Last updated on May 8, 2023
Kotose, the Silent Spider | Illustration Marta Nael
The number of ninjas in Magic has stealthily increased with the release of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. This is the most recent example of WotC revitalizing older tribes and mechanics through the lens of a modern MTG expansion. And with new ninjas lurking in the shadows, it’s time to examine the best ninjas in all of Magic.
Will Dimir () continue to dominate now that green has some ninjas of its own? Will any top ninjas come from the latest set? Would the best ninjas beat the best pirates? We’ll find all that out and more, but first:
What even counts as a ninja? Let’s talk about that!
What are Ninjas in MTG?
Mist-Syndicate Naga | Illustration by Randy Vargas
I’m going to count creatures with the subtype ninja for this list. Cards that include just the word ninja or produce ninjas but aren’t ninjas themselves don’t count. Sorry Kami of Restless Shadows, Kaito Shizuki, Ninja's Kunai, and Shuriken, but you just aren’t stealthy enough for this list!
Long held as the best ninja since its debut in Modern Horizons, Fallen Shinobi sees play in Commander and Modern. At least it did pre-Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer.
Getting to cast the top two cards of your opponent’s library for free can immediately end the game against a tapped-out opponent. Shinobi is the best card to punish players choosing not to block small or evasive creatures, especially if they haven’t seen any ninjutsu cards before.
Yuriko, The Tiger’s Shadow
A Commander of choice for ninja decks, Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow can ninjutsu from the command zone or from your hand. The rapidly accumulating card advantage alongside dealing extra damage each time a ninja you control deals damage to a player can quickly snowball games. Especially when a 1-drop gets through unchecked on turn 2.
Another ninja from Modern Horizons, Ingenious Infiltrator allows you to draw a card every time a ninja you control deals combat damage to a player. It can snowball the game after a single poor block from your opponent just like most of the other good ninjas.
Ninja of the Deep Hours
Ninja of the Deep Hours is a straightforward card-advantage ninja. Ninjutsu it in and draw a card whenever a creature goes unblocked. This ninja is a powerful card that can reset creatures with ETB abilities while still going up a card.
Mist-Syndicate Naga is another instance of a snowballing card that will take over the game on an empty board or with a single ninjutsu. You make a copy of it whenever it deals combat damage to a player. These copes can also make more token copies, or you can use them to ninjutsu other ninjas in by overwhelming the board.
Mistblade Shinobi is a ninja that can return your creatures for value or bounce your opponents’ creatures to help tempo them out and trigger more ninjutsu activations.
Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni is one of the more well-known ninjas. It can reanimate a creature from any graveyard if you deal combat damage with it and it’s very difficult to answer along with being a 5/4 with regenerate. And you can instantly take over a game if you get to ninjutsu it in. This is easily one of the most powerful ninjas in Magic.
Silent-Blade Oni is a tricky card to evaluate. While the effect is incredibly powerful, it requires a player that doesn’t block to have cards in hand worth casting while you have access to six mana. It would certainly be an all-star if the ninjutsu were cheaper, but it’ll still steal games when it gets value.
A classic effect in black, Throat Slitter destroys a nonblack creature when it deals damage. The creature does have to belong to the player you dealt damage to which is one of its only limitations.
Clone effects are very strong, but clone effects like Sakashima's Student that you can flash in with ninjutsu can instantly steal a game. Especially if you make a second copy of another powerful ninja or creature that has a damage trigger.
Higure, the Still Wind
A slightly over-costed effect, but you get to search up a ninja card from your library and put it into your hand when Higure, the Still Wind deals combat damage to a player. This can help you chain ninjutsu, especially with its second ability to make a ninja unblockable for two mana.
Higure will quickly end the game once it gets going, but it does take some work to get off the ground.
The newest ninja payoff card printed, Satoru Umezawa allows you to create ninjas out of any creature in your hand and you get to Anticipate every time you activate ninjutsu. Easily one of the better payoffs for any ninja deck.
Thousand-Faced Shadow is a cheap evasive threat that can easily enable other ninjas. You can also create permanent token copies of other powerful creatures to pressure your opponent later in the game.
Silver-Fur Master buffs ninjas and rogues while also making ninjutsu abilities cost less to activate. This can make some of the more expensive ninjutsu cards mentioned above a much higher power level on rate. This Master is a great addition to any ninja decks.
A ninja that can cheat in cheap artifacts is solid in any EDH deck. Mana rocks, Signets, and other threats all come in whenever Covert Technician deals combat damage. If you can pump the damage it deals then you can even cheat out bigger threats.
