Love is the reason people try 10 versions of their favorite deck, memorize 100 sideboard plans, or draft a format 1000 times.
Well, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty is back on Magic Arena this week, and I love every single cyberpunk ninja, technomancer samurai, and literal living legend on this crazy plane.
Here’s everything I’ve learned from drafting Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty hundreds of times to several Mythic top 100 finishes, a Mythic Rank 1 season, and an Arena Open full payout.
The Neon Spectrum
The relationship of the colors in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty is different than in any other Magic set. The colors in Magic usually run in a circle, with every color pair having a path and different strengths,connections, or weaknesses:
In Neon Dynasty, however, the navigational path and color relationships for drafting runs along this spectrum:
The colors of Neon Dynasty play on a linear spectrum: Red is aggressive and rewards drafting artifacts – in line with Kamigawa’s new technologies. Green is controlling and rewards drafting enchantments – in line with Kamigawa’s older, spiritual traditions. Black is right in the middle, with support and rewards for every strategy in the set. The colorless artifacts are most at home on the left, and extra sagas are easiest to splash on the right.
The colors closest together on this spectrum are the strongest decks, specifically U/B Ninjas, G/W Enchantments, B/W Hybrid, Base-Red Artifacts. At one step apart, R/B Artifacts, G/B Control, and U/W Midrange are all strong with the right uncommon or rare power cards.
At three steps apart, U/G Ninja-Control requires a deck of more uncommons and rare value pieces than commons, and R/W is mostly unplayable. Don’t try to run R/G, as the best cards from each of those colors simply don’t have a compatible game plan.
There are three much important mechanics unique to Kamigawa, which together shape the format:
1000 years adds up to a lot of powerful history. Simply reciting a piece of this history causes profound effects on the world, and finishing the story causes a creature to manifest!
Sagas aren’t unique to NEO, but they have a unique pattern of play here, and are more impactful and powerful here than in any other set. There’s a Saga in every pack, with 14 at common or uncommon. Of those 14 cards, 8 of them were in the top 20 best-performing commons and uncommons.
Sagas all provide some effect on the game before becoming reasonably-sized bodies relative to the mana investment as a reward for the additional cost of time. They all affect the board or provide card advantage for two chapters before transforming into a creature on chapter three, and they all have a consistent rhythm of four beats:
Turn 1, Chapter 1: Cast the spell; do the thing
Turn 2, Chapter 2: Do the second thing
Turn 3, Chapter 3: turn into a creature with Summoning Sickness that blocks
Turn 4: Attack like any other creature!
Every single color and pack has sagas, so this rhythm sets the pace in of a lot of games. The first turn is a surprise, but then we get to prepare for the spell, the blocker, and the attacker. Decks are built around making a key attack the turn before a saga comes in to block or, conversely, surviving until the powerful sagas transform into creatures. Protection spells, tap-out threats, and expensive interaction all get a bump in power due to sagas. It can be tough to interact with a saga before it turns into a creature so, while a four-mana saga doesn’t come in as a creature until turn six, it comes into play while its controller has six untapped lands.
“This rabbit was a ninja the whole time!”
There are 16 creatures in the format with Ninjutsu – mostly blue and black, with a few key green ninjas and one in white. Ninjutsu is an ability by which an unblocked attacking creature is swapped for a ninja from the attacker’s hand. For the tempo cost of having to recast a creature, ninjas get to use strong triggered abilities and change the amount of damage dealt.
This is a key mechanic because it changes how you have to think about combat. Do you block your opponent’s 1/1 with your 2/1? Not usually, but what if that creature draws them a card or makes you discard a card when they recast it? What if you expect them to have a combat trick? Do you risk your 2/1 now? Ninjutsu’s mere existence is enough to enable bluffs, raise the value of creatures with triggered abilities, and make all one-mana creatures stronger.
A two-for-one is simply a single card that is worth two cards. This may not be a keyword mechanic, but it drives decisions and shapes how you have to draft this format. Every saga provides some effect on the gamestate and turns into a relevant creature. Creatures bring additional bodies into play, accrue value by existing, or simply replace themselves. These kinds of cards have been premier picks or bombs in other formats, but in NEO every card that is only “worth one card” ends up feeling like a liability.
SO every card is worth two cards, what exactly does that mean for your game?
Secondly, surprisingly, vitally, and counter to the most important thing you had to learn for every other set: removal is bad.
