Drafting Kamigawa

Feature Article from Paulo Vitor
Paulo Vitor
10/14/2004
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I think it is generally accepted by everyone that Champions of Kamigawa is a sub-par constructed set. Out of more than 300 cards, only a few will make it to constructed decks (with the obvious exception of Kamigawa Block Constructed). That means it is really difficult to make good decks out of Kamigawa cards. Sure, I could write about what Affinity gains with Kamigawa (hmm, that would be hard), or yet another article about MBC, but the truth is that I have been trying for weeks to develop a new deck archetype with Kamigawa cards that posed a treat to the current decks and I have to admit I have failed miserably. With no new good decks to write about, I haven't written much lately. Not being able to use it effectively in Constructed, I was forced to turn my head to the other format (and no, it's not Vintage), and, surprisingly, this format was the one Kamigawa held it's true power. Yes, this format is Limited.

My first impression about Kamigawa in limited was that it would be a bit luck based, with a lot of Flying bombs winning games on their own. After having drafted a deck with two Dragons and having lost all games while still playing both of them, I thought that maybe I could be wrong. Then, after seeing a good player lose with Myojin of the Cleansing Fire, Kodama of the North Tree and TWO Keiga, Tidal Star at the pre-release, I knew I was wrong. The format wasn't about drafting bombs, after all.

The Tempo

Tempo is the Portuguese word for "Time", and I believe that explains the concept very well. For those who don't know it, having a good Tempo in Magic means using everything you have available each turn. That means you should have a different amount of casting costs in your deck, so you can play creatures in almost every turn. If your opponent starts the game with a turn two creature and a turn three creature, and the first thing you have to play is a four-drop, you will be so behind in tempo that it will be very hard to recover if your opponent kills your four drop with something that costs two. But, why am I talking about Tempo? Because it plays a big role in this limited format. It is not like Onslaught Block, but it is close.

Tempo is important in this format because every color but Blue has Bears to draft. A Bear is, by definition, any 2/2 Creature that costs 2, like Grizzly Bears, but I guess it should be Extended to anything that costs 2 and has a power of two. Take a look at the available Common and Uncommon bears: Nezumi Cutthroat, Nezumi Graverobber, Wicked Akuba, Kami of the Ancient Law, Samurai of the Pale Curtain, Humble Budoka, Orochi Ranger and Hearth Kami. Wow, that's a lot of common and uncommon bears. That means pretty much every deck has access to Bears. So, how does this change the way you are drafting?

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Drafting Beats is a bit different than in Onslaught Block. In Onslaught Block, you would draft Glory Seeker because you would play it on turn two and it would go past the Morphs, allowing you to start attacking one turn earlier than your opponent. In this format, this holds true, but you should also draft Bears not to die to opposing Bears, since they are so many. Your main concern should be Surviving to play your bigger treats, and not to kill your opponent fast, because they will probably have a lot of Bears to block yours, even though that works if you have lots of cheap removals or pump effects. What I mean is that you should draft Bears be your deck aggressive or not, because they are important in both archetypes.

There are two cards to note that aren't part of the Bears but that, if you are defending, can be as good as them, if not better. Those cards are Ember-Fist Zubera and Floating Dream Zubera. If you take a quick look at the available Bears, you will notice that two of them can be blocked and killed by the Blue creature, and all of them but Samurai of the Pale Curtain and Humble Budoka will fall to the Red one, since it can deal its one damage to the creature it had dealt damage before. The Red one can also kill multiple creatures or damage your opponent, but it is Red, so it isn't that needed. The Blue one, however, is very important. As I said before, Blue has no Bears it can draft to defend from the other Bears, and the Zubera is a good blocker that makes you lose nothing after all. It is also a Spirit, which can give you numerous bonuses, and a very good one at that, since it costs two and can be retrieved by any creature with Soulshift.

The Colors

Red:

I started talking about Red because I believe it is the most important color while drafting, and not because it is the best color - quite the opposite. If you take a look at the red cards, you will notice that it has like five extremely good cards, and the rest is all about overcosted creatures. Red's best commons, Glacial Ray and Yamabushi's Flame, are pretty splashable and taken by most people even if they weren't previously in Red. It's best Uncommons, Pain Kami and Blind with Anger, are also splashable and taken by everyone. Heck, even the Red Dragon is splashable. The only very good card left is Earthshaker, which costs RR, and is, therefore, not picked by splashers. That means that, if you are going mainly Red, you will have a very hard time getting your best cards, since everybody will pick them. That is why I usually avoid drafting Red, at least as a main color - it is, in my opinion, a splash color in this block. The only card that would make me go heavy red is Kumano, Master Yamabushi, which is good enough to win games on its own and therefore worth the risk.

Green:

Green is, in my opinion, the best color in the set. Not because it has the best cards themselves, but because it makes possible for you to run more of the best cards. Every single playable Mana acceleration belongs to Green, as well as most of the big Creatures - what a happy coincidence! Most of Green's good stuff only costs one specific, which makes it also a bit splashable. More on that later.

