You Shall Not Pass Blue Red in Lord of the Rings

July 21st, 2023

Carl Chase

You ever draft a deck that just feels right? That speaks to you? That makes you say "this let's me do the things I'm best at in magic?"

For me, that deck is Blue Red in LOTR: Tales of Central World.

I love it. It whispers sweet nothings into my ear. I don't need to whisper back because it knows how I feel.

Right now, I'm straight forcing the deck in BO1 on Arena. I'm ending up in it over 80% of the time, and when I do I'm winning over 73% of the time, a full ten pts higher than my long term average. On top of aforementioned love notes, this deck does a few things extremely well:

All that said – you HAVE to have a plan and a mindset to get the most out of this deck. The screenshot below is one of the best examples I have of this. Opponent has a massive board, still at 14, is attacking you with three creatures, has an active bath song. Meanwhile you just have a 1/1 and an inscription...

Tier: Core 1

And they are super-duper dead. (Deceive EOT make a 1/1, firebrand face, dreadful unblocked creature, 16 damage.)

If you aren't in the mindset of constantly evaluating whether you can end the game with the cards you have, you are missing opportunities and not going to succeed to the fullest. In this article I will do my best to help you achieve that mindset and win a whole bunch with the deck.

"Just give us the ----ing tier list, Carl"

Okay fine.

Best of the Best (no particular order within group)

Tier: Best

Core Cards You're Thrilled to Have

Tier: Core 1

Core Cards Tier 2

Tier: Core 2

Core Cards Tier 3

Tier: Core 3

Solid Filler

Tier: Filler

Okay Filler

Tier: Filler Ok

Bad But Playable Filler

Tier: Filler Bad

Avoid (Everything Else)

Tier: Avoid

"Carl said I need a plan. What the hell does that mean?"

Overall, every version of this deck is going to have a lot of spells, a lot of card draw, a lot of 1/1s, a lot of tempt, and some ways to finish the game quickly... But there are sub themes within this that you will want to try and focus your deck on to get it as targeted as possible.

The best subtheme "plans" to have are, roughly in order:

Don't get me wrong – sometimes "UR cards you drafted" works just fine. But this is roughly how I'd prioritize and think about potential paths for your deck to focus on. If you DO end up in "UR cards you drafted", the card interactions become even more important. So hey let's talk about those!

Adjusting Card Valuations

This section is intended to show you how to adjust your card valuations depending on what other cards you've drafted. A check and a heart means that you should value the second card higher if you have the first card. An X and a broken heart means you should value it lower if you have the first card.

Gandalf's Sanction-> Hithlain Knots

Buying time, putting chaffe on the bottom, drawing cards, and putting spells in your graveyard all becomes VERY good when you have Gandalf's Sanction. You should prioritize knots uncomfortably high once you have a sanction. Quarrel's end also goes up in value for the same reasons.

Hithlain Knots -> Breaking of the Fellowship

The upside of killing something relevant and tempting can absolutely win games in UR, but to do this your opponent has to have multiple creatures of similar size on their board, which is often a board state that is not favorable for you. To that end, Breaking pairs perfectly with Knots. After you knot your opponent's creature, a very natural follow up is for them to just play another one, and you can now profitably cast breaking without taking a ton of damage. Also the more slots on knots you have, the fewer slots left for tempting, making these a natural pairing.

Glorious Gale and Smite the Deathless XX Breaking of the Fellowship

On the other hand, Breaking pairs terribly with smite and glorious gale. If they have an empty board and you have gale and breaking, do you counter their creature? How about if they have one creature and are beating your face and you have smite and breaking, do you smite the creature? Yes - It will happen sometimes, but you need to adjust your draft prioritization accordingly.

Deceive the Messenger -> Dreadful as the Storm

Yes, this makes a 6/6... but where the pairing really shines is in it's surprise ambushing ability. Your opponents will often play carefully against you, but typically a deceive adding a creature on their turn means you'll have an unblocked attacker on an alpha the following turn, and dreadful + unblocked attacker, especially if flipping from level 3 to level 4 of the ring is a LOT of damage out of nowhere (see screenshot earlier in article). There is a side benefit of being pretty solid on defense together too, but this is less desirable than just winning the game when possible.

