Before Unhinged came out, I wrote an article called "Get It?" talking about many of the jokes in Unglued that people might have missed. As Unstable is on its way, I decided it was time to write a "Get It?" article for Unhinged. There were a lot of jokes to talk about, so last week was Part 1 and this week is Part 2. That said, on with the jokes.

26. Feeling Under the Table

Every Un- set has a sub-game card, where you stop the game you are currently in and play a different game with the cards in your library. Richard Garfield designed the first sub-game card in Arabian Nights with Shahrazad (which, by the way, Richard says is his favorite Magic design). Unglued had the card Once More with Feeling. Unhinged's sub-game card is Enter the Dungeon. To add a little extra fun with this sub-game card, I have the players play it under the table. What a lot of people miss when looking at the art for this card is that the wizards dueling in the dungeon are also under a table. They apparently are miniature size seeing the various items on the floor around them (such as the giant coin). My favorite detail is the gum stuck underneath the table in the upper right-hand corner of the art.

That, though, is not the only reference to the under the table subgame in Unhinged. The other is very easy to miss. On the card Stone-Cold Basilisk (a play on Odyssey's Stone-Tongue Basilisk and professional wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin), we see a player who is slowly figuring out that there might be a basilisk behind him because everyone else in the tournament has been turned to stone. If you look closely though, not everyone has been turned to stone. Two players are playing under the table, obviously in the middle of an Enter the Dungeon sub-game, and thus haven't been subject to the basilisk's stony gaze.

27. Shall We Play a Game

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One of the cycles in Unhinged is what I called the mini-game cycle. Each card, with the naming convention "[Body Part] to [Same Body Part]," makes you play a very quick mini game with your opponent. If you win, you then get some spell effect. (The cards are costed to be cheaper for the effect you get.) The cards are Head to Head, Mouth to Mouth, Eye to Eye, Face to Face, and Side to Side.

Here are a few jokes in this cycle:

Head to Head – This card shows Braids being interrogated in a police-style interrogation room.

Mouth to Mouth – This card shows a breath-holding contest being held underwater. The judge is a merfolk who is timing everything on his watch. Because the blue card frame already has the feel of water, we changed the shape of the art to allow us to show more of it to get an underwater feel (and to get a porthole feel as if we're looking into the sea). We then added some fish for an extra touch.

Eye to Eye – This art is a parody of A Clockwork Orange. The eyes around the art weren't originally there, but we felt the card needed a something a little extra. My favorite is the little eye looking up in the lower right corner of the card.

Face to Face – This art shows cavemen playing an earlier version of Magic, a game called Ug.

Side to Side – This card shows Tahngarth working out at the gym with Squee "helping out." Maraxus of Keld and Vulshok Battlemaster are in the background. None of this though has really anything to do with either the card mechanic, arm wrestling, or the token created (a 3/3 Ape token). The flavor text had to do the lion's share of the work trying to explain how all the pieces come together.

28. Starving Artists

Edward Beard, Jr., the illustrator of Fascist Art Director, had a lot of fun with the art. The card shows the art director, complete with a riding crop, overseeing artists chained down and forced to illustrate. Here are what all the signs say:

  • "A-List Artists: Artists who do exactly what I say get on this list and might even get to eat."
  • "B-List Artists: Artist who think they know how to draw. No food, no pay."
  • "I said no skulls." (For many years, we removed skulls from any product for China.)
  • "Kissing the art director's posterior keeps you alive."
  • "Call ??? 10 more sketches today." (Artists always turn in a sketch for approval before delivering the final art.)
  • "Artists do not sign agreement." (All artists sign an artist agreement guaranteeing them certain rights; the joke is the fascist art director doesn't want them to get those rights.)
  • "No one eats until finished."
  • "Looking out window is prohibited today."

Also, the flavor text is a letter to Mr. and Mrs. Cranford. Jeremy Cranford was Magic's art director at the time (this is also back when we had just one art director).

29. Stain Alive

The card is covered in food stains. Those, by the way, were actual food stains. The graphic designer ate lunch over paper that they then scanned in (with a sheet of acetate to keep the food off the scanner bed). The art was done by Jeremy Jarvis who would later go on to become the Magic art director. All of the Fat Ass's items have a silverware motif. Finally, the flavor text telling you not to eat the cards came out of a note from our legal team saying that wanted us to be clear that players weren't supposed to eat cards to satisfy the eating condition. That seemed too good not to make use of in the flavor text.

