We learnt last week that Unstable had more twists beneath the surface than we first expected – cards with multiple different text-boxes, but the same name – and each one thematically appropriate. Now that we’ve got the cards in our hands, we’re learning of yet another delightfully unexpected aspect of the Unstable design – MtG Arena! That’s right, the weekend’s big reveal was that MtG Arena’s childlike interface, laggy gameplay, and shoddy implementation are just part of the wacky bonkers world of silver-bordered magic!
Initial beta users were bewildered by MtG Arena’s myriad of absent features and baffling design incongruities, but after spending some time in the application the many references to Unstable become readily apparent – The strange decision to include a 3D model for booster packets is an obvious allusion to the awesome double-sided tokens included in every Unstable booster.
Likewise, launching a collectible card game beta with no crafting and no trading is clearly the brainchild of Mark Rosewater – it’s exactly the kind of inspired prank he’s so famous for, while the absence of any limited gameplay at all in Arena is a clever nod of the head to the borderless full-art basic lands. There are even a pair Unstable cards that subtly reference Arena – Hot Fix and Mad Science Fair Project – clever easter eggs for the keen-eyed player.
Unstable has built on the experience of Unglued and Unhinged, with a clear refinement in overall design that, by focussing on limited play, has been getting rave reviews as a genuine Magic experience that still breaks all the “rules” of how a set “should be” – rather than just a gimmick set, like its predecessors. In the same way, Arena has clearly been inspired by, and surpassed, the abject ineptitude of Magic the Gathering: Online versions 1, 2, 3 and 4.
This isn’t the first time Wizards of the Coast have used their digital platform as a promotional tie-in – the release of Unhinged coincided with the unveiling of Gleemax, a bold nerd-focused foray into the budding social media market that was, presumably, designed specifically to crash and burn, providing Randy Buehler’s boss with the perfect thematic parallel to the ‘Gotcha!’ mechanic from Unhinged.
The implication of this return to a highly successfully cross-media marketing strategy is obvious: the return of Modern as a Pro Tour format can only possibly be a tie-in to a 4th silver-bordered joke set, likely themed around things that pro players explicitly and emphatically campaigned against.