You CAN Play Type I #146 – Betraying Kamigawa, Part I: Creatures

Oscar returns from the dead to take a look at the best creatures and creature enchantments that Betrayers of Kamigawa has to offer and, for the first time ever, covers some of his own greatest misses in set reviews.

Ooooooh… I’m still alive…

First of all, my apologies for dropping off the face of the earth. As you all know, I’m due to graduate from the University of the Philippines College of Law this March, and I also chair the Philippine Law Journal, whose fourth and last issue I released last January only four months after I was inducted. Further, a Star City glitch led to the temporary disabling of my rakso at starcitygames.com e-mail.

Most importantly, I met the girl of my dreams, and to cut the story short, she had to leave the country a month from the day I met her. Let’s just say you know your world has turned upside-down when you’d rather write bad poetry than bad Magic columns, eh?

Anyway, I got an e-mail from Pete Hoefling needling me about the extended vacation, so here I am again.

Betraying Kamigawa, Creatures

Again, our two rules for sizing up new cards:

1) Is the card more efficient than an established benchmark? (Or, do I get more bang from my buck?)

2) Does the card do something no past card ever did, and if it does, is this new card playable?

And, for the more general discussion, refer to “Shadow Prices” (see “Counting Shadow Prices“).

As the tradition in these reviews goes, we begin with the creatures since they’re usually governed by the simpler Rule 1. The goal here is not just to identify new standouts, but to articulate the premises and frameworks relevant to each new card.

My CoK – er, Champions review didn’t make any waves (see “Championing Kamigawa, Part I“). I correctly pointed to Hearth Kami as a solid support bear in an increasingly artifact-heavy environment, and, well, to Isamaru, Hound of Konda and Nezumi Graverobber as wonderful creatures for obsolete weenie decks.

I also pounced on Ben Bleiweiss with a bit too much enthusiasm, in retrospect, and I chalk it down to having never met Ben unlike an increasing number of American players. Oh, well.

Ninja of the Deep Hours

I was rather excited when I heard Betrayers would introduce Ninja, but I was left underwhelmed when I finally saw them. I don’t know why, since they aren’t slouches compared to other mechanics, but maybe they just didn’t come together like other marquee tribes like Rebels and Slivers. [Maybe that’s because ninjas aren’t a tribe, but are instead a secret society concerned with the development of real, ultimate power! – Knut, who thinks maybe not]

Anyway, Ninja of the Deep Hours is probably one of the first Ninjas you’d look at for Type I, and it draws immediate comparisons to that famous Weatherlight common, Ophidian. Unfortunately, you won’t look for long.

Don’t be fooled by the two-mana Ninjitsu ability. The only time Ninja of the Deep Hours will be cheaper than the three-mana Ophidian is when it’s Gating something like Cloud of Faeries. Not only do you get no discounts on your mana bill on average, replaying the first creature wastes so much tempo that Ninjitsu looks as annoying as Gating and Echo (see “Counting Tempo, Part II“).

The main upside to Ninjitsu is uncounterability, which isn’t a bad upside at all. However, given the tempo issues, it seems more straightforward to bait counters and force Ophidian the traditional way. Moreover, Ninjitsu is only useful with Blue weenies, but Fish’s (see “Head to Head: Fish“) fifteen minutes in the metagame have given way to cards like Trinisphere and Oath of Druids. The closest thing to a preeminent counter-based aggro-control deck right now is Eon Blue Apocalypse or EBA, but it doesn’t have the weenies.

The only plus Ninja of the Deep Hours has over Ophidian is its two damage a turn. The Phid isn’t intended as an offensive weapon, though, and even then the reduced toughness makes it easier to kill, putting it in Fire / Ice range, for example. For the added costs, it doesn’t have evasion like Thieving Magpie and Shadowmage Infiltrator, too.


Looking at the rest of the Ninja, I’ll put Skullsnatcher down as Betrayers’ parallel to Hearth Kami. The Ninjitsu isn’t important, since it’s a bear (two power for two mana) hard cast and worth considering as a support card.

Looking at graveyard disruption bears, Skullsnatcher is more splashable than Withered Wretch and far less mana intensive than Nezumi Graverobber. An early Skullsnatcher has the bonus of frustrating longer-term graveyard use by Yawgmoth’s Will, Skeletal Scrying, Psychatog, and the like. The drawback, though, is timing, and it can’t respond to setups like Bazaar of Baghdad for Animate Dead and Thirst for Knowledge for Goblin Welder.

Again, though, with Black weenie long made obsolete by Mishra’s Workshop-based aggro-control, we’re talking about a very specialized niche.

Okiba-Gang Shinobi

Sadly, the rest of the Ninja are just too expensive and don’t have attractive mana-to-power ratios. Okiba-Gang Shinobi is your token Hypnotic Specter analog, and brings back memories of Dark RitualMindstab Thrull openings, followed by Turn 2 Hymn to Tourach. Throat Slitter reminds me of Necrite, and mind you, Thrulls were a fun if overcosted little tribe in their own right.

Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni, of course, reminds me of an obscure favorite of mine, Bone Dancer. I wonder how you slap together a Ninja deck that doesn’t lean on the support cards and leave the Ninja abilities in the sidelines.

Iwamori of the Open Fist

The latest Erhnam Djinn incarnation emphasizes that the Arabian Nights original is as obsolete as Juzam Djinn. While Iwamori is safer than Hunted Wumpus, it still doesn’t edge out Blastoderm in the four-mana 5/5 category.

Not that four-mana 5/5s are in demand these days, though.

Isao, Enlightened Bushi

Does Isao, Enlightened Bushi replace Troll Ascetic or perhaps Blurred Mongoose? It’s a moot question right now, but probably not. Isao suffers from the Legendary drawback, a lower default power Bushido doesn’t compensate for, and a one-toughness that bites you when you tap out and can’t regenerate. Isao is uncounterable while Ascetic is untargetable, but the former is less relevant in creature-heavy decks, anyway.

Hokori, Dust Drinker

Winter Orb is yet another effect now available as a creature, but Hokori, Dust Drinker won’t be used in the same way, since it costs twice as much mana and you can’t turn it off by tapping it. Take note of the creature form, however. In the future, you’ll now have the extra disruption option in decks that use, say, Survival of the Fittest.

Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

“Whenever this creature becomes the target of a spell or ability for the first time in a turn, counter that spell or ability” isn’t all that strong. First, it’s almost always stronger to have another offensive creature than a support creature, and partly why enchant creature spells are generally weaker than extra creatures. Some decks, take note, won’t even have removal because they’ll just try to race your creatures.

Second, in the rare cases where it’s worth having a permanent exclusively to protect another, Hanna’s Custody and Steely Resolve are more straightforward, splashable alternatives.

Patron of the Akki

The Patron spirits are a different kind of lord that look cute enough to have fun with. Consider that Goblins now have their own Army of Allah and that Patron of the Akki won’t be so hard to cast end-of-turn in theme decks that have Goblin Lackey to smooth the curve.

Shizuko, Caller of Autumn

I tried to think of uses for this new mana boost cycle led by Shizuko, Caller of Autumn, but don’t think it’ll be that interesting. In Type I, you want early, explosive bursts of mana, not slow, steady boosts. Besides, Eladamri’s Vineyard costs just one mana, and I seriously doubt it’s playable right now.

Goblin Cohort

You can now have eight copies of Mogg Conscripts, take note.

Kaijin of the Vanishing Touch

Cough, Wall of Tears is 0/4, cough.

Tomorrow, Azami’s Familiar

Note to beginners. Sylvan Library costs only two mana, and draws you four cards.


I wonder why had to downgrade Mogg Fantastic, but Frostling taken with Hearth Kami gives you the roughest base for a Spirit deck. Not that it seems you’ll find enough cheap Spirits and enough powerful Spirit-based effects to make such a deck worthwhile, though.

Loam Dweller

I honestly tried to look for worthwhile Spirit effects that wouldn’t be frustrating for theme play. Loam Dweller looks too clunky for setting up mana, and you already had Azusa, Lost but Seeking in addition to classics like Exploration. Kyoki, Sanity’s Eclipse is cute, but you realize Bottomless Pit does the lock. Oyobi, Who Split the Heavens is fun, but can’t beat more straightforward infinite creature engines based on Goblins and Food Chain, or Elves.

Heartless Hidetsugu

We know this guy is useless because Red decks should be hitting their opponents’ life totals hard from turn 1, but to satisfy my curiosity, please write if you’ve successfully used this in a multiplayer game.

Betraying Kamigawa, Creature Enchantments

Creature enchantments, in general, are weak because they allow an opponent’s removal spell to eliminate two of your cards. To work, they have to work around this card disadvantage like Curiosity, offer a very strong boost for the mana cost like Empyreal Armor, or do both like Rancor.

I didn’t even discuss anything from Champions of Kamigawa.

Threads of Disloyalty

Since the set is called Betrayers of Kamigawa, I have to discuss the Control Magic analogs, led by Threads of Disloyalty. For one less mana, you’re limited to mainly Goblin Welder, outside a far less common Phyrexian Dreadnought or unmorphed Exalted Angel.

It’s probably not worth it for a Welder on Welder matchup. Lava Dart is much cheaper and has flashback, and Rack and Ruin costs the same mana but has a much broader use.

Mark of the Oni reminds me of fun times with Ritual of the Machine, but it’s clearly unplayable.

Ward of Piety

Note to beginners. If you never had fun with Zhalfirin Crusader in a White Weenie deck, do try this out in a more laid back setting.

