How to come 9th: A road to becoming a ninja master.
Finally ive finished my long awaited NZ Nationals report getting 9th place with Ninja! So many of you have asked for my decklist so hear it is with a full report to boot. - Nic Andisen - Fab Empire
For those that don’t know i have been playing Ninja since Day 1 and after playing 75 different events at all levels of the game i can say i still don’t know what the best build of Ninja is, but can say im pretty close to finding out. And that's a good thing as it goes to show how well designed the class is when multiple versions of the deck can do well. It's a problem when only 1 version of a deck is viable, leading to a stagnating game of rock, paper, scissors or situations where one deck is just clearly the best in the format ala Dash Control pre Crucible of War.
I would say that there are 2 distinct paths that Ninja can take, just like many other classes Ninja plays traditionally aggro or can take the role of the control player. Sasha Markovic’s win at the Calling in Auckland in February showed that a Control Ninja shell was viable alongside the expected aggro decks. From the Road to Nationals series held in NZ, Taiwan and Malaysia players have gone towards the aggro deck in the 29 top 8 finishes so far. Based on the majority, most decks tried to play 2 Combo lines with a base of Surging Strike/ Lord of Wind and either Leg Tap/ Hurricane Technique or Head Jab/ Fluster Fist.
The biggest problem i found with these lists in testing was getting to the late game and just how bad it was when you got there. The problem being drawing all the blues that were pitched to Kodachis in the early game and drawing hands with multiple Blue and Yellow Whelming Gustwave/ Rising Knee Thrust/ Fluster Fist etc. There are turns where if you draw 2-3 of these non-red cards you turn is just over.
So the first step to solving this problem is to cut down on the amount of Blue cards to the absolute minimum, using Jasin Long’s article on “How Many blue Cards Should You Play” for inspiration. This means cutting back on combo cards to just the Reda and playing both Leg Tap and Head Jab lines. Next is to jam as many Red generic cards as possible into the deck to fill the space, and with our reduction in Blue cards Ravenous Rabble becomes much stronger having a higher hit rate on Red cards, so high that over the whole Nationals event i played 25+ Rabbles and only hit 4 non Red cards.
The next step is to never play only 60 cards in any matchup again. The reason for this is just why control decks will play more cards, to allow you to play your game longer that your opponents. Ninja often burns through its cards so quick by playing 3-4 cards from hand, discarding to Katsu and banishing to Art of War so having more cards in deck allows you to not only play a longer game and have pressure into the late game but also fit more red cards from both combo lines while having space for sideboard cards and potentially more equipment too.
I ran a very similar list to a Top 8 finish at the Road to Nats in Wellington a few weeks earlier so i had a good idea how the deck played and i was pretty happy with it. I was not sure how playing with only 9-10 Blue cards would play out in the real world but it worked out well, with the upside of being able to pitch important Red cards like Ancestral Empowerment and Razor Reflex to use later in the game.
So this is the list i registered for the 2020 New Zealand Nationals. Interesting cards were Goliath Gauntlet and 1 Potion of Strength which was to push through massive Surging Strikes against Control and Brute, 3 Reinforce the Line to help survive Guardians crush cards and Breeze Rider Boots to pair the extra defense with them and 2 Eirina’s Prayer as my answer to Wizard and Runeblade which our testing group was hearing scary things about.
I'm not great at remembering how my games play out as each win is mostly the same, just push with kodachi and Red cards then Lord of Wind Combo with Plunder Run and Art of War.
R1 Win vs Brute
Going into this event Brute had been my hardest matchup as it is close to a coin flip as you can get (No pun intended) If Brute flips a 6 on Bonehead or Leathers, nut draws a crazy Bloodrush Bellows into double Claw and attack action or triple/quad intimidate then Ninja has no chance.
Round 1 started just like any other Armory i have played facing down the lovely Coffee Guy Iain Kenderdine. A failed Bloodrush Bellows turn lead to a quick first win for Ninja.
R2 Win vs Brute
It's only round 2 and i am already facing a Calling Top 8 and RtN Winner in Jasin Long. I have bad memories about our game at the last RtN in Wellington so i'm glad to gotten the win in this match.
R3 Win vs Viserai
I have not had too much experience vs Viserai but a number of players have been playing it locally recently and it is a scary deck when it works. Was one of the reasons i threw in 2 Eirina’s Prayer just to help out in the race.
R4 Loss vs Guardian
One of the players in the room I didn't want to play early was my mate Jacob Pearson. A formidable Guardian player and probably one of the best players in the room. A game losing missed trigger from me with Breeze Rider Boots cost me this game and possibly my chances at Top 8 this weekend. Note to self Breeze Rider Boots is a trigger which can be missed.
R5 Loss v Guardian
Next up is Cayle McCreath, a regular contributor to fabempire.com and one of my testing partners. We had driven down to Wellington early the day before and found Cayle had jumped back to Guardian after making the jump to Brute the week before. This meant putting back in my Reinforce the Line as i cannot survive the onslaught of crush after crush effects and if i can stop just 1 or 2 important ones i can have a chance at eeking out a win. This was a close game but it was not to be. I think one of the changes to the deck will be to add 2-3 Yellow Reinforce the Line as Guardian is this decks hardest matchup but is not unwinnable.
So at 2 losses so far i needed to win the next 2 to progress to Day 2 with a 5-2 or better record.
R6 Win vs Warrior
Another matchup people say is not in Ninjas favor and i tend to agree if Ninja is built combo heavy but this super lean version i think actually has a good matchup when combined with a special sideboard card. My first Warrior player of the event was the formidable Mani of Adept Games, this matchup is becoming a common occurrence. It was a close game until a well timed Chain of Eminence naming Warrior’s Valor came down, thinking hard all Mani could do was double block my attack and take a lot of damage, then in his turn just put a card in his Arsenal and pass. Turns out hitting 2 cards in hand with Chains is pretty good.
R7 Win vs Wizard
The last match of the day was a win and in for both of us so the pressure was on to qualify for Day 2. Going in i was scared that Wizards could just combo kill in one turn so i was hoping to just race as fast as i can and hope i draw an Eirina’s Prayer. Turns out just racing was good enough as it was over pretty fast. I drew the 2 Prayers but i don't think it made a difference in this game.
On to Day 2
R8 Win vs Brute
A quick game with some Art of Wars showing their power in filtering an unplayable hand of 3 Whelming Gustwave and a Snatch T3 into a full Lord of Wind line.
R9 Loss vs Warrior
Another Warrior which i was happy about, was expecting the best and with potential to win this round and another in the last i had a shot at Top 8. Unfortunately drawing 3 Chains of Eminence in 1 turn will turn a close game into an unwinnable one.
R10 Win vs Mech
This match was a strange one with last season being dominated by Mech, i was not sure how this one was going to go. I think i had the edge as forcing many attacks for 4 and kodachis will eventually wear through all their defense reactions but with the addition of Plasma Purifier Mech can potentially get into a race situation. Come the end of the game my opponent had gained at least 10 life win Sigils and Tome, had gotten 3 Induction Chamber and 1 Plasma Purifier out and somehow i won with 20+ life, not how i expected to finish my run at Nationals.
So in the end i finished with a decent record of 7-3 just missing the Top 8 on resistance being beaten out by none other than Cayle McCreath. 9th place is such a notorious spot in tournaments so hopefully in the future we can do better. I'm very much looking forward to playing as many events as i can in the next year, hopefully hunting down that elusive Professional Tournament Invite. As soon as international travel opens up you can expect me to be at the first open event held by Legend Story Studios in the near future.