Commander Deck Of The Week: Birthday Boys Bilbo And Bennie!

As Bennie Smith prepares to celebrate his birthday, he builds a Commander deck around Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant from The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth Commander.

Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant
Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant, illustrated by Billy Christian

Last weekend for the Prerelease, I eagerly snagged a copy of The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth Commander’s Food and Fellowship deck, in large part because I wanted a copy of Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant!

Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant

Hearing some initial reviews of Bilbo, I heard the magical words, “Bilbo seems cool, but realistically it’s just too slow for Commander.”  Defying conventional wisdom like that is my personal catnip, and I knew immediately that I had to build a deck to prove those folks wrong. So this week, I pulled together all the cards I wanted for the deck and while I have not yet had the opportunity to run it, I wanted to share it.  For you see, this weekend is my birthday weekend, and I’ll be just about one-half of Bilbo’s “Eleventy-One” (111) years old, so it seemed like perfect timing.  Let’s take a look at the wily ol’ Hobbit!

The first sentence in the text box helps you get to Bilbo’s celebratory life total just a little bit, but it can certainly add up over time. Of course, that activated ability is where things can get crazy—for five mana, tap and exile Bilbo to search your library for any number of creature cards, and put them onto the battlefield, but you can only do that if you have 111 or more life. Luckily for me, the Abzan color combination has a ton of ways to gain a lot of life, including more than a few infinite combos.

Release Notes

Before we break down my decklist, let’s take a quick look at what the Release Notes say about Bilbo’s abilities:

Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant’s first ability applies just once to each life-gaining event, no matter how much life is gained. If you gain an amount of life “for each” of something or “equal to the number” of something, that life is gained as one event and the ability of Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant applies only once.

Each creature with lifelink dealing combat damage causes a separate life-gaining event. For example, if two creatures you control with lifelink deal combat damage at the same time, Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant’s first ability will apply to those two events separately. However, if a single creature you control with lifelink deals combat damage to multiple creatures, players, and/or planeswalkers at the same time (perhaps because it has trample or was blocked by more than one creature), the ability will apply only once.

So the more creatures you have with lifelink or some other way to gain life, the more triggers you’ll get for incremental lifegain from Bilbo. Again, we’re not getting to 111 life from Bilbo triggers alone, but every little bit helps.

Okay, let’s dig in!

Gain Life

Cleric Class Essence Warden Soul Warden Authority of the Consuls Creeping Bloodsucker Blood Artist Elas il-Kor, Sadistic Pilgrim Spirit Loop Prosperous Innkeeper Lembas Spike Feeder Crypt Incursion Beacon of Immortality Exsanguinate Heliod's Intervention

This is the core of the deck. There is more incremental lifegain from cards like Essence Warden, Authority of the Consuls, and Blood Artist. There’s a huge rush of life from cards like Crypt Incursion and Beacon of Immortality. And then there are silly combos with Spike Feeder!  For instance, upgrade Cleric Class to Level 2, and then, whenever you remove a +1/+1 counter from Spike Feeder to gain two life, Cleric Class will let you add a +1/+1 counter to a creature you control—such as Spike Feeder!  Repeat the loop some arbitrarily large number of times – say, five million times – and then you’ll always be able to activate Bilbo.

Vault of the Archangel Serra Ascendant Basilisk Collar Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose True Conviction

Giving lifelink to creatures that don’t otherwise have it can provide a big rush of extra life if the creatures are big enough, so I’m running cards to do just that, such as Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose.  I love that Serra Ascendant can come down early for just one mana, and since the Commander starting life total is 40, it’s a 6/6 flyer with lifelink—that can start your life totals on an upward trajectory in a hurry!

True Conviction is another must-have here, giving your entire team both lifelink and double strike that will send your life total into the triple digits in no time.

Lifegain / Life Drain Matters

Gollum, Obsessed Stalker Prize Pig Veinwitch Coven Heliod, Sun-Crowned The Gaffer Wall of Reverence Rhox Faithmender Accomplished Alchemist Treebeard, Gracious Host Celestine, the Living Saint Archangel of Thune Boon Reflection Exquisite Blood Ezzaroot Channeler

Here are a couple more combo pieces with Spike Feeder—Heliod, Sun-Crowned and Archangel of Thune. The Angel can also bring about the end-game since it will put a +1/+1 counter on all of your creatures, creating a massive army while your life total skyrockets.

