The Lord Of The Rings: Tales Of Middle-earth’s Modern Standouts

Dom Harvey surveys The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth’s best candidates for Modern play, from Delighted Halfling to Forge Anew and beyond.

Rosie Cotton of South Lane
Rosie Cotton of South Lane, illustrated by Claudiu-Antoniu Magherusan

What should we expect from a set like The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth? Some of us hoped it would effectively be Modern Horizons 3; others hoped for anything else. For a set that goes straight to Modern skipping Standard and Pioneer, you might assume an overall power level that would keep it out of those formats and make it priced to move for Modern. With high-stakes Modern on the horizon at Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings, viewers and players alike (to say nothing of the designers) will want some of these cards to make a mark there. 

Delighted Halfling

Delighted Halfling

They don’t make mana creatures like they used to. Ignoble Hierarch was the best of its kind printed in a long time, but that was an intentional homage to Noble Hierarch, itself still one of the best in its class after fifteen years. Halfling has more defined goals – you can’t just jam this in any green deck looking for a one-drop – but it’s excellent in the decks that want it.

Wrenn and Six

Mana creatures of any nobility are a risky proposition in Modern right now thanks to Wrenn and Six – losing your first play to a Wrenn puts you too far behind, even if you can then remove Wrenn immediately (with Strangleroot Geist in Golgari Yawgmoth, for example). If you’ve been on the wrong end of that in Modern, Delighted Halfling’s second point of toughness is the most eye-catching thing about it.

Grist, the Hunger Tide Yawgmoth, Thran Physician

Halfling still dies to Unholy Heat or Lightning Bolt like its colleagues – the eternal risk of your Bird being Bolted is still alive. Some recent Yawgmoth lists have taken the radical step of moving to Arboreal Grazer as a form of ramp that dodges this removal. If you don’t want to go that far (and sign up for other inconsistencies in the process), Delighted Halfling may be your new primary mana creature. Making colourless mana is a real downside, but making Grist and Yawgmoth (or Sheoldred, the Apocalypse and similar sideboard cards) uncounterable may outweigh all that. I expect Yawgmoth to be Halfling’s first and safest home among established decks.

Legends and Planeswalkers

Plaza of Heroes Great Hall of the Citadel

If you want to be more adventurous, Delighted Halfling lets you explore legends across the colour pie. When Five-Color Humans took Modern by storm, it wasn’t because of any one new Human – it was because the printing of Unclaimed Territory alongside Cavern of Souls and Ancient Ziggurat provided a critical mass of rainbow lands that let you cast all the best Humans in the same deck.

Plaza of Heroes may be a similar foundation for a new deck. You still need to be anchored in green to cast Halfling and have enough sources to cast your non-legendary sideboard cards, but beyond that, the world is your oyster.

Teferi, Time Raveler

This doesn’t just apply to creatures! Halfling casts and protects your planeswalkers in a world of Spell Pierce and Force of Negation as well as good old Counterspell. Teferi, Time Raveler stands out here – Halfling forces through Teferi, which in turn protects every other spell from those same reactive cards. 

Flowering of the White Tree

Flowering of the White Tree

They don’t make Glorious Anthems like they used to, either – they make them much better! I’m old enough to remember Honor of the Pure dazzling aggro lovers as the best version of that effect, and this new offering makes that and every prior Anthem look archaic. 

A card like Flowering of the White Tree is safe to print because mass pump effects aren’t what they used to be in general and don’t fill a useful role in Modern – Force of Virtue and Sylvan Anthem never went anywhere, to my dismay – but this one is so strong that it may break through anyway.

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer Skrelv, Defector Mite

Nods to Commander in mainstream releases mean that there are more and more strong legends, including at lower mana values. Even six months ago, I don’t think a deck that needed a high density of cheap legends could work in Modern, but Skrelv, Defector Mite was a very timely printing that keeps that door open. 

Despite this constant influx of new legends, restricting yourself to them alone leaves you with a motley crew that isn’t scaring anyone. +2/+1 across the board means even your smallest creature is a fine attacker, and it’s no longer easy to have an expendable creature trade with Ragavan. 


