Hey there magical people! It’s been a while since I wrote anything about Magic the Gathering, but a new set has finished spoiling, and it has piqued my interest. Why? Read on.
INNISTRAD WAS A BIT OF A WALKING DUD
This past year, Wizards released Moonlight Hunt and Crimson Vow, two sets that were set on Innistrad, a horror universe (Plane) that’s has been traditional monster, extra gothic, extremely Lovecraft, and recently, vampire wedding!
Lots of players love Innistrad, but I’m lukewarm. Especially on vampires and werewolves, which in Magic aren’t the most interesting of creatures, sadly. My feelings on Innistrad can be summed up in two cards: Rooftop Storm, and Elusive Tormentor/Insidious Mist.
The first card, Rooftop Storm is really cool, super flavourful, but too strong because of all the combos and such it enables with cards like Gravecrawler (and a sacrifice outlet). Lots of Innistrad cards are like this. Great, cool, but a little too much. Cards like Griselbrand, The Gitrog Monster, the various Avacyns, Snapcaster Mage, Craterhoof Behemoth and friends. Many are multi-format all-stars that break casual play. They also become a lightning rod for removal, because every other player in the game needs to make them their focus or die. Lightning rod, Rooftop Storm…. You get it.
The second card, Elusive Tormentor/Insidious Mist is really cool, super flavourful, but almost unplayable due to a combination of being small and slow. Too slow for 60 card constructed, too small for Commander. The card is a callback to, among other things, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and seems like it would be super cool to play. It makes excellent use of the transform mechanic, too. Or seems to. When in play, the card is clunky. It takes too long to do anything, and when it does, it’s a small poke in the eye while other decks are coordinating alpha strikes. There’s also no obvious synergy with the discard effect. Make this guy legendary, however, and we’ve got a clunky Commander that a few people might try out. This card torments me on how badly it mist.
The casual builder in me, the one who’d make a thematic Innistrad deck, is a bit stymied by the options. There are oppressive, win early/win ugly Edgar Markov decks, and fast, white Avacyn angel nonsense on one end, and some derpy werewolf deck that’s trying hard to have some identity on the other. And nothing about the last couple sets changed anything about that.
Original Innistrad missed for me, and it really missed this past fall. I got some cards from both Crimson Vow and Moonlight Hunt, and beyond a cool transforming Edgar, Charmed Groom, I really don’t know what I got. Some variations on the same filler cards that we get every (Standard) set, plus a handful of cool things I can stuff into battleboxes or Commander decks.
On the first glance at Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, it seemed like it had enough interest in it to equal the two Innistrad sets put together. Well, it’s all out. Here are my thoughts.
KAMIGAWA IS A BUSY PLACE
There is a lot going on in this set. A lot. Too much, if you ask me. Too much ‘matters.’ We’ve got: vehicles matter, equipment matters, +1/+1 counters matter, non +1/+1 counters matters, being ‘modified’ matters, artifacts matter, enchantments matter, we have both artifact and enchantment creatures, we have sagas, the sagas transform, so Double-Faced-Cards are back and matter, ninjas matter, samurai matter, creatures are equipment, legendary seems to matter, we have exalted but not in keyword form, we have channel so discard and graveyard and counterability of things all matter….
I had to stop. I could go on. There are more creature-types and even auras that are supposed to matter. This is so many sets worth of design it boggles my mind.
This is one of the low points of the set, for me. The idea is amazing, but none of the cards look like they’ll see much play beyond ‘trying to make it work’ in draft or sealed formats. They’re like the Elusive Tormentor: lots of work for minimal payoff. In this case, the ‘work’ is waiting several turns. And as enchantment creatures, the ‘payoffs’ are extra vulnerable to removal. Unless you’re really getting a great effect from one of the first two chapters, I’m not expecting much from these cards. Here’s one:
I don’t think this is good. 3 mana for a mana dork, plus maybe some counters if you’ve got living creatures by chapter 2 (note that chapter 2 will force you to put counters on opposing creatures if you have none), and then a 2/2 flyer with a mana intensive ability that is time sensitive and a lousy sink. The payoff is the win-more condition of a 7/7 trample dragon, which is (based on chapter progression) a possible turn 5 thing, but unlikely due to needing 5 (!) modified creatures, and also a 7/7 flying trampler on turn 5 being a medium threat these days. I could be totally wrong, but I do not want to open this Mythic card.
VROOM VROOM VEHICLES
Vehicles return, and while we have a couple saucy new Commander options, like Greasefang here, the options for the vehicles themselves remain pretty underwhelming.
