As much as the exploding volcano of set releases gives us pause, it also provides us with the that which we love most: new cards. I might respond with a blue streak when asked about the topic, yet there I am (in pretty good company, I imagine), getting worked up over the most recent releases. Such is the case with The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth Commander.
With 80 new cards among the four decklists, 51 of which are legendary creatures, artifacts, or lands (although some of them are re-skins), there’s plenty to sift through. We have new commanders to build around, powerful creatures to slot into existing decks, and spells that will have you skipping second breakfast to get at them.
Given the significance of the legendary permanent here, I’ll split up the Commander review into legendary and nonlegendary camps, like I did with the main set review. I’ll choose and talk about my favorite ten in each category. They may or may not be the most powerful, because flavor matters. They’re just the ones that bring me the most joy (and I hope you’ll find some delight in as well).
10. Sam, Loyal Attendant
Sam making it easier to eat Food makes sense from a flavor perspective, as well as being excellent from a mechanical one. We’re spending half the mana to get the same result. Putting together a nice Abzan (white/black/green) deck with Sam and Frodo, Adventurous Hobbit leads us in a direction different from what we normally expect from the color combination. It won’t take long until we’ve been tempted enough by the Ring that Frodo will be nearly unblockable, allowing us to get the combat damage triggers that we want to play with.
9. Lobelia, Defender of Bag End
Unless the second mode is going to save our life, I can only imagine choosing the first one three times. Commander players like to play strong spells and creatures. The only downside for me is that the other Commander Rules Committee (RC) members tend to play really janky cards. I’m likely to get some real small-t, air-quoted treasures from them.
8. Saruman, the White Hand
This Saruman leads a deck to war. Even if we’re creating Armies at one and two power/counters, we’re going to reap the benefits. Any deck I put together led by Saruman is going to have a sacrifice outlet so that I can choose to create a new Army if I’d like. The jury is out on whether I’d build it as a Goblin/Orc theme deck or something else. It’s nonetheless high on my list of potential new commanders for the Deck Suite.
7. Sauron, Lord of the Rings
The mana cost is justified for what the card does. If someone wants to kill it and let us do it all over again, more power to them. If not, we have a 9/9 trampler. Sauron’s first triggered ability leads us in a direction, but it’s a vector I’d choose anyway. My task will be to make it look unlike any decks already in the collection with similar themes.
6. Éowyn, Shieldmaiden
Is this just another Secretly Winota commander? It won’t be quite as spicy as my first version; it’ll be way more flavorful. I’ll just need to remember to not barrel down the same road as the preconstructed deck.
With 202 choices of Human Knight, we have a great deal of room to play with. We can run Danitha, Benalia’s Hope lines, sneaking in Ardenn, Intrepid Archaeologist (a Kor Scout). We can run the Balefire Liege and tragically underplayed Mindwrack Liege pair (yes, they’re Horrors; I count them as lords). We can go even wider with Hero of Bladehold. We’re graced with some sweet possibilities indeed.
5. Aragorn, King of Gondor
Is it time for Aragorn, King of Gondor to replace Ruhan of the Fomori as commander of You Did This to Yourself? Let’s not be silly. Certainly, as I’ve done previously, I’ll play some alternate commanders with the deck, so this Aragorn will get at least those moments in the sun. It introduces monarch to the game.
This is one I’d like to keep for myself, so there will be a few You Did This to Yourself elements to it just to keep folks honest, but I don’t want to go in and just recreate the deck. Because there are other Human-themed commanders running around, I’d avoid heading that direction as well. Maybe something with lifegain would be good to offset the inevitable life loss that accompanies being the monarch.
4. Gilraen, Dúnedain Protector
Speaking of sweet, this new weapon in our blink arsenal offers great choices. We can blink and bring the target right back if we need its trigger again, to counter targeted removal, or to simply get it untapped. We can bring it back at the next end step in response to a battlefield sweeper or if we simply want the vigilance and lifelink counters (and still get the other benefits). The flavor text means I gave Hope to the Dúnedain, I have kept none for myself. Being that she’s Aragorn’s mother, the message tracks. You can check out her Encyclopedia of Arda (a quite useful reference) entry for more details.
3. Círdan the Shipwright
Círdan is in the running for my favorite voting card ever. The layers of strategy, guesswork, and reading the other players come to the fore, as there are significant upsides for not getting any votes. There’s also the sure reward versus the bigger payoff—do we risk someone voting for us? Drawing a card is hardly what I’d call risk. That Círdan keeps doing it is what really drives up his stock. So long as we make sure he doesn’t get killed in combat, stuff is going to happen.
2. Éomer, King of Rohan
Here’s our Humans commander. Éomer is powerful and passionate and, as a character, doesn’t have the required trickery for adding blue. It’s battling in Boros (red/white) all the way, as well as doing some very nice damage with the second triggered ability. Remember that we can stack the triggers to maximize his power before having that second one resolve. Bringing monarch with him (he’s a King, after all) and having double strike means that only a peacenik won’t love our favorite of the Rohirrim. This one is absolutely under consideration as the first one built.
