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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Oct 10 2017 12:00pm
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I love this game. I love writing about it. Compiling lists about it. Evaluating it. Sometimes, I even play it. I'm an Accidental Player.

> summary <

 There's no easy way to put it: Kamigawa is still widely considered the worst block of the Modern era, and Champions of Kamigawa containing almost half the cards of the entire block (and exactly half the commons) clearly represents the main offender.

 Released exactly 13 years ago, in October 2004, Champions of Kamigawa would go down in history as the second block to use the revised card frame after Mirrodin, and as the first to reintroduce a real-world inspiration since Arabian Nights all the way back in 1993 and the starter set Portal Three Kingdoms in 1999. Unlike these former examples, though, with their ancient Arabian and Chinese backgrounds, Champions of Kamigawa wouldn't directly borrow the names of real characters and places, instead reimagining ancient Japan as a unique fantasy setting. This approach would
remain an isolated incident for a long while, but has since become commonplace, with the last few years giving us Greece, Central Asia, India, Egypt and Mesoamerica/Amazonia.

 Champions of Kamigawa has a strong tribal theme; in particular, the story revolving around the war declared by the kami is an overwhelming presence in the set, featured on a record 70 creatures, which is the largest single boost ever recorded in these evaluations, and very likely the largest in Magic history, resulting in almost half the new creatures introduced in the set having the Spirit type. All the other groups tend to be large as well, with only 23 creature types affected. Along with Humans, the only other already established race found on Kamigawa is Goblin, while to fill the standard-bearer spot for the remaining colors are humanoid versions of animal types inspired by Japanese folklore, namely Fox (for white), Rat (for black), and Snake (for green), plus the plane-specific Moonfolk (for blue). New types suggested by the setting are Samurai and Monk, the latter of which would be used again in most of the following blocks (unfortunately, the presence of new Samurai is not easy to justify anywhere else). Advisor also appears here for the first time, albeit destined to become a catch-all category for anything related to political power. And after the artifact feast from Mirrodin, no artifact creatures are present in the set. Due to the large presence of legends among the creatures, though, the type Legendary is finally created and made a supertype, while Legend ceases to be a creature type.

 Despite the dire opinions Kamigawa still elicits due to its low power level (likely the product of an overreaction to Mirrodin's game-breaking mistakes), and ill-conceived and badly received mechanics like the abysmal soulshift and the ugly-looking flip cards, the set wasn't all bad, and among the noncreatures we would get a few powerful cards still heavily played to this day wherever they're legal.

   

 The CHK creatures proved to be a truly mixed bag, however. Let's go find out how terrible or not so terrible they were. As always, the focus is on all the Constructed applications, the tribes are listed alphabetically, and you'll find a hypertextual list at the end.

 Infodump

  • Cards: 291 (+15 duplicated basic lands)
  • New cards: 288
  • New creatures: 152
  • Reprinted cards: 3
  • Reprinted creatures: 0
  • Creature types affected: 23
  • Tribes with more than 5 additions: Spirit (+70), Human (+32), Shaman (+17), Samurai (+13), Wizard (+15), Warrior (+14), Snake (+12), Fox (+9), Goblin (+8), Moonfolk (+8), Monk (+7), Ogre (+6), Rat (+6), Rogue (+6)

Advisor: +1

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Human

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Masako the Humorless is designed as a combat trick on legs: you flash-cast her and suddenly you have blockers out of nowhere. It's a narrow ability, but not a terrible one, and it's reasonably costed, considering that after the first surprise block, your team will keep having enhanced vigilance.


Assassin: +1

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Human

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: There are Tribal Assassin decks that include Kiku, Night's Flower, despite her demanding activation and the fact that not all creatures have power equal to or greater than their toughness. It must be because of her rad outfit.


Barbarian: +1

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Human

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: Godo, Bandit Warlord combines a stiff casting cost with an unimpressive, boltable body, but he also does two very attractive things: he fetches a piece of equipment directly onto the battlefield, and he creates a second combat phase for himself and his... Samurai. Which is odd because he's not a Samurai, but oh well, off-tribe lord, anyone? Plus, the set comes with his own favorite piece of equipment to fetch:

 So he's actually a 6/6 trampler for 6 who performs two attacks per turn. That's a whole other story.


