Massacre Girl | Illustration by Chris Rallis
Fantasy games give you opportunities to roleplay all kinds of characters. Whether you’re waist deep in a D&D campaign or booting up your Nth save file of your favorite RPG, it’s fun to escape into someone else. Who shall you be today? A warrior? An archer? A druid? A noble?
There’s one class of slippery characters that excels at going unnoticed until their goals are met: the deadly clan of assassins. Killing is their strength, both in lore and in-game.
It shouldn’t surprise you that humans are the most common assassins, but which other creatures dabble in that trade? We’ve assembled an
Rogues’ Assassins’ Gallery for you to meet. But don’t worry; they’re all heavily sedated, and we took away all their weapons!
What Are Assassins in MTG?
Cruel Sadist | Illustration by Min Yum
Assassin is a creature class in Magic. Classes usually work to describe a creature’s role within a specific species. For example, “human assassin,” “merfolk wizard,” or “goblin rogue” are all species/class combinations. There’s no functional game difference between species and classes, and both are treated as creature types.
Royal Assassin from Alpha was the first assassin with the type. The vast majority (over 75%) of assassins are mono-black, but they dabble in other colors. As you’d expect, assassins often have abilities related to killing your opponents’ creatures. Deathtouch is common, but watch out for more elaborate options.
Just under 80 assassins exist in the game at the moment, but you should expect that number to go up. There’s an Assassin’s Creed Universes Beyond product coming, after all. There are also three cards and one Planechase plane that create Assassin tokens: Vraska the Unseen, Vraska, Swarm's Eminence, Queen Marchesa, and Paliano.
One card, Mari, the Killing Quill, links assassins to rogues and mercenaries, but there’s no overlap with ninjas. This is correct, and how things should be.
#41. Thrill-Kill Assassin
Thrill-Kill Assassin becomes offense-only if you unleash it when it enters the battlefield. It’s a pretty basic creature, but that’s fine. The flavor text referencing Massacre Girl isn’t foreshadowing; don’t worry about it.
#40. Scarblade Elite
Scarblade Elite takes advantage of the assassins in your graveyard. It can be useful and cheap (mana-wise) for a tribal deck, but not all assassins play into wanting your own cards in the ‘yard.
#39. Midnight Assassin
You don’t get many flying assassins, and that gives Midnight Assassin a leg up. Its best home is probably a Ramses, Assassin Lord deck that automatically makes its stats better.
#38. Cruel Sadist
This lil 1-drop is probably going to get better with more proliferation effects in print. Cruel Sadist can trade counters to deal damage, which is great when you can double counters or dole them out in other ways.
#37. Kraul Stinger
One of the few mono-green assassins, Kraul Stinger is a 3-mana insect with deathtouch and 2/2 combat stats. You won’t be able to run it in assassin tribal, but Fynn, the Fangbearer and its deathtouch payoffs can make use of the Stinger. And for the entomologists in the audience, do you think this assassin insect looks anything like an assassin bug?
#36. Termination Facilitator
Firing people is never fun, nor easy, but Termination Facilitator is here for all your end-of-employment needs. Oh. Not that kind of termination.
Termination Facilitator doesn’t care what kind of damage you’ve dealt to destroy a permanent, just that you’ve placed a bounty. Suddenly, your pingers and low-damage spells are that much more effective. The fact that you can give bounty counters to planeswalkers is just gravy.
#35. Aven Heartstabber
Aven Heartstabber is okay as a flier that can gain deathtouch and grow depending on the mana values in your graveyard. To care about that, you’re probably discarding and/or self-milling, which makes its death trigger useful to you.
#34. Hired Poisoner
This is just Typhoid Rats in human form. Hired Poisoner is a cheap deathtoucher for you, perfect to slot into the low part of your curve.
#33. Ruthless Ripper
Oh look! Another Typhoid Rats cosplayer, except with morph! That slight difference gives Ruthless Ripper an edge over Hired Poisoner.
#32. Kiku, Night’s Flower
You probably won’t run Kiku, Night's Flower as your commander, but it can work in the 99 of your assassins tribal. Really, it just reminds me of the “stop hitting yourself” gif from Tarzan.
