As of this coming weekend Magic: The Gathering, arguably the world’s most popular trading card game, has a new competitor. Ravensburger’s Disney Lorcana launches on Aug. 18 and, after its debut at Gen Con in Indianapolis, a lot of heads are being turned by the new hotness. It’s a potent mix of classic animated characters like Cinderella, Stitch, and Frozen’s Elsa that has Disney fans and TCG collectors both lining up for product. That’s what makes Magic’s latest set so very conspicuous — it’s also chockablock with fantastical royalty and fairy tale characters.
Magic’s next set of cards, titled Wilds of Eldraine, includes plenty of characters and themes that share a common ancestry with classic Disney films. They include questing knights, apple-wielding witches, and winged fairies. Some of its cards even evoke the brightly-colored, fantastical landscapes pictured in classic films like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. But all of those features appear distinct enough — and public domain enough — not to raise the hackles of the legal team lurking deep inside the Magic Kingdom.
But it is a bit of a coincidence, wouldn’t you say? We put the question to Elizabeth Stewart, senior communications manager at Wizards of the Coast, during a private press briefing last week.
“‘Was scheduling this set a conscious effort to directly compete with the launch of Disney Lorcana using public domain characters?’” said Stewart, reciting our question during the call. “No,” she said plainly. “[Given] that we work on our sets pretty well far in advance, I don’t think we even think we even knew Disney Lorcana was a thing when this thing was being designed.”
Given past precedent, the statement checks out. Disney Lorcana was a closely guarded secret until August 2022 when it was announced to the world. Very little of the art was shown prior to this year, and the rules weren’t even available until April. Magic publisher Wizards of the Coast generally works on its cards sets — both the rules and the art that accompanies them — years in advance. Head designer Mark Rosewater makes that very clear on his personal social media accounts, where he actively engages with the community on a daily basis. Meanwhile, leaders from Wizards have presented on that topic at industry conventions in the past.
When did work on Wilds of Eldraine actually begin? Principal game designer Ian Duke, also responding to Polygon’s question, said he’s been working on these cards for at least two years. He also said that he was added to the project fairly late in the game, and work had been proceeding with art and other topics even before his time with the set.
It’s also critical to note that Wilds of Eldraine is a sequel to a previously released set of cards called Throne of Eldraine, which featured many similar characters and motifs. That set was released in 2019, and Magic is well known for revisiting sets such as this in the past. It’s done so several times over the last few years, revisiting locations such as Dominaria, Kamigawa, and Innistrad. Also, Wizards definitely likes to poke fun at existing franchises when it’s able. Look no further than Strixhaven: School of Mages, which is pretty much a big Harry Potter goof. They even sent out a collection of scarves in the press kit.
So did the powers that be at Wizards spool up a fairy tale themed set of cards to directly compete with Disney Lorcana? No, probably not. Did they make a set of cards that gently goofs on established Disney properties? Absolutely... in 2019. But did the company go to any great lengths to prevent the release of Wilds of Eldraine in the same time frame, thereby avoiding any potential consumer confusion? That kind of deference seems highly unlikely. Why would an established brand want to pull its punches, especially when squaring off against the powerful cardboard avatar of Mickey Mouse himself?