injaffinatog. The deck that strikes fear into the hearts of players everywhere. This week's evolution comes straight from an argument about a relatively unplayed Mirrodin
common—and from that argument came the most mashed-up, confused, rareless undefeated deck ever seen on Building on a Budget!
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I was sorting through a bunch of Mirrodin foil cards for my day job when I came across Hunger of the Nim. Hunger of the Nim is essentially a one-shot Cranial Plating, at sorcery speed. So I asked oft-time Pro Tour player Chris Woltereck "How come nobody plays this card? I always see people losing to a top-decked Cranial Plating when they are playing against Affinity, so why not play this instead of something like Shrapnel Blast? You're probably going to hit for more than 5 damage!"
"Well," Chris responded, "it's a sorcery and Shrapnel Blast can hit creatures. Plus, you need evasion guys if you're going to use Hunger. What about Ornithopter?"
"And if you play Ornithopter, you get to play Ninjas!"
"Sure—and don't forget Brass Gnat too! You're also going to want Blinkmoth Nexus in this deck."
So here started the early beginnings of Ninjaffinatog—originally an attempt to work Hunger of the Nim into a budget version of Affinity. But readers, believe me, the deck moved far past these early roots!
Affinity is already a good choice for many budget players - outside of Arcbound Ravager
, Blinkmoth Nexus
, and Glimmervoid
, the core of the Affinity deck (artifact lands, Shrapnel Blast
, Myr Enforcer
, Cranial Plating
) are mostly commons with a touch of uncommons. When I did my first price checking on the rares for this deck, I found that there was no way I could have Nexus on a budget:
Arcbound Ravager: 20 tickets average
Blinkmoth Nexus: 7 tickets average
Glimmervoid: 2 tickets average
All right, Glimmervoid was a budgetable rare if I wanted to go that route (remember, all decks used in Building on a Budget stick to a strict 30-ticket maximum limit!), but a playset of Nexus would completely kill my budget for the rest of the deck.
I pulled up a handy-dandy spoiler generator, and started looking up all of the black, blue, and artifact cards available in the Extended card pool. I wouldn't be able to use Blinkmoth Nexus, but I wanted to see which cards were available to power out a deck that hybridized Ninjas and Affinity. After much searching, here were the lists I came up with!
The Affinity Components
These are the standard creatures that you'll usually find in an Affinity deck, give or take Arcbound Stinger, but I included it since it's an early flying creature, and we want evasion creatures of some sort (flying, fear, shadow, strictly unblockable) to allow for early Ninja action! This lead me to another list (ticket costs are listed in parenthesis, if notable beyond bulk):
The Evasion Creatures
Dauthi Slayer (.5)
Oona's Prowler (3)
Nether Traitor (.5)
Some of these creatures were less than ideal, but I wrote down even the most remote possibilities just in case there were weird interactions that clicked. Why did I restrict this deck to black and blue? Because those are the colors of Ninjas, and also most of the important affinity-based artifact spells and cards (right down to the banned Disciple of the Vault
). Black and blue also tend to have a lot of early evasion creatures, as evidenced by the above list. While Moroii
wasn't likely to be a good choice (who wants to drop a turn-four 4/4 flyer as a way to enable dropping a 1/1 or 2/2 creature to the board?), I had my early eye on Brass Gnat
(as suggested by Chris—both as an affinity enabler and as a Ninja enabler), Flying Men
(early beatdown), Sage Owl
(which works well when being returned to the hand with a Ninja) and Dimir Infiltrator
(unblockable, plus it can transmute for Cranial Plating
, one of the most powerful pieces of Equipment ever printed... in the right deck). These were, of course, in addition to the omnipowerful Ornithopter
, everyone's favorite "free" 0/2 flyer.
Speaking of Cranial Plating:
The Creature Enhancers
Hunger of the Nim
Loxodon Warhammer (2.5)
All of these were in consideration for the deck, more so Cranial Plating and Hunger of the Nim than the others. Lightning Greaves was an interesting possibility, but I've often won (or seen people lose) games because someone had only one creature in play with a Greaves on it, and they couldn't target their own creature with other pieces of equipment.
Since this deck was going to be straight black-blue, I needed to figure out how to fix its mana. Unlike traditional affinity decks (which usually run 16-20 artifact lands plus Glimmervoid), I'd probably need fewer artifact lands and more black and blue producing mana sources.
