‘Unstable’ is crazy, creative, and bold
By Greg Waldock, Staff Writer
Every couple of years, Magic: The Gathering releases a joke set filled with game-breaking cards and hilarious concepts. These sets are always banned from any actual official games to prevent them wreaking havoc on the carefully-balanced meta. It started with “Unglued” in 1998, followed by “Unhinged” in 2004, and at long last, “Unstable” was released just this month. These “Un”-sets are staples of the Magic community, an opportunity for the creators to experiment and make fun of themselves. “Unstable” continues that noble tradition with an amazingly bizarre bunch of cards, and exceeds its predecessors by also having some brilliant and innovative mechanics. Magic‘s parent company, Wizards of the Coast, got to experiment and get weird with the format, and they didn’t hold anything back.
The aesthetic of “Unstable” is “steampunk science gone mad.” Crazed cyborgs, dastardly super villains, and film noir-style spies who are terrible at their jobs are the central factions with a ton of associated abilities. This is very much meant to mirror the style of the latest competitive set, “Ixalan.” There is also the glorious return of “contraptions,” which started as a potential future mechanic teased way back in 2007 with the set “Future Sight.” It’s been so long since “contraptions” were mentioned, it became an in-joke in the community, and so a perfect choice for an “Un”-set. They introduce some surprisingly sophisticated abilities—for example: “The Grand Calcutron” functions as a primitive ticker-tape computer with stacks of cards as programs.
The interesting mechanics are what separate “Unstable” from both other “Un”-sets, and other Magic sets in general. It’s incredibly creative and fun. There are cards that penalize you for not complimenting an opponent, reward you for receiving a high-five from a nearby stranger, activate effects when you throw the card from three feet away, and so on. Most of them could never function in a serious Magic game, but that’s what makes this “Un”-set so special.