Cleric: +4

   

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Fox

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: All Clerics are Foxes (but not all Foxes are Clerics). We begin to see the first traces of that kind of creature that immediately says "older set", as Kitsune Healer is so old school that could have easily been from Alpha. Eight-and-a-Half-Tails (aka the Hyphen Lord) is the real highlight: his ability is mana-intensive but if you have enough resources, it's a team-wide Mother of Runes. He even comes with his own PA, Pious Kitsune. He can do without.


Demon: +5

  

 

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Spirit

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Here they come. Spirits start pouring in, at first in the form of oni, the closest thing Shintoism has to Demons. And, boy, are all these bad. Gutwrencher Oni and Painwracker Oni are glorified Fire Elementals that for mysterious reasons needed a downside, which is the required presence of an Ogre. I'm not sure what the flavor is here, are Ogres their pet? Do they keep them calm so they don't rebel against you? Anyway, there's next to zero non-casual reasons to try and build a Demon-cum-Ogre deck just to make these two jerks happy.

 And the legends aren't any better. Kuro, Pitlord is an old-fashioned big bad Demon, the kind that asks for a huge upkeep cost. At least he has the decency to just die if you fail to pay, rather than attacking you. If you do pay, he rewards you with the chance to lose some life. Granted, that ability is powerful, you can use it to surgically remove anything that bothers you on the other side of the battlefield, including indestructible and regenerative guys. But again, you're investing 4 mana per turn. And spent 9 mana to begin with. And old Kuro doesn't even have a combat ability whatsoever.

 Seizan, Perverter of Truth is also a big guy, his casting cost is more manageable, and he grants you a free Sign in Blood every turn, which is cool. But then he does the same for the opponent, too, so who knows who'll stand to gain more out of it? Again, he's not evasive, so it's far from certain you'll be able to consistently connect with him to race the opponent. Howling Mine decks might be mildly interested in him, but they're gonna pass, believe me.

 And then there's Shimatsu the Bloodcloaked. Who's just so bad I can't even. Like, Wood Elemental bad. That bad.


Dragon: +5

  

 

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Spirit

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: The Spirit Dragons of the Kamigawa color-wheel cycle rank definitely among the very best creatures in the set, and not just there. They were sort of the Titans of their time, 6-mana curve-toppers with identical stats and CMC but different triggers, generally capable of making a big splash on the board, if in an opposite yet subtler way compared to the Titans: you would get pressured by their evasive power, but would fear even more the consequences of your getting rid of them (well, unless you manage to exile them, but that wasn't too easy back then, 3 years away from Oblivion Ring and 5 from Path to Exile).

 They have a clear pecking order, with the green one sadly sitting at the bottom. But even poor Jugan is not exactly terrible, he's after all one of the very few flying fatties ever printed in green (to this day still the largest monogreen flyer in existence); it's just that his death trigger doesn't really impress, and could even end up doing nothing. Ryusei's starts being more destructive, but Earthquake for 5 is still a tad below what the remaining three siblings bring to the table (or to the graveyard). Keiga is the perfect representation of what the Kamigawa Dragons are about: you let her alone, you have to face that evasive beating; you remove her, or allow her to trade with your attacker, then one of your creatures will switch side on you.

 With Kokusho, we enter truly excellence territory. Recurring Kokusho is a legitimate endgame on its own; he was banned in Commander for a long time and Recurring Nightmare wasn't even legal there. And then there's Yosei, and Yosei basically won Worlds in 2005. He's the closest equivalent to a Time Walk on legs, and still relevant 13 years later. You're facing Yosei, chances are the opponent is going to shut you down through him; but even if their deck is running him with no built-in ulterior motives or recursion capabilities, it'll be the hardest choice posed by a Kamigawa Dragon: how do you deal with such heavy assaults in the air without essentially losing a turn in the process?


Fox: +9

   

  

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Cleric, Samurai, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Extreme

 Highlights: Outside of Kamigawa block, Foxes in Magic are just the real-life animals (more or less). There was actually only one of them prior to this set, Arctic Foxes from Ice Age, and there wouldn't be many more after Kamigawa ended, and only on this plane they're a humanoid race called Kitsune, the same word used in real Japanese folklore to indicate magical shapeshifting foxes. These are not shapeshifters, though, they're mostly Clerics and Samurai – one of which, Kitsune Blademaster, is even a good Samurai, although not particularly exciting.

