Hello, Nation! I hope your day has been beautiful and your week Magic-filled. How often does your playgroup use the silver-bordered cards from Unglued and Unhinged? What are the rules for them? How much play do they get? Today, I want to discuss these cards and make some recommendations for your decks.
Some formats ban or discourage the silver-bordered guys. If you want to play Form of the Squirrel, then sorry, but that’s not allowed in Commander. Of course, that doesn’t stop your playgroup from adding a few cards from Un- Land to your Commander decks if everyone agrees.
Many other casual formats allow these cards. I find that most groups have their own rules. Some allow cards from these two sets without limitation. Feel encouraged to drop Ashnod's Coupon and force someone to grab a drink for you. My Cokes are on the second shelf. Un- cards are used freely in decks and play.
Then there are groups on the other side of the spectrum. If it even looks like a silver border, that card is persona non grata. This includes a banhammer on things like Snow Mercy and Gifts Given. This is a very simple rule to follow, and some groups prefer it.
However, it’s been my experience that the vast majority of casual groups are in the middle. Are silver-bordered cards banned? Nope. But they aren’t really played that often, either. Some cards from these sets are discouraged due to power level. No one wants to die to a Tinker-acquired Mox Lotus. (Which had its Oracle text changed—it originally read that it tapped for 8 mana, thus indicating the infinite symbol to be a misprinted “8” on its side. That was a really funny joke. Now it actually taps for infinite mana.)
Today’s article is geared toward the people who are in the middle. We’ll talk about ways to use some Un- cards, which ones I recommend you avoid, and which ones I say you should embrace.
The problem with the Un- sets is the intentionally funny nature of them. If they had just been casual-only sets with mechanics that could not have been made due to tournament decks, they would be beloved to this day. However, they tried to be funny, and a lot of the mechanics are pushed to the limit. The whole ½ life, power, and toughness is a perfect example of trying too hard to be funny. The result is a mechanic that adds to the paperwork and doesn’t give you anything beyond a couple of chuckles the first time, as well as a really mixed bag of cards. Many similar cards that try to push the joke too much offer nothing more to the casual player.
Let me give you an example:
Take a card that’s one of my favorites from the Un- sets versus one that’s . . . not:
The first card is a five-way split card that can gain life; destroy a land, artifact, or enchantment; or counter a creature spell. It’s massively flexible and useful, and worth playing in many five-color decks. Frankly, there is nothing preventing it from seeing print as a black-bordered card, except that the five-way split looks odd. A casual-only set that was not trying to be funny, but to give you good choices for your decks, might’ve made this very card.
Now look at the horridness of Wet Willie of the Damned. Yes, the first time you see it, it’s funny. The first time you play it, it’s funny. But eventually jokes retire. The laugh factor of any joke ebbs with time. All that you have left is the expensive spell that has the hard-to-track ½ life totals. The card has virtually no play value beyond the joke. Here’s another example:
Or you could just play Leonin Skyhunter . . .
How many people are still playing these exclusively joke cards today? (The last set was made in 2004.) Are you playing Vile Bile black aggro decks while wearing gloves? Is Paper Tiger, Rock Lobster, or Scissors Lizard making the cut?
Today, I want to make a recommendation to those playing in groups that were in the middle. If you find that your group only plays these cards intermittently, I have a few principles that you might want to look at.
Might I suggest that you look at playing only those cards the mechanics of which make sense in black-bordered land? Perhaps you’ll want to stay away from the others. The last thing I would want to do is make a banned list, because this is a subjective evaluation that relies on the group and player to make interpretations. Hey, play a Paper Tiger in an artifact-creature deck for fun. But I’d recommend staying away from the Wet Willies in these sets, you know?
Again, this is just a simple recommendation, but I think you’ll find cards with realistic mechanics to be fun to play. Anyway, let’s look at these cards in order from the most likely to see play in black-bordered land to . . . less so.
1. Virtual Reprints
R&D mentioned that it was considering reprinting The Cheese Stands Alone as-is for a core set. They didn’t because of the mechanic of making a silver-bordered card into a black-bordered one. Later, they would reprint it as Barren Glory. If you played The Cheese Stands Alone against me, I wouldn’t mind at all. It has a real mechanic.
Another example is Once More with Feeling. It’s a card that absolutely could be printed again today. It’s got a jokey name, but remember that many black-bordered Magic cards have included joke names and flavor text. Look at something like Sway of the Stars for a similar effect. Some of these cards would need a name change, and perhaps a minor tweak, but they are mechanically printable. (An example of a card that would need a minor tweak is Organ Harvest. All you would likely do is remove the “teammate” language, but even if you left it in, it’s totally printable as-is—art, name, punny flavor text, etc.)
2. Using a Real Mechanic in a New Way
Many Un- cards use mechanics that are already used in cards, but in new ways. Take the expansion symbol. Several cards have been printed that hose all cards with a given expansion symbol. They haven’t been printed in a long time, but they are a mechanic in Magic. With that in mind, look at World-Bottling Kit. That card could be printed tomorrow in Innistrad, and it would work. Using expansion symbols in other ways would be odd, but it does make sense. I have no issue with a Symbol Status being played against me for a ton of tokens.
Many cards in Magic have you look at the name of a card. Having a creature like _____ (commonly referred to as “Blankman”) that can change its name to any other has legitimate use in Black-Bordered World. Consider the Legendary creatures with Grandeur in Future Sight as one way to use him.
I also find that the manual-dexterity cards that use a familiar mechanic (such as Landfill) fall here.