Bonus track: You learn more when Oscar is wrong

Okay, so I said in the first column that Kamigawa block just didn’t look all that attractive for Type I. Its marquee mechanics like Bushido and Ninjitsu are set in creature combat, hardly a key area in Type I. The Spirit and Arcane mechanics can only be used with a lot of Spirits and Arcane spells, and hardly any make the Type I cut.

As I emphasize, however, my set review columns are geared for beginning players, and it’s less important to get the right result as it is to get a good thought process going. No player in any format can get everything right from the start, since not even R&D teams who’ve playtested for months can predict how the metagame will shape up.

Compare it to dating. No matter how well you know yourself, you don’t know if you’re going to hit it off with a girl you’re taking out tonight, but has that ever stopped you? Even if it turns out to be a disaster, you learn something new everyday, right?

Now, going to past creature calls, there was nothing controversial about Champions. I mainly said we could use Hearth Kami as a support bear, and this was a fair conclusion.

It rested on two assumptions:

1) The minimum for a Type I attacker is power equal to its mana cost, and a minimum of two power.

2) Artifact removal is increasingly important in Type I.

I guess both are acceptable as fair, and there’s nothing we forgot to consider.

Past calls turned out much less fair because of wrong or omitted assumptions, and these are what you have to think about when you take a look at the next set, especially when mechanics are expanded.

Let’s go back to Fifth Dawn (see “Firing Up Fifth Dawn, Part I“).

Some uses are extremely narrow. For example, I felt Eternal Witness was a lot of hype, but it’s found a niche in Dragon combo (Worldgorger Dragon / Animate Dead). You normally uncover these niches after quite a bit of playtesting, and don’t really take them into account in your initial broad view of a set. This isn’t an excuse, but I’m making a distinction from new cards’ broader uses.

If a Fifth Dawn creature was trumpeted to have a broader use, this came with Auriok Salvagers, and the head cheerleader was Ben Bleiweiss. I, on the other hand, said that a combo based on a creature is inherently more vulnerable, and it’s not more streamlined than existing infinite combos.

Who was right?

Nobody, perhaps.

Short Bus, it turned out, did unveil a Auriok Salvagers combo deck that pulled a few surprise wins. However, it was nothing like what Ben assumed it would be, and Artificer’s Intuition was nowhere to be found.

On the other hand, I underestimated the possible synergy in such a deck. The key set up card turned out to be Trinket Mage, which could fetch a Black Lotus that made up for the Mage’s cost and set up Salvagers. However, my basic assumptions appear to be correct, since the Trinket Mage deck has not been seen competitively since. [Actually it went 4-2 again at the most recent SCG Power 9 when played by one of their members who hadn’t been seriously gaming recently. – Knut, who still loves this deck]

If you review my Mirrodin forecasts, however, it’s clear what my missing assumptions were.

For Sundering Titan (see “Deconstructing Darksteel, Part I“), I felt that you’d rather work with Blood Moon than use multiple Titans to be set up with Thirst for Knowledge and Goblin Welder. I failed to visualize that you could use Titans with mana bases that have little or no basic land types, as now seen in 7/10 split and Stax.

For Arcbound Ravager, I suffer the embarrassment of saying only, “Arcbound Ravager is just for Arcbound decks which won’t take off even with Mishra’s Workshop.” (see “Deconstructing Darksteel, Part I“) Technically, I’m correct, but only technically, and I failed to foresee the interaction between all those cheap artifacts including Skullclamp. Similarly, when I first saw Goblin Piledriver, I never visualized that you could break out of the Sligh mold and make an almost all-creature Goblin deck like the old Song of Blood decks. This is without even considering Food Chain.

For Platinum Angel (see “Maximizing Mirrodin, Part I“), I felt it was a strong ability, but geared more towards not losing than actually winning, hence wouldn’t make the cut although it was clearly useful with Welders. As it turned out, some Welder decks did need that kind of silver bullet, and the more control-oriented Control Slaver decks are an example.

Going further back, perhaps one of the most embarrassing calls as a control die-hard was Xantid Swarm (see “Sifting Through Scourge, Part I“). If you read between the lines, I recognized how strong it was, but assumed a lot of decks couldn’t – not wouldn’t, and there’s a big difference in retrospect! – go out of their way to find a Green mana on Turn 1.

In sum, these set reviews are perhaps equally useful for beginners when they correctly say what won’t work. The assumptions presented allow you to narrow your testing, or to identify the proposed reason why something won’t work and see if you can address the underlying assumption. Or, perhaps two or three sets later, the metagame’s context changes and the validity of all these assumptions goes out the window.

I’ve seen articles that said things like, “Menendian said blah-blah about Chalice of the Void and Tan said blah-blah about Chalice of the Void, but six months later, we see Chalice in…” I certainly don’t mind, but sometimes, I wish the context and exact thinking behind such statements is taken into account. Otherwise, you don’t learn as much.

‘Til next week! I hope!

Oscar Tan (e-mail: Rakso at StarCityGames.com)

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