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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Feb 14 2022 12:06pm
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It’s been a while! If it wasn’t obvious, I didn’t do an article on Innistrad Double Feature since it wasn’t a curated selection like Wizards said it would be, so there wasn’t much to talk about. Alchemy has also launched since my last article, and that’s its own kettle of fish I thankfully don’t have to get into in a limited context. Instead, we’re back to a new premier-level set with our return to Kamigawa, and I’m surprisingly encouraged. In a constructed sense, there’s a definite power level increase over Forgotten Realms and Innistrad, but it’s mostly in niche places, instead of the generic power sets like Throne of Eldraine and Modern Horizons were known for. But we also have an interesting Limited format too, so let’s get to the mechanics!

 

Mechanics:

Reconfigure:

Wizards’ latest attempt to make attractive equipment that isn’t Mirrodin-level broken is equipment that’s also creatures. They’re relatively evenly spread across the colors, though strangely white (one of the traditional equipment colors) only gets rares. Instead they’re focused in the artifact colors (red and blue) at lower rarities. The strength of these cards is in the creature side much more than the equipment side, especially at higher rarities where you don’t always get the stats along with the ability.

 

Modified:

Modified is an interesting way to link the artifact and enchantment themes together, along with a lot of +1/+1 counters. It’s heavily focused in red, along with some in green and a handful outside of Gruul. In particular, the red cards that key on modified creatures like Upriser Renegade and Kami's Flare feel pushed, but the question is how hard it is to get modified creatures.

 

Double-Faced Saga Creatures:

Apparently DFC’s are just standard set components now, as six of the last seven sets have used them. Sagas are also becoming a lot more common—literally in this case, as Kamigawa has the first common ones. The sagas transform into Enchantment creatures, but the whole package is strange—most of them have little connection between the sides (especially the commons, which mostly transform into french vanilla creatures). The cards themselves mostly seem like slow, underwhelming value machines, especially at higher rarities. They seem important for the decks where you want enchantments (and they’re understandably focused in green and white for that reason), but otherwise I’m not sure how to value the packages as a whole.

 

Ninjutsu:

Obviously Ninjas were going to return in Kamigawa, and while they’ve been expanded to green (and there’s Blade-Blizzard Kitsune in white as well), their core is still in blue and black. The core of making Ninjutsu work is cheap and/or evasive creatures, especially ones with “enters the battlefield” abilities, and while there are some, it isn’t going to be trivial (like when we last saw them in Modern Horizons 1). The ninjas, on the other hand, either have impactful damage triggers like Dokuchi Silencer or are simply cheaper (and uncounterable) like Dokuchi Shadow-Walker, though the former are going to be more important overall.

 

Channel:

Channel is like Kicker: a generic mechanic that encompasses a lot of “discard from hand” abilities like Cycling and Reinforce. It’s another returning mechanic from the original Kamigawa, and it provides a lot of flexibility. One of the most important parts is that using Channel is an activated ability that can be done at instant-speed, so even though cards like Moonsnare Prototype look like spells, they get around counter magic. It’s scattered across all the colors (though strangely black doesn’t get any other than Takenuma, Abandoned Mire), but focused in green, and to a lesser extent blue.

 

Vehicles:

While Vehicles have been deciduous for a while, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty has more than even Kaladesh did. Beyond that, there are a lot of synergy cards, from the specific build-arounds we’ll see in the vehicle archetype, to generic creature interaction like Okiba Salvage and Favor of Jukai being templated to take vehicles into account. In addition, the vehicles themselves are stronger than they’ve been since Kaladesh block (minus a certain chariot of course), particularly since many of them are colored.

 

 

Archetypes:

White/Blue: Vehicles

This archetype is strange, since there isn’t much tying everything together. Yes, Prodigy's Prototype is a build-around and the super-crewing Pilots point towards something, but most of the playable vehicles are only Crew 1 or 2, which doesn’t need that much support. You also don’t want to play that many vehicles in general, even with the support. You have some of the blue artifact support, but otherwise there isn’t much pulling the deck together, and the power level isn’t extremely high otherwise. I’d stay away.

