Last updated on November 4, 2021

Voyaging Satyr | Illustration by Tyler Jacobson

Voyaging Satyr | Illustration by Tyler Jacobson

Oh boy. I have to give kudos to Wizards for deciding to announce a lot of products and decisions that are really going to stir things up. Now we’re getting Universes Beyond, WotC’s idea of a crossover series that will help them reach wider audiences. This departure from the mainly fantasy aesthetic of Magic has upset quite a few fans. I hope that these things turn out much better than what most skeptics (including myself) expect.

I’ve been keeping an eye out for this product since it was announced back in February. We’re gonna have to unpack things one at a time here because there’s a lot to go through. I’m trying to keep an open mind about this. I may be a little biased because I’m a huge Tolkien fan, so the Universes Beyond set based on his work definitely excites me a bit.

But let’s go through the facts first, or at least what we know so far!

What in the World is Universes Beyond?

Crucible of Worlds | Illustration by Ralph Horsley

Crucible of Worlds | Illustration by Ralph Horsley

Wizards described Universes Beyond as a combination of Magic’s gameplay with worlds, stories, and characters “cherished by millions.” This means bringing other franchises and works into Magic. The official statement says that even though there may be some Universes Beyond Secret Lairs, the main focus of the product is more akin to products like the Commander decks or regular sets.

Wizards has also said that these products will be more widely available than Secret Lairs. Basically, you should be able to buy products from this brand anywhere you could find booster packs.

The cards in the Universes Beyond products vary from new cards to reprints to functional reprints. This means that you shouldn’t expect what happened with the Ikoria Godzilla cards, though it seems that it hasn’t been completely discarded as an option yet. These cards will also have a distinct frame and a specific holofoil stamp that’ll set them apart from the cards that are canon to the Magic multiverse. This is what the holofoil stamp will look like:

Universes Beyond Holofoil

WotC also promised to print cards from the Universes Beyond Secret Lairs into canon Magic sets within six months of their release, so they’ll still be available to most players. This treatment will not be given to the cards in bigger sets, unfortunately.

None of these sets are related to the Magic canon, multiverse, or lore in any way. Any planeswalker cards that are printed through Universes Beyond will be purely for the sake of gameplay. Technically the concept of a “planeswalker” doesn’t exist outside of Magic, so none of these characters are being confirmed as canon planeswalkers in-lore. This is essentially the same that happened with the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms “walkers.”

History of the Product Line

Reconstruct History | Illustration by Campbell White

Reconstruct History | Illustration by Campbell White

On February 25, 2021, Wizards announced that they would be expanding Magic to include other IPs in its gameplay and design, namely Warhammer 40,000 and Lord of the Rings. This product would have a different format for its cards and is not be Standard legal. This retroactively included the Walking Dead Secret Lair since it fit into the design of Universes Beyond products.

Wizards announced some of the upcoming installments for Universes Beyond on August 21, 2021, as well as more details about the releases. The Warhammer 40,000 feature only consists of four Commander decks, while the Lord Of The Rings feature is getting a whole set in addition to four EDH decks. Despite being its own set, the LotR set will only be legal in Historic and Modern, not Standard.

List of Universes Beyond Products

Secret Lair x The Walking Dead (2020)

Secret Lair x The Walking Dead teaser art

Man, do I remember when this thing came out. I’ll be upfront with you, I hated Secret Lair x The Walking Dead the second it was announced. I probably have some bias because I don’t like The Walking Dead (the show; I have no particular feelings on the comics, don’t come for my throat in the comments) and I don’t like the hype around it either.

There was a lot of talk about how a lot of the cards were mechanically unique and not easy to get when this was announced, which meant prices were probably going to shoot up. This was also a pretty dirty business practice since most Magic cards can expect reprints while these were a one-time-only release.

Another big part of the backlash was because these cards were black bordered. This meant they essentially invaded the Magic universe in a really annoying way. Things like the My Little Pony or Transformers cards were all silver bordered. They were promo cards used by Hasbro to promote other products and they were illegal in every format. Having the TWD cards be black bordered meant they were tournament-legal, which affected the meta and the overall feeling of the game.

Wizards has also refused to do functional reprints of these cards so far, which has only added insult to injury. Since this drop came out before the Universes Beyond announcements, the new six-month promise doesn’t apply to them. But that’s enough complaining, let’s talk cards.

The drop features five cards depicting some of the most important characters in the show. They’re a few of the last humans remaining in a world where zombies have taken over, trying to survive the undead and their encounters with each other.

