From Right Field: Staples of Kamigawa

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In a previous article, Chris examined the Staple Rares that every budget player should aim to own. However, he neglected to cover the majority of Kamigawa rares, due to their diminishing Standard shelf-life. After many cries for help, he returns today to set the record straight…

{From Right Field is a column for Magic players on a budget, or players who don’t want to play netdecks. The decks are designed to let the budget-conscious player be competitive in local, Saturday tournaments. They are not decks that will qualify a player for The Pro Tour. As such, the decks written about in this column are, almost by necessity, rogue decks. They contain, at most, eight to twelve rares. When they do contain rares, those cards will either be cheap rares or staples of which new players should be trying to collect a set of four, such as Wildfire, Llanowar Wastes, or Birds of Paradise. The decks are also tested by the author, who isn’t very good at playing Magic. He will never claim that a deck has an 85% winning percentage against the entire field. He will also let you know when the decks are just plain lousy. Readers should never consider these decks "set in stone" or "done." If you think you can change some cards to make them better, well, you probably can, and the author encourages you to do so.}

This week (in real time), I’ll actually be gathering ideas for the sideboard of the deconstructed Orzhov preconstructed deck, testing them, and writing the final installment of that piece. That meant that I needed to find a one-shot column. Fortunately, I had an idea ready to go, thanks to many not-so-satisfied readers.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about staple rares that I thought every budget deckbuilder should be trying to get, based, of course, on what colors and deck types they like to play. I was roundly chastised by many folks for not listing any Kamigawa Block rares. I felt that I had justified quite well my decision to not include Kamigawa Block rares. In short:

* The vast majority of great Kamigawa Block rares are Legends or Arcane. As such, they are extremely unlikely to ever be reprinted. That means that their useful life in Standard – the format of focus for this column – ends in a few months. If you don’t already have four of a certain Kamigawa Block rare now, you should probably move on to collecting the Ravnica, Guildpact, and Ninth Edition rares you want, unless you’re simply enamored of a certain Kamigawa card. In that case, by all means, get your play set. Of course, if you like the card that much, you probably already have four copies.

* Many of the best Kamigawa Block rares are only good in decks chock-full o’ Spirit and/or Arcane spells – or, as I like to call them, SpArc decks. There aren’t a whole lot of great Spirits outside of Kamigawa Block (at least not compared to the percentage inside the block), and there are exactly zero Arcane spells outside of Kamigawa Block. That makes many of the Kamigawa rares less-than-wonderful, except in decks packed with other Kamigawa cards.

Many folks called “copout!” They wanted to know what I thought were Kamigawa Block staple rares. Given the volume of e-mail I’ve gotten on that issue – and it still keeps coming in a month and a half after the thing hit the site – I’ve decided to give a list of what I would consider Kamigawa Block staple rares. There need to be a couple of caveats here, though. First, I’m looking at these as if Kamigawa had a longer shelf life in Standard than it currently does – say a year and a half. If not, I still wouldn’t be able to justify including most of the Legendary and Arcane spells. Second, I’m going to presume that you understand that a card that requires SpArc spells to be in full effect is going to require the deck to be almost exclusively a Kamigawa deck. As long as you’re okay with those ground rules, so am I.

Kamigawa Block Staple Rares – White

Celestial Kirin – A 3/3 flier for four mana is a good deal right off the top. The ability to cast a Kami of Ancient Law and, in doing so, blow up all of the Umezawa’s Jittes, Ebony Owl Netsukes, and Dark Confidants on the board is just awesome.

Eight-and-a-Half Tails – As I believe I’ve said before, I think that 8.5T may be the quintessential White creature. It’s an efficient weenie, being a 2/2 for two mana. It can protect itself from pretty much anything except untargeted, non-damage-based removal (e.g. Wrath of God, Flowstone Slide). What sends it over the top, though, is the fact that it can protect other creatures and other permanents you control as long as you have enough White mana. That second part is huge, yet people tend to forget about it. Eight-and-a-Half Tails can protect your Glorious Anthem from Naturalize. It can protect your Manriki-Gusari from Smash. It can protect your Plains from Caustic Rain. In other words, unlike a lot of protective creatures, this guy is as strong at the end of the game as the beginning. As good as Mother of Runes was, this guy’s exponentially better.

