Building_on_a_Budget

Finalizing the Ninjutsu precon deck

Ninjutsu: Free To Be You And Me

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The letter W!elcome to the final installment of building a budget Ninja deck! Check out my first article to see what the heck I'm doing and why, and check out last week to catch up completely. Once you've done that, you'll notice we left off with this particular decklist:

Today's the big finale, the last Ninja hurrah, the capper! We're breaking 14 cinderblocks with our foreheads! Woo!

First, just because I think it's important to remember them, here are the Guidelines I've been using all along:

  1. Start with a preconstructed deck, unedited, and play it.
  2. Don't make changes until playing the deck in at least five games.
  3. Change no more than five cards at a time.
  4. Build a respectable deck that's fun to play.
  5. Build an affordable deck.

I'm going to start out today with changes to the decklist since I left off last week with some game logs. In fact, there will generally be less game logs here, partly because I have a lot to cover and partly because I think we are very near a stable decklist. Here goes...

Ninja, Meet Golems

After seeing this version of the deck, Stephen Sloboda wrote me an e-mail, saying, “This Ninjutsu deck seems to be about tempo. The counterspells and bounce are there not to stall your opponent, but to keep them from breaking your offense (rare for a blue deck). Consistency isn't going to come from more searching and card drawing. It's going to come from every card being something you need. This is why Soratami Cloudskater and Genju of the Falls bother me. The Genju doesn't work with Ninjutsu, and the Cloudskater shouldn't be activated in an aggressive deck.”

Bravo! It turns out that Stephen is a prophet (albeit one who should be posting on the Message Boards instead of sending me e-mail), because...

OUT: 2 Genju of the Falls

As I've said, Genju of the Falls is a solid uncommon for a monoblue deck, and it's a very solid uncommon for a monoblue weenie deck. Unfortunately, it is a card working at cross-purposes to a dedicated Ninja deck. Your animated Island isn't a creature you want to return via Ninjutsu, it's a mana sink for a deck that wants as much mana available as possible to counter spells or play Ninja, and it doesn't even benefit from Ronin Warclub. I shudder to think of the times in which a lone Genju of the Falls flat-out won me the game, but those of you who have been playing along at home will agree that it doesn't fit into this deck at all.

OUT: 2 Soratami Cloudskater

You need only check out my last preconstructed deck to see that I both like and respect Soratami Cloudskater. It's a quick flier, which enables Ninjutsu, and later in the game its ability can cycle through your excess land to find answers when you need them. The problem, unfortunately, is that I usually want to keep all of my Islands on the table. Contrast this with my Samurai deck, in which I only ever needed four land to be effective. In the Ninja deck, the more land on the table generally means the more options I have during combat and otherwise. As a result, if I wanted a fifth and sixth two-mana flier to complement Sage Owl, I would probably defer to Spiketail Hatchling. As you'll see below, however, I'm taking a slightly different route.

IN: 3 Spire Golem

Whikster was the most eloquent advocate of Spire Golem on last week's Message Boards, and I agree with his assessment. I don't think I want four in the deck, though, because I don't think Spire Golem is a card I often want to play on turn three. Most of the time, Spire Golem is better at two mana on turn four, with an extra two mana either to put out a Ninja, or to hold back for Echoing Truth or Condescend. After the fourth turn, Spire Golem just gets better and better and better in a Ninja deck, much better than anything else I can think of. If I ever manage to get to six Islands, it's a beefy blocker, solid attacker with evasion, and free creature post-Ninjutsu. It's also an impressive 4/5 flier with Ronin Warclub. In other words, it can play effective offense or defense as needed, it enables Ninja, and it allows more freedom with excess mana as the game progresses. Sign me up!

IN: 1 Ronin Warclub

I think this is probably the addition that will garner the least support from readers. Ronin Warclub just looks sort of, I don't know, dumb for an honest deck. Certainly the three mana for an Unholy Strength effect seems excessive, and you almost never expect to pay the hefty equip cost. If you play a Ninja deck, however, you'll start to realize what a boost Ronin Warclub is. Suddenly all of those dorky Mistblade Shinobi, Walker of Secret Ways, and Spire Owls are legitimate offensive threats. With a Warclub (or even better, two) on the table, you have ended the game at least a turn or two earlier, which is a turn or two you aren't allowing your opponent to topdeck an answer. I usually hate spending three mana to initially play Ronin Warclub, but I find myself always glad it's on the table once I've played it.

