Archetune-Up – Dimir Sneak and Show

(Satoru Umezawa | Art by Anna Pavleeva)

What Did You Bring for Show and Tell Today?

Hello, and welcome back to Archetune-Up, an article series devoted to tweaking a deck with the help of the EDHREC Theme Pages!

As some of you may know, Vintage Cube is back on Magic Online, giving us a fun and powerful draft format, with cards ranging from the iconic Black Lotus to the outright busted Umezawa’s Jitte, and even the incredibly fun-to-build-around Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Over the past few weeks (now that my roommate kindly showed me how to actually play MTGO) I’ve been jamming endless drafts of Vintage Cube and trying all the fun decks that it offers.

Over all these drafts and games, two decks caught my eye: a U/B Reanimator deck, and a U/R Sneak Attack deck. While these two decks are built with different pieces, the core premise of both of them are the same: cheat out big threats!

I began to think about what cards from Kamigawa Neon Dynasty may make the cut in the next iteration of the Vintage Cube, and I mentioned to my roomate that Satoru Umezawa would be a really interesting potential inclusion to the cube. He straddles the line between both archetypes, giving each another way to cheat out their massive threats for a low cost, and could give both decks another enabler to fight over.

The idea of a hybrid Sneak Attack/Show and Tell Reanimator deck lived rent free in my brain for the following week, so I figured why not try and build an EDH deck to get this idea on paper?

Average Yuriko Ninjutsu

Commander (1)
Creatures (31)
Sorceries (9)
Enchantments (4)
Instants (13)
Artifacts (8)
Lands (34)

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While Satoru Umezawa already has an impressive 200 decks at the time of writing, I didn’t want to use his average list as the baseline for this deck. While it would be closer to what I want, I wanted to instead use a commander that had more Ninjutsu Decks to their name, which inevitably lead me to Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow.

Despite knowing that I would still need to make quite a number of changes to Yuriko‘s list, I felt that starting with a more established Ninjutsu commander would be more beneficial. I wanted to focus around tiny, evasive threats like Faerie Seer, as opposed to a strictly Ninja Tribal build, and Yuriko‘s list was chock full of them!

After look through the deck, I ended up cutting about 30 cards, which, while is much more than I usually do for this column, is around what I expected for an undertaking this large.

The first order of business was cutting most of the top deck manipulation that Yuriko prides herself on. I kept some of it in order to help smooth out the deck, but I wanted to tone it down since it isn’t a central theme anymore. Another class of cards I cut were the “high MV, but cheap to cast” spells, like Misdirection or Dig Through Time. While they’re powerful, they lack synergy with Satoru that they have with Yuriko.

I also cut handful of Ninjas. Ninjas with mediocre abilities, or high Ninjutsu costs just weren’t worth it. I want to make sure that we are able to either cheaply trigger Satoru‘s first ability with cheap Ninjas, or instead use our mana to cheat out huge monsters. I want to lean towards opposite ends of the mana value spectrum here. Anything in between doesn’t interest me since it won’t maximize our value. Along with the Ninja cuts, I also nixed all of the “turn you creatures into Ninjas” cards, like Xenograft or Maskwood Nexus. These just aren’t necessary here, as our new commander cares about using Ninjutsu abilities as opposed to our creature being actual Ninjas.

While this may seem like I gutted the deck, I think that 30 cards is the perfect amount to give this deck a whole new identity and make it something unique. It’s a bit of an undertaking, but I was excited to try. If you’d like to look into the specific cuts and swaps, please feel free to check out the deck here, where you can find all of the cut cards in the “Maybeboard”.


Back to Basics

Right off the bat, I knew that Satoru‘s list was going to have different needs than Yuriko‘s, the biggest of which was an increase in mana ramp an mana production. My idea with this deck is to be able to activate Ninjutsu abilities as often as possible during combat, meaning I would need to ramp much harder than the average Yuriko list, as he deck is full of cheap spells, or spells with faux-mana costs like Temporal Trespass or Commit // Memory.

This style of build reminded me of a deck I built a while back which functioned on a similar axis: The Scarab God.

My Scarab list wasn’t Zombie Tribal, but instead focused around trying to use its activated ability to Eternalize as many creature as possible, leading it to be a very mana-hungry list. Using this line of thinking, I went to its EDHREC Page to see what kind of rocks it’s running.

While it had your usual culprits of Jeweled Lotus, Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, etc., I wanted to shy away from them, as they are incredibly expensive and makes the deck much more explosive that what I had envisioned. The original Yuriko list ran only four mana rocks, and a mere 34 lands, so these were the first two things I wanted to bump up first.

I added eight more mana rocks, bringing the total amount of ramp up to 12 total. This includes options like Charcoal Diamond, Worn Powerstone and Gilded Lotus. The amount of ramp will help us not only Ninjutsu two creatures out a turn, but will also help us actually cast our huge, Reanimate-able threats in a pinch. Satoru himself will also be a prime target for our opponent’s removal, so all of the extra ramp will go a long way in making sure we can comfortably pay his commander tax at all times.

