Commander First Looks: Unfinity

Sheldon Menery examines the Unfinity cards previewed so far and breaks down each one in relation to Magic’s 100-card format – Commander.

Killer Cosplay, illustrated by Leonardo Santanna

We’ve seen the first ten cards from the now-delayed fifth Magic un-Set, Unfinity, thanks to Mark Rosewater’s San Diego Comic Con panel.  What we see are cards that challenge our assumptions about what Magic cards are supposed to look like, married to a brand new way to package them.  Gone are the silver borders, which easily identified Un-cards as illegal in most formats.  Arrived are the acorns. 

Mark Rosewater revealed some stuff at San Diego Comic Con, to include some new mechanics.  You can check out the full details of what he said on Blogatog, his tumblr account.  What first got folks’ hearts racing (for good or ill) in the amusement park-themed set was the concept of stickers—actual stickers that can change what the card does.  Then there’s the idea of tickets, which for attractions, like the partially-previewed Drop Tower, Dart Throw, and Concession Stand. It was the card format that drew the most attention, though. 

Silver borders are gone.  The cards all have black borders, like most normal Magic cards. What differentiates the cards—and this is where it seems like players are having the most concession stand chili dog-inducing heartburn—is the presence (or not) of a holostamp acorn at the bottom of the card.  It’s pretty simple, really.  If it has an acorn, it’s like it had a silver border:  it’s not legal in Eternal formats, which includes Commander.  If it doesn’t, it’s legal in Eternal formats.  Easy as a giant turkey leg (okay, I’m probably going to quit while I’m ahead on overstraining the amusement park metaphors—seems a little too Rosewater-esque for my blood). 

What seems to have gotten under folks’ skin is that silver borders are an easy differentiator.  You don’t have to look very hard to see that it’s not a legal card.  For Unfinity, we have to find the tiny acorn (or not) at the base of the card.  It’s not something that jumps out at us; we have to go searching for it.  For the most part, if I see someone playing an Unfinity card, I’m going to assume that it’s a legal one (unless I happen to know that it’s not; I’m sure I’ll eventually get there and remember all the card names).  I probably won’t ask too many questions.

We’ll have to take a sidestep here to offer up a caveat.  From now through preview season, be careful about the versions of cards you see even in official previews (always be skeptical about unofficial ones).  We’ve already seen that there are some cards that are not supposed to have acorns do (or the other way around) in the art resource that’s been posted to an online article.  This has something to do with the files they use being different.  Hopefully they’ll get it all worked out before actual preview season is on us.  The point is that you might not want to get too wrapped around the axle just yet thinking that a card will be legal or not until we have 100% definitive information.  As far as I know, the physical versions of the card are the ones that determine its legality, not the digital ones.  Make sure you have complete information before you preorder singles.  We’ll do our best to use the RC Discord server to provide you with the most accurate and up-to-date information that we can on what’s what. 

Back to the idea of the cards showing up in games, I would hope that someone who is playing an Acorned card (doesn’t really have the ring of silver bordered, now does it?) will have brought it up in our Rule Zero discussion.  I’ll reserve judgment on which ones I’d allow until I’ve seen all the cards—but the general point here is that I’m open to the idea.  The Commander Rules Committee (RC) plays a few silver-bordered cards already.  Most of our games in which these cards might come up are with each other, so we’re past the point of asking.  It’s mostly Gavin Duggan who plays them, famously running a Grand Calcutron deck that’s even more famously caused a great deal of on-stream swearing.  Toby had a Baron von Count deck for a while and Gavin used it as a replacement commander for his Zombie deck a few times.  I think Toby took his apart because he got blown out by Reroute one too many times, but I might be under the Mandela effect on this one.  Although the RC got a look at Unfinity twice during development, we haven’t seen the final versions of the cards.  I’ll want to reserve judgment on which cards I wouldn’t mind seeing in a game until we’ve seen the entire set (and again, double-checked legality). 

