Last week, I started telling the story of Outlaws of Thunder Junction's design, introduced the Exploratory Design and Vision Design teams, and showed off some cool preview cards. This week is more of the same. I'll introduce you to the Set Design team, finish off the story of the design, and show even more cool preview cards.

The Gathered Team

Before I get into the story of the design, I'd like to introduce the Set Design team. As per usual, I wrote Dave's introduction and had him introduce his team as the set design lead.

Click here to meet the Set Design team


Dave Humpherys (Lead)

I (Mark) first met Dave when he was a player on the Pro Tour. He joined Wizards in 2010. He and I have worked together on numerous designs (Dominaria, War of the Spark, Ikoria: Lair of the Behemoths, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, and March of the Machine are the ones where we were both the leads). He's one of the absolute best designers we have, and I'm confident that any set he works on will be memorable. I'm always happy as a vision design lead to hand off my set to Dave. Dave wrote rest of the bios below.

Jeremy Geist

Jeremy helped me greatly with the transition from vision design to set design in recalling goals and lessons learned. He's amazing at volume and quality of card designs while paying attention to other aspects of set structure and new ways to branch out and experiment.

Ben Weitz

Ben is on the Play Design team. He helped explore and redefine color-pair options early on. He produced many cool designs with an eye toward Standard and other 60-card formats and helped keep a watch on color pie goals.

Eric Engelhard

Eric excelled at designs that were creatively driven and found ideas for new card concepts that we hadn't yet explored. I also appreciate how he challenges some of our long-standing assumptions as we apply them to our sets.

Ian Duke

Ian is a veteran in taking sets to the finish line. He's been doing this every year since Oath of the Gatewatch. I was eager to gain his insights on what he'd be focusing on if he were leading the set and generally learn from his wisdom as a reality check on our work.

Glenn Jones

Glenn is great at top-down, resonant design, as you can now appreciate from his set design lead on The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth™. He was very tuned into Commander and more generally casual play that helped us create and refine designs.

Bryan Hawley

Bryan is a director working with a variety of design team managers and designers. He's great at looking at the bigger-picture items of a set with an eye toward acquiring new players.

Andrew Brown

Andrew has his pulse on all the various sets in flight. He's great at coming into a set with fresh ideas and focusing on a specific mechanic or two that he has a plan to overhaul in some fashion to accomplish its goals better.

Chris Kvartek

Chris is on the Play Design team. I appreciate that he's always looking for ways to modify our designs with knobs or new text to help them be more appealing. He also tackled tactical concerns like making sure it wasn't too easy to fall behind in Limited and that you had ways to turn games around.

Jadine Klomparens

Jadine leads the technical aspects of the Play Design team. She has suggested huge improvements to gameplay on several of my recent sets. I was fortunate to be able to work with her again in sorting out this set both as a member of the team and later again during FFL (Future Future League is where we playtest the future of Standard).

Daniel Xu

Daniel has impressed me with the hit rate on his card designs. In a past article, I talked about our internal design submission process where he'd managed to submit several of our favorite designs. He also did great work along with Chris down the stretch to make sure our Limited color pairs were coming together.

Last week, I started telling the story of Outlaws of Thunder Junction's design. I explained how we started with a villain-themed set with a Western-inspired setting. To capture the feel of being a villain, we defined what "committing crimes" meant, we introduced a new outlaw creature type batch, and we made sure the set was full of legendary villains from across the Multiverse. But making a set where you, the player, felt like a villain didn't stop there.

The next mechanic we examined was something that captured the intelligence of villains. Some of my favorite villain moments in pop culture are when the villain is multiple steps ahead of the hero. We wanted a mechanic that let you scheme and plan, which is how we got to plot.

In Kaldheim, we'd made a mechanic called foretell, that allowed you to set aside spells to cast later, often at a reduced cost. What if we tweaked it to allow you to set up massive turns where you could have your master plan come to fruition? To do this, we liked the idea that on that turn, your spells would be free. You could cast as many spells as you wanted. How could we do this? What if you paid for your spells upfront (which would require you to play the cards face up, unlike foretell, which has a uniform exiling cost).

