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The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth Pauper Review

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Back in 2001, I was treated to one of the most delightful experiences of my life. I sat down in a largely empty theater with my dad and my uncle and got to lose myself in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Prior to then, I'd heard of The Lord of the Rings, but had never read the books. I remembered the old cartoon movie version of The Hobbit that used to play on Cartoon Network as a kid, but only in vague memories. Seeing that movie in the theaters was an absolutely breathtaking experience for my pre-teen self and I quickly became obsessed with the films, which to this day I feel are among the greatest triumphs of film in this century thus far.

I remember the old Lord of the Rings card game from around that era and the many ways it became a multimedia and gaming franchise. At that time, though, I never thought we'd end up seeing it come to Magic: The Gathering. Say what you will of Universes Beyond, but of all the properties that the game could be pulling from, The Lord of the Rings is just about a perfect choice. And boy does it show! The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth is an absolute home run of a set in terms of flavor, art, and playability - looking like an incredibly fun set, yet not one likely to have a monstrous impact on competitive play.

Today, we're going to be looking at what this brand new set has to offer the Pauper format. There's a lot to cover so let's jump right on in!

The Ring Tempts You

Okay, let's just get this one out of the way right now: I don't think the whole "The Ring tempts you" mechanic is really going to be all that strong. That might sound funny when you remember that I didn't think Initiative was going to be very impactful and then it broke the format. Turns out I both didn't understand some aspects of the mechanic at the time (that you ventured when an initiative creature enters the battlefield and not just once a turn) and I didn't foresee people trying to turbo it out. Once it started being played, it was clear how absurd it really was and didn't just take over Pauper, but even Legacy and Vintage! Heck, there's even many players who would argue that White Plume Adventurer is actually one of the best possible first picks in the MTGO Vintage Cube right now - and that's saying something!

So, let's break this down a little bit, piece by piece, on exactly what this does because, frankly, it's a novel.

  • When the ring tempts you, you get an emblem and advance further down the emblem permanently.
  • If you have creatures, you choose one and it becomes legendary and gains additional abilities.
  • Those abilities are, in order: skulk, loot on attack, effectively deathtouch, and then a bolt when you deal combat damage with the creature in question.
  • The Ring does not progress further at the beginning of your upkeep or end of turn like the Initiative or the Monarch. It only progresses when you use a "the Ring tempts you" effect.

If you can get to that final effect and can stick the landing with a small creature, you might just be golden. The problem is that unlike Initiative or Monarch, the ability takes a lot of time to build up, whereas those other ones are powerful because they have solid abilities out of the gate. On top of that, most of the "Ring tempts you" cards are awfully weak and don't really offer an effective means of continually using them to make it progress enough consistently while also having a decent Ring-bearer. The skulk ability isn't great either, as there are so many low-power creatures in Pauper that it's almost certainly going to make any Ring-bearer awfully easy to block and deal with. Even if they're not blocked, if the Ring-bearer is simply hit with a removal spell, you then no longer have a Ring-bearer and won't get another one until you activate another "the Ring tempts you" effect.

All of this is to say I think there's simply too much work to make this happen and, as a result, it's probably going to be left by the wayside. People are no doubt going to try to make it work, so expect to see it in the coming weeks, but on the whole, it's probably going to be largely irrelevant. I'll discuss some cards more individually for further thoughts throughout the review as well.

Dunedain Blade

Dunedain Blade

This isn't always the most exciting, but it turns out there's a lot of decent little humans out there. White Weenies would be the logical choice for this, but then you might remember that a number of cards played in that style of deck actually aren't humans like you might initially think. That makes or breaks this card. If there's a White-based aggro deck with majority humans showing up in the creature base, this might make the cut, but it's still somewhat hard to justify this over the old classic of Bonesplitter.

Eagles of the North

Eagles of the North

Eagles of the North is the first of an excellent cycle of, well, cyclers! Each of them is a large spell on the front side or you can cycle it away and get a basic land for just one mana. That's not a bad rate here, especially since actually casting it will pump your board and net you a strong finish. It's a good solid creature at most points in the game, though will likely be too expensive to play most of the time. I could see a world where this shows up somewhere.

