18, Apr, 24

Thunder Junction Commander Decks Add A Whole New Way To Play!

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A whole new frontier of fun and flavor awaits!
Article at a Glance

With its latest batch of Commander decks, Wizards of the Coast is trying something new. In each of the four decks from Thunder Junction, you’ll find three MTG Bounty Cards. These represent a new way to play the most popular format in Magic. They also represent a new frontier in design, which has exciting implications for future cards and products.

As revealed in an episode of Good Morning Magic, these Bounty cards are the brainchild of Magic Lead Designer Corey Bowen. With them, Bowen aimed to “Create something that fit the theming of the world” while also “Having a lighter touch” than similar past mechanics like Planechase. Did he succeed? Are Bounty cards a good addition to MTG as a whole? How do they actually work, anyway? All of these questions and more will be answered below!

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What Are MTG Bounty Cards?

Bounty: Squeakers the Sly | Outlaws of Thunder Junction Commander

Bounties are an all-new card type exclusive to the Outlaws of Thunder Junction Commander decks. They’re double-sided tokens, one side of which features artwork and the task you need to complete. The other side lists your rewards for completing said task. Every Bounty in the initial set of 12 has the same rewards on offer, but we’ll get to those later.

It’s worth noting before going any further that Bounty Cards in MTG are intended as an add-on for Commander, and not for other Constructed formats. Think of them like Planechase cards in that sense. In order to play with Bounties, you need at least 6 of them to form a Bounty deck. On the starting player’s third turn, you turn over the top card and reveal the first Bounty.

Each Bounty presents a task for players in the game to complete. They work the same as the Case cards from Murders at Karlov Manor, in that they provide rewards at the end of your turn if you manage to complete the task during that turn. Unlike Cases, however, Bounties can be completed by all players, and the rewards for doing so actually increase for each turn they go unclaimed. This is a nice analog to how real-world bounties work, and it adds some welcome tension to boot.

There are four tiers of rewards for Bounties, increasing each time a player doesn’t claim it. These rewards scale from just receiving one Treasure all the way up to getting two Treasures and a card. Once a Bounty is claimed, the next Bounty in the deck is revealed and the cycle continues.

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Playing With Bounties

Peerless Ropemaster | Outlaws of Thunder Junction - Art by Wayne Wu

Bounties are a fairly major new mechanic, and they have the potential to seriously change the dynamics of Commander games. The rewards they offer, Treasure and cards, are generic enough that every deck can make use of them. This will enable some decks to pop off earlier than intended, provided they can complete the Bounty tasks, of course.

The tasks themselves are the other major factor here. They essentially serve as mini-quests, eerily similar to those offered in Hearthstone’s Battlegrounds mode. Just by existing, they have the potential to reroute the game plans of everyone at the table. While some of the tasks are simple enough, deal damage to the opponent to your left or right, for example, others can throw you totally off-course.

Not playing any spells in a turn or putting a land card into your graveyard are just two examples of the trickier Bounty tasks available. Tasks like these will likely force you to alter your strategy if you want to complete them, creating an inherent risk/reward. Since the rewards for completing Bounties scale up each turn, there’s pressure to complete them so that your opponents can’t claim high-tier rewards later.

The end result of Bounty cards is an intriguing combination of speeding up and slowing down. The Bounty rewards themselves speed up a game, while the tasks required push players to deviate from their linear main strategy, thus slowing it down. Games with Bounties will likely feel meaningfully different from normal games for this reason, though not quite as different as games with Planechase.

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The ‘Game In A Box’ Idea

Mount Keralia | Planechase 2012 Planes

Bounty cards aren’t just a neat optional extra for Commander players to enjoy. They’re also an example of a design trend we’ve started seeing more of in recent years: the ‘Game in a Box.’ As more products are released, the rapidly swelling card pool makes deckbuilding an intimidating prospect. Being able to purchase a single product and enjoy a curated experience right out of the box is a welcome antidote to this.

We’ve seen various attempts at this idea in the past. Jumpstart is probably the most notable example, and perhaps the best-received too. If you’re willing to ignore the set-specific versions, of course. Game Night was another, somewhat less successful example. Ironically, this was due to focusing too much on new players. And for a more offbeat example, the recent Ravnica Clue Edition was the most literal interpretation of ‘Magic as Board Game’ yet.

Just by adding three Bounty cards to each Thunder Junction Commander deck, Magic’s designers have taken a step towards them feeling like their own self-contained board games as well. They’re a nice flavorful touch that helps sell the fantasy of Thunder Junction as a world through gameplay. They’re also brilliantly non-intrusive. Unlike Planechase cards, you can play with or without them as you see fit.

It may seem minor in the grand scheme of things, but the addition of extras like Bounties to Commander decks is brilliant news for the long-term health of the game. When Commander decks can function both as expansions and board games in their own right, they’ll draw in players old and new alike. And when those additions are as flavorful as Bounties, the world-building will get a nice boost as well.

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