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Admit it, you cracked open the Core Set (or Revised Core Set) for the first time, saw Gleowine, laughed at the artwork, and immediately thought “surely this card can’t be very good.” However, as is the case with many things in life, one of the golden rules of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is to not immediately judge a book, or card, by its cover. Or even first impressions. There are multiple facets to a review of Core Set cards that launched the game over 10 years ago including considerations such as its impact in the early card pool/quests as well as how the card ages as the card pool grew and matured. Gleowine is no exception, and many of these points, among others, will be examined in this review.
Background / Lore
Not much is known about Gleowine. He is only mentioned briefly in The Return of the King after the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. He was King Theoden of Rohan’s minstrel who accompanied him from Edoras to Gondor during the Ride of the Rohirrim to come to Gondor’s aid against the enemy. In the wake of the epic battle’s conclusion, Gleowine penned a song memorializing Theoden (which the flavor text of his card refers to). An interesting fact is that the name Gleowine means “music friend.”
Out of doubt, out of dark, to the day’s rising
he rode singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
Hope he rekindled, and in hope he ended;
over death, over dread, over doom lifted
out of loss, out of life, unto long glory.
– Gleowine, The Return of the King
Alternate Art (ill. unknown) Alternate Art (by Beorn)
While Gleowine the minstrel was not counted on to fight with the Rohirrim or lead the charge into battle, he would have provided support via his comforting and invigorating songs in the halls of Edoras or in the rear lines of battle, always near Theoden the king. This is reflected in his unimpressive stats yet very helpful ability.
When considering thematic uses for Gleowine, the best place to start is his traits. First, we’ll start with Minstrel. Interestingly, he is one of 2 cards in the game with the Minstrel trait. Any guesses who the other one is??? Rivendell Minstrel is…..somehow not traited Minstrel. That honor goes to the Galadhrim Minstrel. So if you’re hoping to build a deck using the Minstrel archetype, hate to burst your bubble.
Gleowine’s Rohan trait, however, now there’s a well-developed archetype. So how well does Gleowine fit into a Rohan deck? Not amazing, surprisingly, for a couple of reasons. First, his sphere. As a Lore ally, he obviously will need a hero with the Lore resource icon. There is only one Lore Hero with the Rohan trait: Grima. This is actually not a bad hero to combo off of for Gleowine as long as you are prepared to offset the threat increase from Grima, since the cost of the extra cards Gleowine will draw you can be reduced by 1 once per round. The problem is Grima is better suited for Doomed decks, not Rohan. This leaves you needing to add a Lore resource icon to another Rohan character with cards like Song of Wisdom or A Good Harvest, or else using a non-Rohan Lore hero in your Rohan deck. Not terrible options, but this leads to the second drawback of Gleowine in a Rohan deck.
Rohan decks are built around the mechanic of discarding Rohan characters (i.e. allies) for various benefits such as attack boosts, willpower boosts, readying, etc. If you can get Gleowine into play in a Rohan deck, you can discard Eomund to ready Gleowine and draw a card more than once that round, which is great! If one of your heroes is Theoden, Gleowine only costs 1 when you play him, which again is fantastic and even thematic. The rub comes from the fact that Gleowine is a Rohan ally you want to keep in play as long as possible to get maximum card draw, which goes against the ally discard mechanic of the Rohan archetype. More on this later.
So to answer the question of how well Gleowine fits into a Rohan deck in one word: meh. He will help you draw your essential cards faster and can have his cost reduced to 1 by both Grima and Theoden, and several allies being discarded will allow you to ready him and draw you another card, but you also have to consider how you’re going to get him into play with the dearth of Lore Rohan heroes. And when he is in play drawing you cards, you aren’t going to want to discard him to trigger those beneficial Rohan boosts.
My final comment on theme is that I think the designers should have created a Spirit version of Gleowine later in the card pool as the archetype matured. Perhaps with a Quest Action where you could exhaust him to add +2 WP to a questing Rohan hero (+3 if that hero is Theoden or Eomer) or something like that. This would have been much more fitting thematically for the King’s minstrel.
Card Synergies and Interactions
We’ve looked at Gleowine in a thematic Rohan deck, so now let’s give him a more holistic look when considering putting him in a deck. I’ll show my cards up front (pun intended) and say he is amazing! Card draw is a crucial component of deck building, for if you are top decking your way through a quest then you are likely going to lose. You need a way to get those key cards out as quickly as possible, and Gleowine will provide any deck consistent, repeatable card draw. For the cost of only 2 Lore resources, you get exactly that with this guy. The earlier in the game you can get him on the table, the greater ROI for those 2 resources and the better off you’ll be with more cards in your hand. If you already have card draw elsewhere in your deck such as Daeron’s Runes, Deep Knowledge, Beravor, etc., and you don’t draw Gleowine until the late-game, then he is probably a win-more card at that point.
