This is a follow-up to my article from last week here.
Did you all have fun at your pre-release events? I had a blast! Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty is definitely a spicy set full of returning mechanics and some very decent new ones. The new Commander decks are interesting and I've been playing them using some helpful Magic software. Here are a few modifications I think you may want to consider!
Let's Start with Chishiro
Honestly, the deck runs fine as is. Any significant upgrades will bring the power level up to consistently end the game faster so be mindful of your local expectations. Stuffing the deck with Aerathi Berserker effects, double strike, and extra combat steps is definitely one way you could run it. I also considered making it a Bard Class-based deck, running a ton of legendary creatures like Borborygmos, but that would drastically change the deck makeup and I think there's a more fun way to go. My version is all about keywords: proliferate, evolve, and graft.
Proliferate is definitely a deck archetype that gets a fair amount of love but usually, that love is mostly blue. Here I wanted to make sure I consider a card like Volt Charge just due to that fact. If you're going for more of a token angle consider Plaguemaw Beast who will have a steady stream of sacrifices to fuel the rest of your army. Obviously proliferate is great with Planeswalkers and Domri Rade is an inexpensive potential include if you're going more walker-heavy.
There are several ramp spells I would like to recommend instead of boring, staple cards like Kodama's Reach. I understand that Reach is very good, I rate it very highly, it's definitely a strong ramp spell in green. However, why not try out Grafted Growth from Neon Dynasty instead? It gets you a 2/2 just for casting it if your commander is out, then it gets you a +1/+1 counter to start your modification. Finally, it does not cost full mana. That's a triple threat and it's a common. On the same wavelength are cards like Nature's Embrace and New Horizons which are basically additional copies of Grafted. Each of these cards has tremendous synergy with your commander and ramps you!
Next, to really secure your control of the mid-game you will want to run a few low mana "save Chisiro" style effects. Remember, you're a bit vulnerable to timely disruption. If you wait for one more turn and have a save in hand you're likely to continue growing without issue. Unless there is significant pressure, don't feel the need to go completely all in every turn for acceleration. Chishiro is already breaking the sound barrier, no need to exceed the speed of light as well!
After a board wipe, it's time for you to recover. Not to worry! Not only does Chishiro come stock with cards like Bear Umbra and Genesis Hydra it has tremendous synergy with other cards that help rebuild your board.
A A-Phylath, World Sculptor, or Avenger of Zendikar both refill your board and can go completely out of control with Chishiro or without. Consider them synergy and stability all in one. Likewise, Halana and Alena, Parners is sort of another copy of your commander. Another haste effect and just a powerful, synergistic card for only four mana. It's almost like I suggested watching out for this card.
Biogenic Ooze likewise rebuilds and grows all on its own or turbo grows with your commander.
I found room for these cards depending on how I was shaping the deck. If I was a little more token-heavy, both Curses are insane power. For a little more "one punch man" style, Savageborn Hydra was a huge threat. Did I need a little more value? Scurry Oak could perform two roles at once. While the Curses are extremely good, I have played them a ton in other decks I'm looking for a different experience. This is also why I chose not run Contagion Engine, Contagion Clasp, or Sword of Truth and Justice. I mention them because they are obviously good for a proliferate heavy archetype, but I play them in other decks so I'm trying something a little different.
Still, that's one of the best things I find about this commander. You really can play Upgrades Unleashed in a bunch of different ways and modify the deck to achieve a very specific yet synergistic goal. I know I did not spend much time talking about what to remove and that's the point. Pick a pivot point for your version and you will know what to keep and what to toss.
This is really one of my favorite pre-made decks so I applaud Wizards here. That said, they also made this other one...
Buckle Up, It's Gonna be a Bumpy Ride
Kotori, Pilot Prodigy, on the other hand, is a mess. I took a look at some other deckbuilders' plans for modifying Kotori and I wanted to highlight one particular article by Zach Herwood-Mussen. After reading Zach's article, I can see he did his absolute best at salvaging the situation by suggesting the inclusion of Aetherflux Reservoir, and what I would call a bunch of non-thematic staple cards.
Why This Isn't For Me
So the combo is "simple" - turn Aetherflux into a creature with Cyberdrive Awakener give it lifelink from Kotori, then proceed to activate the deal 50 damage ability of Reservoir - since it has lifelink you gain 50 life each time thus you can machine-gun absolutely everything. Game. Over. While this is devastating in terms of the effect, it's not without problems. It relies on drawing the cards because of the lack of tutoring in the deck and requires gaining 11 life before activating (admittedly, not a difficult feat).
I would suggest you die to any direct damage effect with the damage trigger on the stack, or your hidden wincon is put multiple turns behind by taking any amount of combat damage. Ever. But there is something beyond this just being an extremely awkward combo in the back of your deck's pocket and it relates back to my article on The Heart of Commander.
Why bother playing Kotori if you're going to kill people with Aetherflux Reservoir, a card that has no trouble winning games? Heck, it's the primary wincon in a deck I list here. It's a great card for competitive Commander. Why turn Kotori into a slow combo deck that is not powerful? Props to Zach for creative thinking but in my opinion, it lacks in both the flavor department and the power department. For the same reason, I would not recommend using Test of Endurance or Felidar Sovereign in Kotori decks even though your commander will likely give you enough life to make those wincons live just by casting them.
