The Overrated And Underrated Cards Of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Standard

The early results from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty Standard events are in, and Bryan Gottlieb has opinions aplenty. Which new MTG cards are overrated? Which are on the rise?

Dockside Chef, illustrated by Steven Belledin

Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty has finally dropped, and after months of apathy towards Standard, it feels like the Magic community is ready to believe again. Stellar designs that assign power in new places are the rule rather than the exception in this set, and the deckbuilding possibilities on Day 1 have felt positively endless.

Are they actually, though? After a week of Standard, we’re starting to separate the pretenders from the contenders, and as usual some cards have not delivered on their early promise. Meanwhile, other dark horses are making a case for themselves as format pillars. And then, there’s the pre-Kamigawa old guard. All the new cards in the world won’t matter if they can’t outperform what already existed.

As usual, determining the truth of where the format stands now is complicated. Sometimes, individual overperformers and underperformers can help tell a lot of the story. What follows is a list of over- and underperformers from both my own experience and the first handful of results.

Overrated: Lion Sash

Lion Sash

Underrated: Hotshot Mechanic

Hotshot Mechanic

Lion Sash was one of the big darlings during preview season. A Scavenging Ooze that has an easier time going big and can even transfer its size to an evasive body certainly makes a good case for itself on paper. But Lion Sash’s starting point is just so, so tiny. Its required commitment to white means that it would be at its best in the heavy-white decks that already have strong options at two mana in Luminarch Aspirant, Intrepid Adversary, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. And graveyards just aren’t all that important in this iteration of Standard.

That leaves one of Lion Sash’s biggest strengths right now as its artifact typing, and Hotshot Mechanic puts a bigger artifact body on the battlefield at a cheaper cost. Even in my list above, which is a soundly midrange/card advantage-focused approach to an artifact deck, I still prefer the efficiency of the one-mana Hotshot Mechanic, and very little of that has to do with its ability to crew up Reckoner Bankbuster. Lion Sash has a chance as Standard evolves, and I’m far from giving up on the card. It just hasn’t come roaring out of the gate.

Overrated: Tamiyo, Compleated Sage; The Wandering Emperor; Kaito Shizuki

Tamiyo, Compleated Sage The Wandering Emperor Kaito Shizuki

Underrated: Tezzeret, Betrayer of Flesh

Tezzeret, Betrayer of Flesh

Four planeswalkers in the set meant that focus was understandably pulled in multiple directions, but poor Tezzeret, Betrayer of Flesh was getting almost zero hype when it came to Standard. Certainly, Tezz’s odds have been helped out by one of the best artifact sets of all time, but the card is just extremely strong on its face. Card advantage, mana reduction, potential aggression, and a game-winning ultimate do a lot of box-checking.

The build above is inspired heavily by Gerry Thompson’s work on the Izzet Artifact archetype, including the realization that Patchwork Automaton can be the glue this approach needed. It crews Mindlink Mech extremely well, gets huge with Tezzeret’s help, and is just a fine two-mana threat on its own at this artifact density. Tezzeret’s other best friend is Reckoner Bankbuster, which becomes a slow but extremely mana-efficient card advantage engine when Tezzeret is on the battlefield.

This deck does a lot of things very well that you wouldn’t expect from the archetype. Equally comfortable in long and compact games, with a great ability to play ahead of curve, Izzet Artifacts is an archetype that still has a lot of room to grow.

Overrated: Oni-Cult Anvil

Oni-Cult Anvil

Underrated: Dockside Chef

Dockside Chef

I do feel bad calling Oni-Cult Anvil overrated, since it really is a critical part of these small-ball Rakdos decks. On its own, though, it really isn’t capable of all that much. Its many, many (well-justified) safety valves mean that it’s hard to extract a large life swing out of the card, and it relies on outside help to produce a full engine. One of the best sources of that outside help is Dockside Chef, which makes running out of cards a thing of the past.

At a bare minimum, you can turn your 1/1 token into a card every turn for just two mana, but Dockside Chef starts taking over games when it triggers Oni-Cult Anvil using additional fodder. Alongside Experimental Synthesizer, you begin to pick up a lot of cards every turn while slowly expanding your army… which can eventually turn into more cards. It’s all very satisfying and purposefully interlocking in a way that Standard decks haven’t been for a very long time. Dockside Chef’s enchantment type also allows it to play wonderfully in Michiko’s Reign of Truth / Wedding Announcement decks — another archetype I’ve found myself falling in love with.