Blue:

Ah, Blue… the most under drafted color ever. Out of 17 Flying Common and Uncommon creatures, 9 belong to Blue. That's quite a big number, if you ask me, considering all of them are good, with the exception of Callous Deceiver, whish isn't very good but is playable anyway. Of the many drafts I played, Blue was usually the less drafted color, which surprised me a bit. I'm a big fan of Fliers, and I believe this format relies a lot on fliers. Blue is, in my opinion, one of the best colors to be your main, since it has a lot of quality and isn't drafted much.

White:

White is just White. It's got a lot of good cheap creatures and some Fliers to back it up. Overall it is very strong, but it is very over drafted, in my opinion. Its good cards are also mostly splashable, too.

Black:

Black is one of the deepest colors in the set, since it's got most of the removal, cheap Creatures andbBig creatures, some of them with Evasion. Some of its good cards cost BB, so it is unlikely that they will get picked by the Green players, for example, which means it is a good color to be your main one. A bit overdrafted, but it has good cards to support lots of drafters, so it should be no problem if people don't randomly pick your good cards because they can splash them.

The Mana Acceleration and Mana Fixing

Every single playable Mana acceleration and Mana Fixing, with the exception of the Depletion Lands (yes, that excludes Mana Seism) belongs to Green. Sakura Tribe Elder, Kodama's Reach and Orochi Sustainer are all very good Mana accelerations, with the Elder and the Reach also being Mana fixers, together with Orochi Leafcaller, which isn't in the same level of the previous two but is also playable if you have 3+ colors. Having such cards mean you can easily splash anything good you want, which is always a great thing, especially in this set where lots of good cards cost only one specific. The first color that comes to mind is Red, where you can pick the already mentioned Glacial Ray, Blind with Anger, Yamabushi's Flame and Pain Kami, as well as the Dragon. Those are all very good cards you can consistently play if you are running Green. Other good Common and Uncommon cards to splash are Pull Under, Rend Flash, Rend Spirit, Kabuto Moth, Cage of Hands, Mothrider Samurai, Nagao, Bound by Honor, Soratami Mirror Guard and Honden of Seeing Winds.

Drafting Kodama's Reach and Sakura Tribe Elder early on may be a very good strategy, since it gives you the possibility to play with any good Rares you open. If you are Green/White and you open Kokusho, the Evening Star, you may be able to afford playing it, since a Kodama's Reach itself already gives you two Swamps to do so. If you haven't picked Kodama's Reach, though, you won't be able to play it, since splashing for a card that costs BB just doesn't work. Yesterday, we played a draft where my friend went Red/Green, with Orochi Leafcaller, two Kodama's Reach and two Sakura-Tribe Elder. In the last packs, he got passed a Honden of Cleansing Fire to go with his Honden of Infinite Rage and a Myojin of Cleansing Fire, and he was able to play both, even though one of them costed WWW, since he had so many mana Fixers. In the last pack, he opened Meloku, the Clouded Mirror. He hadn't picked a single blue card the whole draft, and yet he could afford to play the Meloku - and he could be sure that he would be able to play it whenever he wanted.

Mana acceleration itself is also important if you are heavy Green, because most of the good creatures cost four, and the only playable one that costs tree is, in my opinion, Kami of the Hunt. This way, Orochi Sustainer might be the difference between a turn three Order of the Sacred Bell or a turn three nothing.

Here is Sasha Zorc's 3x0 decklist from GP Viena as an example:

Main Deck

7 Forest
6 Island
2 Plain
1 Swamp



1 Teller of Tales
1 Feral Deceiver
1 Hana Kami
1 Humble Budoka
1 Kami of the Hunt
1 Matsu-Tribe Decoy
1 Moss Kami
1 Order of the Sacred Bell
1 Orochi Ranger
1 Orochi Sustainer 2 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Soilshaper
1 Vine Kami

2 Cage of Hands
2 Mystic Restraints
1 Petals of Insight
1 Reach Through Mists
1 Pull Under
1 Commune with Nature
1 Kodama's Might
1 Kodama's Reach

In this deck, Sasha Splashes three good removal from two different colors because he has access to Kodama's Reach and two Sakura-Tribe Elders, something that wouldn't have been possible otherwise.

The Removal

Surprisingly enough, every color has its own removal! Here is a list of the playable Common and Uncommon removal in all colors:

Red: Glacial Ray, Yamabushi's Flame, Blind with Anger, Pain Kami

White: Cage of Hands, Kitsune Diviner, Innocence Kami

Black: Befoul, Rend Flash, Rend Spirit, Pull Under, Swarming Plague, Hideous Laugher

Blue: Mystic Restrains

Green: Gale Force (Ok, it's a sideboard card, but it's removal)

As you can see, most of the removal is Black. There are 70 Spirits in the set, so you should always play Rend Spirit and Kitsune Diviner if you have them.

Like pretty much in every block, quality removal should be a priority, right after bombs like Kiku Nightflower or the Dragons. The kind of removal you pick depends on the rest of your deck. Hideous Laugher is the best of them, and Cage of Hands is the best of the spot removal because it doesn't trigger any "goes to graveyard" effect like Soulshift and it can be used early game without fear of not having removal for a bigger threat later. Glacial Ray's value obviously depends on the number of cheap Arcane spells you have to Splice it onto, but it is still good if it's your only Arcane spell, and should always make your deck.

