Magic: The Gathering is a lot of things – it is first and foremost a tabletop trading card game by Wizards of the Coast, it is an esports phenomenon through Magic Arena, and it is soon to become a television show on Netflix – but one thing nobody really expected it to be was ambient. However, as of today, all of this has changed with the genesis of the soundtrack heralding the simultaneous release of the card game's newest expansion set, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. We took our ears to Spotify and gave the soundtrack a listen (and you can too, on any major music streaming service, by clicking here); here's what we think of it!
At the first listen, we have a few opinions of this very specific soundtrack, produced by singer/songwriter and YouTube personality Jonathan Young. Track 1, titled "Light It Up", has a vibe that is distinctly reminiscent of the theme song for the second series of the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime, which, for a card game, isn't necessarily the best way to start an ambient soundtrack. It's tough to compete for the first time in a market dominated by a game that is a close, close second to your own, even if the market is media and not so much gaming. It came off as a little cringy, but we pressed on, hopeful for a better and more proper introduction to Kamigawa's new aesthetics and ambiance.
At this point, we got to Track 2. "The Future Is Bright" is an amazing instrumental that evokes a few vital things for both Kamigawa as a plane of existence and for the premise of the lore of Magic: The Gathering as a whole. We get this sense of traveling far to a world that is all parts synthwave and magical chrome; it is far away and fantastical as all else, but it is present before you right at that moment.
Track 3, "One With Phyrexia", is a lament directed at Tamiyo, the soratami Planeswalker who in the story was corrupted and "compleated" by the Phyrexian Praetor known as Jin-Gitaxias. This event is something we won't be giving up any time soon, as it was a grave moment for the story at large. But while listening to this song, something about Young's growl was downright discomforting. It was violent and somehow creepy, and while that works in the context of the song it felt concerning in ways.
Track 4, "The Neon Riverside", became my favorite track at the time really quickly. There was a lot of nuance to the music here, and as an instrumental, it hit the mark. It flowed well (as rivers should!), and was ultimately quite enjoyable.
Track 5, "Tasukete", felt a bit bland and hard to recollect even immediately after listening to it, but it wouldn't feel out of place if listened to in passing at a shopping mall amid the white noise. That isn't necessarily meant as an indictment, but it means that Young has a good voice for radio hits, very possibly.
Track 6, "Lost Aura", was another ambient instrumental and a bona fide jam. At this point we'd probably be inclined to say that musical artist Zac Zinger, who is credited with "The Future Is Bright", "The Neon Riverside", and "Lost Aura" of the tracks so far, has gotten the formula right for strong, industrially-sound underscoring music, no matter who accompanies his work.
Track 7, "Dearest Friend", seems to be Jonathan Young's retelling of the story premise of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. This isn't really a bad thing, but the story is very new for everyone and has already been detailed at length in many mediums (including a story that can be found on DailyMTG.com, Magic: The Gathering's primary news hub). If Wizards of the Coast were the ones who prompted Young to write this, it is clear that they really want to grind the premise into our brains – again, not terrible, but at this stage, possibly not necessary.
Track 8, "Shadow of Boseiju", is another instrumental, this time not done by Zac Zinger but rather, by Amie Waters. This track's title is a reference to Boseiju, the tree that stands tall and upon endlessly long roots in the center of what was once the Jukai Forest, now the cityscape of Towashi. The synths in this track are rather chill and vibrant, which gives a feeling of almost-solarpunk utopia with how it plays. It's important to keep in mind that cyberpunk stories are such because they're vaguely dystopian, but this is a nice intermission and respite for the soundtrack as a whole.
Track 9, "The Spark Inside", feels similar to "Light It Up" in that it again hits the point of the game's premise all the way home. We as players are Planeswalkers and we traverse the Blind Eternities to bear witness to the events unfolding in the stories. This track feels a bit more technical than the previous tracks with vocals behind them. It is somehow more acceptable as a result.
Track 10, "And We Glow", is a track in that instrumental slot that is also not done by Zac Zinger. It's performed by Genuine and feels like the right kind of beat to drop in a lounge or nightclub during more mellow hours. Although, at the halfway point the beat drops, and that mellow rather slips away to reveal a strong underbelly of industrial music. This is what a song for the new Kamigawa should feel like.
Track 11, "Neon Streets", feels like it's supposed to be the "feel-good" song of the soundtrack. I don't think the soundtrack needed it, and any direct reference to the game of Magic: The Gathering continues to cause us some amount of unease. We don't want Magic to be a different game, and so it's weird to get lyrics that make it feel like that. Having said that, the mood and vibe of the music is fine.
Track 12, "Argon Reflection", is a bit more upbeat than the other instrumental pieces that line half of the soundtrack. It gives us this strictly 1980's feeling, like we are watching an action sequence unfold during a showing of Blade Runner or other similar films. Pretty rad, and it's cool that this can be done without a constant mention of Kamigawa because that, in turn, immerses us in the world's aesthetics without causing a tonal dissonance through repeated references.
Track 13, "Lands of Kamigawa", is another Zac Zinger zinger (ha!) and begins rather slowly. It reminds us of "A Drop Filled With Memories" from the soundtrack to the 2009 film Paprika by Satoshi Kon, which can be argued is a low-cyberpunk classic. It does jump to a faster tempo at a quicker pace than that track, but that's not a bad thing considering how it is probably meant to evoke the rise of industry on Kamigawa.
Track 14, "Path To Victory", initially feels like it'll be just another one of those direct references to Kamigawa, to Neon Dynasty, and to Magic: The Gathering. While it's a wonderful thing to celebrate, seven tracks of this is a bit much on a 15-track album, so you'll have to forgive our cynicism at this stage. However, I like this one a bit more than the other vocal-centric tracks. There are definitely some references but it's not as egregious as the other songs that are guilty of this as well.
Track 15, "Mechanical", is another vocal track sung by Jonathan Young, but like "Path To Victory", it isn't overtly hard to swallow amid the references. There is a lot of action in this piece, and it feels vaguely empowering. All in all a very cool ending track for the album.
At the end of the day, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty's soundtrack is something really special. It has a few hiccups – for example, the mass of references outside of the world of the game being a bit much – but much of it is actually quite cool for a first run on Wizards of the Coast's part. We look forward to seeing what more can be done with Magic: The Gathering's other planes and locales from a music standpoint. But what do you think? Have you listened to this soundtrack yet? Let us know your opinions in the comments below!