Card Spotlight: Song of Earendil
There is one card that has long sung a sweet Siren’s song to me, yet I have rarely included it in a deck. In terms of name and connection to lore and Middle-earth history, there are few cards that match this particular one, especially since it is one of the cards in the game that actually mentions events from the First Age. In terms of game mechanics, this card has the kind of subtle and interesting effect that usually catches my interest. I speak of course of Song of Earendil. Why has this fascinating card not showed up in more decks, both those of my own creation and those built by other players? Is it excluded because it is a valueless coaster, suited better for sitting prettily in a binder than taking part in the rough and tumble of a typical LOTR LCG game? Or is it a victim of misunderstanding, a hidden gem that should be polished and held up to the light of day as often as possible? As always, you’ll have to read on to find out!
Song of Earendil is a one cost attachment in the Spirit sphere. It is designed with multiplayer in mind, allowing one player to take on more threat in order to reduce the threat of another player:
Attach to a Spirit hero.
Response: After Song of Eärendil enters play, draw 1 card.
Response: After another player raises his threat, raise your threat by 1 to reduce that player’s threat by 1.
Before delving into the uses and value of this card, let’s take a moment to appreciate its theme. Earendil is one of the most famous figures in Middle-earth’s history, a true hero of the First Age and one of the few characters of that era who can truly lay claim to such a title without blemish. The short version of Earendil’s story is that he was born at a time of great darkness, when Morgoth, the original Dark Lord and Sauron’s old “boss”, looked set to destroy and conquer all. Earendil was Half-Elven, his mother being Idril, an Elf of Gondolin, and his father being Tuor, a Man and hero in his own right (Earendil just so happens to be the father of another Half-Elven: Elrond, maybe you’ve heard of him?). It had been foretold that one day a messenger would cross the Great Sea to the West (Valinor) and seek the aid of the Valar.
Now this part of the story requires some explanation. The Noldor had once lived in Valinor with god-like beings known as the Valar. Everything was bliss, until one day Feanor, the greatest among the Noldor, created three special jewels: the Silmarils. Morgoth stole these Silmarils and fled to Middle-earth. Feanor was determined to pursue him for vengeance and to recover the Silmarils, but the Valar forbid this course of action. However, humility and obedience were not some of Feanor’s strong suits and he defied the Valar, convincing many other Noldor to do the same. This is how the Noldor ended up back in Middle-earth, waging a seemingly unending war against Morgoth. For their defiance, the Noldor were forbidden from returning to Valinor and the Valar turned their backs on them, refusing to lend a hand against Morgoth (Ulmo, one of the Valar, however, was an exception and tried to help a few blessed individuals in subtle and not-so-subtle ways). However, Morgoth destroyed the great cities of the Noldor one by one, until Gondolin, the home of Earendil himself, fell. Driven to desperation and with final defeat on the horizon, Earendil set sail across the Great Sea. It was a perilous journey with a slim chance of success. But he ultimately reached Valinor with the aid of a Silmaril, and convinced the Valar to get off their butts and jump into the fray. They did so, leading to Morgoth’s defeat. It was a feat worthy of being commemorated in song, which is where the name of this card actually comes from, as the tale of his legend was recounted down through the ages, until Bilbo encounters it in Rivendell. I guess this wasn’t such a short version after all! There’s plenty more to tell, so check out my Grey Company compatriot Derek’s article on this card if you want further lore goodness.
The connection of the card’s effect to this theme might not seem obvious at first, but it’s actually quite clever. Earendil took on the “threat” of his journey in order to take the “threat” away from Middle-earth. His journey at the end of the day is a story of self-sacrifice and humility and this is what the card Song of Earendil is all about as well. You truly must be a saintly figure to use up space in your deck solely to help out other players after all!
