Most people who enjoy fantasy media, board games, miniatures, or any other geeky hobby have heard of Magic: The Gathering and Warhammer. These two games are among the most popular in the history of gaming. Both games have rich lore, a devout fan base, and growing lines of products.
One relatively new line of products by Wizards of the Coast is Universes Beyond. It is a line of products that brings lore from other IPs into the world of Magic: The Gathering. With the new Warhammer 40,000 Commander decks, Magic the Gathering players get an opportunity to play Warhammer armies through their EDH decks.
Both settings combine technology with fantasy, making them the perfect match for a crossover. Many characters and species could fit both universes. For example, if someone swapped Necrons and Phyrexians, a newcomer to Magic: The Gathering could easily believe Necrons were the original main villains of the universe. All in all, Warhammer 40k Commander decks are an enjoyable crossover between two excellent games.
Warhammer 40k - a brief history
Warhammer 40k is a miniature wargame set in a dystopian and violent future. Warhammer's tagline perfectly describes how pessimistic the setting is; “In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war”.
The lore revolves around the human empire - The Imperium. The Imperium is the largest and the most powerful political entity in the galaxy. It consists of over a million human-settled worlds. For 10000 years, this vast empire has been ruled by the empire’s deathless founder, The God-Emperor.
Development of the human race has stopped, and the human Imperium is in a constant state of total war with alien races and demonic entities. There is no hope for victory, and the war humanity wages just prolongs the grim circumstances of the once glorious human empire.
Such a setting makes an excellent base for a wargame, but that isn’t how Warhammer started. In the beginning, Games Workshop produced miniatures for Dungeons & Dragons through its subsidiary. To boost the sales of miniatures, they developed Warhammer Fantasy Battle and released it in 1983.
Warhammer Fantasy Battle had optional science fiction elements that were very popular among the players. This popularity led to the development of an opposite setting; Warhammer 40k, a science fiction setting with fantasy elements.
Why are these Universes Beyond decks such a hit?
Wizards of the Coast started Universes Beyond with the Secret Lair Drop Series: The Walking Dead. It was a crossover that featured five cards from the tv-show Walking Dead. The reaction among Magic the Gathering fans was overwhelmingly negative, but it resulted in many drawing many Walking Dead fans to Magic the Gathering.
There were two main reasons behind the negative reaction. Part of the community reacted negatively because the two universes in question don’t blend well together. Magic: The Gathering is a game set in a fantasy setting, while The Walking Dead is a modern zombie apocalypse story. The second reason was that the cards were legal in some competitive formats, yet they were part of a limited series that was hard to acquire.
As more Universes Beyond products started coming out, everyone realized they might get an opportunity to play with cards from their favorite IP. This realization made reactions to each subsequent Secret Lair from another IP become better. Wizards of the Coast also promised to reprint Universe Beyond cards under different names in future sets to improve accessibility. These two elements reduced negative criticism of the Universe Beyond line of products.
All previous Universes Beyond were Secret Lair Drops, so only several cards were printed with each Secret Lair Drop. Dungeons & Dragons Commander Legends isn’t part of Universes Beyond as D&D is Wizards of the Coast IP. With Warhammer 40k commander decks, we finally get full playable decks from another IP. Not only that, but we also get a blend with an IP that, unlike The Walking Dead, has a flavor that fits Magic the Gathering perfectly.
Warhammer Armies featured in MTG Commander decks
There are many factions in Warhammer 40k, but only four are featured in Warhammer 40,000 Commander decks; Imperium, Necrons, Tyranid, and Chaos. Wizards of the Coast made a great choice of factions, as these are the ones that fit Magic The Gathering world the best. Let’s check out what each of the factions is about.
Imperium of Man – The great empire of mankind
Alien species and demoniacal forces challenge Imperium and humanity’s supremacy in the galaxy. These dark entities are kept at bay by the might of the Space Marines and the ruthlessness of the Imperial Inquisition. In Warhammer 40k, these organizations are brilliantly represented by two commanders that come included in the preconstructed decks; Inquisitor Katarinya Greyfax and Chapter Master Marneus Calgar.
Space Marines also known as Adeptus Astartes are the greatest warriors of the Imperium. They are genetically modified superhumans equipped with power armor and the most powerful weapons known to mankind. Several thousand of these fearless warriors could conquer a world in a few days. Space Marines serve as an awe-inspiring shield of mankind, often feared by those they protect.
The other organization tasked with protecting humanity is the Imperial Inquisition. Inquisition protects humanity from itself and from demonic influences that could corrupt it. They are tasked with combating internal threats such as heresy, treason, mutation, and unsanctioned psykers (wielders of psychic powers).
Forces of the Imperium is a deck that thrives from generating tokens and attacking as often as possible. The deck has a bunch of removals that will help you control the battlefield. It is a great choice for players who want to play offensive while being able to rely on the Esper proficiency at controlling the game.
Necrons – The Phyrexians of Warhammer 40k universe
Necrons are the ancient humanoid race that was turned into soulless robotic warriors by the trickery of ancient entities called Star Gods or C’tan. Once known as Necrontyr, this humanoid race struggled under the hostile environment of their native star. Their bodies and blood were blighted by illnesses caused by ionizing radiation, and their lives were brief.