Escape from Orthanc

Escape from Orthanc

I have a feeling there's at least something similar to this out there, but it's hard to narrow down exactly what in a quick search. There're solid comparisons to this in Green where a creature gets untapped, a power/toughness boost, and gains reach, but I can't remember seeing this as much in White. It's a rock-solid trick that provides evasion or surprise blocking and works well with Heroic, which there's always one in most sets. This one is a bit better than most, though, since the majority just provide evasion which the deck already has no shortage of. This plays that same role, but also allows you to go the defensive route and have a surprise blocker instead, offering a bit more versatility than the usual fare we often see.

Esquire of the King

Esquire of the King

We've seen this effect before and it's usually way more repeatable. In most cases, it's fair to say that mentioning this card is fairly irrelevant. However, over the last few years we've been seeing more legendary creatures than ever before and thanks to "The Ring tempts you," we now have a way of making actual legendary creatures at common. Unfortunately, most of these aren't great, especially for the kind of deck that would want this sort of card (read: White Weenies), leaving this on the sidelines. If we do end up with decent common legends, though, this might be worth revisiting - and that seems a lot more likely than ever these days.

Hobbit's Sting

Hobbit's Sting

This is another interesting ability in that, while we've seen this direct damage approach before based on creatures you control, it's usually only on creatures that are attacking or blocking. Hobbit's Sting says "screw that!" and simply allows you to deal damage to anything whenever you want at instant speed depending on your creature count and also your food count. Most decks aren't running food options, but with this and Wilds of Eldraine coming soon, this may yet become a rock solid removal option for White.

Now for Wrath, Now for Ruin!

Now for Wrath, Now for Ruin!

Another set, another mass pump spell for White. Where this one differs is that instead of the usual temporary bump, it provides actual +1/+1 counters, vigilance, and even a bit of temptation. At four mana, it's still not that great, but it's noteworthy for being a bit different.

Slip On the Ring

Slip On the Ring

This was one of the "Ring tempts you" cards that got the most buzz when it was previewed. This is because flicker decks are very prevalent in Pauper and people fear new emblems entering into the format. In reality, the flicker only having one target once makes this a far cry from the likes of Ephemerate and Ghostly Flicker and makes it closer instead to Cloudshift or Flicker of Fate - neither of which really see any amount of play. What's worse, the cards you'd need to set up the flicker loop to really get the Ring fully maxed out means you're not going to be rocking the greatest creature suite. Archaeomancer is only a 1/2, which makes the skulk effect nice, but it's less great when you have to first get up to four mana and then cast several instances of Slip On the Ring while also dealing with summoning sickness before you can actually really make it count. A tall ask with little payoff means this one's probably not going to be all that great.

Stalwarts of Osgiliath

Stalwarts of Osgiliath

There're enough opportunities to draw cards multiple times in Pauper that I think it probably looks appealing to people when in conjunction with "the Ring tempts you." Unfortunately, though, getting tempted is probably best on a creature when you can flicker it to further the effect. With something like Stalwarts of Osgiliath, you are actively discouraged from doing exactly that because you're already putting lots of counters onto it. You want it to grow, which means the things you want to do that seem like they'd be a good match are almost at odds with one another. That makes this a pretty easy pass. Similarly, while I'm here, you can pretty easily write off Knights of Dol Amroth at the same time, which is more or less a type-shifted Lat-Nam Adept.

Westfold Rider

Westfold Rider

Cathar Commando is just so much better on almost all fronts than this, I just can't imagine playing this over that one. However, it's always good to have more aggressive cards that can Disenchant in a pinch.

Birthday Escape

Birthday Escape

This is absolutely one of the best "the Ring tempts you" cards coming to Pauper. Cantripping is inconsequential and getting the extra Ring temptation on top of it isn't the worst value. The problem is that most of the other cards doing the tempting simply aren't good enough to provide the density you need to make the ability truly pay off. I'm not sure that it'll actually end up making the cut, but of the bunch, this is one of the better ones for sure.

