Ninja Gollum is the main Gollum Shadow deck. It focuses on killing off a single companion (usually with direct wounding), which triggers a stack of threats, crushing the entire Fellowship. This wouldn't normally be enough wounding on its own to finish off most Fellowships, but Promise Keeping (8R24) effectively doubles those wounds, and the deck often runs other sources of wounding to soften up the Fellowship. The deck relies on King Block cards, so it first appears in Movie Block, then remains popular in all later formats (except French).
The Promise Keeping Combo
Ninja Gollum's core combo is Promise Keeping (8R24) and a large stack of threats. Every time Gollum or Shelob kills a character in a skirmish, each threat wound gets doubled. The timing of Promise Keeping (8R24) means the Shadow player and Free Peoples player take turns when a companion is killed in a skirmish: the Shadow player places an exertion (unless the skirmish win was an overwhelm), the Free Peoples player places a threat wound, the Shadow player places an exertion, and so on, repeating until all the threat wounds are placed. If the threat stack was large enough, this can cripple a Fellowship or kill it outright, especially if the Free Peoples player forgot to (or couldn't afford to) put on the One Ring.
The next key addition to this combo is They Stole It (6R46) or, in Expanded, Not This Time! (15R47). The wounds from these cards are doubled by Promise Keeping (8R24), so They Stole It (6R46) and a hand of six cards or more can kill an unwounded three-vitality character, triggering the threat cascade. Not This Time! (15R47) does weaken your threat stack, but it makes it easier to preserve cards in your hand or chew through high-vitality characters. You can supplement these conditions (or maybe even score the actual kill) with You’re a Liar and a Thief (6C47) or Frenzied Attack (11U41) (although the latter is rare, due to the difficulty of playing it). They're one-shot events, but they do wounds with the right timing to be doubled by Promise Keeping.
You need to generate some threats to make this combo work, of course. Captured by the Ring (7C53) can do that, while also downloading a Gollum of your choice. Fat One Wants It (7R57) is another good source of threats. In Expanded, there's Gollum, Threatening Guide (19P10), who can't help much to generate initial threats, but can grow a large stack or restart the stack with one threat after killing a character. Threatening Guide and Not This Time! (15R47) are a strong way to mop up a weakened Fellowship. You can also get threats from other cultures, with cards like Úlairë Cantëa, Faster Than Winds (7R211) or Úlairë Lemenya, Eternally Threatening (15R185).
The deck can use any version of Gollum, and often runs multiple different copies to have a choice which to grab with Captured by the Ring (7C53) or We Must Have It (5C30). Gollum, Mad Thing (10R21) is a strong skirmisher (especially with Hidden Even From Her (8C22)) that can set up burdens for Gollum, Stinker (5R25), Gollum, Threatening Guide (19P10) can be a strong skirmisher, Gollum, Dark as Darkness (9R+28) can add extra wounds or help pay for other minions (and occasionally sneak a kill on an exhausted ring-bearer), and Gollum, Old Villain (6C40) can help cycle your hand before you get They Stole It (6R46) out. Most versions of this deck run three or four copies of Shelob, Her Ladyship (10R23) to help counter the handful of companions that can prevent this deck from going off, although some replace one with a single copy of Shelob, Eater of Light (8R25) to download Web (8C30).
Since you can only have four each of Gollum and Shelob, the deck runs cards to help download and recur them. We Must Have It (5C30) and Captured by the Ring (7C53) are as good as extra copies of Gollum. Some decks even run a copy or two of So Polite (7R74), for more cards that can replay Gollum. Evil-smelling Fens (5U22) can recur Shelob or other utility minions splashed into the deck. Web (8C30) can ensure that both Gollum and Shelob appear over and over again until they are killed. In Expanded, Sudden Strike (15U51) can download Shelob or a splashed utility minion, and Incited (11R44) and Not Easily Avoided (18R32) can help set up or replay any Gollum cards you need.
