Posted in Feature on January 5, 2005

By Alex Shvartsman

In a few short weeks you are going to discover Betrayers of Kamigawa—a card set that will expand upon the story of a brutal war between humans and spirits in a Japanese-themed setting. In laying the groundwork for this new setting, Wizards’ R&D has done it again—they created a distinctly unique play environment to match the story.


Ember Fist Zubera

True to the story of the war, a successful Limited deck in this format should concentrate on working with either Spirit or non-Spirit creatures. Although it is technically possible to draft a solid deck where a creature mix is even, you won't be able to take as much advantage of the possibilities the cards offer.

The Spirit deck's best advantage is soulshift. The built-in card economy of it will not leave you with an empty hand toward the midgame. When drafting a Spirit deck, you will want to make sure that you have quality weenie Spirits like Cruel Deceiver or Ember-Fist Zubera. This way you can potentially begin to take advantage of soulshift early in the game with cards like Burr Grafter, yet both of those cards are of above-average use much later, when an average two-power creature is not large enough to make a difference.

Hisoka's Defiance

Perhaps the most potent weapon in a Spirit deck arsenal is Devouring Greed. You will want to save this card until you are able to use it as a finishing move, allowing you to end the game when an opponent thinks he still has a turn or two left. In an extremely close race, you can also use it earlier, perhaps sacrificing a creature with Cage of Hands on it, to swing the life totals and gain an advantage in the race.

Although playing a Spirit deck offers many advantages, it is somewhat balanced by "spirit hoser" cards like Kitsune Riftwalker, Hisoka's Defiance, and Cut the Tethers. Also, the most mana-efficient creatures in the format are Samurai and Wizards, not Spirits. A non-Spirit deck will be generally faster and less susceptible to hoser cards, but also less powerful in the long run—perhaps reflecting the Kami's significant advantage over the humans at this stage of the war in the storyline.


Each color has a few exceptionally powerful commons that stand out head and shoulders above the rest. When you open your Champions tournament pack at the pre-release, look for these to help you decide which colors you are going to be playing.


White is the deepest color overall, offering some of the best Spirits, most of the good Samurai, and solid combat tricks to boot.

Kabuto Moth

Kabuto Moth

Although this card is not nearly as insane as Sparksmith or Spikeshot Goblin, it holds the same "pick over any common" place in my playbook. Consider Indomitable Will. By itself, it is one of the more powerful tricks white has to offer and it will virtually always make it into your deck. Kabuto Moth offers the same combat trick—every single turn. You miss out on the surprise factor, but at the same time, you are not risking the possibility of losing two cards for one if your opponent has a trick to play in return. As a flyer, Kabuto Moth is able to block as a 2/4 creature, shutting down your opponent's aerial offence by itself. Finally, it is a 3 casting cost Spirit, so it is not incredibly difficult to return to your hand if an opponent manages to remove it early on.

Kitsune Blademaster

First strike combined with bushido makes this Samurai dominate combat in the format where creatures larger than 3/3 are quite rare. Tricks like Indomitable Will, Kabuto Moth, and Blessed Breath allow you to constantly attack with your samurai (like the Blademaster or an excellent Mothrider Samurai) with little fear of losing a creature in combat.

Cage of Hands

In most formats you will hang on to your best removal spell greedily, as you wait for an opponent to drop the other shoe in the form of a large dragon or some other hard-to-deal-with meanie. Cage of Hands allows you to take care of the most annoying creature you face now and still have the option of getting it back to stop that dragon later.

Kami of Ancient Law

This format has abundant 2/2 creatures for 2 mana; however, few of them are Spirits. This is the most efficient Spirit for its casting cost, and its ability is quite relevant with Shrines, Snake Skin, Indomitable Will, and a handful of other quality enchantments running around. White also has a few cards that, while average on their own, can become extremely powerful in the right deck. Kitsune Healer, for example, is nothing special, but it certainly makes the cut if you have a pair of solid, fighting legendary creatures. Call to Arms is good not only with lots of Samurai, but also if you have a lot of quality creatures that tap to do stuff, like Kabuto Moth or Frostwielder.


Second deepest color after white, Black does in this format what it always does best—kill stuff.

Rend Spirit

Rend Spirit / Rend Flesh

Rend Spirit is the better removal spell of the two, as there are more "problem" Spirits. For example, the five dragons that you most certainly want to kill are all Spirits. Both are extremely high picks, and you want to load your deck up with them as much as possible.

Nezumi Cutthroat

Mirrodin Block taught us to disrespect fear as an ability. You aren't in Mirrodin anymore, Dorothy. With no artifact creatures around to ruin your deck, any opponent not playing black will have a hard time dealing with this very fast, unblockable threat.