30. An A-Line

The card gives creatures an advantage, first strike, for having the lowest collector number. Collector numbers are always done first in WUBRG order (white, blue, black, red, green) and then alphabetically in that color. The joke in the art is that the creatures waiting in line are all white creatures with early alphabetic names. They are, in order:

And yes, Angel of Mercy has falsely cut in line.

The Yotian Solider joke in the flavor text plays into the same joke but from the opposite end. Artifacts are listed last (well, other than lands) and Yotian Soldier, at the time, was the last artifact creature alphabetically. Getting first strike against a 4/1 would be ideal for the 1/4 Yotian Soldier, so he dreams of a 4/1 that starts with Z, the only thing that would allow him to get first strike.

31. Ripped from the Headlines

The flavor text for Flaccify is literally the flavor text for the Unglued card Denied! (also a counterspell) ripped off the card and taped to Flaccify. If you look closely you can see the scotch tape. The joke was that we often tell the same basic joke again and again with counterspell flavor text. The joke came about because I realized the Denied! flavor text would work perfectly for Flaccify and then I realized that it was an Un- set, so I could do exactly that.

32. We Went Half Way

This card is making a couple of different jokes. The name is a play on Action Jackson, a 1998 movie starring Carl Weathers. The card is parodying comic book superheroes, so we gave him a superhero outfit and an alliterative secret identity in the flavor text. (Marvel Comics has a running joke of giving many of their characters alliterative names—Peter Parker, Matt Murdock, Scott Summers, Sue Storm, etc.). Also, to play into the fraction joke, every item, save Fraction Jackson, has only half of it appearing. We also used only half of the card frame. I made it a radioactive beeble because beebles are funny and the concept of a radioactive beeble entertained me.

33. Seeing Red

One of the things I like to do in Un- sets is to take evergreen keywords and tweak them. This card was first made because I wanted to do protection from wordy. It then seemed it would be fun to flavor the card as an editor. From there we came up with the idea that the editor would be editing its own card. The actual writing for the editing text was done by Del Laugel, Magic's lead editor. We had a lot of fun seeing how much we could mess up for the editor to fix. We also have one of the more risqué jokes in the set in the pre-edited flavor text. The editor character shows up on another card in the set, illustrated by the same artist, Jim Pavelec. The editor is the one casting Punctuate.

34. The Brain in Spain

Most of the jokes in the set don't require much prior knowledge to understand, but Gleemax was an exception. For years, one of the running jokes in the Magic community was that R&D was secretly controlled by an alien brain in a jar named Gleemax. The joke goes all the way back to a Usenet post in the early days of Magic. Since Gleemax was all about mind control, we decided we wanted to make a mechanic that captured that flavor. The mana cost of a million was trying to convey how powerful Gleemax was; it wasn't easy for a mage to take Gleemax under their control. The flavor text played into part of the joke that Gleemax, as a very logical alien brain, saw no useful need for flavor text and thus ignored it. R&D was using this one loophole to try and get help.

35. Shiny Jokes

One of the goals of Unhinged was to cram in as many jokes as we could possibly fit. It dawned on me one day that perhaps we could even fit jokes into the premium treatment. Here are the four cards I remember having a foil-only joke:

Gleemax – In foil, the art for Gleemax has the words "You Must Obey" written in tiny letters all over the art.

Goblin Mime – The premium version has the goblin mime stuck inside a foil box.

Letter Bomb – The letter says "Sign Here" in foil.

Richard Garfield, Ph.D. – The cards is signed in foil by Richard.

36. Sticking to It

The joke of this card is that the creature is super sticky, so much so that your fingers get stuck to it. If you look in the art, you'll see all sorts of things stuck to it, weapons of former creatures that fought it, a person that formerly fought in its armor, horseshoes (it was the set's expansion symbol), the power/toughness box and even the corner of its own art. Note that like AWOL, when a piece of the card is ripped off we see through to a mirrored image of the back of the card.

37. Like Father, Like Son

One of the fun things of doing a second Un- set was being able to continue jokes from the first one. In Unglued, we had a creature called Infernal Spawn of Evil. The card came about because artist Ron Spencer as a joke a year earlier had sent in a sketch of a mouse drinking hot cocoa in place of what was supposed to be a scary, intimidating creature. When I was doing Unglued, I asked the art director to ask Ron if we could use the mouse picture. Ron was happy to oblige.