Hithlain Knots

Hithlain Knots

This is some fairly decent value for a cheap effect, but it's still pretty comparable to the Ice side of Fire // Ice, which already sees very minimal play and most of that play comes from its flexibility to cast either side. That makes this fairly decent card pretty much dead on arrival in Pauper.

Lorien Revealed

Lorien Revealed

This is the only nonland spell of this cycle, and it's still a fairly good one! Drawing three cards at five mana isn't the worst deal in the world, especially when the alternative is cycle and find a land. It's a rock solid batch of options for the control decks of the Pauper world all wrapped in one neat little bow.

Pelargir Survivor

Pelargir Survivor

Now here's a card that raises some eyebrows. Common Blue mana dorks making mana for instants and sorceries is nothing new by now. What is new, however, is tapping for mana of any color! It's still a very niche ability, but it gives Blue-focused decks a new way to make spells cheaper while also allowing the opportunity to mill opponents in a long game. It's still probably too hard to justify this over something like Sunscape Familiar, but it's a cool new direction for this kind of ability that merits mentioning.

Soothing of Smeagol

Soothing of Smeagol

Look, "the Ring tempts you" is not worth a two-mana Unsummon. Full stop. The value's incredibly miniscule and isn't worth trying messing with some loop shenanigans or what have you. Just leave it be.

Treason of Isengard

Treason of Isengard

This some weird Archaeomancer-type nonsense on a spell rather than the creature. Going to the top of the library instead of to your hand is a big deal, so I doubt it's going to be much of a contender. However, it's still an interesting enough space that I can't help but feel like someone will do something with this at some point.

The Black Breath

The Black Breath

Shrivel and Nausea don't show up quite as much as they used to these days. They still see some amount of play, but sweepers have just been getting over the years and they've definitely been taking back seats to cards like Suffocating Fumes (which adds the full card draw versatility of cycling, as well as instant speed) and Arms of Hadar in Black decks. Throwing out a more expensive Shrivel/Nausea at sorcery speed for the added bonus of Ring temptation just is not where you want to be. Play any of the other sweepers instead.

Cirith Ungol Patrol

Cirith Ungol Patrol

This card is very interesting. It's the type of card that normally wouldn't seem that great at all. It's expensive, doesn't do anything when it hits the board, and has a fairly dull effect. That is until you remember that Cauldron Familiar is legal in Pauper and this is basically a Pauper legal Witch's Oven of sorts. It's expensive, but if you can hold the game to the point of playing it - or turbo it out - it's surprisingly resilient. Cast Down kills it, and you can get it with a couple bolts or a souped up Skred, but you can't hit it with Snuff Out or a single burn spell, meaning it sticks around quite a bit if you can get it on the board. The mana cost and slow activation is a massive drawback that is going to mean a card like this is going to have a lot to prove to be possibly playable, but the potential is definitely there for people to brew with.

Claim the Precious

Claim the Precious

Murder has never really been playable. Adding "the Ring tempts you" is not about to tempt me enough to want to play this, especially with just how good Pauper's removal suite is overall in Black.

Dunland Crebain

Dunland Crebain

Flying creatures leaving tokens behind is nothing new at this point, and this card really isn't going to make a big splash if the ones that came before didn't by now.

Easterling Vanguard

Easterling Vanguard

Amassing normally isn't the greatest thing. We saw a few cards from War of the Spark show up in Pauper here and there (Lazotep Reaver comes to mind here) but not really enough to warrant mention. This one feels really nice, though, as it's a decent beater that leaves behind a creature when it dies. It's not a lot, and we've seen creatures that leave creatures on death (the whole Afterlife mechanic says hello), so while the aggressive nature is nice, I don't think it's going to end up making the cut in the end.

Lash of the Balrog

Lash of the Balrog

It's another Bone Splinters effect, all right, but when those haven't really been played much at all - even when substantially better versions of this effect are out there now - I don't see much of a future with this card.

