I’ve hopped on and off of this trolley called Magic: The Gathering more times than I can even remember. I started as a kid in middle school, around the time of Fallen Empires, and left not long after that due to never having money to buy cards. As I often have, I felt myself pulled back to it in 2005, as a college student with a job and a little bit of disposable income. The newest set at the time? Betrayers of Kamigawa.
The story and the flavor of Kamigawa were rich and invigorating. The Japanese-inspired themes, with samurai, ninjas, and kami, made it a very exciting time to come back to the game. Although much of the Kamigawa block hasn’t aged well for use in the Commander format, with most of the mechanics being nearly unplayable, there is still so much to love from this era. Classics like
Sensei’s Divining Top,
Kodama’s Reach, and dozens of powerful legendary creatures that still get love to this day.
So when the new set, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, was first announced, I met it with both excitement and hesitation. Excitement for going back to the plane that meant so much to me almost 20 years ago, and hesitation because I didn’t know if the time shift in the story would make the set too dissimilar from the Kamigawa I initially fell in love with. Given how much Magic has changed since Saviors of Kamigawa, could Neon Dynasty possibly live up to my hopes and expectations of being a set that would inspire many new Commander decks and provide powerful cards for the 99, while also being a flavorful return to the Kamigawa I remember and love?
I won’t make you wait until the end. The answer is yes.
In Imperial Kamigawa, the Dragon Trains You
One of my fondest memories of Kamigawa was draining my opponents’ life totals by sacrificing
Kokusho, the Evening Star. While the old dragon spirits died out in the story, Neon Dynasty has given us some new and exciting replacements. Each of these new dragons has Flying and another keyword ability (several of which didn’t even have keywords back in 2005). Upon their death, you’re offered two choices for the triggered ability, a step up from the OG dragons. My picks for the best of these new dragons go to blue and red, or
Kairi, the Swirling Sky and
Atsushi, the Blazing Sky, respectively. Kairi’s first death gift is going to be incredible in our current treasure-heavy meta, and its second is a pseudo-
Bond of Insight, a card that I’m a huge fan of. Atsushi can either give you two cards to play from exile until your next turn, or give you three treasures. Either way, you’re getting significant value. One has to wonder how these new dragons would’ve been different had the commander death rule not been changed 2 years ago.
Also back are the Myojin. These exorbitantly costed spirits have replaced their divinity counters with Indestructible counters, and given you all new abilities to go with them. Each does something extremely powerful when you remove that counter, like
Myojin of Blooming Dawn giving you a 1/1 for each permanent you control, but are unlikely to see much play because of the high costs. Expect to see them more in the 99 than in the zone.
The return of shrines came earlier than expected with their inclusion in M21. And they’re back again in Neon Dynasty. Instead of Hondens, we now have Go-Shintai, which are, in addition to being shrine enchantments, also legendary creatures that can be your commander! Each color has one, but what we’re really interested in here is the 5-color
Go-Shintai of Life’s Origin. This card allows you to bring any enchantment from your graveyard to the battlefield for WUBRG, but also gives you a shrine token whenever a nontoken shrine enters your field. All those upkeep and end of turn shrine triggers are going to be explosive with this commander, especially if you add in a
Sanctum of All. And why wouldn’t you?
Return of the Mack
Even though we just got a ridiculously powerful new Kodama in Commander Legends, it wouldn’t be a Kamigawa set without a new direction for this spirit.
Kodama of the West Tree is here, and it’s showing off a new keyword introduced in Neon Dynasty: Modified. Any creature that is enchanted, equipped, or has a counter, is considered Modified. Kodama gives all of your Modified creatures Trample, and whenever a Modified creature you control hits an opponent, you get to tutor up a basic land and drop it onto the field. While this may not be as strong as East Tree, it’s still a huge step up from the 3 original Kodamas.