Also staring in the Rakdos list is the soon-to-be Standard staple Voltage Surge. Four toughness was already an important breakpoint in the format due to the various Dragons, and it seems like Hinata, Dawn-Crowned is about to make killing a four-toughness creature on sight and cheaply even more important. One of the best things these decks have to offer is a litany of fodder for our Voltage Surges.

It’s hard to imagine just what these decks can grind through until you play them. If you love piecing together dominant battlefields out of middling cards, you owe it to yourself to check out the circulating builds of Rakdos Artifacts.

Overrated: Enthusiastic Mechanaut, Jukai Naturalist

Enthusiastic Mechanaut Jukai Naturalist

Underrated: Hinata, Dawn-Crowned

Hinata, Dawn-Crowned

Reducing the cost of a spell by one is nice and all, but you haven’t lived until you’ve reduced the cost of your spell by a whopping six mana. That’s exactly what Hinata, Dawn-Crowned is doing in conjunction with the already very playable Magma Opus. And that’s what is so enticing about these Jeskai Midrange decks. What are the bad cards they’re playing to add this absurd output to their archetype? Unexpected Windfall? Galvanic Iteration? Goldspan Dragon?

This deck found a combo that asks you to play all the best cards in Standard and then tie them together with an entirely acceptable four-mana 4/4 flyer. Hinata is legit, and sure to be a major player going forward. Disdainful Stroke was already a strong sideboard option, but the rise of this archetype makes it even more important, and I expect to see the Malevolent Hermit / Disdainful Stroke balance move back towards the instant.

Overrated: Lizard Blades

Lizard Blades

Underrated: Ogre-Head Helm; Rabbit Battery

Ogre-Head Helm Rabbit Battery

I had Lizard Blades extremely high on my various Top 5 and Top 10 lists, but I’m starting to think I picked the wrong reconfigure creature. Double strike is fine, but the combination of Ogre-Head Helm and Rabbit Battery has revitalized Mono-Red Aggro, and it has already eclipsed Mono-Green and Mono-White for the title of best pure aggro deck.

Contemporary red decks succeed when they find ways to simultaneously present midrange and aggro plans in their default configurations. Ogre-Head Helm serves as a Runeclaw Bear, more important than ever with loads of Equipment around, but it shines when it allows the red deck to reload. With Rabbit Battery, this reload can be threatened out of nowhere, always keeping an opponent on the back foot. Add in the capacity for both of these cards to survive through sweeper effects given smart use of the reconfigure ability, and the idea of taking a reactive stance against red becomes laughable.

Chandra, Dressed to Kill is doubling down on creating these kinds of problems for reactive decks, and I’m happy to see the card finally get a chance to shine. It’s too powerful of a planeswalker to not see format-defining play, and the mana sinks created by the reconfigure ability only smooth out its rough edges.

Overrated: All New Cards

Hinata, Dawn-Crowned Dockside Chef Tezzeret, Betrayer of Flesh

Underrated: Hullbreaker Horror

Hullbreaker Horror

I wish this article could have just been one deck shorter. Look, I do think this Standard has made remarkable strides towards being a legitimately great Magic format. The pre-Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty bans were creative and did a great job opening up space at the poles of the format. So many of these decks could have never existed if Alrund’s Epiphany, Faceless Haven, or Divide by Zero were still legal. In my eyes, though, they pulled up just one ban too short.

Hullbreaker Horror

Izzet Control with zero new cards won both Standard challenges in the hands of O_Danielakos this weekend. I’m receptive towards the idea that this deck’s success has as much, if not more, to do with Goldspan Dragon than Hullbreaker Horror. Goldspan Dragon is a card that a format can adapt to, though. Hullbreaker Horror just isn’t. It has no notable vulnerabilities beyond its cost, and that’s doubly true now that Divide by Zero is gone.

I have no idea if zero-new-cards Izzet is that far ahead of the field, or if this was a case of a player just playing out of their mind for a weekend. I would guess people were looking for any excuse not to play Izzet on Week 1. What’s going to happen next weekend when there’s strong evidence that it remains the best deck?

I’m afraid we’re in for a horror show. I just hope we don’t let the situation spiral out of control and evaporate the excitement that Standard finally started to produce again. If a trend develops, I know I won’t be alone in begging for decisive action from Wizards of the Coast (WotC).

In summation, Hullbreaker Horror sucks.