Magic the Gathering's newest Universes Beyond set was highly anticipated. The set features new art and themes based on the legendary Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein and is aptly titled, Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle Earth. This set gained a lot of buzz due to a 1-of-1 card representative of the One Ring which was not only a powerful card to play in game, but also rare enough to warrant a bounty of 2 million USD. The One Ring has been found, so all we are left with is the cards and how they play in conjunction with each other and the existing legal cards.
Collecting physical can be expensive, so I funneled most of my energy into one deck. However, with enough effort on Magic the Gathering Arena, some targeted grinding and a few week's worth of dailies can let anybody have access to most of the Lord of the Rings cards (Arena is wonderful for it’s accessibility to those that don’t want to put the cash down). Having tried out a lot of the cards I’m here to report back on how much fun I had with each part of the set.
The Ring Tempts You
The new mechanic introduced in Tales of Middle Earth is an emblem mechanic called “The Ring Tempts You”. The cards in your deck will tell you when this ability triggers. The first time it does, you get an emblem called “The Ring” which enters with it’s first ability active and you choose one of your creatures to be your ring-bearer. The following times that the ring tempts you, you may choose a different creature to be your ring-bearer and the emblem unlocks a new ability (if all abilities are unlocked the ring can still tempt you).
This was the mechanic that I was the least excited about, but it quickly became the one that I loved the most out of all of the things the new cards could accomplish. The first level of the ring gives your ring-bearer the legendary type and makes that creature unblockable by creatures of greater power. This makes all of your attack trigger/player damage creatures with toughness greater than their power (example: Bilbo, Retired Burglar) instantly more consistent and allows for some insane synergies with all of the incredible legendary cards released in this set like Mithril Coat.
The next ability has you draw and discard a card when your ring-bearer attacks which is never a bad idea unless you are playing against some of the insane anti-card draw Dimir cards this set introduces like Orcish Bowmasters or Notion Thief. The third ring ability causes your opponent to sacrifice any creature that blocks your ring-bearer which ultimately seals the deal on your attack triggers when playing against any deck without expendable creatures. Finally, the fourth ability causes each opponent to take 3 damage if your ring-bearer deals player damage. This is much more potent in physical commander and won’t be as crazy in Arena as matches are limited to 1 vs 1.
What I love about this mechanic is that it becomes useless on your larger creatures. It benefits the player much more to place it on say, a hobbit. The flavor alone makes this mechanic so fun to see as a Lord of the Rings fan, getting to see the little guys become your best players. This makes board states become much more dynamic as your best creature becomes Grima, Saruman’s Footman who has just become effectively unblockable and able to play an instant and sorcery in your opponent's deck for free each turn.
There are also creatures that bank off of this ability, notably Wraith cards. Ringwraiths return from the graveyard when the ring tempts you, and Nazgul gain +1/+1 counters when the ring tempts you. Let’s take a minute to appreciate Ringwraiths because that is a fun way to show how they are drawn to the ring's power every time it’s used, just like in the books. Aragorn, Company Leader gives keywords when the ring tempts you; Galadriel of Lothlorien tells the future by letting you scry to fuel the elf engine; Gandalf, Friend of the Shire lets you draw cards, and even Frodo, Sauron’s Bane becomes a win condition by slam dunking the ring right into Mount Doom. This ability so neatly fits in every archetype in Tales of Middle Earth, this makes “The Ring Tempts You” a staple of the set that you can’t ignore and they made it fun enough that you won’t want to ignore it.
Amassing is something that veteran MtG players are used to doing with the undead. This under-used keyword makes its return in Tales of Middle Earth in the Orc type, allowing you to build your one big token that becomes something dependable and a little expendable. The first time you amass Orcs you create a 0/0 Orc Army token with a +1/+1 counter on it. Each time you amass Orcs after this, you keep piling on +1/+1 counters until the hobbits come home. This is a simple and effective way of creating a problematic 15/15 creature at a fair pace.
My favorite part about amass is how this set implements it onto each of its cards. A great many cards Amass Orcs, but just a few cards do only that. Most amass cards will generate higher per mana value by combining the amass keyword with creature ETB’s, counter spells, card draw, removal, indirect damage, and other utility functions. This typically doesn’t come at the cost of extra mana either, so it can feel like you are playing a typical Grixis all-purpose deck with that Orc Army growing passively as you perform normal spells.
Amass Orcs is really strong but lacks consistent ways to cut through opponent defenses. Orcs are a new type, but Army is a Grixis type with some cards that could make this mechanic perform a bit faster such as Widespread Brutality.
