Tales of Middle-Earth - Mark Rosewater's Teasers Explained

Currently, M:tG's head designer Mark Rosewater releases a "Duelist-style" teaser for every new Standard expansion before the preview season fully begins. Now, he has done it for a straight-to-Modern product - Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth, the booster-based Universes Beyond set that is due to release in just under a month. In this case, however, his teaser post has a lot more information that can be gleaned from it for big Tolkien fans. Not everyone in the Magic: the Gathering community is a big LotR-head... but, luckily, I am, so I'm in a good position to explain what many of the individual points in this teaser will actually mean for the cards in the set.

This article will cover a few of the mechanical points and all of the flavor-related ones - Yes, I'm going to attempt to provide an explanation for every single one of the typelines and names. So let's get to it!

Five different card types get the legendary supertype

Artifacts, creatures, enchantments, and lands are the expected ones, which make four. It's already been confirmed that there are no planeswalkers in Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth unlike the non-canon planeswalkers in Dungeons & Dragons crossover sets, because, as WeeklyMTG host Blake Rasmussen explained, "there are no planeswalkers in The Lord of the Rings." That means that the fifth type is probably something that hasn't seen a legendary representative since one cycle from Dominaria back in 2018 - sorceries.

Legendary sorceries have different rules than legendary permanents, because usually the legendary supertype only has meaning on the battlefield. In the case of legendary sorceries, they can only be cast if you control a legendary creature or planeswalker. There might be no planeswalkers in this set, but it looks like there will be an absolute TON of legendary creatures, making printing legendary sorceries more viable. This would also be a flavor win as there are lots of epic plot points in the series which aren't lasting events (which could be represented by battles or legendary enchantments), but instead single moments or else take place partially off-screen. One example could be Gandalf's battle underneath the mountains with the Balrog of Moria (also known as Durin's Bane), which led to the Balrog's defeat/death/banishment, Gandalf's mortal body dying from his wounds and exhaustion, and his reincarnation as the much more powerful Gandalf the White thanks to the will of the Valar, the gods who watch over the world of Arda. The card representing this might be a powerful removal spell that exiles a creature you don't control and one you control, then returns the card you control to the battlefield with multiple +1/+1 counters or ability counters at a later turn.

a mechanic returns but now references a different creature type

Many people have speculated this is going to be prowl, which fits the stealth and smarts of hobbits. However, prowl, while being a Rogue exclusive mechanic, only references the creature types in the typeline of the card it's on - it only cares about a creature sharing a creature type with that card dealing combat damage to a player, whether or not that type is Rogue. The mechanic directly referencing a creature type that I can think of here is soulshift, which would absolutely be flavorful in a new version in this set.

Specifically, Ainur, or divine spirits, are a large part of of the setting. Actually, Gandalf and Saruman are Maiar, or the less powerful kind of Ainur, who have the bodies of wise old men rather than being ordinary human wizards. One of the main powers of ainur is the ability to change mortal bodies, which fits with their immortality and ethereal nature. An Ainu's physical body is called a fana, and Ainur whose bodies die can get re-embodied later. So a soulshift variant that cares about the Avatar creature type, which we've seen represents at least Maiar in cards like Gandalf the Grey, could be called fana shift.

a card that makes a Smaug creature token

Smaug doesn't appear in The Lord of the Rings, but he's the main villain of The Hobbit. Dragons in Tolkien's universe are intelligent and extremely powerful vessels of pure evil, and some of the biggest threats to Middle-Earth from the prequel stories of The Silmarillion include the first of all dragons, Glaurung, and the largest dragon in history and probably the physically hugest character in the Tolkien legendarium, Ancalagon.

Smaug, like all dragons in Arda, has part of the power of Morgoth, the fallen, mightiest Vala and the first Dark Lord, infused in him. So this token is going to be a really nasty creature to face down. As for the card that produces this token, it can only be Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, Smaug's home after he drove out the Dwarves of Durin's Folk and led Thorin Oakenshield to a noble but mad quest for vengeance.

a new creature type gets its own equip cost

This creature type presumably is for something in Tolkien's world that isn't represented by existing M:tG creature types. We have all of the main races in the Multiverse as well because Tolkien helped make them the most standard and beloved fantasy species - Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and all that jazz. Halfling is confirmed to be the creature type of Hobbits, and that already existed thanks to D&D sets. And other types can be reasonably represented by a descriptor or are normal animals.

