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Magic: The Gathering’s pop-culture crossovers are full of potential, but must learn from the mistakes of The Walking Dead

The multiverse is the perfect home for The Lord of the Rings, Warhammer and more - if handled correctly.

Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths saw something truly incredible come to the multiverse of Magic: The Gathering in the form of Godzilla and friends. That’s not a sitcom; I just assume that Godzilla likes to get together with Mothra, Rodan, and everyone else to play board games, have a couple of drinks and probably order just a bunch of takeaway food that would make at least one restaurant incredibly happy.

These were just alternate art for cards already in the set, but they still felt like a brave new adventure into what could happen in MTG. If that was the only pop-culture crossover with the card game we’d had so far, then this year’s announcement of both The Lord of the Rings and Warhammer 40,000 MTG sets would have been fairly universally well-received. The thing is, though, it’s not the only crossover we’ve had.

Unfortunately, last year’s Secret Lair drop of The Walking Dead cards showed the worst possible way that a crossover could occur. Rather than the cards being cool alternate versions of cards we love, it instead brought brand-new cards into existence. The issue wasn’t that, though - at least, not for most. The problem was that these unique cards were only available in a limited quantity for a limited time. This made what should’ve been an exciting crossover feel like a cash grab and, while Wizards of the Coast is a company that obviously wants to make money, it feels rather blatant when it weaponises FOMO like this.

We're at the precipice of what could be a new frontier for Magic: The Gathering.

So, here we are at the precipice of what could be a new frontier for Magic: The Gathering. We’re looking at upcoming sets that are going to bring two incredibly big properties into the multiverse of MTG. It’s exciting, despite what some people may think.

The idea of seeing not only Legolas and a Space Marine, but the potential to witness Solaire from Dark Souls or the rampant capitalism of the Monopoly dude, in an MTG set is incredibly exciting. (The latter isn’t even that outlandish given that Monopoly maker Hasbro owns Wizards.) There are arguments about it being unfaithful, but that ignores what Magic is anyway.

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Last year's The Walking Dead cards could only be acquired via the time-limited Secret Lair drop - leading to frustration among fans. Image: Wizards of the Coast

Magic: The Gathering began in a traditional fantasy setting filled with goblins, artifacts of incredible power and elementals. It was run-of-the-mill, to be frank, and only as the game has gone along have we picked up things such as sentient machines, eldritch monstrosities and now even fairy tales, Norse myths and a plethora of other genres of fantasy.

MTG isn’t some kind of pure and strict mythos; it’s a multiverse. We’ve been dragged into realms featuring homages to other characters, like how Haktos the Unscarred was clearly Achilles, almost constantly throughout the last few years - just because they didn’t have the same names as the things we know, it didn’t make the comparisons any less obvious.

If anything, having Jace appear in the midst of The Fellowship of the Ring would be hilarious. Imagine the interactions between him and Samwise. (You know Samwise is going to hit him in the head with a pan.) It all makes a lot of sense. In a multiverse, anything is possible; that’s something that MTG has constantly shown off, so these crossovers just feel like a logical progression.

It could even lead to us seeing MTG in other games, too. Imagine a Warhammer set inspired by the five colours of Magic, with Karn and Nicol Bolas facing off against each other with their minions. How about a Munchkin: The Gathering expansion? There are so many things that would fit MTG, and so many things that MTG would fit, and holding back from those just because you want to keep the multiverse consistent seems really odd when there really isn’t any consistency here anyway.

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Magic: The Gathering miniatures in Warhammer 40,000? If the two worlds can collide in one multiverse, why not another? Image: Games Workshop

Of course, the idea of these IPs infiltrating our beloved card game is one thing, but it all depends on how Wizards of the Coast ends up implementing them. If we see something akin to how Godzilla was dealt with, or even entire sets based on these otherworldly IPs, that’s one thing, but if it goes the way of The Walking Dead, then it’s another entirely.

Holding back because you want to keep the multiverse consistent seems odd when there really isn’t any consistency here anyway.

We need to see a little bit of TLC when it comes to Tyranids, hobbits and the other weird and wonderful characters and factions from the 41st Millennium, Middle-earth and more. They need to be brought in in a clever way to make sure that the cards feel authentic to both their origins and the game itself. But I’m not worried about that. What I’m worried about isn’t seeing Magic: The Gathering getting larger; I’m worried about more nonsense like limited-time sets that force players to invest in a short space of time, or anything that insists on inflicting a false scarcity upon us when we all know more cards could be printed.

As long as Wizards brings in these new worlds in a way that’s accessible, it’ll be great. I have to believe that the company learned from the backlash to The Walking Dead Secret Lair, because I like the game, and I want it to continue being excellent. If it hasn’t learned from it, then the crossovers may well be doomed but, with the potential for increasingly aggressive monetisation and more cards which aren’t limited in reality but are limited because Wizards of the Coast said so, that could well be the least of our worries.

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