Hello everyone, and welcome back to Legit MTG. I hope you all are doing well, and while there is a lot of news in the Magic: the Gathering community as of late there is one subject that is dominating it all. Earlier this week Wizards of the Coast announced the next batch of their Secret Lairs product line, and this one happens to tie in with a popular television show.
Wizards of the Coast working with another intellectual property (IP) is not new. Their Dungeons & Dragons line has made games for both Rick & Morty, as well as Stranger Things. There have been Magic: the Gathering cards made of various Transformers, and My Little Pony. Sure while those cards are promotional, or limited run items this new Secret Lair line is…different.
This product line, which started late last year, allows Wizards of the Coast to sell existing Magic cards, all with new art, directly to the consumer during a limited window allowed for purchasing. These cards are viewed the same as a Friday Night Magic (FNM), or a Judge promo would be. These cards in previous Secret Lair releases have all just been, more or less, alterations of existing cards.
Now all that has changed.
Let’s take a look into this release, and view the impact this will have across the game of Magic (and possibly Wizards of the Coast as a whole).
Why is this happening?
The Secret Lair line of products are meant to tie into an event, or a season, as a way for Wizards of the Coast (subsidiary of Hasbro) to promote Magic: the Gathering. Over recent years you may have noticed that preview cards for the various products produced have been seen outside of the Magic: the Gathering community, or given to those who may be more known in other avenues of life (such as former MLB player Hunter Pence). There’s nothing wrong with that of course (well except the Hunter Pence part because I will never let go of the Reds losing to the Giants in the 2012 NLDS) as any company will want to grow the reach of their product.
…but at what cost?
Take for instance this new release. Secret Lair X: The Walking Dead. This special release is available for purchase starting Oct 4th for one week. “The October 4 release coincides with AMC’s “We Are The Walking Dead Weekend,” which begins with The Walking Dead Special Event: The Whisperer War Final Showdown at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT, followed by the premier of The Walking Dead: World Beyond at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT, and ends with a special episode of Talking Dead at 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT. Fans of The Walking Dead and Secret Lair won’t want to miss that very special episode of Talking Dead, as there will be an unboxing revealing the full contents of the drop.”
Based on this alone it appears that Wizards of the Coast is not only aiming at fans of this show who already play Magic, but more importantly those who currently do not. I do find it odd that there is no information about this product on the AMC site. Unless I am looking in the wrong place for it. I would assume that cross promotion goes both ways, but we all know what happens when we assume.
So with all of that said let’s take a look at the impact this will have. Keep in mind that about 7 years ago Hasbro made a deal with AMC Networks to use The Walking Dead characters in Hasbro products. This includes games such as Monopoly, and Risk. Also keep in mind the final season of The Walking Dead will be season 11, but it’s going to take time for us to get there especially as television networks return to some level of normalcy during this pandemic.
Cross promotions are always a good method to use to introduce people to products they may not have been familiar with. Sports is a good example of this as many popular sports are on the same networks providing fans something to watch when their team (or sport) may not be on. How many comic book tie-ins have we had with movies, cartoons, or even toys? Heck comic book titles themselves have crossover events all the time (look at the X-Men as a prime example).
What I see Wizards of the Coast, or really Hasbro, doing here is trying to introduce Magic: the Gathering to an entirely new fanbase. As much as it may seem strange to imagine, especially with the game about to enter it’s 28th year of existence, there are many who may be in the target demographic for Magic that do not know of the game’s existence let alone ever having played it. Remember the time when Magic: the Gathering was on an episode of South Park? How about the time it was in the movie The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? These are just a few examples of a company trying to increase it’s branding.
Will it work? Honestly only time will tell. With any type of collectible, especially comic books, the honeymoon period will come to an end. We may see new people become introduced to the game through this, go purchase packs, play the game, and then leave after a few months. We may see new players that stay around for years, or we may not. Honestly it’s really hard to tell, but this is a good thing. As a community we should be welcoming of new players regardless of how they heard about the game. Introduce them to the many ways they can play, and allow them to choose their own path.
One of the biggest issues with Secret Lairs is that it is difficult for Magic: the Gathering fans across the globe to acquire these cards. They either have to purchase through a friend that can order them, and then that person ships it to its international destination (which then could be delayed in Customs), or purchase the singles on the secondary market. The game is too fluid, and changes at such a rapid pace that by the time the card arrives that player in an international market may not need it anymore. There’s also the issue of the product being damaged upon receiving it as the card quality issues still are not fixed, and if an international player receives it that way they will have to ship it back, and have the purchaser go through the refund process. That can take forever, and I don’t blame anyone for wanting to go through that.
Yes these cards are promotional versions of cards, however Magic: the Gathering is a global game with many top players coming from a multitude of countries. I’m sure The Walking Dead has fans across the globe as well. It actually used to be a comic book so it had some measure of reach even before it appeared on television. Why would Wizards of the Coast continue to only focus on the North American market? If the goal is to make money don’t you want the money of those on other continents?
As much as this continues to be an issue it doesn’t seem like they are not going to be fixing this anytime soon. However with all of that said there is something far worse for this version of Secret Lairs that’s happening.
“The cards included in this very special Secret Lair drop will be completely new to Magic, depicting the iconic characters of the long-running and critically acclaimed TV series. These are mechanically unique cards that will be legal in Eternal formats. Commander players especially should look forward to bringing their favorite characters from The Walking Dead to life on the tabletop!” As shown with the two cards above they are correct. They are mechanically unique. There is not a “Magic version” of these cards anyway. Remember the Godzilla cards from Ikoria?
