It’s been a week since the official release of Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth. A lot has happened in that time. Not only has The One Ring been found but we are seeing many cards from Orcish Bowmasters to Lotho, Corrupt Shirriff appear in a variety of formats. On top of that, there is already a ton of data on EDHREC showcasing the commanders that are seeing the most builds right now and, unsurprisingly, it’s dominated by LotR cards, but which ones? Let’s take a look at the most popular LotR commanders, what makes them work and the best cards that offer strong synergy.
No Surprises here, Welcome Sauron, the Dark Lord
This Sauron is overwhelmingly the most built around new LotR commander and not only in the last week; it’s been on top, number one, for the last month. This means that ever since it was spoiled players were theory crafting heavily.
The Ward ability that this Sauron employs is surprisingly effective. While it’s not uncommon for a player to have a legendary creature available to sacrifice to pay the Ward cost, whoever does so pays a big cost for removing the Dark Lord. Consider that for your one card, your opponent has had to use a removal card and sacrifice a legendary creature or artifact. That means, on the surface, you have two for one’d them.
However, since the card is your commander it’s not really in your hand so it’s sort of “Free”. Furthermore, Sauron’s second ability likely triggered in this exchange, so you get a to Amass Orcs one. That means you’re immune to most “edict” effects. It also means that using single target removal on Sauron is close to a four for one in your favor.
Most commander decks are built in such a way that it is extremely important that your commander stays in play. As we can see, Sauron’s first two abilities makes it very easy for that to happen. Once he’s in play? You just get value off Amass triggers.
This leads into both the third and fourth abilities. When your gigantic army deals combat damage, you get Tempted By The Ring. When you get Tempted By The Ring, you can discard your hand and draw four cards. Unlike so many other abilities that interact with the ring tempting you effect, this one is well worth it.
First, it’s extremely easy to trigger in a multi-player game because you have three other players. If one of them is open, this ability is completely free. Second, since you get to draw four cards, and you have to discard what’s in your hand to do so, it always makes sense to use removal to draw those four cards.
I have seen this card in play on SpellTable and MTGO and it is extremely effective. Common includes are any ring temptation and Orc generating effects like Call of the Ring, Nazgul and Saruman, the White Hand. Additionally, it’s nice that you can include free real estate like Barad-dur.
Outside of LotR cards, one of the primary sub-themes is regular Amass from War of the Spark. The extra tech here is to use your Amass cards even if it results in having one Orc Army and one Zombie Army. Having two different Armies has synergy with a variety of cards. Arcane Adaptation is a virtual auto include to turn all your creatures into Armies. This let’s you stack counters on Sauron, or anything else, so you can have multiple threats. Finally, the last angle of attack that Sauron, the Dark Lord decks are employing is through discard value. It’s extremely easy to stack multiple ring temptation effects in one turn, so you end up drawing a ton of cards, but also, discarding nearly as many. Cards like Bone Miser give an insane value addition to Sauron, and this is where I think most of these decks will end up.
It’s Good to be the King
A very hyped card from the start, Aragorn, the Uniter is most certainly a cool build around commander. This commander is simply put, fun as heck. Casting anything, and I do mean anything, gives you massive value while you have Aragorn on the table because every build features almost entirely multi-colored spells. For this reason, Aragorn will have both high replay factor and high variability on what makes it into the deck. That being said, there are definitely some cards that are automatic includes for any Aragorn deck.
Trace of Abundance is effectively better than any mana rock because it provides value and mana whereas cards like Sol Ring and Arcane Signet only generate mana. Because of this, you could well see Aragorn decks avoiding colorless cards entirely.
For completely multi-colored decks, General Ferrous Rokiric is hard to beat for further value, and this is the best part about the Aragorn deck. You just play Magic! Yes, you don’t really need much of a plan outside of getting Aragorn into play and protecting him. For that reason, cards like Pippin, Guard of the Citadel is essential – as it is a multi-colored card that keeps Aragorn safe. Katilda, Dawnhart Prime is another likely auto-include because the tokens Aragorn generates are Human tokens so they can also tap for mana with Katilda in play!
Furthermore, at first it seems like you must make hard choices between cards like Cultivate, which is a known great card, and Growth Spiral which is also a known good card, but it’s multi-colored. The wonderful thing about the massive number of Magic cards printed is that you can find gems like Safewright Quest that helps fix mana and hit land drops early, but then is a significantly better top deck than Cultivate past turn four. Because it gives you a land that you can immediately play, it’s a mana neutral spell that generates a 1/1 and gives a +4/+4 buff. For effectively zero mana, that’s a good card! Manamorphose is another example of an absolutely free card that simply generates value, and this should find its way into every Aragorn deck, eventually.
Of course, a card like Faeburrow Elder is perfect but sometimes you should also include a card like Bloom Tender as a redundant effect that at least gives a +4/+4 buff, potentially, over a Signet which does nothing. That’s why other mono-colored cards like Hero of Precinct One can be good enough to consider breaking a 100% multi-colored theme, because at least it also generates another 1/1 on top of having a great effect.
The Best Part? Charms
While there are 19 multi-colored cards in the EDHREC top 100, there are two big problems. Number one, a whopping 11 of them, over half, feature black mana and cannot be used in Aragorn. Number two, there are only two charms in the top 100 and, again, one is black-red and cannot be used. However, all the charms that Aragorn can run are excellent for the deck.
