Ninjas Sneaking to the Top in Legacy


The ninjutsu keyword was introduced to Magic with Betrayers of Kamigawa in 2005 and has been a fan favorite ever since. It tries to display the trickery and mastery in stealth that Ninjas are known for within the mechanics of the game. Recently, the tribe has seen renewed success in Legacy.

Higure, the Still Wind

While the ability barely played a role in Legacy upon its initial release, players tried to make it work in every format. (Ninja of the Deep Hours quickly became a thing in Pauper and even appeared Vintage.) Yet, it wasn't until 2018, when that year's Commander edition brought powerful new cards, that the tribe turned competitive.

The Ninjutsu Ability

ninja of the deep hours higure, the still wind

A keyword designed by Mark Rosewater and exclusive to Ninja creatures, ninjutsu lets you exchange one of your unblocked creatures with a Ninja from your hand. From the Comprehensive Rules:

702.48. Ninjutsu
  • 702.48a Ninjutsu is an activated ability that functions only while the card with ninjutsu is in a player's hand. "Ninjutsu cost" means "Cost, Reveal this card from your hand, Return an unblocked attacking creature you control to its owner's hand: Put this card onto the battlefield from your hand tapped and attacking."

  • 702.48b The card with ninjutsu remains revealed from the time the ability is announced until the ability leaves the stack.

  • 702.48c A ninjutsu ability may be activated only while a creature on the battlefield is unblocked (see rule 509.1h). The creature with ninjutsu is put onto the battlefield unblocked. It will be attacking the same player or planeswalker as the creature that was returned to its owner's hand.

  • 702.48d Commander ninjutsu is a variant of the ninjutsu ability that also functions while the card with commander ninjutsu is in the command zone. "Commander Ninjutsu cost" means "Cost, Reveal this card from your hand or the command zone, Return an unblocked attacking creature you control to its owner's hand: Put this card onto the battlefield tapped and attacking."

So for deck construction, we want to run a sufficient number of creatures with evasion abilities that can be cast on the first turn of the game. That way, we can make sure to sneak our Ninjas into play as early and as often as possible, dodging all kinds of pesky blockers and counterspells along the way. It can also make sense to employ evasive creatures with enter-the-battlefield abilities such as Faerie Seer or Spellstutter Sprite, as we'll be able to use their abilities again.

What Are the Best Ninjas to Sneak In?


There still aren't many Ninjas. For a long time, Ninja of the Deep Hours was the best payoff you could get. Luckily, Wizards decided that Ninjas was a fun tribe worth pushing and released Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow in Commander 2018 as well as Ingenious Infiltrator in Modern Horizons. These two finally gave the strategy the necessary power to make it work in Legacy. The same sets also brought us Retrofitter Foundry and Changeling Outcastl. Both are incredibly important to glue the pieces of the deck together.

It's incredible how fast this deck can seal the deal once both of those Ninjas hit the table and connect. Just imagine a game state where you connect with both Yurioko and Infiltrator on the third turn of the game. You now draw four cards and your opponent loses a bunch of life just because you attacked with a pair of creatures that cost two mana each. If you happen to have access to Brainstorm, you can put expensive cards such as Force of Will on top of your library and Yuriko will take excessive amounts of out of your opponent's life total. And if you draw into free counterspells such as the just mentioned Force of Will, Daze, or even Force of Negation, there isn't much your opponent can do to avoid getting hit another time.

Success to Back It Up

What sounds strong in theory and looks good on paper continues to rack up more and more notable results on Magic Online. A player that goes by the username "TheHamburglar" finished second at the Legacy Challenge on July 4, 2020, with this list:

Various builds continue to collect more and more 5-0 finishes in Magic Online's Legacy Leagues as we speak. Let's see what makes this long-overlooked deck strong and how the components of the deck work together.


ingenious infiltrator yuriko, the tiger's shadow

Yuriko and Infiltrator are what make this deck work. They're the most powerful Ninjas available and once you sneak them through and keep the ground clear they drown your opponent in card advantage and seal the deal pretty quickly. Most lists play seven Ninjas as that's proven to be enough.

Ninjutsu Enablers

ornithopter changeling outcast

At first, I wasn't sure if Ornithopter is a card I want to register in my competitive tournament deck as it doesn't do anything on its own, but it just works so well with ninjutsu! You can view it as kind of a Ninja Mox that helps you cheat your Ninjas into play without additional mana investment. Once you've looked at the additional synergy with Retrofitter Foundry, you'll be convinced this is a must!

