Greetings fellow Lord of the Rings TCG gaming fans!
Welcome to the Third and Final installment of my intensive study of the culture ISENGARD.
As I have mentioned earlier in my previous articles WINDS OF CHANGE and FUEL ON THE FIRE: Many playing communities believe that the Realms of the Elf-Lords expansion has made Isengard “too powerful, broken and unbeatable”. Armed with two versions of Saruman, a dangerously versatile army of Uruk-Hai and a unique subculture of Orcs, there is no doubt that Isengard is definitely the most powerful and diverse culture in the game. But is it unbeatable?
No. Isengard is not unbeatable – no culture is. However, Isengard is the only Shadow culture that truly maintains the “perception” of invulnerability. This perception is further supported by incredibly diverse and unique deck designs and playing strategies; none of which are infallable. Anticipating the strategic capabilities of the Isengard culture is the key to penetrating this perception. In other words, when you playtest a certain deck strategy, you become familiar with its capabilities and limitations; its strengths and its weaknesses. Apply this philosohpy to Isengard, and you will learn that while it is the most powerful of the Shadow cultures, it is neither broken or unbeatable. Let us explore these issues even further in this final article I have appropriately called:
THE DECONSTRUCTION OF ISENGARD
Originally, I was going to entitle this article “The Melting Pot of Isengard” because Isengard is, for all intents and purposes: an alliance of Shadow forces, rich with a multitude of creatures and resources. Strong as a homogenous culture, Isengard becomes exponentially stronger when infused with the resources drawn from the rest of the Shadow forces.
Isengard strategies are most successful when they are NOT solely dependant upon the resources of their own culture. However, Isengard has several very unique characteristics, which makes it the strongest cultural choice upon which to build a sound and powerful strategic foundation.
1. DAMAGE +1: Most Uruk-Hai are damage +1, which gives them very strong stopping power even without the support of strength modifiers.
2. VERSATILITY: Isengard has the best range of effective special cards in the game ranging from strength enhancement to possession destruction.
3. ISENGARD ORCS: A class of minions with a range of native effects such as canceling special archery ability to exhausting the Fellowship’s companions.
However powerful these characteristics may seem, Isengard suffers from several basic strategic weaknesses that can only be reinforced by elements from the remaining Shadow cultures. This is when the Isengard melting pot fully realized.
1. SAURON: Tower Assassin – Isengard does not have the native capability to remove allied support. Albert Dreary (who can exert to remove Isengard and Moria conditions), Orophin (special directed archery against Uruk-Hai) and Rumil (special directed archery against Orcs) are strong examples of such allies. The Tower Assassin, with his 11 strength and 3 vitality, can eliminate such allied support which makes him a perfect choice when used in concert with the Uruk Ravager.
2. NAZGUL: Ulaire Enquea – During the maneuver phase, spot 6 companions (or 5 burdens) and exert this minion to wound any companion except the ring-bearer. Ulaire Enquea is a strong addition to any shadow strategy. Coupled with Isengard’s newly enhanced abilities to inflict both heavy damage (with the Orcs) and burdens (Worry, Can You Protect Me From Yourself); sooner or later, members of the Fellowship will fall to the dark power of this devastating black rider.
3. MORIA: Goblin Runner – When you play this minion, you may add 2 to the twilight pool. Perfect for any situation where additional twilight, and an extra attacking minion, is necessary. Twilight depravation is a key strategy against Isengard so if it is possible, make sure to include the Goblin Runner (several if possible) to your deck.
Of course there are various other excellent candidates that you can also stir into the Isengard “melting pot”. Look through your collections and discover which minions can best enhance your Isengard strategy. Choosing the right support will transform your deck dramatically and will give you a better understanding of how this culture truly works.
Now you are probably asking yourself, “If these combinations make Isengard even stronger, how can it possibly be defeated?” As I mentioned earlier, understanding Isengard will give you greater insight into its strengths – and its weaknesses. After playtesting several different Isengard strategies, you will realize that it is vulnerable to a great many things. Here are a few key examples, which routinely plague Isengard strategies:
1. ARCHERY: First and foremost, Uruk-Hai and Orcs are extremely vulnerable to archery fire. Uruk-Hai support cards are heavily exertion based, as are the special abilities of Isengard Orcs. Archery fire can either eliminate an Isengard minion (or minions) outright, or strip it of its ability to execute a potentially dangerous secondary action. Aside from Spies of Saruman, there is no other Isengard resource that can cancel the archery phase. And with the addition of Gondor Bowmen to compliment Legolas, Elven Bows, The Splendor of Their Banners, Double Shot and Aragorn’s Bow – Isengard minions can be easily kept at bay or eliminated, increasing the potential for that critical second site move.
2. ALLIES: As mentioned previously, the right allies can cripple Isengard decks. Without the Tower Assassin, Isengard has no counter to the versatile support which Fellowship Allies – especially Elven allies – can provide.
3. TWILIGHT DENIAL: As with all minions, managing the twilight pool is the key to the success of your game. However, the Isengard Orc class is extremely vulnerable to the game text of both Sting and Glamdring and can severely hurt your chances of generating an attack force of significant stopping power.
4. DIRECT DAMAGE: Properly executed, there are several key combinations that can severely reduce the attacking numbers of both Uruk-Hai and Orc based decks. For example, the direct damage inflicted by Orc-Bane (used in concert with Sting and Glamdring) is deadly to both classes of minions. Complimented by archery fire, Orc-Bane has the potential to eliminate an Isengard attack force even before the Skirmish phase begins.
5. ARMOR: Armor is perhaps the single greatest and most effective possession against the Uruk-Hai. It is effective not only against their Damage +1 ability, but it also negates the power of damage modifiers like Lurtz’s Battle Cry.
As you can see, there are many different ways that you can combat the seemingly “unstoppable” power of Isengard. The examples provided above are only a glimpse of various strategies, which can soundly defeat this seemingly “broken and unbeatable” enemy. The KEY to successfully defeating Isengard is the ability to anticipate your opponent’s strategies. And the only way to do that is to study Isengard and learn its strengths, weaknesses, timing and countermeasures.
So, after reading this in-depth study of Isengard, do you still believe that it is unbeatable? Do you still think the overall culture is broken? Remember, every player has a weakness, every strategy has a weakness and every enemy has a weakness. The best part about playing this game is trying to discover those weakness is and exploit them!
Thanks for being a great audience. You’ve heard all my thoughts on this subject – now I would like to hear yours.
Feedback is always more than welcome, so drop me a line here and let me know if this information was helpful to you – or if you have your own ideas on this subject.
Stay Tuned for my next cultural study: GONDOR!