Revisiting the Ninjutsu Mechanic Ahead of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty
We’re just a few weeks away from our return to Kamigawa. Notorious for being one of the most controversial planes within the Magic community, Kamigawa is rich with lore and flavorful mechanics. Of course, the plane we’re returning to in February looks much different than it did when we left it.
More than 1200 years have passed since we witnessed the events of the Kami War during the original Kamigawa block. Technology now fills the plane and is changing the peoples’ way of life. Some things never change, though.
Arguably the most popular mechanic from original Kamigawa–ninjutsu–has already been confirmed for Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty.
Let’s dive in for a quick refresher on this unique mechanic as it is sure to have an impact on Standard and perhaps some other formats as well.
What is Ninjutsu in MTG?
Ninjutsu first appeared as a new mechanic in Betrayers of Kamigawa. As the name suggests, it is exclusive to ninja creatures.
It’s also one of the sneakiest mechanics in Magic.
Ninjutsu lets you cheat a card with the ability from your hand into play by swapping it for an unblocked attacking creature.
For instance, your vanilla 1/1 is swinging unblocked at your opponent or a planeswalker they control. You have a Ninja of the Deep Hours in hand. Before damage, you can pay 1(U) to activate the ninja’s ninjutsu ability. This returns your 1/1 to your hand and puts the Ninja of the Deep Hours attacking and unblocked in its place.
Typically, the ninjutsu cost is less than the card’s actual mana cost, letting you sneak it into play ahead of schedule. On top of this, most ninjutsu cards have an ability that triggers when they deal combat damage. For instance, Ninja of the Deep Hours draws you a card when it connects.
Since your creature is already unblocked on the turn it ninjutsus into play, that effect is guaranteed to trigger unless it is removed by an instant speed spell. Then, your opponent must deal with blocking it each subsequent combat to avoid it triggering again.
This puts a lot of pressure on your opponent and adds another layer of complexity to the combat step. Each unblocked creature can be a much bigger threat than it appears when ninjutsu is in the conversation.
What We Want From Ninjutsu In Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty
Despite being one of the rarest mechanics in Magic, ninjutsu has managed to become quite popular among fans. Cards like Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow and Fallen Shinobi have already proved themselves.
Meanwhile, the upcoming Satoru Umezawa has plenty of hype buzzing around it. Not only does it let you filter through your deck when using a ninjutsu ability, it also gives each creature in your hand ninjutsu. This opens the door for cheating in huge creatures like Blightsteel Colossus or Emrakul.
If Satoru is any indication, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty will bring us powerful new ninjutsu cards with effects that can hold their own. Standard is desperately in need of a shake-up and ninjutsu could be the perfect addition.
We already watched werewolves and vampires fizzle as tribes in the current Standard meta. They see play as Tier 2 decks at best and Tier 3 or 4 at worst.
Hopefully, ninjutsu cards from the upcoming Kamigawa set will fare better. It would be interesting to see a ninja tribal deck be competitive. Even if that’s a stretch, ninjutsu could add some spice to the format by making unblocked creatures a constant threat.
Although ninjutsu is typically a bit slow for Modern, it would also be cool to see a new combo deck based around the mechanic. It probably won’t be a Tier 1 list, but it does open some new paths for putting huge threats into play ahead of curve.
Finally, Commander is a place where ninjutsu cards thrive. Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow is incredibly popular, ranking fourth in EDHRec’s list of the most-used commanders. That deck alone is already hungry for more ninjutsu cards. Essentially any decent ninjutsu cards from Neon Dynasty will find a spot in the 99. Satoru also fits seamlessly into the deck’s strategy.
Meanwhile, the latter could become a popular commander of its own, paving the way for new strategies that aren’t entirely reliant on cards that already have ninjutsu.
How Ninjutsu Fits in Standard
Right now, there seem to be a few potential homes for ninjutsu in the current Standard format. From an existing Tier 3 deck that’s never gained much traction to a new archetype with lots of unexplored pieces, ninjutsu could certainly shake up Standard.
Let’s look at how it could fit in the format.
It seemed like Fynn, the Fangbearer could potentially helm a competitive infect-style deck. Of course, that was before rotation and before Alrund’s Epiphany and super aggressive decks dominated the format. Although Epiphany is newly gone, it remains to be seen if Fynn can make any noise.
Could splashing blue in the current Golgari deathtouch shell give the deck an edge? Opponents are usually hesitant to block small deathtouch creatures if Fynn isn’t on the field. Having some ninjutsu options in hand would help this deck be more threatening and give it some advantage until it can stick a Fynn.
Of course, your opponent could simply bite the bullet and block your deathtouch creatures. While that turns off the ninjutsu effect, it does mean that you’re likely trading creatures efficiently. With plenty of cheap threats to refill the battlefield, this deck could be better positioned for a longer game.
Still, it needs a way to protect Fynn from removal and bounce effects.
Midrange is in a tough spot right now. However, it could get a boost from ninjutsu. A Dimir midrange build with a curve similar to the current Zombies list might be viable.
Evasive threats like Eyetwitch and Forsworn Paladin could sneak through for early ninjutsu gains. Meanwhile, a planeswalker top-end of Lolth and Sorin can help stabilize the game and take over. Dimir also has access to plenty of removal and counterspells to keep opponents at bay.
It would be interesting to see how the new ninja planeswalker Kaito Shizuki fits in this build.
Dimir Rogue Sneaksters
We don’t have much of a precedent for this build right now. However, it feels like WotC has been setting up a nice shell for the ninjutsu creatures coming in Neon Dynasty.
The deck would focus on evasive (especially unblockable) creatures and go all-in on the ninjutsu mechanic. Of course, this demands that the Neon Dynasty ninjas will need to have powerful effects that make the plan worth it.
Several creatures already in Standard line up with the plan. Zendikar Rising’s Zareth San, the Trickster comes with a pseudo-ninjutsu ability that lets you put a creature from a graveyard onto the battlefield when it connects. It can also sneak in from your hand whenever a rogue creature is swinging in unblocked.
Meanwhile, we have a few solid creatures to help enable ninjutsu. Yuan-Ti Malison (also a rogue) can’t be blocked as long as it is attacking alone. It offers a nice 2/1 body and the small bonus of venturing into the dungeon when it connects. Krydle of Baldur’s Gate (another rogue) can grant any attacking creature unblockable for two mana.
Finally, Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar makes blocking a nightmare for your opponent. It allows you to bounce blocked creatures back to your hand to spare them from combat damage and lets you draw a card when one of your attacking creatures deals damage to your opponent.
Again, the viability of this deck depends on whether Neon Dynasty’s ninjutsu creatures have strong payoffs. If so, it will be interesting to see whether something like this deck can gain any traction.
Do you think ninjutsu has what it takes to make a splash in Standard? What ninjutsu cards do you want to see in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty? Let us know in the comments!
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