With the printing of Modern Horizons, Ninjas has started to become a solid choice in Legacy. The addition of both a great enabler and payoff really gave the deck a lot of power and consistency. While there are a couple of ways that people have built the deck over the past year Sultai Ninjas, popularized by Magic Online user MomsBasementStreams, seems like the most powerful version of the deck so far.
Legacy Ninjas Deck List - Rich Cali
Core Game Plan
The primary plan of this deck is to play an evasive creature on turn 1 and use it to activate ninjutsu on turn 2 to start drawing extra cards. This begins a steady stream of card advantage which, when backed up with removal and disruption, can quickly start to take over the game.
If you are unable to find a ninja to connect with, Retrofitter Foundry provides additional uses for extra enabler creatures, like Ornithopter, to add a new, difficult to answer dimension to the deck. Backing up all of this is the raw power of Oko, Thief of Crowns, which complements the early game very well.
Let’s go over some of the key cards in the deck and try to understand why each card has its place here.
3 Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow, 4 Ingenious Infiltrator:
These 2 cards are the primary reason to build your deck in this fashion. Connecting with a ninjutsu creature early starts to snowball as you draw more removal and disruption to push them through. It is very difficult to win a game of Magic where your opponent is drawing 2 cards a turn, and this deck sets that up as early as turn 2. As the game develops, your opponents will be forced to interact with them to stop the card flow. By the time they successfully disrupt your ninjutsu plan, you will be ready to follow up with an Oko or Retrofitter Foundry to start overwhelming the opponent from a different angle.
While Yuriko can dish out more damage overall than Ingenious Infiltrator, it is legendary and that can make it a liability to draw too many of them.
4 Retrofitter Foundry:
This is a strange card but it really adds an important dimension to the Ninjas archetype. Combining this with Ornithopter means you can have a 4/4 creature in play as early as turn 1. Changeling Outcast allows that same interaction to occur on turn 2, and both of these provide a lot of early pressure, especially against decks that rely on Lightning Bolt as removal. In the late game, making excess enablers into real threats is pretty valuable and gives ninjas less bad draws.
Foundry’s function doesn’t stop there. It can produce a steady stream of 1/1s or start upgrading towards a 4/4 and start applying a consistent source of pressure in a long game. Since a major part of this deck is trying to draw 2 cards a turn, that will often mean that you will have a decent amount of lands to work with. Retrofitter Foundry provides a powerful outlet for that excess mana, which makes this one of the keys to the archetype.
4 Changeling Outcast, 4 Ornithopter, 2 Baleful Strix, 1 Brazen Borrower:
These are the enablers that let this deck abuse the power of ninjutsu. Both Changeling Outcast and Ornithopter allow this deck to set up a ninja hit on turn 2. Changeling Outcast is the better of the 2, being both creature type ninja (which means that both the payoffs of the deck trigger when it connects) and unblockable.
While Baleful Strix doesn’t set up an early ninjutsu attack, it does generate a lot of value in conjunction with ninjutsu. It also just serves as a powerful defensive tool, trading with most creatures that will be attacking early. Playing 2 might seem low, but this deck has a lot to do on 2 mana already with the 7 ninjutsu creatures so it’s important to be careful not to flood that point of your curve.
Brazen Borrower is by far the most clunky of these, but having access to a versatile bounce spell in the main deck goes a long way in a deck that’s trying to push creatures through blockers. If the Borrower ever gets cast as a creature, it is pretty difficult to block and returning it to your hand with ninjutsu generates a ton of value.
3 Oko, Thief of Crowns:
As with most decks, adding Oko gives this deck a different, very powerful angle. When compared to what it adds to any other archetype, it isn’t doing anything particularly unique in Ninjas. However, the ability to answer almost any permanent and put out a steady stream of 3/3 tokens has proven to be one of the best things you can do in Magic and it absolutely justifies the addition of green to an otherwise Dimir shell.
