Last updated on March 23, 2023
Fallen Shinobi | Illustration by Tomasz Jedruszek
Magic certainly has a long list of complicated and unique mechanics, including everything from horsemanship to kicker. Ninjutsu is a keyword that has become one of the most popular in the entire game despite its rarity. It’s also the primary theme and win condition for thousands of decks.
Today I’m going to cover everything related to the ninjutsu mechanic, including how it works, how to stop it, the specifics behind the mechanic, and a neat ninjutsu Commander decklist.
Let’s get to it!
How Does Ninjutsu Work?
Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni (Secret Lair) | Illustration by JungShan
Ninjutsu is a keyword ability in Magic that was first introduced in Betrayers of Kamigawa. The mechanic is exclusive to ninja creatures and it essentially allows you to swap an attacking creature with a ninja from your hand.
This is a way to sneak in creatures to attack that aren’t even in play yet and take advantage of excellent abilities that only trigger when the creature deals combat damage to a player. This mechanic is exceptionally powerful; you can quickly run down your opponent (or even an entire table) when you have multiple ninjas that usually double or triple each other’s effectiveness.
What’s the Point of Ninjutsu?
The whole point of ninjutsu is that it threatens extreme damage or combat effects without revealing info to your opponents. It also greatly increases the threat level of unblockable or other small creatures because your opponent is now much more hellbent on blocking these attacks to deny you value.
Ninjas are also just a very cool creature type, and this ability is unique compared to other keywords. Activating from your hand is a very rare thing to see in Magic and it isn’t counter-able, which just adds to its effect.
The History of Ninjutsu in MTG
Ninjutsu was first introduced in Betrayers of Kamigawa in 2005 and has typically been reserved for reprint sets or preconstructed decks since then. It’s a very rare keyword as far as most non-evergreen mechanics go, and it’s actually only on 18 different creatures.
That said, it’s likely we’ll see an increase in the number of ninjutsu creatures with Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty’s release on the horizon since we’re getting 22 ninja creatures from the set, even if the mechanic doesn’t go evergreen.
What Colors Is Ninjutsu Primarily In?
Ninjutsu is a keyword exclusive to blue, black, and Dimir (). Every creature and their ninjutsu cost are one or both of these colors. But there are still ninja creatures that don’t have the keyword and are blue, black, or Dimir.
In terms of distribution it’s a 50/50 split between blue and black, with mono-blue and mono-black each having 41.2% of all ninjutsu cards while Dimir has 17.6%.
Is Ninjutsu Evergreen?
Ninjutsu is not an evergreen mechanic. It’s a very rare keyword reserved for the most powerful and unique ninjas in Magic. Evergreen status is reserved for keywords and mechanics that are more necessary to Magic in terms of intuitive play. Ninjutsu is an inherently complicated mechanic compared to something like trample or lifelink and would be difficult to explain to newer players on a larger scale.
Does Ninjutsu Use the Stack?
Ninjutsu does use the stack, but it can be tricky knowing when and what you can respond to. You return an unblocked attacker to your hand in addition to paying the mana cost. Then the creature is returned to your hand and the ninjutsu trigger goes onto the stack.
This is when priority is passed and your opponent can respond. Because of this they can’t use a Counterspell to stop the ability, only a Stifle. This results in the attacking creature still going to your hand and the mana being used, but the ninja creature never hits the field.
Can You Ninjutsu Before Blockers?
Ninjutsu can only be activated after blockers have been declared since returning an unblocked creature is part of the total cost of the ninjutsu card. If it were possible to ninjutsu before blockers, the card would read “return an attacking creature” and not “return an unblocked creature.”
When Can You Ninjutsu?
Ninjutsu can be activated before the damage step after blockers have been declared. Priority is passed back to the attacker after blockers are declared, at which point they can pay the total ninjutsu cost to put the ninjutsu activation on the stack.
Can You Block After Ninjutsu?
