IntoTheAether Does Kamigawa

Posted in Feature on November 2, 2004

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

Last Thursday, with a heavy heart, I drove my wife and son to the airport. They were off to Connecticut for my mother-in-law's 60th birthday, and I was stuck in California... working. Not only did this mean a loss of family time and no vacation, but I was going to miss my 3-year old dressing up as Spider Man for Halloween. Coming back from the airport, I couldn't help but ponder how I was going to make it through this bitter, lonely weekend...

Thank you, Champions of Kamigawa Release Weekend! Woooooooo hooooo!

Thursday evening, I logged on and prepared to play. My first stop was the Sealed Leagues. I knew that Champions would be available in League play this past week, but I hadn't realized how differently the Leagues would be run. See, instead of a four-week endeavor with extra boosters each week, the Leagues during Release Week only ran seven days each. If you managed a 5-0 record during that week, you would receive the Eight-and-a-Half-Tails avatar. Oh, and the Leagues during the Release Week were also double prizes.

Once I learned the way Leagues worked, I thought they would be a great way for me to learn the set. Remember that this past weekend was a lot like a Pre-Release tournament for me; I hadn't played with the cards until they arrived online and I had no idea what was good and bad in Limited play. First task, then, was to dip into Champions of Kamigawa and get to know my way around...

Sealed League Numero Uno

My first Sealed League cardpool wasn't going to scare anyone or give them delusions of grandeur. Here was what I opened in my inaugural Champions of Kamigawa experience:

White: Call to Glory; Devoted Retainer; Ethereal Haze; Hundred-Talon Kami; Kami of the Painted Road; Kitsune Blademaster; Kitsune Healer; Mothrider Samurai (2); Nagao, Bound By Honor (2); Pious Kitsune.

Blue: Aura of Dominion (2); Callous Deceiver; Field of Reality; Floating-Dream Zubera (2); Lifted by Clouds; Psychic Puppetry; River Kaijin; Sift Through Sands; Soratami Mirror-Guard (2); Soratami Seer; Thoughtbind; Wandering Ones.

Black: Befoul; Blood Speaker (2); Cruel Deceiver; Cursed Ronin; Gibbering Kami; Kami of the Waning Moon; Midnight Covenant; Nezumi Cutthroat; Nezumi Shortfang; Ragged Veins; Swallowing Plague; Villainous Ogre; Waking Nightmare (2).

Red: Akki Avalanchers; Akki Rockspeaker; Crushing Pain; Desperate Ritual; Devouring Rage; Initiate of Blood (2); Lava Spike; Myojin of Infinite Rage; Pain Kami; Uncontrollable Anger; Yamabushi's Flame (2); Yamabushi's Storm.

Green: Burr Grafter; Feral Deceiver (2); Glimpse of Nature; Jukai Messenger; Kashi-Tribe Warriors (2); Kodama of the South Tree; Kodama's Might; Orochi Eggwatcher (2); Orochi Leafcaller; Venerable Kumo; Vine Kami; Wear Away.

Artifact & Land: Long-Forgotten Gohei; Reito Lantern; Tranquil Garden (2).

To me the coolest cards, which happened to work together quite nicely, were Kodama of the South Tree, Long-Forgotten Gohei, and Glimpse of Nature. As a result, I sorted my remaining cards to see which color gave me the best Spirits and Arcane spells. I thought about making the deck around Myojin of Infinite Rage, too, but I had a decided lack of mana acceleration. Here was my first deck attempt:

IntoTheAether's First Sealed League Deck v.1

Download Arena Decklist

Feel free to laugh at me for making a bad deck. When making the deck, I had that sinking, lost feeling I get when first sorting through the cards of a new set. I knew that someday I would be able to eyeball a Sealed Deck and know which colors were strongest, which creatures to take, etc. But at this point I was clueless.

I went 2-1 in my first three matches, all of them stretching into a third game. Here were some observations after nine games of Champions of Kamigawa:

  • I, like, never Spliced onto Arcane.
  • I, like, almost never got a land when I needed one with the Deceivers.
  • Zuberas are keen.
  • Yamabushi's Storm plus Initiate of Blood was not quite the combo I thought it would be. (Removed from game... oops!)
  • I didn't care for any of my blue cards from this deck except for that little Zubera fellow.
  • I almost never got more than one card off of Glimpse of Nature.
  • My deck was way, way, way too slow. Could I have any more creatures of four or more casting cost?!?