Adeline, Resplendent Cathar

With many payoffs, you are punished for playing cards that don’t fit your specific theme, but Flowering of the White Tree is still one of the most efficient mass pump effects of all time even if none of your creatures are legendary! High-impact civilians, like Burrenton Forge-Tender and Sanctifier en-Vec, and incidental creatures, like Spirit tokens from a much cheaper channel of Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance, still get an upgrade. Legends like Adeline, Resplendent Cathar that create creatures get the main boost themselves, but the tokens get meaningfully bigger too. If that token is legendary, like the original Ragavan that accompanies Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, even better!

Human to Legendary

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben Lavinia, Azorius Renegade Boromir, Warden of the Tower

The Humans precedent is helpful as we fill out our roster of legends. Humans wasn’t the fastest aggro deck or the most disruptive creature deck, but it succeeded because it married disruption and pressure with the same cards. Overloading your combo opponent’s interaction with a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and a Meddling Mage was a more reliable route to victory than trying to beat them in a race. To that end, Thalia joins other hateful legends like Lavinia, Azorius Renegade – a strong anti-combo card that also hits Evoke Elementals like Solitude and Fury that could devastate you otherwise – and Boromir, Warden of the Tower.

Trying to relive the glory days of Humans is easier when most of your creatures are Humans. This wide overlap between the legendary subtheme and the Humans tribal theme has already drawn notice in Pioneer and carries over to the format with Cavern of Souls and Champion of the Parish if you want to go that far. 

Combo Corner

Rosie and Scurry

Rosie Cotton of South Lane Scurry Oak

Modern is no stranger to two-card creature combos, but one of the Shire’s happy couples puts more on the table. Rosie Cotton creates a Food token and puts a +1/+1 counter on Scurry Oak, which creates a token, which lets Rosie Cotton put a +1/+1 counter on Scurry Oak, and so on until you have a lethal Scurry Oak and a giant horde of Squirrels. Triggering evolve on Scurry Oak or creating any token restarts or jump-starts the combo if you assemble the pieces in the wrong order. You can add a third card like Prosperous Innkeeper for infinite life or Goblin Bombardment for infinite and immediate damage, but the core combo is leaner and more compact than any of its predecessors.

Collected Company Eladamri's Call Imperial Recruiter

How do you put these pieces together? You can use the template from the Heliod, Sun-Crowned decks that circled the top tier before Modern Horizons 2 or the Abzan Company decks that thrived in less powerful versions of Modern, but Collected Company has just as much inherent variance as it always did and is harder to cast and resolve these days. Eladamri’s Call and Imperial Recruiter give you the direct access to your combo pieces that those decks lacked, but having to cast these slows down your combo too.


Meanwhile, Samwise Gamgee is up to his own tricks. 

Samwise Gamgee Cauldron Familiar Altar of Dementia

Samwise Gamgee, Cauldron Familiar, and a free sacrifice outlet work together to loop Cauldron Familiar endlessly to win on the spot. Needing that third piece makes it hard to go off quickly or consistently, but the redeeming features are that each part of the combo is cheap and the Throne of Eldraine and Modern Horizons 2 Food synergies let you use these cards in other ways. This package doesn’t fit cleanly into the existing Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar (aka Asmo) Food shells, but it’s easy enough to build one from the ground up with the combo in mind.

In this context, Sam’s activated ability makes full use of the historic batching – Sam can return another copy of himself or another legend like Asmo in the face of removal; get back a sacrifice outlet on an artifact like Altar of Dementia (or The Underworld Cookbook, which you can cash in to return Sam and something else with enough time); or unlock the perfect backup plan in Urza’s Saga

Sam also unlocks a cleaner kill for one of Magic’s most notorious combo cards. This new Protean Hulk pile takes up a lot of slots, so it’s not a big upgrade for a dedicated Hulk Combo deck – but if you have a Food theme already, this immediately becomes the most compact win condition too. The most popular Goryo’s Vengeance deck in Modern currently has the Urza’s Saga + The Underworld Cookbook + Asmo package, and that’s the perfect shell for this approach to Protean Hulk – you get a fast, disruptive combo deck that has several in-built backup plans.

The One Ring

The One Ring

It would be a big miss if the artifact at the center of the whole The Lord of the Rings epic fell flat in Modern. The One Ring is good at grabbing your attention, but harnessing its power is tricky.

