Header Designer for Magic: the Gathering Mark Rosewater recently wrote that Universes Beyond allows for designs that just wouldn’t have happened without the inspiration of an external intellectual property. I think he’s right, especially when it comes to flavor — and the recent Doctor Who set is a perfect example.
With that in mind, I’m going to give my picks for the most flavorful cards from Universes Beyond: Doctor Who, and they’ll serve as case studies of just how successful UB sets can be when it comes to flavor.
Best Saga Designs: Heaven Sent and Fugitive of the Judoon
Sagas are a good place to start because they are always flavorful. A top-down design is meant to tell a story, and this is most evident with Sagas. With their multiple chapters able to represent different parts of a story, they are one of the spaces where the designers can really go all out in representing a big event.
In Doctor Who, Wizards of the Coast’s designers really leaned into this, with each of the set’s 19 Sagas representing an iconic episode of the long-running television show. All 19 of them are a master-class in flavor, but I think Heavent Sent and Fugitive of the Judoon are the best examples of this. For each of these, I’ve divided the episode summary into chapters, just like the Saga. When read side-by-side, it’s amazing how perfectly these cards encapsulate each of these episodes.
Chapter I and II: The Twelfth Doctor is trapped inside a large building that is empty, apart from a shrouded figure that is stalking him. He has no idea where he is or how he got there, so he starts to investigate.
Chapter III: Time resets every single time the shrouded figure catches him. He very slowly whittles away at a barrier that has trapped him there. After 4.5 billion years, he finally breaks through and escapes.
Heaven sent deals 1 damage to each opponent (The Doctor slowly picking away at his prison), Then if an opponent has 0 or less life (The barrier is finally removed), draw seven cards (The Doctor escapes). Otherwise, exile Heaven Sent and you may cast it this turn. (Time resets).
Fugitive of the Judoon
Chapter I – The Thirteenth Doctor arrives on Earth and finds that the Judoon (a group of Rhinoceros-looking space police) are looking for a fugitive.
Create a 1/1 white Human creature with ward 2 (The hidden fugitive) and a 4/4 white Alien Rhino creature token (The Judoon).
Chapter II – The Doctor investigates the situation, trying to figure out why there would be anyone on Earth who would be such a high priority for the Judoon.
Chapter III – The Doctor meets a human woman named Ruth who turns out to be the fugitive in question. By the end of the episode, it is revealed that Ruth is in fact a past incarnation of the Doctor who has erased her memories and hidden her Time Lord biology with a Chameleon Arch. The arch is destroyed, and the Fugitive Doctor’s biology and memories are restored.
You may exile a Human you control (Ruth) and an artifact you control (The Chameleon Arch). If you do, search your library for a Doctor card, put it onto the battlefield, then shuffle (The restoration of the Fugitive Doctor’s memories).
Best Doctor Designs: The First Doctor and The Seventh Doctor
Obviously enough, The First Doctor is the one who started it all. He stole a TARDIS and ran away from his home world. The First Doctor tutors up the TARDIS as a result. He also likes it when spells cascade, which is the main way they chose to express the TARDIS’s ability to travel time.
The Seventh Doctor is far more complicated, but that’s perfect for that particular incarnation of The Doctor. He might just be the wackiest of them all. He’s a tricker who loves riddles and games. So, it’s perfect that every time he attacks he makes your opponent play a mini-game. And if they guess wrong, there are some pretty serious consequences.
Best Companion Designs: Dan Lewis and Vislor Turlough
Dan Lewis is my favorite flavor design among all the companions. As depicted in the art, he once used a wok to infiltrate a Sontaran ship. Sontarans have a weak point on their back, and a wok just happened to be a perfect weapon for striking that weak point.
Dan is a great comedic relief companion, and this is one of his best moments, so I love that they decided to make the card all about that moment. If Dan is capable of effectively using a wok for a weapon, it makes a ton of sense that in Magic, he makes it so any old trinket you have lying around can become Equipment.
Vislor Turlough is great, too. He’s fairly unique among the Doctor’s companions because his reasons for joining the Doctor, at least initially, are far from benevolent.
He’s an alien who is stranded on earth and desperately wants to go home. He gets contacted by an entity called The Black Guardian, who offers to take him home if he kills the Doctor. So, he weasels his way into the Doctor’s good graces and becomes a companion. Ultimately, he truly becomes loyal to the Doctor, but the card does an excellent job of expressing his initially villainous intentions.
Vislor is the only Doctor or Companion in the set who naturally has a black identity, and that’s one very simple way to communicate that he’s not like the other Companions. Additionally, the fact that he is pretending to be loyal to the Doctor while actually plotting his death is conveyed quite effectively by his Enter the Battlefield ability, which lets you give him to your opponent. Once they have him, he helps them out some, but he also hurts them.
Best Villain Designs: Weeping Angel and The Cyber-Controller
There are many great Doctor and Companion designs, but they didn’t phone it in when it comes to the villainous, alien species of Doctor Who either, with Weeping Angel and The Cyber-Controller the best examples of this.
Weeping Angels are one of the most iconic and beloved Doctor Who creations, partly because they are incredibly unique. They are “quantum locked,” which means as long as someone is observing them, they can’t move.
They often look like stone statues, which is why in Magic, Weeping Angel stops being a creature until end of turn any time an opponent casts a creature spell. In other words, that creature is “observing” the Angel.
They make up for the fact that they often can’t move by being incredibly fast. Giving the Angel flash and first strike is a great way of expressing their speed.
Then, if a Weeping Angel touches you, they send you back in time so they can feed on the temporal energy created by time travel. This is why when the Angel “touches” a creature by doing combat damage, that creature gets shuffled away.
Meanwhile, The Cyber-Controller is the leader of the Cybermen, a group of cyborgs who want to convert all organic life in the universe into Cybermen. So, it’s perfect that the Cyber-Controller mills cards and forces all creatures that get milled that way into becoming Cybermen.
Best Simple Designs: Exterminate! and Cyber Conversion
While cards often require some complexity to effectively represent something like a fictional alien race or an episode of a television show, some of the best flavor designs are the simplest ones. Exterminate! and Cyber Conversion are great examples of this. Each of them really represents what one of Doctor Who’s alien species is all about.
Daleks want to kill every non-Dalek thing in the universe, and they say “Exterminate!” any time they use their lethal weapon. So, it makes perfect sense that the card is simply a removal spell that gets better the more Daleks you have around.
The Cybermen want to turn all organic beings in the universe into other Cybermen. This is done with a process called cyber conversion. So, Cyber Conversion lets you turn a creature into one by flipping it face down. Just like Cybermen in the show, the creature is still themselves deep down — but they’re stranded in another form.
What do you think? Are they knocking it out of the park with flavorful designs in Universes Beyond sets? Let me know what you think on X!
Jacob has been playing Magic for the better part of 24 years, and he especially loves playing Magic’s Limited formats. He also holds a PhD in history from the University of Oklahoma. In 2015, he started his YouTube channel, “Nizzahon Magic,” where he combines his interests with many videos covering Magic’s competitive history. When he’s not playing Magic or making Magic content, he can be found teaching college-level history courses or caring for a menagerie of pets with his wife.