There’s been plenty of hype for new Magic sets recently. Then Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty entered the picture and the hype train bulleted into overdrive. From the breathtaking art marrying styles old and new to reflections of cards and characters from Kamigawa block a generation ago, this set has enthralled players everywhere. The cards, dripping with flavor and power, are going to find their ways into lots of Commander decks in the near future. Here, then, is my full set review.
Normally, I’d grade each color, plus multicolored and colorless/lands, on an A to F scale. Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty is so full of wonderful cards that we can throw that right out the window. They’re all As (okay, maybe black is a B+ and green a B), with great density and exciting top cards. For each category, I’ll pick a few Honorable Mentions, then list a Top 5. I’ll go into full detail about those cards in the Top 5. If one of those top cards is one of the legendary creatures I discussed earlier this week, I’ll keep the write-up shorter.
Because the top cards for Commander (and remember this is a Commander-only review) tend to be rares and mythic rares, I’m also going to list my favorite common and uncommon in each color (that aren’t in the Top 5 as well). I’ll be talking about these cards through the lens of Commander’s target demographic that lies somewhere from the battlecruiser to optimized levels. If a card looks like it’ll have impact in high-powered games, I’ll make specific mention of it. While some cards I’ll make note of are simply powerful, my ratings are equally influenced by their flavor and resonance with Commander’s ideals. I’m more likely to rate highly a card that creates interesting games or game states than one which is just generically strong.
Mechanically, the set has a great deal to offer. Samurai, Ninjas, Shrines, Vehicles, and channel make splashy returns. Sagas are here as transforming DFCs. Modal dies triggers excite me most, especially since they’re on Dragons that are Kamigawa call-backs.
The two new things of note are reconfigure and modified. While all the cards with reconfigure are Equipment, there’s a tricky bit. Reconfiguring isn’t equipping — but once the card is attached, the creature is equipped. You can read the Rules Release for more details.
Modified simply means if a creature has an Aura or Equipment attached or has counters on it. Conceptually, it makes complete sense. Flavor-wise, it has a very Netrunner feel to it. And I swear there are a bunch of cards in the set that sound like they’re also Netrunner cards.
All that said, let’s get to the cards.
5. The Fall of Lord Konda
There are always going to be ripe targets for Chapter I of this Saga. Exiling a creature is such a strong ability that The Fall of Lord Konda might be worthwhile just for that. It gives us more. Chapter II sure makes those Spelltable games cleaner by giving everyone back all their permanents. The 1/3 creature you get after the transformation isn’t going to win any contests, but it replaces itself when it dies.
4. Light-Paws, Emperor’s Voice
Light-Paws offers us good reason to play Auras. Getting an additional card for each Aura you cast is strong indeed. Light-Paws Equipment-Free Voltron is certainly a possible deck to build.
3. Invoke Justice
The four-pip invoke spells are an excellent way to gate the power of cards. Designers can give them compelling, color-pie-intensive abilities and not worry that they’re easily splashed into a deck. I’m a fan of seeing reanimation in white. I actually think it should be nearly as strong in white (escaping death the “good” way) as it is in black (the “evil” way). Note that Invoke Justice targets the player, not the creatures it puts counters on. This means you can even get the counters onto creatures with shroud and no tricks with Dismiss into Dream.
2. Brilliant Restoration
Once again, the more colored pips they add to a card, the less generically good that it can be. It means you have to commit to the color and the idea. To be fair, manabases in Commander are for the most part good enough to handle four-pip cards even in three-color decks. I’ll probably still play them in only mono- or two-color decks. Brilliant Restoration is Open the Vaults just for you. What could be nicer after a long day of getting your stuff blown up than to bring it all back at once?
Farewell pegs the Just Wow meter. The fact that you can choose one or more makes the card a little absurd. If you’re focused on a single strategy, you can safely choose the other three modes and not worry about daggering yourself. Folks have already started favorably comparing Farewell to Merciless Eviction. The card deserves all the praise it gets (even if I have the art on mine altered by a nice Canadian artist). Here’s to six-mana sorceries being relevant again.
5. Inventive Iteration
There’s just so much going on here. Chapter I is a slightly pricey tempo card, and then you later realize all the value you’ve invested. There’s no downside in Chapter II, since you draw a card if you can’t return your Solemn Simulacrum or other artifact. Maybe there’s some high-powered combo with getting back your Lion’s Eye Diamond.
