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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Oct 30 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 <

 And that's a farewell to Ancient Japan. In June 2005, Saviors of Kamigawa ended the titular cycle of three sets as well as the Kami War they portrayed. To date, Kamigawa is the only block where all the sets reference the name of the plane in their title. Only Urza block did something similar, with all three sets referencing Urza's name.

 As for the Kami War... in the end, the Han Solo of the block, Toshiro Umezawa, helped the Princess Leia of the block, Princess Michiko (daughter of the man who started it all, the ambitious daimyō Takeshi Konda), placating the kami's anger, by fusing herself with her kidnapped spirit counterpart, Kyodai, aka That Which Was Taken. Thus doing, they saved the plane from the vengeful fury of the Great Serpent, O-Kagachi, the first and most powerful of the kami, of which Kyodai used to be the very heart, i.e. the part that prevented it to go mad with its appetite for destruction. All's well what ends well: O-Kagachi is defeated, the power-hungry Konda gets punished, and Michiko and Kyodai become the Sisters of Flesh and Spirit, the new guardians of Kamigawa, preserving the barrier between the mortal world and the spirit world.

 This seems the perfect place to mention that, while O-Kagachi didn't get a card in the Kamigawa block, it did last summer in Commander 2017, a fact I failed to note at the time of my evaluation. So the Big Bad of Kamigawa Block has finally been featured, a full 13 years after the fact.

 Saviors of Kamigawa continues the low-power march of the previous sets, but it improves a little on the recipe, showing the light at the end of the nerf tunnel that will solidify into Ravnica block. The flip cards are now slightly less terrible, since they at least turn into more robust enchantments. Channel is a good mechanic that could still come back one day, although it didn't generate any truly memorable card at this juncture. The tribal density is lighter, resulting in a larger number of represented types (28, which is 10 more than the same-sized Betrayers, and even 5 more than the mothership set Champions), and a few of the new creatures are genuinely strong and impactful, as much as some of the new noncreature cards. In particular, this little tool was destined to be the most useful and lasting addition of the entire block (to the point that people usually forget it debuted here):

 Other highlights are the storm-friendly Ideas Unbound, the Epic spells, the equipment-hating equipment Manriki-Gusari (designed to counterbalance the powerful equipments from that Standard season, and still surviving in Commander), and three of the four legendary lands printed in the set:

  

 Anyway, let's have a look at the new 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: 165
  • New creatures: 95
  • Reprinted cards: 0
  • Reprinted creatures: 0
  • Creature types affected: 28
  • Tribes with more than 5 additions: Spirit (+49), Human (+21), Samurai (+10), Monk (+7), Shaman (+7), Wizard (+7), Warrior (+6)

Advisor: +2

 

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Human

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: So, the wise and compassionate Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker ultimately emerged as the main character in the narrative, the very key to end the Kami War. I'm not sure why the art chose to depict her as some murderous courtesan, but who am I to judge what great leaders do behind closed doors (the flavor text is also terribly flat, it plays like a telegram). As a card, her ability is impactful enough, but ruined by her casting cost; considering you don't always face damage-dealing sources, she would be a Death & Taxes star only if she was a "bear", i.e. a 2-mana 2/2. The way she is printed, she drops too late to feel effective, or worthy employ of your resources. A prestigious victim of the Kamigawa nerf.

 The other Advisor (a tribe Kamigawa added and immediately misused, because Michiko is royalty, she doesn't advise anybody, she is advised by guys like this one) is equally unpopular yet feels more playable. He's a 1-drop with toughness enough to block 1-powered attackers, extends your hand and enables recursion tricks with blue creatures. Problem is, his package is a little too heterogeneous to really coalesce into a meaningful addition to any specific kind of deck. Some combo-oriented blue-based build with plenty of ETB effects seems like the best fit, but it's obviously not something you see often, anywhere. Still, Trusted Advisor is, indeed, a trustworthy guy. Worst case scenario, he guarantees one ETB trigger per turn all by his lonesome.