 

Blue/Black: Ninja Evasion

Ninjas in the Neon Dynasty are strange, as while they used to mostly be focused on the discount and combat damage triggers to make up for the tempo loss from bouncing a creature, instead cards like Moon-Circuit Hacker and Nezumi Prowler are better on the front end, and there’s more generic trickiness involved. In addition the enablers are much better, whether they’re evasive creatures (Inkrise Infiltrator), creatures with ETB abilities (Virus Beetle), or both (Network Disruptor, which even works on the Rogue side). There isn’t quite as much raw power, but the synergies seem good enough to try the deck.

 

Black/Red: Artifact Sacrifice

Oni-Cult Anvil is obviously strong, but this important part of this deck is the artifact density—if there are enough random artifacts to throw away, that kind of effect can get out of hand (even if it’s only once on your turn). Kamigawa has that in spades, as a bunch of random playables like Virus Beetle, Ironhoof Boar, and Twinshot Sniper are artifacts for no particular reason. You also don’t have to choose between artifacts and payoffs, as cards like Undercity Scrounger and Scrapyard Steelbreaker are artifacts as well. You simply don’t have to give up that much, which positions the archetype well. The only question is if you can go over the top with all your value, so you might need ways to break through like Oni-Cult Anvil, Dragonspark Reactor, or rares, but it otherwise looks good.

 

Red/Green: Modified Midrange

How easy is modified to get? If you have to play awful cards like Akki War Paint or Bronze Cudgels to reliably get it this deck will be worthless. If you can get by with only the highest-quality sources like Invigorating Hot Spring, Roaring Earth, and the good Reconfigure creatures, it’ll probably be nuts. The question is how far to dig for sources—is Gift of Wrath good enough? How about Harmonious Emergence? Do you stretch to Iron Apprentice? The payoffs are weird too, as it’s a mix of very below curve cards (Ambitious Assault, Heir of the Ancient Fang), cards that don’t need modified cards to be good (Kami's Flare, Orochi Merge-Keeper), and the actual payoffs (Akki Ember-Keeper, Walking Skyscraper). The good cards exist (especially at high rarities), but it feels like it’ll be difficult to go all-in on the archetype, and you might just want to play more good midrange cards like Jukai Preserver that incidentally work well.

 

Green/White: Enchantments Matter

Even more than the artifact deck, the enchantment deck is all about value, between the Sagas (especially ones like The Fall of Lord Konda) and cards like Spirited Companion and Season of Renewal. The problem is that it’s a lot more difficult to get the density without dipping into more iffy cards like various pump auras, or overloading on Sagas and losing the tempo war. You do get a lot more consistency with all your card draw, as well as Commune with Spirits and a bunch of enchantment removal like Intercessor's Arrest. The archetype seems fine, but a little slow overall.

 

White/Black: Artifacts & Enchantments

The “harmony” archetype is such an interesting idea, but I’m not sure it’s going to work in Limited. The support cards are either too generic other decks want them (Banishing Slash, Runaway Trash Bot, Assassin's Ink), or not great even with the payoff (Okiba Salvage, When We Were Young). Signpost Naomi, Pillar of Order is the main reason to enter the archetype, but that brings up the other problem: most of the payoffs don’t help you fulfill either side. There are enough good artifacts and enchantments you can make a good deck that uses the mechanic, but I don’t know if it’s reliable enough to get both such that the “average” payoffs like Kami of Terrible Secrets are worth playing.

 

Blue/Red: Artifacts Matter

If Rakdos wants you to go all-in on artifacts, Izzet wants you to go even harder—possibly overboard. Cards like Reality Heist and Skyswimmer Koi just want you to have a bunch of artifacts, but all you get is a bunch of value, and you still have to dip into the red cards like Dragonspark Reactor to actually kill your opponent. Like with black you have a bunch of random artifact creatures in blue to reach the artifact density required, but cards like Moonfolk Puzzlemaker and Armguard Familiar just aren’t as efficient as their black counterparts. Combined with underwhelming signpost Enthusiastic Mechanaut (at least in terms of impact), this seems like it’s just worse than the black/red version, and it’s overlapping in the important red cards, so it’s not even like you get much of a benefit from being in different colors.

