Foundations of Kamigawa Block (Part 1 of 2)

Today Zvi begins his examination of Kamigawa Block Constructed, stripping each color down to its building blocks to seek out the real power and synergy in the format. Why should you listen to Zvi when he talks about Block? Because the Block Constructed Pro Tour Winner’s Trophy on his mantle says so!

Pro Tour: Philadelphia will be Kawigawa Block Constructed. In previous years, I would be getting my team together, making sure everyone was ready to work, sending out first thoughts and primitive decklists and collecting ideas. This year is different, because this year I’m not going. As I’ve already established, I don’t want to play on the Pro Tour anymore. Therefore, I’ll be doing my explorations here at StarCityGames.com. You’re welcome to join me and help us discover the block together. You’re also welcome to do the professional thing and use what I give you as part of your project to develop your own technology. That’s fine too. Today is the first step, so I’m going to begin with what should always be the first step: Seeing what tools you have available.

Yes, I know that there are people out there playing and I could crib a lot of this directly. But as Chris Rock said, don’t cheat. Want to cheat. Can’t cheat. Dying to cheat. Can’t cheat. Why can’t you cheat? Cause you’re gonna get caught. If you copy what others have, you won’t understand how it got there or what the options are. Eventually you’ll have to take the format apart piece by piece, and if you let everyone else’s biases get to you first then you’ll miss things you would have seen. Later on, you can look at what they have to fill in the gaps. Therefore, I’m writing this blind. Once the fundamentals and first decklists are done, then and only then will I begin scouting Magic Online. I’ve been criticized for such approaches before, but separate work is a valuable thing. In fact, if you haven’t done so yet and think you’re up to it, stop right here. Go through each color before reading what I have to say, starting with White. Pull out all the cards that make life interesting. When I was in charge of the YMG preparation group for Pro Tour: Venice, I required everyone to give me their five best decklists before anyone was allowed to talk to anyone else. Almost everything we ended up missing was in one of those lists, even if we later dismissed it for the wrong reasons.


It has become traditional for me to begin such surveys with White, and I think it is a good tradition because it’s hard to keep White exciting after you’ve seen the other colors. Starting with White lets it establish a baseline while retaining focus. I detest White Weenie strategies, so I look at them when there’s nothing else to compare them to. First, let’s look at White’s creature curve.

One Drops

Genju of the Fields isn’t really a one drop, which leaves Isamaru as the star and a bunch of other cards trying to fill out the roster. I suspect that Bushi Tenderfoot is far better than people are giving it credit for, as it combines well with the Jitte and potentially a few other block cards to create a creature that it’s hard to dare block or even potentially attack into. You do not want to unleash Kenzo, especially if he’s packing a Jitte. Empty-Shrine Kannushi only matters if the deck he is going into would be good without him, so he’s not a consideration at this stage and Kitsune Diviner is a sideboard card at best. Lantern Kami is the third one-drop to consider, unexciting but available. Kami of False Hope is another outside possibility depending on what situations the deck gets into.

On the flip side, a White player who wants to play control gets Reciprocate but cards like that have a horrible track record. Eternal Haze and Kami of False Hope offer ways to Fog. While Fog is a very temporary solution, it doesn’t have to be. The ways of recursion are arcane but they do exist. Genju of the Fields is also very strong thanks to the ability to activate it multiple times, but the card is going to need backup.


White shines here with Kami of Ancient Law, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails and Samurai of the Pale Curtain. Those last two are great and the Kami can be if there are things to kill. Even if there aren’t too many he’s still not bad. That should be enough for any standard issue white creature deck to be happy, but there’s also a wild card: Tallowisp. I’ve speculated about this card already, but when I had two of them in one of my sealed decks in Atlanta it drove home how crazy this card was. I played it and suddenly my opponent had lost the card advantage war if the Tallowisp did not die: I’d get Cage of Hands twice, then Mystic Restraints and Indomitable Will. That’s hard to beat. The decision to include or not include Tallowisp splits White creature builds in two here.

Indomitable Will is interesting only so far as it helps both Tallowisp and Bushi Tenderfoot, and Terashi’s Verdict is extremely situational so unless you’re splicing Candle’s Glow the spells offer slim pickings.


