Most of us don’t have fond memories of Kamigawa. This is a fact. Most of you who think it’s a cool plane and want a ‘Return to Kamigawa’ were never actually there to begin with. This isn’t me talking: This is something Maro himself has said. Sure, there’s plenty of things we liked about Kamigawa, but overall, the entire block failed on a lot of levels. I’m going to upset some people by saying that, but before we discuss anything else about Kamigawa, before we get into what should be changed or kept the same, before we discuss how a return could be successful, we’ve got to accept that the previous visit wasn’t.
I do want to go back. As bad as it was, it’s a rich world with a lot of unique ideas, and today, if you’re willing to listen to the rantings of an old goblin for far too long, I’m going to go through what of Kamigawa needs to change if it’s going to be successful in the future.
When we last left Champions of Kamigawa, it was actively not good. Fortunately, Champions of Kamigawa is not without merit. It includes one of the greatest goblins to ever be printed. Not Ben-Ben, though. Definitely not Ben-Ben.
Ben-Ben, Akki Hermit is the special kind of limited bomb that’s completely unplayable in any other format. In order for Ben-Ben to work, you have to be playing basically all mountains, on the defensive, and happy to end your turn with your mana untapped. I can’t comprehend the kind of deck that this would be. Some sort of control deck? Ben-Ben counts non-basic Mountains like Blood Crypt and Smoldering Marsh, but just how much you need to telegraph Ben-Ben ensures he’s never going to hit anything important. At best, he’ll stall your opponent until he draws removal… But you’re a red deck, so what are you stalling for? Buying time to Storm out? Sure, there’s some goofy combos here like attacking with your own Stuffy Doll, but otherwise no. Very no.
KIKI-JIKI, MIRROR BREAKER IS THE GREATEST GOBLIN IN THE ENTIRE WORLD! Assuming that world is Kamigawa. If played fairly, Kiki-Jiki effectively attacks as your best other creature, re-triggers “enters the battlefield” effects, or acts as an indestructible blocker by making something else to throw into play. The sheer volume of creatures with ETB abilities makes Kiki-Jiki a powerful character in any deck built with him in mind, but… why would you ever play fairly? There are a number of creatures, such as Pestermite, Deceiver Exarch, Zealous Conscript, and Felidar Guardian, whose enter the battlefield effects allow you to ‘reset’ Kiki-Jiki and use his ability again. This allows you to make another token copy of that creature, reset Kiki-Jiki another time, and repeat ad infinitum until you have enough hasty tokens to immediately kill your opponent. This was a powerful deck in Modern for some time, and it remains a popular win condition in commander. Kiki-Jiki is pure power and should at least be considered for any Commander deck capable of running red creatures, even if his ability can’t be used on your commander themselves.
(And any deck running it should be aiming to use an original Kamigawa version with Pete Venters art. I just don’t understand why they keep using the Steve Belledin version in reprints.)
Zo-Zu the Punisher does not offend me. That’s not a glowing recommendation, but most of this set’s goblins were awful, so it’s something. A Grey Ogre is not the most aggressive body, but if played on curve you’re very likely to get 2 or 4 damage in from his ability. If unanswered, he can seriously mess up a slower opponent. Bonus points if they’re running fetch lands. He is a bit of a double-edged sword, so you need to be using him in an aggressive enough deck that you’re either happy taking damage or happy never playing more than three lands. Either works. He does need a bit more oomf to actually be great, but he’s not unreasonable. For added hilarity, sideboard him in against someone running Scapeshift. There’s no way to force them to cast into it, but it could certainly slow them down. I wouldn’t bother with Zo-Zu in Commander: The 2 damage is just too small and he’s sure to get killed by someone who finds him moderately annoying very quickly. Ultimately, Zo-Zu’s weakness is that it’s very difficult to force an opponent to play lands, so you can never take full advantage of his ability.
Overall, Champions of Kamigawa is not a great set for goblins. Kiki-Jiki is splendid, but the rank and file aren’t actually useful. Kamigawa block as a whole tends to be like this, a few gems and a lot of underpowered junk.
So, as it turns out, there’s a place in the mall with some vintage boosters, going all the way back to, like, Chronicles and even Arabian Nights! Here’s a sampling of that, with 1x Champions of Kamigawa booster pack!
Is this something you’d like to see more of? If so, what wold you like to see opened, and how do you suggest this can be continued?
