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MTG Universes Beyond is making too much money for WOTC to stop

Right now, Universes Beyond is one of the most successful parts of Magic: The Gathering - but will it always be so profitable for Wizards?

MTG universes beyond art showing assassins creed character

Why is Wizards of the Coast making so many Universes Beyond products? That was the question a fan posed to Mark Rosewater on his Blogatog blog on June 2, as they suggested that the number of products exploring non-Magic worlds has “spiked extremely quickly”. The answer should come as a surprise to precisely no one: they sell really well.

“The main cause of the rise of Universes Beyond has been the overwhelming success of it,” is the reply Magic: The Gathering head designer Mark Rosewater gave. “If it wasn’t something players have shown they really enjoy, we’d be doing less of it.”

That seems pretty obvious, but it highlights that the continued proliferation of Universes Beyond is contingent on the product’s success. So far, Universes Beyond has provided some of the biggest wins for Magic: The Gathering in years. Most notably, MTG Lord of the Rings is now the best-selling set of all time, toppling the previous champion, Modern Horizons 2.

MTG LOTR dwarf

I’ve finally been won over by the consistent strength of the Universes Beyond designs, but the concept still has its naysayers, and there are clearly some downsides to diluting Magic’s world and gameplay with whatever franchise Wizards can find that is willing to do a brand deal.

The big question is, will MTG Universes Beyond always be a money-printing machine, or will this series eventually hit diminishing returns?

It seems like currently, when Wizards finds a winning formula, it ramps up its focus in that area as hard as possible. And why wouldn’t it? But, as we seem to have seen with Secret Lairs, a glut of similar products can lead to sales dropping. Return to the same profitable well enough times, and it inevitably starts to run dry.

Since there’s no published numbers, we can’t be certain that Secret Lairs have become less successful in recent years, but it can’t be a coincidence that Wizards moved back to a limited print run, and began to literally refer to FOMO in its marketing material. Talk about saying the quiet part out loud.

The thing is though, that Universes Beyond products all appeal to very different groups of people. They’re dependent on fandom, providing cards that Warhammer or Doctor Who fans will go crazy for, and seeking to bring new customers in from these beloved franchises.

That means, I think, that it’s less likely for Wizards to hit diminishing returns. Each new release they announce will have a different group ready to go crazy for it. And while the average Magic fan may grow tired of seeing yet more UB releases, they’re only likely to engage with the products they have a strong connection with anyhow.

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And – as Spice8Rack pointed out in their recent video on the subject – even the most diehard Universes Beyond hater has one or two properties they could be brought into the fold for, be it Discworld or internet creepypasta.

So will Universes Beyond be a big hit forever? Perhaps not. This dollar-printing factory can only keep operating as long as there are sufficiently big, culturally relevant touchstones for it to do business off. Once the big hitters are done – and with Marvel coming soon, it’s only really Star Wars left- and we’re down to second tier properties (like Assassin’s Creed for instance), Universes Beyond is likely to stop being such an automatic success.

It’s unlikely to die out at once of course, but Wizards will have to be more tactical about the UB sets it decides to make, whereas right now it sort of seems like they’re bunging in anything they can get their hands on – provided it has a big enough search volume.

Remember also, that Universes Beyond costs a lot, as well as making a lot. WOTC has already felt the sting of high licensing fees, as they attributed a slight drop in profits at the end of 2023 to
“higher royalty costs associated with Universes Beyond”.

For more Magic content, check out our list of the best MTG commanders, or the best Commander precon decks.