The year was 2004. We were all still wearing studded belts with wallet chains on our baggy jeans that were halfway down our arses. Emo was in. Basically, it was like this year, but the phones weren’t as good. That was the year when the Kamigawa plane was first introduced to Magic the Gathering, and people hated it a lot. Now, 18 years since its original introduction, Wizards of the Coast is taking Magic back to Kamigawa, only this time it’s 1200 years in the future, marking Magic’s first journey to a plane that isn’t set in boiler plate ye olde fantasy times.
Principal product architect, Max McCall, has confidence that this time around, players are ready for what Kamigawa has to offer. “The original Kamigawa block was seen as weak, because compared to the Mirrodin block that preceded it, it was. Neon Dynasty doesn’t have that problem. Moreover, a lot of what was theoretically cool about Champions of Kamigawa was inscrutable to players who weren’t deeply familiar with Japanese mythology. Neon Dynasty is deliberately emphasizing elements of Kamigawa that people are familiar with – there’s plenty of ninja, samurai, mechs, and cute kami to fall in love with.”
It’s hard to tell whether that’s a ringing endorsement for Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, or a sick burn against the previous Innistrad block. But after spending two weeks playing Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty both on Magic Arena and in paper formats, it’s hard not to enjoy the set. There really is something for everyone.
Enchantments, vehicles and Samurai are major themes for the set, with Sagas making a comeback for the first time in a while. The unfortunate return of Sagas aside, this really is an extremely versatile set to play with. Despite being a staunchly green/white player (Selesnya forever), it’s really hard to go past the raw power of a well-made red/white Samurai deck.
The Samurai mechanic is basically “when a Samurai attacks alone, all the other Samurai give them awesome extra abilities until they become an unbeatable killing machine that brings treats”. Raiyuu, Storm’s Edge is particularly key in any Samurai deck, with the ability to grant an extra combat phase during your turn, not to mention first strike. Plus, being a legendary creature means it’s ripe to become a truly ridiculous commander.
That’s not to say there aren’t many incredible green/white enchantment decks to be made. There are, and I have been truly destroyed by many of them, but I am in awe of the simple fun of the samurai decks.
Another new mechanic is Reconfigure, which makes Artifact Equipment Creatures such a, enticing category of card and takes some of the risk away from playing expensive equipment. When you play it, it comes into the battlefield as an Artifact Creature that can do all the usual creature stuff. Where Reconfigure comes in handy is that you have the choice whether you want to use the artifact as a creature, or pay to attach it to or detach it from another creature. So, you can buff a creature during your attack phase, and then detach the untapped equipment creature so you have a creature to block with during your opponent’s turn.
According to McCall, there are also returning mechanics from the original Kamigawa run. “Channel and Ninjutsu are probably the two most exciting encores for Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. Channel wasn’t explored in depth last time we saw it, so it has been a great experience to open that design space and show off what the mechanic is capable of. Ninjutsu had perhaps less room to grow but it’s an undoubtedly exciting mechanic and feels really cool to pull off. It might be one of our most flavorful mechanics we’ve ever created so it’s great to see it return.”
There are heaps of nods throughout Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty to the original sets. Given that Kami are immortal, the 1200 year jump doesn’t stop some characters from returning, not to mention the spirits and descendants of previous characters. Since the original set is only a few months away from being old enough to vote, it will be interesting to see how many people pick up those references, but it’s a lovely thing to include anyway.
When asked for hints about how the Kamigawa story would continue throughout the year, McCall was obviously coy, but did drop one hint. “Folks who are interested in the lore hopefully have read the 5-part story on our website by now. If they haven’t, go check it out: MAGIC STORY | MAGIC: THE GATHERING (wizards.com). Let’s just say the Phyrexians aren’t just a token involvement… exciting things are ahead.”
Seeing Magic in such a modern setting can be a little jarring at first. It’s a world where talking lions doing spells seems normal, yet electric lighting is the kind of witchcraft that gets you burned at the stake. The set does have a slight vibe of “the youth are into anime and Cyberpunk now, should we be doing that?”, which, layered upon the obviously Harry Potter inspired Strixhaven block from last year implies that Wizards are running out of new ideas for their existing worlds. But it’s refreshing and exciting seeing such an established and settled game take a risk on a new setting. I’m not Japanese, and don’t know much about Japanese culture, so I can’t comment on any kind of cultural authenticity (though there have been questions raisedabout that). The set seems fun, though, and it’s going to be hilarious seeing if any of these modern art cards end up getting incorporated in any decks that are mostly of the more traditional Magic flavours.
Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty is available to play now in the Magic Arena game, as well as at your local game store.