I had what I thought was a complex relationship with the Kamigawa block. It was the first block to come out when I had a job, at a point where I literally didn’t have enough basic lands to make multiple decks, and so, Fox and I bought a box of sealed decks, to build a land collection of beautiful, beautiful lands. We broke those boxes open and played some sealed with our friends and had a great time making terrible decks and losing immensely and it was fun and it was exciting and since then I became a person who, for some inexplicable reason once I fell unemployed, read all the Kamigawa novels and became Very Versed on the setting.
I have said a lot about Kamigawa over time, and if you’d asked me say, six years ago, when I was on Twitter talking about it, you’d find me saying something that summarises as ‘Kamigawa was a great idea, failed by development,’ all said with the comforting certaint that I would never come back to Kamigawa, and never have to grapple with the issues of how that dead end would ever be addressed.
I would never have expected Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty.
Let’s get some positivity out there right away. I like a lot of things here, and I like how there’s a lot of attempts to address problems in older cards by invoking them. One example of this is the positively devious way is Light-Paws, Emperor’s Voice:
This is Tallowisp. This is as close as you can get to a Tallowisp deck without replicating the problems of Tallowisp. And what’s more, it’s a Tallowisp that’s directly useful for the Commander format. When I want to make a commander deck I often start by looking at other decks I like in other formats, like I did when I wrote about trying to make ‘Jund’ generic goodstuff in Commander. Light-Paws lets you build in a couple of ways, but always with a mix of things that will always be being printed: There are going to be new auras printed, there are going to be new creatures that benefit from enchantments, there are going to be enchantments that are good for cheating out other enchantments and there are going to be enchantments that are good for being cheated out. This is a card that can head a commander deck with a very affordable, expanding space of gameplay, and that’s cool.
I’m really happy to see Ninjutsu? Ninjutsu is a hard mechanic to expand from its original design — when limited to just blue and black, and with the rule that they always have a commando ability, the ninjas kind of quickly run out of things they can do that fit on the card and have a good play pattern. I resisted the idea of ninja without commando abilities and ninja without ninjutsu, but that change allowed them to make a lot more ninja and make those ninja more interesting and cool and varied, while still giving some really good riffs on ‘classic’ ninja.
And yes, the plural of ninja is ninja, and check it out, this card is worded to ensure it doesn’t have to pluralise the game object in a nonstandard way.
I already knew I loved Reconfigure, right? I feel like surely I’ve said something about it. Reconfigure is an exciting, interesting mechanic, it lets me address an interesting space for the style of card they are, they get to do ‘transforming mech’ and ‘armoured up’ character style, I love that.
I would have worded Reconfigure differently? That’s not to complain about it per se, but it is just a mechanic that I would have handled a lot closer to Bestow, but then, my version would make a lot of 0/0 Reconfigure creatures, which is obviously not ideal.
I love! the transforming sagas. I love how they can be used to tell you the story of a character before that character arrives. I feel a bit like there’s a wasted opportunity here, where the ‘delay’ means the cards on the back can be pretty fancy, but in this case we instead get some very… tolerable, fine ones. But this is great technology for one thing I really want to include the game a lot, which is a sort of ‘preamble’ for characters.
Oh, and I am amused by Farewell being probably the last Seb McKinnon art to grace a Magic card.
This isn’t to say that the set is full of perfect choices.
I wasn’t that into the new shrines. They’re interesting, but I also feel like we’ve hit Shrine Overload, where shrines are having more specific, more varied abilities instead of more shrine enablers. But y’know, some people want dozens of shrines, and that’s… fine.
I feel like there’s a real waste of the new potential technology of Enchantment Creatures across Kamigawa to represent the Spirits of Kamigawa? I would have loved to see them as, say, enchantment creatures that can ‘stop’ being creatures some turns. Especially with the tech of transforming Sagas! We could have had some great new ‘spiritcraft’ stuff or revisits of classic spiritcraft cards like Thief of Hope and … uh…
Okay, not a lot of options there.