Transformed into Living Breakthrough, you have a solid creature that creates a unique trigger. Your opponents can still respond to the trigger, so counterspells are still possible. After that, they’re shut out of a mana value the entire cycle around the table until it gets back to your turn. The bookkeeping is a little awkward, but if you cast several spells, you might be able to achieve a near-Time Walk experience. You know I’m not a fan of taking the game away from other players. The creature only does so partially and with lots of hoops to jump through.
4. March of Swirling Mist
Even without the ability to make the spell cheaper, I’d love playing March of Swirling Mist in blue decks. It’s probably strongest in Simic, Izzet, and the non-white, non-black shards and wedges, as you’re less likely to be able to protect your permanents from battlefield sweepers. Phasing out will save you from Wrath of God, but unfortunately won’t get your nice enters-the-battlefield triggers when they come back. That’s okay; your stuff is still safe.
3. Jin-Gitaxias, Progress Tyrant
From what I see, this Jin-Gitaxias version is already one of the chase cards in the set, and rightfully so. Yes, it’s extremely expensive and yes, you get what you pay for. It doesn’t completely shut down players like Erayo, Soratami Ascendant did. They still get to cast creatures, no matter what. The issue becomes winning the counter war, and Jin-Gitaxias gives you a free leg up in that fight.
2. Kairi, the Swirling Sky
Lots of times, players have other things that still make your life miserable after they’ve destroyed all your creatures. Kairi punishes them back by getting their choice permanents of other types if you need. Whether used defensively or offensively, Kairi wrecks token decks. I happily believe that we’ll see a great deal of the card. It’s one of my favorites in the set.
1. The Reality Chip
You had to know that Equipment Jellyfish would be number one, right? The effective card draw that it gives you is insane. Now I just want to know what other Jellyfish might be in the design files, because we’re onto something.
5. Soul Transfer
Exiling something is strong in Commander, given that there’s so much reanimation running around. Getting to hit your choice of creature or planeswalker is flexibility that’s worth bumping down to sorcery speed. That you’re likely to get the second mode as well steps Soul Transfer into that “unspectacular but solid” territory that we need every now and then.
4. Invoke Despair
Once again, the Invoke spell targets the player, not the creature, enchantment, and planeswalker to be sacrificed. The downside is that you only get to choose one player, so you need to pick one who has it all, and they get to choose which things to sacrifice.
3. Tribute to Horobi
Sure, you have to wait a few turns to get the best value out of Tribute to Horobi, but the low mana cost makes it right. I’m all about getting to Echo of Death’s Wail and that sweet creature sacrifice when attacking. Slot it right alongside Smothering Abomination and double up on that card draw.
2. Nashi, Moon Sage’s Scion
The simple part is that you get to exile opponents’ cards. The cooler part is that you might even be able to cast stuff. Odds are that someone will have a land, so you’ll have that as well. The payment of life is a feature, not a bug. It allows you (if you want) to cast an extra spell or two. Early in the game, you probably don’t even need the ninjutsu ability in order to find someone to profitably attack. The card just seems like a big flavor win, too.
1. Junji, the Midnight Sky
Recover from Damnation Dragon is here at your service. I really can’t see too many situations in which I’m using the discard mode of the death trigger, instead opting to lose the two life in order to dump some large non-Dragon onto the battlefield. Coupled with the outstanding triggered ability, Junji being a five mana 5/5 flyer with menace makes it nearly everything I want in a Magic card.
5. Lizard Blades
It seems so simple, yet it’s so good. The flavor is outstanding, and the ability to give a creature double strike so cheaply is going to turn games in your direction. Getting Commander damage kills out of nowhere is a big upside, but just alongside creatures in your Boros deck with lifelink is good enough.
4. Goro-Goro, Disciple of Ryusei
Haste is the really important part to me here. It’s a winner. I suppose there’s also some convoluted combo involving the ability that creates a Dragon, Mana Echoes, and infinite combat steps. Maybe with Breath of Fury?
