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December 1, 2011

33

Champions of Kamigawa: Kami Reborn Review (Part 2 of 2)

by Dredd77

It’s our opening matchup for Champions of Kamigawa, and today I’ll be up against Jimi and her mono-White Way of the Warrior. Will her Samurai prevail, or will they face the divine wrath of the kami?

Game One

On the play, I lead with a Forest while Jimi naturally plays a Plains. Next turn I land my first creature- a Dripping-Tongue Zubera. Jimi’s content with some equipment in the form of a No-Dachi and passes. Next turn I attack, and the turn after that when she has nothing.

By turn 4 I have the creature advantage, swinging in again with the Zubera to take Jimi to 18, but I’ve now missed my second consecutive land drop. Jimi’s hit hers right on track, so when she lands a turn-4 Devoted Retainer, she’s happy to equip him with the No-Dachi then and there. Next turn I’ve hit my hand limit, and not having drawn a land am forced to discard a Venerable Kumo. Back to Jimi, she swings for 3 with the Retainer to take the lead, then plays a Mothrider Samurai.

My land woes continue on turn 6, which sees me pitch a Honden of Life’s Web. Jimi attacks for 5, then adds a Konda’s Hatamoto. I’m down to 12 life and am pretty much circling the drain at this point. On turn 7 I draw and play a Hana Kami, then follow next turn with a Soilshaper. Meanwhile Jimi’s chipping away at my life total. On turn 8 I start to chump off my critters, and fold shortly thereafter.

Game Two

I open the next match with a Swamp as Jimi leads with a Devoted Retainer, which begins whittling me down. I’ve kept a two-lander with a Kodama’s Reach, so I’m feeling a little more confident this go-round. By turn 4, however, I’ve failed to draw another land- again stuck on two. I play an Ashen-Skin Zubera and pass. Back to Jimi- who again has hit her drops in a disturbing repeat of the last game- lands a Mothrider Samurai after an attack that’s left me at 17 life.

Now turn 5, I’m forced to discard, tossing Dance of Shadows into the graveyard. Jimi swings for 3, then adds a Kitsune Blademaster. I pitch a Soilshaper. Jimi swings for 5 and I chump the Zubera, forcing her to discard a Plains- and that’s about as good as it gets for me. I’m done in on turn 8.

Game Three

Looking to change my fortunes, I declare myself to be on the draw this time. Although I don’t relish the prospect of giving Jimi’s aggressive deck an early jump, Kami Reborn’s woes might be somewhat mitigated by drawing first. We begin turn 1 with land drops, then Jimi follows up with a turn-2 Konda’s Hatamoto. She follows again next turn with an attack and another Hatamoto as I hit my land drops and play a Kodama’s Reach. I drop a Swamp onto the board (giving me two of each type), and pull a Forest to hand.

Thief of Hope

Now turn 4, Jimi adds a Bushi Tenderfoot after a 2-point swing which leaves me at 17. Back to me, I play a Venerable Kumo and pass. Next turn Jimi attacks in again with the pair of Hatamoto, but I block one of them with the Kumo to go to 16. She then adds a Mothrider Samurai and ends her turn. Thanks to solid land drops and the Reach, I’m able to deploy Iname, Death Aspect. I head for my library, depositing a spectrum of Spirits into my graveyard but taking care not to take too many. In go a Hana Kami, an Ashen-Tongue Zubera, a Soilshaper (given my abundance of land, a good option), a Thief of Hope, and a Gibbering Kami, covering converted mana costs of 1 through 4.

Jimi shuts down Iname immediately on turn 6 with a Cage of Hands, then attacks for 4 with her Hatamoto and Mothrider. I again block one of the Hatamoto, but still take 3 damage overall. Jimi adds a Devoted Retainer and passes. I follow up with a Kami of Lunacy, relieved to at last be deploying some threats. Alas, it does not long remain one as Jimi drops another Cage of Hands onto it next turn before attacking with her Hatamoto, Mothrider, and the Devoted Retainer. I block and kill the Retainer with my Kumo, but can’t avoid going down to 9 life. Back to me, I summon the Burr Grafter and a Kami of the Hunt, stabilising my defenses.

