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Card Spotlight: Silvan Refugee

by on July 28, 2015


In a few days time, I will embark upon that annual pilgrimage to the fabled land of Indianapolis to soak up all the LOTR LCG goodness (as well as general card and board game goodness) that I can. This will therefore be my last post before Gen Con, but expect to see a ton of content afterwards to catch up on all the happenings that take place. With that out of the way, it’s time to dust off our spotlight and cast its withering glare at the next victim — *ahem* — card. Some cards are universally loved almost immediately, some are cast aside without much thought, and some are quickly forgotten without many opinions expressed one way or another. The most interesting are those that inspire the most debate, and today’s candidate for the spotlight firmly falls into this category. If you say the words “Silvan Refugee” to almost any LOTR LCG player that is at all familiar with the card pool, the chances are good that they will have an opinion. Some will loudly lambast this ally, pointing out its transient nature and the prevalence of alternatives in the sphere. Others will sing its praises, citing as evidence its strengths as a cheap source of willpower. Either way, it’s safe to say that few cards can spark a debate as easily as the Silvan Refugee. This of course makes it prime fodder for the spotlight, and it’s time to settle once and for all (not likely!) the debate. Is Silvan Refugee a poor shadow of a Spirit ally, briefly flitting across the stage before leaving you in the lurch, helpless and bereft of willpower? Or is it a strong component of a deck, a questing ally without easy parallel? Read on to find out!


First of all, what exactly are we dealing with here? Silvan Refugee is a one cost Spirit ally with two willpower and one hit point and the following text:

Forced: After a character leaves play, discard Silvan Refugee from play.

Before we delve firmly into the realm of mechanics and effectiveness, let’s take a moment to dance through the realm of theme. Who exactly does the Silvan Refugee represent and what exactly is this character a refugee from? Most Tolkien readers are familiar with the idea that Elves of both the Silvan and Noldor variety began to leave Middle-earth in large numbers towards the end of the Third Age, sailing from the Grey Havens to the Blessed Realm of Valinor. However, why exactly did they choose to do this? What makes such an Elf a refugee, meaning someone who has left their home to escape some war or disaster, rather than the equivalent of someone who wants to go spend their retirement in the sunny climes of Florida? (Did I just compare Florida to Valinor? I’ll press on.) Well, in the early days of the world, the Valar, god-like beings that dwell in Valinor, asked/compelled (depending on your point of view) all Elves to come to Valinor. Some agreed and did so, some refused, and some agreed but never made it all the way. That is a story for another day, but the point is that the compulsion to leave Middle-earth and to seek Valinor is deeply ingrained in the very being of Elves. It is often tied to the sea and anything associated with the sea (such as seabirds), and certain events may cause the desire to leave to awaken, and once awakened, it cannot easily be quelled. We see the best example of this from Legolas himself towards the end of The Lord of the Rings:

‘Look!’ he cried. ‘Gulls! They are flying far inland. A wonder they are to me and a  trouble to my heart. Never in all my life had I met them, until we came to Pelargir, and there I heard them crying in the air as we rode to the battle of the ships. Then I stood still, forgetting war in Middle-earth; for their wailing voices spoke to me of the Sea. The Sea! Alas! I have not yet beheld it. But deep in the hearts of all my kindred lies the sea-longing, which it is perilous to stir. Alas! for the gulls. No peace shall I have again under beech or under elm.’

But again, desire is one thing, the flight implied in the word “refugee” is another. What exactly were the Elves who chose to leave at the end of the Third Age running from? To understand this motive, we must understand the concept of fading. This concept is one of those ideas whose exact meaning has been debated by Tolkien readers and scholars, but the general idea is that if an Elf decides to stay in Middle-earth, they will eventually “fade” or “diminish”. Some say that this means that they will gradually become wraith-like or ghostly beings devoid of a body. Others argue that this simply means that they will be overshadowed by the growing power of Man. The one solid piece of text we have on the subject is from the Doom of Mandos, a judgment placed on the Noldor specifically for choosing to leave Valinor in pursuit of the stolen Silmarils:

And those that endure in Middle-Earth and come not to Mandos shall grow weary of the world as with a great burden, and shall wane, and become as shadows of regret before the younger race that cometh after. The Valar have spoken.

