You’re at Gen Con at a Magic: The Gathering prerelease. The head judge of the event is dressed in a chicken suit.
You might think this is some kind of joke. You’re exactly right.
1998 — Unglued
For the first time, Magic cards are printed with a silver border. Each card with this silver lining tells you, “I don’t follow the rules.” The conventions each card breaks may vary, but they each do something unusual.
A player gets up from their chair and walks away from a Magic game. Another tears a card into pieces. Your first thought was, “Wow, these players seem upset and have bad manners.” But the former’s opponent cast Ashnod’s Coupon while the latter was casting a Blacker Lotus.
“JUDGE!” someone at the table next to you yells. The chicken judge says, “I’m coming!” and you chuckle wondering whether they were referencing Infernal Spawn of Evil.
You know the judge in the suit is actually Magic designer Mark Rosewater. You look down at the Time Machine card in your hand and panic. He shouldn’t see this card, it’s from…
2004 — Unhinged
You travel through time and find yourself in a local game store. It’s the Unhinged prerelease!
A kid is subtracting fractions, and it’s not because they brought their math homework. They took damage from a Cardpecker with 1½ power! This is the first time fractional power, toughness, and damage appeared in Magic.
Another silver-bordered first is the Un-specific ability word mechanic…
From another table, someone says, “I cast Mise and name Who // What // When // Where // Why.” You remember loving the art for it! You stand close enough to see the Mise card hit the graveyard. And…it’s not the art you remember!
You now recall the alternate art version of Mise released as an Arena League promo. Its art featured dogs playing Magic.
You look over at a seemingly-deserted table. A strange sight – perhaps both players are nearby somewhere? You walk over to the table to get a closer look. You chuckle at another card on the battlefield: Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn of Evil!
Something bumps into your leg. You look under the table. The Magic players were playing on the floor this whole time! You remember this is the effect of Enter the Dungeon. After all, you had once played this card when you went to the Unhinged prerelease…
Wait a minute! One of the players under the table is a younger you during the same moment you’re remembering! Uh-oh. This is a big time-travel no-no. You’re starting to feel…
2017 — Unstable
“We need one more for draft!”
It’s the Unstable prerelease. You agree to be an eighth person for the draft.
In your first pack, you thumb past an Extremely Slow Zombie with “Brrrrrrrrrrrr …” flavor text. In the back of the pack, you find a couple cards without the regular Magic back — Contraptions!
This artifact subtype was first mentioned in the text of Future Sight’s Steamflogger Boss. Finally, Contraptions have their own deck, and we know how to assemble them! You first-pick the mythic Contraption.
In your second pack, you see another Extremely Slow Zombie. This time, its flavor text reads “… aaaaaaiiii …”! That’s right, Unstable features variations of cards with the same card name!
You continue looking through the pack and decide Half-Squirrel, Half- is the strongest choice.
This augment card showcases the first time Magic printed cards that don’t have borders. This printing technology enables a new Un- mechanic, combining “augment” and “host” cards to form different permutations of creatures.
You overhear someone excitedly talking about their Sword of Dungeons & Dragons. Another IP on a Magic card?!
“I have one just like you do now!” they say.
“Yeah! Mine’s a promo from HasCon!” another player says.
“Oh, can I see your Transformers one?!”
“Yeah, of course!”
You catch a glimpse of Grimlock, Dinobot Leader.
Another player shows off their silver-bordered promo that isn’t from any set at all. A holiday promo, given to employees, contractors, and partners. The tradition of creating these festive cards once a year started in 2006 and hasn’t stopped since. You’re envious, as you don’t have one of these rare, unique cards!
You finish the draft and figure it’s time to head back to the present. You hold your Time Machine card and head back to …the future?!
February 29th, 2020 — Unsanctioned
You arrive at MagicFest Reno and you see your near-future self admiring a new Unsanctioned card. The Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn of Evil had a child!
Unlike most every other Un– set, all the cards in Unsanctioned come in a single box. Even the other silver-bordered sets don’t offer a ready-to-play box set like Unsanctioned’s. For the first time, for any set, you’re encouraged to mix-and-match thirty-card decks.
For you, making memories isn’t about making first place. It’s about the people, the stories, and the laughter. Why else would your near-future-self play against a silver-border Commander deck with alicorns, horses, pegasi, ponies, and unicorns?
You seem to be having a good time. After all, you waited four years for this day. It’s your “first” work anniversary, on February 29th and you decided to celebrate with some Magic.
Wherever you’ll be on February 29th, I hope you celebrate with a game of Unsanctioned! I think you know where I’m gonna be that day — MagicFest Reno! If you see me, other me, or other-other me, say hi! Otherwise, drop me a tweet at @bradleyrose.
Bradley is a co-host of a weekly Magic: The Gathering design podcast, Beacon of Creation. He was among the Top 101 contestants in Wizards of the Coast’s Great Designer Search 2. He enjoys crafting custom Magic product experiences, like Archfrenemies, and building Commander decks with creative constraints.