Final Judgment – The yardstick for mass removal has always been Wrath of God. For four mana, everything goes to the graveyard. Short of a spell or ability like Boomerang that bounces a creature back to your hand, or one such as Ghostway that instantly removes it from the game only to return later, all creatures on the board are dead. However, that means that they hit the graveyard. In today’s Standard environment, you don’t always want your opponent’s stuff in the ‘yard. Often, you want it completely gone from the game. For two more mana than Wrath, Final Judgment lets you do that. It also allows Final Judgment to be Wraths numbers five through eight in White-based control decks. In fact, that gives me an idea…

Hokori, Dust Drinker – If you’ve ever been tapped out when an opponent dropped this guy, you know how devastating it can be. In fact, he’s so bad that none other than Mike Flores (it was Mike, wasn’t it?) put Dimir Aqueducts into his U/B deck for States so that he could have two mana available when he untapped his single land. While this guy/thing screams “control,” he’s also effective in a beatdown deck that can out-creature its opponents, something White should be good at doing.

Isamaru, Hound of Konda – It’s like Savannah Lions, but a bit tougher. It doesn’t seem like much, but not a lot of creatures can stop this guy coming through The Red Zone on turn 2. Frostling can block him and get sacrificed for the second damage. A Savannah Lions could do it. And, of course, there’s the Kird Ape cast with a Stomping Grounds. (Am I missing another creature?) If you like fast White Weenie decks, run four Savannah Lions and three of these . . . if you have the money.

Shining Shoal – Of all of the Shoals, only this one can end the game. (Please, don’t mention lifegain tricks in Extended using the Green Shoal. Thanks a ton.) It protects you or your guys, can kill an opposing creature, or can be thrown at your opponent’s head, all while you’re tapped out. Yeah, get four.

Yosei, the Morning Star – Using Yosei, there is at least one way in Standard (and maybe more) to make sure that your opponent never untaps again. That’s good, isn’t it? Even if you simply cast the thing and it dies, your opponent essentially loses a turn. Oh, yeah, right, it’s also a 5/5 flier.

Honorable Mentions:

Masako the Humorless – This li’l lady is one great combat trick. What I’ve found is that my opponents let a lot of swinging weenies (heh) through in combat, fearing, I dunno, Warrior’s Honor or something. That typically leaves me with a lot of tapped weenies with Bushido and/or first strike. When I drop Masako, it’s usually a complete shock to them. Who plays Masako? You should. The other half of the equation is that they often forget she’s on board the second time around. So, you’ve attacked with a bunch of weenies that are now tapped, and they still swing into your guys. Yes. Seriously. Try it sometime.

Promise of Bunrei – I’d say that this is the White Kamigawa Block rare most likely to be reprinted in Tenth Edition. Its mechanic isn’t a tough one for new players to grasp. It’s not Legendary. It’s a nice, White trick. It plays well with Leyline of the Meek, too. You’re probably playing creatures. They’ll die, and the Promise will reward you.

Kamigawa Block Staple Rares – Blue

Gifts Ungiven – Even if you only play casually (or, maybe, especially if you play casually), you should have four of these. Whether you’re casting it for the toolbox effect or to fill up your graveyard, it’s fun and effective.

Keiga, the Tide Star – Please, don’t make me explain why this is on here.

Kira, Great Glass-Spinner – Kira, like Eight-and-a-Half Tails, looks defensive because of the protective nature of its ability. The truth is, though, that it can be quite aggressive. By countering the first thing that your opponent does to each of your creatures each turn, Kira makes them either waste a second spell or beat your guys in The Red Zone. You should be set to combat the spells through countermagic, bounce, and protective spells while using other tools to win the combat battles.

Meloku the Clouded Mirror – See Keiga, the Tide Star, above.

Time Stop – This has been compared to Time Walk. I disagree. It’s more powerful than that. Not only does your opponent waste a turn, you “counter” whatever’s on the stack when the turn ends. Given the fact that this costs six mana, it should be late enough in the game that what’s on the stack when it resolves can be pretty big. Also, notice that it’s not Arcane (i.e. it could be in Tenth Edition).

Twincast – Who doesn’t want to double their fun? Like Time Stop, this isn’t Arcane and could be in Tenth Edition.

Honorable Mentions:

Kami of the Crescent Moon – For both casual and, now, thanks to the Owling Mine deck, tournament play, this Howling Mine with legs (fat and pudgy as they are) is too fun.

Part the Veil – Think about the tricks this can do. You can save your troops from mass removal. You can stack combat damage and protect your army. Bottom line, though, this saves your guys.