#31. Guildsworn Prowler
Guildsworn Prowler can be a decent early-game attacking assassin for you. If it dies to anything other than blocking, you get a card. Sacrifice it, ping it, put it in a stew.
#30. Agent of the Fates
A “heroic” assassin sure feels oxymoronic, but here we are. Agent of the Fates offers you two ways to kill your opponents’ creatures aside from its 3/2 stats. Deathtouch is fairly basic for assassins, but nothing to sneeze at. The heroic trigger forces each opponent to sacrifice a creature, and it can take advantage of Killian, Ink Duelist’s cost reduction.
#29. Ochran Assassin
Ochran Assassin is a total distraction play. It likely won’t stick around long once you start attacking, but Golgari () is the right color pairing to seek reanimation to pair with it.
#28. Goblin Assassin
Goblin Assassin lives up to both of its creature types. The coin flipping fits into the impulsive and chaotic nature of goblins. Just make sure nobody at your table is using a double-headed coin. Of course if you do that, they’ll probably want to make sure your coin isn’t double-headed. Decisions, decisions.
#27. Xira, the Golden Sting
Have you heard the buzz? Xira, the Golden Sting is a waspy commander that’s here for an egg-cracking time. It’s easy to fall into the counters = proliferate trap, but that mechanic won’t matter much here. There aren’t many ways to get rid of the egg counters once they’re on, and Xira’s ability only cares if there’s an egg counter, not how many.
The ability doesn’t specify whose creature to target, so you can always “egg your creatures,” as it were. The egg counter doesn’t cause any harm to you, so if you run out of opposing creatures, why not? Then you can put eggs on the Insects that hatched from your eggs…. Wulfgar of Icewind Dale, Radiant Performer, and Drivnod, Carnage Dominus can all act as ability doublers for you, too.
#26. Kelsien, the Plague
Kelsien, the Plague is a pinger commander that gets you experience counters if your pinging targets die the same turn. Haste and vigilance give you incentives to attack with it, and you could always ping something after you attack on your turn. Mirrodin Avenged is a lovely MOM card draw instant that can become a cheap removal spell and help you to gain those counters.
#25. Twinblade Assassins
Rather than giving you a direct path to killing your opponents’ creatures, Twinblade Assassins pays you in cards during end steps if a creature died that turn. Twinblade Assassins is more likely to find itself in an elf tribal deck, especially if you’ve got a sacrifice outlet going.
#24. Mer-Ek Nightblade
Orc assassin? Why not? Mer-Ek Nightblade has a cheap outlast ability, and it gives all your creatures with +1/+1 counters deathtouch. Any counters deck that splashes into black should give this a look.
#23. Mogg Assassin
Are you flippin’ mad? Mogg Assassin lets you kill creatures when you tap it. It’ll depend on your coin luck whether you pick yours or your opponent’s target, but hey, that’s part of the fun!
#22. Guul Draz Assassin
Guul Draz Assassin is here to show you what level up can do on a 1-drop creature. As you level it up, you can activate its tapping ability to increase its -X/-X debuff to creatures. Perfect for taking care of an indestructible creature.
#21. Lys Alana Scarblade
Elves and discard engines, huh? If you’re running a bunch of elves, Lys Alana Scarblade can be a solid piece of repeatable removal. Less effective in the early game or to start a post-sweeper boardstate.
Nekrataal is so old that its original type line was “Summon Nekrataal” and it “buried” rather than “destroyed” a creature on ETB. Enters the battlefield abilities are still powerful and highly sought, so it’s not surprising that Nekrataal has come back around in reprints. First strike should also help it eek out some combat wins that it wouldn’t survive otherwise.
#19. Stronghold Assassin
Stronghold Assassin is a zombie that works as a sacrifice outlet and a removal engine. You have to tap it to activate its ability, so you’re either only doing it once per turn or running Twiddle and other untappers.
