Not all who wander are lost.
The old that is strong does not wither.
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
I am so incredibly excited about the upcoming The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth Magic set, I can barely contain myself. And so I’m going to pepper Gandalf-related quotes from The Lord of the RIngs throughout this article.
I wrote about my love of Tolkien’s stories a few months back when going over the sneak peek cards they revealed (The One Ring And Beyond For Your Commander Decks), but the short version is that Tolkien’s books led me to love fantasy novels, which led me to play Dungeons & Dragons, which led me to play Magic: The Gathering… and here we are coming full circle!
The official debut of the set reveals begins this Tuesday, May 30th, so I figured there’s no better time to do my first Commander deep dive for the set on one of the legends we’ve seen so far. Looking over them, one of them stands out as a “stand alone” design that’s not really tied into the themes of the set, the way, for instance, Bilbo, Retired Burglar and Frodo Baggins will likely have more cards in the set that care about the Ring tempts you mechanic, and Sam, Loyal Attendant (from the Commander decks) will likely have some new cards that care about Food tokens.
Gandalf the Grey, by contrast, just cares about you casting instant or sorcery spells to access a list of effects you must choose from, and each time you must choose one that hasn’t been chosen yet.
Gandalf’s abilities kind of remind me of reading spells from scrolls in Dungeons & Dragons; when you read the spell, the scroll is used up. The funny thing is, Gandalf must read one of his scrolls whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell whether you want him to or not, and one of the scrolls has Gandalf putting himself on top of your library… which is the perfect place to restock his supply of scrolls for when you cast him again! The other funny thing is that Gandalf likes these four particular scrolls, so when he returns, these four effects are back on the menu. Let’s take a look at Gandalf’s abilities:
Whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell, choose one that hasn’t been chosen —
• You may tap or untap target permanent.
The untap ability can be pretty powerful if we’ve got permanents that tap for something powerful, like an artifact, creature or land. Worst-case scenario, we can untap the Sol Ring we just used to cast that instant or sorcery, and the ceiling is much higher. Don’t overlook the ability to tap down a permanent you don’t control, like a scary attacker, an annoying blocker, or a Maze of Ith.
• Gandalf the Grey deals 3 damage to each opponent.
This is probably the weakest of the four scrolls, but three damage isn’t nothing. I’d probably want a few ways to give Gandalf lifelink in the deck, so this choice can gain you nine life for your troubles.
• Copy target instant or sorcery spell you control. You may choose new targets for the copy.
This is definitely the jackpot scroll, and you’ll likely want to untap with Gandalf and this ability ready for a big turn. If you’ve got a favorite big-time spell in red or blue, you’ll love to copy it with Gandalf.
• Put Gandalf on top of its owner’s library.
This is a built-in way to “reset” Gandalf, and in a pinch, you can use it to protect Gandalf from a removal spell. There is a little bit of risk here: with Gandalf as your commander, you can choose to put Gandalf in the command zone rather than your library, but once you choose to let Gandalf go to the top of your library, if he somehow gets shuffled into the deck, you’re at the whims of randomness as to whether you’ll see your commander again. As such, I’d probably want some ways to draw a card at instant speed so that someone doesn’t point something like Gaea’s Blessing at you to shuffle away your commander. But even if all seems lost, Gandalf has a habit of popping back up when you need him.
Let’s dive in and see what cards we might consider for a deck built around Gandalf the Grey!
Wizards of the Coast’s (WotC’s) designs have supported the spellslinger archetype well, and while you’ll want a bunch of instants and sorcery spells to get your Gandalf triggers, you’ll also want some other cards that pay you for playing those spells too. I’m rather partial to a relative newcomer, from the Warhammer 40,000 Commander decks: Exalted Flamer of Tzeentch! This Izzet Demon deals damage to all of your opponents too, and during your upkeep it will help keep your hand stocked with instant and sorcery cards – random of course, but if you’re playing good cards in your deck, you’ll be getting back good cards!
Noncreature Spells Matter
We can also look to “noncreature spells”-matter cards, since instant and sorcery spells qualify. Bothersome Quasit is something you might not see played all that much, but goad is a powerful ability to tie on to casting your noncreature spells.
The magecraft keyword is all about casting – and copying – instant and sorcery spells, and since Gandalf can copy those, magecraft cards are going to work great in this deck. Storm-Kiln Artist is just an uncommon, but is sneakily one of the best cards in a spellslinger deck due to its Treasure-making ability.
Gandalf is a Wizard, so we might want to dip into some Wizard synergy in the deck too. Riptide Laboratory is a slam-dunk choice here, a safer way to reset Gandalf than putting him on top of your deck. Sigil Tracer partners up nicely with Gandalf to leverage even more copying goodness, only this lets you copy anyone’s instant or sorcery spell!
I’d want a few more ways to reset Gandalf too, with Displacer Kitten at the top of the list due to its avoidance ability keying off the instant and sorcery spells we want to be casting. Conjurer’s Closet is a sweet flavor choice—I’m picturing Gandalf slipping into the magical closet and coming back with a fresh set of scrolls.
Cheap Instant Cantrips
If you need to use Gandalf’s ability to dodge removal spells, I’d like to reserve something cheap and instant-speed that draws a card to help minimize the chances of Gandalf vanishing into the depths of Khazad-dûm—er, I mean, your library. Gush is a super-sneaky way to do it even if you’re tapped out, though it will set you back a few land drops.
Big Boom Boom Spells to Copy
Here’s the fun part—what huge spells do you want to copy with Gandalf? The Explosion part of Expansion? If you’ve got enough mana, Epic Experiment will do some wild stuff! I also really love Rite of Replication, kicked of course, copying something powerful your opponent has played, preferably with a super-sweet enters-the-battlefield effect. Solemn Simulacrum perhaps? A Craterhoof Behemoth that somehow didn’t kill you already?
There are a lot of great things you’d want to untap with Gandalf, and this is what jumped out at me. The One Ring is definitely one for the 99, and I’m also going to love untapping Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Why worry about paying four mana to untap Mana Vault when Gandalf has your back?
Pyromancer’s Goggles helps with the copy game we’re playing (but only for red spells), so untapping it and tapping it for more mana can leverage a really epic turn!
Izzet doesn’t have a lot of options for lifelink outside of artifacts and one land, so they are the cards that I’d choose from for a little bit of lifelink, especially Witch’s Clinic, which doesn’t even cost you a nonland deck slot.
If you love the character of Gandalf as much as I do, you might consider some cards to stand in for the various iconic items that Gandalf carried, like his Wizard staff and robe, and Gandalf’s sword Glamdring!
I went looking for a card that could stand in for a Wizard’s hat, and even one for the pipe that Gandalf was so fond of smoking, but couldn’t scare up anything along those lines. Maybe the set will have some of Gandalf’s accoutrements, maybe even a legendary Equipment named Glamdring, Foe-hammer!
What cards do you think will work great with Gandalf the Grey that I might have overlooked? What Gandalf-themed cards are you hoping will show up in the new set?
By the way, if you missed my article discussing the new mechanic “the Ring tempts you” make sure you check it out: The Ring Tempts You! The Lord Of The Rings Meets Commander Magic.
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And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy.
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