The Stasis Coffin

At a glance, this is a glorified The Stasis Coffin – one of the various Karn, the Great Creator bullets from The Brothers’ War that never actually made its way into sideboards. The One Ring is a big upgrade there, as it’s cheaper in an emergency and leaves behind a strong draw engine to dig for the cards that can get you out of the dire situation that required this effect in the first place. 

Grim Monolith Manifold Key Voltaic Key

The One Ring is most tempting as a combo piece. If you have cheap ways to untap it and recoup that mana investment, you quickly reach the point where each activation draws you an entirely new hand and you tear through your whole deck. 

The problem there is getting that mana back or converting your new cards into mana. In Legacy, this is trivial thanks to cards like Lion’s Eye Diamond, Lotus Petal, and Mox Opal, and the Keys that unlock The One Ring also work with Grim Monolith to generate more mana. In Modern, you can draw a dozen cards and be forced to pass the turn, which is unacceptable for a combo deck.

Lotus and Storm

Lotus Field Twiddle Dream's Grip

A better source of inspiration might be the Twiddle Storm decks that use one-mana untap effects with Lotus Field as their mana engine. These are more obscure than their Pioneer counterparts for a reason, but they are a good reminder of a crucial insight about this style of combo deck: you need to be able to convert one resource into another at low cost. The Lotus Field decks can turn more cards into more mana with a hand of Twiddles, but getting those cards in the first place is a tighter bottleneck. It’s hard for those decks to adopt The One Ring as currently structured, but you could try to bridge that gap:

This is a very rough proof of concept but shows how you might blend these two ideas. When Twiddle is a Dark Ritual or an Ancestral Recall, the rest of your combo turn writes itself. 

Mystic Forge

Mystic Forge Ensnaring Bridge

More realistically, The One Ring is a complement or competitor for Mystic Forge in the Colorless Tron decks that lean on it for their mid-game card advantage. It clashes with Ensnaring Bridge as a defensive tool to some extent, but can also enable it – at the stage of the game where you have a lot of mana and can unload the cards you draw but need that specific card to lock up the game, The One Ring is what helps you find it. If the life loss from The One Ring worries you, you can simply draw through your deck to find another copy!

Forge Anew

Finally, we have a gift for one of Modern’s flagship decks and a possible centerpiece of a new one:

Forge Anew

Mono-White Hammer is always on the lookout for more ways to get Colossus Hammer in the hands of a creature, and Forge Anew joins a short list. Other candidates like Kor Outfitter work only once or come with extra conditions. Forge Anew is slow – perhaps too slow for the maindeck if you are optimizing for speed – but lets you attach a Hammer to a new threat every turn until one sticks. In post-sideboard games where your Hammer is more likely to be swept away by the likes of Force of Vigor or Engineered Explosives, Forge Anew can buy that Hammer back and start equipping it without waiting around for the next Hammer the way other enablers have to. 

Nettlecyst Sword of War and Peace The Reality Chip

If the format slows down enough that you want to revisit the bigger Equipment, Forge Anew works well with these too, even though there is a low limit for how many three-drops you can play at once. 

Forge Anew Path

Greasefang, Okiba Boss Storm Herald

You could also try to build a dedicated Forge Anew combo deck following the lead of decks like Abzan Greasefang and Temur Storm Herald in Pioneer. The problem with these narrow reanimation effects in a format as large as Modern is that it’s not clear what you want to do with them, and the options don’t always scale well with the size of the format. It’s easy to talk yourself into Griselbrand or Protean Hulk – the best option here is… Kaldra Compleat?

Goblin Engineer Argentum Armor

A Turn 2 Goblin Engineer puts the Forge Anew target of your choice where you want it and gives you a body to equip it to, but this ideal sequence is still vulnerable to every form of interaction in Modern – graveyard hate, creature removal, and artifact removal! Puresteel Paladin and friends share some of those vulnerabilities but offer a much more stable and consistent shell. 

After this first pass, this set actually looks like most others – a handful of intriguing build-arounds and some solid role-players, but no obvious game-changers. Whether that’s a relief or a disappointment is up to you!