Towashi Songshaper, illustrated by Fajareka Setiawan
Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’ve survived the first 30 days of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty (NEO) draft. For some of you, that time flew by like a calendar in a ’90s movie montage. Others might be introducing themselves at a meeting and collecting their one-month Reality Chip.
“Hi, my name is Jake, and I’m trying to figure out how to draft Neon Dynasty.”
Either way, I’ve been in your shoes. A new format is about to come out, so you pore over spoilers and set reviews in an attempt to do some drafts without bleeding gems like some kind of anthropomorphized jewelry store mascot involved in a back-alley dust-up. Speaking of which, here are my father-in-law’s now-defunct anthropomorphized jewelry store mascots:
Spoiler season comes and goes, you win a few drafts, then suddenly everyone catches up and you feel like you missed something. Well, I’m here to help.
I’ve pored over the data on 17Lands every week since the set release, tracking each archetype to see what’s working specific to those gameplans. Patchwork Automaton is the second-best Izzet uncommon, for example, but it hasn’t been played enough to even be rated in Selesnya. Looking at the archetype-agnostic data, you’d see it’s the middle of the road. I always want to delve a little deeper.
Below, you’ll see my conceptualization of what the data says since February 10th of last month in the form of a pick order. As with any pick order, none of this is set like Excalibur. Blips still occur. We love this game because it’s complex and can’t be boiled down into an Excel spreadsheet. Data isn’t a panacea, but rather a pair of glasses to put on and see where it helps fix your vision.
Recent drafts are weighted a little higher since we all have a generally better understanding of how cards play when we actually play them. For cards that haven’t seen enough play to register in recent weeks, they’re either dinged for being undesirable commons or kept relatively the same in the case of powerful mythics and rares that work in underplayed archetypes.
Let’s get to the lists! I hear the internet loves them.
Your Plan: Play all the best Sagas in NEO, accruing value through a midrange gameplan that can attack their battlefield and hand.
What You’re Overrating: Greater Tanuki falls in with Sunblade Samurai as cards that channel lands that wound up underwhelming. Dying to enchantment removal hurts its shot at greatness, but Golgari is also relatively unimpressed with Tanuki’s ramp or fixing. I keep trying to make Mukotai Ambusher work in this deck because there are so many high-value targets to return to your hand, but the lack of evasion means it can be hard to bounce. Finally, I was shocked to see Season of Renewal doing as poorly as it is, but without ways to recur it, sometimes the ceiling is a lousy Regrowth.
What You’re Underrating: I was skeptical about Favor of Jukai, but it has outperformed its expected win rate three out of four weeks. I suspect it takes a slight hit as people start playing around it, but steal some cheap wins in combat while you can. Favor also plays well with Shrine Steward, a card that keeps growing on me when I have a Twisted Embrace and Harmonious Emergence to fetch up, let alone a few actual Shrines. With an Average Taken At (ATA) of Pick 10.58, it’s never too hard to find a Steward, but keep it on your radar.
Your Plan: Cast reasonable creatures, including the ones that become Equipment, and play a fair game of Magic.
What You’re Overrating: I’m nervous when I have to cast anything that isn’t a creature, removal spell, or Saga that will become a creature. Invigorating Hot Spring is fine, but Roaring Earth and Tempered in Solitude are absolutely traps. Coiling Stalker looks like a two-drop that stays on theme, but too often it trades for a 1/1 Spirit token that was an afterthought for your opponent.
What You’re Underrating: Harmonious Emergence is your single best way to hit modified bonuses and is a linchpin of whatever this deck is trying to be. Given that they’re taken just after Pick 9, that’s not a terrible deal. The two-drop you’re looking for is Jukai Trainee, although it’s hard to get excited about that fact. That’s NEO Gruul in a nutshell.
Your Plan: You’re burning rubber on the streets of Kamigawa, playing one of the fastest decks in the format, chock-full of one-drops and artifacts.
What You’re Overrating: Ninja’s Kunai is downright awful in this deck, failing for a month to hit the expected win rate for the deck while being played in almost 18,500 games. Reinforced Ronin appears to be a trap when there’s no Samurai bonus attached to it attacking. This deck shouldn’t struggle for early plays, so Ronin only stops you from building out your side of the battlefield. Still, I don’t hate chip damage with a deck that loves Clawing Torment so much.