Changeling Outcast is a real star as the Shapeshifter makes it possible to get the big Ninjas past literally any blockers, even fliers. Later, it counts as a Ninja itself and benefits from related abilities. Sneak in Yuriko or Infiltrator, recast the Outcast, and keep getting through again and again and continue to draw extra cards despite pesky blockers. It also is a Thopter so that you can sacrifice it for your Foundry and create more 4/4 Constructs.

Most lists only include these two as a playset, but you can also see some number of Baleful Strix and Brazen Borrower in the main deck. They can help you grind in the midgame while being able to get past blockers themselves for ninjutsu action later on. Though Strix didn't fully convince me. I could see myself trying out Faerie Seer and Spellstutter Sprite soon.

Permission and Disruption

force of will daze

A tempo strategy like this of course needs to buy time and stop the opposing game plan if it wants to succeed with its small threats. That's where the cheapest and most efficient counterspells and removal come in.

Force of Will, Daze, or even Force of Negation are just perfect for this deck. You draw an abundance of cards when your Ninjas do their work and don't need a lot of mana. Since the deck might ordinarily miss land drops in the midgame, returning your Islands is as easy as exiling blue cards from your hand. With regard to removal, most people run a singleton Murderous Cut as it can kill any creature while the rest of the deck doesn't need the graveyard, and because having a high converted mana cost comes in handy for Yuriko. Fatal Push also fits excellently into this shell since revolt is almost automatic between Daze, fetch lands, Foundry, and ninjutsu. Some try to fit in Drown in the Loch, and Petty Theft can also meddle with big creatures or other problematic permanents.



Of course, no blue deck is complete without Ponder and Brainstorm. They help to pull off your synergies, but also pitch to Force, and can cause huge life loss alongside Yuriko. When running a lot of situational cards, you're particularly happy as well to manipulate your library and not draw excess copies of Ornithopter, Daze, or Retrofitter Foundry.

The Sideboard

Most lists have very similar and streamlined sideboards. The goal is to tick all of the following boxes …

Graveyard Hate

A playset Leyline of the Void is often necessary if you want to be able to beat decks like Hogaak or Dredge with a tempo strategy. Leyline also comes in handy against Reanimator. If you played more versatile cards, you could also side in your Cling to Dust or Surgical Extraction against Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, but beware: the more versatile your graveyard hate gets, the less useful it will be against dedicated graveyard combo.

Additional Disruption Against Combo

Thoughtseize is the perfect card to make life easier against fast combo decks relying on fragile synergies. Whether the matchup is Storm, Belcher, Reanimator, Show and Tell, or Doomsday, this is one of the cards you want to see the most in your starting hand. Other options include adding some copies of Force of Negation or a Null Rod.

Mana Denial

When you meet decks that are full of nonbasic lands and aim to cast expensive catch-up spells, Back to Basics is your friend. It fights Dark Depths, Lands, Four-Color Loam, Eldrazi Stompy, and others. Since your own mana base makes consists of many fetch lands and basics, this powerful enchantment comes at almost no cost and can catch unprepared opponents off guard. You can also use Wasteland, which interacts nicely with Daze and the general strategy of the deck.

Creature Hate

A battlefield full of small creatures is the ultimate nightmare for Ninjas. That's why Plague Engineer is so important and included in almost all lists I've seen. Liliana's Triumph serves as a multi-purpose tool against Dark Depths tokens and other strategies that go for single, big creatures.

Going Forward

I think this deck will remain successful in times where Swords to Plowshares isn't that good and Delver strategies reign supreme. It's simply the bigger Delver deck featuring a much faster clock, albeit with some consistency issues and being easier to disrupt. If the Snowko situation remains this bad, I could see Ninjas having even more success. Also, I'm looking forward to the time when we return to Kamigawa, as Wizards would certainly print some powerful Ninjas again. If we got access to another one-drop like Changeling Outcast — a Ninja with evasion that you can play on the first turn — that would make the deck a lot better.

Do you think they would print something like that? Have you tried the Ninja deck yourself? What do you think about its emergence in the Legacy metagame? Tell us your opinion in the comments!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.


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Okamikaito(08.08.2020 18:26)

Ninjas are really fun to play, it has so much sinergy with cards like Equilibrium. And I use fun cards like Saprazzan Heir or Tetsuko Umezawa (sideboarding one of them when I feel to).