Kamigawa Block Staple Rares – Black

Cranial Extraction – I know. I know. I’ve railed against this card since it was printed. I hate it. I hate playing against it. I feel dirty when I cast it. The fact remains, though, that this is a very powerful proactive piece of defense. Call a card that your opponent has that hurts you, especially ones that your deck can’t deal with, and they’re just gone. That is some mighty powerful mojo. That’s also why the thing continues to be expensive.

Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni – Unlike the other Legendary Ninja (Higure), this “lovely” lady, doesn’t need to be in a Rat or Ninja or Rat-Ninja deck to be awesome. She just needs to hit your opponent, easy to do if you have an unblocked attacking creature. If you did your job, your opponent should have something in their ‘yard for the taking.

Kagemaro, First to Suffer – It can wipe out the whole board, even things with Protection from Black. So what? Well, actually, that’s what. Obviously, it’s best used in a control deck, but you can also use it in beatdown. Three cards in hand wipes out a lot of opposing weenies, including ones with Protection from Black.

Kokusho, the Evening Star – As stupid as Stupid Keiga Tricks and Stupid Yosei Tricks are, Stupid Kokusho Tricks are even stupider. Why? While two of the others in play at the same time let you do tricks that can enable you to win the game, only Kokusho tricks can actually win the game on their own. Just get an opponent to ten, usually through two swings of the first Evening Star, and then drop the second. He loses ten life. The end.

Night of Souls’ Betrayal – The Standard world is rife with X/1’s right now. Heck, even the X/2 and X/3 weenies suffer tremendously from this being in play. It’s not just for Mono-Black Control. (Neat Trick Note: While casting a second NSB will kill both of the NSBs, it also means that creatures will have -2/-2, thus killing anything that started with two toughness. This is not a recommended way to kill X/2 creatures, since you lose both of your NSBs, but it does work.)

Sickening Shoal – Do you like to kill things when you’re all tapped out and your opponent thinks they’re safe? Me too.

Honorable Mentions:

Kiku, Night’s Flower – I have always loved reusable removal. Rod of Ruin. Keldon Necropolis. And this deadly little beauty. If you think about the creatures that populate Standard right now, there’s not much she can’t kill all by herself. Only things with back ends bigger than the front (e.g. Burning-Tree Shaman, Kird Ape (sometimes)) and stuff she can’t target (e.g. Kodama of the North Tree, Paladin en-Vec) are immune. The only reason I don’t have her in the staples section is that she’s so fragile. Most beautiful flowers are…

Maga, Traitor to Mortals – Yet another one that was this close to making the staples list. The only thing that kept it off was the combo-ish nature of its typical use. Most people will never be content to cast this for eight mana, pumping “only” five into the X. They want to end the game with it. Of course, five often ends the game. Just ask Kokusho.

Seizan, Perverter of Truth – As a 6/5 for five mana, this guy is efficient. The reason that he’s not quite up to staple snuff is that he’s symmetrical, and your opponent gets to use him first. In that way, he’s a lot like Howling Mine, but easier to kill. Late in the game, his life loss alone can kill an opponent. However, I’ve also played many games in which I never get to draw cards from him. My opponent would draw a kill spell with those two extra cards, and the Perverter goes bye-bye. “Thanks for the extra cards!” they’d smugly say. I hate it when that happens.

Kamigawa Block Staple Rares – Red

Jiwari, the Earth Aflame – Okay, so Jiwari’s no Arashi. You think you won’t have some ground pounders to wipe out? Look at Zoo and Gruul Beats. Yes, you will face the infantry.

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker – Copying stuff is cool. Unless it’s illegally copied music or movies. Then it’s uncool. When it’s good creatures (non-Legendary, of course), though, it’s Cool to Copy ™.

Kumano, Master Yamabushi – You know what’s cooler than copying stuff? Killing it, and having it removed from the game.

Zo-Zu the Punisher – Your opponent’s gonna play lands. You might as well “punish” them for doing so.

Honorable Mentions: Yeah, Red got kinda hosed in Kamigawa as far as staple rares went. Don’t be too sad for it, though. I hear Red’s still really strong.

Godo, Bandit Warlord – It seems like Equipment is here to stay. Even though only a couple of pieces showed up in Ninth Edition, they’re Some Good. Let this guy grab you a Loxodon Warhammer, and swing for extra damage and life every turn, why doncha. I’m not even gonna mention how he works with the Dragon Fang. Except that I just did. Durn it.

