Using stealth and finesse to move across the rooftops of Kamigawa and complete their missions, Magic the Gathering's Ninjas are some of the sneakiest and most difficult to deal with creatures in the entire game.
Part of that is because of the terrifying Ninjutsu ability. Opponents will always struggle to keep up with the game as you swap creatures in and out of combat, and they'll certainly never expect the massive things you can drop on the board almost for free. Here is everything you need to know about Magic's Ninjutsu mechanic.
What Is Ninjutsu?
Unlike most activated abilities, Ninjutsu is used while the creature with it is in your hand, not the battlefield. If a creature is attacking and hasn't been blocked, you can pay the Ninja's Ninjutsu cost. When you do, you return that unblocked attacking creature to your hand and put the Ninja onto the battlefield tapped and attacking the same target in its place.
For example, say you were attacking with a Shambling Ghoul, and your opponent decided not to block it. In your hand, you have a Ninja of the New Moon. As long as it is still in the combat phase of the turn, you can pay three generic mana and one black at any time to return the Shambling Ghoul to your hand and put the Ninja of the New Moon out onto the battlefield tapped and attacking instead.
There are a few things about Ninjutsu to keep in mind. The most important one is that your window for using Ninjutsu closes at the end of the End of Combat Step. That means, if you really wanted to, you could attack and deal damage with your original creature, and then use Ninjutsu when you get priority at the end of the combat damage step. If you use Ninjutsu after damage, the creature coming in will still count as having attacked, but it won't deal any further damage.
Creatures that have been Ninjutsu'd in are treated as brand new creatures. That means any Auras, counters, or equipment fall off the original creature when it goes back to your hand, and aren't placed onto the Ninja that comes in.
Ninjutsu isn't casting a creature, all it does is put the creature onto the battlefield. If you have anything that triggers when a creature enters the battlefield, it will trigger with Ninjutsu. Anything that triggers when a creature spell is cast, on the other hand, will not. Likewise, anything that changes the amount you have to pay to cast a spell, like an Andradite Leech, won't affect the Ninjutsu cost.
What Is Commander Ninjutsu?
There is a one-off variant of Ninjutsu found on the card Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow that is only used in the Commander format.
The only difference between Commander Ninjutsu and normal Ninjutsu is that you can use it from the Command Zone as well as your hand. That means you can Ninjutsu in Yuriko no matter if she's in your hand on in the Commander Zone.
The key benefit of Commander Ninjutsu is that Ninjutsu isn't casting the creature from the Command Zone, and so it isn't subject to the Commander Tax. You could Ninjutsu in Yuriko a dozen times in a game, but your Commander tax will still only the mana cost plus an additional two generic for each other time you've cast it that game.
How To Use Ninjutsu
Ninjutsu can be a really scary ability to play against, because it can be so unexpected. The first time you do it could completely catch your opponent off-guard, and from then on they may try and block everything regardless of if it's a good move to do so, just to avoid any more Ninjas jumping in.
Ninjutsu works best alongside "sabotage" effects – anything that triggers when combat damage is dealt. A lot of creatures with Ninjutsu have these as added bonuses, such as Throat Slitter destroying a nonblack creature controlled by the player you attacked.
Finding ways to make your original attacker more difficult to block is also worthwhile. Whether that's through making a lot of creature tokens and throwing all of them at once and hoping one gets through, or giving your creatures evasive abilities like flying or menace.
Ninjutsu's biggest weakness is that it's limited to just a single creature type, so you'll only be able to drop Ninjas onto the battlefield. But even that's something you can work around. There are cards like Sakashima's Student, which enters as a copy of any other creature on the battlefield, or the new, terrifying Ninja commander from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, Satoru Umezawa.
Satoru Umezawa gives every creature in your hand Ninjutsu, regardless of its creature type. If you want to drop a Kozilek, Butcher or Truth and hit them with an unblocked 12/12 that forces them to sacrifice four permanents, you absolutely can.
What Colour Is Ninjutsu?
As Ninjas are an exclusively black and blue creature type, Ninjutsu is only found in the Dimir colours.
As of writing (before the full Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty reveal), there are 18 cards with Ninjutsu, including Yuriko's Commander variant. Seven of them are blue, six are black, and five are Dimir (blue/black).
There are no colourless cards with Ninjutsu, though with the cyberpunk-themed Neon Dynasty only a few weeks away, maybe that will change?
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