Friday, 29 October 2021 07:33

Magic History: Remembering 'Saviors of Kamigawa'

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Magic History: Remembering 'Saviors of Kamigawa' WOTC/MAGIC UNTAPPED

Sometimes it's nice to look back and see just how far things have come since the early days of Magic: The Gathering.  To that end, we're bringing you a series of short videos that highlight Magic: The Gathering expansions throughout the years.

In this video, we take a look at Saviors of Kamigawa, the final set in it the feudal Japanese themed Kamigawa block and the final set ever on the plane of Kamigawa.  At least, until Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty comes out next year.

You can check it all out in our retrospective video (below).

Video transcript:

The final chapter in the Kamigawa block and the final set ever to take place on the plane of Kamigawa (at least until Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty releases in early 2022), Saviors of Kamigawa came out in June of 2005 and featured a toro (a type of lamp) as its set symbol.

The set concludes the story that originated in Champions of Kamigawa and continued on through Betrayers of Kamigawa.

If you’d like, you can check out the Scott McGough book, Guardian: Saviors of Kamigawa.  And, as per usual, we have a story summary already ready already.

The story picks up with Michiko, daughter of the land’s daimyo, Konda, back in the Jukai Forest living amongst the kitsune.  She sends a kanji message to Toshiro, the ronin who acts as her guardian and protector.  He replies, stating that he’s a bit on the busy side, but will come to her aid when the time is right.

Meanwhile, the capitol, Eiganjo, has fallen, Konda is missing, and the soratami are aggressively taking over all of Kamigawa.

Back at the Minamo Academy, Toshiro witnesses the All-Consuming Oni of Chaos – the most powerful of oni – devouring the school’s library.  Knowing that the oni could easily consume the artifact originally stolen by Kondo from the O-Kagachi, the most powerful of all kami, he regrets bringing it to the school.  He would teleport away with it, but he had previously been forbidden from taking it with him into the realm of the Myojin of Night’s Reach.

Hidetsugu, his ogre blood brother, catches up with the ronin, informing him that the oni he had summoned for their cause is already wreaking havoc within the Soratami city above the academy.  He then asks Toshiro to fully commit to their pact, but the ronin isn’t quite so eager.  He likes his independence and finds it more advantageous to play his alliances against one another.

The two depart with Toshiro teleporting away on his lonesome, but not before it becomes clear that a rift has grown between the once good friends.

He soon appears in Numai, a once prospering city with the swamps of Kamigawa that is now the home to crime lords and cult-like wizards.  He finds an acquaintance and hyozen blood-sister of his, Kiku, as the only survivor from her wizarding clan after an attack from the Soratami.  Apparently, when the moonfolk attacked, her peers infused her powerful shadow magic.  The infusion, however, turned out to be more like a curse as the power had been increasingly driving the woman insane.

She asks Toshiro for help and the ronin is able to assist her in calming her mind.  The two enjoy a night of intense romance and, in the morning, finds that she is free of the shadow curse – a curse that Toshiro infused into a ceramic tile in the event that it proves useful at some point in the future.  Promising to release her from her hyozan oath, he convinces Kiku to assist him further.

They locate their fellow hyozen oathbrother, Marrow-Gnawer, and the three head out, bound for the ruined capitol.  They arrive in Eiganjo where they steal a rider-moth, then venture back to Minamo to reclaim That Which Was Taken, the mysterious kami artifact, and fly it to safety.

The trio arrive back at the academy.  Shortly after their arrival, they are attacked by the All-Consuming Oni of Chaos.

The ronin uses the powers granted upon him by his patron, the Myojin of Night’s Reach, and is able to drive the demon spirit away.  That’s when Hidetsugu, now considering Toshiro disloyal and an enemy, turns his personal attention to the trio.

Before he can act against them, however, Konda arrives along with his ghost army, attacking the academy.  The ogre shaman is forced to divert his attention and efforts against away from Toshiro and towards this new threat, sending his oni army against Kondo’s forces.

This leaves Hidetsugu and only two of his yamabushi warriors against Toshiro and Kiku, Marrow-Gnawer currently separated from the pair.  The ogre tells Toshiro that he knows that he had walked away from the way of hyozan.  Hearing this, Kiku switches sides from the ronin to Hidetsugu.

