Monday, 20 December 2021 00:10

The Good, the Bad, and the Neon: Reaction to Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty

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Eijango, seat of the empire. Eijango, seat of the empire. WIZARDS OF THE COAST

We’ve been teased with the return to the plane of Kamigawa, a land that has slowly become a fan-favorite since the release of the original block, and on Thursday the veil was finally lifted. On Weekly MTG, host Blake Rasmussen, narrative designer Grace Fong, and head designer Mark Rosewater gave fans their first look at the radical transformations on display in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. What was exciting and promising, and which parts left us a bit hesitant? Read on to hear our thoughts.

First, the most obvious: the new, futuristic Kamigawa is absolutely gorgeous. This is the first time that Magic has really dove headfirst into a science-fiction setting, but they’re still mixing in the more traditional fantasy elements, and the result is fantastic to behold. In the art we’ve seen so far, we’ve seen futuristic and traditional elements contrasting and intertwining, and they’re bringing in contrasting colors as well. It’s extremely pleasing to the eye, and it brings in colors and images we’ve rarely, if ever, gotten to see in Magic.

Wizards of the Coast has been proactive in reaching out to Japanese artists in order to get unique and stylistically appropriate illustrations, including the legendary Tetsuo Hara (creator of Fist of the North Star). Given the source material they’re working with (Japanese culture old and new), there should be no shortage of inspired artwork to look at while playing with this set. Also, if you haven’t seen the new full-art basic lands, you absolutely have to take a look at this article and see them for yourself.

Along with the great artwork, this set has a promise of interesting lore to work with as well. One of the central themes of this set is the conflict between tradition and modernization, and this was referenced during the Weekly MTG with regards to a specific card. Grace Fong talked about Boseiju (the oldest tree in the Jukai forest) and its reaction to the urbanization around it. Refusing to be outshined by the skyscrapers that surrounded it, the mighty tree stubbornly grew taller with every new building, in order to assert itself as the tallest structure in and around the forest. This is a fascinating and creative mini-tale, which is just one small part of the new Kamigawa set. If there is more lore like this to be found, then Neon Dynasty is going to be a fascinating set.

The set so far is very nice to look at, but how does it play? We don’t know yet, since we still know very little, but we have reason to be skeptical. Mark Rosewater stated that some of the classic Kamigawa mechanics will be returning in Neon Dynasty, but the Kamigawa block is not exactly known for having lots of beloved mechanics. Splice and Arcane have been all but abandoned, with Splice only showing up in Modern Horizons after its introduction. Flip cards have been folded into double-sided cards, and they have basically no chance of appearing in their original form again. Other major mechanics include Bushido (gain an offensive/defensive boost when blocking or being blocked) and Soulshift (when a Spirit dies, return a weaker Spirit from the graveyard), both of which are serviceable, but not particularly exciting. The Epic mechanic (which lets you continually play one spell, at the cost of never playing another spell for the rest of the game) is a very interesting one, but Mark Rosewater has stated that there's little space to design around this mechanic, which makes it seem like a poor mechanic to revisit. The highlight of the Kamigawa block's mechanics is undoubtedly Ninjutsu, which lets players swap an unblocked attacker with another creature in their hand, and this seems to be a mechanic that is very likely to return.

We do have one clue of what other mechanics could be showing up. Neon Dynasty is introducing a new planeswalker, Kaito Shizuki, a very sleek-looking cybernetic ninja character. When his card enters the battlefield, Kaito phases out exactly one time, at the end of the player’s turn. There’s nothing wrong with phasing out, but it isn’t the most fascinating mechanic there is, and in this writer’s opinion it falls short of recent mechanics such as Learn and Foretell. This seems like a set where Ninjutsu would fit in perfectly, and hopefully we get to see that mechanic return, along with whatever new ones WotC are cooking up.

Overall, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty is a set that holds a lot of promise, but we’re still patiently waiting for more information that will help assuage some of our concerns. More reveals will be taking place in January, and hopefully the mechanics of the set can measure up to the high standard that the art and the lore appear to be setting. If they can, then Neon Dynasty is a set that’s going to be an awful lot of fun to play with.

Stay tuned to Magic Untapped for more news about Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty.

This article has been updated to correct errors.