The Walking Dead Secret Lair Is Everything Wrong With MTG Crossovers

Don't Dead, Open Inside

Magic: The Gathering fans awoke this morning to a bit of a surprise. No, it’s not the ban of Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath in Standard (it’s about fucking time), but spoilers for the upcoming Secret Lair. For the unfamiliar, Wizards of the Coast announced during the Zendikar Rising reveal stream that one of the new Secret Lair products would revolve around the hit comic book and television show, The Walking Dead.

Following the massive success of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths’ Godzilla crossover, for WotC to partner with this zombie-filled pop culture property was cool, but unsurprising. What was surprising was that these cards are mechanically unique from anything else in Magic. Previously, MTG crossovers were just fun reskins of existing cards — something for collectors but not anything that affected play. Not only is this change deeply flawed, it sets a dangerous precedent for the future of collector cards.

The flesh begins to fall off the rotting corpse when you slap unique mechanics and abilities on these cards. Take Negan, the Cold-Blooded. When this card enters the battlefield you and a target opponent each secretly choose a creature that player controls. Those choices are then revealed and that player sacrifices those creatures. He also produces a treasure token whenever an opponent sacrifices a creature.

This mechanic was designed for and can only be found on Negan. This means, unless you fork over $50 USD during the one week period this Secret Lair is sold, you will never be able to get this card outside of the secondary market. That’s right! It’s a time-limited affair as well.

Wizards of the Coast is crafting a scenario where FOMO (fear of missing out) drives sales to average players. The rank and file, non-whale types cannot just buy some cheaper, normal version on the secondary market. That card doesn’t exist. There is literally only Negan, the Cold-Blooded. Tying unique mechanics to a premium limited production run is wildly scummy. Players should not be forced to take a risk and purchase these cards on the off chance they end up being absurdly powerful down the line.

This isn’t Jace, the Mind Sculptor, fetchlands, or any other expensive card that doesn’t get reprinted often. The Walking Dead cards will, most likely, never be printed again. If by some miracle they are — perhaps in unlicensed form, reversing the process of the Godzilla crossover — there’s no guarantee even that will be in a widely available form like a Masters, Standard, or specialty set. Keep in mind, Secret Lair is also region exclusive. That means only a handful of places can even have this product shipped to them. If you don’t live in one of the countries listed, then these cards will be even trickier to obtain.

Did I mention these cards will be legal in Eternal formats? Yes, you read that correctly. If you want to use Michonne, Ruthless Survivor in Legacy then you’re completely allowed. So if someone discovers there’s some busted combo with one of these cards, players will either need to pay a ton of money for multiple copies via the secondary market, or accept they simply cannot use it since that Secret Lair print run is over. The same goes for Commander: a format this Secret Lair was almost assuredly designed for. If we learn that Negan is an overpowered card, then only those who bought the product during that brief timespan can use it there, too.

While we’ve had mechanically unique crossover cards before — such as the My Little Pony set — these were all “silver-bordered.” That means they are considered “Un” cards and cannot be used in any format outside of strict causal play, or if players agree in a game of Commander. None of them were legal in serious, competitive formats like Commander, Legacy, or Vintage. The Walking Dead cards aren’t meant to just be a collector’s item you put on a shelf. They are meant to be used and played in virtually any Eternal format.

Instead of showcasing art of familiar cards that celebrate this television show, Wizards of the Coast reduced them to Fortnite-esque skins. It’s a marketing stunt meant to get attention, without any consideration for the game or those who play it. If this Secret Lair is a hit, and I suspect it will be, how long until we see Marvel, Star Wars, or any other massive property with mechanically unique cards? I’m all for celebrating other aspects of pop culture in Magic: The Gathering. The multiversal story is fertile ground for that.  But artificially limited product (beyond just rarity) should never, ever impact the game as a whole. If Wizards of the Coast continues down this path, I fear it will drive droves of players away from the game.

This is a product that should have been put down like a hungry zombie — not left to shamble on like a certain television series that really needs to end.