Jimi swings in again on turn 8, but this time I’m better prepared to withstand it. I block her Retainer with my Burr Grafter, then put the Kumo in the path of the Mothrider. After declaring blockers, I pop the Burr Grafter (which would have traded with the Retainer thanks to bushido) to pump the Kumo, letting it scalp the Mothrider Samurai and live to tell the tale. Thanks to the Grafter’s soulshift, I’m able to return the Thief of Hope to my hand from the graveyard. Jimi plays a replacement Devoted Retainer before ending her turn. I then add a Long-Forgotten Gohei, which turns the corner for me thanks to its +1/+1 bonus across the board. I then deploy a Kami of Lunacy (to replace the one Jimi has put in the Cage), and pass turn.

Jimi adds to her board presence on turn 9 with Samurai Enforcers, but holds off on the attack. I play the Thief of Hope and pass. Next turn Jimi gives the Enforcers protection from Black with Blessed Breath in a desperation ploy, but only ends up two-for-one’ing herself as I gang-block the Enforcers with my Venerable Kumo and Kami of the Hunt. She kills off the Kami, leaming me the Kumo. Over to me, I play a second Venerable Kumo before swinging in with my Kami of Lunacy in the air for 5 after syphoning a life off her with the Thief of Hope. Jimi’s now at 14- with me at 8.

Jimi’s Samurai are now circling the drain and Jimi knows it- she’s given the Kami too much time to entrench, and now with soulshift my stream of blockers will be unending. Knowing the gig is up she sends in the ground troops on turn 11, but three get eaten by my Spirits and I’m left at 7 life. I fire back for 8 with a Kumo and the Kami of Lunacy, putting her to 6. Her turn 12 is a blank, and I come in again next turn with the flying Kami. Although she goes down to 1, she’s managed to topdeck a Reciprocate and solves the flying Kami problem.

Now turn 13, Jimi gets a late pass with Takeno, Samurai General. I draw a Pull Under and cast it, killing off Takeno and winning the game off the 1-point syphon from the Thief of Hope.

Thoughts & Analysis

Let’s not be too harsh on Kami Reborn– I do have to put my hand up and say that perhaps those weren’t the best keeps in the first two games, and I might have given a thought to mulliganing. On the other hand, it says something about the deck that a two-land hand should be almost automatically suspect. Indeed, Kami Reborn is a harsh and unforgiving master when it comes to its mana costs. Here’s a sobering fact: nearly one-third of the deck’s nonland cards cost five or more mana. Want another? You have a very sparse amount of mana ramp (a pair of Kodama’s Reaches). You’re going to have more than the usual difficulty in finding a decent opening hand, and you’re very vulnerable to drawing things you simply can’t cast.

Gibbering Kami

The good news is, if you do manage to establish a foothold in the mortal world, your Spirits will very quickly begin to take over the game for you. Once you’ve managed a few in your graveyard, soulshift will provide you with a steady stream of card advantage. Although each soulshift Spirit will always grab a cheaper card from your graveyard (assuming one’s available), this still gives you a sort of ladder effect where each creature that dies keeps returning in a slightly weaker form. You can very quickly stymie your opponent’s offense this way, as trades in the red zone hurt them far worse than they hurt you. And with kami like the Thief of Hope, Gibbering Kami, and Kami of Lunacy which either have evasion or ways to extend your reach, a congested ground game isn’t such a bad thing.

