Ninja-ing with Satoru Umezawa

With Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty set to rule Magic soon, Sheldon Menery builds a Commander MTG deck around early preview Satoru Umezawa.

Satoru Umezawa
Satoru Umezawa, illustrated by Anna Pavleeva

We’ll soon find ourselves up to our elbows Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty previews.  We already have a few cards, to include those breathtaking basic lands.  The one that everyone is talking about is Satoru Umezawa

Satoru Umezawa

Even without seeing whatever other eye-popping stuff that the set will include, we know that this will be a spicy Commander card.  Whether you’re using it as the commander or one of the 99 in your Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow deck, it’ll be some hot sauce.  Since I don’t have a Yuriko deck already, I’m going to jump into Satoru leading a squad.  Let’s look how I’d approach building such a deck.

The draft process of my deckbuilding thoughts will happen in real time with the draft process of this piece.  I like the idea of exposing the organic thoughts instead of the well-edited ones.  It’s easy for us to look clever with the value of hindsight.  Let’s see what happens when we take that off the table (with edits for grammar and syntax on the back end). 

The easy option is to just choose a bunch of creatures with good enters-the-battlefield triggered abilities that you can use with Satoru.  Doing some of that is fine, but I want more.  I want to get something a little deeper.  Another easy option is to use immense creatures, like Blightsteel Colossus, to ninjutsu onto the battlefield for some one-shot kills.  That’s so obvious that I’ll want to avoid it.  Like many of the decks I build, I want cards that will help me use the battlefield and game state to pull off wins.  As I’ve said before, I’d rather my brain win games than my cards. 

Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni Sakashima's Student

From this early point, a mix of Ninjas and other creatures makes a good deal of sense.  I’ll first take a look at the Ninjas.  We have nineteen legal choices; there are three others that are silver-bordered.  One of them is the aforementioned Yuriko.  That triggered ability is definitely worth having in the deck.  There are two other no-brainers, Sakashima’s Student and Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni

Sakashima’s Student is just a good card already.  Clone effects are powerful in Commander because there are always big, powerful creatures running around.  The cost to cast Clones is usually well less than the mana value of those creatures.  Satoru reduces Ink-Eyes’s ninjutsu ability by one, which is nice, but you don’t need the reduction for Ink-Eyes to be good.  For me, the third undeniable Ninja to put in is the underplayed Fallen Shinobi.  It deals some good damage and has a strong effect.  Playing two cards for free is kind of nuts.  Alternately, you can just leave them in exile. 

With just those cards as a start, it looks like we already have a theme shaping up.  We’ll be using our opponents’ resources against them.  That will come both in the form of stealing things as well as copying them.  We’ll keep that in mind as we look at the remaining Ninjas as well as other creatures and spells. 

The other thing we have to keep in mind is the level at which we’ll be playing the deck.  There are probably some very good Palinchron lines, but I’d rather not be able to go infinite too early—although I guess without tutors, it might be okay.  The other RC members and I play at a level a little higher than battlecruiser, but we generally don’t have extreme speed pressure.  Our games generally don’t end before Turn 8 or so, so when building a deck I want to keep that in mind.  If there’s some win condition that comes after that, we’re good with it. 

I also want to be mindful of playing with other folks, where I might need to be faster or slower.  I’m certainly not going to build turbo-casual that is janky but might end the game on Turn 4 or 5.  Cards like Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur are off the table for me.  That’s just not the kind of game I want.  Slowing down other players is one thing.  Putting them all in topdeck mode is less interesting (although admittedly a solid path to winning). 

Ingenious Infiltrator Silent-Blade Oni Skullsnatcher Throat Slitter Higure, the Still Wind

There are four Ninjas that trigger on combat damage which merit slots:  Ingenious Infiltrator, Silent-Blade Oni, Skullsnatcher, and Throat Slitter.  Ingenious Infiltrator triggers the card draw ability for any Ninja, which we’ll be taking advantage of.  Silent-Blade Oni can be a big blowout when they have a cool card in hand.  This is Commander; players are going to have powerful spells in hand.  I like Skullsnatcher because it does work without having to use its ninjutsu ability.  Same with Throat Slitter, although the cheap activation cost makes using it attractive. 

