Unsanctioned Set Review

Unsanctioned Set Review

Sometimes Magic takes itself too seriously, but don’t worry the antidote is here, Unsanctioned! Like all silver bordered cards, these five pre-constructed decks break the normal conventions of Magic, with a generous helping of humour. But un-cards aren’t just a joke. They can be innovative and experimental, leading to future developments in black border.

This product is more like a board-game than most Magic products. You each pick two colours, shuffle two half-decks together and battle. This is a great way to provide more variety and replayability than a simple pair of decks.

I don’t normally review reprints, but part of the appeal of Unsanctioned is that it includes reprints of some of the coolest silver bordered cards of all time, some of which can be hard to find. I must also mention the full art basics, which are my new favourite basic lands in all of Magic. I just wish I could afford enough for a full deck.

Top New Cards

Stet, Draconic Proofreader

Unstable featured legendary creatures such as Phoebe, Head of S.N.E.A.K. from all five factions partly to serve as commanders in games where uncards are allowed. These legends were limited to the five factions from Unstable which centred on allied colour pairs. The release of Unsanctioned means enemy colour pairs no longer have to miss out on the fun. The mono-colour nature of the decks mean the legends all use off-colour activated ability to make them playable in unstable. These cards might influence your deck choice, but can be still be used in any colour combination. Uncards aren’t for everyone, but being able to build an un-commander deck sounds like a lot of fun. Surgeon General Commander even provides a five colour option and pokes fun at how it’s colour identity was forced into five colours.

Stet, Draconic Proofreader is a fun card. It plays like fairly generic dragons such as Flameblast Dragon that kill things when they attack. Caring about names however is impossible in black bordered magic because magic is translated into many different languages. Editing names is the really fun part. You can even delete your opponent’s whole name if you have enough white mana. The art also features the great joke of mice being turned into ice.

B.O.B. (Bevy of Beebles)

There are around 250 creature types in Magic, but one of the rarest is beeble. Beebles were introduced in Urza’s Legacy, but were a very jokey creature soon relegated to silver-bordered magic. Of all those 250 creature types, beebles are perhaps the most unlikely to return to black border magic.

So it’s very surprising that we get a beeble-tribal planeswalker. The ability that connects the number of beebles you control to B.O.B.’s loyalty is easy to understand but I’m sure the rules needed to print this in black border wouldn’t fit on the card. B.O.B. is only the second silver-bordered planeswalker, following in the footsteps of Urza, Academy Headmaster which is one of my favourite planeswalkers of all time. Urza’s abilities may be random but the possible abilities he uses are drawn from many different planeswalkers through out Magic’s history. This makes Urza a combination and celebration of all the planeswalkers in magic. With two great entries so far, I hope to see more silver-bordered planeswalkers in the future.

Acornelia, Fashionable Filcher

Unsanctioned has been fantastic for providing new cards for less popular tribal decks. Chicken à la King has be errated to be a bird instead of a chicken, and so it’s now one of the best rewards for building a bird tribal deck. But the tribe that got an exciting new pay off is the squirrel tribe. Like Beebles, squirrels appeared in black border long ago, but were banished for being too silly. Squirrels are now allowed to appear in black border again, but it’s likely squirrels and squirrel payoffs will always be more numerous in black border.

Squirrels do have a handful of lords including Deranged Hermit which is on the reserved list and Earl of Squirrel from Unstable. Lords are important for a tribe like squirrels that naturally go wide, but what I love about Acornelia is that she is a squirrel payoff that doesn’t follow the standard template. Normally effects like card draw, removal and ramp don’t synergise with tribal strategies because they don’t usually come attached to a member of that tribe. For example Goblin Warchief doesn’t reduce the cost of a classic card like Dragon Fodder. Acornelia however will still reward you with acorns for casting any spell with squirrels in the art. The ordinary basic lands provided with Unsanctioned even feature squirrels hidden in the art. I look forward to seeing how many acorn counters I can accumulate!