Ryusei, the Falling Star – There are not a lot of non-fliers that can survive this guy dying. Add in the fact that two Ryuseis in play at the same time translates into each non-flier is taking ten, and the only things that survive are Pro-Red creatures and creatures so big that you were going to lose the game anyway.

Thoughts of Ruin – The only reason that this isn’t on the staples list is because it pretty much has to be in a deck designed to abuse it. Of course, I know that each card should be “optimally chosen” to “maximize” the blah blah blah quotient. Whatever. The fact remains that Kodama of the North Tree, for example, is a great card in nearly any deck that can support its mana cost. Untargetable 6/4 Tramplers for five mana usually are. Thoughts of Ruin, though, won’t simply slip into any deck that can get 2RR. The deck also needs to be able to keep cards in hand. Still, it’s potentially devastating.

Kamigawa Block Staple Rares – Green

I know that it looks like Green got hosed even more than Red, but I think that, between Arashi and Kodama of the North Tree, you’ll agree that Green got two of the most used cards in Standard over the past year and a half. Before the hubbub starts, I know that I left Heartbeat of Spring off of this list. Other than in decks that purposely abuse its mana-creating potential, it’s useless and often helps the opponent more than it helps its controller. In fact, I can’t remember the last time that I lost to a non-Maga deck running Heartbeat. As for some of the other good Green rares, they require you to be running a Snake deck. If you like playing that sort of Tribal deck, by all means, get those cards. Me, I like a bit more versatility in my staples.

Arashi, the Sky Asunder – This card is so good that it should be an auto-include in mono-Green decks. It’s a 5/5 for five mana, so it’s efficient right off the bat. The ability to kill fliers in a manner that’s essentially uncounterable makes it one of the best cards in a format that features Meloku and the Dragon Legends.

Dosan the Falling Leaf – In my opinion, not enough Green-based decks are running this guy. It’s not just a sideboard card. It turns Putrefy, Lightning Helix, and Mortify into Sorceries. It also completely nullifies counterspells.

Jugan, the Rising Star – I am enamored of this guy. It gives Green a huge flier, one that doesn’t really “die” when it dies because it leaves five +1/+1 counters. Short of mass removal like Wrath of God, those counters should make one or more of your other critters into deadly beasties. It’s like Jugan never left us at all!

Kodama of the North Tree – a.k.a. The Ubiquitous Kodama. If you like playing Green, this guy has got to be your first Kamigawa four-of. He’s cheap to cast. He gives you beef with Trample. He can’t be touched by targeted removal. Most decks have no real answer for this guy, other than putting multiple bodies in the way. That’s fine by me.

Honorable Mentions:

Enshrined Memories – Green plus “X” equals “Danger, Will Robinson!” Imagine being able to refill your hand, given enough mana. Since it’s Green, you should be given enough mana.

Patron of the Orochi – So, he’s not Seedborn Muse. If he were, he’d be called Seedborn Muse, no? He does offer two things that the Muse doesn’t. First, he can come down instantly thanks to the Snake Offering. (I will soon be directing a pr0n flick called Snake Offering. I also wrote it.) Second, he can do tricks on your own turn. In other words, you don’t have to wait until your opponent’s untap step to get a use out of this ability. Oh, and he’s a freakin’ huge 7/7. So, that’s really three things.

Seshiro the Anointed – Okay, there is a Snake on the list. Seshiro made it because he combos with himself. He doesn’t need another Snake to be any good. If he hits an opponent, you draw a card. If you have other Snakes in addition to Seshiro, well, then, bully for you!

Kamigawa Block Staple Rares – Artifacts and Lands

Orochi Hatchery – I’m sure that most folks will say the Hatchery feels like an Honorable Mention, but I disagree. As far as I’m concerned, though, this is one that you should have four of in your collection. It’s the kind of card that can help decks that stall out in the late game. It’s also the kind of card that you could build entire decks around, be they control decks or Snake decks.

Pithing Needle – As with many of the other expensive rares, I apologize, but the inclusion of the Needle can’t be helped. It shuts down a card that might devastate your deck. Or you could simply name the best card that your opponent has in an effort to cripple his ability to win. The only reason that this might be a borderline inclusion is that it’s almost exclusively a sideboard card. Given the high percentage of cards that have activated abilities, though, I could see this being a maindeck card in control decks.

