Outlaws of Thunder Junction - Yuma, Proud Protector Deck Tech

Yuma, Proud Protector
(Yuma, Proud Protector | Art by Matt Stewart)

Rootin, Tootin, and Cowboy Brewin!

Welcome to the plane of Thunder Junction, the watering hole of the multiverse for weary travelers, wanted outlaws, and anyone in between. Now, what’s a humble face such as yours doing in a place like this? No weapons, not much gold on your person either. The pickpockets checked. Don’t tell me you’re one of the sightseers from the fancy planes. Ravnica, Fiora, those types. I don’t like the last place dead folks get seen being my bar, so I’ll lend you a hand. If you think you’re just going to mosey on in here without proper protection, well, you should ask the last soul that tried that. And I mean that quite literally. Her spirit haunts this saloon to this day. She’s quite the match at billiards.

You look mighty parched there, partner. Looks like you could use something to drink. Desert sands’ll get your lips drier than a viashino hide. I’ll tell you what, we’ll put you up for the night, give you a nice beverage of your choosing, and let you rest your pretty lil’ head. But come morning, you’re heading back out there to “brave the horrors of the wilds” and all that nonsense. There’s someone you’re gonna wanna meet. The man traveled all the way from New Capenna, lost plenty of coin and his old name in the process, and now he’s taking care of folks like you. If you can survive the deserts, he’ll make a legend out of you yet. If not, your bones will join the ground-up pulp of every other braggart who came through this bar.

key art for Yuma, proud protector

Home on the Range

Happy Outlaws of Thunder Junction preview season folks! We’ve got an early look at a new card for you fine cowpoke, plus some mighty fine story information to go with him. Outlaws of Thunder Junction, like most sets nowadays, is releasing with four brand-new Commander decks. Each of these includes new-to-Magic cards designed around the themes of Thunder Junction. Today, we have the pleasure of looking at the face commander of the “Desert Bloom” Commander deck: Yuma, Proud Protector.

borderless card art for Yuma, proud protector

Yuma is an eight-mana Naya legendary creature themed around sacrificing lands, particularly Deserts. We first saw Deserts appear in Amonkhet block, though a handful of older cards were eratta’d to be Deserts. While mostly serving as a flavorful draft mechanic, Deserts’ synergy with sacrificing lands and reanimating them struck a chord with players. Some Lord Windgrace decks ran a Desert package for a while, but official support came from Legends Retold’s Hazezon, Shaper of Sand. Now, we’ve got a new Naya Desert commander, but he’s a little different. 

We’ve actually already met Yuma in his side story “No Tells” by Issac Fellman. Yuma was originally a criminal and associate of the Riveteers. Following the Phyrexian Invasion of New Capenna and a string of bad business deals, Yuma escaped through an Omenpath to Thunder Junction. After absolutely committing to the cowboy-chic look, he took over caring for a Cactusfolk named Kirri and opened a bar, all in hope of escaping a chaotic past.

Yuma’s criminal ventures, while incredibly risky, were profitable enough to hook him up with a body-man to help him medically transition. This makes Yuma the first canonical transmasculine legendary creature in Magic. For those unaware, transmasculine is a descriptor for a transgender person with a masculine gender expression. As a counterpart, Alesha, Who Smiles at Death is a transgender woman and would be considered transfeminine.

Magic has taken some leaps and strides in recent years with its queer representation. While not always sticking the landing, acts like Yuma, Niko Aris, and the canonization of Chandra and Nissa show a dedication to this representation. When looking at milestones like this it's important to recognize the community, since they’re the ones advocating for this kind of representation. Radley (@SpaceBeleren on Twitter) has been a major voice for more transmasculine people in Magic story. Spice8Rack made a wonderful video on trans representation in Magic. This kind of progress happens at a community level, so show them some love.

But enough of sappy things like “social progress through community action” and “a genuinely captivating piece of prose that demonstrates strong command over narrative voice.” We’ve got a card game to talk about! In celebration of this new legendary creature, I’ve gone ahead and brewed a deck with him at the helm. But how do you brew a deck with a creature that’s only just been revealed? To do that, let’s go through the process of brewing something hot off the presses.

Desert Power

I’ve limited myself to one Dune reference like the polite writer I am. As mentioned above, Yuma draws immediate comparisons to 2022’s Hazezon, Shaper of Sand. Both are Naya commanders that synergize with Deserts and graveyard shenanigans. With the wealth of commanders currently available, most new ones are going to have a design sibling, a legendary creature they run parallel to. For example, when Murders at Karlov Manor released, I looked at Yawgmoth, Thran Physician decks for inspiration on Massacre Girl, Known Killer. Looking further back, both Nemata, Primeval Warden and Slimefoot, the Stowaway are Golgari Saproling typal commanders.

EDHREC is powered by data about the various decks commanders helmed. When a card is first previewed, there isn’t any data to go on. That can make the process daunting. So, I often look to these sibling commanders as a baseline. Hazezon’s high synergy cards (cards that appear in his decks but not other Naya lists) offer some insight onto how to brew him. Crop Rotation, Nahiri's Lithoforming, and Sprouting Goblin offer easy ways to sacrifice lands and replace them with others, likely Deserts. Oracle of Mul Daya and similar land engines let us turbo out more lands for Hazezon to make tokens off of. It’s a powerful lands engine that doesn’t even need Hazezon to function. There’s plenty of gas in this tank without the shaper of sand.

These cards give us an idea of where this deck should go. A Yuma deck will want sacrifice outlets for lands, land-based ramp, and, of course, Deserts. Where the process gets trickier (and more fun) is examining where they differ. While Hazezon and Yuma will likely share tons of cards due to their overlapping themes, looking at the different play patterns their cards encourage can grant some much-needed insight.

