Get It? Unhinged Edition, Part 1

Posted in Making Magic on August 14, 2017

By Mark Rosewater

Working in R&D since '95, Mark became Magic head designer in '03. His hobbies: spending time with family, writing about Magic in all mediums, and creating short bios.

Back in 2004, right before the release of Unhinged, I wrote an article revealing 100 of the jokes from Unglued that I thought the audience might not have gotten. You see, I'd crammed a lot of jokes in, and I'd learned over the years that while someone had gotten every joke, most people had missed some of the jokes. I promised to reveal many of Unhinged's harder to catch jokes before a third Un- set came out. Now that Unstable is scheduled to be released, I decided it was time to write the next "Get It?" article. (I'm writing it a bit earlier because the rest of the year is pretty tight and I wanted to make sure I got a chance to do it.) Also, Unhinged is thirteen years old, so if you haven't gotten any of the jokes by now, I can't feel guilty revealing them.

I decided to go a little more in-depth with each joke, so instead of 100 jokes, I'm going to be revealing just 50 (although I'm bunching similar things together, so secretly you should get over 100 jokes), and I'm spacing them out over two weeks.

1. The Origin of Ach! Hans, Run!

This card is referencing the flavor text from Ice Age's Lhurgoyf:

"Ach! Hans, run! It's the lhurgoyf! —Saffi Eriksdotter, last words

Hans was then quoted years later on the Stronghold card Revenant (essentially a flying black Lhurgoyf):

"Not again!" —Hans

We gave this card to Quinton Hoover because we'd given him a similarly concepted card in Unglued called Incoming!. We asked him to stick as many possible creatures on the card as he could. Hans has a Viking helmet on since Ice Age, where the Hans originally came from, had a Nordic feel.

2. The Shortest and Longest Names in Magic

Before Unglued came out, the record for the shortest name was three letters (such as Fog or Web). Unglued broke that record with the card Ow, which only had two letters. I was determined in Unhinged to break that record again. I could have done a card with just a one-letter name (which Unstable does have, by the way), but decided to win the shortest name contest once and for all. _____ is a Magic card name with zero letters in it.

For the longest name, Unglued set the record for longest name with The Ultimate Nightmare of Wizards of the Coast® Customer Service (at 55 letters). I knew we could beat it, so I came up with the idea of a card whose card title wrapped around the entire border of the card. I then adjusted the name to make sure it perfectly fit. We ended up with Our Market Research Shows That Players Like Really Long Card Names So We Made This Card to Have the Absolute Longest Card Name Ever Elemental at 117 letters, over double the previous record. The idea of making it an Elemental was to make fun of how often we make Elementals out of things that aren't even objects. Note that in the illustration, the creature is made out of books.

Neither of these records are going to be easy to beat (with a shorter probably being impossible). Unstable didn't even try.

3. Dressing Up

One of the things we wanted to do in Unhinged was make fun of existing Magic characters, so you'll see a lot of them showing up in art. In _____, we wanted to show a character that dressed up as other Magic characters to match the card mechanic that it could take the name of any card. The pictures, for instance, are him dressing up as Tahngarth, Phage, Gerrard, Kamahl, Akroma, and Squee (Tahngarth, Gerrard, and Squee were from the Weatherlight Saga, and Phage, Kamahl, and Akroma were from the Odyssey/Onslaught] story.)

4. Remember Ice Age?

Back in the summer of 1995, Magic went through a period known as Black Summer where a card called Necropotence was dominating the tournament scene. Unhinged made two cards that harken back to Black Summer. Aesthetic Consultation is a mechanical callback to the card Demonic Consultation from Ice Age. The one difference is instead of naming a card title, you name an artist. Necro-Impotence is a parody of Necropotence allowing you to pay ½ life for a card rather than 1 life. Because that would be crazy powerful, we added an ability where you had to pay life to untap things, which also plays into the "impotence" part of the name.