 The highlights are the hyper-protective Eight-and-a-Half-Tails and the graveyard hater Samurai of the Pale Curtain, sort of an early progenitor of Rest in Peace, even if her inherently more fragile nature probably prevented her from reaching the same kind of graveyard staple status (Yixlid Jailer is still played, though. Maybe it's just because she can't deal with what was already there before her arrival).

 Fox also introduces us to the flip cards, so we can immediately be reminded of how freaking horrible to look at and play they were. Their frame is just a mess, the upside down text looks awful, the art is confined in two halves of a tiny window, and I get that they were trying to emulate the style of classic French playing cards, but it just doesn't work, most of the art is so small is incomprehensible. It's safe to say that this first experiment in cards with different states just reinforces the idea that the only space where to put a card's alternate state is the back (it would take 6 more years for R&D to reach this conclusion; in the meantime the flip cards never came back – and they never will). On top of all that, very few of the flip cards are even worth playing, most of them ask for hard to achieve conditions for the flipping, like Kitsune Mystic requiring two auras.


Goblin: +8

  

  

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Rogue, Shaman, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: Goblins on Kamigawa are called Akki, and the ones from this first set go like this: there's Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, also known as one of the best creatures ever printed, and then there's a bunch of obscure guys nobody really remembers. I feel like I shouldn't even bother explaining why Kiki-Jiki is amazing. Even not counting all the combo decks that use his haste-speed ability to fuel and endgame, Kiki-Jiki is ETB triggers heaven (but death triggers too, because the token is sacrificed, not exiled like with Mimic Vat). Just consider this: he requires 3 red mana yet he's played in decks that splash red for him.

 There were other Goblin legends in CHK, but they weren't even playing the same sport as Kiki-Jiki. Zo-Zu the Punisher is sort of okay, as a creature version of Ankh of Mishra. Other cards here seem decent concepts with flawed executions. Ben-Ben, Akki Hermit (who? Exactly) both costs too much and is hindered into oblivion by too many clauses. And the flipper, Akki Lavarunner, wanted to be a burn enhancer, but it's really improbable to connect with a 1/1 vanilla that drops on turn 4, which is the same exact problem of Akki Underminer.


Hound: +1

> summary <

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: Hound's response to Savannah Lions (with more toughness but the legendary restriction) saw a lot of play in its time. It remains one of the simplest designs that proved successful in the Modern era, and a poster boy for vanilla creatures done right.


Human: +32

   

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Advisor, Assassin, Barbarian, Monk, Rogue, Samurai, Shaman, Soldier, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Irrelevant

 Highlights: Humans are the main non-Spirit faction in Kamigawa, and they get a few memorable additions. Plus Konda, Lord of Eiganjo, who wasn't going to be super-memorable (despite being the first nonartifact creature with indestructible), but he's one of the main characters in the storyline, the recklessly ambitious daimyō who started the Kami War by stealing That Which Was Taken to try and attain immortality. White creatures problems.


Monk: +7

  

 

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Human, Snake

 Impact of the New Additions: Extreme

 Highlights: Monk debuts here as part of the Japanese flavor, but being more of a generic concept than Samurai will prove a lasting addition to the game and used as Cleric's counterpart in non-urban settings the same way Shaman is to Wizard. This first batch of Monks gave us mainly the powerful Azusa, Lost But Seeking, a mainstay of ramp builds in Commander and beyond. Dosan the Falling Leaf also sees some play in Commander, but he's just too easy to deal with to really be an hindrance to decks that like to play in the opponent's turn. And Seshiro the Anointed is a good Snake lord, but not really relevant as a Monk.


Moonfolk: +8

   

   

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Rogue, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Extreme

 Highlights: The Moonfolk, or Soratami, are another tribe native of Kamigawa. They are a cloud-dwelling race inspired by the Japanese folk tales of the rabbit that lives on the moon: even if it's not always clear from the art, in fact, the Moonfolk have rabbit-like ears and white fur. They haven't been spread to any other plane so far, although they have their own planeswalker, which is more than most races can say. Mechanically, they're quite monotonous, all having a variation of the same ability that does something beneficial upon returning a certain number of lands in hand. Most of these effects are hugely overcosted, costing mana on top of setting back your land development. The one exception is Meloku the Clouded Mirror, who was used as a finisher in control decks precisely in virtue of his perfect ratio between required mana and bounced lands, resulting in large armies of flyers hitting the board at instant speed in the opponent's turn, ready to swing after we untap. He's also resilient enough with toughness 4, reasonably costed, and evasive himself.


