Upgrading Aragorn: Turbo-Charging The Riders Of Rohan Preconstructed Commander Deck

Sheldon Menery finds another gear in the Riders of Rohan Commander precon with just a few simple card swaps. See his switch-ups and get inspiration for your own!

Aragorn, King of Gondor
Aragorn, King of Gondor, illustrated by Yongjae Choi

With previews from Wilds of Eldraine swirling around us, there’s still time for one more thing to do with The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth Commander:  namely, upgrade a preconstructed deck.  We’ve reviewed the individual cards, built two new decks, and updated the complete Deck Suite with The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth cards. Now it’s time to dig into one of the excellent pieces our friends in Studio X put together and find an upgrade path.

Choosing which one to work with was moderately easy.  I didn’t want to touch the Food and Fellowship deck, since my dear friend and fellow Commander Rules Committee (RC) member Scott Larabee designed the deck.  It would seem rude to touch his work, especially since he’s here right now at the house taking care of me so that Gretchyn (who happens to be my wife) can get back to some semblance of normal work.  Additionally, one of the decks I built involved Food and Halflings.  I chose Riders of Rohan because Gretchyn loves Karl Urban’s portrayal of Éomer in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Elven Council and The Hosts of Mordor gave me attractive options, but nothing swung either of them over the top.  

The preconstructed decks are radically different from what they were back when we first saw Commander product.  Then, the decks were a little shaky and could use some upgrading.  Now, they’re stronger and tighter.  The upgrade path may involve changing the way the deck works.  Let’s take a look and see.  If you’d like to see the list, it’s on the mothership.

Choosing the Leader

Our first choice in this Jeskai-colored deck is which of the two major legendary creatures to have as the commander.  We get to pick between Éowyn, Shieldmaiden and Aragorn, King of Gondor.  Éowyn is a go-wide deck that relies on Humans to create more Humans.  Her combat-triggered ability is contingent on a Human having entered the battlefield for us this turn.  If that’s the case, we get two 2/2 Human Knights with trample and haste.  Because of the timing, with these Knights entering the battlefield before the declare attackers step, they can get right into the action.  Almost as an aside, if we control six or more Humans, we draw a card. 

Aragorn, King of Gondor creates a whole different thing.  It’s also a Humans-ish deck, but is focused strongly on the commander.  When Aragorn enters the battlefield, we become the monarch.  When Aragorn attacks, up to one target creature can’t block this turn.  Even better, if we’re the monarch, which we’ll strive to keep, creatures can’t block this turn.  This gives us the opportunity to play how we want with the creature base.  Both wide and high work. 

Eowyn, Shieldmaiden Aragorn, King of Gondor

Both are compelling.  Introducing the monarch mechanic has its allure.  It means a more defensive deck, which is a little less my style, but still interesting enough to play. There’s a line which involves introducing the monarch to the game and then never trying to get it back, simply letting my opponents batter each other for the extra card. Aragorn functions best when we’re the monarch, though, so we’d need to take it back selectively. Éowyn features a tried-and-true strategy of overwhelming the opponent(s), which is quite aggressive.  Adding blue to a classic Boros build means a little more battlefield control and card draw, although there aren’t currently that many blue cards in the deck.  The choice comes down to which of the two I’d be more likely to play and enjoy.  For me, at the moment, it’s the monarch.

Making the Swaps

I’d like to swap out ten cards, not counting lands.  I’ve identified four of them as well.  Taking out ten won’t be easy.  All the cards in the deck are good and focus on the basic strategy of being the monarch.  We’ll be a little more selective of when we take back the crown, as to keep the pressure elsewhere.  I’m putting in ten cards and will have to take out ten to make room, not that there are ten bad cards to get rid of (since there aren’t).  We’ll focus on using Aragorn’s ability to keep that one blocker out of the way and have ways to neutralize any others as well.  Alternately, we’ll take the crown and simply keep it through the threat of retributive strikes. 

I’ve focused on individual cards instead of a packaged upgrade.  What the deck does is fine.  I want to do it a little better.  Also, there are just a few cards that I want to play.  That list looks like this:

In (Nonland):

  • Akroma’s Will
  • Balefire Liege
  • Blasphemous Act
  • Cavern-Hoard Dragon
  • Deflecting Palm
  • Ephara, God of the Polis
  • Iroas, God of Victory
  • Mercadia’s Downfall
  • Mirror Strike
  • Sardian Avenger

Out (Nonland):

  • Archivist of Gondor
  • Banishing Light
  • Beregond of the Guard
  • Earthquake
  • Fealty to the Realm
  • Frontier Warmonger
  • Humble Defector
  • Lossarnarch Captain
  • Sunset Revelry
  • Visions of Glory

And lands:


  • Hallowed Fountain
  • Sacred Foundry
  • Steam Vents
  • Sundown Pass


  • Furycalm Snarl
  • Port Town
  • Tranquil Cove
  • Wind-Scarred Crag

Akroma’s Will

Akroma's Will

Sometimes, our stuff is going to get blown up.  Akroma’s Will prevents that and provides other rewards as well.  It has powerful uses as an offensive weapon, the second ability offering lifelink for a big lifegain splash.  If we’ve played both modes and given our creatures double strike, the lifegain (and damage) will be extreme.  This is a slot in which Cosmic Intervention or Faith’s Reward would historically slip.  Akroma’s Will, at the same cost, outclasses them a bit. 