A lot of the vehicles are the same as what we’ve seen previously: a bunch of slightly undercosted beaters with no subtlety. They have ok stats, but this is meant to represent a mech-suit.
7/7 Trample Haste is… good… I guess. For 7 mana. I think what bugs me about this card is that I’ve seen enough mech-related content to know that mechs should be cooler than just decent stats and maybe a keyword or two. We also have Futurist Sentinel, a 6/6 that requires blue mana, which is really awkward for vehicle players at present.
Reckoner Bankbuster seems like a badguy vehicle. Cool, but unnecessarily niche. It’s also needlessly complicated and the tap ability clashes with the ability to be a vehicle.
Surgehacker Mech has cool art, a decent enough stat line vs cost, and some text. Menace is probably on the card because of some design compromise. The ETB ability is nonsense because it’s both unreliable and unable to target players. The crew cost is also prohibitive. Ugh.
Mechtitan Core is a jank player’s Christmasland dream! Got to a lot of trouble for what seems like an unstoppable sequence of dominance as you crush opponents one by one into puddles of protoculture. This is sooo much trouble for an easy Disenchant or Unsummon target. Yes, that will give us a bunch of awkwardly-timed ETB triggers from our returning… vehicles and artifact creatures…. I’m sure the Bomat Bazaar Barge we were using as our left foot will be on board with that.
And here we have Brute Suit! Love to say it, and it seems good with a cheap cost and cheap crewing, but those stats are not good outside of draft or a carefully crafted battlebox. Even then….
Imperial Recovery Unit has some potential, being able to bring your Consulate Dreadnought back again and again. Being a vehicle, it’s actually a decent hedge against boardwipes for white vehicle decks. Get your drivers back on the road.
The Mindlink Mech is pretty intriguing, in part because of a low mana and crew cost. Again, the blue mana is an issue, but this could pull off all sorts of shenanigans. It probably has a home outside vehicle decks. Crewing it with a hexproof creature seems like a start to the plan.
Mobilizer Mech seems like a clunker. Cheap to cast, but blue. High crew cost too. Flying and mech animation isn’t bad, but is it worth a 3/4 when you can just crew the other vehicle instead?
Prodigy’s Prototype is the sort of engine card (haha) that vehicles want. Except it’s in terrible colours for that. No Greasefang, no Depala, Pilot Exemplar. Should have been colourless, and then it can be a vehicle deck staple and help make that archetype good. We’ll see what the Commander precons bring, but the vehicles remind me a lot of the werewolves from Innistrad. No real cohesion, and minimal thought put into how they interact with the game on their own unique level.
CHANNEL THE LEGENDS
The new Legendary Land cycle are all staples. Hope you are able to get some cheap. Unless you need lands of a certain type like snow or deserts, can’t tolerate non-basics, or have a meta that hates on Legendaries, there’s no reason not to play these cards a lot.
Channel is an uncounterable effect (mostly, see: Stifle and friends),and lands are colourless sources, so the effects on these lands are really really hard to stop.
Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire, for example, can toast up a creature with protection from colour, like the white you’re playing if you pack this card. A mono-white deck running into a Sword of Truth and Justice without a Crush Contraband or something is going to have a bad time, and this is just one more hedge that doesn’t cost you anything but a basic Plains most of the time.
BLUE PLANE SPECIAL
There are 4 new Planeswalkers, and 3 are blue. Mono-blue Tezzeret, Blue/Black ninja Kaito Shizuki, and hybrid Phyrexian compleationist, Tamiyo Compleated Sage. The blue ones seem playable in standard midrange decks, and maybe in support roles in Commander. Nothing game-breaking there.
The white one, The Wandering Emperor, is actually something I would want to play.
Hah, she’s nameless, right? That’s the joke. But this is a really versatile card. It’s a combat trick, chump blocker, and removal spell, all of which leave a planeswalker behind. It can be played in response to combat to offer up some serious food for thought for the opponent. I feel this is almost always going to be good, like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was. Hopefully it stays cheap so I can get one.
A classic card to ‘cheat into play.’ This looks unfun. Like many of the other Praetors before it, it quickly makes the game into a one-sided affair. Despite all the text on it, I’m not sure it’s even that good. It gets owned by Ravenous Chupacabra. Hope you have a counter in hand, and don’t target it with the copy.
