When Magic: The Gathering meets The Lord of the Rings, you know that the flavor and storytelling through cards is going to be next level. Let’s dive in and discuss five of the biggest flavor wins in The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth!

Arwen, Mortal Queen

Considered one of the fairest elves in Middle-earth during the Third Age, the time when the events of The Lord of the Rings take place, Arwen Undomiel has a rare challenge that few others in Middle-earth have faced. As the daughter of Elrond and Celebrian, Arwen is considered half-elven from her father’s side, and as such, has the choice to give up her immortality to live and die like a human.

Elves in The Lord of the Rings are naturally immortal, immune to sickness and disease but can still be killed in battle. There are two components to an Elves existence: their spirit (fëar) and their body (hröa). All Elves’ spirits are fading over time, which is why they must depart back to Valinor or otherwise dwindle to nothingness.

By choosing a mortal life, Arwen lives her life with Aragorn and her card represents that choice. You can have Arwen give up her immortality to empower another creature, which represents the support she gives Aragorn. By making her choice, Elrond moves to reforge the Shards of Narsil, the sword that cut The One Ring from Sauron’s hand into Andúril, while also inspiring Aragorn to take the Paths of the Dead to convince the King of the Oathbreakers to join his cause.

Arwen represents this choice with her ability to remove her own indestructible counter in support of another creature, normally Aragorn but really any creature you want during a game of Magic. Though her card loses her form of immortality, she strengthens herself and the other creature by giving them both a +1/+1 and a lifelink counter.

Gift of Strands

If you’ve seen the The Lord of the Rings films you’re probably familiar with the gift that Gimli asks of Galadriel when the Fellowship departs from Lothlórien: one strand of hair, of which she gives three. Galadriel’s hair is considered exceptionally beautiful, comparable to the golden and silver light emitted from the long-destroyed Telperion and Laurelin, the Two Trees of Valinor that gave light to the world before the sun and moon were created. In the books, Gimli is hesitant to make the request, only doing so when Galadriel insists. He stumbles through his words before asking:

“There is nothing, Lady Galadriel,” said Gimli, bowing low and stammering. “Nothing, unless it might be—unless it is permitted to ask, nay, to name a single strand of your hair, which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine. I do not ask for such a gift. But you commanded me to name my desire.”

This request and her response have an immense amount of significance behind them. In the ages before the Elves traveled to Middle-earth, another had asked Galadriel for a strand of her hair, Fëanor, often considered to be the greatest Elf to ever live and also the source of much misery for the Elves. Fëanor asked Galadriel three times for a strand of her hair, so entranced with it he was, but she denied him each time.

This denial might have been the catalyst for Fëanor to craft the Silmarils, three stones that captured the light of the Two Trees. The ancient enemy Morgoth coveted these stones and stole them while also destroying the Two Trees and fleeing to Middle-earth. Fëanor rallied many Elven families to recover the stones, which led to the first instance of an Elf killing another Elf, and their eventual banishment from Valinor.

Galadriel’s family was caught up in the fervor to recover the stones, though she and her family did not participate in what would be called the First Kinslaying. By giving Gimli three strands of her hair, Galadriel is showing that the Dwarf has a kinder and fairer heart than even the greatest of Elves.

The Gift of Strands enchantment reflects Galadriel’s ability to read peoples hearts and minds by letting you scry, granting you insight into the future and how you might act with her gift under your control. And of course, giving your creature +3/+3, one +1/+1 for each strand of hair, shows the strength of such a gift, and the impact it has on the receiver.

Shadowfax, Lord of Horses

Among the many magical creatures of The Lord of the Rings, Horses hold a special place in Middle-earth. Shadowfax comes from Rohan and is the chief of the Mearas, a breed of horse that are faster, stronger, and more intelligent than others. Shadowfax is unique even among the Meraras, drawing a direct lineage to Nahar of the First Age, who was the mount of the god-like Valar, Oromë.

Mearas horses are proud, refusing all but the exceptional to ride them, often limited to only the kings of Rohan. Shadowfax makes an exception for Gandalf after he escapes from the peak of Orthanc when he is captured by Saruman. Even then, it took Gandalf several days to tame the horse.