A 3/3 ninja for three that can also ninjutsu in for three mana, Biting-Palm Ninja enters with a menace counter that you can then remove when it deals combat damage to Thoughtseize your opponent. Not a bad rate, and being able to protect future spells is a strong ability. You can also keep the menace counter and make blocking even tougher later in the game.
Our first look at a green ninja and Kappa Tech-Wrecker acts as a deathtouch creature that can exchange the keyword to exile an artifact or enchantment an opponent controls as it deals damage. A solid disenchant that can also block well if you don’t need to use the disenchant mode.
Dokuchi Silencer allows you to discard a creature if it deals combat damage to destroy a creature or planeswalker that player controls. While not the best effect on rate, this works in a pinch when you need to answer a troublesome creature or planeswalker.
Kotose, the Silent Spider
Kotose, the Silent Spider exiles a nonbasic card from an opponent’s graveyard and then extracts all other copies from that player’s graveyard, hand, and library. You can also cast one of those cards spending mana as if it were any color if you control Kotose.
We’ve seen the power of being able to cast powerful spells from your opponent’s decks before. The downside to this card is that whatever you’re pulling has to already be in your opponent’s graveyard, but if there’s a good card already there then it’s yours to steal.
Moon-Circuit Hacker is a newer version of Ninja of the Deep Hours. While it only draws the turn it enters, that was always the true mode of Deep Hours. It still loots if it connects but you can likely ninjutsu it back to hand and then re-use the draw card later if it does.
Nashi, Moon Sage’s Scion
Like Fallen Shinobi, Nashi, Moon Sage's Scion allows you to cast a spell from the top of your library for free. But in this case you get one card from your deck and one from your opponent’s deck and choose which you want to play for free. And since Nashi says “play,” you can also play lands from the cards exiled if you want.
Our rare green ninja is Spring-Leaf Avenger. Avenger returns a target permanent from your graveyard to your hand, which is a powerful effect. But compared to a card like Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni it does feel slightly underwhelming.
Tatsunari, Toad Rider
The big toad ninja doesn’t work like the other ninjas on this list that rely on ninjutsu. Tatsunari, Toad Rider makes a 3/2 legendary Frog whenever you cast an enchantment spell if you don’t already have one in play. Then the Frog drains your opponent for each enchantment you cast with it out. Tatsunari can then give itself and a target frog unblockable, which smoothly enables other ninjutsu creatures.
Saiba Cryptomancer is the only ninja to come out of March of the Machine as well as the only new ninja since Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. It’s a basic 0/1 with flash for two that has hexproof and backup 1, which allows it to put a +1/+1 counter on a target creature. It’s a cute little combat trick on a stick, but not much more than that.
Best Ninja Payoffs
I already talked about Satoru Umezawa and what a massive payoff this card is for ninjutsu decks, so I won’t waste any more time on it. It’s good. You get it.
Prosperous Thief is a ninja-specific card that rewards you for having ninjas deal combat damage to an opponent. You get a Treasure token whenever one or more ninjas deals combat damage. So not only do you likely get the ability from the ninjutsu’d creature, you also get to ramp into your larger threats or replay the creature you bounced with ninjutsu right away.
You can use the Treasures to clear the way for ninjas and repeat this every turn if you can combine this effect with counterspells or removal.
Ingenious Infiltrator keeps your hand topped off as you draw a card whenever a ninja deals combat damage to an opponent. Drawing more cards in a ninja deck allows for more removal or counterspells to prevent further blocking, or better ninjas to ninjutsu.
One of the limiting factors for a deck like ninjas is that you give up so much info playing creatures and then bouncing them. But drawing an amassment of extra cards makes it easier to distort the contents of your hand and keep your opponent off-balance.
Which Sets Have Ninjas?
I’m only counting original printings of cards when it comes to what sets have ninjas. A lot of these cards have seen reprints in supplemental sets, but these are the original printings:
- Betrayers of Kamigawa: 8
- Modern Horizons: 8
- Commander 2018: 1
- Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty: 22
- March of the Machine: 1
Thousand-Faced Shadow | Illustration by Ekaterina Burmak
Neon Dynasty added a ton of new ninjas and payoffs for ninja cards. While some of the original ninjas still stand as top tier cards compared to the newer ones there’s a balancing act of using the old cards with the newer ones for any ninja deck.
Ninjas are a fun creature type that’s now seeing much more support than it did in the past. Hopefully we continue to see older mechanics like this getting bolstered in newer sets.
Let me know what you think the best ninjas ever printed are and if you want to see newer sets revitalizing older mechanics. Do you think this experiment wasn’t successful? What types of tribal decks would you next like to see reimagined and explored in the lens of modern Magic? Let me know in the comments down below or over on the official Draftsim Discord.
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