Umezawa’s Jitte – Betrayers of Kamigawa
Date Reviewed: June 3, 2021
Commander [EDH]: 3.13
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
Umezawa’s Jitte was once one of the most polarizing cards in Magic. You may not be aware of this if you started playing after the Kamigawa block’s time in Standard, because it later found itself in tournament settings that were faster and less centered around creature combat. But there was a time when people were seriously calling for it to be banned, and the fact that it is indeed banned in Modern suggests that Wizards of the Coast secretly took that notion more seriously than they ever let on. I suspect that it only made it to the end of that Standard season because they were reluctant to ban more cards so soon after the Ravager Affinity and Skullclamp debacles, fearing bad PR.
It certainly checked all of the boxes which lead us to expect bannings. It was everywhere – consider, for example, this old article by Frank Karsten. Scroll down to the part about “My Dutch Nationals” and note that he’s playing Umezawa’s Jitte in a control deck. (Aside: not everyone grasped the significance of this at the time, because there was an idea around that it wasn’t really a control deck if you ran more than three creatures. You, of course, know better.) This is because it was one of the most efficient removal cards in that Standard rotation: as long as you can hit with a creature, you can take out up to two toughness worth of creatures that turn, and more if you have time to stockpile counters – and it bypasses regeneration and indestructibility. That’s before even considering how it can end the game explosively and protect you in a race against unblockable creatures or burn spells. It does almost everything, for relatively little mana.
There are certainly enough tools in large card pools now that it’s merely good in Legacy, and it can be fought even in casual Magic. Burning-Tree Shaman was a good play against it then and remains so now; Stony Silence and Collector Ouphe turn it into a bookmark. But I’ll forgive anyone who remembers what it did in that era and still shudders; the Jitte was, in many ways, a dark undercurrent in an otherwise popular Standard format.
Constructed: 3/5 (in Legacy and such; in Kamigawa-Ravnica Standard it was easily 4 or 5)
Umezawa’s Jitte is a notorious little sword with a sordid history, quickly becoming the chase card of its set and a poster child for Equipment in general. To this day, it’s never been unbanned in Modern (and is extremely unlikely to get paroled), and it sees a healthy amount of play in Legacy and Commander. If it gets entrenched, the game quickly warps around the weapon to a comical degree in an attempt to try and get it contained.
On paper, it seems good, but fairly unremarkable: hit things to get counters, use the counters to get bonuses. But Umezawa’s Jitte is far more pushed than it really should be. It triggers on combat damage…but it doesn’t matter if it hits players, planeswalkers, or creatures. Two of its modes ensure that, with counters on it, the Jitte’s bearer is absurdly likely to get more counters to keep the carnage going (and Jitte keeps counters until the sword itself gets popped), and being able to pop X/1 (or X/2) creatures with utmost ease means rude things. It got to where Jitte was pretty much a four-of in any deck at the time…if not for you, then to use the old rules around legendary permanents to take out your opponent’s copies of Umezawa’s Jitte.
I’d say there’s legitimate argument that Umezawa’s Jitte is the strongest Equipment ever printed, with maybe only Skullclamp as competition; while the latter made its name as a comically undercosted card draw engine, the Jitte is a Swiss army knife that carves through boards, enables massive swings, and can even save you from burn damage in a pinch. It’s extremely easy to get rolling, it’s notoriously hard to stop (outside of removing it, which most decks tend to do poorly pre-sideboard), and it even pairs well with the support of its time and since then. It’s not indomitable in Legacy, but it’s still a strong card there.
Constructed: 4.75 (it should probably be a 3.5 or so for Legacy, but this is way too good to ever be released into Modern, especially with Stoneforge Mystic as a tutor)
Casual: 5 (your friends will loathe you)
Limited: 5 (I’d legitimately score this higher than a 5, if I could; Jitte is nigh-unbeatable in its sole Limited outing)
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