Here, we can see both interpretations supported. Those who choose to stay in Middle-earth will become “shadows of regret”. As in much of Tolkien, sometimes it’s difficult to separate the literal from the figurative. Will they literally become shadows? Or does this simply mean that they will eventually grow weary of the world, filled with grief and dead in spirit, if not in body? Either way, it’s enough to know that many Elves chose to leave Middle-earth in order to avoid a grim fate of some kind. In many ways, Middle-earth was not meant for Elves, and staying there can be seen as an unnatural condition leading to unnatural outcomes. The picture becomes clearer when you also consider that the three rings held by the Elves were designed to preserve and maintain the power of the Elves against this fading, with Nenya, Galadriel’s ring, being specifically stated as directed towards this purpose. With this in mind, the official return of Sauron in 2951 T.A. seemed to signal the time to leave for many. Either Sauron would win, destroying the Elvish realms in Middle-earth and gaining control of the Three, or he would be defeated and the One Ring destroyed, which would end the power of the Three. The latter result would mean that the preservation wrought by the rings would be dispelled, and the fate of fading would be unavoidable. This is why the Silvan Refugee is a refugee. She is fleeing a dark fate and the destruction of her homeland from the coming war and/or an eventual diminishing. Her ability reflects the fact that although she may momentarily stop to help in a quest or give advice, ultimately she cannot and will not stay and must follow the call to the sea. Seeing others “leave” also stirs in her the desire to continue on her own journey.

Now, after that lengthy lore diversion, it’s time to dig into the worth of this card as an actual card. Silvan Refugee is one of those weird cards that does not have a game ability per se, but rather a built-in penalty. In this case, the Refugee is discarded whenever another character leaves play. Note the wording here, as it is not just when a character is destroyed that the Refugee is discarded, but also whenever a character has to leave play for some other reason, such as returning to hand. So without an ability, the true value of this ally is simply in her stats. Specifically, you get two willpower for only one resource, which is a fantastic value. No other ally that costs one has two willpower, putting Silvan Refugee in a class of her own. However, there are many in the Spirit sphere that cost two resources for two willpower, so the real question is whether it is better to spend one extra resource for an ally that won’t leave play as easily as the Refugee. The best way to answer this question is to think about the situations in which the Silvan Refugee is most useful and when she is least useful.

The Silvan Refugee is least useful when…

* You are playing a deck where characters will often leave play. Rohan decks and Silvan decks, for example, constantly have allies either being discarded or returning to hand, and these are terrible fits for the Silvan Refugee, at least at first glance (more on the case of Silvan decks specifically later). It is not just these decks either, as decks reliant on chump blocking or having allies leave play to feed abilities like those on Eomer or Prince Imrahil also make poor matches.

* You are playing multiplayer, especially with three or four players. More players means more characters on the board, which increases the chances of a character leaving play at any given moment. It also increases the chance that another player might be running the kind of deck mentioned above. Only when all players have planned together to avoid this from happening would this not be the case, but this is probably the exception rather than the rule.

The Silvan Refugee is most useful when…

* You are playing a Silvan deck. In practice, I’ve actually found the Refugee to be a great choice for Silvan decks, as she can benefit greatly from Celeborn (questing for three on the first turn for only one resource) and as long as you pick her as the ally to return to hand to trigger an effect like The Tree People, not only will your Silvan Refugee be safe but you can get her back onto the table the very next round, with her low cost making her the perfect Silvan ally to bounce back and forth.

* You are playing solo. In a solo game, you have total control of when characters leave play, and this make Silvan Refugee a safer bet. Of course, you may be forced to chump block when you don’t want to or a treachery may unexpectedly remove a character and this does remove some measure of control. Still, by and large, the principle of solo is better for the Refugee holds true.

