There’s nothing quite like a good “Return To” set to get the imagination fired, is there? It might not be in the official title, but Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty definitely has all the extra hype potential of returning to an established setting. In fact, as I explained a few months ago, this is the #1 plane I’ve been most personally excited about revisiting. Okay, the news that we were returning to Kamigawa’s cyberpunk future was a bit of a curveball, but the 1200-year time-skip and genre-pivot only escalates the possibilities for cool callbacks and worldbuilding!
So, what exactly am I expecting out of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty? A lot.
TRADITION VS. MODERNITY
We’ve been told up-front that this will be the major overarching theme running through the set. Neon Dynasty will simultaneously build on both the sword-and-sorcery past established in the original Kamigawa block and the futuristic genre tropes of cyberpunk. How will this manifest itself in the actual set?
Safe Bet: Vehicles
We have to get artifact synergies in there somewhere to drive home the technological aspect of modern Kamigawa. I expect Vehicles in general will have plenty of time in the sun with a sequence of higher-tech settings on the schedule for 2022, and it would add more variety to the Treasure and Equipment synergies currently in Standard (and give Cosima something cool to do before rotating).
Just a Hunch: Kami as AI
Spirit-type creatures were prominent in old Kamigawa, so their return is essential. We know that they have a somewhat more diplomatic and yet still conflicted relationship with the mortal realm in Neon Dynasty, with those objecting to modern tech fleeing into the Jukai forest.
But what’s making them uncomfortable? I suspect that bound or perhaps artificially created computer Spirits will be revealed as Kamigawa’s version of AI, powering some of the most modern tech. We already have the foundations for Spirit tribal in Standard, and this is definitely the place to build them into a full deck. I can see these digital Spirits landing in blue and red, creating interesting deck building choices in concert with the RW Spirit synergies from Strixhaven and UW ones from Innistrad.
Wildest Dreams: New “future-shifted” cards
What’s more futuristic than literally printing cards from the future, today? That was the line WotC took back in Future Sight, when a kaleidoscope of cards with weird new mechanics and baffling names showed up to foreshadow possible future sets. Everything from Tarmogoyf to Aven Mindcensor showed up in those slots, often with fascinating art which foreshadowed the planes where they would eventually appear. But we’ve seen most of these reveals realized by now, so why not set up a new crop of mysterious “future cards” to puzzle over?
It seems like a stunt we’d never see today, but we still get these sorts of aggressively pushed and strange designs – they just go into Modern Horizons or Commander Legends sets instead. All it would take is substituting the “strange unknown world” artwork for all-cyberpunk versions, and you could flesh out Kamigawa’s tech the same way the Kaladesh Masterpieces did – while giving eternal formats some extra-spicy spoilers.
Despite the gulf of time between Kamigawa’s present and past, we know half the point of a Return set is to revisit characters and concepts players already know. With Hidetsugu and the Spirit Dragons confirmed to be returning, what other mechanics or features of the old Kamigawa will survive into Neon Dynasty?
Safe Bet: Ninjas & ninjutsu
It’s not totally confirmed yet, but Ninjas have proven the most popular and oft-revisited aspect of the original Kamigawa block. With a planeswalker who makes unblockable tokens and is said to “play well with Ninjas,” it seems a near-certainty that we’ll just get ninjutsu back in its unadulterated glory.
Just a Hunch: Signature creature types returning
I’m not sure what their role has been in Kamigawa’s 1200 years of progress, but Akki, Moonfolk, Orochi, Nezumi and Kitsune all seem too cool to leave behind. Non-Human creature types are a big part of what gives different Magic settings identity, and most of the mechanics associated with them would still work well in 2022. Green creatures paralyzing blockers is as good as ever, for instance, and Moonfolk “return lands to hand” cards could have very cool interactions with MDFCs!
Wildest Dreams: Original Kamigawa mechanics get one-card cameos
I don’t think the mechanics are the most fondly remembered part of Kamigawa block, but they were quite distinctive and unique. I can see us getting some one-off cards that put a modern-day spin on old designs, even if the effects aren’t explicitly keyworded. Soulshift, sweep, bushido, splice, offering and epic all seem like solid choices to revive on standalone cards; we’ve already seen most of them pop up on cards like Splicer’s Skill and Jade Avenger in Modern Horizons sets. Giving each of these mechanics a nod here would be an appropriate easter egg for fans of Kamigawa block.