There’s a fifth combat damage-triggered Ninja, Higure, the Still Wind, which does even more.  Its triggered ability searches up another Ninja, but that’s not the best part.  For just two mana, it makes a Ninja unblockable.  That’s going to be an important part of making sure that our combat damage-oriented Ninjas get through alive, especially since there are particularly large creatures running around the format.  We’ll later come up with some other ways to get our creatures through.


We might come back to some of the other Ninjas later, but it’s time to look at the other creatures.  For now, we’ll leave in that Palinchron as both a huge value engine and possible win condition.  Continuing the theme of using the other players’ cards against them, we’ll slot in one of my favorite cards of the last few years, Dauthi Voidwalker.  We won’t need to use ninjutsu in order to get real value from it.  Just exiling opponents’ creatures is enough.  Being able to get one of them (or more, with recursion) onto our team is just good beats.  On the other end of the mana cost spectrum, we’ll slip in Sepulchral Primordial.  It’s a nonbo with Dauthi Voidwalker, so we’ll have to make some judgment calls regarding the game state. 

Along those same lines, we can put in Lord of the Void.  This is one we’ll hope to ninjutsu in via Satoru, since its mana cost is prohibitive.  Just one hit is value enough.  Once it’s on the battlefield, it’s a card to be reckoned with.  A 7/7 flyer already deserves attention.  One with a very spicy ability is going to make people sit up and notice (and hopefully ignore those little Ninjas). 

Speaking of spicy abilities, Archon of Cruelty will be nice to ninjutsu in.  The six damage will put some pressure on life totals while the enters-the-battlefield triggered ability can mitigate potential crack-backs.  The discard will give us things to potentially reanimate with Sepulchral Primordial. 

Since we’re playing those reanimation effects, Puppeteer Clique makes sense.  It’s one of my favorite cards of all time and I haven’t put it into a deck in a while.  It’s one of the creatures that we probably won’t ninjutsu in very often.  Its value is in grabbing a creature, giving it haste, and bashing with it.  Sometimes it’ll be about a triggered ability, but for the most part it’s offensive in nature.

We want to make sure that we don’t get too top-heavy, so there’s only room for two or three more huge creatures.  This means Eldrazi, but we can’t have them all.  Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre; Kozilek, the Great Distortion; and Kozilek, Butcher of Truth have cast triggers.  Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger has an attack trigger.  None of them do us any good for ninjutsu.  It That Betrays will give us more value in the long run.  It also has the upside of not being legendary, so we can copy it if we like. 

It That Betrays Diluvian Primordial

Another expensive thing we’ll go with to stay on theme is Diluvian Primordial.  Casting other players’ spells for free is saucy.  The additional benefit is that the ability exiles the card, removing the opponent’s ability to recur it themselves.  Diluvian Primordial’s ability suggests Wandering Archaic, so that’ll go on the list as well. 

We’ll allow ourselves one more really expensive thing, which is Agent of TreacheryHomeward Path and Brooding Saurian aside, we should be able to fulfill rather easily the condition of controlling three permanents we don’t own.  Sepulchral Primordial will do that itself.

Back to less expensive creatures, we’ll want an additional number of Clones—which will unfortunately not include the original.  Sakashima of a Thousand Faces, Sakashima the Impostor, Stunt Double, Giantoplasm, and Vesuvan Shapeshifter all go in. 

We won’t add Brine Elemental for the pickles lock, since that’s not our style of game.  In a metagame choice, we also won’t add Phantasmal Image because fellow RC member Scott Larabee is fond of playing Maze of Ith and its variants.  There’s a fair amount of other targeted abilities within the group, which makes Phantasmal Image less valuable.  All that copying will lead us to putting in a Stripe Mine, though (since they’re cheaper to come by than Wasteland and I definitely have extras laying around).  Also, Tsabo’s Web is a great hidden gem that will shut down not just Maze of Ith, but some other very strong cards that commonly see play, like Academy Ruins.