The, arguably, most popular mechanic from old Kamigawa has returned, and is sneaking right back into our hearts. The Ninjutsu ability has two fantastic new legends showcasing what it can do, starting with the descendant of the Umezawa line,
Satoru Umezawa. Satoru gives each creature card in your hand Ninjutsu. That’s right, you can sneak in anything for just 4 mana. “Did I say I was attacking with
Invisible Stalker? Oops. I meant
Blightsteel Colossus.” Or how about we take it down a notch with
Nashi, Moon Sage’s Scion. Yeah, it’s probably a worse version of
Etali, Primal Storm, but still definitely worth playing.
Although he’s not from Kamigawa,
Jin-Gitaxias, Progress Tyrant is back from New Phyrexia to put the nasty in Neon Dynasty. Yes, this updated Jin-Gitaxias is very powerful. But like his original card, he’s not fun to play with. If you’re looking for maximum power, minimum friends, this guy is for you.
Enough with the trip down memory lane. Let’s take a look at some new commanders. We’ll start with
Hinata, Dawn-Crowned, a kirin spirit that, sadly, will not spill out a bunch of candy if we break it. This guy is all about the spells that have multiple targets. Cards with the Strive ability, like
Call the Coppercoats,
Launch the Fleet, or
Twinflame, are all vastly improved with Hinata. Or we can look at X damage spells like
Crackle with Power,
Aurelia’s Fury, and
Dance of the Manse is phenomenal if your graveyard is full. And
Curse of the Swine can easily turn every creature on the board into a pig. Delicious.
While Bushido didn’t make a return for this set, we did still get some great samurai, including one legend that has a lot of people talking. It’s
Isshin, Two Heavens as One. At first glance, you may think this is just a recoloring of
Wulfgar of Icewind Dale. But if you read it more carefully, you’ll see that Isshin triggers off of any attacking creature, not just yours. So you’ll want to throw in stuff like
Hissing Miasma, and
Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs, in addition to any fun cards you want to add that triggers off of your own attacks. Just keep in mind that you never want to rely too much on your opponents attacking. Unless you’re running Goad effects, of course.
When you think of ninjas, you generally think of stealth. Somehow I don’t think riding around on a giant toad fits that description, but that’s what we got with
Tatsunari, Toad Rider. For those lamenting that
The Gitrog Monster and
Grolnok, the Omnivore couldn’t be in the same deck, you’re now in luck, because this Sultai commander is all about shooting frogs at your opponents. Throw in
Archetype of Imagination, one of my favorite cards, and the only thing stopping you will be creatures with Reach. Bring out a
Maskwood Nexus, and it’s all frogs all day.
What’s in the Box?
Now let’s take a look at some of the legends released in the Neon Dynasty Commander decks. We’ll start with the leader of the blue/white vehicles deck,
Kotori, Pilot Prodigy. A vehicle commander for people who’ve always wanted such a thing, Kotori takes those tough-to-crew vehicles and makes them far more playable.
Parhelion II, it’s your time to finally shine! Also included in this deck is
Shorikai, Genesis Engine, which has a sneakily good draw ability. Some great new vehicles to look out for in this set are:
Aerial Surveyor, and
Over in the red/green deck we’re looking at all things Modified. The box leader is
Chishiro, the Shattered Blade, who gives you a spirit token whenever you drop an aura or equipment, and gives out +1/+1 counters to your Modified creatures. But if you’re looking for another reason to play
Shiny Impetus, then
Kaima, the Fractured Calm is definitely your raison d’etre. Or, if you prefer to jump through a lot of hoops, try out
Kosei, Penitent Warlord. It’s a lot of work, but the payoff is spectacular.
Don’t Change that Channel
The original Kamigawa block gave us many classic legendary lands, so it’s to be expected that the new set would also deliver some powerful lands. And, well, I think they may have over delivered. Each color got a legendary land with the Channel ability, which lets you pay a cost and discard the card to get some effect. Part of why these are so powerful is they can act like spells that, mostly, can’t be countered. And each one is going to see a large amount of play in the Commander format. Why? Because there’s almost no drawback to running these in place of a basic land. They’re much harder to tutor for, but that’s not that big of a minus. Green’s is
Boseiju, Who Endures, which destroys an artifact, enchantment, or nonbasic land for what will usually be a cost of 1 mana. This is definitely the most powerful of the 5, but you should expect to see all of them frequently.
