With Magic returning to the plane of Kamigawa in 2022, it was obvious that we’d be getting more Ninjas. But, probably no one expected Satoru Umezawa, a Legendary Creature being printed at rare, to do what it does.
Ninjas have been a fun tribe in Magic the Gathering ever since the original Kamigawa set, Champions of Kamigawa. For quite some time, though, despite having lots of cool cards, Ninjas weren’t that playable, even in Commander. Sure, you had some competitively playable ones like Ninja of the Deep Hours, but they were mostly unplayable as a tribe as a whole. This all changed with Commander 2018, giving Ninja players a strong option in the Command Zone with Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow. Then came Modern Horizons, giving the tribe lots of new playable Ninjas such as Ingenious Infiltrator and Fallen Shinobi.
Satoru Umezawa is a playable Human Ninja right away for two reasons. He’s a 2/4 for three mana, which means he’s a bit tricky to deal with, even in Modern where one Lightning Bolt alone can’t deal with him. You’ll need at least an Unholy Heat with Delerium active or three colors of mana paying for Prismatic Ending. The second reason is his first ability, which when you activate a Ninjitsu ability, you look at the top three cards of your library, pick one of the three to add to your hand and put the other two to the bottom. In Modern, where Ninjas are already a fringe contender, this is an obvious addition to the deck.
But, where Satoru Umezawa shines, and the reason he seems such an obvious plant for the Commander format, is his second ability. He gives any creature card in your hand Ninjitsu for four mana: two generic, one Blue, one Black. Ninjitsu allows you to return an unblocked attacking creature to your hand to put the creature with Ninjitsu into play tapped and attacking. This is Ninja’s original key mechanic from the original three Kamigawa sets. These stealth effects are what make Ninjas a sneaky good tribe if you can get enough creatures through your opponent’s defenses. While this card selection is only available once per turn, you don’t really need it more often than that.
While it remains to be seen at the early stage this article is being written just how good Ninjas will be in Standard, it seems obvious that Satoru Umezawa is going to be a big part of Ninja decks. That second ability is where he will shine most, putting big finishers like Hullbreacher Horror into play for a significant discount.
In Modern, however, you have two obvious finishers to cheat into play with Umezawa: Blightsteel Colossus and Emrakul of the Aeons Torn. Emrakul is actually the weakest of the two, as she essentially just becomes a 15/15 beatstick when she’s first put into play this way. Still, on the next turn, her Annihilator 6 will activate when she attacks, so the game is essentially over anyway. Blightsteel is the better option, as it is an 11/11 with trample and infect, essentially dealing eleven unblocked poison damage, and an opponent loses once they have ten poison counters.
So, yes, this is a heck of a win for Ninjas. Sure, he makes for a pretty nasty Commander, too, but you don’t even need to play Ninjas for Satoru Umezawa to grind out value in a hurry. As soon as he comes down, and you have four mana available, some opponents may simply decide to bow out, especially in Modern. It doesn’t help matters that in Modern you have automatically unblockable creatures like Changeling Outcast (who is technically also a Ninja) and Blighted Agent that make Umezawa’s job even easier.
While Satoru Umezawa is probably a fair card in Standard, he certainly isn’t in Modern, and is pretty busted beyond that. Heck, he’s only a rare, not even a mythic. You have to give props to Wizards of the Coast giving Ninjas the piece they needed to be a serious force in Modern, and a brand new Commander who can also serve other Commanders as next-level Ninjitsu support. But, this is nuts. Satoru’s floor gives you decent card draw and selection with the threat of a finisher coming into play off of an unblocked dork. His ceiling literally lets you put a game-winning creature into play.
Is Satoru Umezawa going to be the best card in the entire Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty set? That certainly remains to be seen, but any card that can literally win you the game with the right creature in hand gets my vote regardless of whatever else is in the set.