Dear readers and friends of Magic: the Gathering!
Today I am going to treat you with a blast from my personal Magic past:
Ten years ago from today, waaay back in 2004 Wizards (of the Coast) released Champions of Kamigawa, the first set in the Kamigawa block, which was set in the rich, ancient Japanese world of mythology. Kamigawa was, in my opinion, one of the most flavorful sets in M:tG history, coming with stunningly beautiful artwork and teeming with otherworldly spirits, featuring lots of legendary Samurai, Ninjas and various other creature taken right out of Japanese lore and myth, as well as several interesting abilities such as “Splice onto Arcane” or “Soulshift”.
In hindsight, the Kamigawa block was one of the less powerful and lasting blocks overall, as it was very flavorful and interesting within itself as mentioned before, but produced, as far as I can tell not a whole lot of cards that made a lasting impact on the game after the Kamigawa blocks. There are few cards from Kamigawa that you see played in decks nowadays, though there sure are some great quality cards to be found in said block, for example a “pet creature” of mine:
Back in the time of the Kamigawa block, I was very actively playing Magic and so I am quite familiar with the “Kamigawa era” cards and remeber quite a deal of the decks I used to play back then. So, in order to celebrate Kamigawa’s ten year anniversary, I would like to share with you some of my old decks I had back in the days, trying to reconstruct them in written form in this article while possibly adding a few more recent cards thus updating the decks to some extent.
So the Kamigawa block was all about spirits (Kami is Japanese for spirit I guess, hence the name of the block) legendary creatures and other permanents, arcane instants or sorceries, Samurai, Ninjas, Oni (Japanese demons) and all kinds of other things you might expect to find in a japanese mythology themed set. Let me start this off by sharing with you a deck focussed on spirits first. They are no ordinary spirits however but a special kind of spirit: Zuberas! As always, I will present you with the decklist first and then follow up with my thoughts on the deck! OK lets get this started: Banzaaaai!!
Zuberas (Modern Format):
4 x Birds of Paradise G
4 x Hana Kami G
4 x Dripping-Tongue Zubera 1G
4 x Ashen-Skin Zubera 1B
4 x Floating-Dream Zubera 1U
4 x Thief of Hope 2B
4 x Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker 4B
4 x Soulless Revival 1B
4 x Devouring Greed 2BB
4 x Terramorphic Expanse
10 x Forest
7 x Swamp
3 x Island
About the Deck:
Back then I liked to play this deck a lot because of its many, many synergies. This list differs from the original one though as I was not able to afford what I today consider THE key card in this deck: Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker…
Why the above card is so powerful in this particular deck will become apparent soon. But first a few words about these special little spirit creatures going by the name Zuberas:
Zuberas are all 2 cost 1/2 spirit creatures that have an effect when they die. Said effect is duplicated for each other Zubera sent to the graveyard the same turn. Let us look at Dripping-Tongue Zubera as an example:
You see, a 1/2 Zubera Spirit creature for 1G that puts a 1/1 Spirit creature token into play when it is sent from the battlefield to the graveyard this turn. When it dies alone, you will get one Spirit creature token. When another Zubera was killed the very same turn, you’ll get two tokens and so on.
The other two Zuberas I am running in this deck have similarly working effects: Ashen-Skin Zubera forces your opponent to discard a card from hand for each Zubera sent from play to graveyard the turn it dies and Floating-Dream Zubera, by far my favorite Zubera, draws you one card for each.
The basic plan with this deck was (and still is) to swarm the field with cheap Zuberas and then unleash a mighty Devouring Greed…
… causing your opponent to lose a ton of life while netting you as much life as your opponent lost.
The cool thing is that Devouring Greed lets you trigger your Zubera abilities en masse if you can sacrifice a substantial number of Zuberas for its additional cost. Suppose you have one Dripping-Tongue Zubera, one Ashen-Skin Zubera and one Floating-Dream Zubera out when you cast Devouring Greed. What will happen when you sack all three to Devouring Greed would be that your opponent will lose 2 + 6 life (2 per Spirit sacrificed), you will gain 8 life and the three Zuberas will cause your opponent to discard 3 cards (through Ashen-Skin Zubera), spawn 3 spirit tokens (through Dripping-Tongue Zubera) and draw you 3 cards (through Floating Dream Zubera). That is pretty amazing all in all for an investment of just 2BB (for Devouring Greed).
