Discover all the secrets of creating the Magic x Lord of the Rings expansion

When you work on an adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, you embark on an epic adventure.

Discover all the secrets of creating the Magic x Lord of the Rings expansion

When you work on an adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, you embark on an epic adventure. How do I choose which cards to create? What characters and places to highlight? How can you anticipate the expectations of a community of enthusiasts? Mike Turian, the product architect and Ovidio Cartagena, the artistic director of this Magic x The Lord of the Rings expansion, answer questions from

Several years of work, thousands of book pages read and reread, hundreds of tests of both gameplay and graphic style. The Magic Assembly teams have put their heart and soul into this very special Magic x The Lord of the Rings expansion.

Beyond the unique ring card sold for $2.6 million to musician and notorious geek Post Malone, the Magic x Lord of the Rings expansion is a global success.

Mike Turian, the product architect, and Ovidio Cartagena, the artistic director of this extension, talk to the Internet user about the creation of this already legendary set. How did you feel when you learned that you were going to work on this Magic x The Lord of the Rings expansion?

Ovidio Cartagena (Chief Artistic Director): Once the emotion subsided, my first thought was: “We’re going to have to roll up our sleeves.” This is the approach I generally take to my projects, but in the case of Lord of the Rings, there was added importance and solemnity. I was aware that there were a lot of expectations and that my efforts were going to be considerable to meet them.

Mike Turian (Product Architect): For me, it was a mix of “wow, what an incredible honor and opportunity” sprinkled with a pinch of joy. I was a teenager when I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time. My dad loves fantasy, and Lord of the Rings was one of the classics he couldn't wait to introduce me to.

What first card did you view? did it change between this first vision and its final version of the set?

OC: As an artist, I was drawn to the textures of Middle Earth and its history, including ancient times that are mentioned in the books. The first location I visualized was Amon Sûl - Weathertop, and I was able to direct many of the scenes that took place there, but the map of Weathertop itself was very interesting to me. surprised ! Calder Moore gave the piece a lot of depth, a palpable atmosphere, imbued with power.

MT: One of the characters I was excited to see made into a Magic card was Gollum. I have always enjoyed Gollum and his story. I was excited to see how we could create different versions of Gollum that really fit his unique character.

Have you reread everything, including The Silmarillion, etc., to refresh your memory on the history of Middle Earth?

OC: I reread everything! I wanted to learn and fill in the gaps in my knowledge about the lore of Tolkien's universe. Reading Lord of the Rings is always an adventure in itself, but reading it with the adaptation in maps, paintings, illustrations and character designs in mind was a completely refreshing experience.

MT: Everything, no, but a lot. In addition to picking up the three Lord of the Rings books, I took the opportunity to work on the same transmission that my father had with me. I read The Hobbit to my daughter. In addition to his own readings, every evening we read him a passage from the book, and after a few months I had read the whole book to him.

When working on an intellectual property of this magnitude, you have to expect a certain amount of pressure from fans. How did you deal with it?

OC: Whatever I did with this series, I knew there would be criticism. Each adaptation of The Lord of the Rings has been the subject of strong criticism from its contemporaries, but also from the previous generation of fans who had strong views. I was lucky enough to see this for several adaptations in my lifetime, and so I approached the books knowing that I was just one voice among many, and that our Magic vision of the universe of Tolkien would be part of a long line of adaptations for fans around the world.

MT: One of the great joys of working on a brand as beloved as Magic is that every game and product comes with high expectations. With The Lord of the Rings, I knew that expectations would be even higher and that even more fans would discover Magic. therefore considered an opportunity. I knew the team would live up to, and even exceed, those expectations.

What was your best surprise from fan reactions?

OC: Several memories come to mind spontaneously. But the one that moved me the most was when a Magic fan, whose grandfather, a long-time Lord of the Rings fan, was touched by our depiction of Aragorn. They have forged an even stronger bond between the two of them thanks to this edition. Magic: The Gathering players tell us a lot of stories like this, and I love knowing that our work has brought people together.