So I rethought my strategy. I liked my black, but it was missing a Demon to go along with Villainous Ogre and two Blood Speakers. Still, black also gave me Befoul and Swallowing Plague, so I decided to try this:

IntoTheAether's First Sealed League Deck v.2

Download Arena Decklist

Well, that was a nice idea but didn't work out so well. I went 0-2 in my final two matches to end my first five matches at 2-3, or seven points. I did win two tie-breaker matches with this deck afterwards, though, and generally liked how it played better than the first version.

It took me awhile to realize that probably the best deck in there is actually Green/White with a splash of Red. I tried this configuration for two matches and won them both. Ah well. This first League experience accomplished what I hoped: It gave me some experience with these newfangled Kamigawa cards.

Sealed League Numero Dos

The second League's pool of cards struck me as a lot more promising:

White: Blessed Breath; Harsh Deceiver; Innocence Kami; Kami of the Painted Road; Kitsune Blademaster; Kitsune Diviner; Kitsune Healer; Kitsune Riftwalker; Reciprocate; Sensei Golden-Tail; Silent-Chant Zubera; Terashi's Cry.

Blue: Consuming Vortex; Counsel of the Soratami (2); Eerie Procession; Floating-Dream Zubera; Hisoka's Defiance (2); Hisoka, Minamo Sensei; Kami of Twisted Reflection; Mystic Restraints; Peer Through Depths; Psychic Puppetry; River Kaijin; Soratami Cloudskater; Soratami Savant; Student of Elements; Swirl the Mists; Teller of Tales.

Black: Deathcurse Ogre; Devouring Greed; Distress (2); Honden of Night's Reach; Nezumi Bone-Reader; Painwracker Oni; Ragged Veins; Rend Flesh; Rend Spirit (2); Scuttling Death; Wicked Akuba.

Red: Akki Avalanchers; Akki Coalflinger; Battle-Mad Ronin (2); Blind with Anger; Hearth Kami; Kami of Fire's Roar; Kumano, Master Yamabushi; Ronin Houndmaster; Sokenzan Bruiser; Soul of Magma; Soulblast; Stone Rain; Unearthly Blizzard; Unnatural Speed.

Green: Commune with Nature; Dripping-Tongue Zubera; Feral Deceiver; Gale Force; Humble Budoka; Jukai Messenger; Kami of the Hunt (2); Kashi-Tribe Reaver; Kodama's Might; Lure; Orochi Leafcaller; Sakura-Tribe Elder (2).

Artifact and Land: Cloudcrest Lake (foil); Sensei's Divining Top; Tenza, Godo's Maul.

There are a lot of fun things going on in this pile of cards. Sensei Golden-Tail, three black “Rend” cards, lots of quick red attackers, solid Snakefolk, two keen artifacts, and of course the Master Yamabushi himself. Even after just one Sealed League experience, I had a much better idea how to build my deck. Here is the deck I tried initially, ambivalent about not using my White or the removal in Black:

IntoTheAether's Second Sealed League Deck v.1

Download Arena Decklist

Yes, it's forty-one cards. Those were all of the cards I wanted to try out in an aggressive deck, though.

I played the most ridiculous game I've played in a long while right out of the chutes. In the first game of the first match I kept a one-land hand because it contained Sensei's Divining Top and a bunch of two-mana cards. On the first turn I dropped my Top, then each upkeep I sorted my library during my upkeep to look for a second land. Well I looked... and looked... and looked... for eight turns without finding one. Then again, my opponent was land-flooded and could only muster one one-power creature (a Zubera, if I remember correctly), so I was facing death by a thousand cuts. I finally started getting land on the ninth turn, which allowed me to first get an Akki Avalanchers, then both Sakura-Tribe Elders as speedbump blockers. About this time my opponent's deck woke up, too. I extended the game for another twenty turns or so before finally dying with my opponent at two life. Silly, silly stuff.

Anyway, I went 2-0 in matches, before switching to this build, which used my good white cards and splashed black for removal:

IntoTheAether's Second Sealed League Deck v.2

Download Arena Decklist

Which brought me a 2-1 record, which is not quite good enough for an Eight-and-a-Half-Tails avatar. Actually, for the last game of the last match I switched back to red/green because I was having color problems with my silly three-color deck.

Speaking of Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, I had the pleasure of facing Ragnarok's deck with 8.5 Tails, Pious Kitsune, hordes of card-drawing and, the kicker, The Unspeakable. I watched his life climb to over one hundred in the third game. Yeah, that's the match I lost. Eight-and-a-Half-Tails is a beating when you have no evasion.

