Outlaws Of Thunder Junction: My MTG Commander First Impressions

Bennie Smith examines the first week of Outlaws of Thunder Junction previews for Commander Magic, from the return of Homarids to the many legendary creatures.

Deepmuck Desperado
Deepmuck Desperado, illustrated by Loïc Canavaggia

The official debut of preview season for Outlaws of Thunder Junction kicked off last week, and we’ve seen a ton of cards so far.  I do play Standard on Arena, so I am excited to start playing with the new cards in that format, but since Commander is my format of choice, today I’ll talk about what we’ve seen so far with an eye towards Commander. I did do a review of the sneak peek cards we knew about a few weeks back, so I’ll focus on other cards here.

Desert Rose

For me, the most exciting thing about Outlaws of Thunder Junction is the return of Desert lands!  I have a Deserts-matter deck already built with Hazezon, Shaper of Sand as the commander, and I’m stoked to update it with a bunch of new cards.

Hazezon, Shaper of Sand

I wrote about the deck back in 2022, so if you want to see cards you might want to pick up for your own Desert deck, you can check it out here:

To make things even cooler for Desert fans, one of the Outlaws precon decks – appropriately named Desert Bloom – features a Desert theme and is led by Yuma, Proud Protector.

Yuma, Proud Protector

Yuma has the same color identity as Hazezon, so either one could lead your Naya Desert deck and the other could very easily be in the 99. Each brings a slightly different play focus – Hazezon wants to have Deserts entering the battlefield under your control to churn out Sand Warrior tokens, while Yuma wants to have lands in your graveyard to discount his mana cost, and sacrifices a land to draw a card, with a bonus trigger if a Desert land hits the graveyard for any reason.

I’m very excited to see what new Desert and Deserts-matter cards will show up in Desert Bloom, but in the meantime, the main set has a bunch of new cards already previewed to be excited about!

New Deserts

Sandstorm Verge Arid Archway Bucolic Ranch Abraded Bluffs Bristling Backwoods Creosote Heath Eroded Canyon Festering Gulch Forlorn Flats Jagged Barrens Lonely Arroyo Lush Oasis Soured Springs

It’s awesome that we get a ten-card cycle of Deserts that each fix two colors of mana, so I’ll immediately slot Abraded Bluffs, Bristling Backwoods, and Creosote Heath into my Hazezon deck. Of note, each deals a point of damage to target opponent, which counts as committing a crime for the cards where that matters. They do all enter the battlefield tapped, but if you’re playing green and have some number of lands that enter the battlefield tapped, you’re probably already playing Spelunking in your deck.


It’s a little funny flavor-wise to think about spelunking Deserts, but you never know what geological formations might be lurking under the sand!

New Deserts-Matter Cards

Colossal Rattlewurm Outcaster Greenblade Map the Frontier Spinewoods Armadillo Dance of the Tumbleweeds Cactarantula Failed Fording

So far, we’ve only seen seven cards that care about Deserts, with Colossal Rattlewurm being the powerhouse “oh wow!” card that we’re all going to want in our Desert decks. I presume there will be a few more revealed by the end of the week, and likely some more in the Desert Bloom precon. Outcaster Greenblade is a sweet way to tutor up a specific Desert to your hand – Dunes of the Dead is a favorite one for me to sacrifice for profit, and I also like Shefet Dunes to go with all the Sand Warriors – and it grows larger as more Deserts accumulate on the battlefield.

Revealing the Plot

Fblthp, Lost on the Range Make Your Own Luck Pillage the Bog Jace Reawakened Railway Brawler Stingerback Terror Step Between Worlds Aloe Alchemist Beastbond Outcaster Cunning Coyote

Fblthp, Lost on the Range was one of the sneak peek cards we’d already seen for Outlaws, but since we didn’t yet know what plot meant we couldn’t really evaluate the card. We now know what plot does, which is written “Plot X (You may pay X and exile this card from your hand. Cast it as a sorcery on a later turn without paying its mana cost. Plot only as a sorcery.).”

Normally you plot cards from your hand, but Fblthp lets you plot nonland cards from the top of your library.

Plot Implications

Plot in an interesting mechanic because it uses up mana on this turn without affecting the battlefield in the least, on the promise that on a later turn casting the spell for zero mana will make the wait worth it.