MT: This shouldn't have been a surprise, but I loved how fans appreciated that the rules text for Shadowfax tied into his quirk and highlighted the very definition of speed. It's details like this that really illustrate the exciting opportunities that can arise from collaboration.

What's your favorite card? and why ?

OC: It's very difficult to choose a favorite card, the set is incredible! In game, I loved playing Gandalf the White. When I ordered the art, we originally planned on a Planeswalker card, but it became a Legendary Creature... which has been in several of my decks so far and has helped me win every time That I played it!

MT: For me, the One Ring is my favorite. Promoting the Ring with a unique print was such a cool opportunity for me. And I was incredibly excited when someone found it in one of their booster packs! Additionally, the design of the card itself really reflects the power and appeal of the One Ring in the books. Every time I look at a version of the One Ring, it fills me with joy.

In terms of visual references, when we think of Lord of the Rings, we mostly think of Peter Jackson's film adaptation or Alan Lee's art. Were there any specific instructions to avoid sounding too much like one or the other?

OC: There was a belief that this world already existed visually, but one of my arguments against it was that we had only seen different artistic adaptations.

We wanted this game to belong to the Magic: The Gathering universe and be unique. But we join other adaptations in our effort to stay true to the spirit of the books.

We can assume that everyone wanted to work on such a project. How did you choose the artists to work on this series?

OC: There were several factors. Many artists were known fans of this or that character, or of a specific moment in the saga. They were thus able to work on an official adaptation of the books, on a moment they liked or on another element of the story. When I was putting together the original list of artists, I wondered what would shine brightly if they were hanging on the walls of the King's House in Minas Tirith or Edoras. What art would thrill the hearts of Hobbits and who could make it? Often the answer was right before my eyes, the work of a talented artist fitting perfectly with the subject. In other cases, I had to dig deeper or ask people to step out of their comfort zone to reach their full potential on that set.

We see some “unbeatable” characters. How do you balance something like that?

OC: From an artistic standpoint, I think we've had many moments where many of our favorite characters have come close to defeat. And, of course, some very powerful characters were defeated. It helped us understand that there can be an end to everything, that the stakes were real and that there was bravery, power and even a little divine intervention.

MT: From a design perspective, this is a recurring challenge with each new expansion of the game. The deck represents the most feared and powerful creatures in existence and yet we need them to be balanced for the game. A good example of how we addressed this challenge is the use of the “Amass Orcs” cards. In The Lord of the Rings, orcs are a near-endless horde of powerful creatures. The “Amass Orcs” mechanism therefore allows the player to create an army of Orcs of incredible power by accumulating more and more tokens. But it is still possible to remove this army using a single removal spell, which is good for the game.

Have you discussed all maps with Middle-earth Enterprises to obtain their approval or validation?

OC: Yes, all maps and designs have been approved by Middle-earth Enterprises. They were great to work with! And it was also encouraging to find out that they liked our vision for the series.

It took several years to build this set. If you close your eyes, what is the first memory that comes to mind? For what ?

OC: My first meeting with Middle-earth Enterprises. I had just sent them our world guide, which contained the environments, the characters, the costumes and all the elements that would constitute the illustrations of the setting. I was very happy to hear that they loved our approach! The characters, the drawings, all of this impressed them. This meant I could move on to the next phase, commissioning artwork. The first phase of our research had been successful!

MT: One of my earliest memories is the testing we conducted with player samples. We wanted to know how we could best combine the Middle-earth and Magic universes. So we brought in groups of people to show them various Lord of the Rings characters and learn from them. People were very enthusiastic about the idea of ​​combining these two worlds that they loved so much. It was an exciting time!

The ring's temptation mechanic is the heart of this expansion. How did it come to be?

MT: With the Ring being a central part of the Lord of the Rings saga, we knew we had to bring the power and temptation of the Ring to life through gameplay.