I like the Witherbloom-style cards here like Veinwitch Coven, which can get back creatures from your graveyard.  On a big lifegain turn, Accomplished Alchemist and Ezzaroot Channeler can either provide a huge rush of mana or offer deep mana discounts for your creatures.

Some of the cards from the Commander deck found a home here too, such as the Prize Pig—what a wild card!  It’s already got a decent rate as a 0/3 for two mana, and it taps for any color mana, which is critical in a three-color deck like this. But I’m excited about all the extra mana it’s going to pop out here and there from all the incidental lifegain. Just remember, when it gets three or more ribbon counters on it, all the ribbon counters go away, so you cannot bank more than two at a time. Treebeard, Gracious Host can translate all that extra lifegain to +1/+1 counters on target Halfling or Treefolk, with Treebeard himself making a nice place for it given his trample ability.

Then there’s Gollum, Obsessed Stalker. With his skulk ability, it’ll be pretty easy to sneak in an attack on someone before you go off and gain a ton of life during your second main phase, potentially killing one or more players.  What sssssneaky, sssssneaky Hobbitses!

Protect Life Totals

Darkness Obscuring Haze Riot Control

I wanted to run a few Fog effects to protect life totals from getting beat back down below 111 before I’ve got a chance to properly celebrate Bilbo’s birthday, and since nobody expects Darkness, I’m running that over actual Fog. Also, Obscuring Haze is a great “free” spell for this if you control Bilbo, but keep in mind this isn’t just a Fog—it’s preventing damage dealt by your opponents’ creatures, so you can gang-block an attacker to take it down without losing any blockers in the process.  Riot Control popped up in my Scryfall searches for lifegain as a nice gain life + Fog combo, though it’s a little bit different in that it can protect you from any damage done this turn.

Card Draw

Night's Whisper Read the Bones Painful Truths Grim Haruspex Bilbo's Ring Harmonize The One Ring

I wanted a fair amount of card draw in the deck to keep the foot on the gas, and I’m willing to pay a bit of life for it with the idea that I’ll more than recoup the life loss with the cards I draw into.  On that note, I preordered a few copies of Bilbo’s Ring, a card I think is decent even if you don’t happen to have a Halfling to equip, and it wouldn’t have been right not to include a copy here.  I also included The One Ring itself; I’ve played it quite a bit already on Magic Arena, and the card is bonkers good, particularly so in a deck that can offset the burden of life loss.


Swords to Plowshares Damn Despark Golgari Charm Contraband Livestock Go for the Throat Damnation Wrath of God Exterminatus

Abzan offers up the best mix of removal spells, and I’ve got some of the best there is to offer. I include Contraband Livestock in that suite, and think it’s criminally underplayed as a card that’s both effective and fun.


Heroic Intervention Boromir, Warden of the Tower

Boromir, Warden of the Tower packs so much power in a three-mana creature, I’m going to be putting this card in a lot of my decks. If you’ve been looking for something to put the kibosh on the power of cards like Etali, Primal Conqueror or Emergent Ultimatum, Boromir is the man for the job.

Mana Ramp/Color-Fixing

Blighted Woodland Sol Ring Delighted Halfling Farseek Nature's Lore Mirari's Wake

Even though my mana curve is pretty low, I still want some mana ramp, particularly ways like Farseek and Nature’s Lore that can fix my colors early.  Mirari’s Wake is here as a way to bridge from the mid-game to the late-game, and all that extra mana can come in handy for a few of the X-spells I’m running.

Birthday Party Crasher

Craterhoof Behemoth

Lastly, there’s the Hoof!  I mean, you need something to ensure that you win when Bilbo’s activated ability is unlocked, right?

The Deck

Okay, here is the full decklist:

Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant
Bennie Smith
Test deck on 06-23-2023
Magic Card Back

Here are the deck stats from our friends at Archidekt:

What must-have cards might I have missed including here?  What are your favorite new cards from The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth and The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth Commander?

Talk to Me

Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter!  I run polls and get conversations started about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun!  You can also find my LinkTree on my profile page there with links to all my content.

I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do Commander, Brawl, and sometimes other Magic-related streams when I can.  If you can’t join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel.  You can also find the lists for my paper decks over on Archidekt if you want to dig into how I put together my own decks and brews. 

And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy. 

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