Sword of the Samurai is the kind of deck someone would make if they’ve been playing Magic for, I dunno, seven months. They have enough experience to understand why some cards are good and others aren’t, but they don’t have the money or trade binder to really build things out to their full potential.
They’ve got four copies of their neat-o commons, but overpowered rares and mythics are in short supply, as is a real “game plan” for how the deck will win if the “swing with creatures” strategy doesn’t pan out. There are some vague themes like “samurai” or “legends” or “red/white burn”, but none of these things are in large enough supply to really bring the deck together.
By no means does this make Sword of the Samurai a bad deck. It still lives far about the dregs of the Magic 2014 lower tiers, especially when it starts off with solid hands full of creatures, equipment, and removal. However, Wizards of the Coast’s decision to limit all powerful legends to one-ofs (probably to decrease whining from people who don’t understand the Legend Rule) greatly hampers the consistency of SOS. Would it have really killed them to include two Isamaru or three Umezawa’s Jitte?*
You’re up all night to get lucky
The basic strategy you’ll want to aim for with Sword of the Samurai is simple. Establish a board presence with key 1-drop and 2-drop creatures, forcing your opponent to choose between letting them live and burning removal on inconsequential weenies. Once you’ve got a small army going, dropping and/or attaching one of your powerful equipment artifacts should give you at least one good swing, preferably connecting with the opponent’s face. After that, you’ve just got to keep up your momentum and profit from the damage/card advantage offered by your assortment of swords, clubs, maces, and… uh… whatever a jitte is.
Ususally, if you can attack even a single time with Umezawa’s Jitte or Sword of Fire and Ice/War and Peace, you will gain incredible card or life advantage. These cards are absolutely broken in both casual Magic and Duels of the Planeswalkers, so don’t underestimate their power. Having an assortment of methods for fetching them out sure doesn’t hurt, especially in the form of Stonehewer Giant, which can provide dizzyingly fast buffs to anyone in your army.
This makes playing the deck sound easy, which is by no means true. You will constantly have to weigh the value of creatures vs equipment, attaching vs attacking, and how/when/where to use your own spot removal. You should always be wary of an opponent’s desire to burn your mana by killing an equip target in response to your activation. And you need to watch out for sweepers that will punish your early plays and put you at severe card disadvantage.
While many players will shun higher-costed cards, it’s important to note that Sword of the Samurai has no cost-effective tools for recovering from a terrible board position, so it’s my opinion that every build needs two or three “stop this or you lose” cards. Tatsumasa and Myojin of Cleansing Fire are certainly strong candidates… though Balefire Liege and Godo can also be big headaches for your enemies.
Whatever you do, pay close attention to your adversary’s deck build and do your best to anticipate traps. Force her to use removal on unsavory targets while slowly filling the battlefield with artifacts and enchantments she can’t readily stop. If you can get just a few lucky hits in, you’ll send your opponent’s life total spiraling down to nothing… just in time for a topdecked Lightning Helix!
Sword of the Samurai deck list sample (by mana cost)
- 1x Isamaru, Hound of Konda
- 4x Devoted Retainer
- 1x Path to Exile
- 2x Steelshaper’s Gift
- 4x Konda’s Hatamoto
- 1x Hand of Honor
- 1x Umezawa’s Jitte
- 4x Lightning Helix
- 3x Kitsune Blademaster
- 1x Sword of Fire and Ice
- 1x Sword of War and Peace
- 1x Ronin Warclub
- 1x Intimidation Bolt
- 1x Nagao, Bound by Honor
- 1x Fumiko the Lowblood
- 1x Balefire Liege
- 2x Stonehewer Giant
- 1x Zealous Conscripts
- 1x Yosei, the Morning Star
- 1x Godo, Bandit Warlord
- 1x Tatsumasa, the Dragon’s Fang
- 1x Myojin of Cleansing Fire
This build is extremely bottom heavy, with a lean midrange and a few late-game bombs. The general approach, of course, is to play some major one-to-three mana threats out early, along with one powerful equipment card, and then get in a lucky hit here or there. If that doesn’t work out, you have a few soul-crushing cards at the top of the curve that will be very difficult for your opponents to handle in a reasonable manner. Not a fan of anything over five CMC? Drop those guys in favor of some combat tricks or moth-riding samurai.
Sword of the Samurai card-by-card analysis (alphabetical)
Araba Mothrider, 4.0/5.0
I’m not crazy about paying two mana for a 1/1, but think about this guy as an equipment delivery system. His flying greatly increases the odds you can get damage through and trigger your deadliest weapons, plus he’s one of your only options for breaking a ground stall. Bushido won’t come into effect often, but the threat makes him a decent blocker, too.