Yup, more of these. These ones have death triggers. Are they good? Sure! But good dragons in Magic are a bit like paint swatches these days. There are so many options, and you can meet so many specific conditions, that new dragons are just more onto the pile. They’ve long ago ceased to be special, especially because there are some established combo decks that use dragons (in Commander), like Scion of the Ur-Dragon or Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon. Those decks don’t showcase draconic might so much as leveraging the stack or infect. Some of these new dragons will only get play out of pity or nostalgia, like the poor Shivan Dragon, once the undisputed ruler of Magic’s skies. They may have combo potential, but otherwise, they’re just more options you might consider.
SO WHAT’S GOOD?
Not the auras, even if they Channel into real cards. Keep trying, Wizards!
But seriously, here are the 10 best things that Kamigawa is bringing to the tabletop!
Most honourable mention to The Wandering Emperor, which might be a chase card and be too expensive for me to consider if I don’t open one, but it’s pretty cool.
Second honourable mention goes to the versatile Gravelighter. I like everything it does, and the type and flying ability are unsung highlights.
Final honourable mention goes to Master’s Rebuke, which adds another solid spell to the archetype of one-sided fighting cards. They go well with deathtouch, stompers, chonkers, beaters, and bounty hunters. Good for battleboxes, cubes and such as spell-based removal for green that’s not a fight spell.
Here we go! Top ten! You love lists!
10. New Removal
March of Otherworldy Light looks strong with that Exile option. There are plenty of 0 mana cost problems, including tokens, that this card can matter even if cast for W. The self-exile is a steep cost to pay, but might swing the game against an unsuspecting opponent who thinks you’re almost tapped out.
Farewell looks a lot like staple card Merciless Eviction except you can make all the choices, and not have to play black. It’s no danger to Planeswalkers, but nuking graveyards is possibly an upgrade.
9. Solo Samurai Stuff
We’ve seen Samurai in the past, but they were overcosted and relied on Bushido, a combat-based mechanic that relied on being blocked or not. Didn’t really get there, or capture the feel of the single powerful warrior striding into battle to take on any and all comers.
While Heiko and Norika Yamazaki totally should have had Partner With each other, they at least sort of fit in with other Exalted cards, like Rafiq of the Many or attack trigger cards like Wulfgar of Icewind Dale. I like Tempered in Solitude, too. A single extra card per turn is a proven strategy to compete in Commander.
8. Easy Artifact Synergy… And Treasures…?
This set has tons of artifacts, and even a handful of cards that make treasure tokens. That by itself is pretty powerful.
Treasure is really broken at this point. Are we surprised? Lotus Petal is restricted in Vintage for being a treasure. Simian Spirit Guide is like the treasure you keep in your hand… and banned in Modern. Apparently this Goldspan Dragon thing is all over Standard, and a card called Smothering Tithe is everyone’s favourite to play against in Commander. What about Hullbreacher? Banned, poor little fellow. Has to be content with Legacy and Vintage. Sense a theme here?
Part of what makes treasure so strong is that some cards create it easily in big numbers. Treasure combines an artifact ETB, a token ETB, mana of any colour, plus a sacrifice trigger on demand. Making a pile of treasure tokens with Skyswimmer Koi out is primo filtration if you’re digging for a specific card, filling up your graveyard, abusing draw/discard triggers etc. and that’s just using the ETB of treasure and whatever other artifacts you play.
The strong artifact synergy available here isn’t just with this set, it’s how this set interacts with older sets too. I feel like Realty Heist is potentially insane. Like Dig Through Time and Tinker had a weird baby together. The ceiling is an instant speed draw 2 for 2 that selects the best 2 artifacts in your top 7 library cards.
Like a fair amount of other cards in this set, this also feeds an existing Commander deck archetype: Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow which looks to leverage high mana cost cards for damage. I’ve found it to work best with stuff that has a built in cost-reducer, like Reality Heist, and the ninja deck likes mana rocks and equipment as much as anyone, so there should be plenty of hits.
Reinforced Ronin is my pick for sleeper hit of the set. This cute little fellow can be a Shock to the face on an empty board, and card draw later. Why do I think sleeper? Because it’s both a human and an artifact, and those both love ETB triggers, cheap creatures, and stuff like that. I could be wrong, and paying this guy’s cost every turn might be a nightmare, and the channel unneeded in the long game, but who knows. There’s just so much going on here that I feel like someone will find a way with it.
7. Wacky Weapons
Eater of Virtue is one of my favourite cards in the set. The exile clause is pretty steep, but I want to play this in the Xenagos deck I mentioned earlier, and having a 1 cost equipment that also costs 1 to equip, and adds +2/+0 is already playable for me. The upside makes me want to build the deck to accommodate this weapon. Love it!
Like Eater of Virtue, Lizard Blades would find a home in my Xenagos deck, as double strike is a big deal for that deck. Overall, this is cheap, efficient and dangerous. I like it a lot.
