Stickers Solve One Of Magic: The Gathering’s Stickiest Problems

This weekend, Magic: The Gathering lead designer Mark Rosewater took to the San Diego Comic-Con stage to give us the latest sneak preview of Unfinity. The parody Un-sets have always been Rosewater’s babies, and he certainly dropped a bombshell on the community with the reveal of one of its new mechanics: stickers.

Stickers work like counters in that they can be used to augment the properties of other cards. But instead of being a counter, these are actual, literal stickers you peel off and stick back on as the game progresses. Despite complaints from Commander, Legacy, and Vintage players that stickers are a ‘rules nightmare’ and ‘too silly for Magic’, I think it gives Wizards the perfect way out of its current Alchemy-themed woes.

Alchemy is Arena’s digital-only format that features mechanics Wizards of the Coast claims couldn’t work in tabletop play. Stuff like generating random cards, or Alchemy Horizons: Battle For Baldur’s Gate’s infamous six-sided cards are frequently used, but one of the oldest digital-exclusive mechanics is perpetuity.

Perpetuity allows Arena to change an individual card, and track that change in a way counters can’t. Counters only remain on a creature while it’s on the battlefield, but perpetual works in the graveyard, in exile, in the deck, in your hand, and anywhere else the card might end up. While I’ve never liked Arena’s digital-first offerings, perpetual has always been a cool mechanic. It’s also been one that players have been convinced could have worked in tabletop play with some planning – and this is exactly where stickers come in.

Unlike counters, stickers will remain on the card as it moves through any ‘public zone’ – the battlefield, exile, and the graveyard. This allows for all kinds of design possibilities, such as giving specific cards graveyard abilities like flashback or disturb without it falling off the card when it dies as a counter would.

Stickers as a mechanic are already set in stone for Unfinity – Rosewater has laid out how they work, and it’s tied up in an Unfinity-flavoured wrapper requiring carnival tickets to pay for specific stickers. As per the game’s rules, Unfinity’s stickers won’t remain on cards if they move to a hidden zone such as your hand or back into your library, and you can’t put stickers on anything you don’t own. There’s no changing the game concept of stickers now, but the technology of offering players stickers, divorced from Unfinity’s sticker mechanic, could be an incredible asset for Magic.

Now that Wizards has worked out the logistical problems of stickers – such as needing a company to supply the glue and designing adhesives that won’t damage the cards – we could see the new sticker technology be used for all kinds of things. At least a few of Alchemy’s perpetual cards could work with stickers – such as Boareskyr Tollkeeper, Hypnotic Pattern, Patriar’s Humiliation, Scion of Shiv, or Traumatic Prank. Even Alchemy’s infamous specialize mechanic, which turns a card into one of many others with entirely different colours, stats, and text, could be solved by offering sticker frames akin to an Altar Sleeve.

While there are other mechanics that stickers won’t solve, such as seek’s random card generation, I think at least having the chance of running Alchemy cards in tabletop play is one worth investigating. Alchemy, as a format, isn’t doing well. It’s one of Arena’s least played, and is regularly the most harshly criticised. People don’t like the digital-only aspect, they don’t like the impact it’s had on the formerly popular Historic, and they don’t like how it receives effectively double the number of sets tabletop play does.

But the cards themselves are, on the whole, great. Even as someone who avoids Alchemy like the plague and was dragged back into Arena’s clutches by the allure of the tabletop-faithful Explorer, I love to check out each new set to see the new art and what the digital landscape is cooking up. But there’s always been a sense of these cards being ephemeral.

Alchemy isn’t going to last forever – the writing is already on the wall for it, after all. One day, the game and the format will die, and Wizards will move on. Maybe Arena will become so outdated we move onto Arena 2 in the same way Pokemon TCG Online is currently transitioning to TCG Live, but that guarantees Alchemy’s survival almost as much as it ensured Extended’s for Pokemon (spoiler: it didn’t). These digital-only cards run the risk of so many video games these days that, at the drop of a hat, Wizards could decide they simply don’t exist anymore.

This is why the potential of sticker technology intrigues me. Of course, sometimes a card is too far down the digital rabbit hole that not even a sticker could save it – imagine tracking Arming Gala with them, for example. But for the few who could be preserved in tabletop play long after Arena and Alchemy have come and gone, exploring the design space these new sticker cards opens up, and bringing them to tabletop where they can be played for decades to come, is worth the effort.

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