One of the consistent narrative moves JRR Tolkien committed to when describing the history of Middle-earth as portrayed throughout The Lord of the Rings is that the corrupting power of greed is mightier than armies and kingdoms. Magic: The Gathering and publisher Wizards of the Coast must have skimmed those sections of the book because their use of serialised cards for the trading card game’s upcoming Tales of Middle-earth set does a fair job copying Sauron’s homework.
During a recent livestream on MTG’s Twitch and YouTube channel, communications director Blake Rasmussen offered players an extended preview of the first Universes Beyond release, normally reserved for crossover promotions, to fill a core set. Based on Tolkien’s classic fantasy trilogy, Tales of Middle-earth will feature a staggering number of named characters - often two or three versions of individuals - places and artefacts across a trading card set that will be Modern legal and fitted with the usual spate of boosters, boxes and collector-specific packages.
Also returning for the June set are serialised card releases, special treatments printed in limited quantities and distributed throughout the world for players and collectors to chase down. This practice first appeared in major releases with 2022’s The Brothers’ War set, which contained 500-count runs of its 63 retro schematic artifact cards. The serialised number appeared within the art frame and created yet another rarity echelon above mythic rare, foil, alternate art cards - a scheme that fits snugly in Wizards of the Coast’s and Hasbro’s reliance on MTG as a pillar of profit over the last few years.
Tales of Middle-earth’s serialised cards take the form of alternate art Sol Rings whose artwork can either depict the rings gifted to the realms of elves, dwarves and men during the time before the book trilogy’s events. As laid out in a poem, those leaders were given three, seven and nine rings, respectively, which is mirrored in the 300, 700 and 900 serialised foil Sol Rings scattered amongst card printings. These cards will also have their specific version of the poem printed on it in the same ancient text that lies hidden on The One Ring.
Speaking of that fateful piece of jewellery, it gets an extremely special serialised version that Rasmussum giddily explained Wizards of the Coast simply had to do. A single card with traditional foiling, alternate art and the ancient text translation will be printed and placed somewhere amidst English-language Collectors Boosters (which can also be found in Tales of Middle-earth Gift Boxes) for a single lucky player to find. The Rings of Power were meant to weaken the mortal realms through greed and a lust for the power and riches they bestow, but there’s surely no parallel to hiding an ultra-collectible card amongst the company’s most expensive booster packs and reaping the profit as secondary markets speculate on the suddenly higher potential value and drive the card game to even more perilous heights of unaffordability for the average player.
That’s not to say everything in today’s announcement was a disappointment. Much of what was shown displays a deep fondness for The Lord of the Rings and special care towards portraying its world and inhabitants. Rasmussen showed a card for Aragorn and Arwen, Wed wherein the erstwhile king of men was illustrated with dark skin instead of Viggo Mortensen’s more peachy tones. Radagast and Tom Bombadil appeared on their own legendary cards, as did The Shire and Mount Doom - there’s an obvious Legendary theme running through the set.
Frodo, Sam and Gollum took center stage with each showing off two card versions and plenty of variants, including a full–art panoramic scene of The One Ring’s final descent into Mount Doom’s flames. Today was not meant to discuss the mechanical particulars of this set, but more than one card made mention of burden counters and their importance - The One Ring has a broad effect on all who come in contact with it, and it’s gifts and apparently not without drawbacks.
The set’s Modern legality speaks to the relative power level that the design team aimed for: lower than a Modern Horizons release, said Rasmussen, but not by much. Don’t expect any planeswalker cards, as the Spark–imbued icons of MTG’s multiverse don’t exist on Middle-earth. But food and food tokens sure do, and players were promised a more thorough view at that subtheme in the months leading up to release.
More information about Tales of Middle-earth, including its four Commander decks and a still mysterious holiday release currently scheduled for November 3rd, is planned to roll out regularly between now and the set’s release on June 23rd. And in case you forget, there’s still March of the Machines to weather in April before we can enjoy the bucolic bliss of the Shire and a mad Charlie Bucket-esque race to pull that serialised Ring of Power.