On October 23, 2023, we learned that in the near future, Marvel Comics would be coming to Magic the Gathering through Universes Beyond. And in the moment, I was not that excited. Which is wild to me, because I swear my friends and I talked for countless hours for over two weeks when Wizards of the Coast announced Theros with a single image of Heliod, God of the Sun. Gods are coming to Magic? How is that going to work? What does that even mean, in this context?

As a decades-long Marvel fan, characters I have loved for most of my life are coming to my favorite card game and I’m left with a feeling of apathy. Over a week removed, I have tried to diagnose what has left me so lukewarm about the entire experience. Is it that we know too much of what is coming in the future? Does my favorite co-operative game already feed that desire for a game in the Marvel Universe? Or does this just all stem from the voice in my head that screams, “this will never be the Marvel I know.” 

Seeing as this is a personal peak of all fandoms that have been folded into Magic through Universes Beyond; I wanted to spend the week reflecting on the culmination of all of these factors and try to reason out how any established Magic player should look at the adaptation of their favorite fandoms past and future. 

Magic Meets Marvel

Marvel is one of those properties I’m sure anyone who has spent time looking at custom Magic content has seen done with the full gambit of skillful or lazy designs. The idea of trying to map characters like Captain America, Thor, and Doctor Strange to Magic’s engine is genuinely interesting, because the theming of these characters is so flexible. Does Cap’s Shield un-attach and reattach at no cost? Does Thor have flying? Are these double face cards? If we can dream it, Wizards could do it.

That’s why this recent announcement should have been mind boggling and I think the reason why it has left me lukewarm as the topic was making waves through the community is because, to some degree, too much of the future of Magic is already mapped out for us. Until recently, I never had much problem knowing what was coming, because I could know where I could invest my excitement over the coming year. I know this is a personal bias, but when I know the roadmap for the next two years of content, logic says I know where I want to spend my dollars, but then reality sets in and I end up spending no dollars. 

By the time we’ve reached the point of the product that I was looking forward to either: A) I’ve grown accustomed to not spending that money or B) I’m already looking forward to something they announced in the meantime. I feel pretty confident that Wolverine fighting Magneto will trump everything else to come, but how do I know Samurai Pizza Cats won’t be announced for 2026?

We Can be Champions

I know some of my emotions about the announcement have been tempered by my involvement with Marvel Champions. To catch everyone up, if Champions were a Magic format, it would be an automated Archenemy, with 40-card decks. And while by no means is it a perfect game, being able to experience a card game that can be played with one to four players in a cooperative environment feeds a hungry desire that I’ve had for decades. And Marvel Champions being built around the lore of Marvel at its roots means that I get this very unique and distinctly different experience, bound only by the creativity of the designers at Fantasy Flight Games.

Seeing as I now have a year’s worth of experience playing Marvel Champions, I can also say that while the appeal certainly came from my love of comics and card games, a lot of the staying power and depth lies in its four dozen heroes and the comparable amount of villain scenarios, themselves infinitely customizable. All these factors make for a game that is flexible enough to allow me to dig into my Marvel Vorthos side and act out situations ranging from the absurd, all the way down to taking cues from my favorite episode of Spider-Man: the Animated series. Even in my wildest dreams, a Magic set is not going to be able to meet that standard.

Experiencing IPs

Reflecting back on all of this torrent of emotional highs and lows I’ve had over the last two weeks as the premise of Marvel products has really begun to sink in, I’m reminded of an interview I did with Peter Rios, founding member of Comic Geek Speak and host of The Daily Rios, in late 2022. During our discussion, we got to talking about how many different iterations of comic book characters we’ve seen over the last two decades. Eventually, he pointed out that even though we are in the current age of Robert Pattinson as Batman, and we’ve already had Ben Affleck play Batman for the better part of the last decade, there are so many people whose quintessential Batman remains Christian Bale. And others, like myself, would say the same about Kevin Conroy from Batman the Animated

Due to the proliferation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the last 15 years, Ironman played by Robert Downey Jr. is all that many people know. Yet for me, Ironman will always be best for me when he was written by Brian Micheal Bendis in the late 2000s. But for some, the art of Sara Pichelli in Marvel Champions and cards designed by Fantasy Flight will be an entire audience’s perspective. And for future fans, it will be the interpretation that is put on a Magic card in 2025. All four interpretations are valid, because each version is emblematic of how individual fans chose to interact with the property. 

I love Marvel Champions, but I have a friend who loves Marvel United. And for as much as I would love for him to play a game that I love, I understand that we’re both getting to interact with an intellectual property that means a lot to us through the medium that speaks to us the most. At the end of the day, I think that’s what’s most important.

Moving Forward

The Marvel/Magic crossover is not going to somehow spell the end of Magic. Over the last three years, the game may have gone further and further away from the Magic I enjoy. But for many people who found this game with Throne of Eldraine or any following set, this is the game they know and love and that can be okay. 

Regardless of if it is Marvel comics, Doctor Who, or any other intellectual property I have enjoyed outside of the context of Magic the Gathering, how those properties are executed within the confines of the Magic rule system does not take away from all of the experiences I had outside of this context. No matter how Spider-Man is portrayed, that doesn’t lessen the impact Spider-Man 2 had on me. The execution of Thor doesn’t take away from what I have gotten out of Marvel Champions. And any missteps Wizards might have with the X-Men, doesn’t take away from the hours I have invested in the comics and podcasts like The Uncanny X-Cast.

After reflecting back on this I do think it is entirely possible we know too much about the future of magic. It results in constant hype that never allows for any set to be meditated on. But as each new property gets brought into the Universes Beyond umbrella, I think it is healthy to remember that just because Magic is touching upon your fandom for a brief amount of time, does not change what you got out of it prior to those decisions being made.

Ryan Sainio (he/him) is a Graphic Designer exploring the Commander format and Magic history on a regular basis. Notable decks that value flavorful and fun gameplay over competitively optimized decks include Shattergang Eldrazi, Doran Soul Sisters, and Chatterfang ProsBloom.

MTG Content Creator Awards 2022 nominee: Format Specialty Writing & Excellence in Writing Overall

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