Ok everyone, let’s talk about Universes Beyond.
For those of you not in the know, last week Wizards of the Coast announced the upcoming release of the Universes Beyond, a product line that is in Wizards own words “a series that combines the gameplay of Magic: The Gathering with worlds, characters, and stories that are cherished by millions of fans around the world”. While not much is currently known about these releases at the time of writing this, we do know the first two universes that are to be explored. Those been the ones of Warhammer 40,000 and The Lord of the Rings.
Now upon the news of this quite monumental announcement reaching the community, there was notably one of two different reactions among fans. Quite a few of us (myself included) were cautiously optimistic about the possibilities this could bring to not only Magic, but other IP’s that we all love. The other (more vocal) section of the community threw their toys out of the pram and cried “Magic is dead” for like the fiftieth time.
As someone that tries for the most part to look on the bright side of life, I was initially frustrated with the quite vocal and negative feedback we saw from this section of the community. However, rather than rant about my viewpoint from a place of frustration, I decided instead to try and explain why this is potentially a great thing for the hobby, while also trying to allay the fears some of you might have.
First things first. Let’s talk about the mechanical issues, these been ‘card availability’ and ‘card legality’. Out of the multitude of ‘issues’ I have heard people complaining about regarding Universes Beyond, these are the two I feel have actual merit. Firstly, card availability. Since Universes Beyond will be in addition to regular Magic sets, many are worried about whether these products will have a limit release (say, like Secret Lair). If this is the case, this could mean that cards from these sets could be very popular and therefore highly sort after. This could drive up prices in both the primary and secondary market due to their rarity, which is never a good thing.
Now Wizards have said that these products will be available via all current avenues of purchase such as local game stores and the like, which hopefully means that this will be a heavily printed product line. However, this isn’t going to do much in the long term without reprints. Because once the first run of these cards has run out, future players of this fine game could be left frustrated if they learn that these cards were the only printing Wizards ever planned on releasing. Now I don’t know the legal issues that might arise from reprinting such cards, but provided Wizards can reprint these cards in further products sometime in the future, this should not be that much of a problem.
The second point, card legality, is a slightly trickier affair. If the cards in these sets are new and unique cards (such as the ones in the Walking Dead Secret Lair) and not aesthetic reprints (such as the Godzilla cards frames from Ikoria) then that opens up issues around where, and even IF you will be able to use them in particular formats. Wizards have already said that these cards will not be Standard legal, and I think its safe to say that Modern and Pioneer will probably be off limits too. But older formats like Legacy and Vintage, as well as casual formats like Commander will be fair game when it comes to using these new products. This could be a big problem.
The major issue with the Walking Dead Secret Lair cards (which Wizards have said are precursors Universes Beyond) was that they were only available in a limited release set with a super high price tag. What is worst, they ended up having an impact in competitive formats like Legacy. This meant only a select few players had access to those cards. As you can imagine this is hardly fair or balanced, as it rewards players for having more money than there opponents, and drives up the prices of these cards for collectors. Now, if we assume that these cards can and will be reprinted in future sets, then there shouldn’t be too much of a problem as it means that the prices can stay low and people both competitive and casual will be able to get their hands on them.
Hopefully Wizards have learnt their lesson on this particular subject (at least I hope they have) and we should avoid these issues with a high print run and future reprints. If this is the case, then the pitfalls for Secret Lair Walking Dead can hopefully be avoided and players fears can be put at ease.
Ok, now that has been discussed, let’s move on to game aesthetic. This is far more of a subjective quality, and as a result is a little harder to defend. After all, while I love the aesthetic of Lord of the Rings and Warhammer 40,000, I can imagine that some people will not. Some players might even be put off these products because they don’t like the idea of having a Space Marine carrying a Heavy Bolter or a Hobbit hiding from a Ringwraith in their deck.
This is understandable to a point. People love to customise their decks (especially commander players) and while they might end up liking cards from the Universes Beyond product line, they might not love the art or worlds portrayed on them. After all, many popular Magic cards have had numerous reprints over the game’s long years. This means that there is a lot of choice when it comes to the card art and border design people want to play with, even allowing players to put the artwork from their favourite artist in their decks. This has some what spoiled us and as a result some people might talk issue with cards depicting sci-fi artwork, not wanting to place them in their decks. However, when people start saying things like “well it isn’t Magic” or “it ruins the aesthetic of the game” that I start disagreeing.
It’s important to remember that Magic (the game) and Magic (the lore) are not one and the same. However, people often think the opposite is true. I think this is because some people view Magic as a whole package product, seeing the card art and gameplay as one and the same. However, the mechanics of the base game of Magic have fundamentally nothing to do with the lore Wizards has created. If you were to strip away the story the fundamental game would remain the same, all be it with duller card names and art. However, because Wizards design team do such an amazing job gelling the game and the narrative they are telling with great card design, it can be hard to remember that.
If however, you can separate the story from the game, you have a world class gaming system that you can use to tell other stories and show off exciting new worlds. This opens up so much design space and gives Wizards of the Coast more opportunities to be creative. Sure, the Planes of the Multiverse don’t have Xeno threats and spaceships, but by letting the design team play around with these concepts you create opportunities for them to try mechanics and archetypes that could inspire future Standard sets.
Not only that, but you are opening up the game to new players form other hobbies to the best collectable card game in the world, and even possibly reintroducing older players that have long since stopped playing the game. As a Warhammer 40,000 hobbyist, I have had many conversations with other players who will often respond to me talking about Magic with “oh yeah, Magic. I remember that”. This is a chance to get them back into the hobby, and expand the already booming player base.
Sure, there are some potential issues. But there are also some great opportunities to expand the game like never before, and so long as we approach Universes Beyond with the right attitude, it can and SHOULD be a huge positive for the game we all love.
How do you feel about Universes Beyond? Please let me know in the comments below, and while you’re there you could like and subscribe to keep up to date with all we do here at Master of Magics.
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