Moths might be great in limited but they won’t cut it now and Pious Kitsune is cute but not that funny a joke. Waxmane Baku could actually be interesting if you can get in enough spirits, as you could tie down your opponent for one or two crucial turns later in the game, and Faithful Squire is by far your best creature at three. Opal-Eye is a defender and without the ability to take on damage from multiple sources its ability doesn’t have much potential. The true value would be a 2/5 blocker on the cheap. Kitsune Riftwalker is another hate card. Therefore, White creature decks have to make a choice: Enable the spirit/arcane engine, in which case you get Faithful Squire and Waxmane Baku, or play without a good White three-drop. You’ll have to either play more two-drops or some combination of Cage of Hands, Ghostly Prison and Terashi’s Grasp. Cage of Hands is most interesting for a Tallowisp strategy, but it might be your only option even in its absence while potentially giving you a sideboard option. Ghostly Prison is around as well, but it will need to have a home to be any good. Propaganda was a fine card but many people put it in decks where it didn’t belong.


If you’re playing it straight, all you’re offered here is Nagao, Bound by Honor. Kitsune Mystic is food for Tallowisp. Honden of Cleansing Fire isn’t bad if you’re combining with other Hondens, but that’s a separate concept that needs to be put off until later and is impossible to protect. That opens up a problem, because you’re falling short on both three and four drops. It also suggests a solution: Horoki, Dust Drinker, which will reward you for not having anything else expensive to do. Odd how that works, but what is your reward for giving up on other expensive cards? Day of Destiny costs four mana, and the cards do point in that direction, but it doesn’t exactly seem top notch.

The Spiritual Cheese


Hikari, Twilight Guardian stands alone, which wouldn’t be that big a problem if he wasn’t legendary and was a little bit better. If you’re playing a spirit deck, this should be untapped for defense a large percentage of the time and if you have arcane instants then the Guardian becomes very hard to kill if you want it to be. There are a number of things he combines with. But can you make a living when all your expensive cards are legendary and you lack good ways to clear much of a path?

Six and above

Final Judgment is your Wrath. Excuse me while I wince. Myojin of Cleansing Fire is the other. Ouch. Patron of the Kitsune looks great and you can get a small number of Foxes into your deck without too high a price. Yosei, the Morning Star seems like another good candidate for the high end of your curve if you want to go the flying route. Oyobi gets out of hand quickly and the Myojin is what it is but both seem too expensive for anything but specialized situations. They only matter once the deck becomes important and gets into very specific kinds of trouble.

The Shoal

It doesn’t fit on any mana curve, and it can only go into heavily White decks. You’d need to be heavily invested already, but if you were then this would be a natural fit for most white strategies assuming damage redirection was worthwhile. I doubt it won’t be, and you have at least one creature worth giving a bit of protection to. It also gives you a way to play more copies of your Legends, since you can pitch a duplicate.

Conclusions: White

White looks like it has a number of branches where it can go, but its options are limited. If you give up the spirit theme and go for Nagao, you can’t fill the deck out properly with samurai: Anything above Nagao is useless and below him all you get is Samurai of the Pale Curtain and some cards that otherwise don’t do much. There isn’t much rewarding you for going in this direction, as Nagao is not all that special. That means that white has to use the spirit theme or the arcane theme to accomplish anything. White then has the following choices:

  • Load up on Legends, probably with another color’s help, use Day of Destiny and try to make it all combine into something keeping in mind that you have legends as cheap as one and two mana. This approach seems poor.

  • Use Ghostly Prison with Hokori and launch a flying attack that they hopefully cannot race, and use Yosei for extra added lockdown. There is potential, but a lot of your hopes are riding on a 2/2 that is all but impossible to protect.

  • Keep the Horoki/Prison combination, but try to play control with the help of another color and just use white to buy time.

  • Launch a spirit assault centered on attacking. Your three drops go from dead to worthy, but you need to make careful selections elsewhere and others seem like they can get at least as much out of this strategy as you can.

  • Launch a spirit assault that abuses Tallowisp, probably for four Cage of Hands and a small number of additional targets.

  • Launch an arcane assault based around Tallowisp, or a deck splashing for Tallowisp but otherwise not using White.

  • Use White as a splash for one or two arcane cards, likely Candle’s Glow, or for Final Judgment. There are one or two other potential splash cards if everything breaks right but it doesn’t look promising.

  • Play a defensive White game including the Honden and other ways to win the game via exhaustion.

White’s pluses and minuses are…

  • Good men, but almost all of them are legendary and they don’t all work together.

  • No good removal, although you do technically have a Wrath.

  • A minimum security prison.

  • A few utility cards that could come in handy for another color but only one true wild card: Tallowisp. Still, it’s a good one.

You have a minimum security prison, potential spirit/arcane and perhaps a legend deck. In a pinch there are potential splash cards. That’s about it. Going at it alone won’t be easy.