At first blush, the mechanic seems a little odd. If I'm paying for the whole spell, why do I have to wait to cast it? That's part of the mechanic's charm. Paying upfront allows you to do many things. You can better fix your mana, basically taking early mana and using it for a later turn. You can cast things that don't yet have an ideal target, such as Auras. You can cast spells that want you to spend your mana on something else that turn. You can cast spells that combo with other spells, allowing you to create that larger turn.

The more we played with plot, the more we realized all the cool interactions it allowed. And it did the thing we liked most; it let you feel smart for planning things out like a criminal mastermind. Here's the text we ended up using:

(You may pay N 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.)

Plot can go on any nonland spell, although we chose not to put it on instants and permanents with flash. The spell dictates playing it as a sorcery because we have cards that let you plot cards without plot and didn't like the gameplay of them happening at instant speed. Plot shows up in all five colors.

It is the mechanic in the set that takes the most getting used to. It's a bit subtler than other mechanics in the set, but I think you all will really enjoy it. My first preview card is a plot card.

Click here to see Dust Animus

0009_MTGOTJ_Main: Dust Animus 0311_MTGOTJ_ExtRM: Dust Animus

Dust Animus is a spell you can cast early but often wouldn't want to enter the battlefield until a bit later in the game. You can pay for it on turn two and wait until you have five lands. Or just cast it on turn two if you need a 2/2 to beat down with. The choice is yours.

Our next villain mechanic played into the idea that villains enjoy creating elaborate plans. The mechanic, called spree, started in vision design as "missions." In Magic, we use a lot of modal effects, but usually you must pay the same price for each mode, thus limiting design. For example, Charms give you one of three modes. Commands give you two of four modes. Some mechanics, like entwine, give you the choice of one of two modes but let you pay extra to get both. In each of these cases, the modes must be equal in power because of the shared cost. With spree, we explored different options.

Split cards and modal double-faced cards (MDFCs) are classic examples of the mechanic where costs can differ. Was there a way to introduce something similar on a single-faced card? The inspiration for spree came from the idea of a menu. On a menu, you have different choices, each with their own cost. Could we make a modal mechanic that worked similarly?

0066_MTGOTJ_Main: Shifting Grift 0125_MTGOTJ_Main: Great Train Heist

We landed on a design with a cost, usually just one or two mana, that gave you choices for which you could then pay extra. If the spell has three modes, what I'll call mode A, mode B, and mode C, you have seven options for how to cast the spell (A, B, or C, A and B, A and C, B and C, or A, B, and C). We explored not having A, B, or C, an empty spell that would trigger something like magecraft, but decided against it.

Because each mode comes with its own cost, it allowed design the most flexibility in creating the spells. We can have smaller effects paired with larger effects. The cool part of doing this is that the spell really changes over time as you have access to more mana. The key part of designing them is to make sure there's some synergy between effects to encourage you to mix and match.

Because the spree was tapping into new space, it did force us to invent some new layout language for the card. The mana cost has a + next to it to remind you that you must pay at least one additional cost. The modes then also use a + rather than a bullet point (•). Like plot, we used spree in all five colors.

While the set was more focused structurally on villainy over the Western genre, which the setting of the new plane captures, we did spend some time exploring what mechanical impact being a Western-inspired set might mean. Here's our earliest brainstorm on capturing the feel of being a Western-inspired set:

