Blade Of The Oni Is Bringing Black-Based Aggro Back To Standard

Blade of the Oni offers a great tool for black Standard decks. Former MTG World Champion PVDDR has two decks using the Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty preview.

Blade of the Oni, illustrated by Jason A. Engle

Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty brought us many new mechanics that we’ve never seen before. One of those mechanics is reconfigure. 

Cards with reconfigure are basically a hybrid between a creature and an Equipment. You always cast them as a creature, but then you can pay their reconfigure cost and attach them to another creature, where, for all intents and purposes, they act as an Equipment. These cards are extremely versatile, and they allow you to cast creature-enhancers while dodging the biggest drawback of this type of card — the fact that, if you draw too many of them, you just run out of creatures and they do nothing. By being both a creature and an equipment, they make sure you always have the right creature-to-Equipment ratio.

There are several potentially good cards with reconfigure in the set, but the one I’ll talk about today caught my eye the most. Ironically enough, I’ve seen few comments about it; some reconfigure cards have been making waves over the internet (such as Lion Sash and Rabbit Battery, which do look like pretty good cards), but I haven’t heard anything about my favorite of the bunch, Blade of the Oni.

Blade of the Oni

I think Blade of the Oni is deceptively powerful because the front side of the card is deceptively good for a black two-drop. It might not look like much, but you know how many two-mana, three-power creatures with menace exist in Magic’s history? Zero! The closest is Embraal Bruiser, but it has a drawback and doesn’t even have menace all the time.

Embraal Bruiser

Having a three-power creature with menace is good in more than one way. First, it’s an evasive creature that’ll deal three damage, which is a fair bit for a two-drop, but it’s also a creature that, by that point in the game, might be able to kill both blockers that they produce. Let’s compare it, for example, to a 2/2 with menace.

Stormfist Crusader

Unless the opponent has a zero-power creature, the second point of toughness is kinda wasted in Stormfist Crusader, at least when it comes to combat — they need to block with two creatures, so they will necessarily be able to deal at least two damage. By only having two power, however, it’s less likely that Stormfist Crusader will kill both blockers, unless they both happen to have one toughness. By moving that one point from toughness to power, Blade of the Oni becomes much harder to block early in the game, which translates into even more damage.

Then, there’s the reconfigure part of the card. As I was reading it, I kept expecting a drawback to come — perhaps that you had to sacrifice the equipped card at some point, which would be fitting for the flavor — but it never did. As it stands, Blade of the Oni is all abilities and no drawbacks.

Now, if you attach Blade of the Oni to a creature, you’re not getting that much extra power (you’re exchanging three power from the Blade plus whatever power you had on the creature for five power), but you’re potentially putting that power where it matters a lot more. If the opponent has a couple of 2/2s, for example, and you have a 1/1 and a Blade of the Oni, you don’t have great attacks; if you equip the Blade to the 1/1, then you get to attack for five, and then you get to do it all over again with a different creature if they kill it.

The fact that both the original creature and the equipped creature have menace is also highly relevant in a world of Ninjas and ninjutsu, as it makes it much easier to connect with something. It’s very hard to block Blade of the Oni on Turn 3, so that’s almost a guaranteed ninjutsu, and then later on it makes your Ninjas harder to block as well so that they can trigger a second and third time.

So, the big question is, where will we use Blade of the Oni? This is a bit tricky because there are a lot of black decks in Innistrad: Crimson Vow Standard, but they are not the type of deck interested in an aggressive two-drop; they are control decks, trying to leverage value from sacrifice abilities, planeswalkers, and Blood on the Snow. Luckily, there are some other potentially aggressive cards in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty that we can play:

Nashi, Moon Sage's Scion

Nashi, Moon Sage’s Scion seems like it fits an aggressive deck .You need to have creatures to enable the ninjutsu and you also need to be able to pay a lot of life to cast the cards for free. The main problem with it is that you’re not always going to want to play whatever you hit, especially if your opponent is playing a control deck, but given that you get to reveal cards from both decks, you’re likely to find something. Realistically, I think the best way to play this card is to just cast it as a super-powerful Ophidian most of the time, and then sometimes you sneak a hit in with ninjutsu.

Invoke Despair

Invoke Despair is intriguing to me because it has the potential to deal a lot of damage. I don’t think you want this in a control deck the way you’d want a Cruel Ultimatum sort of card. For this to be good, you have to be interested in dealing damage to them. Assuming most people are not able to sacrifice an enchantment or a planeswalker, you’re paying five mana to deal four damage, draw two cards, and kill a creature (of their choice), which seems like a pretty reasonable deal.

If they don’t have a creature, it’s a draw-three that deals six damage, which is a whole lot of damage. Since you just drew three cards, it’s not unrealistic to find another one of those, so I can imagine a scenario where someone stabilizes against a black aggro deck at ten or twelve life and then in two turns they’re just dead. Black has never been particularly good at doing this, so this is a novel ability for the color to have that I believe is at least worth exploring.

Tribute to Horobi

Tribute to Horobi is certainly a weird card, but if it works, it really works. For two mana you get a 3/3 flying creature and two 1/1s, and you can draw some cards on top of it. As a bonus, if your opponent is playing any Rat tokens, you really hose them. The downside is that you skip a turn of attacks, because they can just block with the token “for free,” but that’s only going to matter if you cast a blockable creature on Turn 1. The normal play pattern with this card is going to be:

  • Cast it on Turn 2 (they get a token).
  • The opponent attacks with the token and you take one damage.
  • They get another token, so you can’t attack with your one-drop or with a haste three-drop if you have those.
  • They attack with two tokens and you take two more damage.
  • Tribute to Horobi transforms. You steal the two Rats, attack them for three, and potentially draw a card.