Mirkwood Bats

Mirkwood Bats

This card sure got a ton of attention from the Commander side of things! Turns out token decks are ever popular and can be quite good at spitting out tons of tokens in the process. This makes generating tokens extremely powerful, and even better if they end up dying off as well. Playing this and then casting a Battle Screech and flashing it back will dome your opponents for four, will hit for more if they die, and you also have this evasive beater getting in for damage as well. It's another way for Presence of Gond combo decks to kill on the spot, and can even give Elves a decent way to kill in a Distant Melody turn thanks to the tokens made by Lys Alana Huntmaster. It's definitely notable too that unlike, say, Impact Tremors you can find this off Lead the Stampede, making it a solid sideboard option if nothing else. There is still the problem that it's a very fragile and expensive card in a fast removal-heavy format. I think this is going to end up being a role-player in some decks, but probably won't be backbreaking in a competitive format like Pauper the way it might be in something like Commander.

Mordor Muster

Mordor Muster

Dusk Legion Zealot sees play here and there and this is basically the same sort of thing, though unlike Dusk Legion, you can't bounce this or flicker it. You're not usually doing that with Dusk Legion Zealot to begin with, but when this is already a barely played existing effect and the one that exists is generally going feature more useful play patterns, it becomes pretty easy to ignore this one.

Mordor Trebuchet

Mordor Trebuchet

Making Ballistic Boulder tokens is neat, but needing to be hard into Goblins is a tall ask. It's too slow and do-nothing on its own otherwise and probably isn't going to have enough play to be worthwhile.

Morgul-Knife Wound

Morgul-Knife Wound

Pauper generally lacks the splashy effects of other formats that makes you want to keep whatever this would enchant. That just makes it a slow removal spell while giving your opponent the opportunity to remove the enchantment. With all the strong Black removal out there, just play the other options instead.

Nasty End

Nasty End

We've got Village Rites, we've got Corrupted Conviction, and that's to say nothing of Deadly Dispute and Reckoner's Bargain. There's such a glut of this ability right now that with no real legendary creatures to speak of at common to make that third card worth it and the Ring tempting effects being too weak to play, this is just one to leave in the bulk bin.

Orcish Medicine

Orcish Medicine

A combat trick is nice, and better when you get a creature like this out of the deal. We've got no shortage of lifelink or indestructible on their own, though, and they're not worth two mana for a one-time effect, even if you get a small creature as well.

Troll of Khazad-Dum

Troll of Khazad-Dum

Yet another of the big bad landcyclers, this one just happens to be a large creature with serious evasion and happens to be the right color for reanimation. It's definitely going to be narrow in its applications, but if it's going to fit anywhere, it's practically a shoe-in for those Reanimator-style strategies.

Uruk-Hai Berserker

Uruk-Hai Berserker

This is probably one of the better "the Ring tempts you" card, having decent stats and being a creature that can be a Ring-bearer on its own. Having such high power makes it not a great Ring-bearer, though, since the skulk effect is effectively negated and you must do more Ring tempting to make it more worth it. It's too much work, not enough payoff, and you'll just get run over most of the time before you can make good use out of it. Relentless Rohirrim in Red falls into a largely similar category here as well.

Battle-Scarred Goblin

Battle-Scarred Goblin

This kind of card is nothing new. It's been quite a while since we saw this effect, but we've had Ashmouth Beast, Kolaghan Aspirant, and Ornery Goblin in the past with similar stats. The big difference here is that this one has an extra toughness as well. That makes this a little more resistant to one damage sweepers, but really if your opponent is blocking with a creature that will survive through this ability, the creatures are likely going to end up trading. It's decent, but likely nothing to write home about unless your meta is plagued by 1/1s.

Breaking of the Fellowship

Breaking of the Fellowship

This is another one of the better "the Ring tempts you" cards in that it provides solid removal. There are two big problems, though. The first is that you need your opponent to have multiple creatures on the board, which isn't always the case. The second is that you can only cast this at sorcery speed. Given the quality of removal in the format, this one just can't hold up to it, and the temptation aspect is not going to carry this card.

