It wasn't all that long ago when the first Universes Beyond crossover into Magic: the Gathering was announced. Some people were happy, some were sad, and some were very, very mad. Fast forward nearly three years and Wizards of the Coast has forged ahead with the largest and most ambitious UB crossover yet - Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth.
There's a lot to unpack with this Modern-legal set and everything else accompanying it. To help with such a daunting task, the bravest of Cardsphere staff and community members have come to lend their swords, bows, and axes as they make their picks for their favorite new cards from the set.
As always, picks can be based on any criteria they desire, from sheer power to interesting tech, or from beautiful art (there's a lot) to the subtlest of flavor details. For this installment, I am joined by fellow CS Discord tunnel snakes, Doug (@dougyfresh88) and Josh (@gunhoe86), Discord community member, Futura (Futurato on CS), and community member and Commander content creator, Tico MTG (Tico MTG on CS, @ticomtg on YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook).
The amount of Food support in Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth is absolutely fantastic. Peregrin Took is possibly one of the best cards in the set for the strategy and it is wildly under the radar. The replacement effect to make an additional Food token whenever you create tokens isn't quite
Chatterfang, Squirrel General tier of absurdity but it's still really good. I was already queueing this card up for a deck or two before I re-read it and saw the words "draw a card" on the bottom. Heavy breathing...
Stone of Erech
As a graveyard enthusiast, I really do not like this card. But seriously, this card is really good. Unlike some other 1-mana artifacts that exile graveyards and replace themselves (
Relic of Progenitus,
Lantern of the Lost, etc.), this card also does work while sitting there on the battlefield. It really puts the hurt on aristocrat strategies, doing a pretty good
Rest in Peace or
Leyline of the Void impression that can be later cashed in for a card when you don't need it. So good... I mean, no, please, don't play it.
The Black Gate
I love all of the new legendary lands in the set.
Minas Tirith and
Mines of Moria are fantastic for a lot of decks, but I think my favorite is
The Black Gate. It enters untapped more reliably than the others and can make any(!) creature unblockable if it's attacking the person on the throne (i.e. most life or tied, like the dethrone mechanic). This can be extremely useful for getting in important combat damage triggers or just dunking on the person with the most life. With all these new Bilbo decks running around, unblockable commander damage sounds neat. Of course, it does nothing if you are the person on the throne, but black is pretty good at helping you to pay life for things. And it's a Gate!
Tom is a childhood favorite of mine. I remember my dad taking me to the theater to see the first movie and being upset over his lack of presence. While I have come to accept that the movies probably made the right call with how much content they had to fit in, I am glad Wizards of the Coast didn't do him dirty and even gave him a fairly unique ability to build-around.
Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant
I don't normally get around to playing much Commander, but as soon as I read the text on Bilbo, I had a good chuckle. I don't expect many people will manage to actually activate the ability on this card, but then again, a hundred and eleventh birthday is a rare enough occasion that it should feel special.
Red is so often the color of "expensive mythic enchantment that sounds really cool but doesn't do enough to matter by the time you cast it." Spiteful Banditry stood out as a legit contender of a card for big red decks, giving them a pseudo sweeper similar to
The Meathook Massacre. I don't know if this will see competitive play but I know I will be happy to open one in my limited pools.
Claim the Precious
The art and storytelling on this card distills the moment in the story so well. It's such a dark and sad moment in the history of the Ring, and the card's rules text matches that point of the story so well.
Quickbeam, Upstart Ent
It's clever to show Ents as Treefolk, and Quickbeam is a great character to make an appearance in this set. He's quite a jovial and playful Ent, which is a stark contrast to the others. I'm sure Quickbeam would find a welcome spot in a
Doran, the Siege Tower Treefolk Commander deck.
There and Back Again
Such a cool representation of Bilbo's tale... Become invisible... Find a Mountain... Fourteen Treasure tokens... Perfection!
Grond, the Gatebreaker
GROND! GROND! GROND! GROND! GROND!
