Magic: The Gathering Outlaws of Thunder Junction review ⏤ Plan a heist with Magic’s greatest villains and also Oko

I really thought Wizards of the Coast were going to put a giant mechanical spider in this set. I was wrong and that makes me kinda sad. If you’re wondering what I’m referencing, it’s the movie Wild Wild West with Will Smith. Bet you haven’t thought about that movie in a long time or ever. Does referencing the movie Wild Wild West make me old? Yeah…probably…but oh well. Dumb intros aside, the latest Magic: the Gathering set is Outlaws of Thunder Junction. A set themed around Magic’s most famous villains and taking place on the brand new plane of Thunder Junction, the long in development western inspired plane. Is Thunder Junction the most rootin-tootinest plane around!? Seems like it, as everyone has managed to find a cowboy hat as they’ve made their way to Thunder Junction. Let’s saddle up and ride into town and see what everyone’s jawing about.

Set Mechanics – Plan the Heist

Let’s start by introducing you to the cool concept of crimes, cause you’ll be committing lots of them in Thunder Junction. New to MtG is the concept of “committing a crime”, for game purposes this means: using a spell or ability that targets an opponent, a permanent they control, a spell an opponent controls, or their graveyard. What does that actually mean? Basically any time you target an opponent and any of their stuff you’ve “committed a crime.” This was designed so that the rules of crime would be backwards compatible with the 30+ years of Magic. It is a strange concept that only cards that specifically target something count as a crime. Cards like Blasphemous Act that don’t target specific things are not a crime despite sure feeling like one. In terms of a new rule, crime is a bit of an odd duck as it’s a way of codifying something that is fundamental to MtG. This approach allows Wizards more flexibility in using crime as a future design element, but it’s now a part of Magic that we commit crimes all the time.

The next concept is that of the titular “Outlaws”. This is a new group of creature types that include Assassin, Mercenary, Pirate, Rogue, and Warlock. This is similar to the Party mechanic from Zendikar Rising and proves a popular way for players to build around. Who doesn’t want to build a deck full of outlaws? It’s also no surprise that Thunder Junction is crammed full of these creature types to support the theme of outlaws. There aren’t a ton of cards that care about outlaws in Thunder Junction, but the ones that do are powerful and interesting designs. This design approach is similar to Crime as it allows for continued flexibility going forward. I really like these groupings of creature types as they allow players to build into the themes they like.

Cards focused on outlaws and crimes

The first completely new mechanic is Plot. Plot is a new alternative way to cast a spell for its Plot cost where you then exile the spell and can cast the spell at sorcery speed for free on a later turn. Thematically since this is a villains focused theme with the idea being that villains are always plotting something. Mechanically this is a way to invest in future turns and a lot of Plot cards have abilities that trigger when you Plot them. I really like Plot as a design iteration on Foretell from Kaldheim. While your opponent does get to know what you’re Plotting, this mechanic is a great way to set up big turns where you play multiple spells. There’s even an entire draft archetype around that idea with Blue/Red Plot which can be a ton of fun.

Spree is our next new mechanic and this is another new take on the venerable Kicker mechanic. A Spree card is a modal card that has a mana cost with a little plus sign, this is to remind you that you have to pay more than what is listed in the top right. A Spree card will have multiple options and you can choose as many of those options as you want as long as you can pay their associated mana cost. Spree cards are a new level of flexibility as they are usually overcosted by design, but they are something you can sink a lot of mana into should you need to.

Our last new mechanic is Saddle, which is a new spin on Crew from Kaladesh. I do wonder at what point the designers at Wizards are going to “run out” of iterative designs since MtG has such a long history. Saddle allows you to tap other creatures with power equal to or greater than the Saddle cost to Saddle the creature. Then when the creature with Saddle attacks it will have the additional abilities granted by the mechanic. Unlike Crew though, a creature with Saddle is always a creature and can attack normally without being saddled.

A Plot card, a Spree card, and a Saddle card

Pros – Gold Rush

How’s Thunder Junction actually play? The core set of Thunder Junction is a lot of fun. The new mechanics are thematic, but more importantly they work together to create a draft environment that has a lot of options. There’s a lot of options when you draft Thunder Junction and a lot of the two color combos have distinct play styles. This variety is important to draft formats and here it’s a good one. You can find success in just about any draft archetype. The new outlaw subtheme is a good addition to Magic overall and is a fun perspective to play from. We all like being the bad guy and in Thunder Junction we’re all bad all the time.

