With the reveal of the Secret Lair X The Walking Dead earlier this week, Blake Rasmussen brought Mike Heggen and Aaron Forsythe on Weekly MTG to discuss the product and answer questions regarding the controversial drop.
The latest Secret Lair drop announcement on Monday prompted many players to point out the dangers of printing mechanically unique cards in a product that can only be purchased from Wizards of the Coast (WotC) with a limited print run.
The fear comes after powerful buy-a-box promo cards and other cards not included in sets became centerpieces in competitive decks. Cards like Nexus of Fate, Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, and Kenrith, the Returned King, some of which were only available in foil, went against what WotC aimed for with unique cards as promos and impacted tournament integrity due to the warping of many foil cards.
Forsythe, Magic’s design lead, touched on this issue when discussing the decision to make the new, mechanically unique cards in the Secret Lair X The Walking Dead be black bordered. Forsythe said that most buy-a-box promos worked, but that some of them like Nexus of Fate “got away from us.” He said that with the cards not being Standard, Modern, or Pioneer legal they shouldn’t have to worry about them being so powerful that they are must-have cards for specific formats. He also said WotC tends to shy away from silver-bordererd cards, because some players deem them as not real, though he encouraged playing with silver border cards like the Transformer and My Little Pony cards in Commander.
The new cards in the Secret Lair are aimed at casual and Commander players where customization is the motivating factor to play the cards, not power-level. While Forsythe doesn’t know the story on how Mana Crypt became a book promo card at its power level, he said there are safety valves in place to prevent something like that from happening again. On top of that, he said that anyone that wants these cards can order them and that there are avenues to reprint them in the future.
Heggen, who works on the Secret Lair team, addressed the ways the cards could return if necessary. They could be printed in a normal Magic set where the mechanics return or they could even come back in a future Secret Lair with alt IP (intellectual property) versions by working with AMC. Heggen said “these aren’t in a vault,” referring to how they are reprintable in different forms.
In terms of what the future looks like for Secret Lair, Heggen said that in terms of details they don’t really know. They don’t have years and years of Secret Lairs planned out like normal Magic sets and that they are taking feedback and are adjusting as they go. Their plan is to take different approaches and executions while learning lessons to make the game more fun for wider audiences. Heggen detailed Secret Lairs as their new platform for trying out things they couldn’t do in normal sets. Whether it be a certain art style or crossing over to other IPs, the goal is to appeal to as many different audiences no matter the size.
A question posed to Heggen was to mention the pros and cons of the way Secret Lairs are sold directly to consumers. He said the pros are being able to make niche products for certain audiences, which are hard to successfully distribute by going out to game stores where an area might have high or no demand for them. He also said some players don’t go to stores at all, so having them accessible to everyone helps. The main con was shipping issues and not being able to get products to the people who want them. He said they are listening to all feedback and working on ways to make sure more people can buy Secret Lairs and receive them.
Forsythe went over how the concept of the Secret Lair X The Walking Dead product started years ago when his team wanted to see if the game engine and Magic IP could be pealed apart. He referenced how Richard Garfield did it with the first expansion crossing over into Arabian Nights, so the idea has always been around. The Walking Dead was a natural idea as the world was already Magic-adjacent with combat and being full of zombies. While this treatment is much different than what Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths did with Godzilla, the idea is similar. Heggen did mention how this Secret Lair is more accessible to fans of The Walking Dead than Ikoria was for fans of Godzilla.
Forsythe also made sure to address flavor and lore issues concerning the Secret Lair drop. His team wants to speak to fandoms and that they aren’t going to be making cards advertising potato chips or razor blades. He also pointed out, though he said it was sad he had to clarify it, that The Walking Dead isn’t cannon for the Magic story, so don’t expect a Rick Grimes planeswalker to show up on Innistrad. Forsythe said it is his hope that there will be more co-branded products in the future, but his team’s true commitment is to deliver Magic-centric IP.
The final card of the Secret Lair X The Walking Dead drop will be revealed on Sunday’s Talking Dead. The product will go for sale after the reveal and be available for a week.