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December 5, 2011


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

by Dredd77

Today I’ll be joining with the warrior-monks of the mountain yamabushi, though instead of Spirits we’ll be hunting the snake-like Orochi. Piloted by Sam, Snake’s Path will look to meet fire with venom until only one of us remains.

Game One

Our opening game sees Sam on the play, and she leads with a Forest as I do with a Mountain. Next turn she fetches Sosuke, Son of Seshiro with a Time of Need, while I play the Battle-Mad Ronin. For our third turn, Sam adds an Orochi Ranger while I drop a Kusari-Gama after drawing first blood with the Ronin, and the hunt is afoot!

Now turn 4, Sam draws a blank for her turn, but Wears Away my Kusari-Gama once it’s my turn. For my part, I attack in again for 1 then add an Akki Rockspeaker– a rubbish card but the only one I can play. Back to Sam, she draws another blank, letting me fire in for 2 more with my weenies.

At 16 life, Sam begins to stabilise on turn 6 with Sosuke. When it’s back to me and I attack again, Sosuke allows Sam to trade out her Orochi Ranger for my Battle-Mad Ronin, leaving me with just the pitiful Akki. I play a Brothers Yamazaki, then pass. back to Sam, she adds a Kashi-Tribe Reaver and ends her turn. With Sam overextended and unable to regenerate the Reaver, I catch it with a Yamabushi’s Flame to kill it before sending in the Akki. Sam looks to call my bluff and blocks the Akki with Sosuke, only to learn the hard way exactly how Crushing Pain selects its victims.

Sam adds a Junkyo Bell on turn 8, though reduced to creaturelessness it isn’t much of a threat. I attack in for 2 on my turn, putting her at 13. She then adds an Orochi Leafcaller, but again can only sit and watch as I attack for another 2 with the Brothers Yamazaki. And so it goes, with Sam entering a creature drought. When on turn 11 she finally adds another (an Orochi Sustainer), I simply borrow it for a turn with a Blind with Anger. I grind this one out with the help of an Akki Avalancher, finishing behind a Yamabushi’s Flame for the win.

Game Two

Sam opens with an Orochi Leafcaller, then adds a turn-2 Hankyu and turn-3 Matsu-Tribe Decoy. For my part, my first play comes with a turn-2 No-Dachi, which I follow up with a turn-3 Ronin Houndmaster which is immediately set ahunt. Sam fires back with another atatck on turn 4 (this time for 2), then equips the Hankyu to her Decoy and passes. For my part, I have the Houndmaster pick up the No-Dachi and slash in for 4. It’s a 14-16 game, narrowly in my favour.

Battle-Mad Ronin

Now turn 5, Sam plays Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro. The Decoy, now untapped, places its first aim counter on the Hankyu. I pick off Sachi with a Yamabushi’s Flame once it’s back to me, and swing in again for another 4. Sam’s now down to 10. Her turn-6 Sakura-Tribe Elder gives her a useful chump blocker, and she adds a second aim counter to the Hankyu. When my Houndmaster charges in, she shoves the Elder in front of it and happily goes to fetch a Forest. I add a Frostwielder and pass.

My poor Houndmaster takes it in the neck on turn 7, thanks to Sam’s Hankyu-equipped Decoy. She then plays an Orochi Ranger and passes. I play a second Frostwielder after using the first one to kill her Ranger, making her pay for her oversight. Next turn she adds a Serpent Skin to the Leafcaller, sending it in for 2 damage and taking me to 14. She then starts charging up her Henkyu again and passes turn. Back to me, my turn is a lamentable blank.

The Leafcaller strieks again on turn 9, and she charges the Hankyu’s second aim counter. She then follows up with the Kashi-Tribe Warriors. At the end of her turn, I double-ping Sam directly with my Frostwielders, then blast her with a Yamabushi’s Flame to cut her in half to 5. Back to me, I play a Battle-Mad Ronin. Now turn 10, Sam kills off one of my Frostwielders with the Hankyu, but I’m able to get off a ping in respone. The remaining Frostwielder adds a second point of damage, with a Hanabi Blast adding a further 2 (it ends up discarding itself to my graveyard). Still, Sam’s on a 1-turn clock, and when she can’t solve the remaining Frostwielder, it pings away her last point of life.

