The preview season for Midnight Hunt, including the attendant Commander decks, lasted from September 2 to September 13. Previews for Crimson Vow went out between October 28 and November 8. Last week we got a first look at cards from Unfinity. This means seven of the past fourteen weeks had spoilers in it. Of course, in between, Wizards announced something like eighteen new Secret Lairs, but, at this point, who's even counting those? (I did. Eighteen is the actual number.)
The community has complained for months about feeling flooded, overwhelmed, and getting jaded with the constant bombardment of new products. To which Wizards responded with a sympathetic: "Previews for Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty begin January 27."
I'm just kidding. That's not an actual quote. The actual quote reads, horribly, "Before we close out 2021, we'll share some details, artwork, and a few previews from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty [sic], then share even more in the lead up to our debut video and previews in January 2021."
It may seem like a bold choice to move previews to January 2021. After all, that's eleven months into the past. But it's hardly a move that should surprise anyone by now.
All Magic cards come from Wizards. Even if you buy singles, someone somewhere first had to open and buy the boxes whence these singles came. For every player who owns a playset of Goldspan Dragon, people had to crack an average of about 493 Kaldheim packs, almost fourteen boxes. These boxes should yield four copies of all the other mythics in the set as well, along with two playsets of every rare, but still. That's a lot of trees.
Note that I'm only accounting for extra copies of the regular foil kind, and I'm using Draft Booster packs and boxes in my calculations. The numbers for Set Boosters and Collector Boosters are supposedly better but suspiciously hard to come by, so one can only assume they must be worse relative to their cost. If you've got nothing to hide, then why hide it, right?
My numbers might be off. Super special showcase treatment alternate-art versions one through five may well reduce the necessary investment by a relevant fraction. It's possible I missed a product. If you notice any such error, please do complain but be aware that you're still making my point, which is: Who can keep track of all of these releases? Which, in turn and in fact after the many turns of this long-winded intro, brings us straight to Unfinity.
Wizards keep repeating the mantra that not everything is for everybody anymore; nowadays customers get to pick and choose what Magic product they like and can leave aside what they don't. That's all neat for casual players. It's a great business model too, one that saw Wizards' second-quarter revenue this year grow to 218% of their second-quarter revenue last year, all while, flabbergastingly enough, the corresponding profits climbed to 260%.
However, if you're serious about Magic, it doesn't quite work like that. You don't even have to be a degenerate collector. It's not exactly a niche interest to keep up to date with, say, the most popular Constructed format. Yet competitive Modern players needed, at various points throughout 2021, mythics both from Standard and from Modern Horizons 2. If Wizards were serious about the pick-and-choose approach, then there's no reason to make Rick, Steadfast Leader legal in Legacy. I mean, sure, this particular card isn't relevant to the format. But as soon as something like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is available exclusively via some Secret Lair at $99.99 plus shipping plus taxes plus fees plus extra taxes, Legacy players will have to sell off one of their kidneys or approximately half a dual land.
Right. Unfinity. It was one of the most highly anticipated releases of the upcoming year for everybody serious about Magic because we assumed we could finally safely sit one out. It promised a much-needed reprieve, time off to catch a breath. What we expected from initial teasers was a silver-bordered set that for once wouldn't add any new cards to any format. Well, the joke's on us because of course it does, and of course Wizards found the most inelegant way to make that happen.
Are the following cards legal for sanctioned tournament play?
The answers are, in order from left/back to right/front: yes, yes, yes, maybe with a bit of leniency from the head judge, yes, yes, and hell no. How many did you get correct?
The first is an official printing of Anguished Unmaking, the next a perfectly fine Swamp, then comes an equally proper Decree of Pain (all of which you can actually buy on Cardmarket). The middle spot is tricky: an altered Kenrith, the Returned King (also available on Cardmarket) whose original art has been painted over with a cool spin on the meaning of "returned." Going by the book, this makes the card too hard to recognize and thus ineligible for tournaments. However, if the Kenrith isn't thicker or otherwise marked when sleeved, the head judge might look at it, look at the other Wizards-approved cards here, look at this paragraph from the rules again, and give a hearty chuckle before ignoring it.
