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Universes Beyond

Just a heads up: gonna be some spoilers for the Lord of the Rings novels down below.

Magic has started making cards from other games, books, or shows like The Walking Dead, Street Fighter, Arcane, Fortnite, Warhammer 40000, Doctor Who, and The Lord of the Rings. That’s called “Universes Beyond”.

I’ve been all for that, with one exception—I don’t ever want to see “brands”, like “I tap your 3/3 Pepsi with my Tide pod”. I get that an IP is a brand but I hope the line between what’s a cultural artifact, like a novel, versus a product with a logo, is clear enough even for Hasbro.

With that exception firmly in place, I’ve been happy with this. And the D&D set is my favorite set of all time.

But looking back at these past first few years of Universes Beyond, one thing strikes me. There’s not the same sense of exploration and discovery and wonder that we have with Magic usually, even one based on stories like Eldraine. It’s stiff, it’s walking down an already trodden path.

The Doctor Who stuff and the Lord of the Rings stuff is organized the same way as the source material unless you really go out of your way to mix and match.

I mean, Brewer’s Kitchen assembled the Ratadrabik / Smeagol / Boromir combo] and joked:

Now, I gotta applaud Wizard’s card design team here. This is just like in the movie. Remember when Boromir has sacrificed himself over and over again, and then Gollum looked at this and said “Oh my God, I’m so god-damned tempted by this ring, I could like steal all of Sauron’s land or something, I don’t know… and mill them?”

Yes, kinda, actually. Boromir did get tempted by the ring but then took arrow after arrow, sacrificing himself trying to save the hobbits, making the ring even more precious to them, and to Gollum as he guided them all the way through Sauron’s land.

Boromir gets tempted & sacrifices himself to save the team. Gollum gets tempted and guides you through enemy lands. The cards do what their story characters do, and that brings me a newfound appreciation for the freshness of Magic when it’s at its most original.

The exception to that has been the more open-ended games like 40K and D&D. Those have been perfect fits because those are story worlds where the outcome is not set. D&D especially worked great with all the modal cards giving us all kinds of new choices.