Ogre: +6

  

  

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Shaman, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: I don't know why Ogres are so strictly Demon-related in Kamigawa, but that's how they chose to play it. Real issue is that they're mostly atrocious. The closest one to decent is the Demon-fetcher Blood Speaker, and he's still too slow and clunky to prove effective as a tutor.


Rat: +6

  

  

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Rogue, Samurai, Shaman, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Rats take humanoid form on Kamigawa as the Nezumi, the local race that represents black mana. None of these have really passed the test of time. Marrow-Gnawer is a decent lord, but probably too midrange for Rat tribal (plus fear is outdated). However, Nezumi Graverobber is one of the best flip cards, as the flip condition is easily achievable and the reanimation ability is strong, affects all graveyards at instant speed, and doesn't require tapping so it can be activated multiple times per turn and doesn't prevent those 4 points of power to be put to use occasionally. Nezumi Shortfang is not bad itself, being a discarder that quite naturally turns into The Rack (still with the old Oracle wording, for some reason), but the flip condition is harder to achieve.


Rogue: +6

  

  

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Goblin, Human, Moonfolk, Rat

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Boy, this is one dreadful collection of pathetic excuses for a Rogue. I mean, the two Rat flip cards are the only decent ones, go figure.


Samurai: +16

   

   

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Fox, Human, Rat

 Impact of the New Additions: Extreme

 Highlights: We're in ancient Japan, there's Samurai, it goes without saying (also pretty obvious: there's no Samurai elsewhere). All Samurai have bushido, which is not such an inspired mechanic, but it could have been worse. They also have a stronger tribal theme than most of the other main tribes in the set, but none of the Samurai-boosting guys, like Nagao, Bound By Honor or Takeno, Samurai General, are really effective, mostly because they drop too late, making Samurai tribal an aggro deck that isn't aggro enough.

  There's also some experimentation with untapped design space, though, like Konda's Hatamoto being boosted by legends (and what a boost: in presence of a legendary Samurai, he's a 2-drop that goes into combat as a 3/5 with vigilance!), or Brothers Yamazaki playing with the alternate art – well, not really, since the art still has no effect on game play, but it's conceptually what you're doing when you have two legends with the same name that bypass the legend rule because they're a pair of brothers, as shown on the artwork. They're also a perfect follow-up to Konda's Hatamoto, by the way.


Shaman: +17

   

  

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Goblin, Human, Ogre, Rat, RogueSnake, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Severe

 Highlights: Shaman might just stealthily be the best tribe in Champions of Kamigawa. There's Kiki-Jiki, for one, who's the most celebrated and long-lasting creature in the set. But Sakura-Tribe Elder is not far removed in terms of success, and has been likely played more than the Goblin in the following 13 years, because Kiki-Jiki is mostly a specialized combo piece, while the Elder is a mana fixer that you run in full playsets. What he does he's very simple and absolutely winning: he accelerates your land from 2 to 3, and in the process he blocks one attacker (even negating lifelink), all without requiring more than the 2 mana of his casting cost. The quiet usefulness of Sakura-Tribe Elder cannot be overstated.

 The Snake subset of Shamans is generally strong, also adding a Shaman lord of sort in Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro, who can really amp up the mana production in dedicated decks (Sakura-Tribe Elder can tap for 2, then give you a land!). Orochi Leafcaller is a good color fixer for green-heavy decks, as the 1 for 1 ratio is rarely encountered in these cases, and Orochi Sustainer is the only true mana dork Shamans had available until Rattleclaw Mystic (which of course eventually made the Sustainer obsolete, but it took 10 more blocks to get there).

 Kumano, Master Yamabushi is the kind of good card that never sees play because it can't find a home. His ability is amazing and correctly costed, and his body and CMC are neatly on the curve. But he wanted to be included in some kind of "big red" list that never actually materialized, and if it did, it would rather play a Dragon with haste at that point in the curve, not a control-ish guy whose role is to surgically sanitize the board. Granted, he does target players too, but if we want to use him as a finisher, then his home becomes a big red deck that employs mana multiplicators. Too narrow. He remains a fine design, though.


