mazeofrith's picture
By: mazeofrith, mazeofrith
Feb 02 2016 1:00pm
0
Login or register to post comments
2454 views


Introduction

One article does not a series make, and Modern still has a mass of sets left to be pored over as we search for oddities, unique effects and even cards potentially on the cusp of Modern playability. This week in the Bulk Box, we move onto the plane of Kamigawa, home of disgruntled spirits, honorable Samurai, and a glut of legendary creatures.

The Kamigawa block is made up of three expansions: the large fall set Champions of Kamigawa (weighing it at 306 cards), and two smaller expansions, Betrayers of Kamigawa and Saviors of Kamigawa (made up of 165 cards each).

Aside from the absurd (and quickly banned) Blazing Shoal, the Kamigawa block's impact on early Modern was modest, but with time more cards have seeped into the fabric of the format: Gifts Ungiven, Goryo's Vengeance, Azusa, Lost But Seeking and Through the Breach are all powerful cards that have left a lasting impact on the format, while Pithing Needle, Kataki, War's Wage and Threads of Disloyalty all offer unique sideboard options.

Saviors of Kamigawa

Regarded at the time of printing as a relatively underpowered set, Pithing Needle was among the most expensive rares in Saviors of Kamigawa (if not the chase rare). While Pithing Needle remains a pin-point tool for surgically shutting down opposing activated abilities, another Modern playable now rules the roost as the most expensive card from the set both in paper and online: Oboro, Palace in the Clouds

It does say a lot about an expansion when it's most expensive card is a legendary Island-equivalent with a minor upside. Surely that means the rest of Saviors will be ripe with interesting bulk rares to sift through with our grubby little hands? Let's take a look!

Reverence ($0.15)

Night of Souls' Betrayal has been seeing increased play in the sideboards of the Mono-Black and Black-X Eldrazi lists that have recently risen in popularity both online and off. Now Splinter Twin is banned, the effect may be less necessary, although the card must've been representing additional value against decks such as Infect and Elves to make it a superior choice to Illness in the Ranks for solving that particular problem.

Reverence occupies a similar space to Night of Souls' Betrayal: it's a four converted-mana-cost enchantment that, instead of shrinking creatures, stops creatures with power 2 or less from attacking. Reverence is currently poorly positioned as a sideboard card: most decks with small creatures are capable of growing them out of the restriction range (for example with Ezuri, Renegade Leader in Elves; or straightforward pump spells in Infect). Bearing that in mind, it's likely that Worship or Ghostly Prison represent better choices for shutting down opposing creatures, for the time being at least.

Twincast ($0.07 for Saviors, $0.02 for Magic 2010)

Modern as a format has a higher intrinsic power level than Standard, and the cards that see play share typically this trait. As the power level of individual cards increases, so does the impact of copying any of those spells.

If you are looking to achieve that goal, at least for an instant or sorcery spell, Twincast is one of the most efficient cards in Modern to get there (alongside the colour-shifted RR-costed Reverberate, although I suppose with Fork being the Alpha implementation of this effect, perhaps it is Twincast that should be considered colour-shifted).

Another interesting use of Twincast is as a copy of an opponent's counter, to act as an additional spell in a counter war, meaning that once you do decide your deck requires its services, it can play multiple roles over the course of a game.

Akuta, Born of Ash ($0.06)

Whenever I see Akuta, Born of Ash I am reminded of Ichorid. A staple of legacy and vintage Dredge, Ichorid reminds us that cheating a creature into play from a graveyard is another way to circumvent paying its mana cost, and Akuta, Born of Ash follows in the same vein.

Two strikes against the use of Akuta in Modern Dredge strategies are both its legendary status, which makes turns involving multiple hasty Akutas something that can't be done, and the requirement to have more cards in hand than your opponent. With current Dredge lists taking advantage of Lotleth Troll, and playing cards that generate inherent card disadvantage such as Faithless Looting it can be difficult to ensure Akuta's condition is met.

