It’s our last visit to the world of Kamigawa for awhile, and we’re giving the Spirits their due. With Spiritcraft, the most tribal of the four Theme Decks from Betrayers gets its moment in the sun. Facing me at the table is Sam, ready with the Rat-like Nezumi and their Ninja and Ronin. Can the Spirits muster the mystical might to send the vermin back to the swamp?
When it comes to tribal decks, you don’t typically see one following right after another in the progression of a block. In the game’s first tribal block, 2002’s Onslaught, the inaugural tribes honoured by anchoring their own Theme Deck were Soldiers, Clerics, Illusions, and Beasts. Thus a few months later, when the follow-up Legions hit the shelves, these four tribes hit the bench and allowed a new slate of four to take center stage: Elves, Slivers, Zombies, and the quasi-tribe morphs.
While the war against the Spirit world rages, the Ogres in their mountain homes have been making diabolic pacts with the Oni, and Dark Devotion shows just what they’ve been up to. Has the power been worth the price? There’s only one way to find out as I pit them against Jimi’s Ninja of Ninjutsu.
Shards of Alara, released in 2008, introduced us to a world that had been riven into five self-contained dimensional fragments, each characterised both by the prevalence of one colour of mana and its allies, as well as the complete absence of its enemy colours. The designers and creative team had to ask themselves what each of these five “worlds in a bubble” would look like, and one of the ways they chose to do this was through unique mechanical identity. Bant, the White shard, was given the exalted mechanic, designed to represent their honourable way of single combat. Fiery, primordial Jund had devour, which showed the food chain at work in that dangerous land. Unearth was the plaything of the necromancers and demons of Grixis, a desolate shard of endless fields of bone and ash.
As for the other two, however, that’s a little less simple.
You might have noticed, but Jimi has been out of commission on the site for a wee while now, a result of her recent back surgery which has left her unable to comfortably sit in seat for any length of time. With extraordinary determination, however, she’s been making some equally extraordinary progress, and although it took us a few days to do it, she managed to grab a deck and join me at the table for a match. Meeting my Nezumi at the table was Jimi’s army of Oni and Ogres, the denizens of Dark Devotion.
As relayed in our previous review (Ninutsu), there was a steep and immediate drop-off in tropes and conceptions about medieval Japanese history and mythology after the most obvious two- Samurai and Ninja. This wasn’t necessarily all downside; instead, it meant that there was a great deal of “ideaspace” for Creative to fill, and Magic’s players were treated to a world filled with Spirits that had suddenly and inexplicable turned on their one-time moral cohabitants. For all the criticism of the set overall- typically focused on either a) power level, or b) card names hard to grasp for Occidental ears- one could hardly argue that the narrative itself wasn’t intriguing and compelling. Mechanically, though, Betrayers of Kamigawa couldn’t help but look a bit thin.
It’s time to break out the Betrayers of Kamigawa, and Sam is eager to get stuck into it. I’m piloting Ninjutsu, and to play the role of opposition Sam’s selected the Green/White Spiritcraft. Can my shadow warriors carry the day, or will we meet our match with Kamigawa’s abundant Kami?
It will come as news to no-one that brainstorming and free association are powerful creative tools. The simple act of allowing a group of minds in a room to bounce ideas off of one another can often produce results greater than the sum of the parts, and we’ve related more than once the stories of what’s come out of these sessions at Wizards of the Coast. For instance, there was the recently-recounted Godfather moment with the Orzhov during Ravnica block design, and during our look at Deathly Dominion we discussed the same being done for the horror themes and tropes that would bring Innistrad to life.