The Lord Of The Rings: Tales Of Middle-earth For Cube

With The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth swiftly approaching, Ryan Overturf shares his early ideas on how to use the set’s cards in Cube.

Nazgûl, illustrated by Nino Is

Greetings, Cube enthusiasts! With the release of The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth looming, it’s time to start talking about cards from the upcoming set. Because it’s a non-Standard release that will be legal in Modern, I haven’t known exactly where to set my expectations. Will this be another Modern Horizons, or is the idea just to make Universes Beyond cards at a higher-than-Standard power level and able to be played in at least one format not impacted by the Reserved List? So far, the answer looks closer to the latter to me, which I certainly prefer. A lot of the designs that we’ve seen so far are super flavorful and look fun, which has me excited as a Cube designer!

The list of cards that I’ll be acquiring for my personal Cubes is growing longer all the time, but today I’d like to talk more broadly about one of the bigger mechanics for the set, being tempted by The Ring. The Ring is Magic’s newest emblem, and is reminiscent of venturing into the dungeon, day and night, and the initiative. These mechanics have proven burdensome with tracking issues and rules text to me, but the flavor aspect of The Ring provides a unique charm that I think makes it far more worth exploring.

A Question of Aesthetics

In Cube design, I think a great deal about aesthetics and themes that are easy to understand and exciting to jump into. An entire set designed around The Lord of the Rings offers a lot to work with in this department. If I made a Cube that’s aesthetically designed around Dungeons & Dragons, that wouldn’t necessarily set an expectation for cards that venture into the dungeon. D&D means a lot of things to a lot of different people, and I generally see party as a more compelling mechanic than dungeons, but The Ring is something else entirely.

If you know The Lord of the Rings at all, you know what The Ring is, and you understand the mythos behind reading the words “The Ring tempts you” on a card. Setting aside the tracking associated with emblems and anything else about the mechanic, that’s an accessible and awesome aesthetic aspect of a play environment that is difficult to capture on the same level with almost anything else offered in the game of Magic. The closest comparison might actually be playing with exactly the card Black Lotus.

The mechanical barrier is definitely steep enough that I’m wary of including cards that generate The Ring emblem in just any Cube, but I’m super on-board to look into designing a specifically The Lord of the Rings Cube.

Call of the Ring Nazgul There and Back Again

Short on Cards?

With only one set and a corresponding Commander deck release, there won’t be an especially deep well of space to explore for any The Lord of the Rings Cube, but just with the cards previewed so far, I’m confident that a 180-card The Lord of the Rings Twobert is absolutely doable. I generally think of Cube as sort of like designing a board game, and there are plenty of directions to go to make my The Lord of the Rings Twobert work.

The path of least resistance is to supplement the Cube with cards from other sets, maybe with Kithkin filling Hobbit-holes. Alternatively, opting to break singleton to keep everything just to Universes Beyond cards and a consistent aesthetic will make hitting the requisite card count easy. I do find the idea of including nine copies of Nazgul very charming. Just so long as you don’t put two copies of The One Ring in your Cube.

The One Ring


Aesthetics can be a bit tough to approach if you don’t have an intuitive understanding of them, so let’s talk about the mechanics of being tempted by The Ring, which is ultimately where we’d be putting most of the work as a Cube designer. The Ring is all about assigning a Ring-bearer and attacking with said Ring-bearer. As such, you’d want a Cube that heavily features being tempted by The Ring to generate games about attacking and blocking. I’d be looking for a high volume of creatures, and I would keep sweepers to a minimum and/or reduced power if I included them at all. I wouldn’t touch Wrath of God and the like if I wanted The Ring to matter.

It just so happens that I have a Cube design that would be a great reference for what I’d want to see as the bones for a The Lord of the Rings Cube! My Spooky Cube is mostly known for cool graveyard synergies, but since splitting it into a modular environment, half of the Cube exists as a Twobert that’s all about building battlefields full of Humans, managing opposing threats, and finding good attacks. Humans theme aside, that’s exactly the kind of gameplay that makes sense to me to promote with The Ring!

Here’s a direct link to the Cube Cobra page for the Human module. The Cube is all about presenting and protecting meaningful threats while trying to use spot removal to stunt the opponent’s development. I’d be following the template here for the noncreature spells pretty closely when designing a Cube where Ring-bearers matter.

Lightning Bolt Blossoming Defense

Frodo Force

Of course, the creature base is going to look a lot different. But The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth makes that part easy! There are tons of reasonably powerful creatures in the set, with many of them being named characters from The Lord of the Rings, which I know that I’d want to heavily feature in the Cube. There’s a “legendary matters” sub-theme in the set that we’ve seen a bit of in Magic otherwise lately that might be worth exploring, but first I’d want to determine which creatures would be must-includes. For me, a good sampling of Frodos would be non-negotiable.

Frodo, Sauron's Bane Frodo, Adventurous Hobbit Frodo Baggins

All of these cards have low mana costs and cause The Ring to tempt you, so they’re flavor wins all around that lend themselves to the unique experience I’d want to offer with a The Lord of the Rings Cube. Frodo, Adventurous Hobbit is the most questionable of the lot, with a need for a lifegain theme to really make the card work, but it would definitely show up in my initial sketch for the Cube from which I would evaluate how naturally a lifegain theme could be slotted in. Frodo, Sauron’s Bane would be a completely uncuttable feature, though, offering both a named character and an exciting build to an alternate win condition of sorts. Tracking wins with Frodo easily lends itself to generating excitement and creating cool stories of playing your Cube.

Gandalf and Gollum

Gandalf, Friend of the Shire Gollum, Patient Plotter

Gandalf, Friend of the Shire is the other major standout previewed so far for a The Lord of the Rings Cube to me. Again, you have a major named character, you have The Ring tempting you, and you have the card outlining a gameplan for you. A light spells-matter theme to complement Gandalf and some other powerful Wizards is easy to slot into a Cube like this, and casting Chain Lightning and maybe some stuff like Ponder and Preordain is fun and powerful in a way that isn’t overwhelming. Gollum, Patient Plotter is another hit in a similar vein as an interesting tool for a potential sacrifice theme or just an efficient heavy-hitting Ring-bearer.

Casting a Spell

Once you settle on the creature suite, then you can adjust the spell suite accordingly as you identify micro- and macro-themes to flesh out. It’s worth noting that we already have a few cards previewed that lend themselves very naturally to the environment. Bombadil’s Song is mostly a worse Snakeskin Veil that makes The Ring tempt you, and Gollum’s Bite is actually a slightly improved and massively flavorful Disfigure.

Bombadil's Song Gollum's Bite

We won’t be able to fully flesh out a The Lord of the Rings Cube until we have the full card file, but we know enough to have significant aesthetic and gameplay motivations to start work on one at this point. I’m cold on including The Ring in Cubes where it only shows up on one or two cards, but I’m becoming increasingly convinced that a Cube with a heavier aesthetic focus and a lot of cards that make The Ring tempt you would be really fun to explore.

I know that my brother is extremely excited about the crossover, and working with him on such a project strikes me as a great way to really get him into Cube. Personally, I’m excited about this set for that exact reason: it gives more people more ways to love Magic. I’ll absolutely be following up with a list in the highly likely event that I do end up building this Cube.