Now we come to a discussion of this card’s actual worth in terms of gameplay, which is definitely a thornier issue. First off, when Song of Earendil enters play, you do get to draw one card. This means that it essentially “replaces itself” by drawing another card into your hand. In some ways, this can be seen as a “deck thinning” effect, but since you need to pay one resource to get Song of Earendil into play, it’s not really worthwhile to include this card solely for that purpose, unless you happen to be flush with resources and don’t have access to any other options in this respect. One point that might be easy to miss is that you can attach this card to any Spirit hero in play and whoever controls that hero gets to draw a card, so this means that you can use this card to give another player some card draw. Since this draw effect does key off of “entering play” rather than being “played”, if you can trick it into play with something like Vilya, then you can get the card draw for free as well.
Of course, the card draw is really the cherry on top, rather than the main course, as the whole point of this card is its ability to allow one player to help regulate the threat of another. While there are a few different ways to use this effect, they really narrow down to two main categories:
1) Using Song of Earendil as part of a tricksy combo deck (the “Wandering Earendil” deck)
2) Using Song of Earendil as part of a more modest threat reduction engine
Really, these are matters of degrees or extremes more than distinct deck types, although they feel much different in practice. To be precise, category #1 refers to one particular combo deck built around Song of Earendil and Wandering Took. This idea has existed since shortly after Song of Earendil was released, and it certainly didn’t sprout out of my head, but I’ll describe how it works for those who are new to the game or never happened to hear about it. Essentially, this combo gets going when one player has Song of Earendil attached and Wandering Took on the table. It then follows these steps, imagining that Player A has a threat of 25 and Player B has a threat of 35.
Step 1 – Player A passes Wandering Took to Player B. Player A’s threat reduces to 22, while Player B’s threat increases to 38.
Step 2 – Player A activates Song of Earendil in response to Player B’s threat increase. Player B raises their threat to 23, while Player B lowers their threat to 37.
Step 3 – Player B passes Wandering Took back to Player A. Player A increases their threat to 26. Player B lowers their threat to 34.
The net result of all this is that Player A has increased their threat by 1 to 26, while Player B’s threat has fallen by 1 to 37. The value of this combo is that it could allow Player B to lower their threat by a huge amount. However, this threat doesn’t disappear, merely transfers, so Player A would have to take it on and have some additional means of lowering their own threat. If Player B also has a copy of Song of Earendil attached, then the players could essentially transfer threat between themselves during any action window, which could be useful for taking turns playing cards while under the secrecy threshold or manipulating enemy engagement. If you add Lore Aragorn to the mix, then this combo becomes extremely powerful. In our example, Player A could reduce Player B’s threat by a huge amount, then use Lore Aragorn to reduce their own threat, essentially allowing both players to reap a huge threat decrease. Of course, Lore Aragorn + Desperate Alliance is a combo that has more recently emerged that can also drop the threat of several players by large amounts and with fewer pieces. The one advantage the Song of Earendil combo has is that it can be done at any moment, even early in a game, as long as you have the necessary components. Thus, the “Wandering Earendil” deck is more of a proactive form of massive multiplayer threat reduction, while the “Desperate Aragorn” deck is more of a reactive one (although once you add in Doomed effects to the latter, than the difference may become moot).
Still, while this particular combo was strong and still is useful and viable, it never quite caught on and shattered the meta like the broken version of Zigil Miner did, and this perhaps explains why Wandering Took and/or Song of Earendil never received errata. It would be interesting to try out now that there are plenty of supporting pieces in order to find combo pieces more quickly (i.e. Gather Information, Deep Knowledge, etc.). However, I’m personally far more interested in how Song of Earendil can be useful outside of this one deck. As such, let’s take a look at how it can be used as part of a more modest threat reduction engine.
The first possibility that springs to mind is combining Song of Earendil with Galadriel, an option that wasn’t available when Song of Earendil was released. You could use Galadriel’s ability to reduce your threat by 1, as well as drawing a card. Then, at the end of the round, when another player raises their threat, you could use Song of Earendil to take that threat on yourself instead. In essence, this means that the other player would have a net threat gain of zero for the round (assuming no other threat increases from other sources). This would be very powerful in two player, allowing for some useful threat control, and fairly useful even with three or four players. What I particularly like is that it allows a Galadriel player to use her ability to give the card draw to themselves, while essentially applying the threat reduction to the other player at the end of the round using Song of Earendil. Often, when using Galadriel in multiplayer, I need the cards for myself but the threat reduction for other players, so Song of Earendil provides a way of “splitting” the ability.