Game Three

Sam begins with an Orochi Leafcaller off of a Forest. Next turn, after swinging in for 1 on my clear board, she adds an Orochi Ranger. This time I have an answering play, little though it avails me- a No-Dachi. On turn 3, Sam swings for another 3 damage before adding an Orochi Sustainer and a Hankyu. I drop a surprise Ronin Houndmaster and attack straightaway, taking Sam to 18.

Now turn 4, Sam adds Serpent Skin to her Ranger and sends it into the red zone alongside the Leafcaller, taking me to 12. I equip the No-Dachi to the Houndmaster and stay put on defense. Back to Sam, she does some equipping of her own when she puts the Hankyu on the Leafcaller, then taps it to add an aim counter. With the writing on the wall for the Houndmaster, I send him in for another attack. Sam takes it, and drops to 14.

Sam continues to build up her forces with a turn-6 Matsu-Tribe Decoy, then attacks in for 3. The Leafcaller is tapped again to add another aim counter, and Sam ends her turn. I shove the Houndmaster into the red zone for another 4 to put Sam at the half-way mark, then add a Frostwielder to the table. Next turn Sam engages the Leafcaller to trigger the Hankyu, killing my ill-fated Houndmaster. She attacks for another 3 with her Snakes, then adds Kashi-Tribe Warriors. Back to me, I see an opportunity to even the odds a little bit, as Sam’s left herself with only one Green mana source open (the Orochi Sustainer). I cast Yamabushi’s Flame on her enchanted Ranger, killing it. Sam responds as expected by tapping the Sustainer to regenerate the Ranger thanks to its Serpent Skin. This leaves her tapped out, so I kill it off once and for all with Crushing Pain after pinging it with the Frostwielder.

Sam’s turn 8 is a blank, giving me a little breathing room as I summon Kumano’s Pupils. Next turn Sam activates the Decoy to lure off the Pupils and attacks for 4. This kills the Decoy, of course, but Sam happily places another to replace it. With me now down to 2, things are looking bleak. I add an Akki Avalanchers to my side for some defensive support, then equip the Pupils with the No-Dachi.

Now turn 10, Sam lands another of her legends, Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro. She holds off on attacking this round to regroup, and I ping her down to 9 at the end of her turn. Back to me, I play a second No-Dachi and equip it onto the Avalanchers. It’s all for naught, though- thanks to Sachi, Sam is able to produce enough mana to trigger her Decoy three times. With my entire side forced to block it, the rest swing in for lethal.

Thoughts & Analysis

Despite the presence of some inferior cards, Spiritbane is a reasonably fun deck to play. It has a consistent creature presence and a decent assortment of burn spells to back it up. If there’s a problem with the deck, though, it’s that all throughout you tend to be overpaying for most of your cards by . This is because of the yamabushi’s particular power- the ability to exile that which they kill rather than simply sending it to the graveyard.

Kumano's Pupils

Sets with pronounced themes often will have what we call a “silver bullet” deck which plays against type and acts as a spoiler to keep that theme in check. For instance, the artifact-heavy Scars of Mirrodin Intro Packs came complete with the artifact-smashing Relic Breaker, exploiting the weakness of overreliance upon a particular theme. So it is with Spiritbane, which is equipped to neuter the built-in recursion engion of Spirits and soulshift. In theory this is sound, but when you actually look at the Kami Reborn deck, it becomes clear that it doesn’t actually need any help dying. The deck’s bloated and fumbling mana curve and lack of a substantial ramping package hobble the deck just fine on its own. What does that mean for the Spiritbane pilot? In essence, you’re overpaying for an ability that’s useless against Samurai (Way of the Warrior) and Orochi (Snake’s Path).

There’s another less flattering parallel to be drawn here as well. The Snake’s Path deck contains a trio of Orochi Leafcallers, 1/1 creatures that can filter your Green mana into any colour you like. Sounds great except for one little hitch- Snake’s Path is a mono-Green deck. So really what you’re buying is something in the same league as Merfolk of the Pearl Trident or Mons’s Goblin Raiders. The saving grave for the Leafcallers is that they are Shaman, and there’s a card that enables all Shaman to be table to tap for . On their own, however, they’re quite useless. With that in mind, let’s look at the Akki Rockspeaker. It’s a two-mana 1/1 that refunds a  upon casting- in other words, a 1/1 for . This is almost certainly worse than Mons’s Goblin Raiders, who can at least be cast on turn 1. Unlike the Leafcallers, there is no meaningful interaction for this card- it’s just a bad selection. You might be in a more forgiving frame of mind if this was a singleton, but a trio is a serious commitment.

