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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Oct 18 2017 11:00am
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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 <

 Betrayers of Kamigawa was released in February 2005 as the first small set follow-up to Champions of Kamigawa, back at the time when the structure of a block was large Fall set + small Winter set + small Spring set.

 And BOK is even more tribal-oriented than CHK was. Ninja is the new entry, yet another one and done tribe in virtue of being strictly linked to the setting. And both new mechanics have strong tribal elements, with ninjutsu being exclusive of one tribe, and offering connecting all the five major tribes representing the mana wheel (Fox, Moonfolk, Rat, Goblin, and Snake) with the omnipresent Spirits.

 The power level remains similarly low, the flip cards (this time all depicting some dudes turning into Spirits) remain mostly disappointing, while a handful of notable noncreature cards show up, surprisingly destined to become relevant years later in Modern – plus, well, Umezawa's Jitte, which was essentially so broken it had to be banned almost everywhere, becoming the only real example of a faulty, Mirrodin-like design in the block.

  

 Anyway, let's have a look at the new, mostly pathetic creatures and their tribes. 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: 165
  • New cards: 159
  • New creatures: 89
  • Reprinted cards: 6
  • Reprinted creatures: 0
  • Creature types affected: 18
  • Tribes with more than 5 additions: Spirit (+45), Human (+19), Warrior (+11), Samurai (+9), Ninja (+8), Ogre (+6), Shaman (+6)

Archer: +2

 

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Human, Samurai, Snake, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: Man, that's five different creature types across two cards! Two commons, even, although of very dissimilar outcome: Matsu-Tribe Sniper is a 2-drop with a powerful, if specialized, tap effect, capable of getting rid of a lot of annoying mosquitoes while at the same time neutralizing major threats, even Yosei, the Morning Star himself. On the other hand, Takeno's Cavalry costs twice the mana, is still a measly 1/1 (with a weak bushido), and his ability is somehow even more specialized. Putting them side by side like I did here is pretty much a way to emphasize how indeed cards go bad.


Cleric: +3

  

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 Related Tribes: Fox, Human

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: Kamigawa Clerics keep doing the thing they've been doing since Alpha, and thankfully they don't do anymore: tap to prevent damage. I guess the New World Order got rid of this mechanic at lower rarities, because it's the kind of effect that creates needless complexity. And at higher rarities, it's simply too weak to consider. So good riddance.

 Empty-Shrine Kannushi is an odd duck, in that it's not exactly clear what one is supposed to do with it. Hope for some kind of mirror match? Change the colors of your opponent's permanents with Prismatic Lace? Its wording is original, but at the end of the day, best case scenario, it's not that different from any 1-drop 1/1 with "can't be blocked" (stuff like Gudul Lurker or Triton Shorestalker or Slither Blade).


Demon: +3

  

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 Related Tribes: Spirit

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: So, I do appreciate that Demon before Kamigawa didn't have a lot of members, so adding a dozen more was relevant at the time. But they're just so, so bad. Mostly because to properly work as a tribe they would need Ogres in the deck, and you don't want Ogres in your deck, let alone in a Demon deck that's already midrange at best. At least Yukora, the Prisoner is a 5/5 for 4, which puts him on par with an old glory like Juzam Djinn, fulfilling the same role of lone wolf finisher, downside be damned. Whereas Scourge of Numai is a weaker, yet more demanding version of that same kind of beater. And Kyoki, Sanity's Eclipse is a black Craw Wurm that might cause some mild disruption once in a while, provided you run it in a Spirit deck. Which you don't.


Fox: +4

   

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 Related Tribes: Cleric, Samurai

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: There are a few very good creatures in Betrayers of Kamigawa, but overall it seems to me the level is even lower than in Champions. Something like Silverstorm Samurai is just appallingly bad. It's a 6-mana 3/3 with flash. And bushido, sure; but let's be honest, bushido is not even playing the same sport as flanking. It has no tactical value, it's just a different way to distribute a creature's combat proficiency. A 3/3 with bushido shouldn't cost more because it has bushido; it should count as a 4/4 that costs less because it surrendered one point of both power and toughness in bushido form, which means it's now a 4/4 during the damage assignment step only. A creature like Silverstorm Samurai is the kind of bad that ceased to exist, because bad creatures need to exist, but they don't need to be this bad; they could be bad for Constructed yet good or decent for Limited; they could be new iterations of simple, basic creatures that ever existed; they could be convoluted rares that only work in casual Johnny decks; but being unplayable at any level, that's not warranted, and it's a lesson that by Kamigawa has not been learned yet.

