The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth really is aiming to be that one set to rule them all. By “all” meaning bringing all the relevant fandoms and in the gaming table bind them!
Magic: The Gathering truly made something precious with The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, their latest Universes Beyond product line. Just like what they did back in 2021 with Dungeons & Dragons and last year with Warhammer 40k, “Universes Beyond” will probably go down as one of the best outings for Magic: The Gathering in 2023 with regards to collaboration as players get to experience J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece crossing over to the popular card game medium.
For those unfamiliar with the “Universes Beyond”, they aim to bring popular franchises to Magic: The Gathering and integrating their well-loved game mechanics like their patented mana system, exciting combat and spell-slinging shenanigans. And they did it this time with The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, probably the biggest fantasy property in the world.
To put it simply – It’s Magic: the Gathering and Lord of the Rings! What’s not to love? Well as a fanboy of both the card game and all that sweet Tolkien fluff I was easily reeled in hook, line and sinker but for a collectible cardboard connoisseur or a Middle-earth Tolkienite, is this product worth your attention and coin? Let’s find out in this set review as we examine the expansion in all the important aspects – art, gameplay mechanics and collectability.
After Wizard’s of the Coast’s announcement of Tales of Middle-earth, what drew me initially is knowing all the unique art that is going to be made by the game’s wonderful and talented artists. They did not use movie stills from the movies or repurposed previously seen art. Knowing Magic, each and every card that they make for the set will be new and inspired from the books at the same time giving it a fresh coat of paint that both old school readers and newcomers can appreciate. I might be in the minority here but back in the day when I was reading MTG novels from the Kamigawa block, I tend to look at my card collection from that expansion to give me a visual reference and for this set, I might do the same when I re-discover the stories found in Middle-earth.
Perhaps the best thing they did to maximize the enjoyment of this set is the introduction of scene cards – individual cards that combine to create one epic visual. Take a look at some of them below, starting with the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.
The art made by Tyler Jacobsen really encapsulated the epic battle in tangible cardboard.
Fancy a more festive atmosphere? See Bilbo’s Party above by Livia Prima. There are other scene cards like Mount Doom, Bridge of Khazad-dûm, Isengard Destroyed and others that (as of this writing) total to about 77 cards. But there will be more incoming!
Later this year they will release new bundles of scene cards again featuring iconic moments from the Lord of the Rings books (example above). What’s neat about these is that unlike booster sets, you already know what items you are getting in these “special scene boxes”.
There are some returning mechanics like food and amass but the flavorful highlight of this set is when The Ring Tempts You.
A lot of cards featured in the set has the keyword ability The Ring Tempts You. Unlike what’s being described in the books, in Magic: The Gathering this boon is a mostly good thing for a creature you control on the battlefield since it can potentially provide a lot of new abilities that are not normally found in your nominated “ringbearer”.
As the game progresses your ring emblem (left) gets upgraded a level every time The Ring Tempts You triggers. The Ring gains the following effects, in order:
- Your Ring-bearer is legendary and can’t be blocked by creatures with greater power.
- Whenever your Ring-bearer attacks, draw a card, then discard a card.
- Whenever your Ring-bearer becomes blocked by a creature, that creature’s controller sacrifices it at the end of combat.
- Whenever your Ring-bearer deals combat damage to a player, each opponent loses 3 life.
Initially your ring-bearer will become more evasive and harder to block. Later on, your ring-bearer can provide you with more resources (cards), giving him deathtouch (one-shots enemies engaged in combat) and lastly, the potential of sapping each opponent’s life by 3 points, should the bearer’s attack go unchecked.
Personally, I really like this mechanic as not only does it feel thematic, it gives an incentive for players to make decks around this ability. So far I’ve had fun trying this out in my 2 favorite formats – Limited (draft) and Commander to where I think this new feature shines. One would argue that there should be a downside to be had with the tempting of the ring but I think that the designers made this in such a way for the mechanic to be more desirable to use (my preciousss!) at the same time, it paints a volcano-sized target to your ring-bearer as they are most likely to be the focus to eliminate coming from your opponents. One thing I like about Magic, especially in multiplayer is that there is always a constant “threat assessment” going around at the table which keeps things in check and is a way for a widely asymmetric game to balance itself.
