Witch-king. Bringer of Ruin | The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth
9, Jun, 23

Universes Beyond MTG Sets Are More Popular Than Expected

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Article at a Glance

When the sub-brand was first launched back in 2020, it’s safe to say Universes Beyond did not go down well. Mired by controversy from selling the unique Walking Dead cards for a limited time, Universes Beyond was very easy to hate. Considering the unique look of Universes Beyond cards, many MTG players were more than happy to do just that. 

Spewing out hatred and vitriol en masse, it seemed like Universes Beyond could already be done for. Even after Wizards promised Universes Within reprints, players were still incredibly skeptical about the newfangled sub-brand. Undeterred by this skepticism and criticisms, Wizards of the Coast went on to release the Warhammer 40,000 Commander decks. 

Somewhat miraculously, following this Commander product release, MTG players started to change their tune. Realizing just how fun and flavorful these crossovers could be, the Warhammer 40,000 Commander decks were undeniably a success. So much so, in fact, that many MTG players were eagerly looking forward to the next Universes Beyond release. 

As time went on, it has certainly seemed like player opinion around Universes Beyond has steadily been improving. That being said, there are still plenty of derisive comments online pushing back against Wizards’ innovation. According to MTG’s Lead Designer, however, Universes Beyond is a lot more popular than these comments would have you believe.

The Universes Beyond Problem

Touchdown! (Approach of the Second Sun) | Secret Lair x Blood Bowl
Touchdown! (Approach of the Second Sun) | Secret Lair x Blood Bowl

Eight months after the Warhammer 40,000 Commander decks, Wizards is now releasing The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth. Like several Universes Beyond releases before it, this product’s gradual launch has been embroiled in controversy. This time around, this controversy stems from creative decisions by Wizards and Middle-earth Enterprises.

By differing from the descriptions by Tolkien and the look established by Peter Jackson, Tales of Middle-earth has been subject to constant criticism. Often extending to complaints against the entire Universes Beyond brand, many MTG players wish to not play with these cards. Rather than just ignoring them, this has led to suggestions that these cards simply shouldn’t exist or be eternal legal. 

While not demanding the complete eradication of Universes Beyond, Tumblr user Lizardwizard100 recently stressed the problems with the sub-brand. Raising their complaint to MTG’s Lead Designer, Mark Rosewater, Lizardwizard100 highlighted the dangers Universes Beyond could pose. Should multitudes of MTG players not want to interact with these cards, formats and play groups could fracture. 

If this were to happen on a large enough scale, playing with Universes Beyond cards could become rather difficult. So much so, that it could deter new MTG players who were looking forward to enjoying their crossover cards.

A Popularity Contest

Gandalf, Friend of the Shire | The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth
Gandalf, Friend of the Shire | The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth

Due to the damage it could cause, this definitely sounds like an issue Wizards should be concerned about. However, according to Mark Rosewater, the reality of the situation is very different. Rather than hating the mix of traditional MTG cards and Universes Beyond, the majority of players supposedly don’t mind at all. 

“Your question presupposes that not wanting to mix Magic and non-Magic IP is the preferred opinion of players. That’s not what our market research shows. That group, while very vocal online, is actually a small minority.”

Mark Rosewater

Considering the uproar against these cards online, Rosewater’s statement may not seem entirely accurate. Keep in mind, however, MTG has a huge casual player base. According to a previous statement from Rosewater, around 75% of MTG players don’t even know what a Planeswalker is

While it’s likely these casual players are more than happy to play with crossover cards, it seems even hardcore players don’t mind Universes Beyond anymore. Instead, according to Mark Rosewater, most MTG players don’t care about the art and the flavor of the cards they play. Even if the flavor in a set is absolutely fantastic

Rather than being all about flavor, most enfranchised MTG players instead reportedly care about the cards they get to play. If the cards are fun and feature compelling abilities, they’ll see play, no matter how they look. This is certainly the case for Rick, Steadfast Leader who sees consistent play in Commander.

A Problem Solved

Sméagol, Helpful Guide | The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth
Sméagol, Helpful Guide | The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth

Thankfully, for players who really do detest the look of Universes Beyond cards, Wizards does have a solution. As mentioned before, Wizards has committed to producing in-universe (Universes Within) variants of crossover cards. While this process does take time, especially in the case of Rick, Steadfast Leader, it’s nevertheless better than nothing.

Unfortunately, while it’s definitely useful, this policy doesn’t apply to every Universes Beyond release. Instead, only those launched for a limited time via Secret Lair are lucky enough to get the Universes Within treatment. This means full-set releases such as The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth aren’t guaranteed Universes Within reprints

While this news may be disappointing to some, there is an alternative solution to the Universes Beyond problem. As highlighted by Mark Rosewater, MTG players are able to choose who they play with. Subsequently, if you really hate Universes Beyond cards, you can find a playgroup that feels the same way. Since this should only be occurring on a small scale, there shouldn’t be any harm done to MTG.

Read More: Jeskai Lord of the Rings Commander Deck Threatens Multiple Combat Steps!

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