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Budget Magic: Ninjas (Modern)


Privet, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we are heading to Modern to play a deck built around one of my favorite tribes (which happens to feature one of my all-time favorite mechanics): Ninjas! While we played a non-budget version of Ninjas a couple of years ago for Much Abrew when Modern Horizons was released, today's build comes in at under $100 and still feels super powerful. The goal is simple: play an evasive one-drop on Turn 1 and then ninjutsu either Ingenious Infiltrator or Ninja of the Deep Hours into play on Turn 2 to start drawing cards. We can then use cheap interaction to keep the blockers out of the way and hopefully snowball the card advantage from our Ninjas into an easy win, with Fallen Shinobi ninjutsuing into play to finish off the opponent! How good are Ninjas in Modern on a budget? How many cards can we draw while viciously attacking our opponent with 1/1s?  Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Ninjas

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The Deck

Ninjas are a tribal-tempo deck built around evasive one-drops and Ninjas that we can sneak into play on the cheap thanks to ninjutsu by returning an unblocked attacker to our hand. Breaking down the deck is pretty easy. We essentially have three groups of non-land cards: evasive one-drops that we can pick up to ninjutsu our Ninjas into play, Ninjas, and interaction.

One-Drops

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For our deck to work, having an evasive one-drop on Turn 1 is incredibly important since it allows us to ninjutsu a four-drop Ninja like Ingenious Infiltrator or Ninja of the Deep Hours into play on Turn 2 to start drawing cards. As a result, we have 12 evasive one-drops split between three cards, all with different upsides and drawbacks. While we aren't picky when it comes to which one-drop we have in our starting hand—any of them helps us achieve our goal of ninjutsuing something into play on Turn 2—here's a quick rundown of the crew's strengths and weaknesses.

  • Changeling Outcast: Upsides: As a changeling, Changeling Outcast is technically a Ninja, so if we can get Ingenious Infiltrator on the battlefield, it draws us a card each turn when it hits our opponent. Also, it had hard unblockable to make sure it can attack each turn. Drawback: Changeling Outcast can't block, which is sometimes relevant if we need to chump something big to stay alive. 
  • Slither Blade: Upside: Like Changeling Outcast, Slither Blade is straight-up unblockable, which makes sure it can always attack and be unblocked for ninjutsu purposes. It also has two toughness, which is especially important against various red aggro, burn, and prowess decks, which often have Gut Shot and / or Lava Dart to kill our other one-drops. Drawback: Slither Blade isn't a Ninja and doesn't have any creature-type synergies. 
  • Faerie Seer: Upside: By far the biggest upside of Faerie Seer is its ability to scry two when it enters the battlefield. While this might not seem like much, the value adds up when we can repeatedly pick up and replay Faerie Seer thanks to ninjutsu, helping to make sure we don't flood out or digging us for specific cards. Drawback: Faerie Seer has flying rather than full unblockability. If our opponent has a flying blocker, we likely won't be able to attack and ninjutsu with Faerie Seer. In some matchups, this doesn't matter at all. In others, it's a big deal. 

Ninjas

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The two most important cards in our deck are Ingenious Infiltrator and Ninja of the Deep Hours. In many ways, they are the same card: Ninjas that we can ninjutsu into play for just two mana and draw a card when they hit our opponent for combat damage. Our deck is designed to do this on Turn 2 as frequently as possible by playing a one-drop on Turn 1. In fact, if we have a starting hand without an evasive one-drop and one of these ninjutsu card-draw Ninjas, we'll often mulligan in hopes of finding a faster start. While Ingenious Infiltrator and Ninja of the Deep Hours are very similar, it is worth mentioning that apart from requiring two colors of mana to ninjutsu, Ingenious Infiltrator is strictly better, having an extra toughness and drawing a card whenever any Ninja deals combat damage. It's also worth pointing out that these cards aren't all that exciting if we have to play either of them fairly for four mana. Don't keep a hand full of expensive Ninjas without a way to ninjutsu them into play!

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Fallen Shinobi is basically our finishing Ninja. While it costs twice as much as Ninja of the Deep Hours or Ingenious Infiltrator does to ninjutsu into play, it also is more than twice as big and not only draws twice as many cards (from our opponent's deck) but also allows us to play them for free! In all honesty, Fallen Shinobi's combat-damage trigger is pretty matchup dependent. Sometimes, we hit a land and a counterspell with the trigger and it doesn't do much of anything. In other matchups, we can hit something like Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Primeval Titan and potentially win the game on the spot. The good news is that Fallen Shinobi essentially offers four hasty damage if we can pick up a one-drop to ninjutsu it into play, which is often enough to close out the game directly, making it so the cards we happen to hit from our opponent's deck don't matter.

Interaction

The most important thing about our interactive spells is that they are cheap. If you think about how our deck wants to play, we want to play a one-drop on Turn 1 and ninjutsu a Ninja of the Deep Hours or Ingenious Infiltrator on Turn 2; then, on turn three, we can replay our evasive one-drop and leave up an interactive spell, which sets us up to ninjutsu something else on Turn 4. This means that having interaction that costs either one or two mana is essential. 

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For removal, we have two one-mana options in Fatal Push and Dismember (which is one mana, assuming we're willing to spend some life, which we usually are). In general, Fatal Push is just okay in budget decks because we don't have fetch lands to easily trigger revolt, although it's actually really good in Ninjas specifically since ninjutsu offers a way to have a permanent leave the battlefield, which allows us to kill a bigger threat with Fatal Push for just one mana.

