Last updated on December 28, 2022
Risona, Asari Commander | Illustration by Ekaterina Burmak
Samurai are very present in pop culture, mainly media influenced by Japan like anime, movies, and video games. Although MTG has various warriors, soldiers, knights and the like, it wouldn’t make sense to make a type of creature so narrow, right?
Well, enter the plane of Kamigawa, which is clearly based on a number of Japanese mythologies. MTG designers knew right from the start that samurai would be expected. Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty was a big opportunity to bring samurai back to the game, and with new sets comes new designs.
Like Theros with minotaurs, the number of playable samurai has raised. Today it’s time to revisit the creature type and rank the best samurai in Magic!
What are Samurai in MTG?
Akki Battle Squad | Illustration by Steve Prescott
Samurai are one of the various creature types present in Magic. They’re found mostly in white and red colors, but also occasionally in black, blue, or green. There are currently 66 creatures in Magic printed with the samurai type, though some of them are the back side of sagas.
With the exception of master sets like Modern Horizons 2 and Commander 2020, all samurai have been printed in Kamigawa sets like Champions of Kamigawa, Betrayers of Kamigawa, and the last iteration in Neon Dynasty and Neon Dynasty Commander. Samurai had a related mechanic and play style in each Kamigawa set.
In 2004’s Kamigawa, the mechanic was bushido, which gives samurai +X/+X until the end of the turn if it blocks or gets blocked. In 2022’s Neon Dynasty, the theme is “whenever a samurai or warrior attacks alone.” It’s also worth noting that the original Champions of Kamigawa had a gimmick where each rare would be legendary.
But that’s enough background. Let’s get to the best samurai in the game!
#25. Sky-Blessed Samurai
You’d need a deck that has an enchantment plan or various creatures for Sky-Blessed Samurai to be good. And that’s it, no special or enter-the-battlefield abilities.
#24. Sunblade Samurai
Sunblade Samurai is mostly here for the plainscycling and the channel ability. It’s nice when a card has a relevant body and can be discarded to find a land if needed.
#23. Kosei, Penitent Warlord
Look, the number of hoops necessary to make Kosei, Penitent Warlord work are many, but the upside is there. You’ll need to equip it, enchant it, and put a +1/+1 counter.
But after all that you’ll draw a bunch of cards and hit everyone else with commander damage. Cards like Forced Adaptation are nice because they fill two roles: the aura and the +1/+1 counter. Voltron it up extreme.
#22. Toshiro Umezawa
I don’t know what the best way to play Toshiro Umezawa is, but it at least good synergies with cheap removal like Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt. Kill a guy, give flashback to a removal spell, repeat.
#21. Sensei Golden-Tail
A 2-drop that makes your other creatures samurais with bushido 1, although very slowly. Sensei Golden-Tail almost reminds me of the outlast mechanic.
#20. Konda’s Hatamoto
If you’re playing an EDH deck with a legendary samurai as your commander, Konda's Hatamoto will be a 2/4 with vigilance for two mana with bushido 1. Sounds like a great warrior to me.
#19. Ironsoul Enforcer
An artifact reanimator creature in white? Ironsoul Enforcer is nice with artifact creatures and artifact sacrifice synergies.
Or maybe you’ll pull this card alongside colors with more self-mill and reanimate something more powerful like a Myr Battlesphere or Kaldra Compleat.
#18. Jade Avenger
A 2-drop with bushido 2 is nice because it’s almost unblockable in the early game. When Jade Avenger needs to block it will trade higher. All in all a nice package on a 2-drop.
#17. Konda, Lord of Eiganjo
A 3/3 with vigilance and indestructible is very good. The problem is that Konda, Lord of Eiganjo costs seven, so it’s practically a ramp target. But your opponent has to choose between losing a creature to chump blocking (because bushido 5) or taking three damage once it gets going.
#16. Isao, Enlightened Bushi
Isao, Enlightened Bushi has flash and bushido 2, which means it can be a 4/3 surprise blocker if needed. I think that this is the most exciting part of the card. It also regenerates for two, which is cool
#15. Bushi Tenderfoot / Kenzo the Hardhearted
Another exception here, Bushi Tenderfoot is a flip card, which is a human soldier that flips into a mighty samurai as the result of its training. The samurai side (Kenzo the Hardhearted) is very powerful as a 3/4 with double strike and bushido 2.
It would rank better in the list if the transformation was easier. You’ll need to attack, hoping that an opponent’s creature blocks and Bushi lives via a combat trick or damage prevention. It’s a bit easier with effects like Ambuscade and Clear Shot.
#14. Nagao, Bound by Honor
Nagao, Bound by Honor is a decent creature that only takes one attack to buff all your samurai (including itself). The nice part is that you’re already attacking with a bunch of samurai to capitalize on the bonus, and most of them have bushido if they’re blocked, so it’s not going to end well for your opponent.
#13. Life of Toshiro Umezawa / Memory of Toshiro
I know Life of Toshiro Umezawa is a saga, but the enchantment creature is a samurai, so it’s valid by my book.
The saga mimics two triggers from Umezawa's Jitte, which most of you have already heard of. Memory of Toshiro is a passable card that can ramp an instant or sorcery, but the real value is in the saga itself.