Her now on the his side, the ogre then informs the group that when he created hyozan, he also inserted a way with which blood brethren can be slain without breaking the pact. He demonstrates by choking out Kiku before grabbing hold of Toshiro as well.  That’s when Marrow-Gnawer rejoins the group, having been brought back from the burning of his own hyozen mark.

Witnessing the ogre shaman killing his hyozen brethren and, thus, assuming his hyozen oath having now been broken seeing on how he missed out on that whole out clause bit, the rat stabs Hidetsugu in the eye, causing the ogre to drop both Kiku and Toshiro.  From the fall, the tile holding Kiku’s shadow curse shatters and the powers flow back into her.

As for Marrow Gnawer, his hyozan status was actually still very much in effect and he finds the wrath of the oath falling upon him as consequence.  Toshiro attempts to save the nezumi from the consequence of the oath by cutting off the tattoo, but the rat continues to burn.

Meanwhile, Kiku goes for the kill and attacks Hidetsugu with her shadow magic.  Not wanting her to suffer the same fate as Marrow-Gnawer, Toshiro stops her from ending the shaman.  The ogre fights back, besting Kiku, then a weakened Toshiro takes an opportunity to stab the shaman in his other eye, blinding before collapsing, feeling himself being near death.

It’s about this time that he prays to the Myojin of Night’s Reach to save him.  His patron responds, saying that he already has what he needs to be saved.

Through a crack in the wall, he sees that the O-Kagachi has now arrived at Minamo and that Hidetsugu’s patron, the All-Consuming Oni of Chaos, was doing its best to flee from it.  The injured ronin describes what’s happening to his blinded, former friend.

The ogre’s spirit breaks, agreeing to let he and Kiku go in peace if Toshiro uses his shadow teleportation to send him to the Honden of Chaos so that he can punish his patron oni for its cowardice.  Toshiro agrees and sends the ogre away, then does simiar for Kiku, sending her back home to Numai before mercy killing Marrow-Gnawer, who is writhing in agony.

The ronin then reclaims That Which Was Taken and climbs upon his stolen moth mount and, in shadow, flies to Jukai.

Speaking of Jukai, the forest is under attack from the soratami who are using the cover of the Kami War to conquer the plane and remake it on behalf of the Smiling Kami of the Crescent Moon, Mochi.

Once Toshiro arrives, he is almost immediately captured once again by the Orochi, the snake people also now taking possession of the power kami artifact.  He witnesses them summon forth the dragon spirit, Jugan, in defense against the soratami.

The ronin manages his escape and locates the the extraplanar artifact, only to discover that the Orochi guarding it have all been turned to salt.  He yet again reclaims it, though this time the artifact begins speaking to him, saying things along the lines of “release me.”

Very soon after, Toshiro begins seeing visions of all of the bad things he has done in his life.  Initially, the ronin feels no remorse, but as he begins seeing visions of his actions with Marrow-Gnawer, Kobo, and Hidetsugu accusing him of being an oath breaker, he begins to wear down.

This is when the warlord Godo happens upon the anguished ronin.  He tells Toshiro that the Yuki-Onna spirits are still ravaging the Sokenzan mountains on Kamigawa’s borders, but that the ronin can still make amends with them.  Leaving That Which Was Taken behind in the forest, Toshiro teleports away, bound for the mountains.

Mochi, in the meantime, begins herding the remaining Orochi into harm’s way, hoping the O-Kagachi will consume them all.

Now in the mountains, Toshiro is confronted by Night’s Reach.  The Myojin reveals to the ronin that he is being manipulated, but that she is not yet ready for her presence to become known to Mochi and the soratami quite yet.  Toshiro makes peace with the Yuki-Onna, then departs from the mountain’s snowy slopes.

Back in Jukai, Konda and his ghost army arrive.  He briefly considers saving the Orochi from their demise, but his attention shifts once he senses the location of his prized stolen artifact.  He sends most of his ghostly soldiers to attack the soratami while keeping a small contingent at his side while he goes to claim That Which Was Taken.  O-Kagachi, now also knowing where its stolen artifact lies, also begins heading in the same direction.

Toshiro appears on scene next to That Which Was Taken and sees Konda and his forces quickly approaching from one direction and O-Kagachi doing the same from another.  He takes hold of the artifact and does exactly what he was told not to with it: he teleports into Night’s Reach’s realm.

