Why Universes Beyond: Lord of the Rings is Playing Out So Differently

Cliff Daigle • July 5, 2023

Magic has gone through a lot of changes over the years, some of them minor, some major, some immediately reversed. It’s important to remember that however you feel about the game and the business, to Hasbro, the company that owns it, this is a product. So many decisions are made in order to maximize the profit, and since the onset of the pandemic, Magic has never been more profitable.

The decisions that they are making with Magic indicate that Collector Boosters are one facet of the experience that’s led to increased profit, as has the entire Arena experience. It’s pretty unlikely that Wizards will run GP-level events ever again, but they are doing big in-person events for the Pro Tour and World Championship.

The new set, Universes Beyond: Lord of the Rings, has some very different arrangements than we’re used to, and it’s really going to mess with the pattern for people opening it and the prices for the singles that come from it. We need to take a look at what is different and why the prices will be affected, and perhaps keep some lessons in mind for future sets.

Change #1: Increased Price

In case you weren’t aware, Wizards upped the price on all things Lord of the Rings as compared to what it was for March of the Machine. You’ve likely noticed this, with Collector Booster boxes selling for more than $400, and Commander preconstructed decks going for more than $60 but not being all-foil.

They gave us a lot in this set that’s worth money, but this is an interesting combination of selling for greater profit AND a longer production timeline. They did something like this with Modern Horizons 2, printing that set for an extended period of time because people kept on buying it. The new things, like the pitch Elementals and Ragavan, have stayed expensive while everything else got cheap and stayed cheap.

I expect a similar dynamic to be at play. People are MOTIVATED to open this set (more on this in a sec) and there will be a boatload of booster packs opened. As a result, the most chase things will probably keep a high price, but the regular versions will drop for some time. This set is Modern legal, but aside from a few eye-opener cards, it doesn’t look like the set will shake everything up in that format.

Change #2: Serializations

We’ve had serializations before, but never this level. A lot has been written about the 001/001 The One Ring, and rightly so. We’ve got more limited-edition product, though. The Sol Rings in 300/700/900 quantities, plus their non-serialized, nonfoil counterparts at 3000/7000/9000 gives collectors a lot to chase and with these small numbers, the chase is very real.

What’s different here is the frenzy around the money involved. Some of the other serialized cards have gone for ridiculous amounts of money, making these the most potentially profitable boosters since Japanese War of the Spark could get you an alternate-art Amano Liliana in foil. That’s got people opening packs at a pretty amazing rate, which is good for finding these hyper rare cards, and also good if you like cheap singles.

The joke for years has been that if Wizards put $100 bills into packs, players would complain about how it was folded. We’re not far off from that, with the serialized Sol Rings going for thousands in auctions and the 1/1 Ring having 2 million euro offered for it. That’s an amount of money most of us can’t thoroughly grasp, all for the right piece of shiny cardboard.

Another example of near-serialization is the nine different arts for the Nazgûl. They didn’t make more of this uncommon, they just made each version 1/9 as rare as any other uncommon. Put another way, all copies of all nine versions add up to the same total quantity as there are for Bill the Pony. But since it’s divided nine ways, we’re looking at each version being more pricey.

Change #3: Premiums of Premiums

Early on in this cycle, we found out that every Collector Booster had a 0.8% chance of pulling a Surge foil version of the Realms and Relics Box Toppers. That’s already pretty rare, meaning only one in 125 packs had one, and to pull a specific one, you’ll need to open roughly 3,750 packs!

The first Surge foils to be listed got snapped up at cheaper prices because people didn’t understand how rare they were. The secret is out now, and you’re going to see the first few of these go for very high prices. These will come down, slowly, but with these sorts of quantities, collectors are going to be going crazy.

I don’t just mean Commander players who love to have the best versions of cards, either. That’s one sort of collector. Another sort is the Lord of the Rings enthusiast who gets to have super-premium versions of favorite scenes from the books, especially the parts that didn’t get movie time. If you’re someone who loves Tolkien AND Magic, well, you’re in for a great time and an expensive time.

Change #4: Distribution Methods

For almost every set, the Collector Booster has been the way to get special versions of cards, and you get a whole lot of different special versions. Nonfoil Realms and Relics, foil uncommons, and slots with a range of treatments. One thing that isn’t in there, though, are foil Extended Art cards from the main set.

There are not FEA versions of every rare and mythic in the main set, but for the cards that only have FEA as the special version, like Palantir of Orthanc or Doors of Durin, this is a big deal. The Doors, for example, currently has plenty of copies in regular nonfoil, regular foil, and nonfoil EA under a dollar. The foil extended art, though, has one copy available at $49.99 and here’s the complete list of presales for the FEA version:

Again, these are presale numbers and I expect that once more regular folks can list on TCG we’ll see a wave of these, but these small early quantities are indicating that there won’t be a huge amount to get.

Additionally, these are samples found in Commander preconstructed decks. The majority of these decks are opened by players who want the cards, and if you open a sweet foil version, you’re probably going to want to put it into a deck! This, plus the number of cards damaged by the precon packaging makes NM copies that extra bit scarcer.

To recap: Lord of the Rings cards cost more, have a bigger variance in value, can contain exceedingly rare cards, and have some versions only available in very lucky Commander precons. I think once regular sales open up this weekend, we’ll see a race to the bottom for most cards in the set, like normal, but the amount of regular nonfoils that stay cheap will be notable indeed.