Antelope: +1

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Beast

 Impact of the New Additions: Severe

 Highlights: I don't know if you noticed, but after Mirrodin block required a lot of later refurbishing of its creature types, Kamigawa block pretty much still plays as written, tribe-wise, proving they were getting the handle on the whole "class-race" system. The one exception is this Antelope , which was printed as just a Beast, with the second type added a few years later, during the Grand Creature Type Update. It's also peculiar in that it's a reprint of Stampeding Wildebeests from Visions, with only the name changed, to best fit culturally (wildebeests, or gnus, come from Africa; serows come from Japan and China). Indeed, by the time the Antelope tribe was created, these two were the only existing members. Which raises the question of why they felt the need to even have an Antelope tribe to begin with, but these are the kind of questions we should learn to stop asking. Anyway, both these stampeding herds are quite good, if you plan to exploit the downside turning it into an upside, and getting a large trampler as an added bonus.

 Anyway, Antelope might be the only tribe with a duplicate member that's not vanilla or French vanilla.


Archer: +1

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Snake, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: The Matsu-Tribe keeps doing its poison-based Frost Titan thing, but in this case, not very convincingly, because I feel like a 4-drop could have native reach without needing to activate it every time. Also, speaking of the creature type line Kamigawa consolidated, well, maybe they overdid it a bit, judging by the many 3-tribe creatures we're seeing around here. Like, why would an Archer need the Warrior type? Isn't that a built-in concept? Aren't archers essentially warriors that specialize in the use of bow and arrows? Plus, I don't think they kept doing it this way, otherwise all following Archers should have the Warrior type attached; so we'll have to chalk this up to these Matsu-Tribe guys being particularly adept at both ranged and melee warfare, despite the stats on the actual cards not really representing this idea.


Beast: +1

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Antelope

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: I'll have to reiterate: couldn't these things just be Beasts? And if not, why they still are? They're just a regular herd of regular serows; what's so bestial about them? Are all animals warranted the Beast type? Because this has never been applied coherently. If normal Antelopes are Beasts, then logic would have that Wolves and Hyenas and Goats and whatnot should also be.


Cleric: +2

 

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Fox

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: We can safely say, by Kamigawa's time, the design teams still hadn't a clue what to do with the Cleric type. Or better, what to do that was interesting as opposed to a retread of the same old, same old stuff from a decade earlier that people would hate seeing pop up from a booster at any level of rarity. This pair of awful excuses for a Cleric (spend mana to give your fragile guy an unreliable toughness boost? Really?) probably represents the veritable bottom of the barrel for the Cleric world. After this, they were ripe for a radical change of approach.

 This unfortunate duo introduces one of the mechanical themes of the set, though: cards in hand matter.


Demon: +3

  

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Spirit

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Yes, Demon has started feeling like more of a proper tribe with Kamigawa (it helped the distance from Christian mythology and the baseless fears that had Magic protested in the past as a "satanic game"). This doesn't change the fact that most of the Demons we've seen from Champions and Betrayers were not great designs. The tribe bids adieu to the plane with arguably the best and the worst of their new additions. The former title belongs to Kagemaro, First to Suffer, part of the cycle of creatures inspired by the old Maro from Mirage (and also, yeah, Mark Rosewater's nickname). They fit the above-mentioned "cards in hand matter" set mechanic, and Kagemaro in particular is pretty good because it plays as a 6-mana sweep effect that disregards regeneration and indestructibility. Plus, it's actually 5 mana to drop, impacting the board with its cheap, instant-speed menace; and in the meantime, it's a creature, so you can do stuff with it that creatures do, like attack or block. Of course, you need cards in hand to boost its effectiveness, so it's more of a card for control decks, although giving -2/-2 to all creatures might be what you actually serves you best on occasion, so it's just versatile that way.

 Complementing the "cards in hand matter" theme, SOK also features a series of "routinely return cards in hand" effects (we've seen Trusted Advisor and Stampeding Serow, and we already know what the Moonfolks like to do). And that, in demonic form, is Oni of Wild Places. Which is a terrible 6-mana dork. All right, I lied, it's not as awful as Shimatsu the Bloodcloaked, so that one still gets the prize. It's still pretty bad, though. Monored Demons never recovered from the shock, as not another one of them has been printed since these two stinkers.