Cast into the Fire

Cast into the Fire

This one is really decent. Exiling artifacts is big game these days, even though Affinity has somewhat been trending down in the greater meta in recent times. Getting the modal option to pick off a couple of smaller creatures is nice as well and will no doubt come in handy. This is a useful tool that will be quite playable, but is going to be more of a strong role player and sideboard card as opposed to a meta-defining card.

Erebor Flamesmith

Erebor Flamesmith

Firebrand Archer hasn't really been seeing much play these days when there's Kessig Flamebreather and Thermo-Alchemist running the show. This is basically just more of that, and at some point, there is indeed too much of a good thing - especially when this triggers off much less effects. With so much of this effect and on better cards, this is one that you shouldn't expect to see unless someone happened to have copies of this in their collection but not some number of the others and needed a quick solution to fill the hole.

Improvised Club

Improvised Club

So, I hear this popular deck called Kuldotha Red likes dealing direct damage and uses a lot of disposable artifacts and creatures. I imagine people are going to want to try this. Heartfire has existed for a while now, though, and doesn't see play. The addition of being able to pitch artifacts is definitely going to push this one a bit, but the question is will it push enough to actually be playable? Time will tell, but you'd better believe people are going to be trying this one out. I wouldn't expect it in heavy numbers (because as much as it may seem otherwise, sacrificing is still a real cost a lot of the time) but it feels like a pretty easy 2-of to try out.

Oliphaunt

Oliphaunt

This landcycler feels really close to the Troll of Khazad-Dum in that it's a really big evasive creature that can be reanimated well. This one is a bit easier to block than the Troll, but makes it harder to deal with another of your creatures at the same time. It's a good card that's pretty much exclusively for Reanimator decks and little else, though it loses points for being in a color not usually utilized by Pauper reanimator strategies in the past.

Rally at the Hornburg

Rally at the Hornburg

A better Dragon Fodder is always welcome. Giving all of your humans haste can be a bit narrow, though, especially when aggro decks are to be considered. There is potentially some play with the likes of silly starts off of Burning-Tree Emissary, but BTE has always enabled silly plays like that. It's not always consistent with those crazy openers, though, so while it's neat, it's probably not about to dominate the format either.

Smite the Deathless

Smite the Deathless

I mentioned before that Affinity has been on a bit of a downturn in how prevalent it is in the meta. Despite that, it still shows up and is still a decent contender. One of the big reasons for that is Kenku Artificer and its utility with the various indestructible artifact lands. This is a really easy way to wipe those out while also having a general bolt ability if you want. Unfortunately, though, it's quite a narrow effect, and with Cast into the Fire also being in this set and doing something similar in this situation but better in a wider set of scenarios, I'd rather have that instead.

Bombadil's Song

Bombadil's Song

Once more, we get an existing ability made a little more expensive to stick "the Ring tempts you" text onto it. In this case, the existing card is Ranger's Guile, which hasn't seen play in Pauper in a very long time. Adding this ability won't push it, and I'm safe leaving this flavor fail in the draft decks where it belongs.

Chance-Met Elves

Chance-Met Elves

There's enough scrying that happens in Pauper that if you can get a decent density of them going, this can get pretty big surprisingly fast. In practice, though, it's generally going to be too slow and it's way too easy to pick off. Might make for fun brew fodder, but definitely not enough to be competitively viable.

Elven Farsight

Elven Farsight

Hey look, it's another Green sort of Preordain variant. We just saw Seed of Hope and while some players had hopes it might be playable somewhere, it hasn't really made much of a splash thus far. This one is a little nicer since it can set up your draws with a scry, but it can only find a creature which severely narrows down what you're able to find. The decks that have the sort of density you'd want to make this work rely more heavily on the mass creature finds in the likes of Winding Way or Lead the Stampede, making this less than optimal. It should also be noted that this card is a cheaper - but less useful - version of Track Down, a card I was high and hopeful on a few years back because it looked really decent only for it to never make the cut anywhere. If that didn't over the last couple years, I doubt this will either - even if it's cheaper.