By the end of five more matches, I was feeling increasingly intelligent about the card combinations in Champions and which cards to build decks around. It was time to leave the safe haven of Sealed Leagues and try and an honest-to-goodness Premiere Event...

Sealed Premiere Event Numero Uno

The Sealed Premiere Events, as I said last week, were thirty-two person Sealed Deck tournaments, and as soon as one would fill up and start, another one would begin. Just to give you an idea of how many events there were, I was the second to join my event at 12:25pm Pacific on Friday and it started at 12:33. Many filled up a lot faster than that, too.

Here, once again, were my cards:

White: Call to Glory; Ethereal Haze (2); Indomitable Will; Kami of Ancient Law; Kitsune Diviner; Kitsune Healer (2); Quiet Purity (2); Horizon Seed; Reciprocate; Samurai Enforcers; Hold the Line.

Blue: Callous Deceiver; Floating-Dream Zubera; Mystic Restraints; River Kaijin; Sift Through Sands; Thoughtbind; Wandering Ones; Eerie Procession; Petals of Insight; Soratami Mirror-Guard; Soratami Rainshaper; Soratami Savant; Student of Elements; Hisoka, Minamo Sensei; Jushi Apprentice.

Black: Ashen-Skin Zubera; Befoul; Cruel Deceiver; Devouring Greed; Kami of the Waning Moon; Midnight Covenant; Pull Under; Rag Dealer; Ragged Veins; Villainous Ogre; Waking Nightmare; Wicked Akuba; Painwracker Oni.

Red: Akki Avalanchers; Akki Coalflinger; Akki Rockspeaker; Brutal Deceiver; Crushing Pain; Ember-Fist Zubera; Frostwielder; Devouring Rage; Glacial Ray; Kumano's Pupils; Lava Spike; Stone Rain; Unearthly Blizzard; Yamabushi's Flame; Yamabushi's Storm.

Green: Commune with Nature; Feral Deceiver; Kami of the Hunt (2); Kashi-Tribe Reaver; Matsu-Tribe Decoy; Kashi-Tribe Warriors; Jukai Messenger; Moss Kami; Sakura-Tribe Elder; Wear Away; Feast of Worms; Lure; Serpent Skin;

Artifact and Land: Tranquil Garden; Waterveil Cavern; Hair-Strung Koto; Kusari-Gama.

I mentioned a couple of months ago that I really hate using three colors in my Limited decks unless I have a lot of mana-fixing (a guideline I've continually violated until now, eh?). Making a two-color deck in Sealed Deck is pretty difficult, though, and often the product of luck more than anything else. I tried a lot of different color combinations with my deck before settling on a red/green base with a splash of blue for added creatures. Here's the deck:

IntoTheAether's First Premiere Deck

Download Arena Decklist

The coolest deck I faced was from nnam, who beat me in the second round. In the first game, we had a creature stalemate that I was winning via Frostwielder. I had him down to eight life when he played Reverse the Sands, then followed that up the following turn by sacrificing his five Spirits to Devouring Greed. The second game had him sitting behind a Honden of Cleansing Fire and Ghostly Prison, then wailing away on me with Kokusho, the Evening Star. I hope (and guess) he placed high in the tourney. It was a massacre, but I couldn't help marvel at the cool cards he was using. If only I could find a Dragon one of these tournaments... (insert wistful sigh here)

Anyway, I went 2-2 and dropped before the last round of the tournament, largely because I had some work to do before dinner and wanted to save up my energy for an evening Draft. It says something about my comfort level with the new set that I wanted to Draft at this point.

Draft, Draft Revolution

Let me tell you a secret: I like Draft a lot more than Sealed Deck. I'm a deckbuilder at heart, and although I think it's fun to take a very limited cardpool in Sealed Deck and try to make something usable out of it, I want some control over my cards. My mind is wired to think about card interactions, so I tend to be pretty good at selecting what to put into my deck when drafting. The whole “game within a game” in a Draft is something I've learned to appreciate and enjoy. Anyway, when I have control over my cards I can really start to build a deck around a cool rare I received or go for the all-Zubera strategy, or whatever. It's no surprise that I also tend to perform a lot better in Draft--even taking my weird, experimental nature into account--than in Sealed Deck.

