Okay, so since conversation about Kamigawa has spiked again, I thought it would be interesting to think seriously about what an undertaking a return set would be. So here are some questions:
1. What is the biggest reason to go back? If story-related, can you think of a specific and believable story reason that would warrant a return?
2. Flavorfully, how much has to change? What needs to stay the same?
3. Mechanically, is there anything worth keeping? Where do you start when imagining mechanics for a better Kamigawa?
4. What bits of the remaining flavor must be represented mechanically? For example, assuming the Samurai creature type remains, must there be a named mechanic for it like there was with Bushido, or can Samurai be more of a background element like with Jackals on Amonkhet?
5. After everything messy or unnecessary has been cut away, what direction do you move toward to fill whatever void is left? A more anime-esque focus? What genre? Maybe something more mainstream? What exactly does that mean in the context of Kamigawa/Japan-world? What about an overall mechanical theme?
Here are my stabs at answering some of these questions:
1. I believe that the most compelling reason to return to Kamigawa is to revisit the Japan-world concept without having to create a new world. I imagine that, with solid pretense and explanation, Kamigawa can change fairly drastically to accommodate the more modern standards a normal expansion is required to meet, and still satisfy a majority of the people who specifically want a return to Kamigawa and not a new Japan-world. Something like "this expansion takes place a few thousand years in the future, prompting some significant changes to Kamigawa as we currently know it" should suffice with minimal complaints while maximizing the opportunity to push Kamigawa in a better direction.
In short, returning to Kamigawa presents the opportunity to check off two short-list requests with one stroke, if done properly: Return to Kamigawa, and Proper Japan-world. This still presents a very large challenge with next-to-no room for mistakes, and the reward isn't much bigger than any other expansion offers for all it's increased risk, making Return to Kamigawa dangerously close to "doing it to prove we can."
2. and 3. Flavorfully, Kamigawa presents a challenge very similar to that of Dominaria's return. For Dominaria, it had so many popular (and some less popular) themes, both mechanically and flavorfully, that choosing a focus for the set was very difficult. Kamigawa has the inverse problem, with so much of the original block being a failure that choosing what to latch onto for a starting point is just as difficult. There are a handful of things from Kamigawa that seem necessary and potentially resonant for a Japan-world, and those things are pretty much exclusively creature types. Samurai, Ninja, and Spirit are the big three that I can think of when it comes to what Kamigawa really needs, so that seems like the most solid starting point.
Given the success of Dominaria's legend theme, I would have also suggested starting there, but it's because of Dominaria that I decided not to. Kamigawa would essentially end up looking like discount Dominaria with 90% fewer recognizable characters to choose from anyway, so I don't think a legend theme will work for Kamigawa.
None of the other mechanics from Kamigawa are even close to usable in today's design world, so there really isn't much to choose from. To make matters worse, the three creature types we have latched onto comprise a very weak starting point. With creature types as the starting point, one would think that Tribal is the obvious way to go, but I don't think there's nearly enough design space to give any one of these tribes a decent mechanic or even draft archetype, with Spirit already having representation in Innistrad and Ninja already having been fleshed out as much as I can imagine is possible.
Basically, with all that I've eliminated and the handful of things I've decided to save, I'm basically working with a blank slate, and not in the good way. With this in mind, my next step would be to start looking outside Kamigawa-related stuff for inspiration. For example, using Sagas as a way to incorporate Kamigawa's past seems like a good way to nod to the hardcore Kamigawa fans while not shackling myself to the mechanics present in the original block, but we're running back into Dominaria territory and not accomplishing much more than creating a few easter-eggs.
So I guess we'll come back to this.
4. I don't think anything we've held onto needs any hard mechanical representation (though some soft mechanical identity for tribes like Ninja and Spirit would probably be okay). Again, this leaves us in the middle of nowhere.
5. Seeing as how basically all we're left with is a huge void with some small tropes to cling to, deciding where to go from here is very difficult. To answer this question, I would refer to the story for inspiration. Let's say, just for the sake of giving us as much to work with as possible, we're visiting a rather more advanced version of Kamigawa after a thousand-year time-skip. Let's also allow ourselves to derive as much inspiration from as many resonant sources as possible, mainly Anime, tv, and movies, although the latter two will be more difficult as movies generally tend to be more grounded in history, which isn't the most fantastical of sources.
This, of course, begs the question of what specific genre of anime/movies/tv to pull from, as there's a whole lot of those. Given our tiny list of creature types, we can at least narrow it down to something like Bleach, or a similar mystical-shonen vibe.
Again, just for the sake of trying to achieve something and having much more experience with anime than anything else we could use, I'll go on assuming that this version of Kamigawa is basically Anime-world with some historical features.
