The Battle of the Pelennor Fields
17, Oct, 22

MTG Players Aren’t Buying the Popularity of Universes Beyond

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Article at a Glance

Since its inception, Universes Beyond products have been an exceedingly controversial addition to MTG’s worryingly bloated release calendar. Kicked off with The Walking Dead crossover cards in 2020, the Universes Beyond brand has only grown since then. This is despite rampant criticism and controversy that emerges following every Universes Beyond announcement and release. Ask most MTG players, and they’ll preach about how much they detest these thematically off-kilter cards, yet Wizards are still making them. Moving into 2023, Wizards of the Coast is even dramatically expanding the Universes Beyond product line. Given the amount of backlash they receive, this has left many MTG players questioning the popularity of Universes Beyond products. 

Perceived Popularity

Thanks to its increasing expansion throughout 2022, 2023, and 2024, it’s hardly a question that Universes Beyond products are popular. After all, Wizards of the Coast and Magic’s Lead Designer, Mark Rosewater, have stated time and time again that “success breeds repetition.” Following this logic, Universes Beyond products appear to be some of the most tremendously successful MTG products in recent history. In three short years, Universes Beyond has gone from being a novel Secret Lair to a sub-brand seeing two major releases a year. Not to mention the brands that Wizards has been partnering with have been growing in scope and scale. 

From this undeniably impressive success, it appears that there shouldn’t be any question surrounding Universes Beyond’s popularity. Nevertheless, not all MTG players are so convinced that Universes Beyond products are successful on their own merit alone. Instead, some MTG players have been blaming external factors and Wizards for duplicitously guaranteeing the success of these much-mired products. By printing time-limited, value-efficient, and highly prized cards, Wizard has the means to make products that every MTG player wants. According to some players, these highly prized products are actually a bad thing, especially when they’re Universes Beyond products. 

These problems supposedly began with the initial crossover with The Walking Dead. Available only via a time-limited Secret Lair, these Commander-focused mechanically unique cards had an immense sense of FOMO. Since there was no guarantee that these cards would be reprinted, MTG players and collectors had no choice but to buy this product. While Wizards eventually backtracked and announced Universes Within reprints, this initial FOMO still guaranteed the product’s success. Subsequently, this success gave Wizards the precedent to expand the Universes Beyond product line considerably. 

Manufactured Success

While Wizards backtracked on The Walking Dead’s Secret Lair exclusivity, not all players are convinced it was an honest mistake. Instead, Tumblr user j-waffles asserted that Wizards is manufacturing the success of not just Universes Beyond but all MTG products. “Eldraine sold well not because of the flavor of the plane, but because of the power level of the cards,” j-waffles attests. Supposedly, this is all that matters for a set’s success, with j-waffles stating that if Eldraine’s cards were found on Rabiah instead, it would have sold just as well. Similarly, j-waffles claims initial Secret Lair products “sold well not because people liked the concept of the product, but because they contained reprints of highly sought-after cards.”

Responding to this rather damning accusation, Mark Rosewater stated that sales aren’t the only metric that Wizards measures success by. “There is lots of other data beyond sales,” Rosewater plainly said before revealing that “Universes Beyond has proven successful in all the metrics we test.” To prove this point, Rosewater went on to detail exactly why Universes Beyond products are legitimately successful. “People say positive things on them in market research. They hit all the positive metrics we can observe online (things like Google trends). The various feedback we get from partners is positive.” 

While several interlinked factors may determine the overall success of a product, Wizards still does their due diligence to assess success properly. After being questioned about how determining The Walking Dead Secret Lair’s success is possible, Mark Rosewater sensibly stated that “we do market research. Because we have metrics we can observe that help us tell who is buying products and why. Because we have an entire team dedicated to understanding what is and isn’t successful.” 

No Bad Business Here

As we stated at the start, Magic: the Gathering’s future is ultimately governed by its successes. MTG is, after all, a business that needs to make money, especially if it wants to fulfill its lofty ambitions. Sensibly, this means that Wizards is always trying to create the best product possible for both itself and its players. As Mark Rosewater states, “it’s not good business to make people buy something they don’t fundamentally want to buy. If we truly believe a product would be better using different flavor, we’d use different flavor. To use other people’s IP, we have to pay them, so if a Magic version would just sell better, why wouldn’t we do that?” 

While Wizards carefully considers every option to make a product as successful as possible, pleasing everyoneisn’t possible. “I want to make things you all want to buy, but different players want different things,” Rosewater continued. “Just because you personally don’t like an idea, doesn’t inherently mean it’s a bad idea. Often there’s an audience that does want it.” 

Ultimately, “all this is a long way of saying that we want players buying things because they want to buy it.” To accomplish this goal, Wizards makes sure to rigorously test each idea they have for maximum effectiveness. As Rosewater explains, “Throne of Eldraine’s world tested very highly in market research. It having powerful cards didn’t hurt sales, but it doesn’t negate that players actually liked the world. It’s a big reason we’re going back next year.” Similarly, Rosewater states that “We didn’t go into making Universes Beyond without double-checking that it had a high chance of success.” 

Read More: LGS Replicates 30th Anniversary Packs with Legal Cards!

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