During the rule of the last living king of Nectontyr, Szarek, they encountered an intelligent race known as the Old Ones. The old ones discovered the gift of immortality, the one thing sickly Necrotyr longed for the most. The Old Ones refused to share the secret of immortality, and the two races began to wage the war.
During the war, Necrotyr were approached by C’tan, the Deceiver, who promised them immortality through biotransference. During the process, their flesh was replaced with living metal. This made them almost indestructible; no matter the damage they sustained, their mechanical bodies rebuild themselves over time. However, as Szarek realized after the biotransference was completed, this power came at a terrible cost; they were stripped of their souls.
Now known as Necrons, the race has awakened from their 60 million-year slumber. Under the rule of Imotekh the Stormlord, they strive to conquer the galaxy. Necrons are seeking an organic race suitable as vessels for Necron minds. This puts them at odds with Tyranids and Ruinous Powers who threaten to consume all life in the galaxy.
Necron soullessness and ability to repair themselves are fleshed out through numerous artifacts and reanimation in the Necron Dynasties deck. Players who enjoy graveyard shenanigans and artifacts will enjoy this deck.
The Chaos Gods – Dark forces created by emotions
The Chaos Gods, also known as the Ruinous Powers, are entities who inhabit and control Immaterium, a psychic dimension that exists alongside the physical realm (Materium). The Chaos Gods are created and sustained by the emotions and beliefs of all sentient beings in the galaxy.
When emotion becomes widespread in Materium, it becomes a sentient entity in Immaterium – a Chaos God. There are many minor Chaos Gods, but the four greatest among them are Khorne the Lord of Battle, Tzeentch the Lord of Change, Nurgle the Lord of Decay, and Slaanesh the Prince of Pleasure.
The Chaos Gods can devote a fraction of their psychic power to create Daemons, psychic entities whose nature reflects the nature of the Chaos Gods. The first and the most powerful Daemon is Be'lakor the Dark Master. Featuring him in Warhammer 40k commander decks was an excellent choice, as he is the only Daemon created by the combined will of all four greater Chaos Gods.
As the Chaos Gods depend on the emotions of mortals, they strive to convert all mortals to their worship. They use converted mortals alongside Daemons to wage war on the enemies of Chaos. Corrupted Chaos Space Marines are one of the most formidable forces at the disposal of the Chaos Gods. One such marine stands at the helm of Chaos forces; Abaddon the Despoiler, the only mortal champion of the Chaos Gods with the authority to unite all the forces of Chaos under his command.
The Ruinous Powers deck represents has a chaotic mix of demons, spell-slinging, cascade, and even some token generation. Out of the box, the deck is split between demons matter strategy and cascade spell-slinging. It is recommended to focus only on one of the two strategies when upgrading this deck. My choice here is spell-slinging as it is one of the signature strategies of Grixis decks.
Tyranids – Slivers of the Warhammer 40k universe
The Tyranids share two traits with Slivers from Magic: The Gathering; they look almost exactly like slivers and also have a hive mind. However, all similarities stop there. While Slivers aren’t malevolent, the Tyranids are species that collectively form a space-traveling superorganism that devours all biomatter.
This extragalactic space-faring ecosystem is an ultimate predator that preys on all living things. The Hive Mind allows Tyranids to organize trillions of organisms instantly and mount an invasion on another world. This galactic swarm is capable of devouring all organic material on an undefended world in a matter of days.
One of the Tyranid invasion's goals is to acquire some additional biological matter. They use that biological matter to incorporate useful traits of other species into the hive. Their methods of genetic transfer allow them to create specialized swarms for devouring specific worlds.
Since Slivers already have a mechanic that represents a hive mind, different mechanics had to be chosen for Tyranids. Tyranid Swarm deck revolves around +1/+1 counters and X-cost spells. The deck comes with a decent amount of ramp, so if you are looking for a deck that wants to ramp up and drop huge creatures Tyranid Swarm is the deck for you.
Future Universes Beyond crossovers
Universes Beyond is a product line that will bring us many other crossovers in the future. A few upcoming products have already been announced. The first one we already got after Warhammer 40k is a crossover with Transformers. Unlike other Universes Beyond products, 15 Transformers cards were distributed through bundles, set boosters, and collectors boosters in the standard MTG set Brothers’ War.
Next in the line is The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-Earth. This will be the first Universes Beyond full set. It will be legal in Modern and Historic, so the number of players who will be able to enjoy The Lord of the Rings cards in MTG will be greater than with any previous Universes Beyond product.
After traveling to Tolkien’s world, Universes Beyond will take us to Gallifrey to meet the Time Lords. Doctor Who will enter the MtG scene through four commander decks, special card treatments, and collector boosters.
Two more collaborations were announced for 2024; Assassins Creed and Final Fantasy. As of now, there is no further information available for those two. I am especially hyped for Final Fantasy set as it may mean more artwork by Yoshikata Amano, a Final Fantasy concept artist who already created some artwork for War of The Spark Japanese alternative cards.
We can only speculate what other crossovers might happen in the future. Since this set started a collaboration with Games Workshop, we can hope for an Age of Sigmar Universes Beyond product. Strixhaven has laid a good groundwork for introducing the Harry Potter universe, and pet mechanics look like they could work well with Pokemon. While we can only guess what other collaborations will happen, it is clear that Wizards of the Coast intend to continue giving us crossovers with other popular IPs.
Author - Ante Radoš