I can’t seem to put words on paper that aren’t about this, so here. Let me exorcise this foul spirit that haunts me. I am deeply, abidingly sick of everything to do with Lord of the Rings, and actively hateful towards the Lord Of The Rings magic set that I want to see fail. Again.
In 2023, Magic: The Gathering released a new Universes Beyond product into Modern, with the set Something Something Lord Of The Rings. It’s a totally new kind of product, in that it’s the first time a universes beyond product of this scale was made and put into the Modern format. It’s also not a totally new kind of product, because it is once again, a thing where the official Magic: The Gathering game system of systems is used to instead show off the aesthetics, lore and concepts of another universe, a tradition that started off with Secret Lair Drop Series: The Walking Dead a 2020 release that introduced five cards to vintage and legacy and was largely decided, at the time, to be something of a bad idea.
Not by me, I like Universes Beyond, especially when it brings Universes Within.
I was pretty heartless about this printing because it was printing cards that probably weren’t a big deal into a format already priced so preposterously there’s no point complaining about the onramp into it. Yeah Legacy is a fun looking format, I love looking at it on Magic: The Gathering Online, but it’s also a format where Volcanic Island, a land you need four of in the #1 deck for the past forever, runs at around $700 for the cheapest version and you need four of them and that’s where the deck’s price starts and by the time this article goes out it will be more. Legacy is history’s sewer of Magic: The Gathering and if you like it, and you want to play it, it’s great, I love it too, but arguments about its health are fundamentally meaningless.
And also, it’s five cards, and the best of them have almost nothing to do with the game at large. One of them is a pretty strong Human Lord, one of them is a pretty interesting piece of equipment, but both of those things have been outmoded and neither is that big a deal in the first place in a world where people can attack with Emrakul, The Aeon’s Turn on turn two.
Point is, I didn’t care about The Walking Dead cards being introduced. I did not care. Bear in mind: I did not like The Walking Dead as a franchise. I think it’s quite stupid. I think everything that’s been communicated about the kind of media it is is tiresome and boring and only interesting if you’ve never read anything of its type before. Antipathy towards the source material already existed for me, but I did not care about the introduction of the cards and certainly not enough to hate them.
It isn’t enough to just dislike the source material though. I already disliked Forgotten Realmsing: Gathering Magics, where the Magic tools were brought to bear on twenty year old memes of Go For The Eyes, Boo. I didn’t like the way that it turned the story space of the Forgotten Realms — a world that I hate — into a flattened band of things that could interact like Owlbears killing Dragons, and I didn’t like that it forced the characters of the Forgotten Realms into prominence — because a lot of them are cat-piss men, with all the charm of the OCs of wannabe date rapists.
And they did it again!
It’s hard to grapple with this feeling, because the thing is, I know I’ve been unhappy with Magic: The Gathering for years, but at no point does that unhappiness translate to a disinterest in following the product. I don’t like Urza. I think that Urza, a eugenecist who relies on being the smartest person in the room and whose edgy solutions against omnicidal threats, presents a sort of worst kind of Edgy Nerdboy archetype, and I think he needs to be left in Magic’s history, in the past, where we can stop acting as if he was a good or engaging character. Give us distance, let us forget him, let him stop fucking mattering.
In May 2022, Magic The Gathering released Streets of New Capenna, a set I liked, which took us to somewhere new. Okay, yes, the plot wound up being tied into the Phyrexians, but okay, fine, whatever, the set was still able to present as a foreground element something new that wasn’t tied, endlessly, back to Magic’s inability to stop huffing its own farts. The next release was Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate (hated it), then Dominaria United: This Time It’s More Fucking Dominaria (hated it), The Brother’s War: Remember Urza, Everyone? (hated it), Phyrexia: All Will Be One (hated it), and Phyrexia: March of the Machine (hated it). This means it’s been a non-stop content churn from a system that promises endless novelty and regularly refreshing content so that you always have something fun and cool to engage with, and it has been a year of non-stop release of things I hate.