Snake: +12

  

   

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Monk, Shaman, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Extreme

 Highlights: Snake, also turned into a humanoid race called Orochi, comes with not one, not two, but three lords. However, they have a strange way to command their tribe, because two of them have another tribe they seem to care more for. Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro is a sweet mana accelerator for Shamans, while her beefier brother Sosuke grants quasi-deathtouch to Warriors. Combined, they also give a collective +1/+1 to Snakes, which taken singularly means half a +/1+1, which isn't great. Of course, other Snakes might be Shamans or Warriors as well and benefit from the full package, but this feels incidental to their design. Which leave us with their daddy, Seshiro the Anointed, and he's a worthy Snake lord, boosting the team of a whopping +2/+2 (see how it's done, kids?) and also providing card-drawing upon connection, an ability that would later be borrowed by Coldsnap's Ohran Viper, which also borrows Sosuke's ability. Seshiro is a curve-topper, and not always welcome in faster Snake decks, but given a chance, and some acceleration (from his little girl, maybe?), he delivers both beating and crucial card advantage.

 The fourth Snake legend, Shisato, Whispering Hunter, is a messy design. She tries to Stasis the opponent, which was probably too much to ask to begin with, so to counterbalance it they gave her a small non-evasive/non-trampling body, a midrange casting cost, and an exorbitant upkeep. In a word, they made her unplayable. Good job.

 Luckily Snakes are graced with the top-notch utility Shamans discussed above, especially the mana-related team of Sakura-Tribe Elder, Orochi Sustainer and Orochi Leafcaller. The flip card is as clunky as expected, though at least it's a token generator, and there's a series of Matsu-Tribe cards that are set to represent the idea that these Snakes are poisonous or use poison on their weapons, leading to all the creatures they damage in combat being subjected to the Frost Titan treatment, which was going to become a popular blue mechanic in the future. Some of these guys have also secondary abilities, like Matsu-Tribe Decoy forcing blocks, but all in all, they don't amount to much and are generally overcosted.


Soldier: +1

 

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Human

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: The flavor is there: a humble Soldier begins his hero's journey and ultimately becomes a fierce Samurai. Too bad it's close to impossible to fulfill the flip condition, short of investing resources into Bushi Tenderfoot's survival. And you won't, so he'll never actually turn into the deadly dude that's capable to deal 6 damage to the opponent and 10 to his blockers.


Spirit: +70

  

  

  

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Demon, Dragon, Zubera

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: Spirit is what the Kamigawa block is all about, as it's the tribe that represents the Japanese kami, the supernatural manifestations of otherwordly beings linked to the land, be they elements of the landscape, forces of nature, or ghosts of venerated ancestors. But Spirit also encompasses yōkai in general, and oni in their demonic form. The plane itself contains "kami" in its name (which means "river of the kami"; MTGSalvation has a good article about all things Kamigawa), hinting at the inevitable prominence of this one tribe, a move that's rich in flavor and internal consistence, but might have contributed to a certain sense of boredom that the block caused to many players.

 The pervasiveness of the Spirit across this first set is also somehow limited, creating a monstrous amount of Spirits that are just Spirits. As external hybridizations, we only have five Demon Spirits, five Dragon Spirits, and the five members of the Zubera cycle, which are essentially Spirits with a keyword attached.

 The centerpiece of the tribe, and possibly the set, is this cycle, which if was printed nowadays would have a) mythic rarity, b) the God type, and c) better stats and/or fewer restrictions.

  

 

 The Myojins feel certainly outdated today, and were never widely used as the big-time curve-toppers they were meant to be. Indestructible had debuted in the previous block with the Darksteel creatures, and was decidedly overrated at the time, which lead to this divinity counter solution that even requires hardcast, thus making the Myojins essentially reanimation-proof, unless you're after some overcosted vanilla dorks. Which is exactly what you're left with once they've spent the precious counter and activated their one-time ability, barring shenanigans like flickering them or bouncing them back in hand, or giving them a new counter with That Which Was Taken (which isn't even from the same set). All the effects have a strong impact on the board or game state, but is destroying all creatures or all lands really worth 8 and 10 mana, respectively? Or maybe they were supposed to work as psychological warfare? Like, look at my indestructible guy that's threatening to nuke the board! Will you commit more resources to the battlefield knowing they could be all blown away at a moment's notice? (Thank the gods the activations are instant-speed, at least). I guess removal that directly attacks the toughness was less common back then (Dismember was still 7 years away).
 It's still all on the overcosted side of things. How many cards can Myojin of Seeing Winds draw compared to any blue mass-drawing spell you dump 10 mana into? Does a 3/3 body really make that much of a difference? Commander would eventually find an use for the blue Myojin, mostly for redundancy purposes in decks based on drawing tons of cards. All in all, the green one, Myojin of Life's Web, is surprisingly the best of the bunch, and for green was still very unusual to come on top of these cycles at the time; but a one-sided Eureka is not something you can easily replicate with other means. (I built a silly deck once where Grozoth would fetch a number of 9 CMC monstrosities then drop them all at once with the Myojin. Good times). (The Unspeakable wasn't one of them. The Unspeakable is very bad).