 Razorjaw Oni is somehow playable, since not blocking might not be such a big deal in aggressive black decks. Of course, for 4 mana, you get stuff like Desecration Demon these days. Let's face it: Demons inspired by biblical lore are scarier than oni. Pape Satàn aleppe!


Druid: +1

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Human

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: This kannushi is making a last-minute attempt to give a shred of meaning to soulshift. Now for 1 mana you can manage to return to hand a Spirit worth up to 7 mana. And then nobody brings back the kannushi, so there's still no cycle. Did they realize that Raise Dead does the same thing since Alpha, but without any tribal restriction nor having to bother finding a way to activate a death trigger? I can't shake the feeling that soulshift was meant as a mechanic that would move the creatures from the graveyard to the battlefield (the Spirits reincarnate, after all), but was deemed too powerful and turned into this lame return to hand business.


Fox: +4

  

 

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Cleric, Monk, Samurai

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: The Kitsune end their run with those two pathetic Clerics and an entirely forgettable Samurai, plus the first of the Ascendants, the final cycle of flip cards, and the only one that can be called at least partially successful. The five Ascendants are all Monks and, more importantly, they turn into enchantments, which is definitely a better prospect if you have to invest time and resources into trying to flip them. And other than more resilient, the flip side is generally powerful and one-sided: in the case of Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant, all your creatures stop fearing damage, which is nothing to sneeze at. He's particularly popular in Commander, because the flipping clause of having 30 life is already fulfilled there (at least in the first phases of a game), essentially transforming it into a 3-mana enchantment. Neat.


Goblin: +2

 

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Shaman, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Akki Underling is a honest take on the "cards in hand matter" mechanic, although he's virtually unplayable in any Goblin deck ever, and has no reason to be in the kind of decks that would manage to activate his ability. Akki Drillmaster is also honest: giving haste with a mere tap is useful, close to having universal haste, because you know your latest critter will always be the one to get it. Of course the template for this red ability will see better forms over time, while still remaining mostly unplayed outside of the realm of Limited: cards like Bloodlust Inciter, which only drops for 1, or Bloodthorn Taunter and Sootstoke Kindler, which have haste themselves at the price of a restriction. (Serious combo decks use Inner-Flame Acolyte, though).


Human: +21

   

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Advisor, Druid, Monk, Rogue, Samurai, Shaman, Soldier, Warrior, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Irrelevant

 Highlights: Human encompasses a few of the set's most representative creatures, which the Human tribe as a whole still doesn't much care for.


Insect: +1

> summary <

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: We find out there were Insects on Kamigawa. Probably we didn't notice before because they seem pretty pointless. Also, Kitsune poetry is bad and depressing.


Kirin: +5

  

 

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Spirit

 Impact of the New Additions: Extreme

 Highlights: The last of the new tribes introduced in Kamigawa, the Kirin or Qilin (yes, it's actually not racist to say it that way) are Chinese dragon-like mythological creatures, but assume a more unicorn-like form in Japanese lore. In Magic, they are a cycle of midrange (or wannabe curve-top) "Spirits and Arcanes matter" creatures that play exceptionally bad as a tribe, since, for one, Celestial Kirin's trigger will be actively trying to kill him and most of the others. They're also all legendary, which makes them clunkier. And their abilities are all linked to the casting cost of the Spirit or Arcane spell that triggered them, which certainly doesn't help making them reliable. For instance, the red one, Skyfire Kirin, would be good if you didn't need to match the exact cost of whatever you want to steal. From this point of view, the most dependable is Bounteous Kirin, which gives you some life no matter what (and it's also one of those elusive green big flyers); too bad it's horribly overcosted as a result.

 Defying its cultural specificity, or better, exploiting the shared roots of its Asian mythology, the tribe has seen a brief comeback in Tarkir block, first with Alabaster Kirin in Khans of Tarkir, then with Misthoof Kirin in Dragons of Tarkir. Unfortunately, they're both just French vanilla flyers.

 


Mercenary: +1

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Ogre, Samurai

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Out of the blue, Mercenary pops up in Kamigawa, after having been a big deal in Mercadia a few years prior. I say "out of the blue" because, I might be off base here, but doesn't the concept of "Samurai Mercenary" describe a ronin? Because there are six creatures called "ronin" in Kamigawa block, five from the two previous sets, and none of them has the Mercenary type. Oh well, this guy is just an irrelevant update on Ghazban Ogre, anyway.