The Artifact Color Fixers
Talisman of Dominance
Dreadship Reef (.2)
Dromar's Cavern (.25)
Salt Marsh (.2)
I especially gravitated towards Springleaf Drum and Paradise Mantle—both give me extra use out of early non-affinity creatures (Ornithopter, Flying Men, Brass Gnat), and the traditional affinity fixers (Chromatic Star and Sphere) weren't as important with only two colors in the deck.
Springleaf Drum and Paradise Mantle are two cards which deserve some look side-by-side. One is free to play (the Mantle) and the other is free to activate (Springleaf Drum). Both require you to tap a creature to activate, but one can't be used on summoning-sick creatures (the Mantle, since it gives the creature a tap ability), while the other can be (the Drum, since tapping the creature is part of the cost, and not an ability on the creature itself). In the end, this is the most important distinction: if I want, I can attack with an Ornithopter, Ninja it back to my hand, replay it, and then activate Springleaf Drum using the same (replayed) Ornithopter. With Paradise Mantle, I'm either tapping for mana or attacking; I can't do both on the same turn.
Hey wait, did I forget about:
Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni (4)
Ninja of the Deep Hours
I didn't include Ninja-specific hijinks like Walker of Secret Ways or Higure—this was going to be a beatdown deck one way or another, and I wanted the more efficient creatures available. Ninja of the Deep Hours (a two-mana Ophidian) was especially the guy I was looking for.
Night's Whisper (1)
Phyrexian Arena (1.5)
Skeletal Scrying (.33)
Thirst For Knowledge (.5)
Ninja of the Deep Hours wasn't the only card-drawing spell that I was considering—there were plenty of other options for refilling my hand available. Thoughtcast is the traditional affinity card-drawing card, but other options were contenders as well, especially the artifact-loving Thirst for Knowledge.
I also wrote down black and blue cards that played to the strengths of the colors—countermagic, creature kill, and discard—just in case I wanted to run a more utility-based effect for the last few slots of the deck.
Countermagic and Creature Kill
Cabal Therapy (3.5)
Shimian Specter (2)
Last, but not least, I had some general utility cards that would either buoy my artifact count in play, or play well with early artifact effects. For instance, Trinket Mage can not only fetch up Ornithopter, but it can also tutor up the right color of artifact land.
Erayo, Soratami Ascendant (5.5)
Plenty of great options, right? Well, when I started to puzzle out which cards I'd like to put together to mesh Affinity and Ninjas, I had a nagging feeling in the back of my head... Why just stop at putting two popular themes together? I had seen one other black-blue contender from the past that might work as the be-all, end-all for throwing a ton of eggs against the wall and seeing how many omelets you make at once:
So important that he gets his own heading (at least I'm assuming Psychatog is a he; for all I know Psychatog is genderless. I don't ask those sorts of questions of mythological beasts that can bite my head off). I'm already playing black and blue—I already have some card-drawing elements available for the deck. I want to be able to give my creatures evasion (and making a creature too big to block counts—often people won't block an early 'Tog out of fear of trading a card in hand for a creature of theirs on board, allowing me to easily Ninja creatures out). In fact, the decision to include Psychatog led me to reexamine some of my earlier choices.
If I was going to want to get extra cards into my graveyard, plus give all of my creatures evasion, why not pair Looter il-Kor with Psychatog and Wonder? The Looter is a perfectly good evasive attacker that works well with trading late-game artifact lands for more useful spells, plus it works well for Ninja action, and fills the graveyard for Psychatog. Wonder allows all of my guys to attack in the air, plus it can be fed to Psychatog.
In the end, here's the first version of the deck I ended up with:
What really struck me about the deck was just how amazingly synergistic three seemingly disparate elements (Ninjas, Affinity and Psychatog) turned out to be:
Ornithopter and Brass Gnat work to boost artifact count for affinity, get out an early Ninja creature, or boost early mana production with Springleaf Drum.
Cranial Plating works well with the affinity mechanic (since both want lots of artifacts in play) and serves for a quick kill on any number of the evasion creatures in the deck.
Frogmite and Myr Enforcer are traditional affinity creatures, and work both as beatdown, and to fuel the artifact count for Cranial Plating.
Ninja of the Deep Hours, Throat Slitter and Mistblade Shinobi are the ninjas of the deck. Ninja of the Deep Hours is pretty much the best ninja currently in print, as it is a card-drawing machine that comes down as early as turn two (and often will, since I can often drop Brass Gnat, Ornithopter or Frogmite on turn one).
Wonder, as mentioned earlier, allows me to give all of my guys flying, or to fuel Psychatog.
Psychatog is a guy who can push through for my ninjas, work off of cards discarded to Looter il-Kor, and benefits from extra cards drawn by Thoughtcast.