The myojin is furious at Toshiro for such an action, saying O-Kagachi will follow the ronin into her realm after the artifact.  She goes to cast Toshiro out, but the disk-shaped artifact shots a bolt of energy at her, puncturing the Myojin’s mask.  This causes her to flee, ejecting the ronin from her realm and taking the powers she had granted him away.

Toshiro then finds himself back in Jukai, not far from the kitsune camp where the princess, Michiko, is staying.  The kitsune elders attempt to communicate with the artifact while other attempt to free whatever is trapped inside.

The ronin feels pessimistic about how such actions will turn out, and convinces Michiko to simply touch it, feeling that she and whatever is inside the artifact are somehow tied together.  Her protector, Pearl-Ear, protests, but O-Kagachi appears in the sky above them, leaving little choice.

Before Michico touches it, he secretly draws on her hands the kanji for “sister” and “union.”  She touches it, freeing the spirit that has been trapped inside.  It manifests as a multi-colored, scaled human.

They call her “The Taken One,” a name she rather dislikes.  Toshiro then suggests the name “Kyodai,” which means sibling – a name the spirit then adopts as her own.

Kyodai and Michiko then teleport away so that they can have a moment to talk.  Both fearful of their fathers – Kondo for Michiko and O-Kagachi for Kyodai – the two decide that they are stronger together, stating “The old must stand aside for the new.”

Sisters in spirit, the two merge and return to the world as an entity known as the Sisters of Spirit and Flesh.  They end O-Kagachi, the most powerful of kami.  Right after, Konda shows up and the merged sisters petrify him, keeping him alive as naught but a statue.

The sisters then take O-Kagachi’s place in the stars, warning the mortals that the Kami War will continue until all kami realize there is no more reason to fight as their worlds have now been blended.

Mochi, realizing that the stakes have greatly changed, appears before the sisters and attempts to curry their favor.  Kyodai and Michiko would have none of it, however, and open a gate to the realm of the All-Consuming, out of which Hidetsugu, who has defeated and consumed the All-Consuming Oni of Chaos for its previous cowardice, emerges, only to tear the Smiling Kami of the Crescent Moon apart.

Everything now having calmed down, Toshiro departs and walks right into a trap.  He is mortally stabbed by a vengeful soratami.  Before he could perish, however, Night’s Reach appears and teleports the ronin away.

As they travel, she confides in him that the Kami War not only weakened the barrier between Kamigawa’s spirit world and mortal world, but the barriers between Kamigawa as a whole and other planes altogether, allowing her to travel amongst them.  She then forgives the ronin for disobeying her by bringing That Which Was Taken into her realm before dropping him off on a new world.

Taking his new home in for the first time, he takes note of two huge spires of rock off the coast in the distance, questioning their purpose.  The Myojin then explains to him that the land he stands upon is ruled by a powerful queen who sees herself as a goddess and that he is a gift not just to her, but to the world as a whole.  As a backhanded parting gift, Night’s Reach takes the ronin’s vision from him then departs.

Alone on a new world, Toshiro smells the familiar scent of swampland and begins a new life on a new plane, one he would later learn is called Dominaria.

And, thus ends the Kamigawa block and the story of the Kami War, but there is so much more to tell not just of Saviors of Kamigawa the set, but of how the block overall was conceived and constructed.

In mid-2002 while the development of Mirrodin was going full-speed ahead, the Kamigawa block (which sets were, at the time, codenamed Earth, Wind, and Fire) was being concepted.  Bill Rose, vice president of Wizards R&D, decided that they should do a set in which flavor was just as important as mechanics, if not more so.  And it should be done in a real-world setting that was familiar to people, unlike the highly stylized, metallic world of Mirrodin.

The team tossed around a number of ideas, including the mythologies of the Greeks, Celts, Sumarians, and so on.  After attending a distributor’s meeting in Tokyo, Japan, Rose had made up his mind.  They were going to base this new block off of Japanese mythology.

Of course, this proved easier said than done as Japan doesn’t have a mythology in the Western sense, per sé.  Rather, there’s folklore.  And the “old gods” of Japan are very much still relevant in Buddhism and Shinto.  Then there’s the fact that, aside from samurai and ninjas and whatnot, Westerners really don’t know a whole lot about ancient and feudal Japan.  Plus, many who do know more than the average Westerner tend to confuse ancient Japan with ancient China and Korea.