And this is where Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker comes in:
As you have seen in the above card image, at each end of your turn, Shirei will reanimate (bring back to the battlefield from the graveyard) any creature with 1 or less power sent to the graveyard during the turn. This means all the Zuberas you sacked to Devouring Greed will come back to life at end of turn, provided you can keep Shirei in play long enough for his awesome abiltiy to resolve, so they can be sacrifice fodder for another, even more devastating Devouring Greed.
There is one card in particular that will make sure you can follow up a first Devouring Greed with another one quite reliably and easily: Hana Kami. Hana Kami is a 1/1 for 1 green mana that can be sacked at the cost of 1G to retrieve any Arcane from your graveyard and put it into your hand. So you’d be able to retrieve and re-cast Devouring Greed pretty easily and what is really cool is that, since Hana Kami is a 1 Power creature as well, Shirei will reanimate the little retriever at end of turn so its awesome ability can be used again and again!
The second Devouring Greed will be even more devastating if you had all your Zuberas respawn by means of Shirei’s ability, as any sacked Dripping-Tongue Zuberas will have spawned a considerable number of spirit tokens which can serve as additional sacrifice fodder for follow-up Devouring Greeds.
Another notable card is Thief of Hope. The thief is a 2/2 Spirit that causes your opponent to lose one life and you to gain one every time you play a spirit or arcane. Since 34 cards, so more than half of the deck, are either spirits or arcane sorceries, you should gain quite some life and your opponent lose quite some life over the course of the game with Thief of Hope out. Also, you can sack him to Devouring Greed as he is a spirit himself AND has Soulshift 2, meaning you get to take any spirit with cost 2 or less from your graveyard back into your hand. This is a good way to retrieve a Zubera or Hana Kami if Shirei isn’t around to reanimate them. Soulless Revival serves a similar purpose, returning any creature from your graveyard to your hand and can be spliced onto an Arcane like Devouring Greed for the cost of 1B. (Clarification: Spells with “Splice onto Arcane” can be cast from your hand in addition to any Arcane Instant or Sorcery for their Splice onto Arcane cost and remain in your hand if they were spliced instead of going to the graveyard, so they can be used multiple times.)
Overall I really, really like the synergies going on in this particular deck and will probably go through the trouble of getting my Zubera deck cards back together, proxy up some Shireis and try the deck out again after such a long time to see how it fares against more modern builds!
OK on to the second Kamigawa deck. This time it will be all about Ninjas and I must admit beforehand that I am a tiny bit proud of the following deck, as I think I came up with quite a creative, unique and not “net-decked” approach to Ninjas and making great use of their “trademark” ability Ninjutsu. So here comes Blue Green Ninjas (Note that there are some Mirrodin block cards in the following decklists as I used to play this when the Kamigawa and first Mirrodin block were Standard Format!):
Blue-Green Ninjas (Modern Format):
4 x Ornithopter 0
4 x Birds of Paradise 0
4 x Mistblade Shinobi 2U
2 x Walker of Secret Ways 2U
4 x Ninja of the Deep Hours 3U
2 x Throat Slitter 4B
3 x Higure, the Still Wind 3UU
3 x Eternal Witness 1GG
3 x Bramblecrush 2GG
3 x Plow Under 3GG
4 x Shuriken 1
2 x Umezawa’s Jitte 2
4 x City of Brass
8 x Forest
8 x Island
2 x Swamp
About the Deck:
Well as I mentioned already I am quite fond of this deck as it is my very own creation making use of the Ninjutsu ability native to many Ninja creatures in Kamigawa in an unusual way. I played this deck when the Kamigawa and (first) Mirrodin block defined the Standard Format, hence, cards from both these blocks characterize the above deck. I only added the new Bramblecrush to the mix of old cards.
So what is this deck all about and how is it supposed to work (and win)?