Unhinged made a new card, Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn of Evil, which we also gave to Ron to illustrate. The card has a lot of throwbacks to the first card:

  • The background is identical. Both picture take place in the exact same spot.
  • Just as in the first picture, both father and son are sipping hot cocoa complete with marshmallows. Junior's hot cocoa, also with marshmallow, is in a bottle as he's a baby.
  • Junior has a scarf just like his father except green rather than red.
  • The father's mug has been swapped with a "[black mana symbol]'s Best Dad" mug.

One other subtle but funny joke: on Infernal Spawn of Evil, the word "Demon" in the card type line had been crossed off and replaced with "Beast." That was a joke of the fact that, at the time, we had stopped using Demon on cards and replaced it with Beast. Since that time, we had reversed the decision, so Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn of Evil had "Beast" scratched off and "Demon" written in.

38. Quite the Magic Playa

The Ladies' Knight is coming out of Nevinyrral's Disco—a play on the Limited Edition (Alpha) card Nevinyrral's Disk. He's hanging out with Akroma and Phage, the two characters from the Onslaught story that later merge into Karona, False God. Note that his Pegasus is "parked" in the background in a parking spot. That was in the illustration to explain why he had flying.

39. Sticker Shock

This card is made to look like an R&D playtest sticker. We made it by printing up an actual sticker, writing on it (often in playtesting we'll change things on the fly—the handwriting, by the way, was Randy Buehler's) and scanning it. My favorite joke of this card is that it's stickered onto a Moat, a very popular and powerful card from Legends. R&D always stickers on older cards and from time to time we end up stickering on some pretty popular ones.

40. Magical Hacker

Two jokes and one historical footnote. The image in his glasses is a mirror image of the Magic web site. We actually took a screen shot and sent it to the artist. The flavor text is in leet speak. Leet is a language created by the internet to make things that didn't show up in normal text searches. Letters are replaced by symbols that look similar to the letter. The flavor text reads: "If you can read this, you are a monster geek." Magical Hacker was originally a Human Teenage Gamer allowing Mistform Ultimus and all Changelings to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, but I removed it because, at the time, Un- creature types were official in black border and I was trying to restrict how many new creature types I was adding.

41. Might as Well

"Mise" was Magic slang at the time about winning more through luck than skill. To capture this sense, Matt Cavotta showed a giant pink bunny holding up a "lucky" rabbit's foot, but not just any rabbit's foot, his own foot. Another joke people sometimes miss is in the flavor text, which looks like a dictionary definition. The first few definitions define "mise," but then the dictionary starts going a bit off the rails. One definition talks about "flinging a monkey." This is a throwback joke to the card Lexivore from Unglued that's shown eating its own flavor text. In that flavor text, we made fun of the flavor text convention of creating expressions in other cultures that we then defined.

42. Tag, You're It

Mother of Goons is a parody of the card Mother of Runes from Urza's Legacy. Her outfit is made to seem similar but is a sports jersey in Mother of Goons. Also, the tea cup which she holds in Mother of Runes is now held by one of the goons. My favorite part of this card though is all the graffiti on the wall and card:

  • "Word to Your Mother" – A street expression involving the word "mother"
  • "BFM" – Big Furry Monster is the 99/99 black creature from Unglued that is so big it takes two cards to hold it all.
  • "It's Coming" – A reference to Infernal Spawn of Evil. It's what you have to say when you reveal the card from your hand.
  • "I'm Coming Too" – A reference to Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn of Evil. It's what you say when you activate him.
  • "Gotcha" – A reference to the gotcha mechanic in the set. When someone did a prescribed thing, you could say "Gotcha!" and return the card from your graveyard to your hand.
  • "Mise" – A reference to the card Mise.

I also enjoy that one of the gang members holds a literal gang sign.

43. Happy and Guay

This card is another one that has a joke that requires a little background information. Many years ago, we had an art director that decided that Rebecca Guay's art style wasn't a good fit for what they envisioned as Magic's style, so they informed Rebecca that they wouldn't be using her any more. That information eventually got out to the public and it went over very poorly. The fans were very loud in their love of Rebecca's work, so much so that the art director admitted they were wrong and started using Rebecca again. The set had an "artist matters" theme and I was making a card that could force people to discard all the non-land cards in their hand by a named artist. It dawned on me that it would be funny if you weren't allowed to pick Rebecca. We then, of course, had to have Rebecca illustrate the card, which she happily did.