  • Mounts, horses, etc.
  • Standoffs, high noon, dueling
    • Flip up cards from top of library, clash-like
    • Has one known number that's modified by the revealed cards
    • The two creatures fight (players pick creatures, then pick power + top card). Different outcomes for victory.
    • Shoot-out (You and target opponent simultaneously reveal a card from your hand or the top of your library. If you revealed the higher mana value card, you win the shoot-out.)
    • Creatures that are better when fighting
    • "Interrupts," split second
  • Towns, general store, trading post, sheriff's office, jail, saloon, church
    • Towns are law, outside of town is lawless
  • Civilization versus frontier—Choose effect A or B.
  • Bounty
  • Robbery, ambushes
  • Posse—go wide, party (referring to a variety of creatures/roles)
    • Enchant multiple creatures
  • Critters (snakes, scorpions, rodents, vultures, varmints)
  • Heists
  • Wanted posters
  • Most wanted—You are most wanted if you have higher bounty than any other player.
  • Ranching, building resources
  • Poker game actions—We have mana value and color. Pairs, reveal a high card.
  • Bluffing
  • Robbery
    • Robbery—Kicker where you steal opponent's cards.
  • Give opponent something, then steal it back (artifacts?)
  • Counterfeit money, fool's gold
  • Treasure liking—bonus for casting it with treasure
  • Mining, prospecting, destruction of environment
  • Stagecoaches
  • Reputation, build it up (gaining a name for legendary cards)
  • Notoriety, becoming notorious
    • Notorious 4 (At end of turn, if this creature is nonlegendary and has dealt 4 or more combat damage, put two +1/+1 counters on it and it becomes legendary.)
  • Shifting loyalties—changing card type, put on other player's creatures
  • Creatures come with counters that spread them to other creatures (the posse, the gang).
  • Roles (the demo guy, the getaway guy, etc.)
  • Minion token, Tombstone token (count your kills)
  • Bounty counter on a creature.
    • Bounty (If this creature dies, all players other than its controller draw a card.)
  • Surviving, rationing, building a fire
  • Building a homestead, build it up to be cooler, upgrade it
  • Master plan (When this creature enters the battlefield, you may exile an instant or sorcery card face down with it. When CARDNAME deals combat damage, you may cast that card for 2 less.)
  • As civilization increases, the west "goes away"
  • Dead or alive, kill versus capture
    • Kill something now or put an enchantment on it that does something incremental.
  • Theft counters—temporary thieving, theft counters that last for some number of turns
  • Bartering, trading, trading resources with the opponent (cycling but include a Cow token or something)
  • Brawling in the saloon, a big fight
  • Revenge! Counters to keep track.
    • Revenge 2B (2B, exile this from your graveyard: Do an effect.)
  • Train-related things, building tracks, different train cars you go through when you go to rob it, defending the train. As artifacts?
  • New creature types:
    • Varmint
    • Cactus
    • Outlaw
    • Sheriff
    • Coyote
  • Roles:
    • W—Lawmen, city folk
    • U—Gamblers, cheats, scam merchants
    • B—Outlaws, criminals
    • R—Prospectors, miners
    • G—Ranchers, hunters
  • Possible returning mechanics:
    • Affinity for Minions
    • Aftermath (master plans)
    • Clash (duel)
    • Conspire
    • Exploit
    • Extort
    • Foretell/Trap (secret plans, maybe Trap with conditional casting)
    • Split second
    • Suspend (master plans)
    • Transform (origin story, "Now I'm unstoppable!" events)
    • Raid
    • Bloodthirst, morbid, revolt, keyword saboteur
    • Miracle
    • Hellbent, heckbent
    • Keyword first strike while attacking, "quickshot"

The very first item on our list was something we've talked about doing for years, the idea of having creatures that other creatures could ride, what we referred to as Mounts. Much like we felt the pressure in Kaladesh to finally make Vehicles, it felt like Outlaws of Thunder Junction needed to be the place we finally cracked Mounts.

The Vision Design team spent a lot of time trying to find a flavorful mount mechanic, and ended up far away from what the printed version would be. Here's what we handed off:

Mount (Pay COST to put this creature under target unmounted creature you control or remove it from a mounted creature. Mount only as a sorcery. While mounted, that creature gains this creature's other abilities and if it would be destroyed, instead an opponent chooses which card is put into its owner's graveyard.)

Here's how it worked. Mount meant that a creature, something like a horse, would be "ridden" by another creature. You would physically place the other creature on top. The stack of creatures then worked similarly to a mutate stack. The top card defines the key abilities (things like mana cost, creature types, and power/toughness) but it would have the abilities of the creature on the bottom (i.e., the one with mount). The two creatures would be treated as a single creature by the game. If "it" died, an opponent would choose which of the two creatures would be put into the graveyard, with the other one staying on the battlefield. This was done to keep the mechanic from creating card disadvantage.

A future design team would try to solve the same problem and came up with a more elegant solution, tying the ability, what we called saddle, to the crew ability. Much like creatures crew a Vehicle, creatures could saddle a Mount. This allowed the players the advantage of taking information they already have to apply to this new mechanic, making it easier to learn and play. The one key play difference of saddle is that it can't be used at instant speed like crew. You can only use it at the times you can do a sorcery. This means saddled creatures are primarily used for attacking, not blocking. The design for them takes this into account. Mounts avoid the main disadvantage of Vehicles, which can't be used if you don't have a creature, since they can attack by themselves. Saddle shows up in every color but is concentrated in white and green.

