It’s Prerelease weekend for The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, and I am excited to pick up sealed product to crack open and see what cool cards I open to put into my Commander decks or build entirely new decks around. There are a whopping four versions of Sauron that you can choose from, but the one that really stands out to me is the face commander from The Hosts of Mordor Commander deck—Sauron, Lord of the Rings!
I’ve heard some grumblings from the optimized Commander deck crowd that eight mana is way too expensive to consider this as a Commander in 2023, but as someone who’s got a Piru, the Volatile deck and a deck built around The Tarrasque, I don’t subscribe to that philosophy.
I generally look for games that have room to breathe, that aren’t racing for a quick combo kill, and in such games, expensive commanders are certainly playable, especially if they are impactful. Sauron has a potent cast trigger, and I think the effect warrants the mana cost.
Let’s take a look at what happens when you cast Sauron:
So even if Sauron gets countered or killed immediately, you get an Orc Army with five +1/+1 counters on it (or five additional counters on your existing Orc Army), and you’ll get to reanimate a creature from the graveyard. The self-mill just helps with that last bit in case your graveyard has taken a hit from a Bojuka Bog or something. If you add the 9/9 Sauron and all of its other abilities, you actually get a lot of bang for your eight-mana buck.
The main mini-quest we’ll want to go on prior to bringing out Sauron, Lord of the Rings is to get at least one potent creature into the graveyard by hook or by crook. In the land of Mordor where the shadows lie, that should be easy! Let’s eyeball our choices.
Cycling creatures are awesome choices for this deck since they check off that mini-quest while digging deeper into your deck to ensure you’re hitting your land drops each turn. Luckily for us, the designers of The Hosts of Mordor Commander deck created an excellent one for us: The Balrog of Moria! The cycle cost is a little expensive at four mana, but when it’s cycled you create two Treasure tokens, which goes a long way towards casting Sauron ahead of curve. The Balrog of Moria is a huge 8/8, it has trample and haste, and it has a nice dies trigger if each of your opponents has a creature worthy of exiling.
In the same deck is Rampaging War Mammoth, with a cycling ability that can pick off troublesome artifacts if you need them gone.
There are a lot of cycling creatures from throughout Magic history, and I’ve picked some of the best here. Ruin Grinder is a favorite since when it dies you get to reload your hand.
Evoke creatures came to mind, giving you a “spell” effect for cheap while stocking your graveyard with a potential reanimation target. Mulldrifter is a time-honored choice that fits great here, keeping the cards flowing and the lands dropping.
Value Creatures That Will Die
If there’s one thing that’s certain in Commander, it’s that creatures die early and often, especially if they’re good. Be sure to pepper in some good creatures that you want to cast before Sauron, and that your opponents will have reason to burn off a removal spell on. Terror of the Peaks and Consecrated Sphinx are sure to get the cards flying!
Sacrifice Creatures for Value
If for some reason the best card you want to reanimate with Sauron hasn’t been put into the graveyard from the battlefield yet, you can add some ways to kill off your own creatures in the time-honored Grixis tradition. Victimize can sacrifice a good creature while you get back two creatures, if you want to dabble in necromancy before Sauron shows up.
Stock the Graveyard
Another way to ensure a good reanimation target is to put a creature from your library directly into the graveyard with cards like Buried Alive and Corpse Connoisseur. Breach the Multiverse is a bonkers good card in Commander and a great way to prime the pumps the turn before you cast Sauron. Combustible Gearhulk will either flip over some good reanimation targets or let you draw three cards, so either way is a win.
I’m a big fan of the Ancient Dragon cycle from Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate, and Ancient Brass Dragon has heard you like reanimation, so it put some reanimation on your reanimation so you can reanimation some more.
Cavern-Hoard Dragon is a sweet new Dragon from The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth Commander, and the fact that it has haste and can immediately get you value when brought back by Sauron is going to make for a huge turn!
Speaking of huge, Sauron is large and in charge, and you’ll want to get attacking with it immediately by giving it haste. Anger is a perfect choice here, given the various ways we’ll be priming the graveyard anyway, but I also love Urabrask the Hidden since it disrupts blockers from your opponents. I also love Chainer, Nightmare Adept since it gives haste to your reanimation targets.
Sauron’s trample ability makes me want to pile on power pumpers, especially since Sauron’s nine power gets so close to commander damage in just two hits—for just two more power, that’s a potential 22 trampling commander damage. Vorpal Sword gets us there, and the deathtouch combines wonderfully with Sauron’s trample. Plus, such a heinous and evil weapon seems exactly the sort of blade Sauron would wield.
When you run a commander this expensive, you’ll want tons of card draw options to ensure you make a land drop every single turn for your first eight turns. In particular I’d make room for Stinging Study and Imposing Grandeur, which let you draw cards equal to the high mana value of your commander.
Since Sauron provides so much value, I’d totally run temporary fast mana to power it out a few turns ahead of schedule. Mana Geyser, if timed right, can generate a huge rush of red mana to easily cover all but the black and blue mana for Sauron.
Sauron likes his Orc army, so before Sauron leaves the command zone we might want to pepper in a bunch of other cards to amass Orcs. I love the flavor of March from the Black Gate here! And if you’re lucky enough to open Orcish Bowmasters, be sure to put it to work for Sauron.
Speaking of flavor, there are a ton of cards in this set and the Commander decks that are just dripping in flavor that you might be tempted to put in the deck. There are the other versions of Sauron, Lidless Gaze, all the various Nazgûl, and even a mono-black version of Shelob. And of course The One Ring, which drives every moment of Sauron’s existence.
Which version of Sauron is your favorite? Are there any cards I overlooked that you’re excited to put in your Sauron deck?
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.
Visit my Decklist Database to see my decklists and the articles where they appeared!