This past weekend, Mark Rosewater spoiled a substantial amount of information about this year’s upcoming Un-set, Unstable. It is no secret that Mark Rosewater adores Un-sets—not only are they an unusual, humor-based product, they’re a product that is targeted towards less competitive players (the majority of Magic booster products are produced with Limited-focused Spikes in mind).

However, Un-sets are also relevant for competitive players, as they enable Magic to perform insane design experiments not currently possible in black border, some of which will prove possible in black border. This happened both with individual cards, such as the Cheese Stands Alone (which became Barren Glory in Future Sight) and Timmy, Power Gamer (which is a clear antecedent of Elvish Piper) and mechanics (most famously, split cards, which are from the unreleased Unglued II).

Un-expected boons

This is all upside, right? Everyone wins! Lovers of un-sets get their fill after over a decade of nothing. Collectors of beautiful John Avon lands get new lands and token collectors get new (foil!) tokens. Future competitive players benefit from Magic plumbing currently inaccessible design space. Drafters get a new Limited format.

Well, it’s not quite a win-win. There’s a real cost.


Every supplementary set comes at the cost of another possible supplementary set. When we get Conspiracy III, that means there isn’t an Archenemy, Planechase, Masters, or Un-set released in that slot. Un-sets are unlike all these other products in a very significant way: they contain nothing for competitive play. There will never be a valuable reprint in an Un-set like there was Misdirection and Exploration in Conspiracy. There will never be a valuable new Constructed card like Scavenging Ooze or True-Name Nemesis in Commander.

There will certainly be value in the tokens, assuredly beautiful and unique lands, and wacky new cards. Cube designers will quite likely find new toys to go along with Blast from the Past, Booster Tutor, and Who/What/Where/When/Why. However, beyond that, everything can only be played in casual or Un-Constructed, and this depresses their utility and value. I intend to draft Unstable, but I recognize that aside from tokens and lands (which no one *needs* to own in order to build a deck), I likely will have no use for anything I open. That’s not very enticing.

I recognize that not every product is for everyone. Moreover, I benefit from almost every product Limited-friendly release, so it’s fair for one to not affect me. However, I’m not alone in my preferences, and I wonder how large the audience is for Unstable. The last two Un-sets were considered to have been overprinted, and I can’t help but wonder whether it would be more lucrative for it to instead be anther kind of supplemental product. It’s good for Wizards to spread the love to different types of players, but I wonder just how big the audience is for the format, and how much of that audience is interested in buying a lot of booster packs.


All nay-saying aside, Unstable has me really excited. It has has something which no un-set has ever had before: worldbuilding. Unglued and Unhinged had comical (non-canonical) references to Magic lore and mechanical and flavor themes, but no world. Every card told its own story, and there were cards whose art and flavor text referenced each other, but that was it.

Unstable has its own plane of mad scientists! It’s a cohesive world of contraption-assembling goblins, incompetent super spies, and hypercompetitive evil geniuses. It’ll be punny, ridiculous, and presumably lacking any feel bad mechanics like Gotcha (or the overly juvenile humor from Unhinged). It has the potential to be the most fun, most Limited-friendly, and most cohesive Un-set ever. I expect to have a ton of fun watching the spoiler season after Thanksgiving. I don’t know how much playing and purchasing of it I’ll do (particularly that so much of my Magic these days is either online or at tournaments), but I recognize that I’m not the audience and hope that the audience is robust and demanding enough that the set will be deemed successful.

But, we’ve got some time before December rolls around and brings us some new silver. Here’s hoping Unstable and everything in between its release and now are all great! And, as always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash


Zachary Barash is a New York City-based game designer. He works for Kingdom Death: Monster, has an MFA in Game Design from NYU, and does freelance game design.

His favorite card of the month is Mark of Mutiny. It’s not the most beginner-friendly design, but it teaches players that Threatens are for ending the game, not doing a medium amount of damage. If you play the card as a finisher, its downside is actually upside, and that inversion is really cool.

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