It’s always 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 here, right at the release date for The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, 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. 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.
Also, this is a list of cards for the 99 of Commander decks, not cards you should choose as your commander. My initial pass included a lot more than ten cards, so the ones that didn’t quite make my personal Top 10 list I’ve collected here as honorable mentions.
First of all, there is no doubt that Delighted Halfling and Orcish Bowmasters are incredibly powerful Magic cards, and they will have an impact in tournament Magic formats where they are legal. For Commander, I think they are both at the very least solid cards but become much better the higher-power Commander you like to play. Since I play casual Commander, these drop off my Top 10 list, but I’d definitely pepper them into decks where I think they’ll shine.
Nazgûl are awesome! I’ve played them a fair amount on Arena, and they just provide a ton of value all on their own, but they do even more if you’re also playing other effects where the Ring tempts you. My initial thought was that you’d put nine of these in just about any creature-heavy deck with black in it, but unfortunately they seem to be much rarer than other uncommons, and even at the end of release weekend, buying nine of these will set you back almost $90. I think scarcity will keep them from being as widely played as I think they’d otherwise be, which keeps them off my Top 10 list.
Mirkwood Bats is going to do nutty things if you’re playing a Treasure deck, or some sort of token-heavy Aristocrats-style deck. Even if you’re not running any other “the Ring tempts you” cards, you still ought to run Dúnedain Rangers in your landfall deck.
Lastly, I wanted to give a shout-out for Bilbo’s Ring. I know this seems limited to a Halfling deck or a deck where your commander is a Halfling, but there are a ton of ways for Equipment-heavy decks to discount the equip cost. Even without that, I still think the card is going to be worth paying the full equip cost sometimes. I’ve picked up a few copies of this and am eager to see how it plays in the coming months.
Okay, let’s get into our Top 10!
10. Scroll of Isildur
This seems like a solid early drop for blue decks to grind out some value to bridge into the mid-game. Chapter I mostly reads, “Gain control of target Sol Ring.” if someone has one early, and you get the little bit of value from the Ring tempting you. Chapter II protects you from early aggression, and Chapter III should draw you at least two cards and potentially more (say, an opponent is playing mana creatures). Plus, the card isn’t overtly scary, and nearly all its effects are temporary, so I imagine it’s not going to draw a precious removal spell from any opponent most of the time.
9. Forge Anew
Forge Anew is a powerful new tool for any Equipment-matters deck that has access to white in its color identity. Even though it’s niche it’s so good that I had to put it in my Top 10. Equip abilities being used at instant speed and paying zero for the first equip ability are both awesome, but being able to bring back an Equipment from the graveyard and put it onto the battlefield when it enters the battlefield is really what pushes it over the top.
8. The Balrog, Durin’s Bane
This card scales quite nicely depending on the power level of your Commander deck. That first ability resembles the shenanigans you can get up to with Dargo, the Shipwrecker, so in the right deck, you can cast it for two mana, attack for seven (that can only be blocked by legendary creatures), and then sacrifice it to destroy an annoying artifact or creature. You can certainly run this Balrog as your commander and do Dargo tricks, but I think it works just fine as a card in your 99 and played fairly, especially if you have ways to bring creatures back from the graveyard.
7. Last March of the Ents
Expensive sorcery spells need to do something spectacular in Commander, and Last March of the Ents certainly fits the bill. Making it so that it can’t be countered is crucial, since you’re investing a whopping eight mana to cast it, but your opponents can still interact with it a bit by killing whatever creature you have with the highest toughness. While this obviously pairs up well in most “high-toughness matters” decks, such as Doran, the Siege Tower, this card still will be a great curve-topper for almost any green deck with huge creatures and a decent amount of mana ramp; most green decks, in other words.
6. Call of the Ring
I really like Call of the Ring for a lot of decks too. On the floor, it provides some card draw each turn, similarly to Phyrexian Arena, though you’ll want to be playing a fair number of creatures in the deck to be able to choose a Ring-bearer. If you’re playing a bunch of effects where the Ring tempts you, then this can become a bonkers card-drawing engine. Needing to play a bunch of creatures, needing to wait until your upkeep, and needing to pay two life to draw the card all constrict the power of Call of the Ring just a bit, but for two mana, this can easily fit into all sorts of decks.
