Kamigawa the Underrated



Editor's Note: Yesterday's article was written in response to this one. No, we're not going to do "response articles" regularly, nor are we going to do "set X sucks/was awesome" articles regularly. However, just this once it's all in good fun.

Konnichi Wa

For more than a year this debate has gone on: How bad is Kamigawa? For some reason, the approach Wizards took on the Kamigawa block didn't really appeal to the players. Also, the whole sleeper factor the set had to it was a bit much, as there weren't many obvious constructed cards with a BOOM! to them in the entire block. You had to explore the set first and experiment with it before you could actually see what Kamigawa had to offer.

The interesting thing is that during the rumor season for Guildpact, the second set in the Ravnica block encountered similar response, but somehow it was able to shed the bad responses and players started to embrace it. I'd like to try now and explore Kamigawa in a different way. Most people went on and on how they dislike Kamigawa and how bad it is. I want to show you what Kamigawa really did for Magic.



Scourge of the seven eight seats.
When you get drafted

Kamigawa block rarely gets the number of compliments it actually deserved for it, but it produced one of the most balanced and friendly draft formats in the history of Magic. You could basically play any color combination, but you were better off approaching allied color combinations, which is similar to the rotating constructed formats before the Ravnica lands hit. Even Ravnica limited is lacking this situation right now, as you basically have to play at least a combination of 3 colors if you want a sufficient deck. Sure you could focus on only one guild, but normally you would have to be really lucky to force that through the entire draft.

But in Kamigawa, you were sometimes able to draft a deck that had only one color and maybe splashed into a second for removal, and the pools were deep enough to let 3 players draft the same color. I don't try to discuss which is better but having the security to be able to make a good deck out of a single color without that one color warping the entire format around it (like Pestilence focused Black decks from Urza's Saga limited) is a testament to a very good limited format.


Standard-bearer

But the main concern of players was that there weren't enough cards to make a decent impact into the constructed formats. Standard at the time was dominated by Mirrodin-fueled decks. Mirrodin, as one of the most powerful blocks in Magic’s history, made Kamigawa's life in Standard difficult, for it dominated the scene and didn't leave much freedom to the less powerful Kamigawa.

Well, this is a natural order of things, that the more powerful dominates the weaker, but both main themes Kamigawa embodied found a home in constructed. The first, Arcane spells, had a very good home in the Gifts Ungiven-fueled Splice decks that used Hana Kami and arcane reanimation spells like Stir the Grave or Soulless Revival as a vehicle for splice cards. The second, Spiritcraft, had a main card with the name of Tallowisp whose tutor ability could be more explored due to the recent creation of the Aura card type and was very useful in the block constructed format. It also found a new home for Standard play in "Ghost Dad" deck designed by Benjamin Goodman and his online teammates.

Hell, even the Hand Size Matters theme that Saviors of Kamigawa had, and seemed a bit tacked on as Splice or Soulshift (that help you keep cards in your hand) were already in the block, found a home in Standard. The Howling Owl deck uses Kami of the Crescent Moon to symmetrically fill up each player’s hand and then punish the opponent via Ebony Owl Netsuke.

With the heavy use of bushido-enhanced Samurai of the Pale Curtain, White and Black hand as well as the Ninjutsu mechanic of Ink-Eyes and Ninja of Deep Hours, there seemed enough to qualify for a successful design of block mechanics. Not to mention that one of the five epic spells, Enduring Ideal, made an entirely new deck playable by itself.


Finish him!

I will ask you a question: What set do you turn to first when you're looking for a big finisher for your new deck? The quite obvious answer should be Champions of Kamigawa. Not only did it provide an entire cycle of 5/5 Dragons for 6 mana, where the opponent normally is damned if he kills one and damned if he doesn't, but also other fat guys to take your opponent down with. Meloku is the king of finishers for your Blue-based control deck when you don't want to be bound to a dragon. For Green you can choose walking trees, undercosted monks or anti-aircraft guns if you want to smack your opponent in the head. You can see that Kamigawa holds more than vanilla Legends.