5. Artist Nicknames

Because the set had an "artist matters" theme, we thought it would be fun to play around with the artist names. We asked each artist to give us a nickname that we would put in quotation marks between their first and last name. Doing so was optional, but a bunch of artists played along:

  • David "Help Me" Martin (on Aesthetic Consultation because the artist was being crushed in the art)
  • Heather "Erica Gassalasca-Jape" Hudson (on Artful Looter; Erica Gassalasca-Jape was Heather's pen name)
  • Ron "Don't You Dare Change Me" Spears (on Brushstroke Paintermage; Ron was a former art director for Magic and was joking about how you shouldn't change the artist on cards he did)
  • David "Beeblemania" Martin (on Bursting Beebles; this is the only Beeble card not illustrated by Jeff Miracola)
  • Jim "Stop the Da Vinci Beatdown" (on Circle of Protection: Art, where one of the attacking artistic works was by Da Vinci)
  • Pete "Fear Me" Venters (on Drawn Together, which includes all cards Pete Venters drew)
  • Pete "Yes the Urza's Legacy One" Venters (on Erase (Not the Urza's Legacy One); Pete didn't draw the Urza's Legacy Erase, which was by Ron Spears, but he did draw art in that expansion)
  • Edward P. "Feed Me" Beard Jr. (on Fascist Art Director, pointing out that art directors need to eat)
  • Alan "Don't Feel Like You Have to Pick Me" Pollack (on Framed!; the card makes you choose an artist)
  • Wayne "King of" England (on Graphic Violence)
  • Greg "Six-Pack" Staples (on Greater Morphling)
  • Paolo "That's Actually Me" Parente (on Mana Flair, and yes, Paolo painted himself in the art)
  • Rebecca "Don't Mess with Me" Guay (on Persecute Artist; this plays into the whole joke of the card, which I'll get to next week)
  • Lars Grant-"Wild Wild"-West (on Remodel)
  • Matt "I'm Your Boy" Cavotta (on Zombie Fanboy. The card was a tribute to Matt's favorite Magic artist, Drew Tucker. The art pieces on the wall are Drew Tucker Magic paintings: Warmth, Decomposition, and Harmattan Efreet. Matt's favorites, I believe.)

6. Cards in the Cards

Another running joke we had was having Magic cards (often Unhinged cards) appear in the art of Unhinged cards. Here's a list:

7. It Depends How You Look at It

Ambiguity's text was designed to make fun of the fact that both the words "play" and "counters" have more than one meaning in Magic. (We have since brought back "cast" to lessen part of this problem.) The joke that most people miss was that we asked the artist, Stephen Daniele, to give us an illustration that would like one thing one way and like a different thing upside down.

8. What Is a Looter Exactly?

In Magic, "looting" is slang for drawing a card and discarding a card. A "looter" is a creature that loots. This slang comes from the card Merfolk Looter in Tempest, the first creature to use this effect. The problem is the card was called Merfolk Looter because the creature stole things from creatures that had gotten trapped underwater. It was looting in the original sense of the word. As the term "looter" took hold, we started using it on cards that looted in a Magic sense and often those creatures had nothing to do with looting in the normal definition of the word. Artful Looter was making fun of this by having the creature in the art—a wizard as looters are usually Wizards—actually be stealing something. As it was an "artist matters" card, the wizard was stealing a painting. Note that the painting is the Seventh Edition version of Merfolk Looter.

9. Where'd He Go?

The card allows you to destroy a silver-bordered permanent in a game you're not playing in. To capture this, the art shows a battlefield where a creature has been destroyed by a bolt out of the blue. Everyone is looking around trying to figure out where the destructive spell came from. The donkeyfolk angel is the creature that was destroyed by the spell. The flavor text is also stressing that the silver-bordered creature destroyed was a Donkey. Donkey was a brand-new creature type introduced in Unhinged. Why was it important that it was a destroyed Donkey? Because we wanted the "ass" pun in the name and throughout this set to always refers to a Donkey.

10. Good Old PG-13

Since Unhinged was introducing Donkeys, I wanted to make sure they got a lord. Mechanically we had tied the Donkeys to fractions (they all had either a power and/or toughness with a fraction) so I liked the lord granting +1½/+1½ . We liked the name Assquatch as a take on Sasquatch—another name for Bigfoot. So for the art, we decided to do a parody of the famous photo of Bigfoot. The artist, Jeremy Jarvis (this was before he worked at Wizards), decided he wanted to have the Assquatch flipping off the "cameraman" since the picture had a bit of a paparazzi feel to it. Jeremy made sure we were aware that the Assquatch was flipping off the camera. The brand team originally wanted to kill the picture until one of them looked up the definition of PG-13 (at the time, we were using that as a means to define the feel of Magic sets) and realized that PG-13 allowed one flip off, so they decided to let it stay. Interestingly, few players caught that the Assquatch was flipping off the camera.

