Special Guest Column by Joshua Hogan
The Secret Behind Magic the Gathering’s TWD Secret Lair Release
As many fans of comic books and gaming have become aware, The Walking Dead (TWD) is making an appearance in the form of unique Magic the Gathering (MtG) cards on October 4th (this coming Sunday). These cards are being released as part of the Secret Lair product line produced by Wizards of the Coast (WotC). For many, this is a welcome addition for their card collections, an introduction to collecting rare and unique cards, or signaling the end of MtG altogether. The release has been met with excitement, controversy, and many questions. I am hoping that in this article I can answer many of the questions you might have and also provide my opinion on what this release means for MtG and the future of the game.
What is Secret Lair?
First, you may be asking the question; “What is Secret Lair?” Secret Lair is a product line created for MtG that is meant to excite and entice both collectors and investors. Typically, Secret Lair uses existing cards in the Magic the Gathering library which are reprinted with special new artwork. These releases are only available for order on the Secret Lair Website for a limited amount of time, typically a day or longer. The good news is WotC will print the number of cards ordered in the specific time frame. So there is no need to obsessively hit refresh on your internet browser on launch day for fear of missing out. The only real fear is missing the window the cards are available.
How do I ensure I do not miss the window cards are available?
Simple. All you have to do is follow this link and register for the Secret Lair mailing list: https://secretlair.wizards.com/us
If you are concerned about getting spammed with emails about every MtG product and set to come, have no fear. I have been signed up on the Secret Lair mailing list since the beginning of the product line and can attest you will only receive emails regarding Secret Lair releases. That being said, there is no schedule or calendar for these releases… because it is a secret. So some releases might be close together or far apart.
Is TWD now part of MtG cannon?
No. These cards are purely made to enhance the game and make it more fun for players and collectors. They are not part of the MtG cannon and we will likely not see TWD cards again after this release. WotC has a license agreement with TWD for this release and it is assumed that the license will not be renewed for a reprint of these cards or future TWD cards. But that is an assumption, if you had told me 17-years ago Neegan could enter the battlefield and kill my Shivan Dragon I would say “that sounds rad, but you’re crazy.” So anything is possible.
What makes TWD unique from other Secret Lair Products?
As mentioned before, Secret Lair products are typically reprints of existing cards. TWD release is unique in that these cards are entirely new MtG cards with unique mechanics for the game. Recently, WotC collaborated with Toho Co. to bring Godzilla to MtG in the form of alternate art cards for the Ikoria and Secret Lair product lines. The Secret Lair was lackluster in that it was just basic land cards with Godzilla off in the distance. But the Ikoria set had some incredible Godzilla themed cards! These cards featured monsters from the Godzilla universe and the cards had their names displayed prominently. But underneath their names on the card, was the name of the actual card they represented. For example, the legendary creature “Zilortha, Strength Incarnate” had an alternate art version named “Godzilla, King of the Monsters.” But Zilortha’s name was printed underneath Godzilla’s, to denote that the card is actually “Zilortha” for purposes of gameplay mechanics. The Godzilla artwork is purely cosmetic and for fun. Confusing, right? Here is an image of the card so you can see what I mean:
Now, that brings us to TWD cards: These cards are completely unique and do not represent an existing card in the MtG library. They are brand new in every way.
Are TWD cards legal to play in WotC sanctioned tournaments and games?
TWD cards that are being offered in this upcoming Secret Lair are legal to play in any of the Eternal formats in MtG. In case you are unaware, the Eternal formats are any format of the game that allows players to use any card that has been printed in magic’s history, do no have a silver border, and have not been added to the banned list. Therefore, the formats you could theoretically see TWD cards being played are vintage, legacy, and commander.
What is the controversy you mentioned earlier?
There are several controversies surrounding this product. First and foremost, these are unique cards that will be legal for tournament play in several formats. Since they are exclusive to Secret Lair, it excludes many people from being able to purchase them. For example, if you begin playing MtG anytime after the window to order these cards, you will be forced to purchase them on the secondary market. Which is not uncommon, but due to the limited print run, these will likely be expensive cards in the future. Additionally, Secret Lair products are not available worldwide. There are many countries that are unable to purchase the product. For example, European countries have a very strong MtG player base. But Secret Lair products are not available in Europe, as of the writing of this article. WotC has essentially cut Europe off from a new product that is legal for tournament play. If one of these cards becomes an important addition to a competitive deck, players living in Europe will need to purchase the cards on the secondary market. And Europe is just the example I am using. There are many countries this product is not available in. Which would be annoying for those players if they wanted a special alternate art version of a card. But to print a card that is legal in the Eternal formats and only offer it to certain groups of players is frustrating.
The second controversy is there is fear among the player base that WotC will begin printing cards that are legal in any format and require players to buy them directly from the company. You might be asking how is that any different that their current business model of selling cards in booster packs? The difference is it excludes players that have a limited budget and it makes the game feel even more like “pay to win” than it already does. Many MtG players have a modest budget for the game and trade for cards they need or gradually build their collection through winning tournaments. A great example is that WotC previously had special cards that you could only get in you bought an entire booster box of packs. One of these cards, “Nexus of Fate,” would end up being part of a game breaking combo. The card was miserable to play with and against, but it almost always guaranteed a win if you could assemble the combo. But this card was only available as a bonus if you purchased an entire booster box of cards. These booster boxes typically retail for around $89.99 or $99.99. So if you did not have the money to buy four booster boxes you were not able to get a playset at launch. Yes, they were cheaper on the secondary market. But again, most players have a limited budget and build their collections through booster draft, trading cards, and tournament winnings.
How has WotC responded to the controversy?
Mark Rosewater, the head designer for MtG, expressed that the cards being offered in this Secret Lair could be reprinted as new cards in the future. Remember the Godzilla cards? He suggest it would work exactly like that, except in reverse. Some new character would enter the MtG universe and be a reprint of TWD cards that are being offered. The reprint would not have the name of TWD character it represents on the card, for licensing reasons. But both cards would be considered the same card for purposes of gameplay.
How will this affect the game long term?
While I am not a competitive or professional MtG player, I have played the game since 1995 and have a good understanding of the game and the formats. As of the writing of this article, there are only four TWD cards spoiled. These four cards all look incredibly fun and I definitely want them for my cube. But they do not appear overpowered and format breaking. That being said, I could be wrong. I am not a professional player.
If one or more of the cards does end up breaking a format, it is likely that WotC will ban those particular cards. And if a particular card becomes extremely popular in a format, it will likely get a reprint with a different name to be more accessible to players. So while I understand player’s frustrations over this Secret Lair, I do not believe it is the end of MtG. I’ve been playing MtG for 25-years and every year people say “this is the end.” Yet the game has only grown stronger and stronger.
If you like unique MtG cards or just like TWD, I think this product is for you. Besides, we live in a world where Negan can conceivably kill Godzilla in a MtG game. What a time to be alive!
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