Warhammer 40,000’s cardboard invasion draws near, and designers of both studios have provided details about the upcoming Magic: The Gathering crossover expansion set, which will take the form of four themed commander decks and three separate Secret Lair premium releases.
Publisher Wizards of the Coast announced September 12th that two other Games Workshop properties, the high fantasy Age of Sigmar and the goofy, violent sports offshoot Blood Bowl will also appear on two of the three planned Secret Lairs. The last will further expand Warhammer 40,000’s grim, ornate military sci-fi world through a selection of premium cards.
This set will be the first of a more robust crossover in MTG’s Universes Beyond, the imprint where characters and worlds from outside of the trading card game’s expansive universe will live without much up the narrative waters, so to speak. Most of these releases have taken the form of specially themed Secret Lairs - Fortnite, Arcane, The Walking Dead, etc. - but next year will see a full set dedicated to The Lord of the Rings.
The face cards of the two other preconstructed Commander decks were revealed, finally giving us a look at all four leaders. The Blue, White and Black Mana-aligned Inquisitor Grefax leads the forces of the Imperium while the Black-aligned Szarekh, The Silent King haunts the host of the Necron Dynasties deck. Abaddon the Despoiler (Blue, Black and Red) will be the face of The Ruinous Powers, which will contain cards from all the disparate Choas factions, and The Swarmlord (Green, Red and Blue) leads the seemingly endless Tyrannid Swarm.
That’s a lot of multicoloured cards, already, and the official card image gallery already shows plenty more. Longtime head designer Mark Rosewater claims MTG’s five Mana colours doesn’t always map cleanly to characters with deep backstories and sometimes decades of established narrative. And even when they do, building a 100-card commander deck around them that plays well and still feels thematically resonant adds yet another layer of difficulty.
Rosewater's recent article outlining the challenges and advantages of representing outside universes on MTG cards is fascinating in its illumination of the design process behind the simplest of cards. He describes the marriage of mechanics, concept and artwork as an experiment that necessarily flexes and breathes throughout the process. Locking in a character’s name, personality and backstory limits designers’ abilities, and not always for the better - Rosewater names only four advantages against eight challenges in his blog.
Several of the designers from both tabletop companies spoke about the crossover in a promotional video, noting that Warhammer 40,000’s decidedly darker and more violent world will push the artistic envelope for what players normally expect to see on their cards. But they’ve also used this set as an opportunity to showcase existing pieces, as well. About 15% of card images in the expansion set will be pulled from Games Workshop’s archive, hoping to reward longtime fans while also capturing the attention of prospective ones.
At least one card, The Golden Throne, will feature the work of artist John Blanche. The illustrator worked at Games Workshop as both a modeller and art director for several game series and books throughout the 1980s and ‘90s. His style, a signature mixture of British punk, gothic influences and brutal space aesthetics, became nearly synonymous with Games Workshop’s worlds.
The four Warhammer 40,000 preconstructed Commander decks will hit store shelves on October 7th, with their contents being gradually revealed throughout the rest of this week. Each of the three Secret Lairs will be available to order between October 17th and November 14th. Wizards of the Coast did not provide any information on when players can expect those premium drops to ship.