Betrayers of Kamigawa: Spiritcraft Review (Part 2 of 2)
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?
Sam begins the game on the play with a Swamp, which I match with a Forest. Next turn she adds a second one, letting her deploy the game’s first creature in a Skullsnatcher. Back to me, I meet the challenge with a Loam Dweller, excited to actually find myself in a situation where it will be useful- my hand is full of land with a couple other Spirits/Arcane cards.
That all goes pear-shaped when Sam attacks with the Skullsnatcher. Unwilling to trade and happy to take damage, I decline to block- only to see the Throat Slitter get ninjutsu’d in instead, killing my Dweller. Disappointed, I lamely play a Waxmane Baku and pass. Back to Sam, she plays a Nezumi Ronin, then enchants one of her Swamps with the Genju of the Fens. My turn is a blank, though I do manage a Plains.
Now turn 5, Sam activates the Genju and swings in with it alongside the Ronin. I accept the Ronin-Baku trade, but still end up taking 4 from the Genju when Sam elects to pump it. My next turn sees me playing nothing but a land again, while Sam keeps the pressure mounting. Next turn she attacks for 2 more, declining to pump. Instead, she hits me with Three Tragedies, seeing a Plains, a Roar of Jukai, and a Kodama’s Might off to the graveyard. My turn is yet another blank- and no land to show for it this time.
Sam sends the Genju back in on turn 7, dumping all of her mana into it to leave me at 6 life. I play a Scaled Hulk, but by now it’s too little, too late. Besides, Sam simply brushes it aside with a Befoul and swings in for 2. Next turn I play a second Hulk, but all it does is delay the inevitable. I scoop after my next draw, bowing to the inevitable.
My turn to lead, I start with a Traproot Kami, while Sam lands a turn-two Nezumi Graverobber to even things up. I’m grateful for the early obstacle, but I miss my first land drop on turn 3. Sam’s Graverobber chuckles all the way past to draw first blood, and she follows up with a Skullsnatcher and the Genju of the Fens.
Now turn 4, I draw and play a Plains, but have nothing else. Sam swings for 4 with her Rats, and I block the Graverobber with my Kami defender, using Unchecked Growth to make it a fatal affair. Taking 2, I go down to 16. Back to me, I play a Forest and pass. Sam activates the Genju and sends it in for 4.
Now turn 6, I’m in need of answers- and soon. I play a Horizon Seed and end my turn. Sam keeps the attacks coming, sending in the Skullsnatcher and Genju. I block the former with my Kami, and take another 5 from the Genju to put me down to 7. With my next turn a blank, Sam attacks with her pair again. I kill off the Skullsnatcher with a Terashi’s Verdict, splicing in a Vital Surge for some welcome lifegain. This lets me regenerate the Kami, so I use it to block the Genju. Having had enough, Sam simply Befouls it, and it’s dead for good.
My turn 8 is another blank, as I’m in reactive-play mode. Sam predictably sends in the Genju, and I block it with my Horizon Seed, casting Vital Surge to regenerate it and go up to 13 life. Sam’s had enough, and uses Horobi’s Whisper to kill it off. In retaliation, I Wear Away the Genju, seeing the card safely to her graveyard (since it only returns to hand if it’s the land that goes with it). With the board clear, I make my first attack with the Horizon Seed for 2, then pass. Sam refills her board, first playing a Skullsnatcher followed by a Nezumi Bone-Reader, and passes back.
Now turn 10, I play a much more threatening option in the Scaled Hulk. Although this could regenerate the Seed and let it attack, I hold it back instead. Unable to profitably attack, Sam draws and passes. I then play a second Scaled Hulk, attacking for 6 with the first one. Sam blocks with her Bone-Reader to escape the damage. Sam draws a card, then passes.
Now turn 12, I see an opening and go for it. A Kodama’s Might on one of my Hulks kicks things off, splicing a Blessed Breath to give it protection from Black. I then hardcast the Breath to give my other Hulk the same. That gives me exactly 18 points of damage which Sam can’t stop, and she’s felled at a stroke.
Now turn 3, Sam fires back with the Cutthroat for 2, then adds the Nezumi Ronin. I play a Forest, but have nothing else. Next turn Sam fires in with both Rats. I block the Ronin with my Lantern Kami, but respond by sending it on an Otherworldly Journey. A nice trick, but I still take 2 from the other unblocked adversary. Sam then plays the Numai Outcast and ends her turn. I play a Plains and pass.
Now turn 5, Sam swings with the team. I trade my Kami for her Ronin, taking 3 to go down to 13. Sam simply replaces her Ronin with another one and carries on. I draw and pass. Next turn, Sam shoves her army into the red zone for 6. She uses ninjutsu to relace the Outcast with a Skullsnatcher, exiling the card in my graveyard. I claw my way back to 9 life at the end of turn with a Vital Surge, but have little relief in sight. I then follow on with a Scaled Hulk, but it draws a next-turn Befoul. That opens me up for a 7-point attack, leaving me at 2. After my next draw, I fold to the inevitable.
Thoughts & Analysis
I’d had higher hopes for my experience with Spiritcraft, given some of the heavy synergy I saw the deck exhibit when I faced the deck in the playtest of Ninjutsu. Sam managed to get some Baku in play, chain some Spirits and the odd Arcane spell, and put the deck into overdrive. None of that, unfortunately, seemed to happen here. Barring the glorious 18-point dreamcrush I pulled off against Sam in Game Two with the Scaled Hulks, much of the match was spent durdling around looking for things to play while my hand was cluttered with expensive, uncastable cards. There were options and lines of play, but marshalling up anything effective seemed at times to be a bit awkward.
On the upside, when the right elements fall into place the deck can punch well above its weight. There are a good number of cards here that only get better as you play more Spirits and Arcane spells, and you can put together devastating combo chains with the right succession of spells. But much of the time, you get the wrong pieces and are stuck trying to stall for time, as I was in the first and third games. This puts Spiritcraft firmly in the “feast or famine” style of deck we often see.
Otherwise, the knocks on the deck revolve around its high cost, dodgy ramp, and ineffective early cards. The Traproot Kami is reasonable, but it’s a big ask for it to blunt your opponent’s offense by itself. The Lantern Kami is generally poor even with evasion, and seems better suited to being a cheap Spirit for combo chains later in the game.
Overall, we were generally disappointed with the decks of Champions of Kamigawa, which didn’t seem to deliver on what we were hoping for the first time around. Although of inconsistent quality, the decks of Betrayers of Kamigawa seem to be a bit of an improvement overall. We’re already looking forward to seeing how the block concluded with Saviors of Kamigawa, which we’ll almost certainly tackle next year!
Hits: Great tribal synergy and deep lines of play can make for some very powerful, exciting outcomes; good support in making all creatures Spirits and all spells Arcane
Misses: Very feast or famine, can just as easily leave you durdling around digging for an answer; high mana curve with unconvincing ramp options
OVERALL SCORE: 4.00/5.00