#12. Akki Battle Squad
Akki Battle Squad is a 6/6 for six, which is already good. They care about modified creatures, and it’s fairly easy to make a good army and attack again between +1/+1 counters and cheap equipment.
#11. Iizuka the Ruthless
Iizuka the Ruthless can give your other samurai double strike along with its bushido 2. The bad thing is having to sacrifice a samurai (including itself), but there are plenty of samurai token makers and even changelings.
#10. Asari Captain
A 4/3 with haste that can attack as a beefier creature is a good source of damage, and you can attack with a lesser samurai or warrior if you don’t want to lose Asari Captain. And don’t be afraid to attack with all creatures and lose the “attacking alone” bonus. This card is flexible.
#9. Takeno, Samurai General
Takeno, Samurai General is a bushido lord. Konda, Lord of Eiganjo will get +5/+5 alongside Takeno. But even the most samurai that have bushido 1 will benefit from this.
#8. Mothrider Cavalry
A design for Alchemy, but Mothrider Cavalry is a good one that you want to have laying around giving +1/+1 to all your buddies.
#7. Goro-Goro, Disciple of Ryusei
Goro-Goro, Disciple of Ryusei requires that you have some modified creatures laying around, and you’ll be able to pay five mana to make a 5/5 flier if you do. That’s pretty good by my book, and the fail case is paying to give another creature haste.
#6. Reinforced Ronin
Goblin Guide it’s not, but… Reinforced Ronin is close. It’s being played in red aggressive decks in Constructed formats because paying one mana and getting a 2/2 with haste is fine. Just use the channel ability to cycle when the card isn’t good enough.
#5. Chishiro, the Shattered Blade
Chishiro, the Shattered Blade is meant to be the commander for a deck that revolves around modified, which is the theme for red and green in its set. Playing auras and equipment will make subsequently 2/2s, and Chishiro has lots of synergies with tokens and equipment.
#4. Imperial Blademaster
Imperial Blademaster was designed for Alchemy: Neon Dynasty, and it’s a 2/2 double strike for three, a good rate for a rare. When a samurai or warrior attack alone, you get a card for your effort. And its spellbook is composed of a bunch of samurai ranging from good to bad, including the rare sorcery Eiganjo Uprising.
#3. Risona, Asari Commander
I like Risona, Asari Commander’s design because it gets an indestructible counter when it deals combat damage. But it loses a counter when you’re dealt combat damage.
Risona is keeping scores of the battle. A 3/3 haste for three is a good rate otherwise, and it’s got a good effect on top.
#2. Raiyuu, Storm’s Edge
Raiyuu, Storm's Edge has a good attack trigger to be copied with Isshin, Two Heavens as One. A 3/3 with first strike should attack without any trouble, especially when you consider the “when a samurai or warrior attack alone” effect.
#1. Isshin, Two Heavens as One
Isshin, Two Heavens as One is one of the most popular Mardu () commanders out there. Everybody loves doubling effects. Doubling the attack triggers on creatures is a huge deal, and after that Isshin is a 3/3 for three mana which is okay.
Best Samurai Payoffs
Cards that care about a samurai or warrior attacking alone are found in Boros () colors in Neon Dynasty. Ancestral Katana is an equipment card that can attach to another samurai that’s attacking as long as they’re attacking alone. Asari Captain offers an effect that’s similar to the exalted mechanic.
Call to Glory is a cheap “pump all creatures you control” effect as long as they’re samurai.
Nagao, Bound by Honor is kind of a samurai lord, at least when attacking.
Godo, Bandit Warlord is a card that can make multiple attack steps for it and your samurai. A red Commander deck with Godo can have lots of red samurai by its side. It’s also worth noting that its attack trigger can be doubled with some cards like Isshin, Two Heavens as One.
Generic tribal cards like Metallic Mimic, Radiant Destiny, and Adaptive Automaton are good for samurai.
The Wandering Emperor is an excellent card that makes samurai tokens, but you’ll play it in almost any white deck anyway.
Oathkeeper, Takeno's Daisho is an equipment that has synergies with samurai creatures.
Isshin, Two Heavens as One is excellent since a lot of samurai have attack triggers and are in Boros colors.
Do Samurai Count as Warriors?
No, samurai are not warriors. These are both separate and individual creature types.
Is Isshin, Two Heavens as One a Good Commander?
Isshin is definitely one of the most popular Mardu commanders, and one that got the most hype in the recent Kamigawa set. One interesting thing about Isshin is that lots of Mardu cards have an attack trigger that says “untap your other creatures and there’s an additional attack phase.”
This is an excellent trigger to double, granting you multiple combat steps and potentially killing an opponent or two. Another card to keep in mind that’s perfect in an Isshin deck is Fervent Charge, which was a bulk common but is now a $15+ card.
Kosei, Penitent Warlord | Illustration by Matt Stewart
Samurai are unfortunately on the weaker side since the original Kamigawa block is known for having a lower power level. There are some Commander decks inspired by some legendary samurai designed in 2004, maybe driven by nostalgia, but they’re actually very weak.
There’s something to be said about the design of rares in the original Kamigawa in the sense that there were more unique build-around legendary creatures. Today this is a given thanks to the popularity of EDH.
Did I miss any notable samurai? Maybe some should have been ranked higher, or lower? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or over on the Draftsim Twitter.
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