A First Look At Unsanctioned, Magic: The Gathering's New Set
Most people would agree that there are only five forms of organized competition worldwide that qualify as Truly Global Sports: soccer, chess, rassling, Goldeneye for the N64 (no Oddjob), and, of course, the long-running collectible card game Magic: The Gathering.
At any moment across the planet -- from Dallas to Tokyo, from Cape Town to Mexico City -- you can find players from all walks of life hunkered down at their neighborhood game stores and kitchen tables, meticulously plotting their opponents' annihilation using dragons, warlocks, and a profound appreciation of mental math. Yes, Magic is one of humanity's great cross-cultural experiences -- it's sort of like the Olympics, but with far more liches.
So given the game's storied pedigree, Cracked is proud to present the full spoilers for the next Magic: The Gathering set, Unsanctioned, which will be hitting stores February 29, 2020. Furthermore, we had the opportunity to talk with Mark Rosewater, the head designer of Magic, and pepper him with all manner of questions. (You can also just scroll down to check out all of the new cards and deck lists, if you have no sense of self-control whatsoever.)
Here's how Unsanctioned works: it's a boxed set of five 30-card decks. You shuffle together two of these decks, get a friend to do the same, and then you duel using some of the silliest, most outlandish cards in Magic history. The reprinted cards are drawn from Magic's "Un-sets" (Unglued, Unhinged, and Unstable) -- cards from these silver-bordered, non-tournament-legal sets ask players to do things far outside the scope of an ordinary game of Magic.
"Magic is on a spectrum," Rosewater recently explained to Cracked. "On one side, there's serious competitive play. On the other side, there's more of a social-casual-having-a-good-time. Magic does a lot to reinforce competitive play, so I wanted to make sure the Un-sets are a poster child for the other side of the spectrum. Win or lose, you're going to have a good time."
"We've never reprinted any silver-border product ever. Unsanctioned is a really good sampler of silver-bordered Magic; it's a reward for all the Un-fans out there, and an introduction for new players. You just take two half-decks, mix them together, and play. This is a walkthrough of the best stuff that the Un-sets have to offer."
Rosewater was generous enough to go over the design process of the new cards, many of which were designed with Magic's popular Commander format in mind:
Mark Rosewater on Stet, Draconic Proofreader: "For Unsanctioned, we made a cycle of enemy-color legendary creatures that are in one color and have the activated ability of another color, so we knew we needed a red card with a white activated ability. I kind of wanted the card to be a dragon, so I said to my team, 'Here's what I want: I want a dragon doing a job you'd never think a dragon would do. What could we have a dragon do that is the most un-dragon thing ever?" And so we came up with an idea of it being a proofreader! 'Stet' is an editing term, so there's lots of editing humor in this one."
Alexander Clamilton: "The clamfolk first showed up in [the 1998 Un-set] Unglued. Magic does this thing where we anthropomorphize animals and make a humanoid version of the animal. So I thought, what is the silliest animal we can do this with? Magic does [humanoid] cats and elephants and all sorts of stuff, so I came up with clams -- we had Clam-I-Am, Clam Session, a lot of clam puns. For Unsanctioned, we needed a legendary blue creature with a red activated ability, so I said, 'Let's make it a clamfolk, so give me the best clam name you can give me.' Chris Mooney, who was one of the finalists for The Great Designer Search, came up with Alexander Clamilton, and I thought that was amazing. So we had to design Alexander Clamilton! He cares about wordy spells, because Alexander Hamilton was a writer, but he also duels!"
Acornelia, Fashionable Filcher: "What happened was, early in my Magic career, during Mirage block, I was entertained by the idea of getting squirrels into Magic. There's a card called Waiting in the Weeds that was supposed to have squirrels in it, and then the artist just drew cats and we had to change it. During the [2001-2002] Odyssey block, I just put a lot of squirrels in. The brand team said, 'Squirrels are too silly, Magic needs to be more serious than that,' and so they kicked squirrels out of Magic. So I said, 'If they're too silly for black-bordered Magic, I'm going to put them in silver-bordered Magic.' The whole point of Un-sets is that there's things we won't do in regular sets, and I know players like squirrels! Players have been asking for a squirrel commander forever, and so finally we deliver with Acornelia, Fashionable Filcher."