Amass Orcs is my favorite mechanic in Tales of Middle Earth because it itches the part of my brain that just wants to play March from the Black Gate and see numbers go up. The deck doesn’t have a lot of obvious upgrades, but I think that’s what is going to make this archetype the perfect place for casual deck-builders or players that are just getting into MtG who don’t have many other cards or want to go hunting for singles.
The typical Elf deck in Magic the Gathering makes a lot of Elves, though in Middle Earth many of the Elves have already fled to the Grey Havens in anticipation of the age of man. The Elves that stayed back to fight against Sauron and his influence were complete badasses. Tales of Middle Earth implements the age-old mechanic of scry as a way to make your Elves strong and fight as many things as possible.
Scry became my second favorite type to play, but not for the reason’s that I originally thought. When you play this deck you will be busy on the stack. Each scry will have you placing counters on things with Elrond, Master of Healing, untapping other things with Legolas, Counter of Kills, and attacking with unblockable creatures like Nimrodel Watcher. But the real benefit of scry is the actual scry itself: being able to choose what you draw next is so powerful that it quickly becomes the best advantage that this deck offers which Palantir of Orthanc helped me realize (it’s in all my Arena decks now).
Any deck that I tried to make with these cards never took off strong. Triggering ability after ability is exciting and dynamic, however, there was not enough on offer here without the help of older cards to make scry a reliable source of board strength. If I continue to sit down and mess with this a bit longer I’m certain that I could make the Simic deck of my dreams. This Elf type deck I would recommend to anyone looking for a deck-building challenge.
Human-type decks have been a staple in magic for a long time, giving each other wild things like hexproof and first-strike all the time. The Tales of Middle Earth set does these things but adds a twist involving its legendary cast. Your big Rohan characters are going to love it when you cast other humans, but the real triggers are going to go off when your other legendary creatures are out.
The humans of this set have really fun crossovers into other Boros archetypes, making these cards particularly good to put into your other decks. With strong synergies in exile play, equipment, and even monarchy emblems, the human cards here have a lot of different win conditions and they all work well together so that mid-game you can have multiple options. I’ve already seen full decks starring Aragorn, King of Gondor that finish games quickly.
I won’t lie, I didn’t play this a lot. It’s mainly because Boros just isn’t my thing. But I’ve seen this deck make a decent amount of humans and make them fairly strong as well. I’ll go ahead and say that if you have liked human-type decks in the past then you’ll have a lot of fun here as well. Expect this to be easy to upgrade with cards you probably have laying around from other sets although you might find that you are using the Tales of Middle Earth cards to boost some of your preexisting decks instead.
Food is not great, being a token that sacrifices when you pay 2 colorless mana to restore 3 health. I tried to make this work in many different ways, but there ended up not being many strategies revolving around food tokens without involving other tokens or sacrifice triggers. I will most likely keep playing around with this to see if I can make something work, but I feel confident in saying that this is the weakest of the mechanics as far as winning games. There may be some fun in the ability triggers that you can pull off to see how much food you can stockpile if that's your thing.
There are good token combinations in this type like Rosie Cotton of South Lane or Shortcut to Mushrooms. The latter is probably more aimed towards food tokens but Rosie Cotton can be slapped onto any token engine and be really valuable.
Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant is the main win condition of this mechanic, stating that as you hit 111 health points you can pay his ability to play every creature in your deck for free. While life gain has always had shenanigans like that in their decks, I would argue that 111 life is a little low for an ability like this. Anybody who has played against a decent life gain deck knows that they can shoot their life up above 500 in record time given the right circumstance. 111 health is a lot when we are talking about food tokens though so in this ecosystem it makes sense. A Sam, Loyal Attendant on the field can quickly turn the tides of a food deck, but unfortunately, the few great cards don’t help this archetype out of most of the pinches it’s bound to get into.
The Battle of 5 Mechanics
As a Lord of the Rings fan and a Magic the Gathering fan I was super excited to finally get my hands on some of these cards and I’m glad that it was worth the wait. The preconstructed commander packages would get their cardboard butts kicked by the previous Universes Beyond set based on Warhammer 40,000. But the presence of Tales of Middle Earth in Arena as an Alchemy set made this fun collaboration accessible to anyone with a smartphone or PC. Now that the hunt for the 1 of 1 ring is over I am hoping that these cards become more and more available in local game shops so that we can start seeing Nazgul on people's playing mats. I’m definitely biased towards this release, but I recommend this set to anyone looking to start or continue playing Magic the Gathering, anyone that misses Fantasy Flight's rendition of the Lord of the Rings Card Game, or just anyone that collects Lord of the Rings stuff in general.
Sign in or become a SUPERJUMP member to join the conversation.