These were widely accepted by the community because players had a choice on which version they wanted to use. If you were a fan of Godzilla you may be interested in using these Godzilla themed cards. If not you still had the regular version to play. Nothing mechanically was different, and every player had access to them through the same product line in the Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths expansion. However this Secret Lair does not provide that same access.
For only a limited time will Magic players have access to these Walking Dead cards. While they are “aimed at Commander players” as these cards are only legal in Commander, Legacy, and Vintage, one of the last times something similar happened it was in Commander 2013 when True-Name Nemesis was introduced to us. Only included within the Mind Seize Commander preconstructed deck the power of True-Name Nemesis was immediately felt in Legacy which not only caused the cost of the card to increase in price, but also made the preconstructed deck Mind Seize very difficult to obtain. From players who only wanted the merfolk, to those who would sit on the decks only to sell them later on the secondary market for a profit. Accessibility became an issue for not only players but local gaming stores..
Oh…wait…these Secret Lair products can’t be purchased in stores (unless your LGS takes the steps to order them as a customer, and put them in stock).
Now Wizards of the Coast has said that if these are popular enough that Magic versions could see a printing in the future, but if the card is different in any way (mana cost, colors, etc) will it really be a reprint? If it is, when will we see it? If we look at True-Name Nemesis as an example it was released in Commander in November 2013. It’s second printing happened in Battlebond. That hit shelves in June of 2018. That’s five years. FIVE. Why should players wait that long for an accessible version of a card that initially appeared in an ancillary product? How does that generate profit when the time frame to obtain said profit is either through a small window, or very limited? The danger of another True-Name Nemesis type of impact can happen here. Yes while these cards are all Legendary creatures highlighting which portion of the playerbase these cards are truly aimed at what happens if Glenn, the Voice of Calm becomes a card played in Legacy? It has the stats (and colors) to warrant testing. What happens when a Walking Dead fan goes into a local game store well after the Secret Lair window closes, and wants to know what set this is in, and has to be explained what the Secret Lair product line is? How interested will they be in purchasing Magic cards at all? What happens when these cards, regardless of their impact in Legacy or Vintage, have a large price tag in the secondary market making them inaccessible except by those players with the financial means to do so?
Commander players are upset, and rightfully so. They want the game accessible for all, themselves and new players combined, and if Wizards of the Coast, and to be more correct here Hasbro, was not aware of their presence they are now. We have a collection of players in the format many who design cards state is “the best format” or “the best format to teach new players” adamant that something be done to make these cards available for anyone who wants to play them instead of being in this limited window. While I agree with them I don’t think these will become the top build in their respective colors. Take Michonne for example. In the Golgari colors you have options such as Meren of Clan Nel Toth, or Nath of the Gilt-Leaf as (in my honest opinion) better commanders for this color combination. However what if cards not yet revealed in this set become “must runs” in a Commander deck of its colors? Even when playing casually? What if in another Magic set in the future a card is printed to make these Walking Dead cards more viable in Commander (or Legacy, or Vintage)? What happens when the next IP that Wizards of the Coast crosses over with makes cards that push that playability, or become more playable than a traditional Magic card?
The predatory nature of this is not only awful, but dangerous. I would not be surprised if players stop buying products, or quit Magic altogether. The game, and it’s relationship with it’s customers, has become abusive. The “Fear Of Missing Out” (FOMO) marketing tactic to drain as much money from players is unsustainable. I could even see players become more justified in using “cards that look like the real card” calling them “proxies”, and do so because they don’t want to give Wizards of the Coast, or really Hasbro, any more of their money. It really makes me wonder if that push for profit has really been worth it when you wind up damaging your current customers in the process. There is a saying that existing customers are old money, and that a company should focus on new money, and nothing speaks to that more than this product alone.
I feel sorry for those who work for Wizards of the Coast that are active on social media. They have to take the brunt of the backlash as there is no one from Hasbro out in front to handle any of this, and I believe that the decision for this product came straight from Hasbro themselves leaving everyone else with no other choice but to follow orders. I wonder how much longer Hasbro has the rights to use images and likenesses of The Walking Dead, and if this has led them to make this decision now instead of waiting for the final season, or a DVD boxed set release. There is supposed to be an unboxing of the product on television after the premiere of the new episode as well. With nearly everyone in the Magic community stating that this is a very bad idea to make mechanically unique cards through the Secret Lair line, not have normal Magic equivalents, and not be available through local game stores, I wonder if Hasbro even really cares.
There are many different ways that this could have been tied to Magic: the Gathering. The next time we will see any set that has a horror theme won’t be until next fall, and apparently Hasbro could not wait until then. This has also been labeled as “The Year of Commander” as we entered 2020 so the target of these products should not be a surprise to anyone. However patronizing a group of people for sheer profit is not only wrong, but harmful as well as abusive. It doesn’t just happen in Magic: the Gathering though, but we can raise our voices up to let them know that this is not ok. Let us hope that the impact we fear this could have does not happen, because if it does then Pandora’s Box will have been flung open, and we will want to have all of the Standard cards from 2019 that were banned made legal for play again than deal with the ramifications from Secret Lair X.
What are your thoughts on this product? Do you think it’s a good idea, or not? Please let me know by leaving a comment below, and follow me on both Twitter as well as Facebook, and check out The Astrolab Podcast.
With all of the reaction to Secret Lair, and how bad Standard continues to be, I want to talk about Commander. So stay tuned.
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