Last week, I presented my Top 10 picks for Commander from the Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth main set. This week I turn my non-lidless eye at the new cards made for the four Tales of Middle-earth Commander preconstructed decks.
While the main set wasn’t designed specifically for Commander, all of the cards from this product were, and thus all of them are at the very least playable. Many of the cards are very narrowly tailored to support the specific theme or themes of the deck they come from – such as “scry matters” and voting cards for the Elven Council deck, Humans matter cards for the Riders of Rohan deck, and Food synergies for Food and Fellowship. A lot of these very narrow cards didn’t make the list because you likely won’t put them in your Commander decks unless they fill a specific need. I’m also narrowing my picks to cards you’ll want to play in the 99 of your Commander decks.
Calling My Shots
It’s fun to try to evaluate a Magic set before you’ve really had a decent chance to get in enough reps to properly assess just how good some cards are out in the wild. Given my long experience with Magic generally and Commander specifically, I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on the sorts of cards that are going to make me smile at a Commander table, but this is just the beginning of the conversation. I’m laying down a marker that these are the sorts of cards you might want to give a second look at if you enjoy a casual, laid-back game of Commander. In the coming months, I’ll be curious to see if any of these cards will prove to be less fun than I thought, and which cards that didn’t make the list end up as format all-stars.
I fully acknowledge that the Commander community has grown such that there are huge amounts of people who enjoy facets of the format that might not be my cup of tea. So, my evaluation comes from my own biases, which boil down to: play the sort of cards and decks that lets everyone at the table have a chance to breathe, play Commander, and have at least a decent chance to “do the thing” that their deck wants to do.
Before I get to my Top 10 picks, I’d like to give a shout-out to cards that made my initial pick of sweet cards for Commander decks but didn’t make the hard final cut.
The expected return for Travel Through Caradhras is ramping for three basic lands and getting a card back from your graveyard, which isn’t at all bad for a six-mana sorcery but isn’t going to be a go-to curve-topper for green decks. However, if you’re playing a landfall deck, or a higher-mana commander, the floor for this card will be just fine.
Feasting Hobbit is tailor-made for Food decks, but I just had to mention the eye-popping devour Food 3 ability—even if you sacrifice just two Foods, that’s a 2/2 with six +1/+1 counters on it that will be difficult to block, all for just two mana.
Treebeard, Gracious Host can grow quite large in a hurry with the right amount of lifegain. Just sacrificing the accompanying two Food tokens for life, that’s six +1/+1 counters you can put on Treebeard, which has trample and ward 2.
Shelob, Dread Weaver checks decks that like to sacrifice creatures and bring them back, but unlike other similar cards like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Shelob has a mechanism to “pass through” the big Spider and deposit an exiled creature back in its controller’s graveyard. You could work out a deal with a player who would otherwise just kill Shelob by giving them their dead creature back.
Sail into the West could see play outside voting-focused decks. However the vote goes, the effect is nifty, and even if the vote ends up discarding your hand to draw seven new cards, it’s optional, so if an opponent likes their hand, they can keep it.
I’m a big fan of cycling abilities with bonus effects attached, and Rampaging War Mammoth is a good one. Unlike the raw power of an overloaded Vandalblast, which can sometimes cripple a nongreen player who’s relying on a couple of mana rocks to function, cycling this Elephant can just pinpoint the problem artifacts and draw you a fresh card, all at instant speed and impossible to counter through most counterspell effects. And then there’s the bonus of having a gigantic 9/7 trampling creature that can be brought back from the graveyard in a whole host of ways.
Okay, let’s see what made the official Top 10 list!
10. Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Another excellent source of value for token decks and Food decks, keep in mind the Food tokens are artifacts so decks that care about artifacts entering or leaving the battlefield will appreciate the story as well. Each chapter isn’t so threatening that the Saga is going to eat a removal spell, but after three mana and three turns you’ll have boosted a creature with a +1/+1 counter and generated four permanents.
9. Orcish Siegemaster
While Orcish Siegemaster mentions Orcs and Goblins in the text, I don’t imagine giving Orcs and Goblins trample will be all that crucial for most of those sorts of decks, though if you’re amassing an Orc Army that gets large enough, that could come into play. What catches my eye is this card in a deck that cares about high-power creatures, since Siegemaster will borrow that power whenever it attacks, and it has trample itself. Just think about playing a late-game Lord of Extinction where everyone has graveyards that are quite loaded and then attacking with Siegemaster—some player is likely dying that turn.
