We are hot into the second half of Champions of Kamigawa this week. Though the set had less power than Mirrodin, it was still full of interesting cards. The set even has a few power uncommons that I bet you didn't know about... no, I'm not talking about that damn Top! Let's take a look at the rest of the list, starting with one of those unlikely money cards!
For players assembling burn decks, a maximum of efficient burn is required. This is one of the few cards that will deal three to the head for only one mana without any other conditions. Lava Spike is simply essential for an effective burnout. On top of that, the card is a Common! Can you believe that? These are highly desirable in four-packs on Ebay.
Bulk rare, right? Apparently, people love Rat decks. I'm just as surprised about this as you are. Throw in some Swarmyards, some Cutthroats, and if you don't know what else to play, toss in Relentless Rats! Marrow Gnawer has fearsome abilities (sorry) and his Legendary status makes him a great Commander general. I have no idea how a Rat deck would function in the high-powered world of Commander, but someone out there is playing this guy. It's evident by his price, in fact, that lots of people are playing him.
Meloku, The Clouded Mirror
Meloku, the aircraft carrier. The flier that brought an army coming and left one on his way out. The scourge with Fastbond. Meloku was simply the best threat in Champions for a long time, because he trumped all the Dragon Legends. Nice Keiga, I'll swing with two fliers. You swing back? Make a dork, disregard your Dragon. Meloku is so good that he saw play in Vintage! Meloku was also such a great threat because he came down a turn earlier than the Dragons did, which meant that you could hold up countermagic or start an early attack.
Amusingly, Meloku is misprinted in Spanish and makes 2/2 tokens. As if he wasn't good enough!
I love that Wizards pushed the boundaries on nonbasics with cards like Hisoka, Minamo Sensei. It doesn't come into play tapped and in most formats, you will never suffer for playing it over an Island. Hisoka, Minamo Sensei and company offer a slight benefit for a really great requirement – all you have to do is play a deck full of legends, which is totally cool anyway. Hisoka, Minamo Sensei is convenient for getting another use out of your Tolarian Academy or double-dipping with Captain Sisay. It also untaps all the other Legendary lands from Magic, meaning that your Okina can double-pump a guy. Not bad! As a blue land with cool functionality, Hisoka, Minamo Sensei is a Commander staple. I can only see its price going up.
Once relegated to the scrapheap, the Myojins have found a second life because of Commander. Now you have a realistic shot of making an invincible Armageddon dude or drawing 21 cards at once. The Myojins also see rare play in Legacy because they are a useful stepping-stone in an awful Food Chain deck. I lumped them together because they are all about the same price and hey, even I have limits on how much I can talk about a card.
$1.00 – 2.00
This guy is potent not for what he says, but for what he does not say. This rat has no clause that plagues discard creatures: it does not say “play this only when you could play a sorcery.” Shortfang can punk someone in their draw step, before they could even toss out that land they drew. Of course, the limitation on it is that once you draw them down completely, he flips into a much less interesting creature. Shortfang saw a lot of play in the Gifts-focused Standard environment, where it battled with Jushi Apprentice for solid two-drop power and hand-size authority. It is still a popular card, since it accelerates the usually-glacial win conditions in discard decks.
Ryusei didn't exactly get screwed for abilities, but he's still only fourth-best when you are evaluating Dragons from the set. Ryusei blows away creature swarms and I tend to think that he's one of the best Commander sweepers around. He doesn't draw the immediate caution that Yosei does, but he has a huge effect when he dies. Nuking all the ground-pounders is enough to dissuade a combat-happy opponent from swinging into the red monster. Unfortunately, this means that Ryusei is best utilized for guard duty. When there's nothing around to block, he gets in for five in the air. Did I mention that he's very easy to splash into?
Most of the design mistakes that make it to print in Magic are the result of R&D tampering with a card and then not giving it sufficient testing time. Top was one of those cards (as was Skullclamp and Jitte). They had not realized that Top drags games out, especially with Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kodama's Reach providing shuffling. Thanks to its draw ability, Top couldn't even be killed easily. If it sacrificed to draw a card, Top would be much more fair, since opponents could plan to nuke it. The current way to get rid of it involves Krosan Grip or fizzling some spells out. Top combined well with subsequent Fetchlands and really shone with Counterbalance, making it a scourge of Extended and Legacy. Top sees much less play these days than it used to, but it still commands an impressive price tag for an uncommon. Top will forever see play in Commander, even when Mental Mental Misstep makes the Top less relevant by the week in Legacy.
Seshiro, the Annointed
What more could you want in a Snake Lord? All your Summoning Swarms become Call of the Herds and your snakes get a little bit more like their Weatherlight cousin (Ophid being the Latin term for the class of serpents). I'm not sure there are enough playable snakes to make a Commander deck, but once you get this guy out, those Snakes get straight upgraded. This, like Marrow Gnawer, is a card that so many people will happily bulk out for a dime to a dealer. Don't be that foolish!
When a number of Commander games are won on the strength of general damage, Shizo is critical. The super-swamp makes anyone's commander much more likely to sail through, right to the head. Shizo is like Hisoka, Minamo Sensei in that everyone in its color wants to play the card.
Tatsumasa, The Dragon's Fang
We saw some interesting equipment in Mirrodin, but Tats was the first equipment I saw that was truly awesome. It was a Legendary artifact, the first equipment of its kind. This was a killer sword, and it even turned into a blue dragon! If you killed that Dragon, the Sword would just roll right back into play. People had to bounce it or exile the token to stop the sword from summoning the spirit, over and over. For Dragon collectors, Tatsumasa its the bill, and it is great in a deck with Godo, Bandit Warlord. An all-around fun card.
Yosei, The Morning Star
I know White has been rebranded to be a taxing effect in an attempt to make it suck less. Yosei is the best example of how this power can work, and he is a soulcrushing effect. If you have played Commander for awhile, at some point Yosei has locked you out with Debtor's Knell or Volrath's Stronghold or Arachnogenesis, or a thousand other ways to get the Dragon back. If you played Standard, the monster might have shown up in Greater Gifts, a deck that would play Greater Good and monsters like this guy. Greater Good created an easy sacrifice outlet that often drew a player into another Yosei. If it came with a Congregation at Dawn, you would see three of these coming out over the course of a few turns, which is absolute hell. Yosei has stood the test of time like no other Dragon from the set, for good reason. Yosei can take games that are unwinnable and break them wide open in a single turn. It is a potent card that I hope we don't see a reprint of for awhile.
Thanks for joining me as we step into the Japanese-themed Kamigawa block! The spirit war continues next time with Betrayers of Kamigawa. Join me then for another look at money cards!