The One Ring And Beyond For Your Commander Decks

Bennie Smith surveys the known previews for The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth. Which one is his “precious” so far, and why is it The One Ring?

Gandalf the Grey
Gandalf the Grey, illustrated by Aaron Miller

When I was a kid, my Uncle Gary used to read a chapter a night to his boys, my cousins, from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth stories, starting with The Hobbit and then continuing with The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I would go to visit them a few times a year, and so I’d get a random peek into this fantastical world of Hobbits, Wizards, and Rings of Power. When I got old enough, I read the books myself, and it ignited a love for fantasy stories, which led to my love of Dungeons & Dragons, which eventually led me to a long-time love of Magic: The Gathering.

So when Wizards of the Coast (WotC) first announced a Universes Beyond collaboration featuring The Lord of the Rings, I was over-the-moon excited!  It releases this year in June on my birthday weekend, but I was pleased as punch to get a first look at the set months early, last week during their Weekly MTG stream

Why so early?  Well, WotC likes to give distributors and stores an idea of what’s in the product so that they can start putting in preorders.  Wow, did we get to see some cool stuff!  I’ll definitely be doing lots of “deep dives” on the new commanders from the set as we get closer to release date and better know what else is in the set, but today I wanted to share my initial thoughts on the cards we’ve seen so far with an eye towards Commander.

Let’s jump in!

The One Ring

We’ll start off as we should with The One Ring, a sweet legendary artifact that can potentially slot in any Commander deck.  It’s a mythic rare, so I had some concerns about availability and cost, but thankfully The One Ring is one of four cards that will be available in every The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth bundle, the very first image above with Gollum reaching for the Ring before falling into Mount Doom. If you really want to get your hands on The One Ring, you can pick one up in a bundle in addition to buying it as a single. I’m hoping its availability in bundles will help keep the price reasonable for all Commander fans.

If you’re interested in doing absurdly broken things in Commander, The One Ring will surely help you out.  People are already talking about the combo with Mind Over Matter, drawing your deck and easily setting up a win with Thassa’s Oracle or Laboratory Maniac.

Mind Over Matter Thassa's Oracle Laboratory Maniac

For those of us who play a more casual Commander game, I wouldn’t worry too much about Mind Over Matter combo, but even played fairly, the card is incredibly strong. It gives you protection from everything until your next turn, assuming you cast it, so no Teleportation Circle blinking The One Ring nonsense. It’s indestructible, which makes it tough to deal with.  And of course it taps to add a burden counter to it, and then draw a card for each burden counter on it, which means it will quickly snowball as a card-draw engine, especially if you include ways to untap it such as Manifold Key or even Dross Scorpion.

Manifold Key Unwinding Clock Clock of Omens Voltaic Key Dross Scorpion

Once you add a burden counter, you can even use the proliferate mechanic to increase the burden counters before tapping it, ramping up your card draw quickly. Notably, you only lose life based on the burden counters at the beginning of your upkeep, but having the life loss trigger just once per turn is going to be quite negligible in Commander where everyone starts at 40 life.

Assuming the price of The One Ring isn’t too prohibitive, I expect that we’ll be seeing it in lots of our opponents’ decks, which means we’ll want to adjust our answers for artifacts to include ways to get around its indestructible ability.  I’ve included some of the best answers below.

Shadowspear Exterminatus Haywire Mite Tear Asunder Crush Contraband Ravenform March of Otherworldly Light Sylvan Reclamation Devout Chaplain World Breaker

One final thought: I think it’s really cool that WotC is going to be printing a single, serialized version of The One Ring, as shown above on the far right. Fittingly, there will be only one of these, placed in an English-language Collector Booster. This is an amazingly flavorful thing to do with The One Ring, and I can only imagine what it will go for whenever the lucky individual who opens it puts it up for sale. They’ll be winning the equivalent of a lottery ticket, and it will be amazing when we find out who got it.

Frodo, Sauron’s Bane

Next up is Frodo, Sauron’s Bane.  Can I just first say how much I just love the Showcase Ring treatment, which is the middle version of the card?  The ring-shaped art box surrounded by that Tolkien language script just so evokes The Lord of the Rings flavor that I’ll try and collect all of them.

It’s cool that Frodo “levels up” by investing more mana into the card. One mana to cast, two mana to level up into a 2/3 Halfling Scout with lifelink.  Notably, the two mana for the first level up can be any combination of white or black mana, but for the final level up it requires three black mana to activate.  If Frodo is a Scout, it becomes a Halfling Rogue with “Whenever this creature deals combat damage to a player, that player loses the game if the Ring has tempted you four or more times this game. Otherwise, the Ring tempts you.”

