Before there was Messenger of the King, there was Sword-thain.


The term sword-thain is used only a few times in the books. We first see it used when Theoden offers to have Merry ride with him and act as his squire.

You shall be my esquire, if you will. Is there gear of war in this place, Éomer, that my sword-thain could use?

Book 5, Chapter 2: Passing of the Grey Company

It subsequently only comes up again when Theoden dismisses Merry as his pony will not be able to keep up on the ride to Minas Tirith. In the context used, it seems to be a formal title for a squire. The historical thane or thegn, however, was a lordly title similar to a knight. The term largely used prior to William the Conqueror’s conquest of England. A period of history that Tolkien studied and took inspiration from.

Card Theme

The card refers to Merry joining Theoden’s service, but in the previous chapter Pippin swears his sword to Denethor. Prior to this, the readers had not seen them really demonstrate martial prowess. If anything they had fallen into trouble in The Old Forest, in the barrows, and captured by orcs. Granted, they managed to convince the Ents to march on Isengard, but still that them being persuasive. It is once they join the armies of Gondor and Rohan and participate in the Battle ofPelannor Fields and rescue Faramir from the pyre that they become much more heroes in their own right. The change is apparent when they return to the Shire. They can easily push past gate guards, shirriffs, and turn back waylaying ruffians through shows of confidence. The Sword-thain card then represents the turning point where they “level up” much as the card promotes an ally into a full blown hero.

Card Synergies and Interactions

Resource or Attachment Acceleration

Now Sword-thain at 4 cost is fairly expensive. Even if the effect of gaining another hero is well worth it. You’re not going to play it first turn without some resource acceleration. Leadership Denethor hero, Steward of Gondor, and Legacy of Numenor are a couple options for getting it out first turn, but they require Leadership.

Bartering - Lore Event - 0 cost - Planning Action: Choose a ready player attachment on a character you control. Return that attachment to its owner's hand to reduce the cost of the next attachment played this phase by X, where X is the chosen attachment's cost.

First, I’d like to thank Marcelf over at Ringsdb for putting me onto this combo with his Barliman and Robin deck. Bartering the 0 cost Lore event offers a couple interesting options for putting it into play on the cheap. If you are running all Lore heroes or couple heroes of one sphere with a Lore hero, you can play the record attachments for 1 or 2 cost. Use Bartering to return it to your hand then play Sword-thain for free since the discount is by the printed cost. Lore offers some very low cost unique allies like Ioreth and Henamarth Riversong that can be played first turn with it. Then you can start gaining an additional resources.

Another option is to utilize Tactics Beregond’s discount on Weapon and Armor attachments. Basically any 2+ cost weapon or armor on him will let Bartering discount Sword-thain. Citadel Plate, Spear of the Citadel, Raiment of War, and Raven Winged Helm are good options to transfer the discount.

There are a couple other options for getting Sword-thain into play without paying the full 4 cost, but they are limited to dwarves.

Well-Equipped can put it into play for free onto a unique Dwarf. There’s certainly no shortage of targets with 9 of the 13 dwarves in Thorin’s Company represented by allies. Bofur even has 2 different versions. Outside The Hobbit Saga expansions, Gimli ally, Azain Silverbeard, and even the infamous Brok Ironfist.

Ring of Thror requires a Dwarf hero to use. Unlike Well-Equipped, the attachment that is discarded can go on any non-neutral unique ally.

Sneak Attack

Many unique allies are higher cost. Another way to get a Sword-thain hero is to Sneak Attack one into play. Then attach Sword-thain to it before the end of the phase. It won’t return to your hand anymore because it is no longer an ally. You can use this with other temporarily put an ally effects into play, such as, Horns! Horns! Horns! and Gwaihir’s Debt. Although with the latter you will be limited to Gwaihir and Landroval since Sword-thain can only be used on non-neutral unique allies.

Effects that Scale with the Number of Heroes

There are a number of cards that the effect is based on the number of heroes. Usually they require they belong to a particular sphere or have a named trait. Chief among these is Caldara.

Caldara can return an ally from the discard for each Spirit hero the player controls. A Sword-thain hero counts for this effect allowing you to return 3 allies with Sword-thain. You can even get up to 4 if Spirit Prince Imrahil is in play since he instantly becomes a hero when Caldara is discarded.

Another mono-Spirit favorite is Pelargir Shipwright. It’s willpower is equal to the number of Spirit heroes you control. This means with a Sword-thain Spirit hero, it has 4 willpower rivaling that of Eowyn and Cirdan.

I mentioned earlier the record attachments can be played for 1 or 2 cost. This is because Tome of Atanatar, Scroll of Isildur, Map of Earnil, and Book of Eldacar cost 1 less for each hero of the matching sphere. It’s possible to make these cost 0 once Sword-thain hits play.

Mithrandir’s Advice can draw a card for each Lore hero. This card in a mono-Lore deck with Sword-thain can draw nearly as many cards as Peace and Thought without having to exhaust 2 heroes. Then a free Scroll of Isildur can recur it for you.