 Anyway, the Kitsune are still either Samurai or Cleric. And especially awful here. Opal-Eye, Konda's Yojimbo (to add insult to injury, these are important characters for the story-line that don't translate into dignified cards) is the first defender ever printed. The introduction of that keyword was to allow non-Walls to give up any chance to attack in order to get... hopefully something in return. (It also removed the awkward general rule "Walls can't attack", which was a strange case of a tribe hiding a special ability within their creature type). What Opal-Eye gets in exchange for being a defender is... being a Samurai who does the same kind of protective stuff Kamigawa Clerics do. Except more mana-intensive. I guess redirecting an entire source of damage is not terrible, even if through tapping, so not right away. She's no Tree of Redemption, but she can nullify one Lightning Bolt per turn for free, so let's just write her down in the "decent" column.


Goblin: +4

   

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Shaman, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Akki continue to be grotesquely turtle-like, and a mixed bag. There's nothing as great as Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker here, but this time around, the sheer simplicity of a turn-1 2/2 makes Goblin Cohort the hot one, widely played in that kind of Goblin deck that prioritizes explosive starts (which is most Goblin decks). The rest of them is, to use a technical term, flaming garbage. Akki Blizzard-Herder and Akki Raider interact together to form one of the stupidest combo ever, while Ishi-Ishi, Akki Crackshot hates Spirits and, according to his flavor text, loves Goats (no judgment) and he's already dead and buried. So that's auspicious.


Human: +19

  

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 Related Tribes: Cleric, Monk, Ninja, Samurai, Soldier, Warrior, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Irrelevant

 Highlights: A bunch of new Human legends, none of them particularly interesting. They encompass all the Kamigawa main classes, and include some of the protagonists of the story, like Toshiro Umezawa, the Han Solo type that will help sorting the Kami War and, after a few rocambolesque escapades, will end up in Dominaria of all places, to become the ancestor of Tetsuo Umezawa, thus finally solving the riddle of why there was a Japanese guy in Legends (not that it was the only one). Too bad they never went about explaining Rasputin's presence, too.


Monk: +2

  

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 Related Tribes: Human

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Iwamori of the Open Fist is another attempt at recreating Juzam Djinn, this time in green and with trample, to boot. So that's great, right? Well, it might. But it can also spell utter disaster, if your 5/5 comes at the price of allowing the opponent to Show and Tell Emrakul. Or even just a Spirit Dragon. Granted, there might be time when Iwamori drops without generating a downside whatsoever; but the more legends are printed, the higher the chance there is one at any given moment in the opponent's hand, so Iwamori is actually growing worse over time. Also, what's the flavor here? Is he a guy who always issues or feels obliged to accept challenges?

 Budoka Pupil is the first of the Ki Masters, a cycle of flip creatures that turn into Spirits using ki counters. They accumulate such counters when his controller casts Spirit or Arcane spells, then at the end of turn they check the counters, and if there's at least two, there we go, they flip! The Pupil in particular becomes a somewhat unremarkable, boltable trampler that can give a +2/+2 boost... twice (unless you managed to cast more Spirit or Arcane spells the same turn you cleared the 2-counter threshold). I never saw any of the Ki Masters actually played. There might be a reason.


Moonfolk: +2

 

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 Related Tribes: Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: The Soratami keep adding new tricks to their "self-bounce your own lands" shtick. Floodbringer attempts a ridiculously mana-intensive mana lock, but I guess it could be used to go all in once, in order to prevent the opponent from doing anything the turn before you have lethal on the board. There's been worse applications of this mechanic, and at least the dude himself is pretty cheap and functional as a 1-powered flyer for 2. A slow-milling 4-drop? Not so much.