Take my first Draft as an example. I took Honden of Life's Web first because I almost always start a Draft looking for a cool rare or uncommon to define my deck. My next pick was Frostwielder, which was clearly the best card in the pack. The next cards come to me and I saw... Honden of Seeing Winds. There was a Yamabushi's Flame in the pack too, so I was thinking I could either continue with green/red, or I could try to push some massive Shrine action. My casual soul got the best of me, and I made this deck:


Download Arena Decklist

Zo-Zu the Punisher
Everything came together nicely in my deck, and I won the Draft. Both Shrines showed up constantly, doing ridiculous things all the while. Snakes mopped up my opponents, especially when Seshiro appeared to lead them. The deck had a nice mana curve, and the Serpent Skins almost always played havoc on my opponent's combat math. I breezed through the first two matches. The finals saw me up against Megatogatogatog (really) playing a clever monored (really, really) deck loaded with land destruction (really!). I squeaked out the first game when Order of the Sacred Bell with Serpent Skin slowed his attack enough to allow my Legendary Snakes to arrive. Then I sided in three extra land and won the second game thanks to double-Shrine action.

Saturday morning arrived and, in my second Draft, Fate's delicate white hand brushed my forehead. I opened Zo-Zu the Punisher in my first pack and immediately remembered Megatogatogatog's cool deck from the night before. As a result, I focused on red's quick creatures and land-destruction. Along the way I received a second Zo-Zu for my troubles, along with Tenza, Godo's Maul. Here's the deck:

Zo-Zu Loves You

Download Arena Decklist

The cool thing about this deck was that it really brought in the heavy-hitting land-destruction in the first game, which (hopefully) triggered an opponent to side in low-cost spells and/or extra land in the second game. I tended to side out the Stone Rains and bring in two Uncontrollable Angers and a Sideswipe. Evil sideboard strategy? Brilliant!

My mad scheming worked well the first match, and was on its way in the second match. In the third game of the second match the decision to run sixteen land came back to bite me, though. I got stuck on two land with a handful of three-cost cards and let my opponent, Rinri, walk all over me. You know what they say about playing with fire...

My confidence was restored in the third Draft when I opened up Horobi, Death's Wail. Now, I'm sure you get sick of me putting in footnotes like this, but Horobi is one of those unusual cards for which I wrote both the card name and flavor text. As a result, I'm rather fond of the fellow. It was time to make a deck around Horobi.

I pretty much figured the deck would be black/white because white has so many effects that target creatures. I missed getting any Kabuto Moths, but I was fairly happy with the deck. Notice all of the creature-targeting goodness:

Kami Wailing

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Horobi, Death's Wail
I almost played only a single game with this deck. An unfortunate aspect of Drafts is that they are single elimination. I often make a cool deck and then lose in the first round. It's sad to have put so much thought into a deck and never see it play out (this is one definite advantage of Sealed Decks). Anyway, I played Taishi in the first round and in Game 1 he proceeded to drop Honden of Seeing Winds, then Honden of Night's Reach, then Ghostly Prison. I probably should have conceded right there but I wanted to see the rest of his deck. Besides, he didn't have any creatures, so I was able to put just about enough pressure on him to keep his life at a stable score. Once he found his creatures, I fell behind and let him climb to about thirty life. I kept thinking that if only I could find my Kami of Ancient Law, or Horobi, or even Devouring Greed I might be able to pull it out. We were back at a stalemate, me plunking him for four life a turn with fliers and him gaining four, when I noticed that he had fewer cards than me. Maybe I could get him to run out of cards in his library. When he dropped Orochi Hatchery with four counters on it, the idea of surviving until his library ran out looked grim, so I went back to the kill-him-with-damage strategy. Sure enough, with three cards left in my library, I found Devouring Greed for the win.

The problem with such a long game, as regular Drafters know, is that each player in Magic Online is only given a certain time limit with which to finish the match. Each player starts with thirty minutes, and I had only seven left after Game 1. If I ran out of time, I lost no matter if I won the first game or not. So I sided out my slow cards and tried to make my deck ultra-aggressive with Rag Dealers and Lantern Kamis. The plan worked, and some timely removal allowed me to win with less than two minutes on my clock. Whew.

The rest of the Draft was fun too. I beat Plain Bagel, despite him having two Devouring Greeds, Seizan, Perverter of Truth, Gutwrencher Oni, and a whole mess of Ogres. In the finals I played Tanaka_Katana_Nakata_JP's blue/red deck seemingly built around Earthshaker and lots of fliers. I won in two games, thanks mostly to--believe it or not--the constant Fear-producing spookiness of Kami of the Waning Moon.

See? I told you I was better at Draft than Sealed Deck. But I still hadn't played my fill of Premiere Events, and wanted to play in one big 4x Prize event before ending my weekend of fun.

