It’s Time For My First Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Draft!

Ryan Saxe has begun simulating drafts for Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. He gives his first impressions of the new MTG set and two packs to pick from that yield surprising results.

Gravelighter, illustrated by Miranda Meeks

Thanks to the lovely folks over at DraftSim, I was able to simulate some drafts of the new set even though Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty isn’t available to draft online yet. Here are my general expectations and observations about the format from the card pool, and a breakdown of how I make decisions during a particular draft.

Combat will be tense.

I covered this briefly last week, but I want to reiterate this point. I don’t know how “fast” the format will be. Nobody knows that yet. But the cards in the set put a lot of pressure on combat. There’s a higher density of playable one-drops and two-drops in this format than we usually see. There are also lots of ways to push through extra damage, and most archetypes have a focal point on the combat step.

Basically, I expect the early turns to matter a lot. You will have many, many decisions to make on Turns 1 through 4, and those decisions will have a significant impact on the outcome of the game. Like Amonkhet, if you cast the wrong two-drop, or made the wrong attack on Turn 3, you’ll lose. Unlike Amonkhet, I expect the games in this format to go on for quite a bit longer, giving more expensive cards and other strategies room to grow, but they should expect to start on the back foot.

Red and blue appear better than the other colors.

When I go through every single common in the set, I can see myself slamming multiple red or blue commons Pack 1, Pick 1. While white, black, and green all have solid commons, I don’t find them as exciting as the red or blue commons. I also feel as though the synergies between the commons in the other colors are lacking in comparison to the synergies between the blue commons or the red commons.

But what does that mean in terms of how I approach the format? Outside of biasing somewhat to the colors I like, I will also bias towards their intersecting synergy: artifacts. Izzet is the artifacts-matter archetype, but many other archetypes appreciate the artifact card type. Given that the blue and red cards seem, to me, of a higher quality, this bleeds into the quality of artifacts, both generically and in terms of respective synergy.

This set looks incredibly fun.

This might seem like an odd thing to point out, but I’m more excited about this set than any in recent memory. The tension in the game, the depth of quality at common, the nice suite of build-arounds, and the lack of bomb-rare density (looking at you, Innistrad: Crimson Vow) all add up to something that looks wonderful to play. And at the end of the day, we’re all here to have fun!

With all that covered, let’s jump into a draft!

Pack 1, Pick 1

The Pack:

March of Burgeoning Life Gravelighter Naomi, Pillar of Order Jukai Naturalist Skyswimmer Koi You Are Already Dead Kami of Industry Harmonious Emergence Sunblade Samurai Inkrise Infiltrator Debt to the Kami Unstoppable Ogre Planar Incision Era of Enlightenment

The Pick:

Skyswimmer Koi and Sunblade Samurai are reminiscent of older cards that are fantastic in Limited. Koi is a good-rate evasive body with upside. Samurai has fantastic synergistic card types, a reasonable body, and ensures hitting your land drops. While that all sounds great, neither card breaks into the Top 3 commons in their respective colors. Many years ago, they would have, but not anymore. They aren’t considerations in this pack. I only bring them up to highlight the fact that they will be overrated at the beginning of the format. They’re solid playables, but not much more than that.

Naomi, Pillar of Order is an incredibly powerful card. A miniature Grave Titan, if you will. If Orzhov ends up really succeeding with the artifact and enchantment synergy, it will be reasonable to take Naomi here. However, my expectation is that Orzhov won’t be able to pull off that synergy so easily. I may be wrong here, but I would rather end up in Orzhov through other means and pick up a late Naomi than take Naomi for an early direction.

Jukai Naturalist is less powerful than Naomi, but I don’t expect a two-drop to be more powerful than a five-drop. And, unlike Orzhov, I do expect the enchantment synergies in Selesnya to yield a reasonable deck. A two-power two-drop with lifelink is always a premium card, and this has great types and pushes some pretty crazy starts in an enchantment-based deck. Don’t forget that this means you can power out enchantment creatures early. I expect curving Jukai Naturalist into Jukai Preserver is a great way to win. That being said, I don’t think Naturalist provides enough power to justify taking a gold card as my first pick. I wouldn’t be unhappy to start off a draft with it, especially early in the format in order to pursue an archetype to learn about it, but I think Gravelighter is a better first pick.

When I first read Gravelighter, I was medium on it. Historically, cards like this have been solid playables in Limited, but nothing special. However, Gravelighter pushes those limits a little further. First, flying on a creature with a good enters-the-battlefield effect in a set with ninjutsu is very nice. I’m really excited for the Dimir Ninja deck, and this seems like an awesome card in that format. Second, because of Ninjas, opponents are really incentivized to trade against black decks. Hence it’s easier to upgrade the Edict ability to the cantrip ability, which is, on average, going to be better. Gravelighter is a great black uncommon and I’m very happy to start a draft with it.

I followed up Gravelighter with one of the best uncommon Ninjas, Dokuchi Silencer. I think it’s a great start to a draft, and while I would draft any black deck, I will bias towards blue in order to take the most advantage of both of the cards in my pool.

Pack 1, Pick 3

The Picks So Far:

Gravelighter Dokuchi Silencer

The Pack:

Containment Construct Jukai Naturalist The Long Reach of Night Mukotai Ambusher Kami of Restless Shadows Explosive Entry Guardians of Oboro Imperial Oath Fade into Antiquity Uncharted Haven Mirrorshell Crab Searchlight Companion

The Pick:

Containment Construct is an interesting card. There are numerous ways to discard cards in the set, but it’s not a theme. It’s pretty strong alongside Dokuchi Silencer, but I don’t think the upside, including the artifact synergies, is worth playing a poor, non-evasive body.

Jukai Naturalist is only in consideration here because I opened one at Pack 1, Pick 1. I’m not going to take it here; however, later in the format, I can see taking the Naturalist if the black cards in this pack underperform and I can reasonably expect the other Naturalist to wheel because Selesnya isn’t drafted as highly as other color combinations.

Uncharted Haven, in most formats, would be the pick here. None of the cards in this pack look very powerful or significantly above the rest. Usually, if I have a good start, I’d take Evolving Wilds over good but unexciting playables. However, this format has a cycle of dual lands at common. Given that fixing is easier to find in this format, I don’t feel the need to take Uncharted Haven highly.

Don’t make the same mistake I did when reading Searchlight Companion. The Spirit token it creates does not have flying. If it did, I would be interested in putting it in ninjutsu decks as a value creature that continually could produce a stream of flying tokens thanks to the ninjutsu ability. However, as is, the Companion, even with that synergy and artifact synergy, is just too inefficient for three mana to justify.

While there are lots of options in this pack, I think it is best to stay monocolored. That leaves three black cards as options. The Long Reach of Night, Mokutai Ambusher, and Kami of the Restless Shadows are all interesting.

None of these cards are high picks, or even priorities for their respective archetypes. Kami is a solid value creature if you have enough Ninjas, but it’s unclear if it will be included in most Dimir decks. Mokutai Ambusher is going to be fantastic with either artifact synergies or a significant number of cheap evasive creatures, but without that it’s lackluster. And The Long Reach of Night, while powerful, gives the opponent too many options for the cost of four mana (and it’s incredibly slow). The ceiling on The Long Reach of Night is high, but I just think this format won’t be conducive to achieving that ceiling often. I wouldn’t blame anybody for taking it here, but I’m not taking it.

I think the best bet is to take Mokutai Ambusher. While I’m not happy to third-pick it, I think this is a great start to a draft. I can be any black deck, and hopefully Dimir, which is the archetype I’m most excited about playing. Both for the sake of winning, and for having fun!