Hazezon and Yuma both generate tokens when Deserts do certain things, but the circumstances and output are vastly different. Hazezon creates two smaller tokens when a Desert enters the battlefield. Yuma creates one larger token when a Desert is put into your graveyard. . . from anywhere. While Yuma’s enters and attack trigger encourage sacrificing Deserts, the fact he cares about Deserts hitting the graveyard from anywhere means its a whole new ballgame. Hazezon runs cards like Ruin Ghost, blinking Deserts for value, while Yuma is going to want things like Deathbonnet Sprout for repeatable early self-mill.

Their mana values also help indicate the different ways to build these commanders. Hazezon is a three-mana commander that can come down turn two with a single mana dork. Once you play him, you’ll be able to follow up with Deserts each turn to pump out a massive army. Yuma asks something very different of you. His cost reduction ability wants you to fill the graveyard with lands before you cast him. Once you’ve stocked up your graveyard, you’ll likely also be casting Yuma for three mana. However, it won’t be on turn two with a mana dork. While Hazezon is going to want every Llanowar Elves, Avacyn's Pilgrim, and Elvish Mystic he can get his hands on, Yuma would much rather take a Faithless Looting to help stock your graveyard.

Finally, the tokens these commanders create demand vastly different synergies. Hazezon’s tiny Sand Warriors trigger effects on cards like Tocasia's Welcome and Welcoming Vampire. These effects care about lots of smaller creatures entering. Yuma makes big tokens whenever you put a Desert card into your graveyard. Not only does this mean he wants high-power synergies, but he can also reliably trigger this ability on opponents' turns. Bennie Bracks, Zoologist will let you draw cards each turn you discard a land. Garruk's Uprising gives you more card draw that triggers off Yuma’s massive Plant Warrior tokens. They may look similar, but I can assure you they feel quite distinct when an army of 4/2 Cactusfolk starts knocking out opponents.

Hazezon, you served us well as a primer on how to brew a Desert deck. But it’s time to choose a new person to take up the mantle. I think Yuma is our chosen hero to lead a Naya Desert deck. He’s the chosen one, the savior, the Lisan Al-Ghaib.

I had to sneak one more in there.

Coarse, Rough, and Everywhere

Yuma, Proud Protector’s synergy with putting lands into the graveyard reminded me of one of my favorite Modern decks: Assault Loam. This deck uses Seismic Assault and Life from the Loam to repeatedly pitch lands and deal damage. While a free Shock off our lands isn’t the payoff we’re looking for, Yuma’s tokens and some other synergies will help bring this to the Commander table. Ayula's Influence is a color-shifted Seismic Assault, this time creating Bear tokens that can grow our board of bodies. Wrenn and Six lets us pick up the Deserts we discard to throw them again, giving us a steady board of bodies. A surprise sleeper is Dawnstrider, a card only printed in Mercadian Masques. Every time we discard a card we’ll prevent all combat damage from the turn. Fog-ing our opponents when they attack us and creating a massive token? Don’t mind if I do.

There are a few cards that seem like no-brainers that I cut from this list. Harrow, Roiling Regrowth, and Entish Restoration all missed the mark in testing. By the time I was casting three-mana spells, I wanted to be filling my graveyard with more than one land. That’s why I run Aftermath Analyst, Satyr Wayfinder, and Burning Inquiry as low-cost ways to churn through the deck. If we draw them late, no worries! We still have a chance of getting plenty of tokens from them with Yuma. 

A handful of cards left ripples in my deckbuilding process. Nissa, Resurgent Animist finds us Elves or Elementals on our second land per turn. As such, I avoided the kinds of Elves and Elementals I wouldn’t want after playing a three-drop. That means no Llanowar Elves or Bramble Familiars. Now, Nissa is only going to find us haymakers like Cavalier of Flame, Titania, Protector of Argoth, or Avenger of Zendikar. Even the aforementioned Aftermath Analyst can be sacrificed for a Splendid Reclamation late game.

We’re running the majority of Deserts in the Naya color identity. Since we want to ensure we can reliably create tokens with Yuma, there’s some subpar additions like Dunes of the Dead and Grasping Dunes. However, they’re mostly there for the subtype, not the actual abilities. Pitching lands into the graveyard can let us turn on Riftstone Portal, giving our colorless lands a new ability. Field of the Dead is a powerhouse when we grab it off Scapeshift. Get those Zombie tokens ready since Field will count all of the lands that enter at once! Finally, try and get your hands on as many Fetchlands as you can, even the odd ones like Cabaretti Courtyard. These have a secret synergy as their sacrifice ability doesn’t care if they enter tapped off Undergrowth Recon.

Yuma, Proud Protector comes from a place filled with love, from his story to his card mechanics. Just digging through old Desert cards and Assault Loam deck techs from 2012 made me excited to brew this commander. I’m excited to see the ideas players come up with. Maybe you’ll go all in on tokens or try a Madness subtheme? The possibilities are endless. So wander bravely, cowpoke of all kinds! The Deserts of Thunder Junction are brutal, and are best faced with allies at your side. Yee-haw!

Rootin, Tootin, and Brewin!

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Commander (1)
Creatures (33)
Sorceries (8)
Instants (6)
Enchantments (6)
Artifacts (4)
Battles (1)
Planeswalkers (1)
Lands (40)

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Jubilee Finnegan (they/them) is English literature student and writer based out of Southern California. They got hooked in Magic with Throne of Eldraine and haven't stopped since. When not deckbuilding, they're working on poetry, gardening, or trying some new artistic endeavor. They can be found on Twitter at @finneyflame or on Instagram @jwfinnegan.

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