Last updated on February 1, 2023

Ronin Houndmaster - Illustration by Edward P. Beard, Jr

Ronin Houndmaster | Illustration by Edward P. Beard, Jr.

With Neon Dynasty making its rounds as the hit new set it’s about time we revisit a mechanic from the original Kamigawa sets: bushido. It’s a pretty neat mechanic that buffs your creature for the rest of the turn when they’re blocked or blocking, allowing them to win fights that their base stats might not otherwise overcome.

As cool as that sounds there’s a good handful with 37 creatures featuring the mechanic, 38 if you count the one blue card with bushido from Unhinged. That means you’re going to hit some duds here and there, so today I’m looking over the existing bushido cards to pick out the cream of the crop so we can avoid those duds in deckbuilding.

Ready? Let’s jump right in!

What Is Bushido in MTG?

Kitsune Blademaster - Illustration by Keith Garletts

Kitsune Blademaster | Illustration by Keith Garletts

Bushido is an ability that the Samurai creature type has access to that buffs them for the rest of the turn whenever they block or get blocked. The buff is proportional to the number that trails the bushido ability in the text, so bushido 2 means the creature gets +2/+2 whenever it blocks or is blocked.

Since there are so few bushido cards and most of them are in white with none in blue (excluding that one Un-set card) and only two in green, I’m not going to rank them by color. Instead, I’ve got a general top ten that rely on their own abilities and stats to get the job done without combo-ing with any synergies. Then I’ve got two sets of top fives to round the list out.

The Top Ten Bushido Cards

#10. Isao, Enlightened Bushi

Isao, Enlightened Bushi

Isao, Enlightened Bushi’s stats aren’t great, and regenerate is a little funky as a mechanic, but it can’t be countered, and sometimes that’s all you need. Bushido 2 makes up for its lower stats when fighting other creatures, and all you need is two mana to make sure it doesn’t die so you can come out on top of what would be trades in combat.

#9. Jade Avenger

Jade Avenger

Jade Avenger has nothing much going for it aside from being a good body as a 2/2 for two. But having bushido 2 makes it very strong to swing with or hold up as a blocker, whichever suits you best. Believe it or not, having an effective 4/4 blocker on turn 2 can deter some aggressive strategies.

#8. Fumiko the Lowblood

Fumiko the Lowblood

Fumiko the Lowblood has bushido X, where X is the number of attacking creatures. This card is super powerful in an aggro deck, which is likely what you’re running since you’re here. But its ability to force your opponent’s creatures to attack so that you can swing against an uncontested board on your turns really is fantastic.

#7. Toshiro Umezawa

Toshiro Umezawa

Toshiro Umezawa may have some average stats and a low bushido count, but it’s really on this list because it lets you play an instant from your graveyard whenever one of your opponent’s creatures dies. It’s a conditional flashback machine that’s very likely to put in some serious work.

It might seem like Toshiro is something that requires a combo, but let’s be honest, you’re likely playing with a good handful of removal if you’re playing in black. It doesn’t require any special setup since it combos with its own color concept.

#6. Hand of Cruelty

Hand of Cruelty

Finally into a different card color with Hand of Cruelty! It acts as the other side of the coin for Hand of Honor by wielding protection from white while holding the same stats and the same bushido count.

#5. Samurai of the Pale Curtain

Samurai of the Pale Curtain

Speaking of cool cards with unique abilities, Samurai of the Pale Curtain is also pretty wacky. It sends any permanents that would go from the battlefield to the graveyard straight to exile instead. This can help to make sure pesky cards won’t be coming back anytime soon against some of those graveyard synergy matchups.

#4. Opal-Eye, Konda’s Yojimbo

Opal-Eye, Konda's Yojimbo

A wildly cool card, Opal-Eye, Konda’s Yojimbo lets you redirect damage that’s flying around the battlefield. It’s super nice to be able to eat up burn damage or attacks from big creatures by using this as your scapegoat. Then again, that damage might not fly around anyways if your opponent knows it’s about to get redirected from its intended target.

On top of that, there are times when you can reduce the incoming damage that Opal-Eye takes to help it survive those bigger numbers, even if it’ll surely cost a lot.

#3. Kitsune Blademaster

Kitsune Blademaster

While Kitsune Blademaster is a tad underwhelming at 2/2 for three mana, it’s still got first strike attached to it. Your opponents will definitely think twice about blocking when it swings, which might net you a little free damage.

#2. Hand of Honor

Hand of Honor

A 2/2 for two mana is always perfectly fine, and when it has protection from black and the ability to crank its stats with bushido, Hand of Honor becomes a much more interesting combatant.

#1. Devoted Retainer

Devoted Retainer

Devoted Retainer is super simple and to the point. It’s a 1/1 body that’s a 2/2 when fighting another creature, making it more resilient than most one drops.

The Synergistic Five Bushido Cards

#5. Iizuka the Ruthless

Iizuka the Ruthless

So hear me out, I know that you have to kill off your Samurai for Iizuka the Ruthless but consider that every other Samurai you have gets double strike for the turn. Your other Samurai will thank you when they absolutely decimate big foes with this. They’ll also be happy to swing into an open board with double strike when given the chance.