Ninja Gollum also runs other cards to help soften up the Fellowship, usually with more exertions and wounds. These are often splashed in from other cultures, especially in Movie Block, but Evil-smelling Fens (5U22) and Sudden Strike (15U51) can grab them. Úlairë Enquëa, Lieutenant of Morgul (1U231) can punish large Fellowships, especially when they have many weakened companions. Morgul Ambusher (8C74) appreciates the threat stack Ninja Gollum decks often build up. Desert Lord (4R219), and in Expanded, Mûmak Commander, Giant Among the Swertings (15R86) can place two wounds and often even win a follow-up skirmish. Gothmog, Morgul Leader (18R80) is good for three wounds, while buffing Shelob and possibly winning a skirmish of his own. Gríma, Wormtongue (4R154), Isengard Smith (3U60), Southron Leader (7R166), and Gríma, Servant of Another Master (19P16) can all disrupt some Free Peoples strategies. Sauron, The Lord of the Rings (9R+48), Orc Slaughterer (10R95), and The Balrog, Demon of Might (19P18) can simply overwhelm some decks. Expanded adds some wounding options in other phases in Gollum culture, like Little Snuffler (13U52), Horribly Strong (11R43) (great with extra copies of Gollum in hand, especially Dark as Darkness!) or Unseen Foe (15R53). These cards aren't doubled by Promise Keeping (8R24), but they can help soften up the Fellowship for a killing blow. Be careful: killing a companion outside of the skirmish phase means missing out on doubling your threat wounds with Promise Keeping, although a kill and a pile of wounds can hardly be considered a bad thing! Just don't overload your deck with too many splashed supplementary cards. Or do, I'm not your dad.
Gollum and Shelob can use some help winning skirmishes on turns when the Promise Keeping (8R24) combo isn't set up. Hidden Even From Her (8C22) makes Gollum fierce, which is great for Gollum, Mad Thing (10R21), Gollum, Stinker (5R25), and Gollum, Threatening Guide (19P10) (but terrible for some other versions of Gollum, particularly Gollum, Dark as Darkness (9R+28)). Unabated in Malice (10C24) and Not Easily Avoided (18R32) are the main pumps for Gollum and Shelob in Movie Block and Expanded respectively, although there are other options: Hobbitses Are Dead (7R61) and Cunningly Hidden (13U45) are pump events that can replay themselves from the discard pile. Slippery as Fishes (9R+29) is a situational strength buff that also doubles as a way to cycle a particularly bad hand, although Ninja Gollum decks rarely lack for cycling tools. Chasm’s Edge (13R44) is always worth at least one strength, but gets even better against Hobbits or Faramir, Son of Denethor (4C117). Saruman, Servant of Sauron (17R38) is worth an extra two strength where you need it and adds in a few handy wounds to boot.
The rest of the deck is made up of utility cards to help the whole thing play more smoothly. Plotting (7R67) can work as a backup plan to set up a threat stack out of nowhere, but its high cost and significant downside if there are any threats left at the end of the turn limit its appeal. A Dark Shape Sprang (10R19) and Reclaim the Precious (10U22) are slightly gimmicky ways to interfere with normal skirmish assignment; A Dark Shape Sprang (10R19) is the only way for a Shadow player to kill the ring-bearer at site 1, in fact. Final Strike (10U20) shuts down a variety of annoying strategies. Evil-smelling Fens (5U22), Incited (11R44), Not Easily Avoided (18R32), and Sudden Strike (15U51) all help grab key cards. Treacherous Little Toad (12U41) shuts down healing, and by extension can silence a companion with an annoying exertion ability. Deceit (18R29) protects your vulnerable support area. Led Astray (11U45) can protect against Cavern Entrance (11S232) or Foot of Mount Doom (18U135), or occasionally send the opposing Fellowship to an annoying site like Anduin Banks (11U227) or Slag Mounds (11S258).
Ninja Gollum is unusual in that it can benefit from your Free Peoples deck and vice versa, above and beyond the usual methods of cycling, filter, and choosing a synergistic site path. If your Free Peoples deck uses Gandalf, you can start any version of Smeagol and immediately sacrifice him with Saved From the Fire (8R20) to tutor three key Shadow Gollum cards. If you'd rather play a Free Peoples deck more focused on Sméagol, It's Mine (7C62) and Incited (11R44) can help draw cards for both sides, and Cunningly Hidden (13U45), Naked Waste (13U53), and Not Easily Avoided (18R32) all work on both sides' Gollum cards.