While it’s not that cheap to equip, equipment that draws cards can be really strong. Ogre-Head Helm also gets a nod for being weird, and having awesome card art. Red decks often need hand refills, and it’s great that this doesn’t need to be equipped to flip your hand into 3 new cards. Even better if you’re a reanimator or madness deck.
6. Red Nonsense
Ok, what is this? Seriously, what is this card? This is totally red nonsense. I love it. I love Experimental Synthesizer. It’s sort of card draw. It can be used to play lands, which is a big deal. It becomes a… white samurai…? I think this and cards like Goblin Welder go hand in hand. This could be the little weird artifact that got there, because it enabled a pile of pseudo card draw.
Rabbit Battery is clearly more red nonsense. I bet it plays pretty well. It has tons of peripheral synergy, and having reconfigure is a big deal because it lets you go a little wider for stuff like taking the Monarch. In general, having lots of haste for your Commanders is a good thing, not to mention your other creatures.
March of Reckless Joy suggests a sort of red nonsense that’s reached the delirious costumed reveler stage. As a card, this seems pretty good. It scales well, and gives you a lot of control over how you use your cards in hand and mana. And it’s an instant, which helps a lot.
Invoke Calamity is built to copy a half dozen times, or weave into the stack of rituals that eventually results in a storm kill. Either a deadly mistake or completely unplayable! Red nonsense!
5. Taste the Ninja Rainbow
We’ve got some really strong ninjas this time around. Covert Technician is cheap, has a big toughness, and is possible free artifacts with every hit.
Even cheaper, Moon-Circuit Hacker is more fragile but packs all sorts of usable synergies, including card advantage, which synergizes with everything.
Prosperous Thief makes treasure, and is cheap to ninjitsu in, especially when you factor in the treasure. Plus it doesn’t have to connect itself, and invites rogues to the treasure party. Lots going on here.
Thousand-Faced Shadow is pretty powerful, even though the ninjitsu cost is really high. The payoff for that is very strong, and can be abused, but the best thing this ninja does is enable other ninjas. It’s a 1 drop with evasion. It’s the perfect turn 1 play, into a turn 2 ninjitsu attack that’s tough to block. And then it’s in your hand as a threat that the opponent has to play around, or back again for a cheap cost and another ninjitsu opportunity.
Nezumi Prowler, like most of the others here, is great based on mana cost and ninjitsu cost. The stats are a plus, with 3 power, and the ETB trigger is potentially really strong. Since it can target any of your creatures, it can be removal of a sort, including making a trampler into big trouble. It can also be an unexpected life swing, if the power of the target is high. At worst, you’re connecting with the rat itself for 3 lifelink unblocked, which isn’t the worst thing.
Nashi, Moon Sage’s Scion is obviously strong, and in Commander, is an awesome way to pile up a bunch of stolen Sol Rings. You can cast your own stuff too, and set yourself up with surveil or scry for a mini Bolas’s Citadel effect. The lack of haste or evasion, and the relatively high ninjitsu cost makes this require some work to get going, but it’s scaled well for Commander and probably goes in almost any ninja deck.
Kappa Tech-Wrecker is blatant fan-service. Time to cut boat, dudes!
Luckily, this card is actually really good, as potential removal in the form of deathtouch, possible additional exile for artifacts and enchantments, cheap casting/ninjitsu cost, and even a useful body for blocking and surviving against low-power creatures. Like the next cards on the list, it also has a very ninja advantage….
Sure it’s way overcosted, but Spring-Leaf Avenger is in green, and has a really powerful combat trigger. And like the remainder of this list, is in a colour you’d seldom expect ninjas to be in. Any green deck that can turn a saproling token sideways should consider slotting one of these cards in, for the sheer element of surprise.
Finally is this white ninja. Surprise from the white deck is this guy’s finest moment. If you can equip it at instant speed via Sigarda’s Aid or something like that, this could be a surprise out-of-nowhere kill. For real!
4. Changing up the Channel
I love Colossal Skyturtle!! Who doesn’t love the concept, other than the people who live in the shadow and hope there’s no larger skypredators who discard the shells after. This is so playable. Both channel abilities are super-useful, better when paired as options, and uncounterable for the most part. What pushes this over the edge for me is those blue Living End decks in modern. Using this to bounce an opposing threat might be the play right before it comes back from the dead. Super fun!