What You’re Underrating: Clawing Torment! Surprise. Removing a blocker and then having it torment your opponent for a single black mana is a tremendous deal. If you can throw it on a Bamboo Grove Archer? Even better. Another deck, another spot that Kami of Terrible Secrets rules. You’ll never have to worry about the artifacts side and, if you draft it right, should have a solid cadre of offensively-minded Sagas to lean on. Against other artifact decks, I’m in love with The Shattered States Era as a curve topper. Being able to sacrifice their artifact creature to your Oni-Cult Anvil or Sokenzan Smelter is a beautiful thing.
Your Plan: You’re hoping to thrive in the mid- to late-game with busted Sagas and recursion elements that tire out your opponents.
What You’re Overrating: The not-so-secret artifact card Skyswimmer Koi winds up making the deck more than I’d like to see when you generally lack ways to loot through your hand. If it played to any of our themes, I’d reconsider, but too often it’s a small fish in a small pond. Simic doesn’t mind splashing, but Ecologist’s Terrarium is being used more than it should, as well. Similar to Selesnya, you’re looking for duals instead of an archetype that fails to capitalize on the +1/+1 counter that the tiny garden leaves behind.
What You’re Underrating: I’m always playing my first copy of Tamiyo’s Safekeeping in these decks, as your stabilizing cards need a little protection. Gaining two life is significant in this format when so many decks want to operate at a breakneck pace. Planar Incision might be even better when you have a critical mass of Kappa Tech-Wreckers, Blossom Prancers, and Circuit Menders. Bamboo Grove Archer fills a comparable void as a stalwart defender against evasive threats that can try to out-value you early.
Your Plan: Skies, but make it artifacts. You’re playing an aggressive tempo-based strategy that leverages evasion and artifact synergies to make your creatures quite annoying.
What You’re Overrating: Papercraft Decoy seems good on papyrus, but you never seem to have the mana up with this deck to take advantage of the free card it dangles in front of you. Outside of Week 3, it has performed abysmally. In terms of synergy fake-outs, we have a pair: Runaway Trash-Bot, which takes too long to get going as an offensive threat, and Covert Technician, whose superpower of sneaking in a two-mana-value card is a very average power. Thirst for Knowledge has only tanked thus far; I’m entirely out on it.
What You’re Underrating: Everyone’s new favorite DJ goes by the name of Towashi Songshaper, a card I’m prying away from any Rakdos decks as it’s an ideal two-drop. Everything I’ve said about Suit Up continues to apply here, especially considering you’re hoping to snag a few blue ninjutsu cards in Moon-Circuit Hacker and Moonsnare Specialist to make the deck tick.
Your Plan: Keep your opponent guessing with enters-the-battlefield effects, ninjutsu, and combat tricks that make blocking a nightmare.
What You’re Overrating: Futurist Operative is, on paper, a solid ninjutsu card, as it contains the text “can’t be blocked.” However, in practice, it’s too expensive for my tastes and has underperformed the expected win rate every week of the format. Lethal Exploit is best when you get the occasional bonus from a modified creature, which you’ll find a dearth of in most Dimir decks. I don’t hate it, but it should be going around Pick 8 or 9 instead of Pick 6. The same goes for Tamiyo’s Compleation. Moonfolk Puzzlemaker is drafted appropriately but played far too often, on the other hand. This archetype doesn’t lack evasion, but bouncing a three-mana-value creature is a high price to pay when it comes to ninjutsu.
What You’re Underrating: Suit Up again shines in Dimir, where your opponent simply can’t afford to let a creature go unblocked. As Limited players, we tend to love two-for-ones but underrate one-for-nothings. Cast it once, and they’re left off-balance any time you have three mana up and a card in your hand. Imperial Oath rates as one of the top commons, although I’m lower on it than the data, preferring to play a faster iteration of the deck. Still, consider it as a finisher. Finally, Kami of Terrible Secrets remains criminally underrated by the community, giving you a beast of a card to pick up with ninjutsu.
Your Plan: Funnily enough, it’s actually to splash, something I don’t often get to say about Selesnya. You’re also playing an enchantments-matter subtheme no matter what you wind up doing…in the most enchantment-hostile color pair.
