Welcome to the second week of Unfinity previews. Last week, I talked about the creation of the set's main two mechanics. This week, I'm going to talk about everything else, all the other larger mechanical themes in the set. Also, I have a few preview cards to show off. So, buckle in; it's time to talk more Unfinity design.
For Un- sets, I like to play around in mechanical space that other Magic sets can't. One of those areas is caring about art. There are two main reasons that Eternal cards can't mechanically care about art. One, every version of a card with the same name in English must be mechanically identical. Things that can change between copies of cards (art, artist, expansion symbol, rarity, watermarks, etc.) can't be something the game mechanically cares about. Un- sets use the "Un- Golden Rule": when caring about the qualities of the card, you look at the actual copy of the card you're playing. Two, art is very subjective, and the Eternal Magic rules don't like ambiguity. Either something is or isn't something. Figuring out what art is can get fuzzy at times.
Nonetheless, if you're playing a more casual game of Magic, it can be a fun theme to dip your toe into. Unfinity had a sticker theme, and we wanted art stickers because art stickers were just a lot of fun. So, it seemed only natural to want the art stickers to occasionally matter mechanically.
We started by making a giant list of all the things that occasionally appeared in Magic art and made cards that mechanically cared about those things. Playtesting quickly showed that art-matters cards were even more subjective than we thought. In one game, for instance, I was playing against an opponent that had a card that cared about a "blue object" appearing in the art, and my opponent and I disagreed about whether a particular object was in fact blue (I thought it was purple). It turns out that colors aren't as clear-cut definitionally as you may think. What one person sees and registers as blue could be purple to a different player. Where each of us draws a line of what constitutes a color varies from person to person.
So, we went through our list, crossing off things that might be considered too subjective and ended up with a short list. In fact, there was only one item that we found players mostly agreed on in playtests—hats. Unstable had already played in this space with a card called Goblin Haberdasher.
We'd wanted one color pair to have an art-matters theme, so we decided to focus it on hats. This means white-black's archetype in Unfinity is "hats matter." In set design, the lead designer can ask the art director to make a few changes to help the art line up with the mechanics, and I spent my entire art "budget" on adding hats to white creatures (black had turned out fine).
Common does, on a card-by-card basis, mess a little with art matters. There's a card that cares about how tall your creature is. There's a card that cares about how heavy the art sticker looks. Mostly, though, the individual art-matters cards, other than hats matter, are higher in rarity. There's even one legendary creature that's all about building a deck around a particular object.
Die rolling premiered in Magic in Unglued, the first Un- set. It returned in Unstable and then showed up for the first time in Eternal Magic in Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. I should note that Unfinity design started before Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, so the set was full of die-rolling cards before we knew it was going to stop being just an Un- thing. In fact, it was die rolling itself that led us to the decision to make over half the set Eternal legal.
The key quality to Un- die rolling that separates it from Eternal cards is that Un- sets are willing to lean into the variance and make cards that have a wider swing between rolls. We're also willing to experiment more with how dice get used mechanically.
Here are the different things we made use of in Unfinity:
Rerolling – When you roll dice, sometimes you roll poorly, so there are some effects that let you reroll the dice to see if you can get something better.
Additional die rolling – These are effects that let you roll an additional die or dice when you roll a die, and then allow you to pick which roll you prefer.
Die adjusting – These are effects that let you add or subtract 1 to a die's roll. And yes, they can allow you to get die rolls of 0 and 7.
Die triggering – These are triggered effects that happen when you roll certain numbers.
Die rolling to see if an effect happens – Some effects don't happen unless you roll a certain outcome. The biggest example of this category are Attractions that force you to roll a six-sided die once a turn to see which of them you visit. My first preview for today is an Attraction.
Die banking – These are effects where, after you roll the dice, you put the rolled dice on the cards to signify what's been rolled. Sometimes this is used to dictate how the permanent is affected, sometimes it tells you when and how other effects happen, and sometimes it even lets you use those dice rolls for other purposes.
Dice thresholds – These are effects that get triggered if you roll a certain number of dice in a turn, usually three.
Different outcomes – Different die rolls can sometimes affect exactly what a card does, in effect, and not just in numerical value.
