A Blast from my Personal Blast: Part 3 – Kamigawa Spirits and Ninjas (MtG)

I have fond memories of the Kamigawa block, which was Japanese mythology themed and had very flavorful and thematic cards as well as outstanding artwork and I especially liked the surreal Kami, Japanese Spirits, that were pretty much everywhere. Back then I didn’t have any really competitive decks and as far as I remember, I did not participate in any Standard or Block tournaments. Instead I played more or less casually with fun decks not built to compete on any official event or tournament. Three of those not too powerful but all the more creative and fun-to-play decks I want to showcase in my third installment of my “Blast from the Past” feature: Zuberas, Kirin Mill and Ninjas.

Let us start with Black-Green-Blue Zuberas:

Zuberas were a subtype of the in the world of Kamigawa very abundant and common Spirit Creature type that gave you an effect when they died that multiplied for each other Zubera put into your graveyard the same turn. Here is an example:

So when Floating Dream Zubera would die, he’d draw you at least one card plus another card for each other Zubera which went to the graveyard the same turn. There was a Zubera for every color and also two “larger” Zuberas with a different type of effect, which I skipped however. Let me show you the deck list first before I give you an overview how I used to play the deck:

Green/Blue/Black Zuberas (Casual):

Creatures…26

4 x Birds of Paradise

3 x Hana Kami

4 x Dripping-Tongue Zubera

4 x Ashen-Skin Zubera

4 x Floating-Dream Zubera

4 x Thief of Hope

3 x Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker

Instants & Sorceries…12

4 x Kodama’s Reach

4 x Rend Flesh

4 x Devouring Greed

Lands…22

12 x Forest

6 x Swamp

4 x Island

Well this deck is rather slow and “controlish” in the manner how it is played. The basic strategy is to play lots of Zuberas and sacrificing them to the key card and game winner in this deck, Devouring Greed:

As you can see, Devouring Greed will make your opponent lose 2 life for every Spirit you sacrifice upon casting it, then you’d gain that much life. So you’d best get out a few Zuberas and other Spirits and sac them all to Devouring Greed, making your opponent lose as much life as possible while making the most of your Zuberas’ effects. These are the following: The black Ashen-Skin Zubera makes your opponent discard 1 card for each Zubera put into the graveyard this turn, the blue Floating Dream Zubera would draw you as many cards and, probably best of the three, the green Dripping Tongue Zubera makes as many Spirit Creature tokens. The great thing about the green Zubera is that you can sac the Spirit Tokens created with it to Devouring Greed to up the total amount of life lost by your opponent and gained by yourself even further. This way, if your first devouring Greed does not kill right away, a second one should do the trick.

The other, non-Zubera Spirits are there for additional support and for their useful effects. Most notably, although I did not play that one origianlly, the legendary Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker, who returns every Spirit with Power 1 or less that went to the graveyard to play at the end of your turn. That is amazing for pulling off multiple Devouring Greeds on consecutive turns, as all your Zuberas qualify for Shirei’s Effect, each of them having a Power of 1.

Another very useful Kami (Spirit) is Hana Kami. You can sacrifice it and pay 1G to return any Instant or Sorcery with “Arcane” from your Graveyard to your hand. As you may or may not have noticed, your key card / win condition is of the Arcane subtype and can hence be retrieved with Hana Kami. Your other instants and sorceries are also Arcane and are good alternative targets. Furthermore, Hana Kami is a Spirit with a Power of 1, so when you sac it for its effect, it will respawn again and again through Shirei’s ability.

Thief of Hope can be useful to make your opponent lose some life and gain you some while doing so every time you play a Spirit or Arcane card. Also, it has the Soulshift ability, returning one of your cost 2 or lower Spirits to your hand when it dies.

Birds of Paradise are in the deck simply to make a three color deck like this one run more smoothly and consistently, avoiding the possibility of “Mana Screw” (being stuck with the wrong colors of Mana) at least to some degree.

Now let us move on to what I remember was the weakest and slowest of my three Kamigawa casual decks: Kirin Mill:

I always was and still am intrigued by mill decks and strategies, that is decks, which do not win by inflicting damage to reduce the opponent’s life total down to 0 but rather by “decking” them, running them out of cards in their libraries. Thus, one card in particular caught my eye in the Kamigawa cycle:

While this is certainly and by a far shot not the most powerful mill-card ever printed, I figured out a way to make best use of Cloudhoof Kirin’s effect. I fully realize however the the resulting deck would not stand a chance in a competitive environment, not today and not back in the Kamigawa Era, but it is the many interesting interactions the deck features which made it very enjoyable to play, even though it lacked the power to compete. Let us have a look at the decklist:

Kirin Mill (Casual):

Creatures…20

4 x Hana Kami (G)

4 x Sakura-Tribe Elder (1G)

4 x Haru-Onna (3G)

4 x Kiri-Onna (4U)

4 x Cloudhoof Kirin (3UU)

Instants…4

4 x Murmurs from Beyond (2U)

Sorceries…14

4 x Eye of Nowhere (UU)

4 x Kodama’s Reach (2G)

3 x Petals of Insight (4U)

3 x Heed the Mists (3UU)

