Although I was unable to attend the Pro Tour due to having literally zero money, the event did light the fire within me to play Magic competitively. Many years later, I then achieved my best Pro Tour finish with Mono-Black Zombies at Pro Tour Amonkhet, where I finished in 27th place, before winning an RPTQ a few months later with the same deck.
Funnily enough, I have also been trapped by tribal decks many a time, as my very last Mythic Championship was when I played Blue-Green Merfolk in Standard and had dropped by around six after failing to win a single game in the constructed portion. I spent more time trying to find Deeproot Waters the day before the event than I actually did play the deck in the tournament!
Introduction and History
It is difficult for me to describe Ninjas, as it is not like any other deck in Legacy. The closest comparison would likely be Delver, except Ninjas doesn’t have the ability to gain tempo in the way Delver can by restricting your opponent’s mana with Wasteland and Daze (Ninjas do play Daze but just two copies).
Ninjas also somewhat acts like a combo deck, as you look to combine your enablers (Ornithopter, Changeling Outcast, and Mothdust Changeling) with your payoff (Yuriko, Ingenious Infiltrator, and Retrofitter Foundry), but clearly, it isn’t going to be winning on turn two like the traditional combo decks in the format.
The deck can also play a surprisingly long and grindy game, as Retrofitter Foundry is great if the game goes long, and you can eventually just start hardcasting your Ninjas. Somehow, the deck feels like an intersection between many of the different archetypes in Legacy, and that’s what makes the deck so unique and enjoyable to play.
I think the best way to describe the deck is that it is a “snowball” deck. Its plan is almost exclusively to try to connect one of the two Ninjas (Yuriko and Ingenious Infiltrator) on turn two, and/or to create multiple 4/4 creatures via Retrofitter Foundry.
You can use your disruption to pave the path to make this happen, whether it be to Force of Will their removal to make sure Ninjitsu connects, or to use a Snuff Out on your opponent’s turn one creature so that they do not have any blockers.
However, unlike a pure combo deck, if this does not work out, it is not the end of the world. The deck can then just revert to a more traditional fair blue gameplan, as it looks to cantrip into key interactions spells and present enough threats until your opponent cannot handle them.
This ability to switch between a game-ending snowball start and a more traditional, disruptive blue gameplan is the deck’s biggest strength.
Origins of the archetype
Although I do not know the exact origins of the archetype, I first noticed the deck in November 2019, a few months after the release of Modern Horizons, when Satou Tsubasa finished in the Top 16 of the legendary “God of Legacy” tournament in Japan – a nearly two-hundred player event.
While there had been fringe versions of the deck prior to Modern Horizons, playing cards like Ninja of the Deep Hours, it was only with the printing of Changeling Outcast and Ingenious Infiltrator did the deck finally look well-rounded and potentially competitive. When I saw their decklist, I immediately fell in love with it.
Their decklist was as follows:
From then on, I would occasionally bump into the deck, but it wasn’t really putting up any results. However, I did notice that the deck would show up occasionally in the Japanese results, which made me think that the archetype had legs, but the rest of the world hadn’t caught up yet.
Breakout on Magic Online
This all changed in mid-2020 when the deck broke out on Magic Online as it put up multiple Top 8 finishes over consecutive weekends in the Challenges. The deck quickly became well established online and put up solid results even though it was underplayed due to how expensive Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow was on Magic Online, as you could only get them through treasure chests.
In the online metagame, the straight Blue-Black version was dethroned by the Sultai version which incorporated Oko, Thief of Crowns. We all know how powerful the three-mana planeswalker was in Legacy, but the card was uniquely strong in Ninjas, as it also acted as a pseudo-Retrofitter Foundry by converting spare Changeling Outcasts and Ornithopters into 3/3 Elks.
The following was the Sultai version of the deck, which I believe was popularised by the online grinder MomsBasementSteams.
The Current Deck
Esper gets access to Swords to Plowshares, as well as powerful sideboard options like Meddling Mage and Disenchant-effects.
