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December 3, 2011


Champions of Kamigawa: Spiritbane Review (Part 1 of 2)

by Dredd77

The sudden and startling aggression of the kami caught the world by surprise. None could say why their gods had turned against them, but there could be no doubt that something had moved the spirit world to attack the mortal world, both faithful and faithless alike.

Reports came in from all corners of Kamigawa of the manifestations of the kami’s wrath.

“When the rampaging kami at Reito had crushed the opposing militia, swarms of minor kami swept over the battlefield to consume all that remained.” —Great Battles of Kamigawa

“Each night as Master Dosan prays to the kami, the hate he receives in return withers his body a little more. Though the kami are slowly killing him, still he continues his prayers.”—Meditation journal of a young budoka

“Everything the kami had done, they did with more force. Gentle breezes became typhoons, rolling rivers turned to crushing rapids, and gentle growth became overnight masses of thorns and vines.” -Unknown

“The hound sniffed the air and let slip a low growl. General Takeno looked down at the faithful Isamaru and calmed him with a touch. “Alert the men. The kami are coming.”” -Unknown

“Many great warriors died in the first days of the war, as the spirits of their weaponry turned against them with terrifying rage.” —Observations of the Kami War

“How can we wage war against ourselves? What happens when the kami of our very souls rise against us? I answer simply: We cannot. We die. There can be no victory in this war.” —Sensei Hisoka, letter to Lord Konda

Still, despite the initial panic and confusion after the kami turned against them, there were still pockets of resistance. Not least were the yamabushi of the Sokenzan Mountains, monks who had trained for combat against the Spirit world and were some of the most prepared to strike back. Spiritbane recreates this enclave of monks and warriors in a single, 60-card deck.

Winning Victories Against the Kami

Of the four theme decks of Champions of Kamigawa, only Kami Reborn has more than one colour. For Spiritbane, it’s sole provenance derives from the Mountains, the land of the akki Goblins and the yamabushi Shaman. In more material terms, it’s exactly what you’d expect- aggressive creatures backed up by a heavy burn package. Of course, this being a Kamigawa deck there also needs to be a solid flavour component, and here too we see little exception. Look for yamabushi cards which remove creatures from the game rather than send them to the graveyard. This might not seem all that important, until you realise that the yamabushi are formidable enemies of the kami- and what better way to combat them than to deny them soulshift?

We begin our walk up the creature curve with your one-drop Akki Avalanchers. Once upon a time you actually would see full playsets of cards in preconstructed decks, before Wizards realised that doing so gave players less incentive to buy more cards and tinker with their deck. The upside, however, is a welcome level of consistency- as you’ll see, a large number of cards here are two-ofs or better. The Avalanchers are a reasonable beater- a 1/1 body that can eat land to get a power boost. Later in the game, that might be just the ticket to maximise your resources-to-damage ratio, and having one-drops that aren’t total rubbish in the late-game is always a plus. The fact that you can activate this ability at instant speed also makes the Avalanchers a solid blocking option.

Moving on to the two-drops, we have a pair of three-of’s here in the Akki Rockspeaker and Battle-Mad Ronin. The Ronin is a 1/1 Samurai which has the occasional Red drawback of being forced to attack each turn if able. The upside is that with bushido 2 your opponent will need to block him with a 4/4 if he doesn’t fancy a trade, making this a fairly reliable beater. Less welcome is the Rockspeaker, who essentially is a slightly worse one-mana 1/1- slightly worse in that it’s harder to cast than the Mons Goblin Raiders but gives you no more benefit. Were there ways to harness the enters-the-battlefield mana bonus, like ways to recur creatures from the graveyard, a case for utility might be made. As-is, though, this is a straight Red deck, and the Rockspeaker is a waste of three slots. On the upside, at least we don’t have to worry about mana burn anymore.

