The Great Silver Border experiment has been divisive so far. Some people love it, and those people tend to agree with what the Rules Committee’s philosophy seems to be here, which is basically that Commander is fun, (most) Un- cards are fun, and it would be a good time to have them running around, at least for a little while. Some people on the opposite side of the spectrum feel it totally disrupts the purity of games of Magic. Most people I’ve talked to, though, fall somewhere in the middle. (Shocking!)
I’ve heard a lot of people saying things like, “This was a good idea executed poorly” (an actual quote from one of my LGS regulars) in reference to the Un-mander announcement, and I understand why they’re saying that. The legalization of silver borders works best in dedicated Commander groups that meet often with the same players. If everyone has a shared idea of what “fun” is, it should be easy for them to determine which Un- cards they should or shouldn’t be playing in their decks, and if they have questions, they can just ask their group! Open Commander nights with varied players, pickup games at conventions, and tournaments, though, don’t necessarily afford their players that same luxury. When possible, players are likely to divide themselves into groups with and without Un- cards, which is fine, but asking “Which Un- cards do you have?” sort of ruins the surprise that these cards want to provide.
One suggestion I heard from a few people was that the RC should have provided a “whitelist” of cards that are OK rather than the sparse ban list they posted, and while I don’t think that really fits with their philosophy, I understand the sentiment here—some Un- cards really resemble Magic cards, while others are just disruptive, bizarre, or unpleasant to play with and against. My hope is that groups that play together frequently can agree on a sort of “whitelist” for themselves that might even continue after this experiment is over.
With that in mind, I’ve curated a list of 10 cards from Unstable that I think are generally okay for casual Commander play. I’m not trying to create a “whitelist” or make any kind of sweeping statement. I’m just saying that if someone played these cards against me, I don’t think I’d have any qualms about them. If your group enjoys Un- cards, you can use this list as a jumping off point to figure out what you’ll be okay with going forward, even after January 15th!
#10: By Gnome Means
This could almost make it into a black-bordered set, and if I had to guess, I’d say this was deep in a design document for another set (Scars of Mirrodin?) but missed the cut and ended up here years later. This obviously gets crazy with Doubling Season, but honestly, what doesn’t? In a vacuum, this card looks downright fair, and fair cards that go crazy late in the game after creating lots of incremental advantage just scream “Commander!”
#9: Augments and Hosts
Okay, maybe some combinations are sort of broken, and maybe calling out a whole mechanic as #9 on a list of “cards” is ridiculous, but this is an article about silver-bordered cards, so you can just leave your expectations at the door. You’re honestly lucky I’m using actual numbers. Having played a (very bad) Host/augment deck in my first Draft of Unstable, I can attest to the utmost fairness of nearly every card using this mechanic. Some of them get quite powerful, like Serpentine and Half-Squirrel, Half-, but when most of the power in the mechanic is concentrated in the augments, I think the mechanic is inherently well balanced. I also think that Dr. Julius Jumblemorph, as well as other cards that refer to this mechanic, are generally fine.
Do yourself a favor, though: Kill that Ordinary Pony. Kill it every time.
#8: Baron Von Count
Yes, I understand. This card is very scary because it can destroy target player. How often does that actually happen, though? This is a 3/3 that costs 1BR. If you can’t kill it before it goes off, well, you should count on getting blown up by any number of things way before the Baron sends you to your very educational doom. Building a Baron Von Count deck also looks pretty fun–you can count on me doing so fairly soon–and playing it, if you manage to stay “in character” as the Baron, sounds even better.
#7: Sword of Dungeons & Dragons
The part of this card that is worst for the rules is honestly the gold Dragon token, but very few cards actually care about that. Sword of Dungeons & Dragons falls low enough on the power scale compared to the other Swords of Thing and Other Thing that the card is downright safe. After all, how many Clerics and Rogues are you trying to attack past? The d20 roll will mostly add comedy to the game but can, very rarely, give this card serious high roll potential. Heh.
