Magic History: Betrayers of Kamigawa

Magic Untapped takes a look back at the set Betrayers of Kamigawa.

Wizards of the Coast's popular and long-standing collectible card game, Magic: The Gathering, has been out since 1993.  That stated, it's nice to look back at older sets to reminisce and see just how much the game has changed over the years.

In this video, we look back at Betrayers of Kamigawa, the second set in Magic: The Gathering's original Kamigawa block.

Check it out:

Video Transcript:

On January 22, 2005, the 34th expansion in Magic: The Gathering history, Betrayers of Kamigawa, came out and continued the story of the Kami wars.

The second expansion in the three-set block, Betrayers introduced 159 new cards (plus six reprints) and picked up, story wise, were its predecessor, Champions of Kamigawa, left off.

You can read the entire story in the Scott McGough novel Heretic: Betrayers of Kamigawa.  For those who don’t want to pause the video to give it a read at this very moment, here’s a summary.

A few months have passed since the events that concluded Outlaw: Champions of Kamigawa and the realm’s princess, Michiko, has returned to the capitol city of Eiganjo only to be immediately put under house arrest.  Unable to leave, she spends her time studying kanji magic, hoping to get a message to her champion, Toshiro, so that he may aid in her eventual escape.

Meanwhile, Michiko’s father, the Daimyo, Konda, summons a powerful spirit dragon known as Yosei, the Morning Star to protect the castle.

Also during this time, Toshiro has been hard at work relearning his kanji magic following the boon granted upon him by the Myojin of Night’s Reach.

Soon after his study began, Uramon, a criminal overlord, contacted Toshiro in an attempt to hire him to help fend off the soratami who have been moving in on her territory.  Toshiro refused and, in exchange, the crime boss sends a number of her thugs, including the assassin Kiko and the nezumi Marrow-Gnawer, after him.

Toshiru flees into the Heart of Frost, a realm inhabited by an ice spirit known as Yuki-Onna, with hopes that being in a realm under the purview of his Myojin patron would provide him extra strength against those on his tail.  The Onna spirits handled many of the pursuing thugs and, after being able to harness some of the spirits’ power as his own, Toshiro manages to subdue one of the Onna, trapping it in a magic disk.  He also strong-arms Kiko and Marrow-Gnawer into taking the blood oath that ties them to he and Hidetsugu.

Meanwhile, in the many months that have passed since Toshiro and his blood brother, the ogre shaman Hidetsugu, last saw one another, the shaman was hoping to enlist the help of Kamigawa’s spirit-hunting Yamabushi.  While he failed at convincing the Yamabushi masters to lend their aid, the shaman did succeed in killing them instead, leaving the Yamabushi leaderless.  Hidetsugu then abducts the remaining kami hunters, heartlessly beating them into submission with plans to use them as a way to avenge the death of his late blood brother, Kobo, marching upon the orochi and the budoka of the Jukai forest, as well as razing the Minamo academy before invading the soratami city above it until he is satisfied that all his enemies are slain.

Toshiro soon rendezvous with his ogre friend and convinces him to attack the Jukai forest first, saying that he needs more time before the attack on Minamo.  While in company with one another, they trade artifacts.  Toshiro presents Hidetsugu with the magic disk containing the Yuki-Onna spirit and Hidetsugu provides Toshiro with a special plate that has the ability to summon a demon spirit known as an oni.

Focusing back on Eiganjo, Lady Pearl-Ear, the kitsune that raised Michiko from birth, has been banished for failing to protect the princess.  She finds her home village burned and pillaged from an Akki attack and learns that the surviving kitsune have since fled to the forest, having severed ties with the Daimyo for failing to protect them.

The kitsune elders want Sharp-Ear, the one who tried to hide the princess in their village right before the Akki’s attack, to lead a diplomatic mission to Minamo due to his experience with dealing with and being around humans.  Apparently, during the brief time the Michiko and her friends were in the village, Riko mentioned to the elders that she learned something of interest in her time at the academy and that the school’s leaders refused to let her research it further.