Specifically, all of these spells which would be strong or high-value commons in most formats:
It’s prohibitively difficult to win a game by casting 1-for-1 removal spells against a Moon-Circuit Hacker that’s already connected, or a Virus Beetle that’s already eaten a card, or 33% of an Imperial Oath, or any creature in a deck running Season of Renewal, or a saga that’s used two chapter abilities and flipped. The concept of “pick this card because it’s a removal spell” doesn’t exist on Kamigawa. These removal spells aren’t unplayable, but when removal isn’t special it must be worked into a game plan like any other card.
Instead, pick interaction that:
- Leaves a body behind: Life of Toshiro Umezawa, Twinshot Sniper, Banishing Slash
- Has alternative modes: Touch the Spirit Realm, Colossal Skyturtle
- Hits a saga before that saga flips: Fade Into Antiquity, Repel the Vile
- Kills more than one creature: Twisted Embrace, Spinning wheel kick, Malicious Affliction
- Plays to your specific game plan: Clawing Torment, You Are Already dead Some of the 5 “bad” removal spells
- Is Suit Up
The rest of the mechanics of Neon Dynasty are mostly simple, presumably to make it easier to process the three complex ones.
Modified is a unique keyword, and fairly simple: A creature is Modified if you modified it with any kind of counter, aura, or equipment. This plays especially well with creatures that have Reconfigure – another new keyword – which allows creatures to be equipped to other creatures, conveying their stats and abilities. These mechanics both play best in aggressive decks as late-game ways to use extra mana and are easiest to evaluate on a card-by-card basis.
There are also themes of Artifacts, equipment, and Enchantments mattering, but we’ll discuss those more while we talk about…
This is the general power order of archetypes in NEO, but any of these base archetypes work once you know the important cards and synergies. Remember the spectrum, and try to keep to the colors closest together
Here’s the Plan:
Adjacent on the spectrum, Ninjas was one of the best-performing decks by the end of NEO. The blue and black cards aren’t necessarily stronger than those of other decks, but this is one of the most difficult decks to play against in all of Magic’s 30 years. Every single attack requires a decision from the defending player, and blocking incorrectly just a few times can mean the end of a game.
Drafting Ninjas well is a matter of pathing. There are four pieces that Ninjas want to assemble every game, and your priority for different cards will change based on which pieces you already have. Every single ninja in blue and black is playable in the ninja deck, meaning you need to prioritize these four pieces, in this order:
Cheap, evasive or value attackers
Cards that clear blockers or punish blocking
Some synergy for the late game
Expensive U/B Sagas, costlier ninjas, splashed bombs, a way to make threats of small creatures.
If you pick up a Virus Beatle early, Suit Up and Nezumi Prowler both go up in priority over Twisted Embrace but Moon-Circuit Hacker works best with Network Disruptor. If you grabbed an early Prosperous Thief, those treasures make grabbing an Imperial Oath much more attractive. Looping Moonsnare Specialists to pick up your own ninjas is great for out-valuing an opponent, or you can just make sure every Network Disruptor and Searchlight Companion hits hard.
As you draft, know that most of the cards you see are good, but try to keep in mind how your pick priority needs to change.
Tricks of the archetype
- You can swap creatures more than once before damage! You can swap your Moon-Circuit Hacker from last turn for a ninja, and then ninjutsu again for the game to treat it like it just came in this turn.You can also swap in a Moonsnare Specialist, pick it up for a Hacker, then swap in the same Specialist again, or put in Nezumi Prowler a few times to give your whole team deathtouch and lifelink.
- If you attack your Virus Beetle into an opposing 2/1, they probably have to block or risk you picking it up to force another discard. The same is true for their 2/2 and 4/4 creatures, which makes Return to Action and Suit Up much better in this format than others.
- Hold Full Control, and you can swap in a creature after it deals damage. The combat isn’t over, and that creature is still unblocked.
Traps to avoid
- Don’t draft creatures that cost more than three mana expecting to pick them up, unless it’s something like a saga with a significant triggered ability.
- Never splash anything under five-mana except for Michiko's Reign of Truth.
- Acquisition Octopus and Armguard Familiarseem fine, but you’ll almost never have time to reconfigure them.
- Counterspells are difficult to use in this deck, as most of your mana will be used nearly every turn throughout the entire game. If you have the mana to clear a blocker, use Ninjutsu, recast that creature, and still counter a spell, you’re probably about to lose.