The card for Shadowfax features reminder text for haste, something that Magic doesn’t typically do since it’s considered an evergreen mechanic, one that all players will likely understand. This comes from the scene where Gandalf speaks to Shadowfax, saying: “Run Shadowfax, show us the meaning of haste.” So, we got a card that shows us the meaning of haste.

Denethor, Stone Seer

No one likes Denethor—between the cherry scene in the films or the way he treats Faramir, one of the most wholesome characters from the series, there’s not much good to him. But Denethor’s story is that of a tragic ruler, once a fair, honest, and good lord who was corrupted by the constant use of a palantír, an exceptionally rare artifact that lets users of great strength of will to view events anywhere in the world.

Denethor’s will was so great that he even overcame Sauron in a test of wills, resisting his temptations but aging him in the process. Over time, Denethor became mistrustful of those around him, focusing his main attention on the workings of Sauron and his Orc army. The death of Boromir sent him further into his spiral and inevitable collapse once Minas Tirith came under siege. With Faramir severely wounded and the city falling to the forces of Sauron, Denethor ended the stewardship of Gondor, denouncing the return of the king, and laid upon a funeral pyre with his palantír to die now as he was rather than at the hands of an Orc.

The card’s art depicts a man obsessed with consuming knowledge, corrupted by a need to protect his people, and believing he had the strength to do so all by himself. The card’s mechanics also depict his vision, letting him scry 2 when he comes into play. More tragically, Denethor’s second ability gives his death more purpose than it has in the books. By sacrificing Denethor, an act that is completely optional, you can crown any player the monarch, representing his departure to make room for Aragorn to become king and Faramir to be the next steward.

Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant

After that depressing dive into Denethor, how about a party to liven the mood?

Bilbo, Birthday Celebrant is throwing a bash to honor his 111th birthday this September 22. Honoring his advanced age and mysterious vigor, Bilbo’s card shares his good fortune with you, giving you an extra one life anytime you would gain life.

You can put all that life to good use with his second ability. Only available when you reach 111 life or more, you can exile Bilbo to search your library for any number of creatures and put them directly into play.

This ability is amazing and works at different levels to fit Bilbo’s character. You have to exile Bilbo as part of the cost, representing Bilbo ending his birthday party by putting on the Ring and disappearing from Hobbiton for the second time in his life, this time permanently. The other condition to the cost is that you can only use it once you reach 111 life, the age Bilbo is celebrating.

The other great piece of flavor from this card is that for Bilbo’s birthday, tons of people in the Shire were invited, and many came that weren’t but were still welcome. The ability brings everyone in your deck out to celebrate, creating a massive party on your battlefield.

Lore Known Only To The Wise

There are a few cards printed in Tales of Middle-earth that are incredibly deep cuts, things that even avid readers of the books might not remember or catch when going through the set.

Among these cards, you can find Old Man Willow, a massive willow tree that was either a tree that had grown to be a little more Entish, or an Ent who had become a bit treeish, or they could be a Huorn, trees that were partly awakened but not fully sentient like the Ents.

Another deep cut is that of the Stone of Erech, a massive black sphere from Nuemenor that Isildur used to take an oath from the King of the Mountains to join in the fight against Sauron. An age later, Aragorn came across the relic and commanded the King of the Dead and the spirits of the mountains to fulfill their oath.

The card Fear, Fire, Foes! is inspired by the Horn-cry of Buckland to warn the Shire of oncoming danger. The full phrase is ‘Awake! Fear! Fire! Foes! Awake!’, and was used when the Black Riders came to Buckland in search of the Ring.

There are plenty more amazing, lore-filled cards in Tales of Middle-earth that hold little references to details from the books. If you’re looking for more great references to the books, check out some of the Box-Toppers, which take powerful Magic cards and converts them to relics from The Lord of the Rings.

Ryan Hay (he/him) has been writing about Magic: The Gathering and video games for years, and loves absolutely terrible games. Send him your bad game takes over on Twitter where he won’t stop talking about Lord of the Rings.

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