Overall, you’ll might find enjoyment in the warrior-monk yamabushi and their fighting allies, and Kumano, Master Yamabushi is a delightfully flavourful rare legend. Nevertheless, the fact that you’re playing an inflated-cost Red deck is hard to overlook.

Hits: Good burn package helps eliminate board threats and damage your opponent directly; strong crossover between theme and mechanics

Misses: “Overpaying for mediocrity” might well sum up the deck; silver-bullet strategy tailored to defeat an already flawed deck

OVERALL SCORE: 3.75/5.00

22 Comments Post a comment
  1. Varo
    Dec 5 2011

    Overpriced, yeah, but it gets the job done. It seemed to overwhelm the snake deck, and being a counter to soulshift, it leaves it at as least the second best deck in the set, provided it loses against the samurais.

    The ronin houndmaster and yamabushi’s flame are pretty good cards and performed well in the matches. There are some cards that don’t fit too well in the deck, but it’s solid enough for me ( for Kamigawa’s power level, of course ).

  2. Ira
    Dec 5 2011

    Indeed. For all the overpriced burn spells, the decent cards in there – I’m thinking of the likes of Ronin Houndmaster in particular – are going to pull their weight. I’m getting the impression that the Kamigawa decks are not terribly well put together so far, so perhaps Spiritbane is in a forgiving environment.

    But for all the issue of Kami Reborn and Spiritbane, and that disheartening preview of the Orochi deck, there’s still a chance that Way of the Warrior will redeem Kamigawa. Fingers crossed.

  3. Eric
    Dec 5 2011

    Seems fun, though I do think I would resent the overpriced nature of some of those cards.

  4. Nerethos
    Dec 5 2011

    I actually had this deck, and made a lot of improvements to it over the course of the time I had it with me. It eventually ended up being about 20% kamigawa and 80% from other sets. I just liked the flavor of the deck and wanted to keep it. I dismantled it after our kitchen table power creep got too much for the deck to handle.

  5. Montesque
    Dec 5 2011

    Interesting that the Kamigawa Precons seem to have a pretty high number of legendary creatures. Especially since I don’t recall that ANY of the last few sets (correct me if I’m wrong) have included legendaries. Though I guess that may be more of a function of rarity than anything else…

    • Gustavo
      Dec 5 2011

      Montesque, it is due the fact that Kamigawa’s main theme was “Legend matters”. Give a look a gatherer, every rare creature was legendary and a couple of uncommon creatures where legendary too.

    • Dec 5 2011

      Every rare creature in the block was legendary. There were also a high number of uncommon legendary creatures. The block had a “legendary” theme–that’s what the names (Champions, Betrayers, Saviors) refer to.

      • Montesque
        Dec 6 2011

        Ah, I had not known this. I’m working my way back through Gatherer and am only to Morningtide. That makes sense then. thank you 🙂

  6. outhouseinferno
    Dec 5 2011

    Well, if everything is overpriced, then it’s almost like nothing is overpriced, right?

    As much as it was tailored to defeat soulshift I can’t help but think a few splice onto arcane spells like Glacial Ray would have done just as well, by being spells you can reuse to hit the reborn spirits.

    • Dec 9 2011

      Well, the economic effects of inflation are well-documented. I imagine the rising mana costs of spells would encourage planeswalkers to cut down on their land counts as the value of mana decreases. We might also expect creatures to demand higher wages to cope with the increased cost of spellcasting. Also, according to the Austrian Business Cycle Theory, “artificially low interest rates and the associated increase in the money supply lead to reckless, speculative borrowing, resulting in clusters of malinvestments, which eventually have to be liquidated as they become unsustainable.” In other words, the metagame would be full of Storm combo decks, but they would all be running Astral Steel as a finisher. And nobody wants that.

  7. benwsf
    Dec 5 2011

    I really like Crushing Pain with the pingers, the equipment, and the burn suite is nice, but otherwise it seems like an overcosted deck with a couple of useless cards (ie Akki Rockspeaker). I love snakes though, so I am looking forward to that review!

