I got out of the house this past Sunday to play some Magic: The Gathering for the first time in weeks. Only, when I arrived to play with my friends, we wound up doing an Unstable draft, which isn’t exactly genuine Magic to a certain extent.
For those who don’t know, Unstable is the latest one-off set which will only be in publication for a short time. Like Masters and Conspiracy sets, Unstable is meant to be played in a Draft or Sealed format, meaning you’re opening booster packs and building from what you have available. The only difference here is that Unstable is a “joke” set, meaning that many of the cards will have both humorous effects and unconventional means of winning.
For example, Cranks and Sprockets allow players to set up artifact combos that give them free bonuses every upkeep, and Augments allow players to power up Host creatures, oftentimes exponentially increasing their value on the battlefield. Both mechanics are in the spotlight of this set and are incredibly powerful once you take the time to set them up. Without question, these will help any player win the long game… which is why we have to get in early and pile on the pressure before our opponents can assemble these wacky, complex gameplans!
An archetype I threw together called Jund Pain for Pounder lets us win quickly with a short and VERY aggressive gameplan.
I went 3-0 with this deck, and I did so by just focusing on four common cards and a newly added dice roll mechanic that allows for huge payoffs if successful. Some would say that defeats the point of a fun game, but I hadn’t played Magic in two months thanks to my kid being born, and I didn’t care one bit. I wanted to smash, and I wanted to win!
First things first, the dice rolling mechanic. If you see this card:
Pass this garbage as quickly as you can! I can’t say it didn’t help me because it sent me down the dice rolling path in the first place, but stacking up to 100 is far too slow for even a control deck let alone the lightning speed we’ll be winning at. Rolling a 6 each time means you’ll have to complete 17 dice rolls… not going to happen.
The four pillars of Jund Pain for Pounder
Instead, focus more on the four commons that I mentioned above and will lay out now. First, the main pillar of the deck! I drafted five of these guys and sadly passed two or three more when I shouldn’t have. Take as many as you can get!
Ground Pounder is a classic “bear,” meaning he costs two mana for a 2/2 creature. He’s a classic, aggressive and defensive turn-2 play. Already, it’s a playable card just with those statistics. However, “bears” are often judged by their upside, meaning how much value you can get out of him besides stats, and Ground Pounder’s upside makes him one of the most overachieving “bears” in drafting history.
With the roll of a dice on turn-4, assuming you have hit your land drops every turn, you potentially have an 8/8 trample creature charging headlong into an opponent. Unless your opponent has kept an instant speed removal spell, of which there are very few in this set, then that’s going to be very difficult to deal with. Maybe by turn-4, you’ll have two of these Ground Pounders on the battlefield, and they won’t know which one to block. You can smash over their only line of defense and still manage to get 2 points of damage through with the unpumped one.
If they’ve been playing spells or wimps to set up Cranks or Augments, then they might have no choice but to take the full hit, and that’s a huge hit on turn-4.
Seriously, in a drafted aggro deck, this could be one of the finest commons ever printed. I had three out in one game, and my opponent just stared hopelessly at my board state with no way of dealing with them. Take Ground Pounders early, take them often, and never be shy. You can’t have too many of these.
Coming up after Ground Pounder is another common overachiever. While not as strong, this is another aggressive card you’ll want to slam often. I had four of them in my deck, which I found to be reliably consistent for when I needed them.
Painiac fills a similar role in that you’ll want to turn him sideways and just throw him into an opponent’s defenses. If you play a Ground Pounder on turn 2 and then ramp into a Painiac, they are staring at a potential 8/8 trample and a 6/3 coming in hard on turn-4, again… there’s going to be very few ways to deal with that.
Painiac’s dice rolls, and any dice roll for that matter, also trigger Ground Pounder’s trample so long as they are bigger than 5. Each Painiac in play ony increases your chances of getting that trample!
What will likely happen is that your Paniac will trade with a 3-power creature, but that means they’ll take the full damage of your Ground Pounder. You can choose to pump him or play another Painiac after the trade. Either way, keep the pressure up with these two insanely high-value creatures.
The last creature at common is the Snickering Squirrel, which helps glue our deck together and make it more consistent. With Snickering Squirrel, worrying about the success of dice rolls becomes a thing of the past.
While Paniac doesn’t benefit quite as much, since becoming a 7/3 instead of a 6/3 doesn’t mean too much if it’s charging into blockers and doesn’t have trample, the true value of Snickering Squirrel comes in assuring that your Ground Pounder will have trample. Alone, the Ground Pounder needs to roll a 5 to get trample, a 33 percent chance. It is statistically more likely to attack as a 4/4 or a 6/6 without trample. Nice, but not ideal.
With just one Snickering Squirrel, the barrier for entry drops to a 4, meaning that 50 percent of the time, you’ll roll high enough to give the Ground Pounder trample. With two Snickering Squirrels, your chances jump up to 66 percent. Don’t forget, not only are you securing that trample ability, you’re also making it bigger. The highest I made Ground Pounder with my two Snickering Squirrels was a 9/9, and not even two fully Augmented Hosts waiting to block stood a chance.
I had two Squirrels, but I would ideally take three or four.
I didn’t have any of these, and I regret passing one or two in the draft. Anywhere from one to four of these spells would be perfect in this archetype. If you can look past the silly title, text, and joke about dealing pi damage, you’ll see that this is about as effective as a red removal spell gets nowadays.
It’s instant speed, it (theoretically) does three damage, and while it doesn’t hit opponents in the face, it doesn’t really have to since it’s better served clearing the way for the Ground Pounders and Painiacs to get through.
