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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Exclusive: See Lord of the Rings' Iconic Bridge of Khazad-dûm Scene as Magic: The Gathering Cards

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Magic: The Gathering’s hotly anticipated crossover with The Lord of the Rings is nearly here, but before all us fools fly off to play for ourselves, we’ve got an early look at six new cards! I also spoke with Wizards of the Coast Art Director Ovidio Cartagena about those cards, the set as a whole, and why Magic’s depiction of the menacing Balrog doesn’t have wings.

The six cards we’re showing off (one of which has been previously revealed) come together to make one of The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth’s showcase art scenes when placed in a specific orientation – in this case, the iconic moment when Gandalf confronts the Balrog over the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, painted by artist Colin Boyer.

Flip through the gallery below to see all six cards, as well as the full scene:

The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth – Bridge of Khazad-dum Art Scene Cards

Tales of Middle-earth has a variety of connected art scenes like this, ranging from the 18-card epic landscape of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields to the more intimate four-card depiction of The One Ring being destroyed that is included in its bundles. These borderless scene versions can be found across draft, set, and collector booster packs, though regular versions of these cards are also still available (and can be seen in the gallery above).

Cartagena said that these scenes take a ton of coordination with the artist to produce, with WOTC initially providing more card options than an artist will ultimately need to use within the scene in order to let them play with the composition and find what works best. He indicated that could also contribute to some why a scene like the one above has five flashier rare cards alongside a single common removal spell.

Those who have been following along with the card reveals from this set might also notice that this is actually the second card for The Balrog to be revealed – the first being The Balrog, Flame of Udûn. [Update: a third Balrog was actually just revealed today in one of the Commander precons!] Lots of characters in this set will have multiple cards, including the Aragorn also in this secene, but I asked Cartagena why the Balrog specifically got to triple dip. He told me there are many reasons for this, but one is simply that “the Balrog is fun – very fun to paint, very fun to make.” On top of that, WOTC just needed more “bulky red cards” for the set, as they were pulling only from material in the three original LOTR novels.

Speaking of the Balrog, I also asked about the great debate as to whether this monstrous creature is supposed to be depicted with wings or not, as there is some room for interpretation in the original text that has lead to a wide range of design choices by people adapting the work. For example, Magic’s version doesn’t have them, while Peter Jackson’s iconic films went with somewhat ambiguous wings of smoke, and Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 animated film (which is getting a Secret Lair crossover with Magic) had the Balrog full-on flying.

Cartagena said he made the call not to have wings because getting “the spirit of the text” and the themes of the story right was the most important thing to them, rather than getting lost in picking apart the exact semantics of what was written. On top of that, it conveniently worked in WOTC’s favor mechanically not to have wings, as then the creature itself wouldn’t need to have Flying – maybe not a huge contributing factor to the choice, but certainly a convenient one.

We'll have more from our full interview with Cartagena next week, just in time for the start of The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth pre-release that weekend. That's when the hunt for its one-of-a-kind One Ring card will begin in earnest – a hunt that already has bounties posted reaching $1 million.

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