Secret Lair x Stranger Things offers Magic the Gathering Commander players with some enticing new “Friends Forever” options to both lead EDH decks and upgrade their existing decks.
While I have my reasons for boycotting subscription service Netflix, which I will not expound upon here, it’s true that the original series Stranger Things appears to be one of the better contributions to pop culture that the company has produced. While I have never seen it, and have no intention of doing any time soon, it does seem like a fascinating series.
Of course, Magic the Gathering and parent company “Papa” Hasbro have decided that collaborating with popular franchises is a good idea. While I’m certainly looking forward to the proper Lord of the Rings set, I’m not sold on this whole crossover idea. Rather, as these particular Secret Lair cards are going to only be legal in certain formats and they are specifically targeted at Commander, I’m going to look at these cardboard rectangles as strictly game pieces, not taking into context the series which they are inspired by. It turns out the cards are actually good enough, considering their potential widespread utility in Commander, that I actually preordered a foil set to be shipped out in the end of January 2022. So, what got me excited enough to order my first ever Secret Lair drop?
There are eight cards in the set, all of them being Legendary Creatures, most of which feature a brand new mechanic called Friends Forever. First of all, I absolutely love the “Friends Forever” mechanic featured on seven of the main character cards. Essentially, you can play any two of these characters with “friends forever” as your Commanders. This is very similar to the popular Partner mechanic from the preconstructed Commander decks of past years, but unique to this Secret Lair. This is important because you can combine the color identities of your two Commanders in order to greatly expand your potential card pool. It also means that you gain so many potential combinations of these seven friends in building potential Commander decks.
But, first, let’s look at the one Legendary Creature without “Friends Forever,” called Mind Flayer, the Shadow. It’s an Enchantment, in addition to being a Legendary Creature. Interestingly, Mind Flayer isn’t even treated as a creature unless you control three permanents you don’t own. In mono-Black, this sounds pretty odd to build around, as playing other players’ cards is a mechanic we’ve seen time and again in Red and Blue card, but much more infrequently in Black.
Fortunately, Mind Flayer helps you in this regard immensely. At the beginning of each of your end steps, you exile the bottom card of each player’s library face-down. You can look at those cards as long as they are exiled at any time, and you can cast permanent spells from among them, spending mana as if it were mana of any color to cast them. While Mind Flayer costs a whopping seven mana, three of that specifically Black mana, to cast, this ability is pretty brutal, especially in a typical four-played Commander game. It’s not quite as scary in a one-on-one Commander brawl, but it’s still very playable. I very much expect Mind Flayer to have not only his own decks to Command, but also appear within other decks bent on stealing opponent’s cards to use against them.
The first of our “friends forever” is Chief Jim Hopper. He’s a four-mana Red & White (aka Boros) Legendary Creature with Menace, meaning he can only be blocked by two or more creatures. With four each of power and toughness, Jim Hopper already is a formidable board presence. Even better, he has an attack trigger, which allows you to investigate once for each nontoken attacking creature, himself included. The “Investigate” mechanic in Magic the Gathering means that you create a Clue artifact token. This token can be sacrificed by you at any time for two generic mana in order to draw a card. Chief Jim Hopper plays in the card advantage theme that’s been pushed in this color combination for several years now, and should serve as a good “friends forever” partner and a member of many other Boros Commander decks.
Dustin, Gadget Genius is a four-mana Blue & White (aka Azorius) Legendary Creature with an interesting tap ability. While being a 2/3 creature isn’t exciting, it’s respectable on a four-mana creature with a decent ability. He taps to let you add two colorless mana, which can only be used to cast artifact spells or activate abilities of artifacts. Of course, this ability plays hand in hand with the investigate mechanic, as Clue tokens require exactly two mana to be sacrificed to draw a card. There are three characters in this Secret Lair who investigate, including the aforementioned Chief Jim Hopper, making Dustin an excellent partner Commander. He could also find himself as a sort of “mana rock” in many artifact-themed Commander decks in those colors.
