Lord of the Rings Spoilers Week 1 Review: Legendary Creatures
The spoilers for Lord of the Rings Tales of Middle-Earth started in earnest on Tuesday with a rather large batch of cards being previewed with excellent art, interesting designs, and some good reprints in the box toppers. Among them of course had to be the four face Commanders for the deck we’re getting with Tales of Middle-Earth, and in today’s article I want to focus on the absolute deluge of legendary creatures spoiled at the time of writing. As we get closer to release, I’ll expand to nonlegendary cards in the set.
Pack a lot of lembas bread, this will be a long one. But, before we set off on our journey we have to talk about something secret. Something to remain safe. The temptation of the One Ring.
You may also want to skip ahead to your favorite legend or legends.
The Ring Tempts You
A new mechanic for this set is “the Ring tempts you” which gives you bonuses similar to going through a dungeon. Whenever you are tempted by the Ring, you get to move to the next mode down the list, and you may select a new Ring-bearer. Only the Ring Bearer is affected by the Ring’s temptations
The Ring is an emblem, and can trigger even if you have no creature to bear it. The abilities of the Ring remain for the rest of the game, and while you may choose a new creature every time you’re tempted, you MUST choose at least one if able. Of course, you can also only have one Ring-bearer. The Ring itself doesn’t lose any of these abilities, even if the Ring-bearer leaves or you choose a new one.
A number of cards in the set reference this mechanic, so keep it in mind as we go forward. Each instance is triggered by various things and might get individual bonuses, but the outcomes are always the same for emblem when the Ring tempts you.
Our first meeting in Middle-Earth comes from Eowyn, Shieldmaiden from the Commander deck Riders of Rohan. This Jeskai legend shifts the Human centric color type away from GW and into URW for the deck she leads. The card is almost completely combat oriented, triggering at the beginning of combat and giving you TWO tokens with haste and trample to help put pressure on the board. Importantly, these tokens are also human, helping you to trigger that last ability. I imagine this commander will be brutal if left alone for even a few turns.
There isn’t much to say about this commander otherwise. Sprinkle in more humans and combat survival like Boros Charm or Open Into Wonder, and you have some prime beatdowns for your opponents.
Frodo, Adventurous Hobbit and Sam, Loyal Attendant
The commander deck Food and Fellowship brings us a “Partners With” pairing of Frodo and Sam, and an Abzan life gain and food deck.
Frodo himself has to attack to gain his trigger which depends on if you gained 3 or more life this turn. The ability continues with “the Ring tempts you” a new mechanic for this set. Depending on how many times you’ve been tempted, you then get to draw a card. Luckily for Frodo, he has vigilance so blocking the next turn isn’t out of the question.
Sam has his roll nailed down here and I feel it’s a flavorful fit. He makes the food tokens, and therefore the lifegain, Frodo cares about. He also does it before Frodo attacks and as a master chief serves food up at a discount.
Abzan decks can be very resilient, so I wouldn’t be worried about them surviving in combat. I am also glad to see food token expanded into White more readily. The mechanic really did need a third color, and Gyome Master Chief will be pleased with possible new tech.
This Simic legend brings with it the Will of the Council. While we don’t yet know the contents of the deck, we can assume political things are afoot. Not only that, this card cares about Elves coming into play which shouldn’t be a problem with either blink effects or the sheer numbers an elf deck can usually put onto the table. Notably, she doesn’t care if they are tokens or not, lending some flexibility.
Some cards that seem great in here are Edric Spymaster of Trest and possibly both Ezuri, Claw of Progress and Ezuri Stalker of Spheres. Anything to do with one creature type like Heralds Horn is also an include. Again though I have to stress we don’t have the contents of the deck at time of writing, and it may go a complete other direction.
Sauron, Lord of the Rings
Last but not least of the face commanders we have Sauron himself. His mana cost is quite high, but he does a lot of work.