Ninja: +8

    

   

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 Related Tribes: Human, Rat

 Impact of the New Additions: Extreme

 Highlights: So, Ninja. Well, of course there's ninjas on Kamigawa, it feels only natural. They have their own keyworded mechanic and for once it's a pretty strong one, especially compared to the underwhelming tribal ability the Samurai have got. Returning one of your creatures to hand is a cost that can be easily turned into an asset, what with all the neat ETB effects you can abuse; and all the Ninjas have a second ability that exploits their surprise attack, all while using ninjutsu means casting them at a discounted price. It's a very solid creation, declined into a few especially useful forms. Proof of the soundness of the ninjutsu design is the fact that the prize winner is actually a common, Pauper star Ninja of the Deep Hours: because drawing cards is always what you wanna be doing when playing Magic. Other highlights include Mistblade Shinobi, which casts Unsummon; Okiba-Gang Shinobi, which does a Mind Rot; Throat Slitter, which prefers Dark Banishing (remember Dark Banishing?); and the more expensive Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni, which for a steeper cost does a proper reanimation routine on the opponent's graveyard.

 The new tribe came already complete with a lord, Higure, the Still Wind, who tutors up more Ninjas, then make them unblockable, while Walker of Secret Ways doesn't have an impactful ninjutsu trigger (although knowing what the opponent is holding is never to be underestimated), but does an even more useful trick: sending Ninjas back into your hand to do it all over again, if maybe losing the element of surprise in the process.

 The problem with a Ninja tribal deck is that you'd need some non-Ninja creatures too, as switching one Ninja for another is feasible, but not very effective, because hardcasting them is not what you want to do, as in many cases their CMC is slightly overcosted to compensate for the ninjutsu option. Plus, ideally you want early evasive beaters, able to sneak past the enemy defenses to allow the Ninjas to appear in a puff of smoke (okay, that's actually how they disappear, but that trope wasn't really translated into the game; M:TG Ninjas seem more keen on using elaborate disguises to pass for someone else, then dramatically revealing themselves at the right time. So they're more like Lupin III or Ethan Hunt than actual ninjas).


Ogre: +6

  

  

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 Related Tribes: Shaman, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: A bunch of stinkers among Ogres, as per usual (and maybe per flavor, too!) Takenuma Bleeder circles back to the tribe's newfound (and I believe never revisited) link to Demons, but fails to find a way to impress while doing so. Ogre Marauder is essentially unblockable until you can kill him, which is not that hard, but he can wreak some havoc with his 3 points of reasonably early power. So we might have a winner of the Not Entirely Stinking prize on our hands here. But then there's Heartless Hidetsugu (a frenemy of Toshiro Umezawa, says the story-line), who boasts a powerful free effect, although one that's not easy to put to good use. Sure, red is the color of life advantage through relentless burning, but Hidetsugu comes in the midrange, at a point when his impact will be lessened in a burn deck. He's a fun Commander or Commander aid, though, I seem to remember.


Rat: +5

  

 

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 Related Tribes: Ninja, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: Rats, in the form of the Skaven-like Nezumi, get all the black Ninjas, including a few solid ones, if maybe not exactly the best ones of the lot (those tend to be blue). And after that, they get a guy who kills Ninjas. Talk about a narrow application. But it's cool that a card like that exists; see, that's the kind of bad creatures nobody minds, because at least they're doing something unique, which could even be useful in that one specific situation. As opposed to creatures which are never useful in any conceivable situation.


Samurai: +9

   

   

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 Related Tribes: Archer, Fox, Human

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: The Samurai keep their one-time (well, make that three-time) march forward, branching into green for the occasion. And actually, Isao, Enlightened Bushi isn't even a bad one, a 3-mana uncounterable beater that fights as a 4/3 and regenerates. He's not really great at anything, but you can't toss him in the same pile as, say, the pretty useless Takeno's Cavalry, or other lackluster examples like Indebted Samurai, flavorful as he is.

 Isao aside, a trio of legends representing as many different colors leads the charge, so to speak. Big story guy Toshiro Umezawa has an impressive ability with some very specific clauses; having opponent's creatures die while there's an instant in your graveyard is not extremely hard, but it's still something you have to work toward, and build around a bit, and in the meantime you have a mere black Gray Ogre on the battlefield. So, like, good but not great, and another potentially fun Commander.

 Fumiko the Lowblood is noticeable for trying and using bushido in a slightly more creative way, albeit it still doesn't amount to much, just an overcosted 3/2 that might be harder to kill when accompanied by many attackers. Actually more interesting is her second ability that forces the enemy creatures to attack; I guess the idea was to keep Fumiko in defense so she can stay on the received end of a large number of attackers and block one of them lethally. Still not sounding like a great plan, though.