The cards included in this drop are:

Secret Lair x Stranger Things (2021)

Stranger Things Secret Lair Teaser

Illustration by Jenn Ravenna Tran

This is the first official installment of Universes Beyond since Secret Lair x The Walking Dead technically came out before it was announced. This drop follows right on track with the previous one.

Secret Lair x Stranger Things is based on the popular Netflix show and includes characters from that universe. The show centers around a group of kids and their adventures, including the notable Demogorgon from D&D.

Here are the cards you can get in this drop:

Warhammer 40,000 Commander Decks (2022)

Warhammer 40k Teaser Art

Illustration by Slawomir Maniak

I personally think that the least they could’ve done for this was use the more medieval-inspired setting of the original Warhammer. In any case, this product will consist of four preconstructed Commander decks set in the science fiction/fantasy universe of the most famous mini game out there.

The overall setting for Warhammer 40,000 includes many of the more typical tropes of fantasy like humans, elves, and orcs fighting each other, big and epic battles, plus aliens and space technology. This universe also features a notable grimdark setting.

The product will be accompanied by some Secret Lair drops set in the same universe.

Secret Lair x Fortnite (2022)

Fortnite Teaser Art

Illustration by Caroline Gariba

I’m gonna be honest with you here. I’m glad we don’t know anything about this yet. We know it’s gonna be a Secret Lair drop set in the… uh… does Fortnite even have a universe? I thought the game itself was just references to other IPs.

In any case, that’s all we know so far.

Secret Lair x Street Fighter (2022)

Street Fighter Teaser Art

Illustration by Martina Fačková

There’s not much to say here. I assume we’re getting a few cards with Street Fighter characters on them, but there’s not much I can say about it. The announcements on this and the Fortnite drops so far amount to simply saying they’ll be featured in a Universes Beyond Secret Lair. We’ll have to wait and see.

Street Fighter is a series of video games that feature a group of, well, fighters who battle each other. The games have a rich roster of characters. A handful of them are extremely popular, like Chun-Li and Ryu, so I assume we’ll be seeing the more popular ones depicted in this Magic drop.

The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth Set (2023)

Lord of the Rings Teaser Art

Illustration by Dmitry Burmak

It’s not as annoying as saying Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, but The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth still a mouthful. This is going to be the biggest of all the Universes Beyond products so far: a booster-based set with a focus on draft. It’ll be legal in Modern and Historic so that most players can enjoy it without interfering with the Standard equilibrium.

As far as we know, the set is going to be based on the Lord of the Rings novels by famous fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien. This means it probably won’t include anything from before the events in the books, so don’t expect any Silmarillion characters to show up here.

We’ll also be getting four Commander precons and some Secret Lairs to accompany the set.

Why Do These Products Exist?

The main argument I’ve seen so far is that since Magic has already expanded beyond its own limits with novels, comics, video games (remember Legends? That went well), and even D&D modules. It would be reasonable to bring other media into Magic. This might also attract fans of those other products into MTG and increase sales.

What is Their Legality?

Rule of Law | Illustration by Scott M. Fischer

Rule of Law | Illustration by Scott M. Fischer

All we know so far is that the Universes Beyond products will not be legal in Standard. The focus will apparently be on Historic and Modern. We can also safely assume that they’ll be legal in Commander since the Warhammer and Lord of the Rings sets come with entire Commander decks.

What is the MTG Universe? How is This Different?

Magic has had an in-game story and lore pretty much from the very beginning. I’m not even gonna try to talk about it here because it’s really long and really confusing. What’s important is that Magic’s lore is set in a multiverse, a variety of worlds (called planes) with various civilizations, aesthetics, technologies, and forms of magic.

But the multiverse isn’t infinite and not everything and anything exists within it. There’s a certain set of rules and design sensibilities that permeate all the planes of the multiverse. One rule is that the planes are all set in fantasy-inspired realities. Even the more mechanical creatures and worlds, like the Phyrexians, Mirrodin, and Kaladesh, have technology that looks and feels magical. None of the vehicles in Magic look anything like the vehicles we see in real life and neither do their artifacts or machines.

The worlds from Universes Beyond are simply not part of the Magic universe in any way. None of the new places and settings are planes in the multiverse and they have no bearing in MTG’s story. The aesthetic and narrative decisions in these worlds aren’t necessarily aligned with those that are used for the multiverse.

So basically, none of these products are related to Magic lore-wise. They exist in their own fictional universes and are simply being represented through Magic cards.

Is Adventures in the Forgotten Realms Part of Universes Beyond?