Here’s the plan:
Selesnya generally wants the game to go long, growing its creatures every turn and deploying big, impactful threats. This deck usually follows a slower, more controlling path, but it can have explosive starts with synergistic enchantment payoffs.
Green and white have a lot of two-for-ones all over the curve, including the most sagas out of any color pair. This is the best home for a lot of NEO’s rares, and it’s often correct to splash for impactful uncommons and bombs.
Usually, players end up drafting G/W Enchantments after opening or being passed one of Green’s three incredibly powerful uncommons:
Green’s commons aren’t weak, but they’re interchangeable to the point that they’re incredibly low priority. Instead, draft Sagas, white interaction spells, and cheap enchantments that replace themselves like Spirited Companion.
Near the end of pack one, decide what you want to do when your sagas start to flip into creatures.
Do you want to focus on a gameplan where you use your board presence and creatures to win the mid game?
Or do you want to completely stabilize the board and win the game with expensive swingy plays?
Both of these directions use a lot of the same cards, but there’s a difference of priority in your pick order. The former requires cheaper enchantments with a focus on breaking through, so prioritize a little bit of evasion and more proactive creatures. The latter requires ways to stabilize and consistent blockers, as well as recursion and a good late-game plan.
Tricks of the archetype
- If you’re on the fence about two cards, take the one that’s an enchantment.
- So many of your cards are worth multiple cards that you can squeeze in some traditional removal
- Sagas have a weak turn on their rhythm, right before they turn into creatures. Plan your plays around these turns to keep your opponent from getting in attacks.
- Two Commune with Spirits is usually better than the 17th land.
- This is the base for the Shrines Deck: Go-Shintai of Boundless Vigor and Go-Shintai of Shared Purpose are the strongest on their own, and the others are easy to splash.
Traps to avoid
- You don’t really have room for combat tricks like Boon of Boseiju or When We Were Young, since there’s a lot of competition for the slots in your deck that aren’t enchantments.
- The Fall of Lord Konda seems great, but it plays more like a color-hate card because only green decks have reliable targets for it.
- Coiling Stalker and Orochi Merge-Keeper seem like they’d have a home here, but neither blocks well and both feel terrible to draw in the late game, which makes them bad for your plan.
Here’s the Plan:
The goal is to outlast the other player by recurring answers, gaining life, answering threats, and playing great sagas. This is the best home for cards that have a convoluted way to accumulate value or attack a resource, and its useful to have a few big bodies at the top end.
Gloomshrieker is the single best card for this archetype, and grabbing it pick one is the best way in.
Do your best to balance proactive development and resource denial. Virus Beetle and The Long Reach of Night may always hit the worst card your opponent has, but keep at it and they’ll run out of cards. Twisted Embrace is the best removal spell you have access to, but a lot of the otherwise bad removal is at home in Golgari.
It’s important to keep card advantage high, and try to assemble a way to continuously accrue value. Season of Renewal is strict card advantage that does a reasonable Gloomshrieker impression, and it’s worth running two or more copies. Every single Black and Green saga is great in this deck. After that, you can branch out into card advantage sources based on what’s still going around late in the pack, grinding value out of Kami of Terrible Secrets if there are enough artifacts or Kami of Restless Shadow with enough Ninjas.
Tricks of the archetype
- Tamiyo’s Safekeeping is fantastic in Golgari, just make sure you save it for things you actually want to protect.
- These games go long enough that you want every copy of Imperial Oath you see, even with only a few white sources.
- Reito Sentinel is a great way to enable early Seasons of Renewal, and recurring it guarantees you won’t lose to running out of cards before your opponent in a mirror match.
- Historian’s Wisdom and Favor of Jukai are both sneaky ways to raise the value of Season of Renewal.
Traps to avoid
- It’s much harder to get enough value out of cards like Commune with Spirits, Generous Visitor, and Roaring Earth compared to G/W.
- Avoid modal cards when neither mode is something you’re interested in, like Greater Tanuki and Jukai Preserver.
- You Are Already Dead is prohibitively difficult to find a target for.
U/W Midrange Good Cards
Traps to avoid
You might notice that the title of this section isn’t “U/W Vehicles” because the Vehicles deck is a trap. Blue and White have enough synergy to get a deck together, but having three vehicles in play with no creatures to crew them is disastrous. When a third of your creatures enter the battlefield on a delay since they’re actually sagas, this happens a lot. There are a few fine vehicles, just don’t fall into the trap of playing a “Vehicle Deck.” Instead:
Here’s the Plan:
U/W is drafted most often because of a powerful white rare and Behold the Unspeakable. This happens more often than any other color pair because the white rares are the best in the set. You may recognize them from any constructed format you play:
The synergy usually comes afterwards, but it’s there.
