Insider: Evaluating Betrayers of Kamigawa

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Betrayers of Kamigawa is fortunate for us in some ways because there are very few cards that are actually worth memorizing. This set and its follow-on were nearly complete duds for tournament Magic; they left few memorable cards after Standard was over. There is a fascinating contrast here, though, because CHK Block Constructed was a fascinating environment. There was White Weenie, Gifts Control, and all sorts of Jitte-maximizing decks. The main themes of the block – Spirits and Arcane spells, were not compelling for players and did not scale outside of the block. Arcane spells, in particular, looked cool in theory: you could tack on cool effects with extra mana. Unfortunately, the Arcane subtype meant that all these cool cards could never be reprinted outside of block. That's why Kodama's Reach turned into [card]Cultivate[/card] and Cranial Extraction became [card]Memoricide[/card] for reprinting purposes.

Let's take a look at the cards worth knowing from BOK!

Final Judgment

Wrath effects always command a little premium over bulk, and FJ is actually one of the better ones. Instead of just burying the problem, it sweeps it into the land of Exile. This was important during Block because it took all the thrill away from an opponent who had tapped out to land a Yosei or Kokusho. Final Judgment is probably the third-best Wrath effect for EDH (behind Wrath itself and Circuitous Route) and I am surprised that more players do not pick it up. Part of the reason must be that Exile is pretty serious business and it can cut in on your own deck's recursion aspirations.


Higure, the Still Wind

Unfortunately, you can't make a legitimate Commander deck with this guy without dipping into Changelings. All the coolest ninjas are black, not blue, so you can't grind someone with Okina-Gang Shinobi. He is still moderately popular in casual decks because, hey, Ninja!


Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni

My favorite part of CHK Block is the Legendary names. Most of the creative power must have gone into them, and Inky is a perfect example. What a badass name. Ink-Eyes is a pretty popular Commander card and the flavor is excellent. You let this little dude in and then it turns into a Rat Ninja and steals one of your monsters. That has universal appeal, and Inky even regenerates!

Despite being the prerelease card, Ink-Eyes has held onto a lot of value. I think it's worth pointing out here that this was probably the first prerelease card that did not totally suck. I don't know why they did it, but for years, Wizards did not give out a playable card for prereleases. We were stuck with trash like Beast of Burden! Now, we get monsters like Sun Titan, Korlash, Vampire Nocturnus and more. Those are lovable cards, unlike Overtaker.


Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

Kira started to creep up in price when Merfolk became a respectable Legacy deck. She plays nicely with the deck's mana curve and helps to stop removal spells. Merfolk was viewed for a long time as the “budget” Legacy deck. Naturally, the entire deck became mad expensive when it started winning things. Kira blew up, as did Standstill and all the Merfolk lords. I think the cat is out of the bag on Kira – folks know the card is worth a few bills. Occasionally, you will see it come up in collections, because Kira saw no play outside of Legacy and some very narrow Vintage Fish decks.


Mirror Gallery

For such a narrow effect, I have no idea why Mirror Gallery commands a few dollars. I presume that there are people who throw their Sliver Overlord Commander decks against each other and would rather not confront getting their guys Legend-killed. Maybe other players need to get two Baron Sengirs in play at the same time. Regardless, this is my call for “best chance to score at bulk price” in the set.


Tendo Ice Bridge

Let's make one thing clear: this land is terrible. People only play the Nintendo Bridge when they have maxed out on City of Brass and Gemstone Mine. It was a valuable card in Block and Standard because it could power 4-color Gifts decks, but apart from that, the land is awful. If you are playing this, Reflecting Pool or even Vivid Crag is leagues better. This card commands a slight premium because it was from an unpopular set and it has some value as a land in Commander.


That Which Was Taken

Another cool name! TWWT saw zero constructed play, but people like the card quite a bit in Commander. It is unfortunate to have your toys blown up, so Indestructible is a good protection. It also combines well with the Myojin; who wouldn't want to draw every turn with Myojin of Seeing Winds? This turns up in bulk bins a bit of the time, so keep an eye out for it.


Threads of Disloyalty

What a difference a mana can make. Threads is much worse than Control Magic if you have the four mana available, but that did not stop the card from being Constructed-playable, even when Control Magic was in the format. There are times when you don't want to wait the extra turn. In Standard, it was when an opponent had Dark Confidant or Jushi Apprentice active. In Legacy, it might be a Wild Nacatl or Tarmogoyf. Threads is a great example of what makes a playable card; though full of restrictions, it fills the right role for the right price. It is superbly designed and I'd love to see it reprinted!


Umezawa's Jitte

It is fitting that we finish with the bête noire of the set. Jitte, a card that slipped out of R&D with untested changes at the last minute, wrecked a lot of formats. In Block, it became so bad that people ran Manriki-Gusari to pop the card. Jitte is the go-to equipment in any format where it is legal. I see Jitte as a mixed bag in terms of design. It destroyed a lot of interactivity, but it also was the first equipment that was really worth playing (Skullclamp is a different animal entirely). The Swords from Darksteel were neat, but they never had the universal appeal of this card. They could never sweep away a game like a Jitte on the second turn could. Though Umezawa's Jitte is a complete design aberration, it set a strong boundary on what you could get done with two mana.

Jitte was an attendance promo card for the Grands Prix a few years ago, so there are hundreds of thousands of promo foil copies floating around. That has, interestingly, not affected the price of the card in the way that the promos dropped the value of Chrome Mox. Though the card is banned in Modern, it remains legal in Legacy and at kitchen tables all around the world.


That's Betrayers; next week, we will look at the few playables in Saviors before we move onto another block, full of cool color interactions and power uncommons. See you then!

-Doug Linn

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