5. Pippin, Guard of the Citadel
By now we all know just how powerful Skrelv, Defector Mite is, and I think Pippin, Guard of the Citadel is arguably better. Anyone attempting to kill another one of your creatures with a spell or damage needs to deal with Pippin first, and that ward cost makes it just a little bit more difficult. Meanwhile, Pippin is making life extremely difficult for attackers, blockers, or other effects that want to interact with your creatures, and with vigilance, Pippin can even get in on attacks if you need him to—perhaps he’s a Ring-bearer? I’m putting Pippin in just about all of my Commander decks that can run him and am tempted (heh) to build a deck with him as my commander.
4. Mithril Coat
Taking Darksteel Plate, giving it flash, and letting it attach itself to a legendary creature when it enters the battlefield makes Mithril Coat an incredibly potent card for any deck where your commander is a creature that ends up dying a lot. The more legends you play in your Commander deck, the better this gets, but that’s not even a heavy lift for decks these days—there are a ton of great legendary creatures that people just slot into the 99 of their Commander decks.
3. There and Back Again
The flavor of this card is simply wonderful. Chapter I is Bilbo finding his magic Ring; Chapter II finds Erebor, the Lonely Mountain; and Chapter III summons forth the fierce Dragon Smaug. In terms of Magic, Smaug has got to be one of the most impressive token creatures since Dark Depths gave us Marit Lage—Smaug is a 6/6 with flying and haste, and when it die,s it gives you a whopping fourteen Treasure tokens, nearly three times the mana invested in the Saga in the first place. The number of Treasure tokens is also dripping with flavor—when Smaug dies in The Hobbit (sorry, spoiler alert), Thorin Oakenshield’s company of thirteen Dwarves, plus Bilbo the burglar, split Smaug’s treasure horde into fourteen shares.
While the first ability suggests you’d limit this card for more aggressive decks, you can even neutralize a blocker for the benefit of another opponent in a multiplayer format like Commander. And if you have ways to sacrifice creatures, Smaug gets even better, since otherwise your opponents can exile the token or bounce it. But I’m putting this in most of my red decks and I think it’s going to be great fun!
2. The One Ring
I hate to put The One Ring on the list because it’s still so expensive, even though you can guarantee a copy of The One Ring if you buy a The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth Bundle. But as a colorless and resilient source of card drawing that you can literally slam into any Commander deck for value, its potency is undeniable.
There is a very real cost (as there should be with The One Ring), since at a certain point the burden counters will be taking significant chunks of life from you, but the cards you’re drawing along the way should more than offset it. If you get a copy of The One Ring. I’d slip it into a deck with some ways to recoup your life, and potentially ways to reset it by bouncing it, such as Master Transmuter, or blinking it, such as Teleportation Circle.
1. Boromir, Warden of the Tower
I’ll make up for having such an expensive card as The One Ring on my list by having a shockingly affordable card at number one: Boromir, Warden of the Tower. By “shockingly affordable”, I mean I’m pleasantly surprised at how cheaply you can pick up copies of Boromir now, despite the fact that he easily slots into literally any white deck that’s playing even a minimal number of creatures.
I’ve snagged a bunch of copies and have been sliding them into decks, and expect nothing but great things from the tragic Boromir. With only one colored mana, he easily slots into three or more color decks. As a Human and a Soldier, he has very relevant creature types for those decks that care about that. Vigilance is a great ability in Commander, especially if you can boost Boromir in some fashion—one of my favorites is Blackblade Reforged.
His sacrifice ability is something I love to have in creature decks, and I’ve long played cards like Selfless Spirit and even Dauntless Escort to get this effect. And since Boromir is three mana, you can even get him back with Sun Titan triggers—I mean, who doesn’t want to grind value with Sun Titan triggers?
But what really kicks it over the top is that middle part of his text box: “Whenever an opponent casts a spell, if no mana was spent to cast it, counter that spell.” You don’t have to worry about an opponent casting a Force of Will while tapped out, or a “free” Fierce Guardianship or Deadly Rollick. It effectively neutralizes Sunforger’s activated ability and blunts the impact of Rishkar’s Expertise. Villainous Wealth isn’t quite so wealthy.
Over on Arena, if you play Historic Brawl, you are no doubt tired of playing against the Etali, Primal Conqueror deck. Boromir blunts its enters-the-battlefield trigger. If it’s not Etali, it’s some sort of multicolor good stuff deck that revolves around finding and casting Emergent Ultimatum. Boromir says “nuh-uh.”
Boromir, Warden of the Tower. Put it in your white decks and help keeps things fair for a while. The card slaps.
Do you disagree with any of my picks? Which cards from The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth would be in your Top 10?
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