#4. Sensei Golden-Tail

Sensei Golden-Tail

Sensei Golden-Tail is good in any bushido deck since it can hand out bushido to any creature that needs it. If you’re playing into Samurai tribal with your bushido then this card can help your other creatures benefit from the payoffs of being a Samurai and having bushido.

#3. Indebted Samurai

Indebted Samurai

Indebted Samurai is fantastic in any list that runs bushido since it’s going to have a lot of Samurai. And you probably have a few dying Samurai if you have a lot of them, meaning that this card is probably going to grow pretty big by the end of it all.

#2. Nagao, Bound by Honor

Nagao, Bound by Honor

Another buff for your creatures, but this time just Samurai and only when Nagao, Bound by Honor attacks and it’s only +1/+1. But you still can’t deny the applications of a conditionless buff when you swing your board at your opponent.

#1. Takeno, Samurai General

Takeno, Samurai General

Takeno, Samurai General is amazing with other bushido cards. It offers a buff around the clock for each point of bushido that a creature has, easily making it a favorite of mine out of everything that has bushido.

The Filler Five Bushido Cards

#5. Ronin Cliffrider

Ronin Cliffrider

Ronin Cliffrider is nice. It’s busted if you give it deathtouch, but otherwise, it’s a good creature to swing in with since it pings your opponent’s creatures and brings them all closer to that bushido range so that they’ll still die if they do block.

#4. Ronin Houndmaster

Ronin Houndmaster

Ronin Houndmaster is another super simple option as a 2/2 with haste and bushido 1 for three mana. I know you could ask for more, but this is honestly a sweet deal for a filler.

#3. Kitsune Dawnblade

Kitsune Dawnblade

There’s not a whole lot going for Kitsune Dawnblade besides acting as a way to tap down your opponent’s creature and open a way for you to attack while still netting a body on the board. This is useful enough so it’s justifiable as a pretty good filler piece.

#2. Konda, Lord of Eiganjo

Konda, Lord of Eiganjo

Konda, Lord of Eiganjo has a big cost, but it can pay off. It’s harder to deal with than just blocking since it has indestructible, and if it’s blocked it ramps up to an 8/8. It’s also got vigilance, making it a perfect choice to just keep swinging at your opponent with.

#1. Araba Mothrider

Araba Mothrider

Araba Mothrider is pretty simple as a  1/1 flying body with bushido 1. Super simple and easy to fill a slot.

Best Bushido Payoffs

Now that we’ve gone over the top ten bushido cards, how do you get them to actually pay off in practice? That’s the harder part, but it’s doable.

Start by playing with Samurai tribal. A lot of Samurai play off of each other, and it’s a lot easier to find cool combos with cards from Neon Dynasty. Door of Destinies and Vanquisher’s Banner will find you some great value in this type of list. You might also find decent support from changelings to fill out some of those missing spots in your list with more “Samurai.”

Why Is Bushido Considered a Design Mistake?

Oh boy, here we go. Bushido is largely considered a mistake because it’s boring and counterintuitive. Think about it.

Would you ever swing into a board that has bushido creatures that always just barely manage to be stronger? And if your opponent didn’t swing, would you swing with your bushido creatures to try and hit face, only to leave yourself open? No. Most of the time the answer is no. Bushido is a mechanic based on creatures that fails to inspire anything that’s not a game of chicken where the first person to swing concedes their advantage. It doesn’t provoke interesting gameplay.

I can see this mechanic being a lot more useful in a Limited format, but it’s practically pointless outside of that. It’s also very poorly priced. Rarely do you see any bushido cards that feel worth casting. There are a few on here that are vanilla aside from their bushido because they cost mana that’s proportional to their power and toughness and don’t tack on extra cost for the bushido points.

If more cards like Takeno, Samurai General existed that cared about points of bushido then we’d be looking at a super cool mechanic. Caring about the number of points of an ability that a creature has isn’t often explored, and I think bushido could easily make it out of its boring status and into something that would be fondly remembered if that aspect were more freely explored.

Does Bushido Stack?

Bushido kind of stacks? In the rulings for Sensei Golden-Tail, which can give a creature bushido 1, we see that “multiple instances of the bushido ability trigger separately,” which reads to me that a card can have, like, fifteen instances of bushido 1. Those bushido 1s won’t become bushido 15, but they are counted as fifteen instances of bushido 1 that all trigger separately.

What Does Bushido 2 Mean?

Bushido 2 means the same thing as bushido 1, but with a different value. Think of it like Bushido X, where the creature gets +X/+X where X is equal to whatever the bushido count is. So bushido 4 would be +4/+4, bushido 2 is +2/+2, and so on and so forth.

Is Bushido an Activated Ability?

Bushido is a triggered ability. It “activates” as a result of a condition being met, that condition being when the bushido creature becomes blocked or blocks another creature.

And We’re All Bushi-done

Araba Mothrider - Illustration by Anthony S. Waters

Araba Mothrider | Illustration by Anthony S. Waters

I hope you enjoyed this quick detour down the Samurai path, learning what to look for when using bushido to whatever extent you can manage. I know it isn’t the most exciting mechanic but it’s at least interesting when paired with the right synergies, especially playing into Samurai.

What do you think? Do you really like bushido and want to challenge the claim that it was a mistake in game design? I’m all down to hear about it in the comments below or over on Draftsim’s Twitter.

It’s been great having you here today. Stay safe, and I’ll see you in the next one!

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