Another possible use for Song of Earendil would be as a direct support to another deck that features effects that raise threat. For example, a Boromir deck might be able to handle combat for multiple players, but could also run the risk of threating out. A dedicated Song of Earendil player could take on the threat instead, and then use various threat reduction effects in the Spirit sphere to lower their own threat (i.e. The Galadhrim’s Greeting, Elrond’s Counsel, Smoke Rings, etc.). This would be effective as it would essentially allow the Boromir player to have access to Spirit and its threat reduction without actually having access to it. If the Boromir player could hold up their end of the bargain, then the whole effort could be worth the trouble. This setup could also work with Frodo, although a player controlling Frodo will already be able to avail themselves of Spirit threat reduction, so this alternative isn’t as appealing. The Palantir, by contrast, is a more appetizing counterpart to Song of Earendil, as that attachment is highly threat intensive but can also be highly beneficial for all players in terms of foreknowledge. The Song of Earendil player could help support a Palantir player, although this does potentially peg two players into decks that are more specialized and on the support end of the spectrum, leaving other players to do the heavy lifting of combat (this is a broad generalization, of course, as a Song of Earendil deck could still pack a punch!).
Beyond Boromir, Song of Earendil seems like a good peace offering for a Spirit/Lore Grima player to include. With Song of Earendil, you could take on some of the threat absorbed by other players because of the use of Grima’s ability or other Doomed effects. Of course, this would mean that the Grima player’s threat would increase quite quickly, which means that a ton of threat reduction would be necessary. Of course, you wouldn’t have to use the Song every single time and could instead take on the threat only when it seems wise to do so. This example and the previous examples points to the fact that Song of Earendil is perhaps best used with two players, as this allows for maximum control of threat without overloading the Earendil player with more threat than they can handle. Of course, this doesn’t mean it is useless with more players, just that the best setups seem to exist in two player.
One could also run Song of Earendil without any fancy tricks or combinations, simply using it to balance out threat among players. For example, a Spirit Pippin/Merry/Sam player starting out with 20 threat and a Gandalf/Elrond/Treebeard player starting out at 40 threat certainly would begin the game with quite the threat disparity! The Hobbit player could use Song of Earendil to prevent the other player’s threat from rising. In practice, this doesn’t seem like much, but it would essentially have facilitated a preposterous, yet extraordinarily strong, hero combination that would otherwise have been untenable. This is also admittedly an extreme example, but it does show the concept in practice, which does allow for some interesting multiplayer deck combinations. Speaking of 40 threat, Song of Earendil should get some extra life with the release of Valour cards in the upcoming cycle. Let one player scoot their threat up to Valour level and play Valour effects that hopefully benefit all players, then have another player use Song of Earendil to keep them at that level without having to worry about hitting 50.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning one facet of Song of Earendil that I haven’t mentioned yet: the song trait. As a song, Song of Earendil can combine with Love of Tales so that it actually provides a resource (several resources with multiple copies of Love of Tales in play). It also can be fetched with Rivendell Minstrel, which could be important to get several copies of Song of Earendil into play. Note that with several copies attached to one player’s heroes, that player can take on multiple points of threat from another player in response to a single instance of threat increase.
All in all, Song of Earendil will likely never be a staple and will probably never be a commonly used card. As a card that is only really viable in multiplayer and quite complicated to use, it doesn’t really lend itself to popularity. That being said, there are clear uses for this attachment and some of them are quite intriguing and potentially powerful. This is a card for the creative deck-builder that is looking to move away from the more straightforward cards and wants to explore new frontiers. Song of Earendil is essentially the ultimate support card, which is possibly another reason for its unpopularity, as it is all about enhancing the ability of other players and decks. As such, though it does open up new possibilities in multiplayer, allowing certain deck types to fly higher than they ever would be able to otherwise or even to exist at all. Thus, I have little hesitation in giving Song of Earendil the status of “gem”.