No, you can’t block after ninjutsu. Activating ninjutsu in the first place can only be done after blockers have been declared and before damage.
When the ninjutsu’d creature is on the field coming at you, you’ve already declared that it isn’t being blocked and are just waiting to go to the damage phase. You can’t go back or rewind and re-declare blockers with the public knowledge of a ninjutsu creature in your opponent’s hand. That would totally defeat the purpose of the mechanic.
Can You Ninjutsu After Damage?
Yes, you can ninjutsu after damage! A creature is unblocked the entire combat step, all the way until damage. This means that you could actually ninjutsu a creature that’s about to be killed in response to damage with something like a Lightning Bolt. This is just another layer of depth to the mechanic and isn’t something you’ll do often unless you play a ninja-themed deck, but it’s good to know just in case!
Can You Ninjutsu Multiple Times?
You can ninjutsu as many times as you’d like, assuming you have the mana for it. If you’re wondering about multiple unblocked attackers, you can just ninjutsu a different ninja for each unblocked creature.
If you’re looking to chain multiple ninjas off a single unblocked ninja, that’s also possible. Just chain them together by bouncing one unblocked creature for ninja A, then another for ninja B, so on and so forth.
Is Ninjutsu a Spell? Is it Considered Casting?
Ninjutsu isn’t a spell, it’s an activated ability. This means it’s prone to being stopped by Stifle effects but not Counterspells. This makes it a particularly potent keyword since it’s much harder to stop and it’s complicated to play around.
You aren’t casting anything when you ninjutsu a ninja into play, but make sure you understand that it does still go onto the stack, which is different.
Can You Counter Ninjutsu?
You can’t counter ninjutsu since it isn’t a spell but rather an ability of a card that’s being activated. That means while Pact of Negation or Force of Will won’t work, you can still defend yourself with Stifle or Disallow.
Of course, you could also just kill the ninjutsu’d creature once it comes into play with something as simple as Doom Blade or Lightning Bolt. Sometimes the best answers are the simplest ones.
Does Ninjutsu Target? Does Shroud Stop It?
Ninjutsu doesn’t target one of your creatures because returning an unblocked creature is the cost of activating the ability rather than something the ability does. Since it isn’t targeting anything, ninjutsu can still “select” a shrouded creature. This is a huge boon to the ninja player since having a bunch of small, unlockable creatures with shroud is an advantage.
Does Cursed Totem Stop Ninjutsu?
While ninjutsu is an activated and it might make sense for Cursed Totem and other stax pieces to stop the mechanic, the ninjutsu card isn’t on the battlefield. This means they aren’t affected by Cursed Totem because they’re not yet a permanent, which is out of the card’s range.
If a card with ninjutsu was successfully put onto the battlefield with a Cursed Totem out and it had some other activated abilities, then you wouldn’t be able to access and activate those because it’s now a permanent.
Does Ninjutsu Keep Equipment?
Unfortunately, the ninjas that come in through a successful use of ninjutsu don’t keep any equipment attached to the previously unblocked attacking creature. The creature was returned to your hand as part of the activation cost so all of the equipment attached to it became unattached. You also can’t then re-attach them to the ninjutsu creature since equipment can only be attached at sorcery speed unless specified otherwise.
Does Ninjutsu Trigger ETB?
Yes, creatures that come in attacking through a successful ninjutsu ability enter the battlefield as a part of that ability. So any other interactions or permanents that have an ETB ability will trigger. This is very important to know and understand, especially if you’re putting in something like Azra Smokeshaper.
Can You Change What the Ninjutsu Creature Is Attacking?
Since you’re returning a creature as part of the ninjutsu cost after blockers have been declared, there’s no time to change what the creatures are attacking or which creatures are attacking in the first place. Ninjutsu happens right before the damage step, which is after time to declare attacks.
This means that once a creature has entered through a ninjutsu activation it’s attacking whatever the creature that was returned to your hand was attacking originally.
