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MTG’s four Lord of the Rings Commander decks pits Elven politics against a very chunky Sauron

And to the Command Zone, exile them.

Image credit: Magali Villenueve/Wizards of the Coast

It wouldn’t be a Magic: The Gathering set release without a spree of tie-in Commander decks, and the upcoming Tales of Middle-earth is no different. Four preconstructed decks will imagine the world, heroes and villains of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings as pieces of the popular singleton format.

When Tales of Middle-earth launches on June 23rd, four preconstructed decks will hit hobby shop shelves and online retailers alongside the draft booster boxes and eye-wateringly expensive collector packs. If you’re unfamiliar with Commander, it’s by far the most popular MTG format right now thanks to official support from Wizards of the Coast, multiplayer capability and its ostensible ease of approach - all you need in a deck of 99 cards, each of them unique outside of lands, and a legendary creature to serve as the titular commander.

The Lord of the Rings’ Universes Beyond set puts some very well known faces on the front lines and is promising unique decks amongst their Mana colour combinations that also manage to convey the fantasy of Tolkien’s world.

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The Riders of Rohan is a Jeskai (Blue, Red and White) deck helmed by Éowyn, Shieldmaiden and focusing on human tokens. Éowyn, Shieldmaiden costs five Mana (2 colourless, plus one Blue, Red and White Mana) for a 5/4 legendary human knight creature with first strike. Her ability reads, “At the beginning of combat on your turn, if another Human entered the battlefield under your control this turn, create two 2/2 red Human Knight creature tokens with trample and haste. Then, if you control six or more humans, draw a card.”

That’s a lot of text for one card, but it essentially means that Éowyn’s player wants to be summoning humans every round and maintaining a healthy force of bodies. Doing so allows those tokens with haste to immediately swing on opponents, and it keeps putting cards in their hand - a delicious twofer. Given the support Knights just received in March of the Machine, this deck is sure to be a hot contender.

Food and Fellowship brings back Partner commanders to accommodate everyone’s totally platonic best friends, Frodo and Sam, and allows both to lead the same deck together. The Abzan (Green, Black and White) deck revolves around Food token synergy and Tales of Middle-earth’s signature mechanic - being tempted by The One Ring.

Images: Wizards of the Coast

Frodo, Adventurous Hobbit costs a Black and White Mana for a 1/3 legendary Halfling Scout creature with vigilance. His card text reads, “Whenever Frodo, Adventurous Hobbit attacks. If you gained 3 or more life this turn, the Ring tempts you. Then if Frodo is your Ring-bearer and the Ring has tempted you two or more times this game, draw a card.” Luckily, Sam, Loyal Attendant can supply all the life gain his pal needs in the form of cheap meals: “At the beginning of combat on your turn, create a Food token. Activated abilities of Foods you control cost 1 Mana less to activate.

Elven Council represents the power and influence of the immortal elves, along with their long and troubled history with Sauron and The One Ring. This Simic (Green and Blue) deck puts Galadriel, Elven-Queen in the driver seat and takes the popular colour combination in a bit of politicking position. Galadriel, Elven-Queen reads, “At the beginning of combat on your turn, if another Elf entered the battlefield under your control this turn, starting with you, each player votes for dominion or guidance. If dominion gets more votes, the Ring tempts you, then put a +1/+1 counter on your Ring-bearer. If guidance gets more votes or the vote is tied, draw a card.”

Another wordy card that essentially boils down to card advantage or a slightly stronger creature - either is a boon to the controlling player. And as a 5/4 Elf Noble creature for four Mana (two colourless, plus a Green and Blue), Galadriel brings some solid board presence on her own. Simic decks are known for their runaway potential, so the pivot to a more thoughtful game of forcing opponents into kingmakers is an interesting design choice.

Wheels makes an impassioned argument that Commander is the best way to play Magic: The Gathering.Watch on YouTube

The last deck, The Hosts of Mordor, trucks in the big, bad Sauron, The Lord of the Rings. And at a whopping eight converted Mana cost (5 colourless, plus Blue, Black and Red), this commander will be an absolute beast to summon - don’t expect to see him until the third film of every game. That said, the leader of this Grixis (Blue, Black, Red) deck enters the battlefield like a meteor: “When you cast this spell, amass Orcs 5, mill five cards, then return a creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield. Whenever a commander creature an opponent controls dies, the Ring tempts you.”

Any player who dedicates the resources to summon Sauron will get a 9/9 bully with trample, a 5/5 Orc army token and the choice of threats from their graveyard (which was just helpfully filled by milling). It’s the kind of make-or-break play that could turn the tide of a game and upset the balance of power. Or he could immediately die to a Swords to Plowshare or other exile effect. Either way, he’ll prove to be a massive eyesore.

Until we manage to sit down with these decks and see them in action, it’s hard to judge which will be worth your money and time. That said, three of the four seem to bring a new playstyle to their colour combinations, and Sauron is a bald-face audacious move you just have to respect. Tales of Middle-earth launches on June 23rd, and all of these preconstructed decks should be available at the same time. Prerelease events begin on June 16th in-person and June 20th on Magic Arena.

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