#18. Callidus Assassin
I love this. Callidus Assassin replaces whatever it copies, which is like stealing opponents’ creatures. Plus, it’s prime shapeshifter lore. I’ve been steeped in it: my roommate and I have been watching Fringe, Star Trek: Picard is doing a Borg/Dominion Phyrexian shapeshifters style storyline, and Disney-Marvel’s got Secret Invasion coming down the pipe. Look, I’d have talked Warhammer if I knew Warhammer, but a person’s only got so much they can follow.
Oh, I see. That’s how we’re playing it, huh? Forced sacrifice on an attack trigger. Then that forced sacrifice makes Thraximundar grow. And if your opponent is running their own aristocrats? Ha!
Oh gods, and Sheoldred's Edict just joined the meta…. I’m not going to ask what a zombie commander does with all the corpses left on the battlefield.
#16. Silumgar Assassin
Silumgar Assassin is a removal spell for your morph and megamorph decks. It also can’t be blocked by anything with more power than it. Kadena, Slinking Sorcerer is the perfect commander if you’re looking to put out your face-down creatures cheaply.
#15. Nightshade Assassin
Who doesn’t like an assassin with a bit of madness? Nightshade Assassin, like Nekrataal, gets its combat advantage from first strike rather than deathtouch, but it’s also got a stat-changing ETB that you can amplify by revealing cards from your hand. We like -X/-X for its ability to get around indestructible, and that madness gives Nightshade Assassin just a few more homes that it wouldn’t have otherwise. Hello Anje Falkenrath, hope you’re well.
Imagine waking up in a twilit cornfield, bound and gagged, with this fella staring down at you, cleaver in hand. Bloodchilling. Or thrilling. We don’t judge here.
Fleshtaker works both as a sacrifice outlet and a sacrifice payoff, which is tidy butcher work.
#13. Thorn of the Black Rose
Thorn of the Black Rose shows how assassins can be loyal to their patrons or their causes, fitting nicely into any story with political machinations. This assassin is focused on regicide, so that’s nice. The monarch status gets you extra cards, and the deathtouch makes opponents balance keeping the crown or keeping their creatures.
#12. Etrata, the Silencer
Don’t you just love alternate win conditions? Etrata, the Silencer is an unblockable vampire, and its combat damage trigger generates that alt wincon. It’ll absolutely be removal bait. I doubt your opponent’s wiping their own board every turn so that they don’t accumulate hit counters.
#11. Mari, the Killing Quill
Mari, the Killing Quill is the only card I’ve come across that has grouped the assassin, mercenary, and rogue classes together, but I don’t expect it to be the last. AMR is the new soldiers, warriors, and barbarians (SWB), pass it on.
There are other assassins that add hit counters, but Mari can remove them to get you Treasure.
#10. Virtus the Veiled
I’m having a déjà vu moment, but that’s because of my recent travels with giants. It may be designed to partner with Gorm the Great, but Virtus the Veiled is a little ridiculous even on its own. Any time you can cut through your opponents’ life at this rate, you should. Your assassin tribal can use Virtus, but I like the idea of putting it in a Kamiz, Obscura Oculus deck. Just slap some equipment or a white enchantment on it if you want to make it unblockable.
#9. Ravenloft Adventurer
Ah, Battle for Baldur’s Gate and those initiative plays. Dungeon crawlers, this might be your favorite assassin. The hit counters also help if you’re running Etrata, the Silencer and are looking to fuel that alt wincon. You can also use Ravenloft Adventurer’s attack trigger to put pressure on their life total. It’s a hair expensive in terms of mana, so you might trim it for a leaner curve.
#8. Dark Impostor
Continuing the imposter themes from Callidus Assassin, Dark Impostor exiles creatures and steals their activated abilities. It can be in your assassin-themed deck, but it sees its fair share of play in Edgar Markov decks too.