Perhaps in a Dredge strategy more heavily focused around Life from the Loam, where returning multiple lands each turn can ensure a hand size large enough to reliably trigger Akuta, and also feed its hunger for Swamps, Akuta, Born of Ash would be a playable choice. But in the situation where a deck's focus has shifted to recurring lands rather than creatures, how useful will a 3/2 body actually be? That's a question I leave for the future and better brewers than I to answer.

Footsteps of the Goryo ($0.32)

While Goryo's Vengeance has already made its mark on Modern as part of the inconsistent-but-deadly Grishoalbrand deck, another one of Goryo's namesake reanimation spells has been making sporadic showings as part of another shell inspired by the original Hulk Flash lists from Legacy:

 

Maga, Traitor to Mortals ($0.20)

Maga doesn't look like much on his(?) own, but if there's ever a combo in Modern that generates infinite mana to spend on exactly creature spells (in a similar manner to the Food Chain / Misthollow Griffin combo deck in Legacy), Maga could be the fireball finish you may be looking for! 

A very narrow use to be sure, but weird and unique effects are exactly what we're looking to unearth as part of this series, and Maga is certainly both of these.

Hidetsugu's Second Rite ($0.05)

Hidetsugu's Second Rite may not be a Modern staple, but it's certainly a popular card. Something about winning on the spot for four mana tends to get people interested (and Splinter Twin banned), and the life-total restriction and mana cost both feel doable-enough to keep it in the back of players' minds. 

Fetchlands, Shocklands and Phyrexian Mana all make it more likely that a life-total will hit exactly ten over the course of a game in Modern, but conversely also means that life-totals are more malleable, and decks will often have incidental ways to get their life-total off ten (e.g. activating a Spellskite, Lightning Bolting themselves, etc.) in response to a Rite.

This makes building around Hidetsugu's Second Rite as a primary win condition sketchy to say the least, and at that point the question then becomes: is it worth playing Hidetsugu's Second Rite for the scenarios where you get to snap it off at instant speed to kill an opponent versus the times it sits dead in hand?

For most people, even Burn players, the answer to that question is a resounding no, even out of the sideboard. But that doesn't stop Jacob Wilson and Alexander Hayne from slipping a copy or two in the sideboard of their infamous "troll" lists:

Jacob Wilson and Alexander Hayne's Troll Merfolk videos for Channel Fireball:

Jacob Wilson and Alexander Hayne's Recent Stream featuring "Bloom Titan" and "Twin"

Ashes of the Fallen ($0.02)

Kitchen-table Johnnies love assembling combos using the creature-type-setting ability of Conspiracy. Unfortunately 3BB is a lot of mana to pay for an effect, let alone an effect with close to zero on-board impact. The scope of Ashes of the Fallen's type-altering effect is smaller, but that is coupled with a smaller mana cost. 

Two mana still feels like more than you'd want to be paying for this effect in Modern, and I feel that it would take a mind much more twisted than my own to ever brew a deck that could come close to justifying playing the Ashes.

Betrayers of Kamigawa

While it felt like the pickings from Saviors of Kamigawa included an awful lot of niche what-ifs (excluding the obviously powerful Footsteps of the Goryo, and perhaps my personal favourite in Akuta, Born of Ash), the Betrayers pickings are slimmer (a whole two cards). However both of these cards are much closer to Modern playability than the likes of Maga, Traitor to Mortals and Ashes of the Fallen, so without further ado let's take a look:

Sickening Shoal ($0.26)

Free spells usually find their way into decks in eternal formats: the Pact cycle from Future Sight (specifically Slaughter Pact, Pact of Negation and Summoner's Pact), the original "pitch" spells from Alliances (including Force of Will, Pyrokinesis, Contagion) and even Sickening Shoal's own cycle-mates in Nourishing Shoal, Blazing Shoal and Disrupting Shoal, have all seen high-level competitive play.

I have fond memories of casting (Sickening Shoals) from the sideboard of Manaless Dredge (alongside Contagion) as a free way to kill certain problem creatures, Deathrite Shaman especially being public enemy number one. 

