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The new Realms of The Elf Lords expansion promises to change the way Lord of The Rings TCG is played. Now I know it's kind of strange to start this little ditty with a statement like that, considering the link you just clicked on and the title you see up there at the top of your screen. But maybe not. I mean, when's a better time to reflect on the overall effect a card game expansion has had than when its follow-up has just hit retail shelves worldwide - especially an expansion as hard-hitting as Realms?
I believe Realms will have a profound effect on the game. And now that the
dust has settled on Mines of Moria, we can take a look at what effect IT had. MOM promised to expand the possibilities of Dwarf culture, Gandalf culture, Moria culture, and Shire culture. It introduced Twilight Nazgul. So - was there a sudden increase in Dwarf decks, Gandalf decks, Hobbit decks, Moria decks and Nazgul decks? Well, actually, no. At least not in most competitive arenas. The number of decks that included such strategies remained about the same.
Sure, Dwarves got a much-needed boost with the addition of decent and
necessary companions like Gloin and Fror. But most of the Dwarf culture cards impressed players as being nothing more than variations on previous cards - cards which focused on deck searching and event-heavy combat boosts. That's something most players have resisted, chiefly because space in a competitive deck is limited. Accidently disarding a needed card as an activation cost for some condition, or clutching a handful of combat modifiers just doesn't appeal to most savvy players.
From the get-go, Gandalf has always been a component in a lot of successful decks, with his range of useful capabilities - from combat enhancers to condition removal. From the get-go, Nazgul have been a reasonably good Shadow option. They're big. They're Fierce. They're native at site 3. And from the get-go, the Shire's been a good support strategy - and something you all but have to sprinkle into your deck, considering that Frodo's the Ringbearer.
MOM served to deepen these cultures' effectiveness and range of possibility. But it didn't change HOW each of these cultures, and the overall game, were played. It did, however, change one thing in everybody's approach to the game, and that change came in Moria culture:
With the Mines of Moria set, everyone prepared for the STRONG possibility of meeting the Balrog at site 5. How they did it varied: a couple of Hobbit Stealths held in hand, Boromir or Aragorn with Armor, a sacrificial Pippin or Thrarin in tow. Everybody knew the Balrog was coming, and everybody got ready for it. Other than that, MOM made no huge impression on the game.
As I finish up, though, I have to pose this counter-question to what I've just said: why should it have had a profound effect? And the answer to that is: it DIDN'T have to. Considering that MOM expanded the card pool from 365 cards to 487 and gave us such good options as 'Freebie Frodo', the new Gandalf, Gandalf's Staff, Flaming Brand, the new Bilbo, and Hollin - it did what it was supposed to do, and that was to deepen existing strategies, which in turn, deepened the playability of the game. It remains for Realms and future expansions to actually add new, viable strategies to the game.
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