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by Cynthia Hart
Sauron. His name carries such evil that he is usually referred to as “the Dark Power” or “the Dark Lord.” His is the eye in the Dark Tower that does not sleep. His is the hand that reaches across all lands to bring sorrow and misery to all that are good and kind.
Yet for all this power, Sauron is almost never seen. He works behind the scenes; he manipulates others, gathers information from his many spies, and uses his endless supply of Orcs to enforce his will. Accordingly, the Sauron culture has many and varied ways to stop the Fellowship in their journey; not only Orcs to carry the fight to the Fellowship, but spies and behind the scenes manipulation, represented by conditions and events, to make their journey harder even when few minions appear.
Nor is his power over the Ring forgotten. The Sauron culture has several different ways to add burdens and take advantage of them: Thin and Stretched, Desperate Defense of the Ring, Gleaming in the Snow, Enduring Evil . . . So great is the Fellowship's fear of what Sauron can achieve through the Ring that they will do anything necessary to prevent it from falling back into Sauron's control, yet at the same time they are vulnerable to its effects.
As the Fellowship leaves Rivendell, Elrond (from the book) has some final words for them: “You should fear the many eyes of the servants of Sauron. I do not doubt that news of the discomfiture of the Riders has already reached him, and he will be filled with wrath. Soon now his spies on foot and wing will be abroad in the northern lands. Even of the sky above you must beware as you go on your way.” This concern is aptly illustrated in the well known Under the Watching Eye/Orc Bowmen decks that wear away at the Fellowship with wounds and exertions as they work their way down the site path.
But Sauron did not confine himself solely to the Fellowship. He also attacked their allies, doing his best to block those who would support any effort to thwart his plans. The Sauron cultures boasts a number of ally-targeting cards, from minions like the Tower Assassin, to cards that add twilight like Our List of Allies Grow Thin. In fact, it's so good at targeting allies that its cards are often splashed into decks of other cultures.
The fact that Sauron controls the Ringwraiths is not forgotten and the Sauron culture often works well combined with Ringwraith cards. Both cultures add burdens, though Sauron has more and varied ways to go about it, and both make good use of them when added. There even work directly together, with the Sauron culture card Morgul Skirmisher allowing you to retrieve Ringwraith cards from the discard pile, representing Sauron's ability to retrieve the Ringwraiths after they are washed away by the flood at the Ford of Bruinen.
One of the more unusual ways that the game represents Sauron's ability to undermine the efforts of the Free People fighting against him is in card discarding. Just as Sauron distracts and weakens those who stand against him through battle or via the influence of the Ring, so does the Sauron culture provide ways of discarding cards to weaken your opponent's deck through winning battles (Band of the Eye, Tower Lieutenant), adding burdens (Desperate Measures) or even simply struggling along the path (Tower of Barad-dur).
Sauron does not limit himself to manipulation and indirect weakening of the various Free Peoples cultures, however - he also has an army of Orcs at his command. This army originates from Mordor, far from where the Fellowship begins its journey, and so the Sauron culture Orcs are roaming until site 6, currently the highest home site in the game. This distance is offset by their ability to track the Fellowship and, via Sauron's spies, know where they are and what they are doing. Orcs that are “Trackers” lower the site costs or even lower the home site number to reduce roaming costs and demonstrate their ability to follow the Fellowship throughout its journey.
These Orcs have such a great hatred of all whom oppose them that they can wound companions without even fighting, via cards such as Hate and Orc Bowmen; some of them, such as Orc Hunters or Orc Scouting Band, can wound those they fight even when they loose, via their special ”exert to wound text.”
Even as Sauron plots to submerge the world in evil, using every tool he can subvert to his service, so does the Sauron culture of the LOTR TCG give the player many ways to stop the Fellowship and defeat Frodo. Focused less on direct force, and more on manipulation, surprises, and a slow and steady weakening of its enemies, Sauron can be fun to play, and particularly in the Standard format, can be quite effective.
by Cynthia Hart
Sauron, the Maia with thousands of eyes and weapons at his command, broods upon the success of the Free People of the world. He has watched and waited for his time to act. He festers with hatred and plots the downfall of all who would be free of his will. Now that he feels his time has come to act, his spies are everywhere. Observing, reporting and feeding him information that results in plans to wound and eventually destroy those who oppose him. This strategy reflects the way Sauron tries to uses the information he gets from his spies to destroy the Fellowship.