Monk: +7

   

  

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Fox, Human, Moonfolk, Ogre, Snake

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: The Monk tribe in Saviors of Kamigawa is dominated by the Ascendants. I won't pretend it's a successful cycle, because they still didn't see much play, but their design is at least solid compared to all the previous flip cards. The fact that their flipped form is an enchantment is crucial, as it guarantees an improved degree of survivability, thus making the goal of achieving the flipping condition a more alluring one. To add to this, the global effects provided by the "essences" are all pretty powerful, ranging from dramatic boosts to your creatures, to forcing the opponent to waste their first spell each turn, to what would one day become Sheoldred, Whispering One's The Abyss-like ability. Until what's arguably the most groundbreaking of the lot, Sasaya's Essence, able to generate an insane amount of mana, especially in a monogreen deck where all lands share the same name (that name being "Forest").

 The key to evaluate this cycle, then, resides in the flipping clauses. And yeah, they're unsurprisingly demanding, and albeit feasible, they seem designed for larger-than-life formats like Commander. In particular, Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant flips right away in Commander, while the coveted flipping of Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant doesn't even seem to have place elsewhere, short of a very dedicated build which is probably too Johnny for its own good.

 Flavor-wise, it's interesting that two of the block's signature color-linked tribes, Rat and Goblin, are replaced in this cycle respectively by Ogre and, somehow randomly, Human. It appears the requirement of a Monk didn't seem to fit those races at the time, and to this day, no Rat Monk or Goblin Monk has ever been printed.

 Ascendants aside, the Monks also get a couple of filler dudes, both of the "cards in hand matter" variety. Of these, Descendant of Masumaro does a rather pointless charade of comparing your hand with an opponent's hand to establish how many +1/+1 counters he'll get each turn, if any. Rob Alexander's art is inspired to Bruce Lee, for no apparent reason.


Moonfolk: +4

 

  

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Monk, Wizard

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: And these are the last of the Moonfolks. Not a single new one has been released since Kamigawa, with the exception of the two versions of the planeswalking Tamiyo (by the way, as the planeswalkers have the regular supertype legendary now, the path is clear for them to one day obtain other types as well, turning them into tribal cards, if not tribal members). Of course Moonfolks are native of Kamigawa so it's hard to work them into other planes, but that doesn't stop the creative department in the past; it just takes saying that this specific kind of humanoids exists elsewhere, too, like they did for the Kor, first seen on Dominaria before learning they were Zendikar natives.

 Anyway, this Moonfolk's last hurrah is not really a hurrah, because the three additions at lower rarities use their usual trick to perform increasingly underwhelming feats, like temporarily changing the type of a basic land or reducing the power of one creature. Oboro Breezecaller tries to be Deserted Temple on legs, but you'd really need some specific setup to make that cost worth its salt, and even TitanBloom decks would laugh at the idea of including her.

 Then there's the blue Ascendant, Erayo, who has possibly the steepest flip condition of her cycle, but also an impressive effect once she turns into a global enchantment. Actually, the condition is more correctly defined as one that requires a degree of build-around-me planning: essentially, a shell similar to storm decks, with lots of cheap cantrips like Manamorphose and Urza's Bauble. Storm decks could indeed easily bring her along, exploiting the flipped state to make it almost impossible for the opponent to stop their endgame. But this value alone has proved to not be enough to spend a few slots on, even despite the low-maintenance Erayo requires as a 1/1 flyer for 2. She commands respect, anyway, is stil banned in Commander, and generates a hard lock with Rule of Law effects (of which there's a few by now).

 We can see another correction to the flip cards is of a more cosmetic nature: the fact that they now turn into "essences" suggested a more abstract representation on the flip side, giving the overall art more room to breath and an improved readability.


