Welcome to an enchanting realm of wonder and magic where elves, dwarves, humans and hobbits live in our Magic the Gathering: Tales of Middle-Earth review! So it’s not too different to other planes around the Magic The Gathering multiverse.
This time around we’re looking at Magic The Gathering’s latest set: Universes Beyond Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth. A special set featuring the characters and story from J. R. R. Tolkien’s books of the same name.
As usual we’ll be diving into the story, mechanics and art in our set review. So follow along on this unexpected journey as we go Helms Deep in our article.
Tales of Middle-earth Review – What Is Universes Beyond?
In 2021, it was announced that Magic would be introducing this sub-brand to release alongside the regular line of products. It’s a way to introduce new IPs to Magic by creating cards based on the worlds, characters and stories of those IPs.
So far we have seen crossovers with the likes of The Walking Dead, Street Fighter, Stranger Things, Warhammer 40K and a multitude of other brands and now they have released their most ambitious crossover yet. While this has caused controversy with some members of the community, the overall attitude towards UB is mixed. Though Wizards have stuck to their word and not mixed these other universes into the story of Magic.
One bit of controversy is that while some cards like the ones found in the Stranger Things and Street Fighter Secret Lair product have had in-universe counterparts known as “Universes Within” there are many other cards that have not seen and most likely will never see an in-universe reprint. This will most likely be the case for the over 300 cards in the LotR set as there are just too many to actively reprint.
Tales of Middle-earth Review – New and Returning Mechanics
Let’s start off with the big new mechanic of the set: The Ring Tempts You. This brand new mechanic invokes the power of The Ring. Whenever The Ring tempts you, two things will happen. First, you get to choose a creature to be your Ring-bearer. If you already have a Ring-bearer, you can continue to have that creature remain as your Ring-bearer or choose another, though you can’t have 2 Ring-bearers at the same time. The second thing that happens is that The Ring gains its next ability. Once you have been tempted 4 times, The Ring will reach its full power.
Two things to note is that The Ring can tempt you even if you don’t control a creature and the creature you choose to become your Ring-bearer will become legendary if it isn’t already. This mechanic feels similar to the Dungeon mechanic from the set Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. Though unlike when you complete a dungeon and can go through again, you can only power up The Ring to full once per game.
Another new mechanic that is similar to a previous one is Amass Orcs. On the surface of it, this is the Amass mechanic from War of The Spark just with an Orc coat of paint to represent the forces of Mordor. When you Amass Orcs, you create an Orc Army creature token, if you don’t have one already, and put +1/+1 counters on it equal to the Amass value. However, you can’t have more than 1 Orc Army token as it’s supposed to represent an ever growing army. While I still understand the flavour of these mechanics, I would have still preferred the ability to create multiple armies and increase their strength individually. It also feels like a flavour fail to be able to kill an entire army with a single target kill spell.
The most pronounced returning mechanic though is Food. Used to represent the “sneaky hobbitses”, the Food mechanic allows you to create a Food token that can be sacrificed for 3 health. While on the surface this doesn’t seem like that big of a detail, there are other cards that can do even more with Food tokens. Such as the card, Savvy Hunter, which allows you to sacrifice 2 Food tokens to draw a card or, more on theme, Pippin, Warden of Isengard which let’s you sacrifice 4 Food tokens to give your other creatures +3/+3 and haste until end of turn.
While it’s not actually a mechanic, I wanted to just point out how many variations of characters there are in this set. While it’s most likely because that while there are many great characters in the source material, there really aren’t many in total. Because of this, many of the main characters got multiple cards with just variations to their names and different effects. Frodo has 4 variants and Gandalf has a total of 5 if you take the Commander decks into consideration!
Tales of Middle-earth Review – Artwork
As to be expected from a set focused on the works of Tolkien, the artwork in this set is to die for. From the whimsy of the shire, to the intense action of the Battle of Pelennor Fields, each card is filled with such stunning artwork.
Though while you look at and take in the beauty of the cards, you may find yourself asking a few questions. These will be along the lines of “where is Elijah Wood as Frodo?” Or “Where is my Orlando Bloom as Legolas?” Or even “why wasn’t Saruman depicted as the legend himself, Christopher Lee?!” This is because Wizards decided to go with their own interpretations of the characters likeness’, which I feel is a missed opportunity, as we could have had the first instance of a Sean Bean character death in card form.
