Welcome to Jitteland!

I will not be going to Philadelphia. “Because you’re rubbish”, my girlfriend cries, reading over my shoulder. That may well be true – possibly a deep insight into my future career. I myself prefer to think of it as an opportunity to spend more time focussing on my university work, but her diagnosis is probably closer to the truth.
That first sentence initially filled me with dismay and depression, I’d be missing another Pro Tour; but upon reflection maybe it was a blessing in disguise. I’d be missing Pro Tour: Jitte.

I will not be going to Philadelphia. “Because you’re rubbish”, my girlfriend cries, reading over my shoulder. That may well be true, possibly a deep insight into my future career, I myself prefer to think of it as an opportunity to spend more time focussing on my university work, but her diagnosis is probably closer to the truth.

That first sentence at first filled me with dismay and depression, I’d be missing another Pro Tour; but upon reflection maybe it was a blessing in disguise. I’d be missing Pro Tour Jitte.

Even with the new pay structure (a topic, unlike this one, of opposing views), Philly is going to be another event messed up by the R&D department. Maybe it will be called Pro Tour Clamp 2. For those of you who are still unsure what my vague sentences are hinting at, I’m talking about the new fearsome piece of equipment that will threaten what looks to be a great format, like the recently banned Arcbound Ravager and the long-banned Skullclamp ruined Mirrodin Block Constructed.

I don’t know much about the current storyline behind the Champions Block, but I do know that there’s this guy called Toshiro Umezawa and he’s on a mission. He’s Black and, according to the Wizard’s school of thought, that normally means he’s evil. However, like many a Hollywood protagonist, the bad guy is actually the good guy, and much like the last two movies I’ve had the pleasure of watching on this tiring trans-Atlantic flight I find myself typing on – Ocean’s Eleven and After the Sunset. The first an excellent film, let down by its sequel with its unguessable twist, and the latter, a fun yet mediocre attempt for Brosnan to relive his Bond days. Maybe someone from Empire will be reading this and will like what they see…

I have, with no knowledge of his quest or of the dangers he will have to face, no doubt that Toshiro will succeed in whatever it is he’s trying to do. I’m not normally a man of faith, nor am I a gambling man, though the allure of a fifty-two pack of cards has not always gone unnoticed; and yet I am as sure that Toshiro will triumph as I am of the likely event of the Sun rising tomorrow morning. Why? Because where Toshiro goes, so goes his Jitte. And after much extensive testing, I have ascertained that nothing can beat Umezawa’s Jitte. Nothing, that is, except another Jitte. The new legend rule reminds me a poor assumption in the Back to the Future films, where if Marty McFly meets an alternate version of himself, something terrible will happen. In the Magic world, this means the cessation of existence.

When I started building decks for Philly, soon after the Betrayers’ spoiler was complete, I built a really cool, highly synergistic R/G spirit deck. Every card was either a spirit or an arcane spell; everything was either fast and efficient, or got better when combined with the other cards in the deck, whether through Splice or Spiritcraft. I started in high hopes, playing against the first version of my mono Black control, filled with hateful creature destructing spells. The speedy spirits quickly overran the Black’s defenses. The next matchup I tested was against what I thought would be a deck that wouldn’t make it past the first few games and would immediately be scrapped – my White samurai deck. It had such gems as Kitsune Blademasters and Call to Glories…. And three Jittes. Spirits could not win a game when the artifact hit the table. So I tried the deck, with little hope of success against the Black one. The same result. Whenever Umezawa’s Jitte hit the table, it won. The fourth Jitte was immediately added and testing continued.

Snakes were the next focus of attention. Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro, and the dad of the family himself soon proved to be powerhouses. The girl generating ridiculous amounts of mana and the father providing a use for that mana, more cards so as to generate even more mana, and the vitally needed smack down. It entered my gauntlet and faced problems against the Black removal deck. Then it annihilated the samurai deck. That is, until the Jitte was drawn. I won’t lie here, it still wasn’t a great matchup even with the Jitte, but without the card, it couldn’t win and if the Jitte ended up on a Lantern Kami, Snakes couldn’t win either. A new philosophy dawned on me and the gauntlet was remade. Four Jittes went into every deck with enough creatures to support them. Suddenly, Spirits could beat White, not turning around a hugely unwinnable deficit, but giving the deck a good fighting chance, providing it with a way of removing opposing Jitte’s. Snakes was suddenly giving the Black deck trouble. As the games played out a terrible fact emerged: Whenever a Jitte went uncontested, it won.

Jitte underwent a few revisions during development.

