Card Spotlight: To the Eyrie and Meneldor’s Flight
Back in the heady days of the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle, the Eagle theme was one of the first traits/deck types to be explored. For Eagle fans, it is gratifying to know that many of those cards are still in common use today, whether we’re talking about Vassal of the Windlord or Winged Guardian or Support of the Eagles, and this is all without receiving any further support (save Gwaihir) since that time. However, all was not roses for these winged servants of Manwe, as there were a few cards released along the way that were met with scorn and bewildered looks. Two of these cards were very similar in theme and game function, and so today’s Card Spotlight is a two-for-one deal, as both To the Eyrie and Meneldor’s Flight get thrown under the relentless glare of the spotlight. Will they both share the same fate or will one distinguish itself while the other is cast into the sea? Find out after the break!
To the Eyrie is a two-cost Tactics event that was released to the world as part of the A Journey to Rhosgobel Adventure Pack. Its effect is actually quite thematic and represents those memorable moments in Middle-earth’s history when the Eagles arrived just in time to bear those in need to safety:
Response: After an ally is destroyed, exhaust 1 Eagle character to move that ally from the discard pile to its owner’s hand.
In terms of pure theme, this is a fantastic card. Unfortunately, its gameplay applications are far more suspect. The main issue with To the Eyrie has always been its cost. The in-built additional cost of also needing to exhaust an Eagle character is actually not that significant, as some of the cheaper Eagles, especially Vassal of the Windlord, will often be ready and not needed for a given round. The cost of two, though, is major and severely hamstrings this card, as if this one were free, it would surely not be overpowered, but would have far more utility. Still, in order to give this one a fair shake, let’s follow it all the way to the eyrie and see what kind of uses are possible with this event.
First, the most obvious use is to simply save an ally that has been destroyed so that they can be used again. This can be seen as a kind of limited Tactics version of Stand and Fight (and a more expensive one), limited in the sense that it returns the ally to the owner’s hand rather than puts it into play and it must be used at the moment of destruction. Obviously, this is quite an expensive use, as you would have to pay the two resources for To the Eyrie on top of the cost of putting the ally back into play again. Most of the time, this isn’t really an effect that is necessary, as most decks rely upon including a good number of allies so that if one is destroyed, more can easily be put into play as replacements. To the Eyrie would thus mainly be a way to save an ally that is essential to a deck’s function, especially if there are only one or two copies in the deck (i.e. losing the only Treebeard in an Ent deck, the only Stargazer for a Zigil Miner resource engine, etc.). Along the same lines, I could imagine To the Eyrie as a solution to a scenario-specific problem, perhaps in response to an effect that destroys valuable allies. However, this would still be a quite marginal use as I could imagine better responses to that same problem (i.e. resurrection cards, cancellation, etc.).
Thus, in order to justify the cost of To the Eyrie, there needs to be a more specialized use. The first synergy that springs to mind is with the Silvan trait, as this could be a potential means of getting allies back to hand and protecting against allies hitting the discard pile. Unfortunately, Orophin serves the same purpose and does so in a more natural and efficient way. Another possibility that springs to mind is being able to recycle someone like Dori or the White Tower Watchman that is used as a constant damage soak and form of defense. For example, you could take an attack undefended, soak the damage with a copy of Dori/Watchman, and then use To the Eyrie to return it to hand to repeat the process. Again, the problem here is cost, as you would somehow have to pay five resources total to make this whole operation work (two for To the Eyrie and three for the ally itself). The final category of special use targets would be those that have a useful “enters play” ability, such as Descendant of Thorondor, Gandalf, or Elrond (to cite just a few examples). To the Eyrie could provide an option for getting multiple uses out of such allies, while using them to defend until they are destroyed. For example, you could put the Descendant of Thorondor into play to place two damage on an enemy in the staging area, then defend with it so that it is destroyed, placing another two damage, while using To the Eyrie to bring it back into hand. The problem here once again is resources. Beyond just the cost, though, the similarly Eagle-themed Born Aloft can do essentially the same thing for free. Although To the Eyrie does have a few advantages in that it is an event and doesn’t necessarily require the pre-planning of Born Aloft, in addition to the fact that it allows the ally in question to actually soak an attack as well, the reality is that it is simply outclassed by another Eagle card released as part of the same cycle! The only way to really make To the Eyrie work is to get it out for free, which would entail using Good Meal with Merry. Even getting it out for reduced cost using Horn of Gondor or Grima doesn’t seem to justify the cost. All in all, it is unfortunately a tough sell to call To the Eyrie anything other than a bona fide coaster.
What about Meneldor’s Flight? Now this Tactics event is free, giving an immediate leg-up over To the Eyrie, but is designed to return an Eagle ally specifically to hand:
Action: Choose an Eagle ally. Return that character to its owner’s hand.