That said, I think Ronin Warclub is a style card. You either like its effect or you don't. If you don't, I think dropping all three Warclubs for a decent threat, more counterspells or bounce, or simple card-drawing a la Serum Visions is a fine choice. If you have some of the expensive rares I discuss below, they probably take up this slot before dropping anything else from the deck.

Ninjutsu v.1.5

This is a perfectly acceptable deck at this point. That is, I think we've achieved the goal of making an affordable, fun, respectable deck. As a result, you'll notice that my language today is less definitive and more option-oriented. Ronin Warclub fits my personal style, for example, and so it's in my deck. Let's all remember that your own decks should be built to fit your personal play style.

Let's see how my version of the deck does, make some final tweaks, then wrap up with reflections.

Game 26: Monogreen Snakes

He started with Umezawa's Jitte, Rampant Growth, and a Kashi-Tribe Reaver. I had the quick Teardrop Kami, Ninja of the Deep Hours start. I tapped his Reaver with my Kami to attack with my Ninja and another Teardrop Kami, which then became Mistblade Shinobi to bounce the Reaver. He replayed it, I played Shuriken on my Shinobi, and a Ronin Warclub and Spire Golem finished the game for me. I won at 20 life.

Game 27: Monored

My next game was one of those in which I had answers for every one of my opponent's questions. I started with a couple Islands, then used Condescend on his Granite Shard. I played Spire Golem, he played Spikeshot Goblin. Before the Goblin could act, I bounced it with Mistblade Shinobi, then used Condescend when he tried to replay it. My Spire Golem and Shinobi started eating into his life. He tried Arc-Slogger, but I had Hinder. When he played another Spikeshot Goblin and I responded with Shuriken on my Shinobi, my opponent conceded.

Game 28: Monoblack Ninja

Ah, how far I've come. You may recall that I got utterly decimated by Rat Ninja in my early games. Now at least the matchup is interesting. I used Condescend on his Ravenous Rats, then played Spire Golem. The Golem, surviving via Echoing Truth despite two attempts to kill it, became a Ninja of the Deep Hours to start reloading my hand, which in turn allowed me to Condescend his Skullsnatcher. Spire Owl appeared, bouncing his hard-cast Throat Slitter with Mistblade Shinobi, then killing it with Shuriken. Patron of the Nezumi bounced once, then twice, to hand, and my opponent conceded at 5 life. I ended the game at 18 life.

Game 29: Monoblue Ninja

Hey look... A mirror match! His deck was an earlier version, with Genju of the Falls, River Kaijin, and he had added Cranial Plating. I had a Sage Owl start with lots of Ninja in my hands. I blocked his Thought Courier (another interesting addition) with my Owl, mostly because he gave away the Ninja in his hand by tapping and untapping lands after declaring attackers. After that I hard-cast Mistblade Shinobi so that I could equip it with Shuriken. The Shuriken effectively neutralized his Genju of the Falls, freeing me up to Ninjutsu out Higure, the Still Wind with Spire Golem. I made it to six Islands so that my Spire Golems were free, then massive Ninja nonsense ensued. He stared on helplessly, eventually conceding at 5 life. I ended the game at 20 life.

Game 30: Blue/White Control

My opponent played Cloudpost, Island, Plains, Ghostly Prison. My early turns consisted of Teardrop Kami, Ninja of the Deep Hours, and Sage Owl. I played Echoing Truth when he dropped a second Ghostly Prison, allowing me to keep up the attack without slowing down. By the time he replayed both Prisons, I had found another Echoing Truth with a replayed Sage Owl (which had turned into Higure, the Still Wind wielding a Ronin Warclub). He tried to Mana Leak my Truth, but I used Condescend and that was game.

Teardrop vs. Thopter... Fight!

That's five dominating wins, albeit in the Casual room. There is one more change I want to make, though. This change will likely be wildly popular with some folks and wildly unpopular with others, because it is a debate that has raged since my first Ninja article.

OUT: 4 Teardrop Kami

IN: 4 Ornithopter

Contrary to popular opinion, I don't think there's a right answer when it comes to whether a Standard Ninja deck wants Teardrop Kami or Ornithopter. If a clear metagame existed -- and thus we knew if other decks often played creatures in the first two turns -- then I might be able to have a definite opinion. As it is, here is how I see the breakdown:

Ornithopter is better early in the game. It will almost always go unblocked if you play it on the first turn, and you can immediately replay it no mater whether you Ninjutsu out a Mistblade Shinobi, Walker of Secret Ways, or Ninja of the Deep Hours in the second turn. When replayed, it can block one-power creatures (including flying creatures) while still attacking on the following turn, making it a superior defender. Teardrop Kami, meanwhile, will sometimes get blocked on the second turn, can't be replayed when spending mana on early Ninjutsu, and will die if used as a blocker. Ornithopter's flying, toughness, and “free”-ness make it a better early play for a Ninja deck.