Teardrop Kami is your only one-mana creature, and that’s sad. This card is far better than it looks but that isn’t saying a lot. The real Blue one-drop is Reach through Mists, and it does one hundred percent nothing beyond giving you an Arcane spell. That makes it good, it just doesn’t make it a one-drop. Genju of the Falls is great too, but it also isn’t a real one-drop. Ninja of the Deep Hours is weeping on the sidelines unless you get it a second color.


If you’re looking for real creatures, look elsewhere. You won’t find any unless you count Kami of the Vanishing Touch. Cards like that have a bad track record. There are two creatures that are plausible but neither counts: Jushi Apprentice is a card drawing engine and Soratami Cloudskater flies but is horribly inefficient compared to Jushi Apprentice. Jushi Apprentice wins that battle easily, because the deck that Soratami Cloudskater would go into isn’t going to exist with this as your only Two-Drops and your one-drop as Teardrop Kami unless things pick up in a huge way down the line. A few years ago Jushi Apprentice would have looked a lot better than it looks now, but it’s still a remarkably cheap way to draw cards and especially good as a potential way to win control battles if they exist.

The spell situation is somewhat better, as you have a lot of options. There are two bounce spells, neither of which is great but both of which can be played. Peer Through Depths and Psychic Puppetry both have promise in an Arcane deck. Hisoka’s Defiance looks like a good sideboard card, but almost certainly can’t be more than that. Dampen Thoughts is a wild card, potentially the foundation of decking strategies, Horobi’s Whisper decks and those who combine the two.


Life begins at three mana, which alas tends to be one turn too late. Blue isn’t going to be going at it alone. Callow Jushi is by far your best man, and second place might be River Kaijin. It also might be Kira. Either way, ouch. The spell situation is somewhat better, as you have Hinder, Eerie Procession, Counsel of the Soratami (there have been better versions in the past but you can’t be a snob), Sift Through Sands and Threads of Disloyalty. There’s food for Arcane there, and there are a few potential control cards there.


Have no illusions about Chisei. Cut the Tethers could be a strong way to buy time against a spirit deck but as usual cards like that can help a deck but not make a deck. Minamo’s Meddling is important anyway, because it is one of the very few ways to make an Arcane strategy drop dead other than pure speed. Quash can help in that capacity as well. Mystic Restraints is four mana for a job that should be two or at most three but like the Counsel you simply can’t be a snob in block. If it works, it works, and it might get you other things that are important especially if you’re using Tallowisp. Soratami Savant is also a potential sleeper because it threatens to shut your opponent down if you untap and you don’t pay that much for the right to do that. The last card worthy of mention is Gifts Ungiven, which is not going to be easy to use in block without good variants on the cards you want.


This is the point where you look at Teller of Tales and not only does it look good, you start wondering if you can break it. Visions of infinite combinations start to dance in your head. If they don’t, you’re not thinking like a block player yet, because your options are limited. Make the most of them. Yes, I know about Meloku, hold on. You’ve also got Honden of Seeing Winds, Azami, Petals of Insight and Heed the Mists (I’d rather just reach through them, they’re kinda shifty) for card drawing but none of them are efficient and I don’t know what you’d be looking to do with them. Besides, the pick for Blue five-drop is obvious. Meloku of the Clouded Mirror is one of the handful of cards in block that is actually good!


The most attractive cards are the ones that reinforce your Arcane theme. Sire of the Storm and Uyo, Silent Prophet both offer to turn things ugly and do it fast. The danger is that they look a lot like “win more” cards. For a normal creature you must turn to Keiga, the Tide Star, but that’s a good place to turn. The combination of Keiga and Meloku makes Blue want to accelerate quickly to the high end without bothering with Spirits or even an Arcane theme, which suggests Green/Blue to properly use the format’s only respectable mana acceleration. Could it work?

Disrupting Shoal and The Unspeakable

These are the two free cards for Blue. The Unspeakable I’ve already put into a prototype of the Arcane deck that is certain to make the transition into block – hell, aside from Wayfarer’s Bauble it was a block deck already. Disrupting Shoal is a card that requires a wait and see attitude. This block forces people to get their mana curves into the three and four mana range, which means that Disrupting Shoal could be ideal for tasks like letting you tap out for Callow Jushi if you can find a way to deal with Glacial Ray. With only a limited number of strategies, I’d be surprised if a major Blue deck emerged and didn’t have a good use for the Shoal. However, at this stage putting Shoal into a deck would be premature.