3 Fatal Push, 2 Abrupt Decay:
Like most fair blue decks in Legacy, the actual configuration of removal will depend on the expected meta game. Fatal Push is always efficient, especially with the popularity of Delver decks at the moment. Since this deck is moving into green for Oko, Abrupt Decay is a solid inclusion that is very well-positioned at the moment. These cards can lack targets in some games so you don’t want to overload on the effect, though.
4 Force of Will, 0 Daze
Drawing Force of Will in this deck can be more devastating than other fair blue decks. Not only does it make it easier to push through damage on your ninjutsu creatures, but it can be revealed to Yuriko’s ability to deal an extra 5 damage, and that can end the game quickly.
While some variants of Dimir Ninjas run Daze as a way to leverage the early aggressive stance Ninjas can assume, this deck takes a slightly less aggressive approach. Without Wasteland in the mix Daze does tend to lose value relatively quickly, and Sultai Ninjas plays more cards that have function at all stages of the game.
0 Murderous Cut:
While this card does work really well with Yuriko, it is a lot less consistent than the removal already in the deck. In addition, Sultai is built with a higher curve than Dimir shells, so delving is less reliable here.
Since the deck needs to have access to blue and black mana on turn 2 to enact its game plan, the deck has more stringent mana requirements than other aggressive blue decks. This makes Wasteland more of a cost than a benefit in the archetype so most Ninja decks don’t run any copies.
3 Plague Engineer:
This card has proven to be one of the best anti-creature cards ever printed and it serves an important role in Ninjas. It has additional utility in this deck as it can be returned to your hand with ninjutsu so it can name a different creature type later in the game.
2 Force of Negation:
In a deck like this that wants to tap out early on to start developing, having extra Force effects makes it very difficult for opponents to end the game early. As a result of this deck’s plan of drawing 2 cards a turn, it can really offset the card disadvantage that the 2 Force effects create.
2 Surgical Extraction, 2 Tormod’s Crypt, 1 Grafdigger’s Cage, 1 Cling to Dust:
Playing large amounts of graveyard hate in Legacy is never inherently bad. The graveyard decks in the format are extremely potent and can create an unassailable position as early as turn 1. Like most blue decks, this deck can struggle against the dedicated graveyard decks. Unlike decks like Delver, the core plan of Ninjas takes more time and mana to set up.
As a result, it’s better for Ninjas to play a lot of cheap, or even free, haymakers for the graveyard matchups and really shore up those matchups. The fact that both Surgical and Tormod’s Crypt can be cast on turn 2 after connecting with a ninja really makes them very valuable. Cage is one of the most impactful cards against the graveyard decks and can stop an unprepared opponent in their tracks. Cling is way less impactful against the dedicated graveyard strategies than the other 5 cards. However, it is much better against the Uro decks, since those decks don’t tend to overuse their graveyard outside of Uro.
Thoughtseize has fallen off in Legacy as a result of Veil of Summer. However, all of the interaction in this deck can be answered by Veil so overloading an opponent’s Veils can be one of the best ways to play through it. Because this deck is trying to curve a 1 mana spell into a 2 mana ninjutsu, it is difficult to find the time to cast a Thoughtseize early when an Ornithopter isn’t involved. However, Thoughtseize is still one of the best disruptive spells in Magic and it can go a long way when it comes to slowing down your opponent’s combo deck.
1 Submerge, 1 Assassin’s Trophy:
I’m lumping these together because they both fit the bill of being metagame-dependent removal spells. While having access to black does give Ninjas access to other powerful black removal, Submerge remains one of the best cards against Temur Delver. Not only does it have additional functionality against Marit Lage decks, it is a 5-drop that can be cast for free, which occasionally deals 5 damage off of Yuriko’s ability.
Assassin’s Trophy definitely comes with a real cost, as giving your opponent a land can lead to bad situations. However, being able to answer any permanent from Jace, the Mind Sculptor to Dark Depths to Primeval Titan goes a long way and it adds some extra diversity to the removal suite.
