I’ve enjoyed the Unstable preview season more than I expected I would. Silver-bordered sets are not my jam. Mostly that’s because I play Magic for the competition. I love to sit across from my opponent and navigate the complex puzzles of competitive Magic. I’m not playing Magic to goof off with my friends—I don’t need Magic to do that. But I do love exploring theoretical worlds that the game could explore. Unstable has provided plenty of new ideas for me to ponder.

Some of the new cards excite and fascinate me, while others make me glad that I don’t have to play with any Unstable cards. Two in particular struck me as pure reflections of this dichotomy, and both happen to do weird things with players’ hands. I want to explore why one card repulses me while the other entices me.

No, thank you. This card hits a couple pet peeves of mine.

First off, I want token creatures in my games to be represented by recognizable card-like markers. Any player or spectator in a game should be able to look at a token creature and immediately know what type of creature it is, it’s power and toughness, and whether it is tapped. When my opponent makes some token and grabs dice, I ask for real tokens. Whenever I play a deck that makes tokens, I try to find official versions of the tokens; if I can’t find them—Hornet Queen tokens were hard to find when it was in Sandard, for example—I make some with blank cardstock. So here’s a card that makes players use some weird kind of token—presumably their hand and fingers—that flies in the face of what I expect and desire.

More deeply, though, I believe Magic is a game that focuses on mental over physical gameplay. Cards that involve hand dexterity, like Chaos Orb, fly against this central trait of the game. There’s a reason Handy Dandy Clone Machine is a silver-bordered: they don’t print physical dexterity cards in Magic anymore. You don’t need hands or fingers to play Magic. Players with physical limitations struggle to overcome the natural impediments to the actual manipulation of a deck of Magic cards, but the game itself does not impose additional physical requirements. And that’s how it should be.

Sure, you can make these homunculus tokens in other ways. If you have friends watching the game, maybe they’ll lend you a hand. You can just use this machine to generate a chump blocker or sacrifice fodder every turn, only ever needing to create one homunculus at a time. My first thought was to find a set of rainbow-colored plastic hands with two fingers extended. Something like that must exist somewhere—like a set of wine-glass markers. Or you could just draw some different-looking homunculus tokens, but you might get pushback from other players.

Overall, this is not something I have any desire to be doing in game or to have to figure out before playing. It’s a silly physical joke in a game that transcends physical limitations. If this were a black-bordered card I had to play with or against, I’d be frustrated. Thankfully it is not.

And then there’s this kind of hand shenanigans. I will freely admit my bias as a Dimir mage, but this card is right up my alley. It also reminds me of the eponymous “star” of Thomas Pynchon’s novel V. This card could just as easily be named V as X, and that’s pretty cool. She hangs on the western wall, indeed.

Black-bordered Magic never puts a player’s cards in another player’s hand, so X must live in un-world. But the general effect could exist in regular Magic—a permanent that makes your opponent play with their hand face up, and you can play cards from it for the activated cost. I’m not sure that would be much fun, as Emrakul, the Promised End demonstrated, but it’s a plausible mechanic and not that different from a card like Hostage Taker.

Unstable is the perfect place for a card like X, though. It doesn’t really belong in black-bordered Magic, even if it could be forced to fit into the rules. The flavor of a spy that infiltrates opposing hands and turns the cards against their owner is fantastic. X is a perfect top-down spy. It would likely be oppressive in competitive play, but there’s plenty of room to have fun fooling around with this card in casual games.

On top of that, the tap ability begs to be used in multi-player games. One of the few ways an opponent can interact with X is to discard it back to your graveyard, but if you can jump it around between opponents, that adds a whole new dimension to the fun. I assume you can tap and use the ability while it’s in a hand—the card does say X’s owner may activate it’s abilities while in an opponent’s hand. Even if you can’t, there’s still plenty of strategy for choosing whose hand to infiltrate. I could see this card being oppressive as a general in Commander, but who knows. Maybe X opens a new Magic experience for players who live to play with their opponent’s cards.

The magic of X is that it augments the mental aspect of Magic. It takes advantage of its silver border to create a new flavorful card that does something that fits in Magic but is difficult to fit within the rules. Anyone can enjoy playing with X, and you don’t need anything else out of the booster pack (besides some lands) to enjoy it. Both X and Handy Dandy Clone Machine are dripping with flavor, but only X does something new with what Magic does best.

But that’s just my opinion. Both cards stimulate discussion, and they add a lot to the theoretical world of Magic. Others will get more fun out of goofy little finger tokens. Magic can be whatever you want it to be. I can’t wait to see the rest of Unstable, and see how people enjoy playing it. Maybe I’ll give it a try.

Carrie O’Hara is Editor-in-Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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