The Lord of the Rings Tales of Middle Earth Flavor Check

The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth Flavor Check

Kristen GregoryStandard

For most Magic sets, the proportion of players that care about the flavor of the cards is relatively low compared to those who seek to evaluate them for their gameplay potential — but for Tales of Middle-earth, that’s very much not the case. Lord of the Rings is a cultural classic, and for every Magic player who loves those stories, there are dozens of Lord of the Rings fans who will be checking out this set. What’s going to pull them in? The flavor

While Jason is a most excellent and admirable Hobbit, he knows less than half as much as he deserves about the LotR universe; at least compared to CK’s resident Tolkien nerd, Kristen. So, she’ll be commandeering the column this time around. A good Hobbiton eatery has an all-day menu, so let’s check it out. 


You can’t start the day without a good breakfast. Tomatoes… sausages… nice, crispy bacon. Breakfast food really is the best, isn’t it? A good breakfast sets the foundation for the day, and Tales of Middle-earth has to set a strong foundation, too, or the quest will be for naught. 

What are we fighting for? Where is the beauty in Tolkien’s world? Are the story beats there?

The reason we spend so much time in the idyllic Shire in the Fellowship of the Ring (2001) movie is to establish what we stand to lose. Thanks to some gorgeous landscape art and delightful treatments of the Hobbits’ tranquil life in Hobbiton, we can lose ourselves in the wholesome scenes depicted on cards like The Shire, Frodo Baggins and Green Dragon Inn. We also see the majesty of Tolkien’s vision borne out on cards like Minas Tirith

Just looking at a handful of cards, all of the story beats are there: the legend of the Ring, the Council’s decision to form a Fellowship, The Departure of Boromir, the Last March of the Ents, the Ride of the Rohirrim… even the tearful and altogether bittersweet ending for Frodo. If you’re looking to enjoy the story of The Lord of the Rings, it’s all here.


We’ve had one breakfast, yes. But what about Second Breakfast? 

The Tales of Middle-earth was designed as an adaptation of Tolkien’s books. Wizards of the Coast also laid out their goal with the set, which was to create a fresh retelling that added to existing adaptations rather than treading old ground. That said, many LotR fans are movie fans. What grounds us to what we know from the movies?

Well, for starters, the set is visually striking. Many of the most fantastical, foreboding and magical scenes depicted in the movies translate well to art pieces for game pieces. Though they aren’t exactly the same (and wouldn’t be, due to licensing), any movie fan would be hard pressed not to recognize these moments. 

Tales of Middle-earth is also not afraid to go tongue-in-cheek for some moments of levity. Legolas and Gimli’s kill-count rivalry was a lot of fun in the movies, and is a fun anchor point in the set, too. 

There’s also plenty of more meme-worthy moments, too; from Pippin’s scoldings, to Gandalf halting Durin’s Bane, to everyone’s favorite battering ram. Bring out the Wolf’s Head!



After a hearty breakfast(s), it’s time to take stock. Elevensies is the bridge between breakfast and lunch. When sitting down with some coffee and biscuits, it’s important to reflect. How does Tales of Middle-earth strengthen its foundations?

Modern storytelling is inclusive, respective of a global audience and aims to tell the story anew for a new generation. Wizards sought to do this by ensuring their adaptation provided interpretations of characters that help people feel seen in their favorite story.

Anything I can say about this has already been better said by my friend Jacob over at Hipsters of the Coast, so head over there and check out his article on Race and Representation in Tales of Middle-earth

All I have to add is, as a Brit, it would have been cool to see more desi representation, given how large a part of modern Britain South Asian culture actually is. It’s obvious that Tales of Middle-earth is an American product made by Americans, though, so it reflects American values and culture first. And in that respect, I’m seeing a lot of love from fans previously unrepresented, which warms the heart.


Lunch on today’s menu is a sandwich — perfect for taking on the road. Our sandwich’s layers consist of mechanics, flavor, art and gameplay. When those elements synergize perfectly, you end up with cards like Nahiri, the Harbinger or Gingerbrute. 

Gollum, Scheming Guide is indeed a Horror of a creature — suitably weak with a lovely flavor-meets-gameplay ability that conveys his tricksy, scheming personality and his plan to lead the Hobbits down a dark road (or up a dark stair, should I say). 

Mount Doom costs life to use, which it should… it’s a volcano. You can spew volcanic magma at opponents, which can trigger any number of abilities that care about ping damage. And if that wasn’t enough, you can erupt in a cavalcade of fiery destruction, wiping the board of all but two creatures (Frodo and Sam, in the case of the narrative). Too much volcano? Nah, just right. 