Akki Rockspeaker

The Ronin Houndmaster give us another quality bushido body in the three-drops, and you get a trio of them. A 2/2 with haste as well as bushido, this is a solid deal. You also have a pair of Akki Coalflingers here, also 2/2 with first strike and with the ability to give first strike to all your attacking creatures. Finally, you have a pair of legends in the Brothers Yamazaki. Each merely a 2/1 with bushido 1, the Brothers have a most interesting condition. They are exactly identical (aside from the art), but they grant an exception to the ‘legend rule’ which states that if a legend comes into play with the same name as one in play, they both are sacrificed. Instead, if you manage to get two Brothers out, they each get a nifty bonus- +2/+2 and haste. That’s a strong deal, but on their own each Brother is a bit weak for three mana.

Our four-drop slot consists of three copies of a single card, the Frostwielder. She’s essentially a Prodigal Pyromancer, but for one more mana she ensures that anything she damages that dies is removed from the game instead of going to the graveyard. It’s here that we get the first real taste of the yamabushi’s Spirit-fighting capabilities, and against them this ability is cripplingly strong. Being able to keep Spirits out of the graveyard to prevent their return means that the Spirit-reliant player is overpaying for their creatures for an ability they won’t even get to use. Like other cards in this deck, she’s a bit overpriced under less optimal conditions, but a pinger in this environment won’t often have a lack of targets.

Finally at the top of the curve we have the big man himself, Kumano, Master Yamabushi and a pair of Kumano’s Pupils. Both cards have the same exile clause as the Frostwielder, and Kumano himself has a repeatable ping ability atop a beefy 4/4 body. The Pupils follow the same pattern as the Frostwielder and Brothers Yamazaki in that they’re a touch too expensive for what they are under less than optimal conditions. Against decks that have no recursion, they’re just a rather underwhelming five-mana 3/3.

Embracing the Sun Itself

As you’d hope, Spiritbane is packed with burn spells in addition to its other noncreature support. First up is a trio of Yamabushi’s Flames, essentially a Lightning Bolt with an exile clause on it. Even against non-Spirit decks you’ll be happy to have three points of instant-speed damage at your disposal, even if it’s a little pricier than the Bolt. Then you have a pair of Hanabi Blasts, which continuing the metaphors is like a pricier Shock. The upside here is that you might not lose the Blast when you cast it, though that may or may not be a good thing depending on what you cast. Integrating randomness into Red is always hit or miss, but this card is definitely a flavourful hit. The prospect of being able to Blast someone out of a game by casting it multiple times is a very appealing one. Finally, there’s a pair of Crushing Pains. These are a little less reliable, given that you can only target something that’s sustained injury. You’ll want to avoid blowing two burn spells to kill one creature unless circumstances are absolutely dire, so you might want to save this for when you get a pinger out, or can offer up some useless creature as a chump blocker.

Yamabushi's Flame

A trio of equipment cards can help make up for some of the deck’s highlighted inefficiencies when it comes to its creatures. The No-Dachi gives a simple +2/+0 bonus, granting first strike in the process. Meanwhile, your deck’s other rare outside of Kumano is the Kusari-Gama. It gives a sort of colourless Firebreathing, with the added kicker that whenever the creature it equips damages a blocking creature, every creature your opponent controls will also then take that much additional damage. Equipped to one of your more powerful creatures, this has the potential to be a one-sided Wrath of God effect, and having a mana sink for later in the game always comes in handy.

The deck’s final cards are the Sideswipe and a pair of Blind with Angers. The Angers are the expected variation on Red’s borrow-a-creature theme a la Act of Treason. Sure it costs one more mana- and can’t steal legendary creatures- but the fact that it can be cast at instant speed can give it the potential for two-for-one situations where you steal an opponent’s creature to block one of their attacking creatures. Finally there’s Sideswipe, one of the target-fiddly spells you historically have often seen in Blue (like Redirect). With Arcane spells appearing in each of the four theme decks for Champions, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to put this to good use.

