The day many expected - or feared - when Magic: The Gathering first announced its Universes Beyond initiative has arrived. The popular trading card game will feature a sizeable crossover with Marvel, the pop culture colossus behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe and many of the most successful comic books currently in publication.
A press release from MTG publisher Wizards of the Coast confirmed that Marvel’s rotation on the Universes Beyond stage will contain at least one tentpole set alongside a bevy of “collectible products” - likely meaning preconstructed Commander decks, themed collector boosters and gift bundles similar to the TCG’s treatment of The Lord of the Rings earlier this year.
Tentpole sets are an internal marketing term referring to the roughly six major releases that Magic: The Gathering produces each year. Players would normally collect tentpole set cards through either the playable draft boosters or the more widely purchased set boosters, but Marvel’s Universes Beyond set will arrive after the introduction of the unified Play Booster early next year.
“We are extremely proud to collaborate with Marvel to bring its iconic characters to fans around the world in new ways,” said Cynthia Williams, president of Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro Digital Gaming. “These tentpole sets will build on the tradition of incorporating beloved fan-favourite characters and elements from world-class brands into Magic: The Gathering.”
Universes Beyond allows MTG to occasionally dabble in intellectual properties beyond the high fantasy multiverse where most of its storytelling takes place. These jaunts can be as small as a Fortnite or Street Fighter Secret Lair drop or cover a quartet of preconstructed Commander decks and collector boosters, a la Warhammer 40,000 or the upcoming Fallout crossover. Tales of Middle-earth introduced a more comprehensive project that included an entire tentpole set designed around J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal fantasy novels - it seems Marvel will receive a similar treatment.
“Trading cards have always been a part of Marvel’s DNA, so this collaboration takes that experience to a whole new level,” said Dan Buckley, president of Marvel Comics and Franchise. “With the depth that our storytelling and characters bring to the table, we can’t wait for fans to see how the Marvel Universe translates seamlessly into gameplay within these Magic: The Gathering products and sets for years to come.”
Buckley’s “years to come” quote might worry players who don’t mind brief layovers in outside worlds but would prefer MTG stay firmly rooted in its own fiction. Marvel has been an absolute cultural juggernaut since its acquisition by Disney in 2009 and has both the money and influence to press Wizards for more than just a single tentpole set, if the entertainment and media company so desired. Asking players to pass on one set depicting a non-MTG universe has landed well, so far. Earmarking successive sets for repeat visits to Marvel’s cape-filled world might change the tenor of that arrangement.
Further complicating this announcement is the multiple trading card game pies containing one of Disney’s fiscal fingers. Disney Lorcana exploded earlier this year, and, even if it isn’t an immediate threat to MTG’s competitive scene, the fledgling TCG is flying off shelves as fast as boxes arrive. Disney also owns the rights to the Star Wars universe, which will release the Star Wars: Unlimited TCG in 2024. Fantasy Flight Games still produces Marvel Champions: The Card Game, and while its living card game distinction sets it apart from the other title previously mentioned, it serves as one more body in an oddly crowded room of Marvel-themed card games.
A teaser trailer announcing the MTG x Marvel Universes Beyond evokes the magic in discovering superhero stories for the first time, ostensibly implying that the trading card game wants to bottle and sell its own introduction to worlds beyond our reality. Marvel’s core audience tends to be adult millenials with a built-in nostalgia for comic book names of the 1990s - a demographic it shares with MTG. Will the trading card game stick to what it knows or attempt to capture a younger audience?