Umezawa’s Jitte – I think it was Zvi who said something like “If you’re playing G/W Beatdown, you had better have a pretty darn good reason for not including Watchwolf.” The same could be said for playing any beatdown deck and the Jitte. Yes, it’s still expensive to buy (unless you can find a store that still has the Rat’s Nest preconstructed deck at regular price). There’s an excellent reason, though, for its continued high price: it’s just that good. Often, the really good reason for not including it in a deck is that you don’t own it. Oh, well. You wouldn’t be the only one.

Boseiju, Who Shelters All – This is still one of the best ways to combat decks that want to counter your Instants and Sorceries. Maybe it’s even the best way. The drawback, other than the life loss, is that you have to be running Instants and Sorceries that are essential to your deck. It won’t work in most beatdown decks. Also, it doesn’t do much against control decks like Eminent Domain, Owling Mine, or Mono-White UrzaTron that control without doing much countering. Against Hinder, Remand, Rewind, and Mana Leak, though, it’s worth its weight in gold.

Tendo Ice Bridge – Color fixing with no pain, no coming into play tapped, and no bouncing of other lands? Yeah, that’s nice.

Honorable Mentions:

Eiganjo Castle; Minamo, School at Water’s Edge; Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers; Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep; Shizo, Death’s Storehouse – The only reason that these are on the Honorable Mentions list and not the must-have list is that they’re only better than their basic land counterparts when you have Legendary creatures to help. During Kamigawa Block season (and Standard season when Kamigawa was the new kid on the block), I’d use a copy of the appropriately-colored land in every deck. Even if I couldn’t use the ability in my deck, it might act as uncounterable land destruction against my opponent. If you will be playing a lot of Legendary creatures, by all means, get these.

Tomb of Urami – I rode this land to more than one tourney match win, but I can’t recommend it with the same gusto today. There’s too much bounce and creature destruction around to justify it. On the other hand, remember that Mono-Black Control deck that I’m sure is out there…?

There you have it. This is one man’s opinion of the Staple Rares of Kamigawa. I can’t stress enough my feeling that, if you don’t have some of these by now and you don’t see yourself using them in the near future (or Extended), you can simply stay away from them. (I am, of course, not speaking to the folks who will attend Pro Tour Qualifiers with realistic hopes of making the Tour. Those folks either have four of everything they’ll need, or will gladly plunk down whatever is necessary for getting the copies they don’t have.) Whatever you choose to do, remember that, as a budget player, you need to stick to your budget.

Another point I want to address is the inference that, if a card isn’t on this list, it’s not good. I don’t mean to imply that, and you shouldn’t infer it. Some cards are just very narrow. For example, Disrupting Shoal is a fantastic, free counterspell. However, to use it most effectively, you need to be packing spells that are most likely to be the exact converted mana cost of what you fear. Pitching Rewind to a Disrupting Shoal won’t counter Glorious Anthem. Sickening and Shining Shoal don’t have that sort of drawback. You could use a Nullstone gargoyle to kill a Leonin Skyhunter with Sickening Shoal or to redirect four damage with Shining Shoal. Another good example is the Myojin of Cleansing Fire that Evan Erwin has so deftly used in the Mono-White UrzaTron Control deck. I think most people would say that Wrath of God with legs is a great card. It’s so expensive to cast, though, that you really have to design a deck around it. You wouldn’t feel comfortable throwing it into just any White deck. On the other hand, I could justify Eight-and-a-Half Tails in pretty much any mono-White deck.

Finally, this is, of course, a subjective list. This is what I think a player should get, a list of cards that I checked off when I saw the spoilers and said, “I need to own four of those.” Almost by definition, you’re not going to agree completely with it. That’s fine, as long as you honestly assess the reason that you disagree with a choice I made or lack thereof. For instance, if you say to yourself “Keiga shouldn’t be on here. It’s not that good. So, I’m not going to get any,” you’re not being honest with yourself. Keiga is that good. If you say, though, “I hate playing Blue. I’m never going tap an Island for mana,” well, yeah, Keiga shouldn’t be on your list.

I hope I’ve put this all to bed now. Next week, we finish up the Orzhov Preconstructed Deconstruction with a sideboard and running it through the Tournament Practice room on MTGO. I may even enter an online Standard Constructed tournament with it. As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Keep up the great work!

Chris Romeo