U/W is the most tempo-oriented deck, you accrue value by attacking and want to take steps to make sure your attacks keep getting through. U/W has the cheapest sagas, the cheapest fliers, and the most ability to deploy two threats in a given turn. It’s also the best home for most of the set’s counterspells. Keep attacking and force your opponent to interact with your threats until they’re all out of answers for your bombs.
U/W Sagas are all at their best here. Few decks can handle Michiko's Reign of Truth giving a Network Disruptor +5/+5 twice, but those that can won’t have anything left to deal with a Behold the Unspeakable. All of the turn-two sagas can crew the good turn-three vehicles on turn four when they flip.
Tricks of the archetype
- Naomi, Pillar of Order is a great addition here as another attacker that generates value. Ecologist’s Terrarium and Network Terminal both aid your gameplan without damaging your mana base.
- Born to Drive is great when you’re running enough counterspells, as a way to deploy threats on the turns when you leave mana up.
- Planar Incision puts a counter on small fliers, but also allows you to reset any saga. Planar Incision on Behold the Unspeakable in response to a piece of removal is a potential seven-for-one!
- You can use a Moonfolk Puzzlemaker to scry with any vehicle in play.
- Suit Up animates a vehicle too!
Red/Black and Red/Blue Aggro
Here’s the Plan
Red is just as strong as other colors in Neon Dynasty, but plays best with itself because it’s the best home for nearly all of the set’s colorless artifacts. You want to deal as much damage as possible in the early turns, before opposing sagas flip and stabilize the board. Red decks excel at developing little engines that keep cheap cards flowing and cheap threats growing.
As opposed to traditional aggressive decks, NEO Red decks tend to deal 12-15 damage early and then need to fight to grind through the last 5-8 points of damage. There are good ways to do this within red, but adding the second color tends to help whittle down the last of an opponent’s life total. Red/Blue does this with evasive fliers and Red/Black Decks grind down one life at a time.
Be Aggressive! Rabbit Battery and all of the Reconfigure creatures are great early plays that also let you spend mana in the late game to force specific creatures through.
Experimental Synthesizer is its own engine. It will usually be worth three entire cards, as long as your deck curves out at three with a maximum of two cards that cost four or more. Some of the best red decks have 3-4 copies and keep the curve incredibly low.
Without any Synthesizers (or ideally still with a few) you can increase your curve a little and run creatures like Heiko Yamazaki and Ironhoof Boar.
Tricks of the archetype
- It’s fine to deal the last eight points of damage one at a time with Simian Sling, Oni-Cult Anvil, or Clawing Despair.
- Akki Ember-Keeper and any reconfigure creature allows the continuous creation of spirits.
- If you happen to open a Mechtitan Core, its totally feasible to assemble Voltron with this deck.
Traps to avoid
- Dragonspark Reactor looks fine, but if you draw it late then it doesn’t do anything. If you play it on turn two, it will probably be hit by a Fade Into Antiquity before you can sacrifice it.
- One The Shattered States Era is fine, but you want it to be the last spell you play in a game.
- It’s tough to splash in this archetype, because tapped lands are a big liability.
R/G Modified and R/W Samurai
Here’s the Plan
Don’t play these, ever.
Red plays best on its own, with Blue and Black offering reasonable support for both the aggressive nature of the plan and general artifacts. White and Green are too far away on the NEO Spectrum, and offer 0 support in terms of artifacts and very limited support in terms of enchantments. In other sets, the shared mechanic can bridge a gap in color-pie, but Modified (R/G) and Solo-Attackers (R/W) are both weak, fragile mechanics. Often, a weak color pair can be worth it to fit the right Rare or Mythic power card, but none of the three Boros Rares are worth the effort, and there is not one single Rare or Mythic Gruul card in the entire set.
I love drafting Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, and I really hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do. I have more to say about drafting this set than can be reasonably said here, and in fact my first draft of this primer came in at 28 pages! If you want my opinions on the pick orders for the top commons and uncommons in each color or convenient packets of cards for each archetype, keep an eye out for my next article. If you still feel like you need more guidance, then stop by my stream at www.Twitch.tv/ScuffleDLux sometime this week!
Thanks for reading!