How Do Commanders with Ninjutsu Work?
Ninjutsu cards don’t work from the command zone, with the exception of Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow. This is a special version of ninjutsu called “commander ninjutsu” that allows it to function from both the hand and the command zone. This isn’t affected by the commander tax so it doesn’t increase Yuriko’s casting cost when it’s sent back to the zone. This has led to an incredibly consistent turn 3 trigger since it’s easy to get out an early unblockable creature on turn 1 or 2.
List of Ninjutsu Cards
There are 18 creatures with the ninjutsu mechanic including Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow. There’s also a recently spoiled legendary creature from the new Kamigawa set, Satoru Umezawa. Satoru actually gives each creature in your hand ninjutsu for . There’s a lot of hype around this card in the Commander community and I’m personally very excited to see some turn 4 Eldrazi come down from this commander.
Here’s a complete list of all the creatures with the ninjutsu mechanic:
- Azra Smokeshaper
- Fallen Shinobi
- Higure, the Still Wind
- Ingenious Infiltrator
- Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
- Mistblade Shinobi
- Mist-Syndicate Naga
- Moonblade Shinobi
- Ninja of the Deep Hours
- Ninja of the New Moon
- Okiba-Gang Shinobi
- Sakashima's Student
- Satoru Umezawa
- Silent-Blade Oni
- Throat Slitter
- Walker of Secret Ways
- Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow
Best Ninjutsu Cards
Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow
Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow is one of the most popular and affordable Commander decks out there. It has incredible table-wide damage that goes toe-to-toe with even the highest power cEDH decks at such a low budget. Yuriko’s playstyle is incredibly fun and threatening and its abilities trigger for all other ninjas, not just itself, which makes it all the more powerful.
Fallen Shinobi is one of the most powerful ninjutsu creatures, let alone ninjas. Being able to not only steal two cards but also cast them for free creates such a huge tempo swing in your favor and can even strip combo pieces away from your opponents.
Satoru Umezawa has created a lot of hype as a possible commander. Being able to ninjutsu out huge Eldrazi or threats like Blightsteel Colossus attacking on turn 3 or 4 is unfathomable to me, and something I’m very excited for.
Decklist: Yuriko Ninjutsu in Commander
Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow | Illustration by Yongjae Choi
Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar
Higure, the Still Wind
Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
Ninja of the Deep Hours
Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive
Walker of Secret Ways
Commit // Memory
Dig Through Time
Karn's Temporal Sundering
Sea Gate Restoration
Sensei's Divining Top
Talisman of Dominance
Temple of Deceit
This is a quick sample list for an average Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow EDH deck. The general strategy is to get some early unblockable creatures like Baleful Strix, Changeling Outcast, or Dauthi Voidwalker out and then attack with two mana open to ninjutsu immediately. You win by flipping a lot of cards by attacking with lots of ninjas or flipping large cards like Temporal Trespass to deal massive amounts of damage to all players.
This deck can also be put together for very cheap. You’re able to connect quite easily and even win in games that last a while thanks to the lack of creatures in high-power EDH.
Walker of Secret Ways | Illustration by Scott M. Fischer
So that’s everything you need to know about ninjutsu in Magic! I really love this mechanic; something about getting a better version of haste and stealing cards with Fallen Shinobi just aligns with my playstyle. I’m really excited for Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty to see what new ninjas we get access to.
And then fail drafts with them.
What do you think? Do you think ninjutsu is one of the most fun keywords in the game, or is it maybe too unfun and hard to play around? Let me know in the comments below or head over at our Draftsim Discord.
Until next time, stay safe and stay healthy!
Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates:
If fallen Shinobi were in My graveyard, and another card gave me the ability to cast zombies from my graveyard like gisa and geralf, could I activate the ninjutsu from the graveyard as well?
Nope! Because Ninjutsu isn’t casting.