Then there’s the whole magic part of Magic.  The creatures, entities, and values of Japanese folklore are so complex and bizarre that they don’t cleanly fit into Magic’s five colors as well as, say, would taking inspiration from Arthurian tales.

Still, WotC decided to do a top-down Japanese-inspired set, but they had to be respectful of the culture and history while still making it fit into the Magic: The Gathering card game.

What they decided upon was focusing largely on Shinto, which (in simple terms), incorporates the worship of ancestors and nature spirits along with a belief in a sacred power (kami) in both animate and inanimate things.  Though, being WotC, they gave it a little twist.  Essentially, Shinto gone wrong.

Actually creating the cards, however, would prove quite a daunting task.

Due in part to all of the additional research that had to be done, card design began months later than it should have.  And, once card design did begin, each design team member had a different interest and focus.  There were difficulties creating good common cards as the more interesting and fun to design cards tended to be of higher rarities.  Twenty some-odd combat-focused keyword mechanics were designed before they finally settled on Bushido.  And then there were the legendary creatures, which was a whole mess of its own.

In short, things did not mesh together quite as easily as everyone had hoped.

And yet, despite the Kamigawa sets not being all that well received at the time (nor really selling all that well compared to other sets of their time), players really look back fondly at the set because, if Wizards got nothing else right, the flavor was ultimately appreciated.

Of course, that’s not to say that there isn’t anything to be said about the cards themselves.

Specific to Saviors of Kamigawa, which carried over Splice and Arcane from the first two sets, as well as the flip cards, Soulshift, Bushido, there is a theme of creatures and spells that get better as the player’s hand size increases, such as Akki Underling and Kitsune BonesetterSaviors also introduced three new abilities:

  • Sweep, spells with abilities that scale up depending on the number of specific lands you return to your hand upon cast;
  • Channel, a creature ability that can be used from a players hand by paying a cost and discarding said creature, and;
  • Epic, which appears on a cycle of rare sorceries that prevent the caster from playing any more spells for the rest of the game, but keeps copying itself during each of its controller’s upkeep until the game ends.

And, on the topic of cycles, this small set had a whopping nine of them (Epics included).

Probably most noteworthy are:

  • Ascendants, which are rare legendary flip cards that start out as a creature, then flip into legendary enchantments, such as the card Erayo, Soratami Ascendant changing from a 1/1 flyer into an enchantment that automatically counters the first spell played by each opponent each turn;
  • Ghost-Lit creatures, each of which has both a normal activated ability as well as a channel ability that hits twice as hard, and;
  • Kirin, legendary flying creatures that have an ability that fires off whenever you play a spirit or arcane spell, such as with Celestial Kirin, which destroys all permanents with a converted mana cost equal to that of the spirit or arcane spell being cast.

In terms of noteworthy singles, Saviors of Kamigawa had a few that performed well in the tournament scene.  That would include hard-hitting creatures such as Kagemaro, First to Suffer, Maga, Traitor to Mortals, and Arashi, the Sky Asunder.

None of those cards, however, found their way into Antoine Ruel’s 2005 Pro Tour Los Angeles winning Psychatog deck.  In fact, only one card from the entire set was used by Ruel: a single copy of Oboro, Palace in the Clouds.

Still, Saviors of Kamigawa found a place with high-quality sideboard cards and a couple of other singles of note.

Of course, there’s the sideboard staple Pithing Needle, which is still extremely common in today’s competitive decks.  The anti-equipment card Manriki-Gusari and anti-artifact card Kataki, War’s Wage were also, at one point, extremely common sideboard inclusions.

There’s also the aforementioned Erayo, Soratami Ascendent, which was rather formidable in EDH until the card was banned in the format, first as a commander, then altogether.

Finally, the uncommon artifact Ebony Owl Netsuke is worth a mention, as it’s the namesake of a once-popular and still fun to play deck known as “Owling Mine” which, when paired with the old-school card Howling Mine, became a win condition by filling an opponent’s hand and dealing four or more damage to them per turn.

So, is Saviors of Kamigawa one of your favorite Magic: The Gathering sets?  If so, let us know in the comment section here on YouTube.

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