Movie Block uses the King Block site path. Important sites in this site path for Ninja Gollum:
- Site 1 - Avoid using Rohirrim Road (7U332), although its impact is generally low. Any other site 1 is fine.
- Site 2 - Rohirrim Camp (7U336) can be effective against an unskilled opponent who dumps their hand and floods. King's Tent (7U335) is also an option, since Movie Ninja Gollum is generally not a large threat at early sites. Neither site is terribly important, though.
- Site 3 - Hall of the Kings (7U339) can tempt opponents into setting up your threat stack for you if you, especially if you haven't given away your Shadow side yet. (Simply playing Gollum is generally not a giveaway, but playing most Gollum conditions will be.) The Dimholt (8U117) benefits Slippery as Fishes (9R+29), although that's rarely worth putting it in your deck unless you're also running Gondor Wraiths as your own Free Peoples side.
- Site 4 - City of the Dead (8U118) can tutor Shelob, Her Ladyship (10R23), albeit at a high cost. Ninja Gollum almost always has the spare vitality for Pelennor Prairie (10U118) and often likes buffing Gollum, Mad Thing (10R21) with Anduin Banks (7U341). City of the Dead (8U118) and Anduin Banks (7U341) are both sites that benefit Slippery as Fishes (9R+29), too.
- Site 5 - Steward's Tomb (10U119) is almost always the best choice, to stymie wound prevention and slow down healing. Pelennor Flat (7U345) is an alternative for a more burden-focused deck. Be careful with City Gates (7U344): if the Fellowship moves into the site with threats stacked already and you don't use them at site 5, the site will often remove more threats than it added.
- Site 7 - Osgiliath Channel (8U120) can be a beating if you have Shelob, Her Ladyship (10R23) and Web (8C30) in play: stop one companion from skirmishing at site 7 and send her back to the Web, then force the Fellowship to move and replay Shelob so two companions are paralyzed at site 8. It may not be a better option than generically-useful sites like Osgiliath Crossing (7U353) or Ruined Capitol (7U355), though. All of these sites benefit Slippery as Fishes (9R+29); the only one that doesn't is the rarely-played Pelennor Grassland (7U354).
- Site 8 - Northern Ithilien (7U359) is the obvious choice, although Morgulduin (7U358) is an option if you have lots of ways to (re)play Gollum and also enough Nazgul to make it worthwhile.
- Site 9 - Dagorlad (7U360) or Slag Mounds (7U363) can help you finish the game, depending on how much focus your deck already has on corruption.
In the post-Shadows site path, few cards benefit Ninja Gollum's game plan in particular. (Make sure to avoid Cavern Entrance (11S232), which harshly punishes Ninja Gollum's tricks, and Foot of Mount Doom (18U135), which permanently delete cards you would rather fish out of your discard pile later.) You can always stack rivers, mountains, and underground sites to benefit Slippery as Fishes (9R+29), but you might be better off simply using sites that add wounds, threats, or burdens. Wounding sites include Anduin Banks (11U227)*, Doorway to Doom (18U134)*, Isengard Ruined (15U192) (if you run Saruman, Servant of Sauron (17R38)), and Neekerbreekers’ Bog (11S249). You can set up threats with Abandoned Mine Shaft (13U185)*, Pelennor Flat (11S254), or Slag Mounds (11S258), or set up an extra couple threats with City Gates (15S189). You can also make up for Ninja Gollum's lack of condition removal with Buckland Homestead (11S230) (if your deck runs utility Nazgul) or Dol Guldur (17U145). Mount Doom (15R193)* and Sirannon Ruins (18U138)* are always useful. (Sites marked with an asterisk benefit Slippery as Fishes (9R+29).