Replaced: Fealty to the Realm is clever and deserves some play in a Clones / theft deck.  Here, we’ll reduce our blue footprint even further while putting the Fealty to the Realm idea in our hip pocket for another deck.

Balefire Liege

Balefire Liege

One of my favorite Boros (red/white) cards, Balefire Liege offers us some battlefield control to go along with a little lifegain.  It’s going to trigger on nearly every card in the deck since we have such a low mono-blue component.  In addition to the trigger, we buff our creatures, importantly giving the double bonus to our commander, making Aragorn a dangerous, six-power creature and Éowyn pretty saucy at seven power. 

Replaced: Beregond of the Guard is out because, while he provides an excellent single-turn bonus, I was looking for something with a little more long-term value.

Blasphemous Act

Blasphemous Act

There will be a time when the opponents’ creatures outclass ours, even if we have more of them.  Then it’s time to push the reset button.  I also want to hit flyers.  Combined with that and the one-mana possibilities of dealing thirteen, Blasphemous Act gets the nod. 

Replaced: Earthquake does the job of also providing direct damage to the face; if that’s what I had wanted, I would have spent the extra mana and gone with Fault Line as an instant. 

Cavern-Hoard Dragon

Cavern-Hoard Dragon

The deck wants a little beef and Cavern-Hoard Dragon provides it.  It can be much cheaper to cast and smash face relatively early.  The reciprocal creation of Treasure tokens can catapult us forward on the battlefield state.  All in all, it’s just strong. 

Replaced: Archivist of Gondor gets the tap-out because of the second ability.  We’re not fighting that hard to keep the crown, and we don’t just want to be giving away cards so easily and cheaply. 

Deflecting Palm

Deflecting Palm

Simply put, when I’m playing Boros colors, I want everyone to know that there will be times when You Did This to Yourself is on the table.  I want to play the effect frequently enough that when I’m not playing it, I can bluff that I am—or it’s so ingrained in my metagame that opponents fear it.  All that said, it’s also great to just play.  Deflecting Palm itself does the damage, so we can’t get tricky and kill someone with their own commander.  The great thing about Deflecting Palm is that it doesn’t target.  We choose a source on resolution, so if the major source of damage is somehow removed, we still have the chance to prevent something else. 

Replaced: While Sunset Revelry has a great rate for what it does, it still doesn’t quite do enough when opponents are doing so much.   

Ephara, God of the Polis

Ephara, God of the Polis

While I wouldn’t call Ephara a Hidden Gem, I’d say it’s somewhat underplayed.  It checks at the beginning of each player’s upkeep to see if a creature entered under our control.  It’s most certainly going to frequently trigger on the turn of the player to our left.  We don’t currently have any ways of creating tokens on other players’ turns; I had considered Horn of Gondor to cover this base, but didn’t really want to take out anything that would fit. 

Replaced: Once again, giving other players cards with Humble Defector doesn’t really fit into the plan.  I’d be happy to if we were taking advantage of it somehow, but since we’re not, Humble Defector is an easy cut.l

Iroas, God of Victory

Iroas, God of Victory

The twofold effect of giving our creatures menace and preventing damage dealt to our attacking creatures makes Iroas perfect for the deck.  We can slam into combat with impunity and not worry about losing our attackers, especially since Iroas is hard to get rid of.  It’s also likely to get turned on and get into combat itself because it gives itself the bonuses. 

Replaced: Frontier Warmonger is a nice way of making our creatures more difficult to block and thereby taking back the crown if we need.  It’s a difficult cut, but sacrifices must be made.

Mercadia’s Downfall

Mercadia's Downfall

Absolutely a Hidden Gem, Mercadia’s Downfall will blow out people on a routine basis.  The floor is usually three or four.  The ceiling is simply lethal, perhaps to more than one player.  It rarely fails to solicit a “What’s that do???”

Replaced: Visions of Glory is a little more contingent on the battlefield state than I want to be.  It’s not quite a win more card, but approaches that space.  I’m a fan of the cost reduction on the flashback as a clever way of providing incentive to playing a higher-mana-cost commander (something I’d love to see them do more of). 

Mirror Strike

Mirror Strike

An all-time favorite, Mirror Strike can make someone kill themselves with their own commander, since the creature itself still does the damage.  In the past, I’ve killed people with commander damage and with infect from Blightsteel Colossus.  The card frequently provides lolz. 

Replaced: Banishing Light gets the cut from once again not doing quite enough in the environment and cuts needing to be made.

Sardian Avenger

Sardian Avenger

Not a Hidden Gem, but a card that just deserves to be played more, Sardian Avenger is the Treasure hate that we all need.  What’s great is that it scales.  If someone isn’t trying to do busted stuff, it’s not going to hurt.  If they are, then it’s going to sting quite sharply. 

Replaced: Lossarnach Captain, even in a slow environment, is still a little slow.  Sardian Avenger will make us well more aggressive

After the changes, the deck looks like this:

Magic Card Back

Upgrading Aragorn is fun to play without straying too far from its original intent.  In addition to focusing on the monarch mechanic, the deck can still go wide by creating quite a few Humans.  The upgrades offer some different tacks on making the monarch happen more regularly or simply providing a kill path.  Either way is fine with us. 

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