Lands…22

12 x Forest

10 x Island

Well as mentioned initially, this deck is really slow with a high overall casting cost among the cards it features. So what you would do is play defensively, slow down your opponent with Eye of Nowhere early on while you stock up your Mana Base with Kodama’s Reach and draw cards with Murmurs from Beyond among other cards until you get enough mana to get your “Onnas” out and eventually draw into Cloudhoof Kirin. Once you got Kirin out, use your re-usable Spirit and Arcane Spells Haru-Onna, Kiri-Onna and Petals of Insight to mill for 4 – 5 cards each turn, hoping your opponet does not kill off Kirin too soon. Alternatively, as Kirin is a decent 4/4 Flyer, you can try to win by dealing a lethal amount of combat damage as well, although the main focus is on winning through Kirin’s mill effect. Your main ways of repeatedly milling your opponent are your Onnas and Petals of Insight, with the Onnas doubling as your main control and draw engines, engines, that are not exactly cheap to support though. Haru Onna costs 4, draws you 1 card when played and can be returned to your hand when you play a Spirit or Arcane Spell. Likewise, Kiri Onna, costing 5, returns a Creature of your choice to its owner’s hand and can be returned to hand as well when you play a Spirit of Arcane. This way, you can on the one hand draw and bounce (send an opponent Creature from play back to their hand) repeatedly and at the same time trigger your Kirin’s mill ability over and over again to send 4 – 5 cards from the opponent’s deck to their graveyard each time. Petals of Insight can be used repeatedly as well, at a cost of 5, as it lets you look at the top 3 cards of your deck, lets you put them back in any order and then lets you either draw 3 cards OR returns to your hand if you don’t, to be cast again later on. This will mill 5 cards every time you cast Petals of Insight. A very potent draw card in this particular deck with its high overall casting costs is Heed the Mists. At a cost of 5, you can put the top card of your deck into your Graveyard and draw a number of cards equal to the discarded card’s casting cost. You can set up some major draw if you put the cards on top of your deck in the right order with Petals of Insight previously.

Well this deck IS slow as I pointed out already, with Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kodama’s Reach alleviating the problem to some degree but once it gets rolling the interactions inherent to the deck can make for a pleasant, enjoyable gameplay experience.

Now let us move on to the third and last deck in this article, which is probably the one of the three with the most potential while still coming along with a huge fun factor: Blue-Green Ninjas (with a pinch of Black):

As you can see in the above example, the Kamigawa Ninjas have a special combat ability called Ninjutu. Besides the rather unattractive option of casting them for their regular cost, you can return an attacking and unblocked Creature from play to your hand to play a Ninja for its Ninjutsu cost tapped and attacking, virtually replacing the attacker you returned. That was usually combined with some great effects the Ninjas had when they dealt combat damage. Here is a deck I designed to make the most of the sneaky, always good for a nasty surprise Ninjutsu mechanic, which features some nice and quite creative ideas, which I haven’t seen anywhere else so far and which made the deck a ton of fun to play in the casual environment I used to play it in back then:

Green/Blue Ninjas (Casual):

Creatures…26

4 x Ornithopter

4 x Birds of Paradise

4 x Eternal Witness

2 x Walker of Secret Ways

4 x Mistblade Shinboi

4 x Ninja of the Deep Hours

2 x Throat Slitter

2 x Higure the Still Wind

Sorceries…4

4 x Kodama’s Reach

4 x Plow Under

Artifacts…6

4 x Shuriken

2 x Umezawa’s Jitte

Lands…22

4 x City of Brass

10 x Forest

8 x Island

2 x Swamp

The basic strategy behind this deck is to get out some cheap flyers in the form of the free-to-cast Ornithopter and the cheap Birds of Paradise, the latter conveniently doubling as man acceleration, and attack with them, even though they both have 0 Power to “Ninjutsu-in” some Ninjas with useful effects on the cheap. Ornithopter is great for this as you can immediately replay it for doing the Ninja-trick again next turn. Here’s what the different Ninjas do:

  • Mistblade Shinobi is a 1/1 with a Ninjutsu cost of 1 blue Mana which lets you return target Creature to its owner’s hand.
  • Ninja of the Deep Hours is a 2/2 for a Ninjutsu cost of just 1 blue which draws you a card whenever it deals damage.
  • Walker of Secret Ways is the weakest of the Ninjas in this deck but has the useful ability to return a Ninja you control to your hand at the cost of 1U so you can  play him via Ninjutsu again to get it’s effect once more.
  • Throat Slitter is the only reason why I am running a wee bit of black in the deck as he costs 2B and lets you destroy a nonblack Creature when he deals combat damage, which is a great way for this deck to get rid of opponent Creatures permanently.
  • Higure the Still Wind is kinda the boss of the other Ninjas and has some amazing effects. At the Ninjutsu cost of 2UU he lets you make any of your Ninjas unblockable for a turn by paying 2 generic Mana and what is more, when he deals damage to a player you can search your deck for any 1 Ninja and put it into your hand. That way, you will never run out of Ninjas and will always have the right Ninja for every situation.

The Equipments Shuriken and Umezawa’s Jitte are not only very flavorful and thematic additions to the deck, they are very useful in a build like that. While Shuriken is a great way to get rid of pesky blockers, as you can detach it from a Creature to deal 2 damage to target Creature, while Umezawa’s Jitte gives you a ton of options. Have a look for yourself:

What I am a bit proud of as I have to admit is a great card synergy I discovered to work well with the Ninjutsu abiltiy found so abundantly in this deck: I am running 4 Eternal Witness and 4 Plow Under, both amazing cards with the first one widely recognized as that and the second one, in my opinion, shamefull overlooked and underappreciated. Plow Under is basically a green double timewalk, which not only bereaves the opponent of 2 lands, but also ruins their next two draws as all they will draw will be the lands placed on their library by Plow Under. Now here is where Ninjutsu gets useful: Play Plow Under as early as possible and follow up with an Eternal Witness, retrieving Plow Under. Then attack with Witness and return it to your hand to exchange it with a Ninja from your hand. If you do that, you will be able to summon Eternal Witness over and over again to retrieve and play the crippling Plow Under repeatedly, effectively locking the opponent. You don’t need to do it in order to win, but having great side strategies and card synergies in a deck makes it much more fun to play for me personally.

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