Ninja Gollum decks often supplement their strategies with corruption, as an alternate route to win, to pressure the opponent to pick the option to buff Gollum, Mad Thing (10R21), or just to discourage soaking threat wounds with the One Ring. Gollum, Stinker (5R25) can serve as enough deterrent on his own, but the deck often also runs Úlairë Enquëa, Lieutenant of Morgul (1U231). Other options include Úlairë Toldëa, Messenger of Morgul (1R236), Morgul Creeper (8C75), and Úlairë Cantëa, Black Assassin (12R174). Heavy Burden (7U60), Nasty, Foul Hobbitses (6C42), and Not Yet Vanquished (11R48) can add more burdens, too.
There's a corruption bomb combo using Watcher in the Water, Keeper of Westgate (2R73) and Northern Ithilien (7U359), and as such it only works in Movie Block. Play Evil-smelling Fens (5U22) and stack up threats, either beforehand or on the turn you go off. Once you get to Northern Ithilien (7U359), play Gollum, ideally using the site's gametext. (If you don't already have threats stacked beforehand, playing Plotting (7R67) on the turn you plan to go off can help.) Then, play the Watcher, which will discard Gollum. (A second copy of Evil-Smelling Fens can help pull the Watcher out of your discard pile.) At this point, play Gollum over and over using the site's text, placing two burdens and immediately discarding Gollum each time. This combo can stack up as many burdens as you can get threats, usually up to the size of the Fellowship. The combo is not especially reliable, so it's usually not the main focus of a deck.
Little Snuffler (13U52) can kill the ring-bearer stone dead in the early game, and some decks use it along with cards that exert or wound the ring-bearer (e.g. Gollum, Dark as Darkness (9R+28), Morcs, Doorway to Doom (18U134)) to fish for a quick early-game kill, ideally in the first three sites. It mostly relies on a perfect draw or some sort of extreme setup to guarantee a perfect hand. And if your opponent has any counter, like any wound prevention, healing, or vitality cards or one of several versions of the One Ring, the whole trick falls apart. As a deck, it's a flimsy gimmick, but any Ninja Gollum deck can run Little Snuffler (13U52) and some of these cards and occasionally scam a free win.
Condition removal. Ninja Gollum has almost all of its power tied up in expensive support area conditions, so condition removal can cripple it. Secret Sentinels (2R20), Vilya (3R27), Company of Archers (4R61), Namárië (17U10), Lothlórien Guides (17U9), Sleep, Caradhras (1C84), Deep in Thought (3C30), Grown Suddenly Tall (4R92), Crack Into Rubble (6U25), Brooding on Tomorrow (10U15), Bilbo, Well-spoken Gentlehobbit (2U96), Fortress Never Fallen (4U276), Let Us Be Swift (5C85), Blood Runs Chill (8R3), Clever Hobbits (7U54), and Gladden Homestead (13R49) are all a beating against Ninja Gollum. Usually, the main target is Promise Keeping (8R24), followed by whichever wounding condition(s) the Ninja Gollum player is using. Web (8C30) isn't a condition, but the prevalence of strong support area possessions in other Shadow decks means that many Free Peoples decks run Roll of Thunder (4U99), Derufin (7R87), Throne of Minas Tirith (17R36), or Arrow-slits (5U80) to deal with them. Galadriel, Lady Redeemed (10R11) can discard both, making her very difficult to counter in Movie Block. Final Strike (10U20) can protect against many of these cards, as long as Gollum is in play and has the vitality to exert. In Expanded, Deceit (18R29) covers this weakness very well, although it can't protect against Vilya or Gladden Homestead, and does not protect effectively against some of these cards without holding back twilight every turn.
