Last updated on June 22, 2022
Half-Kitten, Half- | Illustration by Andrea Radeck
Mark Rosewater gets questions on his blog asking when Contraptions will be a thing in Magic all the time. His answer is always the same: we’ve found a way to bring Contraptions to the game. There’s also a significant part of players that wanted another Un-set. Despite old unsets having apparently sold poorly, players (and MaRo) never gave up. Eventually, we got Unstable, a very successful set in sales, Draft experience, and critical reviews.
How do you design a joke set? One of the ways is to base the main theme of the set, which in this case is Contraptions, on an existing joke card. Steamflogger Boss was released as a joke in Future Sight. The card boosts “Rigger” creatures (which didn’t exist at the time) and cares about Contraptions being assembled (which, again, wasn’t a thing). This meant that Steamflogger Boss was just a vanilla 3/3 for four.
Enter Unstable, a set with Riggers that assemble Contraptions and make Steamflogger Boss look like the best creature ever. Let’s see what else this Un-set has to offer!
Overt Operative | Illustration by Bram Sels
|Number of Cards||216(ish)|
|Rarities||75 commons, 75 uncommons, 46 rares, 15 mythic rares, 5 basic lands|
|Main Mechanics||Augment, Assemble, Contraptions, Dice Roll, Host Creatures, Outside Assistance, Watermark Matters|
|Secondary Mechanics||Art Menace, Blurry, Just a Second, Last Strike, Triple Strike, Loose Lips, Squirrellink, Undeathtouch|
|Previews started||November 13, 2017|
|Paper release date||December 8, 2017|
|Draft weekend||December 9 to 10, 2017|
As Luck Would Have It | Illustration by Milivoj Ceran
Unstable is a silver-bordered set, which means its cards aren’t legal in Constructed formats, but they are legal in casual play. The first silver-bordered set was Unglued, followed by Unhinged and finally Unstable on December 8, 2017. For the first time, an Un-set was designed as a Draft experience following products like Conspiracy that’s also a supplemental set design with a unique Draft experience in mind.
Unstable takes place in the plane of Bablovia, which is ruled by five different factions: Order of the Widget, Agents of S.N.E.A.K., Crossbreed Labs, Goblin Explosioneers, and League of Dastardly Doom. Unlike Standard-legal sets, Unstable doesn’t have an overarching story as part of Magic’s official lore, but the world is very detailed as you’d expect from a modern MTG set. The collection also has a lot of references to Magic, and to typical tropes and pop culture games in general.
There are tons of “one-of” mechanics in Unstable, ranging from “last strike” to a creature with actually infinite power.
Host creatures are cards with the creature type “host” and a unique metal division in the art. Let’s look at Eager Beaver as an example. The card has an ETB ability split into two parts in the rules box.
This looks like a normal card aside from the weird frame. The special thing about host creatures is that they can be augmented.
A creature with the “augment mechanic” has to be played over a host creature. To augment a creature you have to pay the cost, reveal the card, and then augment a target host, which you can only do as a sorcery. Augment does two things to a host creature.
First, the power and toughness of the augment creature is added to the power and toughness of the host creature, like an aura. Second, the host creature’s ETB trigger is replaced by whatever trigger the augment card has.
Let’s look at Adorable Kitten, a host creature. It’s a 1/1 cat that gains you some life based on the dice roll when it enters the battlefield. Now let’s look at an augment creature, Monkey-. To play it you need to pay and play it over a host creature already on the battlefield.
Here we have Monkey-Kitten. It’s a 3/3 Monkey Cat for that has the same lifegain ability, but it triggers whenever a nontoken creature you control dies. Neat, right?
Unstable has five factions, as I already mentioned. Each faction has a different watermark, and some cards actually care about these.
Watermarket adds two mana, but it can only be used for spells with watermarks. Hammerfest Boomtacular deals two damage to a target creature or player whenever you cast a spell with the Goblin Explosioneers watermark (which it also has).
Contraptions are special artifact cards and the main part of Unstable. They’re meant to be drafted along with the rest of the cards from your deck but are placed in another deck called the “contraption deck.”
To put the Contraptions in the game you have to assemble them with cards that “assemble a Contraption,” which is most present in red, white, and blue. Each Contraption occupies one of three sprockets, and once a turn every Contraption from a certain Sprocket is cranked and then the CRANK! counter is moved one position to the next Sprocket.
So why do you want to put a Contraption in your deck or crank it? Because they offer repeated benefits. Let’s say you have Buzz Buggy on Sprocket 1, Arms Depot on Sprocket 2, and Bee-Bee Gun in Sprocket 3. Once per turn you get the benefits from these cards, in this case giving +2/+0 and trample to a creature, putting two +1/+1 counters on another creature, and getting the fight ability.
