With less than a month away for the release of the much-anticipated crossover set, Wizards of the Coast (the subsidiary of Hasbro that handles the Magic: The Gathering IP) provided new sneak peeks at the cards and artwork from Tales of Middle-earth. The cards are under the Universes Beyond crossover subset of MTG. These will be available through a physical release and via the popular digital version of the trading card game, Magic: The Gathering Arena.
But not every fan is completely satisfied with the revelations, particularly with the pricing of the set and the unnecessary changes to the depiction of the characters from the traditional Tolkien stories.
Wizards of the Coast shot a promotional video with Elijah Wood as part of the marketing for the Universes Beyond MTG set Tales of Middle-earth.
— Magic: The Gathering (@wizards_magic) May 30, 2023
In the clip, Wood gets to see and hold a pre-release batch of the cards from the set. The actor names out characters represented by the Magic: The Gathering cards, including Gimli, Aragorn, Arwen, Shelob, Rose Cotton, Galadriel, Pippen, Merry, and, of course, Sam and Frodo. Wood also added:
Seeing all these characters, they really mean something to me— Anytime you get to see these characters realized in a new and fresh way is always really exciting.
However, some groups of LoTR fans and Magic: The Gathering fans are not entirely happy with the Tales of Middle-Earth set. There are players and collectors who are unhappy with there being a single, ultra-rare One Ring card. While there will be multiple versions of The One Ring of varying rarities, there will be a "true" One Ring in the set (i.e. only one of this version will be printed), thus already driving the after-market prices for it, but also the entire set.
The Reddit r/magicTCG thread users are saying the set itself has an inflated overall price compared to previous Universes Beyond sets. But the aftermarket even before the set is released is projecting ridiculous prices, mainly due to the extremely rare One Ring.
Aside from the very high prices Tales of Middle-earth, a certain demographic of fans are reacting negatively to the artwork. The reactions in particular are targeted at changing Aragorn to a black character. In the Lord of the Rings text, J.R.R. Tolkien introduced Aragorn (aka Strider/King Elessar) with the following description based on Frodo’s first meeting with the Ranger:
As Frodo drew near be threw back his hood, showing a shaggy head of dark hair flecked with grey, and in a pale stern face a pair of keen grey eyes.
By contrast, the Aragorn depicted in the artwork for Tales of Middle-earth is black. Hardcore fans of the Tolkien lore and mythos have expressed disappointment to downright outrage over this radical change. These same groups of fans have called out this modification as "woke", cultural appropriation, and pandering to a certain demographic, rather than sticking to the traditional depiction of the character.
Wizards of the Coast issued a reaction to the negative feedback regarding the depiction of the characters on the Magic: The Gathering official website:
Some characters may look different from previous depictions—and that's intentional. Great works of art like The Lord of the Rings are only enhanced by having multiple interpretations in the world. We believe ours will bring joy to many, many fans of both Magic and Tolkien. This fresh update was a conscious choice made in partnership between Wizards and MEE and was driven by two guiding principles:
- Diversity: The Lord of the Rings is about the different peoples of Middle-earth coming together to fight Sauron, finding strength in their diversity. Fans of all backgrounds have been enjoying these stories, characters, and locations for decades, and we wanted this set to reflect on that broad inclusion.
- Originality: The goal of this set is to express the story and setting of The Lord of the Rings through Magic: The Gathering Countless prior efforts have painted vivid pictures of this world, but our goal is a modern take on the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, lovingly crafted for an ever-expanding fandom.
Our hope is that more people will see themselves reflected in the characters and that players and fans can find immense joy in telling these familiar stories through gameplay.
While Elijah Wood did not comment on this change to one of the central characters of The Lord of the Rings, the actor did appear in a separate clip addressing the idea of interpretation. In the clip promoting Tales of Middle-earth, Wood looked at one of the cards in the set named You Cannot Pass. The card itself is an Instant spell with one white mana as its casting cost that destroys a creature blocked by or is blocking a Legendary creature on that turn.
In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf (played by Sir Ian Mckellen), confronted the Balrog and defiantly shouted "You… shall not… pass!" Wood asked for a copy of the book and quoted the written text, confirming that Gandalf did indeed say "You CANNOT pass" twice. The actor ended the clip by saying "that settles it", cheekily affirming that the book is the canon and anything else, including the movie and the card game crossover with Magic: The Gathering, are merely interpretations.
The Universes Beyond Magic: The Gathering – Tales of Middle-earth booster packs, starter sets, and limited-edition collector boxes are scheduled to release on June 23, 2023.