Vial Smasher, Gleeful Grenadier | Outlaws of Thunder Junction | Art by Borja Pindado
16, Apr, 24

New Thunder Junction Mechanics Smash MTG’s Parasitic Design

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The new Crime and Outlaw mechanics in Magic: The Gathering show the game is moving in a more sustainable direction.
Article at a Glance

While it’s tempting to think of it as a game, Magic is really more of an intricate machine, built of hundreds of cogs and gears, each representing a different mechanic. A recurring issue faced as a result has been that of Parasitic Mechanics in MTG. With the addition of Crime and Outlaw, Magic: the Gathering got some very shiny new parts in Thunder Junction, and parts that help address the aforementioned Parasitic Mechanics issue to boot.

These mechanics are exceptional for a number of reasons. They play brilliantly in Limited, have some potential in Constructed and Commander, and fit the flavor of the set perfectly. Most importantly, however, is the way in which they defy typical set mechanic conventions by being entirely non-Parasitic in nature.

What do I mean by Parasitic? And why are Crime and Outlaw exciting for Magic: the Gathering going forward? Both of these questions and more will be answered below. Read on for a deep dive into the ticking mechanical heart of Magic itself.

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What are Parasitic Mechanics?

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The issue of Parasitic Mechanics is a bit of a complex one. The most basic definition of a Parasitic Mechanic is a mechanic that can only function alongside other cards with the same mechanic, or from the same block or set. A great example of this is Horsemanship, a version of flying exclusive to cards from Portal Three Kingdoms. Splice onto Arcane, an original Kamigawa block mechanic, is similar, only working alongside Arcane cards, which were only really printed in that block.

In reality, examples like this are few and far between as Parasitic Mechanics exist along a spectrum. Energy is largely parasitic since it requires a resource generated only by a small subset of cards. Most cards that need Energy can also create Energy, however, which mitigates the issue. A lot of other mechanics are like this, too. They appear on cards that can technically function alone, but work better when mixed with other cards that share the mechanic.

This makes the idea of the Parasitic Mechanic a bit of a gray area. While few mechanics will fall under the hard-line definition of the term, many will, in practice, feel Parasitic anyway. Ultimately, the more Parasitic a mechanic is, the fewer cards in past or future sets it will work well with. From a design perspective, Parasitic Mechanics are bad for the long-term health of the game, since the cards that use them have a built-in shelf life. When they perform well, Parasitic Mechanics also encourage linear deckbuilding, which results in a less interesting competitive scene.

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How Crime And Outlaw Switch Things Up

Vial Smasher, Gleeful Grenadier and Gisa, the Hellraiser | Outlaws of Thunder Junction

So with all of that said, what’s so special about the new Crime and Outlaw mechanics? These two represent a bit of a shift in design philosophy, being mechanics that not only work well alongside many cards from the past, but that will continue to work with cards printed in the future, too.

To illustrate why, let’s look at each mechanic individually. Committing a Crime occurs whenever you target your opponent, cards they control, or cards in their graveyard. Since the dawn of Magic, there have been cards that let you commit a Crime by this definition. Every removal spell you’ve ever played, be it Doom Blade or Fatal Push, is a Crime. The same is true for discard spells like Thoughtseize and even Counterspells. This means that players looking to build a dedicated Crime deck can look far beyond Outlaws of Thunder Junction itself for inspiration.

Outlaw works similarly. It’s essentially a take on your typical Typal mechanic, only it cares about multiple creature types rather than just one. Any creature with the Assassin, Mercenary, Pirate, Rogue, or Warlock type counts as an Outlaw, and can therefore trigger effects on cards like Laughing Jasper Flint and Rakish Crew. There are plenty of creatures with these types in the Magic vaults, and there will be plenty more in the future. Outlaw, therefore, is a mechanic that can continue to live and grow alongside the game.

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Looking to the Future

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Crime and Outlaw are both excellent mechanics, but I believe they’re also indicators of where the game is heading. Mechanics like these help to push back against the silofication caused by the Parasitic Mechanics of MTG. Crucially, these new mechanics manage to do this without sacrificing another important aspect of a Magic mechanic: the flavor.

Looking back over the most Parasitic Mechanics in MTG, a common trend emerges. They tend to be mechanics tied specifically to the Plane or story event their sets are covering. Just consider Energy, Venturing into the Dungeon, and Horsemanship, which are all great examples. The trade-off with these mechanics is that they’re often very flavorful, making them great for selling the fantasies of the sets they hail from.

More generic mechanics run the risk of flipping this dynamic on its head. Sure, they may play better with other sets, but they fail to convey the intended feeling of the world and story. Descend from The Lost Caverns of Ixalan is a great example of this. Putting a permanent into a graveyard is, undoubtedly, a generic action, however, it doesn’t exactly evoke the feeling of being a subterranean explorer.

Crime and Outlaw manage to be the best of both worlds. Crime successfully reframes interaction in a way that feels appropriate for the set’s ruthless setting. Outlaw, similarly, captures the feeling of a rag-tag group of ne’er do wells by spanning five historically under-represented, black-aligned creature types. They’re both very functional, but also flavorful too.

Going forward, mechanics like Crime and Outlaw are going to be vitally important to Magic’s continued health. To me, they represent the platonic ideal of a new mechanic and should be studied by both Magic designers and game designers in general.

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