Many of them, like Simic Charm, offer not only big value but also game ending power. Two mana to give your commander +7/+7 is strong and easily translates into killing someone with commander damage in just two or three swings. Bouncing a creature is an acceptable form of disruption for two mana, but when you add a buff and a scry two on top of it, it becomes busted. Finally, you have another protection spell for Aragorn to keep them in play.
Every single charm is playable. Cabaretti Charm is an excellent finisher when you choose +1/+1 and Trample for all your creatures. As you can see, Aragorn generates tokens for free, so thinking about win conditions is sort of pointless. You cast your multi-colored spells, accrue value, and then end the game in a couple of attacks. This gives you an unprecedented level of build freedom so let your creativity flow!
Tom “Da Bomb” Badil
Tom Bombadil is an extremely interesting commander but probably not for the reasons you’re thinking. Yes, at first, it’s a five colored “Sagas matter good stuff” commander and that’s what the current builds look like. That’s cool, and all, but in my opinion, those decks are going to start to all resemble one-another, as the most optimal choices of Sagas and good stuff push cards out of the build rather than open up possibilities.
On this note, one of what I believe is the best Sagas for this version of the deck is not being rated very highly. Barely squeaking into some builds is Long List of the Ents. For only one mana, this Saga sticks around a long time so that Tom will continue to have Hexproof and Indestructible from just one card. It’s extremely greedy to assume that you will have two or three powerful Sagas, constantly, that will simply be left alone on the table to generate huge value and protection. It’s far better to assume that a one mana Saga with six chapters and a mild ability is left alone to provide that kind of backup. Who wants to use removal on List when they can use it on There and Back Again or The Kami War? Furthermore, paying one green to trade one for one with removal isn’t bad. Definitely an underrated card.
All that being said, I think the future version of Tom Bombadil is going to revolve around one specific Saga, The World Spell. Simply put, you tutor for the one other Saga in your deck, put Tom into play the turn before that Saga ends then you “Saga Cascade” into the only other Saga in your deck, The World Spell. You either look at the top seven cards if you need selection or you can Read Ahead and put two game ending permanents into play for free. Since you’re in five color, you have all the options for what combo kills to include. A card like Hall of Heliod’s Generosity allows you to do this over and over again until you win. Goldberry, River-Daughter and Clockspinning are auto includes for either version of the deck.
Certainly Lord of the Nazgul is getting a lot of attention and many decks are being posted. However, because of the way the card works, the deck is fairly formulaic if you’re trying to optimize it at all. Nine Nazgul are auto includes in every imagining of the deck so that’s already ten percent of your deck you don’t choose. It’s fair to say that lots of instants and sorceries that include a ring tempt effect are extremely high value for the deck. Additionally, there are a few Wraiths and Changelings that easily make most lists, alongside various copying effects and Clones. What is a deck builder to do?
Finally, any cantrip generates a 3/3 with Menace. All of the good cantrips already see tons of play in every deck. So yes, if you want to make another deck with Opt, Consider, Ponder, Preordain and Brainstorm there’s nothing wrong with that. Many players will likely feel the deck has low replay factor when so many of the choices are made for you at the deck creation screen. Time will tell if this card maintains such a high level of interest but I think it’s unlikely.
Also, don’t think I’ve forgotten about Shelob, Child of Ungoliant for you Spider lovers out there, as this is another popular commander from the set. The only issue is Ishkanah, Grafwidow is the superior Spider commander and has double the amount of decks over Shelob. A win condition and engine for a very narrow deck, Spider typal, is relatively hard to come by. While there are enough “extra” Spiders to make choices, there aren’t very many amazing ones so a lot of the decks will tend to run the same cards.
This is a very popular commander pairing and, even though it’s not the strongest, a lot of players are trying to optimize this deck. One of the primary problems with build direction right now is that players are choosing between a life gain deck, a food deck and a token deck. Unfortunately, most builds are confusing the three concepts due to the overlap that is there. This makes it difficult when deck building because you are being pulled in so many different directions.
Right now, a powerful card like Doubling Season is in only seven percent of Frodo and Sam decks. The thing is, it has a negative three percent synergy rating from EDHREC. Why? Because of the split nature of the builds that are being tried. Doubling Season, on its face, does little for pure life gain purposes and is only tangentially good for five mana in that regard.
Some versions are running Exquisite Blood to infinitely combo with Sanguine Bond. Bond, of course, does come in the Food and Fellowship deck so it’s not much of a stretch to consider adding a card that combos with it. The thing is, only ten percent of versions are doing that right now. It looks like a lot of players are LotR fans and because of that, they are building the deck however they want, including cards they happen to own or because they like them. This is what an organic example of building a Commander deck looks like. There is no one, singular, unified goal with deck construction because the player base for Magic is, in my experience, incredibly diverse. Food and Fellowship represents that diversity.
The Future is Bright
There are other LotR commanders that are not nearly as popular, right now. Will we see a resurgence of LotR cards in the future? Given how impactful this set is for many different Magic formats, I think we will see some of these lesser played cards pulled right back into the spot light when a set like Wilds of Eldraine drops. Until then, there are more than enough build concepts still yet to be explored within LotR.