Ogre: +5

  

  

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Mercenary, Monk, Samurai, Shaman, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Ogres have their own Ascendant (despite being usually depicted as stupid brutes, while Rats had ninjas and shamans). Kuon suggests a monoblack shell uniquely in virtue of his triple black cost, although then he's markedly above curve as a 2/4, which is important considering he has to kill three creatures in a turn to flip, and the best way to do that without also killing Kuon is to cast something that deals 3 damage or less to the whole board. Which is feasible, albeit entirely predicated on a board that does contain three other creatures. So maybe the best way to ensure the flipping is by engineering it yourself through a sacrifice outlet and some recursive dude (say, Viscera Seer with Gravecrawler or Bloodsoaked Champion) or a token generator. Then again, if you want the Sheoldred effect to make the most sense, the opponent must be piloting a creature deck, although hindering the lone finisher of a control deck is a plan, too. It's worth noting that the Ascendants have the downside of making you lose the creature they were before the flipping, which is particularly relevant in the case of an early beater like Kuon is in a monoblack build.

 If Kuon is solid, his Ogre companions here are nothing useful. Mostly, they're applying the "cards in hand matter" direction to forgettable ends, like Sokenzan Spellblade and Skull Collector, which has the "return stuff in hand" mechanic attached for no particular reason, since it's otherwise on the curve for an uncommon. Raving Oni-Slave returns one last time to the Ogre's alliance with the Demons (or, well, submission to them). A 3/3 dropped on turn 2 would even be interesting if it didn't necessarily spell the loss of 3 to 6 life for you, which impedes the very race he should help you getting on top of. And if you wait to cast him once an actual Demon is around, then it's probably too late to justify the Oni-Slave's presence in your deck. Theoretically the design has its merits, but it doesn't translate into a playable.


Rat: +4

   

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Samurai, Shaman

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: All low-profile Rats here (they were still sad because they had been negated their own Ascendant, despite being Kamigawa's main black tribe). There's two run-of-the-mill commons doing unremarkable things with bushido and "cards in hand matter" (Deathmask Nezumi looks like something that started good before being nerfed into oblivion), then a miniature vertical cycle with two Rats that love insects and this results in a reduced hand for the opponent, which is a mechanic we don't see much anymore but it had untapped potential. Locust Miser doesn't make a lot of sense in 1v1, but it's annoying in multiplayer. Notice how by this time all the printed wording properly references multiplayer?


Rogue: +1

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Human

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: Sakashima was at the time an enhanced Vesuvan Doppelganger: lighter CMC, dribbles spot removal, can reset at any time, but you have to pay the bounce cost then casting him all over again. And most of all, the unheard-of possibility of copying legendary creatures. Sakashima survived many changes of the legendary rule and a progressive "clone fatigue", where every new set seems to add a twist to the basic Clone concept. But he's still a classic, particularly popular on Commander because he can copy the commanders themselves, giving his controller the chance to have two at once in play. Years later, in Planechase 2012, Sakashima would even get a ninja student that applies ninjutsu to the clone tech. (Products without a definite setting are the only places where Kamigawa and its unique inhabitants like Moonfolk, Samurai and Ninja have a real chance at making a comeback; the return of the Core sets seems promising in this regard).

 Flavor note: Sakashima's flavor is fascinating. See, he's not a Shapeshifter, so he doesn't actually transform into the creatures he copies. He just disguises at them! You should see his Progenitus costume! All right, I'm jesting, flavor says he actually does a mind trick to make others see him in the guise of his choice. This still poses some questions, though: say he performs his Jedi trick while he's riding a horse; do people see him as Progenitus riding a horse?


Samurai: +10

  

  

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Fox, HumanMercenary, Ogre, Rat, Shaman

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Unlike Ninja, which came back twice (with Silent-Blade Oni and Sakashima's Student in Planechase 2012, but curiously not here in Saviors of Kamigawa), Samurai would never come back again as a type, not even in setting-less products. It might be because they never understood how to make them compelling, with bushido being a very basic, very underwhelming ability, and their tribal interactions not being fully defined. And not for lack of trying: we see it one last time here with Iizuka the Ruthless, which gives all Samurai a much welcome double strike, except at the price of 3 mana and... one of your Samurai (I don't even know what that's supposed to mean: samurai performing human sacrifices?). Considering Samurai is not exactly a tribe with lightning-fast proliferation, and Iizuka himself is awfully midrange with a frail body for his cost, this just looks like the umpteenth failure for the tribe.