A substantial number of preconstructed decks adhere to the feast/famine archetype, something we’ve addressed before. Under the right conditions, your deck ‘turns on’ and becomes quite powerful, where it might be vulnerable otherwise. The trick, then, is to maximise your chances for attaining the right conditions, and use your deck’s empowered arsenal to defeat your opponent. In Kami Reborn’s case, that factor is establishment. Weak in the early game and susceptible to early blowouts, if you can get the right cards out and bid for time you can craft a brutal juggernaut of an engine for the late-game. It’s not a strategy for everyone, but it does hew to a certain logic.

It does make one wonder about the strength of soulshift with regards to the set’s power level for its theme decks, in light of the fact that the deck is so congested on the back-end. With only a couple of ramping options, you might be forgiven for wondering if that is a deliberate design decision. Is soulshift so powerful that if the deck’s mana curve was more balanced it would run the table on the other three? Or was this something of an oversight on their part, not realising how crippling the deck’s expensive card allotment could be to its development ingame. We might never know for certain, but it’s an interesting question.

Overall, this is a deck for those who don’t mind taking some lumps to set up the potential for a crushing victory, and the deck shows glimmers of promise. It will be interesting to see in later reviews of Betrayers and Saviors of Kamigawa whether or not a more functional Spirit/soulshift deck emerges.

Hits: Heavy Spirit tribal element gives the soulshift mechanic tremendous support; soulshift can yield a great deal of card advantage over the course of a game; solid closing options not just in creatures, but in cards like Dance of Shadows and Devouring Greed

Misses: Exorbitant mana curve and lack of a solid ramping suite mean that you’ll be struggling with bad opening hands and bad draws for much of the game, leaving you vulnerable to an early defeat

OVERALL SCORE: 4.00/5.00

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33 Comments Post a comment
  1. Varo
    Dec 1 2011

    Those first two games say a lot of things about the deck, since you seldom keep bad hands ( if it was Jimi with her bad luck, it might be understandable ). Could you let us see your notes from the introductory/pre match?

    I don’t think soulshift is such a powerful mechanic that the deck had to be built like that to compensate, it must have been a design error, or maybe the deck was thought to be a base to build better decks from it.

    On the other hand, the deck Jimi was piloting seems pretty solid, and if i recall correctly, white weenie was one of her favourite archetypes, so that could have made us sense that the spirit deck is worst than it really is.

    Reply
    • Dec 1 2011

      Alas, we don’t keep notes for the friendly, since it’s as much a get-acquainted run as anything else. I will integrate particularly useful observations into the narrative of the review from time to time, when it reinforces a point I’ve observed but maybe didn’t play out as obviously in the three we did record.

      Reply
  2. Ira
    Dec 1 2011

    There’s also probably something to be said for playing a deck that’s notably vulnerable in the early game and wins through gradual attrition against a White Weenie deck. ‘Way of the Warrior’ might have enjoyed a natural advantage over this one for that reason. You do get the impression that ‘Kami Reborn’ really wants a bit of ramping, or a couple of mana creatures.

    Reply
  3. outhouseinferno
    Dec 1 2011

    The deck really could have loaded up on the 1-2 cost critters, since those could get retrieved by any soulshift, more quickly power out Devouring Greed or Dance of Shadows, etc.

    But it seems like the other theme decks got most of the good early-game drops that were in theme, (Sakura-Tribe Elder has to go into in the snake deck first) and that seemed to be a big factor in these decks.

    Reply
    • Dec 1 2011

      Agreed. What the deck did was try to cram in a lot of expensive stuff under the idea that you’d always be able to get -something- out of your graveyard if something big died, since it could pull nearly naything back. I’d have preferred it took a more pyramidal approach, letting them cascade down after dying. 2 at 5+ CMC, 3 at 4 CMC, 5 at 3 CMC, 6 at 2 CMC as a place to start and see how that worked.

      Reply
  4. Willis Terry
    Dec 1 2011

    24 lands does seem like a decent number, but with the curve as high as it was, perhaps another land should have been included. The fact that soulshift does provide late game card advantage that requires significant mana investments should have been accounted for, and may have been with regards to Hana Kami returning Kodoma’s Reach to your hand.