Some of the ones we’ve seen get better as the game progresses, such as Pillage the Bog, which lets you look at the top X cards of your library and put one of them in your hand, where X is twice the number of lands you control. Just casting it normally on Turn 2 will normally mean digging four cards deep, which is basically a sorcery-speed Impulse and is still quite good. But if you instead spend three mana to plot, the card gets progressively more powerful the later in the game you cast it – for free, mind you, so that all your mana will be available for whatever you find in the depths of your Bog.

Make Your Own Luck seems amazing. It’s basically a draw-three, but one of the nonland cards you look at becomes plotted while the other two get put in your hand. Just think about plotting cards like Avenger of Zendikar, Sea Gate Restoration, or Craterhoof Behemoth with this card!

Second Spell Each Turn

Breeches, the Blastmaker Malcolm, the Eyes Brimstone Roundup Kraum, Violent Cacophony Shackle Slinger Razzle-Dazzler

Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has been pushing “second spell each turn” payoff cards for a while now, and plot seems like a great way to turbocharge that strategy. I’m personally not a big fan of this for Commander because it incentivizes players to bring their mana curves lower and lower, which makes Commander feel closer and closer to competitive Magic play, when the format was birthed as an alternative to that style of Magic where big, splashy spells could have a home. Malcolm, the Eyes and Breeches, the Blastmaker both have a cheap mana value to help enable that strategy if that’s what you’re looking for.

Committing Crimes

Gisa, the Hellraiser Kaervek, the Punisher Freestrider Lookout Bandit's Haul Deepmuck Desperado Forsaken Miner Servant of the Stinger Hardbristle Bandit Magda, the Hoardmaster Marchesa, Dealer of Death

WotC let us know about what was meant by “commit a crime” back when Oko, the Ringleader and Duelist of the Mind had their sneak previews, and lots of cool cards leverage this mechanic up and down the various rarities. I really like this mechanic for Commander because it incentivizes interaction, which I think is important for having fun games of Commander, so they don’t just become an avalanche of sweepers after sweepers.

Gisa, the Hellraiser is an odd design for Commander. Zombies already have many better commander options for a typal deck. Why not make her a Skeleton typal commander? Unfortunately, Gisa’s crime trigger makes a Zombie token, so it feels like a real design miss here that Gisa doesn’t make Skeleton Rogue tokens instead.

Kaervek, the Punisher seems like a highly customizable commander. All you need are lots of black cards, some way to get them into the graveyard, and then a reliable way to commit a crime. This seems worthy of a future deep dive, so stay tuned!

Servant of the Stinger as an uncommon surprises me.  It seems easy to set up the crime to sacrifice Servant for its Demonic Tutor effect. Being a creature makes recurring it repeatedly easy.

Also, I want to shout out the sweet return of Homarids with Deepmuck Desperado. A 2/4 for three mana is a solid rate, and its ability works nicely in a dedicated mill strategy or one that just wants to plunder opponents’ graveyards occasionally for reanimation or other reasons. But really, that stunning art by Loïc Canavaggia is what nabbed my attention. It’s hard to see in the tiny card frame, so check it out on a bigger scale!

Deepmuck Desperado
Deepmuck Desperado, illustrated by Loïc Canavaggia

Joining the Heist

Kellan Joins Up Rakdos Joins Up Tinybones Joins Up Vraska Joins Up Annie Joins Up

The “Joins Up” cycle of legendary enchantments is pretty cool, and each seems worth running in the right deck. At the very least, your commander is most likely a legendary creature, so that will help with the legendary triggers, but it’s also pretty easy to fill out your 99 with a bunch of legendary creatures these days. I have a Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis deck that has gradually turned into a “legendary creatures matter” deck, and I will probably try to squeeze in Annie Joins Up and Kellan Joins Up. I wonder if we’re going to see a “Joins Up” enchantment for everyone in Oko’s band of thieves?

Saddle Up!