Ent's Fury

Ent's Fury

This is definitely one of the more interesting fight options out there. Epic Confrontation is still probably going to be better on average, but there's likely to be enough times where the extra power boost is going to end up coming into play. It's quite a niche effect, and even Epic Confrontation isn't really played nowadays, so while there's a chance you'll see this once in a blue moon, it's by and large not going to be particularly relevant.

Generous Ent

Generous Ent

Of all the landcycling big spells, this one's the least appealing. Green already has lots of ways to ramp out big creatures and the creature you get here isn't very exciting and there just isn't a lot of reason to cheat it out. What's more, Green has tons of ways of getting lands, so forestcycling is basically just the worst of the bunch. It's a great card in general, and a decent role player, but in Limited, not in Pauper.

Mushroom Watchdogs

Mushroom Watchdogs

If there's one sure-fire constant these days, it's that Wizards loves dipping into the artifact tokens well more and more. Artifact tokens have been showing up much more frequently, with treasures being mainstays and both clues and food showing up with an increased regularity. This is a solid bear that gets bigger bonuses with incidental food, of which there's going to certainly be more in the future, especially with Wilds of Eldraine right around the corner. This one isn't really doing very much right now, but I'd definitely watch it as food becomes more prevalent.

Shower of Arrows

Shower of Arrows

It's Broken Wings with upside, which is pretty great given how much we've just been getting that card reprinted over the years. That one's not seeing Pauper play, nor really is the two mana sorcery version Atraxa's Fall. It's neat to see them push this effect further, but not enough to make this a worthy inclusion when the others aren't being played.

Inherited Envelope

Inherited Envelope

This is one of the better "the Ring tempts you" cards if only for the flicker potentials, but it's definitely going to be stretching when the other mana rocks for decks using those flicker cards are arguably just better. It's hard to warrant trying for a bit of light evasion and looting when you're already drawing cards hand over fist and controlling the board into a lockdown state.

Lembas

Lembas

Oh yes, lovely - lembas bread. And look! More lembas bread. This food feels really reminiscent of Golden Egg, a card that's shown up from time to time in the format, but instead of getting mana filtration, Lembas goes back into your deck. Now that's not a guarantee you'll continually find it and get use out of it, but it does give you decent utility as well as giving you the chance to shuffle whenever you need to. It's probably not going to shake the world, but it's a fun little card with some decent play.

Wizard's Rockets

Wizard's Rockets

Terrarion sees some amount of play and, well: Terrarion, eat your heart out. You can play it the same way as that card, but you get the option to pay however much you want and get a big mass fixing in the process. It's for all intents and purposes just a better version of an existing - if niche - card assuring that this will see some amount of play.

Shire Terrace

Shire Terrace

If you were really hurting for a cheaper Warped Landscape, here you go, but personally I'll just stick to the likes of Evolving Wilds, Terramorphic Expanse, and Ash Barrens.


And there you have it, another set finished up and ready to go! I think overall this set isn't going to be massively impactful on the Pauper format. However, it's going to have its fair share of role players amongst the bunch. The Ring tempting you won't be as strong as people feared it might be, but it'll give players a new tool to brew with which is always welcome to have, so long as it's not particularly oppressive. While many of the new cards may not make the cut, I do at the very least recommend checking out the multitude of Commander reprints, because some of the new artwork is simply phenomenal.

Commander Masters is around the corner, and you know what that means! We're almost certainly going to see a new set of downshifts, meaning a whole bunch of goodies for the Pauper format. I'll see you for that review in a few short weeks once those cards have all trickled on through. Until then, you will have my sword, and you'll have my bow, and my axe!

Paige Smith

Twitter: @TheMaverickGal

Twitch: twitch.tv/themaverickgirl

YouTube: TheMaverickGal


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