    Reply
  5. Limbonic_art
    Dec 1 2011

    I’m strongly dissapointed to see the field results of this deck. Pherhaps white weenie was not an appropriate opponent? Maybe it needs a slighly slower deck, who knows. 24 lands makes this deck starve, it would need around 26 without ramp to have more consistent land drops, perhaps. The early drops are weak overall, like the Hana kami and kami of the hope. This deck focuses too much on the late game, and basically gives you overcosted creatures in early and mid game. It has some cool cards, and interactions are supported at least.

    Reply
    • Dec 1 2011

      That begs an interesting question- what ‘is’ an appropriate opponent for it? If not Way of the Warrior, could it be Spiritbane? Except Spiritbane is set up specifically as a counter to soulshift. What about Snake’s Path? Urk, that’s a Green Weenie deck with a host of cheap critters. Sadly for Kami Reborn, it has to sink or swim based on the fellows in the deck pool.

      Waaaay back at the dawn of the site we used to play decks against decks from different sets as a way to compare and contrast them, but that’s when the issue of appropriate opponents first started to come to mind. I can’t remember if we actually did any reviews based on this, but very quickly we figured out that it was fair only to play decks of a set against other decks of a set, for they are designed and somewhat balanced together.

      Great comments, by the way!

      Reply
  6. koga305
    Dec 1 2011

    I’d also like to see the pregame notes – did the deck fare any better then? It’ll be nice to see this deck against a slower opponent, which we may very well see in the near future.

    Reply
    • Dec 1 2011

      Afraid not, I lost that one as well (I’d selected to be on the play in Game One as a consequence of losing the friendly). We don’t keep any notes on our friendly, though take heart- on the occasions where some result from it is relevant to the full review, I’ll usually try and work it in somewhere.

      We’ll see the deck again someday once we get to the season it’s featured in for the “Preconstructed Deck Championships.” Perhaps then it might luck into some slower opposition?

      Reply
  7. Eric
    Dec 1 2011

    Agreed, I’d like to see how this fares against other decks…disappointing to see how vulnerable it was to the lack of land because it otherwise seems like a fun deck.

    Reply
  8. thewachman (Mr. Suitcase on MTGCast)
    Dec 1 2011

    Do you think this is a case for a deck that always wants to draw to mitigate the looseness of the 2 land hand keep?

    Reply
    • Dec 1 2011

      That’s a good insight, Eric, and where we likely would have gone with more games to play. It wasn’t immediately evident in playing that it was -that- punitive on a shaky keep, plus there’s that natural leeriness in giving an aggro/swarm deck the play. If I were to reply the games, that’s precisely what I’d do.

      Reply
  9. Sean
    Dec 1 2011

    I wonder if there was development made the decision to make the deck somewhat weaker so that people picking it up could practice some deck building skills, mainly taking out some of the higher cost spells and adding another kodama’s reach or two. They have said that they do this for the modern intro decks, but I don’t know about the previous theme decks.

    I really like the flavor, and the language Wizards uses for card names really made reading about these games feel like the spirit world was coming to life. The samurai battling the spirits ability to never truly die via soulshift is a very fun concept. It’s too bad mechanically it’s not all that strong.

    Reply
    • Dec 1 2011

      You’re absolutely right that this is the case with the modern Intro Pack deck, though it is less so for the old Theme Decks. For one thing, note the frequency of three-of’s and four-of’s in these decklists, something you really only see in an Event Deck these days. The greater design constraint here was simply building a set of decks that were reasonably balanced against one another, within the rarity scheme permitted (ie X rares, Y uncommons, Z commons) that also effectively showcased a particular theme or mechanic within the set. It’s hard to imagine that they missed this in designing the decks, but then I suppose you never know!