Under the Watching Eye and Orc Bowmen were the Shadow conditions in the Fellowship release that convinced people to add Sleep Caradhras to their deck. These conditions weren't restricted to one companion like Blade Tip, Black Breath and Desperate Defense of the Ring but were used against all. While that allowed you to spread out the wounds, it also meant that the death of a companion did not end the usefulness of the conditions. Rather it just kept wounding and wounding and wounding.
First Under the Watching Eye would exert; then Orc Bowmen would send in the archery. There was nothing like watching your opponent move into site 6, heal 5 wounds and then on the next turn face 3 Under the Watching Eye and 2 Orc Bowmen to deal those wounds right back on the companions he just healed. Add Hate to pick off a couple of exhausted companions and you had a winning combination.
But the Under the Watching Eye/Orc Bowmen decks had some major drawbacks during the first year. First of all, you needed to get those conditions out early. Orc Bowmen were easily played during the first Shadow phase after being drawn, but Under the Watching Eye could only be played if you exerted a Tracker. So you needed a lot of trackers in your deck to draw one at the same time you drew Under the Watching Eye. But for the first four card releases, trackers were “weenies”. Only one of them had a strength greater than 6 (the Orc Scounting Band weighs in at a strength of 8).
Aragorn or Boromir without weapons could take on most of the trackers - add a weapon and none of the Sauron trackers stood a chance. Low vitality was an also a problem. Not only could your opponent usually move a second time with few to no minions left over from the first skirmish; but after exerting for Under the Watching Eye, they were easy targets for archery.
An even greater drawback were the roaming charges. Sauron orcs are roaming until site 6, reflecting the greater distance they have to travel to reach the Fellowship. That addition 2 twilight cost made trackers too expensive for their strength and vitality. Even their text “The roaming penalty for each Sauron minion you pay is -1” couldn't totally alleviate the problem. So with the advent of The Two Towers and the newer Shadow cultures, Sauron fell to the wayside.
Enter Helm's Deep and Grishnakh! Once again, Sauron becomes a viable strategy. Not only do you now have two different trackers with base strengths of 11 (Grishnakh and Orc Patrol) but it only takes one Tracker with the correct text (“The site number of each Sauron orc is reduced by 3”) to make the orcs non-roaming at site 3 and above.
Now you can include trackers in the deck and not only can they be exerted for Under the Watching Eye - they will also do well in skirmishes. And with the reduced roaming you no longer need to feel lucky to just get out one Tracker and one condition before running out of twilight.
Another plus with the bigger trackers is their 3 vitality. Exert them once for Under the Watching Eye and still have vitality left over for Hate. Throw 4 Hates in your deck to knock off your opponent's most annoying companion. Spot Gandalf? Save up those Hates to use them all at once and kick him out of the game before he can pull out Sleep, Caradhras. Hate is a maneuver action, making it invulnerable to many (although not all) of the Free Peoples minion stopping event cards.
Grishnakh's special text ”Exert Grishnakh twice and spot another Sauron Orc to draw 3 cards” allows you to cycle through your deck in search of those condition cards. The biggest key to this deck is getting Under the Watching Eye and Orc Bowmen out as early as possible; so Grishnakh's text is very useful in helping you find them. And if your opponent prevents Grishnakh's special ability too often (“The Free Peoples player may add 2 burdens to prevent this”); they may add enough burdens to become “Enquea bait”!
I would like to thank Paul Pierce for letting me use his deck to demonstrate this strategy.
Collection Manager deck file
Fellowship (32 total)
Ranger of Ithilien
Gondorian Ranger x 3
Faramir, Don of Denthor
Damrod, Ranger of Ithilien
Mablung, Soldier of Gondor
Shards of Narsil x2
Sword of Gondor x3
Hobbit Sword x2
War and Valor x4
Swordsman of the Northern Kingdom x4
Ranger's Bow x2
Sleep, Caradhras x2
Boromir, My Brother
Grishnakh, Orc Captain x4
Orc Patrol x3
Band of the Eye x3
Orc Assassin x3
Orc Cutthroat x3
Orc Scouting Band x2
Ulaire Enquea, Lieutenand of Morgul x2
Under the Watching Eye x3
Orc Bowmen x4