Meanwhile, Hidetsugu has caught up with the bandit warlord, Godo.  He provides the warrior with the magic disk given to him by Toshiro as forward payment for keeping the Eiganjo army away from his dealings.  Godo takes it with him as he departs and cracks it, releasing the Yuki-Onna from inside.  The spirit begins luring soldiers to their death.  Oddly enough, the spirit now resembles Michiko…

Back with Toshiro, he, along with Kiku and Marrow-Gnawer, return to the Takenuma swamp to meet with Uramon.  Toshiru, not a member of their kind, sneaks in and follows the crime boss to the Shadow Gate she uses to sneak from place to place.  The gate turns out to be a shrine to his patron, the Myojin of Night’s Reach.

He makes himself known and barters with his Uramon.  Ultimately, she agrees to allow him to use the power of the gate to teleport across Kamigawa in exchange for a life debt.  Kiku and Marrow-Gnawer then kill Uramon before disappearing into the shadows.

Toshiro then uses his new powers of teleportation to spirit Michiko out of Eiganjo, dropping her off in the custody of the exiled Pearl-Ear.  He tells the kitsune to keep the princess away from the Minamo Academy.  Unfortunately, the kitsune have other plans.

Back at the capitol, Konda has plans to dispatch troops to look for his now missing daughter as well as others to the border to investigate the rash of missing soldiers there.  Before his orders can be fulfilled, however, the O-Kagachi, the most powerful of kami, attacks Eiganjo.

All are told to evacuate.  While everyone flees from the O-Kagachi, however, they find themselves running directly into an army of akki.

Over at the Minamo Academy, a kitsune delegation (which now includes Michiko) speak with the school’s headmaster, Hisoka.  Once the princess reveals herself, Mochi, the smiling kami who had been so helpful to she and the ronin, Toshiro, before, sends orders for an army of soratami to attack the Jukai forest before revealing himself before the princess, offering to tell her of more of her father’s past actions, informing her that the item that her father stole fro the O-Kagachi was, in essence, the spirit world equivalent of herself – a daughter.

Back with Toshiro, he uses his newfound teleportation powers to stalk Chiyo, one of the soratami who attacked him previously.  He follows him all the way back to the soratami’s cloud city where the two get into a vigorous scuffle.  The ronin uses the plate given to him by Hidetsugu and summons forth an oni, who easily mauls Chiyo.  Victorious, Toshiro teleports to Minamo, suddenly appearing right next to Mochi.  The smiling kami, learning that the O-Kagachi has destroyed Kiganjo, admits the soratami plan to conquer all of Kamigawa.

Suddenly, Minamo is rocked.  Hidetsugu, it seems, forwent attacking the Jeskai forest and went straight for the academy and the soratami city above it.  As the ogre shaman and his army of Yamabusi summon various oni to attack, slaying Minamo’s guardian, Keiga, the Tide Star in the process, Toshiro teleports to Eiganjo.

He arrives just in time to witness O-Kagachi bite the capitol’s guardian, Yosei, seemingly clean in half before attacking the capitol building itself.  Takeno, the Eigango general, perishes protecting Konda from flying debris.  Toshiro takes the opportunity to grab the mysterious artifact Konda had stolen from the kami world some two decades prior and teleports into the realm of Night’s Reach.  Almost immediately, the O-Kagachi disappears.

Now in the realm of his patron, the Myojin scolds Toshiro for bringing such an item into her realm, but allows him to depart.  He then materializes back in Minamo, freezing Mochi immediately upon his arrival and drops the item at the smiling kami’s feet in hopes that the O-Kagachi and Hidetsugu’s oni will tear each other apart for it.  He then teleports to the Jukai forest, taking Michiko and her allies with him.

Outside of the fallen capitol, the Eigango refugees are engaged and losing badly to the akki horde.  That’s when Isamaru, Konda’s personal hound, and a hurt-but-still-fighting Yosei arrive, rallying the Daimyo’s subjects towards a pyrrhic victory.  Back at the ruined capitol tower, an army of twisted undead begin to arise, led by a misshapen ghost of the late Eigango general, Takeno, in aid of Konda.