      Reply
  10. Dec 1 2011

    Or could it have been a combination of promoting deck building by improving the deck, and possibly encouraging people to be more aggressive with their mulligans?

    Either way, it’s easy to see when you have enough mana available that this deck really becomes a freight train. That alone should make people want to meddle it to ensure that it picks up steam consistently!

    Also, unless you’re considering changing your style of writing on the site, I think you have a typo you might want to fix in Game Three, paragraph three. 😉

    Reply
    • Dec 1 2011

      You know, after the drubbing I took in the first two games I suppose I could be forgiven the Freudian slip? 😀

      Thanks for the catch, good for a laugh but I’ve fixed it.

      You’re right about meddling it… even I’ve found myself wondering what I’d do to improve it, starting with trying out a ‘pyramid’ shape to the creature curve which can maximise soulshift quantities rather than qualities.

      Reply
  11. tenthtechpriest
    Dec 1 2011

    After a cursory glance at the other theme decks for this set, maybe it would have been better if the deck were more focused on a graveyard toolbox theme more akin to say a Golgari deck or some of the more modern Innistrad recursion. Swapping in some cheaper spirits with useful abilities and changing some of the disposable soulshifters for more evasive beaters like Lunacy, or perhaps Thousand-legged Kami if some trample could find its way into the deck.

    While I highly doubt either of the appropriate members of the dragon or myojin cycles would make it into a precon, Iname Life Aspect and Kodama of the South Tree would’ve been welcome alternatives to the deck’s current rares; the former allowing one to ‘restart’ the soulshift engine while the later ensures all your creatures benefit from soulshift the next turn via mini-overrun

    Reply
  12. fillip
    Dec 1 2011

    That was disappointing. I don’t think the match-up should have mattered, as decks from a set are supposed to be balanced against each other. Even with bad draws in the first two games, i’d say this is a mediocre deck; too many clunky creatures, poor removal ad a wonky curve. The deck does have promise (I modified mine and it worked well), but it just doesn’t work that well.

    Reply
  13. Ben (aka Panahinuva)
    Dec 1 2011

    The deck definitely looks like it has potential to smash, with the fliers and the gohei, but it really looks like it’s doing too much cuteness and durdle, which was and is sadly common in theme decks and intro packs. However, it’s a great place to start for a spirit deck. I for one am glad I have it, since I threw both rares into my white black human/spirit deck so I could play it and dump my remaining Dearly Departeds into my graveyard when I get out death aspect.

    I agree with tenthtech that the rares can be somewhat underwhelming, particularly Iname. If it were me, I would’ve replaced Iname with a Kodama of the Center Tree, since it works well with the theme, HAS SOULSHIFT and can be gotten back with a Kami of Lunacy’s soulshift. All in all an average deck, maybe a little more complex than the usual.

    Reply
  14. Dec 1 2011

    I think it should have just been built around Devouring Greed. Cuz I like Devouring Greed. Soulshift, pff, who needs Soulshift? Just get a bunch of spirit tokens and go to town.

    Also, more Carven Caryatid please.

    Reply
    • tenthtechpriest
      Dec 2 2011

      Carven Caryatid wasn’t printed until Ravnica, the year after.

      Reply
  15. Nerethos
    Dec 1 2011

    The deck definitely performed a bit better then I thought it would. But lets face it, the deck isn’t the best precon they’ve put out. However, i find the soulshift mechanic and the overall theme of the deck quite enjoyable. Within its own block, I think its a testament to how the designer’s wanted to showcase spirits, and it definitely shows.

    Reply
  16. It’s nice to see these here. Kamgiawa was one of the blocks I missed while on hiatus from MTG (I dropped off after Visions, and didn’t really get back into it until Time Spiral). Once I started going back and getting cards from the years I missed I found so much in this set that intrigued me. “Auras”! “Equipment”! [granted that one was introduced in Mirrodin but the first ones I saw were Kamigawa-flavored]. Flip Cards, “Vigilance” – all these things got introduced/keyworded or bumped up in this block.

