The short summary of this article is simply that I am unimpressed with the precedent this product sets and intend to boycott it in all ways possible in a vague attempt to push a disincentive on repeats. Specifically the issue I have is unique black border cards printed as premium singles. Read on should you need more detailed thoughts, otherwise save yourself some time and do something else!
I don't love the flavour of the Walking Dead as it pertains to Magic, I think the series has a much shorter shelf life and will not age all that well. Something like a Tolkien crossover would have been a better fit in terms of theme and cultural half life and might well have been a more suitable place to test the waters. I am sure there are plenty of behind the scenes legal and marketing reasons this didn't happen but still, the Walking Dead remains a fairly long way down the list of good fits as far as fictional franchises go. The modern era setting of the Walking Dead doesn't play all that well with Magic, even something like Star Wars feels like it would work better. This however could all have been fine. I have no issue with the printing of cards in which I dislike the aesthetic when there are more conventional alternatives. The mecha-Godzilla stuff wasn't for me but it seemed to make a lot of other people happy and so that was a win all round. If the people at Hasbro marketing think that a Walking Dead link up will bring in a load of new people to Magic then great, get it done. Just not like this.
Some people have issue with the names as part of the aesthetic concern, I am less bothered by this but for those who are, the mecha-Gozilla cards provide a good solution to that issue. It is something that should have been put in place initially so as to avoid awkward issues later down the line even if it can still be remedied retrospectively.
I am long enough in the tooth to recall the introduction of foils. I thought it was a corporate money grab at the time. Just a silly new gimmick of a way to sell packs. To this day I think it is why I purport that I don't like foils when actually I clearly must just because of how much time I spend looking at them. Then over a decade later I thought mythics were a bit of a piss take. Another attempt at increasing sales but not even with the promise of shiny cards as reward. Another decade on still and I think foils are a core part of any collectable card series and accept mythics.
The next thing to annoy me was the pricing on Masters sets. It felt like a price gouge, just using high values on the secondary market to scale up pack price with expected values from cracking them. In practice the increased pack price was fine as it at least helps keep some stability and confidence in the second hand market. Reprints need to happen so that formats are accessible to as many players as possible but they also need to be done in such a way as to not crush the value of both trading companies and personal collections.
The next blow was Modern Horizons. This is one that still annoys me and rather than just leaving a bad taste as some of the others did it felt like a dangerous direction. Reprint sets had no new cards in them and so managing cost and expected value is fine. More powerful cards are more valuable cards and more valuable cards come in more expensive boosters. Fine. This precedent however let them get away with their first proper gouge in Modern Horizons. By targetting the set at modern, a significantly more powerful bar they could print more powerful cards and thus charge more for those packs by the same logic. A dirty trick but I wanted the exciting and powerful new cards. Modern Horizons was the biggest windfall of new juice and biggest shakeup to the cube meta that has ever happened. I didn't want to miss out and so I cracked some packs and got the stuff I wanted on the secondary market. All of which supported the product and helped to make it profitable and thus support more things like that happening in future.
Secret lairs and collectors boxes and all sorts of full art bling and alternate framework jazz followed and I am fine with it all. It seems like it is bleeding people as much as possible but it is doing so in a fine way. Companies are expected to maximize sales after all. Due to there being conventional and normal versions of the cards and product there really is little to complain about as far as Wizards printing exotic stuff and charging whatever they like for it. Magic is an expressive game in many ways and being able to customize your preferred aesthetic is great.
The problem is that it all falls apart as soon as you take away the basic or budget version of a card. Secret Lair product should never contain mechanically unique cards short of making them silver bordered cards. Some people are calling it the new reserve list which I think is a little extreme but it isn't wrong in sentiment. It is going to awkward to reprint these cards and if they are legal and seeing play they will need to do so due to both initial cost and scarcity. Due to the awkwardness in doing so and a preceding price increase it is a pretty fair bet that these cards are not going down in value and will always be an expensive pickup. I suspect most people will have a similar expectation and as such sales will likely be good despite the apparent ire. If you don't expect to lose value on something it tends to incentivize a purchase.
You could argue that commander products have been doing a similar sort of thing for quite a while now as they print new unique cards for sale in predetermined way. Both are essentially selling new singles. There are so many differences beyond that however that I would say the comparison breaks down. Firstly you get 100 cards for your $30 rather than 5, not to mention a functioning deck. The value is spread far more significantly and makes it comparable to normal product pricing rather than premium product pricing. Secondly, commander product cards are normal magic cards not fancy bling ones with unusual art styles etc. Thirdly, the commander products are targetted at a specific market that was under supported. Having an avenue to support that community without negatively impacting on other products is well worthwhile and the commander product format seems like one of the best ways to do this. The power level is generally pretty sensible too ensuring that the eternal formats don't get shaken up much with the early exception of True-Name Nemesis. Commander products are well priced, well designed, and well targetted and this gives them a big pass on the issues with selling new singles directly.
Looking back with a long lense it seems inevitable we would get to this point eventually. As I suspect the Walking Dead Secret Lair will sell well I expect we will get more of the same. Regular Modern Horizons style sets at hiked power level and price. Mechanically unique premium products. And I am sure some other bleeding schemes we are yet to see that up the bar even further on the gouging.
I hope the EDH community collectively ban this product, ideally before release. That would be a huge win for the community at large and send a strong message to Wizards to stop milking us. All this printing of product by Wizards feels like governments printing money. In the latter case you can get scary inflation, in the case of Wizards you potentially get wallet fatigue and will weaken secondary markets which in turn damages confidence. The thing is that despite how it looks the people at Hasbro are not stupid. They know all this already and are simply executing a business strategy. Most choices have positive and negative consequences or trade offs. Hasbro has simply decided that this grievance is not as valuable as the upside whatever that might be. There are some obvious reasons this could be the case as well as plenty I am oblivious to I am sure. On the face of it the appearance is of a company looking to sell off in some way. Flood the market with product and cash in for the short term at the cost of long term confidence and customer loyalty so as to seem better to an outsider and thus command a higher company value. Makes good business sense. Alternatively they could be looking to migrate competitive play to digital and have paper Magic more of a casual and collectable thing. Given the uncertainty on face to face gatherings at present that would also make some sense. Perhaps they are just desperately trying to keep their head above water as the current social circumstances are hurting them more than we realize. They could even just be testing the waters to see if this is something they can get away with. Ultimately the reason matters little, it is all about the result as far as would be Magic consumers going forwards. I have little agency in the matter but I feel strongly enough to use it in this instance. I will cast my vote with my wallet and boycott this product on primary and secondary markets. I can only hope my predictions are wrong and that the majority of people do the same!