I don’t have to reserve anything about the cards we’ve seen so far, though. Let’s dive in to taking a look at them.  I’m going to mention the current Acorn-ness of the digital version of each card, just for clarity.

Assembled Ensemble

The Assembled Ensemble’s power is equal to the number of Robots we control.  While there are currently no Robots in Magic, I would fully expect there to be enough once Unfinity is released for there to be enough to make it viable.  Once the set comes out, Robot will then be a recognized creature type, so we’ll be able to use Shapeshifters in our Robot decks as well.  The Ensemble also creates Robots of its own when we cast spells with artifact creatures in their art.  Not only do things like Solemn Simulacrum apply, but so do the various Karn planeswalkers, and the Tenth Edition version of Legacy Weapon, just to name a few.  Those Robots are also Clowns, so we have a whole new line to go down as well.

(currently digital version has an acorn)

Far Out

One that currently has an acorn and I suspect will stay that way since it might otherwise be pretty busted, Far Out lets us choose all the modes on a modal spell instead of the number the spell indicates.  On lots of older cards, this was only one.  Things have gotten progressively better over the years after Cryptic Command started setting the higher bar.  Now, we have cards like Mystic Confluence that offer us many different modes and the choice to pick them more than once.  In fact, the other part of why Far Out is an acorn-worthy card is the confusion is would create with Mystic Confluence and friends.  If we choose the indicated number of modes (like Mystic Confluence’s three), would we be able to choose any of them more than once or not.  We could rule yes, since we’re still choosing the indicated number, meaning Far Out’s can’t, often the most powerful word in the Magic rules, wouldn’t apply.  Un-cards can shake foundational portions of the game’s rules, which is a pretty good argument for them not being legal (just read Rules Lawyer some time). 

(currently digital version has an acorn)

Animate Object

A sorcery that starts out by giving us seven tickets, we’re not sure yet whether that’s enough to get onto that one ride with the loud music and the attendant screaming “Let’s go faster!!!” or just at shot at a sawdusty teddy bear at the 1950’s air gun gallery.  What we do know is that we can do what we finally want, getting our GI Joe with the Kung Fu Grip onto the battlefield with a power and toughness on it.  Your mileage is welcome to vary.  I might start a whole thing where I have baseball cards at the ready, make a deck to recast Animate Object a bunch of times, and have the whole starting lineup of my beloved 1970 Orioles getting into the red zone. 

(currently digital version has an acorn)

Carnival Carnivore

A disappointingly-named Horror to go into our Captain N’ghathrod deck, I would have figured at least that it would have eaten something.  Even chewing up other players’ tickets might be something.  I guess we just have to hope that there’s some good stuff among the ability stickers.  There also better be bands with other, but that’s a different conversation.  Carnivale Carnivore also introduces us to another new creature type, Alien, which I’m sure will be just fine.  Just find indeed.

(currently digital version does not have an acorn)

Saw in Half

The first card we saw from the set, although it’s been quite a while now (owing to the unfortunate and unavoidable product delay from April to October of this year).  Saw in Half will legitimately be a force to be reckoned with, especially with creatures that have spicy enters-the-battlefield triggers.  The one everyone is talking about it is Gray Merchant of Asphodel, giving us two big Gary triggers, which is probably enough to close out many of the games we’re in (since he likely did some life draining already).  I’m looking forward to finding some outside-the-box uses for it, like getting a pair of Lord of Extinction, especially when we have Stalking Vengeance on the battlefield.  I suppose in the same deck, the possibility exists to Saw in Half Stalking Vengeance, doubling us up on those triggers.  It’s going to be a popular and legal card.  It is not anywhere close to ban-worthy.