Amass makes a return in this set as well, and he creates a 5/5 Orc token on cast. Combined with his own stats, the 8 mana you use to cast Sauron gets you a 9/9 and a 5/5. Not only that, it gets you something back from your graveyard AFTER you mill five cards. Also ON CAST. This keeps him from being a blink target, but reanimating or bouncing him to your hand shouldn’t be an issue. Being on cast also means that even if he gets countered, you get his trigger. Sauron, always good at making an entrance or making your fear his presence.
We aren’t even done here. His large body gets Trample to boot, and he takes special pleasure in having opposing forces’ leaders be destroyed.
Moving on from the face commanders and into the set proper, we have Samwise Gamgee. Looks like they’re doing an Urza and Mishra-esque time lapse in this set. This particular version of Sam still cares about food and offers some when another creature enters the battlefield.
Good stories around the table seem to also be important, and if you prepare a good meal you can lure a good friend back to your table.
All in all, a good 2 drop legend with some room to scale into the later game.
Merry, Esquire of Rohan
Merry here cares about equipment and helping friends. He’s also quite fast with haste, and first strike should you give him a weapon or armor. Of course he is a devout companion, lending his own perspective to help any who ride by his side.
Not bad for a two drop at all. I can see this in a few equipment based decks, though ironically he might be better in the mid game.
Pippin, Guard of the Citadel
Another two drop Halfling (I’m sensing a pattern here) with a defensive ability this go around, complimenting his character nicely. Not only can he protect himself with Ward 1, he can protect another of you creatures from a card type. That’s some good protection, and even better against certain decks the focus on a certain type of card like Instants or Planeswalkers.
I don’t know where I’d put him specifically, but making something unblockable is always fun and he comes down early to protect the plan.
Aragorn, the Uniter
Our next legend is none other than Aragorn, and he’s four colored to boot! I must also say the that the RGWU legends seem to be easier to make.
This card reminds me a lot of Kenrith the Returned King in that it is kind of modular. However, Aragorn only gives us bonuses when we cast spells of certain colors. This legend seems to be a sure thing for the multicolored club with other cards like Rienne, Angel of Rebirth and General Ferrous Rokiric. Fallaji Wayfarer is probably finding a home here too.
As for the abilities, they’re okay. A token for a white card, scrying for blue, burn for red, and a +4/+4 pump for green. Now, these abilities only trigger on casting a spell, so copying a spell ala Replicate wont do anything extra. Overall I like the design as simplistic as it is. The more that join your, the greater the advantage.
Boromir, Warden of the Tower
This legend is a cross between Lavinia Azorius Renegade and Frontline Medic, and I’m here for it. Good stats for the price and cuts down on those free shenanigans. Beyond that he can save your board. Honestly the Ring tempting you didn’t even have to be on this card, except that it’s Boromir.
I don’t know that this legend will lead any deck, but I’m sure I’m going to run into it in the 99 of MANY. Heck, I might put him in my new Narset deck. Creatures are easy to recur so his sacrifice means little (no pun intended or otherwise) as you can just get him back.
Gimli, Mournful Avenger
Ah, and MY AX! Gimli always had a bit to prove to others, and I think that came from his own remorse for fallen kin. This card isn’t flashy, but it is a piece of flavor all its own. If his friends die, he becomes their avenger, and if too many die, he executes an ax swing into an enemy. Straight forward.
While I agree with the colors of the card, I’m not sure mechanically they are going to work well outside of a really aggressive strategy. Of course, Gimli might as well be just as pleased with that. Vigor is always a nice include in decks like these.
Legolas, Master Archer
Archer has Reach. Nothing else matters. Really though why don’t all archers have reach…
Anyway, the flavor here is great too, and I like that it feels somewhat similar to Gimli but in a way all Legolas’ own. When he concentrates (i.e. gets a friendly targeted spell), he gets better. When you use a spell on a creature on the other side of the field, he knocks an arrow and fires if you want. Deathtouch works wonders here since he isn’t fighting, and you can target opposing creatures with silly things like multitarget spells that give you a bonus while potentially knocking out a creature.