Avatar of Slaughter, 2.5/5.0 (3.5/5.0 in 2HG)
In theory, you could cast this on turn 8, swing with all your samurai, and instantly win the game. In practice, you will rarely still be in control of the match if/when you get eight mana.
Balefire Liege, 4.5/5.0
Extremely easy to cast, extremely powerful buffs to all your creatures, and extremely free Lightning Bolts and Healing Salves. Balefire Liege is one of the best ways for Samurai to accelerate or regain momentum. Even in an aggro build, this guy sits at a very doable 5-mana top-of-the-curve slot.
Battle-Mad Ronin, 3.0/5.0
In general, I don’t like must-attack creatures unless they are scary as hell or ridiculously undercosted. This ronin is neither, so he’s basically a laughable 1/1 early on and a disposable 3/3 when your adversaries finally decide to off the bugger. If you decide to play him, you might as well bring combat tricks like Brute Force and Double Cleave to catch your foes off guard.
Brute Force, 4.0/5.0
Giant Growth was always a good card, and Brute Force is almost as strong. What you gain in surprise factor you lose in efficacy, since there’s less trample and hexproof to amplify this card’s effects. Whether you include this card or not will depend greatly on your deck’s curve and your creature:buff ratio.
Call to Glory, 3.5/5.0
In the best case scenario, you cast this card and laugh maniacally as your untapped, beefed-up bushido’d samurai slash down every creature that dared to attack you. In reality, you’ll most likely use this to save or kill one creature. It’s still playable, just don’t expect game-winning tricks out of it.
Devoted Retainer, 4.5/5.0
Devoted Retainer is not the greatest 1-drop, but he’s the only one you have and puts early pressure on your opponent to choose between weak imminent threats or powerful, long-term danger. A single point of bushido helps create favorable combat dynamics early on, as well. The fact that Sword of the Samurai is so packed with equipment and buffs does mean this weenie remains a threat later in the game, so there’s no reason to ever feel bad for drawing him.
Double Cleave, 4.0/5.0
Giving anything double strike is absolutely nasty, especially when it’s either (a) huge or (b) blessed with on-damage effects. Aside from the obvious combat tricks, Double Cleave is perfect for getting two times the power out of your swords and/or jitte… usually enough value to handily swing the game around.
Fumiko the Lowblood, 4.5/5.0 (5.0/5.0 in 3 or 4 player games)
The more you’re attacked, the better she gets. Oh, and what’s that? She forces all your opponents to attack? Well, isn’t that a neat little interaction. Fumiko puts your foes in a compromising position and allows your to profit handily, though I somewhat resent that she’s almost entirely a defensive option. Still, if she lives to your enemies’ next combat phase, you’re pretty much guaranteed to take all their weakest creatures for free.
Gift of Estates, 2.5/5.0
An amazing card in Magic the Gathering, but somewhat misplaced in this deck. Since Gift can only fetch plains, it’s kind of pointless when you’re just as likely to need mountains. Not only that, but you’ve got dozens of more important cards you need to cast on turn 2.
Glory of Warfare, 4.0/5.0
Glorious Anthem is a wonderful card, but Glory of Warfare feels more purposeful. Your creatures are significantly scarier on your swings and much more resilient on those of your adversaries. Capping off your curve with one of these can often provide a near-fatal attack and a big headache for your opponents.
Godo, Bandit Warlord, 4.0/5.0
Godo’s abilities aren’t just good, they’re game-winning. The ability to fetch out equipment (especially Godo’s signature maul) is powerful, as is multiple attack phases. The only thing you must ask yourself is whether or not that’s worth six mana. It could be, depending on your build.
Hand of Honor, 5.0/5.0
2/2 white knights with two abilities have a long and successful history in Magic the Gathering, and Hand of Honor is no exception. Assuming you hit two plains early on, he creates efficient combat pressure in both directions while being nearly invincible to the most common type of removal in DOTP. I really wish the samurai deck included more than one copy.
Iizuka the Ruthless, 2.5/5.0
The power to sac a swordsman for universal double strike is a good one, but Iizuka’s mana cost is just too high for this option. A 3/3 body, even with bushido 2, is not going to sway the match on turn 5 or 6, and if you’re behind in the creature count, you won’t be able to afford his magic mojo anyway.
Indebted Samurai, 3.0/5.0
I don’t mind overcosted bushido creatures if they break the curve in combat (see Konda’s Hatamoto), but Indebted Samurai still falls short by this measure (being a 3/4 for four mana). Yes, he can theoretically pile up +1/+1 counters, but even if he gets a few, he’s often still far weaker than some of the other things you could’ve played turn 4.
