The Lord of the Rings Tales of Middle-earth Hosts of Mordor Precon Upgrade guide

The Lord of the Rings Tales of Middle-earth Hosts of Mordor Precon Upgrade Guide

Tom AndersonCommander

The Hosts of Mordor Commander precon is marshaled and ready for an upgrade! Let Tom teach you how to be the best dark lord you can be as we review the deck and suggest new cards to add.

I’d like to think I’m a fun and friendly presence in most Commander games… but I also relish when it’s my turn to play the villain! 

Well, with The Hosts of Mordor precon now in stores, we can literally play as THE villain — because what evil from myth or media has done more to define our idea of a Dark LordTM than the eponymous Lord of the Rings: Sauron?


Sauron’s evil takes many forms in many places across Tolkien’s Middle-earth mythos, some of which are represented on other cards from the Tales of Middle-Earth set. But this precon captures him at the height of his martial prowess, personally leading his Orc armies as he did in the Second Age before Isildur cut the Ring from his hand

But how does this mighty evil translate to the tabletop battlefield of Magic? The real answer here is “slowly.” Rather than dilute the canonical powers of such a godlike being, Wizards of the Coast has simply slapped on the kind of mana cost you would expect to pay for them.

This means that, as in the books, Sauron’s enemies will mostly have to contend with his vile minions and manipulations while the Big Bad himself looms on the distant horizon as an apocalyptic endgame scenario. But once you are able to muster the requisite eight mana to finally summon him in person, the power of the fallen Maiar is absolutely overwhelming. 

The big concern with expensive commanders is always that your opponents will have ample time to find their interaction and snipe that first cast, especially with counter-magic. However, Sauron’s cast trigger makes him much harder to shut down with such mortal magicks.

For one, it guarantees an immediate boost to your boardstate whether or not Sauron actually resolves. 

But the non-targeted wording also means you can potentially allow a countered Sauron to go to the graveyard only to be immediately reanimated by his own terrifying trigger! 

Savvy opponents will learn to hold back and only counterspell after this trigger has resolved, but there are ways to punish them for that as well. 

Suffice it to say, the challenge here is all about reaching the point where we can call forth Sauron from the Command Zone. Once we’re there, we can rely on him not to disappoint.


The Hosts of Mordor already offers some very solid reprint value, but the unique new cards are always the highlight of these precon decks. It’s worth taking a moment to evaluate each of these cards on their own merit here before we plunge into how you might upgrade the deck.

It’s hyperbolic to call this “literally Dockside Extortionist,” but it’s the closest we’ve come in a while (especially in a precon). If you’re playing the kind of game where Dockside is powerful, then this is already going to be a very cheap 6/6 “flample” haste — backed up by the much nastier threat of massive mana acceleration. 

Having the trigger be combat-based is a mixed bag. It gives the card a higher ceiling on its own, but it also makes it slightly harder to recur the effect with clones et al… which is probably for the best!

Neither Amass Orcs nor The Ring Tempts You are really a focus in this deck list, although both are certainly present to lend some Tolkien-specific vibes. It reminds me of Wizards of the Coast’s older Commander precons, which were often more like two or three half-decks in a trenchcoat (the idea being that players would play a few games, get a feel for which mechanics they liked and then start swapping in cards to emphasize that part of the deck).

Anyway, Corsairs of Umbar is a reasonably-efficient mana sink, token generator and damage-trigger-enabler, particularly when your commander is one of the eligible creature types.

Wormtongue here is a pretty potent creature, even if he doesn’t immediately seem to gel with our presumed defensive stance in the early-mid game. But on the flipside, being able to occasionally play on the front foot — without actually committing our own cards or mana — can be very valuable for a deck that might otherwise not feel safe doing things on its own turn. 

Gríma also scales with the power level of your table, which I always find a great selling point for these spell-stealing effects.

I keep stopping to stare closely at this saga as if I’m expecting the “Read Ahead” clause to suddenly materialize and make it playable. Alas. 

When it comes to Commander mechanics, The Ring Tempts You just doesn’t compare to something like The Initiative unless you’re able to tack on some more potent bonus incentive, the way Sefris does for Dungeons. Having a sacrifice outlet online can make the final chapter very punishing for your opponents, but that’s incredibly slow for a card that already costs five.