MECHANICAL INNOVATIONS FOR A MECHANICAL AGE
All new Standard sets are expected to introduce three or four big new mechanics, which play a huge role in defining the set’s identity and legacy. With a bold identity to define in Neon Dynasty, what cyberpunk-flavored mechanics might WotC cook up?
Safe Bet: Cyber-Ware
It won’t be called that exact name, but no cyberpunk setting would be complete without the ability to graft mechanical (sometimes bio-mechanical) devices onto human bodies in pursuit of better abilities. This could be presented as a cycle of Equipment cards, perhaps with the clause we’ve seen on cards like Grafted Wargear, Captain’s Hook and Stitcher’s Graft.
But I would not be surprised to see something slightly different, to distinguish this new and more powerful bond. Perhaps something akin to soulbond, but connecting artifacts to non-artifact creatures? Or maybe we see enchantments/artifacts which buff all equipment/equipped creatures in play, like the Magemarks did for Auras.
Just A Hunch: Networking & computer-shrines
Again, I don’t expect even modernized Kamigawa to have anything resembling our real-world Internet, but I do fully expect an inscrutable kami-powered computing system to be behind a lot of the technology.
Mechanically, this could be represented by artifacts which buff each other, allowing you to build a network of increasingly powerful devices over the game. Another alternative would be to design these artifacts around the “shrine” subtype, allowing for interesting Honden decks in Historic!
Wildest Dreams: Cards with random or app-determined effects
I feel like my “wildest dreams” have gotten somewhat tame of late, so here’s an extremely spicy take: We could get an Urza, Academy Headmaster-style card in black border. Yeah, yeah, determining the effects of a card through an app is flavorful, but too silly to ever do outside silver border – except that’s what everyone said about die-rolling before Adventures in the Forgotten Realms!
The bigger stumbling block here is whether we want to make cards unusable for those without smartphones. But WotC is increasingly bullish about their digital platforms and Companion app, and all they need to do is provide an alternate effect (like the loot option on learn) or a table for manually randomizing the effect with dice, and perhaps they could justify this move. In the end, WotC answers to nobody but themselves when it comes to MTG – so nothing’s truly off the table.
WotC started the conversation around Neon Dynasty far ahead of release so they could provide a month – yes, a solid month! – of lore and setting information to catch us all up on Kamigawa’s history. That’s a level of commitment to lore we’ve not seen since the “Gatewatch” meta-story wrapped up in War of the Spark, and it might even lay the foundations for a cyberpunk setting/ruleset in WotC’s other big product line, Dungeons & Dragons. Or perhaps it’s simply the foundations for Magic’s next decade-long plot arc. There’s a lot of space for creativity in a setting with 1200 years of history, and a wealth of threads from past sets to weave into this possible new tapestry…
Safe Bet: The Imperials are corrupt, if not the main “villains”
Our first hint of the inciting incident for Neon Dynasty suggests that Tezzeret, now the most-wanted man in the multiverse, is back at it again on a new plane. We’ve been told a “metal-armed man” has been associated with the Emperor’s disappearance, and while that could be anyone in the context of a cybernetics-happy sci-fi story, us Magic veterans know it probably isn’t…
But cyberpunk settings also don’t usually portray their established authorities in a good light, especially when setting up conflict between tradition and the modernizing regime they preside over. Why is Tezzeret there in the first place? Who invited him in? And did he really kidnap the Emperor, or is his involvement actually part of an Imperial conspiracy?
Just a Hunch: The Umezawas make a comeback
The bloodline of Umezawa is an older fixture of the Magic lore than Kamigawa itself, dating back to an unusual Grixis-colored fellow from Legends. A Dominarian hero who overthrew Nicol Bolas’s original empire from within, Tetsuo Umezawa was later retconned to be the descendant of Toshiro Umezawa, the roguish protagonist of the Kamigawa block storyline. The appearance of Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive in Dominaria confirmed that Clan Umezawa is still extant in the current timeline, but has been forced into a shadowy existence out of fear of reprisal from Bolas.