Two possibilities here are Ent and Uruk. One might think Ents would be represented on cards with the Treefolk type, but in reality, Ents may not be animated trees, but instead beings who became treelike because of their responsibility for trees. In either case, they were created by the Vala Yavanna, the queen of forests, in response to the smith Vala Aulë creating the dwarves; both species were given life by Eru, the one supreme God. While they might get their own creature type, it's difficult to imagine Ent-themed Equipment, because they fight mostly with their own massive strength and possibly thrown boulders rather than use weapons.

Uruk-hai, meanwhile, are like an evolved form of orc, but it implies that their method of creation is different than that of orcs; neither is fully explained and Tolkien contradicted himself on this matter, and the origin of Middle-Earth's orcs is one of the biggest controversies in the fandom and scholarship. I would lean towards the special equip cost being for Uruks, because they are known to have unique weapons that they forge that look ugly and crude but are very deadly.

"Whenever you attack with Merry and another legendary creature,"

Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck, one of the four Hobbits in the Fellowship of the Ring, is especially well-known as a team player. Not only is he part of a double-act of comic relief with his best friend Peregrin "Pippin" Took, the two of them also come through in crucial moments such as convincing the Ent lord Treebeard to take action against Isengard. But beyond that, Merry teams up with Éowyn to kill the Witch-king of Angmar, the leader and most dangerous member of the Ringwraiths.

"Remove an indestructible counter from Arwen:"

Arwen is an elf, and thus immortal, but she has partial human parentage through her father Elrond, who is himself the son of two legendary heroes of Middle-Earth's past, the savior and herald of the War of Wrath Eärendil the Mariner and his elvish wife Elwing the bird-speaker. Peredhil, half-elven people, in Tolkien's legendarium have the unique chance to choose either the destiny of an elf or a human. Arwen gives up her immortality and chooses humanity in order to be with the love of her life, Aragorn.

"Whenever you draw a card during an opponent's turn, create a 1/1 blue Tentacle creature token."

The tentacled creature in question is the Watcher in the Water, about whom more will be detailed below.

"Whenever a creature an opponent control dies, put a +1/+1 counter on Legolas."

Legolas and Gimli famously have a running contest to see who can kill more of Sauron's troops during the story. Therefore, killing opposing creatures makes Legolas stronger - this explains this ability that might seem unfitting for a graceful Wood Elf.

Legendary Creature – Avatar Demon

This could be none other than the Balrog of Moria, Durin's Bane. Much like Smaug, Durin's Bane was a fiery, Morgoth-connected bitter enemy of the dwarven people who drove them from one of their homelands. Specifically, the trapped Balrog, who may have been underneath the great city of Khazad-dûm since the fall of Morgoth, was released by the dwarven project to mine for mithril, when they "delved too greedily and too deep." Balrogs in general are fallen Maiar (hence Avatars on the typeline) who followed Morgoth and were twisted into beings of shadow and flame, traditionally thought of as demons. Place your bets now on whether or not this card will have flying - the notion of whether or not Balrogs have wings is another massive point of contention among Tolkien scholars and fans, but the prevailing thought is that they did not, not least because at least one Balrog in the Silmarillion is killed by a fall.

Legendary Creature – Bird Noble

This would be Gwaihir, the Windlord, who is the leader of the Great Eagles during the Third Age. These aren't any ordinary birds, but intelligent, exceptionally powerful ones who serve the side of good because they are the messengers of the king of the Valar and the god of wind, Manwë. At one point, Tolkien wrote that the Great Eagles were Maiar with bird forms, but since they are corporeal creatures who can permanently die and have children (unlike Ainur), this set seems to be considering them just sapient birds, because they don't have the Avatar type. And no, the Eagles couldn't have just flown Frodo directly to Mount Doom within hours of the Council of Elrond, for a multitude of reasons.

Legendary Creature – Halfling Knight

Pippin Took, on the course of his adventures, becomes a Knight of Gondor, so he's a likely candidate for this typeline. However, it might not be him, because...

