Dangerous Propositions: Umezawa's Jitte
The Modern ban list is a maximum-security prison with 33 inmates, some of which pose a potentially serious threat to the meta. But now that Big Jace has been released, anything can happen. Let's review each of those offenders to see if they're eligible for parole. This time we talk about the most broken piece of equipment ever designed.
Back in the Dangerous Propositions installment dedicated to Stoneforge Mystic, I joked that when it was going to be the turn of evaluating the chances of Umezawa's Jitte being unbanned in Modern, the whole article would amount to just the following sentence: "C'mon, you can't be serious".
The reason is that the Jitte, first released in February 2005 as part of Betrayers of Kamigawa, and banned in Modern since the very beginning (its inclusion in the initial ban list wasn't even commented on at the time!), is hands down the best aggressive equipment in the entire game. Forget the situational Swords of X and Y and the cumbersome Batterskull, this little Japanese blade, used as the service weapon of policemen during the Edo period, is a real board controller and tactical behemoth.
The key to its brokenness are two elements that clearly weren't properly assessed during the playtest. The first is the fact that the charge counters are acquired through any kind of combat damage – not just by connecting with the opponent, which would have made it harder to achieve the precious charges turn in and turn out. (Although you would just have to provide your deck with a good amount of cheap evasive creatures.) The second element is the fact that the counters go on the Jitte itself, rather than the equipped creature. Removing the creature, which is certainly easier to accomplish than removing a noncreature artifact, doesn't make you lose any of the counters you accumulated up until that point; you'll just re-equip the Jitte and the potential alpha strike from the first mode will still be very much in place. Of course, all the modes being instant-speed means that even the destruction of the Jitte doesn't leave its owner with nothing to show, as you can still kill creatures and/or gain life in response.
Also, the counters bear the "charge" moniker, which can be found in almost one hundred other cards, retroactively going all the way back to the Mana Batteries from Legends, and including such renowned examples as Aether Vial, Chalice of the Void, Coalition Relic, Everflowing Chalice, Pentad Prism, the Vivid lands, Ratchet Bomb, and Engineered Explosives. Most importantly, a few cards can add additional charge counters on permanents.
In an alternate universe, there's a version of this frightening equipment that wasn't banned.
The signature weapon of the Umezawa clan has never haunted a Modern table, so we have no data in that regard. It's currently a fixture of Death and Taxes in Legacy, where it's the main target for Stoneforge Mystic's ETB trigger. But it had appeared a great deal in the old Extended format, across a wide range of aggro and midrange builds. Mere months after its release, it would show up at Pro Tour Los Angeles in lists like this:
|4Flooded Strand||4Galina's Knight||4Vindicate|
|3Adarkar Wastes||4Meddling Mage||4Counterspell|
|2Polluted Delta||4Shadowmage Infiltrator||3Pithing Needle|
|2Skycloud Expanse||3Exalted Angel||3Thirst for Knowledge|
|2Watery Grave||3Trinket Mage||3Umezawa's Jitte|
|1Ancient Den||1Engineered Explosives|
|1Caves of Koilos||1Sensei's Divining Top|
|1Vault of Whispers|
|4Duress||3Arcane Laboratory||3Kataki, War's Wage|
|Markus Pettersson, Dump Truck, 2005|
As good carriers as Galina's Knight and Shadowmage Infiltrator were back then, the Jitte would soon find more diverse and sometimes better ones. Madness decks would just slap it on Basking Rootwalla and Wild Mongrel, but the Trinket Hate upgrade of Haterator found more interesting synergies with hard-to-kill guys like Troll Ascetic and Phantom Centaur (or just Birds of Paradise, really). Early Zoo builds from a decade ago also had classics or soon-to-be classics like Kird Ape, Wild Nacatl, and Tarmogoyf for the Jitte to thrive on. The turn of Knight of the Reliquary and Kitchen Finks would later come to brandish everyone's favorite and quite literal cutting edge.
Even unforeseen builds like Glimpse of Nature Elves or Big Red with Deus of Calamity and Demigod of Revenge would feature a few Jittes, at least as a sideboard option. Not a single creature-based deck from that era could ignore its insane power. And Faeries may be the archetype that made the most use of it, turning the Jitte into its primary source of removal (until it rotated out), thanks to evasive, high-value carriers like Vendilion Clique, Sower of Temptation, and Spellstutter Sprite.
|4Mutavault||4Spellstutter Sprite||4Ancestral Vision|
|4Misty Rainforest||4Vendilion Clique||4Mana Leak|
|4Scalding Tarn||2Sower of Temptation||4Spell Snare|
|2Breeding Pool||4Tarmogoyf||3Engineered Explosives|
|2Hallowed Fountain||3Umezawa's Jitte|
|1Academy Ruins||2Vedalken Shackles|
|4Meddling Mage||4Path to Exile||3Spell Pierce|
|2Kataki, War's Wage||1Engineered Explosives||1Vedalken Shackles|
|Jonas Wallendorf, Faeries, 2009|
This list feels particularly noteworthy because it's entirely Modern-legal, minus the Jitte. So, one sure thing that its unbanning would bring about is the rise of this kind of list. But that'd be just the tip of the iceberg, as many more optimal creatures have been printed since those Extended times. The ideal Jitte carrier is a cheap creature that you cast on turn one or two then equip and attack with on turn three, thus starting the board advantage the Jitte allows. Evasion, double strike, and vigilance are abilities such carriers should have at least one instance of, in order to make the amassing of counters steady, reliable, and potentially more than once per turn. In a Jitte world, Kor Duelist, Kitesail Apprentice, Auriok Glaivemaster, Leonin Den-Guard, and Sunspear Shikari become instantly more attractive; even Steelshaper's Gift and Time of Need start making sense as tutors that let you lower the number of legendary equipments in your list. The Duelist in particular could actually develop into a major star in the Jitte meta, if you consider that double strike generates four charge counters per combat engagement. And once the Duelist connects with four counters on him, he can boost himself to deal 9 damage in the first strike damage step, collect two more counters, and boost himself again to deal 13 in the regular damage step – for a total of 22 likely lethal points of damage. If this sounds like it's too much too soon for Modern, it's because it is.
Modern is currently very light on equipment presence, due to Stoneforge Mystic being banned. Since I'm pretty sure the Kor beauty is going to run free sooner or later, that's one reason more to keep Umezawa's Jitte safely locked away from the format. It is that scary. Though, not the scariest. One of these days, I'm gonna talk about the other forbidden equipment that makes Jitte look like a kiddie toy in comparison.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.
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