  8. Dec 5 2011

    I like OutHouseInferno’s comment. If everything is overpriced then there’s not really a big deal. Although Kamigawa isn’t quite my thing it does remind me of the old school days of Magic. You paid a lot for what would be laughable power and toughness these days. The games were slower and a bit clunky. I wonder if that’s part of what they were trying to do with Kamigawa, make a major shift in the perception of Magic after Mirrodin and the slaughter left behind by the Arcbound Savager. I mean, the games read differently, play differently, have a different pace, and are in an exotic environment, but closely related to our own Planet Earth legends.

  9. Willis Terry
    Dec 6 2011

    Wizards had to do something to reduce the loss of players from Ravager Affinity, so Development probably upped some numbers to keep things safe. Incinerate is close to Yamabushi’s Flame, but with an exile clause replacing the anti-regen clause. I think that plan for the Rockspeaker was to play a 2 and a 1 drop on turn 2, but that is hard with so few one drops. It is “free” with Heartless Summoning in modern though…

  10. koga305
    Dec 6 2011

    I don’t think the problem with Akki Rockspeaker here is its inclusion in the deck, it’s its inclusion in the set to begin with. I suppose there has to be a certain portion of bad cards (Defensive Stance anyone?) in every set, but sometimes they’re just really obnoxious.

  11. tenthtechpriest
    Dec 7 2011

    Useless ability or not, Leafcaller is still a 1/1 for 1. Never a bad deal.

    As for Rockspeaker… well, it isn’t BAD per se, it’s a decent card when put in a deck that cares about creatures coming into play or swarming the field (In the Web of War, anyone?). Out of block context, it’s a Coal Stoker lite for budget storm decks.

    As far as the precon is concerned however… it’s cheap filler that was tossed in solely because there weren’t very many valid options for the deck. What else could they have even put in?

    For creatures, there’s a handful of spirits (Brutal Deceiver, Ember-fist Zubera, Hearth Kami, and Kami of Fire’s Roar), which weren’t going in considering this is spiritBANE. Beyond that the only non-spirit common left is Sokenzan Brusier, a 3/3 mountainwalker for 5. Expensive and not too useful when this is the only red precon in the set. Plus landwalk as a whole usually isn’t approved of in precons.

    For enchantments, the only option is Uncontrollable Anger. A bit expensive, but a plausible choice. It could be argued this was a better option.

    And then we get to the instant/sorcery section. Throwing out Stone Rain, Unnatural Speed and Devouring Rage (land destruction, an instant haste clearly designed as a splice-target and a spirit requiring spell), we’re still left with Desperate Ritual, Glacial Ray, Lava Spike, Unearthly Blizzard, and Yamabushi’s Storm. This is where issues come up. It could be argued each has a potential place in the deck, ritual adding a kick of acceleration, blizzard clears the way for your attackers, and the remaining spells adding to the robust burn package.

    On the other hand, the splicers of the group (ritual and ray) could be argued as bad options due to the parasitic nature of arcane and the relatively small number of arcane spells in the deck. They would still be good choices as one-shot cards, but a lot is lost in the lack of utility, especially on Ritual’s part. Further, the Hanabi Blasts are almost designed to work against the card advantage splicing would provide (I mentioned I think Hanabi was a bad choice as well, but let’s not get into that).

    Yamabushi’s Storm, while perfectly on flavor, ironically had a high chance of wiping your own field with the large number of 1/1s, even if some became bigger via bushido. The lack is still odd though, considering the synergy with the rest of the yamabushi cards.

    Unearthly Blizzard seems like a good fit for this deck, it gives what would usually be a free strike at your opponent’s life with all your aggressive creatures. But it also removes the ‘to block or not to block’ dilemma, which is a core mechanic of the deck; take the damage, or block and risk having your creature pinged and burned into exile.

    Lava Spike… okay frankly, I have no idea why this wouldn’t be in the deck. Perhaps it was considered too powerful to include in the precon format? The card is notably absent from all the Kamigawa block precons. Perhaps this is part of the reason why a ‘burn heavy’ precon was justifiable in the first place; all the burn included in it was notably expensive, and the block itself was already slowed down to a crawl to help balance out the pace mirrodin set.

    Of course, there was always the option of simply filling-out the 2/3 of commons in the deck; a third crushing pain, a fourth battle-mad ronin, and a fourth yamaushi’s flame, for example.

