Champions of Kamigawa: Way of the Warrior Review (Part 1 of 2)
Thus far in our visit to Kamigawa we’ve seen vengeful spirits and the fighting monks of Master Kumano in the Sokenzan Mountains. Today we’ll be turning our attention to that group without which no accounting would be complete: the samurai.
Of all the tropes familiar to Western audiences hailing from feudal Japan, the Samurai is likely the second-most familiar (the first being the ninja, who won’t make an appearance until we return to cover Betrayers of Kamigawa). Although we tend to conflate our notions of the military aristocracy with the code of bushidō they lived by- much as the knights of medieval Europe gave at least some passing service to the code of chivalry- the term bushidō (“way of the warrior”) itself is generally considered to be a more modern (17th century) convention. There is no mistaking, however, that this code of the samurai life had been in existence for centuries, studied, refined, and passed on by each successive generation.
In Champions of Kamigawa there is certainly no shortage of Samurai, generally in the more martial colours of White and Red (though we see occurrences of Black and Green). It’s important to note the difference between “samurai” the creature and Samurai the creature type- the latter is a fairly broad category that covers even creatures designated as ronin (or masterless samurai). To set these Samurai apart, the set introduces a new combat mechanic in the form of bushido. Designed to reflect the superior fighting skills and ability of the samurai to rise to new heights of fighting prowess in the heat of battle, bushido gives any creature possessing it a +1/+1 bonus for each point of bushido they possess whenever they are blocked or become blocked by a creature. Against players (and planeswalkers), they damage as normal.
Indeed, Samurai are central to the story of Kamigawa, a set which makes a very intriguing break away from our preconcieved notions about colour and morality. Without giving too much away for those who may enjoy reading the books, there is a certain reversal of expectation with a White villain and Black hero. That isn’t to say that the samurai of Kamigawa are evil, but it should be noted that loyalty was their primary virtue.
This brings us to today’s deck. Way of the Warrior is a mono-White weenie deck that is both tribally as well as mechanically cohesive and synergistic. It leans heavily on the bushido combat mechanic, and is worth noting that the only non-Samurai creature in the deck is a flip card which becomes a Samurai once he’s activated.
Way of the Warrior is straightforward and to the point, showing little in the way of subterfuge. It couples a steady stream of bushido creatures out of the gates almost immediately, looking to keep pressure on its opponent and win through speed and superior force in the red zone. For instance, the deck opens with a full playset of Devoted Retainers. Ordinarily 1/1’s for one mana don’t have a lot to offer at common, but the Retainer’s bushido ensures that if your opponent is going to trade for the Retainer, it won’t be with another 1/1. You also have a Bushi Tenderfoot, a 1/1 with a very intriguing ability. Should it manage to kill another creature, it flips to become the much more powerful Kenzo the Hardhearted, a 3/4 double striker with bushido 2. Without assistance, flipping the Tenderfoot would be an almost impossible task- there aren’t a lot of 0/1 creatures to be found here- but as you’ll see there are a few ways to pump him up to make sure he survives an engagement and lives to become a legend.
Showing the consistency that the pre-Intro Pack Theme Decks were blessed with, your two-drop slot is filled with a trio of Konda’s Hatamotos. These “bannermen of Konda” are simple 1/2’s, but should they find themselves in the presence of a legendary Samurai (such as the aforementioned Kenzo or one of the deck’s other two), they snap to attention and become 2/4’s with vigilance. The three-drop slot is similarly consistent, being made up exclusively of a quartet of Kitsune Blademasters. These 2/2 Fox-folk have first strike, and will be a high hurdle to cross on account of their bushido for many of their contemporaries.
Another playset appears in the four-drop slot with the Mothrider Samurai, a relatively simple 2/2 flier with bushido 1. Here we find also our next legendary personality, Nagao, Bound by Honor. Nagao is a powerful and inspiring presence, one of Daimyo Konda’s most trusted warriors, and he inspires the Samurai around him to even greater heights of martial prowess. To that effect, whenever Nagao attacks, all other Samurai you control get +1/+1 until the end of the turn.
A trio of six-drops provide the deck’s closers in the event you weren’t able to strike to overwhelming numerical advantage earlier in the game. Two Samurai Enforcers stand ready to defeat your opponent’s most stalwart defenders, and as a 4/4 body with bushido 2 they will be a hard threat to solve. Finally, Takeno, Samurai General is the true lord of the field, giving each other Samurai you control a bonus to their power and toughness equal to their bushido score. Takeno is no slouch himself as a 3/3 with bushido 2, but should your game go long with you having amassed a small legion of Samurai, simply dropping Takeno can sometimes be enough to win the game on its own as all your creatures are immediately pumped.
Die For Your Cause
Way of the Warrior has a leaner mix of creatures than you expect to find in the archetype, making room for sixteen noncreature cards by way of support. These largely fall into three distinct groups: removal, combat tricks, and creature enhancements. The removal suite is average- a full four cards- but this is made up for somewhat by the versatility of the pair of Cages of Hands the deck provides. A movable Pacifism for a single mana more, this solves the problem of locking down one threat only to see a worse one emerge. Reciprocate is a little more conditional- it can only solve a threat that’s injured you- but as we saw with the Shaman of Spiritbane exiling a threat is particularly effective at keeping the soulshifting Spirits at bay.
In terms of combat tricks, as you’d expect in a White attacking deck you have a number to choose from. Call to Glory is a tribal-specific card which can ambush your opponent when they attack in against what looks to be a tapped army. And if you find yourself having to defend against an attack, a Hold the Line hands out a free Righteousness to every defender. If you manage to combine the two, you could blow out your opponent’s forces in a stroke. You also have recourse to a pair of Indomitable Wills, enchantments which straddle the line between combat trick and creature enhancement as they are
auras with flash. Finally, you have a trio of more defensively-minded combat tricks with the damage prevention of Candles’ Glow, the colour-protection of Blessed Breath, and the blinking Otherworldly Journey which can not only save one of your Samurai from certain death, but bring it back stronger than ever. Canny players will see some offensive potential in the latter two as ways to either remove or slip past a particularly thorny defense and get in for that final bit of damage. Note also that these three are Arcane spells, and that two of them allow for splicing. It’s not enough to count on it, but some games you’ll be able to stretch the value of these cards over multiple turns.
The last class of spells are the creature enhancements, and our final four cards belong here. Vigilance is as simple and obvious a card as, say, Lifelink, and for it does exactly as advertised. A little more threatening is the pair of No-Dachis, reusable equipment that grants a power bonus and first strike.
Altogether Way of the Warrior might have a bit too much going on to be as effective as the White weenie strategies that continue to be popular, with a 20-16 creature/noncreature split. Still, it should provie quite formidable on the battlefield, which is precisely where we’ll next be taking it. We’ll report back in two days as to what we found. See you then!