While my memory isn’t entirely solid on every part of the draft as it went down, I can remember sitting in the basement of my buddy’s house sometime in 2006 to draft Unhinged. At the time I didn’t really have an understanding of why the full-art lands were so sought after, thus the allure of the top five players drafting the opened sets of each type of basic was beyond me. I must not have done well, because I know I have zero of any full-art Un-basics. What I can remember is that, besides Booster Tutor, I have absolutely no positive memories of any silver-bordered card ever being cast, then or after.

When Unstable was announced, I was happy for the community of people who wanted the set so badly, but I didn’t really care. I assumed I would probably draft the set once for the laughs and go on with my life. As last week’s previews started coming out, I realized that the 13 years of wait brought with it a totally different kind of silver-bordered set. With that realization came the inevitable question: can we play with these cards in Commander?

Since this will release on Thanksgiving, I didn’t want to unleash something that most people might overlook; but keeping in mind that I may have audience members who don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, I didn’t want to skip over today. For now, I would like to walk through my issues with Unglued and Unhinged before getting to my perspective on Unstable and the set’s “Un-manders” in a future article.

Distracting Laugh Track

Comedy is a hard thing to get right and what’s funny to one person might not land with another person. Maybe I’m a curmudgeon, but I really dislike Big Bang Theory. I realized how much disdain I had for it when episodes would be on and I never laughed. This was punctuated most by the laugh track, which would play, informing me that I was supposed to be laughing. I wasn’t. That’s the Un-sets to me, especially the Donkeyfolk.

I love comedy. I’m probably the least serious person in my group of friends. I am the idiot Joey from Friends, the outlandish Barney from How I Met Your Mother, and the prankster Winston from New Girl. Even as a comedic guy who loves games like Joking Hazard or Codenames: Deep Undercover which have adult humor, the humor of cards like Smart Ass, Fat Ass, and the “gotcha” mechanic are either extremely juvenile or completely annoying. I don’t really want them in my games of Magic: the Gathering.

Many events in a game of Magic can be funny. For example, a well-timed Warp World when it breaks up a board stall, using Threaten on a Roil Elemental and then playing a land, or a huge stack created by a six-person game during a Conspiracy draft. Our game has bits of comedy already in it if you’re looking for it and enjoying yourself in the moment.

Clothing Swap

I think most people have either seen first hand or heard stories about Hurloon Wrangler and how it inadvertently caused people to disrobe or at least seriously consider it. A lesser-known offender to me is Ladies’ Knight, which had me sprinting to Jesse’s sister’s closet for something to wear for a discounted price on my spells. Both of these cards highlight an aspect of Unglued and Unhinged I just don’t enjoy: physical actions or out-of-game references. I will note: I am a bit of a hypocrite, as I love the idea of some of the “out-of-game people” spells from Unstable.

There are other games where roleplaying or physical actions of a player are written into the DNA of that game. That’s not Magic, though. I don’t especially want to be wearing a dress or no pants or make funny voices or keep my hand behind my back. This isn’t a Nickelodeon game show from the 90s.

Worse than Ruination

To many people, mass land destruction is just about the worst thing you can do in Commander. I think even if they can’t explain why, part of the reason some players have that gut reaction is that spells like Ruination or Armageddon are used as griefer spells instead of win-conditions, bringing the game to a halt with no plan to victory already in play. Mine, Mine, Mine!, Once More with Feeling, or Topsy Turvy are the kind of cards the really shine a spotlight on this issue for me, making games unnecessarily longer than they need to be for little purpose.

As a Commander player, it is probably contradictory that I would like the game to move at a reasonable pace, considering the format is typecast as being about two-hour-long games in a lax environment. But this is where I think a supplemental product like Conspiracy and Conspiracy 2 really hit the mark on the right kind of game plan. The major swaths of “not typical Magic” occur during the draft and invite a more interactive drafting experience. Additionally the voting mechanic is great because it comes on a half dozen viable cards and can be resolved in ten seconds.

Hiding Easter Eggs

The last of my complaints is that I think Magic has found better places to put easter eggs and inside jokes within the game. In 2004, when Unhinged was released, Champions of Kamigawa had just been released. Not only had Wizards not yet played around with nostalgia in Time Spiral block, the entire idea that planes could be revisited was technology six years in the future. Looking at the first two outings in the Un-Sets, there are a lot of references if you are a player with some knowledge of Magic history up into Onslaught block—which to be fair was recent tehn—or to intellectual properties outside of Magic.

Wizards has found better outlets from those kinds of things in black-bordered sets like Commander products or the forever-referenced Conspiracy sets. They’ve started sneaking sillier content into the art of cards like Eternal MastersGoblin Charbelcher and Commander 2013’s Goblin Sharpshooter, or the shark on the Desert Twister art from Commander 2014. I think these are better places for that kind of content overall.

The Silver Lining

I hate being overly critical and dismissive for an entire article; so with an open mind, there are some cards from these sets that deserve to get some consideration with your playgroup.

Possibly the most well known and most acceptable silver-bordered card in black border games is Cheatyface. While pointing out that you have Cheatyface in your deck is a contradiction of the purpose of the card, the fact is you get a 2/2 flier for free if you are creative enough. I cannot have a problem with it in Commander.

The ability to donate things to your opponent is a viable strategy, so Clambassadors feels at home with Zedruu the Greathearted, possibly equipped with Arcane Teachings. Fowl Play is a pretty typical Magic card, overlooking the reference to chickens. Goblin Bookie is a build-around card that is inoffensive. And ultimately Jalum Grifter, Timmy, Power Gamer, Johnny, Combo Player, and Richard Garfield, Ph.D. are all generals that play normally enough to qualified as unofficially legal.

With the unveiling of Unstable, there is the question of how playgroups will handle the inclusion of silver-bordered cards in Commander decks. Unstable has a lot of cards that are debatably fair game for a social format like Commander. While this has never been addressed with my playgroups before, I have a feeling after December this will be on the table. My stance is that the choice should be made group to group. You should be upfront with the inclusion of any silver-bordered card—even those which have been functionally reprinted in black border—before a game and the Rules Committee should not have to weigh in on this.

In a few weeks I will touch on some of the Unstable cards I might want to give a go in Commander, or at least give my ideas with what you could do with the faction’s Legendary Creatures. Until then, thanks for reading and I’ll see ya next.

Ryan Sainio is a Graphic Designer who writes about EDH, the story of Magic and the EDH community in his down time. He has been playing Magic: The Gathering since 7th Edition in 2002 and values flavorful and fun gameplay over competitively optimized decks.
Pet Deck – Shattergang Eldrazi

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