Tactics Merry and Frodo’s Intuition similar to the others do more for each hero you have. The difference being that their effects are based on the number of Hobbit heroes rather than the sphere. Frodo’s Intuition overlaps with another kind of scaling effect by giving each hero +1 willpower. These card don’t explicitly scale like those mentioned. Instead these get better the more heroes you have because they affect each one. Tighten Our Belts, Legacy of Numenor, and We Are Not Idle can all garner up to 4 resources with a Sword-thain hero. Hour of Wrath when in Valour (threat is 40 or higher) will let all heroes attack and defend without exhausting. Captains of the West will boost all Noble heroes’ willpower and have them quest without exhausting. While Captains of the West is trait restricted, there are many unique Noble allies that make great Sword-thain heroes.

Unique Allies

While it is a requirement of the card, there are definitely some better targets than others. Generally, the unique allies with strong combat stats or very useful abilities are top targets. Jubayr is a good example of both. His strong defense and ability to discard a shadow makes a solid defending ally. Once he is a hero additional attachments open up like Dunedain Warning and Armored Destrier that can turn into a defender for the entire table. Tactics Nori is one where his combat stats aren’t stellar and making him a hero can help make his ability more reliable. Then he can have great attack boosting attachments like Dagger of Westernesse or War Axe. He could even have a Rohan Warhorse to possibly destroy 2 enemies and get 2 cards from the discard on the bottom of the deck.

Speaking of readying, there are more options for readying heroes than allies. This is great for allies with great abilities that trigger by exhausting like Leadership Faramir and Rosie. Faramir could add 2 or more willpower to a player’s questing characters. Rosie has always had potential to use her ability multiple times a round thanks to Fast Hitch, but opens up to running her without Lore. Additionally, willpower boosting attachments like Celebrian’s Stone and Fireside Song can make her ability even more powerful.

Ring Rating

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.

I rate Sword-thain at 3 rings. The 4 cost can be a big ask especially without some resource acceleration. There are a couple ways, however, to play it on the cheap. When built around it, you can get some really great mileage out that extra hero. It can really improve the effectiveness of unique allies with strong abilities like Rosie and Leadership Faramir. It even opens up some unique ally turned hero voltron builds. Especially as it doesn’t have the readying limit that Messenger of the King does. There is also a fun factor to this card. If your favorite character for some reason isn’t a hero but an ally. Then you can make them one. There are fun builds out there that aim to get 5 – 7 heroes or at least near hero allies. These usually have 3 normal heroes, a Sword-thain hero, Thalion, Treebeard, Over Hill and Under Hill Gandalf, and/or Radagast. Sword-thain won’t fit into every deck, and it is on the expensive side. Despite those drawbacks, it offers a lot of deck building possibilities.

  • Dave – 6
  • Grant – 4
  • Ted – 7
  • Matt – 3
  • Average – 5

Sample Decks

Barliman and Robin by Marcelf

Sword-thain is a major piece of resource acceleration in this deck. Scroll of Isildur is used for Bartering Sword-thain or Resourcefuls into play. The Scrolls are important to play and use to recur Risk Some Light over and over again. Getting to be free also helps accelerate resources.

Barliman and Robin

Main Deck

Hero (3)
Bilbo Baggins (The Hunt for Gollum)
Folco Boffin (The Dungeons of Cirith Gurat)
Pippin (The Black Riders)

Ally (19)
1x Barliman Butterbur (The Black Riders)
3x Erebor Hammersmith (Core Set)
1x Firyal (The Mûmakil)
1x Gaffer Gamgee (Mount Gundabad)
1x Gandalf (Over Hill and Under Hill)
1x Ghân-buri-Ghân (The Flame of the West)
1x Gildor Inglorion (The Hills of Emyn Muil)
1x Henamarth Riversong (Core Set)
3x Ithilien Lookout (The Dunland Trap)
1x Mablung (The Land of Shadow)
2x Mirkwood Explorer (The Thing in the Depths)
1x Quickbeam (The Treason of Saruman)
1x Robin Smallburrow (The Drowned Ruins)
1x Warden of Healing (The Long Dark)

Attachment (12)
1x Fast Hitch (The Dead Marshes)
3x Love of Tales (The Long Dark)
3x Resourceful (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Scroll of Isildur (The Morgul Vale)
2x Sword-thain (The Dread Realm)

Event (19)
2x Bartering (The Wilds of Rhovanion)
3x Deep Knowledge (The Voice of Isengard)
3x Drinking Song (Mount Gundabad)
3x Mithrandir’s Advice (The Steward’s Fear)
2x Peace, and Thought (Shadow and Flame)
3x Risk Some Light (Shadow and Flame)
3x The Shirefolk (Mount Gundabad)

3 Heroes, 50 Cards
Cards up to Mount Gundabad

Decklist built and published on RingsDB.

Aggro Caldara v4 by Beorn

Post-errata Caldara deck utilizing Noldor discard to fill the discard pile with targets for Caldara’s ability.