 And then they just gave up. They added a bunch of vanilla bushido guys, and one flying Samurai, all of which seem to operate on the assumption that bushido is an ability that adds something to any preexisting design, which it really doesn't. After all was said and done, among the best Samurai of the block ranks the mirrored pair Hand of Honor/Hand of Cruelty, which is simply a take on the evergreen White Knight/Black Knight mold. As such, they both saw some play in Standard at the time, because protection from white or black is bound to always be relevant, and these were the only options at the time; then they crawled back into obscurity, since even first strike is better than bushido in so many ways.


Scout: +1

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Shaman, Snake

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: It's easy to underestimate this Snake lady. She's no Llanowar Elves, dropping her on turn 1 doesn't necessarily ramp you up in the long term. But there are decks that care about dropping more lands than your standard single allowance, and this little Scout does a nearly perfect job of increasing that number, and can even do cool tricks like dropping a Glacial Chasm in the opponent's turn, and even circumventing City of Traitors. She was most recently seen as part of the engine of the Bloomless Titan build in Modern, where she thrives juggling bounce lands.


Shaman: +7

   

  

> summary <

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

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: Except for the previously discussed Sakura-Tribe Scout, Shaman in Saviors of Kamigawa mostly works as a collector of other tribes' garbage. The only other exception is Reki, the History of Kamigawa, which is not an especially good card, but his ability is truly unique, and has some usefulness in Commander, particularly in Captain Sisay builds. It's also the only card in existence that references the plane's name in its name, so there's that.


Shapeshifter: +1

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Spirit

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: With Sakashima the Impostor being denied Shapeshifter status by flavor, the tribe is stuck with this little thing that essentially always trades in combat. There have been worse abilities, I suppose, but it still doesn't feel like something you'd be too eager to play, as it's more or less a strictly worse deathtouch for blue decks.


Snake: +4

  

 

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Archer, Monk, Scout, Shaman, Warrior

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium to High

 Highlights: Two great non-tribe-related additions for Snake here in Sakura-Tribe Scout and Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant. And I just realized Matsu-Tribe and Kashi-Tribe cards have exactly the same Frost Titan-like ability when they deal damage. They were supposed to represent different styles of combat (the Matsu are snipers, the Kashi are hand-to-hand warriors), but if in the end it results in exactly the same stuff because they all have poisonous weapons or something, then that's just bad flavor and flat design. At least Kashi-Tribe Elite protects Legendary Snakes. Now that's a narrow ability if there's one, but Snake does have a few nice legends, after all. Not that you would actually want to protect them via this guy.


Soldier: +2

 

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Human

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: Ignoring the midrange flyer with the "return stuff in hand" ability (though it's not even that terrible), Descendant of Kiyomaro reminds us there was a cycle of Descendants in SOK, and for some reason it wasn't complete (I guess Kagemaro and Adamaro didn't have descendants). The three of them do slightly different things, and none is particularly good, but the Kiyomaro Descendant is the closest to playable: he's bad while you don't fulfill the condition, but decent afterwards, as a 3/5 with some form of lifelink. Please notice how I said "closest to playable", not "playable".


Spirit: +49

   

   

> summary <

 Related Tribes: Demon, Kirin, Shapeshifter, Zubera

 Impact of the New Additions: High

 Highlights: And here we are, the bulk of the creature presence in Saviors of Kamigawa, amounting to more than half of the new creatures in the set: it's them again, the Spirits! This time around you can easily break them down into two groups: the ones belonging to one of the cycles, and the standalone guys, the latter of which spawned the eight rares feature above, so let's start with those.

 And let's start with the best of the lot: Kataki, War's Wage stands among the most widely-known cards of all Kamigawa block, and I doubt it was played much as a main deck card; its fame comes from being an enduring fixture of all sideboards across the formats (the formats with a sideboard, that is, so not Tribal Wars). The level of its hosing against artifact decks is to this day unparalleled, easily forcing an artifact build pilot into concession at the sheer sight of this angry little guy. Clearly a byproduct of the insanity of Mirrodin block, Kataki quickly became a much-needed reverse insanity that was bound to stay to keep those artifact abusers honest, without really pushing them out of the meta.