Working horses

One thing about the Kamigawa block is that it doesn't hold that many all-star cards you just have to build a deck around. However a lot of cards do the part as the workhorse, who don't shine that much but fill certain needs and just enhance any deck they are included in. The prime example for such a card would be Mogg Fanatic but Kamigawa block also holds a lot of cards of that type. Take Kami of Ancient Law for instance, a card that is really helpful in Standard at the moment due to the rise of Faith's Fetters, Annex and a lot of other Enchantments that have recently found their way into the top.

Speaking of top, you can't deny what Sensei's Divining Top has done for the Standard format. This card has been working overtime when it came out and ever since, either setting up combo decks or helping out control decks, ensuring a lot of card quality giving it an advantage and on occasion fetching the card you need in the nick of time. Other cards to talk about here would be the cycle of Legendary Lands and Miren, the Moaning Well, who all due to the load of Legends Kamigawa itself provided are all useful in what they do. They can also sometimes act as a random Wasteland if your opponent is playing them as well, although this effect is a disputable.

After that, we still have Sakura-Tribe Elder, Kodama's Reach and Hinder, all cards that helped to build the Standard format as it is right now. If you don't believe me, just try to imagine the format without these cards around.


Fill in

As we already discovered, Kamigawa doesn't give you much to actually build your deck around, but holds a lot of cards that help you out for certain needs or act as a backup resource for the things you might need. But Kamigawa does even more by stuffing holes in the game, both in design and as a play resource. Take a look at Heartbeat of Spring for example. The card existed before as Mana Flare, a card that at the time it was printed seemed just out of flavor, and still may be even though the fast mana theme of Black got pushed into Red recently. Not only did it fill a spot that was missing, the spot actually became somewhat stuffed with the inclusion of Vernal Bloom into 9th Edition. And the card was able to push two combo decks in two different formats into the Top 8 of their respective major tournaments, and only with the use of Early Harvest as a companion.

Other cards to speak of here would be Cranial Extraction, who also had a lot of talk going on about when it got printed but managed to keep single card strategies and combo decks at bay for a long time, influencing the entire process of deck design. Next to it would stand Pithing Needle, originally conceived as another hoser for the dreaded Affinity deck, which also found a lot of sideboard play and even some main deck stays in Extended, where it could be found with Trinket Mage.

Yes, Kamigawa is rich on “hosers” of specific deck types, but somehow they balance each other. Boseiju does a lot a very nice job to hose counter-based decks, and I hope I don't have to mention what Kataki helped to correct.


Design

Most of the players who keep track of the advances of the design in Magic have the opinion that Kamigawa Block was an all around low point. Mechanics that don't intertwine well with other mechanics from different blocks and seem to be focused on themselves look like leftovers gathered from different blocks and mixed together. I can't really deny that as Kamigawa was supposed to focus more on the flavour points of magic, using mechanics only as a vehicle to transport this feeling.

But, the mechanics themselves are quite intertwined in the block. Spiritcraft and Splice are both mechanics that allow you to have a bigger impact on the game with fewer consumed resources. Both help you to keep your hand size at a moderate level, helping the wisdom mechanic of Saviors, along with the Moonfolk and the sweep mechanic.

So now you have a grip full of cards, what to do with them? Playing them leaves you open for counterattacks. Enter Shoals and channel. While the former is quite obvious, the latter has a bit more depth to it. You are given the choice to either play the card normally or keep your mana open to have similar, one-shot effects that you can use as an instant.


Concluded

After all, most bad opinions about Kamigawa block were formed when Onslaught rotated out of Standard and Kamigawa replaced it. As Mirrodin is a bit more power-laden than Kamigawa, it initially dominated the format, making it almost Mirrodin Block Constructed, but after the Kamigawa Block finished off and the most broken things Mirrodin spat out were banned, it managed to influence Standard as well with multiple useful cards.

As we could see, Kamigawa has a lot more to it than the first look can catch. In the end, Kamigawa was a capable and useful block that added enough to the formats to earn its right of existence. Naming Kamigawa as a low point of Magic is definitively wrong, and I hope I was able to give you a good time reading and give you a little different view on that block.

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