If ever you look upon geeks in hobby shops and coffee places, playing confusing card games and getting heated over nonsensical rules, and thought to yourself “They take a game way too seriously” then the creators of the biggest of those games has an answer for you. Magic: the Gathering, rich in story, wrought with impenetrable rules, and assailed with tournament laws that make all but the geekiest feel saddened, is about to release their first comedy set in thirteen years, the third of the so-called “UN-sets”, Unstable.
So while I wait patiently for my copy of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything… so very patiently… here’s Wizards of the Coast’s other big product release that has my attention.
The UN-sets – Unglued, Unhinged, and now Unstable – feature mechanics that involve a great deal more comedy, chaos, and enforcing odd behaviour in its players. It’s not just about populating the set with donkey-cards, bad puns, or cards that actively involve cheating. Cards include dragging people in from outside the game into participating, throwing cards from a distance, and setting aside the whole game and starting another, the result of which will have an affect on the main game that you were originally playing.
Unstable gives us factions divided by the mana colours they utilise and tactics they employ, as is the style of many a Magic block:
Order of the Widget features many cyborgs and robots with obscenely large blocks of rules attached to them. They’re heavy on the artifacts, and most strongly utilise the new Contraptions, artifacts that have their own deck and graveyard, their own needlessly complex rules, and a whole collection of potentially game changing rules, including an enchantment that turns your entire deck into single a terrifying monster. The Widgets are white and blue mana users.
Agents of S.N.E.A.K are spies with cool gadgetry, that do weird things to the opposing player, such as sneaking agents into your opponent’s hand to screw with them, stealing cards, stealing card text, or just moving stuff around. I’m a particular fan of the Masterful Ninja, who is both in your hand and on the field at once, and the Split-Screen that allows you to divide your library into four. S.N.E.A.K agents are blue and black.
League of Dastardly Doom decks will be filled with zombie, mutant, and robot servants, all in the name of mad geniuses bent on world domination. On the bright side, their cards include some deeply infuriating options for your opponents, such as removing them from the game altogether. On the other, some of their cards require you to put your head on the table for as long as it is on the field. Red and black mana decks are usually pretty weird though.
Goblin Explosioneers are great if you like goblins and bombs, because their full of goblins and bombs! Great right? Expect to roll lots of dice and to have very little control over the outcome of the game. You’ll also be mass-producing Contraptions so all you have to do is survive long enough for them to get dangerously out of control. Red and green will be your colours.
Crossbreed Labs will focus predominantly on the other major new mechanic of Unstable, the bizarre hybrid creatures. Hosts will have an effect that trigger upon their entry, and Augments will change the trigger of that effect, but that’s not funny. A Multiheaded Kitten, or Rhino-Kangaroo might be funny, but my favourite card bearing the Crossbreed watermark must be the dreaded Hydradoodle! Crossbreed Labs are White and Green, but hybrids are available for all colours.
Nothing says you have to build according to faction of course. There’s a great deal of potential for a pure green Squirrel deck, a multicoloured dice-rolling deck, or a wide variety of messed up combinations. Major cards I’ll be looking forward to belong to no faction, such as the Infinity Elemental that can do infinite damage (but is itself quite flimsy), the Sword of Dungeons & Dragons, and the multicoloured Planeswalker Urza, who requires internet access to be able to use!
Unlike Tim, I’m not that taken by the Ixalan set of dinosaurs and pirates. But give me a deck that requires that I must drop my cards in from height or high-five strangers and dammit if I won’t throw money at it. We both will. We are not taking anything seriously, least of all Magic.