From the Magic the Gathering trading card set that brought you an infinite mana combo Dragon, we have a Ninja Planeswalker in Kaito Shizuki! Admittedly, Atsushi the Blazing Sky is a pretty powerful card with the right support in Commander, and Kaito Shizuki is a card in a similar vein. Not only is this easily a Standard playable planeswalker, but it has an ultimate ability which we really need to talk about.
Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty is obviously going to be a try-hard set for Wizards of the Coast. The original three Kamigawa sets that followed the overpowered Mirrodin sets back in 2004 were a massive disappointment. Overall, there are lots of cards in those three sets that continue to see plenty of play today, especially in Commander, so long-term they weren’t a failure. They were sets full of flavor, but short on actual play-ability, partly because of how Legendary cards were handled back in those days. But, that’s a discussion for another retrospective type of article. Keeping the failure of those sets in mind, however, you’ll understand why Wizards is definitely pushing the envelope with the power level of this set.
Kaito Shizuki is a three mana planeswalker, costing a single generic mana, along with one each of Black and Blue mana. When he comes into play, he has a static ability: “At the beginning of your end step, if Kaito Shizuki entered the battlefield this turn, he phases out.” Essentially, the turn after you play him, he simply ceases to exist until the next turn. This means that your opponent won’t have a chance to interact with him the first turn after he comes into play. Already, this is a point in Kaito’s favor. With only three loyalty counters to start with, the phasing is good so that he
His first two loyalty abilities are solid enough, with the first adding a loyalty counter to draw a card. You have to discard a card if you haven’t attacked during that turn. So, you’d want to play this planeswalker in your postcombat main phase in which you attacked in order to make the most of Kaito’s first turn in play. The second ability costs two of his three loyalty counters to put a 1/1 blue Ninja creature token into play that can’t be blocked. That doesn’t sound exciting, but it makes sense considering his last ability.
The ultimate ability costs a whopping seven loyalty counters, so it will take most likely five turns keeping him in play to ever access this powerful emblem creating effect. This emblem is honestly one of the better ones out there:
“Whenever a creature you control deals combat damage to a player, search your library for a blue or black creature card, put it onto the battlefield, then shuffle.”
Yes, this means for each creature that deals damage you get to search for a creature. It works much like how Toski, Bearer of Secrets allows you to draw cards each time a creature deals combat damage. Being able to tutor out a creature for each successful hit seems pretty nuts. Obviously, you’ll need some serious ninja skills to pull this off, but if you play a deck such as Rogues, which have a lot of flying creatures, you can build a pretty ridiculous board presence in a hurry.
Again, though, even though this emblem is pretty bonkers, it’s pretty balanced by the fact you have to invest a lot of turns building up his loyalty. But, there is a way to speed up this process, and it involves a creature that dominated Standard when it first emerged. That creature is Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider.
But, wait, Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider is Green! Still, Vorinclex doubles any counters you put onto permanents, while himself being a massive hasty trampling attacker. So, is it worth splashing Green just for Vorinclex? Kaito’s ability would be limited to pulling out Blue or Black creatures, but these could include Green creatures that also have Blue or Black mana in their casting costs. Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of powerful ones currently in Standard. There are some interesting synergies between Vorinclex and Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager, and pulling that out of the deck with Kaito could be fun. It feels like you’d be playing a Green/Black deck while splashing Blue for Kaito and some other cards to support the strategy.
OK, so that strategy is going to take a lot of work to sort out. Of course, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty is likely to have plenty of Ninjas to support Kaito’s ability to get in attacks without being blocked. We’ve seen the Ninjitsu mechanic revisited in Modern Horizons, creating a fun, although not top-tier competitive Ninja deck. Ninjitsu allows you to return an attacking creature that wasn’t blocked to your hand in order to put another creature into play in its place. It was a neat ability, one that may be revisited here. Still, without a way to speed up Kaito’s five turn clock, it seems unlikely you will ever see his ultimate ability activate under normal circumstances. That is, at least in Standard.
Kaito feels a bit too slow for Modern, too, as five turns is sometimes more than the length of a given game. But, it’s possible that in Standard, simply having a planeswalker that can draw you cards without much of a drawback seems good enough to play. The very threat of that ultimate ability will make opponents respect him and throw burn damage or removal at him rather than at something else.
In Commander, Kaito Shizuki is a completely different animal. Ninja Tribal is a worthwhile deck, and although having a planeswalker that takes five turns to essentially wreak havoc, the card draw alone – even if you do have to occasionally discard as a cost – makes Kaito worth the minimal investment of three mana. But, if you do manage to get the emblem, Kaito Shizuki suddenly feels like a pretty busted card. Note that his ability doesn’t specify nontoken creature, so any blue or black deck that can create a lot of tokens – such as Zombies – will suddenly dump a whole ton of their creature complements into play. Yes, Ninjas will benefit the most as they are designed to go unblocked, but the tribal element isn’t necessary here, and the tokens will likely only matter in a desperate moment.