Calamity, Galloping Inferno Fortune, Loyal Steed Caustic Bronco Ornery Tumblewagg Archmage's Newt Mobile Homestead Congregation Gryff Frontier Seeker Intrepid Stablemaster Miriam, Herd Whisperer Shepherd of the Clouds Wylie Duke, Atiin Hero

Mounts and the saddle mechanic offer a flavorful spin on the Vehicle card type, yet have a similar issue in multiplayer due to tapping two or more creatures for each attack you’re making. Fortune, Loyal Steed helps with that a bit by blinking one creature that saddled it, presumably returning to the battlefield untapped and ready to defend you. I’m not entirely sure that there’s going to be enough support to build a fully themed saddle/Mount deck, but that was also the case when we first saw Vehicles. But some of these seem very playable in Commander. Archmage’s Newt can do some work in spellslinger-style decks that also have a fair number of creatures. Calamity, Galloping Inferno seems awesome with a bunch of creatures with sweet enters (or leaves) the battlefield effects. And Ornery Tumblewagg is super-cute!

Modal Goodness with Spree

Final Showdown Great Train Heist Insatiable Avarice One Last Job Rush of Dread Smuggler's Surprise Three Steps Ahead Requisition Raid Trash the Town

I’m a huge fan of modal spells in Commander, and these spree cards offer a ton of awesome flexibility. In particular, I love that they scale up in power as the game goes on. I’ve written a bunch about how important it is to play plenty of lands in your deck so that you can take part in each stage of the game without constant mana issues, but many people worry about getting mana flooded. There are lots of ways to build excellent mana sinks into your deck (outside of, you know, commander tax), and these spree spells are a perfect way to do just that. I expect these will overperform in your decks if you give them a whirl!


Voracious Varmint Rise of the Varmints

As a Gen-Xer, I grew up on a heavy diet of classic Looney Tunes cartoons, and whenever I hear the word “varmint”, I just chuckle thinking of Yosemite Sam. There are only two Varmint cards previewed as I write this. I’m hoping for more, but I can see myself playing both previews in plenty of Commander decks, especially Voracious Varmint, which offers up a 2/2 body with vigilance while you wait for an artifact or enchantment that needs destroying – oh, and if you target one that belongs to an opponent, you’ve just committed a crime!

Bloomburrow Cuteness

Claim Jumper Prairie Dog Rambling Possum

I took note of these because they’re awfully cute, and they seem to be creature types that we’ll see a lot more of in the Bloomburrow expansion that’s coming out later this year. I really like Claim Jumper for Commander, since it provides a quality catch-up mechanic against green ramp.

More Legends That Ramp and Draw Cards…

The Gitrog, Ravenous Ride Bonny Pall, Clearcutter

Both of these cards are Easy Mode commanders that reward you with the best resources in Commander and Brawl – cards and mana ramp – by just playing Magic. Both of these cards will be very frustrating to play against, impossible to keep off the battlefield since you’ve got both card draw and mana ramp sitting in the command zone, and easily paying commander tax no matter how many times you remove either. It’s a shame because both of these characters are cool and deserving of gameplay to match, but instead we get snoozers.

So Many Legends

You know I am a huge Commander superfan, but I have to admit I’m getting exhausted by the avalanche of legendary creatures that WotC has been pushing each year. I recently dug into the data, and here’s a graph illustrating the number of new commander designs since WotC officially endorsed the format and published the very first Commander precon decks in 2013:

As I am writing this, there have been a whopping 41 legendary creatures previewed from Outlaws of Thunder Junction! Now, I understand the story concept behind Outlaws is that all these Omenpaths have opened between the planes of existence and now allow non-planeswalker creatures to travel between planes. And one way to illustrate this is to have characters from across the Multiverse to put on a cowboy hat and show up in a Thunder Junction saloon.

Personally, I think this easily could have been shown by having iconic creatures from various planes show up without necessarily being legendary, like the Homarid I raved about above.  It is positive to learn that the Head Designer for Magic, Mark Rosewater, recently said, “Actually, the average legendary creature count in premier sets is going down.”

I’ll be very curious to see how 2024 ends up on the graph. Fingers crossed!

What cards from Outlaws of Thunder Junction are you most excited to play with?  Do you think there are too many new legendary creatures these days?

Talk to Me

Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter!  I run polls and start conversations about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun!  You can also find my LinkTree on my profile page there with links to all my content.

I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do Commander, Brawl, and sometimes other Magic-related streams when I can.  If you can’t join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel.  You can also find the lists for my paper decks over on Archidekt if you want to dig into how I put together my own decks and brews. 

And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy. 

Visit my Decklist Database to see my decklists and the articles where they appeared!