(currently digital version does not have an acorn)

Killer Cosplay

The card that certainly wins the adorableness award so far, we can use Killer Cosplay to turn a utility creature, like Oracle of Mul Daya, into a battle-worthy one, like Wickerbough Elder or one we want to double up triggers on, like Wandering Troubadour.  Let’s face it, we could also just turn anything that costs 3RR into another Malignus (see also Lord of Extinction, one more time).  With such low mana and relative equip costs, there are plenty of ways to go here.  The wording is a little awkward, but once we understand that the equipped creature is the little kid copying mom or dad’s badass cosplay, then we get it.  Also, I would rule that if you’re currently cosplaying when you activate the card…yeah, this has nowhere good to go for me.  Onto our next friend.

(currently digital version has an acorn)

Angelic Harold

Harold is going to give the bonus to most of our commanders already without needing to resort to the sticker sheet.  For me, it’s some ridiculous percentage, like 55 or 56 out of 62.  That percentage goes down a fair amount when we’re talking about non-legendary creatures.  We’re in the right colors for blinking, so we could just ship Harold in and out of play a few times, though.  Note that we could also put the sticker on Harold himself for the bonus.  I truly look forward to the kind of Tom- and Jane-foolery they’ll put in the names.  Harold is also our first new Performer, but he has a friend:

(currently digital version has an acorn)

Magar of the Magic Strings

There’s lots going on here with Magar.  The first thing is that it’s in my favorite on-the-uptick tribe, Minotaurs.  That’s just a tiny bit of it.  The activated ability is a little like manifest, only it’s a 3/3 instead of a 2/2, and obviously from the graveyard.  The big difference is that things might end up exiled, which is probably good, because the card would get out of hand if we could just repeatedly get copies of spells for free.  It’s also probably pretty safe because the copy only comes from combat damage—so no counter magic or the like available.  All in all, it’s a card that I expect deck brewers to get very creative around. 

The Space Family Goblinson

I suspect the percentage of players rolling three or more dice on a turn with their The Space Family Goblinson deck to be pretty high, especially when they get to have a combat.  I also suspect that The Space Family Goblinson might get out of hand pretty quickly if it’s not met with some interaction, since it gets a counter for every die rolled.  We’ll see some commander damage kills out of this little collection of noise and violence. 

(currently digital version does not have an acorn)

Wicker Picker

The thicker vicar is sicker due to liquor.  I can honestly say that I’m not a fan of this game.  And I still look forward to the names sheet.

(currently digital version does not have an acorn)

Then, finally, there are the lands.  My breath doesn’t get taken away often, but these have absolutely done the trick—the shock lands and the basics alike.  Normally, when I pick up lands, they’re usually the least expensive version I can find (the costs of having 62 decks), but there are some of these that I’m definitely going for.  I’ll probably get the spiciest versions of the shocks for my signature decks and start trading for the spacey basics (foil please!) whenever I can. 

The style of humor from previous Un-sets is generally not up my alley.  They’re the kind of elbow-you-in-the-ribs jokes so they make sure you get them, and I like things a little more subtle.  We still have a long way to go before we see all the card names and associated humor, and I’m still hopeful that we might come to a spot that I’m comfortable with.  As far as the cards go, let’s get into preview season and we’ll talk more.

The thing you might have tuned in to hear me talk about is our position on silver-bordered—and now also acorned—cards.  The short version is that we don’t see a good reason to change it at the moment.  Too many silver-bordered ones would have to be banned to maintain the relatively clear lines of that we’ve created.  This is a topic we’re happy to have healthy debate on, though.  As either Gavin D. or Toby said in the past, nothing would send the signal that Commander is a casual format more than legalizing the silly cards, although at that point, we’d also have to bring in the Mystery Booster cards, etc.  Trust me, it’d be a real mess. 

As always, we have a channel on the Commander RC Discord server dedicated to discussing my articles.  We’re interested in hearing what you have to say about our philosophy of not making silver-bordered or acorned cards legal, as well as your thoughts on the cards we’ve seen so far.  Join more than 7,000 friends for discussion of not just this piece, but on a wide variety of topics—both Commander-related and not.  Hope to see you there!