Unstable Impressions

by Lee Shi Tian on 22 December 2017, Friday

Lee Shi Tian


Unstable Impressions


Hello everyone,


Unstable was sold out in most of Hong Kong's stores in two weeks.  Judging from the massive balance stock of Iconic Masters in stores, I really hoped the release quantity of Unstable could be a lot more. 

I did not draft it much but I  have lots of insights from the whole expansion.  Today I would like to talk about some interesting thoughts when I come across the design behind some cards in the set.





Contraptions is a fun mechanic and it showed us the birth of a new zone. In the past, we had energy as a new dimension of resources.  What I like about the whole Contraption model is that there are ways to interact with it (artifact removal) despite being in a different zone. It was difficult to interact with energy, which made it somehow overpowered.


I believe opening a new zone of Magic is an excellent option for new mechanics as long as you create ways where we can interact with it.


Host and Augment


Mer | Man Dirty | Rat Bumbling | Pangolin


The Host mechanic could easily fit into modern Magic’s value creature design.  Cards like Mer | ManDirty | Rat and Bumbling | Pangolin remind me of MulldrifterMournwhelk and Ingot Chewer in Lorwyn.  Being a host creature is a upside as there is potential for extra triggers.

The Augment part reminds me of Evermind where it cannot be cast by itself but needs to be supported by other cards.  I think the mechanic is very good in Limited and balancing between the number of Hosts and Augments is a fun and delicate process.

It can also be compared to Bestow in Theros Block but I strongly believe that Bestow is a overpowered ability in limited.  Cards like Hopeful Eidolon and Nimbus Naiad were just too good and were slam first picks in their day.  If there is a choice between these two abilities, I would easily choose Augment over Bestow.


Extremely Slow Zombie


Extremely Slow Zombie (A 'Summer')

First Strike and Double Strike exist, so why not Last Strike? Extremely Slow Zombie shows another layer of combat damage. While this is a negative ability, it opens up one way to give a drawback to an oversized creature. In recent years, we've seen a rise in the power-to-cost ratio in our creatures. I think Extremely Slow Zombie is a well-designed card and it could even be printed in a regular expansion.

Animate Library


Animate Library Crumbling Sanctuary


We have all kinds of Aura. Auras which go on creatures, lands, artifacts, and so on. Maybe we will see "Enchant Planeswalker" one day? It might allow us to activate the enchanted Planeswalker more than once a turn, or gain control of enchanted Planeswalker? Anyway, having said that, "Enchant Library" is not quite a novel concept. Crumbling Sanctuary turned out library into our life total. 

Super-Duper Death Ray


Super-Duper Death Ray


Soulfire Grand Master was the first card to give instants and sorceries lifelink. However, cards like Lightning Helix are quite similar to having lifelink.

Trample on a spell is a great idea actually. There are numerous cards which allow us to split damage, such as Forked Bolt and Arc Lightning (those feel like trample), and also cards like Searing Blaze and Searing Blood (these cards also feel like trample) which deal damage to both creatures and players.

Putting the word trample on a burn spell is funny, but it makes sense and gives us a brand new feeling.


Arc Lightning Searing Blaze


Earl of Squirrel


Earl of Squirrel


Squirrellink is based on lifelink. It opens up a huge range of possibilities.  We do have "poison counter link" in the past and that's Infect. "Tribe-link" can also be an ability in tribal sets.  There's also about "Energy-link"! Longtusk Cub!

Same Card Name, Different Abilities


While I don’t think it is very likely to happen in "real" Magic, this is quite a nice idea because it provides some restrictions to deckbuilding. Assuming you were to build a deck which cannot contain more than four copies of Ineffable Blessing - and you are allowed to use different versions - wouldn't that have tons of possibilities?

Also, players have suggested to not allow Batterskull in any decklist with Stoneforge Mystic. Imagine printing both these cards with the same name, where you can only play four copies in each deck. That will certainly reduce the power level of a deck. However, there is no way to easily identify which cards should be named the same. Magic isn't a digital game where we can nerf or buff cards at will so I doubt it will be feasible to do this in real expansions.

Borderless Basics



From normal Basic Lands, we move on to full art Basic Land and we now have borderless Basic Lands. Judging from the popularity of Unstable Basic Lands, I think borderless cards could be a popular way to print promo cards in future. Perhaps we don't need Masterpieces of sell an expansion or to increase the price of a regular card. You can simply pick up a good card, give it a "borderless frame" and we've got a new promo in our hands.

However, Wizards of the Coast needs to "not overdo" it and destroy the value of the cards in the set. Borderless promos are something interesting we can look forward to in the future as high-value collectible items.


Overall, Unstable feels like Future Sight from the Time Spiral block, where numerous mechanics were jammed into one single Limited environment. While it is a casual set, Unstable drafts pretty well and showcased how deep Magic can be. I hope R&D will surprise us even more with the UN4!



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