3. Thundering Raiju
I expect we’ll see Thundering Raiju in some kind of Gruul deck that likes to spread counters around, like with Forgotten Ancient. It won’t take too many trips around the table for Mr. Babycakes to have Thundering Raiju start dealing loads of damage. Or how about somehow going ham with Bloodforged Battle-Axe?
2. Heiko Yamazaki, the General
Heiko doesn’t have to be the Samurai that attacks alone for you to be able to cast the artifact from your graveyard. Create some with The Wandering Emperor or hack your whole Izzet deck with Arcane Adaptation. Heiko leaves you with broad opportunities for messing around with your favorite artifacts, from Aeolipile to Wayfarer’s Bauble.
1. Fable of the Mirror-Breaker
It’s funny how adding just a single mana to an activation cost can keep something from being completely broken. Although everyone will want to focus on Reflection of Kiki-Jiki, I wouldn’t discount the two chapters that will get you there. That Goblin Shaman is going to net some Treasures for you, and then Chapter II will sculpt your hand just how you like it. I suspect there are still ways to go infinite with the same cards, like Pestermite or Zealous Conscripts. You’ll just have to generate mana was well, like with the aforementioned Mana Echoes. From a flavor perspective, I love the fact that they went back to Kiki-Jiki. It feels like it’s the one thing they had to do.
5. Weaver of Harmony
You don’t need to go far to find abilities from enchantment sources that you want to copy. Sagas have triggered abilities. Channel is an activated ability. Shrines have triggered abilities (but remember the payment on those end-step triggers is on resolution). Beyond Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty there’s a world of things to choose from. It could be as simple as Phyrexian Arena or as spicy as Oversold Cemetery. This is one you’ll want to brew around.
4. Shigeki, Jukai Visionary
This is land ramp in a self-mill package. For me, it’s going right into my Old Stickfingers deck. Note that it’s any land, so you’re not limited to the basics, although you’re not getting too much choice. Still, the ability to put into the graveyard the other three cards is pretty exciting. As far as the channel ability goes, it seems like it could be a powerful end-game card. Just before it’s your turn, channel back whatever few cards you need, and then on your turn untap and do your thing. It’s cool that Shigeki sets himself up for channeling by returning himself to hand.
3. Jugan Defends the Temple
I’m enamored of the flavor that turns Sagas into reflections of old Kamigawa Dragons. You’ll be playing Jugan Defends the Tempe in a deck like my Zegana and a Dice Bag, where most of the creatures natively modify themselves with +1/+1 counters. The first two chapters of this card are fine, but the end state is all about getting that big Dragon that not only smashes face but gives you the opportunity to make incoming creatures bigger.
2. Kura, the Boundless Sky
Speaking of Dragons, Kura is on rate as a flying, deathtouch 4/4. The death trigger is the big thing, and both modes have situational value. I was initially a little dismissive of the first because it didn’t put them onto the battlefield, like Seedguide Ash. Then I realized that it’s any three lands, which sets you up for a classic mana-producing pair like Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. It can also give you a protection suite like Yavimaya Hollow, Kor Haven, and Maze of Ith. Maybe it’s just that Glacial Chasm you need to stay alive. The second mode is one you’ll want to play in a deck that has some Kura recursion so that you can keep getting big Spirit tokens.
1. Kodama of the West Tree
This is situational lamp ramp on steroids. When all of your creatures are modified, it won’t be long until you’re out of basic lands. A tramping Fertilid just makes my heart sing. If you want to go outside the box of just +1/+1 counters, play Kodama of the West Tree with Crystalline Giant or in a deck led by Kathril, Aspect Warper.
5. Naomi, Pillar of Order
The best use for the Samurai that Naomi, Pillar of Order creates will be leveraging the triggered ability of Norika Yamazaki, the Poet. You don’t necessarily want to send your best Samurai in only to get killed in combat. After you’ve created a few (and maybe populated in a few more), Naomi can hang back and watch the sacrificial tokens do the heavy lifting.
4. Raiyuu, Storm’s Edge
You know who’s a Warrior and would benefit from an extra combat step? Hamletback Goliath. See also: Hakto the Unscarred; Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer; Moraug, Fury of Akoum; Neheb, the Eternal; and Winota, Joiner of Forces, among a long list. I’m sure the Raiyuu brewing is already long begun.