Legendary Creature – Halfling Soldier

...Pippin's best friend and cousin, Merry Brandybuck, is actually also knighted, in Rohan. It seems clear that one of these typelines belongs to one of these two Hobbits, and the other to the other one. But at this point in time it's impossible to tell which is which.

Legendary Creature – Horse

Shadowfax is Gandalf's horse, and is a mighty steed who, like the Great Eagles, is more than he seems. He's the chief of the Mearas, a special breed or sub-species of horses from the lands of Rohan who are intelligent, much more physically powerful than ordinary horses, and live as long as human beings. Most of the time, they let only kings and princes of the Riddermark ride them, with Gandalf being the most notable exception.

Legendary Creature – Kraken

This typeline is a little surprising. It seems to belong to the Watcher in the Water, which is an octopus-like monster that lurks near the Walls of Moria, and that the Fellowship must face in that region. However, the Watcher's not actually what we'd really think of as a "kraken" - it's actually seemingly a Nameless Thing, a horrific creature of unknown origin that existed since before other life populated Arda and that dwells deep below Middle-Earth. A description like that would seem to me to be more appropriate to a typeline like Legendary Creature – Elder Horror.

Legendary Creature – Nymph

The absolutely enigmatic Tom Bombadil, who has his own card with the unusual type combination of God Bard (Tom Bombadil), has an equally enigmatic wife. Goldberry, the River-Daughter, is a beautiful blonde-haired river spirit, who is never confirmed to actually be a Maia or anything like that. This set seems to be claiming she is something else entirely, perhaps unique upon Middle-Earth, and classifies her as an existing M:tG creature type representing the type of female nature spirit from Greek myth.

Legendary Creature – Spirit Noble

The king of the Dead Men of Dunharrow is a ghostly but still formidable foe whom Aragorn bests, in order to convince him to find redemption. The so-called Oathbreakers have had a miserable half-dead existence due to a curse brought on them by their own cowardice. Long ago, these people, then called the Men of the Mountains, swore allegiance to Aragorn's ancestor King Isildur, but when Sauron returned, rather than fight alongside the people of Gondor, they retreated to their mountain fortresses. As a result, Isildur cursed them to never rest until their oath was fulfilled. Ultimately, Aragorn released them from their curse when they terrorized the forces of Sauron with him.

Legendary Creature – Spider Demon

Shelob is a giant, monstrous spider who dwells in Mordor's Cirith Ungol and nearly kills Frodo before she's driven off by Sam, thanks to the Phial of Galadriel's starlight. Shelob is the spawn of Ungoliant, another, even more terrible spider-like creature from ages past whose nature is just as vague as Tom Bombadil's (some theories connect Tom and Ungoliant as opposites of a sort, such as incarnations of the world and the void respectively). Some adaptations have portrayed Shelob as a Maia, which makes some sense but is also not borne out by the books at all. Thus, Demon is probably an inexact type but "good enough" in this case.

Legendary Creature – Wraith Noble

This could be none other than the Witch-king of Angmar, the leader of Sauron's nine Nazgûl and one of the most terrible evil forces in Middle-Earth during the War of the Ring. The Witch-king poses a massive threat, and is protected by a prophecy that no man can kill him, but is ultimately slain by a woman and a Hobbit, Éowyn and Merry (one who is not male and the other who is not from the race of Men as such).

Birthday Escape

Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday party is a pivotal early story event and is actually portrayed in one of the multicard, borderless art scenes in the set. This name refers to Bilbo's abrupt departure in the middle of the party, which he had in fact also planned as a farewell party, because he had grown tired of Shire life for various reasons. Bilbo left the One Ring with his nephew (really his much younger cousin) Frodo, which kicks off the journey to destroy the ring. After his escape, Bilbo winds up living in essentially retirement at Rivendell, where he writes the song and poem Eärendil Was a Mariner with help from Eärendil's own descendant Aragorn, among other things, and reunites at one point with Frodo during the latter's journey.

Breaking of the Fellowship

The Breaking of the Fellowship occurs relatively early in the group's journey - this painful series of events involves the death of the tormented but heroic Boromir, the capture of Merry and Pippin by orcs, and in general the splitting up of the Fellowship's members - the survivors would not all reunite until much later.