Wound prevention. Preventing wounds with cards like Éowyn, Lady of Rohan (4C270), Huorn (9R25), Hosts of the Last Alliance (2U18), Sapling of the White Tree (9R35), or Narsil, Blade of the Faithful (9R+34) not only makes it harder to kill someone to trigger the threat stack, but it also means that those wounds don't get doubled by Promise Keeping (8R24). Gimli's Helm (1R15), From the Armory (4U47), Faramir, Wizard's Pupil (7R91), and Lórien Protector (13S20) can soak a full stack of threats harmlessly or nearly so. Cards that prevent companions from taking more than one wound per skirmish phase, like Armor (1C92), Swiftly and Softly (4C321), and King's Mail (4R284), or prevent wounds entirely, like Swept Away (8C48) in Gondor Wraiths, can be a double-sided sword: those cards can stop Gollum from getting any use out of They Stole It (6R46), but they also limit how many wounds a character can absorb from a successfully-triggered threat stack while providing no protection from Promise Keeping (8R24). Cards that discard characters that would die, like The Dead City (7R56) or Elessar's Edict (8R33), are very rare, but can also prevent a threat stack from being triggered. Shelob, Her Ladyship (10R23) can sometimes help by excluding a particular character, but many of these abilities still work even if a different character is skirmishing.
Similarly, healing and high vitality can be a soft counter to Ninja Gollum. While it definitely sucks to lose a companion then have to soak 10+ wounds from a full stack of threats, a fully-healed Fellowship can survive that and finish the game despite the setback. Aragorn, Gandalf, Durin III, Dwarven Lord (9R+3), Círdan, The Shipwright (10R8), Gil-galad, Elven High King (9R+15), Elendil, The Tall (9R+32), and Grimbeorn, Beorning Chieftain (14R6), and most ents are hard to kill in the first place to trigger the threat stack, and can soak up the wounds even if it does go off. Hobbits are especially vulnerable to They Stole It (6R46), but they often have a great deal of healing from cards like The Shire Countryside (3R113), Fates Entwined (13U148), and the Hobbit Hospital healing ally package to come back from a bad turn. Elves often have strong healing, from cards like Elrond, Herald to Gil-galad (3R13), Shadow Between (7R28), and Nenya, Ring of Adamant (9R20), and in some decks can offload wounds to self-healing allies with Shoulder to Shoulder (1C59). Gondor Knights can often soak some wounds, prevent some sounds with Sapling of the White Tree (9R35), and heal the rest off with Banner of Westernesse (6U51) and Aragorn, Captain of Gondor (7C81).
Skirmish cancellation. Since Ninja Gollum runs relatively few minions at a time, it's very vulnerable to having those skirmishes cancelled, leaving Gollum and Shelob twisting in the wind. Gandalf's Staff (2R22), Rohirrim Helm (5R89) (recurred with Merry, Swordthain (7R321)), No Visitors (15C150) (recurred with Daddy Twofoot, Next-door Neighbor (13U144)), and Halfling Leaf (17U106) are all particularly obnoxious, since they are reusable. Warmed Up a Bit (4C322) and Tom Bombadil, The Master (9R+52) can also be annoying, although they aren't reusable and aren't common. (Boromir's Gauntlets (4C112), Escape (4R300), Merry, Learned Guide (4C310), and Pippin, Woolly-footed Rascal (4C314) are rarely a significant concern, since Ninja Gollum often doesn't spent every last bit of twilight.)
Removing threats can help soften Ninja Gollum's impact. The simplest solution is to let a low-value companion or ally die. Ideally you'd do this when you have a card that can prevent a whole threat stack like Gimli's Helm (1R15) and Faramir, Wizard's Pupil (7R91) lined up. Somewhat less ideally, you can do it in a way that avoids Promise Keeping (8R24): let them die to a non- Gollum minion, kill them off outside of the skirmish phase, or simply do it when Promise Keeping isn't in play. Otherwise, threat removal is rare: Citadel to Gate (7R33), Nine-fingered Frodo and the Ring of Doom (10C112), Glorfindel, Eldarin Lord (18R13), and Sting, Elven Long Knife (18R113) are the main cards of note. Gondor Wraiths generates a lot of threats, but also runs plenty of cards to remove them that are rarely seen in other decks, like Frodo, Hope of Free Peoples (7C317), Aragorn, Driven by Need (7P364), and of course Stronger and More Terrible (8C47).
