Argothian Treehouse
Andy Van Zandt


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Argothian Treehouse
with Andy Van Zandt

A Boy Ninjutsu

January 11, 2005  Here comes Betrayers, a scant couple of weeks away, and I feel hardly prepared. With some new alternative-casting-cost cards (both the "Shoal" cycle of spells and the "Offering" creatures, as per's partial spoiler), an apparent reprinting of the "Lobotomy" cycle of cards, including Scour and Eradicate (and note the new enchant lands that turn them into creatures... everyone ready to have your mountains eradicated out of your deck?), the big name mechanic thusfar is Ninjutsu. Astonishingly enough, this ability is to be tacked onto all the Ninja's (excluding Mistform Ultimus, and let me tell you, he feels left out), and while it's a trick you play in combat, it's not quite a "combat trick", in the commonly-used sense. Nonetheless, it often generates card advantage or something resembling it.

Let's look at bit further at the mechanic itself:

Ninjutsu X ( X, Return an unblocked attacker you control to hand: Put this card into play from your hand tapped and attacking.)

A very good explanation sentence, it manages to say so much with so little.
Let's work backwards here; you're jumping a creature from your hand into play and attacking... but to do so, you need to return an unblocked attacker to your hand... which means you have passed the stage where blockers can be assigned. Your ninja is attacking, and can't be blocked, thus taking the place of his fled comrade. I know it sounds like I'm explaining something obvious, but really, it's good to be clear on these things.

With all these unblocked Ninja's popping up unexpected-like, you're liable to wish you could do it when they're actually interacting with other creatures. But that would probably make the neat little explaining sentence quite a bit longer. So we seem to have been tossed a bone in consolation- the ninja's have a tendency towards a thrull-like "saboteur" ability, though thankfully lacking in the sacrificial bit, and in the damage-prevention bit. This means your ninja will generate an effect when he deals his damage, and often one that will be of value, such as turning around and using his garotte on one of your opponent's dudes. That seems pretty good, but keep in mind that you are still giving something up for this in most cases- a touch of tempo. While the Ninjutsu costs seem priced-to-go at slightly less than the Ninja's normal casting cost, keep in mind you are getting back something you've already paid for, and will probably want to cast it again.

Aha, but can that tempo loss be offset, or be gotten around? Going by what seems to be the norm of the Ninjutsu being 1 or 2 less than the Ninja's cost, if you return a creature that only costs 1 or 2 mana respectively, you've effectively spent his normal casting cost over the course of a couple turns (or perhaps even gotten it oen cheaper- which is often better in many cases... a sideways kind of Echo. To me, this means cards such as, in particular, Wandering Ones become much more valuable. It's a 1 drop in blue that generally only saw play in limited decks that valued spirits extremely highly. Blue being one of the major ninja colors, this guy seems quite fit to mask a ninja assault. Plus, as a turn one play, he's attacking on turn 2, which is even more potent if you went first and are jumping your (let's say) Ninja of the Deep Hours into play, who will do more damage than your Wandering Ones and net you a card lickety-split.

Taken to a greater extreme, the tempo and card advantage you'd actually GAIN by having your ninja fly in on an Ornithopter adds credit to my theory that Wizards of the Coast just wants to see old trash-bin lining (Orny and Atog being my primary examples) in constructed play. Not only did you get your normal turn 1 drop in addition to the ornithopter, but since the ornithopter is attacking turn 2 in the air, he stands that much greater of a chance of meeting the "unblocked" condition... and he'll come back out again uscathed after your ninja drops from the sky.

This also makes cards like Battle-Mad Ronin more valuable in my eyes.
Previously, I didn't care for him at all unless you had something mood-altering for him, like Uncontrollable Anger or Indomitable Will.  Without those, he was just 2-4 points of unblocked damage to your opponent's head until they dropped something bigger. Note the key word there, unblocked. Odds are that your opponent will be less enthusiastic about letting that guy through on turn 3 when you've got swamps or islands open.

Moving further backwards along the reminder text, I note the "return to hand bit". Instant speed. It's part of the cost, not the effect, so the bounce part can't even be responded to. Sounds like another opportunity for advantage to me, especially against opponents that get into bad habits along the lines of casting Reciprocate inside combat (and really, any removal spell they erroneously choose to use -after- they've declared blockers). Your creature is counted as unblocked until the end of combat, and saving your fatty from certain doom seems a good choice, when presented with the opportunity. Dropping pesky enchantments off of a guy is also an optimal use of the bounce, since often your opponent won't try and kill an already tainted dude. Additionally, need I mention perhaps the most glaring potentially abusive bounce? Yummy comes-into-play abilities ripe for re-use. Eternal Witness starts looking pretty shifty there, eh? eh? and -other- ninja's seem to be an optimal use, re-using your potential trickiness. Though I wouldn't expect a lot of ninja's to be allowed through after they're already in play.

So yeah, I'm looking forward to some ninja action... and to seeing someone attack with a Birds of Paradise and have the opponent actually consider the ramifications of letting it through.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Shoot me an email.

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