Kamigawa was not really a great block for anybody involved. Sure, it had a fair number of goblins, but the set as a whole was notoriously underpowered, and only one Kamigawan goblin ever achieved real notoriety. They’re easily the largest deviation, visually, from other goblins that we’ve had so far, but mechanically they do a great job of just being goblins and doing goblin things. In a strange twist, Kamigawan goblins have a land destruction subtheme, both yours and your opponents’. While goblins have dabbled in land destruction in the past, Kamigawa’s goblins seem to really care about land and the lack thereof.
Akki Avalanchers is an interesting design that just doesn’t quite have enough oomf to it. Its prime weakness is that, if you’re using this to defeat a relevant blocker, you’re getting yourself two-for-oned. Sure, the second is a land, and that’s fine in a low cost aggressive deck after the first few turns, but that’s still a hefty disadvantage. If Akki Avalanchers got +2/+2 instead and was able to survive these combats, I’d consider it a very solid goblin. As is, it’s very hard to find a deck that would want to play it.
Akki Coalflinger is a weak lord. The simple fact is, a normal lord at this cost would have its effect be always on and might also come with a power boost. The worst part of this is that it has an ability that encourages attacking and then another ability that doesn’t work when it attacks. Do you spend 3 mana plus one a turn to effectively have an enchantment that gives all your creatures first strike? Or do you spend 3 mana for a 2/2 first striker? The versatility of options doesn’t make up for the fact that both options are weak. This is not a good goblin.
Akki Lavarunner, also known as Tok-Tok, Volcano Born, is one of the cards I hate the most. It’s a card that makes you jump through hoops to get its full effect, but its full effect still isn’t worth the mana cost. Tok-Tok Volcano Born effectively says “Creatures you control get +1/+0.” Admittedly, it improves the power of your burn spells, but that’s rarely going to be as relevant. I’d rather just run a lord. Worse, you need to connect with a 1/1 creature on turn 4 or later to get him, so he doesn’t even work the turn you play him. This card is overcosted, and would be overcosted even if it came into play as Tok-Tok, Volcano Born.
Akki Rockspeaker is a bad Burning-Tree Emmissary. Here’s the question: Why would you ever want to spend 1R for a 1/1 goblin and a mana when you could spend R for a 1/1 goblin and keep the mana? Unless you’re really hoping to play Mons’ Goblin Raiders and are worried you’ll run out of red… No, you’re not doing that. That’s stupid. This card is stupid. Never play Akki Rockspeaker. He’s not the worst goblin around, but he’s pretty abysmal.
Akki Underminder is… ugh. Four is a lot of mana, and this card is bad. As a 1/1 it’s going to have trouble connecting without just dying outright, and the sacrifice effect is always going to be their worst one. What you have is a creature that can gradually destroy their lands if they have no blockers (or if you’re committing a second card to make it unblockable), except if you’re getting in with a four mana creature and they can’t block, you should just be trying to kill them. These goblins are just… so bad. This set is depressing. Let’s take a break here. There’s gold here in Kamigawa, but… we’ll get there next time. Right now I just need to look back at Onslaught and reminisce on the better goblins.
Know Visited planes (that we’ve seen in cards): Jund (Alara), Bant (Alara) Alara (Reborn), Dominaria, Theros, Kaladesh, Kamigawa
Sets/Storylines: Lorwyn, Shards of Alara, Magic 2010, Magic 2011, Magic 2013, Magic 2014, Journey into Nyx, Magic 2015, Aether Revolt
Known Other Planeswalkers (that we’ve seen as a planeswalker card): Sarkhan, Elspeth, Bolas, Koth, Kiora, Tamiyo, Nissa, Chandra, Tezzeret, Jace, Liliana, Gideon, Saheeli, Dovin?, Narset?
Bio: Ajani Goldmane is torn between his leonin ferocity and his sense of justice. He was born on Naya and became an outcast within his own family, an albino leonin never accepted by the rest of his pride. The only person who cared about him was his brother Jazal, the leader of their pride and Ajani’s inspiration. Ajani had always shown potential as a mage and healer, but had assumed his main calling was to be a warrior in Jazal’s service. The day that Ajani’s brother was assassinated by unknown forces was the day that Ajani’s Planeswalker spark ignited, and everything changed. No longer could Ajani worry about his problems with his pride. His quest to discover his brother’s killer has led him into a tangle of intrigue woven by mysterious forces, forcing him to broaden his skills as a warrior and to unlock new potential within himself. After thwarting Nicol Bolas’s plans on Alara, Ajani set aside his anger and began to travel the Multiverse.
Today my mind wandered back to a comment that was once thrown at Mark Rosewater circa Theros, about how every block since Zendikar has had a distinct visual cue that was new and unique to the block. I believe they were talking about Eldrazi, but it might have been Level Up creatures.
