Welcome back to Archive Trap, your unofficial guide to Magic: The Gathering! Today we're jumping in to Kamigawa, Magic's deep dive into Japanese fantasy. While not a commercial hit, the set was incredibly faithful to Japanese folklore with a traditional Magic spin. The setting has a cult following online, and due to its legends-matter theme, a large chunk of all the legendary cards ever printed are from this block. It's also rather unusual (for the time) in that the main antagonist was a white-aligned character, while the protagonist was black-aligned. You can see that subversion of expectations, at least when it comes to the color pie, all across the block. Let's get to it.
Setting the Stage
Today we're jumping into everyone's favorite lost cause, Kamigawa! Yeah, we're probably never going back to this plane outside of supplemental products, people, give it up. But that doesn't mean we can't look back and reflect on the lore! And Kamigawa has a lot of lore to cover, being responsible for no fewer than 118 of the 705 Legendary Creatures in Magic (As of publication). More if you include the handful of Kamigawan Legends released through Commander products. With such a huge footprint in the Legendary category, Kamigawa is a favorite of Commander players. So why does it rank barely above planes that no longer exist on the Rabiah scale?
The answers are simple. The first is that there is such a thing as being too devoted to the source material. If you need a three-page glossary so that people will know how to pronounce words in your set or know what anything means, that's a bit of a problem. The second is that if you're the plane where Magic almost fails, you're probably never going to be high on anyone's return list. If you're reading this, you're already in the minority of people who care about Kamigawa. All that said, Kamigawa was a very well thought out setting, and you can tell that the creative team at the time was passionate about what they were producing. They pushed against expectations and we'd see the legacy of Kamigawa on the flavor of Magic for years to come.
Please note, for the sake of space and because The Plane Profile for Kamigawa hits all the points I would, I'm only doing a short geography piece here. The main plot of Kamigawa takes place approximately 1,300 years before the modern story (give or take a few decades), so I'm generally not including the relatively minor events that happen during Agents of Artifice on the plane (since it all takes place at one small Nezumi village). Preceding this story, Ravi rings the Apocalypse Chime on Ulgrotha, which reverberates out to other planes. On Kamigawa, this results in a weakening of the barrier between the mortal and spirit realms.
We would not see another official map of a plane until Ixalan
Photograph of Kamigawa Map Poster
Geography and Politics
Kamigawa has a pretty well defined geography, something that has largely been abandoned up until this year's Ixalan. It was also the last plane to receive an official map treatment, but it wasn't particularly accurate. A much better fan-commissioned map can be found in the forums.
The spiritual realm of Kamigawa (called the Kakuriyo) is an abstract place where spirits reside. There is a spirit for everything in the mortal realm, and over them all is O-Kagachi, who guards the barrier between the mortal and physical realms. Five god-like spirits called Myojin rule over broad domains and tend to be the focus of spirit worship on the plane.
The known mortal or physical Realm of Kamigawa (called Utsushiyo) consists of five major locations, each protected by a guardian spirit dragon. The Towabara Plains are located roughly in the center, and the capital Eiganjo Castle is located in a region known as the Araba. Roughly to the south and east is Takenuma, a vast swampland. Humans living in Takenuma do so in the sunken former city of Numai. Further south still are the Sokenzan mountains, inhabited by bandits, goblins called akki, and ogres. To the north of Towabara lies the wizard academy of Minamo. Minamo is situated on Kamitaki Falls, which itself feeds in to Kamitaki lake. Directly above the lake floats Otawara, the Soratami Moonfolk city. Oboro is the main palace located there. Finally, roughly to the east of Towabara is the Jukai Forest, a vast woodland home to the Orochi snakefolk, Budoka monks, and Kitsune foxfolk.
Tamiyo is a Soratomi moonfolk native to Kamigawa. Her adventures have nothing to do with the main plot of Kamigawa or any of the stories we'll be talking about. She is part of a loose affiliation of planeswalkers called the story circle, whose known members include Ajani Goldmane and Narset Transcendent.
Before we start, I need to comment on the amount of legends in Kamigawa. Despite being released over a decade ago, Kamigawa still represents a huge portion of all the legendary creatures in Magic. That's way too many to cover here, even as just a list. If you want to scroll through, check out our card database. What I will list here are the legends who are either key characters in the plot or who have received a short story on the mothership.
Toshiro Umezawa is an ochimusha (dishonored) samurai who is an expert in kanji magic, using symbols to create magical effects. He was a member of Boss Uramon's reckoner crew, but when his crew was slaughtered by Hidetsugu, he entered into a magical pact with the ogre, creating the Hyozan Reckoners. The Hyozan are bound to avenge each other's deaths tenfold. He is the ancestor of Tetsuo Umezawa.