A multi-target Siphon Insight seems like a great spell to slot into a villainous Commander deck. Unfortunately, Lidless Gaze is worse than that hypothetical spell in several crucial ways. 

Doubling the cost and making it sorcery speed drastically limits your opportunities to “safely” cast this for card advantage. Not to mention you only have this turn and next turn to use the cards you find. 

Evil flavor win aside, I’d struggle to find a home for this unless I was specifically trying to play opponents’ cards.

I wonder whether the original idea was for this card to force opponents to have Ring-bearers, or whether the protection ability was always just there for flavor? 

Regardless, this incarnation of the Witch-King is still a reasonable army-in-a-can sort of threat for spell-focused decks. You don’t need to hit the 9/9 trigger for free flying menace bodies to be good, but it’s pretty awesome if you get there!

Monstrosity of the Lake appears to be here solely as a reanimation target, and it’s excellent at doing exactly that. Paying five for the trigger to work is a big ask if you just paid 4U to cast it, but less so if you’re just flickering or reanimating it into play for a fraction of that cost. 

Since we’re not that interested in hardcasting the Kraken and we need to make every land drop possible to reach Sauron, Islandcycling makes for a perfect final touch on the design.

Whether you’re filtering good spells into your hand, trying to find your next land drop, setting up a reanimation spell, enabling madness or just generating a token body at instant speed, Moria Scavenger can do all that for zero mana. 

Haste all but guarantees you get the first activation once it resolves, and the 1/4 deathtouch body will discourage any opportunistic attacks while still letting you tap to rummage before your untap step. You could scarcely ask for more from this kind of card.

It was a good idea for Wizards to make the baseline on a lot of these creatures “reasonable early blocker,” because that ensures they can contribute if you’re playing the deck unmodified out of the shrink-wrap. 

The rest of Orcish Siegemaster feels like it would probably have more impact in a more aggressive or power-matters game plan, but at least it’s good bang-for-buck on paper

Our other really excellent cycler-slash-reanimation-target to pair with Monstrosity of the Lake. I think the extra utility on this cycle effect slightly outperforms the ETB trigger of its counterpart. 

Destroying artifacts is always important in Commander. And if 2R+X seems a little expensive for that effect, remember that it’s also drawing a card and dodging most counterspells along the way.

So far we’re seeing a lot of very mana-hungry spells to play under our intensely mana-hungry commander. Relic of Sauron goes a small but meaningful way toward balancing the equation, offering a reasonably-priced combination of draw and ramp for Grixis-colored decks. 

Remember that “big rocks” like this and Hedron Archive are at their best when your goal is eight or nine mana compared to five or six, since at some point the need to draw and play enough mana-producing cards becomes more of a bottleneck than the cost of playing them.

Our obligatory alternative commander choice included in the precon offers a very welcome counterpoint to the late-game threat of Sauron. Clocking in at literally half the mana value of his fell liege, Saruman of the White Hand will likely be the preferred choice for anyone who likes to make their Commander central to gameplay (or who wanted a heavier emphasis on Amass as a mechanic). 

As previously mentioned, doing this probably takes you down a very different upgrade path than sticking with Sauron, but it’s nice to at least have alternatives on offer.

This Shelob offers a lot of high-value effects for a reasonably-costed creature — something the deck really wishes it had more access to. The only knock on her usefulness is to point out she’s just a Hill Giant until an opponent’s nontoken creature dies. 

But as a black mage, that sounds more like a personal challenge than anything else.

I’m looking at this as another awkward result of the “three deck ideas in a trenchcoat” philosophy, because it’s the only way I can make any sense of it. However, those twin limitations seem way too severe for a huge, seven-mana sorcery (just one mana less than actual Insurrection). 

I don’t see it as a big deal that you gain control of the creatures permanently. Insurrection typically gives you control until the end of the game anyway. 

This feels like a nice little Commander twist on Treason of Isengard, which also features in the deck. You’re essentially paying an extra UR to tack Amass Orcs onto your next Instant or Sorcery, although getting to dig a bit into your deck to find that spell is definitely valuable if you don’t already know it’s on top. 

The flashback offers a glimmer of additional potential. You could potentially cast something really big for 3UR if you have enough cards in the graveyard to fuel it. But that’s still enough mana to keep it from really breaking stuff, especially in Commander.