Teardrop Kami is better later in the game. A late-game Ornithopter is often going to be used as a chump-blocker or will find itself facing down a superior opposing flier. Once the game is underway and Ninja are on the table, Teardrop Kami is effectively a Twiddle late in the game, which means it can tap a Kokusho, the Evening Star and allow Mistblade Shinobi to get through. Opponents often forget about the Kami's untap ability, allowing your Ninja to attack and block if needed. Teardrop Kami's tapping/untapping ability make it a better late play for a Ninja deck.

I don't have room to use both, and I think using two copies of each is an inelegant way to approach deck design. As a result, I find myself needing to choose between whether to include Ornithopter as my early, quick creature or Teardrop Kami. My reasons for choosing Ornithopter are twofold. These two reasons are minor, to be sure, but they're enough to nudge me towards Ornithopter.

First, the presence of Ronin Warclub makes Ornithopter a much more realistic threat than Teardrop Kami. A 3/2 is often going to be thwarted later in the game, but a 2/3 flier can win even when the ground is stalled. I also like the three toughness on a creature in a defensive pinch. Second, I like that the deck is loading up on artifacts, meaning that an opposing deck's artifact destruction is going to be insufficient to kill everything. Any maindeck Naturalizes will still hurt this deck, but if an early Naturalize kills my Ornithopter, at least the Shuriken that follows will survive.

I don't have reasonable room to include more game logs, but I've played 18 games with the current deck as I type this article and have gone 12-6 (this record is impressive mostly because every opponent I played knew my deck well and many had built decks specifically designed to beat me). I'm not convinced that monoblue Ninja will dominate any major tournaments, but I do think this sort of deck can cause a lot of headaches for opponents. It's also too flavorful and sneaky a deck not to be fun to play.

The Budget Ninja

Here is the final decklist:

(untitled)

A couple of notes on this version:

  • The countermagic continues to be a place of active discussion on the Message Boards. I never tested Mana Leak, but I could see the three Condescend and one Hinder becoming four Mana Leak. I could also see them being four Condescend, since despite people's complaints it always performs solidly for me. Some folks have recommended Disrupting Shoal as an option, but again I didn't try it. I never changed the lone Hinder because it always seemed fine in the deck. There is a lot of room for experimentation with the countermagic slots here, though I don't have the time to pursue it. So far I haven't seen an obvious need to change what's there, but go crazy.
  • You'll notice that the deck name is, shall we say, missing. I figure the deck has drifted far enough from its roots that it's no longer “Ninjutsu.” When I did this preconstructed experiment for StarCity Games, I asked for reader input into the name, which was a fun way to cap off the experiment. Feel free to offer suggestions on the Message Boards (not via e-mail, please) and next week I'll officially christen the deck. Someday I'll give a long soliloquy on why I think deck names are important, but suffice it to say that if you want me to pick your name, make it simple (no “Flying Wise Ninja of Death!”) and catchy (no “JMS Ninja Deck”).

Adding Money To The Deck

When I started Building on a Budget, I received lots of feedback that one thing people loved about Nate Heiss articles was the “Adding Money To The Deck” section. As a result, I'm going to end each of my deckbuilding experiments with a look at what expensive rares might find their way into the deck. None of these cards are necessary, but they might be fun to try out if you happen to own them. For my monoblue Ninja deck, I can easily see the following cards making their way into the decklist:

Chrome Mox

Two things that are true about Ninja decks in general is that they want to start quickly and they often have a full hand. Chrome Mox enables a quick start and loooves full hands, so it's a natural addition to the deck. Unlike a lot of people, I don't think they automatically replace Islands on a one-to-one basis, but I do think they allow you to lessen the total Island count.

Vedalken Shackles

Any deck with a lot of Islands can benefit from Vedalken Shackles. Probably the best thing that blue can do to remove blockers is to steal them, so this both speeds up your offense and enables Ninja tricks. Even returning a creature to an opponent's hand via Ninjutsu isn't terrible when you can steal it back the next turn. Dropping the Warclubs for Shackles is a move that deserves at least a passing look.

