As is typical with many MagicCons in the past, MagicCon Las Vegas 2023 presented players with tons of opportunities to play MTG in a variety of ways. For those who enjoy a more competitive scene, events such as the enormous Limited Open with a $100,000 prize pool may have been of interest. For anyone interested in a casual setting, playing in the Command Zone was a great option to have. In addition to traditionally structured events, there were also some opportunities for players to join wacky events with a bit of a unique style.
One of the classic events that fits this mold is none other than the Unknown event. Hosted by Gavin Verhey, a designer and developer for Wizards of the Coast, these events are structured in a similar way to normal Sealed events. However, there are a few notable differences.
First, players can receive packs from current main sets as well as boosters from other sets, such as Commander Masters. The second difference, and what truly sets this event apart from others you may have experienced, is that playtest cards are also involved.
Each player receives a handful of playtest cards added to their card pool. These cards are uniquely designed for this event, and truly stretch the boundaries of the MTG design space. These cards are not tournament legal outside of this event but could theoretically turn into traditional legal cards in the future. Of course, these cards could still bring a fun play experience in a casual environment and given how Commander-centric many of these playtest cards are, it’s not uncommon for Commander players to make use of them anyway. Let’s take a look at some of the cooler mechanics these new playtest cards have introduced.
Commander Tax Matters
One of the most interesting areas of design space these MagicCon Las Vegas playtest cards explored was specifically the Commander Tax. In Commander, each time your Commander is put into the Command Zone from play, it can be recast, but costs two more mana to do so for each time it has been previously cast. So, if you have cast your Commander twice already, casting it a third time will require you to pay the Commander’s mana cost and an additional four mana.
Typically, the Commander Tax is solely a downside, requiring extra mana investment, so you have to be careful about letting your Commander die multiple times. However, playtest cards like Tax Draw actually get better the higher the Commander Tax is for your Commander. Tax Draw specifically lets you draw cards equal to the highest Commander tax among your Commanders, so the more you’ve cast them, the better.
While many of the cards showcased among the playtest cards are clearly a bit over the top as far as their likelihood to show up in sanctioned play, referencing the Commander Tax with cards specifically designed for Commander does not seem too far-fetched. Seeing these designs put into action, even for playtest cards, is cool. It’s clear the design team is always looking to push the envelope even further.
One unique aspect of the MagicCon Las Vegas Unkown event is that a few of the playtest cards were actually designed in part by the players and fans. One of these cards was Trampled Lotus, which uses a very strange mechanics called Splitter Second. The idea behind the card is that similar to Black Lotus, you end up netting three mana. The difference, though, is that you get to tap three of your opponent’s Lands for mana, essentially stealing their mana.
This is where Splitter Second comes into play. Normally, while cards with Split Second can’t be responded to with spells or traditional activated abilities that use the stack, players could still activate mana abilities if they wanted to. The goal of Splitter Second is likely to prevent the opponent from simply tapping their Lands in response to you sacrificing Trampled Lotus and tapping their Lands. Trampled Lotus’s design definitely seems much more unlikely to show up in sets in the future.
Roles are certainly not new as a concept, but some of these playtest cards introduced new types of roles that seem perfectly reasonable to appear in the future. For example, Ratatwotwo is a Legendary Rat that creates a Chef Role token attached to another Creature you control when it enters the battlefield. A Chef Role specifically gives the Enchanted Creature +1/+1 and the ability to create Food tokens whenever it attacks.
Going even further with Roles, Maeve, Wearer of Many Hats lets you suit itself up with as many Roles as you want. Normally, you need to sacrifice the Role currently on a Creature in order to put a new one on, but not this time. This again seems like a reasonable design that likely could have even been featured in Wilds of Eldraine in the first place.
Tons of References
In addition to new mechanics, plenty of the playtest cards also made funny references to previous cards throughout MTG’s history. The Colossal Dreadmaw, for instance, is a 6/6 with Trample, just like Colossal Dreadmaw, but it allows you to play your other Creatures from hand as though they were Colossal Dreadmaws as well! This is a funky ability but seems pretty fun for a wacky Limited environment.
Some cards, like Command Power Plant, didn’t directly reference other cards from MTG’s past by name, but it’s clear what previously existing cards were being referenced anyway. Commander Power Plant has the ability to tap for mana of your Commander’s color identity, just like Commander Tower does normally. However, if you control Command Power Plant, Command Mine, and Command Tower, your Command Tower now can tap for three mana instead of just one.
This is clearly taking from the design of Urza’s Tower, Urza’s Power Plant, and Urza’s Mine, which have become staples of the Modern format in various Tron decks. These playtest cards are super cool, and it will be fun to see if any of their designs end up making their way into major sets in the future.