The Channel lands aren’t the only mono-colored cycle in the set. We’ve also got the March spells. Similar to the Shoal cycle from Betrayers of Kamigawa, these spells require you to exile cards of their color from your hand. While these are powerful spells, the cost reduction requires you to have several cards of their color in your hand to be meaningful. This does weaken their efficacy, but expect them to pop up in mono-colored decks, except the green one,
March of Burgeoning Life, which is mostly unplayable in our singleton format.
New in Neon Dynasty is the mechanic Reconfigure, artifact creatures that can turn into equipment and attach to a creature by paying its Reconfigure cost, or turn back into a creature for the same cost. The best of the bunch include
Lion Sash, and
Tanuki Transplanter. These are fantastic because they are so versatile, especially
Lion Sash, which acts like a
Scavenging Ooze that can pump itself or the creature it’s attached to. But let’s not forget the good old fashioned equipment, such as
Bronze Cudgels and
Eater of Virtue. Cudgels gets out of hand if you’ve got an infinite mana loop, and Eater can turn your creatures into a makeshift
Kathril, Aspect Warper or
Zetalpa, Primal Dawn. And if you’ve ever played against either of those creatures, you know that’s a big deal.
I hope you didn’t think artifacts were getting all the love in this set. Enchantments are also making a huge display here, with enchantment creatures, powerful auras, and a new take on sagas! In Neon Dynasty, the sagas are here to stay, literally, because on the third step they transform into enchantment creatures instead of going to your graveyard. While not all of these sagas are great, they all tell a story from our previous visit to the Kamigawa plane, including many that reference popular legendary creatures. My picks for the best of these sagas are
Inventive Iteration and
Fable of the Mirror-Breaker.
The name Dockside may make some people cringe, but
Dockside Chef bears no resemblance to the treasure making goblin. Instead, this enchantment creature is a sacrifice outlet, which can give you some much needed card draw. For other enchantment creatures, you can play
Jukai Naturalist and
Weaver of Harmony in your enchantress decks. Or how about a flying turtle?
Colossal Skyturtle has a large body that protects itself on the board with Ward 2, and can be discarded using 1 of its 2 Channel abilities to either get a card back from your graveyard or bounce a creature.
And we can’t forget auras, especially with the Modified mechanic being introduced in the set.
Intercessor’s Arrest isn’t flashy, but is going to do a lot of work in budget or pauper decks.
Awakened Awareness is usually going to be used to power down a massive creature, but can also be used to pump up one of your own little dudes. Last we have
Swift Reconfiguration, a very powerful way to suck the life out of an enemy creature. A
Kaalia of the Vast, for instance, is going to be a lot less scary with a Crew 5 cost on her. And the fact that
Swift Reconfiguration has Flash is just icing on an already delicious cake.
Then, of course we have just plain old enchantments to talk about. A few worth mentioning are
Spirit-Sister’s Call, and
Invigorating Hot Spring.
There are plenty more creatures in Neon Dynasty worth mentioning. Of course, spirits have a huge presence in the set. Among the best are:
Gravelighter, an upgrade on
Thundering Raiju, which dishes out +1/+1 counters as well as damage;
Drumbellower, sure to be a popular card in Commander, is a weaker
Seedborn Muse, but still worth running in a lot of decks; and
Kami of Celebration Modifies your creatures and gives you impulse draw.
For non-spirits, we’ve got:
Skyswimmer Koi, a fish that loots whenever an artifact enters your battlefield;
Scrap Welder, a fantastic artifact retriever;
Akki Battle Squad, great for extra combats;
Ascendant Acolyte, which can pretty much give you the
Simic Ascendancy win all by itself;
Rampant Rejuvenator, one of the best creature ramp cards we’ve seen in a while; and
Ruthless Technomancer, a powerful card that makes treasures on entry and can bring back creatures from the grave.
Last but not least, we can’t leave our beautiful artifact creatures out in the cold.
Containment Construct is going to be a very popular card, finding a home in many wheel decks.
Towashi Guide-Bot is a solid piece for card draw.
