Jeff Zandi is a five time pro tour veteran who has been playing Magic since 1994. Jeff is a level two DCI judge and has been judging everything from small local tournaments to pro tour events.

Jeff is from Coppell, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, where his upstairs game room has been the "Guildhall", the home of the Texas Guildmages, since the team formed in 1996. One of the original founders of the team, Jeff Zandi is the team's administrator, and is proud to continue the team's tradition of having players in every pro tour from the first event in 1996 to the present.



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Today, Champions: Tomorrow, Betrayers !
Getting Ready For Betrayers of Kamigawa
by Jeff Zandi

Tomorrow, the world gets its hands on Betrayers of Kamigawa in special pre-release events all over North America. I will be head judge of the North Texas event, which is being held at the Convention Center in downtown Fort Worth. Today, we have our experiences from playing sealed deck and booster drafts with Champions of Kamigawa. We get to find out what Betrayers of Kamigawa feels like for real tomorrow.


According to a lot of my teammates and friends in Magic, Champions of Kamigawa got a little old in a hurry. The powerful rares in Champions are generally high in mana cost, there is a real lack of creature control cards outside of red and black, and the ability to spread out into more than two colors is almost completely limited to the green player. The best trick in the set is Splice Onto Arcane, but the number of spells with this ability (that are really worth playing) is limited to just a few.

Jonathan Pechon, an outstanding card analyst and fellow Texas Guildmage, noted that Champions of Kamigawa is more like Mercadian Masques than any other big expansion of the past five or six years. Masques block was both praised and criticized for the design strategy that brought about the Rebel (and to a lesser degree the similar Mercenary) creature search mechanic.
Deck designed around Rebels and the Rebel search mechanic featured on the best Rebel cards seemed to have been completely pre-destined by Wizards of the Coast. While this deck type was very solid, and thus a favorite of many players at the time, playing Rebels was a lot like playing a preconstructed deck right off the shelf. In Champions of Kamigawa, the mechanic Soulshift and the various abilities, effects and spells that focus on the Spirit creature type are very reminiscent of Mercadian Masques and Rebels/Mercenaries. However, Champions does improve on Masques’ idea of focusing on a creature type. In Masques, Rebels came almost exclusively in white, Mercenaries almost completely in black. If you pursued a strong Rebel or Mercenary deck in a Masques limited format, you were stuck in either white or black. In an eight man booster draft, it was not uncommon for half the players to take a Rebel-searching card as their first pick. In Champions of Kamigawa, Soulshift (which returns Spirit creatures from your graveyard to your hand), Spirits and cards focusing on Spirits are spread out across all five colors. Any and every deck in Champions limited formats are likely to contain SOME Spirits. In fact, Spirits make up half of the common creatures in the set. Spirits make Champions at least a little better than Masques.

Will the problems associated with Champions of Kamigawa be solved in Betrayers of Kamigawa? Unlikely. Like any small expansion set of the past six or seven years, Betrayers performs a certain function, and that function is to extend the spirit (that’s an unfortunate pun) of the set it follows.
>From what we have seen in the few Betrayers cards seen so far, the new
very much continues the deck construction and play styles that we have been using for the past several months with Champions of Kamigawa.

There is certainly reason to hope, however, that Betrayers can perk up Champions and make Kamigawa a much more fun place to play Magic. One hundred and fifty new cards can’t help but make a big difference in the kind of limited decks that we’ve been building exclusively with Champions of Kamigawa so far. Of course, there is good news and bad news, even here. In booster drafts, the third pack will now be Betrayers, supplying each player with ONE LESS pack to extract a Glacial Ray, Devouring Greed or Kodama’s Might. Will Betrayers replace these easy first picks with new selections just as desirable in the common slots? Maybe, maybe not, but at the very least, players will be required to tune up their drafting skills. Players will depend less on collecting several copies of certain spells and spend more time crafting their decks’ mana curves and making other strategic deck design decisions.

Sealed deck players will see the biggest difference in the world of Kamigawa. Since you will now open one tournament pack of Champions and TWO packs of Betrayers, the number of spells that you will have multiple copies of will decrease considerably. Sealed deck play will require a lot of creativity for awhile, as players seek to identify the best cards in Betrayers. Tomorrow, players at pre-release events will build sealed decks that will be at least as powerful as many draft decks, because decks at the pre-release events are constructed from one tournament pack of Champions and THREE packs of Betrayers.


Betrayers of Kamigawa delivers two new mechanics, Ninjutsu and Offering, as well as a series of cards called Shoals that allow alternate ways of paying for spells. Splice Onto Arcane is back, of course, but with new non-mana Splice Onto Arcane costs.