Mirrorshell Crab has a lot in common with Colossal Skyturtle. An uncounterable counterspell that can be reanimated later, or cast lategame, isn’t bad. It’s also near the top of the heap of crab tribal, because it’s not a 1/5 with no other abilities. Bonus for being an artifact, especially in this set. That means this is a hip, modern crab. Hope it sees play in Modern!
Landfall effects pop up all the time, minus the keyword. Roaring Earth is the latest. The channel ability is fairly versatile, being a possible massive attacker, or huge surprise blocker, maybe using an indestructible land. But the landfall part, adding +1/+1 counters, is probably good enough to play in decks that double them up with Hardened Scales, etc.
3. Prized Real Estate
The new lands in Kamigawa are all excellent! Mech Hangar is such an important card to now have. This card single-handedly gives vehicle decks some reach they never had before. Plenty of decks can wipe your pilots away, so having a land-based crewing option is a new level of survivability and versatility. It’s a bonus that it fixes colour for pilots, vehicles and changelings.
Roadside Reliquary is a terrific option for colourless decks, or those that can afford a few slots for colourless lands. Coming in untapped is pretty key, as it removes a common drawback that would probably ruin this card. The sacrifice trigger is potentially awesome. It’s not hard to get both an artifact and enchantment into play, and you’re not penalized for not having both. In addition to that, it’s 2 separate draw triggers, which can mean a lot under the right circumstances.
Every tribal deck, or deck that uses creatures of the same type as synergy, relies on cards like Secluded Courtyard to smooth their mana. Another is always welcome, and this might even enable more tribal decks in constructed formats like Modern.
Building a five colour Commander deck on a budget? Uncharted Haven is probably better than a lot of options out there, like just filling it out with random basics.
2. Obvious Commanders
Some of the legendary creatures in Kamigawa are clearly there to establish or sweeten a Commander archetype. Hidetsugu, Devouring Chaos offers draw fixing, sacrifice, rakdos colours, and a super-fun deckbuilding quirk that wants you to have some super-high mana costs in your library. The Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow decks use a similar mechanic, but it seems pretty fun in red. Want to smack someone for 16 with Draco? Yes you do!
For the archetypes that need sweetening, look no further than Hinata, Dawn Crowned. This is totally designed for some intersection of kirins, spirits and the heroic mechanic. Anax and Cymede are an example of heroic, and Hinata lets you cast X spells with free X’s as long as they target a bunch of separate creatures. Jank cards like Outmaneuver become slightly less jank! Icy Blast everything you don’t control for U!
Tameshi, Reality Architect offers a moonfolk Commander to rally the rest around, and leverages bounce effects, which is completely new. Add in a white colour identity and a really strange activated ability and we’ve really got something here. Artifact/Enchantment recursion is pretty great, but a real weird upside, which I think works, is that you can pay W and return a land to your hand regardless of whether or not there’s a target in your graveyard. If you have an Ancient Tomb or anything that enters untapped and produces more than 1 mana, you can sort of use it twice. It has to start the turn in play, but tapping it, bouncing it, and playing it again is mana advantage. Just saying.
Is there anything not to love about Tatsunori, Toad Rider? Warts? Probably warts. Frog synergy, enchantment synergy, ninja synergy, lifegain/drain synergy, 3 colours, cheap to cast, and a half-decent token engine spell fun fun fun! Cheap, recursive enchantments like Rancor seem like the place to start. Wait, frog synergy? Are frogs and toads the same thing?
1. Big Flavour Wins… That are also Great Cards
White needs cards like Spirited Companion. Yes, doggo, good boi, wubba wubba, etc. Take a moment to floof out. This doggo is cheap to cast, synergizes with enchantments, and draws a card when it comes in, which is big because white is a blink colour. It might not quite get there, but man it’s trying hard to get your love. Expect pricey foils.
Something about the casting cost of Spinning Wheel Kick just seems right. I had to look up if Planeswalkers are affected by deathtouch. They are not. But this is still a possible one-sided boardwipe.
Delightful! Come over to the dockside… for noodles! The Dockside Chef is pretty borderline playable, but has a lot of words, and a repeatable sacrifice/card draw outlet on him. The food decks all want him, for sure!
And here we have my pick for my most hotly anticipated card of the set. I like a good soak in some rejuvenating waters, and Invigorating Hot Spring reminds me of deep relaxation and all-too-human monkeys in there with you, trying to get you to buy their NFTs.
In all seriousness though, a blanket haste effect for modified creatures is pure awesomeness. +1/+1 counters are easy to use and abuse and double and such, and this cheap and friendly to cast. I love it! Get soaked!
So that’s my first take on the new set! What do you think? Whatever it is, thanks for reading!