The Myojin of Nights Reach, having taken keen notice to the happenings as of recent, withdraws back into herself.  She cashes in the favor Toshiro owes her, causing the ronin to leave his hyozan blood pact.  Toshiro, however, wonders how vastly the Myojin’s plans differ from his own.

And… that’s where we’ll leave the story of Heretic: Betrayers of Kamigawa.  Sure, there’s one more chapter left in the Kamigawa story, but we’ll leave that for the final set in the block, Saviors of Kamigawa.  As for Betrayers, there’s still more to tell about the actual cards themselves.

The set continued the key mechanics from the first set, bushido, splice/arcane, and soulshift, as well as flip cards and a focus on legendary cards.  It also introduced two new mechanics: Ninjutsu and offering.

Ninjutsu works with the new ninja creature type, allowing a player to put one from their hand tapped and attacking by paying that creature’s ninjutsu cost and returning an attacking, unblocked creature they control to its owner’s hand.  All of eight of the set’s ninjutsu-enabled creatures had their own ability that then fired off whenever the creature dealt combat damage to a player, such as the card Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni putting a creature from the damaged player’s graveyard into play under your control.

Offering is a keyword ability on a cycle of creatures called patrons.  It allows a player to sacrifice a specific type of permanent – literally as an offering to its patron – in order to temporarily give the card flash, thus allowing it to be cast at instant speed.

And, while on the topic of cycles, Betrayers of Kamigawa featured eight of them including the aforementioned patrons.  This includes, most notably:
•    A cycle of uncommon flip creature cards that can eventually change into a legendary spirit;
•    Genjus, which are a series of land enchantments that allow its controller to turn the land into a creature.  Plus, should the enchanted land find its way to the graveyard, the enchantment is returned to its owner’s hand. (There’s also the five-color Genju of the Realm that acts as a complement to the cycle);
•    Shoals, which are scalable arcane instants that can be cast for free in exchange for discarding a specific type of card from your hand as an alternate cost, and;
•    A cycle of reprints from the set Urza’s Destiny which remove a target card from the game, then also removes all other copies of that card from its controller’s graveyard, library, and hand from the game as well.

In terms of singles, there were a handful that say some degree of respectable play:
•    The ninja Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni;
•    Tendo Ice Bridge, a five color land that, thanks to its use of charge counters, played quite nicely with cards from the preceding Mirrodin block;
•    The damage-reflecting Shining Shoal;
•    The creature-enhancing Blazing Shoal (a card that has been banned in Modern since September of 2011 – a mere one month after the format became a thing);
•    The creature-stealing Threads of Disloyalty;
•    Goryo’s Vengeance, a key component in modern combo decks that typically seek to cheat out the Avacyn Restored card Grislebrand;
•    The card-drawing Ninja of Deep Hours, and;
•    Umezama’s Jitte, arguably the most powerful card in the set and one that was easily obtainable due to its inclusion in the Rats’ Nest preconstructed deck.


Betrayers of Kamigawa also had not one, but two release-related promotional cards.  For the prerelease, players were provided with an alternate art Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni.  As a release promo (known at the time as a Launch Party promo) – that is, the special promo card that would be given away at the first Friday Night Magic after release day, was the uncommon card Budoka Pupil.

Betrayers of Kamigawa was the first black-bordered Magic expansion to have a Launch Party promo and the third set overall, after the white-bordered 8th Edition’s Rukh egg and silver-bordered Unhinged’s Ass Whuppin.

So, is Betrayers of Kamigawa amongst your favorite Magic: The Gathering sets?  If so, let us know in the comment section below.

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Barry White

Barry White is a longtime Magic: The Gathering player, having started in 1994 shortly before the release of 'Fallen Empires.' After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, he went on to a 15-year journalism career as a writer, reporter, and videographer for three different ABC affiliate newsrooms.