When you have a card in your hand with the Ninjutsu ability, you can play the Ninjutsu ability by paying the Ninjutsu cost and by returning an unblocked attacker you control to your hand. When Ninjutsu resolves, the creature card in your hand with Ninjutsu is put into play tapped and attacking. Ninja creatures have abilities that trigger when they damage an opponent (Wizards used to call abilities like this Saboteur abilities).
Notice that in order to pay all the costs for the Ninjutsu ability, you have to return an unblocked creature you control to your hand. This means (and I have the Wizards of the Coast official Betrayers of Kamigawa FAQ by my side to back me up on this) that the only times you can activate the Ninjutsu ability on a card in your hand is either during the declare blockers step (right after blockers are declared), the combat damage step or the end of combat step. Basically, the Ninja DOs and DON’Ts are easy to remember. DO play a Ninjutsu ability when you have attacked with three creatures and your opponent has only blocked two of them. DON’T try to use the Ninjutsu ability after you have declared attackers, you MUST wait until the Declare Blockers step, which means you have to wait until your opponent has decided whether or not to block each attacking creature. Definitely DON’T try to activate Ninjutsu any time OTHER than your own Attack Step.


Onslaught block brought us the Morphing ability, where a generic 2/2 colorless face down card could suddenly have its Morph ability activated, causing it to flip face up, revealing its true nature. Ninjutsu involves some similar ideas. In both cases, you basically make an investment in time and mana. In both cases, you basically replace one creature with another, either by Morphing it into another form or by replacing it with a Ninja from your hand. Creatures with Morph played face down as 2/2 colorless creatures for a standard cost of three colorless mana and could be flipped over at any time their Morph ability was activated. Ninjutsu is more limited than Morph, because Ninjutsu can only be activated during your Attack step after blockers are declared and before the end of combat. Ninjutsu also has its advantages. When you USED TO attack with two face down creatures, one was capable of flipping over to become an amazing creature with a Saboteur ability that could really hurt your opponent’s board position while your other face down man was not nearly as useful. If your opponent was only able to block one of them, he had a fifty-fifty chance of blocking the creature you DIDN’T WANT him to block. Ninjutsu is better because no matter which of your two attackers is blocked, you are able to replace the unblocked creature with your Ninja. In both cases, the card economy you can gain by expertly using Ninjutsu or Morph makes the time and mana commitment well worth the trouble.


Offering is an ability that allows you to play a card any time you could play an instant by sacrificing a certain type of permanent in play and then paying the difference between the mana cost of the sacrificed permanent and the cost of the card with the Offering ability. It is A LOT easier to understand this ability when you see an example, and so I’ll use Magic Rules Manager John Carter’s from his Saturday School story last week. Patron of Orochi is a creature that costs 6GG and has the ability of Offering:Snake.
First of all, you could play the Patron without using the Offering ability, essentially “paying retail” for the creature, tapping 6GG, and playing the creature when you normally can play a creature, meaning your main step. If you activate the Offering ability of the Patron, you could play the Patron anytime you could play an instant by sacrificing a single Snake creature in play that you control and then paying the difference in mana between the cost of the Snake you sacrificed and the cost of the Patron. If you sacrificed a Snake in play on your side that cost 2GG, then you would only have to pay an additional four colorless mana to get the Patron into play.
If the Snake you sacrificed only cost a single green mana, then you would have to pay the remaining 5GG in order to get the Patron into play.


Betrayers includes a cycle of five Arcane spells called “Shoals”. These cards allow players to play them by removing a card from their hand instead of paying the Shoal’s mana cost. Each Shoal is an “X” spell. Shoal spells can be played normally by paying their mana cost. If a Shoal is played without paying mana, a card of the appropriate color is discarded as the cost of playing the Shoal spell. The “X” in the spell’s casting cost is replaced by the converted mana cost of the discarded card. Blazing Shoal is an Arcane instant for XRR that can also be played without tapping mana by discarding a red card. If Stone Rain were discarded, which has a converted mana cost of three (2R), Blazing Shoal’s “X” value would equal three, and a target creature would gain +X/+0 until end of turn.


Betrayers of Kamigawa introduces alternate costs for Splice onto Arcane.
Horobi’s Whisper is an Arcane instant for 1BB that has a Splice onto Arcane cost of removing four cards from your graveyard from the game. DELICIOUS! A crucial aspect of cards with the Splice onto Arcane ability is the cost to Splice. Alternate Splice costs like this one give players more options and more opportunities to make the most of their Splice onto Arcane spells.


Champions of Kamigawa is a decent set with lots of cards that are good for limited and constructed formats and lots of cards that are just fun to play with. However, if many players grew quickly tired of Champions, the question is whether Betrayers of Kamigawa will turn the trend around and make limited formats fun to play again. The only real way to find out is to dive into the new set and see what Betrayers delivers. Heading to the closest Betrayers of Kamigawa pre-release event would be a really good way to get started.

As always, I’m interested in what YOU think!

Jeff Zandi
Texas Guildmages
Level II DCI Judge
Zanman on Magic Online


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