 At some distance in the "good Spirit" column, we have Arashi, the Sky Asunder. It's another card that answers a broad archetype (decks with lots of aggression in the air), but unlike Kataki, Arashi is strong in main deck as well, as a perfectly on-curve 5/5 for 5, which makes it a solid finisher. Channel is wisely used here to enhance versatility: as anti-air tech on the battlefield, Arashi would feel a bit clunky with its localized Hurricanes, but the secondary ability comes to the rescue, by turning it into a proper Hurricane, more or less. It doesn't see much play anymore, but Arashi has been a big deal in its time, and it's still effective at delivering on its double function.

 Now for the "mixed bag" column. Arashi was actually one half of a mirrored pair, yet its Earthquake-based counterpart fails to deliver on all levels. Jiwari, the Earth Aflame has an absurdly excessive channel cost, and a fragile body that dies to its own activation. It appears there might have been an old-school consideration at play here, namely that hitting ground creatures is more valuable than hitting flyers, because there's more of the former around, so it'll come into play more often. In hindsight, we can see now how this idea was misguided (it should have been evident 13 years ago already, but oh well), as flyers are always those that you'll have a harder time dealing with, and that will end up killing you if you don't. Especially if you're in green, because nobody really plays Hurricane anymore.

 A similar failure comes in the form of Iname As One, but that was very clearly heralded by the two previous Inames. At least this fused version directly fetches a Spirit onto the battlefield, then performs a Spirit resurrection upon death, but it's 12 mana for a vanilla body. T-w-e-l-v-e m-a-n-a! Of which four double-colored. If it was already too much back then, it's utterly ridiculous now that the Eldrazi exists. And it's not even that good as a commander: you do get to repeatedly fetch and reanimate stuff (provided your deck involves some pretty serious mana ramping), but only in two colors, which aren't even the most Spirit-friendly.

 Moving on, Kami of the Crescent Moon is quite simply Howling Mine in creature form, which doesn't seem particularly meaningful, but you can't blame the design for it. Akuta, Born of Ash is an attempt at a recursive creature, but it gets lost in too many clauses. It's no Ichorid, probably on purpose. Ayumi, the Last Visitor is nothing more than an experiment in design, because you can't really bank on your opponent having a legendary land, but I find cool that such an ability exists. Also, her artwork is pretty cool.

 Chalk the following one up as "things I like in spite of everything": Sekki, Seasons' Guide is supposedly one of the tribe's heavy hitters, and it's a bit of a dork at that, but I like its design, and it can do brilliant things on occasion, including recurring at instant speed. Its main problem is the casting cost is too high for a non-evasive fatty, which is too bad because it's fun to play: you attack, it gets blocked, spawns its cute 1/1 components, which might be an advantage (combat theory states that oftentimes eight 1/1s represent more of a threat than a single 8/8, especially if all these bodies are vanilla), and after a while Sekki will die but you'll be ready to bring it back, especially in a Spirit tribal deck. Also it shouldn't escape our attention that the little Sekkis are colorless, which might be sort of a big deal at times.

 On to the cycles, now. The flashiest one being the Maros, an update of the classic namesake creature from Mirage, which might not seem much in our post-Tarmogoyf world, but was pretty effective as a finisher in its time. So how does this batch of new Maros (stemming from the fact that it happens to be a Japanese word) compare to the original? Well, first of all, they mostly had to measure up to the previous Maro follow-up, which is Multani, Maro-Sorcerer. And the short answer is: they don't compare favorably to that one, because Multani simply added the very crucial shroud to the Maro recipe, while these guys add pretty much anything but a way to protect themselves. Take Masumaro, First to Live, which is the most similar to Multani: it's twice as big, but it doesn't do anything else and dies to everything. Adamaro, First to Desire (good job with the flavor of the names, by the way) uses the opponent's hand to calculate its stats, which is not a good idea, but at least it comes cheaper because of that. Kiyomaro, First to Stand has an ability progression linked to the number of cards in your hand, but vigilance and lifelink, as strong as they are, are still not as impactful as shroud. With Soramaro, First to Dream we start to get somewhere, because flying at least makes it an evasive threat you have to deal with, and the Moonfolk-like ability plays into the goal of having as many cards in hand as possible, while at the same time providing card advantage. It's not exactly the smoothest operator (the activation is pricey, and reducing your mana base can be tricky), but I'd rank it as the second best. It's worth reminding that none of these ever saw actual play anywhere, except maybe for some casual Commander, and Multani itself was never a superstar, and it's so outdated now that they print similar creatures as filler. This said, Kagemaro, First to Suffer takes the cake here (all that suffering paid off at last!), merely in virtue of doubling as a powerful piece of removal. It's not a must play or anything, but Demon tribal decks still happily welcome it among their ranks.

