The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth
This article is part of our community-sourced Set Prospective series. We survey Cube designers before the set’s official release to document their first impressions of new cards.
Cardboard wizardry goes on an unexpected journey to the fantasy world that started it all! Magic makes its biggest foray into licensed expansions with Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, bringing the hosts of Mordor and the denizens of Hobbiton under the gaze of the Cube community.
Cube-bearers submitted 139 surveys for Tales of Middle-earth, a cohort similar to past Commander-focused special releases, with the confounding factor of a (thoroughly justified) Reddit strike reducing our survey’s reach. Our median respondent is testing 6 cards. They’ve given out an average rating of 7.8, firmly in the upper quartile of possible scores. And at least one respondent is building a set cube based on LTR with as many as 277 cards from the set (659 if you count duplicates!).
|Flame of Anor||22.3%||6.6|
|Andúril, Flame of the West||22.3%||6.3|
|Flowering of the White Tree||20.9%||6.9|
|The One Ring||18.0%||7.5|
|Rally at the Hornburg||16.5%||6.8|
|Troll of Khazad-dûm||15.8%||7.3|
|Eagles of the North||14.4%||6.7|
|Rosie Cotton of South Lane||14.4%||7.3|
|Éowyn, Fearless Knight||13.7%||6.7|
|Samwise the Stouthearted||12.9%||6.7|
|Cast into the Fire||12.9%||6.8|
|Meneldor, Swift Savior||11.5%||6.4|
|Palantír of Orthanc||11.5%||6.2|
|Pippin, Guard of the Citadel||11.5%||6.7|
|Merry, Esquire of Rohan||10.8%||7.1|
|Denethor, Ruling Steward||10.1%||7.2|
|Arwen, Mortal Queen||10.1%||5.8|
|Horn of the Mark||9.4%||6.3|
|Gothmog, Morgul Lieutenant||9.4%||6.9|
|Rise of the Witch-king||9.4%||6.9|
|Lotho, Corrupt Shirriff||9.4%||6.2|
|Long List of the Ents||9.4%||5.9|
|Prince Imrahil the Fair||8.6%||6.2|
|Oath of the Grey Host||7.9%||6.6|
|Grishnákh, Brash Instigator||7.2%||7.0|
|Éowyn, Lady of Rohan||7.2%||6.4|
|The Bath Song||7.2%||6.0|
|Legolas, Master Archer||6.5%||6.9|
|Saruman the White||6.5%||5.7|
|Fear, Fire, Foes!||5.8%||8.0|
|Deceive the Messenger||5.8%||5.8|
|Call of the Ring||5.8%||7.5|
|Shadowfax, Lord of Horses||5.8%||7.3|
|Old Man Willow||5.8%||7.6|
|Mines of Moria||5.8%||6.9|
|Glóin, Dwarf Emissary||5.8%||5.7|
|Foray of Orcs||5.0%||6.5|
|Stew the Coneys||5.0%||7.4|
|Voracious Fell Beast||5.0%||6.6|
|The Grey Havens||5.0%||7.7|
|Great Hall of the Citadel||5.0%||7.2|
|Aragorn, the Uniter||5.0%||8.2|
|Gandalf the Grey||5.0%||7.0|
|Gollum, Scheming Guide||4.3%||7.6|
|Frodo, Determined Hero||4.3%||5.7|
|Horn of Gondor||4.3%||7.9|
|Saruman of Many Colors||4.3%||7.2|
|Shower of Arrows||4.3%||8.3|
|Revive the Shire||4.3%||7.7|
|Swarming of Moria||4.3%||6.8|
|Smite the Deathless||4.3%||8.3|
|Landroval, Horizon Witness||4.3%||7.0|
|Doors of Durin||4.3%||7.4|
|Bill the Pony||4.3%||7.3|
|The Balrog, Durin's Bane||4.3%||8.3|
|The Mouth of Sauron||4.3%||8.0|
|Gimli, Counter of Kills||4.3%||6.9|
|Gorbag of Minas Morgul||4.3%||6.8|
|Tale of Tinúviel||4.3%||7.0|
|Gandalf the White||4.3%||7.6|
|Sauron, the Dark Lord||4.3%||7.1|
|Théoden, King of Rohan||4.3%||7.6|
|Dawn of a New Age||4.3%||7.0|
|Press the Enemy||4.3%||5.4|
Single Card Discussion
Three Ringers for the Elves
Three ringers emerged from Tales of Middle-earth: powerful game effects that are unobtrusive and intuitive enough to improve any cube like gold adorns a finger. Almost as if the ringers have a will of their own. As if they want to be found… found, and used…
“I was happily surprised that this set was not ridiculously pushed. I was expecting Modern Horizons 3, but instead, we just got a fun and flavorful set.”