Next, his stats. 1 WP, 0 attack, 0 defense, and 2 HP adds up to 3, which at face value appears to make Gleowine overcosted by 1 given the standard ally cost of Stat Total divided by 2 = Cost. His ability, though, is where he actually will provide a benefit over time. Think of it this way: if you consider 1 resource to draw one card as a standard cost throughout the game on various cards (Campfire Tales, Hidden Cache, etc.), then Gleowine nets you a benefit after drawing you only 2 cards. You can commit him to the quest in a pinch if you are desperate for more WP, but only do that as a last resort. His ability can often draw you the card you need that same round to quest successfully. For new players this could mean getting Radagast’s Cunning, Secret Paths, Sneak Attack or Gandalf in your hand before the quest phase, which can be more beneficial to you in the Quest phase than Gleowine’s 1 WP. Do not attempt to defend with him unless you are in dire need of a chump blocker, as his 0 defense and 2 HP will almost never survive any enemy attacks in this game.
One other consideration when including Gleowine in your decks is ally readying. This might not be a good first choice since the number of cards that ready allies is slim to none, but one such card is Grim Resolve, which new players will have access to right away in the Core Set. This will ready not just Gleowine to draw you another card, but every character on the table will gain action advantage that round. Other ally readying options include Brand Son of Bain, Narya attached to either Cirdan the Shipwright or Gandalf, The Free Peoples, Leather Boots, Spare Hood and Cloak, and Faramir. Most players find, though, that you don’t get too far beyond the Core set when you start some better card draw options (i.e. Ancient Mathom, Daeron’s Runes, Foe-Hammer, Deep Knowledge) to also include in their decks rather than looking for ways to ready Gleowine.
What I love about Gleowine is that there is literally not a single deck you wouldn’t want him in. His cost is low, Lore is a top notch sphere (rated the community’s favorite sphere in Card Talk’s 2021 Superlative February poll), every single deck will benefit from card draw, and one of the most amazing things about Gleowine is that he is equally as effective in solo and multiplayer!
Messenger of the King Contract
Here’s where things get even more bonkers. Let’s just say there is a reason Gleowine placed 4th out of 83 eligible targets for the contract in Vision of the Palantir’s December 2021 poll on best MotK heroes. Because Gleowine is a unique ally, he is an eligible target for the Messenger of the King contract. For those unfamiliar, this contract allows you to search your deck for a unique ally during Setup who then loses the ally card type and gains the hero card type. To determine that now-hero’s starting threat, you simply add up their total WP, attack, defense, and HP and that is their starting threat. They are now a hero and function in every way as one.
For Gleowine this means a few things. First, he is now a 3 threat Lore hero. That is among the lowest heroes in the game and tied with Smeagol. With so many good Secrecy cards being in the Lore sphere (e.g. Risk Some Light, Noiseless Movement, Out of the Wild, etc), being a 3 threat Lore hero helps with this plus he can help you draw those cards faster.
Second, as a Lore hero he allows you to deckbuild knowing you are going to be most likely drawing an extra card every round, which opens up your options (i.e. you can feel free to include less card draw when building your deck). Finally, he has a variety of readying options now! Unexpected Courage is the most obvious, but you can now include other readying cards such as Cram, Steed of the Mark, Westfold Horsebreaker, Lembas, Miruvor, etc. that can only ready heroes.
The final consideration of Gleowine as a MotK hero is that he is now a 3rd option to consider among card draw heroes, the other 2 being Beravor and Bilbo Baggins who are both also Lore heroes. I’ll briefly compare him with each. Beravor is no doubt a solid hero and is quite versatile with a balanced stat line and her Dunedain and Ranger traits. She can also target a player of your choice like Gleowine can, and provides 2 cards to his 1. However, she is a whopping 7 threat higher than Gleowine, and her ability was errata’d to “limit once per round.” You have no such restrictions with Gleowine. As for our old friend Bilbo Baggins, that 9 threat looks even worse than usual compared to Gleowine’s 3. They both have 1 WP and 2 HP, but because Bilbo has 1 attack and 2 defense where Gleowine has 0 for both, some players like to Voltron Bilbo with attachments. This is not advisable with Gleowine! Both draw you one card each round reliably, where Gleowine’s ability is an action and Bilbo’s is passive. Not a huge deal, but advantage Gleowine here as you can choose which player gets the extra card, whereas Bilbo is restricted to only granting that extra card to the first player and only in the resource phase, which can be a disadvantage in multiplayer. VERDICT: Gleowine is better than Bilbo and can often be better than Beravor, depending mostly on whether or not you want her traits or stats for the quest you’re building for.