8. Forth Eorlingas!
I don’t play tokens all that much, but Forth Eorlingas! strikes me as quite a good rate for making an army of token creatures in a hurry if you’ve got the mana. 2/2 Human Knights with trample and haste are quite good to make, and if they can crash in and deal damage, you even get to snag the monarch for yourself a turn. If you’re playing Humans matter, Knights matter, or tokens matter, this is going to be an all-star.
7. The Gaffer
He’s not flashy, but in a deck that can gain up to three life a turn, The Gaffer can be a solid source of card draw that reminds me a bit of Bennie Bracks, Zoologist. That three-life threshold obviously means The Gaffer is going into a Food-matters deck, but don’t overlook his value in any other deck that’s running cards like Soul Warden, Aetherflux Reservoir, or Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose.
6. The Balrog of Moria
I’m a sucker for value, and this version of the Balrog has it. You can cycle it away for Treasure if you need the mana, and if you’re a reanimator deck, you can still get it back. An 8/8 beater with trample and haste can punch through defenses quite well, and when The Balrog of Moria dies, you can exile a creature from each opponent at the cost of exiling the Balrog too. But if there isn’t a creature worth exiling, and you’ve got a way to bring Balrog back, you can choose not to exile anything. Reanimator and sacrifice decks are going to love this.
5. Prize Pig
I expect that any green lifegain deck will be pleasantly surprised at how much extra mana Prize Pig will generate over the course of the contest. Put this in the stack with Witherbloom cards like Blossoming Bogbeast, Ezzaroot Channeler, and Honor Troll. Even when you’re not gaining life, it’s still a two-drop mana creature with three toughness, and it taps for any color mana, so it’s excellent for early mana fixing in a three-color deck.
4. Moria Scavenger
Orcs have been notoriously subpar creatures for much of Magic’s history, though in recent years that’s changed a bit, especially in the Dungeons & Dragons-themed Magic sets. But The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth main and Commander sets bring enough Orcs and Orc support that it’s a respectable theme to go with now. Moria Scavenger has lots going for it, even outside Orc-matters decks. For three mana, you get a 1/4 with deathtouch, so it can hold off small- and medium-sized attackers quite well. It has haste, so you can use its activated ability right away to discard a card and draw a card, and if the card you discarded is a creature, you get to amass Orcs 1. This is going to go right into any creature-heavy deck with a reanimator theme and do excellent work.
3. The Black Gate
I’m used to individual Gate cards being a bit subpar, but this one packs a punch, and I’m pretty much going to put this into any deck with creatures I’ll want to attack opponents’ life totals with. For just three life, you can have The Black Gate enter the battlefield untapped if you really need to use it right away for its ability to generate a black mana, or the other activated ability. Rogue’s Passage costs four mana to activate, while The Black Gate only costs two mana, with the stipulation that the creature must be attacking the player with the most life or tied for the most life. Black offers a lot of ways to burn life for other resources, so it should be pretty easy to ensure you’re not the one with the most life if you really need this to work.
2. Taunt from the Rampart
Did Disrupt Decorum really need an upgrade? Needed or not, we certainly have gotten one, and wow is it powerful and totally on flavor for Boros! You get to attack with all of your creatures, they can’t be blocked, and you don’t have to worry about getting attacked back unless it’s by a newly cast creature with haste. But even better is the fact that your opponents have to attack each other and their creatures will mostly be unblockable too, though the first two players to your left can deploy defenses somewhat.
1. Cavern-Hoard Dragon
The Treasure-punishing designs continue, and Cavern-Hoard Dragon is among the best! Discounting this by just three is still a solid rate, and anything more makes this just bonkers. I love that it has haste and if you attack the opponent with all the Treasures, they have a decision to make: sacrifice the Treasures now to curb your benefit, or let you get just as many Treasures of your own. Equipment-heavy decks will be fantastic prey for this Dragon too.
Do you disagree with any of my picks? Which cards from Tales of Middle-earth Commander would be in your Top 10?
Talk to Me
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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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