Next are a Snow-Covered Plains and a Grim Tutor from upcoming Secret Lairs (not yet listed on Cardmarket at the time of writing). The final card, however, is a fan-designed Treasure Map / Treasure Cove proxy that is literally illegal to sell, mustn't ever see play in tournaments, and rings no more alarm bells than the others. Had I first seen it on the other side of the battlefield, I would have mistaken it for a real Secret Lair piece too. Luckily, I first saw it in this tweet.
Let's try this same game again. Which one of the following two cards is legal for sanctioned tournament play?
Correct. The Cheese Stands Alone is purely for fun, whereas Barren Glory is serious business. The silver border and the expansion symbol give it away.
Got time for another round? Legacy tournaments will allow one of these two but not the other.
Yes, Saw in Half and Killer Cosplay both are from Unfinity. Both have the same black border, the same expansion symbol. So why is one legal? How? If you know the answer, well, good for you. If you don't, here's one more exercise. Corporate needs you to find the difference between these two pictures:
Hint: The Water Gun Balloon Game on the right would have made every changeling a Teddy Boar and would have introduced pink as the sixth color into gameplay. Would have—because it is merely an incorrect image that Wizards put into their article by accident. Think of the Un- cards and their little in- jokes what you will, but that is hilarious. The difference between these two pictures is so tiny the publishers themselves didn't even notice! In an article, no less, whose main point was to let the world know that it will have to make sure to note the difference going forward! If anything legitimately invites schadenfreude, it's hypocrisy of the do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do type showing its face and falling flat on same.
In the article, Mark Rosewater recounts how Wizards realized that over half of their card designs for Unfinity would work in black border. Next he makes a leap. "That then led us to our big idea: what if there was a way to express 'silver border-ness' that didn't require a silver border?"
Well, here's an idea. It's not a big idea, but hear me out. What if you expressed "silver border-ness" in the tried, tested, traditional—not to mention eponymous—way that everybody already knows and loves and that doesn't require a major upheaval? How about you give these cards a silver border? Granted, silver is expensive, but I'm sure your printer can find some cheap combination of pigments that'll look close enough. If you have a set that's half black border and half silver border in spirit, why isn't it half black border and half silver border in reality?
Instead they decided to give the different cards different holofoil security stamps, this glittery spot on the lower border of a card's text box. An acorn-shaped stamp adorns Unfinity cards not suitable for competitive play, while those legal in Legacy and Vintage will get the regular oval stamp or no stamp at all. Rosewater explains, "Yes, an acorn. Squirrels have long been associated with Un- sets, and the shape was distinct. What an acorn security stamp means is exactly what a silver border used to."
Does it though? What about Ass Whuppin' and Border Guardian and Gimme Five and Ineffable Blessing and Side Quest and Underdome and (one version of) Everythingamajig? (Not this one.)
By the way, black-bordered Squirrels outnumber silver-bordered Squirrels by 60%. Black-bordered cards that mention Squirrels outnumber their silver-bordered counterparts 25 to eight. The word acorn, too, appears far more often inside of black borders. If you're looking for a distinct shape that has long been associated with Un- sets, exclusively even, I have a better suggestion.
Player feedback: Hey, Wizards! You're releasing too many cards all the time. We can barely keep up. It's also getting increasingly hard to tell what is an actual, real, tournament-legal Magic card.
Wizards: How about we add another full set to the schedule compared to what you were expecting? (Keep in mind that it doesn't matter for the number of boxes you people need to open whether half or all of it is relevant.) As for your other concern, how about we make you look closely at a tiny, hitherto unimportant part of the card to determine legality in the future?
Player: Thanks, I hate it.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and definitely not Cardmarket's.