First Impressions: Champions of Kamigawa

Nick goes over some of his first impressions of the new format after a week-and-a-half of drafting it and gives you insight on some hidden gems that you may not have noticed when you played at the prerelease. If you think Devouring Greed is unplayable or Mystic Restraint is the best Blue common, then you might want to see what Nick has to say before you play this weekend…

Before we jump into any actual strategy this week, I have a few things I need to get off my chest.

1) I’m not going to bore you and jump on the proverbial bandwagon with yet another set review that just ranks the cards and touches surface of the format. I think Tim Aten does a great job with his reviews and I agree with most of his card evaluations anyway, so doing so would just be a complete waste of time. Instead, I’m going to attack the new set in a number of different ways, specifically by focusing on certain cards and also archetypes and changes in deckbuilding. But yeah, I’ll give my input on pick orders as well, just not in as much depth as everyone else is doing, since it will be redundant.

2) I’ve gone slap-happy drafting this past week, drafting Champions about thirteen times, and I must say that the new format is definitely enjoyable except for one thing..

Where Are My Damned Mana Myr?

I’ve mulliganned more times in the past week than actually kept my opening seven. I don’t know what the problem is, or if it is just possibly a fluke, but straight up seventeen land just isn’t working for me. Not that I’m gonna change it unless this continues, but how hard is it to try to figure out a new format when you can’t even draw an even distribution of land and spells? The only times I’ve actually been okay are the times I’ve had a good amount of Green in my deck with the accompanying manafixers.

Anyway, my point is that if there’s one thing I’ve found that I don’t like about the new format so far, it’s the lack of manafixing and filtering in colors other than Green. I think that Wizards was doing a great job integrating ways to help prevent mana issues in Limited in the last couple blocks, since screw and flood are both very real problems that forty-card decks must overcome. Unfortunately, I feel like they kinda dropped the ball here in Champions. I mean think about it, Green has some really excellent fixers in the set, and Blue has the Wizard entourage to make use of some extra lands by returning them to good effect, but the other colors are really suffering and I think it tends to make the format more luck-based.

4) I hate Black spells.

There are a lot of really close picks within the ranks of the commons. More importantly, some in-color common picks are close enough to write some really good Dilemma material on. So we’ll see what happens with that, and while I’ll be writing about a lot of these on my own, you may see a resurrection of the head to head Dilemma series in the next few weeks.

5) I think it was Mark Rosewater that claimed that Wizards had an abundance of new ideas for cards. Why exactly, then, are we back to the world of Tribes? Seriously, I feel like I should be flipping coins with Goblin Assassin again. I do feel that the Spirits add a nice niche to the new set, but what is all this Snake and Rat garbage? Just my two cents.

So yeah, I’m done babbling for now.

What I want to do this week is go over some of my first impressions of the new format after a week and a half of drafting it.

The Trifecta

Let’s talk about this first, since it seems to be the question on everybody’s lips when talking about pick orders. What exactly is the correct order of the top three White commons? If you aren’t sure what I’m talking about, may I direct you to Cage of Hands, Kabuto Moth, and Kitsune Blademaster?

This has been debated heavily among the CMU group of drafters, and while some are still unsure, I’m pretty confident that I’ve came to the right conclusion. The order that I have them in now is as follows:

Cage of Hands

Yes, this is a Pacifism variant. But what most people are neglecting in their evaluation is that this is probably the best Pacifism ever printed. Arguments can be made for Arrest since it deals with nuisances like Spikeshot Goblin, but this thing is versatile as hell. Not only can you expend it early on something that usually isn’t worth wasting precious removal on, and then return it later to deal with a fatty or a bomb, but you can actually use it as an offensive weapon. Once you reach the mid to late game and have some extra mana laying around (like you usually will in this format), your opponent has to consider his attacks and blocks very carefully as you can simply drop the Cage on an unsuspecting bystander and totally screw up the combat phase.

The Cage is also great if you’re one of those people that just can’t seem to make up their mind about anything.

If you have a tough time deciding who to use removal on, don’t worry, you can just”change your mind” later.

Kabuto Moth

These two are so close, it’s sick.

When I originally went through the spoiler and figured out what I liked, I had the Blademaster as the best White common. A week of actual drafting has changed that quite a bit and I would really like to have this guy as number one. The problem with doing that is there really isn’t that much removal in this set and it is a valuable commodity. Therefore you should be taking the Cage over Moth should the decision arise, unless you already have a ton of removal or some other specific reason not to. Clearly the Moth is a powerhouse in a format of 2/1’s, and it can generally hold the skies by itself, stopping most fliers and giving you time to set up. It’s clearly much better than Auriok Bladewarden ever was, because of flying and the additional toughness on both parts of the card.

