19, Jun, 23

One MTG LOTR Commander Deck is Much Worse Than the Others!

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Article at a Glance

We previewed each of the new LotR Commander decks here, here, here and here. These decks have been a blast to play with and most of them are a huge success right out of the box. I say most because one of the decks simply under performs compared to the other three. However, as the saying goes, three out of four isn’t bad!

The Lord of the Rings

Hosts of Mordor is the S-tier deck of the group. Multiple board wipes allow it to sit back and do nothing at no risk of losing. Huge monsters that hit really hard can end a player in just two combat steps. Goblin Cratermaker, Feed the Swarm, and Arcane Denial are all cheap interaction that deal with a variety of threats. This balances out the nine cards in the deck that cost seven or more mana, the most in all of the precons. With so many expensive cards and an eight mana Commander, you would think the deck is slow or struggles early. However, cards like Boon of the Wishgiver, Blasphemous Act, and Rampaging War Mammoth have an actual cost that is far less than the printed mana cost. This lets the deck always have plays, whether it’s early or late game, and with the greater density of expensive spells, the late-game power is excellent.

Faithless Looting, Thrill of Possibility, and Fact or Fiction are exceptionally important because they allow you to filter your draws for Land drops and also dump important Creatures into the graveyard, Anger being one of the best as having Haste on everything in this deck is insanely powerful!

Improving Hosts of Mordor

This deck is one of the strongest pre-cons made to date. It’s got the right mixture of powerful Creatures and spells with just enough utility and removal to win games. It’s always tempting to swap out what seem like the worst cards and add in popular format staples, but that might be a mistake here. Sure, adding in better mana rocks and Lands is a no-brainer and won’t mess with the deck’s functionality.

But swapping a card like The Balrog of Moria for another Creature with less total mana cost might seem like a good move but could be a mistake. The strength of the card is not only as a Creature. The Cycle ability to draw a new card and make two Treasure is the real reason it is in the deck. Hosts of Mordor is full of multi-function cards, so it’s very important to pay close attention to ratios. Relic of Sauron is not the best mana rock at four mana, but it color fixes, ramps, is a discard outlet, and draw engine.

That being said, there are some slam-dunk changes you can make. For example, Inferno Titan is just another big monster in this deck. There is nothing special or particularly unique about it. You could replace it with something like Ravenous Chupacabra if you wanted to add a little more removal while lowering the mana curve. Hoarding Broodlord is another excellent choice because when it ETBs, you can search up Reanimate and tap the Broodlord itself to cast it and get another Creature (almost) for free!

Really, it depends on if you are going more into a Graveyard-based reanimation version that wants more staples like Animate Dead. Alternatively, you can keep it as a Grixis battlecruiser deck, add more huge Creatures like Dragons, but one with a reanimation sub-theme. Either idea works but not every card would make both versions. So long as you keep removal and wipes high, mana fixing and card draw at the same ratio, and also maintain a good count of huge Creatures with good abilities, you will be doing it right.

Rock the Vote

The second strongest pre-con, Elven Council, is a bit difficult to pilot. It’s an Elf tribal deck, a control deck, and a bit of a diplomacy deck all at once. This is the most challenging concept when approaching this deck from a strategy angle. Essentially, you play to your outs. This bears repeating because it is that important. If your opening hand is Elf heavy, your plan is to go wide and stall the game out until you hit a win-con like Overwhelming Stampede. Have a bunch of quality spells in your opener? You’re a control deck until late game. Have a mix of everything? You’re forced to play table politics until your destiny is clear. This is the most RP-heavy deck for all the reasons mentioned above. You need to see into the future, and that dictates what your best lines will be.

Consider Arwen, Weaver of Hope. It’s always a mistake to commit her to the board without protection or a way to immediately pump her and get further value from another play. That means that she is not a three-drop but instead an eight-mana play or more. If you don’t have a big play involving Arwen? Don’t do it! There are several cards in the deck that follow the same trajectory, like Haldir, Lórien Lieutenant, or Windswift Slice. Patiently wait for your key cards to do the heavy lifting, and you will have an easy time. Elven Council is not one of the more outwardly threatening decks, so you should be able to stay under the threat radar until you’re ready to knock out a player.