When it comes to Thunder Junction, you don’t just have the core draft set. You can also find The Big Score, Breaking News, and Special Guests inside. I’ll talk more about this in the next section, but these cards are various additions that add themselves into the draft set. The Breaking News cards are a bonus sheet in the vein of previous ones, except this time every card in the bonus sheet can commit a crime. Special Guests get added in from The List from the conversion over to Play Boosters. Last we have The Big Score (also known as The Vault) these cards are another pool of cards randomly inserted into packs like The List cards. All of this adds a ton of variety and potential value to Thunder Junction. The Breaking News bonus sheet cards will all but guarantee you will be interacting with your opponent and some of the cards found within are “spicy”. Overall, I think that these extra cards add good value and extra replay to Thunder Junction, but we will see that these aren’t without some downsides.

Alongside the main set, there are also four new Commander decks. They are fine. They do have one extra I’d like to highlight though. Each Thunder Junction Commander deck contains three Bounty cards. If you have at least six of them, you can add the Bounty mini-game to your Commander games. Here you’ll be offered treasure tokens, card draw, or even both if you can meet the conditions on the Bounty card. This is a nice new inclusion in these Commander decks and I’d love to see more of these bonus mini-games in the future. These small additions go a long way to add some variety to Commander.

The wildlife on Thunder Junction is interesting.

Cons – Rush of Dread

Somehow, those extra cards are the biggest downside to Thunder Junction. The Breaking News cards are a normal bonus sheet. That’s great. I usually love bonus sheets. These cards all commit crimes which are thematic to the set, but some of these cards are brutal. Cards like Mindslaver, Fractured Identify, and Mana Drain are among them, and if you’re not expecting them they can just feel mean. They aren’t frequent enough that you can play around them and when they do pop up, they tend to swing that game against you hard. There’s so much creature removal in Thunder Junction you have to start playing in a way that you assume your creatures won’t live even one turn and that takes some getting used to. Watching everything you play immediately die could quickly turn someone off of Thunder Junction.

Next there’s The Big Score cards. These were originally supposed to be an Aftermath type set released after Thunder Junction. (Aftermath contained 50 cards in 5 card boosters.) However, Aftermath was famously loathed by the community. Wizards’ solution was to shift those cards into the main set instead. At the very least Wizards listened to the feedback from players and did something. They already had the cards designed, and while this isn’t the most elegant solution it’s at least better than releasing another small set. The Big Score cards are a variety of new and powerful card designs that don’t seem like they were intended to be inside Thunder Junction. The downside is that these cards add into the pile of extra cards floating around Thunder Junction. Between these, the Special Guest cards, and the Breaking News cards it’s possible to lose a game to cards that aren’t even in the set you’re playing. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s possible and deserves to be mentioned. This is no fun and feels unfair. You could also have these powerful cards, but it doesn’t feel any better when you use them against someone.  Thunder Junction’s Play Boosters card pool is overstuffed with around 100 extra cards and you can tell.

Artwork/Theming – Lush Oasis

I know westerns aren’t everyone’s favorite theme, it is one of mine. I love the western/fantasy artwork across the cards in Thunder Junction. The whole set feels a little too westerny if that makes any sense, but I like it. The villain theme doesn’t quite land for me though. There’s a number of villains that feel like they have cards solely because they are popular. Isn’t Marchesa a queen somewhere? Isn’t Rakdos a guild leader? Feels like they’re needed back home. This is a tiny nitpick, but I can understand if you’re going to put together all the MtG villains in a set you might as well go all out. The Wanted Poster frames feel perfect for the somewhat silly setting Thunder Junction has. The Breaking News frames being sensational headlines from a newspaper are also a nice touch. In particular I love the flavor text for the Breaking News cards. While Thunder Junction feels a little too bombastic through its artwork, I’m a fan of having fun with artwork and theme rather than taking everything so seriously.

Gisa is always living her best life even in her wanted poster, A breaking news card, A Big Score card

Tabletop Editor | [email protected]

Chris began tabletop gaming in college and quickly fell into the addictive world of cardboard. Beginning with D&D and Catan he became an enthusiast of all things gaming; analog or digital. Chris, now a relapsed MtG player, loves connecting with people via gaming through RPGs, board games, and video games. A particular favorite is testing friendships through social deduction games.



Magic: The Gathering

Review Guidelines

The core draft environment of Thunder Junction is fantastic. I love westerns and this set represents a weird west I am happy to explore. The new mechanics and themes are well designed and offer a ton of fun draft archetypes to play. Thunder Junction does have three separate extra card pools that are added into the draft set. The extra cards are very powerful and can lead the gameplay to the meaner side of MtG. If you’re not prepared for this it could quickly sour your experience. While these extra cards did put a bit of a damper on my experience, the overall set is enough fun that I was ok with the occasional negative game. If you’re looking for some weird west in your MtG, mosey on over to Thunder Junction and give it a try.

Chris Wyman

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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