Magic: The Gathering’s much-anticipated new Universes Beyond set releases officially on June 23, but prerelease is on June 16. That’s less than a week away, as of the time of this writing. The Lord of the Rings (LTR) set has been fully spoiled by this point, which means it’s time to start prepping for sealed and draft at those prerelease events. Spoilers revealed some new and unique mechanics, along with some returning ones from previous sets. Don’t be caught unaware when you crack those first packs!
New Mechanic: The Ring/Ring Bearer
One of the first spoilers I remember seeing was Call of the Ring, and it confused the heck out of me. What does it mean for the Ring to tempt me? What does choosing a Ring-bearer mean?
Ring-bearer is new designation you can give to a creature you control on the battlefield. Once you name it your Ring-bearer, it gains certain properties depending upon the number of times the Ring has tempted you that game. You can only have one Ring-bearer at a time. When you designate a creature your Ring-bearer, it becomes legendary, which means that you will only be able to have one creature of that name on the battlefield at a time. Once that Ring-bearer leaves the field, however, or if another creature is designated as your Ring-bearer, it loses the legendary property. You can go back to having as many on the field as the game will allow.
Any creature can be named your Ring-bearer, from a 1/1 squirrel token to Colossal Dreadmaw to Sauron himself. When you’re first cracking packs, be on the lookout for cards that do extra things while they’re your Ring-bearer.
So what does it mean for the Ring to tempt you?
The first time you are Tempted in a game, you gain an emblem called The Ring. Make sure to hold onto the double-faced reminder card when you pull one, because you’ll want to keep track of your temptation progress. As an emblem, The Ring is a passive, persistent effect which cannot be removed. Each time you are Tempted, The Ring gains another ability. When it gains another ability, your Ring-bearer gains a new effect. These abilities are cumulative, so after you have been tempted four or more times, your Ring-bearer has all the properties of The Ring.
Every time you are Tempted, you choose a Ring-bearer. It is then granted the properties of The Ring. You can choose the same Ring-bearer; it does not have to be a different creature. If you do not control any creatures, your Ring still grows more powerful, even though you are unable to designate a Ring-bearer. You can only designate a Ring-bearer when you are Tempted, so don’t skimp on the temptation cards if you plan to build your deck around this mechanic.
Returning Mechanic: Amass
Amass first appeared as a mechanic in War of the Spark. Originally, if you saw Amass, it just meant create a 0/0 Zombie Army token, then add a +1/+1 counter for however much you amassed. Amass 4 would give you a Zombie Army token with 4 counters on it. Each time you amassed after that, you would just add another +1/+1 counter to your existing army. At any given time, a single player could only control one Zombie Army token.
Because this is LTR, a Zombie Army doesn’t really fit the set’s flavor. Instead, Tales of Middle Earth has us Amass Orcs X. The idea is the same: you’re still creating a single token with counters on it for the number of times you amassed. You’re just making an Orc Army instead.
Notably, Orc Army is NOT legendary. If you create a copy of it through Populate or some other mechanic, you can have a second Orc Army. It just starts out as a 0/0 and will immediately die unless you have something that will give it a +1/+1 counter as an enter the battlefield (ETB) effect. Don’t get too excited though, because a ruling already exists for this scenario. If you Amass and have multiple Armies in play, you have to pick one of them to add your +1/+1 counter to.
Returning Mechanic: Keyword Counters
LTR brings back keyword counters and stun counters alongside the more familiar +1/+1 counters for creatures and Lore counters for Sagas.
Stun counters are relatively new, first seen around Streets of New Capenna. When you apply a stun counter to a creature, it becomes tapped. On its controller’s untap step, the stun counter is removed, and the creature remains tapped. It does not untap until its controller’s next untap step, or until an effect would untap that creature. If more than one stun counter is on a single creature, only one stun counter is removed at a time. Stun counters can be proliferated!
Keyword counters add effects like Indestructible, Hexproof, Deathtouch, Flying, and Lifelink to a given creature. You can have more than one of the same type of counter on a creature, e.g. two Lifelink counters, but only one instance of the effect is applied. Having two Lifelink counters doesn’t mean you gain two health instead of one, fam. Effects which allow chosen counters to be removed can remove these the same way a +1/+1 counter would be. If a keyword counter is removed from a creature, it loses that property.
There are also flavor counters aplenty in LTR: burden counters, hope counters, and so on. These generally only matter for card-specific effects and do not otherwise have a mechanical impact on the game.
Returning Mechanic: Land Cycling
Landcycling is a variation on the more common Cycling mechanic. Typically, Cycling means you pay a certain cost, discard that card, and then draw a card. You’ll see it written on cards like Cycling (X). What that means is you pay X mana, discard that card, and then draw a card. Landcycling is a little different. Rather than drawing a card, you search for a land. If it’s a specific type of land, like Plaincycling seen here on Eagles of the North, you can only search for a Plains.
Keep in mind this doesn’t mean you can search for any white land. You can only search up a card that has Plains in its type line. This type of cycling follows the same rule as fetching in that respect. You also aren’t restricted to just basic lands with this type of cycling. If you had a Hallowed Fountain in your deck somehow, you could search for it since its type is Plains Island.
Ultimately, Landcycling is nice because it keeps cards from being totally dead in your hand. Don’t underestimate this effect in your deckbuilding!
Of Note: Renamed Cards
The boxtoppers for LTR are re-named, on-theme versions of existing cards. Mechanically the cards are the same, and so far as the game is concerned, they are the same card. In other words, since Karakas is a legendary land, it could not be on the battlefield at the same time as White Tower of Ecthelion. Likewise, since Karakas is banned in Commander, you would not be able to put White Tower of Ecthelion in a Commander deck.
We’ve seen re-named cards like this before, first with the Godzilla cards in Ikora and more recently in Secret Lair products. Keep an eye out for that little text under the card name!
Get hyped, folks! We’re less than a week out from the biggest MTG release of the year. Expect to see a lot of these cards in eternal formats, because some of them are real powerhouses. Are you going to a prerelease event? Looking forward to any particular upgrades for your existing decks? Comment below or hit me up on Twitter and let me know what LTR goodies you’re excited for.