3. Satoru Umezawa
Satoru Umezawa was the first card we saw from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, revving up the hype train engines from the start. I’d have it lead a deck even if it didn’t have the first ability. The challenge will be to find the interesting creatures to ninjutsu onto the battlefield that aren’t in Blightsteel Colossus territory.
2. Hinata, Dawn-Crowned
Although Hinata Dawn-Crowned looks very strong, I share the concern raised by Commander Mechanic in a recent tweet. The card could easily become oppressive if you go full bore in the direction of targeted sweepers like Distorting Wake and Heliod’s Intervention. Still, it’s an interesting build-around that doesn’t have anything else like it. It’s another card from this set that I look forward to seeing all the odd brews with.
1. Isshin, Two Heavens as One
Isshin is so full of possibilities that I almost don’t know where to start. There’s the aforementioned Winota, Joiner of Forces and Adriana, Captain of the Guard. You can go with the Samurais attacking alone or things that give you extra combat steps. Too bad Najeela, the Blade-Blossom can’t go into an Isshin deck—but maybe Isshin as the secret commander for Najeela? There’s certainly a high-powered line to go with Isshin, too—probably something Stax-y that gives you the opportunity to get those attacks and triggers. At whatever level you’re playing Isshin, it looks like a load of fun.
5. Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire
The power of the channel ability is that it’s not a spell. Common counterspells can’t stop it. You have to go to cards like Interdict (one of my Hidden Gems) or old favorites Voidmage Husher and Voidslime. Killing a creature like Najeela, the Blade-Blossom gets lots of people excited.
4. Containment Construct
This one absolutely has implications for high-powered play. Now you can Wheel without worrying that you’re throwing away good cards. You only have to exile the things you’ll play, like the land and important spell. Down the power scale some, Containment Construct also pairs with Survival of the Fittest. You can both search up the card you want and cast the thing you discarded to get it. Containment Construct is also nice protection from other people making you discard, although you’re likely to be limited to instants. This is a very spicy card with lots of potential uses.
3. Mechtitan Core
You can play Mechtitan Core with Thopter tokens or other things that you don’t mind exiling, but the strength of the card is in bringing the other artifact creatures and/or Vehicles back onto the battlefield so you can have the tasty triggers. There’s the obvious Solemn Simulacrum, but also things like Esika’s Chariot and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. And, of course, you have a 10/10 with flying, vigilance, trample, lifelink, and haste.
2. Mirror Box
Break out the Clones, boys, meat’s back on the menu! Now you can create multiple Tamiyo’s Notebook tokens or quadruple your lifegain with a little Copy Artifact action on Alhammarret’s Archive. I have quite a few Clones in my Dreaming of Intet deck. Multiple Intets would be pretty sick. I’d also consider rebuilding Jorn, God of Winter in order to Clone it and get multiple untap triggers. Multiple copies of The Scarab God seem pretty scary. I’d go a different direction and try out copying Xanathar, Guild Kingpin.
1. Boseiju, Who Endures
As I mentioned earlier, the channel ability is much harder to counter than a spell. Sure, you’re compensating the opponent with a land, but the insanely cheap cost to take out a juicy target (to include a nonbasic land!!!) makes this Boseiju extremely strong. In my streaming games with the rest of the Commander Rules Committee, Scott Larabee’s Mazes of Ith will now be under extreme pressure. We’ll of course see Life from the Loam in various builds to get back Boseiju and do it all over again. This is a great card that has multiple uses without being anywhere close to oppressive.
Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty is chock-full of high-impact cards for Commander, even though it wasn’t designed specifically for the format. There are plenty of new commanders to build around that you can take in uncommon directions. It offers cards that will make a splash at all of Commander’s various levels of power. Both set design and development teams can be very proud of what they’ve put together. As a nice way to wrap and say thanks, I’d like to mention them all by name.
- Mark Rosewater (lead)
- Ari Nieh
- Emily Teng
- Chris Mooney
- Daniel Holt
- Dave Humpherys
- David McDarby
- Ethan Fleischer
- Mark Gottlieb
- Dave Humpherys (lead)
- Jadine Klomparens
- Daniel Holt
- Ari Nieh
- Andrew Brown
- Yoni Skolnik
- Reggie Valk
- Lukas Litzsinger
- Ben Hayes
- Koichiro Maki