Well, they got me. After resisting so many of Magic: The Gathering’s Secret Lair drops, they went and contracted horror mangaka Junji Ito to illustrate a set of four cards in his famously unsettling style. I want them badly, and resisting feels as though I’m doomed to become a victim of my own stubbornness.
Wizards of the Coast, publisher of the popular trading card game, announced the small run of reprints on its Weekly MTG Twitch stream alongside a glut of other premium products. Secret Lairs sell a time-limited set of cards with alternate art treatments - often around a specific theme - from guest illustrators, and these are printed to demand before disappearing from their online store for good. When several of these are offered at once, Wizards calls it a superdrop.
Such is the case with the October Superdrop, a collection of six discrete Secret Lairs. Ito provided illustrations for four cards in his themed bundle, all of them black Mana spells, with black-and-white artwork matching the style of his popular horror manga. The cards included are Thoughtseize, Doomsday, Carrion Feeder and Plaguecrafter, and their card art is extremely emblematic of Ito’s disturbingly dense linework and details that make your skin crawl
Avid players will be excited by the fact that the chosen cards do include some appreciated reprints, even for those looking for matches beyond the vast Commander tent. Secret Lairs are often discussed by hobbyist in terms of individual card value, as purchasing singles is almost always the best way to spend money on MTG. Both the Junji Ito Secret Lair and another by Metal Gear artist Yoji Shinkawa can be purchased in English and Japanese.
Rounding out the massive drop are collections illustrated by prolific artist Jack Hughes - he portrays Planeswalkers and creatures in haute couture fashion - Weirdest Pets in the Multiverse’s oddly adorable critters, The Space Beyond the Stars’ four stellar-themed cards reminiscent of 1920s portrayals of the solar system, and four Galaxy foil-treatment lands in the Totally Spaced Out drop. That last borrows the special treatment from the recently released Unfinity set, applying them to four specific lands that see plenty of play in non-standard formats.
Wizards also showed off two Secret Layer drops ostensibly part of the Universes Beyond imprint. The first is a continuation of the company’s promotional deal with musician Post Malone, an avid MTG player who has appeared on numerous shows, podcasts and livestreams at this point. Malone’s drop includes Backstage Pass’s renamed cards that also feature his likeness in the illustration, and Post Malone: The Lands, which delivers five basic lands in the classic brown frame that all have small doodles by the rapper in the bottom half.
The other is the second half of the widely touted team-up between Wizards of Warhammer 40,000 maker games Workshop. Three Secret Lairs give 40k’s Orkz, the high fantasy-bent Age of Sigmar and rowdy football miniatures game Blood Bowl their own MTG cards. While its disappointing to see the best Warhammer faction not get its own Commander deck (stupid Marines soaking up the spotlight), fans will no doubt appreciate more cheeky references.
If you’re into Secret Layers, this spate of releases has plenty that will likely tease out your wallet, yet again. I’ve nothing against premium products aimed at collectors, especially when they bring in artists that normally wouldn’t be tapped for a standard MTG set, but the frequency of their releases and increased emphasis on brand crossover have led many to associate Secret Layer with many of modern MTG’s problems.
That’s why I’m sitting here, staring at Ito’s card art like a crevice in a cardboard Amigara Fault. If I don’t purchase them, will they haunt my journeys through the world, warping everyone into tiny thin game pieces in an increasingly feverish nightmare until I’m forced to confront my moral failing head on? Probably not, but the art is pretty sick, and there’s nothing wrong with buying collectibles that speak to your interests. For more information on when these October Secret Lairs go on presale, including prices for foil and non-foil versions, check out the dedicated Secret Lair website.