As for the land base, I cut Reliquary Tower, since I wanted to maximize color-producing lands, and having no maximum hand size can actively hurt reanimator decks who will gladly discard a few cards when their hands are full. In order to replace it, and get an acceptable amount of lands into the deck, I simply threw in three basic Swamps. The deck already has 13 Islands, and as we’ll see, I added a bunch of black cards, so I figured that the extra Swamps would be welcome.

Then, I finally decided to check out the Reanimator Theme Page to see what cards I could glean from it. Before I dug into out how to flesh out the reanimation package though, I wanted to look over what Zendikar Rising MDFCs the page had. The original list already included Sea Gate Restoration, and I figured a couple more would go a long way to help smooth out the deck even more. As always, Agadeem’s Awakening and Malakir Rebirth came to the rescue! Awakening and Rebirth do exactly what this deck wants, pivoting between reanimation, protection, and providing lands when necessary.

With all of the “boring” stuff out of the way, let’s get into the real fun part of the deck: the goodies from the Reanimator Theme!


Smooth Moves

When constructing this deck, there were a number of different variables that I wanted to keep in mind in order to keep this list balanced:

  • The amount of mana ramp
  • The amount of lands
  • The amount of deck smoothing
  • The “evasive creature” to “Reanimate-able/Ninjutsu-able creature ratio
  • The amount of reanimate spells

If any of these things were too far out of whack, the deck would become unbalanced and unwieldy. I covered the first two in the section above, so let’s look at how the Reanimator Theme suggests we smooth the deck out next!

The deck already has three different classes of card advantage/selection: our commander, card advantage Ninjas, and leftover Yuriko smoothing. While this was an acceptable amount, I wanted to make sure to include a few more cards to ensure that we don’t get tripped up at any stage in the game.

If we draw our huge creatures early in the game, or our flimsy one-drops late, we’re going to be in for a bad time. Since we don’t have a “natural” curve like most EDH lists, smoothing becomes more important to help make up for it. To this end, I added five cards, three filtering spells, and two discard outlets.

Frantic Search, Otherworldly Gaze, and Forbidden Alchemy all help us see multiple cards a turn, and also allow us to put a few of them in the graveyard to boot! This is great for getting useless cards out of the way, or getting good reanimate targets into the graveyard if we need them.

To go along with these, I also included Tortured Existence and Grimoire of the Dead. Tortured Existence is incredible in this deck, since we can pitch big creatures early to buy back cheap ones, or vice versa. It really allows us to get what we need back from our yard whenever we want! Grimoire of the Dead on the other hand, is a cute, but powerful card. It will allow us to pitch useless or uncastable cards to our yard, but then will also double as a Rise of the Dark Realms later in the game when we need it and once our yard is stocked up with creatures!


“Show and Tell”? More Like “Run and Hide”!

As I continued using the the Reanimator Theme, I settled upon adding eight powerful creatures. That might not seem like a whole lot, but it works well for this deck since it has ten purely evasive creatures, which will allow us to have a good ratio of creatures that can come down early, and then help us cheat one or two big threats out on turn 4 or 5.

While there are plenty of creatures in this theme, I wanted to make sure that I tailored them to this style of deck specifically. We aren’t always going to be Reanimate-ing them after all, we’re going to be Ninjutsu-ing them out as well! This means I weighed big creatures with on-hit effects just as highly as big creatures with enter-the-battlefield abilities.

Both Wrexial, the Risen Deep and Spawning Kraken are fantastic cards with great combat triggers. The former allows us to cast spells out of our opponent’s yards for free while also being an evasive threat and Ninjutsu enabler, while Spawning Kraken is a game plan all on its own! With just one hit from Spawning Kraken, we are off to the races, immediately making a 9/9, which can then in turn make more 9/9s next turn! If we can Ninjutsu this Kraken out early, it can easily take over the game on its own with a horde of sea creatures!

As for creatures with etb effects, there were four that really caught my attention.

Archon of Cruelty is an incredibly strong, evasive card that casts a mini Cruel Ultimatum whenever it enters or attacks. Grave Titan can quickly produce an overwhelming board state, giving you extra creatures that may be able to swing through unopposed and enable even more Ninjutsu shenanigans. Gyruda, Doom of Depths will mill each player for four and steal a creature with even mana value whenever it enters, allowing you to take opponent’s threats, cheat out your own, or fill your yard for later! Finally, Sepulchral Primordial is another evasive threat that can steal your opponents’ best creatures from their yard and quickly overwhelm the board!

All of these give us immediate, punchy effects that are fantastic to Ninjutsu into. Some of them even come with their own built-in evasion, allowing you to sneak them out every other turn if you utilize well-placed attacks!

