The Magic: The Gathering community reacted strongly after Wizards of the Coast announced that the new Secret Lair drop, styled after AMC's The Walking Dead, will feature mechanically unique cards. A vocal subset of the player base has made their concerns known and, while the Commander Rules Committee got to hear all of those voices, their ultimate verdict is that they're not banning these cards from Commander format play.
An advertisement for the Secret Lair featuring mechanically-unique cards using The Walking Dead's intellectual property.
Today, the Rules Committee explained their process of deliberation regarding this controversial product. While the three main concerns (availability, intellectual property, and the dubious nature of at least one of the characters depicted) are valid, there's nothing in the current philosophy of Commander to support the banning of these cards.
As it stands, the RC has also voiced their concerns to Wizards of the Coast surrounding these cards. The RC has a bit of sway here as they are responsible for the upkeep and longevity of the Commander rule set (and, in that way, the community as a whole), but in this case their concerns are likely treated with the same weight as anyone else's. The longest section of their article dealt with the availability and scarcity issue, and it seems as though this was the one issue where the RC was most vocal.
The other two issues, intellectual property usage and the depiction of the character Negan, the Cold-Blooded, were also addressed in the article. It seems that the RC views the intellectual property as a positive in that it could attract new players to the game and the Commander format by association. The Negan issue was breached as well—the Rules Committee mused about banning Negan and Negan alone, but decided in the end not to because there's no glorification of the character, who is a bona fide villain, in the printing of the character in card form.
We chose not to because Negan is a villain, plain and simple. There's no implied endorsement, sanitation or glorification of his actions. In that, he's no different than other villains already in the Magic universe, even though as portrayed by an actor it seems closer to "real world" discomfort. No one is suggesting that by putting him on a card he should be idealized, any more so than Nicol Bolas or Yawgmoth.
They did take this time to emphasize the need for players to be "empathetic and accommodating" and to "respect other players' boundaries." Negan is certainly a problematic character and there's no skirting around that fact. He irks a lot of people through the portrayal of his abhorrent actions, and, as evidenced by this Secret Lair drop and the outcry it's caused, many of those people objecting to Negan are also Magic: The Gathering players. So instead of just playing a Commander deck led by Negan in the future, players are advised to read the room and gauge whether it would make anyone uncomfortable before making that decision.
Basically, the RC is telling us as players to make the decision to ban these cards on a personal level. They will not do it themselves, which is fair, as the grounds to ban cards is not applicable here. However, if you have a moral concern about seeing or using these cards in any capacity, the RC wants you to be vocal about that with your playgroup. However, if you really wish to play with Negan, the Cold-Blooded in a playgroup that is opposed to the character or The Walking Dead cards in general, I, for one, wholly endorse the creation of a functionally identical proxy—such as the one I made for exactly this situation, pictured below. Feel free to use it as well!
Sweeney Todd, Demon Barber, a custom reskin of Negan, the Cold-Blooded.
The Commander RC Discord channel seemed to be flooded with concerns over the last few days because of this controversial product and the need for a decision. Surely, it will be flooded today as well, as a consequence of the verdict made. Hopefully people will remain civil when discussing this issue further.