Reito Sentinel will prove very useful in many situations in which you’re looking to get something out of someone’s yard (hello
Ironsoul Enforcer brings back any artifact from your yard to the battlefield.
Cyberdrive Awakener (this one’s very high on my list of fave cards from the set) turns all of your noncreature artifacts into 4/4 flyers when it enters the battlefield.
Kappa Cannoneer is a killing machine that just gets bigger and bigger. And
Research Thief gives you card draw when one of your artifact creatures hits an opponent.
Not All Who Wander are Lost
Didn’t think I’d forget about the planeswalkers of Neon Dynasty, did you? The 4 planeswalkers are all crucial elements to the story of the set, and each is worth talking about here. We’ll start with the one that broke some hearts,
Tamiyo, Compleated Sage. The newly Phyrexianized walker can tap down the biggest problem on the board or make a token copy of a permanent card in your graveyard. For her ultimate, she makes a token that gives your spells a permanent discount and draws you a card every turn.
Partly to blame for Tamiyo’s compleation,
Tezzeret, Betrayer of Flesh has a fantastic static ability, giving us a 2 mana discount on our first artifact activation cost each turn. Keep in mind, if you tap a
Sol Ring for mana, you just used up your one discount activation for a turn. Where Tezzeret really shines is his ultimate, which draws you a card whenever you tap an artifact. So imagine having a huge stash of treasures, sacrificing them for mana and drawing a card for each one. However, we shouldn’t judge planeswalkers based solely on their ultimate. Tezzy’s +1 is also a solid card draw effect, and his -2 permanently “wakes up” one of your artifacts.
The Wandering Emperor has been on my mind ever since she debuted as
The Wanderer in War of the Spark. I’m glad we’ve finally gotten more of her story, nearly 2 years later. Her Flash ability is truly solid, giving you a surprise effect and a powerful ally that your opponents won’t expect to come out at instant speed. No flashy ultimate here, but her -2 is a seriously powerful way to get rid of an attacker.
And new to our story is
Kaito Shizuki, who has a built-in protection ability by phasing out at your end step on the turn he comes into play. This is a nice way to prevent people from taking him out immediately, so you’re almost guaranteed at least 2 activations. His -2 ability makes him a good choice for Ninja decks like
Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow. And his ultimate is immensely powerful, but a hard goal to achieve.
The Best of the Rest
Alright, let’s wrap up this Kamigawa love-fest by showing off the rest of the cards in the set that I’m pumped about. First up is
Mirror Box, a descendant of, and upgrade to, the original
Mirror Gallery. Not only is the Box 2 mana cheaper, it also pumps up your legends and non-token clones.
Roadside Reliquary is a great way to draw needed cards in the late game, and
Secluded Courtyard will see ample play in creature type decks.
Explosive Singularity will get picked up for red decks that like high mana value cards or that want to go wide.
Spinning Wheel Kick is a solid pick for decks that are heavy on Deathtouch, like
Fynn, the Fangbearer.
Organic Extinction will find a home in many artifact creature decks, including all the Vehicle decks that are going to be everywhere once people get their hands on this set. And
Silkguard is like an adaptive
Heroic Intervention, but without the Indestructible bit. A solid addition to many green decks, especially enchantress decks that are heavy on auras.
That was a whirlwind of amazing cards. And honestly, I didn’t even mention every single card I’m excited about. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who feels this way about Neon Dynasty. From what I’ve seen on the interwebs, people are digging the hell out of this set. And that makes me very happy. From the powerful and fun cards, to the story and flavor, to the many exciting legendary creatures that can lead our Commander decks, this set is a success. Of course, time will only tell how much of an impact it will truly have on the Commander format, but I think it’s safe to say that many of the cards mentioned above have a bright future ahead, and not just in Commander.
Thanks for reading, friends. What are your favorite cards from the set? Which commander(s) are you excited to build? Hit me up on Twitter at @AndyZupke and let me know. You can also find me streaming budget Commander with the Scrap Trawlers every Sunday at 7:30PM Central on twitch.tv/scraptrawlers, or find our uploads on YouTube.
More Kamigawa goodness coming at you in two weeks, so be sure to check back in then. Until next time, take care. And play lots of games!