Confused about Sprockets and CRANK! counters? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Once assembled, Contraptions are put into one of three Sprockets. Once a turn you move the CRANK! counter one position further. Moving the CRANK! counter means you crank every Contraption in a certain Sprocket. If you choose Sprocket 1, the next turn you need to choose Sprocket 2 and so on. The objective of the set is to do wacky and crazy stuff, hence the terms Contraption, Sprocket, etc.
”Assemble a Contraption” is how you put a contraption in play from your Contraptions deck. Each time a card says “assemble a contraption,” put the top card of your Contraption deck into one of the three Sprockets. Joyride Rigger assembles a Contraption when it enters the battlefield while Steamflogger Temp assembles a Contraption for six mana and tapping.
They’re all Riggers, and Riggers assemble a Contraption as predicted by Steamflogger Boss so many years ago. It’s possible to assemble Contraptions by other means, like with Work a Double, a sorcery that assembles two Contraptions.
Sometimes you can ask a friend that’s watching you play if you did the right move, or what you should do, right? In this set, you can make them actually play for you. Kindslaver is a riff on Mindslaver. The difference is that a person outside the game controls your opponent for the turn.
Another example is Subcontract, where a player outside the game discards a card from your opponent’s hand. With Better Than One you can even team up with a friend and share your resources. Your teammate gets some of your cards, your library, and your permanents on your battlefield to help fight your opponent.
Dice rolling is not entirely new in MTG Un-sets but it used to be restricted to them until Forgotten Realms when dice rolling made the jump from silver- to black-bordered cards. Unstable has a lot of cards that roll dice and care about rolling dice.
Box of Free-Range Goblins has you roll a dice to see how many goblins you win. GO TO JAIL makes the owner of the exiled creature roll doubles in order to “leave the jail” in true Monopoly fashion. Hydradoodle has you pay X mana and roll that many dice to see how many +1/+1 counters your creature gets. Paying six mana for X=2 will result in a creature ranging from +2/+2 to +12/+12, while paying 10 mana for X=4 wields a creature between +4/+4 and +24/+24.
Regular menace means that a creature can’t be blocked except by two or more creatures. Art menace cares about the art on a card. If two or more figures are present in the art of the blocking creature, then it’s a legal block. Figures are “any living (or undead) capable of movement.”
Creatures with blurry are hard to see, and guess what you need to block them? Glasses! Blurry creatures can’t be blocked except if the creature with blurry was cast while the defending player was wearing glasses.
Cards with split-second resolve before anything else can go on the stack. Cards with just a second are similar, except your opponent can’t move cards on the table when they’re on the stack. Because there are more things happening at the table than meets the eye in a game of Unstable.
Last strike creatures deal damage after regular damage. If creature A has last strike and creature B is a vanilla creature, creature B basically has first strike in relation to creature A.
Triple strike means that the creature deals first strike damage, normal damage, and last strike damage, effectively hitting three times during combat.
One version of Knight of the Kitchen Sink has “protection from loose lips.” Creatures with an open mouth in their artwork are considered “loose lips.”
When a creature with squirrellink deals damage, it puts that many 1/1 Squirrel tokens onto the battlefield.
In this set, it’s possible for creatures in the graveyard to attack each other. In Mark Rosewater’s words:
It’s deathtouch for dead things. If creature cards in graveyards deal damage to one another, they’re exiled.MaRo
Novellamental is a 2/1 flying for , but each version’s flavor text has a different part of a story.
And Extremely Slow Zombie is so slow, each of the 4 versions is a season of the year while the flavor text starts on “BRRRR” and ends in “AAAAINS.”
Cards that Care About Other Cards’ Properties
Cards like capital offense care about the number of times a capital letter appears on a card, while most versions of Sly Spy care about the art or the name of the card. Some versions of Ineffable Blessing care about the rarity of the card, the color of the border, or even the collector number of the card.
Since every card in Unstable is silver-bordered and not legal in any competitive format, players were drawn to some cards for Cube and Commander. In certain groups, it’s okay to use silver-bordered cards as long as every player agrees beforehand.
If you don’t understand what Rules Lawyer does, basically you won’t lose the game and your creatures won’t be destroyed. That said it can be destroyed, so there’s that. It’s probably not a card your friends will want you to play with, honestly.
Animate Library enchants your library and turns it into a big creature. And don’t worry about losing your whole deck if it dies, because the card prevents that.
Clocknapper offers to steal a turn phase from each opponent. Stealing the beginning phase means that your opponent won’t be able to untap their permanents, so that’s always a solid choice. Stealing the combat phase means that they won’t be attacking at all. This is also maybe too unfun to let friends play.