Underdome

Lands aren’t usually exciting or splashy, but even a simple land like Underdome can make it much easier to build the deck of your dreams. In a deck full of uncards, this is one of the best lands ever printed, and you get five copies in Unsanctioned! This makes it much easier to put all your favourite uncards in a deck and just have fun. Building a deck with a consistent mana base is a good puzzle for serious magic, and not drawing the right colours of mana at the right time is a fundamental part of the way the game is balanced. However I’m glad to see this card printed, which reduces the barriers to playing silly games of magic with all your uncards.

Top Reprints

Booster Tutor

Cards that search your library for any card and put it in your hand, or on top of your deck are known as tutors after Demonic Tutor. There have been a lot of tutors over the years, and many of them have enabled powerful constructed decks by letting players assemble combos with ease. Wizards are careful to print powerful ones nowadays to avoid repetitive game play that can get boring. They are often costed at four mana such as Mastermind’s Acquisition so a one mana tutor is clearly extremely powerful. Booster Tutor avoids any such repetitive game play by forcing you to open a new pack every time you play it. You’re guaranteed to find something in your colours, but is it what you needed? If you enjoy randomness, this is the best tutor in the game.

The unhinged version has a fantastic piece of flavour text. “Real men use Arabian Nights boosters” suggests using painfully expensive eight card packs. The odds of getting a card you can play is probably far lower than any set in the last 25 years!

Infinity Elemental

A few months ago I picked ten cards to be my ten cards of the decade. Perhaps to many people’s surprise a silver bordered card made my list, and that card was Infinity Elemental. Why am I so attached to this card that it gets the high honour of appearing on two of my lists?

Vanilla creatures are creatures have only power and toughness but no rules text. They appear in most sets at common and uncommon, and cards like Gigantosaurus have appeared at rare. The idea of a vanilla creature at mythic fascinated the community when Mark Rosewater revealed that one would appear in a future set. Crazy theories abounded, but no-one predicted Infinity Elemental because no-one predicted Unstable. Spoiler season was extra fun for a long time, watching the community trying to work out the mystery of the vanilla mythic.

GO TO JAIL

Part of what made Unstable so successful was that it was replayable. Older unsets were full of cards that lost their appeal when the joke got old but Unstable provided good generic effects to help a pod build fun draft decks. GO TO JAIL is an example of removal that is similar to black border removal. As a temporary pacifism it’s remarkable similar to remarkable similar to Heliod’s Punishment. What makes GO TO JAIL silver border is not only the use of dice, but the blatant reference to Monopoly. Monopoly is owned by Hasbro who own Wizards. I’m surprised we don’t see more cross-pollination between Hasbro brands, given how easily Magic can cross genres.

There are plenty of other examples of “un-removal” that is simple but fun in unsanctioned. Duh is a real favourite of mine. The conditionality adds to the game play and the art/ flavour text combo is very funny. AWOL perfectly captures the angst of people who hate cards not staying in exile. Another deceptively well designed card is Magic Word. Just like Claustrophobia and relatives, Magic Word keeps a creature tapped down. It doesn’t look especially fun until you play it. You can choose any thing so why not choose something that makes you and your friends laugh? That little in joke now becomes part of the routine of your turn. Not all the jokes in un-games come printed on the cards!

Enter the Dungeon

Shahrazad is a unique card and has perhaps the best flavour of any card in the game. No wonder Richard Garfield, Magic’s creator, named it as his favourite card in the game. Creating a game with in a game is so unique only three cards out of 20,000 in Magic’s history can do this. Shahrazad is one of only a few cards banned in Vintage, a format where cards don’t get banned for power level reasons. Because of this, subgames will never return to black borders. However in the land of silver bordered cards, Subgames are alive and well.