#7. Murderous Redcap
Persist is a great way to get more than one ETB activation out of Murderous Redcap, but Alesha, Who Smiles at Death can also grab it as part of its attack trigger. So you cast it, and it ETBs and does damage. Then it dies, persists, and comes back to do damage. It dies again, and now you grab it, tap it, and attack with it using Alesha’s attack trigger. Rinse and repeat. That’s just one of the ways you can take advantage of this goblin; you can skip the graveyard entirely if you cancel that -1/-1 counter in a +1/+1 counter strategy. And I’ll let goblin players sound off in the comments on how they use this lil guy.
#6. Anhelo, the Painter
Anhelo, the Painter enables all kinds of spell copying shenanigans, especially as your commander. You can include Double Vision in the same deck, or Talrand, Sky Summoner and Jadar, Ghoulcaller of Nephalia to pump out 2/2 tokens for you, perfect to pair with that casualty ability. It’s a shame that none of the assassin token-makers pump out anything above a 1/1.
#5. Ramses, Assassin Lord
Ramses, Assassin Lord sure lives up to its name. It buffs your other assassins, but you also get an alternative win condition. If an opponent loses during the same turn one of your assassins attacked them, you win. That’s giving the imp in me all kinds of nefarious notions.
#4. Royal Assassin
“Royal,” as in King Among Killers. Royal Assassin only costs three to get out, and it only needs to tap to destroy a target creature. That creature must be tapped, but there are lots of reasons that a creature could be tapped. They could have attacked, convoked another spell, or activated an ability. Or maybe you’ve cast a tapping Twiddle on it. You rascal, you.
#3. Big Game Hunter
Big Game Hunter essentially becomes a 1-drop in an Anje Falkenrath deck, while Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker can turn this into reusable removal. Madness, say I!
#2. Massacre Girl
Massacre Girl can be absolutely devastating to any battlefield with a lot of 1-toughness creatures. I’m looking at you, token strategies. She’s here for you. Hide your birds, hide your rats, hide your Eldrazi scions ‘cause they’re killing everybody out here.
#1. Queen Marchesa
All hail! I absolutely love the flavor and construction of this card. Queen Marchesa snatches The Monarch for you upon entering and doesn’t take kindly being crownless. Either you’re getting cards or you’re getting Assassin tokens. Hasty, deathtouchy Assassin tokens. Would you follow this queen’s banners into battle?
Best Assassin Payoffs
As a creature class, assassin often pairs with a creature species. Most of the popular species have multiple assassins to offer your deck, like humans, elves, and vampires.
Removal is important to most strategies. Not all deck themes can sleeve up lots of instant and sorcery removal options, but assassins can provide you some removal on a body.
A fair number of decent to good assassins are printed at common, so you could build a Pauper deck around them and similar creatures. Rogues and vampires could be good both mechanically and in terms of flavor. Credit to user jphsnake on Tapped Out for this deck featuring Thrill-Kill Assassin, Thorn of the Black Rose, and Ruthless Ripper. It’s a few years old, but it’s a decent starting point. How would you improve it?
Ramses, Assassin Lord gives you a lord commander (pun intended) for your tribal deck. You’ve got your pick of most of the assassins in the game, from the cheap Hired Poisoner to Royal Assassin and Massacre Girl.
Queen Marchesa makes you care about monarch, and Thorn of the Black Rose fits right in there too.
Other assassins, like Anhelo, the Painter, Etrata, the Silencer, and Mari, the Killing Quill can also be your commander. Not all assassin commanders are necessarily assassin tribal commanders, but they usually have something fun and flavorful to build around.
Ramses, Assassin Lord | Illustration by Manuel Castañon
That wraps up our adventure with assassins! As a creature class, they definitely add to the flavor of any plane we visit. Just like rogues, artificers, and soldiers, they’ve got a role in society, albeit a dark one. Yep, totally a black mana gang.
You know what’s missing though? We’ve got zombie assassins, treefolk assassins, faerie assassins…. But no turtle assassins. No cat assassins, either. A crying shame, I tell you.
Which assassins are your favorite? What do you want to see from them in the future, whether for Assassin’s Creed or a mainline product? Do you run assassins as a tribe, or do you sprinkle them into other strategies? Leave a killer comment below, and don’t forget to join the official Draftsim Discord.
Clean your blades and keep ‘em sharp!
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