Sealed Premier Event Numero Dos

One hundred and twenty people showed up for my 4x Prize Sealed event. I somehow hadn't done the math to realize the event would entail seven rounds of play (plus more for those lucky enough to make Top 8), which meant a whole day of Magic. Cracking my knuckles, here's what I had the pleasure to open:

White: Ethereal Haze; Harsh Deceiver (2); Indomitable Will (2); Kami of Ancient Law; Kitsune Diviner; Kitsune Healer; Kitsune Riftwalker; Pious Kitsune; Terashi's Cry; Vigilance; Cleanfall; Kami of the Palace Fields; Reciprocate; Reverse the Sands.

Blue: Field of Reality; Hisoka's Guard; Kami of Twisted Reflection; Mystic Restraints; Sift Through Sands; Soratami Mirror-Guard; Soratami Rainshaper; Thoughtbind (2); Wandering Ones; Eerie Procession; Hinder; Student of Elements.

Black: Cruel Deceiver; Cursed Ronin; Kokusho, the Evening Star; Midnight Covenant; Nezumi Cutthroat; Painwracker Oni; Pull Under; Rag Dealer; Villainous Ogre (2); Wicked Akuba (2); Waking Nightmare.

Red: Akki Avalanchers; Akki Rockspeaker; Brutal Deceiver (2); Desperate Ritual; Glacial Ray; Uncontrollable Anger; Unnatural Speed (2); Yamabushi's Flame; Yamabushi's Storm; Akki Coalflinger; Blind with Anger; Sideswipe; Soulblast.

Green: Burr Grafter; Feral Deceiver; Iname, Life Aspect; Kashi-Tribe Reaver; Kashi-Tribe Warriors; Kodama's Might; Moss Kami; Orochi Sustainer; Rootrunner; Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro; Sakura-Tribe Elder; Wear Away; Nature's Will; Venerable Kumo.

Artifact and Land: Jade Idol; Nine-Ringed Bo; Sensei's Divining Top.

Okay, I take back a bit of what I said about Sealed Decks. I checked my rares and saw Kokusho, the Evening Star (my first Dragon!) and Iname, Life Aspect and I barely even paid attention to the other colors. As it turned out, black and green were all I needed to make a pretty spiffy deck. Oh sure, I was light on creature removal, but my creatures were. Just. So. Cool.

IntoTheAether's Second Premiere Deck

Download Arena Decklist

My first three matches were against other black/green decks. It was weird. I had this surreal belief building that every single deck in the tournament was black/green, that somehow Wizards had messed up and made two colors head and shoulders above the other three. Or maybe, I mused, it was Magic Online glitchs and everyone received the same cardpool? Anyway, I went 2-0 in my first two matches, then fell to sparklemaster 1-2 in the third (he would go on to get the dreaded 9th place). His deck was more nuts than mine, with two Kodama of the North Tree, Sosuke, Son of Seshiro, good Snakes, and lots of removal like Hideous Laughter and Pull Under. I mulliganed to four in the first game and still managed to make it interesting, won the second thanks to a fast Kokusho, and the third came down to Thief of Hope (his) and a key Pull Under. Ah well.

My fears of a sea of black/green were dispelled in the fourth round, where I faced a red/blue/green/white deck based around Hondens and Konda, Lord of Eiganjo. I won that one 2-0, mostly because I had an endless stream of creatures to match against his 1/1 Spirit tokens. Afterwards, Fujin Akari, who has been cheerleading for me the whole evening, declares herself my official good luck charm.

It looks that way, too. I defeat an 1800+ ranked player in three games in the fifth round to go to 4-1. I win easily in the first game of the sixth round against another 1800+ player.

And then... well, then the wheels sort of fell off. I can't find a fourth land in the second game and in the third game I can't find a second Swamp to cast Kokusho despite mad spins of my Divining Top. I really dislike when my deck (and Fujin, I guess) forsakes me like that, since I didn't even put up much of a fight in those last two games. Just for fun I played in the final round to win 2-1 against a deck with Ghostly Prison and three Honden (white, black, and red). That put me at 5-2 for the event, placing 19th.

It would have been nice to win one more match and get an inside look at the Championship event. Ah well. 'Twas fun.

That's a wrap, folks. I hope it was half as fun to read as it was to play. I asked people throughout the weekend if they were having fun and received an enthusiastic response. Congrats to everyone who nabbed their Eight-and-a-Half-Tails avatar, and good luck to everyone playing in the Championship November 6th!

Me, I'm utterly exhausted after the weekend. At the same time I can't wait to dive into Champions of Kamigawa from a Constructed point of view. For that, though, you'll have to wait until next week. Right now it's time to go pick up the family from the airport...

Rejoice and have fun,


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