In a nutshell, then, we have a very start contrast to Kami Reborn. Kami Reborn was a two-coloured deck with a lot of interactions and interplay between its cards focused on graveyard recursion. There are no such tricks here- Spiritbane is about as blunt and direct a response as you could expect to get. Mono-Red, filled with aggressive-minded beaters and burn spells, with the ability to exile cards rather than send them to the graveyard, can its singlemindedness of purpose carry the day? We’ll take it into battle and find out- see you in two days’ time!

30 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dec 3 2011

    The Yamabushi mechanic is totally lame. I’m glad they all died in the Saviors novel.

    Uh, spoilers.

  2. tenthtechpriest
    Dec 3 2011

    Ah, Yamabushi. Brings back so many memories. Like how my friend used to run a deck based around getting both Kumano, Master Yamabushi and Horobi, Death’s Wail out. God he was a dick.

    Anyway from what I remember this was a fairly solid deck. Nice aggressive curve, a near guaranteed piece of removal in every hand, and a smug grin whenever Kumano hits the field, be it on turn 5 with the land drop to provide an intimidating threat or topdecked late game where you have enough mana to nuke something important off their field the second he hits it. Kusari-gama is a wonderful second rare choice that forces the opponent between a rock and a hard place: either let the damage go through and risk you firebreathing more out of their life, or block (likely triggering bushido in the process) and risk losing a whole field to a single creature, or at the very least weakening their hard-hitters into the range of Frostwielder and Kumano’s finishing hits. The Akki are strange choices in here flavor-wise, but since they got shafted this block as far as pre-cons are concerned I guess it can slide. Glacial Ray or Lava Spike instead of Hanabi Blast would’ve been nice too.

    • Dec 3 2011

      D’oh! A missed opportunity. If you’d said “a wonderful second rare choice that forces the opponent between a block and a hard place” that would have given you +10 LSV points.

  3. Dec 3 2011

    I got this deck when it came out and was quite disappointed…the only cards from it I liked were Kumano and the Akki Coal-Flingers. Overcosting for yamabushi is even worse than overcosting for soulshift. But that was mainly because I had no opponents using spirit decks. Should be better against an all-Kamigawa line-up.

  4. Nerethos
    Dec 3 2011

    I used to love this deck. Was one of the first decks I ever bought with my money. I really enjoyed the flavor of it, especially Kumano’s Blessing. Master Yamabushi himself is still one of my favorite cards, even if it is a bit overcosted. Hanabi Blast is just devestating once you get the mana for it. You can pretty much wipe out every other creature if you have a decent hand size. (who needs crushing pain when their creatures are only 2/2s?)

    Kurasi-Gama is a great equipment even out of the Kamigawa block, even if it is overshadowed by the swords.

    Equip this to a first striker or a double striker and watch your opponent sweat as your 2/2 suddenly becomes a board sweeper.

  5. outhouseinferno
    Dec 3 2011

    The anti-soulshift theme in this deck sort of reminds me of the anti-artifact precon decks in the Mirrodin blocks. Except actually good. It has a curve, it has tons of burn, and decent haste dudes.

    Kusari-Gama is great, but I think even No-Dachi can just win games for this deck, like it did for the samurai one. Equipment is good in the precon environment.

    • Varo
      Dec 3 2011

      That’s exactly what i thought, anti-soulshift ~ anti-artifact. They’re interesting decks when played against other precons from the same set, but outside the environment, they’re not worth much.

      However, as outhouseninferno says; burn, haste and equipment could make this deck a though opponent even against other precons from other sets. I wonder if this deck will be in a precon championship soon…

      • Montesque
        Dec 5 2011

        Yeah…it would kind of be interesting if the EL folks did an analysis of how many sets included a set of “anti-set” precons.