So given this more solid starting point, I'll start throwing out words that have meaning in both Magic and this source material:
Equipment (as in mystical weapons n such)
Transform (as in "this isn't even my final form")
Exert (as in "special attack")
_____ Human (as in anthropomorphic races, like Kitsune or Leonin)
Fight (as in one-on-one battles)
Nonhuman Legend (as in talking animal characters)
Anywa, that's just a few things to start with, which is better than what we had before. I think the most promising item here is definitely Transform. Level and Monster are both resonant in anime, but mechanically, Transform fills both roles very well. Transform has been used so far in three ways: on Innistrad it was designed for and primarily used by Werewolves to show them switching back and forth between two very different forms, and to a lesser extent used on scary things to show them becoming scarier; in Magic Origins (and now M19) it was used to show a planeswalker's ascension; and on Ixalan, it was used to represent a journey and a destination. Anime-world Kamigawa gives us the opportunity to use transformation in a different way: showing a character becoming stronger.
This brings us to characters. I imagine Kamigawa would still have a higher-than-average number of legendary creatures, but definitely nothing close to original Kamigawa block or Dominaria.
The rest of the list leaves us with a lot of small tropes we can include, but nothing substantial enough for a mechanical theme. I think our best option is to try a new execution of Spirit-tribal for at least one common-level theme. We could also have a +1/+1 counter theme as a nother way to represent the weak growing stronger.
I should also mention that certain inclusions are sort of obligatory due to their persistent existence in the MTG multiverse and story at large: Moonfolk, due to Tamiyo; Nezumi, due to Tamiyo's story circle; Orochi, due to their recent inclusion in a Commander deck (although it's not clear how much time may or may not have passed in-world since then). I'm sure there are a few more, but that's what I can think of off the top of my head. As these are all creature types, none of which are really begging for mechanical theme, their inclusion sjouldn't be that consequential.
Now let's take a step back and look at what we have so far: an Anime-inspired Kamigawa with transform, Spirit-tribal, a +1/+1 counter theme, more-than-average legends, and a handful of tropes, maybe with some Sagas and making sure to include most of the creature types from before.
In short, we may as well be making a re-skinned Innistrad without most of the tribes. Nothing here is new or innovative so far, and we're still grasping at straws for some kind of mechanical identity. Maybe if we had something like a card-type or multicolor archetype to start with, we could try to innovate from there, but we don't even have that to work with.
I can think of some individual designs that would fit well in Anime-Kamigawa, but the set still lacks a unique identity. It's also worth mentioning that a good portion of the Kamigawa fanbase is already upset that so much has changed and I can't imagine a set like this would generate enough excitement to bring in enough players to make up for it.
So where do we go from here? How would you guys tackle this differently? Are there any obvious opportunities I'm missing to push Kamigawa forward? How would you guys answer these questions?
Another point flavorwise to emphasise is that the war is over and the kami/gods are still there. They are omnipresent and interactable, revered. Notable is that mortals/kami are no two opposing factions anymore, so any venture into tribal would have to be less "Spirit vs. non-Spirt" but more "Spirit plus non-Spirit" the same way Oni use to work in the original Kamigawa-block (Demon+Ogre tribal). (Once again: Something I put forward before.)
Kamigawa being a split plane predates the split Theros, so some neat ideas like enchantment creatures have been used there.
I consider "anime" not much of a genre to take from. It's so broad, it's meaningless. Is it about love icosahedra? About someone trying to find out how to make the bread that best represents their home? About a novel by American author Louisa May Alcott? There is obviously the issue that "shounen" kinda imports some issues being about a target demographic as well/rather than as themes - unfortunately I cannot say anything about the "Bleach" you mention to use it as a reference point.
As far as I can tell though the story of "transformative journeys" is not something that is unique to anime and has a long tradition in japanese culture and is part of what the flip-cards in the original Kamigawa-block were about - a student becoming a master through accomlishment. Whether that should happen to transform is another question.
Something western audiences might be appreciative of is also Japanese horror stories - many of them kinda overlapping with the everyday mysticism that involves kami. Having little gods live in the world separated from your own by a thin permeable veil can be wondrous as well as terrifying.
One aspect that the aforementioned "Shounen" stories often emphasise in addition to pure action and comedy that might serve as a cool jumping of point is camaraderie. A large shift from how Kamigawa-block didn't emphasise the relationships between characters, but the big names themselves. There were rulers and martial masters and generals, but does the flavor text even know about the Hyozan Reckoners (okay, maybe not the most functional group)?
Representing that mechanically may be a challenge, but certainly a new direction that moves away from "re-skinned Innistrad" as well. My own take on this always wanders towards the "a kid and their monster" motif - something that's also well-represented in some of the anime that makes it across the pond.
Private Mod Note
Rollback Post to RevisionRollBack
Planar Chaos was not a mistake neither was it random. You might want to look at it again.
[thread=239793][Game] Level Up - Creature[/thread]