Drafting Unstable


(Editor’s note: Originally, this article was supposed to run the Monday after Unstable’s release, but I got very busy with family stuff. Hence, this was greatly delayed.)

This past weekend saw the release of MtG’s third Un-set, Unstable, and I was hugely excited to play it. I picked up two boxes to draft with friends, and everyone was pumped to roll some dice and assemble some Contraptions. So how did the drafts end up going?

Let’s take a look!

More so than any set this year, I was looking forward to Unstable’s release. In the weeks leading up to the release, I stayed as far away from all previews and social media as I could, wanting to walk into the release knowing as little about the set as I could. Still, one can only avoid spoilers so much, and I walked into the draft having seen roughly 30 cards, which was not bad.

Unstable sounded like it would be a blast to play. I had played Sealed deck and draft games with both of the first two Un-sets, Unglued and Unhinged (neither of which had been tested by Wizards for those formats, and it showed). I knew going in that Unstable was actually designed to be drafted, so I knew it would be fun.

Wizards had revealed a few pieces of information that I knew. I knew going in that there were host creatures and augments to upgrade them with, which was pretty cool. I knew that there was a bunch of wacky legendary creatures, representing mad scientists, and lots of experiments to go with them. I knew that assembling a Contraption was finally a real thing you could do in Magic, and knowing all this, I was pumped to play the set.

Time passed very slowly, as I waited for the set’s release. Finally, it was Friday, and I picked up two boxes. Excitement for the set was reaching a fever pitch!

Finally, Saturday arrived, and we all got together to draft the set. Our group fluctuated in numbers throughout the day, from six and up, and included several veterans of the game, whom I’ve played this game with for years and decades. We were all ready for the wackiness that was about to befall us, and sat down to draft.

As expected, the first pack caused everyone to start reading furiously, and much laughter rang out. I ended up first picking a Contraption, Boomflinger, over everything else, mostly because I assumed they were strong and wanted to try them out. My ‘plan’, if it can be called that, was to draft Contraptions and ways to put them in play, and see if that worked.

My second pick, I was passed a Very Cryptic Command. So much for that master plan, heh.

I drafted a very mediocre blue/white control deck, with several Contraptions but very few ways to put them into play or capitalize off them — I had only a pair of Spell Sucks to put them into play. I drafted seven host creatures, but no augments for them. My pack two and three did reward me with playable rares in Rules Lawyer and Animate Library, but these were not enough to salvage what ended up being a trainwreck of a draft.

We played through the first draft, and I did indeed have lot of fun playing these hilarious cards. I was able to completely stall friend Joel with Rules Lawyer long enough to win with a flying creature (though he did eventually come back to win the match thanks to Hammer Helper), I got to animate my library and attack with it for large amounts several times, and I did eventually get to assemble a Contraption, and they were very good.

I had already noticed, however, that I had not drafted around the synergies of the set. The players who had, their decks functioned much better than mine, and I filed this information away for my next draft.

There were two deck archetypes that we saw in the first draft that really stood out to me.

Jay wound up drafting a very cool black/green dice-rolling deck, built around rare As Luck Would Have It and all of the commons and uncommons that went with it. He also wound up opening Spike, Tournament Grinder, and wound up beating Brianna by fetching Sundering Titan, which we all found hilarious. His deck was super cool to watch, with Jay rolling dice every turn for benefits, but Jay only went 2-1, losing to Brad.

Friend Brad drafted my favorite deck of the first draft. His pack one, he opened Urza, Academy Headmaster, and immediately started drafting five-color, snapping up the legendary planeswalker and lots of ways to play him. Being willing to embrace the power of Urza served him well in this draft, as he wound up with a respectable 2-1 record, on the back of multiple Urza ultimates (he managed to ultimate Urza as Vraska the Unseen‘s ultimate, giving him multiple deadly Assassins, and later, as a Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker ultimate).

Brad’s only loss came to my old roommate Anthony, who had managed to draft not one, but two mythic Contraptions, Faerie Aerie and Rapid Prototyper, and lots of ways to assemble them. The two Contraptions let him dominate his foes, and Anthony ended up being our first 3-0 drafter of the day.

