I’ve been involved in the fan-expansion project A Long-extended Party for a little over a year now, and let me tell you: I have been so excited for our next pack, The Glittering Caves, for such a very long time.
As highlighted in the pack’s announcement article, this expansion will contain additional support for the top-of-your-discard-pile Noldor mechanic introduced in The Grey Havens. Back in the day, I remember putting together a deck to try to make good use of the three allies that formed the core of this mechanic, the Sailor of Lune, the Mithlond Sea-watcher, and the Warden of the Havens. The deck was really fun to play, but it was so severely underpowered that I wasn’t really able to get it to work outside of multiplayer, where other players could pick up the slack for my silly little theme deck.
So, imagine my excitement when I heard that as part of ALeP we were planning not only to add some additional support to this neglected archetype, but also to continue to use the Grey Havens theme to thematically differentiate them a bit from other Noldor cards. One of the things I love about card games is playing around with the intersection of theme and mechanics, so giving the Grey Havens characters a mechanical niche of their own hits my brain right in the dopamine center.
Let’s check out the cards
The release article spoils two cards which are useful for this archetype. Gaeronel is a Hero who receives a different bonus based on the type of the top card of your discard pile, giving you a reason to lean your whole deck into this mechanic from round 1. Relic of Nargothrond solves another problem the deck has, allowing you to reliably get an Attachment on top of your discard pile to turn on the defense boosts on Gaeronel and the Warden of the Havens. Since it can be played from the discard pile, you can always play it again next turn, making it easily repeatable.
There are already plenty of Noldor-themed events (such as Elven-light or Elrond’s Counsel) which you can use to activate the willpower buff of Gaeronel and the Sailor of Lune. The attack bonus, however, which requires an Ally on top of your discard pile, remains difficult to activate without additional support. You could chump block, but if you’re depending on chumps round after round you’re bound to wear down your own board state. You might have an ally in hand to discard to some other Noldor discard effect, but how many turns are you really going to be able to repeat that? And when it comes down to it, there aren’t that many ways to discard a card after the defense step that can provide you with a tangible benefit, anyway.
This is where another new card from this pack comes in: Wandering Spirit, spoiled here for the first time.
Despite being an Ally, Wandering Spirit is not allowed to enter play. Her only value is after you’ve used some other card effect to drop her into your discard pile. But once she’s there, you can trigger her ability to have her move 1 or 2 cards up or down. This means that you can discard her earlier in the round to fuel some other Noldor-related effect and then move her to the top of your discard pile once the time is right to help activate your attack bonuses. If you’re careful about how many cards you discard each round, you can even keep moving your single copy of Wandering Spirit back to the top, round after round, making your attack bonuses much more reliable.
Eventually, though, your Spirit inevitably gets buried a little deeper in your discard pile than you might like, and moving 2 cards at a time isn’t enough to bubble her up to the top anymore. When this happens, you can use the Spirit’s secondary effect: after moving her in your discard pile, if she is next to a Noldor Ally with a cost of 2 or less (and you’ll note that all of the key Grey Havens Allies cost 2) you can spend 1 Spirit resource and remove the Wandering Spirit from the game to put that Ally into play. It’s a modest cost reduction over playing the ally outright, but in a tri-sphere deck I’m always happy to take all the resource smoothing and acceleration that I can get.
A match made in the Halls of Mandos
But this being my blog after all, we can’t just talk about the mechanics of the new card. We’ve got to talk about the theme as well! This is an interesting one, since there are a few different ways to interpret it.
The Elves of Middle-earth are immortal. It is said that when they die, their spirit (or fëa) is called to the Halls of Mandos in Valinor. They dwell there for a time, and eventually—if Mandos deems them worthy—they may be reincarnated in a new body. One possible interpretation of this card is that it represents just such a reincarnation. Indeed, this is what happened to Glorfindel, who was fatally wounded by a Balrog in the First Age, but later left the Undying Lands and returned to Middle-earth to aid the free peoples during the Third Age.
Returning to Middle-earth from Valinor after death is exceedingly rare, however; as far as we know, Glorfindel was the only Elf to do so. Perhaps this spirit is merely on her way to Valinor, but has not yet arrived. Her presence may be inspiring other Elves who yet remain in Middle-earth to press on through hardship and continue fighting even when all else seems lost.
For a third possible interpretation, there’s also this passage, from the story of Beren and Lúthien:
Long Beren lay, and his spirit wandered upon the dark borders of death, knowing ever an anguish that pursued him from dream to dream. Then suddenly, when her hope was almost spent, he woke again, and looked up seeing leaves against the sky; and he heard beneath the leaves singing soft and slow beside him Lúthien Tinúviel. And it was spring again.The Silmarillion, Of Beren and Lúthien
It may be that this Wandering Spirit is facing a similar fate to Beren, walking the shadowy spaces between death and life, trying to decide whether to pass on to the Halls of Mandos or to find her strength to return to the lands of the living.
Regardless of how we specifically interpret it, I love how this card uses the mechanics of moving through the discard pile to evoke the themes of death, liminality, and rebirth found in the Elves of Middle-earth. Tolkien spent a lot of time thinking on the metaphysics of the Elven afterlife, and it’s neat to see how a card like this can bring some of that worldbuilding to the fore.
Keep an eye out, friends
Gaeronel, Relic of Nargothrond, and Wandering Spirit all add a lot to the Grey Havens top-of-your-discard-pile archetype. But there are still more cards to come! I can’t wait to show you my new Grey Havens deck once The Glittering Caves is fully released; it feels great to see this deck style finally come together.
It’s a perfect time for me to dust off my Thematic Nightmare series and take some of these new cards for a spin through the quests of Nightmare The Grey Havens. Watch the ALeP main page for a release article later this month; once I have these cards in hand you can be sure I’ll be yearning to hear the crying of gulls and the crash of the waves on the shore!