Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, the latest card set in the Magic: The Gathering game, released last week and features new mechanics and varied artistic styles. Inspired by both traditional Japanese art, sci-fi, and anime, this set is a magical blend that brings characters to life. We had the chance to chat with senior UX designer Daniel Holt and senior art director Zack Stella from Wizards of the Coast for the new set.
Return to the magical
The new set features a return to things not seen in other sets. According to Holt, “Kamigawa offers creature types like ninjas, samurai, kitsune, [and] moonfolk, that don’t really appear on other planes.” The set is rich in history, playing on the lore from the original Kamigawa plane, set 1,200 years prior. “We got to tap into that to make exciting callbacks to the original set in the form of character mentions that fans will remember.”
Holt said the return to the Ninjitsu and Channel mechanics are exciting to see back in this set. Ninjitsu allows Ninja creatures to play already attacking, letting them return an unblocked creature to its owner’s hand. Channel allows players to discard a card from their hand and gain a temporary effect.
These two mechanics are likely to change the game a little. Holt said the set “offers a lot of legends and fun spells from Commander play”. While he couldn’t say for sure what’s going to shake up Standard, Holt said he hopes to see ninjas and samurai running around for the first time in 18 years. He also expects to see “cycles like the dragons, marches, and legendary lands make an appearance.”
Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty cards
The cards released as part of the Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty set are colorful and fantastical. There’s also the return of Sagas, which Holt said is his favorite thing about the new set. “They all reference history and legends of the past, with an added twist: they become creatures later.” Holt said he has a “few cards in mind” that he wants for his new decks, but his favorite card of the set is Goro-Goro.
Goro-Goro, Disciple of Ryusei is a legendary, goblin samurai creature. Holt had the pleasure of designing Ryusei “as an Akki goblin that worshiped the previous red dragon, Ryusei.” Hence, this card makes 5/5 dragon spirit tokens. It’s a call back to the lore where Goro-Goro still makes dragon offerings in the name of Ryusei. The creative team had a lot of fun with this one according to Holt. The story of Goro-Goro has this creature making valuable enough offerings “that the dragon permits [Goro-Goro] to live — for the time being, at least.”
The color and artistic style of Kamigawa helps bring the characters to life, according to Stella. “The trick is making your sci-fi elements look a little bit fantasy, and your ‘magic’ elements a little bit sci-fi.”
Representing the fantastical, magical, and futuristic simultaneously came with its own challenges. “Motorcycles made of carved enamel; robots made of folding paper and wood casings; skyscrapers of wood, plaster; signage and digital ‘screens’ are projections of floating magic; and ceramic exosuits.” These aren’t usually elements seen together and the Wizards of the Coast team said they “literally had to reinvent the wheel.” In a futuristic, sci-fi world, what elements look too ‘real,’ and what elements belong? There’s not really anything to reference when building a world like this.
Stella said it’s really a team effort. It wasn’t until Steve Prescott, one of the artists, nailed it. Stella said Prescott “drew this badass rat biker on a motorcycle,” with the motorbike being futuristic without wheels. Instead, there was purple crackling energy, and the whole bike had a carved enamel body. Stella said he saw the bike and thought “YES. That’s perfect!”, adding that it looked very high tech, but also something only capable of a futuristic civilization.
Balancing technology and magic
In many sci-fi movies and games, viewers will see the balance of magic and technology; Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Deus Ex, Final Fantasy, the list goes on. Stella said that the studio’s challenge for Kamigawa was this balance — it applied as much to the designs of the cards and characters as the settings themselves. Getting this right, and still calling back to the original Kamigawa set was key to making this set a success. Stella said that “nostalgia is always a powerful tool in the toolbox […] the plane feels kinetic and futuristic, those small details tying Kamigawa’s past and present make it feel lived in, with a vast history.”
Try out Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty
The new set is available to play in Magic: The Gathering Arena today. Players can also check out the new augmented reality website to explore the world and art of Kamigawa. Fans will need to open the website on their phone or tablet and enable camera/AR. There are wallpapers to download, cards to view, and lots of things to interact with.