With all of the absolute nonsense about Alchemy and digital-only mayhem being the talk of the Magic the Gathering world around Christmas Time 2021, it was refreshing to get some super early spoilers for the Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty set. Right away, we were shown the beautiful full-art basic lands, along with a pretty good looking planeswalker and a Legendary Creature that we will certainly review at a later date. But, the card that has me the most excited is one of the new Dragon Spirit creatures, Atsushi the Blazing Sky.
The original Spirit Dragons had powerful effects when they died and went to the graveyard. Atsushi’s analog in the original Kamigawa sets was Ryusei, the Falling Star. It had a decent ability, dealing 5 damage to each creature without flying when it dies. That’s not bad if you’re playing mostly flying creatures, and it still sees play in various Dragon and Spirit Commander decks to this day. But, Atsushi has two options when it dies, both of which are rather interesting.
First, the basics: Atsushi is a 4 mana Dragon Spirit with a solid 4/4 power and toughness. It has both flying and trample, although it lacks haste. However, this mythic rare does have two powerful death triggered abilities. The first allows you to exile the top two cards of your library, and until the end of your next turn, you may play those cards. It’s particularly helpful that with this impulse draw, you have an entire turn to play them. The second ability gives you three Treasure tokens, essentially paying you back three-quarters of its initial investment. Both of these are very good abilities, essentially drawing you two cards or giving you three mana back for an initial investment of four mana.
Notably, this is a Legendary Creature. But, thanks to the Legend rule, now having multiple copies of Atsushi in hand isn’t a problem, as you can simply sacrifice one to keep in play. In many cases, you may actually sacrifice the new copy, especially if the original copy can attack that turn, just to get the impulse draw effect. In Commander, a singleton format, that’s not a big deal obviously, but it’s interesting to have a Legendary Creature that you actually don’t mind drawing multiple copies of in hand. Overall, this is a very solid design.
Which ability is better? Honestly, one doesn’t seem demonstrably better than the other, because each much consider the situation. If Atsushi is destroyed by an effect that doesn’t exile it, you’re likely going to choose the Treasure tokens for the boost in resources. But, if you’re low on cards, especially cards relevant for the game state, the second ability is also useful. This is actually a playable card in competitive Magic, although there are so many strong Dragons already in recent sets that it’s hard to see how this fits, especially with the hasty Treasure token spewing Goldspan Dragon outclassing it quite a bit.
In Commander, however, there are a ton of places where Atsushi makes sense. Mono-Red Dragon decks are still quite popular casually, and this is right at home in many of those decks over underwhelming options such as Chaos Dragon or Territorial Hellkite. Boros (Red/White) Spirit Commanders Hofri Ghostforge and Quintorius, Field Historian likely will find a home for Atsushi, as well. While the lack of haste may hold it back in Standard, that’s not going to be an issue in Commander, as there are plenty of haste enablers. The trample is going to be extremely relevant for punching through would-be chump blockers, too.
Atsushi the Blazing Sky may not be a huge hit in Standard, at least until Goldspan Dragon is no longer around to terrorize the format. It’s a bit too slow for Modern, as well, thanks to having no haste of its own. But, because it has those death triggers, playing it only to have it removed doesn’t feel nearly as bad, as it can literally give you back a good amount of resources. This Dragon Spirit feels so much better in Commander, just because drawing two cards or getting three mana back (of any color, mind you) is useful in literally any deck that would have it.
Also in Commander, there’s also ways to abuse his ability to create infinite treasure tokens with the right combination of sacrifice outlet and reanimation trigger, particularly Ashnod’s Altar and Nim Deathmantle. Ashnod’s Altar creates 2 colorless mana when you sacrifice a creature and you get three Treasure tokens when Atsushi dies. If you have the equipment Nim Deathmantle in play, you pay four mana to bring back Atsushi and attach the Deathmantle to it. The +2/+2 and intimidate, plus making it a Black Zombie, are neat additions, but more importantly, you always net one extra Treasure token, allowing you to loop it as many times as you like. It doesn’t hurt that there are also many other triggers that benefit from this loop that can outright win you the game, such as Outpost Siege from Fate Reforge, dealing 1 damage to any target whenever a creature you control leaves the battlefield. It’s also really fun with Molten Echoes, which creates a token of Atsushi that you can immediately sacrifice to get three additional Treasure tokens.
So, yes, Atsushi is literally a powerful win condition with the right set up. The beauty is that you don’t have to build around Atsushi the Blazing Sky to even make it work, as those other cards are good on their own merits. While Commander is full of degenerate combos, this is one of those oops, I win deals that can make playing the Commander format a whirlwind experience. Without a doubt, this card is going to be a personal favorite of mine from the Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty set.