As I already mentioned this deck makes heavy use of the Ninjustsu ability many Ninjas from the Kamigawa block possess. For those who aren’t familiar with it, I shall explain how it works:
Whenever one of your Creatures attacks and is unblocked and you got a creature with Ninjutsu in your hand, you can exchange the attacking creature with the Ninjutsu creature from your hand by paying its Ninjutsu cost. This is after blockers have been assigned (or not) and before damage is dealt. Here’s an example:
So if you pay 1U and return an unblocked attacking creature you control to your hand, you get to put Ninja of the Deep Hours into play tapped and attacking. Says so right on the card above!
So this deck runs an assortment of Ninjutsu Creatures:
- Mistblade Shinobi is a 1/1 with Ninjutsu U, that returns an opponent creature to their hand when it deals combat damage.
- Walker of Secret Ways’ Ninjutsu ability is negligible (you get a look at the opponent’s hand when it deals combat damage) but it has a great secondary ability: At the cost of 1U you can return a Ninja from play to your hand. This can be tremendously useful to use Ninjutsu abilities of various Ninjas again and again.
- Ninja of the Deep Hours as seen above is a great way to draw some additional cards.
- Throat Slitter, the only non-blue Ninja in the deck (it’s black), destroys target non-black creature when it deals combat damage to a player at the Ninjutsu cost of 2B.
- Higure, the Still Wind is the big badass boss of Ninjas: He is a 3/4 playable via Ninjutsu by paying 2UU and whenever he deals combat damage to a player you get to fetch any Ninja from your deck and put it into your hand. Great for searching out the one Ninja you need the most at any given point. And if that would not be awesome enough in and off itself, Higure makes any Ninja unblockable for one turn at the mere cost of 2 generic mana. How tremendously convenient!
Besides the actual Ninjas, I am running some other, non-Ninja creatures as well. 8 of them are in the deck to actually enable you to get your Ninjas out via Ninjutsu, namely Ornithopter and Birds of Paradise. Without wanting to praise myself any more, I think these two do a great job in this deck as “Ninjutsu-enablers”:
Ornithopter can be played for 0 mana and is a flyer. Since Ninjutsu does not require an attacker to deal damage – it just requires an unblocked attacker – Ornithopter is extremely useful in conjunction with Ninjutsu creatures as you can attack with it and “Ninjutsu-in” any Ninja from your hand, then immediately re-playing your zero casting cost Ornithopter to attack with it once again on your next turn, possibly facilitating another Ninjutsu attack.
Birds of Paradise are not only great mana-acceleration and provide you with just the right mana needed to cast your blue, green and black spells, they are also 0 Power flyers that can be used to facilitate Ninjutsu and can be re-cast for just 1 green mana, similar to Ornithopter.
Besides your cheap (or free) flyers, I included three Eternal Witnesses. Why you may ask? Well here the combo-esque nature of the deck becomes apparent. So Eternal Witness is a walking Regrowth, as it is a 2/1 at the cost of 1GG that lets you return any one card from your graveyard to your hand. Your prime targets for Eternal Witnesses retrieving capabilitites would be either Bramblecrush or Plow Under. Bramblecrush is a sorcery that destroys any target permanent that is not a creature at the cost of 2GG and Plow Under is a 3GG cost sorcery that lets you put any two lands on top of their owner’s library. So what you’d do is control the battlefield at first with Mistblade Shinobi and Throatslitter until you gather enough mana to go into “combo mode”. What you’d do is cast land destruction sorceries like Bramblecrush and Plow Under, then summon Eternal Witness to retrieve them. Then you’d return Witness to your hand via Ninjutsu and summon her again retrieving a Bramblecrush or Plow Under which you’d cast again asap. This way you can, in theory, put your opponent under a real “land lock”. However the deck does not need this combo to go off in order to win…
Ok so much for my combo-tastic Ninjas/Ninjutsu deck which I used to play casually in the Kamigawa/Mirrodin 1 era.
