Editor’s Note: In this series, CasualJake dives into a low-tier or off-meta deck, brings it to an FNM and reports on how it did and some of the matchups.
Ninjas, Rats and Rogues
For this week’s FNM Report, I’m sleeving up an exciting deck that features the most powerful tribe from Kamigawa: Rogues.
Okay, that last bit is a joke. This is a Rogues deck, but our latest visit to the plane of Kamigawa helps give our evasive rogues extra utility through the ninjutsu mechanic. This is a midrange deck which focuses on building up its boardstate and generating value as the game progresses with enough interaction to keep the opponent’s threats to a minimum.
Let’s dig a little deeper into some specific cards in this deck that steer it to success.
This being a modified rogues list, some usual suspects are bound to appear. Merfolk Windrobber is a 1/1 flyer that mills one card from the opponent’s library if it deals player damage. Also, if our opponent has eight or more cards in their graveyard, we can sacrifice it to draw a card. This helps us with card draw in longer games.
Our next staple is Thieves Guild Enforcer, arguably our best one-drop in the deck. In addition to its ability to flash in at instant speed, this card mills two cards from the opponent’s library whenever it or another rogue enters the battlefield. What’s more, if our opponent has eight or more cards in their graveyard, it gets +2/+1. Dropping the Enforcer in our first few turns can mill our opponent quickly while giving us early access to the abilities of our rogues. If you can play two Enforcers early, your opponent’s library will be looking scrawny in only a couple of turns.
Lastly, we have Soaring Thought-Thief, which also has flash. It is a 1/3 flyer that gives all of our rogues +1/+0 as long as our opponent has at least eight cards in their graveyard. Even better, whenever one or more rogues attack, our opponent mills two cards. This Lord effect alongside the flash keyword allows us to catch our opponent off guard and, more importantly, keep milling their library.
The majority of our rogues have evasion (especially Thieves Guild Enforcer’s deathtouch, which will make our opponents think twice before declaring an attack). This innate evasion allows us to easily hone in on our deck’s other major mechanic: ninjitsu. Moon-Circuit Hacker’s ability to be ninjitsued into play while also drawing a card whenever it deals damage exemplifies this strategy. Another card we can ninjitsu into play is Silver-Fur Master, a 2/2 which pumps all our other rogues and ninjas by +1/+1. Also, more importantly, Silver-Fur Master decreases the cost of all ninjutsu abilities by one colorless mana. This added mana is especially useful for our next card: Biting-Palm Ninja. Biting Palm has a ninjitsu cost of two colorless and one black mana and enters the battlefield with a menace counter. When it deals damage to an opponent, we can remove the menace counter to have our opponent reveal their hand and exile a nonland permanent from it. This exile effect is a definite boost to the deck because it prevents any graveyard recursion our opponent might have in their library.
Additionally, we can cause double the destruction through the Thousand-Face Shadow. This card’s innate evasion through flying already makes it ideal for our deck. However, it’s ninjutsu mechanic is where it truly shines. If Thousand-Face is ninjutsu-ed into the battlefield, it allows us to copy one of our other attacking creatures. In this circumstance, another Biting-Palm Ninja can shut our opponent out after we’ve already disrupted their hand by exiling a card. Other great candidates for this copy ability would be the previously-mentioned Silver-Fur Master, granting another Lord effect to our board-state while mitigating the fact that we’re only running two copies of the card.
This deck runs a few single copy, high value cards that we don’t necessarily need to play every match, but when necessary, have a big impact on the game whenever they make an appearance. To be transparent, I have not gotten to cast this card yet in my testing (awkward, I know). However, I still believe it’s a fairly powerful addition to the deck: Nashi, Moon Sage’s Scion. Nashi is a 3/2 with ninjutsu for three and one black mana. When it deals combat damage to an opponent, we exile the top card of their library. Until the end of turn, we can play the exiled card by paying life equal to its mana value rather than its cost. I definitely see this card putting in work if we can steal a game-ending creature from our opponent’s library or even simply a removal spell to help clear the board. Unfortunately, I haven’t actually had the chance to use this card, but I am interested to see how it performs when it does make an appearance.
However, Zareth San, the Trickster (the honorary ninja himself) is a card I have cast repeatedly and it’s won me numerous games. I say “honorary ninja” because – while the card doesn’t officially have the ninjutsu ability – for two, one black and one blue, we can return an unblocked attacking rogue and put Zareth onto the battlefield tapped and attacking. When this card deals combat damage to our opponent, we can select a permanent from their graveyard and put it on our battlefield. Of course, we will be milling our opponent with our other rogues, so hopefully we will have plenty of choices. Zareth can also be flashed in on our opponent’s end step for a surprise attack, but it is a little more advantageous to simply cast it using its printed ability. This card is a house in the deck and I often consider cutting Nashi for an additional copy of Zareth if it seems more viable given the matchup.
This deck features a pretty typical removal package. It runs four Fatal Push which “revolt” requirements can be met easily if we simply ninjutsu in a creature and return another. It has three Drown in the Loch, which can counter a spell or destroy a creature with mana values equal to or less than the number of cards in the opponent’s graveyard. Lastly, we run one copy of Tyrant’s Scorn, which can either destroy a creature with mana value three or less or return a target creature to its owner’s hand. This can be used both to bounce one of our opponents’ bigger blockers or even protect one of our creatures if the need arises.