Roll a die, and only some results produce effects – This was a new vein of design we discovered for Unfinity. Instead of requiring effects that care about die rolls to use a chart or scale, some of the cards have you roll a die and only have a mechanical outcome if you roll certain numbers. This allowed us to adjust how big the scaling of the effect was and also allowed the player to miss (sometimes for good, sometimes for bad). This effect is usually an add-on in addition to the base effect of the spell.
Additional outcomes – Some die rolls will cause additional things to happen to the effect that calls for a die roll.
The biggest difference between Unfinity and past die-rolling sets is that, previously, we tended to have a theme that rolling higher is generally better. Because Unfinity is playing around with different types of die-rolling effects, what die rolls are better isn't as consistent. More cards reward you for rolling a 6 than not, but there are plenty of cards where what you want to roll can be a number other than 6.
The Un- sets like to play around with different types of variances. We've had cards that care about what time of day it is or whether it's dark outside.
Unfinity plays in a slightly different space by having a cycle of cards that cares about how many of a certain item you can see from your seat. This means that how certain cards play will depend on where you physically play them. Maybe this card is amazing at your local game store but not quite as good at your kitchen table, or vice versa.
Another area that stickers interacted with, but that normal Eternal Magic can't mechanically care about, is names (except for caring if a particular card has a certain name). This a ripe design space that many Un- sets have plumbed.
The big question wasn't if we'd care about names but rather how we'd care about them, so we spent a bunch of time exploring different ways to care.
Here are the ways we ended up caring:
Starts with a certain letter – These are effects that interact with a card based on what the first letter is in its name is. This interacts nicely with stickers because, in acorn games, you can put the name sticker on the front of the card to change what the first letter is. There are variants that care if the name starts with more than one letter.
Alpha strike – This is a keyword ability (on two cards) that grants the creature first strike if its alphabetically ahead of the creature(s) it's fighting in combat. Technically, this is just a subset of the last category, but as it has its own keyword and is comparing two different names, I gave it its own section.
Alliteration – An offshoot of caring about the starting letter is caring about whether multiple (lowercase) words in the same name start with the same letter.
Matches other cards (first letter) – Another offshoot of caring about the first letter is caring about whether multiple permanents on the battlefield start with the same letter. Stickers allow you to add words to increase overlaps.
Contains a certain letter – These effects don't care necessarily where in the word the letter is, just that the word has a chosen letter. Some effects care about any word in the name, while others just care about the first word.
Matches other cards (contains letter) – These effects care about if multiple permanents on the battlefield share a letter, but not necessarily the starting letter.
Cares about unique vowels – These are effects that look at a name and see how many unique vowels it has (including Y). For example, Animate Object has four unique vowels in it (A, E, I, and O). It only counts each vowel once, so it doesn't matter how many copies you have of any vowel. The set has a cycle of "fill in the blank" cards that care about what unique vowels are in name stickers on the card.
Caring about the number of words in a name – These effects look at the number of words in a name and either use it as a threshold (it must be so many words long to get the bonus) or creates a scaling effect based on the number of words in the name. Name stickers work with this ability because they can make names longer.
Note that I'm just talking about what qualities of names we mechanically care about. How we care can vary from card to card. One card could destroy things based on what letter it starts with while another card could have protection from certain cards starting with that letter.
To find a new kind of variance, Unstable introduced an unnamed mechanic that we refer to as "outside assistance."
Outside assistance has you get a person who's not playing in your current game and gives them some mechanical influence over a card. Unstable mostly had you ask them a question or perform a singular task, but for Unfinity, we decided to expand what it is we could do with outside assistance.
Here's a list of the different ways we use it:
Ask a person to make a subjective decision – Unstable had the player make game decisions, but we wanted to take things a step further. Instead of making the game decision in a vacuum, we ask them to make a subjective opinion about some aspect of the game. A good example of this would be Rock Star where you're asking the outside person to decide which card name sounds the most like a rock band. The idea is that the question is something any person could answer even if they're totally unaware of Magic.
Ask the person to rate something on a scale – Instead of an open-ended question, you ask the person to judge something on a scale of 1 to 5.
Play a game with the person – There are several minigames, mostly associated with Attractions, where you use an outside person as the partner to play with. Usually, they're guessing something based on the task you've been given.
Ask the person for their autograph – One card wants you to get as many people to sign it as possible.
Choose a person that you need to see but not interact with – For the first time, Unfinity allows you to have an outside person that even they aren't aware is helping you.