P.S. Keep in mind that Rend Flesh is Arcane, but Rend Spirit is not!

The Combat Tricks

This set is full of Combat Tricks, so watch out! Combat Tricks are something that is used to change the result of a Creature Combat. Here are the playable ones:

Green: Kodama's Might, Strength of Cedar, Serpent Skin
White: Indomitable Will
Red: Uncontrollable Anger

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All of those are very good, mainly Indomitable Will, Kodama's Might and Strength of Cedar (this one serving as a very good finisher, too). If your deck is fast, try to draft as many of those as possible, and, if you have lots of those, avoid the Humble Budokas. Most of those are Common, so you should try playing around them sometimes, because there is a high chance your opponent has one.

The Equipment

People just came out of Mirrodin block, so they have a false idea of how good an Equipment is in Champions of Kamigawa. In the last block, everyone and their cousins ran Artifact removal and Equipments themselves, which kind of nullified them. This is not the case here. When nobody has removal spells or Equipments of their own, the ability to boost your creatures (and only your creatures) becomes quite relevant. There are four Equipments worth noticing, and two of them are, in my opinion, first picks.

Oathkeeper, Takeno's Daisho: This is absurdly good in a deck with Samurai, and I'd still play it in a deck without those. The only card people play in their maindeck that destroys this is Hearth Kami, and I'll take the risk.

No-Dachi: This is also pretty good. A creature equipped by this will probably survive any combat, and it is worth the 5 Mana you pay for it. Pick it very early and play with it.

Tatsumasa the Dragon Fang: This is not the bomb it seems to be, but it is always playable. It's especially good in Green decks, with lots of acceleration and no Fliers.

Tenza, Godo's Maul: I can see myself playing that in a deck with three or more Legends, since it isn't completely terrible without them, unlike Konda's Banner. When I say Equipment in this set is good, I mean it's good to play with, even if it is overcosted.

The Splice

The thing that came to my mind when I first saw Kamigawa was that Glacial Ray was 'beyond broken'. "Common Lightning Rift", I said to myself. Well, not quite. It certainly is good, and it's got some points over Lightning Rift - First, it's Common, thus easier to get in multiples. Second, it does something by itself, so it's never dead. Third, it's an Instant, so it has a bit of surprise factor the first time you play it. However, it's also got some negative points - it requires 1R instead of 1, and the fact that the good Arcane cards are usually more expensive than Cyclers (and they don't replace themselves!)

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There are other three cards worth Splicing, in my opinion: Kodama's Might, Soulless Revival, Consuming Vortex, and Hideous Laugher. Those are not only good cards to Splice but also good cards to Splice onto (with the exception of Laugher, which is a bit expensive), so they are what you should look for when you want to build something with Splice in mind. I have found, however, that this isn't a good strategy. Better than drafting Arcanes just to Splice your good cards onto is just drafting normally, and picking the cards that you would normally pick. Some of them will happen to be Arcane, and you will be able to use the mechanic. The more, the better, but I don't think it is that good to justify picking Lava Spike because you can Splice your two Glacial Rays and Kodama's Might onto it. Here is a list of the cards I would normally pick that are Arcane, besides the ones with Splice themselves:

Rend Flesh
Pull Under (a bit expensive to Splice onto)
Kodama's Reach (not worth to wait for the Splice, though - just use it if you happen to draw it later)
Blind with Anger
Dance of the Shadows
Devouring Greed, depending on the deck
Otherwordly Journey
Petals of Insight (reusable arcane! Very expensive, though, so you will almost never get the chance to splice anything onto it)
Strength of Cedars
Swarming Plague (good luck Splicing something onto it, though)
Reach Through Mists
Walking Nightmare

There are also some other playable cards that I'd play if I had a lot of Splice, like Sift Through Sands, but that's very situational.

The Hondens

The Hondens were somewhat controversial when I talked to other people about them, so I decided to make a topic for them. Would you play a bad Honden to power up the good ones? Would you play a Honden that's only good when you have two out? Would you play a Honden without having any other in your deck?

First, there are the good Hondens: the Blue and the Red. Those should go in any Blue or Red deck, regardless of how many others you have. Then, there is the White Honden, which is good depending on your deck, but should always make it if you have any of the previous two (specially the Red). The Black Honden is highly dependant on your deck. If it is a fast deck, you might consider maindecking it with the Red one, but, if your deck is slow, it might go into the sideboard for the other slow decks. If your deck is slow and you have the Red and another Honden, I'd play the Black one - not without them. The Green one is, in my opinion, never playable main, and it needs the Red or the White to become playable, and both of them to be good.

The End

Well, I think that covers pretty much everything I wanted to be covered. I'd love to talk about archetypes, but I do believe anything is viable in this block, and there is no combination of colors I'd ever avoid (with the exception of Red as a main color), with almost all of them having quality removal and creatures. I hope you've liked it!

- Paulo Vitor






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