Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, that is.
Kamigawa has always had a really unique place in Magic history and lore. I'm fairly ancient by today's zoomer standards, and when I started playing the game back in 2008 or so the Kamigawa block sets did not have a particularly good reputation - the cards weren't particularly strong, the Limited format hadn't been great and it had the misfortune of existing in the same era as the Mirrodin block Affinity problems.
I actually learned to play Magic with a Kamigawa-block Soulshift deck so I had a soft spot for the set, but all in all, it was a set that wasn't super popular and many including designers at Wizards of the Coast felt was "unlikely to return" (according to Mark Rosewater's "Rabiah Scale," anyway).
Along Came a Format...
But then came Commander.
I feel like I can write that line about just about anything in the game these days, but Commander cropped up and breathed second life into the cards despite box prices dropping incredibly low.
For everyone speculating on old Kamigawa cards:— Michael Caffrey (@ToaMichael) December 16, 2021
Betrayers - and particularly Saviors - were completely unsellable sets. There were $30 boxes of Chinese Saviors of Kamigawa on the market for years afterward and $50-60 English boxes.
But the one thing that set with all the legends had going for it? Lots and lots of Commander-focused cards, albeit unintentionally at the time. But all the legends-focus worked out perfectly for the format, and over the years a set that for a long time had a passionate but smaller group of proponents crept up to be one of the most-requested sets to return to one day.
Well, one day is here, and soon so will be Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. After a double-trip back to Innistrad this fall, it's time to get very far into the future of Kamigawa and see how things have changed. In lieu of too many specific cards previewed to talk about, I wanted to take some time today to highlight the best of Kamigawa past when it comes to Commander, since there's a high likelihood of the new cards working well with the old or fitting into the same 100-card decks!
Of Kamigawa of Old
The original venture into the plane with Champions of Kamigawa featured a bunch of spirits (plays nicely with Innistrad, even if they're different somewhat concepts of spirits), and the original block also featured some more unique designs that have remained that way despite many years of cards since. Some of these, as you might expect, have proven very popular in Commander.
Three very different cards, but three cards that found a common home in Commander. It feels like Top has fallen out of favor somewhat since the early days of Commander when it felt like a must-include, and there's a probably a few reasons for that. Not only are there just more and stronger options these days for smoothing out the top of your library, but at a more basic level Commander is just a vastly more powerful format now - you're not just juggling between ramp and 8-drops, so there's less need for Top to keep you from drawing into one of those classic early-days Commander hands of three lands and 8-drops.
Now I've been known to brew around Ghostly Prison more than most (I hope to bring Mining Modern back someday!), but in reality the Prison never really excelled in one-on-one formats. But it sure did fit perfectly into Commander, where plenty of life meant both that you had time to deploy something like Prison and also discouraged opponents from paying the mana to take such a meager chunk out of your large life total. Kiki-Jiki, of course, is just a powerhouse in every deck it goes in, and that goes for 60-card formats like Modern in addition to Commander.
But it goes beyond that - Azusa, Lost but Seeking was an early terror in Commander paired with Crucible of Worlds and Strip Mine (if you hated your friends, anyway), plus Azusa found a home in competitive formats. Throw in the mana fixing of Forbidden Orchard that was really just used to combo with Oath of Druids for the classic combo and you have another memorable Kamigawa contribution.
There was a time when Kokusho was banned in Commander!
The "each opponent" wording was the biggest reason why Kokusho was so powerful, and a reason why Kamigawa for a long time had a special relationship with Commander before there were a lot of cards designed explicitly for multiplayer games.
In your average game, Kokusho gains 15 life while taking that much from the rest of the table. As a commander in early the early days, this was extremely problematic, especially if you played in games that were less combo-centric and combat damage ended up mattering. These days, Kokusho isn't such a big deal, but it's still a fairly popular inclusion from the block!
Umezawa's Jitte is of course cracked, but honestly there's not a ton that stands out from Betrayers of Kamigawa unless you're into playing Yuriko and abusing ninjutsu creatures like Ninja of the Deep Hours.
But the Hidetsugu was a pretty unique effect for a very long time in Commander, and I have to admit there was a time when I lived in fear of a local player who would halve my life total with this thing regularly. And now it's back in Neon Dynasty!
Good ol' Hondens. I've never actually played against this deck in Commander, but it's certainly got a following among people who really like stacking shrines.
I do think it's awesome that the original Honden cycle was created and for a long time was one of those Commander sub-sub-archetypes that never really quite got there - it was like all the random creature tribes that use shapeshifters to fill in the gaps, only without very many and/or efficient ways to copy or search enchantments out.
That is, until Magic 2021.
I have no idea if more Shrines are coming in Neon Dynasty, but it should be fun to find out!
Finally, I have to give some attention to the original master of equipment, Good. These days there's no shortage of mostly Boros creatures to either find equipment or attach them for free - plus Kaldra Compleat is just disgusting with Stoneforge Mystic of course - but back in the day Good was pretty much the biggest equipment commander out there.
It's still powerful, and decently popular. The stronger equipment gets (like Kaldra's belongings), the stronger Good gets, even if 6 mana in Commander is quite expensive these days. That said, if we get more Samurai in Neon Dynasty to help make that second paragraph of text more relevant, we could easily see a lot of the Bandit Warlord at tables in the coming weeks!
The Future of Kamigawa
It's early, but I'm excited to see where our return to Kamigawa goes, having not been around for the first time. I doubt we'll see a ton of mechanical overlap from the first sets, since even though the plane of Kamigawa has been much asked-for, the original mechanics maybe not as much so. That means they got to approach designing this set with what likely amounts to a blank slate, and I have to say I'm very intrigued by the setting and premise and am looking forward to Magic's take on this concept!
What are you most looking for in the set?
Thanks for reading,