Last summer, when Doctor Who was announced last year as one of the upcoming cross-IP collaborations in Magic: the Gathering’s “Universes Beyond” product line, the MTG community whispered with equal measures excitement and befuddlement. Not only was Doctor Who going to join the ranks of Stranger Things and The Walking Dead on play mats everywhere, but The Fifteen Doctors et. all would be featured in a suite of four commander decks, receiving hundreds of bespoke Doctor Who cards — compared to the single box set featuring a handful of new cards, as was the case with the previously mentioned TV tie-ins.
Doctor Who seemed ripe for a collaboration like this, with the franchise preparing for its 60th anniversary, a new lead actor, and the return of a fan-favorite show-runner. But simultaneously, the dissonance of aliens with Northern accents side-by-side with the high fantasy Magic generally plays in was hard to ignore. As Reddit user BlurryPeople said, “Look, I like Doctor Who….but what a weird fit for MtG.”
By the time of this announcement, the “Fortniteification” of Magic was the bus from Speed and had already hit 40 miles-per-hour. Hasbro’s card game had already provided players with opportunities to cast a Wrath of God capable of wiping outStranger Things Eleven, Mecha-Godzilla, and Guile in one go. Norman Reedus’ likeness had occupied a page in my binder alongside Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Psychatog for at least two years. Magic players were getting ready to pre-order Space Marines and Gandalf the Grey in the coming months.
So then why did Doctor Who stand out as strange to so many Magic players, even myself and fellow enthusiasts of the rogue Time Lord? Why did Doctor Who become the first Commander deck product to receive a Collector’s Booster Box alongside it when the show is not as popular in Magic’s home of North America? As we like to do here at Cardboard by the Numbers, I decided to start digging into the numbers.
My reignited interest in this topic was triggered when I was browsing the listings on various sites for pre-orders of the four Doctor Who decks. I had wanted to buy the complete set, but doing so would have gone beyond my monthly budget set aside hobbies such as Magic. My compromise with myself was to start with one, and I was pleased that my most anticipated of the bunch — the “classics” deck featuring the likeness of Tom Baker as the 4th Doctor — could be found at a non-inflated price.
But I couldn’t help but notice another data point: in the past month, four times as many of the “Timey-Wimey” deck had been sold on Bezos’ behemoth than “Blast From the Past”. Compared to previous suites of commander decks released at the same time, this is a fairly dramatic difference in sales, but what was even more compelling was a correlation between sales and audience sentiment.
Ignoring the “Masters of Evil” deck, which is not tied to any specific era of Doctor Who, the pre-orders of the other three decks are highly correlated with the median viewership of their corresponding television runs in the UK, which also roughly corresponds to their popularity within the community beyond that. Simply said: people are much more likely the pre-order the Doctor Who deck that features their favorite characters and storylines.
It’s easy to assert “so what?” to a conclusion like that, but it misses the larger trend of Magic: power is money. While exotic variations of cards can add significant price multipliers, the foundational force behind most Magic card prices is how effective a card is at winning the game. Previously when a single deck from a set has exploded in price compared to its contemporaries, it’s not due to artwork or flavor; the best card, from a gameplay perspective, wins the day. Additionally, besides the recent Sliver and Eldrazi pre-constructed decks from Commander Masters, the price disparity between decks usually does not start until most of the cards inside have been revealed.
But Doctor Who doesn’t behave like that. Of the 26 revealed cards from the set thus far, none of them have stood out to players on the web’s biggest card-playing communities as being exceptionally powerful or desirable, not in regards to their targeted environment of Commander nor for any other eternal format.
By contrast, The Walking Dead’s Rick sells for ~$45 on TCGPlayer compared to just under $5 for Glenn, and if fan popularity was a major factor, those numbers would certainly be swapped. Not so between The 10th Doctor and the 13th!
The potential implications of this are compelling — does this mean, relative to previous releases, it’s mostly Doctor Who fans buying Magic cards so far?
Meta, famous for having more data about your life than you do, is a good place to start if you want to understand audience overlap. While I’d suggest taking the numbers seriously but not literally (see the methodology note below), it’s clear that two things are true: most Magic fans are not Doctor Who fans (just under 10%), and the reverse is even less likely to be the case.
A quick note on methodology: Using Meta’s advertising tools to collect interests and behaviors from a cohort is a crude means of analysis, I’ll admit. While 90% of the US population — a number closely tied to the total number of Internet users — regularly log into one of their products and are thus subject to their ads, the audience estimates are conservative and outdated at best. However, I’ve found them to be directionally accurate and not meaningfully misleading when compared to the expensive and complex user research that’s beyond the scope of this website in the past, so we’ll use this as a data point, but I’d advise against using these specific numbers as gospel in isolation.
How does this shake out compared to the rest of Universes Beyond’s recent executions?
From a risk abatement perspective, this informs a lot of Wizards of the Coast’s previous decisions about Universes Beyond. The Lord of the Rings, the franchise with the most resonance among already-established Magic players, is a clear #1. It’s paid off for WotC handsomely, as the expansion is on-track to be the best-selling set of all time. The next most popular franchise saw a collection of Commander decks, Transformers got something slightly less exciting with a 15-card mini-set included with The Brothers’ War, and the bottom two performers saw a Secret Lair drop a piece.
However, if the only goal of Universes Beyond was to bring new people to the game using familiar IP as a jumping-off point, one would have expected Stranger Things to be the sci-fi franchise treated to four commander decks. So what gives? Do the total audience sizes of these franchises come into play?