FOR NEW PLAYERS
What’s great about Magic: the Gathering is that the core gameplay has stood the test of time. With 30 years and hundreds of expansions that followed, there’s a reason why Magic thrived and dominated after all other card games have come and gone and part of it is its simple, easy-to-teach gameplay.
For this set alone, after playing both in paper and in digital (via MTG Arena) it is evident that the designers over at Wizards of the Coast did not dial up the complexity in terms of mechanics compared to their mainline expansions. This is good move mostly for the new players coming in to MTG as this can serve as a solid entry point in getting into the game.
Currently they have 2 products that can open the floodgates for a new Magic player. The first one is their Starter Kit which is hands-down the best introductory-packaged product they released in recent memory. The starter kit is designed to be played straight out of the box for you and a friend to enjoy without having to think about deck-construction. Just shuffle up and play!
What’s great about this package is that not only is this widely available at your friendly local game stores (estimated SRP around $16-$20 usd), the content, specifically the rare cards included are very noteworthy and can be both used for playing and collecting. As far as the 2 decks go, they each offer a good amount of gameplay variety and thematic feel with their aligned color pairings.
Really, if you don’t plan on playing and just getting these for the shiny cards and rares, take a look at what’s included in the Starter Kit, some of which are only found there:
JUMPSTART YOUR WAY TO MAGIC
Another format that I absolutely adore and the best format the game introduced in the last 10 years is Jumpstart. The format borrows the same mechanics with the popular Smash-Up! board game where you combine two half-decks of 20 cards into one deck and play it out with a friend or two using the normal MTG rules.
I already talked about Jumpstart extensively as to why this format is the best for both newcomers and old-school fans (video above) but to sum it up, Jumpstart really ticks all the right boxes in terms of ease of entry, simplicity in deckbuilding, huge amount replayability and most importantly – This is simply Magic: The Gathering the way I remembered it and when I experienced the best fun – playing it on my house, in a kitchen table, with my friends.
And what do you know? They added new halflings I mean half-decks to their Jumpstart product line! Five in total with five new decks to be added near the end of the year with Tales of Middle-earth Jumpstart Vol.2! Time to update my cube!
As of this writing, the print run is still evergreen and there are a lot of products to choose from that caters to both players and collectors. We provided a list of all the Lord of the Rings-related products for the set that can help you decide on what to get but if you are just starting out and wanting to build your collection, I would suggest getting both the Starter Kit and a few Jumpstart packs to try out the game with your buddies.
When you get a good grasp on the rules and overall flow of the game, you might want to try out their pre-constructed Commander decks (pictured right). For those that are curious, Commander or EDH is a multiplayer format that is leaning towards politics, making uneasy alliances with players and making the eventual betrayal. It can make for a much longer game but at the same time, a more richer and memorable one as relies heavily on player communication.
For those who are just straight out wanting to open (or even smelling, no judgement) packs, set boosters are the way to go as they are intended mainly for the enjoyment and simulation of opening cards and not intended for draft play.
If you ask me, I’m personally keen on getting the Commander pre-constructed decks and a Jumpstart box to update my cube. Speaking of cube, I might also grab some of those regular draft booster packs to play with friends!
The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth is officially available now at your friendly local game stores. Check out this store locator to find a gaming area near you. Support your local LGS whenever safe and possible, following health protocols of course. There’s a lot more “Universes Beyond” properties in the pipeline like Dr. Who, so watch out for that!
Final Verdict: 9/10 – 9 rings for mortal men out of 10! A slam dunk to Mt. Doom! For fans and gamers alike, Magic gathers the two fandoms and binds them for some epic tabletop Tolkien goodness!
Lastly, I would like to thank Wizards of the Coast for sending these products to use for my review! I can finally start in creating a self-contained set cube for draft and share the love of Magic: The Gathering with fellow gamers and friends. When its finished, I just might share my list to UnGeek!
Until next time! Keep it secret, and keep it sleeved!