When it was first announced that Wizards of the Coast was going to do a Magic set based on The Lord of The Rings, I had some questions.
First, will the set be draftable? The answer was definitely yes.
Second, how will the designers of the set approach it from a complexity standpoint? On one hand, the imagination runs wild when you start picturing Orcs, Hobbits, and Wizards running around and all the things you could do with it.
On the other hand, part of making a crossover set like this is to have the chance to bring in players that are new or potentially interested in Magic as a game, but haven't actually tried it yet. In cases like this, it's best to lean towards a more straightforward design philosophy that focuses on bringing the flavor of the set to life, and instead leaning on Magic's incredible game engine to do what it does.
Somehow the designers were able to straddle this line really well. The Lord of The Rings, Tales of Middle-earth™ manages to effectively straddle the line between straightforward flavor and interesting game play.
When you tune into the Pro Tour The Lord of The Rings in Barcelona for the Draft, you'll see the featured drafter enter a world where black and red are the best colors, white and blue are good support colors, and green (mostly) doesn't exist.
On the Limited Resources podcast, which I do every week with Luis Scott-Vargas, he's fond of saying that balance in a format doesn't necessarily make it fun or interesting, and this set is a prime example of that. Green is as close to unplayable as we've seen, yet the format still produces enough archetypes to draft while also keeping the gameplay fun, interesting, and complex.
So green is out. I would be shocked to see someone voluntarily move into green at the feature table. What does that leave as the good decks to draft?
Black and Red
Both black and red are top tier, with black being the best color in the format. A super strong lineup of commons is complimented by even stronger uncommons, rares, and mythic rares. You can pair black with any other color (even green if you have to) and expect to have a good win percentage.
You can pair these early picks with red for a great red-black Orc typal deck, with blue for anamass Orcs/Ring tempting deck, or with white for an assertive Humans build backed up by good removal.
Red is generally considered the next best color thanks to common all-stars like
Red-black is the best deck in the format, featuring excellent removal and efficient creatures that all seem to work well together. If a player at the Pro Tour could choose their color pair, it would likely be black-red.
Red-white is the aggressive Humans deck, red-blue is a sweet spells/ring tempt deck, and red-green isn't a thing.
Blue and White
Both blue and white serve more of a support role to the two best colors, particularly white, which has cards that do well with other colors but doesn't have the depth to be a primary color.
When the best cards in a color are
Blue fairs better overall, with good interactive spells like
You can use this in a deck built around ring tempting, or in a deck that cares about either casting instants or sorceries, or having them in the graveyard. It has such a low floor, people will play basically as many Birthday Escapes as they get in any blue deck.
Now you know what the good decks are, but which are the decks that the drafters will look to avoid if possible?
Green-white Food, green-blue scry Elves, and blue-white draw-two are on the chopping block for this set. The themes are there, and it is possible to draft effective versions of these decks, but the tax of them having green cards in them has proven too strong. Avoid them if possible!
There are numerous mechanics in the set, some brought in from other sets and some new ones. The two I want to focus on are Tempted by the Ring and amass.
The early challenge when it came to assessing Tempted by the Ring was figuring out what a Ring tempt was "worth". Usually this is done by figuring out if it was worth a full extra card or some percentage of a card.
For example, if I told you there is a card in a set that is 1W for a 2/2 with vigilance. If the baseline for that is one card, what would I have to add to convince you this was a very good card?
I could make it so when this entered the battlefield you drew a card. That's literally one full card of value, easy. But we know this would likely be too powerful.
What if I gave you a free 1/1 creature token with it? What if the free 1/1 had flying? What if it let you play a land from your hand when it entered the battlefield? Scry 2? Scry 1? Gain 2 life?
This can get granular, and the answer for each of those scenarios is: It's not quite worth a full card, but it's definitely worth something. (For the record, getting a 1/1 flyer is about as close to a card as you'll get)
So, what about for Ring tempting? If I designed, say, a common black removal spell, but wanted to add on a tempting of the Ring, would it be worth a full extra card?
Something like this:
The answer is no, it's not worth a full card, but it is worth about half of a card or so.
As a reminder, here's levels of ring temptation:
They break down like this:
The first Ring tempt isn't worth much. In fact, it's often correct to just play a card that has a Tempted by the Ring on it even if you don't have a creature just to get the going up the ladder.
The second Ring tempt is the most important one out of all of them. Getting to loot every time you attack adds up really fast and can have a huge impact on the way the game plays out.
The third Ring tempt isn't very important. It doesn't come up often and is more of a bridge to the last one.
The fourth Ring tempt is another inflection point similar to the second one. This can end a game very quickly and you can often use what would normally be a creature that wasn't relevant any more (like a random 1/1) to do it.
The second and fourth temptations are where it's at.
Build Me an (Orc) Army
I love amass Orcs, and it's a heavily pushed mechanic in the set, with a full twenty-five cards featuring it. It's super simple, but very powerful as it actively adds to your board every time you cast as spell that has it, even if that spell isn't a creature. In modern era Limited, being on board is everything and amass Orcs lets you do that while countering spells, drawing cards, taking cards out of their hand, or even messing with the opposing creatures.
To bring the evaluation back to the method we used before, amass Orcs 2 is basically worth a card. The cool part about amass is that you don't have to build around it if you want, and there is virtually no setup cost at all. Just cast the spells you were going to cast anyway and build that army up.
Best of the Best
I always like to call out the best possible card to open in each set so that when you watch the Pro Tour broadcast you'll know what the featured player is really, really hoping to open. And this set there is a clear winner, but there's also a twist:
The interesting thing is that the two mana has black mana in it. On one hand it's the best color, so yay. But on the other hand there are two cards that are almost as good as the Bowmasters but are colorless.
Let's just say the featured drafter wouldn't complain opening any of these cards for their draft.
I hope you can tune into the coverage of the Pro Tour and see the best in the world draft this new set, one which is proving to be an exciting an interesting Draft format!