Infernius Spawnington III, Esq.: "Unglued had a card called Infernal Spawn of Evil. How that came about was that the artist, Ron Spencer, was turning in a sketch for the art director to sign off on, and instead of handing in a sketch of some scary creature, he turned in a picture of a little mouse with hot cocoa to make the art director laugh. We had it posted up at work, and when we were making Unglued, I said, "We're using that art!" And in [the 2004 Un-set] Unhinged, we had Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn of Evil, which was Infernal Spawn of Evil with his son, two generations of Infernal Spawn of Evil. So now we have three generations of Infernal Spawn of Evil -- each art references the art before it, it's super cute. The original Spawn of Evil, he's now a grandpa! It's not often in Magic that we get to do running jokes over time, and this one paid off well."
B.O.B. (Bevy of Beebles): "I knew when we were going to do Unsanctioned that I wanted to another planeswalker, but one of the rules is I don't want to do something black-bordered Magic would do. So I came up with a lot of crazy ideas and I went to our franchise team and said, 'Here are a lot of wacky, out-there ideas, which one of these might you do?' And there was some stuff that they would do, I was surprised! But for the Beebles, they said, 'No, we are not doing a collective of Beebles, that is all yours.'"
And here were a few other hodgepodge questions Cracked tossed Mark's way:
Can you give us any sort of details on the upcoming Magic Netflix series?
Mark Rosewater: People will throttle me if I actually give you details, but I can say this: I'm about a fan of Magic as there can be. I have a lot of emotional investment in this existing and being good. We have a top-notch team working on this. Literally, [the show's executive producers, the Russo Brothers of Avengers: Endgame fame] directed the highest-grossing movie of all time, and their next project is working with us! I think the audience is just going to adore it. I think it's something that'll bring people who don't know Magic to Magic, which is really exciting.
Mark Rosewater: [Ed.'s note: Mark offered a very diplomatic response to this very stupid question.] One of the things that we really lean into is creating our own mythology. Early Magic really leaned into existing real-world mythologies like The Arabian Nights and Frankenstein's Monster. These days, we have an amazing creative team building our world, and we're really more excited to build our own things. And even when we do existing mythologies, we do our take on, say, Greek mythologies. We like to put the Magic stamp on things.
Speaking of the 90s, Magic has been going strong for the past 27 years. To what you would ascribe the game's longevity?
Mark Rosewater: I think there are a lot of answers, but my guess is that the game puts so much power in the hands of the player to pick what they want the game to be. I've given talks at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, and I realized most game designers play Magic. And I thought, 'Why is that?' It's the first game you've probably played that really let you be a game designer. That's something really special about Magic -- you have so much control about what the game is. One thing I stress all the time is that Magic isn't even one game; really what it is is a whole bunch of games connected by a shared rule set and card set. It allows you so many different ways and so many different expressions on how to enjoy yourself. That's why Magic is Magic.
So once again, players can find Unsanctioned all across the land on February 29, 2020 (just in time for Leap Day). A big thank you to Mark for chatting with us and to Wizards of Coast for letting us unveil these snazzy new cards, and remember to support your friendly neighborhood game store. (And shout out to my local shop, the always great Twenty Sided Store in Brooklyn, New York.)
You can find the full deck lists for Unsanctioned below -- new cards are bolded. Also, each Unsanctioned box set comes with 10 brand-new full-art lands (two of each basic land type, in foil and non-foil).
WHITE DECK LIST
Syr Cadian, Knight Owl
Plains x 12 (new art)
BLUE DECK LIST
B.O.B. (Bevy of Beebles)
Rings a Bell
Island x 12 (new art)
BLACK DECK LIST
Acornelia, Fashionable Filcher
Infernius Spawnington III, Esq.
Swamp x 12 (new art)
RED DECK LIST
Stet, Draconic Proofreader
Mountain x 12 (new art)
GREEN DECK LIST
Pippa, Duchess of Dice
Timmy, Power Gamer (new art)
Spirit of the Season
Forest x 12 (new art)
Cyriaque Lamar is the Managing Editor of Cracked. He is on Twitter.