Saturday, 21 November 2020

Another Look at The Duelist #1-3

As a little breather between Kamigawa and Ravnica… something completely different!

Four years ago, when the world was still young, I reviewed the first few issues of The Duelist. (Here and here) I didn’t, and still don’t, actually own the first three though. The first issues goes for upwards of 100 euros on Magiccardmarket, if there are even listings for it, and that’s just more money than I’m willing to spend on these curiosa. So I had to rely on scans from other people. And while I’m still very glad those were provided to me, eh… turns out they weren’t complete!

In the decades that have passed since 2016 the amazing Cary of has uploaded complete scans of these early issues, allowing us to actually go through them in their entirety, which has revealed a number of interesting little tidbits! So, check out the full issues here, or follow me to below the jump break for the highlights!

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Kamigawa Overview

So, after looking at 3 novels, 3 fatbook booklets, 20 vignettes and loads of articles and arcana’s, what can we say about Kamigawa as a whole?

Well for one, it’s really good.

The worldbuilding and designs are, in my opinion at least, fantastic. Even the bizarre kami designs look great to me, even though some people seem to dislike them. Only the ororchi looking a bit goofy. But that's not a big surprise, flavorwise the set was always going to do fine. WotC had already shown of their worldbuilding chops with the popular setting of Mirrodin. Storywise though? Now there the quality is a very nice surprise!

WotC doing an entire block where the story was one of the main draws was rather a wild idea considering they had squandered so much of the story’s quality since the end of the Weatherlight Saga. Of the 12 books that had been published after Apocalypse, I actively dislike 9! The other 4 were written by Scott McGough though, so perhaps someone at WotC was paying attention to the reaction to these novels. Giving him this trilogy was certainly a good move. I've already covered why I like them so much, but let me reiterate it here: they tell a pretty splendid action story with loads of fun and engaging characters. Probably in my top 10 Magic stories, and that "probably" comes from the difficulty of deciding what counts as a "story" (for example, do you count "The Truth of Names" and "Release", or do you need to take the entirety of Tarkir and Kaladesh as entries?) Kamigawa is definitely in my top if we're counting trilogies as single entries.

Saturday, 31 October 2020

Saviors of Kamigawa Player's Guide


Another short review, as this booklet contains just another summary, this time of Heretic, another glossary and another batch of character blurbs. The one extra bit is an article on the “Shinen”, manifestations of the spirit world beyond the veil. As always, you can find the relevant scans here.

The summary links the rising of the ghost samurai around Konda at the end of Heretic to the “shinen” reaching its breaking point (as in, the veil between worlds blurring beyond definition) the moment Toshi stole TWWT. Cool to have an explanation for this somewhat random development in the novels. On the less cool side, the text doubles down on Michiko’s mother dying in childbirth, which we saw in the Betrayers booklet as well, but which was already contradicted in the Outlaw novel.

The Shinen articles tells us that-

“In the many millennia before the Kami War, the denizens of Kamigawa gave no thought to a place called the spirit world. They believed that the kami lived in the material world – the only world that mortals knew.”

The Champions booklet said that people have been worshiping the kami for “centuries”, significantly shorter than millennia. Those two facts taken together seem to suggest that there was something that changed a few centuries before the Kami War. Could this be proof that the Apocalypse Chime disrupting veil between worlds actually happened centuries before Konda started mucking about with stealing a kami? (If you've got no idea what I'm talking about here, check the timeline portion of my review of the Kamigawa trilogy) Eh, probably not. I think the intention was to say that people didn't know about the spirit world until the Kami War, but it’s fun to speculate! Perhaps the weakening barrier allowed Kamigawans to first perceive the spirit world, or merely made them interested into researching it. Stories like the Eight-and-a-Half-Tails vignette do suggest at least some people already knew of the spirit world. More knowledge about the role of kami in the world could lead to them being seen as gods, or perhaps the weakened barrier led to them taking a more active role in mortal life, which in turn led to them being revered? And this newfound worship of the kami could explain why it took a few centuries until someone like Konda came along who was willing to do the blasphemous act of imprisoning a god.

Again, pure speculation, hence I didn't include it in my actual timeline discussion. In the comments of that review Ethan Fleischer said the War of the Spark artbook might actually have some hints towards the placement of Kamigawa, so we'll see soon if this theorizing will get thrown out. Glad that I've gotten it out my system while it was still possible though!

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Saviors of Kamigawa Online

You know the drill by now. Some online articles and a whole bunch of (slightly) lore related Arcana shorts. Let’s just dive into them!

Feature Articles

Saving Grace is Rei Nakazawa’s introduction to the set. Like with the Betrayers article, he doesn’t add much though. He talks about how the weakened barrier between the utushiyo and kakuriyo has allowed the kirin, the spirits of great figures from Kamigawa’s past and the onna to cross over into the mortal realm, but this is really just namedropping a few cycles from the set rather than giving any real storyline info.