Fiery Inscription -> Bath Song

So this point is a bit more subtle cause you rarely will pass an inscription or a sanction, but Bath Song is a more natural pairing with inscription than sanction. Yes, Bath song can still dig for your sanction and put cards in the yard. Yes, playing both inscription and bath song is a lot of "do nothing" if your opponent is laying it on thick. But the third chapter of bath song is either a) worse if you have sanction and haven't cast it yet or b) weird, in that you usually just want to put sanction and a few cantrips back, rather than using it to it's full potential. Meanwhile, Inscription + Bath Song + Low Curve means you can just delay delay delay while never running out of gas and dealing two damage a pop every time you cast a spell. On the other hand if your curve is high, you still need to be careful about getting your face beat in with this combo. Deceive the messenger becomes one of the best cards in your deck when you have these two.

Fiery Inscription -> Glorious Gale, Smite the Deathless, Deceive the Messenger

Delaying the game is good, and not dying after you play a three mana do nothing is also good. These help with that.

Gandalf's Sanction -> Winning

Put Gandalf's Sanction in Deck -> Draw Cards -> Burn It All Down.

Gandalf's Sanction XX Dreadful as The Storm

Dreadful is a fantastic finisher, and while you often still want one in your deck that has sanction, its importance drops pretty substantially. It doesn't do a great job of digging you deeper (outside of restarting ring looting) to find your sanction, and there are other cards that are better at stabilizing the game until you find it.

Pelagir Survivor -> Arwen's Gift

Gift can be a bit clunky, but being able to cast this on turn three instead of turn four while having five spell mana available to you on the following turn makes it significantly better.

Rally at the Hornburg -> Relentless Rohirrim

When you make a lot of 1/1s, you want to suit them up with the ring. When you can make rally into "make two must kill threats", your deck is firing on all cylinders.

Gandalf, Friend of the Shire -> Soothing of Smeagol

Bounce tempt is good, but cantrip bounce tempt is nuts. Doubling as a way to save your Gandalf in a pinch and these two cards essentially form a game plan completely on their own.

Horses of Bruinen -> Rohirrim Lancer and Rally at the Hornburg

Horses is at its best when you are pushing the tempo. Creating an early board presence and then casting horses is back breaking. Using horses on defense is awkward and often kind of bad. Prioritize accordingly.

Rangers Firebrand and Deceive the Messenger -> Lorien Revealed

I use these two one mana value spells, but the general theme here is when you have five mana draw three, you want a low curve, and defensive cards go up in value and aggressive cards go down... slightly. One lorien revealed does not mean you should jump off the "proactive gameplan" bandwagon, it just means you should make slight adjustments to your prioritization.

Bath Song -> Lorien Revealed

Okay this might be a headscratcher at first glance. "I heard you like card draw so go get some card draw with your card draw," probably doesn't make a lot of sense on the surface. The point here is the landcycling mode of Lorien Revealed goes WAY up in value with Bath Song. Thinning your deck, making sure you have enough mana to cast bath song, while at the same time not "wasting" your lorien revealed since you can shuffle it back is a big deal. On top of that, playing Lorien Revealed for "three mana" when chapter 3 goes off is often just game over, as you should have infinite ammo to fend off whatever your opponent is doing at that point.

Rohirrim Lancer -> Improvised Club

Club makes early chip damage from lancer way better, and being able to tempt at instant speed is a nice bonus.

Rally/Deceive/Quarrel's End

You need bodies to make ringbearers. If you have none or very few of these cards (and minimal other creatures), your prioritization of them should continue to go up as it gets later in the draft.

Saruman The White -> Deceive the Messenger

In general I do not prioritize Saruman, but if I have him then having one drops to go with him is crucial. One drops are much better than two drops because you often want to loot away lands in excess of six. In particular, playing the Saruman, attacking and saving a creature with deceive and amassing three is a very good turn

Glorious Gale -> Grey Havens Navigator

Three mana 3/2 is bad, but 0 mana 3/2 is good! Glorious Gale is powerful, but often comes at a price in this format as there are lots of non-creature spells that add power and toughness to the board, and holding up gale mana while your opponent plays around it is a great way to lose. Having something else to do with your mana if they don't cast a creature is a big deal ("0 mana 3/2" meaning mana that would have otherwise been unspent), and the navigator plays this role just fine. Similar ideas apply to hithlain knots.

Eomer of the Riddermark -> Swarming of Moria

Five power haste go boom. Five power haste one turn earlier go boom boom boom boom I want you in my room.