Combos and Nonbos
Combos: Some of the best combos with Gleowine can be found in the Core Set/early card pool. He works perfectly with Eowyn by replacing the card you discard to use her ability each round. An even better combo is Eowyn + Stand and Fight + Gleowine where Gleowine draws you extra cards, and you can then select one from the glut of carts that is likely now in your hand to discard for her ability, and finally use Stand and Fight to put it into play using her resources. Another combo is Protector of Lorien + Gleowine for the same reason: he simply gives you consistent card draw to provide a glut of cards in your hand to use Protector of Lorien to great effect. Another card to combo with him is Daeron’s Runes. You have to discard a card from your hand after drawing 2 cards, and having Gleowine to provide that extra card draw gives you plenty of options (hopefully a duplicate unique).
Nonbos: As mentioned above, his ability allows him to still be helpful to a Rohan deck, but he is not helpful to the archetype’s mechanism of discarding Rohan allies to trigger boosts elsewhere because you don’t want to lose his card draw! Eomer, Lothiriel, Eothain, Ride to Ruin, and many others are great cards to include in a Rohan deck, but there are so many other cheap allies you can include to fuel these abilities that won’t negatively impact you like discarding Gleowine would.
The only quests you definitely want to avoid bringing Gleowine along to are The Fords of Isen as well as The Dunland Trap, both from the Ringmaker Cycle. These quests contain the dreaded Dunland encounter sets that punish you for drawing cards and/or having a lot of cards in your hand.
- Ability Timing – Some encounter deck analysis will help you get an idea of whether or not you can use Gleowine to draw a card anytime you want, or if you need to be more careful on timing. Some classic early cycle examples of nasty cards that can quickly take out Gleowine if you aren’t careful are the Necromancer’s Reach and Dark and Dreadful treacheries. These cards deal 1 damage to each exhausted character, even if they’re exhausted for a different reason than being committed to the quest (Dark and Dreadful will kill Gleowine outright if the location is a Dark location). The key in these examples is to use Gleowine’s ability AFTER the quest phase. If you are playing a quest with encounter cards like these, a helpful suggestion is to use his ability during one of the Combat Phase action windows. This way you get the card draw right before he refreshes for the next round.
- Solo or Multiplayer? – I already touched on this above, but Gleowine is amazing in both solo and multiplayer. In solo games he obviously only draws you a card as the only player, but in multiplayer you can decide who you want to draw the card and when. Some turns it could very well be you that you choose to draw a card for yourself, but it is always nice to give your fellow adventurers a hand and spread the card draw wealth when you can.
Card Talk uses the highly scientific yet arbitrary scale of 1 ring for the card to rule them all to 10 to be cast back into the fiery chasm from whence it came.
The beauty of Gleowine is in the card’s simplicity and versatility (notice I didn’t mention the artwork in there). It’s a simple action: “Exhaust Gleowine to choose a player. That player draws 1 card.” While new(er) players will likely include him in more decks than veteran players will, he is absolutely a card that has stood the test of time. His ability is consistent in that you can use it every single round. It’s repeatable because there are no restrictions on how many times per phase or round you can use it. He’s in a sphere that has many of the best cards in the game. He only costs 2 resources. He can go into literally any deck and be effective. He is as helpful to a solo player as he is in a multiplayer game. The addition of the Messenger of the King contract breathed new life into him and opened up many new and exciting deckbuilding options with him as a hero, to the point the community thinks of him as a top tier target for this contract. To me, the MotK factor boosts him from a good card to a great card. Will you include him in every deck? No. Should he be a consideration for including at least 1x when building a deck though? Absolutely!
- Dave – 4
- Grant – 3
- Ted – 3
- Matt – 2
- Eric – 2
- Average – 2.8
Deck name and creator
“YOU get a card! And YOU get a card! And YOU get a card!” – stone_of_eric (me)
“Stealthlands” – jvaderhttps://ringsdb.com/decklist/view/18426/stealthlands-1.0
“Love of Drinking Song” – Marcelf