The companion mechanic has totally disrupted Modern deck-building practices. Although Ikoria, Lair of Behemoths is still relatively new, players are up in arms over how easily companion conditions are met. Despite this, there are indications that rogue strategies can enjoy success without the powerful mechanic. One of these fringe archetype saw a boon last year thanks to the release of Modern Horizons.
Modern Horizons was the first expansion of its kind, allowing players to open new Modern-legal cards unencumbered by Standard legality. Instead, Modern Horizons embraced the supplemental approach with its influence, impacting everything—Legacy, Pauper, Commander, and in particular, Modern. Modern Horizons celebrated characters from Magic's past with Urza, High Lord Artificer, and Yawgmoth, Thran Physician headlining the set. Old mechanics—suspend, cascade—sparked interest in enfranchised players. Notwithstanding, Modern Horizons is strongly tribal orientated, thanks to the return of various well-loved subtypes such as slivers. In addition, Modern Horizons has created a considerable number of new shapeshifters with the changeling ability that honors all tribes. This week, we are looking at a tribe that saw extensive support from Modern Horizons: Ninjas.
Ninjas have been long-loved by players; they look cool and have a sweet ability: ninjustu. However, Ninjas have continually missed the mark thanks to a lack of volume of decent creatures to support a viable tribal strategy. In the past, the biggest draw to playing Ninjas in Modern was Ninja of the Deep Hours, but players struggled to find other Ninjas capable of making a comparable impact. With the release of Modern Horizons, however, there are enough Modern-legal Ninjas to enable competitive decks. Although Ninjas may never see top-tier competitive play, they are fully capable of spiking an FNM or even on Magic Online Modern League with a bit of practice.
adriaferrer's low-to-the ground strategy secures victory by getting ahead early with cheap, evasive threats, forcing opponents to play headlong into tempo blowouts like Remand and Spellstutter Sprite. Given the color pairing, it's tempting to view this deck as a pure control strategy that aims to out-grind opponents and close out games with Fallen Shinobi, but that is far from the case. A tempo approach allows for a lot of gameplan flexiblity, but just like most blue-based Modern strategies, that flexibility comes at a price—adriaferrer's list rounds out at roughly $600. Fortunately, the Ninja shell is affordable and boasts a suite of powerful cards.
Ingenious Infiltrator offers Ninjas an additional means with which to draw cards. It also happens to marry well with Changeling Outcast. What makes Ingenious Infiltrator so good is that its ninjistu cost is two mana, which gives the deck a powerful sequence of one-mana evasive threat into Ingenious Infiltrator or Ninja of the Deep Hours that starts the card-drawing engine.
adriaferrer's deck has a strong Faerie subtheme that provides more evasive threats to allow ninjistu to work. Faerie Seer has a Serum Visions-lite effect to control your draws, and alongside Spellstutter Sprite, it's one of the best creatures to "buy back" with ninjutsu, providing that incremental advantage that serves as the backbone of the strategy. Spellstutter Sprite operates as a Counterspell that doubles as a threat that only becomes more effective with Changeling Outcast and Faerie Seer on the field. Unfortunately, synergy this cheap, effective, and threatening comes with drawbacks.
The ninjutsu ability is essentially a sorcery speed effect that can be disrupted during your attack phase. Because of this, players need anticipate and be prepared for any opposing removal. Because the deck is blue, it has a wealth of options to protect its Ninjas, especially in the form of Counterspell, without leaning on Spellstutter Sprite completely. It's important to have access to cheap or "free" Counterspell; Remand, Mana Leak, and Force of Negation are all excellent contextually. Admittedly, Force of Negation is not budget-friendly, so I'd recommend either Drown in the Loch or Countersquall as substitutes for the time being. On the other hand, the black splash gives the deck access to clean removal in Dismember and Fatal Push, allowing its creatures to push through as much damage as possible.