Again I don’t think this will lead many decks, but he has relevant creature typing and +1/+1 counter abilities. This will find a home.
Gandalf the White
White has recently jumped into, among other things, definitely liking entering the battlefield triggers as a pastime. Gandalf here doubles down on that specialty with doubling those triggers, one for entering and one for leaving (which is a lot better than death). I don’t know that he ranks with Elesh on the hate, but he certainly beats her on the utility.
The drawback is it only works for legendary and artifact spells. To mitigate that drawback, he gives those same the ability to be cast as though they have flash, which he himself has as the actual keyword. All that to say he makes a very good blink, two thirds historic commander.
Eowyn, Fearless Knight
Eowyn is also a character we get to see the metamorphosis of through the cards, though this one seems less clear to me in order. What is clear is that these are probably meant to lead tow different deck strategies.
This version has its own built in removal, exiling a creature an opponent controls when it comes into play with greater power. My memory doesn’t always serve, but this may be the first time we’ve seen this on a RW creature. Your legendary creatures then gain protection from each of the exiled creature’s colors until end of turn.
This is an interesting way to possibly finish a game later on. She comes down, gets rid of a blocker, and gives evasion to all your own legendary critters until end of turn. The creature stays exiled beyond that end of turn, and she has haste to lead your army into the fray.
I think this Eowyn may even see play at the head of some Commander decks, especially if they have a small blink package with Eldrazi Displacer or Sword of Hearth and Home.
Eomer, Marshal of Rohan
Another knight of Rohan, Eomer also cares about legends too (I think Plaza of Heroes is getting better all the time), but when attacking and dying. If one does, you get to try and hit people again.
Though the ability happens only once a turn, this is an interesting take on the extra combat ability. Unlike having to hit someone or it just triggering, this allows you to swing into a force and mark some damage on those blockers and fear a little less about losing a creature. Better than hitting but worse than a straight trigger but still useful.
This is another legend that may not be a leading role kind of commander, but I think certainly in another deck, perhaps like Dihada or even Alesha, it will do some work.
Prince Imrahil the Fair
An uncommon legend that hops aboard the “when you draw your second card” train, it joins a smaller but growing number of these effects. It also aligns with most in that they make a token of some kind, in this case a 1/1 white Human soldier.
Not much to say about this one. White likes tokens and blue likes to draw cards. Add some anthems and draw and you’re good to go. I would say this won’t see the commander role, but it does bring a second color with it which in commander isn’t nothing. Still, probably a card in the 99 most of the time.
Sauron, the Dark Lord
Unlike his commander deck iteration, this legend isn’t as expensive to cast and has no on-cast trigger. Like his other card, this one is also busy.
This Sauron has probably the most unique though not particularly hard to fulfill ward ability I’ve ever seen. He just really, really hates legendary people and things I guess. He’s also still on the Orc train, creating a token or making it larger whenever an opponent casts a spell.
He then of course gets to use the ring, though an Orc has to hit someone. Outside of the token this might be doable, but if we depend only on this token, that may be a bit hard to do. If we do manage it, the payoff for extending is a good one. We discard whatever hand we have, and get to draw 4 cards.
I’ll be honest here. I like this card, but I actually like the commander version better. It seems like you can do more with the other with the downside only being its cost. Still, we’ve seen some Nicol Bolas deck before with a bunch of him in them, and Sauron might make a similar deck vibe possible.
Gothmog, Morgul Lieutenant
Another uncommon legend, this guy makes a token and gives them deathtouch. Definitely a solid 99 material legend if I ever saw one, especially in Teysa Karlov or Thalisse, Reverent Medium.
Witch-king of Angmar
A legendary version of a Dread effect seems okay. I like that it limits it to creatures that hit you so opponents can’t just sacrifice some random token, but the creature(s) would still have to hit you. Otherwise the card has built in protection so you can block with indestructible, but you have to discard and he becomes tapped.
This card isn’t as strong as the Dread effect or Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts out of the gate. It does tempt you with the ring, and I think the entire card is balanced around that. If that’s the case, you need some temptation to really get this going, but it might be a beast when it does.
