Here we have the top ten most powerful cards the Decipher ever made for LotR:TCG. To tell the truth, this was a hard list to make (much less rank). At first I thought I would have trouble coming up with 10 cards, until pulling up old banned lists and examining my folders reminded me of just how many cards spiraled out of control through the sets. Every card on here was either banned or later errata’d in order to keep them from completely warping the gaming field.
10. Ulaire Nelya – 3rd of the 9 riders
One of the few cards not banned or ‘fixed’ on this list, the power of Ulaire Nelya is hard to express without experiencing. Originally in the game, everyone had a special deck of 9 site cards, representing locations throughout middle earth. These cards were actually numbered 1-9 which gave people some aid in strategizing their future moves. While one site may be particularly deadly for your deck, you knew when you’d face it in the game (say site 4 or 6 or 7… etc) and could prepare for that eventuality. Once you made it past that site and survived, things would usually be a bit easier for you. With the Shadows set, LotR:TCG left what became known as the “movie blocks” and reinvented many aspects of the game. Probably the biggest was that sites no longer had a fix number. Within a few restraints, you could now stock ANY 9 sites in your side deck and bring them out in any order. Although it put a strain on the feel of the game, it did bring in new strategies and new problems. The above card was a sort of reprint of the first and original Ulaire Nelya. However, whereas the previous edition could only use his power once, this one could use his ability as long as he had health. This got out of control as sites were an indestructible card type, they could never be destroyed. Thanks to him, Courtyard Parapet was banned as people could use it again and again to corrupt the ring-bearer just with 1 site. He didn’t even have any spot requirements, allowing anyone – Orc, Uruk-hai, Nazgul, etc – to use their favorite and most beneficial site over and over again. Decipher tried inventing ways to smooth this out, locking sites into their position, punishing your opponent if he changed sites, etc but it never quite lessened Nelya’s sting.
9. Savagery to Match Their Numbers
This card wasn’t so bad and the game survived for many blocks before this card was finally banned & restricted. Still, there were several parts on it that hinted at an eventual problem. In the game, the most companions anyone could have (alive or dead) was 9. The most cards you usually had in hand, was 8. Thus, on average, a 9 companion fellowship would be unbeatable as even with every card in your hand being a minion, you’d never get the chance to fight the ring-bearer. To control this, the game released many cards which were mediocre or poor at best, but which heavily punished or became much more effective if your opponent had a certain number of companions out. The usual threshold number for this was 6, having 5 or less companions kept you safe (and victory still within reach of the shadow player). This card was one of the few exceptions, punishing a player if they had out FIVE companions, which almost everyone did as 4 or less were difficult to win with. This card was also the single best strength pump for Uruk-hai, but it was also a rare, pushing its value high such that if you wanted to play those minions, you almost had to get this card to stand a chance. Combine that with the fact that it was race based (allowing you to pump up even Sauron-affiliated Uruk-hai) and you start seeing why Decipher eventually banned this card.
8. We Must Go Warily
What had to be an almost comical typo, WMGW was an event grossly miscost and was a common! For the cost of 1 exertion, you made the most important card of your opponent’s shadow side cost +2 and in this game, 2 less was often a great difference between victory and defeat. Save up four of these and suddenly, even the weakest goblin costs +8 – as much as the Witch King! With this card, especially multiples, you could ensure that if your opponent got out any minions to try and kill you, they would be weak, pathetic ones. It wasn’t long before Decipher quickly errata the card by switching the numbers, making it exert twice to increase cost by +1.
7. Ulaire Nertea – Messenger of Dol Guldur
For pretty much the same reason as 9 & 10. The original Nertea not only punished you for going over 4 companions, but he had no restrictions on his ability, meaning that just about anyone was dragging him into their decks just to recycle their best minions. While the image of a Nazgul leading the goblins of Moria might seem funny, this became another “must have” card (thankfully it was only uncommon) and his universal-ness led to his move to the penalty box.
6. Sam – Son of Hamfast
When Sam hit the table, he could immediately remove 3 burdens. If you kept him alive and healed him (easy considering that was a major theme of hobbits) your opponent had no hope of ever corrupting the ring-bearer. This Sam was just a little too good and after shutting out an entire strategy for several blocks, he was finally sent to tend greener pastures.
