Gandalf, Friend of the Shire | Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth | Art by Dmitry Burmak
3, Jun, 24

Magic's Head Designer Reveals The Reality Of Universes Beyond!

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Ever since it was first announced back in 2021, Universes Beyond as a concept has been one of the most divisive ideas in Magic history. Some adore it, for bringing beloved characters into their beloved game. Others, meanwhile, despise it for muddying the creative purity of Magic as a brand. Which group is right? Well, according to a recent Universes Beyond Blogatog post from Mark Rosewater (MaRo), it may well be the former.

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MaRo On The Future Of Universes Beyond

Atogatog | Odyssey | Art by Ron Spears

The post was a fairly simple one. Tumblr user Boostercrack dropped a reasonable question onto MaRo’s blog. “Do you think 21 universe beyond products in 5 years is a bit too many? Between Secret Lairs and full product releases the amount feels like it has spiked pretty quickly.” This a valid concern, and one that, as we’ll get into later, many Magic players share.

Rosewater’s response, in turn, was equally simple. “I think full products are a very different animal than Secret Lairs. That said, the main cause of the rise of Universes Beyond has been the overwhelming success of it. If it wasn’t something players have shown they really enjoy, we’d be doing less of it.”

It probably isn’t a surprise to anyone reading this article that Universes Beyond is popular. Since the beginning of this sub-brand, Wizards of the Coast has touted record profits and smash-hit successes. This venture has been so popular that Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth is one of the best-selling MTG sets of all time.

Alongside this unsurprisingly popular major set release, Secret Lair drops have proven equally lucrative. The recent Hatsune Miku Secret Lair, for example, sold out completely in less than 24 hours. It’s safe to say that MTG players are lapping these products up like there’s no tomorrow. Despite this, if you look online, everyone seems to hate Universes Beyond products.

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The Trouble With Bubbles

Maro-Universes-Beyond-Detention-Sphere

MaRo’s Universes Beyond Blogatog post, alone, is thick with negative comments. User ticked-off-squirrel claims that “Established players hate it (Universes Beyond).” Similarly, Chrislkimball notes that “I also have not purchased any UB product, and avoid content creators when they play review it.” Earthunyielding goes on to predict that the current success of Universes Beyond is a “bubble,” and that it will reach a saturation point and eventually burst.

This idea, that of a ‘bubble,’ seems to apply to the general Universes Beyond discourse, too. Online, in Magic discussions on the likes of Twitter and Reddit, negative opinions like this are ten-a-penny. You can find entire Reddit threads, with comment totals in the hundreds, dedicated to how much certain players hate Universes Beyond.

Every time a new Universes Beyond product is announced, you’re guaranteed to find criers in the comments, ringing their bells and foretelling the ‘Death of Magic.’ Despite this, when you look at the cold, hard numbers in the light of day, the products have all been incredibly well-received.

This is a common issue with online discourse in general, not just Magic. Social media algorithms push us towards content we’re likely to engage with, which tends to be content we’re likely to agree with. The result? Self-contained discourse bubbles, where minority opinions are magnified by their frequency.

In the Reddit thread discussing MaRo’s Universes Beyond Blogatog post, many players pointed this fact out. As much as Universes Beyond can feel unpopular online, that’s just not an idea that survives contact with reality.

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Universes Too Far?

Battle Royale | Secret Lair x Fortnite | Art by Felipe Martini

That’s not to say that the detractors have no valid points, of course. Universes Beyond is controversial for a reason. Adding characters from other IPs into Magic does fundamentally alter the gameplay experience, especially when said characters are printed on powerful cards. Just look at The One Ring in Modern or any number of Universes Beyond cards in Commander.

Originally, Universes Within was conceived as a way for players to enjoy these cards without the trappings of other IPs. That idea only really works, however, with Secret Lair-scale products. Sadly, Mark Rosewater has previously stated that an entire Universes Within set is incredibly unlikely. This leaves enfranchised players little choice but to play with these cards in formats like Modern.

The sheer volume of Universes Beyond products released, the catalyst for this entire discussion, is also a legitimate concern for many. In the Reddit thread, troglodyte praises the success of the concept but worries about how far it can stretch into the future. There are only so many suitable crossovers, after all, and WOTC is now gunning for two major Universes Beyond sets a year. Whether the idea has staying power in Magic or will end up just being a few-year stretch, is hard to say at present.

MaRo’s Universes Beyond post is, despite its brevity, a sobering reality check for many Magic players. Universes Beyond is a hit and, no matter how much-enfranchised players complain, it’s not going anywhere soon. For good or ill.

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