The “Ring tempts you.” What does that mean?  That wasn’t shared in the first look video, so we’re just left to speculate, and it’s difficult to evaluate this card for Commander without knowing. It could function like experience counters and just be a marker that interacts with specific cards like what Frodo, Sauron’s Bane says. That would mean you’ve got to invest six mana into Frodo, Sauron’s Bane and then have your 2/3 non-evasive creature deal combat damage to a player four times before all that effort means anything.

Granted, jumping through all those hoops means the fifth time you deal damage to a player, that player loses, but I suspect there’s got to be more to being tempted by the Ring than simply increasing the number with a die. Maybe you’ll draw a card each time you’re tempted by the Ring. Maybe you’ll get a Treasure token.  What do you think?

It’s interesting to note that, other than the singular white pip in Frodo’s mana cost, the rest of the abilities can be fueled by black mana, so it might be cool to build a mono-black Frodo deck that happens to have a bunch of ways to produce one white mana to cast Frodo from the command zone. Mono-black decks have a lot of ways to generate a ton of black mana, and Frodo is very black-mana-hungry. Also, Frodo being able to become a Rogue might be relevant alongside cards like Seasoned Dungeoneer and Burakos, Party Leader.

Samwise the Stouthearted

Samwise the Stouthearted has a very flavorful mechanic, swooping onto the battlefield at instant speed to recover a permanent from the graveyard and bring it back to your hand.  It’s quite evocative of Samwise thinking Frodo dead from his battle with Shelob the giant spider, and then having to rescue Frodo from his Orcish captors.  Or any of the other times Sam stepped up and helped Frodo continue on with his burdensome mission.

Sam’s cheap mana cost makes him a great utility spell to have in any white deck with key permanents you don’t want destroyed forever, and since he’s a creature, there are all sorts of ways to bring him back to your hand to use again. You could even pair him up with something like Teleportation Circle to bring back to your hand a permanent that you sacrificed earlier in the turn.

There’s also that phrase “the Ring tempts you” that we don’t yet know what it means but could potentially turn this from a cool card to a great card. We’ll have to wait and see.

Sam, Loyal Attendant and The Shire

There’s another version of Samwise Gamgee called Sam, Loyal Attendant that, alongside the land card The Shire, reveals a Food theme that might play a significant role in the set. This brings to mind the beloved meme from the movies where Sam says “potatoes,” and I trust at least one Food token will have a picture of the hearty root vegetable.

Sam, Loyal Attendant reduces the activated abilities of Foods you control by one generic mana, so your regular Food tokens like the ones Sam makes can be sacrificed for just one mana – or none if you’ve somehow created more than one copy of Sam, Loyal Attendant on the battlefield from something like Helm of the Host. Even without the copy shenanigans, you can activate Gingerbrute’s “can’t be blocked” ability for zero mana, or activate Golden Egg’s mana ability for zero mana.  I imagine there will be more “Food matters” cards in the set, and maybe even a few new Food cards. Let’s not forget, later this year there will be an entire Magic set returning to Eldraine, where we first saw Food.  There might be a bunch of new options for Magic Foodies by the end of 2023.

Gollum, Patient Plotter

A Lord of the Rings set wouldn’t be complete without Gollum, and Gollum, Patient Plotter demonstrates Gollum’s supernatural resilience and persistence.  Any Aristocrats-style deck that sacrifices creatures will find room for Gollum, since it represents a sacrifice outlet right there in the graveyard. I recently built a deck around Ashnod, Flesh Mechanist, and Gollum will slot right in.  Of note, Gollum doesn’t have the “can’t block” text that shows up in so many of these sorts of recursive creature cards, like Bloodsoaked Champion and Bloodghast.

When Gollum, Patient Plotter leaves the battlefield, the Ring tempts you… again, what does that mean?  The fact that Gollum, Patient Plotter is an uncommon, and so very easily built to die and come back, has me thinking that the Ring tempting you mechanic likely isn’t going to be a strict benefit.

Gandalf the Grey

Here we have one of the versions of the famous Wizard Gandalf, showing him facing down the infamous Balrog in the first book of the trilogy. If there was room on the card for flavor text, I imagine he’d be saying, “You shall not pass!” or perhaps “Fly, you fools!”

Gandalf the Grey’s abilities very much fit in with a spellslinger strategy, triggering whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell.  The big one is the ability to copy target instant or sorcery spell you control, so you’d want to save that for something big. Being able to tap or untap a permanent can be surprisingly good—you could for instance untap The One Ring and tap it again!  Putting Gandalf the Grey on top of its owner’s library is a way to temp the power of the card a little bit, forcing you to skip a draw step and recast Gandalf before you can resume your shenanigans.