Kitsune Blademaster

Ah, how the strong have fallen. I have played many a Blademaster in the last week and while he is as solid as I imagined, he just isn’t as flexible as the previous two cards. In the late game, he’s just another dude, and his power really stems from being cast on turn three. That said, I’ve had multiple decks that sported two and even three copies of this guy and really didn’t live up to my overall expectation. When it all boils down, he’s just a 2/2 with a thick blade and the other two White commons simply have more to offer.

Some other things I’ve noticed that I disagree with in people’s White pick orders are that I think Blessed Breath is much stronger than it is being given credit for. Part of the reason for this is that the power of Arcane has not been fully revealed yet to most people, since they’ve only drafted the set a few times. The other thing is that it’s simply a better combat trick than Indomitable Will because it can also protect from removal spells and costs a whole mana less.

I’m a huge fan of Call to Glory as long as you have some Samurai or Moths to abuse it with, and the really annoying thing about it is that even if your opponent knows you have it, it is still difficult to play around.

That’s enough about White though, as most of the other authors have already beaten it into the ground and I just wanted to clarify my standpoint.

Rend is Better than Rend?

This may seem like something that isn’t overly important, but I assure you that it’s relevant. Another big debate that has been going on during drafts at CMU is whether Rend Flesh or Rend Spirit is the better card.

Most of the input is skewed by people’s own personal experiences, and I do have my own standpoint on the matter. First off I’d like to say that I don’t think either of the cards is particularly amazing and I’m not really happy to be first picking either of them.

Begin Aside

This brings me to something I mentioned earlier: my hatred for Black spells. I’m not sure what the root of the problem is really, because I used to be enamored with U/B control back in OTJ (maybe solely because of Faceless Butcher), but in the past couple blocks I have avoided the color Black like the plague. I’ve tried drafting Black in at least four of the drafts so far, and without much success. Nezumi Cutthroat is definitely intriguing, but what about when you have four of them and 0-2 in a two-on-two draft?

The only time I’ve done moderately well was when I had the dragon, Kokusho (known as CocoPuffs) to help the rest of my Black idiots to victory. The color certainly has some powerful spells, but somehow they just haven’t come together for me. Dance of Shadows is an amazing card, and the interaction between something like Blood Speaker and the Oni’s is awesome. Not to mention Befoul and Pull Under in the common slot. Maybe I’m just doomed to forever be a 5c and Blue mage. Sigh.

End Aside

Well, now that we’re good and off track, what were we talking about?

Oh, okay, the Rends.

My personal opinion on this mini dilemma is that Rend Flesh is a lot better than Rend Spirit. First off, Flesh has Arcane. Arcane is simply nuts, and I’ll go over it more a little later. Second, while there are a huge number of Spirits in the set (something like seventy), the guys I always want to kill are never a Spirit! So I usually end up with Rend Spirit sitting in my hand the whole game waiting to kill some unsuspecting schmuck like Brutal Deceiver who wanders into play on turn 23. I realize it kills Vine Kami (but doesn’t kill most of the other important Green men), and it also kills Dragons. Who the hell wants to kill a dragon anyway? Bad stuff happens when they head to the bin.

So, based on my matches so far, the Flesh has proved far more useful. Anyone have any feelings on this?

Some Gems

Since I’m just doing a general overview this week, I figured I should let you guys know about some cards that really impressed me or didn’t stand up to the hype surrounding them. Most of these are goodies though.

Devouring Greed

I can’t really say enough about this card. In my initial scan of the spoiler, I regarded it as unlikely to be playable. Why? Because I figured it was just a better Syphon Soul, and the Soul wasn’t anything to get excited about.

Guess what? I was dead wrong.

Since every color has a good number of playable Spirits, you can easily get a Spirit count as high as eight or nine without even trying to. This card is really the only thing I like about Black in this set so far, since I haven’t really been able to win with the color (maybe I’m doing something wrong but I don’t think I am). With this sucker in the grip you can easily kill your unsuspecting opponent from what he thinks is a comfortable six to ten life. Again, this has Arcane so you can splice your Soulless Revival or whatever else you have onto it and get maximum value. It can also help to swing a damage race by Soul Feasting your opponent for the lowly sacrifice of one Spirit. Let’s not even talk about what happens when you combine this with the Green Shrine (hint: it makes Spirits).

After saying all of that, it is still just a finisher in your eyes. But wait, there is more!

Know those stupid little Zubera creatures? Well let’s just call them Zebras, since I don’t really know what a Zubera is anyway. Zebras are decent guys in this format simply because they can stop the large number of 2/1 men running around right? And they’re really good in gang-blocks since if more than one of them die, something stupid happens. Well guess what, Devouring Greed is like a huge gang-block for Zebras. Sac two Blue Zebras? Draw Four, Drain for Six. All for four mana. Unfair. I’ll let you use your imagination as to what else can happen when the Zebras meet this gang-block.