This really got me thinking, and in that thinking I realized that with the introduction of the “Modern” card frame, no block has really gone by without some kind of innovation or visual cue. Admittedly, there are some years that were weaker than others, but what I would like to show today is just how much the visual part of this game has been evolving over the last 13 years.
The change from the Scourge template to the one used in Eighth Edition was huge when it happened, many people I knew said they would refuse to continue to play with the new face. In the long run, I believe this was a very good choice. In some ways reading old cards could be difficult, but the time Onslaught block was coming out, I would like to believe they had gotten most of the template bugs out. There was a few quirks, like the White and Artifact cards looking
visually similar on the table, but these were worked out during Mirrodin
The major stylistic gimmick of the Champions of Kamigawa block was the flip cards. Meant to represent a creature going from one state to another, the cards were split in half, with the art being placed in the center and designed to be two different pictures based on the prospective.
Honestly, for the time, this wasn’t a bad idea in my opinion. It’s hard enough as it is to represent a card with two states, because you want to show the cooler of the two (see Threshold), but that leaves you with a non-intuitive piece if the end state doesn’t match well with the beginning state.
It is important to point that Mirrodin block had no gold card, Magic Design at the time believed it was correct to deprive environments of elements as to make it really exciting when it returned. They would later realize this made rotation have far less effect on decks than they might have intended (see Affinity). What this meant in the larger sense was that we didn’t see the modern template for gold cards until Betrayers of Kamigawa with Genju of the Realm, and that was the only card! With it we got our first look into how modern frames might handle multicolored cards.
Ravnica was a hallmark for many things in Magic’s history; the first real block with Block Planning involved, the introducing ally and enemy pairings names - whoich we commonly use today, introducing hybrid mana and giving us the first use of watermarks in a black-bordered set. It’s the last two that presented themselves via visual cues. With an asterisk next to Genju of the Realm, this was the first time we’d seen a multicolored frame, but with Hybrid, we got a sort of “what if?” for how multi-colored cards could have looked.
I actually believe that had they hit on this color mixing “technology” during Invasion, they would have used this for two-color cards.
This leaves us with the watermarks, the crests of each of the ten guilds of Ravnica. By just fanning out the cards in a pack, you had a visual sense of the guilds and even some of their flavor, taking the Dimir as an example, their crest very much evoked the idea of The Illuminati. This, I think, was one subtle attribute that helped give Ravnica is extremely lasting legacy.
Our next block, Time Spiral, brought us two deviations from the typical card frame; an alternate timeline frame (which I prefer) and the futureshifted frame. As it turns out, the futureshifted frame was also an alternate timeline, as Mark Rosewater has since said that the dynamic difference was actually problematic. Either way, once again, Wizards was flirting with what they could do with the space on the front face of a Magic card.
Our next innovation almost feels like cheating, Planeswalkers. During Lorwyn block we got a completely new and completely disconnected flavor-wise card type and with it came a new face to Magic cards. They were a little weird, the art breaks out of the frame, they had plus and minus signs and no written explanation as to how they worked or what anything meant.
They would become part of every following block, but this is where they first started.
Possibly my weakest argument (spoilers, it’s tied), Alara block played it pretty safe in terms of messing with the card frame when it gave us colored artifacts for the first time (in mass). This was really a very slight change, but worthy in my mind to at least highlight.
While we are on the topic of Alara, some would make the case that each shard should have had a watermark. While a visual to link shard together (besides the environmental art cues) would have been nice, from a flavor point-of-view the shards had no use for an iconic “seal,” as they were introduced with no knowledge of each other.
Next we move on to Zendikar, where this all started. The look of completely colorless cards wouldn’t really be perfected in my mind until Battle for Zendikar. To me, this criticism is not unlike the my earlier point about Mirrodin having a small issue with White permanents and artifacts, further experience fleshed the look out. These cards looked visually stunning the first time you held them in your hand, before the art didn’t bleed into as much of the card as this, it was a marquee mechanic that was completely worth it.
Like I said, I’m not sure what was more bizarre in Rise of the Eldrazi, actually getting colorless frames or Level Up frames. I know which was more successful though.
With that I would like to wrap-up for the night and push the second half of this article to tomorrow. I will be touching on the remainder of Magic’s history with it’s card frames as we hit Scars of Mirrodin block all the way through to Battle for Zendikar!