This build is a competitive take on the tribe with a decent land-base to support the strategy. Fortunately, the heart of Dimir Ninjas is incredibly affordable, as it is made up of commons and uncommons. If you want to go cheaper, you can opt out of Darkslick Shores for two more basics and two more Drowned Catacombs. However, given the deck's low land count, it is important to have access to both colors as early as possible, which Darkslick Shores achieves smoothly.
Rounding out the budget list are Spectral Sailor and Nimble Obstructionist, providing late-game value via card draw. Nimble Obstructionist in particular is an excellent target to buy back with ninjutsu. Vintage Cube All-Star Fallen Shinobi can win games on its own; although Fallen Shinobi's triggered ability is variance-oriented, the 5/4 body alone may be enough to close out games by itself. However, you don't want to fall into the trap of running too many Fallen Shinobi—given the low land count of the deck, its four-mana ninjustu cost may be too high.
With regards to upgrades, I would suggest beginning with the land base first. Polluted Delta (replacing Underground River) is a particularly important swap. Any other blue fetchland is a sufficient replacement, but having additional fetchable access to basic Swamp is the ultimate goal. Force of Negation is a powerful disruptive spell that allows us to go "all-in" on the Ninja gameplan with backup. I would prioritize picking those up (replacing Drown in the Loch) because of the importance of protecting a win condition. Finally, the addition of Brazen Borrower is perfect for what this deck wants to achieve. It's evasive, interactive, and is an excellent ninjutsu candidate, allowing you to cast Brazen Borrower multiple times over. Brazen Borrower has decreased in value since the release of this years' Challenger Decks, which create a great opportunity to pick them up. On the other hand, you can run Vendilion Clique instead if you want maindeck hand disruption that also benefits from ninjutsu.
Your sideboard should reflect your local metagame. However, Thoughtseize is a great broad answer to various Modern strategies. Leyline of the Void is great if your metagame leans towards graveyard strategies, but you can get away with Nihil Spellbomb or Tormod's Crypt, which achieve the same goal. The inclusion of Bitterblossom allows a continuous stream of threats that almost guarantee you'll be able to ninjustu out all of your threats. While expensive, they are a great option to have but are not essential. While there is no replacement for Bitterblossom, Dreadhorde Invasion can do in a pinch if you are desperate to run a similar effect on a budget.
Sea-Dasher Octopus hits plenty of the notes that this deck wants its cards to hit. It's evasive, reactive, and rewards you for dealing combat damage to players. While it could potentially feel narrow given we already have Ninjas that achieve this effect, it may warrant some testing; if a creature that mutated with Sea-Dasher Octopus gets ninjustued back to our hand, we would get both cards back to cast again. I'm definitely going to try this out in soon, but be sure not to mutate on a Changeling Outcast or a Ninja of the Deep Hours—they're humans!
For $70, you can play a strategy that utilizes a similar approach to Modern Ninjas, allowing you to get additional experience playing the archetype. Mono-Blue Delver is a favorite of mine to play in Pauper because of the incredible versatility it offers. Its gameplan is similar to its Modern counterpart: stick a cheap evasive threat, ninjustu a Ninja of the Deep Hours, and protect it with reactive spells like Snap and Counterspell. Of One Mind is an Ikoria consideration for Mono-Blue Delver since its discount criteria is easy to meet. You can gain mileage from your powerful commons by playing Pauper, which I implore you to check out. It's a budget-friendly, underrated format!
Although it may look like a Modern Horizons draft deck, Dimir Ninjas is a bunch of fun, capable of success at FNM and Magic Online. While it may never reach the Tier 1 threshold, Dimir Ninjas brings something unique to the table, which is one of the best characteristics of the Modern format. Tempo strategies are favored in uninteractive metgames, which may be the future of Modern, especially as companions assert their dominance. Modern is a format that rewards you for playing something that you love as long as you put the effort in, and Dimir Ninjas is a strategy that can benefit from this approach.
Besides, who doesn't love jamming Ninjas?