1. Gandalf, Westward Voyager
I’m quite happy with cards which have incentives for casting bigger spells (without necessarily making them cheaper, which is often a path to brokenness). Copying big spells is all kinds of hilarity, whether it’s a nonlegendary creature or Jaheira’s Respite (now requiring half the number of attackers). We can also play Mirror Gallery, Mirror Box, and/or Sakashima of a Thousand Faces to turn off the legendary rule for ourselves. Who wouldn’t want to double up on Tatyova, Benthic Druid? Do the kids still say this card slaps? If they do, slappage is happening.
10. Field-Tested Frying Pan
I’m sure the hard-hearted will consider this card a little silly. I’m going to make use of it in my Trostani’s Angels deck, which commonly gets into triple- and quadruple-digit life totals. For that same reason, I’ll also try to find space for Assemble the Entmoot. The low equip cost of Field-Tested Frying Pan means that we can probably attack with it attached to one creature and then move it to an untapped one if we need the defense.
9. Feasting Hobbit
You had me at Devour Food. Just two Foods get us a nearly unblockable 8/8 for two mana. I think that’s what the pros call a good rate. Just a small Food theme will be enough to get value from, but this is a Feasting Hobbit, not a nibbling one. Not for nothing, it fits right into our deck led by Shelob, Child of Ungoliant, who is likely the actual first commander from the sets that I’ll take a stab at.
8. Galadhrim Ambush
With the success of Arachnogenesis and Inkshield, I anticipate more cool themed Fogs. They all prevent damage you take, save for Goblin Fog, which for some reason doubles it. Note that Galadhrim Ambush isn’t preventing damage to us, so we can cast it on the turn in which we’ll just end up with the most attacking creatures.
7. Archivist of Gondor
Double monarch? Sign me up. We have to be careful because the second ability is symmetrical. We’ll know it’s coming and be set up for it. There’s always the danger of letting other players draw additional cards, though. I guess that one could slot it into a Nekusar, the Mindrazer deck if one were so inclined; that’s one that I’d ask my fellow players about first.
6. Raise the Palisade
Choose a creature type not on the battlefield, and we have what amounts to Evacuation. Normally, we’d want to keep some of our own creatures around. Strategic reasons to also bounce our own include getting rid of awkward Auras or resetting for some great enters-the-battlefield triggers. The card makes me think that I should dust off a copy or two of Tsabo’s Decree.
5. In the Darkness Bind Them
We can fill out our temptation dance card with just In the Darkness Bind Them, all the while creating some Wraiths and turning up the dread factor for someone, knowing what’s coming. I know what hunts you. For a while, I went back and forth on this card before finally realizing that it costs only five, which is reasonable for what it does (but we unfortunately can’t fit into a deck led by Gandalf, Westward Voyager). I wouldn’t exactly call that a downside.
4. Taunt from the Rampart
I will happily pay the one extra mana/extra white pip to cast Taunt from the Rampart over Disrupt Decorum if I can only have one (in the right colors). Creatures not being able to block is huge here. It can lead to leaving players strewn at the bottom of the wall. You can’t be goaded if you’re dead.
3. Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Okay, for three mana, we get a +1/+1 counter, a card, and somewhere north of an average of two Halflings. Once again, the rate is excellent.
It just so happens that one Toby Elliott, he also of the Commander RC, is sitting over my shoulder at the moment (he’s come to Florida to help me heal up). We just had a quick conversation about power creep. While I agree there has been some, Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit is hardly going to be a major star, but a bit-part player. I’m more and more interested in scalable design—cards that have a modest initial mana value and effect, then have an additional, more expensive ability to have a splashier outcome. Thinking about the idea now makes me wish I had dreamed it up several years ago.
2. Subjugate the Hobbits
That’s each, my friends. Every mana creature, utility creature, and nearly every token creature will be coming our way at the suddenly inexpensive-sounding amount of seven mana. There’s no duration; they’re ours until they die or the game ends. After that, it’s up to us to make our best use of them. One dream scenario is that at least one other player has Plant tokens that go with our Avenger of Zendikar.
1. Cavern-Hoard Dragon
Once we’ve announced the spell, it’s too late for our (untargeted) opponents to get rid of artifacts and avoid making the spell less expensive. That only applies to artifacts like Treasures and Foods that they can actually get rid of. At least one of our opponents is always going to offer a nice discount on our beefy 6/6, flying, trample, haste Dragon. They can get rid of Treasures in response to the combat damage trigger; if they’re doing that just to deny us getting some, more power to them.
The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth Commander drops another suite of excellent cards on us, continuing the impressive work done on the main set. Flavor, feel, and power surge through the new cards in the decks, cozying up to great reprints like Heroic Intervention, Living Death, Toxic Deluge, and some most excellent versions of Sol Ring. Whether we keep them together or cannibalize them for parts, these decks absolutely bring the goods.
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