0012_MTGOTJ_Main: Fortune, Loyal Steed 0139_MTGOTJ_Main: Quilled Charger

The one other mechanical theme inspired by the Western genre is the land subtype Desert. Desert was the very first land subtype that wasn't a basic land subtype to appear in Magic, showing up in Arabian Nights, the first expansion set. Much as we did with Gates in the Return to Ravnica block, we applied the land subtype to our cycle of common dual lands and made a handful of cards that mechanically care about Deserts. It's not a very large theme but adds a little bit of flavor.

0256_MTGOTJ_Main: Eroded Canyon 0257_MTGOTJ_Main: Festering Gulch

The Western genre, and all its tropes, would appear in a lot of top-down card designs, but saddle and Deserts were the only mechanical elements.

The set would then get two more elements that would each produce their own subsets of cards. First up was a bonus sheet. The very first bonus sheet was introduced in Time Spiral, where a card from the past appeared in an old card frame in each booster. We would use bonus sheets for each set in the Time Spiral block but wouldn't use them again for a while. Bonus sheets returned with the Mystical Archive in Strixhaven: School of Mages, where each booster got an instant or sorcery with new art.

Bonus sheets have proven to be popular, help get wanted reprints into players' hands, and add an extra element to Limited play. The bonus themes, since their return in Strixhaven: School of Mages, have mostly been tied to card types (Strixhaven: School of Mages—instants and sorceries, The Brothers' War—artifacts, March of the Machine—legendary creatures, and Wilds of Eldraine—enchantments), but Dave Humpherys saw an opportunity to do a theme that played in different space while still tying to the set.

As I explained last week, one of the major mechanics in the set was "committing crimes" (defined as any spell or ability that targets an opponent or their spells, permanents, or cards in the graveyard). Dave liked the idea of making a bonus sheet of crimes. Here were the criteria:

  1. Its primary use had to be a crime. This means that the spell, as normally used, would count as a crime, not that the spell could potentially be a crime. This meant no cards like Giant Growth that primarily target your own creatures.
  2. It had to be a reprint that we thought players would enjoy, either in Constructed formats or in this Limited format. Both, when possible, were ideal.
  3. It had to have a name that sounded like a crime. The flavor of these spells was important, as the theme was a little looser than previous bonus sheets.

Each card from Breaking News (OTP) not only received new art but a new treatment as well. To show that off, here's my second preview card of the day. Since it's a reprint, I will not reveal the name and let you opt to click below.

Click here to see my second preview card

0009_MTGOTJ_CrimeBns: Commandeer

Commandeer meets all the criteria above. It's mostly used to target an opponent's spells, hence being like a crime. It is a reprint we thought players would enjoy and adds some spice to Limited formats. Finally, stealing an opponent's spells feels flavorfully like a crime.

There are a total of 65 cards from Breaking News, and they appear one card per Play Booster.

0050_MTGOTJ_CrimeBns: Oko, Thief of Crowns 0062_MTGOTJ_CrimeBns: Grindstone

But wait, there's more.

Much like March of the Machine had March of the Machine: The Aftermath, there were plans for an Epilogue Booster for Outlaws of Thunder Junction. Those plans changed after it became clear that players weren't fans of Epilogue Boosters. We took our favorite 30 of those designs, all flavored as items in the vault (part of the heist story I talked about last week), from the originally planned Epilogue Booster to make something we're calling The Big Score (BIG). These 30 mythic rare cards along with the 10 Special Guests cards make up The List for Outlaws of Thunder Junction.

0020_MTGOTJ_Epilogue: Vaultborn Tyrant 0027_MTGOTJ_Epilogue: Torpor Orb

Let the Crimes Commence

I hope you enjoyed my two-week peek at the making of Outlaws of Thunder Junction. As always, if you have any feedback on today's article, any of the mechanics I talked about, or the set as a whole, you can email me or contact me through any of my social media accounts (X [formerly Twitter], Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok).

Join me next week when I show off the vision design handoff document for Outlaws of Thunder Junction.

Until then, may you enjoy your villainy.