    Reply
    • errtu
      Dec 2 2011

      I know what you mean. I’ve started around 4th Ed and played until Mercadian Masques, then stopped. Then when Mirrodin arrived, i picked up again (artifacts? an entire set? cool!) and dropped out again after Darksteel. So, right before Kamigawa. It was only when Lorwyn came around that I started again (and didn’t stop so far).

      Reply
  17. Dec 1 2011

    I have to agree with most people’s comments here – this was rather disappointing, but probably expected against a deck with so many low-costing creatures. I think this deck should perhaps be meddled with; fixing the mana cost ratio for a start..

    Reply
  18. Dec 1 2011

    I’m glad to see such an active and interactive audience on the last couple of posts. As for me, it’s the holiday season and I just finished playing Magic with my daughter. We play the first one to get 20 cards onto the battlefield wins. She won both times. Her Mesa Pegasus (Revised) and Willow Faerie (Alliances) combined with Snow-Covered Islands and a Pheldagriff destroyed my Snapcaster Mages and Consecrated Sphinxes. It was awesome.

    Reply
  19. Blaven-Blave
    Dec 2 2011

    Woah, I guess back then, spirit tokens weren’t flying, eh? It’s cool to see this block in action. I remember seeing it at my local card stores before I started playing and being very curious about Magic.

    Reply
    • tenthtechpriest
      Dec 2 2011

      Spirit tokens flew back then (heck Oyobi from betrayers made 3/3 flying spirits whenever a spirit/arcane was cast). I think they just didn’t want monogreen to have easy access to flying tokens; less like the spirits tokens we see now, more like pseudo-saprolings

      Reply
      • Lia
        Dec 5 2011

        I think it has more to do with the tokens being colorless. Most Spirit tokens tend to be white and represent post-mortem souls (this is especially noticable in Innistrad, but appears on earlier cards like Afterlife). These Spirits were more flavorfully the bottom grunts, it would seem.

        Reply
  20. benwsf
    Dec 3 2011

    The first deck I ever made was a Green/Red Spirit deck from my cousin’s old cards. I don’t think I won very often at the kitchen table, but I have fond memories of Kamigawa. This praticular precon looks a little bit weak, but I remember it took a while to get soulshift going, and this deck lacks a steady mana curve. Maybe white weenie isn’t the best matchup. Game 2 was just unlucky, but I think 24 lands is a good number for this deck. Maybe it’s time to revisit my old deck, and add some new Innistrad Spirits.

    Reply
  21. Kingbokchoy
    Dec 7 2011

    I love how mtg always has these historical sets

    Reply
  22. Daniel S.
    Dec 15 2011

    I’ve always been a big fan of Japanese mythology, and the Kamigawa block briefly pulled me into Magic again (not for very long due to lack of fellow players). Now that I’ve gotten sucked into it again and actually found people to play against, I’ve taken another look at the deck and discovered that I actually really like spirits.

    I’ve slowly been building a Spirit Commander deck with Karador, Ghost Chieftan as the Commander, and in testing it online, I’m actually rather amazed at how well it works. I’m used to playing somewhat faster decks that play cards of good value, but this deck really shines by using Spirits, mostly from Kamigawa, to their full advantage by recycling them from the graveyard and grinding out card advantage.

    For example, in one recent match I was able to establish a dominant position from relative powerlessness thanks to Oyobi, Who Split The Heavens, Nikko-Onna, and Haru-Onna. With Oyobi in play and a decent amount of mana, I was able to cycle the Onnas each turn, drawing a card off the Haru-Onna and getting a 3/3 flying spirit for each one. This let me draw Iname, Death Aspect, fill my graveyard with several powerful cards, and bring many back with both Karador and Angel of Flight Alabaster. I’m really looking forward to actually playing this deck on paper once I get enough cards.

    Reply

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