Eleven the Mage is perhaps the most powerful of all eight of these cards, requiring three colors of mana in Red, Blue, and Black to cast (aka Grixis). Of course, that’s the same color combination as everyone’s favorite evil Elder Dragon, Nicol Bolas. It’s also quite notable that Eleven (aka Jane Hopper) is the only female character featured in this Secret Lair. Being special as she is in the show, it’s probably not surprising that she has one of the most unique effects in the game: your maximum hand size rises from seven cards to eleven whenever Eleven the Mage is in play.
Also, whenever Eleven attacks, you draw a card and lose one life, reminiscent of Black draw engines such as Phyrexian Arena. In addition, on that attack trigger, if you find yourself with eleven or more cards in hand, you get to cast an instant or sorcery spell from your hand without paying its mana cost. Considering that Eleven also has “friends forever” she could potentially have access to all five colors of mana, making the possibilities of shenanigans for this Human Wizard quite numerous. As a 3/5 creature, attacking shouldn’t be all that much of an issue for her, as chump blocking with smaller creatures does nothing to stop the attack triggered ability.
Lucas, the Sharpshooter is a two-mana Red and Blue (Izzet) Legendary Creature who offers players an interesting take on the Goad mechanic. He’s a 1/3 that allows you to tap him, sacrifice an artifact, and deal one damage to a target creature. You goad that creature, meaning it has to attack every combat, but has to attack a player other than you if able. Goad has proven to be a pretty powerful mechanic, so I’m curious to see where Lucas ends up fitting into a post-Stranger Things Commander world.
Max, the Daredevil is another very powerful card, a three-mana Red & Green (Gruul) Legendary Creature. He is a 3/2 with haste and an interesting ability. Whenever you cast you second spell in a turn, you get to untap a target creature and investigate. Note that it doesn’t only have to be during your own turn, and there are plenty of ways in Red and Green to play cards on your opponent’s turn. So, while Max’s ability doesn’t sound incredibly powerful, it will likely prove to be significantly better in a typical four-player Commander game.
Mike, the Dungeon Master could be one of the best partners for Eleven the Mage, as he is a Green and White (Selesnya) Legendary Creature which would give Eleven access to all five colors of Magic. Mike has a really neat ability, too, with a tap ability costing two generic mana to take a creature from your graveyard that was sent there during that turn, returning it to play tapped. This is especially relevant for creatures with strong enter-the-battlefield effects, especially Evoke creatures such as those from Modern Horizons 2.
While it doesn’t seem like a perfect match on paper, early builds of Eleven, the Mage on EDHREC run enough of the right creatures to make it a plausible, if somewhat awkward match with the Dungeon Master. I would certainly try to build around this odd partnership. Of course, Mike is good enough in his own colors to hold his own as a potentially sneaky good alternative to the Azorius “blink” style decks popularized by Brago, King Eternal.
Last but certainly not least is another Legendary Creature who loves to investigate. In the case of the White & Black Legendary Creature Will the Wise, he’s a 1 / 2 for two mana that whenever he enters or leaves the battlefield, each opponent may investigate. While that may not sound that good, you get to investigate X times where X is one plus the number of opponents who choose to do so. That’s a pretty nice card advantage engine on a two-mana creature, especially when you have things like Teleportation Circle, Conjurer’s Closet, and other blink effects to abuse the crap out of it. When it comes to mana value vs overall immediate impact in card advantage, Will may be the most efficient of all eight of these Secret Lair creatures.
While I understand that the Secret Lair x The Walking Dead drop was extremely controversial, it only produced one truly powerful Commander card, one powerful Equipment, and three other decent, if more supporting role, Legendary Creatures. Also, Wizards has backtracked and announced that it will be very likely that the Walking Dead Secret Lair exclusive cards will appear as part of “The List” of past cards included in future set Collector Booster Boxes. It’s also likely that these Stranger Things cards will be reprinted at some future date. However, for just about sixty dollars all in for the all-foil Secret Lair drop with shipping and taxes included, this seems like it will be one of the best investments in Secret Lairs thus far.
What do you think of the Secret Lair x Stranger Things? Do you like or dislike Secret Lair products in general and why?