A Farewell to Kamigawa

Streets of New Capenna has come to Pioneer, which means now is a perfect time to discuss the cards from Kamigawa that had the biggest impact on my personal game. However unlike my Innistrad retrospective, not all of these will be a net positive. So throw on your VR headsets because we’re diving into the Neon Dynasty.

Secluded Courtyard

Long time readers of our site would know that I was very high on Selesnya Humans heading into Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, so there was no doubt that Secluded Courtyard was going to end up on this list. And how could it not? Adding four more rainbow lands to the likes of Unclaimed Territory and Mana Confluence meant that tribal-Humans was no longer limited to “at most” three colors. Now the deck could play out some of the greediest curves I’ve ever seen from a magic deck, I’m talking Thraben Inspector into Werewolf Pack Leader into Mantis Rider into General Kudro of Drannith. Before Courtyard that would be Magical Christmas Land, but now it’s a real possibility. Of course, the mana intensive curve outs weren’t the only things I loved about playing 5-C Humans. It was great to play with cards that the format seemingly just forgot about again. The true power of the deck didn’t come from recently printed cards, it came from cards like Mantis Rider and Reflector Mage. If seeing old standard all-stars finding new purpose isn’t the spirit of Pioneer, I don’t know what is.

Unfortunately, being the spirit of the format doesn’t always get you there. As much as I loved sleeving this deck up in paper and jamming it at my local game store with some friends, the meta quickly turned against it. Try as she might, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben just can’t hold back UW Control forever thanks to their utilization of efficient removal like Portable Hole and March of Otherworldly Light. On top of that, Humans lacked a lot of ways to favorably rebuild after a Supreme Verdict. The other matchup that really tore into the deck was Winota. Now I don’t think it was as one-sided as the Control Matchup could be, but it could get real nasty and there are only so many times Collected Company can hit a clutch Reflector Mage or Brutal Cathar.

Mobilizer Mech

Oh Mobilizer Mech I was going to do such stupid things with you. Two free crew’s for the price of one. We were going to go to so many regattas in our Consulate Dreadnoughts. Alas, it was never meant to be. For those that don’t know, the crew ability underwent a major change with the printing of Neon Dynasty as can be seen here:

702.122a

This is the rule for the crew ability. A lot of players may not have realized that Vehicles, once animated, could technically crew themselves. This is not only unintuitive but also pretty scary for people like me who don’t trust self-driving cars. A one-word change to this rule now prevents players from being able to do this.

And I took that personally. I went back to the drawing board building and tweaking for hours trying to get something going again, but when that rule changed it really took a lot of wind out of the deck’s sails for me. So much so that I honestly don’t even have a deck to present anymore. They’ve been purged from my records. On the brightside, all of the Greasefang variants took off and filled that vehicle-shaped hole in my heart, but they definitely didn’t have the impact or magic like Mobilizer Mech did.

The Wandering Emperor

I will be the first to admit that I definitely overlooked just how powerful The Wandering Emperor would truly be, and to be honest I wasn’t the only one. This card is straight cracked and for good reason. It’s removal, it’s a surprise blocker/threat, and it’s all at instant speed. Now, when control has unspent counter mana at the end of their opponent’s turn they can play a permanent that will accrue value until dealt with. And when combined with the additional printing of March of Otherworldly Light it revitalized UW control as an archetype.

That’s all well and good for the deck itself, but how did it change my game? Well it honestly made me pick up control again. Not many will know this, but before Spirits became my go-to deck in early pioneer I lived UW Control. However, I quickly realized the deck wasn’t for me. It was limited on win-cons and I just felt like I was spinning my wheels until my opponent conceded. Cards like Shark Typhoon have been slowly giving the deck more ways to close out a game, but I feel like The Wandering Emperor really did a lot to revamp the deck and move it away from the “no win-con control” decks I actively despise.

Tezzeret, Betrayer of Flesh

Betrayer of Flesh? More like Betrayer of my heart. Between cards like Mazemind Tome, Reckoner Bankbuster, and Thirst for Knowledge I had very high hope for Tezzeret to have a big impact on the format in some kind of artifact based tap-out control style decklist. Allowing us to activate our Bankbusters and Tomes for free while using cards like Metallic Rebuke to slow down our opponents until we eventually turned the corner and won with our 4/4’s. As we all know, that just didn’t happen. Pioneer can be a very fast format, and the need to interact in the early turns of the game are very hostile to a tap-out strategy. By the time you’ve weathered your opponent’s initial onslaught it’ll take too long to start building up your position. Tezzeret of course did find a home in the combo-control Esper Greasefang builds, but it was never the home I wanted for him.

Oni-Cult Anvil

My last pick is a little bit of a cheat, because I didn’t start playing it until the release of New Capenna and Ob Nixilis, The Adversary. But, what can I say besides,so this is love”? I had always respected Oni-Cult Anvil, but I never thought it was the deck for me. It reminded me too much of the grindfest that was Rakdos Arcanist which was 100% not my vibe, or was it?

I recently took the deck to a local 1K and wow did I play some of the most fulfilling magic I’ve had the privilege of playing in a long time. Yes the deck was still very much a grind, but it felt every decision I was making mattered. Making sure I caught every Mayhem Devil trigger, knowing when to bring back Cauldron Familiar, knowing when to activate Anvil, what to discard to a blood token, what to Thoughtseize. Every decision felt like it was the difference between winning and losing, and I was determined to win. In a format like pioneer where everything is devolving into linear strategies it was exhilarating to feel like I had control again. Those six rounds reinvigorated my love of this game and it’s all thanks to Oni-Cult Anvil

Looking back, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty had a massive impact on how I approach not only Pioneer, but Magic as a whole. I firmly believe that we’ve only scratched the surface of the lasting impact this set will have on Pioneer. But enough of my thoughts, how has Neon Dynasty affected you? Let us know in the comments below or on the Patreon.

  • Editor-In-Chief

    Having started playing Magic shortly before the release of Return to Ravnica, Ruckman’s Magic lifespan covers the breadth of the Pioneer format. Despite not being a stranger to the Top 8 tables of the old IQ and PTQ systems, most of his competitive experience comes from the other side of the event space, where he served more than five years as a level-two judge, only hanging up the black shirt for good at the beginning of 2022. Currently, you can find him making Pioneer content for Crew3 on your favorite podcasting platform or on Twitch/YouTube.

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