 Similarly, I'm not sure Kentaro, the Smiling Cat allowing to pay for your Samurai with generic mana is that relevant; he seems more useful as a 2-powered 2-drop, honestly. Which means, not exceptionally useful, but at least not actively self-sabotaging.

 Finally, Ronin Cliffrider has an outstanding ability that can give serious troubles to tribal builds like Goblins and Elves, but it's attached to a puny 2/2 that costs you as much as a Dragon, and will be easily dispatched as soon as he'll stick his neck out, so you might be better off just playing Simoon or something. Boy, they really did not nail the Samurai concept at all, did they?


Shaman: +6

  

  

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 Related Tribes: Goblin, Ogre, Snake

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Heartless Hidetsugu is a Shaman, but this fact doesn't appear to be especially relevant. The more visible Shamans here are the Snake ones, all doing a variation of a new trick where each turn they automatically add some green mana to your mana pool, and it doesn't empty throughout phases (it does at end of turn, though, so they're only distant cousins of Omnath, Locus of Mana). The basic version Sakura-Tribe Springcaller does the trick with just one mana. It could have been great if paired with an early drop, but Springcaller is a low-powered midrange dude, so not really meaningful. Then there's two legendary matrons (opposing each other, I reckon). Sakiko, Mother of Summer potentially adds a lot of mana, but her Titan-level casting cost tells us she's meant to ramp beyond that point, which is not always required, and when it is, you're probably going to rely on something less frail than a 3/3. On the other hand, Shizuko, Caller of Autumn drops for 3, which is great, and produces GGG, which is also great. Problem here is she does the same for the opponent, too. But hey, Heartbeat of Spring (from Champions of Kamigawa, incidentally) was also two-sided yet saw play, even dedicated builds. So I'm gonna go with Shizuko as the most efficient mana engine here. Team Autumn! (The Orochi don't seem to care much for Winter, by the way).


Snake: +4

   

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 Related Tribes: Archer, Shaman, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Snakes get the three automatic-mana-producing Shamans, which are sort of okay, and the one Archer that kills small flyers and taps larger ones, which I still like a lot. So they could do better, they could do worse.

 Something to know about the Orochi of Kamigawa: they're divided into three sub-tribes; the Matsu are snipers and scouts, the Sakura are shamans and the Kashi are warriors. Something to wonder about the Orochi of Kamigawa: why do their females have breasts? We know they lay eggs, so they're oviparous, and if they're oviparous, they don't lactate. Also, why do they have so many arms? Your goal is to design a humanoid creature with many limbs, what mental process leads you to take inspiration from an animal with no limbs at all?


Soldier: +1

 

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 Related Tribes: Human

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: Here's another one of those Ki Masters (I made up this name, by the way), this time as the lone Soldier in the set turning into some mildly functional flyer that can prevent damage to himself or others a couple times. Compelling stuff.


Spirit: +45

   

   

   

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 Related Tribes: Demon

 Impact of the New Additions: Severe

 Highlights: Amid the general disaster zone that is the creature component of Betrayers of Kamigawa, the still overwhelming Spirit presence actually has it better than it had in the parent set, where the real standouts were only the Spirit Dragons and Kodama of the North Tree (to a lesser extent, Kodama of the South Tree).

 Here, a first excellence comes in the unassuming form of Tallowisp, which might well be the only case where the "Spirits and Arcanes matter" mechanic, well... matters. And it does so fetching auras, which are easily the worst class of permanents, being mostly doomed to die along with the permanent they enchant. But once you start using them as a toolbox, you find out they're surprisingly versatile, spanning many different things, from pumping and protection a la Bogle.dek, to Control Magic effects and a vast arrays of pseudo-removal in the mold of Pacifism (my favorite of the latter type is Weight of Conscience, which is particularly suitable to Tallowisp builds because it exploits the tribal aspect). Tallowisp becomes a reliable fetching engine, coming up early on and even fulfilling a bit of a blocker role while waiting for its triggers.

 Another great Spirit from BOK is Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, which is probably the most widely played one in virtue of not requiring any other Spirit, it just adds a layer of protection to your whole team (itself included), while also being useful as an early evasive attacker.

