On paper, The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth has been a thoroughly exciting MTG release. With format-warping staples aplenty, and myriad awesome Commanders to boot, Tales of Middle-earth is delighting all manner of players. Digitally, however, The Lord of the Rings-themed MTG set isn’t as much of a smash hit.
While Historic Brawl is an option, without Commander, many Tales of Middle-earth cards don’t have a home on MTG Arena. Mercifully, a few new competitive staples are seeing Historic and Alchemy play, however, not every card is so lucky. Thankfully, Wizards of the Coast has set out to fix that problem by releasing brand new Story Decks.
Unfortunately, however, while hugely promising on the surface, the new Story Decks have some deep fundamental problems.
Suspect Story Decks
Yesterday, alongside the usual suite of MTG Arena announcements, Wizards of the Coast revealed the first-ever Story Decks in MTG. Released in celebration of The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, these decks are a digital-only MTG Arena product. Available to be played in Alchemy, Historic, and Historic Brawl, Wizards has curated seven themed decks for players to enjoy.
In theory, these themed Story Decks are a great new product from Wizards of the Coast. After all, as Wizards states themselves, these decks are “a fantastic way for players to start their journey in Middle-earth.” While technically this is true, the reality of the situation, unfortunately, differs from what players were hoping for.
Contrary to initial expectations, the brand-new MTG Arena Story Decks aren’t really a new product at all. You can’t purchase these decks as a product on the game’s store, for instance. Instead, the new Story Decks are essentially only decklists that can be imported into MTG Arena.
This means that players, especially new ones, will have to spend Wildcards creating these flavorful decks. Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy thing to do, as these decks contain a lot of somewhat hard-to-obtain Wildcards. At the low end, the Rivalry deck only requires 12 rare Wildcards to craft, which is still no small feat. On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Wedding deck requires 12 rare and 12 mythic rare Wildcards to craft!
Given how many Wildcards the seven decks include, we do have to wonder who exactly is going to be crafting these decks. As, even when considering both new and veteran players, the Story Decks do not seem fit for purpose.
Flavor Over Function
To address the good first, the seven Story Decks that Wizards of the Coast have created are all interesting and flavorful, at least. This is especially true for the Hobbit’s Journey Alchemy deck, which “spans the entire journey of Frodo and Samwise.” While the odds of playing this deck in order are infinitesimally small, this decklist is nevertheless entertaining.
As much as the Hobbit’s Journey decklist is entertaining in concept, unfortunately, the deck is not good. This is true of all of the Story Decks, as they’re simply not competitively viable in either Alchemy or Historic. Part of the reason for this is that almost all the Story Decks only use cards from Tales of Middle-earth.
In theory, this isn’t a major problem, as, thanks to casual quick-play queues, MTG isn’t always fiercely competitive. That being said, however, it’s never fun to be playing an underpowered deck against a prepared opponent. Technically, MTG Arena’s matchmaking system should help mitigate this problem, however, there’s no guarantee you’ll be matched up against equivalent decks.
Thankfully, to mitigate this problem, MTG Arena players have already come up with their own solution. As pointed out by u/Gwydikar, these Story Decks ideally need their own dedicated queue. If hosted as an event, players could even try out these flavorful decks for a nominal fee. In theory, this could even inspire players to expand upon these lists creating equally competitive and flavorful decklists.
Unfortunately, while this idea seems promising, Wizards doesn’t have any such plans in the works. Instead, the most players can look forward to is a Tales of Middle-earth Constructed event next week. Only allowing cards from The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, this temporary event may level the playing field, allowing these Story Decks to shine.
Considering they are too weak to entice veteran players and too expensive for new players, Story Decks don’t seem right for anyone. On the surface, this may not seem like a major problem, as these free decklists don’t really hurt anyone. Looking deeper, however, it’s clear there is plenty of cause for disappointment.
In their ideal state, Story Decks could be an absolutely fantastic addition to MTG’s product catalog. By enhancing the story of a set, and allowing players to experience it, Story Decks could also be mini-campaigns for a set. Hell, throw in a cutscene or two and some AI opponents and you’d have exactly that! Alongside this, if Story Decks weren’t just from one set, they could be a great vehicle for reprints!
Ultimately, while players have been asking for almost exactly this for some time, this development wouldn’t be without effort. Subsequently, as much as we might want it, it’s important to consider cost and what’s in it for Wizards. Ultimately, the cost may be the reason why Story Decks are what they are. Sure, they may not be great for players, however, just offering decklists is incredibly low cost for Wizards to do.
Whatever the reason behind the somewhat lackluster Story Decks, we nevertheless hope they continue. Yes, we have been critical, however, as mentioned, Story Decks have immense potential which we hope to see realized. Should they be facilitated via events, or even sold decks outright, these decks could be an excellent MTG product. Right now, we just hope to see them again for Wilds of Eldraine.