 Nothing like soulshift symbolizes Kamigawa's nerf panic. There are twelve creatures with soulshift in Champions of Kamigawa and not a single one of them is relevant. What's worse, the mechanic is deeply flawed. To prevent them from recurring creatures at the same power level, in all cases the target of their Raise Dead has a casting cost that is one mana cheaper. This makes running a playset of any soulshift creature totally pointless, because they can't help each other. So you have to play cheaper soulshift creatures, too, but then you'll just casually pull one back when one of their more expensive companions dies, and that's just it, unless you also included shoulshift creatures that are further down the curve, in a nightmarish chain of diminishing returns. Even He Who Hungers, which is designed as a soulshift enabler because it provides a sacrifice outlet for the other Spirits, is barely effective enough not to be dismissed right away. Thoughtseize is clearly a powerful effect, but you can't sacrifice in response to a threat, and soulshift is hardly connected to this whole process. It feels like there should be a way to create a three-card recursion with He Who Hungers and two other Spirits, but soulshift is utterly and relentlessly combo-adverse. It might just be the most ill-devised, most pointless mechanic ever created. It looks not playtested enough, but in the opposite direction than affinity did: they didn't realize they way it is written, it's just too weak to have any purpose.

 A similar criticism can be made for the mirrored pair Iname, Life Aspect and Iname, Death Aspect. They seem like important creatures, and more importantly, it feels like they should work together, complement each other, but they don't, actually. If Death Aspect dumps Life Aspect into the graveyard with a bunch of other Spirits, nothing happens. If Life Aspect dies and returns Death Aspect to your hand, it didn't accomplish much. They just don't match as well as they should, and even taken singularly, their abilities aren't worth 6 mana, they don't have any other function, and Life Aspect even laughably specifics you can't use it more than once, God forbid you'd find a way to return it to the battlefield to do it again. I guess Death Aspect works as a Commander of a Spirit deck specialized in reanimation, but talk about one-trick pony.

 Want more proof of Champion of Kamigawa's misguided "let's play it easy" philosophy, that turned their focus tribe into crap, thus dooming the entire set? There's the Deceiver cycle, with their clunky and ultimately ineffectual activations. Or Hikari, Twilight Guardian, which is a white Air Elemental that you can save from a threat only by playing an Arcane instant (or a flash Spirit; but guess what, there's none in the set).

 They're not all bad, though. With such a large number of Spirits, there were bound to be some decent ones, apart from the Dragons (which are, you know, Dragons). Horobi, Death's Wail sets up a nice trick, and is a 4/4 flyer for 4, which was hugely above the curve in those days, and in this set. Of course it basically comes with the Illusion's weakness of dying to any targeting, but it still ranks among the good ones. So does Kami of Ancient Law, which is just a Bear that can sac to kill an enchantment. Viridian Zealot would do better than that, but the Kami's effect is free, in white, and more splashable, so all in all a pretty playable common. An indication of its being a sound design is the fact that 8 years later, Return to Ravnica would functionally reprint it in the form of Keening Apparition, also a Spirit (but with better art, I'm afraid, so the days Kami of Ancient Law would see any amount of play are probably over).

 The best non-Dragon Spirits are probably the two Kodamas, though, especially Kodama of the North Tree, which updated Craw Wurm for a lesser cost (although a steeper color requirement), adding trample and shroud. It was such a good finisher that it was heavily featured in Katsuhiro Mori's famous Ghazi-Glare deck that won him the 2005 World Championship (Yosei, the Morning Star was also there).
 Kodama of the South Tree is also powerful, has a good cost/body ratio and casts a mini Overrun every time you play a Spirit (or Arcane, they're always mechanically paired), which makes it the best argument to even play Spirit Tribal at that point in time. It certainly blows freaking soulshift out of the water.