 Following these two higher-profile Spirits, we have a range of at least decent ones, starting with the Spirit fetcher Lifespinner. It's a card that's clearly more at home in the casual territory, but also one that's very fun to build around, exploiting the sacrifice of recurring Spirits like Bloodghast or Dripping-Tongue Zubera to cheat into play all kind of heavy hitters. And the resident heavy hitter in Betrayers of Kamigawa was Oyobi, Who Split the Heavens: and while she's not really able to impact the board upon arrival, she boasts a nice defensive body, evasion, and built-in tribal inevitability with that endless string of 3/3 flyers she keeps spawning; it's not a lightning-fast clock, but it's faster than one might think.

 Most of the important Spirits here are legendary: Hokori, Dust Drinker is Stasis on legs, and sees play in Commander; Tomorrow, Azami's Familiar is probably overcosted, but the free card selection it provides remains amazing; Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker is a great Johnny card that combo with powerful black ETBs like Bone Shredder, Big Game Hunter and most disruptors (even Chimney Imp!), making once again for a good option for a Commander deck. And all these legends are in turn recurred via Yomiji, Who Bars the Way, if for an absurdly steep price, considering it's an effect that gets shared with the opponent.

 Tier-3: Mannichi, the Fevered Dream's power and toughness switcheroo feels occasionally powerful but very situational (at least the casting cost is not prohibitive, though); same goes for Chisei, Heart of Oceans, that anticipates the counters shenanigans of the Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block, but is above the curve as a 4/4 flyer for 4.

 Even more disappointing is the final member of the Kodama super-cycle (they're spirits that reside in trees, by the way): the predictably named Kodama of the Center Tree (well, once you knew they didn't go for the four cardinal points) is a "Spirits matter" card in the same vein of its South counterpart, but doing very little with it for 5 mana, and revisiting soulshift without improving it one iota.

 All in all, the third most appealing Spirits from BOK has to be the simple common Kami of False Hope, which is just a one-time Fog on a stick, but it's a 1-drop that can be easily recurred for a soft combat lock.

 There's also two solid cycles: the rare one features the Patrons, which are the protector Spirits of each major tribe. They're all a bit high on the curve, to balance the fact that you can reduce their casting cost of the full cost, colors included, of a sacrificed member of the relative tribe (the implication being that even the more benign of these protectors actually ask for the blood of their worshipers, which is probably darker than intended), while also achieving flash in the process. Their powers are generally useful, and generally linked to that tribe's main characteristic. Patron of the Moon, for instance, tries to counterbalance the Moonfolk's business of returning lands in hand. Patron of the Kitsune is capable of generating an insane amount of life, and its main hindrance resides in the fact that Fox decks aren't extremely efficient to begin with. Patron of the Orochi straightforwardly doubles your mana production (both from Forests and green mana dorks) in each turn of each player, making it perhaps the most powerful of all of these in a Commander environment. More so, it similarly multiplies the green creatures' activations that require tapping, and give all of them a sort of vigilance plus immunity to being neutralized by being tapped, and whatnot (in more recent days, it'd also combo with exert).

 The common cycle is made up by the Bakus, which also accumulate ki counters, then discharge groups of them to generate a flashy effect, before going back to accumulating them again, which makes them better than the flipping Ki Masters themselves. The white tapper and the green mana-producer are particularly effective at what they do.

  

 


Warrior: +11

  

  

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Goblin, Human, Ogre, Rat, Snake

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Warriors have Goblin Cohort, which does work well in fast Warrior decks as well, and not one but two of those terrible Ki Masters. Well, Hired Muscle is certainly terrible: fear until end of turn? C'mon. However, Cunning Bandit uses his precious couple of counters to cast Act of Treason, and that's definitely a more interesting effect to keep around, maybe even one with enough applications to be worth thinking of a way to actually increase/rebuild those counters.


Wizard: +4

  

 

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Human, Moonfolk

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Let's see. Floodbringer has a worthy ability, Minamo Sightbender doesn't (is it really such a big deal to make a creature unblockable?), while Callow Jushi might just be the best Ki Master. It's a toss up between her and Cunning Bandit, as potentially countering a couple spells is clearly worth the bother, even if the counter takes the form of a non-conditional Spell Pierce: you time it right, it's going to cause some headache.


SUMMARY

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 Check the Complete Creature Types Reference Table here.


BEST IN SHOW
(click on them to go to their main tribe)

  

 

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THE PATRONS
(click on them to go to their sacrificial tribe)

  

 

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THE MASTERS OF KI
(click on them to go to the main tribe of their unflipped version)

  

 

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KUMA'S TRIBAL EVALUATIONS