Springleaf Drum fuels affinity, gives me something to do with early creatures (nothing like an opening draw of artifact land, Ornithopter, Springleaf Drum, tap the Ornithopter and Drum to play Frogmite), and helps fix the mana in a deck without many strictly Bback or blue mana sources.
I decided to start my mana base with sixteen artifact lands (Seat of the Synod, Vault of Whispers and Darksteel Citadel were shoo-ins. Ancient Den is interchangable with any other artifact land—I just needed four more, and these were slightly cheaper than the more-played Great Furnace or Tree of tales), and four Dreadship Reef. I choose the Reef because I've often seen games decided by moving around Cranial Plating using the sometimes-forgotten ability to pay to attach Cranial Plating to a different creature. I wanted to be able to build up a lot of Black mana to move around a Plating (or multiple platings) a few times to get around blockers and creature-killing effects.
Notice something else about the deck? After putting most of the cards together, I came to realize that my deck was just about rare-free! I debated putting in Glimmervoid
, but in the end I decided that I was going to see how the deck worked first without any rare cards whatsoever. In fact, the total breakdown of the deck was:
46 commons (100% of them were one-tenth of a ticket or less)
14 uncommons (2.5 each for Psychatog, .5 each for Wonder, .2 for Dreadship Reef, .25 for Ornithopter, .1 for Throat Slitter)
Total cost of Ninjaffinatog: A whopping 15 tickets, at most.
Eager to see if this mish-mash of a deck would do well, I electronically shuffled up and made my way to play some games online!
Game 1: Petermanna (Milling Deck)
I mulligan from a one-land hand to a five-land hand. He drops first-turn and second-turn Howling Mines, and follows them by using Innocent Blood to kill my first two creatures. I get down Frogmite, Brass Gnat and Looter il-Kor, with Cranial Plating on the Frogmite. He drops Ghostly Prison and double Mesmeric Orb, but I can survive being milled for nearly a dozen cards a turn in exchange for swinging in twice for 10.
Game 2: The_CommonMan (Four-Color "comes into play" creatures)
He drops Niko-Onna and Viridian Shaman, plus a lot of mana fixing and a Sword of Fire and Ice. I get second-turn and third-turn Ninja of Deep Hours—and then throw them both away with Wonder because I don't have an Island in play. Oops! Well, I eventually get Psychatog, throw down Looter il-Kor, and have Ornithopters left to block his last Sworded creature (he can't attack without dying to the 'Tog). I then draw Cranial Plating off of Thoughtcast, and win the game.
Well, that'll teach me to read the card! After years of playing with Wonder in blue decks, I had totally forgotten that you need to control an Island to give all your creatures flying (once Wonder is in your graveyard, of course). I had a choice of either killing Wonder, or getting some Islands into the deck. I decided to go with the Island route—I really liked having Wonder in the deck, and (based on the first two games) I could use a little blue-mana loving early in the game for Ninjas and Thoughtcast.
Out: 2 Dreadship Reef, 2 Ancient Den
In: 4 Island
Game 3: bigjimmm77 (Black-Blue control)
I get a ridiculous draw:
Turn 1: Ornithopter, Vault of Whispers.
Turn 2: Island, Ninja of the Deep Hours, replay Ornithopter.
Turn 3: Vault of Whispers, play another Ninja, replay Ornithopter, Springleaf Drum, Frogmite, Thoughtcast.
Turn 4: He hits me with discard, making me drop Wonder. That's that, folks!
Game 4: i11winner (Soldiers)
I get down early guys with double Cranial Plating, and knock him down to 6. He drops Major Teroh and DOUBLE Intrepid Hero, plus a Loyal Sentry! This leads us to a stand-off, where I can't make my guys big enough to attack, and he can't swing into me for fear of death. He drops a couple more flying creatures and follows them with Noble Purpose. I get down Dreadship Reef, and build up four counters. This allows me to swing with four guys (Psychatog, Frogmite, Brass Gnat and Ninja of the Deep Hours) and keep my guys alive by moving Cranial Plating around depending on which creature he targets with each Intrepid Hero. Since any contact I have at this point is lethal, I end up getting his Intrepid Heros and Loyal Sentry off of the board, along with a Gustcloak Savior.
On later turns, he continues to drop Soldiers such as Aven Brigadier and Daru Warchief. We trade creatures one-for-one, with him getting up to 30-something life, and me getting a third Cranial Plating on the board. Finally, after a long game of trading, I land a Looter il-Kor onto the board with triple-playing, doing nearly forty damage in one swing.