While Slaughter Pact is the go-to spell in Modern for free creature removal, sometimes you need to remove a black creature with your costless instant (or don't want to be paying an actual mana cost the following turn) and in situations where setting yourself back an extra card doesn't matter, Sickening Shoal is a potential hole-filler for a future Modern deck.

Aura Barbs ($0.01)

From the same school of hate as Price of Progress, Aura Barbs is a pretty potent punisher for enchantments. It makes each enchantment hit its controller for two points of damage, and any Auras enchanting creatures deal damage to those creatures as well. 

If a Mono-White or White-X enchantment Prison deck ever rose to the forefront of Modern, Aura Barbs would be positioned to be a surgical tool for a swift kill. Focusing more on present day Modern, and with white Prison decks occupying the fringes of playability, the main target for an Aura Barbs would be an opponent on WG Bogles.

Unfortunately an Aura Barbs is unlikely to ever deal lethal damage to a Bogles player on its own, and Daybreak Coronet offers an efficient way to race a burn strategy. The damage to creatures is also less appealing than it would appear on first glance: in the case of a Kor Spiritdancer, it will always be large enough to survive thanks to its own static ability, and its likely a Slippery Bogle or Gladecover Scout will simply use a Totem Armor effect to survive the Barbs at the cost of a throwaway Aura.

Champions of Kamigawa

The first set in the Kamigawa block, Champions of Kamigawa first introduced us to this war-torn plane, as well as contributing several powerful legendary creatures and multiple unique instant and sorcery effects into the Modern card pool. 

Squelch ($0.05)

The first time I became aware of Squelch's existence was when I noticed it seeing play as a four-of in the sideboards of some Mono-U Tron lists. Squelch has a surprising number of targets in Modern, from acting as pseudo-land destruction by countering Fetchland cracks, to shutting down Karn Liberated and Eye of Ugin activations against Tron. If an opponent isn't expecting a Squelch, it can be a cycling spanner in the works of their carefully crafted game plan. 

While Trickbind offers some additional utility in hitting triggered abilities, Split Second, and the ability to prevent the ability being used again in the same turn, being able to cycle Squelch in situations where you don't require it and being able to blank an activated ability without going down a card make it my preferred option from among the two.

Cranial Extraction ($1.12)

Personally I've never been a big fan of Memoricide effects, but I have seen Tron sideboard Slaughter Games at various points in its life cycle, and more recently the Mono-B Eldrazi shells have been known to play Memoricide in the sideboard.

With this being the case, it's hard to argue that Cranial Extraction wouldn't be a consideration for Modern, and if you ever play anything worth splicing onto it, having the Arcane subtype makes Cranial Extraction a marginally superior choice over Memoricide (but an undeniably more expensive one, financially speaking).

Zo-Zu the Punisher ($0.04)

With Manaless Dredge confined securely to the realm of Legacy, one safe assumption about Modern decks is that they will require lands to function. Each deck may require a different amount, but their presence is a recurring feature, as it has been in nearly every Magic: the Gathering deck since the dawn of the game.

Zo-Zu the Punisher turns each land drop (or fetch crack) into two points of pain for the land's controller, and that's in addition to any damage that may already have been taken from those lands.

Ankh of Mishra is a card that finds its way into certain cubes, and I feel that if Zo-Zu's converted mana cost matched that of the old-school artifact it would already be Modern playable. As it is, Zo-Zu likely costs one mana too many and comes down a turn too late to have an impact on a Modern game large enough to be worthy of inclusion in a deck.

Despite that, one possible use for Zo-Zu is as a weapon against Scapeshift: it's unlikely the deck's namesake spell can be cast into an active Zo-Zu. Taking fourteen-to-sixteen damage to resolve your win-condition will likely leave you dead before your Valakut triggers can resolve. The questions that then need to be answered would be: which deck would need Zo-Zu against Scapeshift, as Burn is already a difficult matchup for Scapeshift; and secondly which deck would want exactly Zo-Zu over its choice of any other effect in Modern.