Warrior: +14

  

  

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Goblin, Ogre, RatSnake

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: For a plane on war, the actual Warriors of Kamigawa are truly underwhelming. They're a hodge-podge collection of meh designs (Zo-Zu the Punisher, Kashi-Tribe Reaver), bad designs (Shisato, Whispering Hunter) and terrible designs (Akki Avalanchers), plus filler from an era when it was still stuff like a 3/3 mountainwalker for 5 mana. Sosuke, Son of Seshiro is the only one that deserves a modicum of respect, and even he's not exactly a hit and has been utterly forgotten by now.


Wizard: +15

   

   

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Fox, Human, Moonfolk

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: On the other end of the Warrior debacle, Wizard featured a few worthy new members in CHK. We've seen how Meloku the Clouded Mirror is a great finisher which gets and deserves play, but Azami, Lady of Scrolls is even worthier, because she works as a board-breaking Wizard lord, but she's also perfectly fine on her own, as a creature that can tap to draw a card at any time, including right away after she hits the battlefield. Five with triple blue is not an early cost, but it's definitely the cost you should pay for such an effect. When Azami is in the building, she needs to be dealt with because all those cards amount to a subtle form of inevitability.

 Ranking lower from the above mentioned power couple, Hisoka, Minamo Sensei is more of an astute design than a playable. With him, you can turn any card in your hand in a Cancel, provided you can match the CMC of the spell you're countering, which is easier said than done. He also comes complete with a bodyguard that gives him shroud. Well, he gives shroud to anybody, actually, but you know, flavor says he's Hisoka's Guard specifically. I may have played the Guard in a Wizard deck once, since there are many guys you want to protect there, like Patron Wizard and Azami herself. He's utterly clunky, though.

 About the flip cards, Jushi Apprentice is actually played in Commander decks with infinite hand, in order to use his flipped state to deck your opponents. Student of Elements is flavorful, but no, I won't cast a spell that gives everybody flying so he can give everybody flying, thank you very much.


Zubera: +5

  

 

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 Related Tribes: Spirit

 Impact of the New Additions: Extreme

 Highlights: Let's be honest, Zubera is an unnecessary tribe. They're just a class of Spirits with a special dynamic among its members. Were Kamigawa released today, they would solve this design with a keyword, not a whole type. They printed a couple more Zuberas in the remaining Kamigawa sets, but they're not as simply effective as this cycle is. It's doubtful the tribe would come back even if they decided to revisit the Kamigawa plane, which is also doubtful.

 So in the end Zubera is all about these five little dudes, and they essentially describe one single 5-color deck where you try to send them to the graveyard in large groups to activate increasingly punishing triggers. It's a list that gets occasionally played in Tribal Wars, using a free sacrifice outlet or Devouring Greed (or just Pyroclasm) to murder your team, then Second Sunrise or Return to the Ranks (exploiting the tokens left behind by Dripping-Tongue Zubera) to bring them back and do it again, ultimately winning via Ember-Fist Zubera damage. It's not top-tier or anything, but it's a respectable deck.

 The only Zubera that could make sense outside of a dedicated deck is Dripping-Tongue: worst case scenario, it's equivalent to a chump-blocker with persist.


SUMMARY

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KUMA'S TRIBAL EVALUATIONS

2 Comments

I was (and still am!) utterly by ricklongo at Wed, 10/11/2017 - 10:47
ricklongo's picture
5

I was (and still am!) utterly in love with Kamigawa's setting. I know Mark Rosewater routinely says the audience found it too 'weird' and not very resonant, but that's precisely what I loved about it. I ended up getting pretty interested in Japanese folklore and mythology, and even had a brief manga phase, all because of the plane and its lore.

It's too bad the block's design and development are admittedly pretty bad.

Back in the day, the impact by AJ_Impy at Wed, 10/11/2017 - 17:00
AJ_Impy's picture
5

Back in the day, the impact of the Demon additions was extreme: It took the online quotient to where they could be played as a tribe, after Grinning Demon, Havoc Demon and Reiver Demon from the preceding two blocks.