Set Prospective

The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth

July 10th, 2023 — Parker LaMascus

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.

Community Results

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!).

Filter by rarity:
Card TestersRank 
Orcish Bowmasters46.0%8.0
Stern Scolding43.9%7.3
Delighted Halfling31.7%7.7
Flame of Anor22.3%6.6
Andúril, Flame of the West22.3%6.3
Flowering of the White Tree20.9%6.9
The One Ring18.0%7.5
Rally at the Hornburg16.5%6.8
Minas Tirith16.5%7.1
Troll of Khazad-dûm15.8%7.3
Lórien Revealed15.8%6.9
Wizard's Rockets15.8%6.8
Generous Ent15.1%7.6
Mirkwood Bats15.1%6.8
Eagles of the North14.4%6.7
Rosie Cotton of South Lane14.4%7.3
Shire Terrace13.7%7.5
Éowyn, Fearless Knight13.7%6.7
Mount Doom13.7%7.7
Samwise the Stouthearted12.9%6.7
Cast into the Fire12.9%6.8
Samwise Gamgee12.2%7.0
Meneldor, Swift Savior11.5%6.4
Palantír of Orthanc11.5%6.2
Peregrin Took11.5%6.5
Pippin, Guard of the Citadel11.5%6.7
Many Partings10.8%6.6
Merry, Esquire of Rohan10.8%7.1
Denethor, Ruling Steward10.1%7.2
Elven Farsight10.1%6.6
Arwen, Mortal Queen10.1%5.8
Horn of the Mark9.4%6.3
Gothmog, Morgul Lieutenant9.4%6.9
Rise of the Witch-king9.4%6.9
Lotho, Corrupt Shirriff9.4%6.2
Long List of the Ents9.4%5.9
Shire Shirriff9.4%6.0
Prince Imrahil the Fair8.6%6.2
Moria Marauder8.6%5.8
Dunland Crebain7.9%5.5
Saruman's Trickery7.9%7.1
Oath of the Grey Host7.9%6.6
Grishnákh, Brash Instigator7.2%7.0
Improvised Club7.2%7.9
Westfold Rider7.2%5.6
Mordor Muster7.2%6.0
Éowyn, Lady of Rohan7.2%6.4
The Shire7.2%7.6
Meriadoc Brandybuck7.2%6.4
The Bath Song7.2%6.0
Legolas, Master Archer6.5%6.9
Entish Restoration6.5%6.8
Gandalf's Sanction6.5%6.4
Saruman the White6.5%5.7
Fear, Fire, Foes!5.8%8.0
Deceive the Messenger5.8%5.8
Call of the Ring5.8%7.5
Shadowfax, Lord of Horses5.8%7.3
Old Man Willow5.8%7.6
Easterling Vanguard5.8%5.7
Shelob's Ambush5.8%7.0
Mines of Moria5.8%6.9
Glóin, Dwarf Emissary5.8%5.7
Shadow Summoning5.8%7.4
Council's Deliberation5.8%6.0
Foray of Orcs5.0%6.5
Stew the Coneys5.0%7.4
Ent's Fury5.0%6.2
Bitter Downfall5.0%8.0
Hithlain Knots5.0%7.3
Wose Pathfinder5.0%6.7
Voracious Fell Beast5.0%6.6
Sauron's Ransom5.0%5.9
Forge Anew5.0%5.2
Spiteful Banditry5.0%5.6
The Grey Havens5.0%7.7
Great Hall of the Citadel5.0%7.2
Aragorn, the Uniter5.0%8.2
Gandalf the Grey5.0%7.0
Morgul-Knife Wound4.3%6.1
Gollum, Scheming Guide4.3%7.6
Frodo, Determined Hero4.3%5.7
Horn of Gondor4.3%7.9
Saruman of Many Colors4.3%7.2
Shower of Arrows4.3%8.3
Revive the Shire4.3%7.7
Swarming of Moria4.3%6.8
Smite the Deathless4.3%8.3
Lobelia Sackville-Baggins4.3%8.0
Gollum's Bite4.3%9.0
Pelargir Survivor4.3%7.4
Second Breakfast4.3%7.3
Landroval, Horizon Witness4.3%7.0
Hobbit's Sting4.3%7.7
Doors of Durin4.3%7.4
Bill the Pony4.3%7.3
Goldberry, River-Daughter4.3%7.3
The Balrog, Durin's Bane4.3%8.3
The Mouth of Sauron4.3%8.0
Gimli, Counter of Kills4.3%6.9
Gorbag of Minas Morgul4.3%6.8
Tale of Tinúviel4.3%7.0
Gandalf the White4.3%7.6
Sauron, the Dark Lord4.3%7.1
Théoden, King of Rohan4.3%7.6
Dawn of a New Age4.3%7.0
Ranger's Firebrand4.3%7.5
Press the Enemy4.3%5.4
Birthday Escape4.3%6.9
Cards being tested by fewer than 6 respondents not shown.

Single Card Discussion

Three Ringers for the Elves

Stern Scolding
Orcish Bowmasters

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…”

Delighted Halfling
Flame of Anor
Andúril, Flame of the West
Flowering of the White Tree

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

Wizard's Rockets
Generous Ent
Samwise the Stouthearted
The One Ring

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.

Further Reading

  • 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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