Magic: The Gathering’s latest set is another ambitious ‘Universes Beyond’ IP crossover, following the success of the Warhammer 40K commander decks in 2022. This time, we find ourselves immersed in the stories and landscapes of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, with The Lord of the Rings and are presented with a huge array of booster products, preconstructed decks and alternate card art treatments, making it highly collectable as well as playable in all the usual ways.
Context and Disclaimer
This is not a set review. Magic: The Gathering’s The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle Earth is a fantastic time, and there are many ways to enjoy it, but I am not here to break down the pros and cons of the set. It is also not a list of the best cards in the set, or the most expensive cards, or the ones you have to buy now. Those lists are everywhere, so here I am going to take you through my picks for some of the most interesting cards in the set, and those which interact with other players, or even the rules of the game, in different and interesting ways.
Whether or not a card is interesting is subjective, so this is an inescapably biased list, but I hope that it will make for an interesting read, perhaps make you think about a card that has passed you by in the maelstrom of new sets and products, and maybe generate a discussion or two.
#10 - Palantír of Orthanc
The minigame that the Palantír of Orthanc adds to the table for the first couple of turns after it is played is brilliant. Your chosen opponent has to decide whether they want you to draw or mill the card(s) that you scryed to the top of your deck, either giving you resources or risking taking an unknown amount of damage. The mind games and the element of chance involved are sure to be a good time for everyone.
The reason this is not higher on the list is that after a certain point, when you have accumulated influence counters enough that the risk of taking massive damage isn’t worth the denial of resources for your opponents, this simply ends up reading ‘end step - scry 2, draw a card’ which is undeniably good, but is no longer the kind of interesting that I want for this list.
#9 - Too Greedily, Too Deep
This one in part makes the list because its flavour is absolutely off the charts. We dug too greedily and too deep and awoke Yargle and Multani from their slumber. And on arrival they absolutely decimate the board.
Board wipes are an important way to interact with a boardstate that is getting out of hand, but they can run the risk of bringing games to a grinding halt, forcing all players to rebuild from scratch. Too Greedily, Too Deep will almost always wipe the board if there is anything of sufficient size in a graveyard, and will leave you with a significant threat after the dust settles, putting you ahead on an otherwise empty board and keeping the game moving, only now the momentum is in your favour.
Add a haste enabler like Rising of the Day and now your awakened creature can hit the ground running, the sun behind it, ready to gloriously mangle opposing life totals.
#8 - Hithlain Rope
Sharing resources with your opponent(s) is a key part of the political side of Magic: The Gathering’s gameplay, most notably in the multiplayer commander format. Hithlain Rope is part of an ever-increasing toolbox of cards that you can leverage to make deals with your opponents, allowing you to offer a land or a card to the player on your right in exchange for whatever you might need in the moment.
I will concede that this card is not particularly good (that is not why we are here), because even if your opponents make use of it every turn, the fact that it is moving around the table in the opposite direction to the turn order will mean that in a standard four-player commander game you will have access to it once every four turns. And there is a very real risk that it just gets stuck somewhere on the opposite side of the table.
Even so, a card that moves around the table giving everyone resources and the ability to have even small political engagements is both interesting and interactive (and that is why we are here).
#7 - Gríma, Saruman's Footman
Cascade is likely one of the most popular keywords in casual Magic: The Gathering, letting you flip cards from the top of your deck until you hit a card meeting certain criteria and casting that spell for free. Randomness is fun, in a non-competitive sense, and every time we cascade we are looking at potentially changing the game in a completely unknown way.
Gríma, Saruman's Footman allows us to cascade into an opponent’s deck to find and cast a random instant or sorcery card every time he hits that player. And given that he can’t be blocked, hitting players is more or less guaranteed. You could find a simple Ponder, or a Last March of the Ents, anything could happen!
While the spells that Gríma casts are random, there is some opportunity for selective attacking depending on what you need at the time. If you’re struggling for lands, maybe hit the green player and hope for a ramp spell, or if there’s a particularly threatening creature on board, send Gríma at whoever you think has the most removal in their deck. This card gives us randomness and decision making in one small, slick-haired package, and interacts directly with our opponent’s deck in wild and unpredictable ways.
#6 - Shagrat, Loot Bearer
Shagrat, Loot Bearer picks up/ puts on a piece of equipment every time he attacks. This allows us to get around equip costs, and means he will rarely end up entering the declare blockers step as the innocuous 4/4 that he seems to be on first impression.
Aside from being fun and flavourful, there is a crucial absence of ‘you control’ in his rules text. Shagrat doesn’t discriminate, he will take anyone’s equipment, and he doesn’t care if someone else is wearing it at the time. Shagrat can take the Lightning Greaves right off your opponent’s commander’s feet, leaving them cold, shroudless and ripe for removal. He can pluck the Sword of Feast and Famine from another creature’s unexpecting hands, suddenly changing the power dynamic of the game entirely.
One of the weirdest and most wonderful things that Shagrat can do is be on the board at the same time as Bludgeon Brawl. This turns every artifact on the board into equipment, which Shagrat is ready and willing to bear. He will gladly pick up and hit your opponent in the face with their Sol Ring, or their Tempting Contract, or their Eldrazi Monument. It’s just silly. Shagrat changes up the way equipment exists on the board, and can really mess with your opponents’ plans.