11. Why a Pig in a Toga?

Atinlay Igpay is a card that requires the player to speak Pig Latin (a wordplay in English where the first consonant sound is moved to the end of the word with "ay" added). The card itself is completely in Pig Latin. So translated, what's the name of the card? Latin Pig—thus the pig in a toga.

12. He's Gone

The joke of this card is that the creature that's supposed to be on this card is gone. (The mechanic of the card really removes creatures from the game.) A lot of players miss exactly what the art is showing. The creature has literally torn himself off the physical card. You can see the rips where he has left. What you are seeing is through to the back of the card (although you are seeing it mirrored as you're looking through the card). We lined it up so it would match the back. To make sure you understand what the creature looks like, we put its picture on the milk carton below. This was important because the AWOL monster shows up on another card. He's the guest of Urza in his hot tub. Note that Urza is just a head because in the story Gerrard cuts off his head during a fight between them. In silver-bordered world, Urza survived the beheading and now lives as just a head. Don't feel bad for him. Urza's Hot Tub shows he's having a fine time.

13. Every Dog Doesn't Have His Day

This card has a physical component where you're putting counters on a grid and trying to get a vertical, horizontal or diagonal line, much like the game Bingo. We needed it on a creature so we chose to make it a Hound. By doing this, we could call it B-I-N-G-O and make reference to a kids' song about a dog named Bingo whose name is spelled out in the song. The flavor text references the first line of the song, but gets in a little jab about how I think it's dumb that we use Hound instead of Dog as the creature type.

14. An Oldy But a Goody

Mark Gottlieb made two cards for Unhinged that took a whole bunch of old mechanics and put them all together on two cards: one for spell mechanics (Blast from the Past) and one for creature mechanics (Old Fogey). To play up that these are a bunch of old mechanics, we chose to put these two cards, and only these two cards, in old, original card frames. Blast from the Past uses the graveyard symbol used in Odyssey block to signify that the card has utility in the graveyard. Old Fogey uses "Summon Dinosaur" instead of "Creature – Dinosaur" as that's how we templated creature cards in early Magic.

15. Did You Catch the Time Traveler?

Because Blast from the Past and Old Fogey are about Magic from the past, we have the Time Machine, another card in the set, show up in the background of both. In Blast from the Past, we see a Goblin flying it. That's the Goblin you get if you use kicker. And then on Old Fogey, we see that the Time Machine has crashed (Goblins aren't the best pilots).

16. What's in Store

When you cast a Booster Tutor, what are you doing? According to the art, you're magically reaching into a game store and grabbing a booster. The store has a bunch of booster boxes of products that were on sale at the time (Mirrodin, Onslaught, and Core Set, aka Eighth Edition). In the background, we see a bunch of items that you might find in a story like Dungeons & Dragons books and stuffed animals of fantasy creatures. There are also a few Magic items on the shelves as well, including Sol Grail and Urza's Bauble—both cards Chris Rush, Booster Tutor's artist, had illustrated.

17. The First Rule of Unhinged

The art of Bosom Buddy is a parody of a scene from Fight Club. Note that this is clearly a Cabal Fight Club as both Braids and Chainer are in attendance. The flavor text is a parody of one of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (the second one, one believe) except that instead of a "greater power" it's a "greater power and toughness."

18. People Who Need Beebles

Beebles first appeared on the cover of The Duelist #22 (illustrated by artist Jeff Miracola) as little pests bothering Squee. Jeff then started having them appear in different art he did. In Exodus, they appeared on Equilibrium and Nausea. In Urza's Saga, they showed up on Wizard Mentor. Finally, in Urza's Legacy and Urza's Destiny they got to appear as creature type Beeble (Bouncing Beebles and Bubbling Beebles, respectively). It was then decided (not by me) that Beebles were a bit sillier than we wanted in Magic, so they stopped showing up on black-border cards. As a fan of Beebles, I brought them back in Unhinged (and do again on a card in Unstable) on three cards. The flavor text for Bursting Beebles makes fun that they, like many of our players, went away when Mercadian Masques came out.

19. Orient Yourself

And now we get to one of the subtlest and most-missed jokes in Unhinged: Topsy Turvy. The card is upside down. What I mean by that is if you start by looking at the Magic back and orient it upright and then flip the card over, Topsy Turvy is upside down. That's why in the art things seem to be floating into the sky. In reality, the art is upside down and things are falling as you hold it like a normal Magic card. I've learned over the years that the majority of people missed this joke.