  6. Ira
    Dec 3 2011

    So, another deck built specifically for the limited environment of the block. I’m always a bit leery of these. Decks built to showcase a block’s core mechanics, or tribal decks, can be closely related to the background and flavour of that block, while still being relevant outside that block. Decks built to hose a key mechanic of the block, on the other hand, are equally flavourful but much less relevant. In Kamigawa’s case it probably didn’t help that its core mechanics didn’t play nicely with mechanics from other blocks either. Kamigawa comes off on the whole as a rather peculiar island in M:tG, not well connected to anything before or after.

  7. Jux2p0ze
    Dec 3 2011

    Being of Asian descent, I was excited to see what WotC would do with their envisionment of my heritage, but overall I was disappointed with the entire Kamigawa set. Yes, there are some great cards in there which have made it into personal lists of power cards, but it felt like weak mimicry of the Legends of the Five Rings CCG. The Arcane and Bushido mechanic were just narrow in scope and vision.

    I really hope that revisit Kamigawa or makes an advanced version of the Three Kingdoms setting to take advantage of some very rich and deep cultures.

  8. Dec 3 2011

    Huh! The context at the beginning of the article made me appreciate the Kamigawa environment a little bit more. Still not convinced, but at least I can enjoy the cards more. Also definitely reminded of Relic-Breakers and the like from the Scars block. Perhaps the deck will do well in the Kamigawa field, but once it’s time for the Pre-Con championships I think it’s pretty obvious what’s going to happen.
    Speaking of which, did anyone else notice that Entomb from Graveborn is selling for between 16 and 20 bucks? Makes me want to pick up another deck just for a couple of the cards. I do need an an Akroma, Angel of Wrath Divine vs. Demonic to put in that deck too. Pricey pricey.

    • tenthtechpriest
      Dec 3 2011

      Sexy new art on a $40 Odyssey rare (or that was the price pre-graveborn at least, may have gone down), it’s a given. It’s completely sold out in my area, minus the shops who tore open copies to sell the rares as singles.

      • stric9
        Dec 3 2011

        Ironically, although the individual card may be sold out the deck is still selling for the usual retail price and is easy to find at places like Target or Wal-Mart and online.

  9. benwsf
    Dec 3 2011

    I love your introduction, and it makes me realize just how much flavor was a key part of the Kamigawa block. The equipment looks really good, and the burn is ok, but otherwise the Yamabushi and Akki are pretty weak. Everything is overcosted, but dripping with flavor. I am looking forward to seeing how it holds up in battle.

  10. Willis Terry
    Dec 3 2011

    I love the flavorful intro, it really fits the set. I never really appreciated the yamabushi magic back in the day. Kumano and Training Ground sounds cool, alas there were years between the two.

    • tenthtechpriest
      Dec 3 2011

      If we’re going to Zendikar I think I’d prefer Basilisk Collar.

      • Lia
        Dec 5 2011

        Why not both?

  11. Bawb540
    Dec 4 2011

    I am usually not too big of a mono-red fan, but this deck looks fun. I know a lot of people tend to give Kamigawa a hard time, saying the cards are (mostly) under-powered and over-costed, but if you are playing with cards just from that block, you can have some fun times. I remember using a primarily Kamigawa mono-white deck against someone else’s Kamigawa mono-white. Lots of samurai, and combat math took days to figure out, but I enjoyed it.

    …Actually, anyone know where I can get a cheap box of one of these sets?

  12. Eric
    Dec 4 2011

    Great introduction, it really gave me a better feel for the feel of the set in general. I do think I would enjoy playing with these precons.

  13. Gilmamesh
    Dec 4 2011

    thought i have been following your reviews for a long time this is my first post, i got excited when i see that you start to review the kamigawa block, because between my brother and i we have bought all deck from this set and i own spiritbane (and my brother has Kami Reborn).

    i really like the way you start talking (or writing) a little bit about the the history of magic and as in this case the story of the set.

    well about this deck, i think the deck is relatively weak but the cards individually actually are not bad at all, i love my kusari-gama and those No-Dachi can give some nice advantage, not to mention kumano, the people how i play with hate him xD.