Let me present you with one last deck which I just recently came up with when going through the Kamigawa block cards for nostalgic reasons, somewhat in celebration of the block’s 10 year “anniversary”. Have a look at my monogreen spirits beatdown deck, which would be Kamigawa block legal, meaning it consists of Kamigawa cards only:
Kodama’s Might (Modern Format/Kamigawa Block):
4 x Hana Kami G
4 x Soilshaper 1G
4 x Loam Dweller 1G
4 x Elder Pine of Jukai 2G
2 x Kodama of the South Tree 2GG
2 x Kodama of the North Tree 2GGG
2 x Briarknit Kami 3GG
4 x Kodama’s Might G
4 x Kodama’s Reach 2G
4 x Unchecked Growth 2G
4 x Long-Forgotten Gohei 3
2 x Okina, Temple of Grandfathers
20 x Forest
About the Deck:
This is just one of many possible spirit creature-type decks. I decided to build mine mono-green, including many synergies – not combos, but card synergies mind you.
The central card of the deck is without any doubt what I would not have been able to afford back then when Kamigawa was brand-new, and what can be safely called a “crap rare” nowadays, going for about 50 (US) cents these days:
Not only does Long Forgotten Gohei decrease the cost of your Arcane Spells by 1, no, it also boosts all your spirits by +1/+1, which is pretty amazing in a deck where all creatures are spirits and all instants and sorceries are Arcanes.
Well supported by Long Forgotten Gohei, the deck features a great array of green spirit creatures and Arcane instants and sorceries.
Hana Kami can be sacked to retrieve any one Arcane from your graveyard. Soilshaper turns one of your lands into a 3/3 creature for a turn whenever you cast a Spirit or Arcane and Loam Dweller and Elder Pine of Jukai have effects that go hand in hand. Loam Dweller is a 2/2 for 1G that lets you put a land from your hand into play tapped whenever you cast a Spirit or Arcane while Elder Pine of Jukai is a 2/1 for 2G that lets you reveal the top 3 cards of your deck whenever you cast a Spirit or Arcane and put all lands revealed this way into your hand. The latter Spirit creature has Soulshift 2 as well, which can retrieve Han Kami, Soilshaper or Loam Dweller from your graveyard to your hand in case it should die.
Your mid- to high-end creatures, all Spirits as well, have pretty amazing abilities as well. Kodama of the North Tree is quite a huge beater at 2GGG. He is a 6/4 with Trample and Shroud. Not a bad deal! Kodama of the South Tree on the other hand is a 4/4 that gives all your creatures +1/+1 and Trample whenever you cast a Spirit or Arcane. Lastly, Briarknit Kami might appear a bit costly at 3GG for a 3/3 creature but the awesome part is his ability: Whenever you cast a Spirit or Arcane, you get to place a +1/+1 counter on target creature, giving any one of your creatures a permanent boost of +1/+1 whenever you cast one of your Spirits or Arcanes.
Speaking of Arcanes, you got a good assortment of these as well: Kodama’s Might is pretty amazing as it is an Arcane itself at the cost of 1 green mana that gives +2/+2 to target Creature until end of turn and it can be spliced onto another Arcane for the mere cost of 1 green. So whenever you play the mana ramping Kodama’s Reach, which lets you search your deck for 2 basic lands and puts one into play and one into your hand for 2G or the massive spirit pumper Unchecked Growth, which gives +4/+4 and trample to one of your Spirits, you can always pay one additional green mana to splice Kodama’s Might onto either of these to give one of your Creatures an additional +2/+2 boost for the turn.
Okina, Temple of Grandfathers gives a small +1/+1 boost to one of your legendary Kodamas, which may not seem like much, but may matter some times.
All in all I think the individual cards in this deck would work very well with each other and I am tempted to go through my old Kamigawa block cards and see how many cards needed for this deck I have in my possession and maybe proxy up the rest to try it out – for old times’ sake!
Anyways this concludes my nostalgic article commemorating the 10 years anniversary of the japanese-mythology-themed Kamigawa sets. Heck, who knows maybe, as I look into the old Kamigawa block cards some more, I will make this “Kamigawa Week” and post some more articles around the block about spirits and legends of the east!
In any case I hope you had a good read and maybe enjoyed this blast from the past. As always I wish you all