Potion of Healing - Illustration by Pauline Voss

Potion of Healing | Illustration by Pauline Voss

The short answer is a simple no. Forgotten Realms is legal in Standard so WotC chose not to include it in Universes Beyond.

That being said, the way the set’s lore and characters are treated is very similar to the treatment the worlds of Universes Beyond are getting. Nothing depicted on cards from AFR is canon in the Magic universe. The characters depicted as planeswalkers aren’t actually capable of walking across planes, just really powerful or important characters.

So even though the way these different products exist within the lore of the game is very similar (they don’t), they’re not a part of the same branch of Magic.

Is Secret Lair x The Walking Dead Part of Universes Beyond?

It wasn’t originally, but it is now. The TWD drop was just a crossover between Magic and The Walking Dead and there’s no sign that it was meant to be the launching of Universes Beyond when it came out.

It has been retroactively added since it fits all of the criteria for Universes Beyond products. It could be argued that this Secret Lair was sort of a testing ground to see if Universes Beyond was a viable idea, but that’s just speculation.

Is This Actually Good For Magic?

I think I’ve been pretty opinionated about this so far, but I could honestly go on for hours. I won’t, don’t worry. But I’d like to assume it’s at least entertaining.

Are you not entertained? gif from 2000's Gladiator

Gladiator (2000)

I personally think that this product will be inconsequential in the best-case scenario. In an unlikely worst-case scenario, it could mean a fundamental change in Magic.

The main idea behind Universes Beyond is to bring fans of other franchises and IPs into Magic. I also think this is far from the best way to do it. Only a tiny fraction of new players brought in from Universes Beyond will continue to play or branch into more “traditional” Magic products and formats. Some of them might buy the cards just to collect them but most won’t care about any of this at all.

Meanwhile, we’re seeing the aesthetic and core design values of the game shift ever so slightly. No, these cards aren’t canon or legal in Standard. But they are legal in tournaments and in Commander. They already warp the fantasy feeling of the game.

Maybe I care about it more than most other players, but I don’t really like to see sci-fi-looking characters in my fantasy games. I think the way the characters and worlds in Magic look are as important as the game’s mechanics. I love the lore and the design of this game, even if it’s terribly messy at times, and I don’t want to sacrifice them just to have a few non-players buy cards to make a big company money.

All this being said, I think crossovers are possible and not an entirely terrible thing. I think the Godzilla cards from Ikoria were fun collector items that didn’t affect the game this much. I enjoyed Forgotten Realms a lot, even if I think it could’ve been handled better lore-wise. It was a crossover that made sense because D&D and Magic share very similar design and world-building sensibilities.

I’m not against crossovers in-and-of-themselves and I’m not against exploring large-scale crossovers, but I think the IPs Wizards chooses to do crossovers with should be more carefully selected. There are plenty of games and shows out there that fit almost perfectly into the Magic design style that could be easily translated into the cards.

There’s a trend of movies, shows, and games becoming a constant showcase of other IPs. They sacrifice a lot of their own potential just to say, “hey, remember this thing?” even if it has nothing to do with the plot. I don’t want Magic to become that. I don’t want a game with such rich lore to become a constant reference to other products.

Wrap Up

Silkwrap | Illustration by David Gaillet

Silkwrap | Illustration by David Gaillet

At the end of the day, we still don’t know what’s going to happen with Universes Beyond. I may be acting a bit like a doomsayer about the whole thing, but I hope I’m wrong and it ends up being mostly inconsequential. And even after all my complaints, I’m still allowing myself to be a little excited for The Lord of the Rings set.

But what do you think? Am I overreacting about Universes Beyond’s effect on Magic? Do you think it’ll kill the game? Are you excited about any of the products? I won’t judge you if you are, I promise. Let me know in the comments below, and don’t forget to follow our blog and head over to Twitter for more content like this.

That’s all for now. Stay safe, and I’ll see you in the next one!

2 Comments

  • Forger October 28, 2021 1:52 am

    “Why Do These Products Exist?”
    Money. Let’s not kid ourselves with all the niceties about it. WotC is a company: a company’s primary concern is to make money and it’s far easier to bank on people’s familiarity with something than to put in effort to make an original IP.

    • Dan Troha October 28, 2021 7:32 am

      Yes, in fact just slightly later in the article the author says:

      I love the lore and the design of this game, even if it’s terribly messy at times, and I don’t want to sacrifice them just to have a few non-players buy cards to make a big company money.

      As a Magic fan I think it’s dumb too. But if they want to do it, it’s their prerogative.

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