Main Deck

Hero (3)
Arwen Undómiel (The Dread Realm)
Caldara (The Blood of Gondor)
Círdan the Shipwright (The Grey Havens)

Ally (30)
1x Elfhelm (The Dead Marshes)
3x Emery (The Blood of Gondor)
1x Escort from Edoras (A Journey to Rhosgobel)
1x Gamling (The Land of Shadow)
2x Glorfindel (Flight of the Stormcaller)
1x Háma (The Treason of Saruman)
3x Imladris Stargazer (Foundations of Stone)
3x Jubayr (The Mûmakil)
3x Northern Tracker (Core Set)
3x Pelargir Shipwright (Assault on Osgiliath)
3x Prince Imrahil (The Flame of the West)
1x Rhovanion Outrider (Temple of the Deceived)
1x Súlien (The City of Corsairs)
1x Westfold Horse-Breaker (The Hunt for Gollum)
3x Zigil Miner (Khazad-dûm)

Attachment (9)
2x Light of Valinor (Foundations of Stone)
3x Narya (The Grey Havens)
1x Steed of Imladris (Across the Ettenmoors)
3x Sword-thain (The Dread Realm)

Event (11)
3x A Test of Will (Core Set)
1x Dwarven Tomb (Core Set)
3x Elven-light (The Dread Realm)
2x Hidden Cache (The Morgul Vale)
2x Stand and Fight (Core Set)

3 Heroes, 50 Cards
Cards up to The Mûmakil

Decklist built and published on RingsDB.

Ring around the Rosie (saga) by TheChad

Chad of Cardboard of the Ring’s LOTR Saga deck that makes Rosie the Sword-thain hero. Then boosts her willpower with Celebrian’s Stone, Fireside Song, etc.

Main Deck

Hero (3)
Merry (The Wastes of Eriador)
Pippin (The Black Riders)
Sam Gamgee (The Black Riders)

Ally (18)
1x Bill the Pony (The Black Riders)
2x Celduin Traveler (The Nîn-in-Eilph)
3x Gandalf (Core Set)
2x Ithilien Lookout (The Dunland Trap)
3x Master of the Forge (Shadow and Flame)
1x Quickbeam (The Treason of Saruman)
3x Rosie Cotton (The Mountain of Fire)
1x Treebeard (The Antlered Crown)
2x Warden of Healing (The Long Dark)

Attachment (18)
1x Celebrían’s Stone (Core Set)
3x Fast Hitch (The Dead Marshes)
2x Fellowship of the Ring (The Road Darkens)
2x Fireside Song (Beneath the Sands)
3x Friend of Friends (The Mountain of Fire)
2x Resourceful (The Watcher in the Water)
1x Song of Hope (The Black Serpent)
1x Staff of Lebethron (The Land of Shadow)
3x Sword-thain (The Dread Realm)

Event (15)
3x A Test of Will (Core Set)
3x Elevenses (The Thing in the Depths)
3x Frodo’s Intuition (The Black Riders)
3x Sneak Attack (Core Set)
3x Timely Aid (The Redhorn Gate)

3 Heroes, 51 Cards
Cards up to The Mountain of Fire


Attachment (5)
3x Hobbit Cloak (The Black Riders)
2x Hobbit Pony (The Wastes of Eriador)

Decklist built and published on RingsDB.

Big Hero Six by Zeromage

This deck aims to have 6 heroes in play or at least 4 heroes and 2 hero-like allies in play (Gandalf and Treebeard).

Main Deck

Hero (3)
Beravor (Core Set)
Círdan the Shipwright (The Grey Havens)
Denethor (Flight of the Stormcaller)

Ally (24)
1x Arwen Undómiel (The Watcher in the Water)
3x Envoy of Pelargir (Heirs of Númenor)
3x Erebor Hammersmith (Core Set)
3x Errand-rider (Heirs of Númenor)
1x Faramir (Core Set)
3x Galadriel’s Handmaiden (Celebrimbor’s Secret)
3x Gandalf (Over Hill and Under Hill)
1x Glorfindel (Flight of the Stormcaller)
1x Henamarth Riversong (Core Set)
3x Treebeard (The Antlered Crown)
2x Warden of Healing (The Long Dark)

Attachment (13)
3x Ent Draught (The Treason of Saruman)
1x Gandalf’s Staff (The Road Darkens)
1x Light of Valinor (Foundations of Stone)
3x Narya (The Grey Havens)
1x Shadowfax (The Treason of Saruman)
3x Steward of Gondor (Core Set)
1x Unexpected Courage (Core Set)

Event (13)
3x Daeron’s Runes (Foundations of Stone)
3x Dwarven Tomb (Core Set)
3x Elrond’s Counsel (The Watcher in the Water)
2x Gaining Strength (The Steward’s Fear)
2x The Galadhrim’s Greeting (Core Set)

3 Heroes, 50 Cards
Cards up to Flight of the Stormcaller

Decklist built and published on RingsDB.