Look, it’s blue Lord of Extinction. If your deck messes with your own graveyard, why not borrow cards from opponents? The problem with Graveyard Busybody is that it can lead to “feel bad” moments like returning a card from “your” graveyard to your hand. Best to use different colored sleeves for this one.
Very Cryptic Command
Cryptic Command is one of my favorite cards, and this set has six different ones. The card has a history of being a staple of competitive play, being very wordy, and doing a lot of different stuff, so six different versions of Very Cryptic Command have 24 different abilities altogether. Try to collect them all and put them in a deck so your opponent never knows which effect to play around!
Hangman lets you literally play a game of hangman with your buddies in the middle of your Magic game. While the word isn’t discovered the card gets stronger, so be creative in your choice of words.
Over My Dead Bodies
Over My Dead Bodies basically creates a subgame of Magic where cards in the graveyard fight other cards in the graveyard. Better assemble a graveyard defense!
Spike, Tournament Grinder
The fact that Spike, Tournament Grinder is legendary caused an uproar in the community because it would be a very powerful commander. For four black mana or eight life, it’s possible to tutor any card (with the restriction that it must have been banned/restricted before). There are some combos that win the game on the spot from there.
After Forgotten Realms printed all those dice rolling cards Squirrel-Powered Scheme must be playable somewhere, right?
Summon the Pack
What pack are you bringing to the game? Legions, where all cards are creatures? A set with big Eldrazi like Rise of the Eldrazi or Battle for Zendikar? Either way, you get all the creatures opened in the pack thanks to Summon the Pack.
The Big Idea
If The Big Idea survives, the number of tokens created will be legendary. Make three tokens then tap all of them to roll two dice and make seven or eight tokens. And any synergy with dice rolling helps.
Infinite power! Attacking with Infinity Elemental should be somewhat easy to win since there are multiple ways to grant flying, unblockable, or trample along with hexproof or shroud so it doesn’t die easily.
Steamflogger Boss’s reprint from Future Sight is the star of the set because there are plenty of Riggers and Contraptions laying around.
As Luck Would Have It
Earl of Squirrel
Baron Von Count
Baron Von Count can be a fun commander to brew a deck around. You’ll need some tutoring, cards that have the numbers one through five in their text, and to get a little lucky.
Ten seconds is a lot of time to arrange your next draws. Don’t panic, think through it, and you’ll achieve your goals. But six mana is maybe not worth Hot Fix’s effect at sorcery speed. Oh, and there’s also milling which can ruin your day.
Urza, Academy Headmaster
Before Urza, Lord High Artificer existed, Urza, Academy Headmaster was Urza’s main representation in Magic. So what does it do? It’s a planeswalker with abilities chosen at random from AskUrza.com. The list of abilities is taken from other planeswalkers’ abilities in the game. It’s guaranteed fun and a very creative design.
Ever played with the top card of your library revealed? What about four? Split Screen makes it so that you can draw one of four cards from any of the libraries every turn.
Sword of Dungeons & Dragons
Another member in the sword cycle, Sword of Dungeons & Dragons is perfectly playable in any format. A similar design could be black-bordered without any problem. Creating at least a 4/4 flier each time the equipped creature connects is very strong.
If you’re looking for lots of incredible Draft experiences and fun gameplay with a group of friends plus a few beautiful full-art lands, Unstable’s booster box is the product for you. These boxes come with 36 boosters of 16 cards, the same as your typical MTG expansion.
- Display box of 36 booster packets
- Unstable contains 15 randomly inserted silver-bordered cards per booster pack
- A silver-bordered, non-tournament-legal product
For players who just want to open a booster and smell 16 new cards to boost their Un-collection. I’d recommend at least three for the full Draft. Each Unstable booster pack comes with a basic full-art land, two Contraptions, eight commons, three uncommons, a rare, and a foil token.
- This pack contains 12 cards in total.
Clocknapper | Illustration by Marco Teixeira
Unstable is truly one of a kind. It’s an Un-set that managed to be a fun set and even inspired future designs while greenlighting new Un-sets. Unhinged was released in 2004 and wasn’t very good or successful. But after 13 years Magic found the vein to make a nice set that combines fun, modern MTG design and gameplay.
Some mechanics, like mutate in Ikoria and dice rolling in Forgotten Realms have their roots here. Unstable proved that fun comical sets could be done with the quality you’d expect from a normal Standard expansion and that there’s a huge audience for this kind of product. Unfinity is coming to us sometime in 2022 thanks to Unstable reinvigorating the Un-set product line.
What were your experiences with Unstable? Do you have any fun Draft stories? Let me know in the comments below or in Draftsim’s Discord.
Thanks for your time and attention. May you enjoy the silliness of playing with silver-bordered cards!
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