The Magic: The Gathering community is in turmoil this morning following a ruling from the Commander Rules Committee (CRC) about The Walking Dead Secret Lair. Announced earlier today by founding member Sheldon Menery, the group has decided to not ban these exclusives cards from the format. This has, unsurprisingly, not been well received within the MTG community which has been calling for bans since they were revealed on Monday. Much of this is due to the exclusivity and concept of selling premium, mechanically unique cards that are just tie-ins to other pop culture properties.
In the post, the Commander Rules Committee acknowledged the community’s anger towards the product and explained that they reached out to people in Wizards of the Coast to express this displeasure. The CRC first addressed the complaint about the availability of these cards. The crux of the argument is that Commander players do not need equal access to every card. After all, a lot of people cannot afford or acquire dual lands or more expensive options like Mana Crypt.
While we understand why people are concerned about such limited availability, we don’t believe that the problem applies to Commander in the same way it does to tournament formats. Successful tournament formats require generally equal and complete access to cards. But, one of the themes that we’ve reiterated since the earliest days of the format is that you don’t need access to every card in order to have fun playing Commander.
The focus of Commander being on non-tournament play, plus the enormous cardpool available where almost everything goes, means that unique cards floating around don’t present the same kind of problem. The stakes in a Commander game is the fun of the participants, and that doesn’t require all the cards.
However, many saw banning these cards as a symbolic, unified message from the community to Wizards of the Coast. Players were unhappy with the myriad of problems surrounding these cards and the Secret Lair product. The CRC remarked on the idea of sending a message to Wizards, explaining that they “don’t think it’s appropriate to tell them how to run their business.” Curiously, the CRC dismisses the idea of how effective banning these cards would even be, saying that such an action “would be doomed to failure.” Personally, I couldn’t disagree more with this statement, as the cards were clearly designed for Commander players. Their power levels aren’t insane so it’s doubtful that they’ll make an impact in Legacy or Vintage. This is very much a product made for Commander players, so removing it from that format entirely would certainly have an impact on sales.
The CRC continued on, sharing their thoughts on non-Magic properties making their way into the game and The Walking Dead’s Negan getting his own card. They explain that while some people may not be happy with this universe getting represented in Magic: The Gathering, we shouldn’t act as gatekeepers for those that are excited. Honestly, this is fine even if The Walking Dead is way past its prime as both a television show and comic book series. A lot of player’s issues weren’t with the franchise itself getting cards, but the legality and ramifications of printing unique cards in a premium limited-time product.
Some folks simply don’t like the idea of The Walking Dead crossing over into Magic, a modern IP breaking an immersion barrier. We understand that feeling (none of us care at all about The Walking Dead), but also realize that almost everyone has some universe for which they’ve dreamed of having Magic cards.
We don’t think it’s productive to try to gatekeep that. If you dislike it, we support you not playing with the cards. Introduction of a different IP opens Commander to audiences who might not have ever heard of Magic or the format; we welcome the new friends we haven’t yet met.
This goes for The Walking Dead villain Negan as well, who is undeniably a monstrous character. Magic has its fair share of horrific villains, so I don’t agree with the idea of giving him a card is an act of glorifying his specific actions. The CRC states: “No one is suggesting that by putting him on a card he should be idealized, any more so than Nicol Bolas or Yawgmoth.”
I don’t envy the Commander Rules Committee’s position. This is an extraordinary circumstance that must have been difficult to navigate through. While many will be upset today, I remind players to not take out their anger or frustration with committee members. Wizards of the Coast is ultimately responsible for putting them in such an awkward situation, not the volunteer group trying to keep this beloved format afloat. Whether you agree with their decision or not, today will be one of the most controversial moments in Magic: The Gathering’s history.