The card that had me grinning ear-to-ear was Shadowfax. Haste is an evergreen ability, so it doesn’t need reminder text. But Shadowfax has it… because he “shows us the meaning of haste!” You can’t not appreciate that sheer cleverness.

He also proves he is the hastiest by essentially giving a creature in your hand superhaste by putting it in tapped and attacking. It doesn’t even bounce back to hand at the end of turn. 

Arwen marks a turning point for our “sandwich” section because, while the mechanics on the card are super satisfying (they represent her eschewing immortality to live a mortal life with the one she loves, and how that choice imbues them with strength and determination) it’s also let down by the fact that every other Elf in the set isn’t indestructible. 

I know that would be dumb, and entirely unworkable, but it takes the card from being a slam dunk to just not quite there for me.

Elsewhere in Elf-dom, two great Elven Lords have cards that really miss the mark for me. 

First up, Elrond never gets tempted by the ring. Looking at the card holistically, I can kinda see the flavor of the Council of Elrond: creatures arriving, Elrond planning and then the Ring disrupting negotiations with its corrupting influence. 

But isn’t that just an enchantment? I could forgive it if not for the artwork on the showcase edition, which shows Elrond going beastmode like Galadriel. It just doesn’t track for me. 

To top it off, he’s a measly 3/2 with no keywords, which is weak, especially given he wields Vilya, the Elven Ring of Power. 

Glorfindel is arguably one of the most overpowered entities in Tolkien’s world that isn’t a God or lesser deity. At the time of The Lord of the Rings, his power is on par with Gandalf, and he’s essentially a walking deus ex machina who chooses not to join the Fellowship, fearing he would jeopardize their quest of secrecy and stealth due to just how much aggro he would draw.

To see such a heroic character not only in mono-green (I feel mono-white is the way to go here, if not GW) but also with a mediocre card? Meh. I can concede they wanted elves in primarily Simic, but that’s no excuse for making Glorfindel a garden variety Elf. 

Anduril was reforged before the quest was set in motion in the books. The spectral army of Oathbreakers helped Aragorn defeat the Corsairs and wrestle control of their navy in order for him to ferry the southern fiefdom forces to the Pelennor. Given those facts, an Anduril that makes spirit tokens is a clear miss. It happened one time. 

The last sandwich missing from the picnic is Frodo, Sauron’s Bane (but maybe just the Ring mechanic in general). Frodo’s story is about persevering in the face of suffering and when the odds are stacked against you. It’s about never being the same after trauma. It’s about how the Ring managed to corrupt even Frodo by the end of his journey. Frodo failed.

Yet, this card has you win the game if Frodo deals combat damage to a player and the Ring has tempted you four or more times this game. I get where they were going with this, but it just doesn’t add up. 

Frodo doesn’t complete his task, and the Ring mechanic is all upside. This isn’t the place to deconstruct it fully, but even if the conclusion in development was that people don’t like a mechanic with downsides, there should have been at least some downside, like losing life each time the Ring tempts you.


That was a hefty lunch, and now I’ve barely got room for some tea and cake. I’ll have a deep cut though, because it looks delicious. 

Tales of Middle-earth explores moments treasured by book readers. On the shallower end, meeting Tom and Goldberry, and experiencing the Scouring of the Shire — moments we didn’t see in the films wet the appetite.

Many moments make it onto cards, from Galadriel’s touching gift to Gimli, to the Barrow-blades that helped defeat the Witch-King, to the majestic Knights of Dol Amroth. I could go on for days, but I need to make room for dinner.


Dinner is where the real meat is, and I can confirm it is indeed back on the menu. Are there powerful, exciting cards?

Arms and armor get people going, and both Glamdring and Mithril Coat are powerful new additions to the arsenal.

We’ve got splashy, powerful creatures that are sure to have people brewing around them (and what’s more, they’re fan favorites).

There are also plenty of aggressively-costed, low curve effects, and just as many curve toppers that feel great to play with. 

I’d say there’s plenty there for everyone, and you’ll be able to read more about them in my upcoming set review.


We come to it at last — the last meal. Supper. It’s time to settle the stomach and ask ourselves whether Tales of Middle-earth managed to nail the menu. 

In my opinion? I think it did a really great job. Though there are some big misses, they are relatively few, especially in comparison to the many hits that bring joy to Tolkien fans across the globe. 

How do you think it did? What were the biggest flavor wins? Did anything not jive with your palette? Let us know on Twitter.