The last two big creatures I added were Nezahal, Primal Tide and Sheoldred, Whispering One. Neither of these has immediate impact when hitting opponents or entering the battlefield, but they are powerful enough to warrant inclusion regardless.

Nezahal is an incredible creature, as it can draw you oodles of cards, protect itself, and pitch undesirable cardboard while doing so. It is a huge creature that is hard to block due to its sheer size, and hard to kill thanks to its self-protection. On the other hand, Sheoldred, Whispering One won’t draw you cards, but will gain you just as much advantage. She will force your opponents to sac a creature on your turn, while allowing you to bring one of yours back for free! She also has Swampwalk, allowing her to enable Ninjutsu if you are in a pinch too!


Sneak Attack? I Thought it was Pretty Obvious!

The last order of business on my list is making sure I have a good amount of spells to Reanimate the creatures in our yard.

We aren’t purely a Reanimator deck, we just have a lot of synergies with the graveyard and with big creatures, so having a small Reanimator package will help give the deck some resiliency and longevity. It would suck if someone wipes the board after we cheated out an Archon of Cruelty or Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni, so why not simply get them back? We can worry about rebuilding with Satoru later!

In the deck, there are eight ways to Reanimate creatures, which may seem like a lot, especially since we aren’t trying to be a Reanimator deck and we only have eight big creatures… but we’ve already covered three of them! Agadeem’s Awakening, Grimoire of the Dead, and Sheoldred, Whispering One are all ways to get our creatures back that are baked into other facets of the deck. This means we are only dedicating five slots to cards that solely focus on playing creatures from the yard. Pretty sneaky, right? 😏

Dread Return and Victimize are here to help us take advantage of all the cheap creatures we have in the deck. At some point during the game, they are going to outstay their welcome, so why not use them early to Ninjutsu big threats out, and then use them as fodder to bring them back later? It seems like a no-brainer!

Necromancy is a flexible reanimate spell that can hit any creature in any yard, and can be played with flash if necessary. This is great for surprising opponents, taking their best card from the yard, or just getting tons of value by reanimating something like Sepulchral Primordial from our yard!

Finally, we have the namesake spell Reanimate. I love this spell in this deck especially, since while it can get back the biggest creature in a yard, sometimes, you may just want to return a Mist-Cloaked Herald and enable an attack with a better threat in your hand! It isn’t often that the best target for a Reanimate is a one drop, so I think it’s neat that this is a viable option in this deck, even if it’s an uncommon play!

The final card I included was Whip of Erebos. While it isn’t our preferred way to Reanimate our creatures, I felt like it was an important, flexible option to have access to. In a pinch, having an extra attack with an Archon of Cruelty or Grave Titan can matter a lot! Along with this, the incidental lifelink that it provides to all your creatures is nothing to sneeze at. It’ll certainly add up over time and pad your life total handsomely, which is important when your opponents know you’re trying to cheat out huge threats and kill them. Every extra point of life will count!


You’re Up! What’ve You Got to Show the Class?

And there we have it! A nice, no-nonsense Ninjutsu deck!

There were plenty of great options for Ninjutsu/reanimate creatures in this deck, from Eldrazi, to Blightsteel Colossus, but I wanted to make sure that all the creatures came from the Reanimator Theme, and I also wanted to utilize interesting, powerful creatures in both blue and black’s color identity as opposed to simply defaulting to the best colorless threats.

In this vein of creatures, there are plenty that are great inclusions that I couldn’t fit in. Stormtide Leviathan, Massacre Wurm, Toxrill, the Corrosive… the world is your oyster! While I used the Dimir Reanimator Page for obvious reasons, make sure you look at every page with U/B in its colors if you are interested in seeing your reanimation options. Dimir Reanimator and Dimir Zombies occupy a lot of the same space on that Theme Page, so if you are looking to diversify your blue and black threats, check out both the Esper and Grixis Reanimator pages as well!

What are your thoughts though? Do you think this deck is able to strike the right balance between tiny creatures and huge threats? Are you not as sold on the reanimation package as I am? Do you think you know of better reanimation targets? Make sure you let me know down in the comments below!

As always, you can reach me on Twitter (@thejesguy), where you can always hit me up for Magic- or Jeskai-related shenanigans 24/7. Do you have any comments, questions, or concerns? Please don’t hesitate to leave them below or get in touch! Stay safe, get vaccinated, wear your mask, and keep fighting the good fight. I support you. No justice, no peace.

Archetune-Up Satoru Sneak and Show

Commander (1)
Creatures (30)
Artifacts (16)
Sorceries (7)
Instants (9)
Enchantments (2)
Lands (36)

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Angelo is a Connecticut resident who started playing Magic during Return to Ravnica, and has made it his mission to play Jeskai in every format possible. Along with Commander, he loves Limited, Cube, and Modern, and will always put his trust in counterspells over creatures. He is still hurt by Sphinx's Revelation's rotation out of Standard.