Tips and Tricks:
- Yuriko and Ingenious Infiltrator both trigger whenever a ninja deals combat damage. This not only means that Changeling Outcast triggers the ability, but if both Yuriko and Infiltrator deal damage at the same time, you will have 4 triggers (2 and 2) go on the stack.
- If you have an unblocked creature and have 4 mana and 2 ninjas in hand you can play around a single removal spell. If your opponent casts a removal spell on the ninja you put in, you can activate the ninjutsu ability of the second ninja in your hand to save your first one and still get to connect with a creature.
- If you steal a creature with Oko’s -5, be careful using ninjutsu on that creature as it will return to your opponent’s hand.
Sideboard and Strategy Guide
Out: 3 Fatal Push, 2 Abrupt Decay, 4 Retrofitter Foundry, 1 Ornithopter
In: 2 Surgical Extraction, 2 Tormod’s Crypt, 1 Cling to Dust, 1 Grafdigger’s Cage, 2 Force of Negation, 2 Thoughtseize
The abundance of hate cards in the sideboard helps this matchup a lot. Making a 4/4 on turn 1 or 2 with Retrofitter Foundry would apply a lot of pressure, but I think it’s better to lean in on the ninja plan. Not only does that begin a steady stream of cards to disrupt your opponent (which is a more meaningful form of pressure than a large threat), but the ninjas are all blue, which helps with casting Force of Will.
Sneak and Show
Out: 3 Fatal Push, 2 Abrupt Decay, 2 Retrofitter Foundry
In: 2 Force of Negation, 2 Thoughtseize, 2 Surgical Extraction, 1 Assassin’s Trophy
This is a matchup where there is a cost to having so much dedicated graveyard hate as opposed to some more versatile countermeasures. However, since Sneak and Show is quite a bit slower than Reanimator, this matchup is much more manageable. With 6 free counterspells there should be enough time to set up a ninja hit. Once that gets going, there will hopefully be enough disruption to keep them from resolving their combo. Oko can help against Show and Tell + Emrakul.
Miracles (AKA Snow Control)
Out: 3 Fatal Push, 1 Brazen Borrower, 4 Ornithopter
In: 1 Assassin’s Trophy, 2 Thoughtseize, 2 Force of Negation, 2 Plague Engineer, 1 Cling to Dust
For the most part, I think Ninja’s plan A is the best plan to take in the matchup, as a few ninja hits can really start to take over the game. While getting a ninja in play and attacking is a great plan in this matchup, Ornithopter is a bit too weak to draw in the late-game. Oko helps a lot in this matchup too, giving the deck an alternate game plan that doesn’t rely on creature spells.
Out: 4 Force of Will
In: 1 Submerge, 1 Assassin’s Trophy, 2 Plague Engineer
While some of Temur’s plays can be scary, Ninjas has access to removal that answers most of their threats, so I don’t think it’s a necessity to keep Force of Will in. Plague Engineer is great against Grixis or Izzet, but not overwhelmingly good against Temur. I still think it’s worth it to occasionally snag a Delver of Secrets or try to trade with a Tarmogoyf. Bring in an extra Engineer against Grixis or Izzet and don’t bring in Submerge.
Out: 1 Ingenious Infiltrator, 1 Changeling Outcast
In: 1 Assassin’s Trophy, 1 Plague Engineer
There are not that many good cards in the sideboard to bring in here, but fortunately I don’t think this is too bad of a matchup. Unlike the combo decks I discussed previously, I think Retrofitter Foundry is a better plan than the ninja plan. They aren’t going to kill your creatures with the same consistency other decks will, so you don’t need to draw too many of your ninjas to start your engine up.
Chalice can definitely make it difficult to cast spells, but Ninjas has the ability to play through it somewhat well. I don’t think Plague Engineer is particularly great but being able to shrink their creatures, kill their Mimics, and eventually trade with a larger creature should make at least one copy worth it.
Against white-based Eldrazi decks, it might be worth trimming a Yuriko, as they will have some number of Karakas.