Samwise the Stouthearted
An uncommon version of our good friend, he simply enters and brings back a permanent to hand if it left us this turn. Flash makes the timing restriction almost none at all. This will be a great include in the 99, but I don’t see it as a commander.
Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant
Abzan lifegain people, here you go! While this card doesn’t focus on the lifegain per se, you definitely want to be gaining that life. The activated ability on this card is nuts. You put every creature from your deck into play if you want to.
This will definitely beplayed as a commander. To quickly get that much life though might take some quick combos and/or a bunch of support. While the ability is very good, I’m not sure it will be worth the effort. That said, we have yet to see it played. I’m only hoping that it won’t become a commander where player removal becomes the immediate answer.
Gollum, Scheming Guide
This card is… interesting? It feels needlessly wordy and convoluted for it to do anything. I suppose it can help you stack the top of your deck, but only just so. I’m not sure where this card will find a home outside of some niches in top deck matters lists or in theme decks. Maybe Horror types matter?
Frodo, Determined Hero
A white legend that cares about equipment. The caring is a bit narrow though with Frodo, letting you equip only equipment that costs 2 or 3 mana value for free. I don’t see any equipment that would be good there *coughs in Swords of X and Y*.
Otherwise damage dealt to him is prevent on your turn, which means he can run fine into the enemy or into a Blasphemous Act.
Gandalf, White Rider
Another Gandalf, another great card. Okay, well not as generically good as the Gandalf the White, this card still does good work. He helps your wide board of creatures and lets you look ahead whenever you cast a spell. Better, if he should die for some reason, he comes back eventually. He’s akin to a mini-god-eternal.
This will definitely see play in the 99 of decks, and maybe even as a commander. Best friend with Adeline Resplendent Cathar maybe.
Pippin, Warden of Isengard and Merry, Warden of Isengard
Another partner pairing (and our second Abzan one too) is of Pippin and Merry, both Wardens of Isengard. As with the other Abzan legends thus far, they also care about food, but less about life gain. Pippin creates some tasty rations and then uses them to fortify and energize his fellows.
Merry on the other hand brings those fellows to the table after telling them about the food they have and how good it is. Overall I think the pairing is only okay, but if the set so far is anything to go by, and with Wilds of Eldraine coming eventually, food might be getting a very strong boost. Merry himself also doesn’t care what artifacts enter the battlefield either, so he always gets from friends to join the fun!
First Light of the Fifth Day
So far the number and variety of legendary creatures work towards most playstyles, but I think the clear winners here so far are Boros, Legendaries matter, and Abzan decks. Boros is getting some interesting toys for the combat step and ways to manipulate it or gain more advantage. While it isn’t the sit and gain value type of deal some other recent Boros cards have done, I’m not mad about being in the fray.
Legendaries are everywhere in this set. Legendary decks have become a well define archetype even outside of Commander, and it will only be more powerful going forward. The deluge of them is a bit much, but none can deny the absolute bevy of choice to customize your own deck.
And the winner of new archetype goes to Abzan. Well, sort of. Abzan has always been good at life gain generally, but in this set so far, it gets one new commander and two sets of partner commanders that care about lifegain. The food tokens are everywhere as well, making this also an interesting take towards Abzan artifacts which was touched on briefly with the “friends forever” duo of Othelm, SIgardian Outcast and Wernog, Rider’s Chaplain.
One Does Not Simply End Here
There were many more legends that I could have listed and gone over and some that have already been spoiled for weeks (like Tom Bombadil), but the deluge of information from just the Tuesday streams, videos and posts alone would literally double the length of this article, and this one is already very long! I hope to cover some of the nonlegendary gems for my next article. While the legends are going to be the face of many decks, the support within the decks also needs a spotlight after all!
With a set packed with so many new commanders, if you are going to build one, who are you going to choose? HOW are you going to choose? Let me know in the comments below, because I would need help to not get decision paralysis.