 As for the non-rare cycles: the Onnas are female spirits with an ETB trigger and a "Spirits and Arcanes matter" mechanic that allows you recast them. This seemed to be an easy cycle to do right, and yet most if not all of these creatures are weirdly overcosted. Like, Kemuri-Onna and Kiri-Onna are Ravenous Rats and Man-o'-War, respectively, but they cost 5 mana rather than 2 or 3. It's not like the recursion is free: you have to cast another card that triggers it, then recast the Onna. But the cycle is badly balanced in more than one way, since the green Haru-Onna makes you draw a card (emphasizing the role of green as the second card-drawing color in the wheel), and yet it costs one mana less than the previous two, when historically a card-drawing trigger like that would cost more than a disruption or bounce. Similarly, Yuki-Onna (an unfortunately bad rendition of the famous Japanese myth) requires more of an effort to destroy an artifact than Nikko-Onna to destroy an enchantment. The latter is probably the more correctly costed as a 2/2 for 3, but her usefulness is inherently limited by her narrow field of work, and by now even monowhite has best options for sideboard hate (except within a Spirit tribal deck, which however, once again, doesn't have a sideboard).

 Finally, two full cycles use the channel mechanic: the uncommon Ghost-Lits follow the Arashi/Jiwari model, so they have an activation on the battlefield and a channel option that replicates it once but to a stronger degree; the common Shinens simply demonstrates channel by giving their battlefield ability to another creature for one turn.

 Among the minor Spirits, I like Elder Pine of Jukai (which should have the Plant type added): it'll make you draw a lot of lands in the right deck (which is a deck with a lot of Spirits and a lot of lands).


Warrior: +6

  

  

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

 Impact of the New Additions: Null

 Highlights: I lamented Shaman's poor state of things in SOK, but Warrior has it even worse: it's hard to even come up with something meaningful to say about this sorry band of losers, so I won't.


Wizard: +7

   

  

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 Related Tribes: Human, Moonfolk

 Impact of the New Additions: Medium

 Highlights: Two new legendary rare Wizards joined the game thanks to SOK. Kaho, Minamo Historian feels like an exceedingly convoluted way to fetch and play three instants, but I'm sure many a Johnny have a tried, and failed, to do something cool with it. Maga, Traitor to Mortals is just a Drain Life, with lifegain replaced with a vanilla body left behind. So it's actually not a bad deal, if hardly exciting. Though he combos nicely with Doubling Season and the likes.


Zubera: +2

 

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 Related Tribes: Spirit

 Impact of the New Additions: Low

 Highlights: The final Zuberas being added to the original cycle make a good case for not adding any more Zuberas, because their shtick was already wearing thin by their second outing. This is a blue-red mirrored pair of 3/3s for 4 (which is already too much to play well with the old ones), and they still want to go to the graveyard, but in a very specific way, i.e. by being dealt at least 4 damage. It's a baffling restriction, likely added to avoid Rushing-Tide Zubera to act as a Concentrate. Except, would that even be that powerful? Sure, it'd be Concentrate but also a 3/3 that can recur. Still, the way they are worded now, which negates any meaningful chance to sacrifice these guys for value, turn them into total non-entities.


SUMMARY

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 Check the Complete Creature Types Reference Table here.


BEST IN SHOW
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THE ASCENDANTS
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THE MAROS
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THE ONNAS
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THE GHOST-LITS
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THE SHINENS
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KUMA'S TRIBAL EVALUATIONS