Arwen, Weaver of Hope
Sometimes you have an idea rolling around for a deck for years and when you finally get around to building it, you realize that–oh no–all of those spicy, ideal, sublime cards for the deck only get you to 80% of a list you’re happy with. But lo! In the era of too-much-Magic, sometimes the exact card you’re looking for gets printed into existence and you excuse Wizards for cutting down another patch of old growth forest to print more Jumpstart (the bad kind).
Jasmine Boreal of the Seven deck is a vanilla and anthem themed deck running every vanilla 1-drop available to Selesnya printed to date. As such, the usual rate of +1/+1 just doesn’t cut it, as a yoked up 2/3
Sanctuary Cat still has a climax-of-Akira’s way to go before it can rumble. Luckily, Arwen’s here as a new anthem lieutenant that scales with every other anthem beautifully, boosting even more as she gets boosted! Notably, I’m also including
Aragorn and Arwen, Wed as a top-end lieutenant that can buff the team with multiple counters, but given Arwen’s bargain of a mana cost and breathtaking synergy with the rest of the deck, it’s the bachelorette party and not the wedding that I’ll be writing home about.
Playability is a perfectly valid reason to love new cards and it seems like we’re all tweaking our decks come every new set release. Art collection updates happen much more infrequently. For me, going through the visual spoiler gives me a good overview of not only a new set’s mechanics, but also its art direction; unsurprisingly, cards for the trading card game based on the prestige work of fantasy fiction look absolutely amazing.
Calder Moore is a new Magic artist who contributed four card arts to the Warhammer decks and six here. The “Barrow-Downs” Bojuka Bog and “Weathertop” Deserted Temple box toppers are wonderful works full of texture through visible brush strokes, but the art on the modest Commander deck reprint of
Drowned Catacomb is what really gets me. Beautiful lines and angles and haunting colors here prove that they don’t always save the best art for the borderless stuff.
The One Ring 001/001
Calling dibs on this one. All joking aside, this one’s mine. Just kidding!–give it to me.
Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant
I was first introduced to the power of
Lathiel, the Bounteous Dawn in the March of the Machine draft format and I immediately started brewing a Selesnya lifegain Commander deck. However, I was sad that many of the cards in my pre-existing
Liesa, Shroud of Dusk deck wouldn't play into the GW colors. That's when I got Bilbo's invitation to an Abzan lifegain deck. There have been so many powerful green lifegain cards since the Witherbloom precon in the Commander 2021 release from Strixhaven. Bilbo allows access to cards like
The Great Henge,
Essence Warden, and
Prosperous Innkeeper, so my existing punish-you-for-my-lifegain WB deck won't be redundant or lost. Super happy to get the best of all worlds.
WotC tries so hard to make these awkward green
Ponder-y cantrips good, but this time… they still failed. But you should have seen the face my playgroup's
Eligeth, Crossroads Augur &
Kydele, Chosen of Kruphix player made when this card was spoiled. It's a commander legal
Ancestral Recall for him and possibly better than that if his library's top card is a
Cryptic Annelid or
Field-Tested Frying Pan
I have been trying to convince myself for years that an equipment deck would work; I've seen so many hyped and lost to time. I have considered all the big guns, but my favorite card from MOM: Aftermath,
Nahiri, Forged in Fury, is what has finally convinced me it's possible. Nahiri works best when you are flipping creature after creature with its attack trigger, but it only makes equipment free- and let's be honest, it's only good when it gets equipment for free.
We have been given Reconfigure creatures, For Mirrodin! cards, and Living Weapon cards plus all those "ETB create a creature then attach it" cards, but even with all of those options, there are only eight Reconfigure cards, eleven For Mirrodin! cards, thirteen Living Weapon cards, and only four equipment that guarantee a creature with them. Big oof, that's less often than I get asked during a game if I will pay the one. But
Field-Tested Frying Pan joins those ranks. It isn't groundbreaking on rate, but I am excited for one more free spell that can attack the very next turn and grab another card.