#6: Earl of Squirrel
I’m pretty sad that the Earl isn’t legendary, but beyond that, it’s nearly perfect for Commander. Squirrellink is a very intuitive Un- mechanic, and a Squirrel lord that compensates for the relatively small number of cards that are Squirrels or make Squirrels is exactly what the tribe needed. (Not counting Changelings, cards that let you pick a type, cards that don’t work in Commander like Nantuko Shrine, and garbage like Form of the Squirrel, there are 16 green cards that fit the bill besides the Earl.) Seriously though, if you said you wanted to use this as your Commander, I would let you.
Yes, I think both major mechanics in Unstable are basically fine for Commander. Don’t @ me. (No, that’s fine, you can @ me.) Most cards that assemble Contraptions are fine, and while some of the Contraptions appear broken at first glance, you need to do a lot of work to get them to a point where they’re not “do something medium every 3 turns.” Casual Commander games are all about assembling hilarious engines and going nuts with them, and Contraptions are a perfect spice to bring out that flavor. There are 20 non-Contraption cards that assemble Contraptions themselves, so it’s probably hard to assemble too many in a deck without 3 or more colors, though Incite Insight subverts that somewhat.
#4: Do-It-Yourself Seraph
I’m sure that, if the table somehow lets you attack with this 3 times, you can create some sort of horrible monstrosity that breaks reality. If you manage that, though, where were your opponents the whole time? This is such a cool card that it would be a shame not to let it mingle with its many black-bordered friends.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, it’s not okay to get Gleemax with this. Not only would this make the game a lot less fun, it would also bring about the end of human civilization. Tell your friends.
#3: Ineffable Blessing (Yes, all 6 of them!)
Obviously, you can build your deck around any one of these, (and remember, even though these are “different cards,” you can only have one of them in your deck because they have the same name) but what does that get you besides a couple of card draws once in a while? It’s not like you are going to have this in your opening hand every game. This card is fun and inoffensive, and even if you manage to pack your deck full of hits, you’re putting a serious (if interesting) restriction on your deck.
I’m going to build a white-bordered creatures deck for Ineffable Blessing C, aren’t I? I’m the worst.
#2: The Countdown Is at One
Let me say up front that I have cast and/or tried to cast Shahrazad many times in my life. I have one in my bag for all my Unstable drafts just in case of Spike, even though Wedge apparently beat us all to that one. The biggest problem with Shahrazad in multiplayer is the amount of time it takes to play a subgame. Enter the Dungeon reduces life totals to 5, which helps, but also requires you to undertake a fairly uncomfortable experience. The Countdown Is at One solves the subgame length issue by setting life totals to 1, and it also gives you back the time you spent on the subgame by acting as a Furnace of Rath for almost everyone—or if the subgame ends in a tie, actually for everyone!
Honorable Mention: Crow Storm
Crow Storm was always going to be on this list, but since it’s barely an Un-card, it had to be the honorable mention. This just speaks to how broken storm is—it can only be printed in silver-bordered sets nowadays. If you’re storming out and killing the table, you might as well do it with Storm Crows, and if you’re just a weirdo with a Bird deck like me, you can just make a small murder and play fair with it. Caw! Caw!
#1: Urza, Academy Headmaster
While I mourn the loss of the Urza’s Hot Tub search tool on the Wizards site, I’m glad we have another interactive online experience in a card. What does Urza do? Well, it’s easier to ask what Urza doesn’t do, though the inherent randomness makes this disembodied head fair over a long game. MaRo’s clarification that abilities without legal targets get rerolled evens out the power level and prevents most enormous disappointments. This is another one that I wouldn’t mind seeing as a house-ruled Commander, and I really hope my friends see it that way too, because I’m working on something sweet.
Keep in mind that I haven’t had a chance to play nearly enough Commander with silver-bordered cards yet, so it’s possible I’ve missed something important that breaks one of these cards or mechanics. That being said, Unstable has a really high concentration of cards that, for lack of a better way to say it, are actual Magic cards that humans can play and enjoy. What other Un- cards are you enjoying in Commander? (There are definitely more that work!) Let me know in the comments, and if you’ve got a sweet board state or deck with Un- cards, send a picture to @RagingLevine on Twitter!