Grixis on the other hand gets Lightning Bolt and Kolaghan’s Command, the latter which I liked a lot as you can rebuy Ornithopter and immediately sacrifice it to your Retrofitter Foundry, and then you get to play Pyroblast in the sideboard, which is arguably the best sideboard card in the format. However, the straight Blue-Black version is the most consistent and the most Wasteland-proof, which is crucial as this deck is very mana hungry.
Interestingly, the decklist today is pretty close to Satou Tsubasa’s initial list from two years ago. The main difference is the presence of Snuff Out, which is incredible here. Since this deck wants to connect a Ninja on turn two, it wants to be as mana efficient as possible in the first two turns.
Snuff Out lets you deal with must-answer creatures like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, or Mother of Runes, while still allowing you to deploy your creatures in a timely manner. It is also a clean answer to Murktide Regent, which the deck otherwise struggles to deal with. I would like to play more copies of Snuff Out if I could, but unfortunately, the life total cost is too high.
My list features two copies of Mothdust Changeling. The card is not commonly played in the archetype, as people usually opt for Baleful Strix and/or Brazen Borrower instead, but I felt in the past that the deck had too few enablers (4 Ornithopters and 4 Changeling Outcast) relative to the payoff (7 or 8 Ninjas and 4 Retrofitter Foundry).
Enablers in general
The enablers are worse on their own than the payoff cards are, but you can utilize drawing multiple copies of the enablers as long as you have some form of payoff, as the Changeling creatures trigger off the Ninjas while drawing into Ornithopters are great if you have a Retrofitter Foundry, as they’re essentially zero-mana 4/4 creatures.
Mothdust Changeling is definitely inferior to the other two as it cannot as reliably connect for Ninjitsu, but it is also blue, so you can pitch it to Force of Will, and I’ve personally just been happy having two additional enablers.
My sideboard is also fairly stock. I like the Hullbreachers over the more commonly played Narset, Parter of Veils, due to Prismatic Ending being popular, and you can often bait-out your opponent’s removal in earlier turns to then get them with a backbreaking Hullbreacher later in the game.
I also prefer Nihil Spellbomb over Surgical Extraction and Grafdigger’s Cage, as I want to bring in graveyard-hate against fair blue decks to stop Murktide Regent and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath without it being a card disadvantage.
Tips and Tricks
As I mentioned previously, it is important to try to keep a hand that is either connecting through a Ninja on turn two or be producing multiple 4/4s via Retrofitter Foundry in the early turns of the game. Therefore, I only keep seven or six-card hands with at least one enabler (Ornithopter, Changeling Outcast, or Mothdust Changeling) and at least one payoff (Yuriko, Ingenious Infiltrator, or Retrofitter Foundry). You usually don’t want too many of one or the other, though having multiple enablers is fine if they are Changeling Outcasts (unblockable creature that can trigger the Ninjas’ draw-effects) or your payoff is Retrofitter Foundry as you can feed the extra enablers to generate an army of 4/4 Constructs.
Ninjitsu is an activated ability – you are not casting the spell. Therefore, your opponent cannot counter the Ninja being put into play. This is crucial as generally, your opponent won’t be wasting their counterspells on an Ornithopter or Changeling Outcast.
Yuriko and Ingenious Infiltrator both trigger whenever a Ninja deals damage. Changeling Outcast and Mothdust Changeling both count as Ninjas as they are Changelings and if you control multiple Ninjas they trigger off each other.
Yuriko’s trigger gets through Narset, Parter of Veils, and Hullbreacher as you are not drawing the card.
If you have both an Ingenious Infiltrator and Yuriko trigger on the stack, you should let the Infiltrator’s trigger resolve first, as you may draw into a Brainstorm, which you can then cast to put high mana-cost cards on top of your deck before the Yuriko trigger resolves.
There are three different steps in combat where you can put a Ninja from your hand into play via ninjitsu – declare blockers, combat damage, and end of combat.