Sauron, the Lidless Eye

Sauron, the Lidless Eye features some sweet artwork, but it’s definitely a lower-power card, which I appreciate giving us that sort of option for more laid-back Commander pods. Being able to temporarily borrow the best creature on the battlefield when Sauron enters the battlefield scales quite nicely with the battlefield state and can be potentially game-breaking.  If you’re evil – and if you’re playing Sauron, you’re probably feeling evil – you’ll want to pair Sauron with sacrifice outlets so that you can sacrifice the creature you’ve stolen after you attack with it but before you’ve got to give it back. Ashnod’s Altar and Phyrexian Tower come to mind.

Mount Doom

If we’re going to have Sauron, we should have the crown jewel of his country Mordor, Mount Doom!  This card has a lot of flavor—it easily fixes your Rakdos mana, but at the cost of one life. You can activate it to deal one damage to each opponent, which can do things like satisfy the bloodthirst ability of something like Skarrgan Firebird or enable casting Rakdos, Lord of Riots.  That last ability is incredibly flavorful—sacrifice a legendary artifact (say, The One Ring), and destroy all creatures but two (Frodo and Sam). But it’s quite painful—you’ve got to spend seven mana, tap and sacrifice Mount Doom, and sacrifice a legendary artifact! 

Still, there are probably more legendary artifacts floating around in your decks than you think. Sword of the Animist, Blackblade Reforged, Helm of the Host, Whip of Erebos, and Bontu’s Monument are just a few examples. Having a creature sweeper attached to a land is quite powerful.

Aragorn and Arwen, Wed

Here we have Aragorn and Arwen together on one card, after they tied the knot at the end of the trilogy. “+1/+1 counters matter” is a theme as old as time for WotC, and fans of ticking up piles of dice on cards and tokens will love to slide this right into the 99, if not put Aragorn and Arwen, Wed right in the command zone. Notably, the card doesn’t add counters to itself, and while six toughness is pretty sizeable, it’s still quite possible to not have any good attacks with this by the time it hits the battlefield. Cards like Mother of Runes or Bastion Protector could help open up lines of attack.

Aragorn and Arwen, Wed covers both Human and Elf creature types, so you could easily build a Human or Elf deck with this as your commander.

Radagast, Wizard of Wilds

Radagast, Wizard of Wilds brings us a “spells with mana value 5 or greater matter” commander. Granted, there aren’t too many cards that specify this in Simic – there’s Runadi, Behemoth Caller; Thryx, the Sudden Storm; and Thunderous Snapper. But maybe there will be more of these in this set, or an upcoming set, or it might even be a theme for an upcoming Commander precon. If you want to run Radagast in the 99 of a deck, you can expand the color schemes for such cards.  In Boros, there’s Kalemne, Disciple of Iroas.  Red has Screamer-Killer. Izzet brings along Battle of Frost and Fire; Zaffai, Thunder Conductor; Spectacle Mage; and even Prismari Apprentice.

Radagast gives Beasts and Birds you control ward 1, so you could potentially use Radagast as a tribal lord of a Bird or Beast deck.  There certainly are plenty of Beast cards and even some Bird cards that have a mana value of 5 or greater. But the “lord” bonus of ward 1 is pretty small potatoes, so I imagine Radagast is mostly going to be useful for generating token creatures for decks that care about token creatures; making 2/2 Bird tokens with flying is going to be particularly useful in shoring up the skies.

Tom Bombadil

If you’re only familiar with the Lord of the Rings movies, you might be wondering, “Who the heck is Tom Bombadil?”  Who, indeed?  Even fans of the books aren’t entirely sure who Tom Bombadil was, other than a strange and powerful being who helped the Hobbits out of a couple of jams early in their quest. Tom was known for his singing and his agelessness, having witnessed all sorts of historical events in the Middle-earth timeline, so it makes perfect sense that Tom Bombadil is designed to be the five-color Saga commander we’ve been waiting for. I presume there will be some cool Sagas included in this set, and look forward to seeing what people cook up as their Tom Bombadil decks.  Be sure to check out Chase Carroll’s recent article Five Commander Cards You Need To Pair With Tom Bombadil right here on StarCityGames.com!

Which of these cards are you most excited about?  What other characters from The Lord of the Rings are you looking forward to seeing?  For me, I can’t wait to see what cards are inspired by Gimli, son of Glóin, a Dwarf fighter of great skill and humor.

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!