Pure and Simple. It didn’t matter what he matchup was, or how unfavorable it was. If a Jitte was left alone for a couple of turns, it won. Why is Jitte so powerful? Imagine being able to turn all of your creatures into Exalted Angels. Seems pretty good now, huh? Now imagine upgrading all of your angels into Masticores. Ever tried to race an Angel, ever tried to out creature a ‘Core? That’s what Jitte does. It gives your dudes +4/+4 for a total cost of four mana – Sword of Kaldra gave +5/+5 for eight mana! It lets you gain four life a turn – Exalted Angel cost two more mana for the same thing. Masticore could deal two damage for four mana – Jitte does just that, but it can be saved over turns, like having a Masticore with an Upwelling in play. Everyone knows giving -1/-1 is better than dealing a point of damage – fancy trying to regenerate your Ink-Eyes when it gets Jitted? Those, I hope are all pretty convincing reasons for why Jitte is good.

Dang, I forgot to mention; Jitte does more. You can attack with an equipped creature, get two counters, and then re-equip it to one of you blockers. So you get to use Jitte twice a turn, twice the fun… Anyone remember Banshee Blade? When Mirrodin first came out, people used to think it was a pretty nifty piece of equipment, when looked at alongside Jitte it’s like comparing a Skoda with a Dodge Viper!

Is all lost? Have the men of the R&D department made another horrendous, irreparable blunder? Probably. There is some hope. There seem to be a few strong decks out there that can survive without it. However, they have to play bad cards maindeck to deal with it, cards like Wear Away and Terashi’s Grasp. The other problem is that one of those decks is the Honden deck, and that gets harmed by all the random Jitte hate. But that is not the main problem. Here is the single worst thing about Jitte. In the matchups where both players have it – which is very often – there is very little skill in the match if one of the players draws his Jitte, or one player draws one more than the other. The games are not games, and a concession is the only sure thing to follow the second Jitte hit.

Jitte reminds me of many things. The first is Skullclamp. Remember how it went in every deck? Remember what it was like when your opponent drew his before you? The other thing it recalls to mind is the older formats, where very deck could kill on turn 1 or 2. I’m talking about the really old formats with Necropotence, Memory Jar, Dark Ritual, Tinker, Iridescent Drake, Yawgmoth’s Bargain and Tolarian Academy. There was a reason all of those cards got banned. In many of them, if you lost the coin flip, you lost the match. If your opponent drew his copy of a card before you drew yours, he won. I’m being very pessimistic, as a lot of those cards were in formats where the answers were as quick, or where infinitely complex plays were needed to keep wining. But most of all, it reminds me of Skullclamp.

Welcome to Jitteland.

You can almost imagine hearing an entertainer introduce Champions block like a much raved about circus act. “Welcome to Jitteland, never before have you seen a sword of such power. Feared by all and mastered by none, here you’ll find the tools to ensure Jitte dominance. Be careful to watch out for maindeck Wear Aways and ‘boarded Terashi’s Grasps. Make sure to remember that the best answer to a Jitte is not always a Jitte; and that the last Jitte always wins.”

There are few tricks one needs to learn to get maximum utility from this formidable item of weaponry. Almost all of these tricks are very simple, and many of them will seem obvious – they are, however, essential. It is very difficult to lose a game where you draw a Jitte, but I’ve seen it done, and more often than not due to a subtle mistake. There are also techniques, though very few, in combating your opponent’s equipment, which can easily turn the tide of defeat.

This may sound a bit condescending but Jitte is legendary, meaning that as soon as a second one enters play they both die. More than one of my MTGO opponents have ecstatically topped and played their second Jitte, only to see both of them head towards the graveyard with, I can only assume, a befuddled look upon their face. To patronize you further, when they lay a Jitte to be rid of yours, don’t forget to gain life or kill guys. This is more relevant on MTGO, where a disinterested misclick can throw a game.

Jitte’s legendary status can also be you best friend as most decks do not have any answer to Jitte other than one of their own. This will often effect how you will play the game, even more so after boarding, as you will hold your Jitte back so you can use it to dispatch theirs. You can cast it early and use it as a Seal of Cleansing, but the problem with this is that it might fall prey to actual artifact removal – like a Hearth Kami. However, the Seal approach is often more favorable than your adversary getting a hit in with his own Jitte, so this is only really a feasible tactic before they reach four mana, especially as when you hit the magic number of four, you’ll want to get a hit in with it yourself.

