The hype around the most recent Magic: the Gathering expansion, The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, has been unprecedented. Competitive and casual players alike have been snapping up booster packs in search of chase cards like Orcish Bowmasters and The One Ring, both of which are already finding prominence across formats. Fans of Tolkien have been jumping into the game, excited to learn how to play. Hasbro executives lauded the record-breaking pre-sales during last quarter’s investor call, and are undoubtedly excited to share Q2 figures shortly that buck larger CSG trends in a positive direction.
All this would be noteworthy on its own, but it’s nothing compared to the endless interest that’s surrounded search for the 1 of 1 serialized version of “The One Ring”, a card that has yet to be claimed yet in public but is worth as much as $2,000,000 (and a free flight to Spain) according to the highest bounty as of writing. This month, Magic’s experiencing a decade-high peak in general interest using Google search volume as a metric, and while it shouldn’t be too surprising that the peanut butter and chocolatey combination of the world’s most famous trading card game and the forefather of modern fantasy would generate attention, the “hype” is off the charts.
With the notion of “hype” squarely front-of-mind, the team here at Cardboard by the Numbers decided it would be a good opportunity to do what we do best: quantify weird aspects of our favorite trading card games, specifically here, determining the most hyped Magic spoilers of all time by scraping the web for public data.
What qualifies as “hype” is a value judgement, so any metrics associated with it are going to be inherently imperfect, but after testing more than a dozen variables and testing different combinations, there are three we landed on to evaluate the sensation of hype within the larger Magic community in as representative a manner as possible: 1) the number of “upvotes” the “single card discussion” received on the central Magic: the Gathering subReddit, r/MagicTCG; 2) pre-release demand as expressed by its peak pre-order price, using MTG Goldfish for historical data, and 3) the total quantity of comments for a card on the website Magic Spoilers (~2M monthly visitors). We’ll touch on the specifics of the list below, but without further preamble, here are the results from our analysis:
To call Feather, the Redeemed a “beloved” card would be a gross understatement. Introducing a previously-unknown concept known as “card advantage” to the Boros (Red/White) color-pair, Feather was a major character in the original suite of Ravnica novels from 2005, having only made it to print on the game’s second return trip to the city-plane in 2019’s War of the Spark. She’s everything that the most enfranchised of Magic’s player base asks for in new cards: an established, well-liked character from lore, and a commander with a unique ability that allows for interesting-but-not-entirely-linear builds. A pet deck across constructed formats and a Commander all-star (ranked #52 in popularity on EDHRec), Feather may only be 10th on the list, but her impact on the community is undeniable.
Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines is the face card of this winter’s Phyexia: All Will Be One, an expansion that brought us back to the world of New Phyrexia proper for the first time since 2011. An extremely popular character on her initial release, Elesh Norn’s aesthetic and reputation helped define the central storyline of Magic for most of the last three years, and it culminated in this version of the card, a surefire winner for fans that combined such a key character with one of the most popular effects in commander.
The hype around the Mother of Machine’s reveal was elevated by the (unnecessarily large) quantity of variants available, each more rare and unique than the last, with a version by famed horror author Junji Ito to top off the collection.
Tasha’s Hideous Laughter makes the list as one of the most efficient milling cards ever printed, and one that exiles no less! Decks that win via depleting their opponents’ library are rarely the most competitive or popular, but they have a passionate and vocal audience that will rally around the infrequent card designed in their direction. While D&D players contend that the ability is completely unmarried to its mechanical properties in the tabletop game, the pure power of this milling sorcery more than made up for it when it came to generating hype.
Hangman is an interesting card relative to the others on this list in several ways. Going purely by upvotes on Reddit, this 2017 card is the scion of Magic spoilers, out-scoring even the most “precious” cards ever printed. And yet, its price (which partially measures demand) and awareness in the public consciousness are the lowest of the ten cards here. This is due to, in part, the fact that Hangman is an “un-card”, expansions meant to be equal parts jokes/commentary on the game of Magic and game pieces.
Because un-cards are not legal to play in most formats, the excitement for the card dissipates after having read it a few times, particularly when the expansion is no longer being printed and most drafts have concluded. The placement on this list at all is testament to how clever Magic players found it! That said, even Cube, a “format” with endless flexibility on inclusions and where designers culturally are comparatively less resistant to silver-bordered (or, excuse me, “acorn-stamped”) cards, is not too common a home for the admittedly-powerful Hangman: the black one-drop is merely 25th on the list of most-cubed acorn-stamped cards.
If I had to ask a dozen of the most enfranchised Magic players I’ve met which cards they would expect to make this list, Ilharg, the Raze-Boar may be the least likely for any of them to guess. But when Ilharg was first spoiled, he was a sensation. He was the first of a cycle of new gods revealed as part of climax-set War of the Spark, and his existence was serious payoff from the Amonkhet story, representing Nicol Bolas’ need for a 5th god after Hazoret refused to join his ranks. But beyond that, emulating one of red’s most iconic enchantments in the game’s history, Sneak Attack, performing as an aggressively-costed trampler that refuses to die, and also being a boar god, Ilharg is just cool as a Magic card.