Lord Takeshi Konda united the lands of Kamigawa under his banner decades before the story begins. Twenty years ago, upon the birth of his daughter, he conducted a ritual and stole something from the spiritual realm, igniting the Kami War which would last for twenty years. He becomes obsessed with what he stole, and in return the Taken One prevents him from aging and affects his body in weird ways (like floating eyes).
O-Kagachi is the guardian of the barrier between the mortal and spirit realms. Konda's theft affected the entity deeply enough to declare war on the mortal realm. We learn later that Konda stole O-Kagachi's divinity, and when Konda's daughter finally leaves the protection of Eiganjo, the spirit begins to manifest in the mortal realm to reclaim it.
Michiko Konda is the daughter of Lord Konda, born the same night her father stole O-Kagachi's divinity. Kept in the dark about the nature of what happened the night that triggered the Kami War, she ventures out the castle to find answers.
Myojin of Night's Reach is one of the five major spirits of Kamigawa. She has domain over darkness and everything that goes along with it. It's not clear how she's involved in the Kami War, but she manipulates events (and Toshiro) throughout the course of the story for her own ends. Thanks to the weakening of the barrier between realms, Night's Reach realizes she has the ability to travel to other planes.
Mochi, the Smiling Kami of the Crescent Moon is a squat little kami of tremendous power. Mochi has manipulated events to create a conflict that will allow his favored people, the Soratami, to become the dominant force in the mortal realm.
The Spirit Dragons are connected to the land and will defend it from other spirits. Jugan, the Rising Star
Legends Featured in Short Fiction
- Ayumi, the Last Visitor - Featured in The Last Visitor.
- Azami, Lady of Scrolls - Featured in Everything.
- Shujiru and Seitaro Yamazaki - Featured in Bonds of Ice and Fire.
- Eight-and-a-Half-Tails - Featured in Eight and a Half Tales.
- Higure, the Still Wind - Featured in The Sound of Crickets
- Horobi, Death's Wail - Featured in Security.
- Iizuka the Ruthless - Featured in Iizuka the Ruthless.
- Iname, Life Aspect, Iname, Death Aspect, Iname as One - Featured in Thankless Child
- Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni - Featured in A Servant's Mission.
- Infernal Kirin - Featured in The Meeting.
- Iwamori of the Open Fist - Featured in Personal Battles.
- Jugan, the Rising Star - Featured in The Dragon Shield
- Kataki, War's Wage - Featured in War's Wage.
- Kentaro, the Smiling Cat - Featured in Redemption Smiles.
- Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker - Featured in The Dragon's Errand.
- Kumano, Master Yamabushi - Featured in Mountain Secret.
- Patron of the Akki - Featured in Patron of the Akki.
- Sakashima the Impostor - Featured in The Face Behind the Mask.
- Takeno, Samurai General - Konda's most senior military advisory. Featured in Duty Bound.
- The Unspeakable - Featured in Told in Whispers.
Toshiro's shifting web of allegiances propel the story forward. Toshirio Umezawa
by Christopher Moeller
The Story of Kamigawa
- Outlaw - Champions of Kamigawa
Lord Takeshi Konda is informed of his daughter’s birth by Lady Pearl-Ear, who is something of a kitsune ambassador. He seems uninterested, having just secured something else that he believes will be his legacy. That something has taken the place of the shrine to his patron spirit, the Myojin of Cleansing Fire. Something that will ensure his dynasty reigns forever.
Twenty years later, in the ruins of what was once the city outside Eiganjo Castle (ravaged by twenty years of the Kami War), Toshiro Umezawa is following a pack of nezumi led by Marrow-Gnawer to horn in on their score. He realizes he’s made a mistake when their employers, semi-mythical moonfolk led by Chiyo, appear and attack him for interrupting their plan. He gets away with the aid of his kanji magic, but decides not to try his luck and skirts around ratfolk territory on his way home. He travels into the Numai in Takenuma Swamp, where he meets Kiku. She lets him pass through her territory after he helps her defeat a spirit that suddenly manifests. At his home, a larger group of moonfolk await, including Chiyo and his superior, Eitoku, who he traps with his home’s built-in kanji defenses. As he escapes and the moonlight shifts, a bad omen appears. It signals that he and the Hyozan Reckoners, a group he founded with an ogre named Hidetsugu, are headed for disaster with the Moonfolk. He decides to take matters into his own hands and heads east to the Sokenzan Mountains.