Kill a creature that bothers you most, or help keep a mana-hosed opponent down. Very versatile, very powerful sorcery.

Devouring Greed

Best friend of Spirit decks, I've seen Greed drain people for as much as 10 to 12 points of damage to end the game.

In addition to a variety of solid commons, black offers a disproportionate number of extremely broken uncommons. Watch out for Hideous Laughter, the Demons, Thief of Hope, Swallowing Plague, and Nezumi Graverobber—each a solid first pick.


On its own, blue is probably the weakest color in Kamigawa Limited. However, it offers an array of fast, cheap flying creatures that work very well, especially with white or black, to create some of the strongest Limited archetypes in the format.

Teller of Tales

In any Limited format, 3/3 flyers for 5 mana are always a high pick. An ability to tap or untap permanents to boot makes this one highly desirable in Spirit decks.

Soratami Cloudskater

Mystic Restraints

Blue can't kill creatures, but leaving your opponent's greatest threat tapped will usually be good enough.

Soratami Mirror-Guard, Soratami Rainshaper, and Soratami Cloudskater

These are the fast, efficient flyers I was talking about. Although they may not be incredibly powerful on their own, they are often exactly what an aggressive deck needs to fill its curve. Cloudskater in particular is very under-appreciated. Its ability will often help you out in the midgame, allowing you to cycle through your library to find answers before your opponent does.

Consuming Vortex

In tempo-driven games, bouncing a creature can often mean the difference between losing and winning the damage race. Splicing the Vortex onto another Arcane spell and doing this twice will almost ensure that the race is yours.


Glacial Ray

Glacial Ray, Yamabushi's Flame

Burn is always at a premium in Limited games. Glacial Ray is easy to splice, which makes it the top pick in red. Flame's ability to remove a creature from the game is especially relevant against Spirits.


There are many quality 1-toughness creatures in this format, and Frostwielder can often single-handedly turn the tide of a game.

Ronin Houndmaster

Kitsune Blademaster he ain't, but in the color generally devoid of quality creatures, he really stands out. Every red deck will really want one or two of these.


Kodama's Might

Although green's strength as ever is in lots of quality creatures, few of them really stand out over the others. Instead, the green mage finds himself with non-creature cards as the color's top picks.

Kodama's Might

This format's take on Giant Growth, like Glacial Ray, is made so good because of how easy it is to splice.

Kodama's Reach

This spell offers both mana acceleration and a much-needed assistance to decks splashing a third color.

Serpent Skin

An excellent combat trick, it often creates a potent permanent threat that an opponent might not find a way to deal with until the end of the game.


Any color combination can be made viable, but there are a few archetypes that are consistently outperforming the rest.

Blue-White – Like in most other formats, blue-white is the extremely fast weenie deck that relies on flying over the head of opponent's generally larger creatures to win the game. Tempo is paramount—this deck makes up for its lack of creature-kill with speed and solid combat tricks.

Black-White – This deck's main purpose is to abuse soulshift and Devouring Greed. Although slower than blue-white, it has black removal to buy itself extra time and can often stall the game long enough to set up a huge Devouring Greed.

Black-Blue – This tempo deck is similar to blue-white. Although its creatures aren’t quite as good, it gets quality removal instead, and fear creatures like Nezumi Cutthroat and Kami of the Waning Moon add to its evasion options.

Red-Green – With fast, large creatures (mostly Spirits) backed up with pump-up effects like Kodama's Might and some burn, this deck is about brute force. Its late game is weaker, but it does not often allow the game to proceed to that point.

White-Red – This deck uses a control strategy that relies heavily on creatures with special abilities like Kabuto Moth and Frostwielder. It is slower, but it can stop or slow down the other strategies and eventually win with Frostwielder or with one of its bombs, like Earthshaker or a Shrine.


Kumano, Master Yamabushi

Although understanding your commons is very important, it is always fun to bust out an extremely powerful rare card and watch your opponent squirm. So what should you be hoping to open in your tournament pack? The best two rares hands-down in the format are Kumano, Master Yamabushi and Meloku the Clouded Mirror. Kumano has the Masticore ability with none of its disadvantages and—if not killed immediately—will wreak total havoc on your opponent's side of the table. Meloku can help generate a huge swarm of 1/1 flying creatures that will overpower your opponent very quickly. Besides these two, opening any of the Dragon Spirits is highly recommended.


Betrayers of Kamigawa is sure to introduce some new ultra-powerful cards and change the balance between the colors. You will have to adjust based on the new cards you see at the pre-release. But then, that is exactly the point. Magic is an ever-changing game, and I for one cannot wait to see what changes the new expansion is going to bring.

Be sure to try these strategy tips in the Betrayers of Kamigawa Prerelease events taking place January 22-23rd!

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