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Against the Odds: Cruel Ninjas (Modern)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 153 of Against the Odds. Last week, in celebration of Guilds of Ravnica spoilers (which start Saturday, with a preview show from PAX), we had an all-Ravnica Against the Odds poll. In the end, it was Master of Cruelties taking home a pretty easy win. As such, we're heading to Modern today to see if we can combo Master of Cruelties with Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive and some sweet Ninjas to kill our opponent with one tricky, unblockable attack! Just how scary is an unblockable Master of Cruelties in Modern? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Against the Odds: Cruel Ninjas (Modern)

The Deck

When I realized that Master of Cruelties had won the poll, I knew right away one card that we weren't going to play: Alesha, Who Smiles at Death. While Alesha works well with Master of Cruelties, we already played the combo for Much Abrew a while ago, so it felt weird to rehash it for Against the Odds. Thankfully, there's more than one way to make Master of Cruelties into a one-shot kill in the format, and ninjutsu happens to be the perfect mechanic to abuse the Demon. As a result, I honed in on a Ninja build pretty quickly, but it took a bit of tuning for the deck to take its final form, with Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive being the final piece of the puzzle.

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Master of Cruelties is a unique card. The combination of first strike and deathtouch means it can take down essentially any one creature it tangles with in combat, making it good on both offense and defense. However, the big payoff for Master of Cruelties is getting in one unblocked attack. If we can hit our opponent just once with Master of Cruelties, they drop to one life, no matter how much life they had at the start of the turn. The downside of Master of Cruelties is that it can never actually kill the opponent, since it can't deal actual combat damage, so we need a second piece to finish the opponent off. This is where our Ninjas come into play.

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While our Ninjas are fine on their own, often coming down on Turn 2 thanks to ninjutsu to draw us cards or bounce or even kill our opponent's creatures, the real payoff is Master of Cruelties. The trick is that Master of Cruelties puts the opponent to one life once it attacks and isn't blocked—not during the damage step, like a normal creature. This means that we can attack with Master of Cruelties, put our opponent down to one life, and then ninjutsu in any of our Ninjas to deal the last point of damage to kill our opponent all in one attack step, from any life total! When it comes to killing with Master of Cruelties, all of our Ninjas work the same, but otherwise, Ninja of the Deep Hours is the best of the bunch because it draws us cards in the early game to help us find our Master of Cruelties and other important pieces. Of course, for any of this to work, we need to get in an unblocked attack with Master of Cruelties, which leads us to the next piece of our Cruel Ninja puzzle.

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For Master of Cruelties to be effective, we need to make sure that our opponent can't simply chump block it forever with Lingering Souls tokens or other small creatures. The solution to this problem is a new Dominaria legend: Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive. Since Master of Cruelties only has one power, Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive makes it unblockable, along with some of our other creatures as well. With a Tetsuko on the battlefield and a Ninja in hand, one single attack from Master of Cruelties should be enough to close out the game. On the other hand, if we don't happen to have a Ninja to force though the last point of damage after Master of Cruelties puts our opponent to one life, Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive can get the job done the next turn, since it makes itself unblockable as well!

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Mausoleum Wanderer and Judge's Familiar do double duty in our deck. First, they are evasive one-drops that allow us to ninjutsu Ninja of the Deep Hours or Mistblade Shinobi into play on Turn 2 to start generating value. Second, later in the game, their Force Spike ability helps to protect our Master of Cruelties combo kill. While it doesn't come up all that often, it's also possible that we win some games by beating down with our random, small evasive creatures if we don't happen to draw into our Master of Cruelties combo kill.

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Snapcaster Mage is one of the best cards in Modern thanks to its ability to let us reuse a cheap spell by flashing it back from the graveyard, but it's even better in our deck thanks to its synergy with Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive and our Ninjas. With a Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive on the battlefield, Snapcaster Mage is unblockable, which allows us to attack with it at will and then return it to our hand by ninjutsu-ing one of our Ninjas into play. Then, we can play Snapcaster Mage again to flash back a cheap removal, discard, or card-draw spell.

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We're not going to talk about every one of our spells individually, but they basically break down into three groups. First, we have Serum Visions to set things up in the early game and dig for our Master of Cruelties in the late game. Second, we have a bunch of discard spells, including Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek, to attack our opponent's hand and (hopefully) remove any answers our opponent might have to our Master of Cruelties. Finally, we have some removal, including Fatal Push, Dreadbore, and Lightning Bolt, with Lightning Bolt being especially important, since it gives us another way to get in the final point of damage after putting our opponent to one with a Master of Cruelties attack.

The Matchups

Based on our games, it seems like go-wide aggro decks are the hardest matchups for Cruel Ninjas. We pretty much got crushed by Elves, and the Burn matchup wasn't much better. While in theory we can beat a deck like Elves if we draw our cheap removal, they put us under a lot of pressure to draw our cards in the right order and do it quickly. On the other hand, Cruel Ninjas did pretty well against everything else, thanks to the combination of good removal and discard, tricky creatures, and a surprisingly effective finisher in Master of Cruelties. While I'm not sure the deck is heavily favored in any matchups, it did feel like we had at least a reasonable chance of competing with many of the tier decks in the format!

The Odds

All in all, we got in six matches and won four, good for a 66.7% match win percentage, along with winning nine of 14 games, giving us a 64.3% game win percentage, making Cruel Ninjas solidly above average for an Against the Odds deck. While we never managed to pull off the ninjutsu kill with Master of Cruelties, the Demon did close out some games, with the help of Lightning Bolt and Snapcaster Mage. Apart from our namesake card, the deck felt great. Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive was a surprise all-star, and the Ninjas worked incredibly well with Mausoleum Wanderer and Judge's Familiar. While I'm not 100% sure that Master of Cruelties would be a part of it, the combination of Tetsuko, the one-drop Force Spike fliers, and Ninjas seemed like it could actually form the foundation of a competitive deck in Modern and are probably worth exploring more in the future. Basically, the deck was sweet and competitive; plus, we managed to get some spicy Master of Cruelties kills, which is about all you can ask for from an Against the Odds deck!

Vote For Next Week's Deck

Enchantments have some of the strangest abilities in Magic. Let's explore a weird one next week in Modern! Which of these strange enchantments should we play next episode? Let us know by voting below!

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Anyway, that's all for today. Don't forget to vote for next week's deck! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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