Fear, Fire, Foes!

"Fear, fire, foes! Awake!" were the words associated with the Horn-cry of Buckland, a special alarm signal that the Hobbits of Buckland used as a warning to take up arms and fight off invaders to their land. In The Lord of the Rings, it's used twice, during the attack of the Ringwraiths in Buckland and during the story's denouement, the Scouring of the Shire, where the Hobbits drive off ruffians who have taken over the Shire under the leadership of a disgraced Saruman. Presumably, this card is going to be a mass-creature-untap spell.

Grond, the Gatebreaker

Grond (GROND! GROND! GROND!), which means something like "ponderously heavy" in an Elvish language, is the name of two objects in Tolkien's legendarium. The first Grond was the "Hammer of the Underworld" and Morgoth's unique weapon, a giant mace. More relevant, and what this card represents, is Sauron's enchanted battering ram forged to look like a fiery wolf's head which famously breaks down the Great Gate of Minas Tirith during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Because the orcish army chants Grond's name, it is quite memorable to those who have seen the films, and has recently become a bait-and-switch joke in the Lord of the Rings meme community. You can expect a destructive legendary artifact, perhaps even a Vehicle, from this name.

Horses of the Bruinen

This doesn't refer to literal, physical horses, but instead a notable event in the storyline. The Bruinen River is the site of a battle between several of the heroes and all nine Ringwraiths. At the pivotal moment, Frodo, although suffering from a Morgul-wound, makes a defiant stand against the Witch-king, luring the Ringwraiths into the river. Elrond and Gandalf then destroy the wraiths' physical forms and their mounts by creating a violent flood, which Gandalf's magic shapes into a stampede of watery horses.


Lembas is called lembas-bread in the films, to make it clear what this substance is, but that's a redundant phrase: Lembas is in fact a type of bread. Specifically, it is elvish "waybread" and the ideal food for long journeys, made by elvish women (and often specifically queens) from an unknown grain. Lembas is delicious, incredibly nutritious, filling to most with a tiny bite, and stays fresh for long periods of time if in its leaf wrapper. Dwarves and some humans have a similar durable and highly efficient bread, cram, but lembas is the superior bread in taste and strengthening properties, probably because it's made with a grain that's blessed by the Valar. Like most elvish products, lembas is offensive to evil creatures - Gollum cannot eat it.

One Ring to Rule Them All

This is a famous catchline for the series as a whole, referring to the One Ring's dominance over all the other nineteen major Rings of Power due to Sauron's pouring of his essence into making most of them. It's also a repeated line in the verse inscribed on the One Ring.


Properly called a mûmak, an oliphaunt is the Hobbit term for a certain beast of war from the mysterious southern land of Harad. True to the implication of their name, oliphaunts resemble real-world elephants, only much larger, seemingly the size of buildings and used as living siege weapons and walking platforms for Haradrim archers. Hobbits are especially awed by them because they are literally creatures of myth come to life in their minds; there is a Hobbit poem titled Oliphaunt.

Second Breakfast

Hobbits typically eat many more meals per day than most races do. Besides breakfast, elevenses, lunch, supper, and dinner, there is also second breakfast, which has become something of a fandom joke due to Merry and Pippin asking Aragorn to stop to eat this meal (and getting refused) in the films. (I don't think it's a stretch to say this will be a spell that creates Food tokens.)

There and Back Again

"There and back again" is another repeatedly-used phrase in Tolkien's world. It's the real-world subtitle of the book The Hobbit in addition to being the in-universe title of Bilbo's adventuring memoir. A number of books and films about Tolkien and his works have also used this title.

And that covers this teaser! Armed with this info, you'll be prepared to digest the cards that will be previewed in large numbers starting next week. As it's said in Sindarin, navaer for now!

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Masterfully deciphered, very nicely done!
Adding my thoughts:
Mechanic referencing a new creature type is going to be orc amass.
Smaug creature token has got to be coming off a Saga named There And Back Again.
I think the "new type equip" is not saying that there is a new creature type, it's saying that there is an "Equip [type]" that we haven't seen before. Elf seems most likely? Who gets those boots?
Seems like Merry is more likely to be the Knight and Perrin the Soldier.
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