One more highly-valuable, highly-flexible cycling monster for the road? The Balrog of Moria lets you set up Sauron in more ways than one, helping to ramp into our commander with some treasures while providing a premium reanimation target when the Dark Lord is actually cast. 

Even its death trigger is quite potent, but I very much doubt you’ll be rushing to sacrifice the 8/8 trampler the moment it hits play. 

Other than adding +1 to the maximum theoretical Gate count for decks that care about the land type (and to be fair, they tend to REALLY care), this is more or less just black Rogue’s Passage

I feel as though the “player with the most life” restriction is a touch overused at this point, but it’s hard to complain when you get a color-producing utility land that can ETB untapped. A welcome addition to many decks from now on.

My typically poe-faced argument against cards like this is that paying five-plus mana for a reanimation spell surrenders the greatest benefit of reanimation. However, if you’re going to pay more or less full price to bring back your Balrog or Monstrosity, you can make sure you also get to delete everything else on the board at the same time!

Another weirdly-expensive sorcery that feels like you need to be cheating the cost somehow to justify it — especially since the biggest appeal would be pinching other people’s artifacts rather than using the token to pressure life totals. Unfortunately, we don’t really have any way to cheat this out, and we’re not so desperate for cards that are live in the yard that we need to include this just for the flashback option.


Due to the scattershot inclusion of disparate themes, The Hosts of Mordor seems like a precon designed to be customized almost immediately out of the box. Play a game or two with the stock list, and you’ll probably get a feel for how you’ll want to make it your own.

Do you love the Amass cards and directing armies of Orcs? Do you prefer the reanimation package to get big cycled monsters back ahead of schedule? Are you most excited by playing a spell slinging, controlling style? And the most important question: do you enjoy the play patterns of an eight-mana commander?

If not, subbing in Saruman as the commander will probably be your first big change to the deck.

After that, we need to find cuts to make room for new additions. Unless you already have a grudge against certain cards or mechanics, I’d recommend starting with these:

  • Bitter Downfall
  • Extract from Darkness
  • Grishnákh, Brash Instigator
  • In the Darkness Bind Them
  • Lidless Gaze
  • Orcish Siegemaster
  • Revenge of Ravens
  • Scourge of the Throne
  • Subjugate the Hobbits
  • The Mouth of Sauron
  • Voracious Fell Beast
  • Wake the Dragon

These cards are on the chopping block because they cost too much for what they do, because what they do is not very important in Commander or both. I also think these suggestions probably give away the direction I would try to take the deck with my changes: a more efficient, interactive deck that focuses on ramping toward Sauron mana reliably alongside a mix of interaction and reanimated monsters to impact the game in the meantime. 

I do really like Amass as a mechanic, but I think it needs to be the primary focus of the deck and commander to shine — and that’s not the case in the stock list with Sauron.

Most of these slots we’ll be trying to fill with versatile, low-mana-value instants, which luckily tend to be on the affordable side. 

Our next priority is to have a few more efficient or relevant utility creatures, including an overhaul of the reanimation package. 


But what if you don’t want to get bogged down chasing individual cards to incrementally improve the deck? Is there another way to power up The Hosts of Mordor in a hurry?

Actually, yes. Thanks to some convenient overlap in color and mechanics, you can simply combine this precon with last year’s Maestros Massacre deck from Streets of New Capenna to get a powerful, focused spells-and-tokens deck!

Check out our Maestros Massacre upgrade guide.

The Hosts of Mordor army tokens make perfect fuel for the Casualty mechanic, and the various Maestro copying effects give you a much better way to capitalize on playing your very expensive spells. 

Both Saruman and Anhelo, the Painter can be excellent spell-focused commanders for this combined deck. But even if you keep Sauron in charge, he will still benefit from the extra ramp, better interaction and smoother manabase!

Here’s my quick-and-dirty mashup list using only those two stock precons:


So that’s The Hosts of Mordor precon — a fun little fix-me-up project with some very powerful individual cards and open-ended upgrade paths. I think there’s something to be said for a deck where the commander really takes a back seat for most of the game, even beyond the cool lore parallel to Sauron’s role in the books. 

It gives The Hosts of Mordor a different feel, and it allows all your other cool Grixis cards the room they need to shine. Best of all, it means we can put a version of Sauron on the tabletop, which absolutely feels like the awe-inspiring evil overlord we all know and fear.