Game 5: crisis909 (White-Geen "comes-into-play" creatures)
I get down a second-turn Looter il-Kor, and he drops Saffi Eriksdotter and Civic Wayfinder. I turn Looter il-kor into Mistblade Shinobi, returning Saffi to his hand (and replaying the Looter after combat). He drops Masked Admirers, and I drop Cranial Plating and Springleaf Drum, use my Shinobi to pay for the equip cost, and swing for 6 with my Looter. He attacks with both of his guys and follows with Saffi and Eternal Witness. I draw another Cranial Plating, and swing in for the win.
Game 6: ijourneyman (Black-Red Control)
He advertises his deck as being more competitive. I get a first-turn Springleaf Drum, a second-turn Frogmite, a third-turn Cranial Plating, and have to deal with him playing Burning Wish for Granulate. I drop Myr Enforcer, knock him down to 6, and drop a second Cranial Plating after his Granulate to win.
Game 7: mico_wr (Niz-Mizzet / Curiosity)
mico_wr comments that this deck is based off of my old Izzet Pinball deck from back in 2006—it's good to see someone enjoying one of my more favorite decks I've done for this column! Unfortunately, mico_wr gets stalled on two mana (despite Remanding two straight spells), which allows me to maximize use of Ornithopter and Springleaf Drum. I am able to ninja out creatures, cast Thoughtcast after the attack, and squeeze out maximum use of all my mana each turn. This leaves me with Ninja of the Deep Hours, Looter il-Kor and Myr Enforcer on the board, with a Remanded Psychatog in hand when mico_wr is forced to concede.
Game 8: Angel of Ruin (Black-White Control)
I get down a first-turn Ornithopter and Springleaf Drum, and follow them with Thoughtcast into another Drum. My third turn, I get Ninja of Deep Hours and Cranial Plating, but lose one to a trade with Shrieking Grotesque and lose the other to Mortify. I still am able to drop out Frogmite, Myr Enforcer and Psychatog the following turn (thanks to Springleaf Drum providing the black mana!), and he is only able to answer with Hypnotic Specter, allowing me to finish him off in one swing.
Game 9: mmcb6102 (Thallids)
He drops Thallid on turn one and turn two. I have first-turn Brass Gnats and follow them with Ninja of the Deep Hours. He builds up an army with Fists of Ironwood, and then convokes up Deathspore Thallid—but accidentally targets it with itself, allowing me to hit him for 12. This pretty much spells game over, although, in my defense, he was going to target my Brass Gnat with his first activation, and I had a Ninja of Deep Hours to swap it for (he did this after blocks).
Game 10: Rukh Toe Ken (Mono-Blue Control)
I get a first-turn Gnat, but I don't have blue until the third turn, thanks to only drawing a Dreadship Reef. This is still fast enough, as I can drop Ninjas in consecutive turns, drawing a concession.
Game 11: Sprngpilot (Demons)
He uses Demons with changelings, which is kind of cool! I drop a first-turn Ornithopter with double Springleaf Drum, and he kills it with Cruel Edict. I then drop a third-turn Psychatog, use it to bring out Mistblade Shinobi (returning his Skeletal Changeling to hand), and drop down Myr Enforcer and 'Tog on the same turn. He gets double Raving Oni-Slave, but after I drop Cranial Plating, he conceeds.
Game 12: Darkstalker_77 (Artifacts)
He drops a first-turn Vault of Whispers and double Paradise Mantle. He doesn't get another land until I have Looter il-Kor, Cranial Plating, Ninja of the Deep Hours and Ornithopter on the board, and this allows me to blow past his late-dropped Myr Retriever plus Cranial Plating of his own.
Man, did I have fun playing Ninjaffinatog—even the name is fun to say! The deck was powerful, explosive, cheap to build (look ma, no rares!), and most importantly, an absolute blast to play! It's not as strictly powerful as a dedicated Affinity or Psychatog deck, but the threat diversity (not just all artifacts!) is wonderful, and oftentimes my opponents seemed confused (Ornithopter followed by Ninja of the Deep Hours followed by Psychatog, Ornithopter and Frogmite? What is going on here?) because the deck takes the best cards from several other decks, and throws them into one big pie.
Ninjaffinatog—the Extended deck of choice for when you want to play every deck at once, but can't make up your mind.
Ninjaffinatog has been a presentation of Building on a Budget, courtesy of Wizards of the Coast and Ben Bleiweiss. Playing Ninjaffinatog may cause your head to explode with budgety goodness. Play at your own risk.