44. Mental Magician

During Unhinged, I had the idea of turning Richard Garfield, Magic's creator, into a card. I also had the idea of a card that played Mental Magic (a format where you can play a card as any other card that shares a mana cost with it), and it quickly dawned on me that the two were a perfect fit. The card has a bunch of jokes baked into it. Let's walk through them:

  • The name having "Ph.D." is making a joke out of the fact that in the early days the PR people made Richard use Ph.D. in his name in every interview he did. They liked playing up that he had a doctorate. Phelddagrif, the card from Alliances that was named after him is "Garfield Ph.D." anagrammed, another nod toward the Ph.D.
  • Richard's halo is the color pie, in proper WUBRG order.
  • The sash has pictures of expansion symbols of sets Richard worked on: (from top to bottom) Judgment, Odyssey, Torment, and Urza's Saga.
  • The flavor text is meant to look like it's carved in stone.
  • As I mention above, the premium version has Richard's signature in foil.

45. Too Soon

Many people miss seeing the Rocket-Powered Turbo Slug because they're looking at the art. That just shows Akroma and Kamahl as the creature has already whizzed by them. The Slug in his rocket can be seen in the bottom right of the card as he zooms through and messes up the flavor text. Now comes the part where you learn how far I'll go for a joke. Rather than just have the destroyed flavor text have random letters, I actually wrote flavor text and then had our graphic designer use those exact letters when making the card. I did this so players who tried could identify all the letters and then unscramble them to get the original flavor text. What was it? "Did you go through all the trouble to unscramble this?"

For those who like historical relevance, this is the card that inspired the cycle of Pact cards in Future Sight.

46. Good Boy

This card turns temporary effects into permanent effects. Obviously, the joke of the card is that the creature has gotten so big that it's cracked the frame. But did you ever figure out what creature it is? My goal was to take a creature famous for making itself bigger. So what creature is this? It's Wild Mongrel from Odyssey, a creature that, at the time, was one of the best creatures in print.

47. A Good Symbol

Symbol Status was designed as a card to encourage you to play cards with as many different expansion symbols as possible. Did you catch all the symbols dancing in the art?

  • Visions – V
  • Fallen Empires – Crown
  • Torment – Curled Creature
  • Alliances – Banner (being held by the Torment expansion symbol)
  • Onslaught – Spider Thingy
  • Mercadian Masques – Mask
  • Urza's Destiny – Erlenmeyer Flask
  • The Dark – Crescent Moon (in the sky)

Also note that Unhinged's own horseshoe symbol is also dancing in its spot, complete with arms and legs.

48. Size Matters

Wordmail is an Aura that makes the creature bigger based on how many words are in its name. The two creatures pictured are Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn of Evil, who gets a big boost having seven words in its name (and was also illustrated by Ron Spencer), and Anger from Judgment who gets a little tiny boost having a one-word name.

49. All Bottled Up

This card was inspired by the Arabian Nights card City in a Bottle, the one change being that you could pick whatever expansion symbol you wished to destroy. The card itself represents Otaria, the continent on Dominaria that was the setting for Onslaught (and Odyssey). The art box is shaped like a bottle and we see Silvos, Rogue Elemental and Visara, the Dreadful trapped inside as well as the Grand Coliseum. We didn't have a good idea for flavor text here, so we used a generic joke that we had been trying to find a home for.

50. Catching Some ZZZs

Zzzyxas's Abyss was playing in similar space with First Come, First Served, but instead of caring about collector's numbers, it cared about alphabetization of the card title. This card is a parody of the card The Abyss from Legends. In it we see creatures waiting in line to be destroyed. First was Armor Thrull starting with A. Next up is Baron Sengir starting with B. Both Armor Thrull and Baron Sengir were originally illustrated by Pete Venters, the artist of Zzzyxas's Abyss. The ghosts are also references to creatures, all starting with A, as they've already fallen victim to the Abyss. Starting from the upper left and going clockwise, these creatures are: Apprentice Necromancer, Air Elemental (Seventh Edition), Ascending Aven, Ascendant Evincar, and Avatar of Will.

Reaching the Punchline

That's all the time I had for today. I hope you enjoyed the jaunt through Unhinged last week and today. If you can't tell, I'm excited for you all to see all the jokes of Unstable, but we're still going to have to wait a few months. If you have any feedback on today's column or Unhinged or the Un- sets in general, you can write to me via email or talk to me through any of my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, and Instagram).

Join me next week for the State of Design 2017.

Until then, go see if you can find all the Unhinged jokes I didn't talk about.

#462: VidCon 2017
#462: VidCon 2017


For the second year, I took my daughter to VidCon, the convention for YouTube stars. As an outsider looking in, I always get a lot of insights that I can apply to Magic.

#463: Cycles
#463: Cycles


In this podcast, I talk about one of the most important tools for a Magic designer.