Magic: The Gathering is preparing to take players, new and old, back to J.R.R. Tolkien’s world with Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth, a new tie-in set.
The last few years have seen the world’s premiere trading card game, Magic: The Gathering, head to some unlikely corners of the Intellectual Property Multiverse. From The Walking Dead to Fortnite, to Warhammer 40, 000, players have been able to either swap some art from their other favourite properties into their decks or play full variants of MTG featuring those properties’ flavour.
But to date, none of these crossovers have been as ambitious as the upcoming Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth. Made in partnership with Middle-Earth Enterprises, the latest in the Universes Beyond product line is not just a batch of premade Commander decks or a simple Secret Lair drop but a full-fledged Magic set in itself. Fans of both worlds can rejoice as familiar characters get decked out with all the bells and whistles the game is currently known for.
The crossover is the biggest artistic undertaking Magic: The Gathering has ever embarked upon, having begun commissions at the start of 2021. So, CGM was honoured to be invited to hear the set’s art director, Ovidio Cartagena, talk about some of the exhaustive work that Wizards of the Coast put into this endeavour.
Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth Art Design
A quick glance at Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth‘s cards will tell you this is no re-adaptation of Peter Jackson’s cinematic classics but a fresh interpretation by Magic’s art team. This means that content cut from the movies, like Tom Bombadil or the Scouring of the Shire, gets a turn in the spotlight—and others, like Bill the Pony, get more prominent focus.
This also allows the game to take some interesting routes in reinterpreting the books. For instance, Gothmog (the Minas Morgul lieutenant, not the Balrog) has been reimagined as a legendary human soldier who amasses armies of Orcs and grants them deathtouch.
Tales of Middle-Earth also leans into the conventions of Magic: The Gathering design to reinforce its connections to the lore. For instance, there are nine different artworks for the Nazgûl, representing each of the human kings who were consumed by their Rings and corrupted into servants of Sauron. Each has a separate take on Tolkien’s descriptions to convey their individuality and former lives. They all share identical card text, however, and you can use up to nine of them in a deck.
Tolkien’s love for nature comes across in the set’s cycle of basic lands. Tucked into the details of each, you can see silhouettes of Fellowship members and other beloved characters at various points of the books—Gandalf the White riding to Minas Tirith, Gollum fishing in the Forbidden Pool, or the cozy hills of the Shire. It also evokes that epic scope of the world as seen in Jackson’s film and the best-illustrated editions.
The art shown so far is an inspiring take on a familiar world and the product of a team of artists drawn from across the world. Cartagena mentioned that there was a conscious effort to have a global perspective among the artists chosen for the project. You can feel the weight of the Fellowship’s journey across different iterations of characters, like the Hobbits, who have cards representing both their lives in the Shire and their different roles in the War of the Ring.
The showcase variants for this set draw upon a familiar motif too, that has been used on copies of The Lord of the Rings for decades, framing the art in a circle ringed with Tengwar text and making each card’s mana colours exceptionally clear.
Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth Mechanics
It wouldn’t be a Magic: The Gathering set without new and recycled mechanics to make gameplay interesting. As you might expect, Tales of Middle-Earth uses this tradition to help bring Lord of the Rings to life.
Amass returns from the War of the Spark, allowing players to summon unique Army token creatures. These function a little differently than other creature tokens, strengthening a single token with +1/+1 counters instead of spawning multiple tokens.
Speaking of tokens, Tolkien’s love for food comes across in the prevalence of Food tokens. Hobbits, in particular, generate and rely on these artifacts, which can be sacrificed to gain life. Second Breakfast becomes even more literal as an instant spell that buffs two creatures and spawns a token.
Sagas return as well. In Tales of the Middle-Earth, these enchantments play into the prevalence of singing in Tolkien’s world. This theme comes across in the card representing The Long List of the Ents—a Saga with a whopping six stages.
Most intriguing of all, perhaps, is “The Ring Tempts You.” The first time a card triggers this effect, you receive an emblem called “The Ring” and choose one of your creatures in play to be the Ring-bearer. Each subsequent time the effect triggers, you can assign the title of Ring-bearer to a new creature, and the effect on the emblem progresses.
(The Nazgûl, fittingly, get stronger each time the Ring tempts someone, which is some grade-A flavour.)
Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth Products
As a full-fledged Magic: The Gathering set, Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth has the full plethora of products to bolster your library. First, the usual booster options apply: draft, set, collector, and Jumpstart. Bundles and prerelease kits offer a solid number of cards and the usual bonus goodies.
As the set was intended to make MTG accessible to new players, there will also be a Starter Kit featuring two preconstructed decks, one built around the power couple of Aragorn and Arwen, and the other on Sauron.
Commander and Lord of the Rings seem like a match made in Valinor, with the prevalence of legendary, multicoloured creatures, and there are four preconstructed Commander deck options. Summon the “Riders of Rohan” with a white/red/blue deck based on Eowyn; enjoy “Food & Fellowship” with a green/black/blue deck led by Frodo and Sam’s partnered cards; beseech the wisdom of the “Elven Council” with Galadriel’s blue/green deck; or fall to evil with the “Hosts of Mordor,” a red/black/blue deck based on Sauron, Lord of the Rings (and get tempted by the Ring whenever an opposing Commander dies).
If Tales of Middle-Earth‘s new take on Tolkien has you longing for an older take, keep an eye out for “More Adventures in Middle-Earth.” Coming in June, this Secret Lair drop is based on Ralph Bakshi’s animated Lord of the Rings films.
And lastly, Tales of Middle-Earth will get the full Magic Arena treatment, with unique playing fields (like the interior of a Hobbit’s home), a Mastery Pass, and even pets, including seasonal variants of Ents and, for a preorder bonus, the One Ring itself. It performs special actions under certain conditions for that extra layer of immersion.
You’ll need all of these buying options if you’re looking to complete all nine Scenes—murals created by joining multiple cards. The largest of these is the climactic Battle of Pelennor Fields, an awe-inspiring piece of art sprawling over eighteen cards in total. However, if you want to try your luck at pulling the incredibly rare variant version of The One Ring, of which there will only ever exist one copy, you’ll need to stick to collector boosters. Good luck with that one, aspiring Smeagols.
Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth Prerelease events will be held June 16-22, ahead of the full set’s release on June 23. Check with your local Play Network partner stores to find out about the exciting celebration events that will help bring Middle-Earth to life even further.
The Universes Beyond line will dip into another staple of fantasy to come out of England later this year with a set of products based on Doctor Who. Some manner of collaboration with Final Fantasy (which already has its own card game) has also been announced for the near future.