In the badlands, he crosses Godo and Akki territory to meet with Hidetsugo. He's stopped by Hidetsugo’s apprentice, Kobo, but after hearing his news the ogre invites him in to meet his other guests: the Brothers Yamazaki and Ben-Ben from the Ichi tribe. They are given blessings by Hidetsugu and head off on some unknown mission, despite the fact that the two groups (akki and bandits) have never gotten along. Hidetsugu decides to send Toshiro and Kobo to the Jukai forest to find help among Kobo’s former people, the Budoka monks. He makes Kobo take the Hyozan Oath, and Kobo too becomes a Reckoner. The oath requires that each member of the reckoners protect the others, and avenge them if necessary. The ogre assures Toshiro that his apprentice is more than up to the journey, being part ogre thanks to another ritual. On their journey, they come across a ritual being conducted by the combined akki and bandit forces. They don’t take kindly to interlopers, and Toshiro and Kobo are forced to defend themselves until the ritual is completed. After, the Myojin of Infinite Rage appears to them. Infinite Rage reveals that it is looking for an end to the Kami War, but one that will benefit the spirit’s followers. It leaves behind kami to kill Kobo and Toshiro, but thanks to Kobo’s ability to summon oni, they manage to live through the attack.
Eiganjo is a huge castle even by Magic
Eiganjo Castle by Wayne England
Back in Eiganjo, the daimyo’s daughter Michiko studies under the expert tutelage of Lady Pearl-Ear, who has become something of a surrogate mother for Michiko. One day, while attending a diplomatic function, a kami manifests inside the walls of Eiganjo, and Michiko is only barely saved by the quick thinking (and feet) or Pearl-Ear and her visiting brother, Sharp-Ear. Pearl-Ear becomes worried by news of kami attacks escalating and decides to return to her people while Sharp-Ear continues Michiko’s tutelage. Lord Konda seems uninterested by news of this attack, which frustrates Michiko. She and her friends, Riko and Choryu, decide on a plan where they will sneak out of the castle and ride to Minamo Academy, where Riko and Choryu are students. Sharp-Ear overhears these plans but is left with few choices. The princess could just lie or wait and escape again when he’s not paying attention, so he plays a trick on the three youths. Once they’ve left the castle, he summons a sandstorm to separate the Minamo students from Michiko. Michiko is led through the Jukai forest by foxfire she believes is sent by a benevolent spirit, only to discover Sharp-Ear’s ploy when she arrives safely at a kitsune village on the outskirts of the forest. She’s relieved to discover her friends are there safe as well, and to reunite with Pearl-Ear.
Unfortunately, the village isn’t as safe as Sharp-Ear had hoped. Kitsune rangers discover a horde of akki whose path takes them straight through the village. To make matters worse, a small force of mounted samurai led by Nagao have arrived at the village demanding Michiko return with them… and Sharp-Ear as a prisoner. The daimyo believes Sharp-Ear allowed the princess to escape, and he’s to return and stand trial. Quick wits convince Nagao to aid them in destroying the akki. Nagao’s force, accompanied by Sharp-Ear, ambush the akki in the forest, but even after killing hundreds, there’s no end to the goblin forces. Worse, the akki are supported by bandits and kami, Nagao’s samurai are routed, and Nagao himself killed. Back at the village, the town elder leads a ritual imploring the spirits of their ancestors for aid, and they’re shown a vision of Michiko going to meet the snakefolk. The princess, Pearl-Ear, Sharp-Ear, a trio of kitsune samurai brothers called the Tail Brothers, and the students Choryu and Riko all set out into the forest. Choryu goes grudgingly, as he never sways from his opinion that the princess should go to Minamo to find answers.
In the forest, they come across Toshiro and Kobo, who are lost and unable to find any Budoko settlements. Tensions between the groups soar as Toshiro taunts a whingy Choryu. Before things can come to blows, Kobo and the Tail Brothers realize they’re surrounded. Orochi attack from every direction, and slowly whittle away at the group with venom and sheer numbers. When Toshiro awakes, he finds Kobo's dead body (mouth full of water) and the Oath of the Reckoner demands vengeance. He uses his dead oath brother's blood to help power magic that allow him to sneak past the orochi. He takes one of the snakefolk prisoner and interrogates him, learning that the orochi are planning to sacrifice the princess to their patron spirit, the Myojin of Life's Web. He safely rescues the princess, and the two disappear into the woods with snakefolk not far behind. To get away, Toshiro summons a giant moth he had rescued... for a price. The moth had hated service to the daimyo's forces and agreed to transport Toshiro five times at his call. In order to transport the princess as well, Toshiro negotiates away his last trips, and so when the moth deposits them days away by foot, it’s gone forever. The princess quickly realizes this isn't a true rescue, however, as Toshirio binds her hands and begins scheming how best to ransom her.