Intimidation Bolt, 4.0/5.0
There’s big tradeoff here between the power to shut down your enemy’s offense and the inability to burn them directly to the face. Regardless, Intimidation Bolt remains a valuable defensive tool. Do note that you can use it on offense, but you will have to cast it after you’ve declared attackers (before blockers are chosen) if you want to thin your opponent’s ranks before a swing.
Isamaru, Hound of Konda, 5.0/5.0
A 2/2 for one mana is superb. The “legendary” drawback is moot, especially in a deck that only has one copy of this nasty little pup.
Kitsune Blademaster, 3.5/5.0
A creature that’s essentially a 3/3 first striker in combat isn’t bad for three mana, especially with such a compliant color cost. Sword of the Samurai doesn’t have a lot of solid turn 3 plays, so you’ll often be happy to have this guy in your starting hand. First strike is particularly nasty with Umezawa’s Jitte.
Konda, Lord of Eiganjo, 3.0/5.0
This guy is basically invincible and absolutely destroys everything that even looks at him funny. Whether or not you want to throw a seven mana card at the top of your curve for the hopes of playing him is another story. He will be a dead card 85% of the time, and even when he gets into play, he’s still susceptible to bounce, -X/-X, and sacrifice effects. If the deck were better built to support Konda, I’d say go for it… but it’s not.
Konda’s Banner, 2.5/5.0
The legendary restriction on Konda’s Banner hurts it a lot. You have far better artifacts to choose from, and you don’t want to over-stuff your deck with equipment anyway.
Konda’s Hatamoto, 4.5/5.0
Remember how I was saying Indebted Samurai sucks because its’ behind the curve even with bushido factored in? This guy’s the opposite of that. He can competently block as a 2/3 for two mana, and he’s similarly troublesome to defend against (though one damage isn’t scary, equipment helps). The massive P/T and vigilence bonus is wonderful, and will make opponenets regret sparing this little guy’s life once his bigger, legendary brothers hit the table.
Lightning Helix, 5.0/5.0
Lightning Bolt is insanely good. Healing Salve is pretty good. Throw them onto one card and you have one of the best removal/tempo combos of all time. Lightning Helix is always useful for removing weenies, finishing off larger targets, or providing spot burn at your enemy’s life total. It can be used with the Jitta or Sword of Fire and Ice for even more damage. There is no doubt you should run every copy in any build of SOS.
Mana Tithe, 3.5/5.0
Hey look, a color-shifted counterspell! Mana Tithe is a neat trick that can destroy your opponent’s early momentum or punish him greatly for tapping out, but it can also become useless if the game drags on and your foe doesn’t have X-costed spells (or does have them and knows you’re holding Mana Tithe).
Masako the Humorless, 4.5/5.0
While Masako missed the memo on having bushido, she makes up for it by giving all your creatures ultra-vigilance. Her flash bonus isn’t that great early on, but can be used to great effect when she’s top-decked over a stalled board later on. Neither your adversary nor Masako will find it funny, but you sure will.
Mothrider Samurai, 3.0/5.0
So bland. So costly for what it does. So why are we talking about this?
Myojin of Cleansing Fire, 4.0/5.0
I know I dissed Konda, but hear me out. Myojin of Cleansing Fire is guaranteed to make a splash the moment he hits the board. You’ve either got a 4/6 that can’t be killed or a whole lotta dead creatures plus the only body left on the battlefield. There is nothing, short of a counterspell, your foes can do about it. If you’re going for a lean mana curve, this guy won’t save you, but otherwise he’s a ridiculously terrifying threat.
Myojin of Infinite Rage, 2.0/5.0
I can’t say the same about this Myojin, since he costs ten mana… then promptly blows up all your mana. There are some scenarios where destroying all lands could help you, but in an equipment heavy deck, you’re more likely to be hampered by this effect than the reverse.
Nagao, Bound by Honor, 4.5/5.0
Not initially keen on this little guy, I now realize he’s a potential 5/5 on attack, a big booster for his samurai buddies, and an instant “on” switch for all your Hatamoto. He won’t make a big splash the turn he hits play, but he will pose a problem for the enemy if not quickly removed.
In a deck stuffed with $30 equipment, seeing something this basic is just boring. Sure, first strike is good, but you’ve got more important things to play on turns 2 through 5. Almost any other equipment will provide more power and utility at a similar or lower cost.
Oathkeeper, Takeno’s Daisho, 4.0/5.0
Compare to No-Dachi and it’s obvious why this is better. If your opponents don’t have instant speed removal (or even if they do) these swords can create a constant headache in the form of nigh-invincible samurai. The +3/+1 boost is actually the least important aspect of the card, though it’s by no means negligible!
Path to Exile, 4.5/5.0
Instant, one-mana removal that doesn’t trigger dying effects and provides only a small downside. In a pinch, it can be used on your own creatures to “save” them from removal and accelerate your mana curve. Use it.
