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MtG: “Why Are Your Cards So Pretty?” A Guide to Secret Lair

5 Minute Read
Apr 22 2024

Everyone’s deck is special, but with Secret Lair cards you can make your deck be just a little more special than your opponent’s.

Greetings and Salutations, Planeswalkers and Praetors! Have you ever sat down to play a friendly game of Magic: the Gathering with your friends when suddenly Negan cracks your Llanowar Elves in the dome with a bat? Ever had Ryu shoot a fireball at your Commander and knock him back to the Command Zone? Has your friend pulled out their new Marrow-Gnawer deck, only to show you a fat, happy Rat rather than the dingy Samurai you expected?

If so, then you’ve got Secret Lair to thank for it. So you might be wondering…what is Secret Lair? Can you use it in your regular games of MTG? Well, worry not! This handy guide will answer all your questions about the mysterious “other set”, and soon you’ll be slinging snazzy spells with the best of them.

What is It?

The Secret Lair Drop Series is best described as a supplementary set for Magic: the Gathering that offers new variants of existing cards or brand new, non-canon cards to help promote a tie-in or event.

Starting in 2019 with Bitterblossom Dreams, Secret Lair is a chance for players who want a little something special to add unique cards to their deck. Whether they feature a single artist, celebrate an important event, or show off a piece of pop culture, these cards provide collectors with a way to enhance their deck.

mtg secret lair
Year of the Rat from 2020 was my first Secret Lair, and it’s still my favorite. Look at these snazzy cheese boys!

Most of the time, the Secret Lair cards are simply reprints of already existing cards. Year of the Rat, for example, provides festival-themed art for Marrow-Gnawer, Ink-Eyes, Pack Rat, and Rat Colony. Each set also includes a “secret” card, usually either a themed land or another card that fits into the set. During the early days, however, the set included either a stained glass treatment Planeswalker or a full-art Sliver. In most cases, though, these cards were still just alternate art reprints.

However, from time to time, Magic forms a mighty partnership with a piece of pop culture to bring us “non-canon” cards. A few examples of this are the Street Fighter collaboration, the Walking Dead tie-in, and the Stranger Things “Friends Forever” cards. These are brand new cards, not just reprints, and they provide powerful new abilities that show off the character’s in-lore abilities. Sets that include these cards are called Universes Beyond. While these were initially only Secret Lair products, they have since expanded into the wider game, as evidenced by the Warhammer 40k Commander boxes and the Tales of Middle-earth set.

READ MORE: MTG: Three More Cards I Hope Are in Commander Masters

But Can I Use It?

In most cases, absolutely! Since the bulk of Secret Lair products are just alternate art cards, as long as the card is legal in the format you’re playing, you can play the card. The Universes Beyond cards, however, are only legal in Eternal formats, like Pauper and Commander.

Not to worry, though, as Wizards announced in-canon versions of these cards that would be available on “The List” six months after their Secret Lair release. While we still haven’t seen the Walking Dead set reprinted, both Stranger Things and Street Fighter have been released into the wild. Cards like Arvinox and Zethi replace their counterparts of The Mindflayer and Chun-Li. These cards ARE legal in every format since they exist as canon within the Magic lore.

mtg stranger things secret lair
These aren’t legal outside Eternal formats, but don’t worry; they have reprints.

Like with all things, though, whether or not you can use a card is up to you and your opponent. While you can’t take Universes Beyond cards to a tournament, a simple Rule Zero conversation with your opponent is all you need to use them in home games.

Is It Worth It?

That is entirely up to you! If you want your deck to have a little extra sparkle, if you see a cool alternate print of a card that you like, or if you just want to support an artist you like, then yes. The Secret Lair cards rarely offer any significant tactical advantage, so it’s entirely for wow value.

Some of the releases are pretty powerful, but even then, they won’t provide you much of an edge. If you like the art, get it. If you don’t wait for the next one. Drops rotate every few months, so you’ll probably eventually find one you like.

I know I already talked about this set but LOOK AT THIS BOY! The Set was worth it for him alone.

So It’s Just Singles?

Not always! Two of the Secret Lair drops have been full 100-card commander decks, featuring alternate art commanders and a few shiny reprints. Heads I Win, Tails You Lose is the most famous example, providing a powerful deck that was nasty right out of the box.

Plus, the alternate arts for Zndrsplt and Okaun are gorgeous. Secret Lairs are rarely this extensive, however, so for the most part you’re looking at a few alternate cards (or in some cases, the same card in five styles).

mtg secret lair
These were the alternate prints, but there were 95 other cards included as well.

Well, That All Sounds Cool! Where Can I Get It?

For the newest releases, you can head over to to order the latest sets. If you’re feeling especially froggy you can also snag the Superdrop, which includes every Secret Lair released that cycle. However, once a Secret Lair is gone, it’s gone for good. If you miss the window for ordering a set or want one of the older editions, you’ll have to try your luck with eBay or another third-party seller.

How Long Will It Take?

That, unfortunately, isn’t a question I can answer. Sometimes the Secret Lairs arrive in a week or so; sometimes, it can take a few months. The notorious Heads I Win set took over a year to ship, with many people demanding refunds in fear they’d never receive the product. My advice: be patient. The Lairs are worth it when they arrive, so just let it take the time it will take.

Author: Clint Lienau
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