Modern Horizons brought The First Sliver, the 5th in a line of incredibly popular 5-color lords/commanders for Magic’s most beloved in-house creature type. The fanfare is not just due to the card itself, which would draw heavy anticipation as a matter of fact. No, the hype is that one of Magic’s most iconic creatures were gifted a commander with a power level inappropriate for many sets besides a Modern Horizons expansion. This came in the form of granting all your slivers “Cascade”, a mechanic that may even outstrip the popularity of slivers themselves among Magic players!
M21’s contribution to the (thankfully) short-lived program of making mechanically-unique box toppers for Draft booster boxes is next on the list, with the commander-bait that made thousands of people cry out at once, “hey now I can get my significant other to play Magic”. While I would quibble with some of the implications of the sentiment, I cannot complain with the accessibility to the game inherent to making a greater diversity of creature types and characters as playable protagonists, particularly with Commander as such a central format to the game.
And what an ideal commander Rin and Seri are! They play into popular existing strategies and strengthen beloved creature types. As testament to their continued love from the community, Rin and Seri have not left the top 50 most-popular list on EDHRec since their original printing, justifying their high ranking on this “most-hyped” list. Sorry Maro, this ain’t no hound dog.
After becoming a beloved flavor-text character by those on online message boards during the spoiler season for 2013’s Return to Ravnica, Wizards leaned in hard on Fblthp, partnering with Ultra Pro at the time to create playmate and merchandise for the otherwise uninteresting draft common Totally Lost. It followed, then, that they would go equally hard on actually providing the character a card of his own on Ravnica’s next visit in the Guilds of Ravnica pseudo-block, and in its climax, War of the Spark, they delivered.
Fblthp did not have to wait another six years before he appeared again. What was once lost was now found, this time, with a friend in the form of Borborygmos and Fblthp. He’s also been one of three characters to get a dedicated Secret Lair themed around them – this is a popular character! It’s no surprise that, even with his low pre-order pricing, this was a card that got the Magic community excited.
A fun note of trivia, War of the Spark is the only expansion to appear on this list more than once — with three total inclusions! — representing how impactful the last “climax” set was to the community, concluding a seven-year storyline in a way that brought many players back into the fold and featuring 37 different planeswalker cards. While many story elements were not received well, particularly the quality of the book paired with the expansion and inconsistencies between the canon storyline and what was portrayed on the cards, using the Google Trends data from above, WAR was one of the biggest peaks of interest in the game of Magic, and it’s definitely represented on this list accordingly.
Revealed first at the conclusion of the Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty introductory video, in as close as Magic can get to a post-credits scene, the groundbreaking compleation of a planeswalker, the process of turning one of Magic’s world-hopping protagonists into a member of the Borg-like Phyrexian race in a then-irreversible process tantamount to death.
Having a major character essentially be killed off would have been shock enough on its own, but Tamiyo, Compleated Sage arrived with a second element that required the rules of the Multiverse to be rewritten: according to the lore, the Phyrexian Preator Jin Gitaxias devised a way to allow a planeswalker to keep their “spark” through the process of compleation.
For the first 28 years of Magic: the Gathering lore, the idea that being a planeswalker was wholly incompatible with being Phyreixan was an unquestionable element in the story. Even after the “Mending”, an event during the Time Spiral block’s story that devastated the multiverse and left the previous class of planeswalkers with considerably less power than they had prior, the Scars of Mirrodin arc clearly outlined that Phyrexian oil continued to be incompatible with so-called “new-walkers”.
The card was also the first of many with the “Compleated” ability, allowing players to pay with life instead of mana on their Planeswalkers and receive a different loyalty on the card as a result. Similarities to the admittedly-broken Phyrexian mana of the past were drawn, and the pre-sale prices for the final iteration of Tamiyo blew past typical levels. The Magic community was stunned and the hype was off the charts…or, rather, second on the charts.
As discussed in the introduction, this infographic was inspired by the insane conversation surrounded The One Ring. The card is immensely popular, demanding some of the highest pre-order prices from a non-reprint prior to release that we’ve ever seen, even without considering the singleton nature of the Elvish edition one lucky player will pull. Sure, it’s an eminently playable card in all but the most competitive Commander piles and full of flavor and intrigue, but it’s also actually getting play in them already, taking slots in winning decklists and has been called “better than Necropotence” by noted Magic pro player and personality AspiringSpike.
Keeping the news cycle alive for weeks since its initial announcement have been a string of ever-increasing commitments to purchase the card from whoever opens it, turning opening packs into a “lottery card” that actually rivals some major US lotteries in total winnings. I may recommend an investment in a plot of land in gold country and a metal detector before I’d encourage anyone to buy more than a box or two of The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth Collector’s Edition, but the craze is, at the very least, more justified than buying a Worldwake box in 2023 for hopes of a Jace or Stoneforge.
As with the un-sets, the impact of The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth would appear even more profound had the list expanded to 20 items, with Flowering of the White Tree and Shadowfax, Lord of Horses as respectable runner-ups to the One Ring to Rule Them All. The love for the world Tolkien created among Magic players is something that cannot be ignored, and it only follows that the standout card from a set in Middle-earth would be Magic’s most hyped card spoiled to date!
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