Furthermore, you are going to have the most variety of win conditions, and board states with this deck over the others. If you have an Asceticism in play, or a Heroic Intervention in hand, you can play without fear. But that will not happen every game. All the other pre-cons have multiple board wipes, which makes going wide the worst strategy, so, better safe than sorry.

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Obvious Upgrades

There are some clear upgrades like Priest of Titania or Llanowar Elves in place of Wose Pathfinder which won’t change the identity of the deck and are simply smart includes. Adding a card like Evolution Sage to replace a non-Elf like Radagast, Wizard of the Wilds doesn’t turn the deck into a Proliferate deck but adding ten more cards along that path will.

A common suggestion is to add Craterhoof Behemoth. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s an excellent card. Since the deck starts with Colossal Whale, which has very little synergy and is effectively just a big monster, Craterhoof is a massive upgrade. Improvements that don’t alter the nature of the deck considerably are exactly what you should be looking for when modding pre-cons. The question is if you’re also going to add in another card like Natural Order so that you can tutor up Craterhoof and combo kill. This comes down to how strong you want the deck to be. Craterhoof with no tutor is a possible kill for eight mana, but a four-mana Craterhoof definitely will kill someone much earlier.

Furthermore, all of this begs the question of why play your commander or this deck if you’re merely going to turn it into an Elf combo deck? There’s definitely enough design space to have an interesting voting based Elf deck that has +1/+1 counters as well and that is where I would focus while looking for additions.

A Deck of Perfect Simplicity

For Riders of Rohan, I never tried to use the deck with Eowyn, Shieldmaiden as the commander. Aragorn, King of Gondor is less mana, gives you the Monarch, and makes your entire board unblockable; these advantages are way better than what Eowyn offers, plus she is a way better top deck. While the previous two decks above could win games, Riders was always just about to do so but barely didn’t. Although it repeatedly took second place, this deck is almost there, it needs a tiny push. A couple of things hamper the deck’s greatness.

Call for Aid is, without a doubt, the best new card in the deck. It’s very close to a five-mana Insurrection. The problem is it’s not quite Insurrection because you cannot kill a player with their own Creatures. Since you cannot sacrifice them, it’s a little more difficult to turn Aid into the one-sided card it could be.

If you get into a one versus one situation, the card is relatively useless because if you’re using Aragorn, King of Gondor, your Creatures are almost always unblockable anyways. Taunt From the Rampart is essentially the same card in a heads-up situation. Having multiple cards that are very ineffective if there either is a large board or if there is no board at all is a problem.

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Additions to Riders

The Rebellion Rising pre-con from March of the Machine has a lot of cards that would work well with Riders. Boros Charm is a much more flexible and cheaper way to protect your board from wipes. Hexplate Wallbreaker, alongside the obvious include from LotR itself, Eomer, Marshal of Rohan, would give you the extra combats necessary to clear out two players at once. Neyali, Suns’ Vanguard gives your tokens a bit more punch but, more importantly, gives you extra pseudo card draw that the deck desperately needs more of without slowing it down. Finally , Adriana, Captain of the Guard, is yet another Human that lets you threaten multiple players at the same time.

Alternatively, you could go the spell route and include cards like Relentless Assault, Final Fortune,Last Chance and Warrior’s Oath to guarantee yet another round of combat to close out a game but that seems like another deck entirely.

Food and Stuff

While we were graced with three functional, thematic, and interesting Commander decks, we also got Food and Fellowship. Certainly the deck does make a lot of Food but translating that into a win is an uphill battle, at least, in an environment full of the other LotR decks.

While each of the other decks had multiple answers to a board reset, this deck only has Dawn // Dusk. Simply put, that’s not enough to buy you back into the game after losing three or four things. While you certainly can gain a lot of life, no one I saw ever managed to hit 111 or more life to activate Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant. Gaining life seemed to have the opposite effect, namely, that you were the biggest and easiest punching bag and thus you got punched. A lot.