Tales From Beyond the Veil is Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar’s flavor text article. He says that from this point on, the flavor text writers could actually see the art for which they were writing text! Clearly this had already been possible on some occasions in the past (I want a banana this big!), but from now on it becomes standard practice, which seems like a very good development. Other than that, Jay points out that the “weakening of the veil between worlds” is more prominently featured in the set than in the novel, which is certainly true. Luckily this is not an inconsistency that causes any contradictions, just a matter of focus.

The only other feature article you might find interesting from a lore perspective is Setting the Standard, which has Bill Rose talking about Invasion. Just the card side of things, but there is some cool concept art in there.

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Kamigawa Trilogy Review




So, finally, after the Outlaw, Heretic and Guardian summaries, you get to hear my opinion on the Kamigawa trilogy. Although by now have probably noticed that I pretty much agree with the general consensus in the community: these books are great!

One of the main reasons for that is the character work. A while back I was complaining about the flatness of characters on Mirrodin (at least until Cory Herndon came along with Fifth Dawn), and how I couldn’t tell you what the personality of even an important characters like Bruenna was supposed to be. On Kamigawa though, virtually everyone has personality in spades. Whether it is snarky yet conflicted Toshi, smarmy Mochi, keen and righteous Michiko, brutal yet devout Hidetsugu or even a minor character like the grizzled war-vet Toshi runs into when he visits a ruined Eiganjo  or the serene kitsune elders, Kamigawa feels like a place full of real people, all of them distinct, and most of them very interesting. Scott McGough manages to get across a lot about who these characters are very quickly, making you care about them almost instantly. Making it all the harder when he then kills off a lovable scamp (when he's not being a brutal thug) like Marrow-Gnawer, but all the sweeter when a thouroughly loathable Choryu or Mochi gets their due. Although he then give Chroryu such a horrid fate in Hidetsugu's hands that you somehow still come back to feeling sympathy for him again.

Plus, these characters are all just so much fun. Sometimes they are actually being funny, like with Toshi’s glib remarks or him bantering with Sharp-Ear or Kobo (or more accurately, bantering against the stoic monk). Sometimes the fun just comes from how the characters act naturally, like Marrow-Gnawer's speech patterns of "No, no, no. This is bad and you are stupid. Go away Toshi." Even when characters you both like but who can’t stand each other interact (Toshi and Sharp-Ear, Sharp-Ear and Nagao), it’s a pleasure to read them trading barbs.

Not these kinds of barbs.

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Guardian: Saviors of Kamigawa

Writer - Scott McGough
Cover Art - Donato Giancola
First Printing - May 2005

In the prologue Michiko, still living with the kitsune in Jukai, sends a kanji message to Toshi. He sends a reply saying he's quite busy, but will come to her eventually. Eiganjo has fallen, Konda is missing, and the soratami are conquering in the Takenuma and Jukai.

Toshi is back at Minamo, seeing aspects of the All-Cosuming Oni of Chaos eating the library. He's already regretting leaving That Which Was Taken there, but can't teleport it out as Night's Reach has forbidden him form brining it through her realm. He also finds captain Nagao and his surviving men trapped in the room with the thing, as it seems to repel the Oni somehow. Toshi meets with Hidetsugu, who shows him how lesser Oni are razing the Soratami city above. Hidetsugu wants Toshi to commit to the hyozan fully, but Toshi wants to keep playing all his allegiances against one another to stay independent. He manages to get away, but there is a great scene where the two former... friends? allies? look at each other as Toshi teleports away, knowing they are becoming enemies.

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Saviors of Kamigawa Vignettes

For the last collection of short stories, just as before, we have a mini site, but it seems the content on those is steadily decreasing. No links to articles at all this time around, not even a FAQ! Just the stories! Luckily it’s the stories that I’m actually interested in. So let's just dive right in.

War’s Wage, by Jeff Grubb

A mad warrior arrives at a village babbling about Kataki, War’s Wage following him. The villagers are unsure what to do with him, as aiding him might anger Kataki, but sending the poor sod on his way might also be seen as aiding him. The narrator, who was the one to first spot the warrior, kills him in an attempt to appease Kataki. But then Kataki manifests and kills the villagers, saying that killing the man had denied him his vengeance, and that there has been a long line of these murders since the original person who offended him was slain before he could claim his vengeance. The narrator runs, having become the last person in a long line to earn Kataki’s anger.

Not much to say about this one. It’s cool, the twist works (though you’ve probably figured it out by the time the narrator kills the old warrior), and it conjures up a good atmosphere, really selling the uncertainty among the villagers and just how screwed up Kamigawa has become, with each action or inaction possibly insulting some murderous kami.