What You’re Overrating: Usually, in decks that take more time to develop, you don’t mind having a Wanderer’s Intervention to take care of a nagging threat. Here, I find you’re not excited about leaving mana open and can find interaction from your splash colors. Even in the most enchantment-rich builds, I find it impossible to attack with Norika Yamazaki, the Poet and feel good about it. She has never outpaced Selesnya’s expected win rate in the format. I’m not sure what’s going on with Season of Renewal, as it’s declined four straight weeks. Keep an eye on it.
What You’re Underrating: Splashing, broadly. Grafted Growth and Network Terminal aren’t the way, boasting middling-at-best numbers. Instead, pick up duals when possible, as the deck can go long and hit the colors it needs over time. If there’s a deck that wants Tanuki, this is it, so disregard all of my slander earlier when it comes to Selesnya, where the good doggo has a 1.2% boost to your win rate when drawn. That’s second in green archetypes, only trailing Simic.
Your Plan: Control the early turns with cheap removal, taking over the late-game as you stack your deck with Imperial Oath.
What You’re Overrating: Sunblade Samurai is going roughly two picks ahead of where it should. I find myself happier to Plainscycle it than cast it in most games, as a 4/4 vigilance creature without Samurai synergies is underwhelming. Befriending the Moths doesn’t work in this deck, as we lack the aggressive creatures to capitalize on the evasion it provides. It has a win rate comparable to Short Circuit, yet it’s being played five times as often.
What You’re Underrating: Suit Up has exceeded its expected win rate for three of the past four weeks, playing well with the Vehicles subtheme of Azorius. Unsuspecting opponents will attack into a whip without a driver all day long, giving you quasi-removal that nets you a card. Mothrider Patrol is pricey considering what you’d usually pay for the effect, but tapping down an opposing threat is a premium ability if it helps you buy time until you can fire off an Imperial Oath.
Your Plan: Out-value your opponent with an army of creatures that do cool things when they enter the battlefield, occasionally bouncing them back to your hand or returning them from death.
What You’re Overrating: Undercity Scrounger and Chainflail Centipede are seeing far too much action, but I get it. You think you need artifacts for your “artifacts and enchantments matter” cards. This is a trap. You should be getting that card type from Virus Beetle, Searchlight Companion, and Mukotai Ambusher. Leech Gauntlet is similarly going a little too high for a deck that lacks beefy creatures to slap it on. Forcing synergy is where this deck goes off the rails.
What You’re Underrating: I don’t hate Born to Drive as a Rally for the Throne with some versatility, as this format has a ton of one-toughness creatures running around to surprise at instant speed. You also generate a number of tokens if you chose not to channel it. You Are Already Dead feels fine here, as well, for that very reason: trading a token generated by Imperial Oath for anything you want isn’t a terrible deal, and hopefully you scry’d to something worth casting.
Your Plan: Hopefully steal a win while your opponent is distracted by the fact that you are, indeed, playing a Boros deck.
What You’re Overrating: Isshin, Two Heavens as One and Bloodfell Caves are two of the absolute worst cards you can put in this deck, so resist the temptation to attempt Mardu hijinks like I did in my column earlier this week. A two-drop that doesn’t attack is a no-go for me, so I need to acknowledge that Era of Enlightenment is too slow for this deck. Other than that? It’s hard to overrate much when an archetype is performing so poorly.
What You’re Underrating: Repel the Vile has seen an increased win rate each week of the format and is the type of versatile removal this deck needs to remove a stabilizing blocker or Saga. Eiganjo Exemplar doesn’t have a lot of metaphorical flash to it, but you want multiples to ensure you have a Turn 2 creature that attacks effectively. Explosive Entry and Lucky Offering are both a slight surprise to me here, although I suspect you only need one or the other.
Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’ve survived a few thousand words of cards and analysis. I hope you enjoyed the pictures.
As a quick reminder, very little of what you saw above involved my personal opinion of where a card should or should not be. Data doesn’t care about my feelings, something I constantly bring up with my eye-rolling therapist. No, this is what a few thousand drafts have taught us about what 17Lands users are up to. If you have the temptation to dress me down on Twitter about where a particular card was ranked, I will gladly explain this again, as well as call you out for not getting to this part of the article.
I hope you find this useful in your drafts over the next couple of months because, yes, we’ll still be drafting this up until May 5th. As much fun as I’m having, they could make NEO an eternal Draft format, and I’d still keep bleeding gems.