A familiar threat lurks in the new Magic the Gathering set, Neon Dynasty, but everything else seems like total chaos. Jellyfish cybernetics? Transforming tanuki masks? Anything seems possible as Magic glides on neon rails into the cyberpunk future for the first time. With the set arriving soon—February 10th on Arena and MTGO ahead of the tabletop release February 18th—the previews start today, so I've spent the last few days wearing mirror shades and jacking into Magic's equivalent of cyberspace.
Things are already looking pretty weird in this modern version of Kamigawa—I’ve been around since before Magic’s first Ice Age, and I’ve never had to decide whether to plug a jellyfish into my brain or turn it loose on my enemies before now.
What happened to Kamigawa?
This set travels to the current day in Kamigawa's history. In the previous three visits—all the way back in 2004/2005 in our boring and dragon-free world—Kamigawa was 1,200 years in the past from the current Magic timeline. Having grown and healed from the events of the original sets, the plane of Kamigawa has seen technological innovation cram its landscape with skyscrapers and neon washed streets. Traditional structures and shrines nestle between the high tech monoliths of glass and steel, and samurai stride the streets.
This definitely isn’t the pastoral Kamigawa of memory.
What's the story like in Neon Dynasty?
We’re on a familiar plane with a well-known threat, but mysteries abound: a missing emperor, Kamigawa’s guardian kami attacked just some 10 years ago, and a decidedly Phyrexian-flavored conversion of people into machines. Kaito Shizuki—a childhood friend of the emperor and a ninja planeswalker—is the protagonist for the main story, which saw the emperor disappear after a man with a metal arm broke into the palace and attacked the guardian kami. Kaito has searched for her for 10 years, and has joined a group called the Futurists who push the boundaries of science forward. The planeswalker Tezzeret is on Kamigawa, collaborating with this group, but secretly he is allied with a Phyrexian praetor who has been experimenting on kami.
A pretty good cyber-hook, if you ask me.
What prior mechanics are returning?
I'm most excited about the return of Ninjutsu, a favorite of mine from old Kamigawa, where unblocked attacking creatures can be swapped out for a creature in your hand by paying the Ninjutsu cost. Leading the pack of ninja are Silver-Fur Master, the dapper fellow who is totally a missed opportunity for a crossover card, the ninja-searching planeswalker Satoru Umezawa, and Kaito himself.
We’re also seeing enchantment creatures make a rare appearance outside of Theros—the Magic plane they were introduced on—as part of Neon Dynasty’s focus on enchantments as ‘tradition’ and artifacts as ‘progress’.
Sagas are also returning under the banner of tradition, but they have a twist this time around, as Neon Dynasty will see Sagas transform into creatures when they expire. Even a decent Saga becomes more playable when it flips into some kind of creature threat at the end, so there is an opening for some potential staples in this idea.
Appearing again are a new cycle of monocolor legendary spirit dragons, and as before they do something special when they die. Unlike the originals, the new cycle of spirit dragons give you a choice between different options when they die. What we’ve seen so far are strong, and the original Kokusho was powerful enough to be a staple for years, and he didn’t even give us a choice.
Though we have few examples so far, Wizards said that Shrines will be returning as well, and I always appreciate getting access to some more for my commander deck. I’m imagining it’s likely they will be another monocolor cycle, but it’s possible they could be multicolor as well.
There are no new previews of them yet, but we know Vehicles will be playing a big role in the set (and that white/blue is all about them) as well. Hopefully we get some cool cyberpunk supercar or something to crew up with goblins and tear around downtown.
What are Neon Dynasty's new mechanics like?
Thankfully the much-maligned Bushido isn’t returning, but instead we’re getting a new tool for samurai to replace it. This new mechanic is one similar to Exalted where samurai creatures (and warriors) are rewarded for attacking alone, but doesn’t have a keyword. I’m hopeful to see some truly awesome samurai this time around, since in the original sets they were some of the worst creatures around.
Equipment creatures are new, functioning as sort of modular cards where you can use their new Reconfigure ability to swap between being an equipment or a creature. How useful these could be will vary from card to card, but any time Wizards adds versatility to a card it gets a pretty hefty increase in power level. Giving your equipment the ability to be a creature when you don’t have one to equip, or to be an equipment when you already have one, removes a lot of possible dead draw situations.
With Channel, you’ll get even more options, as you get the choice to pitch a card for a different effect. In the examples of Moonsnare Prototype and Greater Tanuki we’ve seen the Channel be both more and less expensive than the card itself, so the option to upscale an early game choice to deal with a bigger problem or get rid of a high cost creature for mana fixing are both shown off. Similar to Cycling, this can be a powerful effect to smooth out your gameplay if the right effects and mana costs are pinned to it.
I’m not sure how many cards we’ll see with it in the set given it seems to be exclusive to planeswalkers, but Compleated is a new type of mana symbol, combining the Phyrexian symbol with the split mana symbol. As a caveat, if you choose to pay the life, the rules reminder text tells us that the card enters with two fewer loyalty counters. It’s an interesting way to balance the power of getting a planeswalker a turn earlier than normal—but this may be more of a setup for the mechanic being used in future sets that interact with Phyrexia than a mechanic we’ll see a lot of in Neon Dynasty.
The last new keyword for the set is Modifications, which is a shorthand of saying ‘if this creature has an aura, equipment, or counter’. I like this keyword: it’s much better than some of the previous swings at this mechanic that focused on exclusively equipment or one of the others. It will interact better with future cards who may have slightly different themes.
What about showcases, special frames, and alternate arts?
As has become standard for new sets, Magic is bringing an entire techno-bushel of showcase frames and alternate arts.
I asked Wizards if we were going to get any cyberpunk crossovers—perhaps Blade Runner, Cyberpunk 2077, or Ghost in the Shell for example—but they said while they had been tempted, they wanted to focus on Kamigawa and its stories because it had been so long since we’d seen the plane. So you won’t be finding any of them hanging out in your packs like we did with Dracula and his ilk in Crimson Vow.
- Ninjas are getting their own frame, as are samurai. With ninjas you can expect around 22 creatures, plus the ninja planeswalkers we know of, and with samurai getting 21 creatures plus the Wandering Emperor getting the samurai frame treatment. This will include alternate art in addition to the frame, as usual.
- Foil etch is returning in collector boosters, with yet another different look. In this case it’s basically a sort of ‘metallic’ effect that is applied sometimes to showcase cards as opposed to the normal rainbow foil. It’s also exclusive to collector boosters.
- There will be two Phyrexian showcase cards, one that we know in Tamiyo, and both include the Phyrexian language text.
- There will be extended art cards for every rare and mythic that isn’t a planeswalker.
- There will also be borderless alt art of some of the cycles of cards. We know that the planeswalkers, legendary lands, and spirit dragons are getting it for sure.
- Based on traditional wood block art, the Ukiyo-e basic lands won’t be replacing every land in the set, but will have a chance to be in every type of pack.
- Many of the cards that have a showcase frame will be able to show up in a new ‘soft glow treatment’ frame (37 rares and 6 mythics to be exact).
- And of course there’s also the really cool looking neon ink foil of Hidetsugu in four colors, with red green and blue appearing in collector boosters only, and the yellow Hidetsugu being an exclusive reward through the Wizards Play Network.
What can we expect with Magic Arena?
There are the usual suite of cosmetic options coming with the release, including the fairly cute pets this time in Pompom—an origami cyber-tanuki—and also a pretty cool looking holographic koi. There are also new avatars and a new Kamigawa battlefield for you to show off your cards on like the best digital playmat I can think of.