Looking at the total addressable market for each of these franchises in the US, Wizards of the Coasts’ largest market, the decision to go big on Doctor Who seems to make even less sense. But instead, this is where we can bring it all together: these statistics have painted an overall poor justification for Magic: the Gathering having a Doctor Who crossover at all, let alone the elevated Commander experience featuring both a Collector’s Booster Box supplement, a new Tardis-themed frame style, and new Planechase cards that Wizards of the Coast will be rolling onto shelves in October. Here’s why:
1. Wizards of the Coast is testing the waters for the future of Universes Beyond.
The Walking Dead Secret Lair, though controversial in the Magic community, was the best-selling release of the first 100 drops, and may still hold the title. As previously mentioned, The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle Earth is gearing to be the most successful release in Magic’s 30 years, with $200M in sales already in the bank. Now that they’ve proven that Universes Beyond is a successful product line, they want to see how far they can take it.
Using a title that does not have the innate crossover of The Lord of the Rings or Warhammer 40k is a boon to this project, as its success would open the theoretical floodgates for potential IP that Magic could take on in Universes Beyond. Suddenly, hundreds of new franchises become feasible from a financial point of view, and UB releases can begin to prioritize other factors than simply meeting a popularity threshold, such as brand alignment, deal terms, flexibility in IP use, or dozens of other business factors.
In short, if this works out even halfway, Magic will not have to be as picky as Fortnite…but if WotC wants to do a JUJUTSU KAISEN collaboration all the same…reach out to us, we can get you in touch with the right people.
2. Doctor Who is an ideal breeding ground for Magic innovation.
Gavin Verhey reveals the first Doctor Who cards on his YouTube channel (via YouTube)
Based on just the first selection of cards for the set, Doctor Who Commander promises to be a love letter to fans of both sonic screwdrivers and cardboard crack, and that could push its success to far beyond what the Venn diagram shared above would suggest.
This seemed to be the case with the Warhammer 40k decks as well, with the flavor being so compelling and so well executed that many Magic players were captivated by the world of Warhammer even if they had not been exposed prior, leading to the decks being “reprinted three times to meet robust player demand”, according to Hasbro’s 2022 year-end financial results.
The above card, River Song, is an excellent example of clever design that can sell the product to all types. The card is massively impressive for fans of the BBC series: the card captures an evocative character in an incredibly evocative way, or as Kyleometers on Reddit said, “Quite possibly my favourite gimmick I’ve ever seen on a legendary creature.” Even those uninterested in Doctor Who were captivated by the card, generating more conversation online than most spoilers from the premiere set Throne of Eldraine that was reveling cards around the same time.
This is further explained by considering the lead designer of the release, Gavin Verhey, a longtime vocal Doctor Who fan. As you can see in PleasantKenobi’s video on the intersection of Doctor Who and Magic from 2021, Verhey is both passionate and knowledgeable about the franchise, and it’s fair to assume that the remaining several hundred cards yet-to-be-revealed will have the same degree of care and detail if he’s the one in charge.
3. Doctor Who can help expand the audience in the United Kingdom.
While only about 10% of the Magic-playing audience in the United States likes Doctor Who according to Meta’s advertising data, that proportion is twice as large in the Time Lord’s favorite country, the United Kingdom. Making a major Magic release centered on one of the UK’s most beloved cultural exports is a great way to both grow the audience for Magic in the country, but additionally, to the first point again, serves as an experiment for future Universes Beyond releases that may over-index in a country or territory outside of the United States. The volume of new products released can certainly support a few of them being directed at niches within the larger Magic niche.
It’s hard to overstate the psychological benefit here as well for fans in the UK. Especially considering the exchange rate of the pound and a 20% VAT, Magic is more expensive in the United Kingdom than it is in the Western Hemisphere. Add on to that the country has fewer options to attend premiere events than their peers in North America or mainland Europe. Having an exciting Commander set tied so closely to a nationally-beloved franchise is the kind of gesture that resonates strongly and can help deepen the Magic community on the island nation.
4. Doctor Who fans can help accelerate Magic’s growth in key demographics.
While Magic as a game has a much larger audience of women than your favorite Twitter reply guy or the Pro Tour field would suggest (another major issue in its own right), Doctor Who’s audience, particularly outside of its home country, is largely female. With a few notable exceptions, Magic as a game has not done much to explicitly court this audience, which is not necessarily a problem on its own, but in a world where Magic revenue seems to be plateauing and the previous Universes Beyond franchises previously tested weigh overwhelmingly towards male fans, there’s an opportunity for Magic to become more compelling to even more women.
My personal experiences have shown that Wizard’s 2015 statistic that 38% of Magic players are women is reasonably accurate, but that’s not been the case when I’ve visited local game stores in multiple states and countries. If a set like Doctor Who can help address this disparity even a little, it would not only be healthy for the game, but more relevant to the purpose of this article, provide an additional opportunity for revenue for Wizards of the Coast.
There are already indications that Doctor Who fans, who don’t have much in the way of high-quality and accessible collectables compared even to their Star Trek peers, are the ones pre-ordering this product based on the lopsided purchasing patterns on Amazon. I’m anticipating that the low overlap between Magic fans and Doctor Who fans will end up being one of the biggest benefits of this expansion on multiple fronts, and this early data suggests I may be right! Do you think Doctor Who is going to be a big move for the game?
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