* You need cheap willpower. For this reason, the Refugee is a good choice when you have only one Spirit hero. In this case, getting out a two cost, two willpower ally like Galadriel’s Handmaiden takes two rounds, whereas the Silvan Refugee can always be played. Time is sometimes the difference between victory and defeat, so a one round round difference is more meaningful than it first appears.

Most of all, it’s important to consider that the Silvan Refugee does not need to stay on the board for the entirety, or even the majority, of a game to be useful. Focusing on the temporary and fleeting nature of the Refugee ignores that crucial point. Even if the Refugee only contributes willpower for a single turn, there is an argument to be made for its place. Consider Escort from Edoras, which gives you four willpower for two resources, but only for one quest phase. The Silvan Refugee gives you an exactly proportional amount of willpower: two willpower for one resource, and so if that Refugee only lasts for one round, you are essentially getting a scaled down version of Escort from Edoras. The comparison is not perfect, as the power of the Escort really comes in the large dose of willpower, temporary though it may be, whereas the smaller contribution of the Refugee is not likely to make as big an impact. Still, the logic is sound. In many cases, the Silvan Refugee will not last just one round, but at least two or three rounds, in which case it’d be difficult to argue that the single resource has not been repaid several times.

There are a few ways to milk the most value out of the Refugee if you do choose to take the plunge. Children of the Sea transforms the Silvan Refugee into a four willpower colossus and then shuffles the Refugee back into your deck, essentially giving you an Escort from Edoras for half the cost. The main knock against this combination is that it essentially takes up presumably twice the deck slots (the space for the Silvan Refugee itself and the space for Children of the Sea), and you might not have both available at the same time. I’ve already mentioned the awesome uses of Silvan Refugee in a Celeborn Silvan deck, questing for three, and then returning to hand to cancel an attack with Feigned Voices or to bring in someone like Haldir or Orophin with The Tree People. Really, though, perhaps the biggest attraction of the Refugee is that it doesn’t really need support, other than trying to keep allies in play for at least a couple of turns. It’s just a no muss, no fuss source of willpower.

On the other hand, if there is an argument to be made against the Silvan Refugee, it’s the wealth of options that Spirit has when it comes to questing allies. Although the Refugee is perhaps the best when it comes to straight cost-to-willpower efficiency, there is an argument to be made that it may just be better to pay the extra resource to get an ally that is more permanent and has a useful ability, such as the threat reduction of Galadriel’s Handmaiden, the location control of West Road Traveller, or the pipe retrieval of Bilbo Baggins, to name a few examples. Even the recently released Curious Brandybuck, which I had some unkind words about in my recent review, could stake its place as a competitor for the Refugee’s spot. If you think of the Refugee as desirable as a cheap source of temporary willpower, then wouldn’t a free source of temporary willpower be even more desirable? The Curious Brandybuck also has the advantage of having two hit points instead of one, allowing it to take a hit point of damage while still being around for quest resolution. Of course, the Curious Brandybuck is far more temporary than the Silvan Refugee, as it leaves as soon as the active location is explored, which should happen in one or two rounds, whereas the Refugee could theoretically stick around for many rounds. While which one is better for your purposes will therefore very much depend on the strategy of your particular deck, the point is that the value of the Silvan Refugee has admittedly declined as options have increased and this will naturally be even truer as time progresses. After all, as my old Gaffer is fond of saying, only a staple is safe in a rising card pool!

The time of course has come to put the Silvan Refugee debate to bed, and I’m afraid that it’s not that difficult of a decision in my book. Despite its limitations, specifically its temporary nature and lack of ability, the Silvan Refugee has always had a place thanks to its bargain basement cost. Although it is not a must-include in every Spirit deck, it certainly is far from a coaster and is especially useful when you just need to quickly ramp up your willpower potential. This is particularly pertinent when you need to make big quest pushes at certain points in a scenario. There is, however, a danger that the Refugee may one day slip into coaster status. A one cost ally with two willpower and no drawback, for example, would do the job, or simply a flood of similarly cheap or free alternatives. Today is not that day, though, and thus the Silvan Refugee easily earns the mark of “gem”.

