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"Hosts of Mordor" Precon LOTR-Only Upgrades! (And Bonus Regular Upgrades)

The Lord of the Rings Commander preconstructed decklists have been revealed and with it comes another round of my precon upgrades. We're going to do a thorough analysis of each deck, highlighting its goals and how well it accomplishes them, check out its deckbuilding fundamentals, identify its strongest and weakest cards, then use all that information to make an optimized $30 upgrade paths!

Because a huge draw of these LOTR commander decks is the setting themselves, I'm doing something special with this round of upgrades: on top of my regular upgrade guide I will also be providing a LOTR-only upgrade path using only cards from the LOTR set (the main set, box toppers, and cards from other precons) so people looking to keep their decks 100% LOTR-themed can still do so! So whether you're looking to power up your precon while keeping it fully LOTR-themed or just want to start optimizing the decks with the most powerful cards available, this article should be helpful to everyone!

Other LOTR precon upgrades:

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Today we're upgrading Hosts of Mordor, a Blue / Black / Red Control deck that has you commanding the forces of evil in Middle Earth. The deck is primarily a Graveyard deck that is split between Creature Reanimation and Spellslinger Flashback, with some Orcs / Goblin and Theft themes sprinkled in. Our goal is to protect ourselves early by amassing an army (Moria Scavenger) and stealing our opponents stuff (Hostage Taker) while milling/discarding huge haymakers (Rampaging War Mammoth). Eventually we start Reanimateing the creatures in our graveyard and flashing back instants/sorceries (Summons of Saruman) to overwhelm our opponents with huge value.

So if you want to play the bad guys of LOTR, like the idea of Grixis Control, and want some powerful Graveyard strategies with some Orc / Theft stuff sprinkled in, Hosts of Mordor is the deck for you!

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The Precon List

Before we talk upgrades, let's take a look at the stock list to see what we're working with:

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A lot of folks say Hosts of Mordor is an unfocused pile of cards but this is just a poor shallow analysis of the deck: looking at the numbers indicate that it's pretty well-focused on Graveyard and Spellslinger: I count 27 Graveyard cards, counting any card that mills (Forbidden Alchemy), discards (The Balrog of Moria), reanimates (Extract from Darkness), or can be cast from the graveyard (Wake the Dragon). I count 9 Spellslinger payoff cards and 22 instants/sorceries to trigger them. The only weird inclusion is the Orc and Goblin theme -- 15 cards that either make Orcs/Goblins or support them -- but even then most of them serve our main themes (Guttersnipe). The ones that don't support our main themes (Siege-Gang Commander) are few.

So yeah, Hosts of Mordor is actually focused on two main themes -- Graveyard and Spellslinger -- which is standard for basically all precons. Folks complaining about it being unfocused are just wrong. Could it be MORE focused? Yeah, but same can be said about all the precons! We'll focus them up in the upgrades section, don't worry.

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Who Should Lead: Sauron or Saruman?

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This precon only has 2 commander options: Sauron, Lord of the Rings or Saruman, the White Hand. Both are great commanders with some overlap but have different strengths:

  • Sauron is the best choice for a Graveyard deck. While a lot of people complain about his admittedly high mana value, Sauron has a huge and immediate impact on the board, putting 14+ power on the battlefield while also fueling our Graveyard theme by both milling and reanimating. The community immediately dismissed this commander as bad but just like those calling the precon bad, I think this just comes down to bad analysis -- go ahead and play the deck and you'll be pleasantly surprised I reckon.
  • Saruman, on the other hand, is the best choice for Spellslinger. Sure, he still triggers off the deck's artifacts and enchantments, but the deck runs far more instants and sorceries and there's other Spellslinger payoffs like Guttersnipe. You get to constantly amass, making repeat sacrifice fodder or a huge threat that your opponents must answer. He also offers a bit of support to the Orc/Goblin theme.

I think both Sauron and Saruman are equally qualified to run the precon stock list. However, I think Sauron is the better and more interesting commander. I'm also more interested in Sauron than usual just because of all the unwarranted disrespect the community has been throwing at my boy when he was previewed. He IS good, and by The Ring I'll show you all!

Analyzing the Precon & Identifying Weaknesses

Now that we've glanced at the stock list and settled on our commander, let's take a closer look at the deck itself to identify what parts benefit the most from upgrades.

As I often explain in my Budget Commander articles, every time I build a rough draft of a deck, I make sure I have a certain ratio of mana, interaction, card advantage, etc. This gives me a reference point to compare to the deck and see which areas may need improvement. My general ratio is:

  • 50 mana; lands and ramp, usually a 37–13 split
  • 10 card draw; cards that net you 2+ cards in hand
  • 8 targeted removal; split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal and countermagic
  • 3 board wipes; creature-light decks might want one more, creature-heavy decks might want one less
  • 2 graveyard recursion
  • 2 flexible tutors; higher budgets I recommend more tutors
  • 1 graveyard hate; since you need to keep Graveyard decks honest 

That's always my starting point, which is then tweaked to suit the individual deck's strategy and further tweaked with playtesting. I always find it immensely useful to figure out some quick ways to improve the deck in question.

Let's see what the rough ratios are for Hosts of Mordor and how it compares. I count:

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The ratios are quite good and fitting for a Control deck: lots of slow grindy value and a variety of interaction to slow down opponents long enough to let you grind them out. The graveyard hate is a bit weak and some of the card draw options kinda suck, so we'll fix that in the upgrade section, but overall it's pretty dang good!

Upgrade Goals

The stock list is already quite good, so we're just going to focus on improving what's already here with minor tweaks:

  • Enhance our main Graveyard theme, both Creature Reanimate and Spellslinger
  • Upgrade our ramp and card draw
  • Add some more graveyard hate

LOTR-Only Upgrade

If you want to upgrade the deck using only cards from the LOTR set then there's still plenty of sweet additions: the best is Sauron, the Dark Lord which is just an amazing value engine all by itself but has added synergy in our deck since we can use it to set up graveyard stuff. In fact, this main set Sauron is so good that if you're looking for a power boost then I would put it in the command zone and put Sauron, Lord of the Rings in the 99, they provide similar value to the deck but Sauron, the Dark Lord is simply stronger.


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$30 Regular Upgrade

By expanding to all format-legal cards you get access to way more powerful cards. My single favorite inclusion is Quiet Speculation: this card just keeps getting better with more flashback cards being printed! Tutoring up up Visions of Ruin, Visions of Dread, and Visions of Duplicity and then casting them for 2 mana is absolute gas! Plus we've got Buried Alive to yoink Anger, Wonder, and a great reanimate target for example.

As with the LOTR-only upgrade, if you're looking for a more powerful commander that fulfills the same role then put Sauron, the Dark Lord in the command zone.


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Further Upgrades

If you want to stick to LOTR-only cards but don't mind spending extra cash, here's my suggestions on further pickups (the site links the cheapest version but there's also a LOTR version for each of these):

Lands: Ancient Tomb, Barad-dur, Mount Doom, Mines of Moria, Reflecting Pool, Rivendell, Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Ramp: Sword of Hearth and Home

Draw: The One Ring (obviously)

Protection: Lightning GreavesMithril Coat

Removal: Raise the Palisade, Shadowspear, Swan Song, The Balrog, Durin's Bane

Busted: Orcish Bowmasters

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Two Down, Two To Go!

While Food and Fellowship remains my favorite of the precons, doing a deep dive into Hosts of Mordor has put it at a close second! The precon is a lot better and more focused than people are giving it credit for and the upgrade options (especially non-LOTR cards like Quiet Speculation) really make it shine! Let's see how the final two end up going, check back soon for them!

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