MTG Keywords Explained: Ninjutsu

Card Kingdom Strategy

This week, we conclude our look at Kamigawa block mechanics with one of the more popular and enduring of them all.

What is Ninjutsu?

Ninjutsu is one of those rare mechanics that only works when the card is in your hand. When you attack with a creature and it isn’t blocked, you may pay the ninjutsu cost of a card in your hand and then put it onto the battlefield in place of the unblocked creature. (The unblocked creature card goes to your hand.) The ninjutsu card enters the battlefield tapped and attacking whatever the original creature was attacking (e.g. a player or planeswalker).

Ninjutsu also has some interesting timing restrictions. Since the creature you’re swapping out needs to be unblocked, this ability only works during combat — specifically, anytime after blockers have been declared. Usually, this will be at the end of the declare blockers step, but if you wanted, you could also swap the creatures out at the end of combat, after damage.

Of note: you are not casting a spell when you do this; you’re activating an ability. Also, until the swap happens, the ninjutsu card is technically in your hand. So, if that’s the only card in your hand, you go to ninjutsu it in, and your opponent can make you discard…then you won’t have the creature anymore to make the swap, so it won’t happen.

Why Use Ninjutsu?

Of course, this begs the question: Why swap a creature with ninjutsu with the attacking creature you have on the battlefield?

Most of the time, a creature with ninjutsu will have useful abilities that trigger when they deal combat damage to a player. Ninja of the Deep Hours lets you draw a card when it deals combat damage, and Mistblade Shinobi can bounce your opponents’ creatures.

And at higher rarities, those triggered abilities get even more powerful. Sakashima’s Student becomes a copy of a creature, Ink-Eyes will steal a creature from your opponent’s graveyard, and Fallen Shinobi can steal spells from the top of your opponent’s library.

You can easy put these creatures all together to form a dedicated ninjutsu deck. You can load up on evasive creatures with abilities like flying or unblockable, too, to ensure you get through for combat damage as often as possible.

If you’re looking to build a ninjutsu Commander deck, check out Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow. Her commander ninjutsu ability will allow you to cast her from the command zone for as little as two mana, ignoring commander tax.

Ninjutsu is a very sneaky ability that can catch your opponent way off guard, and make them have to reconsider their blocking decisions. Check out all the creatures with ninjutsu here, and consider adding them to your decks!