5. Saruman – Keeper of Isengard
The initial shadow minions were fairly tightly themed. Moria (the goblins) didn’t care about your fellowship, they just ran over it until there were enough to overwhelm the ring-bearer. Sauron (Orcs) wore you down during the long journey through Middle-earth. Isengard (Uruk-hai) and the Nazgul tended to just beat the fellowship senseless. The principle minions of both factions had a way of putting 2 wounds on the total fellowship. The nazgul were fierce (fighting twice) while the Uruk-hai were damage +1, adding a wound to the usual 1 you received from a loss. The Saruman above, while being near indestructible (archery couldn’t hurt him and he would never fight in a skirmish) made your Uruk-hai likewise on top of already making each Uruk-hai fierce. With one card, every one of those minions were transformed into being able to deal 4 wounds to the total fellowship. With him around, Uruk-hai became the bad guys to play and it took his banning to let other shadow sides some screen time.
4. Elrond – Lord of Rivendell
Although also never outright banned, Agent Smith makes the list for being one of the first cadre of cards to get an entire RULE invented to reign them in. Although they looked a lot like companions, Allies didn’t function like them except that they too could be healed by discarding a copy. Thus, in the early days 4 copies of Elrond were almost always needed for any deck as you could drop him, draw 4 cards, and if any of those was another Elrond, discard it to heal him and draw more. He then healed himself and others, allowing you to net an additional card every turn. Because of the sheer insanity of his ability, Decipher implemented the “rule of 4”, stating that you could only get 4 cards into your hand MAX during the Fellowship phase. The dwarves never really recovered.
This might be confusing for some without background knowledge of the game. At first glance, it seems strange that Sting was banned while it’s counterpart, Glamdring, was not. On paper Glamdring seems much better, it makes Gandalf damage +1 and doesn’t have a limit to how much twilight it can remove. Well… the problem was not so much with the weapons, but with the bearers. With Glamdring, you had to have Gandalf out on the table. While you could start with him, there was always a chance he might be missing, making Glamdring itself dead weight in your hand. However, until set 9, Frodo was the only ring-bearer you could play with. Thus, you would ALWAYS be able to play Sting, if you didn’t have Frodo, the game was over (unless you passed the ring to Sam, but the occurrence of that was rare). Thus, if you had Sting, you played it, it helped keep your ring-bearer alive. Even if your opponent didn’t play Orcs, you could still exert Frodo to get a scan of their hand. It’s almost impossible to describe how good this card is, even much later editions of Sting never quite reached the greatness of this one.
2. Mordor Fiend
Ah Mordor Fiend… how this card even made it past the testing process became a hotly debated topic on the message boards there for awhile. At first glance, he seems like just a minion that’s supposed to play for free. What spiraled so rapidly out of control was his ability to generate twilight infinitely, as long as you didn’t play another minion. The worst was combining him with the Dark Lord’s Summons or the Underdeeps of Moria. With this minion and either of those cards, you could go through your entire deck and pull out every minion. Every – minion. And that’s just the obvious combos. Thankfully this card was banned pretty quickly before too many infinite loops resulted.
1. Galadriel – Lady Redeemed
If you weren’t there… you don’t know. You didn’t see the horror, the insanity this lady drove men too.
See, the LotR:TCG had a rather elegant hand mechanic. Toward the end of a turn, you could ‘reconcile’. This meant that you could discard 1 card from hand if you so choose and then draw cards until you had 8 total in your hand. This led to players naturally gravitating toward “permanents” in their decks. While events were nice, they were often conditional and frequently you could get stuck being unable to dig into your deck because you can’t get cards out of your hand fast enough. Thus, players naturally stocked up on possessions, conditions, companions, etc unloading them as soon as they could to draw more when they were able. Galadriel was a part of the effort to making the events card type more appealing to players… a horrible, horrible part. She started in your fellowship for free… pretty nice. She gave you an alternate use for events… great idea, nearly everyone should have gotten something like this. She hosed both of the shadow player’s permanent types… bad, very bad. Galadriel was a perfect instrument of annihilation. She not only allowed you to clean out your hand, but she cleared the opponent’s side of the board as well, locking them down from ever getting any kind of synergy set up. Ninja Gollum decks were impossible until she was removed. You had 1 turn with any possession or conditions you might need then they were gone. This forced shadow players to not only stock more events as well (which were often even harder to unload than those of Free Peoples) but to also hold onto important conditions etc in order to build up a perfect turn, leading to hand glut, leading to slowing them down, leading to casual victory. The fact that she made Cirdan even stronger with each use only fueled the great Elf war engine. For months, you either had to stock Galadriel or plan out a way to deal with her for every damn game. What probably made it even worse was how long it took Decipher to ban her despite the numerous cries of the community. Almost any card with “Galadriel” in the title tended toward brokenness, but none still give me flashbacks and night shivers like Lady Redeemed.