As far as our sideboard, we have two Bloodchief’s Thirst for extra removal (especially for larger threats), two Duress to disrupt our opponent’s hand, two Graffdigger’s Cage for the Phoenix and Winota matchups, and two Crippling Fear as a one-sided board wipe. Three copies of Mystical Dispute can come in handy when needing to counter other blue opponents, one Brazen Borrower to bounce any nonland permanent and offer us another evasive rogue, as well as Kotose, the Silent Spider, which lets us pick apart our opponents combo pieces if we can get one of the pieces in their graveyard. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is a pseudo-Rest in Peace that exiles our opponent’s nontoken creatures when they die and gives us a 2/2 black zombie token. Lastly, we have a single copy of The Scarab God, which not only has our opponent lose X life and lets us scry X (where X is the number of zombies we control), but lets us reanimate any creature in any graveyard for two, one black, and one blue mana. Like Zareth San, this will let us leverage the cards we mill from our opponent’s library and use them for our own gain. Plus, when The Scarab God dies, we return it to our hand at the beginning of the next end step to make sure we always have a creature to cast.
The FNM Report
Location: The Game Closet, Waco TX
Date: April 1st, 2022
Result: 4th Place out of 10, 3-1
This deck is such a joy to pilot at FNM. All of my opponents assumed I was playing rogues but were pleasantly (or unpleasantly) surprised when the ninjas appeared! But in reality, my opponents hadn’t seen any ninja decks and were eager to see how this one played out.
Round 1 vs. Rakdos Midrange
Result: Loss, 1-2
This was a fairly even matchup but, mind you, it was my first match playing the deck. I had drawn hands and played my deck out on my own several times, but this was my first time playing it against someone and, with that considered, I think I fared well. My opponent’s Rakdos list looks to control our threats with cards like Fatal Push, Bloodchief’s Thirst, and even ping down our small creatures through Mayhem Devil’s triggers. Game one was grindy, but the opponent barely got the win. In Game two, we “steamrolled” them (their words; not mine) with some early rogues that they had trouble removing. We stole their Graveyard Trespasser from the graveyard with a Zareth San, which essentially spelled good game. In game three, I had to mulligan to five, and then quickly had our hand picked apart by two consecutive turn one and turn two Thoughtseize. We never quite recovered, and our opponent took game three before we had a chance to establish any sort of board.
Round 2 vs. Naya Winota
Result: Win, 2-1
Another meta matchup, this time ending in our favor. In game one, we had no interaction and Winota did what Winota does. Our opponent played a turn-one Llanowar Elves, turn-two Prosperous Innkeeper, and then turn-three Winota with two activations from the previous creatures. In game two, we sided in more removal: Graffdigger’s Cage and a card that would become very relevant: Crippling Fear. We were able to keep their board under control while maintaining leverage through our own board-state. When they managed to develop a boardstate, we were able to dig for Crippling Fear to clear their board and resolve a Graffdigger’s Cage to close out the game. Then in game three, we kept to the same plan but also snuck in a Zareth San to steal their Tovolar’s Huntmaster, which gave us an insane edge. With that, we quickly overtook the board and won the game.
Round 3 vs. Orzhov Auras
Result: Win, 2-0
This match was actually against my buddy from work, whom I play games with on our lunch break. For this matchup, I made sure to keep hands with removal so I could kill Lightpaws or Sram, Senior Edificer on sight and keep them from snowballing and gaining card advantage. While we had a quick game, this round remained in my mind because it encompassed the best part of FNM: the people and friendships that we make along the way; the gathering, if you will.
Round 4 vs. Rakdos Scourge of the Skyclave
Result: Win, 2-0
This was a neat deck and one I could see becoming more viable if more pieces are printed. Essentially, it’s a Rakdos symmetrical damage deck that plays Roiling Vortex and Stormfist Crusader and finishes off the match with Scourge of the Skyclave, Spawn of Mayhem, or Rankle, Master of Pranks. With our early interaction and some unlucky draws on our opponent’s end, we ended with a fairly quick win, though I have seen my opponent’s deck pack a punch in previous weeks. In game one, they kept a one-lander and were punished for it. Next, in game two, I held early interaction to stop them from developing any board at all. Afterwards, we chatted about cards they have ordered for the deck and how they plan to upgrade it. My opponent was a younger player (around highschool age) and they definitely have an intuitive and brewer’s mind and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
I had a blast playing this deck and would highly recommend it for a local FNM-style event. With Zendikar Rising pushing the rogue archetype into a viable deck, it has always had strong showings. I think the addition of ninjas, though, gives it even more flexibility and strength in terms of card advantage with cards like Moon-Circuit Hacker and hand disruption with Biting-Palm Ninja. Having ninjas at our disposal also keeps our opponents on edge anytime we go to combat. I definitely deem this deck “FNM Viable” and will be keeping it around for quite some time.
At the moment, I plan on keeping the deck essentially the same, but am still considering cutting Nashi for a second copy of Zareth San. Further, I plan to continue reevaluating my sideboard to adapt to my local meta, which is something I highly recommend you do as well, if you decide to sleeve this up. You might even have the shell for this deck sitting around from Standards past and all you have to do is grab some Kamigawa upgrades and you’ll be on your way to building a deck that is sure to keep your opponents on guard.