No, as I said in my original evaluation of these decks, I wanted to give Kotori a fair shot as a primarily Vehicle based deck.
On top of fixing the lack of haste effects, you gain a couple of ways to protect Kotori - at least until they pilot something. Furthermore, the deck has an overall lack of Artifacts and this is a solid way to increase your count.
The fact that not even a single Artifact Land was included with this deck is a major letdown. With keywords like metalcraft, affinity, and improvise you would expect the deck would be jam-packed but it's too light. These lands help.
Why is Consulate Dreadnought NOT in Kotori?
Follow me here. Turn one, Plains, Sol Ring, Consulate Dreadnought, Turn two. Island, cast Kotori, crew Dreadnought oh thank heaven it's a 7/11 with vigilance and lifelink! It is mind-boggling that the card is not included in this deck. There is no advantage to using Kotori as a commander if you cannot get down Vehicles in turn one or two, to then pilot on turn three. The base deck is extremely lacking in this area.
Out of the 15 original Vehicles in the deck, only ONE has an ability with a *large* turn three upside and that would be Colossal Plow. There are only three other two mana or less Vehicles, but two of them have actively bad abilities to use early. Smuggler's Copter might be useful, but because of how early it is you might not need or want to filter yet. Still, if you suggest that the Copter is always worth looting with, especially since the deck has so much graveyard recursion, that's still only two out of 15 Vehicles! Further, since the deck has no means of generating haste, all your larger vehicles are stuck waiting that additional turn before they can activate!
But wait, you might say, are there other Vehicles that should be in this deck? Yes.
I understand that Wizards wants to sell more packs but come on. These are perfect includes for a Vehicle-based Kotori deck and instead of them, we get...Access Denied - an extremely expensive sort of on theme counterspell? Yuck, I say! Considering other Vehicles from Kaldheim made the cut, it's baffling that Cosima is missing. It is useful on both sides and was one of the first cards I added to my digital version for testing. It has proven to be excellent for multiplayer. Sometimes the best source of answers and threats is from the decks of your fellow players and this patches holes in this deck.
The Office of Redundancy Office
There are too many redundant cards for effects that you do not want or need. Out of Hanna, Ship's Navigator, Ironsoul Enforcer, Imperial Recovery Unit, Emry, Lurker of the Loch, Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle, and Dance of the Manse, I think the deck has far too much overlap on recursion. On top of that, they are not all Artifacts. I cut Hanna, Apostle, and Dance. There's also the Dermotaxi angle - if I'm going to use that card (I'm trying it out) recursion becomes a little less valuable.
Medium Rare is not Just About Steak
Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage is a way to give your Vehicles pseudo-haste one turn later. It's just so situational I don't understand why it was included in the deck. This was an easy cut for me. Shimmer Myr is the same. Just doing nothing is great if you have a lot of counterspells and a reactive style deck but it does not serve a Vehicle deck that wants to be attacking.
Armed and Armored is already not great in the stock version of Buckle Up. After increasing the Vehicle count to what I consider to be the maximum (about twenty) it still was unneeded.
Digsite Engineer is great because it's just pure value. It makes pilots for your Vehicles, but also, those pilots will eventually become massive creatures on their own! A-Cosmos Elixir makes the lifelink feature of Kotori turn into card draw. Pair card draw up with affinity, and you can play a ton of permanents. Drawing lots of cards, gaining life, and making permanents is at least a start. However, that is where it also ends for the Pilot Prodigy.
Shorikai, Genesis Engine
I did not get in as many games as I wanted with Shorikai, Genesis Engine as the commander. Additionally, I wanted to play it as the commander of Buckle Up with no changes. Here, more things in the deck made sense. Since you're using the draw/discard ability of Shorikai, you're putting things into the graveyard to recur later. Also, you're filtering out all the redundant effects you draw. Your commander is a little less vulnerable to random removal because it's not a creature and it has its own strategy.
This was supposed to be the commander. I'm not going to say this made the deck significantly better, but, it had a solution for the "one-third" problem I mentioned previously. Shorikai filters your draws so you're extremely likely to hit Land if you need it, get pilots if you need them, get recursion when you need it, and not draw cards you do not need. I think Shorikai will find itself being used for draw/discard shenanigans. It also has tremendous synergy with some sweet artifacts like Unwinding Clock and Voltaic Key, allowing you to do some really unfair and powerful things like use Dramatic Reversal and Isochron Scepter. It's a completely different deck archetype and doesn't care about the Vehicle angle at all. I would bet that this is how you are going to see Shorikai in Commander. Kotori? Not so much.
Kamigawa Neon Dynasty Commander Decks - Yay or Nay?
I have to say yay. The Chishiro games were worth the price of admission and I'm going to continue to work on that deck as my Gruul Commander. Kotori? No. I played over a dozen games, iterating on it and trying my best to stick to a theme. In the end? I give up. Don't be like me! Try using Shorikai as your commander right out of the box - I bet your games will be a lot more enjoyable and I know that your future additions for Shorikai will be a lot more powerful, thematic, and ultimately fun!