Fancy land

Since Higure is in the deck, dropping an Island for Minamo, School at Water's Edge doesn't hurt. Adding Blinkmoth Nexus to the deck also gives you another quick flier for Ninjutsu and helps your overall offensive production. Blinkmoth Nexus also makes the deck a little more resilient to board-sweepers like Wrath of God. If you go this route, though, I would drop the Spire Golems (or at least the total number of Spire Golems) for some other creature like Trinket Mage or Phantom Warrior.

Fancy equipment

Both Umezawa's Jitte and Sword of Fire and Ice are terrific pieces of equipment that Ninja would love to wield. Sword of Light and Shadow isn't bad either. Again, they probably replace the Warclubs if you have them.

Paths Not Taken

Finally, it's worth mentioning that I have been honing the deck to my particular vision these past three weeks. At many points in the process I could have made decisions that would have led to wildly different decklists. Below I'll touch briefly on a few of the other ways I think you could make a Ninja deck starting with the Ninjutsu precon as a base. Expect this “Path Not Taken” section to also be a regular feature of these deck evolutions. Also expect me to draw heavily on decklists posted on the Message Boards here.

Cogs

I've flirted with Trinket Mage at several points in this series. Adding him into my current decklist means a reliable way of finding Shuriken and Ornithopters. Adding him also begs the deck to start using single copies of other “cogs” (artifacts of one mana or less) like AEther Spellbomb, Blinding Powder, or Scrabbling Claws. Check out the deck that LavaRunner posted on the Message Boards for a good example:


Spirit/Arcane

If you look at the original Ninjutsu decklist, you'll notice that there are as many Spirits in the deck as Ninja. I think it's reasonable to take this idea and run with it, though this may be a better idea for a Kamigawa Block decklist than Standard. You can stay monoblue with the aid of Callow Jushi, Veil of Secrecy, Consuming Vortex, Reach Through Mists, and Psychic Puppetry. Or you can try what GodofAtheism tried...

Bounce-o-rama

Many people have posited that the best way for blue to get rid of opposing blockers is to bounce them. Ninjutsu and the triggered abilities of Ninja tend to be focused on tempo, after all, and bounce is a tempo effect. My deck has Echoing Truth and Mistblade Shinobi as the bounce cards, but blue has access to Consuming Vortex, Boomerang, Unsummon, Phantom Wings, and a variety of other options. Note Whikster's deck as an example:

Ninja Bouncers by Whikster


One thing to note about this strategy is that your comes-into-play creatures are even more superb because you will more often be replaying creatures that your opponent tries to kill. I think Sage Owl is a natural addition here, and if blue gets any cheap comes-into-play critters in future sets, consider morphing your decklist to this sort of deck.

Blue-black

Every day over the last three weeks, I received dozens of e-mails asking if I have considered adding black to my deck. The reason it's so attractive is that Throat Slitter is an absolutely faboo Ninja, possibly the best Ninja of all. Ink-Eyes and Okiba-Gang Shinobi aren't bad either. Adding black also lets you use better comes-into-play creatures like Ravenous Rats, Nekrataal, and Gravedigger. In fact, check out Nate's final BoaB deck for a prime example of blue/black Ninja (Nate's also sporting Trinket Mage tricks)...

Blue-x

I surprised everyone when I added blue to my Samurai deck, so there has been a lot of speculation about whether I was going to go off the deep end and do something like add green to my Ninja deck. Interestingly enough, I do think that each and every other color make for an interesting splash of color to Ninja. White provides more tapping abilities (a la Waxmane Baku), quick fliers (Lantern Kami) and first strike. Red provides burn to remove blockers. Green provides good creature-enhancers (Predator's Strike) and a variety of good comes-into-play creatures (Viridian Shaman). Each of these options will stretch your deckbuilding savvy, but all sound like fun avenues to pursue.

Ogres, Spirits And Rats... Oh My!

So ends the Ninja journey. I hope it's been half as fun for you to read as it was for me to write.

Next week will not be another preconstructed evolution. I think after such an in-depth look at one deck, it's better for all of us to exhale and get some perspective. There are way too many possible topics under the umbrella of “budget deckbuilding” to get locked into preconstructed decks day in and day out, so expect frequent departures from my normal formula.

That said, we'll start up again in two weeks with another Betrayers of Kamigawa preconstructed deck. This will be the last Betrayers deck before I move onto other things, so choose wisely...

 Poll 1: Which deck is Jay going to play and change next?  

 Poll 2: For which format will Jay be building his deck?  
Kamigawa Block Constructed
Standard

Have fun with your Ninja decks and see you next week!

-jms

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