As with each set that gets released, we get treated to some special showcase artwork. One of the special showcase card types are the Ring Frame borders. These are cards depicting 30 legendary creatures from the set with unique art framed in a circle with the words from the One Ring around them. This is supposed to represent the temptation of the ring and how it affected those characters.
What’s even more amazing with the showcase cards as we even have some borderless cards depicting scenes when put together. Now this isn’t the first time Wizards has done this. At one point there were some basic lands that fit together the create a panoramic view. However, Wizards went above and beyond this time.
There are 7 panoramic murals that you can make with these showcase cards and they just keep getting larger. There’s a 4 card mural depicting The Ring and Gollum falling into Mount Doom while Sam and Frodo look on which is available in the bundle, a 4 card mural depicting Pippin getting into a fight. There is a 6 card mural depicting Gandalf entertaining the hobbits in The Shire during Bilbo’s Birthday, another 6 card mural depicting the fight with the Balrog in the Mines of Moria and another 6 card mural depicting the final scene at the end of the story.
There’s also a 9 card mural depicting Saruman watching over the last march of the Ents, and finally there is a massive 18 card mural depicting the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Putting these all together create beautiful pieces of art that one could quite easily frame.
The art doesn’t stop there either. You may be lucky enough to open a pack and get some special full art basic lands which can be put together to depict the full map of Middle-Earth.
Or if you want to splurge and buy a booster box of packs you can be treated to a box topper. These are cards that already exist in Magic but are given a LotR name and artwork makeover. A couple of notable inclusions are The Great Henge depicted as The Party Tree and Cavern of Souls depicted as Paths of the Dead.
Also while they aren’t special art cards, I have to mention the Nazgûl cards. Not only can you have 9 Nazgûl cards in your deck as opposed to the standard 4, but there are also 9 unique artworks to collect. A true flavour win if I’ve ever seen one.
Tales of Middle-earth Review – Serialised Cards
Much like the Multiverse Legends from our last review, Wizards have brought back the chance to find some serialised cards. However, there are only 4 variants to find.
First off we have the card Sol Ring, a staple for any and all commander decks, Wizards gave it the special treatment and gave it 3 unique artworks to find, the art of the Rings of Power. Three rings for the Elven-Kings under the sky, seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone and nine for Mortal Men doomed to die.
You can find 3000, 7000 and 9000 respectively in non-foil variants, but you may be one of the lucky ones to find a foil serialised one marked out of 300, 700 and 900 respectively. Though there is one more, One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
Yes, the mad lads over at Wizards made a true One Ring to rule them all. Marked at 001/001 there is a single serialised One Ring out there to find. As of writing this article it is still yet to be found so the hunt is still on.
Tales of Middle-earth Review – Commander Decks
It wouldn’t be a magic set without some commander decks thrown in. This time around we have 4 to use. Each deck contains their main commander in foil, a back up foil legendary creature to use as commander, a life wheel, 98 regular cards, 10 double-sided tokens and a deck box.
Riders of Rohan: A Jeskai (white, red, blue) deck focusing on Human tribal and the Monarch mechanic. Its main commander is Eowyn Shieldmaiden.
Food and Fellowship: An Abzan (green, black, white) deck focusing on food tokens and synergies. For this deck you get to use 2 commanders thanks to the “Partner With” mechanic. So you can either use Sam, Loyal Attendant along with Frodo, Adventurous Hobbit. Or if you’re looking for something different, you can always swap them out for Merry, Warden of Isengard and Pippin, Warden of Isengard.
Elven Council: A Simic (blue, green) elf tribal deck with a focus on expensive spells, scrying and voting using mechanics such as Will of the Council and Council’s Dilemma. The main commander for this deck Galadeil, Elven-Queen.
The Hosts of Mordor: A Grixis (blue, black, red) spellslinger deck focused on instants, sorceries and amassing orc armies. The head of this foul deck is the dark lord himself Sauron, Lord of the Rings.
Tales of Middle-earth Review – Conclusion
I think this set is very fun and unique. I’m not sure exactly how much will see play outside of commander as this set isn’t standard legal and can only be played in non-rotating formats. I’m going to still enjoy collecting the mural pieces and building a fun deck around Tom Bombadil while also trying to hunt down a ring of power and maybe even The One to rule them all!
A review set was kindly provided by Wizards of the Coast for the purpose of our Tales of Middle-Earth review. If you enjoyed this review, be sure to check out our Magic the Gathering March of the Machine review and join the Qualbert Discord to chat with us all about the latest MTG sets!