We got Kyodai, and I get it, she’s just.. well, she’s just a big defensive Aegis angel who gets to head up a five-colour-don’t-touch-my-thing commander deck. Since she was ‘the most important thing’ of Kamigawa the first time around it is a little bit sad that she feels so… simple? But I get it. It would have been great for her to dole out Divinity Counters, like she used to.
I don’t care about Modified at all. They feel like a bunch of cards designed to be trivia answers in a few years’ time, when people realise that every modified card is also a +1/+1 counter or equipped card. They don’t inherently appeal to me. Same with the investment in vehicles, I just don’t find them particularly exciting, but, you know, great for those that like them.
Greater Tanuki has the creature type ‘dog’?
Which is stupid?
Gibbering Hyenas aren’t a cat, Bull Hippo isn’t a horse, a Tanuki isn’t a dog.
There is also our narrative, and I’m torn on this one too.
For a start, it involves Phyrexians, something I don’t much care for and find very boring. The nature of the Phyrexians compares in equal parts to an invasion and a plague and a corrupting church, and while you might think those are things I like to have in a setting, I want them to be around so they can be fucking murdered by people who are in the right to murder them. Phyrexians don’t have that; the closest we’ve ever come to ‘beating’ Phyrexians at scale was a literal apocalypse that also killed off Gerrard and hopefully got Urza out of the story for a bit, so you know, it wasn’t all bad.
Having Tamiyo become Compleated was a bit of a bummer because I like Tamiyo and I felt that we hadn’t begun to explore what it meant to be a mother and a planeswalker, to see someone who couldn’t just simplify their day job into ‘adventure hobo.’ Compleation always feels like a dead end for a character, to me, and that meant that one of the most interesting planeswalkers suddenly became the least interesting planeswalker after Basri Ket.
On the other hand this is a chance to learn more about the Wanderer, who is, on the one hand, an empress, and death to those, and on the other hand, an anime waifu who is full of sad feelings about not being able to stay on the phone to her internet boyfriend as long as she wants, so who’s to say how unrelatable she really is. Oh wait, her legendary dog that thinks she is great and that dog is a very good boy. Oh oh and her bond to Kamigawa has an actual avatar and that avatar is a cyber raccoon.
Kaito seems neat too. I mean, he’s a Hyozan reckoner and he’s this great version of a blue-black devoted retainer, someone who will break any rule or cross any line in the name of protecting and caring for his. Plus, the trailer shows Kaito fighting a terrible monster that stands still while making big arcing attacks (yes), then him continuing to fight even though he’s going to get his ass beat (yesss) because he has someone he won’t let down (yessssssss), and then they arived and saved him (FUCK YEAH) –
That was great!
I suppose there’s also room to make obligatory commentary on Orientialism, and by that I mean the book by Edward Said and how it applies here. That is a thing I could do, show off my big space brain and go ‘look how this thing that you like is actually bad’ in the hackest of tumblr ways.
I’m not going to, and I can’t, and not just because it’s dumb.
Look, I can’t give you input on Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty in terms of orientalism and representation. I can’t! This is a set that was made, in part, for people like me; people who love Kamigawa, who thought it was done a disservice in the past, and who were already heavily invested in Japanese cultural signifiers and not necessarily Japanese culture. Japanese artists were hired, Japanese consultants were considered, Japanese hands were on the rudder that guided this vessel, but it was, also, always, filtered through the digestive vessel of the beast that is Wizards of the Coast, and I cannot say, with any expertise, what is here as a good job or a bad job.
And also, you should listen to those people who are involved directly.
For now, this is something that aims squarely at me. Someone who twenty years ago was in love with Kamigawa, then enraged at how the world I loved was handled, and disrespected, and the disruptions to the game and the ongoing drumbeat that we will never go back that eventually broke with this exciting, mysterious, and captivating change. This is a place for me, and what am I going to say? That part of me does not sing to this world, and the things it’s trying to do, even if I’m not happy about everything in it?
I’m really glad we got to go back to Kamigawa. I like where it’s at now. I love the place the setting is at and it’s full of characters I love.