LTR’s standout among Cube owners is Reprieve. The tempo-positive answer nabs even uncounterable threats, and its color-shift offers White a value-over-replacement higher than the battlements of Minas Tirith. Truly one ringer to rule them all (or, at least, rule six in ten survey respondents).
Stern Scolding follows Reprieve like a Ringwraith on the hunt. Gandalf’s censure of diminutive creatures will land hard among Constructed’s pool of impactful utility creatures, and it’s just as easy to filter your cube for Stern Scolding’s impact:
“The quotes from the books really make the set come alive.”
The similarly powerful Orcish Bowmasters also takes aim at small creatures, while covering well-known Cube combos and archetypes. The Bowmasters are also the most-tested card featuring LTR’s new variation on Amass. Not to rain on these archers’ bowstrings, but a portion of their popularity might be due to a ”Fable fallacy”, where abundant nominal synergy masks a synergy-crushing amount of rate.
“All that is gold does not glitter…”
Another quartet of LTR cards fall between 20% and 33% popularity. These have less Constructed heat than LTR’s standouts, and are also all higher-rarity, which excludes them from some cubes.
Nearly a third of our respondents are delighted to meet their newest mana dork in Delighted Halfling. Part Gilded Goose, part Mox Amber, and all the good feelings of accelerating a curve of legendary permanents.
Flame of Anor kills The Balrog, as it should, but 187s pretty much anything else, too. The buyout mode of an instant-speed Divination and the promise of incidental synergy with a popular creature type only kindles the Flame higher.
“Since Cube has become so open-ended and versatile, there will be a lot of niche hits [in LTR].”
Speaking of fire, Andúril, Flame of the West is a self-fueling ”Sword“-style of snowballing equipment. Equipment-matters is a pillar of many an Eternal cube, and the midrange nature of such decks means that a changing of the guard can be most welcome.
Flowering of the White Tree iterates on Honor of the Pure and Glorious Anthem. Legends-matter entices Cube owners with the promise of novel archetypal space, even if this is the kind of upside that is rarely relevant in practice.
Spoils of Moria
LTR’s other themes may have slipped beneath the notice of our collective Eye, but just like hobbitfolk, they are full of surprises.
“Great packages for Token and Food themes.”
Wizard's Rockets, a Texas-hold-‘em Terrarion, is the most-tested common from Tales of Middle-earth with nearly 20% popularity. In addition to its power, Rockets, like Generous Ent and other land-cyclers, is buoyed by eligibility in Pauper. (Generous Ent is coincidentally the most-tested card that mentions LTR’s Food-matters archetype.)
“I'm not testing any 'tempted' cards. I've already been burned by Monarch and the Initiative...”
Samwise the Stouthearted is the most-tested card to reference LTR’s flagship mechanic, The Ring, but Sam’s sub-15% playrate is dissonant with its high-floor synergies. Cube owners may be once-bitten and twice-shy about persistent resources after the power of Initiative and Monarch or the headaches of Day/Night. But The Ring, destined for one-on-one Magic, scales more fairly than monarchy, and requires its bearer to attack to get any tangible bonus, ensuring participation in Magic’s most interactive turn phase. And unlike Day/Night, players will only track The Ring if a card explicitly references it — they can even tuck the helper card partway behind a Ringbearer to minimize memory issues. The Ring is the best-designed persistent resource ever created for one-on-one Magic, and its wealth of elegant cards makes it my pick for Cube’s most unappreciated aspect of Tales of Middle-earth.
Finally, The One Ring has already shaken up Modern and Legacy with its raw power and Time Walk ceiling, but fewer than one in five Cube owners are testing it. (Perhaps we should have cottoned on to it being powerful, seeing as it’s the eponym of the whole set and book series.)
As always, a huge thanks to our respondents for their enthusiasm and responses. You make our passion for Cube possible. Until next time, may your jewelry remain unburdensome and your breakfasts include seconds.
- Tolkien’s writing was so formative to Western fantasy that it almost feels cliché at this point. If you’re looking to read fantasy with a more global and diverse set of inspirations, check out recent bestsellers like The Poppy War, Children of Blood and Bone, The Fifth Season, Parable of the Sower, Black Leopard Red Wolf, The Priory of the Orange Tree, and my personal favorite, The Grace of Kings.
- If you’re like me, too tired to walk any further, some Tolkien-themed anticapitalist shanties may be just the thing: “Where there’s a whip, there’s a way.”
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