    the Battle-Mad Ronin can be very good actually, some times i build a deck with a play set of this and a play set of Maniacal Rage (i know there are better options like Goblin War Paint but those are the only red cheap boosting enchant creature that i have) and turn 3 attacking 3/3 Bushido 2 is no joke.

    the Yamabushi’s Flame are good since my friends like to use their graveyards a little to much and i like the Crushing Pain since i normally i play with other 2 people so i can use it when they are battling each other, sometime i use it in a diplomatic way, like “if you block that creature i can use this to kill it” and in other negotiations like that xD.

    the Akki Coalflinger are nice too since i do play two headed dragon and i use them to boost my team creatures.

    i can continue but i think i make my point xD

    i start playing since onslaught and my first deck was Ivory Doom, witch is my favorite theme deck (the clerics) and i have been improve it a lot, im looking forward to see your review of that deck and that block (since between my brother and i own the 4 decks of the set)

    thanks you very much for all your work, i have really enjoy it, before i buy a deck i always see your review first xD, hope to see the part 2 of this article soon, cant wait to see the battle and your opinion on the deck.

  14. Dec 4 2011

    + The context of resistance in red to those gods of old are a nice touch. It’s abundantly clear how prepared they are to operate against the Kami.

    + The Bushido/Equipment technique is unique. It doesn’t simply make the big dudes bigger, it threatens the opponent to taking a good handful of damage while threatening blockers. But it’s not as obvious as seeing a 5/5 come at you and chumping immediately, you general see these guys as less threatening at 3/1. So you are more lenient with letting them through. Against Red, that can be your downfall.

    + The bottom of the curve seems too heavy. Red needs to be able to end the game as well as make a fast start. The AAvamancers are alright… But at 4? Having more than one doesn’t exactly multiply your snowball potential. And don’t get me started on the ARockspeakers…

    • stric9
      Dec 4 2011

      Devon! Your last comment is supposed to have a (-) isn’t it? I’m just getting used to your comments. Don’t go changing things on me now.

      • Dec 4 2011

        Oh, you’re right :P. Don’t worry, the last one actually is suppose to be negative.

        Or we can pretend I’m different Devon from the one above.

  15. Limbonic_art
    Dec 4 2011

    This is one of the decks my friend bought back in Kamigawa block, he fused it with the white samurai deck to make a boros samurai deck. It did pretty good actually, and it kept a lot of the burn and equipment from this deck.
    As for spiritbane itself, I think it will do pretty good against the other decks. Although its burn package isn’t wondeful,any burn is good in this format. Combined with the many aggressive creatures here, it has a lot of potential to win via creature attacks, packed with burn to remove annoying blockers or finish the opponent off. Let’s see how it will actually do in the battlefield. I would pare it up against Way of the warrior, both decks are sort of weenie based.
    Awesome block.

  16. Jon David
    Dec 5 2011

    Honestly, I’ve always preferred the Spirits of Kamigawa to it’s native peoples. The only time I think I’ve really seen any of the humans from Kamigawa used was in an EDH game once when someone used Kumano as their general.

  17. koga305
    Dec 6 2011

    These decks are more flavorfully consistent than current precons… in SOM Block you’d see all these creepy phyrexian creatures and then a random Grizzly Bears.
    On the other hand, the attention to including only flavorful cards can also lead to extremely parasitic mechanics such as arcane… it’s terrible to look at these cards and see so many that only work with Arcane spells.

  18. Ben (aka Panahinuva)
    Dec 10 2011

    Ahhhhhhh four ofs in theme decks. I miss those. Blind with Anger can completely ruin attacks, especially against spirits. And of course the Yamabushis can obliterate spirits. Just looking over this deck, it seems ok against most decks, but really good against spirits. Hence the name, I suppose.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Champions of Kamigawa: Way of the Warrior Review (Part 1 of 2) | Ertai's Lament
  2. Betrayers of Kamigawa: Spiritcraft Review (Part 1 of 2) | Ertai's Lament

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