Bill the Pony can be a commander
In case you haven’t heard, there’s going to be a Lord of the Rings Magic: The Gathering set out this summer. While the art shown off so far has been marvelous, it turns out that the team over at Wizards of the Coast has a lot more going for it than cool art. We spoke to Ovidio Cartagena, lead art director on the set, about what to expect. Spoiler alert: Wizards is going big on this set.
What’s the deal with the Lord of the Rings set? A recap
Beyond the obvious reason of “money,” Cartagena likens the Lord of the Rings set as a natural fit for Magic: The Gathering because of its commitment to “Universes Beyond,” which have crossed over with franchises like Transformers, Warhammer 40K, as well as Secret Lair drops like The Walking Dead, Fortnite, and Street Fighter.
Liz Stewart, Senior Communications Manager at Wizards of the Coast, says that the team went “all-in” on the flavor of the set, which was the result of long hours of textual research from Tolkien’s work. That research shows, as locations like The Shire, Minas Tirith, and the Paths of the Dead are going to be on full display, and all of the lands will include paths the characters from the series had to traverse throughout the world: you can even see them as specks sometimes in zoomed-out shots! Alongside those aforementioned perilous lands, the set also isn’t afraid to get silly. Bill the Pony is in, and can even be a Commander. Sam’s cookware has been added to “multiple cards as an Easter egg,” Cartagena teases.
For those of you who are unaware, The Lord of the Rings legalese can get complicated. For this project, the team worked specifically with Middle-earth Enterprises (MEE), a steward of much of the “core” material that comprises the most popular bits of Tolkien’s work: including The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the cleverly-stretched appendices (which are found at the end of Return of the King, and add some extra lore bits into the mix). I asked about their experience working with MEE, and Cartagena noted:
“We worked primarily with Middle-earth Enterprises. It was pretty easy. Working within the confines of the book was a good fit, because that’s how most of us got to Tolkien’s lore. Yes we wanted to reference other parts…but the Lord of the Rings is such a rich set that we didn’t run out of things to talk about for sure.”
When asked how the team handled some of the source material, specifically the Eye of Sauron, they thought out-of-the-box at first before delving too deeply into some of the more commonly accepted interpretations:
“How are you going to do an eye [of Sauron]? Well, [we’re] not going to do the eye, yet. Sauron was designed as this dark wizard, I love the design…the armor has the Palantir on the chest so he always has access to it. For Frodo, we wanted a more heroic shot of him. Several years pass between when he inherits the property of the ring, and when he embarks upon his journey.”
Yes, Nine Nazgul can be played together on the battlefield, and there’s a Witch King card. The main event is the 18 borderless “seam cards,” which depict the Battle of the Pellinor Fields without borders. Wizards of the Coast calls it a “war painting,” and just one artist (Tyler Jacobson) worked on it. Cartagena shares some insight into the ordeal: “It was an epic undertaking. It took a while to get it right. 18th and 19th-century paintings were looked at for reference. It took eight months, and Minas Tirith is on one side, with Barad-dur on the other. It’s meant to be read from right to left to flow like the scene itself in the books.”
Sagas (multi-step cards that play out kind of like adventures) return, which is a natural fit for this set. Planeswalkers are out (fine by me!) and Oathbreaker is in, according to Mike Turian, product architect for this set:
“All of the cards in The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth products are legal in Oathbreaker. The set doesn’t have any Planeswalkers in it, as early on we agreed that Planeswalkers didn’t fit into the setting of Middle-earth. Beyond that, we try to make fun Magic cards that support all of our formats.”
The Lord of the Rings Magic set will have four pre-constructed Commander decks
Announced as part of the press event, Magic will be getting four new Commander decks in the set:
- Eowyn: Riders of Rohan
- Frodo: Food and Fellowship
- Galadriel: Elven Council
- Sauron: The Hosts of Mordor
All four Commander decks include a collector booster, sample pack, and two legendary traditional foils.
So when is the Magic: The Gathering Lord of the Rings set coming out?
In addition to the set itself and the aforementioned commander decks, there will also be jumpstart boosters, as well as a starter kit (two preconstructed 60-card decks). Yes, there will be a Secret Lair drop too (call the Professor!) based on 1978 Bakshi film, which will be on sale in June. Summer, Autumn, and Winter Ents are in as digital Magic: Arena pets, as well as a pet “One Ring” if you pre-order the set on Arena. The ring will melt if you lose a game, which is neat, but still very interesting in the context of Tolkien not wanting certain elements of his work to be romanticized.
Here’s a full breakdown of when the Magic Lord of the Rings sets are out:
- Pre-release is June 16-22
- Arena (digital) launch is June 20
- Full launch is June 23