Keep in mind that planeswalkers should never be evaluated on their ultimate ability alone, although they should be respected for them at the very least. The token creation isn’t exciting, although drawing a card, putting a token into play, then drawing at least one more card is well worth the investment, essentially netting you a plus two in card advantage. At his worst, he’ll draw you a card, and possibly another, because of the phasing. Because his floor is relatively cost-effective, I have to say Kaito Shizuki is a literal ninja in that he does just enough to keep around, but if you don’t deal with him, he will make you pay. The flavor win here is enough to make me like this planeswalker, even if outside of Commander, Kaito is a bit underwhelming.
Speaking of Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider, it’s possible we see Kaito Shizuki show up in some Sultai (Blue, Black, Green) shenanigans. It’s extremely helpful that there’s no mana cost restriction on Kaito’s emblem, so you can pull out a heavy hitter with a single token going without a block. Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice decks which focus on creatures might be a sleeper home thanks to so many of her top played creatures having Blue or Black in their mana costs. Plus, you don’t need the creature attacking to be Blue or Black to trigger the emblem. Here are just a few of the creatures Kaito’s emblem can summon into play from a single point of damage being dealt by one of your random creatures:
Flux Channeler, Carth the Lion, Spark Double, Fathom Mage, Corpsejack Menace, Master Biomancer, Vorel of the Hull Clade, Winding Constrictor, Viral Drake, Ichor Rats, Blighted Agent, Toothy, Imaginary Friend, Roalesk, Apex Hybrid, Herald of Secret Streams, Skithryx, the Blight Dragon, Hand of the Praetors, Reyhan, Last of the Abzan, Plague Stinger, Ghave, Guru of Spores, Phyrexian Crusader…you get the idea.
On top of that, Atraxa seems the perfect home for Kaito Shizuki, since her ability proliferates his loyalty counters. It seems like a match to me. There’s also the Partner combo of Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker and Reyhan, Last of the Abzan, which provides the same color combination and similar targets to tutor out. The deck could even feature Atraxa herself.
If Rogues were still a top deck in Standard, Kaito Shizuki would seem like an obvious addition to that deck. But, since that deck lost so much of its firepower losing Throne of Eldraine and the Magic 2021 Core Set, it’s been relegated to Historic on Magic Arena (I’m not even going to discuss that format) and pretty much a casual Rogue (no pun intended) deck in Modern. Even then, all Kaito becomes is a major target for opponents to pick off as quickly as possible, an easy-peasy feat in Modern with how much burn damage exists in the format.
Yes, Carth the Lion is definitely a deck in Modern. He does make loyalty abilities cost an additional +1, which is immensely useful. That makes Kaito’s emblem clock just three turns. But, the best Carth “Superfriends” decks play just Black and Green and mostly planeswalkers, so Kaito’s ability isn’t worth much at all. There isn’t much synergy there, outside of their favorable interactions within the Commander decks we’ve already mentioned.
Could Kaito Shizuki overperform in the right deck? If you can protect him for five turns, absolutely. If you somehow figure out how to create a three-color deck that can somehow fit him into the engine alongside Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider to speed up the process, power to you. I think he’s going to be pretty useful in Standard simply for the card draw, and in most cases will either draw you two cards, or net you a card and a token that can’t be blocked. It’s easy to like him based on an efficiency standpoint alone, and what he could do in the right Commander deck is pretty scary.
Again, though, five turns to activate a loyalty ability, even when he’s essentially completely safe for a turn, is still a heck of a feat in any format. If you can pull it off with multiple loyalty boosting abilities, though, such as with Carth the Lion or enchantments like Doubling Season, Kaito’s emblem can take over the game without much warning. Plus, since emblems can’t be in any way interacted with, you’ll have an extremely unfair advantage for the remainder of the game.
Kaito Shizuki promises some pretty crazy endgames, but overall, he’s going to be a three-mana draw two in Standard, and probably just about anywhere else he sees play. You have to really power up his loyalty abilities for him to really impact a game consistently, which is most certainly doable. For just three mana, being able to essentially play the best Blue and/or Black creatures remaining in your deck for such a low cost is fun. There will be Ninja Tribal decks that play him fairly that likely will benefit if they manage to protect him, and at the very least, there will be times where Kaito’s emblem truly takes over the game. That alone is worth giving him a shot.