of the Forge to 2x to make room for another combat ally like another copy of Beorn or the Marksman or even a Defender of Cair Andros.
The Northern Tracker isn’t hugely helpful in solo games so it may be one of the weaker cards in the deck. I found him helpful in the Harad cycle quests where you have to do something nasty when locations become active but other than that, he was low priority to get into play. I think the Defender of Cair Andros might be a decent choice if you wanted to swap the Tracker out to up your combat prowess a little.
Steward of Gondor is a great card but it doesn’t pack the same punch in this deck as usual just because everything is “inflated” and it isn’t easy to play. If you draw it you might have a hard time playing it. It’s best to play it with Vilya, but that brings you tempo down a little since you’re forfeiting that fat ally for a turn. The only way to make use of it once it gets in your hand is to use Gildor’s ability to put it back on top of your deck to play it with Vilya. It’s a fun decision, but all that together makes this card worth less than usual (which isn’t a bad thing).
Elven Light feels a lot different in this deck than usual. This deck doesn’t necessary want that many cards in hand. You’re standard one card per turn is almost enough draw as you can’t pay for a lot more than that. Options are good, but don’t spend all your resources to draw cards that are too expensive to play from your hand! I didn’t use Elven Light nearly as much as I do in a “normal” Arwen deck.
It doesn’t really fit into the general idea of the deck but I love Raiment of War on Jubayr and it would make him a much better defender for this deck. Any boss enemy over 5 attack has to be defended by Elrond (potentially dangerous), a powered up Eagle (hard to pull off), Treebeard or Beorn. Now that I list them all that seems fine… You can also chump with a Master of the Forge who has already fulfilled his ring-fetching purpose. But I’m addicted to Raiment of War so I’m leaving this paragraph in! I would strongly consider including a single copy but it would be a real bummer to reveal it blindly with Vilya with no Warriors in play. It’s a great card on Beorn as well (as long as you don’t plan on triggering his rage anytime soon). He turns into a 1/4/4/8 ally which is crazy!!
This is an excellent deck but it’s not invincible. While it may be possible to beat every quest in the game with this deck, don’t expect it to crush every game every time. That’s just not how this game works (in my opinion and experience). I play this game a lot and I’m not bad at it, but quests can still beat me down even while playing the best of decks! I lost plenty playing with this deck. Some of that is skill, some of it is a learning curve with the card combos in this deck, and some of it is the delightfully unpredictable nature of the game itself. The first game I played with this deck I lost a hero on turn 2 in Passage Through Mirkwood! Since this is a Vilya deck, your play experience will be really tough if by some bad luck you don’t get Vilya for the first 5 turns. It’s not likely with the card that are included to fetch it, but anything is possible with a deck of cards. I had a game where it didn’t show up for too long and with all the allies costing a good bit, you can’t really play much for the first few turns. It will be the anomaly, but sometimes you will crash and burn and you will feel cheated by your deck! GIVE ME MY RING!
So while this deck is awesome, don’t be disappointed if you put this deck together and sit down to a quest and lose. It will happen. And that doesn’t mean the deck isn’t amazing. It’s an excellent deck that has the potential to take on all the quests, but it’s not a magic deck that will never lose. That’s just not how the game works and that’s not a bad thing. I played 21 different quests on standard mode with this deck and while it stomped some quests, and beat most of them, there were certainly some quest that will always be very difficult for this deck and that I couldn’t beat with several attempts.
This deck is a unique and new in that it has completed every quest in the game, but it’s basic core isn’t new. It’s a Vilya deck and that deck style has been around for a good while. Over the years we’ve got more big allies and more good options for increasing the reliability of a combo deck. The Harad allies, Heed the Dream and Gather Information all make this style of deck much more consistent. Tactics Éowyn is also a huge boost for this kind of deck since she comes in with low threat, high willpower and game saving ability that can compensate for slow combat setup.
Flexibility is clearly a huge strength for a player deck in this game and that’s largely what this deck offers. It gives you plenty of resources smoothing, resource/card draw balance, a one time “enemy nuke” to get you out of a tight spot and strong control of which allies you will draw/play (Stargazer).
Combine that flexibility with big numbers and free cards and you have a very strong deck!
I found quests that demanded Battle/Siege questing and quests that accelerated your threat gain to be the most difficult for the deck but that’s kind of what I expected. Since the deck is designed to be “balanced” and have solutions for every problem quests can present, its natural for it to be weaker against the game elements that aren’t as common or widespread.
I’m just as impressed with the quantity of work and the obvious play skill that went into testing this deck as I am with the careful deck construction itself!
The issue Arwen’s unique status in The Redhorn Gate and Road to Rivendell has come up but I honestly don’t care if that rule is stretched for this kind of project. Barwen is real. Get over it.
Huge thanks to Seastan for working so hard to complete such a monumental task! His deckbuilding is truly remarkable and his contributions to the community are immense and much appreciated!
I find it fitting that the 3 heroes in the One Deck to Rule Them All were all illustrated by the wonderful Magali Villeneuve (sorry I couldn’t find the right Elrond art…).