The swamp is always eerie this late. My tail flicking among the reeds. “Hotaru, calm yourself,” Ren whispered. I grabbed my tail to stop it, “Apologies. I just don’t know about this.” Ren had forced me along to help trail this trade caravan and suggested we strike as they camp. “Those… things you can do are a blessing from the Kami. I’m sure the two guards are of no issue to us,” Ren muttered. No Kami would bestow this much power, a voice rumbled in my mind. “Ren, I-” He hushed me, “Shh, they stopped.“
After a short wait, all but two fell asleep. Ren made a motion to me then to the far guard. I nodded, hesitantly, before going for my target. Have the Okiba-Gang sunk low enough to settle with petty thievery, I asked myself. Slowly, I slunk through the reeds and touched the ground softly. A beautiful purple flower sprouted from the marsh soil. Seizing the bloom, I rushed the guard and covered his mouth. The flower went from my hand to his mouth, then he swallowed then stiffened. After hiding his body in the reeds, I watched Ren kill the other guard with a quick throat slice.
We approached the cart silently and found nothing of value. "Ren, this was pointless. The only thing I found was jade-handled hori hori,” I whispered harshly. “Hotaru, calm yours-” A sound came from behind us. “Thieves,” one of the men shouted. As we turned to run, arrows were fired at our feet.
Kamigawa is a plane of spirits, shamans, and warlords. In this world, dragons are not unheard of, but they are rarely seen. However, they exhibit great power when roused into action.
Keiga, the Tide Star by Ittoku
The mortals have a word for these mysterious and ancient serpentine creatures: ryu.
What to Expect
“The fall of the evening star never heralds a gentle dawn.”
Kokusho, the Evening Star by Tsutomo Kawade
The ryu are massive, wingless dragons with long bodies. Five particular kami also take dragon forms, and are known to appear only in these forms so I will consider them dragons.
Head: Their heads make up a small fraction of their body length. They bear multiple horns of varying sizes on the top of their heads. Hair or long barbels may also grow on their faces.
Body: Their bodies are very long and covered with smooth, reflective scales. Scale color varies from dragon to dragon. Spikes and ridges may line their spines.
Limbs: Their limbs are short and small compared to their bodies. Sometimes, there are none at all. Kamigawan dragons lack wings, although they are still capable of flight.
Guardians of Mortals’ Lands
Yosei, the Morning Star by Hiro Izawa
The Dragon Spirits are powerful kami in the form of dragons that protect the lands of Kamigawa in times of need. They were summoned during the Kami War to defend particular territories against the kami that ravaged the mortal realm. They are mighty beings that can sweep through the battlefield and remain unscathed. They can battle even when severely injured, but they aren’t invincible. Even then, at least one of them was known to have come back from the dead.
There were five of these dragon sprits: Yosei the Morning Star, protector of Towabara and Eiganjo Castle; Keiga the Tide Star, guardian of Minamo; Kokusho the Evening Star, champion of the Takenuma swamps; Ryusei the Falling Star, defender of the Sokenzan mountain ranges; and Jugan, the Rising Star, sentinel of the forests of Jukai.
In general, they have long bodies and bear horns and barbels on their heads. Some of them have limbs, while some do not; Kokusho, for example, doesn’t have any while Yosei had both forelimbs and hindlimbs. Ethereal wisps of energy float around them at all times.
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker by Pete Venters
Breath weapon: fire
Although there are other kinds of dragons in existence besides the Dragon Spirits, little is known about them. Most of them reside in remote places, such as in underground caverns. Anyone careless in their travels might just encounter one without expecting it.
Ryu are not simpleminded beings - they are ancient and intelligent. One particular ryu was shown communicating with a non-dragon creature with ease, perhaps through its mind. It may be assumed that it is true of other ryu.
Even with their long bodies and lack of wings, the ryu are nimble flyers, snaking through the clouds with grace.
The lack of knowledge about these majestic creatures make these dragons unpredictable, but an encounter does not always end in a hurried escape or, even worse, death. My impression of the ryu is that they are not completely hostile beings, but great care should still be taken once you encounter one.
Most planes of the multiverse are in some way defined by their conflict. Ravnica is about the uneasy peace of man’s nature in society with men with different natures. Innistrad is exemplified by man fighting against monsters that were once men, but who have lost their humanity. Zendikar was one of man against the wilds of nature at first, but soon twisted into a fight against the overwhelming unknowable. Dominaria, for all the weapons of death and destruction, for all the monsters brought in, was always about man against man, and more than that, brother against brother (or sister) as Mishra fought Urza, Volrath against Gerrard, and Kamahl against Jeska. Kamigawa, ultimately, is about the struggle between man and god.
