Magic: The Gathering – Are Secret Lair Drops Unfair? An Opinion

In the winter of 2019, Wizards of the Coast, a major gaming company and a branch of Hasbro, announced a major idea that would ideally revolutionize their trading card game, Magic: The Gathering. Beginning that very season, Wizards would begin to sell single cards in major drops known as the Secret Lair series, in order to make certain cards more accessible to those willing to pay for them. Furthermore, they would give these cards amazing, new, innovative art in order to not only differentiate these from the cards they sell in booster products and preconstructed decks. Many people ate this up like candy and still do. It is needless to say that the program is a serious success for the company, but is it more serious than it is successful? In this article, we wish to explore whether the Secret Lair series is unfair for consumers or if it's truly good for the game in the end.

An example of one of Wizards of the Coast's likely most-popular recent Secret Lair drops for Magic: The Gathering, the Phyrexian Praetors drop, as seen on Magic: Arena as a cosmetic for the actual digital cards.
An example of one of Wizards of the Coast's likely most-popular recent Secret Lair drops for Magic: The Gathering, the Phyrexian Praetors drop, as seen on Magic: Arena as a cosmetic for the actual digital cards.

So, off the top let us just say that yes, Secret Lairs are pretty worrisome in many ways, but in other ways, they are just what the game needs to save Magic: The Gathering from dissolution through stagnation. What is meant by that? For starters, Secret Lairs offers cards that players will often be on the lookout for but sometimes can't easily get ahold of, like a copy of Exquisite Blood, or a copy of Rhystic Study. These cards have gotten quite exorbitantly expensive for those looking to the secondary market for their necessary staple cards. But with these cards, other cards are often bundled in. And you'll perhaps notice that when a new Secret Lair drop is released and in the hands of consumers (about six months later, in the best cases), prices for those cards go down pretty nicely as the market saturates just a little bit.

Furthermore, the art in these drops is superb roughly 95% of the time. Sure, there will be a few bad choices there (and we will leave that entirely to your imaginations and opinions as to which ones), but most of the art is seasoned to taste for many players, collectors, and fans. It's often quite amazing if we are to be frank.

Beyond this, though, is where the positives kind of slow. With Secret Lair x The Walking Dead, Wizards of the Coast set an unsettling precedent by including mechanically unique cards in the drop, which doesn't lend itself well to anything but artificial scarcity when the drops are only available for just so long. The fear of missing out (hereafter referred to as FOMO) is real, and what's worse is that Wizards of the Coast has continued this trend, as expected, with Secret Lair x Stranger Things. Sure, the FOMO of these drops is mitigated considerably by the inclusion of in-world versions of these cards using other intellectual properties, but what happens when one has made a Rick, Steadfast Leader deck and can't get Rick, but can get the Magic in-world equivalent (which we will call Binky, Baby Mudboy)? And what happens if Binky, Baby Mudboy is not something that the player wanted to use aesthetically? The example ends up akin in some ways to when Wizards bans a key card for a major deck, but won't manage to refund wildcards on Magic Arena for the rest of the deck's investment. It's absurd and, honestly, players should never be punished for missing out like that.

There are other factors as well that tie into the predation that Wizards of the Coast may be conducting. At this stage, Wizards of the Coast is only a few days from selling Gavin Verhey's coin-flip Commander deck, a blue-red deck based on the partner commanders Zndrsplt, Eye of Wisdom and Okaun, Eye of Chaos, as yet another Secret Lair drop. The entire deck looks strong and the art is impeccable, but at this point, it's to be expected for these drops to look cool and be mechanically appealing. We continue to worry because this will sell well, as it piggybacks hard off of the most popular format to grace Magic: The Gathering. When that happens, the market research will show this and they'll do more, and more, until they make mechanically unique Commander decks too, to be sure. What do you think about this? Is it right? Let us know in the comments below because it's something that the players, collectors, and fans need to speak up on to make sure things are done right in the end.

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About Joshua Nelson

Josh Nelson is a Magic: The Gathering deckbuilding savant, a self-proclaimed scholar of all things Sweeney Todd, and, of course, a writer for Bleeding Cool. In their downtime, Josh can be found painting models, playing Magic, or possibly preaching about the horrors and merits of anthropophagy. You can find them on Twitter at @Burning_Inquiry for all your burning inquiries.
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