    Perhaps they thought the deck simply needed more creatures or that shouldn’t be THAT consistent, for the sake of balance? Or there may have been other factors, I suppose. A minimum creature count or unique card name minimum, perhaps? A quick count gives:

    Spiritbane: 23 creatures, 16 unique card names total
    Way of the warrior: 20 creatures, 18 unique card names total
    Snake’s path: 24 creatures, 19 unique card names total
    Kami Reborn: 23 creatures, 21 unique card names total

    Not counting basic lands, of course. The former option is thrown right out by the samurai deck, but the later provides evidence that the risk of ‘too consistent’ may have been a reason. For context, Junya Iyanaga’s deck from the last Worlds had 12 unique spell names plus 4 unique non-basic lands (not counting sideboard). Of course this totally ignores the contrasts between card power, strategy, and the mana cost problems present in the precon, etc. Further, this doesn’t explain why they didn’t trade the Rockspeakers for say, two Uncontrollable Angers and an Unearthly Blizzard. But I have yet to deduce a better justification.

    • tenthtechpriest
      Dec 7 2011

      huh. I didn’t realize I rambled on that long.

    • Dec 7 2011

      Great comment. This highlights the tension involved in any themed deck construction. On the one hand, you can look to subpar card choices and say “they did the best they could with what they had.” On the other, you have to ask “given what they had, was this an appropriate theme to choose?” I think on the whole Spiritbase is fine, but you make some good insights with regards with what was available, revealing another tension about power, consistency, and balance. This is one of the things I really love about preconstructed Magic.

      I do have to challenge the assertion that a 1/1 vanilla for (1) is never a bad deal. After all, it still costs a card, and a deck that gives away its cards so cheaply will lose some power. It’s as if the barrier to entry for car ownership was $100,000. If you’re already going to be spending $100,000 why not get a good car for $120,000 rather than a lousy one for $105,000.

  12. Dec 7 2011

    [+] I wasn’t sure about this enough to approve of making this a +; but ARockspeakers really aren’t awful. At the end of the day, they’re 1/1’s for 1 that you never “draw” t1st. But they’re still bodies on the field. I’m beginning to suspect there’s much weakening going on to balance these decks, and this deck would be a terror with 3 Raging Goblin.

    They have a functional form like Frostwielder— they’re an overcosted creature with a gimmick, and it just so happens that gimmick doesn’t benefit the deck. Then what are they? An overcosted creature. Why? Because they hit, they block, they activate Crushing Pain, they pick up equipment, and they are the swarm that gets First Strike from ACoalflingers. They’re an element of curbing this deck’s power (a strange Intro element I admit, which I believe is a mistake learned from), but not ruining it.

    [+] Equipment is again an all-star in these sets.

    [-] Sam, who I don’t know at all, is a pretty good player, but one that I can simply tell is still learning. The next step, gameplay-wise, I would suggest teaching, is timing. It’s an expert’s detail, but it does improve your play. Timing is off when you don’t wait until the last moment to activate many activated abilities. Many experts want to perfect the moment of their abilities, activate them precisely at the perfect time they need to.

    Sometimes that means blocking and then activating a tap ability. Sometimes it’s not pushing a high-utility trick just for spar damage, instead waiting for the perfect opportunity to have it make an opponent’s removal attempt futile. There are many such timing issues which affect the overall game, they are difficult to master, but are indeed the next step in perfecting your gameplay.

  13. Kingbokchoy
    Dec 7 2011

    Sorry if I may sound a little like a noob, but, isn’t kamigawa a older set? I think it is and i was wondering where you can still purchase them

    • Dec 7 2011

      Noob around here isn’t a four-letter word, mate- we all learned at some time, so welcome aboard! Yes, Kamigawa is from 2004. We love precons here, and intend to get through every last one of them. Towards that end, we always review new sets when they first come out, then cover older ones in between. Enjoy!

  14. Ben (aka Panahinuva)
    Dec 10 2011

    The deck seems like it wants to be burn deck to kill things, but it doesn’t try hard enough. The exiling mechanic seems like it’s trying to oppose soulshift, but frankly, soulshift is going to get away from them with sac engines. Frankly, I’m not very impressed with the deck, but meh, it won 2/3. So it must be ok.


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