But my reaction to all of those things was: Oh well, something better is coming along, something else will happen, something that interests me might come up next. Who knows, I’ll look at the next thing.
The next thing was Lord of The Ringering.
There are too many axes for me to hate Lord Of The Gathering.
First, there’s the core text it venerates. Lord of The Rings just isn’t a very good book and it’s just not a very good movie. I read it in high school and never read it again because I didn’t like it. It was partly poisoned by dint of my having already read all the Narnia books, I guess, because it meant turgid self-important traumatised Anglicanism glanced off me. I’d also played videogames and read books with fantasy cultures like elves and dwarves in them, cultures which had interesting ideas and varied cultural outlooks. Particularly, I’d read Discworld books, and when you have these vibrant explored cultures with different mythical connections to them, Lord of The Rings is a lot like licking Catholic prayerbooks looking for personality. Like, one of the big gags in the first part of The Hobbit is about how interchangeable the personalities of a bunch of dwarves are!
And okay, yes, it’s very important that without Tolkein, we would never have had anyone to codify the myth of the Dwarf as a stubby Jewish jerk who loves money and can’t go to heaven, or an elf as the whitest people in the world who get extra special heaven and isn’t it sad that the culture of the world is fading. It’s some people’s first discovery of an outcast prince roaming the land under a secret identity, but Narnia had one of them, and his name was Corin and he punched a bear.
Simply put, Lord of the Rings is classic literature, and much like classic medicine, has a lot of bad to go with whatever respect you want to put on its name.
It doesn’t mesh well with Magic: The Gathering, of course; there’s a message in Lord of the Rings about how power will corrupt and ruin you (unless you’re a good king, which means you’ll do a good job and everything will be fine, so good job we have a good king in reserve), which means it’s a great fit for Magic: The Gathering where one of the five philosophical outlooks is about how yes, it’s worth it to do that and there’s a fundamental nobility in recognising your own independence and gathering power to support that is a reasonable way to live your life.
Also, and not to sound like a big blousy feminist boy here, but this is a set with 120 legendary cards, which between all of them depict ten women. Those ten women, by the way, include one of Samwise Gamgee’s children mentioned in a postscript, a bit part healer who shares an anecdote with Gandalf, Aragon’s dead mom, Tom Bombadil’s wife, the mean aunt in Bag End and Shelob, a fucking spider, so I’m giving partial credit there. Oh and I guess you can count the Watcher in The Water as the single nonbinary character in the story.
Also, y’know, the movie Arwen who did the tiny bit of stuff she did in that movie was controversial at the time, because she doesn’t do much in the books. She was fighting for a pittance! And I get it, it’s hard to present women characters because there just aren’t many in this book and that’s probably a problem and a reason to do something different.
But nope, you gotta care about the book and the text! Because a bunch of the flavour in this set is just ‘here is a quote from this book’ and if you don’t recognise it from the time and place it shows up, then what the fuck does it communicate? It’s all just saying Hey, remember this thing you like?
This is Family Guy The Gathering.
But then there’s just little pet peeves. Like white got remand in this set. I wanted that. Why’s it fucking here? It would have been a perfect simple, approachable core set card! We got an inevitable appearance of Do White Thing, Draw A Card, The Card, in The Gaffer. We have another example of a Extra Game System introduced in the form of the Ring Tempting You, which encourages you to keep getting tempted and nothing bad ever happens to you. The rules change to Amass are fine I guess, but now they’re colour-locked, and a second change to them is less likely! Oh oh and Orcish Bowmasters, who are absolutely absurdly powerful and now mean that I’ll probably never not be dealing with this set in casual games because why wouldn’t you run that card if you want any of what it’s offering.
Oh well, we’re getting Wilds of Eldraine. I like Eldraine. It’s a world with some interesting potential that was overshadowed by shitheads. It’s got cool fairy story vibes and it got us our first round of Food token mechanics. That’s cool.
Then after that, we’re getting Universes Beyond: Doctor Fucking Who.
Christ, the nerds that pay for this game have shit taste.