20. There Once Was a Cycle from Unglued . . .

  • 74303
  • 74359
  • 74277
  • 74322
  • 74339

In Unglued, I did a cycle of cards that all had an effect right away and at the start of the next game with the same opponent. It was known as the Double cycle, as all the cards had Double in their name. To connect the cards, I wrote a limerick that ran across the five cards (limericks are five-verse poems that rhyme the first, second, and fifth lines, and the third and fourth lines). For Unhinged, I decided to do another limerick. This one ran across a cycle of gotcha cards that each had two words in their names that you got gotcha'ed if you said either of them (gotcha was a mechanic that allowed you to get cards back from the graveyard if you caught the opponent doing a prescribed thing and yelled out "Gotcha!"). Here's the limerick:

There once was a man named Quinn . . . (Creature Guy)
Who constantly managed to win. (Save Life)
Until he got singed . . . (Deal Damage)
Playing Unhinged, . . . (Spell Counter)
Getting "Gotcha'ed" again and again. (Kill Destroy)

One thing that many players miss is who the characters are on Save Life. In the Weatherlight Saga, Gerrard was forced to return to Weatherlight to save Captain Sisay, who'd been kidnapped. On Save Life, Sisay is saving Gerrard, who is drowning, albeit in a weird fashion, in the pool. Note on the life preserver that it's the Municipal Mana Pool.

21. Polly Want to Crack Her

In silver-bordered sets, blue is the color that most often interacts with verbal components mechanically (and yes, this continues in Unstable). We wanted to make a creature that had an upkeep that forced you to have to say something every turn and thus put it into blue. We made it a parrot because parrots are known for constantly repeating the same thing. We made it carnivorous to explain why it's a 2/2 and something to be afraid of. What some players missed was that this card was being a bit more mischievous than was obvious at first glance. The sentence made use of one word of each card from the gotcha cycle I talked about above.

Save a kill spell to deal with this guy.

22. It's a Steal

One of the most popular cards from Unhinged was Cheatyface, a card you can sneak into play for free as long as you're not caught. (By the way, for those that care if they're playing this card as it's technically supposed to be played, this ability only works when you legally draw it to your hand.) Because we wanted to encourage you to sneak the card into play, we made it a little pricy to cast. A lot of people don't realize this though, because Cheatyface is actually in the act of stealing one of the mana symbols. The card, if you want to cast it from your hand, actually costs UUU and not UU.

23. The Cracks Are Showing

Unhinged set out to have its humor be a little more sophomoric than Unglued (Unstable goes in a different direction humor-wise) and thus played around with a lot of "ass" jokes referring to the Donkeys of the set. City of Ass is a parody of City of Brass. Instead of paying 1 life to tap for any color, it taps for 1½ of any color of mana, with the idea that you would often suffer ½ point of mana burn making it a slightly better City of Brass. Now that mana burn has gone away, City of Ass has gotten even stronger. The joke that some players miss has to do with the illustration. The City of Ass is the home of the Donkeys (you can see a few walking into the city), but artist John Avon had fun with the name by making some of the domes have a butt-like appearance.

24. Curses!

This card confused a lot of players. For starters, the curse of the fire penguin is that you start turning into a fire penguin. What we are seeing in the art is a mighty warrior reacting to his fire penguin transformation. When you enchant a creature with this card, you turn it upside down and cover the lower part of the enchanted creature's card, everything from the card type line down. The enchanted creature now has a new card type line, new text box, new artist credit, new card collector number and new power/toughness that lasts for as long as it's enchanted. That makes the enchanted creature a 6/5 Penguin with trample illustrated by Matt Thompson. When enchanted creature dies, the curse spreads to a new creature.

25. Just Crushed

Duh destroys any creature with reminder text. The art is supposed to be showing a creature being crushed by parentheses. Whenever we showed the art to someone and asked them what was going on in the art, no one got that it was parentheses. So we put the art in the frame and showed them the whole card. They still didn't get it. So we put a giant yellow sticky note on the card reinforcing not only that that was what was going on, but joking that players wouldn't get it. Once the card came out, I asked players to see if finally they got that the creature was being crushed by giant parentheses and they still didn't even with the giant yellow sticky note, which somehow makes the yellow sticky note joke even funnier.

Halftime

We're out of time for today. As always, I'm interested in feedback on today's column, any of the jokes I talked about, Unglued or the Un- sets in general. You can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).

Join me next week for part two.

Until then, may you remember that while Magic can be serious, it can also be silly and fun.


 
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