3. The Joke’s a Bit Odd, But Still Playable
The perfect example of this is Mana Screw. It tries to push the joke too much, but mechanically, the card’s fine. Another good example is Greater Morphling. It pushes the joke a bit too much, but the card is still completely playable as a regular card. This is the category of things like Rocket-Powered Turbo Slug and Get a Life.
4. It Uses a New Mechanic
No card in Black-Bordered World has ever cared about rarity. There’s no “Common creatures get +1/+1,” or “Destroy target rare.” The Un- cards include that. Are they playable, or just too much? I love Rare-B-Gone. It’s a great card to build around. Super Secret Tech does something similar.
Rarity isn’t the only form of this mechanic. Another example is rolling a six-sided die. It’s not a black-bordered way of randomly determining things, but is it out of flavor for Magic? Not really. I think things like Goblin Tutor, Jumbo Imp, Growth Spurt, and Jack-in-the-Mox are, mechanically, in perfect flavor for Magicdom. (Some die-rolling cards, such as Spark Fiend, push the joke to the level of craps and such, and are in the next category.)
There are some one-of cards in here, like Jester's Sombrero, that make sense mechanically, but do something new. My favorite group of cards in this category is the Double cycle from Unglued. I am particularly fond of Double Take and Double Play. Due to the presence of mechanics like artist-matters and rolling dice, this is one of the biggest categories.
With no mana-burn now, I actually think some of the ½ mana things feel new, rather than falling into the next category with things like Saute. For example, Mons's Goblin Waiters basically feels like this: , 1/1, Creature — Goblin, Sacrifice two creatures: Add to your mana pool.
5. Jokes a Lot
These are cards that have a joke as part of the mechanic, but the mechanic is still a normal Magic one. You’ll quickly see the difference between these and the next group. Examples of this include Stone-Cold Basilisk, which causes an opponent to be unable to play things, block, or attack for a turn if he reads it (Wet Willie of the Damned would fall here). In addition to cards like 2 ½ / 2 ½ creatures or Little Girl, this is also where I place cards that consider information from outside of the game as part of their effect—take a look at Sex Appeal, Cardboard Carapace, Gus, and Avatar of Me for examples.
I generally don’t find the cards in here to be worth playing much, if at all.
This is the final category for extreme abilities and cards that have mechanics that require you or your opponent to do things outside of the game of Magic. These cards either tend to require physical action, such as Knight of the Hokey Pokey, Standing Army, and Charm School; or require people to talk (or not talk) such as the Gotcha cards, Carnivorous Death-Parrot, and Rod of Spanking.
I find these to have very little long-term play value. Sure, you might laugh from a Rod of Spanking the first time you play it. But the second time? The tenth time? There’s a fine line between funny and annoying, and most of these cards are way past it.
Another example is the subgame cards that require you to do things like arm wrestle in Side to Side. These are clearly outside of the game. Booster Tutor is a good example of a pretty useful card that is in here.
7. Foul, Too Powerful
Mox Lotus is too powerful. The joke makes something that is a one-card infinite-mana combo. There are other cards that have taken the joke to a place that is way too powerful, and I give them this category. Another great example is R&D's Secret Lair.
There are also some cards in here that I just think are broken and don’t work in any way that‘s good for the game. I break Richard Garfield, Ph.D. in half every time I play him, because I have a very strong memory of Magic cards from Abedraft (a giant box with virtually every card ever printed that is used for Limited play).
As I said before, some playgroups will allow all of these categories, and some none. The vast majority are in between. I have created seven categories of cards from the Un- sets by the mechanics of the cards themselves. With these, you can assess the category and then determine easily what sorts of cards are appropriate for your decks and playgroup.
Now, I have a super-special surprise. In order to make all of this easier, I have gone through both sets and categorized every card for you already! Now, these do have a level of subjectivity to them. Is Pointy Finger of Doom a new mechanic in the vein of Chaos Orb or in the same category as Phyrexian Librarian? If you feel that My First Tome is more of a Category 2 than a Category 4, that’s fine. However, this will give you a starting point for your own discussions, and massively reduce the work required.
I also included the holiday promos with the silver borders, so you can enjoy the full silver-bordered effect.
Here is the Excel spreadsheet. If you want it, take it and enjoy.
In my 2,500+ Highlander five-color deck, known as Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy, I run some of these cards. Here are the ones that I think are good enough to run:
Chaos Confetti, Double Play, Double Take, Free-for-All, Goblin Tutor, Jack-in-the-Mox, Jalum Grifter, Look at Me, I'm the DCI, Timmy, Power Gamer, Blast from the Past, Cheatyface, City of Ass, Spell Counter, Name Dropping, Kill! Destroy!, Greater Morphling, Uktabi Kong, Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn of Evil, Land Aid '04, Johnny, Combo Player, My First Tome, Richard Garfield, Ph.D., Symbol Status, and of course Who // What // When // Where // Why.
I’ve pulled out cards I used to play, like AWOL, Stone-Cold Basilisk, Avatar of Me, and "Ach! Hans, Run!" There was a time when I stuck about thirty Cheatyfaces in my Highlander deck, and would constantly drop them in play and annoy the table. Why break the rules with them? They are cheatyfaces!
I also once took a Stone-Cold Basilisk and blacked out everything but the line in the text box that says, “Whenever an opponent reads Stone-Cold Basilisk, that player is turned to stone until end of turn. Stoned players can’t attack, block, or play spells or abilities.”
There are many great gems in these two sets, but a lot of players have to sift through hordes of balancing cards on their body and catching Clay Pigeons in order to find them. Once you do, you can really grab a card or three for your next deck!
See you next week,