By the way, Devouring Rage is also playable and decent, though not nearly as powerful as its Black counterpart.

Matsu-Tribe Decoy

Can you say Annoying?

If not, don’t worry, this guy screams it. He’s basically an assassin for anything with one toughness in the early game, works extremely well with something like Kodama’s Might, and can function as a Lure in the late game. And he’s a 1/3 for three. If nothing else, he can get in there and lock down some hapless 2/2 creature that just came into play and prevent it from bashing you.

Teller of Tales

Some of my CMU cohorts are championing Mystic Restraint as the best Blue common. I strongly disagree.

Aven Windreader pretty much set the standard for 3/3 flyers with an ability in Limited, and like the Cage of Hands, this guy is out to break that standard. Upon first glance the Twiddle ability provided by the Teller may not seem like much of an impact on the game, but trust me, once you’ve seen all of the tricks it can do, you’ll change your mind. Any tapped creature is now fair game for blocking if the controller of Teller has mana untapped and potential instant Arcane spells in hand. Talk about Elephant Ambush. Teller can also untap someone who’s attacked after combat by playing a simple Spirit. His most potent use though is getting blockers out of the way by tapping them before combat and letting your team get through easily. This guy is nuts and you should be taking it over Restraint every time (not to mention that Restraint does nothing if this guy is in play). The best Windreader yet in my opinion.

Feral Deceiver

Easily the best Deceiver, this guy has really impressed me. Even as a 3/2 for four mana he comes in at about the right price. But his real strength is moving up to a Spined Wurm with trample upon activation. A good trick with this guy is to use the ability and look at the top card during your opponent’s End Step. That way, if a land is on top, you can activate this guy and ensure he gets pumped and ready to attack for the turn. The best thing about him is that his ability is Proactive, unlike the other Deceivers who all get only a small bonus not worth Upkeeping on a regular basis. I’d still take Vine Kami over him though I think, as it’s just more reliable. Though that is just another of the many difficult picks that arise in the common slot of this set.

Petals of Insight

I’m pretty sure most of you realize that this card is good. But in reality, it is actually a bomb and should be taken extremely highly and splashed. One of the problems with this format as I said earlier is that you end up running out of gas a lot and it comes down to a topdeck war. This card reloads you and ensures that no topdeck war will be necessary.

Let’s not forget the insane interaction with splice either, since Petals has Arcane. The other night I had Petals recursion going with Glacial Ray and Kodama’s Might! It’s highly unlikely that you’ll end up drawing the three cards since you can just keep casting Shock and Might every turn instead. Obviously this is expensive, but not when you’ve powered up with Kodama’s Reach.

Kodama’s Reach

Speak of the devil.

This is the best Green common, hands down. It allows for splashing and also thins while accelerating, and is much better than Harrow ever was. I feel like a broken record saying this too, but it also has Arcane and makes a certain archetype much more powerful than it actually should be. You’ll have to wait for next week for more information on that though, as I want another week of testing to get the full blown details.

Venerable Kumo

This set has had the recurring theme of taking the standard Limited common (Pacifism, Windreader), and making improvements on it. Sadly, the Kumo is no Giant Spider. I’ve played this guy a couple of times and been extremely disappointed every time. I don’t understand why he can’t have four toughness like Tel-Jilad Archers or any of the other spiders from the past, but he really is a sad case. The Soulshift doesn’t even begin to help the fact that this guy just can’t do his job well at all. The only place he is even decent is against Blue, and even there he will normally be trading for one flier instead of halting the skies like the spiders of the past. What a disgrace.

Blind with Anger

Finally we have something that almost resembles Ray of Command (except for the nonlegendary wording). Clearly this card is nuts, and one of the best cards for Limited in the set, but I just wanted to comment that it may be correct to take this over a Dragon or other bomb, and you shouldn’t be passing it for anything less. Even if you’re just going to be splashing it.

Through the Breach

I know this is a Rare, but people are immediately going to dismiss it as unplayable and that simply is not true. It is excellent with CocoPuffs the Dragon, as well as any of the others, as it is a sneak attack that most people won’t expect. I used it to put out Kuro, Pitlord and wrath my opponent’s team and then attack for nine just the other day. This is one of those rares that you will get late and it can be decent as long as you have some fatties to sneak into play with it.

Sneak Peek

I know I’ve been talking a lot about Arcane without really saying why it is so good, but be patient, I’m saving that for next week. I’m fairly sure that I’ve found one of the most effective archetypes you can draft in this format, and next week you’ll get to find out before the set is even released on Magic Online.

Cya then.

Nick Eisel

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