If you put a Ninja into play at the declare blockers step and your opponent responds to it by trying to remove it, you can then respond by putting another Ninja into play and bouncing the current Ninja that is being targeted, assuming you have another Ninja in hand. To do this double-ninjitsu play, you would need four mana and two different Ninjas in hand, but it allows you to connect while baiting out their removal and still protecting all of your creatures.
Putting a Ninja into play at end of combat is rare, but the most common scenario for it is when you put a Ninja into play that you had just drawn off another Ninja’s trigger. This is a good way to play around counterspells as well as be more mana efficient for the next turn.
You can activate ninjitsu multiple times to return to your hand multiple creatures in exchange for putting a Ninja into play. This may be relevant for playing around sweepers like Supreme Verdict and Terminus, though, in reality, it is very rare as you require having the mana to activate it multiple times.
There are two key interactions to be mindful of when you are playing against Karakas and Maze of Ith. If your opponent returns to your hand your attacking Yuriko, you can ninjitsu it back into play if you control another unblocked attacking creature. Against Maze of Ith, if your opponent uses it on your attacking creature, your creature is still attacking (it’s just been untapped and won’t deal any damage), so you can use it for ninjitsu. As the Maze of Ith player, if you are being attacked by a Changeling Outcast or Mothdust Changeling, you’re best to just take the hit than to expose yourself to a potential Ninja being put into play.
All three of the enablers (Ornithopter, Changeling Outcast, and Mothdust Changeling) count as Thopters, so you can sacrifice them to Retrofitter Foundry and create 4/4 Constructs. The two Changeling creatures also count as Servos, so you can sacrifice them to make Thopters – this matters if you need to chump-block a Murktide Regent or Marit Lage.
Similar to the Stoneforge Mystic/Batterskull trick, if you have a lot of mana in play and want to upgrade your Servo all the way to a Construct, you should activate Retrofitter Foundry to sacrifice the Servo, then untap the Foundry while holding priority with the ability to put the Thopter into play still on the stack. This way, when the Thopter does come into play, your Foundry is already untapped and so you can sacrifice it to make a Construct without having to worry about a Lightning Bolt in response.
If you have a Servo or Thopter in play with an untapped Retrofitter Foundry, you can block a creature with lifelink and/or carrying a Umezawa’s Jitte, and then sacrifice it to the Foundry, so they do not gain any life or counters. This is crucial for when you play against Death and Taxes.
The creatures made of Retrofitter Foundry are colorless. This gets around Mother of Runes and Sword of Fire and Ice.
The sideboarding with this deck is fairly straightforward. You can generally shave one or two enablers – Mothdust Changeling is the worst of the three, especially against creature decks, though against combo decks it’s better than Changeling Outcast as you can pitch it to the Forces and your opponent won’t be blocking anyway.
If you end up shaving multiple enablers, you may also want to shave a payoff card to balance it out – generally a Yuriko is the first to cut as you don’t want to draw multiple copies of her.
As for the spells, never cut any of the cantrips. Against creature decks, you can generally cut all the counterspells (Death and Taxes have Aether Vial and grinds too hard, Elves have Allosaurus Shepherd and Goblins have Aether Vial and Cavern of Souls).
Against fair blue decks, you usually want to shave on counterspells, but I now always like to keep a couple of Force of Wills in these matchups due to the sheer power of threats nowadays – it is so important to have an answer to Ragan, Nimble Pilferer, Murktide Regent or Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath.
It is worth noting that Daze is a lot worse in this deck than in Delver, as you do not have any Wastelands, and you’re quite mana hungry, so the cost of returning a land to hand is high. Against combo decks, you can cut the removal spells.
Death & Taxes
I hope you enjoyed this article as I covered in-depth one of my favorite tribal decks in Legacy – Ninjas!
I haven’t gotten a chance to play it in quite some time as we are still in lockdown here in New Zealand, but I have the deck sleeved up and ready to go, and I plan to play it in my first paper event back!
Also a huge shout-out to the Ninjas discord channel, there is a ton of good content on there and a majority of the top online Ninjas players are active on the channel. If you want to learn more about the deck, I also highly recommend checking out the Ninjas primer that is pinned onto the discord channel by Klarostorix.
Till next time!