Many abilities that punish events or prevent abilities can shut down Ninja Gollum. Faramir, Son of Denethor (4C117) and Spirit of the White Tree (17U34) shut down They Stole It (6R46) and Not This Time! (15R47), making them high-priority targets for Shelob, Her Ladyship (10R23). Cavern Entrance (11S232) stops all of Gollum's skirmish tricks, but Led Astray (11U45) can prevent it from being a problem. Perspective (18U25) shuts down a whole spectrum of Ninja Gollum tricks, albeit at the cost of helping set up the threat stack. Gandalf, Wise Guide (19P8) can shut down events, up to and including simply playing him with Captured by the Ring (7C53) in the first place.
Direct wounding and archery are generally not a problem for Ninja Gollum, since Gollum and Shelob have high vitality. Shelob, Her Ladyship (10R23) even punishes archery. However, some direct wounding decks can pose a problem, especially if they can exhaust minions. Gondor Knights can use Fourth Level (8C35) to exhaust Gollum or Shelob, who can then be picked off with Citadel of the Stars (5C32) or Gondor Bow (7U94). Gondor Rangers can neutralize one of them when they're roaming with Mablung, Soldier of Gondor (4U127) and Ranger's Bow (4C131). (In Expanded, this matchup is much worse, as Madril, Defender of Osgiliath (15R64) sets them up to be easily discarded with Ithilien Blade (15C62).) Similarly, Sméagol, Always Helps (7R71) can exhaust one, then kill them with Don’t Look at Them (6R39) or an event like No Use That Way (5R113). Rohan culture can often muster enough wounding to finish off Ninja Gollum's minions, with cards like Merry's Sword (7R242), Éowyn, Lady of Ithilien (10R72), some wounds from archery, and exertions from mounts. Again, sometimes neutralizing a key companion with Shelob, Her Ladyship (10R23) can help somewhat, particularly in the case of Mablung or Sméagol, and Final Strike (10U20) can shut down many of these abilities, but sometimes this is just a bad matchup.
They Stole It (6R46) and Not This Time! (15R47) don't work when Gollum is skirmishing an ally, and Promise Keeping (8R24) only doubles wounds dealt to companions. Gollum often just can't do much to Elrond or Tom Bombadil, The Master (9R+52) in a skirmish. This doesn't come up often! Horn of Boromir (3R42) is banned in all common formats where Ninja Gollum is played, and Support of the Last Homely House (1U64) and One Whom Men Would Follow (1U109) are both unusual cards.
Cards that punish roaming minions will affect Shelob for most of the game due to her high site number. This isn't a problem in most cases: small strength bonuses or direct wounding are of little concern, and she can often negate a single character with an anti-roaming-minion ability. However, What Are They? (1C119) and Ithilien Blade (15C62) can discard her harmlessly for most of the game.
- Solo Smeagol/Ninja Gollum, a Movie Block deck by ket_the_jet on The Last Homely House forums
- Gollum Shadow, a Movie Block deck by GilGalad44 on The Last Homely House forums
- Don't Threaten Me/Ninja Gollum, a Movie Block deck by NappyKorn on The Last Homely House forums
- Hobbits and Gollum, an Expanded deck by Tunadan on The Last Homely House forums
- Multi cultural wounding with ninja gollum, an Expanded deck by alehaak on The Last Homely House forums
- Shards of Narsil initiative / Treacherous Little Toad, an Expanded deck by Shelobplayer on The Last Homely House forums. This deck is unusual in that it also runs a Nazgul package to try to put more pressure on the ring-bearer.
- Ninja Revolutionized: The New Ninja Gollum, a guide to building Ninja Gollum decks from the Cobracards forums. This guide was written after the release of Treachery and Deceit, so it was aimed at a format substantially similar to Standard format on GEMP. While most of the advice is still good and remains relevant for Standard and Expanded, it also showcases (and overrates) the then-new card Sting of Shelob (18R35), which turned out to be too expensive to be practical.
- Threats and Toads: Understanding Ninja Gollum Reloaded, a guide to building Ninja Gollum decks in Standard format shortly after the release of The Hunters, posted on the Cobracards forums. Not relevant to any popular formats in 2022, but interesting to show the historical development of the deck.