Patron of the Akki by Jim Nelson
Most of what we’ve seen of Kamigawa was during the Kami War, wherein the spirits unilaterally attacked all mortal races. Unlike on Zendikar, Kamigawa’s armies did not become fully unified, and while many of the local goblins fought against the spirits, very few did so alongside other humanoid races. These goblins, called akki, had no understanding of the cause of the Kami War, though they rightly assumed that humans were to blame. Akki thus spent the Kami War in a state of constant battle against everyone and everything. They continued to fight against humans, they were forced to fight against the Kami, and they weren’t exactly friendly toward other akki, either. Akki have the following characteristics:
Akki Underminer by Thomas M. Baxa
Reptilian: Despite general similarities, Akki are unlike other goblins to the point that there is no relevant genetic similarity. While the goblins of every other known plane are mammals, Kamigawa’s goblin population appears to be reptilian instead. Akki have scales, never have hair, and have no need for clothing. While akki do give live birth, this is not unheard of among reptiles. Certain subspecies of lizard give live birth, especially ones that live in high altitudes like akki. Of these, akki share a significant number of physical traits with horned lizards.
Kiki-Jiki, Mirrorbreaker by Pete Venters
Spikes and Shells: Like horned lizards, akki have horns atop their heads and many spikes going down their backs. In addition, while they have what appears to be a thick carapace upon their backs, this shell doesn’t actually go all the way around their torso. Their shells are actually the harder and stronger scales of their back, another similarity to horned lizards. Unlike horned lizards, however, akki scales are intensely fire resistant, such that akki can withstand temperatures upwards and over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Akki Underling by Franz Vohwinkel
Society: Akki live in the Sokenzan mountains, a line of tall, snowy peaks with significant volcanic activity. Viciously territorial, akki attack anyone who near their homes that they can’t absolutely identify as a friend, including other akki. Akki live in small family units, banding together to fight outsiders but rarely to encourage interacting with each other. On occasion, a disgraced human will flee to the Sokenzan, and if he can prove his worth the akki will accept him as one of their own. Even among friends, though, akki are notorious pranksters and their idea of a joke is often fatal for the recipient. Due to the difficulty in maintaining peaceful relations with the akki, much about them remains unknown.
Akki Coalflinger by Nottsuo
Shamans: Akki have a strong magical tradition and often have innate magical powers. Though their elemental specializations vary between earth, fire, and ice, akki magic is invariably used for aggressive and destructive purposes. Akki magic also has a tendency to cause significant collateral damage, destroying nearby terrain such that nobody can gain advantage of it.
Akki Drillmaster by Alan Pollack
Akki represent a strange snapshot of improper
taxonomy. They act like goblins, live in similar habitats to goblins,
resemble goblins in a few ways, but, ultimately, are no more related to
other goblins than seahorse is to a horse. Goblins are mammals that
appear more reptilian due to thick, green skin and little hair. Akki are
actual reptiles, closely related to the horned lizard. Still, as
taxonomy has always been an imperfect science, this error in
identification doesn’t do any harm.
Ajani knows Mrs. Pashiri, enough to call her Grandmother. Or that’s just her renegade name, which is still badass.
We’re seeing story on Kamigawa. After this episode, I’ve changed my stance on revisiting the plane: I’m ready to return to Kamigawa.
Nezumi child Nashi is precious and must be protected at all costs.
Tamiyo adopts children. This is adorable and I love her even more for it.
The kids call Ajani “Mister Cat” and it’s adorable.
Tamiyo and the children know not only Ajani, but Narset also. Tamiyo also knows of Elspeth, either through Ajani’s stories or through actually meeting her. I think the former is more likely.
Shadowblayde and her artifact insect army. Girl needs her own card.
Some backstory on the Inventor’s Fair. “Unlimited Aether Access” actually means “The flow of aether hasn’t changed we’re just diverting stuff from the Resistance neighborhoods and and giving the inventors access to it”. Dicks.
We know Ajani (probably) encountered Tezzeret on Alara, but if that’s not the case then he heard about him from Elspeth’s tales. Either way, he has motivation for being here.
Tamiyo gives more background into her studies on Innistrad and its moon.
We know how Bolas got his hands on Tezzeret. Tezzeret “died” (we never saw the corpse so he could still be holding on to life), “betrayed” by his “comrades” (ie, agents of Bolas acting on his word), and then Bolas takes Tezzeret to be his pawn.
A man of living flame mentioned by Nashi. It could be just an elemental, but they’re usually more bestial. Possible Flamekin planeswalker?
Nissa the invincible, she who drinks only the strongest, is unfazed by mere poison.