Conclusions: Blue

Blue is limited in scope the same way that White is. If you want to play with real creatures, Blue is not for you. Here is a comprehensive list of interesting things to do with Blue:

  • Meluko of the Clouded Mirror. He’s that good and the splash is easy. Maybe Keiga too.

  • An Arcane deck full of cheap Arcane cards and splice ammunition, with at least one other color’s help. This could go up to and include The Unspeakable depending on how things break.

  • Use Blue for the one or two good counterspells in the format, Hinder and perhaps Disrupting Shoal, for Threads of Disloyalty and for card drawing, but there are going to be color issues here since that was very intensive without giving you the core of a deck.

  • Callow Jushi could be a good part of any Spirit/Arcane plan if you can find him backup without messing up your mana too much.

  • Some other potential Arcane/Spirit supports like Teller of Tales, Sire of the Storm and Uyo, Silent Prophet to let another color’s more substantial cards finish your opponent off.

It’s not a good time to want to be Blue. The problem is:

  • Good card drawing, but nothing special and nothing special to draw into.

  • No removal.

  • No good men. The cheese, also known as Meluko, more or less stands alone until you activate him.

  • No good non-Arcane wild cards.

What you do have is:

  • The Arcane engine.

Let’s hope that is enough.



Unless you intend to Psychic Spear or invest in the relatively poor Genju of the Fens, your turn one is empty. A one-point life swing does not justify a 1/1.


Blue’s life starts at three mana, and Black’s starts at two. Distress is a great opening spell, and there is an overabundance of Two-Drops with two power and a useful ability. Nezumi Graverobber has to be the obvious first choice, but Wicked Akuba is also very strong and if you want more then you can play Nezumi Cutthroat or Cruel Deceiver at minimal loss of effective card quality. Hero’s Demise is probably a worthy sideboard card as well if things break the way they look to, with multiple colors having no good non-Legendary creatures costing more than three mana.


Say hello to Horobi’s Whisper. The Whisper owns all and should be added to the list of key cards in the format. It just might be the best argument for playing Black creatures. You have other kill spells but other than Sickening Shoal they can’t hold a candle to the Whisper. The creatures alas are not the same and Toshiro Umezawa threatens to cut into your Horobi’s Whisper action. He could end up adding a ton, especially if you face off against a true creature deck, but he could also end up doing very little you aren’t already doing. Whisper might also be so good that you only need to worry about when it isn’t working, making him great. Hired Muscle would likely be next in line, so overall there isn’t much worth doing here on turn 3 leading to thoughts of Waking Nightmares.

Note should also be made of Mark of the Oni. If you can make that card stick, it’s one of the best out there. It just won’t be easy. Villainous Ogre can even get in the mix too if you can make the demons work right to go with Ogre Marauder, which can’t be that bad if you can’t block it at a profit.


Cranial Extraction is going to be easier to hit with than in other formats and it will be far harder to dodge. Black’s shaping up to have a strong mix of discard spells, although Honden of Night’s Reach seems too expensive. Blood Speaker would need a good target, and right now I don’t think the targets qualify. Yukora the Prisoner isn’t bad, and if you don’t get hurt by the drawback he’s obviously the four-drop of choice, but the approach seems so slow. Horobi, Death’s Whisper will sometimes let you rule the whole game but at other times it just dies. Maindecking it will require knowing what else is out there, but it could happen. I don’t pass up that kind of power until I’m forced to do so. Most of the time, it seems like four mana is a time of removal for Black with not just Cranial Extraction (card removal) but Night of Soul’s Betrayal, Hideous Laughter, Eradicate and Befoul. The pattern could be early discard then removal to wrap things up. Devouring Greed is also around to remind us of the possibility of a spirit strategy.



Seizan, Perverter of Truth has the numbers and changes the nature of the game. The question is, can opponents draw two cards and then remove him? If not, he’s got a lot of potential. Gutwrencher Oni (I’m playing L5R, I can feel it) might also be able to top-end the curve if you flat out don’t intend to keep a hand around. Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker promises some wacky recursion tactics or at least infinite blocking. An obvious first attempt would be Hana Kami and Ethereal Haze for the lockdown on combat damage. If that sounds fragile and unwieldy, it’s because it is both, but I’m sure you can do better. Despite that, never ever count out the infinite fog technique until you’ve established the format. The last card for consideration is Throat Slitter. It is a great trick, but it’s slow and if they know it’s coming it doesn’t work all that well.