Given that we’re in Dimir, we’ll add one more copy card that’s also excellent graveyard control:  Dimir Doppleganger.  It’s a little bit of a nonbo given that we want to reanimate stuff.  Sometimes there are things that you just can’t let stay around.  And there will be plenty of other stuff to grab. 

Copy Artifact Copy Enchantment

We should include copy effects for more than just creatures, too.  That gives us Copy Artifact, Sculpting Steel, and Copy Enchantment.  We’ll also include one of the most flexible copy cards out there, Mirage Mirror.  It has a great deal of play in it; it’s definitely one in which the battlefield state matters.  Especially with Scott playing the aforementioned Maze of Ith, we can use it in a combat emergency. 

With most of the creature suite decided on, it’s time to move on to the other spells.  If we’re going to play with other peoples’ stuff, we might as well go with the mack daddy, Mind’s Dilation.  This is a card that some players have strong attitudes on, so we’ll talk about it in our pregame conversations.  I know that the group I regularly play with is okay with it, but I’ll find a replacement in the cost range, like Roil Elemental

We’ll need to decide on what sort of attitude we want to take with the spell suite.  Dimir suggests control of some kind, which can be in the form of counterspells, targeted removal, or board sweepers. We’ll also want some card draw in there.  A few sweepers make sense.  The first one is Life’s Finale, so that we can get something spicy to reanimate into an opponent’s graveyard.  The other is Kindred Dominance, since we’ll have a decent number of Ninjas—in fact, we’ll add Arcane Adaptation to make the team all Ninjas.  Cyclonic Rift is the big battlefield sweeper in these colors and will be one of the few methods of enchantment control we have.  Of course, having those enchantments instead of destroying them, so we’ll go back and put Aura Thief in. 

Counterlash Psychic Strike Mana Drain

I believe counterspells in Commander need to do more than just counter spells.  Whether it’s card draw like Overwhelming Intellect, Sublime Epiphany, and Arcane Denial; untapping lands like Rewind; or putting a card onto the battlefield like Counterlash, there needs to be extra value.  With some of the high-mana-cost stuff in the deck, Counterlash seems interesting.  In Dimir specifically, Down in the Loch is a card that Gavin Duggan has used to great effect in our RC games, so we’ll give it a whirl.  I happen to have a Mana Drain hanging around, so we’ll jam that in.  The mill of Psychic Strike is kind of cool, so we’ll use that. 

Copying other spells seems like something the deck wants to do, so we’ll add Narset’s Reveral, Twincast, and the flexible Insidious Will

We’ll use Exsanguinate as a finisher, given that we could create infinite mana with Palinchron and any of Dimir Aqueduct, Cabal Coffers, or Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Midnight Clock Contact Other Plane

We’ll add our mana rocks, ramp, and other support cards to finish up.  For each deck, I like to find a three-mana-value rock that has a cool side ability.  For this deck, it’ll be Midnight Clock.  By the time it gets to midnight, our hand should be small enough that a fresh seven will be welcome.  Since we’re not doing much with our own graveyard, the reshuffle is no big deal.  In the card draw department, I’ll point out Contact Other Plane, which just seems like fun.  We should always be good with Artificer’s Epiphany given the number of artifacts in the deck. 

That leaves us with this list:

Given the mana cost and lack of real speed, this is certainly a battlecruiser-style deck.  It’ll work just fine on the RC stream.  Because we’ll be playing mostly webcam Magic for the near future, this deck might be a little awkward due to the copy effects.  Fortunately, we have Infinitokens at our disposal and a fresh set of dry erase markers.  We’ll cope.

Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty will likely suggest some replacements for a few of the cards in the deck.  By the time we’ve seen the whole list, there will certainly be more Ninjas and cards with ninjutsu. Whether there are lots of different cards to put in or just a few, I look forward to copying and cloning all the cool stuff my friends do in upcoming games.  If this idea inspires you to give a Satoru build a shot, hop over to the Commander RC Discord and share your ideas in the #deck-brewing channel.  We’d love to hear what you have to say.