Assuming everything goes according to plan, this is a pretty good exchange for you, even if you take three damage in the process. The problem is that, when it doesn’t go according to plan, it can be pretty bad. Sometimes they’ll be able to bounce or destroy the Saga before it transforms, for example, and then they’re just left with the Rats. This is also potentially a problem to draw later in the game; if you cast it on Turn 2, you don’t have to skip attacks most of the time, and if you do it’s one damage, but if you cast Tribute to Horobi later in the game, you might have to skip a bigger attack to get full value from it, which can be a bit awkward. 

Overall, my inclination is that this is not good for a super-aggressive type of deck that would want to play Blade of the Oni; instead, it’s a potential card for a midrange type of black deck that is more interested in sacrificing creatures to draw cards. It’s such a weird card, however, that I believe it’s at least worth trying.

Biting-Palm Ninja

Biting-Palm Ninja is just your solid three-drop Ninja. You steal their best card, which is great, but you’re also left with a 3/3 for three mana, which is unimpressive. Sometimes it will be better to not even use the ability just to keep the menace counter. The upside is that the floor is very low, as it’s basically the same card whether you ninjutsu it out or not.

Mukotai Soulripper

Another intriguing card. If you can produce a good amount of bodies to crew and a good amount of disposable material (either cards you want to sacrifice, like Shambling Ghast or Eyetwitch, or Treasure tokens, or Blood tokens), then this attacks as a 5/4 with menace on Turn 3, which is very good (and it potentially only grows from there). If you can’t, it’s going to sit on the battlefield not doing much.

I think this could be interesting in a Blade of the Oni deck because both cards give you uses for small creatures. If you’re equipping something and turning it into a 5/5, you don’t really want a creature that’s a 4/4 as a base — you want a 1/1, which is the same kind of card you want to sacrifice to Mukotai Soulripper. Still, an Equipment that demands you sacrifice cards puts a really big toll on your creature count, so it’s yet another card that I feel like we must try before fully understanding.

Okiba Reckoner Raid

Is Okiba Reckoner Raid the one-drop mono-black decks have been waiting for? Maybe. For the first two turns, this is better than a 2/2 for one (it drains twice and would have attacked once, so it’s effectively an unblockable lifelinker). Then Turn 3 is its big miss, as it skips out on an attack due to not having haste. Then, on Turn 4, it’s going to be attacking again. So, if this transforms and attacks, it deals four damage over the course of three attacks, which means it’s basically a 1.33-attack creature early on, which is a lot less than the “2” we see in the card.

Still, there are some big benefits here. Once it transforms into a 2/2 with menace, it’s better than any one-drop has any right to be, and it’s likely to attack past the time a one-drop would normally attack; sometimes your one-drop is already brick-walled on Turn 4, for example, so this gets an attack in whereas another one-drop wouldn’t. Then there’s the lifegain, and the fact that the enchantment damage is much harder to dodge than the creature damage would be, as it’s both unblockable and harder to kill. This, alongside some other cards in the file, means black-based aggro decks have a lot more reach than we’re used to from them.

So, what does this Mono-Black Aggro deck look like in my mind? Here’s a Standard version:

I struggled a bit on whether I wanted a Zombies theme or not, and I ended up at “kinda.” I think you want another one-drop for this aggressive approach, and Champion of the Perished is by far the best one-drop you can play if you’re not that interested in sacrifice synergies, but I don’t want to compromise the other slots for Zombies. For example, I want to play four Graveyard Trespassers instead of a Zombie three-drop. However, I think the two-drop Zombies are good and they’re probably enough to justify Champion of the Perished.

Champion of the Perished also works very well with Blade of the Oni, because it’s a base 1/1, so it keeps the counters, and it’s a huge creature to give menace to. It’s often chump-blocked late in the game, so making it have to be double-chumped could be highly relevant.

It’s possible four Invoke Despair is way too many (I honestly don’t know if the right number isn’t zero), but I really want to try this “burn” approach for Mono-Black, with several creatures that are hard to block and a lot of sources of chip damage. Between Okiba Reckoner Raid, Graveyard Trespasser, and Invoke Despair, it’s possible to burn the opponent down from a high life total.

Of course, if we’re not playing Invoke Despair, we don’t have to restrict ourselves to Mono-Black. In fact, without Faceless Haven in the format, there’s not that much incentive to do that at all. So we could use the fact that Blade of the Oni is a reconfigure card and try to pair it with some of the aggressive modified-matters cards in red to end up with something like this:

Thundering Raiju, and to a lesser extent Kami’s Flare, are powerful modified payoffs that also work if you don’t have a modified creature on the battlefield, and this deck definitely feels aggressive enough to want a 3/1 menace creature.

Thundering Raiju Kami's Flare

Overall, I’m not sure if there will be a home for Blade of the Oni. Currently there isn’t, but there are a lot of powerful, aggressively slanted cards entering the format, so I have high hopes that we will see aggressive black-based decks in the future. If these decks turn out to be good in Standard (or Alchemy or Historic), they will almost certainly play Blade of the Oni.