Again, I didn’t have any, but I can assure that the deck would have even been better with just one if not two.
With these four commons, you’ll have a fast enough gameplan to not even allow your opponents to set up theirs. Obviously, aggressively paced rares like Ol’ Buzzbark or powerhouses like Three-Headed Goblin would make it a lot better, but for the true guts of the deck, this should suffice. Unstable is an exceptionally high curve set, so with high-value creatures coming down reliably fast, you’ll have no trouble closing the game quickly.
What else to look out for
The four core cards are set in stone, but you’ll naturally need some filler. I found these commons and uncommons to work the best.
Mana dorks mean faster ramp, faster creature drops, and most importantly, the possibility to pump your Ground Pounders TWICE! That’s a potential 15/15 trample with two Snickering Squirrels. I had two, and they were a lifesaver in some games.
A little slow for my taste in an aggro deck, but if you can make it stronger… by all means. It’ll buy you a turn or two if you’re taking longer than usual to get set up.
Those Painiacs just became that much harder to block with this attached. Maximum 8/4 and must be blocked by two creatures. Again, that’s a turn-4 play. Just be sure to wear gloves or long-sleeved shirts when you play so you don’t take damage.
Not a solid aggro creature, but it gets you a blocker, direct life loss, and a free dice roll if the game goes on longer than expected. I’d include just one in your deck to potentially deal those last 1-6 points of damage, and I’d also drop in a single strong Augment like Serpentine that helps him trigger every turn.
Don’t go too heavy on finding Augments for this guy, though. Remember, focus on the aggro first. No need for dead cards in your hand.
Our first uncommon is just another solid beater. It comes down as a potential 6/6 on its own, and of course, it can be bigger with the aid of squirrels. Frequent re-rolls means you can fix those dud rolls as well. I had three, and it felt like a solid top to my curve.
An obvious uncommon you’ll want to take early. Consistent dice rolls transform into consistent wins. I wish I had a few of these, but I didn’t see any.
This is just a no brainer for any deck. It clears blockers, and any extra damage hits the player. Instant speed, relatively cheap for 4 damage? Where’s the downside?
With multiple Paniacs on the battlefield, this could get very large very quickly. Two dice rolls of 5 already make it an 11/11. I had one, but I never made it that large.
I side-boarded this in, and it too was a lifesaver! 4/1 flying is already awesome, but destroying a creature as it enters the battlefield makes this an uncommon bomb that’s already in our colors. The penalty for keeping it in play is negligible if you’re a dedicated player.
All those Ground Pounders means you’ll be dropping Goblins onto the battlefield with pristine regularity. This could chip in those last few points of damage and finish off an opponent if they are able to set up defenses.
Seems reasonable. I knew one was floating around the table, but someone else took it first. Still, just one of these would be enough to ensure better dice rolls. I wouldn’t prioritize it over squirrels or beaters though.
What to be careful of
Unstable is home to some brutal rares and mythics, but chances are you won’t have to face those down. Instead, I’ll focus on a few commons and uncommons that might give you a bit of a scare if you’re playing Jund Pain for Pounder.
This card pushed me into a stalemate since it made a first strike creature immune to ALL of my creatures. Once the Ground Pounders get bigger, your opponent will have to chump with this, letting the smaller ones through. However, this might buy them enough time to take over the long game.
A variant card with several different versions, so it’s not as common as you think. However, my group determined that both Painiac and Ground Pounder had open mouths since you can see their teeth, and I had to agree. This will hold back the Pounders for a few rounds, letting your opponents build their defenses.
Walls are hell on an aggro deck, but this one, in particular, has its own circle in hell. Your Painiacs and Ground Pounders must be pretty large to take one down, and even if they get big enough, your opponent can force a re-roll potentially making them smaller. They can also beat your Snickering Squirrels on the stack, rendering their boosting ability totally useless.
All three of these cards can be taken down with a Just Desserts, Wall of Fortune requiring a chump first, but if you don’t have any, a Hazmat Suit (used) might help your creatures get around them.
Infuriating, to say the least. Thank goodness GO TO JAIL doesn’t have flash. This is a hyper-efficient removal spell that can ping off your Ground Pounders one at a time if your opponent drafted enough. Squirrels don’t help you revive them back either since you MUST roll double-sixes to remove this dreaded enchantment.
However, those dice rolls do allow Ground Pounder to get his trample. Don’t forget that!
My thoughts on Unstable are that it’s fun as a joke set, but underneath the humor, there is a sound set of mechanics that you’ll need to take into account. Like any Magic: The Gathering expansion, your deck will become weaker as it loses focus, and players who try to cram dice rolling, Augments, Hosts, Cranks, and tribal synergies into a single deck are going to get nowhere fast.
Again, like any Magic set, pick a mechanic and focus on it. Augments are really powerful if you can hold the fort down, and Cranks have the potential to be stronger than Planeswalkers with proper timing. For me, aggressive dice rolling with a semi-theme of Goblins prove solid enough to hone a deck on.
With the right mindset, you can make a solid, well-constructed deck that consistently works, just as if you were drafting a normal expansion.
And as a side note, Wizards of the Coast obviously invested in a better paper stock for the cards. They feel marvelous to the touch and a lot thicker than the last few sets, meaning less non-foil warping. Nice choice with that, and it makes the set’s unique full art lands feel all the more valuable. I might pick up another box somewhere down the line just to snag me a few more of those lands.