For years, I've been describing myself as a recovering Magic player. This weekend's release of the latest joke set, Unstable, dragged me out of the house for a few dice-chucking, squirrel-loving, high-fiving ungames of Magic.
Unstable is the third of Magic: the Gathering's "unsets". A group of joke sets that don't really abide by the normal rules of Magic. They're complete nonsensical fun so I relapsed after years of being clean(ish) of Magic and played in a few tournaments.
Before leaving the house, I knew very little about what to expect from Unstable. I knew that it wasn't to be taken seriously. I knew that there would be squirrels. I knew that people from outside the game would be allowed to make decisions.
I also knew a few of the core mechanics of the set: Augment and Contraptions.
Augment is a mad scientist's dream that lets players combine two creatures for ridiculous effect. Your Ordinary Pony is now a Half-Shark, Half-Pony. That Dirty Rat sitting on your opponents side of the table? It's now a Steam-Powered Rat. Play an Adorable Kitten? Now you can splice it into a Half-Kitten, Half-Kitten.
Sometimes the most ridiculous splicings are the ones that kind of make sense.
The other mechanic I knew of going into the weekend were Contraptions. Contraptions were originally mentioned in Future Sight, a Magic set that was a wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey ball of past and "future" mechanics. They didn't exist back then. Now they do.
Contraptions form a separate deck of cards that, when assembled, get put into play under a sprocket. At the start of a player's turn, a different sprocket fires and cranks all of the Contraptions which then have bonus effects for the player that owns them.
The rules for Unstable are deliberately a bit silly. The designers really leaned into the idea that Magic rules can appear nonsensical to outsiders.
Armed with this knowledge, I started my weekend of UnMagic with a draft.
Drafting is a Magic format where players sit around a table with three booster packs of cards. They all open a pack, choose a card and then pass the rest of the pack on to the next player. Once all of the packs have been open and all of the cards chosen, players build their decks from the cards in front of them.
It's a format that rewards card knowledge and familiarity with Magic. I had neither.
Fortunately I had a plan. With all the new cards and the silly and wonky rules, my plan was to take the silliest card. Failing that, I would take the card with the least rules text so that I had half a chance of working out what I was doing with my deck.
The first pack I opened had Oddly Uneven, a powerful board-wipe effect that cards about the amount of words in creatures' names. Not very silly but an excuse to take every half-decent white card that came my way.
It's typical for draft decks of Magic to have two (or even three) colours of cards. By the time I had opened my second pack of cards, I had literally no idea whatsoever what my second colour would be. A few cards into the pack, my decision was made for me. I was passed Better Than One, a card that turns my one-on-one battle into a two-on-one game if I could rope in an assistant from outside the game.
I had my colours. I had some decent cards. I had an appropriate amount of silliness. This was a good undraft.
The next couple of hours were a blast. Players (including me) ran around the store high-fiving anyone in reach. Shouts of "Hey! Do you like squirrels?" rang out constantly. There were even some genuinely enjoyable games of Magic.
I fired off my Better Than One in two different games, splitting my deck in half so that innocent bystanders could help me try to win. It kind of worked.
I feel a little guilty about winning a game before my opponent could use his Kindslaver on me. Kindslaver lets a bystander take over your opponent's turn and it would have been the most on theme way to finish off the day.
The one downside is that the games took a long time. Between all the jokes, running around, asking bystanders for help and overall silliness, more than a few matches timed out resulting in draws. I'm used to this, I played competitive Android: Netrunner for a while and tournament matches of that game often go to a draw. It was still a minor disappointment.
Not enough of a disappointment to stop me coming back the next day for a sealed tournament of Unstable.
Sealed is similar to draft in that you're given booster packs to build your deck from. Unlike draft, you're given six packs to pilfer instead of picking and passing from three. The end result is that you have more cards to choose from but your deck is unlikely to be very focused.
Not a problem for Unstable where it's not about playing well but instead doing incredibly stupid things.
Unfortunately, the cards I opened did not lend themselves to doing incredibly stupid things. Quite against the spirit of Unstable my booster packs contained a very powerful, aggressive and synergistic pool of cards. When I got home I realised that I could've (and possibly should've) built a perfectly silly deck based around rolling dice and throwing Really Epic Punches.
But I was blinded by the power of my cards and put together a disgustingly strong deck.
Aside from Chevalrous Chevalier, which had me complimenting my very pleasant and talented opponents whenever I played it, and Magic Word which let me tap down their creatures by whispering "susurrus", this was not a very undeck.
They were just good cards put together in a way that won a lot of games. I'm unhappy with myself, I should've rolled some dice.
Even if the appropriate amount of silliness didn't happen during my games, it was still a blast. My games on Sunday took a lot less time than the ones on Saturday, so my opponents and I had plenty of time to hang out and chat afterwards. I wasn't lying when I complimented them with my Chevalrous Chevalier.
The time between games also let me wander around to see whatever madness was ensuing at other tables. I saw one player split his library into four before his opponent destroyed him with an army of dice-rolling creatures. Another player put together an army of squirrels thanks to a series of fortunate dice rolls. Bystanders took over other player's turns with Kindslaver. Games of Hangman were played.
Fun and befuddlement were had by all. Unstable is truly Magic as Richard Garfield intended.
Unstable is available now but in short supply. The store I went to this weekend is already out of booster packs so get in fast if you plan to get in at all.