As well as designing unsets, Mark Rosewater is the rules manager for unsets. If you need a ruling on how uncards work, he is the guy to ask. The rulings on Enter the Dungeon are hilarious. What do you do if someone plays Enter the Dungeon when you are already under a table? How does it work with Skull Saucer? With uncards, the creative solutions you and your friends come up with are all part of the fun.

Cheatyface

Clearly uncards break the rules. But perhaps the biggest rule of games, especially competitive ones like magic, is they cannot encourage cheating. A two-two flier for free is pretty strong, so it’s not fun to be on the receiving end of a Cheatyface. Part of the problem with Cheatyface is that it was widely mis-understood. The original rules text didn’t mention being in your hand, so players would sneak it into play from their library, sideboard or even from exile when it got spotted the first time. This new printing has much clearer rules text and will see far less shenanigans because of it.

Another reprint Entirely Normal Armchair is a similar cheating card with an awesome name. What makes Entirely Normal Armchair so wacky is that it doesn’t have a mana cost, so you have to cheat it into play. Cheatyface might encourage cheating, but this rather uncomfortable piece of furniture forces you to cheat.

Blast from the Past

Blast from the Past is a weird card. Every mechanic is from black border sets, but seeing this many alternative and additional casting costs on a card makes it seem really wacky. But what makes it a silver bordered card? Many of these mechanics have never coexisted in a set together before. Even Modern Horizons was extremely cautious and printed only a handful of cards with multiple set mechanics on it.

What stands out to me is how confusing the card is. For a long time I misunderstood this card because I assumed you had to cast or cycle the card. In fact you should ignore the normal casting cost and always pay for cycling and madness. This combination lets you replace the card and cast it simultaneously. You can have your cake and eat it. I also love the use of the old border. It even has the tombstone logo from Odyssey block to show that this card can be cast from the graveyard. If you like Blast from the Past, then also check out Old Fogey. I may have figured out Blast from the Past, but I’m not sure I understand all the mechanics on this one!

Ordinary Pony

Unstable was fantastic for a lover of magic design as it contained two of the most original mechanics of all time. The most talked about mechanic was probably contraptions which lived in a separate deck, and required creatures and spells from your main deck to assemble them. Contraptions have fascinated people since Steamflogger Boss was printed in Future Sight. Intended as a joke mechanic that would never see print, it finally came to be in a set that is perhaps the craziest since Future Sight. Unfortunately contraptions didn’t appear in this product because that would require another 5 half-decks!

However my favourite mechanic from Unstable is host-augment. Host creatures like Ordinary Pony and Wild Crocodile are fine commons for limited, but when you start mixing the hosts with augments like Humming- and Half-Squirrel, Half- is where the magic happens. It is so much fun to mix and match custom monsters whose, names, art and textboxes are complete hybridisations of the host and the augment.

The augment cards unfortunately are useless with-out the host cards, so you have to build your deck around them. But the randomness of your deck means that even you can’t predict what you might create. Maybe it’s a Ninja-Kitten or using the new card Bat- you can even make Bat-Man. You don’t even need to be playing a game, it’s still a blast to assemble wacky combinations. I hope the mechanic returns to an unset again, although I expect much of the design space has already been used up.

Water Gun Balloon Game

This card creates a fun mini-game all the players. You can even build a deck around the card by including cheap spells with flashback and retrace to make it more likely that you can win the prize. I love how casually this card introduces a new colour into magic. The token is pink, so pink is now an official colour when you play with silver bordered cards. Gold is also a colour in a similar way due to Sword of Dungeons & Dragons, which is a little confusing as cards with more than one colour are colloquially called gold cards because of the gold frame.

Another neat touch is the way that the art is used to keep track of the current score. In black border this would probably require a large number of tokens for each player. Other cards that have done this include B-I-N-G-O and Baron Von Count but I think War Gun Balloon Game is the most elegant design of all these cards, and unlike B-I-N-G-O everyone gets to play the game.

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