One of the big takeaways from Unstable was that it's a lot of fun to involve outside people, so Unfinity tried hard to figure out new and different ways to do it. I hope it leads to a lot of fun interactions and cool stories to share.
Physical Dexterity Matters
One of the cool things that Un- sets let us do is tap into certain types of cards that aren't available for Eternal Magic. One such category is physical dexterity where a physical aspect is added to the game.
Here are different ways Unfinity plays in this space:
Throwing or dropping cards – These are effects where you're trying to use one or more cards to hit other cards, usually cards on the battlefield, to generate some type of effect, again usually to the cards that you've hit. You might also be dropping a card to see how it hits the table rather than another card.
Touching a card – These are effects where touching a card or having the card touch you generates an effect or keeps an effect going.
Balancing – These effects ask you to balance some number of cards without dropping them—one of which is one of my preview cards for today.
There aren't a lot of dexterity cards in the set, but they do add some fun gameplay for the fans of such effects.
Playing into Technology
Another space Unfinity taps into is mechanically caring about the technology that the players have access to. Here are some examples:
Using your phone – A couple cards in the set allow you to use your phone in ways that will interact with the game.
Accessing the internet – One card has an activation that requires accessing the internet while another uses it to visually demonstrate how a card works. The former card happens to be another of my preview cards.
Interacting with social media – One card requires making a social media post and mechanically cares about the replies it gets.
Part of evolving the game is keeping up with the times, so it's fun having a few cards that touch upon technology.
For most sets, we like to have a creature type theme. For Unfinity, that's Robots, a brand-new creature type introduced in the set. The majority of Robots are Clown Robots, but there are three Robots that aren't Clowns, and one Clown that's not a Robot. The Robot theme is the red-white archetype (all the Robots are white, red, or colorless artifacts) and gives you various tools to help you attack with your Robot army.
We didn't want to have stickers if we couldn't find a way to make them mechanically relevant, so the team explored many ways to make them matter:
Abilities and power/toughness mattering – There's nothing we had to do here. Both of those things inherently matter mechanically.
Art matters – As I explained above, there are things the game cares about, like hats, that show up on stickers, so sometimes putting an art sticker on a card will change how it mechanically functions.
Names matter – Again as I talked about above, lots of cards care about the qualities of names, so putting a name sticker on a card will often mechanically be relevant. There are also cards that care about certain qualities of the name stickers (like how many unique vowels are on it).
Sticker threshold – There are cards that get a mechanical bonus if stickered.
Targets stickered cards – These are effects that can only target cards with stickers, sometimes only with particular types of stickers.
Stickering triggers – Some cards trigger when you place a sticker on any non-land permanent you own, sometimes getting a bonus if it's a particular kind of sticker.
Gains abilities from stickers – There are a couple cards that gain the abilities of stickers on other cards.
Number of stickers matter – Some cards care about how many stickers are on them and get better with each new sticker.
Cards that sticker themselves – There are certain cards that ask you to put a sticker or stickers on them or on a token they create.
Sticker size matters – A couple cards care about the sticker not by what's on them but by its physical size.
Subjective qualities of the art sticker – An art sticker can matter because of qualities of the pictured item.
Sticker judging – There's even a card that cares about how nicely your art sticker adds to the picture its stickered on.
As you will see, Unfinity has a lot of ways that stickering will interact with your cards, allowing you many options when choosing both what to sticker and which sticker to use.
What Your Wearing
Another small theme is a handful of cards that care about what you're wearing. Here are the three things that matter:
Hats – Just as there are cards that care about whether your creatures have hats, there are also a few cards that care about whether you, the player, are wearing a hat.
Colors you're wearing – One card cares about what colors you're wearing (on your upper torso). Ideally, you want to be wearing all five (main) Magic colors.
Magic apparel – One card rewards you for wearing Magic apparel.
For those who want to get into the spirit, these cards might influence what you wear when playing Unfinity.
That's a rundown of all the other larger themes in Unfinity (there are a lot of individual designs playing in spaces I didn't talk about). I hope you're as excited for the set as I am. If you have any feedback on today's column, on any of the aspects I talked about, or on Unfinity itself, you can email me or contact me through my social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok) with feedback.
Join me next week when I share some card-by-card design stories from Unfinity.
Until then, may you get to play Magic in the way you most enjoy.
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