Verdict: Gem

* Thanks to Epi Lepi for the suggestion to spotlight this card!


From → Card Spotlight

  1. Kjeld permalink

    An excellent summation of the Refugee’s utility (or lack thereof) in different situations and decks. Very helpful. The delve into the lore behind the card was also fantastic, and very nicely distills the difficult concept of fading. Thanks for writing this up!

    Also, I’d like to nominate Straight Shot for a card spotlight. I’ve always wanted to work it into a deck, but it seems to be less and less viable as enemies are evermore beefy.

    • Silver Swan permalink

      Tactics Aragorn, Bard, and Rivendell Blade all combo with it. It’s not for every deck, certainly, but I was thinking it would see increased use in Dunedain decks, where it’s nice to have a way to deal with one too many enemies engaged with you.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Thanks! I’ll look into doing Straight Shot for an upcoming spotlight, as I do think it could use a good re-examination.

  2. gaudyls permalink

    I love this card. You only have to look for the correct deck to play with.

  3. Gwaihir the Windord permalink

    I enjoy playing Silvan Refugee . . . if it gets in my deck. Turn one willpower is a spectacular benefit, but as the card pool has expanded, I’ve found that there are just “better” options out there. The Refugee has only one hit point where newer faces (i.e. Bilbo Baggins ally, Curious Brandybuck) have two. This is especially important because of archery. In tight spots I prefer to put damage on my allies if at all possible. I have used her(?) in a Silvan deck, and it’s great fun. Horn of Gondor also makes its recipient quite wealthy in her presence (or lack thereof). But, I digress. Another fabulous card spotlight, sir! I look forward to your GenCon report.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Thanks! I definitely agree about the growing need for allies with more than one hit point. The archery and direct damage is far too common to ignore. I do like that Spirit has these cheap questers that also happen to be very fragile, as it forces players to make some tough strategic and deck building decisions and puts a limitation on the sphere.

  4. Silvan Refugee is a major player in my Beregond/Idraen/Galadriel deck as it provides valuable early questing power enabling me to use Galadriel’s ability more frequently in the early game, giving me more time to get everything set up and/or hold Idraen back from questing to deal with combat if there isn’t an active location yet.

    I see it as a Spirit counterpart of Vassal of the Windlord/Winged Guardian, where you bring it in to cover a specific, temporary need in order to give you extra time to load up the big guns.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      That’s an apt comparison. Really you have to judge these types of allies based on their purpose.

  5. Thaddeus permalink

    Gem for sure! It’s such a great card when played strategically with a Silvan deck.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Fantastic card for a Silvan deck. I hope we get a few more Spirit Silvan pieces in the near future.

  6. Traekos77 permalink

    Since Silvan Refugee is cheap, the ally works well for Spirit Heroes that can’t quest for some reason (or it is too risky to do so). Examples would be when Glorfindel doesn’t have Light of Valinor yet or Merry doesn’t have readying.

    Yeah, Silvan Refugee isn’t going to stay forever but a few rounds might be all that is needed.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Definitely. It’s really a tool meant for specific purposes, like the one you mention, so it’s lack of durability isn’t as damaging as it first appears…

  7. William O'Brien permalink

    She’s really good in a Frodo deck, where (as long as other players don’t trigger her) you can probably count on her to be out for a few rounds.

    Since Spirit doesn’t have the best acceleration, I like her even in decks playing 2 spirit heroes, since she allows you to save resources for those key events and attachments.

    As with any 1-cost ally, she transitions well into chump blocker when needed, though you have to plan for it.

    She’ll probably be a good option for Erestor decks, since you want to get cards on the board.

    She essentially should be played as if she were unique, since having more than one out is a good way to lose all of them. For this reason she may sometimes be best as a 2-of rather than a 3-of.

    Just a really well-designed card. It doesn’t jump out as either a staple or a coaster, but a card that requires and justifies smart analysis.

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      Agreed. I like cards like this one that aren’t overpowered or underpowered but require good strategy and deck building to use.

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