Meanwhile, the orochi and their Budoka allies complete their ritual without the princess, and Life’s Web guides them in Toshiro and the princess’s direction. Konda relates a similar vision to Takeno, who leads thousands of men out after the princess. The princess’s old compatriots escape in the confusion among the orochi. They track the missing princess as well, spotting the path of the giant moth and following it back toward the cave. Chiyo and Eitoku confer about the status of their plans, and it’s revealed that the moonfolk are plotting something grand on Kamigawa, for which the princess is a necessary part. Their leader is the mysterious prophet Uyo.
In the midst of all this, a stubby little blue kami who names itself the Smiling Kami of the Crescent Moon—Mochi, for short. Toshiro doesn’t trust the kami, but after several visions, including of the night of Michiko’s birth, they both believe the kami is what it says it is. It tells them of plots going on behind the scenes, and how Konda stole something from the spirit realm the night Michiko was born, connecting her and That Which Was Taken forever. Many believe by killing her they can restore the rightful order of the world. Toshiro abandons ransoming her, and instead frees her and offers his services (for the right price). Mochi tells Toshiro that al his power has to come from somewhere. Toshiro tells the little kami to prove it, and so he calls the Myojin of Night's Reach in. As Night's Reach appears, Mochi tells Toshiro that he has little time before all of his enemies arrive, and he’ll need their power to win the day. Toshiro realizes immediately that Night’s Reach is the real deal, and while he doesn’t trust Mochi, he does swear fealty to Night’s Reach (but not Mochi). The boon he requests in return is the power of silence. He uses it immediately to keep from having to hear Mochi’s scheming. Knowing his time is almost up, he puts his sword to the princess’s throat.
Elsewhere, the troops dispatched by the daimyo are intercepted by a mysterious kami. It’s clear it’s the being from Mochi’s vision, finally manifesting in the world. Two miniature suns manifest, appearing like terrifying burning eyes. The ground erupts around the troops that aren’t scorched by the suns, and most of the daimyo’s men are killed, a huge crater left where they once stood. Just as quickly as they appeared, the mysterious suns disappear again.
The Orochi snakefolk get short shift this block, despite many legends.
Snake Token by Dan Scott
Nearby Toshiro’s cave, Pearl-Ear, Sharp-Ear, the Tail brothers, and the two Minamo students arrive, the orochi not far behind. Weary from the chase, they’re nonetheless ready to fight Toshiro and recover the princess. Before they know it, they’re surrounded by the orochi. They put up a good fight, but the overwhelming numbers are whittling them down. Toshiro warns them to take cover as he sends dozens of razor birds, straw folded and enchanted by kanji magic, to rip apart many of the orochi. Toshiro himself steps out, now magically enhanced by his connection to Night’s Reach, and fights the orochi. He kills hundreds before he starts to slow down. The orochi’s Budoka allies summon an aspect of Life’s Web, which finally puts a stop to Toshiro’s rampage. But Toshiro had planned for this, and while captured by Life’s Web’s vines, he summons forth the power granted to him by Night’s Reach, silencing the monks chanting both near the cave and back at the clearing in the forest. With nothing anchoring her to the plane and dark magic coursing through her, Life’s Web withers away to nothing.
In the aftermath, it’s revealed that Toshiro used Michiko’s tears to help power his razor birds. Mochi is shocked by how Toshiro resolved things. Michiko still holds firm to the deal she made with Toshiro, and she forces Pear-Ear and crew to let him go. Toshiro departs, but not before creating a ‘guilty’ kanji, which attaches itself to Chiyo’s forehead. The rest look on in horror as it burns into his flesh and forces Chiyo to fly to Hidetsugu. Toshiro reveals that during the fight, he learned that neither the orochi nor the Budoka murdered Kobo. The only remaining suspect was young Chiyo, who used water magic to drown the ogre’s apprentice (hence his mouth full of water when Toshiro discovered him). Toshiro tells Michiko how to contact him when she’s ready to engage his services again, and uses his newfound power to fade away from the rest of the group’s wrath.
Hidetsugu is mourning his apprentice when Toshiro’s gift arrives, fulfilling the reckoner oath. With a sadistic pleasure, the ogre informs Chiyo that he’ll be Hidetsugu’s new apprentice, but that most of his apprentices don’t survive a week of his tutelage.
That's it for today, ronin warriors. Next time we dive into the truth of Konda's crime: What did he steal? Why? And what will the spirit realm do to get it back?
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments or on the forum, and we will address it in future updates. Have a suggestion for something you want to see? Let us know, and we may address it in a future column. You can also follow me on twitter @Jay13x or @VorthosJay on Tumblr.