 

Black/Green: Enchantment Recursion

Yet another set where Golgari doesn’t have a super-linear theme, and the signpost (Gloomshrieker here) is pushed to combat it somewhat. There’s a slight enchantment theme, and thus this deck is the best-positioned to use (Twisted Embrace), though it’s still tricky to use. Geothermal Kami feels like another lynchpin of the deck with the Sagas and other enchantments with ETB abilities, but again, it feels clunky. It might have the raw card quality if the other decks pass on the generic cards for the synergy ones, but it doesn’t seem easy to go over the top.

 

Red/White: Samurai Exalted

While the Boros theme of attacking alone is obvious, the execution feels a bit off. In particular, the base rate of the Samurai themselves is a bit low, most blatantly Eiganjo Exemplar being 2/1 instead of 2/2 (remember, being an enchantment is a downside in this deck) and Asari Captain being a five-mana 4/3 that only buffs power. Peerless Samurai is good (as is Tempered in Solitude, but most red decks would play that), and Mothrider Patrol is a great enabler, but an aggro deck needs stats first and foremost. Unlike the other linear decks, this one feels like it need to dip into other aggressive creatures like Blade-Blizzard Kitsune and/or play the more clunky creatures like Seven-Tail Mentor just to reach enough playables. If the other decks are too focused on value this can punish them, but it’s difficult to do so when you only attack with one creature a turn. It seems okay, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets pushed out of the format.

 

Green/Blue: Channel Ramp

This deck leans on the flexibility of Channel, just like a Kicker deck, while using a ton of great ramp cards like Careful Cultivation (which you’ll channel 90% of the time) and Greater Tanuki. Mirrorshell Crab is an important card for this archetype, as the channel ability is one of the best at common (keep in mind it can counter other channel abilities, as well as other triggers). The biggest question is if the more marginal channel cards are worth playing; a card like Saiba Trespassers is bad on both sides (even by pre-FIRE standards), but it might be worth playing if you don’t get enough of the good Channel cards. There’s a ton of ramp overall (even stuff like Boseju Reaches Skyward, and cards like Bamboo Grove Archer should hopefully be enough to hold the battlefield early. Overall this deck should be fine, but I think it’s trickier to build than it seems.

 

Other Important Cards:

The obvious standout in the “other possible archetypes” is the new Shrine creatures. The green and white ones are fine since they’re okay enchantments on their own, while the red one is a good creature, but then when you get one you actively want the second in your color pair. The bigger question is if you want to go even deeper and aim for three or more. Shrine Steward is a clunky support card, and there’s a decent amount of mana fixing between the gainlands, Ecologist's Terrarium, and Greater Tanuki, but the deck set up to benefit most is Simic Channel Ramp, and that really doesn’t need the shrines (in part because the blue one is the worst one).

 

Speaking to the format as a whole, the biggest sign is that big creature removal is awful. I already mentioned how Twisted Embrace is underwhelming in the average deck (though you probably still have to play it), and there’s no Burn the Accursed-style big red removal at common (though Voltage Surge sort-of counts, especially in one of the artifact decks). Instead, the best removal of expensive stuff comes from the Naturalizes being easily maindeckable—Fade into Antiquity is great despite being a low-rate version of the effect, Repel the Vile loses most of the downside of a Smite the Monstrous-style effect, and Explosive Entry might be a top-five red common (note you don’t need an artifact to get the counter, so I might even run multiple in the Modified deck). Conversely, there’s a ton of great small removal, with X/1’s getting hit especially hard by cards like Clawing Torment and Seismic Wave.

 

Conclusion:

Overall, we have a very interesting format here—we’ll see if the colors can be closer to balanced this time around compared to the Innistrad sets. As for me, we’re still waiting for the Masters sets to get release dates (both Pioneer Masters on Arena and Double Masters 2022 in paper). I have no clue when either of those will launch—obviously Pioneer has been very de-prioritized on Arena, and the Unfinity delay in paper into the same window as Double Masters 2022 makes that a mess (presumably the Un delay is related to a specific process other than general problems, but Wizards still won’t want to market both at the same time). I’ll probably just come back with Streets of New Capena as normal (I don’t cover Commander Legends, and I think it’s after Capena anyway), and hopefully we’ll have more of an idea of the schedule soon.

 

Vincent

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