The “The Ring Tempts You” mechanic allows us to bring to life both the power of the ring and many instant magic spells more relevant to Tolkien's universe.

In the book, the ring bearer can put on the ring at any time they choose. On the other hand, we used "The ring tempts you" to determine who should wear the ring. We wanted being the ring bearer to be a significant event. This is how we achieved it.

How much testing and learning did you do before validating this mechanism?

MT: I think it would be easier to list what we haven’t tried! (laughs)

Every time I talked with the game design team, the list of four abilities had changed. We tried a lot of different drawback mechanics, with life loss being the most common, but it proved too detrimental to a fun gaming experience. We tried all kinds of variations, for example, at one point, the second ability granted to the ring bearer was "Parry 2" (Editor's note: Whenever this permanent becomes the target of a spell or an ability an opponent controls, that spell or ability must be countered unless that player pays 2 colorless mana )

Were you tempted to add some randomness to the mechanic to balance the power it brings with the corruption it applies to the wielder?

MT: I don't remember random effects being one of the many things we tried. Just from the length of card text, random effects often take longer to write than fixed effects. Additionally, the random effects don't particularly represent how the Ring is intentionally used in the book. While the Ring offers temptations to each character, the power granted is always amplified by the characteristics of the Ring bearer themselves.

Why can there be a Ring in front of each player?

MT: The answer is mainly based on the fun of the game. We tried one-sided mechanics at first but they never resulted in a rewarding gaming experience. You could say that in the game there is only one Unique Ring, but there are many Rings of Power and your opponent's Ring bearer may be wearing one of the secondary rings.

At what point in the project did you come up with the idea for scene maps? What was the impact on production?

OC: We came up with the idea for the scenes a few months after the world guide was finalized. This was a great new idea to explore! We had to carefully plan who would work on the first group of scenes, as well as which scenes we would create. It was a huge amount of planning, but it paid off.

MT: Fairly early in the project, the idea of ​​borderless maps emerged which, when grouped together, form a scene. As The Lord of the Rings is an epic fantasy novel, we were looking for a way to capture iconic moments from the book in an original way.

What was the first scene you had in mind?

OC: The largest and most ambitious scene: The Battle of the Pelennor Fields, made up of 18 maps!

How do you direct an artist for a stage card? What are the main differences compared to a traditional borderless card?

OC: One scene presents the added challenge of making the whole thing cohesive. In addition, several parts of the final visual covered by the text of each card. In a borderless map, we can calculate this better, because there is only one area with text elements. In a scene, the action should continue on to the next card, while mirroring the mechanics of the card! Quite a challenge.

MT: Hats off to the design and creative teams for their collaboration on creating the scene maps! Creating a group of cards that rely on each other for both artistic treatment and game synergy is quite an accomplishment of theirs!

For me, the biggest difference is the interconnection between all the cards in the scene. For example, if we want to turn a flying creature into a non-flying creature, only the art needs to be reworked. Now, if this creature was part of a scene, we would need to find a new card that would work in that scene and that would work both from a "playability" perspective, but also as a suitable card to add to the scene .

How do you divide a scene into X cards?

OC: We had several card designs in mind for each scene. More than necessary in the composition of each, but always consistent with each other. We offered them to each artist so that they could choose what would work best in their composition. There is of course a list of essentials in each scene, for example at least one legendary card per scene, but the artist was free to place it wherever he wanted in his grid.

Is it the design of a card that comes before the mechanics for scene cards?

MT: One of the most exciting things about performing is the collaborative nature of the creative process. Creative and design leaders have gone back and forth in many areas. The creative lead first identified a number of iconic moments in the story that deserved to be treated as scenes. From there, the team settled on which scenes offered enough content and maps to serve as motifs in each. Once this was done, the head of design (Glenn Jones) had to put together this real puzzle, because each scene presented many conflicting needs. It was a maelstrom rather than orderly direction.