Frodo, Adventurous Hobbit is almost an unblockable commander that deals two damage and draws one card. After that, there are tokens that can block, or the board gets wiped. Four mana for a 1/3 that does nothing on ETB is very bad. While all of the other Commanders in the other decks cost more, at least they all do something right away.

That was fine as I figured the Pippin, Warden of Isengard plus Merry, Warden of Isengard combination would be noticeably better. Turns out, it was relatively similar to the Frodo+Sam combination. I drew less cards but made more Soldier tokens with Lifelink, so I was getting picked on just as much but losing a lot less life. The real issue was that anytime a threat like Mirkwood Bats hit the table, it was dealt with, and I had no recourse against it or recursion. In my games against Food and Fellowship, I fairly aggressively targeted them, and it seemed like the rest of the table enjoyed kicking Hobbits that were down. The deck has no defense, everything is a three or four-card combo, and it takes way too long to get an engine going.

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Can it be Fixed?

First off, it’s a travesty that this was not the Sam included as the Partner. It sets the deck up far better and has a discernible payoff. It’s an obvious inclusion in a Lord of the Rings focused version of the deck. What about Peregrin Took? So yes, virtually everyone will include these cards in their deck. The problem, though, comes with the next step.

All the best non-LotR cards for this deck are things like: Chatterfang, Squirrel General, Doubling Season, Anointed Procession,Parallel Lives, Academy Manufactor. All of these cards can easily go infinite or just massive. In other words, you could be killing people with Squirrels instead of fooling around with Food. An existing tokens deck would happily include a hobbit or two, but gutting a token deck to make a Food token deck seems backwards.

Now, let’s say you want to build around Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant, so you’re looking at life gain and thinking about how to make that work. Food seems like it could be a way. The problem? It’s a vastly suboptimal choice. If you take zero damage and gain life solely from Food tokens, that’s an additional 71 life you need. Put another way, that’s 24 Food. The amount of turns and effort required to get there that way is immense and, frankly, it’s not worth it.

There are tons of “Soul Sisters” variations that gain an infinite amount of life. At least Food and Fellowship already runs Essence Warden and Prosperous Innkeeper, so it’s not much of a stretch to add in other cards like Soul Warden. However, some of the most powerful life gain cards are Aetherflux Reservoir and Alhammarret’s Archive. Another ultra-powerful life gain card is Intervention Pact, which can gain you an arbitrary amount of life for zero mana in a variety of situations. As you can see, Food is not the best way to celebrate Bilbos’ 111th birthday. The deck also includes Sanguine Bond, which commonly goes infinite with Exquisite Blood but has nothing to do with Hobbits or Food.

Now, there is one interesting point about Food and Fellowship that I should mention. It counters Hosts of Mordor strongly. Subjugate the Hobbits does not actually…subjugate…the…hobbits, if they are your Commanders! Furthermore, Shire Sheriff, Anguished Unmaking, and Swords to Plowshares are all exile effects which, of course, Graveyard decks hate. Finally, you have the ultimate trump card in Crypt Incursion, which is pure Grave hatred. In this way, you can play the deck as a “spoiler” and defeat Sauron, leaving the Elves and Humans to battle it out. The issue? The Hosts player will eventually know this and target you down first. When that happens, you might not be able to do anything about it.

Three Awesome Decks and some Hobbits

Wizards has consistently raised the bar on Commander decks, and the Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle Earth offerings are no exception. Years ago, it was pretty common practice to slightly modify pre-cons with a handful of staple cards. These decks essentially contain those modifications at the start. Because of this, they can stand on their own without requiring extra cards. It’s always a struggle to find that line between “Casual” and “Powerful.” These are reasonably strong pre-cons that are in the Goldilocks zone of not too strong for casual and not too weak against focused decks. They play well against one another and have good interaction. Overall, these decks are an 8/10. But without Food and Fellowship? Easy 9/10!

Unfortunately, the Food based Hobbit deck has a strange deck identity and it’s not quite unified enough to either function well on its own or modify it going forward to stay mostly the same deck, but more optimized; it would be better as another deck entirely.

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