So with Bolas now finally out of the picture, it’s no surprise for the Umezawa name to reappear in the storyline. We have learned another descendant, Satoru Umezawa, leads an underworld syndicate in Neon Dynasty that’s named after Toshiro’s original band of allies, the Hyozan Reckoners.
It appears that Satoru’s branch of the family might have been on Kamigawa the whole time, so the reintroduction of the Dominarian branch – whether through Tetsuko returning to an alien “home”, or the surprise reveal that another character is actually an Umezawa – could be the catalyst for them to take a more prominent role, maybe even becoming new emperors/guardians of the plane!
Wildest Dreams: The Wanderer revealed
The Wanderer has inspired constant speculation since she showed up unannounced in War of the Spark. Her appearance and fighting style made Kamigawa the obvious choice for her probable home plane; so obvious that some people believed it to be a red herring hiding a “reformed Emrakul” or something similarly outlandish.
But now that we’re back on Kamigawa, we can finally give The Wanderer a compelling reveal without resorting to shock value. She was last seen in a battle with Tezzeret and his minions alongside Ral Zarek after War of the Spark, during which she was knocked out and reflexively planeswalked away to an unknown destination.
Assuming she is indeed a Kamigawa native, it seems reasonable that she returned to it as her sanctuary – and that Tezzeret is here because he tracked her down. We might see The Wanderer’s role be that of the inciting dame in a noir – one genre which overlaps heavily with cyberpunk storytelling – often talked about but rarely seen until the critical hour. Or perhaps we might get to know her immediately as a perspective character, dealing with a changed Kamigawa, the temporary loss of her planeswalking, or the threat of Tezzeret.
Regardless, the door is open for a huge payoff, where WotC might reveal the character’s identity and explore her ties to Kamigawa past and present. My best bet: The Wanderer is part of the Sisters of Flesh and Spirit, some fragment or projection of that dual being. The Sisters became the new cosmic rulers of Kamigawa in the aftermath of its original storyline, and must have had some responsibility for shaping its modern form – yet they haven’t been mentioned in any Neon Dynasty previews so far.
The Sisters of Flesh and Spirit formed from the fusion of human princess Michiko Konda and her spiritual “twin” from the kami world – and Michiko is at least a better visual match for The Wanderer than most other candidates. Whether The Wanderer’s planeswalker form is a result of the Sisters being split up or deposed from their divine rule, or it is simply a tool to protect Kamigawa, I can’t think of a more credible theory to tie this mystery together.
2022 IS LOOKING LIKE THE FUTURE OF MAGIC
There’s a new kind of excitement I get thinking about the possibilities for Neon Dynasty. Yes, I’m definitely thrilled by the chance to revisit some of the beautiful locations and legendary stories of Kamigawa, a plane which helped introduce me to the game of Magic as a beginning player – and one that will always feel like the border to Magic’s own past.
But in more ways than one, Neon Dynasty is the vanguard of a 2022 product schedule which looks to expand on Magic’s future. Between these cyberpunk stylings, the demon-noir Streets of New Capenna, and the “advanced ancient technology” we’ll see in Dominaria United and The Brothers War, we’re seeing a big-picture move toward integrating futuristic and general “non-fantasy” aesthetics into the Magic brand. Or maybe I should say “re-integrating,” given how much weird tech there is in the old Weatherlight Saga sets! Whether it’s an attempt to recapture those distinctive roots, or just to better integrate Warhammer 40K and other Universes Beyond sci-fi tie-ins with Magic, it’s cool to have some thematic continuity between sets in the post-block era.
We’re also seeing the profile of digital Magic, particularly Arena, influence both the design and marketing of the game more and more. I expect this, too, will only ramp up in 2022, even if we don’t end up needing to use our phones to resolve black-bordered cards. Is this all new and different to the Magic we’ve known before? Undoubtedly, yes.
But since we’re only talking about a game, this is one time where we can genuinely make the choice of how to receive each new change; whether to mourn the loss of the previous status quo, or to seek out the good in the new one. Whichever is true for you, I recommend using that self-knowledge to pursue formats and play styles which fulfill it, and not get too concerned over those which don’t.
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.