Iname, Death Aspect will let you generate a giant graveyard, which would be far more deadly if Arcane cards could be involved. You can combine it with Goryo’s Vengeance and make things seriously nasty, but that sounds rather slow. Soulless Revival has the same problems except that they’re worse. Ink-Eyes, Servent of Oni seems to me like your real six-drop. Note that I said six-drop, because the Ninjitsu is great but this guy is a sufficiently large pain in the ass to hardcast him with no complaints. He regenerates, hits hard and punishes you for taking the damage. Of course, you could also take the easy way out and play Kokusho but you’re better than that, right? I guess not. Oh well.

X Spells

Black’s higher casting cost cards are not worthy of consideration, but Sickening Shoal is clearly top quality. If you’ve got anything to pitch and want removal, it’s your man. Swallowing Plague is less than top quality, since it can’t hit players. I doubt you’ll need to beg quite that much.

There’s also Sway of the Stars, but that’s a Green card. It only looks Blue.

Conclusions: Black

We have some things to do:

  • Discard, get your discard! And throw in Cranial Extraction. Your tools are excellent. Back it up with another color, or with big Black men and removal.

  • Remove your opponents’ creatures with Horobi’s Whisper for fun and profit and perhaps back it up with even more Black removal. Season to taste.

  • Play a creature deck with a combination of solid Two-Drops and oversized expensive creatures. The middle of the curve will be deep trouble no matter what you do.

  • You can go the Demon-Ogre route as well, which saves that middle.

  • Iname, Death Aspect with Goryo’s Revenge and other such degeneracy. You’ll probably get Green’s help to accelerate if nothing else.

  • Horobi, Death’s Whisper if no one else can target your men. If they need to target their own, even better. Go to town.

  • Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker with various ugly recursion techniques. The obvious issues are finding him and making him stay on the table, neither of which seems to have an easy answer.

It comes down to four things:

  • Good discard.

  • Good removal.

  • Good men. A few of them anyway.

  • Good wild cards in Iname, Horobi, Shirei and Umezawa.

Those are good places to be. Black looks strong.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I will be throwing a lot of lists at you in part two (I’m assuming that anything in double digits counts as a lot), but I know that certain things must be tackled first this time around.

Now, before I go, a very brief roundup of this week’s side issue: Falling Stars.

Falling Stars

Osyp had to bring me into the discussion. I’m not so much falling as choosing not to get up. If I wanted to be a star, I could continue to be a star. But that pales to the suggestion that I’m still in Denver. I left that place behind months ago for the relatively civilized city of Boston and soon I’ll be returning to good old New York City. You have no idea how relieved I’ll be when I finally get back. As for having been the world’s greatest deckbuilder, my thanks go out to Randy for the title. If I haven’t officially passed it on to Fujita, I do so now. I like to think that I earned it.

Falling Stars, Take Two

It’s amazing – you want to root for a guy so much but he keeps reminding you how much of an asshole he is until like everyone else you hate his guts. No, I’m not talking about one of you guys. Barry Bonds, good riddance. I never liked high scoring games anyway. The odds say he’ll be back soon, and I hope the odds are wrong.

Falling Stars, Take Three

In this case, the falling stars aren’t just me but the entire nation. The USA is a falling star: Falling respect, falling dollar, falling balance of trade, falling out of democracy but most relevantly falling out of competitive Magic. I hear contradictory things about casual Magic in this nation, but there can be no disputing that we suck at the highest levels.

How does this apply to block? I would say that it means we have to understand our position and work to alleviate it as much as possible. When you’re good, you want to keep everything secret. That favors you. When you’re on the wrong side of mighty blue justice’s eternal battle between good and not so good, you want openness. The farther things advance, the less it helps to be on the right team and have the right technology. When Linux is the best operating system, Firefox and Opera the best browsers and OpenOffice is your productivity software of choice, the fact that you’re the poor man in the industry hurts a lot less. To that end, as I’ve done before, I’m letting it be known that it is likely I will be looking to test block in the future. No guarantees, of course. So if you’re interested, e-mail me your interest. The account I’d like you to use is the yahoo account zvimowshowitz, but e-mail contact only please.

If I don’t know who you are, include your Magic Online or DCI Constructed rating, whichever is higher, along with what type of availability you anticipate. Also welcome are ideas and decklists. Again, I make no guarantees, but it can only help to know what resources are out there and I don’t want to assume that those who were in on the project a year ago at another site are still with me. At this stage, I cannot accept any secrecy conditions on what you tell me beyond keeping your name out of it (by default I give credit), so keep that in mind before you hit send.

Falling Stars, Take Final Four

I had a great Saturday, but to all West Virginia and Arizona fans out there… I’m so sorry.

Until next time,

Zvi Mowshowitz