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Inquisition of Kozilek allows us to attack our hand. In a perfect world, we'd play Thoughtseize instead since our deck is usually fast enough that losing some life isn't a big deal, but Inquisition of Kozilek is still solid and fits under the budget.

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Last but not least, we have Mana Leak and Remand as counters. If you watch the games we played with the deck, we're usually pretty good at closing out the game somewhere around Turn 6 or 7, which means our goal with our counters isn't to stop our opponent from doing anything forever like a control deck. Instead, we use our counters aggressively in the early and mid-game, allowing us to snowball our Ninja value and hopefully kill our opponent before we run out of disruption. Ninjas are very much a tempo deck, rather than a true draw-go-style control deck.

The Lands

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The goal of the Ninjas mana base is to have as many untapped duals as possible while still coming in under the budget. Because of the aggro-tempo plan (and the importance of playing a one-drop on Turn 1 into ninjutsu on Turn 2), we can't really afford to play tapped lands. Unfortunately, since cards like Darkslick Shores, Watery Grave, Polluted Delta, and even Underground River are too expensive to fit under the budget, we have three copies of Creeping Tar Pit, which does come into play tapped. While turning into an unblockable creature does work with the theme of our deck, and we do occasionally use Creeping Tar Pit to close out the game after our opponent deals with our Ninjas, if we had access to more untapped dual lands, we'd probably only play a single Creeping Tar Pit because coming into play tapped causes issues.

Playing the Deck

The most important advice I have for playing Ninjas is to know what the deck is trying to do: play an evasive one-drop into ninjutsu a card-draw Ninja. If your opening hand doesn't support this plan, it's often better to mulligan. With 12 one-drops and eight card draw Ninjas in the deck, we should be able to find our ideal start if we're willing to mulligan for it. And since our ideal start draws us a bunch of cards, it's usually worth it. Our Ninja card draw quickly undoes the mulligan.

Secondly, be warned that Ninjas can be a high-risk / high-reward strategy. By far the biggest issue with the deck is having our one-drop die before we get to ninjutsu something into play. We can keep a solid hand, have our one-drop hit by Lightning Bolt or Fatal Push, be unable to ninjutsu, and end up being super slow since our Ninjas are overcosted if we have to hard-cast them. Sadly, there isn't a great way to play around this, although sometimes, it is worth choosing not to ninjutsu on Turn 2 if our opponent is in heavy removal colors and leaves mana up.

Once Ninjas get going, they are really hard to stop. Even though none of our cards are that powerful, we often end up with a lot of them. Even though 1/1s for one aren't Modern staples, if we can play a bunch of them (and back them up by some light disruption), they are usually enough to win the game. Once we start drawing cards, we stop caring as much about our opponent killing our creatures because we typically will have so many resources that we can easily rebuild and keep up the snowballing.

Wrap-Up

All in all, we went 3-2 in our video matches and 4-3 overall (I ended up losing a loss and a win thanks to having issues with my recording program), which is solid for a budget deck in Modern. Most importantly, Ninjas is super fun to play. It's aggressive enough to close out games but still draws an absurd amount of cards. Plus, ninjutsu is just a super-cool and fun-to-play mechanic!

While Ninjas has some solid non-budget upgrades, I'm really happy with where the budget build ended up. If I were going to record the episode right now, I'd run the deck back as-is. I'm sure there could be some small changes around the edges of the build, but most of the good upgrades (better dual lands, for example) not only increase the cost of the deck but increase it significantly.

So, should you play Modern Ninjas? I think the answer is yes. The deck is good enough to pick up a reasonable number of wins in Modern, and it a blast to play with. If you like drawing cards but don't just want to durdle around and do nothing, Ninjas is the perfect option, forcing you to attack and eventually kill the opponent to draw cards. While there can be some really bad games (especially against removal-heavy decks that can kill our one-drops and prevent us from ninjutsuing), the good games are really, really good. There's nothing like attacking with a bunch of janky 1/1s and drawing eight or 10 cards as a result!

Ultra-Budget Ninjas

No ultra-budget list this week. While in theory, you can save a few dollars by downgrading utility spells (Inquisition of Kozilek could be Duress, the two Remands could be Spell Pierce, and Dismember could be Doom Blade or Bloodchief's Thirst), these changes only save a few dollars. To get the deck down near $50, you'd have to turn the untapped dual lands in the deck into tapped dual lands, and considering how many issues we had just from Creeping Tar Pit, I honestly don't think the deck would be very functional if Choked Estuary and Clearwater Pathway became Evolving Wilds and Dismal Backwater. It might be fine if you want to mess around on the kitchen table, but adding tapped lands slows down the deck so much that I wouldn't want to play the ultra-budget version of the deck even semi-competitively. 

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Finally, for our non-budget build, the main upgrades come in the mana base, where we get a bunch more untapped dual lands thanks to fetch lands, Darkslick Shores, and Watery Grave. Otherwise, we get a few new utility spells (with Thoughtseize joining the mix and more copies of Remand) and a few Snapcaster Mages, which might not be evasive but do offer a lot of value if we can pick them up thanks to ninjutsu and reuse its enters-the-battlefield trigger to flash back another cheap spell. If you don't want to splurge on Snapcaster Mage and Thoughtseize, start your upgrade process with the lands. Any untapped dual lands you have will represent a big upgrade to the deck!

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.



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