Time of Need ($0.01)

Tutors add consistency to decks, and when you're looking to assemble a game-winning combo, consistency is the order of the day.

Time of Need is a Demonic Tutor for exclusively legendary creatures, and as more are printed the chance increases that this reasonably-costed effect could one day see Modern play.

Imi Statue ($0.01)

Before Wizards made it a habit of putting preemptive answers to linear decks that may become a problem in Standard inside the same block, R&D left a larger gap before they entered the format. Inserted in Champions likely as a release valve in case the artifacts of the preceding Mirrodin block got out of hand (spoilers: they did), Imi Statue hampers the gameplan of any artifact-based deck.

Unfortunately it's hard to argue that Stony Silence, the previously mentioned Kataki, War's Wage, Shatterstorm and Creeping Corrosion are better choices than Imi Statue against Affinity lists going into 2016, and likely against any other artifact-based strategy. Its inability to impact Blinkmoth creature-lands, and the way it matches up poorly against the lines Affinity can take where it moves all-in on a single powerful artifact (creatures engorged by Arcbound Ravager pumps and Cranial Plating equips spring to mind) are major strikes against it.

While Imi Statue offers a passable sideboard effect, the superior choices presented by Modern's deep card pool once again relegate a card back into the dusty corners of the bulk box.

Uba Mask ($0.01)

Have you ever wanted to draw cards without drawing cards? 

Uba Mask lets you do exactly that!

Uba Mask is a strange little card, with an innocuous looking effect, but you may be surprised to learn that it is in fact Vintage playable. 

Thanks to the way it interacts with Bazaar of Baghdad, the fact it can be cast using the ever-powerful Mishra's Workshop, and that the deck effectively plays at sorcery-speed, Uba Mask has become the namesake for a specific variant of Stax deck!


Hall of the Bandit Lord ($0.98)

Comparable to Boseiju, Who Shelters All, Hall of the Bandit Lord is another Champions of Kamigawa land that allows you to turn life into an additional effect for a spell cast using the mana generated by it. In this case, Hall of the Bandit Lord allows you to give a creature cast using it haste at the cost of three life.

It's conceivable that a deck could value paying three life to give an important creature haste on a key turn (and a similar haste-granting land in the form of Slayers' Stronghold has seen play as part of the Primeval Titan "combo" in Amulet Bloom decks), however with the Hall entering the battlefield tapped and not being able to produce mana without ever paying three life, it may be a touch too restrictive to see real play.

Conclusion

Taking another look through the cards of the Kamigawa block was a fun exercise: the cards are dripping with flavour, the art is incredible, and many of the text boxes are outright bizarre. However, out of the cards listed above I've narrowed down my list of actual picks to four cards that I believe have the potential to one day be considered for competitive Modern playability: Akuta, Born of Ash, Footsteps of the Goryo, Sickening Shoal and Squelch.

While Footsteps of the Goryo and Squelch may be cheating somewhat, as they have already seen limited play; I really like Akuta, Born of Ash despite its restrictions and shortcomings, and with Sickening Shoal, you can't keep a free spell down forever!

I hope you enjoyed returning to the Bulk Box, and that you'll jump back in again with us next week when we riffle through the original Ravnica block, and then head onto our first Core Set roundup with Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Editions the week after!

3 Comments

Cheat Magister Sphinx into by Rerepete at Tue, 02/02/2016 - 18:15
Rerepete's picture

Cheat Magister Sphinx into play and cast Hidetsugu's Second Rite.

Ive done that. Lots of fun :D by Paul Leicht at Tue, 02/02/2016 - 18:44
Paul Leicht's picture

Ive done that. Lots of fun :D

I built a deck around Aura by AJ_Impy at Tue, 02/02/2016 - 23:50
AJ_Impy's picture

I built a deck around Aura Barbs and Sky Swallower back in the day, defensive, draw and ramp enchants, donate them all to your opponent floating barbs mana, kill them.