The presence of this card in the same cycle as Born Aloft is definitely a bit odd, as it is essentially the same effect with two main differences: 1) it can only target Eagles and 2) it is an event, rather than an attachment. In order to truly have a use, then, these differences have to be enough to justify including Meneldor’s Flight over Born Aloft. Of course, one possibility is that bouncing Eagles in and out of your deck is such a feature that you include both, but that would likely be overkill. When Meneldor’s Flight was first released, it seemed self-evident that it was meant to be a tricky way to get multiple uses out of Vassal of the Windlord and Winged Guardian. For example, you could declare Vassal of the Windlord as an attacker and then use Meneldor’s Flight to bring it back to hand after the attack resolved but before its forced effect triggered. However, it was soon clarified that this was not a valid use as the forced effect to discard the Vassal would go off before you would have any opportunity to use Meneldor’s Flight. Since this potential use was invalidated, there seemed to be little purpose for this card. Born Aloft is an attachment, but it essentially works similarly to Meneldor’s Flight in that it can be triggered during any action window to return the attached ally to hand (which could include Eagles). Thus, the main difference between the two is that you have to choose the target of Born Aloft in advance, during planning, while you can make that choice during any action window with Meneldor’s Flight. Of course, that flexibility comes with the added restriction of only being able to target Eagles. Being different types of cards also opens the window to different means of retrieval. Born Aloft can be recycled with something like Second Breakfast or Erebor Hammersmith, while Meneldor’s Flight can be brought back with Hama or the Book of Eldacar.
Of course, at the end of the day, the real question is whether there is any value to bringing Eagles allies back to hand at all, and whether this is enough to justify the deck space. There are a few possible uses here. The first, and perhaps the one that the designer of this card had in mind, was to trigger Descendant of Thorondor at will. The idea would be to put the Descendant into play to place two damage on an enemy in the staging area, and then to use Meneldor’s Flight to return it to hand to put another two damage on an enemy in the staging area. This would be theoretically preferable to chump blocking, as you could get additional uses out of the same copy of Descendant of Thorondor. In some ways, this combination is now more feasible than when it was first released, as newer cards like Grima, Elf-stone, and Mablung help to offset the hefty cost of the Descendant in a variety of different ways, while Horn of Gondor remains as a trusty means of shaving a resource off. Still, the expense of four resources is still quite significant, so this isn’t necessarily a combination that is the easiest to pull off on a consistent basis, and Sneak Attack remains a superior option. Another use for Meneldor’s Flight could be to simply pull Eagles out of play in order to pump up Eagles of the Misty Mountain at will. So, for example, if you really needed a copy of Eagles of the Misty Mountain to have an extra point of attack or defense at a given moment, Meneldor’s Flight could allow you to accomplish this during any action window. On the other hand, it’s not exactly hard to accomplish this without Meneldor’s Flight, as allies like Vassal of the Windlord and Winged Guardian do a great job of getting themselves out of play without much help, the difference being that Meneldor’s Flight can accomplish this during any action window. Still, the use seems marginal. A final Eagle-specific application could be to essentially “heal” expensive cards like Landroval and Gwaihir by placing them back in your hand to remove the damage, and then putting them back into play.
One way of looking at Meneldor’s Flight, I suppose, is to move away from the Eagle-specific uses and to think of it specifically as a way of activating other effects that trigger off of allies leaving play. For example, if you are running an Imrahil and/or Eomer deck along with Eagles, then returning a 1-cost Vassal of the Windlord to hand during any given window in order to ready Imrahil and boost Eomer’s attack might seem like a good deal. There aren’t a ton of other effects that give you the same level of control over allies leaving play (outside of Silvan), although again we run into the redundancy with Born Aloft, which can accomplish the same objective and be applied much more broadly. Still, carrying this thought through to its logical conclusion, Meneldor’s Flight can give you a resource from Horn of Gondor or cards through Valiant Sacrifice or even extra attack from Grave Cairn at a crucial moment. This, along with its natural interaction with Descendant of Thorondor, seems to actually be the best use for Meneldor’s Flight.
All in all, the real bane of Meneldor’s Flight has to be the existence of Born Aloft. It is absolutely mystifying to me why cards that are so similar in function were created in the same cycle and ostensibly to support the same theme and trait, and between the two, Born Aloft is clearly superior. Born Aloft can be placed on any ally, giving it a much broader range of flexibility. While Meneldor’s Flight has a theoretical edge in terms of responsiveness, in that you can adapt to a situation and make a decision on which ally to use during any given action window, in practice I feel like this isn’t a huge deal and you can usually make a good enough decision during planning as to which ally you will be fetching back to hand, even if you don’t know exactly when. For that reason, Born Aloft gets a clear “gem” label from me, while Meneldor’s Flight gets discarded into the coaster bin.