#5 - Call for Aid
While there may be some use cases for this card in 1v1 formats, it will primarily have its home in a multiplayer commander game. Upon resolution, you get control of every creature an opponent controls until the end of turn, to do with as you will – except sacrifice them. This is most commonly going to be swinging the full force of two players at one other player to deal with their own threats and/or take them out of the game, but it could also allow you to use any of their abilities for your own purposes.
It is not a complicated card, but it has a lot of potential to create fun situations, and to change the game up in a major way. In a situation where an opponent has a wall of blockers that they are comfortable behind while facing down attacks from one player at a time, a combined strike can be the necessary blunt implement to break through. But even if you just take an opponent’s single creature to benefit from its ability before throwing it into a lethal block, it can really change the state of the board.
And what if your opponent doesn’t want to send aid? It doesn’t matter, my beacons are lit, we’re allies now whether you like it or not.
#4 - Taunt from the Rampart
Taunt from the Rampart is a game-ending card. Forcing every creature your opponents control to attack someone who isn’t you, and making them effectively unblockable, will result in massive haymakers being swung around the board and after a certain point in the game will almost always end up with people being taken out of the game entirely.
Goad is already an interactive mechanic, breaking board stalls and forcing opponents to throw their creatures into sub-optimal combats. Mixing in those creatures not being able to block turns this card up to 11, and it aggressively forces the game to change direction – almost inevitably in your favour.
#3 - Shelob, Dread Weaver
Although powerful, exiling your opponents’ creatures rather than letting them go to the graveyard is generally not considered to be particularly fun way to interact with other players, since it can easily shut off entire decks and strategies. However, Shelob, Dread Weaver only
holds your opponents’ creatures in exile until she is ready to use them, and is happy to introduce them back into the game in one of two powerful ways.
For three mana, cashing in a creature for a card and two +1/+1 counters is a good rate, but if Shelob has snared a more powerful creature that you could make use of she can bring it back to the battlefield under your control for slightly more than its normal casting cost. In this way, Shelob, Dread Weaver reduces your opponents’ options while giving you more, and will make players think very carefully about what dies and when.
#2 - Fealty to the Realm
The monarch is one of the best mechanics added to multiplayer Magic: The Gathering in recent history. It is simple – at the end of their turn, the monarch draws a card. But such power comes with risk, and if anyone hits you with a creature, this presumably represents a successful coup and they steal the monarchy and the royal rights to an extra card. Straightforward as it is, it is enough to get people attacking each other more enthusiastically which keeps the game moving and often results in a faster, more energetic game overall.
Fealty to the Realm supercharges the monarchy token by tying a creature to it, so that whenever the monarch moves, control of the creature moves with it. This is a huge boost to the value of the monarchy and will serve to get people even more ready to overthrow each other. It also notably doesn’t have to be your creature, and the secondary effect of the card prevents whatever it enchants from attacking you, so you are safe from the chosen creature while it remains loyal to the crown (enchanted).
#1 - Círdan the Shipwright
The ‘Elven Council’ preconstructed commander deck brought the voting mechanic back to our tables, with some of its new cards taking it a step further. Secret Council requires all players to vote, but where previously voting mechanics allowed you to discuss and place votes openly, now all votes must be cast secretly and revealed together.
Círdan the Shipwright perfectly exemplifies this new mechanic. Whenever he enters the battlefield or attacks, all players secretly vote for a player, and once the votes are revealed everyone draws a card for each vote they got. But that’s not all – if a player receives no votes, they get to put any permanent from their hand into play for free.
This creates the perfect conundrum for everyone at the table. Do you want to vote for the player with the most cards in hand to make sure they can’t put something powerful into play? But what if everyone does that and they draw loads more cards, and then everyone else’s boards get out of hand? Maybe you can trust someone else to vote for the scary player, and throw a vote somewhere else to make sure that they don’t get to play a permanent out for free. But what if nobody votes for them?
At the end of the day, with no ability to control where other players are voting there’s rarely a right answer, but this will get everyone overthinking and lead to some really splashy plays and boardstate upsets. I’m not entirely clear how this mechanic is representative of building ships though.
So, that was my top 10 for the most interesting and interactive cards from Magic: The Gathering’s The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle Earth. Wizards of the Coast have created a set that is true to the story and flavour of its source material, while still creating new and engaging card designs for us to experience. I hope that you have enjoyed the list, and let me know if you agree or disagree with my choices!
Before signing this one off, I have an honourable mention that I feel should be noted as certainly an interesting thing that the set has brought us*, and that is the 1/1 ring.
While the card itself does not make the list design-wise, a serialised 1/1 card is unprecedented and had a massive impact on the set as a whole. As a concept, I think it was an interesting experiment, and from the hype that it generated I can only imagine that it was a successful one.
The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle Earth certainly does not disappoint in terms of interesting and interactive cards. Whether you pick these cards up individually or open them in a pack, I hope that they create fun and memorable games for you and your group.