Bilbo, Retired Burglar -> Winning

Y'all see how good this card is????? Holy crap!

Getting the most out of your cards

Now that you've got thoughts on how to prioritize the drafting portion, let's talk about getting it done on the battlefield itself.

Hithlain Knots

You probably need to be playing this card as a "bad two mana opt" way more often, and the "perfect situational tap of a creature" less often. The ceiling of this card is simply not much higher than the floor. When you have a card like that, much like startle or timely interference, the best way to make it "bad" is by letting it rot in your hand. Don't forget you can target your own creatures, just make sure you don't get blown out by removal. Also watch out for your opponent fizzling your draw with improvised club.

Dreadful as the Storm

You have to decide what you want this card to do. Are you ok with it dealing four damage (cast on an unblocked 1/1)? Do we need to try and set up "eight damage" (cast on an amass token with a surprise flip to level 4)? Do we just need to keep the looting flowing (cast mainphase after losing ringbearer), or instead are we happy with a more basic use of winning a combat. This card, more than probably any other card in the format, asks "what is your strategic positioning in this game", and as the classic Mike Flores "Who's the Beatdown" articles says "Misassignment of Role = Game Loss". Don't forget you can split where the 5/5 and ring bearer goes!

Improvised Club

Don't forget that if you have a level 3 or 4 ring bearer that gets blocked, you can sac the creature to improvised club before damage and their blockers still die. A pseudo throwback to "damage on the stack" from yesteryear.

Bilbo, Retired Burglar

As a general rule of thumb, if you're able to keep Bilbo as your ringbearer, it acts as a "Life Insurance Policy", knowing you'll have a ringbearer even if Bilbo is killed, and as a bonus increases likelihood of treasure creation. Same idea goes for lancer. Obviously has to be prioritized against the value of an immediate loot from another creature. Another thing to keep in mind with Bilbo is surprise jumps to level 4, especially by casting soothing of Smeagol on it which gives you a double ring bump.

Glorious Gale

This card is great when you counter a creature on curve, often game winning when you counter a legend and tempt your own creature, but awful when you hold up mana and opponent amasses or plays rally. Generally – you do NOT want to overly hinder your own gameplan to cautiously hold up gale, especially against a good player who knows how to play around it. To that end, it is TOTALLY OKAY to loot away Glorious Gale against opposing control decks! I've had a bunch of 3-5 creature decks that glorious gale is actively terrible against, and even if I do have one of the creatures in my hand, with the extra time I get from my opponent double stone raining themselves I can often progress the board state far enough without ever casting a creature that the opponent is ultimately forced to tap out anyway, and I can sneak the creature in. Conversely – Glorious Gale is one of your best cards against creature based strategies (often green and white), so all the more reason to be aware of what your opponent is trying to do when making looting decisions.

Fear, Fire, Foes!

I suggest casting this card. It is good. Also don't forget you can cast it for X = 0 on your opponent's big creature to wipe out all of their X/1s for 1 mana.

Grishnakh, Brash Instigator

This deck heavily rewards you for using your mana efficiently (or at least more efficiently than your opponent). The potential upside of trying to sculpt the perfect Grishnakh turn is far FAR outweighed by the penalty of not using your mana when it's available. The value of this card is primarily in that it's a "only slightly worse dunland crebain that deals an extra damage or two", the massive upside turn where you steal their thing and sac it to improvised club is the icing on the cake.

Deceive the Messenger

I could write a novel about this card, but I'll keep this tip short: sometimes you just need a 1/1. It's okay to make an instant speed 1/1. This becomes especially true if you have no creatures but can immediately make the 1/1 a Level 2 or greater ringbearer to start looting.

Your turn

I love this deck. It rewards mana efficiency and having a strong understanding of the speed of the game you're playing. Should you be playing a value game or a tempo game? Can you kill them next turn or the turn after that? Is it the right time to just "make a 1/1" with deceive the messenger or do you need to save it to get max value? These questions and others like them are the exact things you should be constantly asking yourself while playing with (or against) this deck.

Hope you enjoyed! Hit me up @twoduckcubed and @MysticalDisPod with your thoughts on whether you agree with the card evaluations, any other fun tips/tricks you have on playing the cards, or other pairings you like or dislike. And, of course, don't be afraid to tag me with those sweet sweet UR lists! And listen to our latest episode where we discuss this topic here! Until next time – adios.

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