I hope to see more variety and reprints, please more reprints.

Bajuwarenzorn(08.08.2020 19:33)

Hi, Okamikaito!

Thanks for your comment. I love Equilibrium as well, it was in a lot of my casual decks!

More reprints are to be expected if you’re asking me. I hope Retrofitter Foundry gets reprinted soon as that card is getting quite expensive and holds some players from buying into Ninjas.

DrXaver(06.08.2020 00:51)

Nice to read, thanks a lot! What's your opinion on the BUG version. I like the tempo of UB combined with a solid mana base, Daze, Drown, Murderous Cut and the opportunity to play Baleful Strix. But BUG offers Oko and Abrupt Decay, two great cards which could make the deck more resilient at the cost of a less Wasteland/Blood Moon/B2B resistent Mana base.

Bajuwarenzorn(06.08.2020 09:01)

Hi, DrXaver!

Thank you for the kind words. When I saw the list with green, I immediately was sold to try that. Oko sounds so awesome with Ornithopter, Foundry and as a general solution to opponents threats. Getting access to flexible removal that can kill all kinds of pesky permanents is also a big addition to the deck. I’m asking myself if we can add Dryad Arbor as well. It can get fetched end of turn on empty boards and start the Ninjutsu train. Anyway, I think we should definitely try it and could see it being better.

SRADracer(03.08.2020 17:54)(Edited: 03.08.2020 17:54)

I play this deck as a budget version. It's the deck i like the most.
Ninja is incredibly fun to play with spellstutter sprite, familiar's ruse, quickling and other cards like that.

Bajuwarenzorn(03.08.2020 22:07)

Hi, SRADracer!

Thank you for your comment. I love that you can build Ninjas with very few Dual Lands and that you can customize it a lot. Your version with Ruse and Quickling sounds innovative and very late-game oriented. Do you mind sharing your list?

SRADracer(05.08.2020 16:17)

Sure. I have 2 ninja Decks.
I build one for a tournament at my local shop a few years ago. Format was modern, only com/unc. Went 5-0 and won :)
Also used the deck with a tournament with friends. Rules were modern format and max 20 euro trend price for entire deck, incl. Sideboard (excl. Basic lands). Also won this, 7-1 :)
I still play it today casual, because the deck is really fun.

20 island
2 Faerie Conclave
2 Ornithopter
4 Ninja of the Deep Hours
4 Quickling
4 Wingcrafter
4 Faerie Miscreant
4 Spellstutter Sprite
3 Mistblade Shinobi
4 Remand
4 Familiar's Ruse
3 Vapor Snag
2 Favorable Winds

4 Mana Leak
3 Echoing Truth
3 Pongify
2 Psionic Blast
3 Hybernation

Evasive flyers for the ninja's. Ruse/Quickling to pick up a ninja.
Remand/snag for tempo and winds to push damage.
Sideboard is really easy. Swap remand for leak against burn and any other deck where remand is bad, truth for snap against tokens, hybernation for snag against mono green aggro and pongify for snag if you really need removal.
I would now probably swap Faerie Miscreant for Faerie Seer, but that card did not exist when I build this deck. But Miscreant can be insane if you have 2 and pick it up and cast it all the time.

2nd deck is build for my kitchen table group. We play multiplayer, but with 60 card decks instead of EDH. No ban list, but nobody plays with really expensive cards or turn 2/3 combo or stuff like that. We play for fun.

6 Island
6 Swamp
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Morphic Pool ( insane in multiplayer :) )
4 Faerie Seer
2 Wingcrafter
4 Changeling Outcast
4 Quickling
2 Thassa, God of the Sea
4 Mist-Syndicate Naga
2 Yuriko, The Tiger Shadow.
2 Sakashima's Student
4 Fallen Shinobi
4 Ingenious Infiltrator
4 Cast Down
4 Familiar's Ruse

If you want to go more budget, switch Sakashima and Thassa for something else.

Bajuwarenzorn(06.08.2020 08:56)

Hi, SRADracer!

Cool casual lists and looks like you’re very successful with them in your play group. Ninjas are a great tribe for kitchen table Magic in my opinion. When I started playing, a friend of my got the Betrayers of Kamigawa Rat preconstructed deck and we didn’t stand a chance against the Ninjas in that deck. Partly, because we didn’t understand how Ninjutsu and Umezawa’s Jitte work.