Throughout recent years, Wizards of the Coast and MTG have certainly been no strangers to controversy. In fact, during 2022 alone, there were so many controversies that we could make an entire end-of-year list about them. From the development of the Alchemy format to 30th Anniversary Edition, it seems Wizards has a knack for getting into hot water. Subsequently, it might not be a surprise that 2023 has been equally fraught with problems.
So far, 2023’s biggest debacle has undoubtedly been Wizards’ use of the Pinkertons. Sent out to a content creator’s house to retrieve leaked product, this move didn’t go down well. With WotC receiving widespread condemnation, it seemed 2023’s list of controversies already had a top spot. Recently, however, a new contented has stepped up to the plate to try and take that crown. Thanks to some design decisions, The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth might just go down as the most controversial MTG set in history.
Ever since The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth was first given its First Look back in March, MTG players haven’t entirely been happy. Somewhat surprisingly, however, the reason for this isn’t the same as what’s upsetting players today. Instead, MTG players were upset about the color identity of Gandalf the Grey.
Rather than actually being grey, which in itself would have been weird, Gandalf the Grey is instead an Izzet Wizard. While this color identity supports interesting abilities and somewhat relevant flavor, MTG players still weren’t happy. Alongside mocking this specific Gandalf card, many players were understandably concerned about the bigger picture. Despite its potential, Tales of Middle-earth may be a complete flavor fail.
Between characters not lining up with their expected color identity and mechanics that don’t thematically fit, Tales of Middle-earth undoubtedly has problems. As MTG’s Lead Designer, Mark Rosewater, discussed, these all come from the need to make cards fun and playable. While MTG players may not like these design choices, at the end of the day, Wizards certainly knows best in this regard. They have been doing it for almost 30 years, after all.
While the design decision may be hard to argue with, not that it’ll stop players, Wizards has also made certain artistic decisions. One of these is to make Aragorn black. This change obviously deviates from the precedent set by the film franchise.
While the mechanics of Aragorn and Arwen, Wed mattered more than race to many MTG players, recently, this issue has exploded once again. After posting a picture of Aragorn on Twitter, their race was now front and center. Judging by the comments, a lot of people weren’t happy about this.
Taking a quick scroll down the Twitter replies, there seems to be a huge number of people upset with the change. While this may seem to be the case, it’s important to note this backlash is on Twitter. Thanks to the infinite wisdom of Elon Musk, Twitter now heavily promotes replies from Blue users. As a result of this, responses from users who aren’t happy to pay the world’s second-richest man $8 a month can be drowned out.
Looking deeper into the comments on Twitter, there is a lot of support and positive apathy for this decision by Wizards. Twitter user @Dakuraigun, for instance, comments “People are allowed to interpret characters in any way they choose.” Alongside this, MTG Content Creator Tolarian Community College lauded the art on display. “WOW! This art is gorgeous! Magic: The Gathering has some of the most talented artists around. Simply superlative.”
In a later tweet, The Professor from Tolarian Community College would definitely push back against “the racism and hatred on display.”
A Word From Wizards
As well as The Professor, many other MTG content creators have pushed back against the bigotry and toxic comments. Somewhat remarkably, alongside this condemnation, Wizards of the Coast has issued their own declarative response. Currently, it’s unknown if this recent blog post was drafted in response to the backlash, or was preplanned content. Nevertheless, this blog post addresses the changes and why they have been made.
“Some characters may look different from previous depictions—and that’s intentional. Great works of art like The Lord of the Rings are only enhanced by having multiple interpretations in the world. We believe ours will bring joy to many, many fans of both Magic and Tolkien. This fresh update was a conscious choice made in partnership between Wizards and MEE (Middle-earth Enterprises).”Wizards of the Coast
Further explaining their decision, Wizards stated the look of The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth was guided by two key principles. These principles are diversity and originality. As Wizards explains, their hope is that “more people will see themselves reflected in the characters and that players and fans can find immense joy in telling these familiar stories through gameplay.”
At the end of the day, Wizards states they’re incredibly passionate about The Lord of the Rings. Subsequently, they’re “immensely proud” of the work they’ve done and can’t wait to reveal it. Speaking of that reveal, it’s just happened! The Debut MTG Stream for The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth has been and gone. If that grand reveal isn’t enough for you, however, Wizards of the Coast has even more in store.
“You’ll hear in the coming weeks from designers, developers, art directors, and more who worked on the set, and we hope our passion for The Lord of the Rings comes through not only in what we say but in what we’ve created.”Wizards of the Coast