Which classic Un-cards could be eternal legal?

Which classic Un-cards could be eternal legal?

Tom AndersonCommander, Legacy

UNFINITY is really capturing the attention of the player base at the moment, though it seems to be extremely polarizing. Its detractors have been critical of the set’s mixed-legality, as UNFINITY marks the first time an Un-set has contributed new cards to the Eternal legal card pool of Magic.

However, is this really such a big change in philosophy? The Un-Sets have always combined two major types of “joke card”: ones where the joke is told through the card name, flavor or artwork and ones where the joke extends into its actual mechanics.

The latter sort are rarely suitable for tournament play. Quite often they don’t even work under strict interpretations of the rules! Yet the former are often perfectly sane and interesting Magic cards if you look past the silly presentation. 

So long as silver borders were the mark of Un-set cards, mixing legality within a set remained a technical roadblock. But now that Wizards of the Coast’s printing methods are advanced enough to apply the acorn stamp, the company is just formalizing a design divide which has been obvious all the way back to 1998’s Unglued.

Still, a lot of cards were left out before the invention of this new, acorn technology. So let’s take a look at which cards from past Un-sets should probably have appeared in black border — and which might still in a future UnSanctioned-style reprint set:

Honorable Mentions:

What better example of Un-set cards which could potentially be tournament legal than those ones which already are?? Wizards has often used Un-sets as a safe testing environment for their more daring design ideas, and sometimes those first tests are what end up going to print a few years later.

I had to decide what to do with these cards as soon as I started making this list. Should they just be at the top? Are they excluded by technicality? I decided the latter was more interesting, but shoutout to these pioneers of border-hopping design all the same.

10. Crow Storm

This is basically a perfect example of the “normal card with a joke backed into the flavor.” It’s almost too normal, really. If Wizards ever allowed itself to design more blue Storm finishers, this winged Empty the Warrens looks like the most reasonable option for it. 

However, with Storm more or less fenced-off design space (and for good reason), this can only land near the bottom of our list.

9. Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn of Evil

I’m going to justify these more by their mechanics than the flavor in most cases, and the mechanics here touch on some very cool and underused space. Panglacial Wurm is a fan-favorite for a reason, and combining that idea of library-shuffling value with a cheaper, reusable payoff seems like it gets closer to an actual win condition. 

There’s even a “once per turn” limitation to stop this completely derailing play! I hope we see at least something like this in the future, even if the numbers or execution are tweaked.

8. Denied!

Eternal formats have long defined their identity and play patterns around breaking the mana curve, and cheap (or free) counterspells are one of the only things that can keep such explosiveness balanced. Denied! offsets the raw power of a one-cost hard counter by making you jump through a hoop — but one blue/black decks in particular are already set up to achieve on turn one. 

Even on its own, Denied! sometimes rewards a simple, educated guess of the opponent’s hand or providing information on a miss. However, there’s still counterplay for the opponent, since many decks could respond by casting or discarding cards known to the blue player. There’s not many cleaner ideas than “blue Cabal Therapy.

7. Watermarks (as a gameplay mechanic)

Back when Wizards was designing Lorwyn, they ran into a recurring issue with creature-type synergies: how could they incorporate non-creature cards into the mix? At the time, their answer was the “Tribal” supertype — which allowed everything from a land to an enchantment to a sorcery to count as a “Goblin spell” or “Elf permanent” when it matters. 

UnStable used watermarks as a new and improved version of that mechanic, neatly associating any diverse group of cards with minimal awkward templating or visual clutter. This sort of mechanic greatly aids design by adding open-ended, situational upside to otherwise identical spells. It also helps with gameplay flavor. Imagine if Strixhaven had creatures which cared when you “cast a Prismari spell!”

6. Organ Harvest

Being the first Un-set, UnGlued has a slightly more confused identity than its successors. Scattered amid outright jokes and deep-cut references to 1990’s Magic culture, there are cards like Organ Harvest — cards which appear to be silver-bordered for no greater reason than a reference to multiplayer! 

Oath of the Gatewatch and Battlebond have since normalized this kind of rules language, and this card looks like it would slot in perfectly as part of black’s limited, but powerful, suite of mana rituals.

5. Baron Von Count


Seriously, who doesn’t smile at least a little when they read this guy? His mechanics are definitely eye-opening, but other than instructing you to track the countdown using his card art, they lie well within the range of “constructed build-around wincon.” 

It’ll always take at least five spells to doom your opponent, and the odd rules templating around the countdown does at least stop abuse from Vampire Hexmage and the like.

UnStable’s legendary creatures all have this very careful, sober feel to their card design, which in hindsight seems as though Wizards was trying to get them Rule Zero’d into casual Commander without actually making them black border. The inconsistent feedback on that front is likely one reason why UNFINITY is taking that decision out of our hands.

4. Krark’s Other Thumb (and associated dice mechanics)

Coin flips have been a part of black-border Magic since the start, but somehow rolling dice never had the same level of legitimacy, and it was pigeonholed as an Un-set mechanic until very recently. Now, with the two Forgotten Realms sets and black-bordered UNFINITY cards to help build out a dice-heavy archetype, it’s only a matter of time until this card — which many players already run casually — to be officially sanctioned for use.

3. B.O.B (Bevy of Beebles)

“Un-set Planeswalker” is a terrifyingly open premise for a card, so I take my hat off to the UnSanctioned design team for turning out something only modestly weird! B.O.B. reimagines the sometimes-maligned Planeswalker type as a way to model a cohesive swarm of creatures — something I think would be mind-blowingly cool on the next version of Grist, the Hunger Tide.

Or, we could just reprint it into Standard as is. It’s not like there aren’t Beebles in black-border already.

2. Free-for-All

From Out of Time to Temporary Lockdown, Wizards seems to be on a real tear designing enchantment-based sweepers lately. However, they may have hit on the coolest version of that design all the way back in UnGlued, where this blue rare trades off temporary exiling for the chance to permanently(!) redistribute enemy creatures.

The potential in a creatureless control deck is obvious, but the nitty-gritty, niche scenarios which play out differently game to game are what makes this kind of card a welcome addition. It’s like a much more functional The Phasing of Zhalfir, and at least in Eternal formats I think that’s a card we all benefit from.

1. Water Gun Balloon Game

Despite more overt silliness with the art and counter-tracking suggestions, Water Gun Balloon Game gets the nod as our most credible black-border reprint — just based on the fact that many people were ready to believe it was one. 

Wizards got the discussion around UNFINITY’s mixed-legality off to a very awkward start when they accidentally previewed this promo without the all-important acorn stamp.

While Wizards hastily corrected the miscommunication, I don’t think I was ever against Water Gun Balloon Game in Eternal formats. Cheap enough to be castable, with a unique subgame and payoffs for any storm-like archetype, I’d be thrilled to see precisely where this artifact lands in the current metagame of a format like Legacy.


I think the main reason I find the prospect of these cards in black border exciting is many of them seem to give us a glimpse into R&D’s cutting-room floor. Any design that might have been a bit too outlandish or bold, which they couldn’t find the rules language to express at the time, got a joke slapped onto it and sent out for some sneaky test play in the next Un-set.

But with the rules language of Magic becoming better defined and developed over the years, most of these old “joke cards” now look quite straightforward to adapt for tournament play. With R&D always in need of new design space to keep things fresh, there’s no reason to keep sitting on an idea as useful as watermarks, or cool as a token-based Planeswalker. 

It may need to come in the form of subtle reprints and reworkings, as we once saw with Barren Glory or Flame Spill. But I’m sure we’ll be getting some, if not all of these sterling designs in black-border Magic sooner rather than later.