Slow playing the Jitte is the key to winning certain matchups like the White Weenie mirror; where after sideboarding both players will have access to Terashi’s Grasps. Here’s an example. You are going second and you have a Jitte, a Grasp, two Samurai of the Pale Curtain and three Plains. Your opponent opens with a Lantern Kami and follows it up with a second turn Jitte. You haven’t laid a creature yet and on turn 1 you are faced with a decision: you can make your own Jitte to be rid of his or lay a Samurai. Both of these options are wrong. The correct play is to pass the turn back to him without a play. Let him equip the Jitte and let him get the two counters. In your turn, you can Grasp away. Your opponent will have gained four extra life, but you will have effectively Time Walked him, made sure the Grasp in your hand was useful, and more importantly, you will now be a Jitte “up”. Had you laid your own Jitte on the second turn, your Grasp may well have sat uselessly in your hand for the rest of the game and you would be down a Jitte. Had you laid the Samurai, he would have died, effectively just to prevent your opponent from gaining four. Similarly, if you are on the play, it might be worth holding your Jitte back, until your opponent has a creature for you to kill, so that even if your Jitte gets destroyed, it will have served a purpose.

The previous example is probably the most important one and will certainly come up more often than any other. It is, like other Jitte based skills, a matter of timing. When to cast your Jitte? When to equip it? The answer to both questions is normally the same – on turn 4. Black decks will have their Hideous Laughter up and running, and a Jitte equipped creature with two counters will give them difficulties; creature-based decks will have men that the Jitte can get to work and start killing. However, sometimes you don’t have access to four mana and sometimes, though rarely, Jitte is not even the correct play. Against a Splice-based deck, it is often far better to lay more creatures than spend lots of mana on a Jitte only to have the creature Psychic Puppetry’d, Eye of Nowhere’d or Consuming Vortexed. Against combo decks, a Hokori, Dustdrinker, a Laughter of your own or a needed Kodama’s Reach might all be stronger plays.

You need to assess when the Jitte is going to have maximum impact on a game. Sometimes turn 2 is perfectly acceptable, if you led with an Orochi Leafcaller or a Lantern Kami and you feel that the threat of an early Jitte is worth the risk. Often, you will be stuck on three mana, and will be faced with the decision of making a dork or the Jitte. The critter is normally the correct play, as you really do want to save your Jitte for when you can get an immediate use out of it; but there is always the threat that they might top a Jitte of their own, or that they might not be holding artifact removal, or, even simpler, that wasting a turn to just get the Jitte on the board ready to be equipped the next turn is the best play. These are all decisions that drastically differ given the game state but I hope that these considerations will help you make the correct play.

What should you do when your opponent has a Jitte? Pray. Swear. Concede. These are all valid options and, sadly enough, normally correct, but sometimes there are ways out, often involving stalling the game long enough to draw your own Jitte or some artifact removal. For the Jitte to get its counters, it needs to successfully deal combat damage. This means that if a Jitte is blocked by a Sakura-Tribe Elder or a Hana Kami, which is sacrificed before damage resolves, then no counters are added. Also something to remember about this is that if you are attacking with your own Jitte equipped Tribe Elder then you cannot sacrifice it because the Jitte will then not get its counters. Giving the blocking creature Protection from the Jitte’s color also works, as does simply preventing the damage, though using a Shining Shoal doesn’t work, as the redirected damage is still considered to be combat damage.

The most cunning trick I’ve discovered so far was, once again, in the WW mirror. My opponent’s Jitte was equipped to an Empty-Shrine Kannushi, when he attacked I used my Eight-and-a-Half-Tails to turn his Jitte White, so that it “fell off”. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel really good. Another way of fighting a Jitte, and this only really works for Black decks, is killing all of their men. It might sound simple but it’s difficult to do because as soon as the Jitte becomes active Laughter and, to a lesser degree, Sickening Shoal become less than useful. It is also standard practice to block the Jitte the first time it attacks assuming you can kill the equipped creature, in the hope that they won’t have another creature!

Having spoken so much of what will probably be the best deck, WW, I will leave you with a list. I will writing about it and the variations of the format’s other dominant decks, B/G/u and Snakes, in my next article. But until then, let me give you something to think about:

4 Isamaru, Hound of Konda

4 Lantern Kami

4 Kami of Ancient Law

4 Eight and a Half Tails

3 Samurai of the Pale Curtain

3 Tallow Wisp

3 Hokori, Dustdrinker

2 Cage of Hands

2 Indomitable Will

3 Blessed Breath

4 Umezawa’s Jitte

1 Eiganjo Castle

23 Plains

There are options still to be made to this version before one even considers a sideboard and I’ll be delving deep for the answers in my next article, so till then.

Quentin “not gonna be in Philly” Martin

[email protected]