The Walking Dead-themed Secret Lair drop will be available starting October 4, 2020, coinciding with the debut of the The Walking Dead: World Beyond, a new spinoff series based on the massively popular The Walking Dead franchise. It will be available for a full week until October 12 from the Secret Lair store for $49.99.

“The cards included in this very special Secret Lair drop will be completely new to Magic, depicting the iconic characters of the long-running and critically acclaimed TV series,” Wizards of the Coast said in their announcement. “These are mechanically unique cards that will be legal in Eternal formats. Commander players especially should look forward to bringing their favorite characters from The Walking Dead to life on the tabletop!”

“This is the first time that we’re going all the way and designing new cards from the ground up to express outside characters and narrative worlds into the form of Magic cards,” product architect Mark Heggen told The Hollywood Reporter. “With each of the cards in the [drop], we really took the time to think about what is unique about the characters and how that can translate to a mechanic when playing Magic,” added Clayton Neuman, VP of Games and Entertainment at AMC Networks, which makes The Walking Dead.

Two cards were revealed today: Michonne, Ruthless Survivor and Negan, the Cold-Blooded. The remaining contents of the Secret Lair x The Walking Dead drop will be revealed at 11 PM on October 4 during the episode of Talking Dead that will follow the series’s debut episode. It will be the 28th drop in the Secret Lair Drop Series.

Michonne, Ruthless Surivor

Michonne, Ruthless Survivor by Romana Kendelic and her accompanying Walker tokens by Dave Allsop.

Michonne is one of the main characters of The Walking Dead and is known for her use of a sword. Heggen told THR that they wanted to portray her as a “lone, unstoppable samurai.”

“That’s the story we want to tell with this card,” he continued. “She’s able to pick a fight; they can’t ignore her, they can’t get out of the way.”

Negan, the Cold-Blooded

Negan, the Cold-Blooded by Jake Murray and his accompanying Treasure token by Jason Felix.

Negan is an antagonist from The Walking Dead and is known for being manipulative and vicious. Heggen told GameSpot that “the game design team really nailed expressing these rich characters with just a few numbers and a couple lines of rules text” and that Negan was his favorite example.

“When he hits the battlefield he has a unique rule that forces one of your opponents to play this sick mind game where they have to choose and sacrifice one of their own creatures, but you can also get into their head and trick them into sacrificing more than they had to!” Heggen exclaimed. “It’s a fun moment in the game, and it feels exactly like something the real Negan would do.”

Mechanically Unique Cards in a Secret Lair Drop

The Secret Lair x The Walking Dead drop will be the first instance of Wizards including brand new, mechanically unique, tournament-legal cards in a Secret Lair drop. All 27 previous drops were entirely made up of special versions of existing Magic with new art.

But The Walking Dead drop will include at least two, and likely more, cards that are completely new and won’t be available outside of purchasing the Secret Lair drop. Given that these unique cards include names and depictions that are the intellectual property of AMC, which created The Walking Dead, it seems unlikely that these cards will ever be accessible in another way. “In the future we could imagine reprinting these same cards with new art, or mechanically-similar versions of these cards with different names and creative treatments,” Wizards confirmed. “We don’t have plans to do that at this time, but down the road that could change.”

Some in the Magic community were angered by the presence of mechanically unique, tournament-legal cards in a $50 promo set. “I am really really unhappy about this,” tweeted Shivam Bhatt, a member of the Commander Advisory Committee. “Mechanically unique cards available as a one off is antithetical to the player experience.”

“Ugh. Just…ugh,” said Evan Erwin, host of the Magic Mics podcast. “If they’re good, God help us; if they’re bad fans are unhappy.”

But this isn’t the first time that Wizards has created mechanically unique, tournament-legal cards that were only available as promos. In March 2018, they announced that Dominaria was getting a Buy-a-Box promo card, Firesong and Sunspeaker, that would only be available as a Buy-a-Box promo and wouldn’t be included in packs of the set. Wizards said that they didn’t intend the card to be playable outside of casual Commander games and they ended up being correct about its power level.

However, they followed this with the Nexus of Fate Buy-a-Box promo for Core Set 2019, which went on to form an extremely powerful archetype in combination with Wilderness Reclamation, allowing players to take infinite turns. This meant that Nexus of Fate, which was only available as a foil Buy-a-Box promo and couldn’t be opened in packs, became one of the most sought after Standard cards of its era. It was so powerful that it ended up getting banned in Best-of-One Standard, as well as in Historic and Pioneer.

The most direct comparison one can make with the Secret Lair x The Walking Dead drop is the Godzilla Monster Series from Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. In partnership with Toho, the creator of Godzilla, Wizards created 19 alternate versions of cards in the set that had names and art that referenced famous Godzilla monsters. For example, Illuna, Apex of Wishes from Ikoria had an alternate version called Ghidorah, King of the Cosmos. The Gidorah version is not a distinct card and is legally and mechanically Illuna, Apex of Wishes, as you can see by the sub-name included on the card.

However, the comparision gets more apt with Godzilla, King of the Monsters, Ikoria’s the Buy-a-Box promo. Godzilla is technically just an alternate version of Zilortha, Strength Incarnate and wasn’t available in booster packs; however, there is no non-Godzilla version of Zilortha, Strength Incarnate in existence yet—though Wizards could “reprint” Godzilla (or any other Godzilla Series Monster) at any time by printing the non-Godzilla version of the card.

What makes all of these examples of promo cards problematic is the fact that they are all tournament-legal. This means that if they are too good, like Nexus of Fate, the promo nature of the card will limit its supply and make it more difficult to acquire and play with. The concern with the cards in the Secret Lair x The Walking Dead drop is the fact that they do not enjoy the flexibility of the Godzilla Series Monsters in that they aren’t connected to Magic cards that aren’t The Walking Dead’s intellectual property. This exacerbates the limited supply issue inherent to promos by making these cards particularly difficult to reprint if they become tournament staples.

Wizards has a history of printing mechanically unique promos—but, until now, they’ve always been silver-bordered and thus not tournament-legal. For example, Wizards made Dungeons & Dragons, Transformers, and Nerf promos for Hascon 2017, as well as three My Little Pony promos in 2019.

These promos are part of a long tradition of silver-bordered promos, like the annual holiday card, that Wizards uses as a way to make fun cards that otherwise wouldn’t make sense in the Magic universe or within Magic’s rules. But none of those promos crossed the line of being playable in tournaments due to their silver borders, meaning that only collectors and casual Commander players would want them.

It remains to be seen if the Secret Lair x The Walking Dead drop will successfully walk the fine line that Firesong and Sunspeaker did—or if it will fall into the same trap as Nexus of Fate.

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