Ronin Warclub, 4.5/5.0
One of the most annoying things about equipment is the cost to attach it to creatures, so anything that offers free equipping is a blessing. Sure, you lose some control over exactly what you’re granting bonuses to, but with a P/T bonus this big and the low, low price of zero, it’s worth it.
Ryusei, the Falling Star, 3.0/5.0
This dragon would be a hell of a lot better if it wasn’t thrown into a situation where 90% of your creatures die along with him. I guess you could build a version of this deck solely around mothriders…. hahaha… no you can’t.
Show of Valor, 2.5/5.0
It’s the same average bonus as Brute Force, except it costs twice as much.
Steelshaper’s Gift, 5.0/5.0
Consider this card to be an extra copy of Umezawa’s Jitte (or whatever equipment you currently need). The cost is ridiculously low, making it useful at nearly any point in the game. It could be a dead draw if you already have all your equipment on the battlefield, but if that’s the case you probably should’ve won already.
Stonehewer Giant, 5.0/5.0
I don’t know what Wizards was thinking when they printed this card, but it’s absolutely bonkers. A 4/4 vigilant attacker is already scary, but since he can fetch out and attach equipment instantly, including after he’s been declared an attacker, you can give opponents all kinds of nasty surprises. Fetch a Sword of War and Peace in response to a Char on your samurai, or grab a Tatsumasa and equip it for 78% less than it normally costs. At instant speed.
Sword of Fire and Ice, 5.0/5.0
In addition to offering a hefty +2/+2 gain and making your creature invincible to about a third of the decks in Magic 2014, this artifact is a card advantage machine. It can theoretically kill an annoying enchantment like Followed Footsteps on equip, then swing past blockers to produce a free card, a free Shock, and a boatload of damage. And don’t be fooled: it’s plenty powerful against white, green, and black decks.
Sword of War and Peace, 4.0/5.0
Not nearly as strong as Fire and Ice, primarily due to the lack of card advantage generation. Still, this sword remains a nightmare for all white and/or red decks, especially the mirror match. You won’t get as much value versus blue, green, or black… but the life gain gap could give you the momentum necessary to power ahead of your foes.
Takeno, Samurai General, 3.0/5.0
Expensive, weak, and often not splashy enough since most of your army only has bushido 1. He’s still decent, just not strong enough to warrant auto-inclusion.
Tatsumasa, the Dragon’s Fang, 4.0/5.0
Expensive, but significantly stronger than Takeno at the same cost. If you untap with Tatsumasa, you have the option of turning one of your samurai into a battle god or summoning a gigantic, flying death machine. The best part? Your dragon basically can’t die, making it a relentless problem for opponents. Due to the large cost, this card is best fetched with Stonehewer Giant.
Tenza, Godo’s Maul, 4.0/5.0
While the up-front cost is high, the extremely low equip price makes up for it, as does the large stack of bonuses you’ll reap when throwing this on red and/or legendary creatures. This won’t typically be the first artifact you fetch from your deck, but you will never be disappointed when you draw it.
Terramorphic Expanse, 3.5/5.0
Unlike several other multicolor decks, Sword of the Samurai has a few turn 1 drops you might really want to hit, and a lot of good turn 2 plays. As such, you don’t want to overload on mana fixers. Stack up on these if you’re going for a higher curve, but otherwise just try to balance your colors and lands more carefully.
Umezawa’s Jitte, 10.0/5.0
Umezawa’s Jitte is, without a doubt, the best equipment card ever printed. If even one creature connects while wearing this thing once, your opponent’s odds of ever recovering are already terrible. The fact that all its counters stay on the Jitte itself, not the creature, mean even spot removal is not terribly effective at stopping this card’s power. For more information, watch my Jitte rant video.
Warstorm Surge, 2.5/5.0
Warstorm Surge would be great in a deck that’s not this deck. For instance, this would be downright brutal in Enter the Dracomancer. Unfortunately, this isn’t Enter the Dracomancer (and doubly unfortunately, Enter the Dracomancer doesn’t have this card).
Yosei, the Morning Star, 5.0/5.0
Unlike his red cousin, Yosei can only do good things for you if and when he dies. He will, in most cases, completely rob your adversary of an entire turn, not to mention give you a free swing past tapped-out defenders (assuming they don’t have a humorless advisor). Being a 5/5 flying badass for six mana isn’t shabby by any means, either.
Zealous Conscripts, 4.0/5.0
Against midrange decks, Zealous Conscripts is a great 5-drop that can swing the tide of battle quite literally by stealing the nastiest beast on the other side of the table. Against swarmy piles or control, not so much. These soldiers have late-game potential, but they’ll often enter the battlefield with no good targets. Your call.
* Okay, that might be a bit overkill.