For our second draft, we drafted with seven people, and wound up splitting into two multiplayer pods to play two big games. I let my wife Angela draft this time, and ironically, she also drafted blue/white. (I very quickly came to the conclusion here that blue/white was not the right way to draft Unstable, as those decks just didn’t seem up to the task of defeating multiple opponents.)

Jay ended up winning one multiplayer pod by assembling the host/augment combo of multiple Humming- on Numbing Jellyfish, giving him many large flying creatures that also happened to mill people when they attacked. He was quickly able to mill Anthony to death, and killed Brad and Angela by damage in the air.

The other multiplayer pod was won by Brianna, despite Darby using Summon the Pack to put ten (!!) creatures into play from one pack. That game quickly devolved into an Archenemy game, with Darby against Brianna and Joel, and in the end, she won almost by default after Joel had exhausted all his resources to kill off Darby.

For our final draft of the day, Anthony left us and we were down to six people, leading to a very tight draft. Everyone had an idea what they were doing by this point, and decks ended up being much stronger as a result.

Going into this last draft, I knew that I wanted to draft a color combination that was not blue/white, as those colors performed the worst in the other two drafts. I first-picked Gnomeball Machine and very quickly moved into red/green Contraptions. I picked Wrench Riggers, multiple Contraptions, and Work a Doubles very highly, remembering from the other drafts just how potent Contraptions could be. Knowing how well the card had benefited Joel in the first draft, I also grabbed every copy of Bumbling Pangolin that I saw, ending up with two; these ended up being quite key for me in this draft. Rounding out my deck were a pair of Super Duper Death Ray, and a Proper Laboratory Attire in my sideboard that I planned to bring in against anyone drafting the die-rolling deck.

Playing this draft went much better for me. I played the mirror match in round one, which I found hilarious; Brianna had also drafted the R/G Contraption deck on the other side of the draft table, which explained where all the cards that didn’t table to me went. We had a tight three-game series, where we each put scads of Contraptions into play; in the end, my Gnomeball Machine just ended up giving me far too many creatures for her to deal with, and she was swarmed to death.

This is what my Contraption sprocket two looked like in game two:

I played Brad in the second round, who once again had drafted my favorite deck of the draft. Having noticed the die-rolling synergy from the first draft, Brad drafted the die-rolling deck in this draft, opting to go blue/green, and his deck was a monster of efficiency and synergy. He had the nutty Sword of Dungeons and Dragons, As Luck Would Have It, and seemingly infinite copies of Willing Test Subject to go with all his die-rolling cards.

I barely squeaked by him, with Bumbling Pangolin being key in destroying his Sword in each game before it could get going, and Proper Laboratory Attire coming in from the sideboard to beat him down quickly in game three.

For our final round, I faced Jay, who was once again on the augment/host plan. In game one, his protection from odd collector numbers Knight of the Kitchen Sink managed to stall me for far too many turns (my entire hand was odd collector numbers); once I killed it, I alpha-striked him quickly to death. In game two, my deck was out for blood, and I curved turn one Wrench Rigger into Contraption Gnomeball Machine for turn two, and just beat him down quickly from there.

So I ended up the last draft 3-0, and we all had one hell of a fun time playing the set.

Final thoughts:
-When Wizards said the set was intended to be drafted, they weren’t kidding. The jokes and humor are definitely there, to be sure; every card feels like something that belongs in the draft, though. Every card has a purpose to one of the draft archetypes, and I think that shows an amazing amount of work and playtesting on WotC’s part.
-Though I had had roughly 30 or so cards spoiled on me before the draft, the fact that certain cards had up to six variants was something I didn’t know going in, so I was super surprised by it. I noticed it in the first draft when I picked up two variants of Amateur Auteur; we all had a good laugh once I looked it up, and realized what Wizards had done.
-This set did end up being super fun, and I really hope it ends up selling out so Wizards makes an Un-4 set.
-I am definitely going to be building a Cube with this set (the plan originally was to mix it with Conspiracy cards, but after playing it by itself, I don’t know that that’s needed, the set is good by itself). This was one of my favorite draft formats that I’ve ever played, next to Rise of the Eldrazi, original Innistrad, and Modern Masters, and I look forward to playing it again.

Thanks for reading!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *