My my my, ain’t she cool?
When Tetsuko Umezwa, Fugitive, was spoilered I didn’t remember having a striking reaction. She wasn’t a ninja, which was a bummer, but then, she shouldn’t have been. Her ancestors weren’t. Her ability was just cryptic enough that I didn’t really parse it at first.
Now I’ve had a chance to play with the gal and boy howdy.
I’ve gutted and rebuilt this deck a dozen times now. The main thing about Tetsuko I like is that she gives blue a totally different way to design their deck, and that different approach means that your gameplan isn’t about controlling the game, it’s about preventing one or two extremely specific things from happening. In a Tetsuko deck, you want to turn small, cheap value creatures sideways, and then use your mana to protect yourself and your life total while you whittle away at your opponent.
If you remember how I talked about Jund, with its 8X8 strategy, I have a similar thought with Tetsuko. I don’t have actual piles in this list at all – but I have what I want piles to do. Here are some piles I’m considering, and why I like them.
Pile 1. Fish
First of all, turning any X/1 or 1/X creature into an unblockable threat is a great deal. Blue has some real stunners in this category, creatures who offer either a commando ability or some control as long as they can get through. To qualify for this pile, a creature needs to be cheap (1-2 mana), have a reason to attack, and do something to defend yourself or disrupt your opponents. Anything that requires mana investment isn’t as good as something that triggers for free.
My list of things that can get value as they attack, and are cheap, is Daring Saboteur, Skyship Plunderer, Tandem Lookout, Neurok Commando, Surrakar Spellblade, Impaler Shrike, Phyrexian Revoker, Mistblade Shinobi, Cephalid Constable, Looter Il-Kor, Riptide Pilferer, Wharf Infiltrator. This isn’t to include even some fish mainstays like Spiketail Hatchling, Merrow Witsniper and Siren Storm-Caller, which are also great additions.
Some of these parts are flexible. Tandem Lookout is an amazing piece with Tetsuko, because it’s a great curve. Skyship Plunderer works if you want an Infect package, which also introduces Thrummingbird, and they then want to encourage you to use a Proliferate package.
At the same time, there are some really useful creatures that benefit from the lands-up fish strategy. Cheap creatures are good for expanding your board because you don’t have to tap out for them as the game goes on, letting you keep answers for some threats available. This puts flash creatures on the list, and that list includes Snapcaster Mage, Vendilion Clique, Pestermite and Nimble Obstructionist, all excellent cards.
Pile 2. Value Triggers
You’re going to be doing a lot of attacking. You want cards that trigger on when you do that – either when you launch the attack or when you land it. In this case, equipment that gives you a combat trigger is good too. An opponent can spend a counterspell or kill spell turning off that concentrated trigger, but you can just do it again next turn.
Pile 3. Equipment
Blue doesn’t have a lot of ways to pump power. Under Tetsuko, though, you can go swarm, play a lot of different creatures or recurring token producers, and protect yourself with counterspells or bounce, or play with the equipment that’s best when it can constantly get through.
Pile 4. Protection
I love how Tetsuko doesn’t care about your opponent having big or threatening creatures as an aggressor. There’s a surprising amount of blue removal that’s actually great if you never have to worry about your opponent blocking you. Some of it is also stunningly cheap, too!
Here’s a small list of really effective blue removal spells that doesn’t slow Tetsuko down: Vow of Flight,Zephyr Net,Propaganda,Deep Freeze,Spontaneous Mutation,Sensory Deprivation,Aether Meltdown,Agoraphobia,Pin to the Earth,Tightening Coils,Chant of the Skisfang,Imprisoned in the Moon.
Pile 5. Rogue Sub-Theme
Testuko is a rogue, and she can trigger Prowl cards, of which there are four decent ones – Notorious Throng, Latchkey Faerie, Thieves’ Fortune, and Knowledge Exploitation. Also some Rogues bring their own commando effects. There isn’t quite the support you want, but you can definitely make a pile, knowing that Tetsuko will always support one of them.
Also, there’s a rogue equipment – Cloak and Dagger – that can protect Tetsuko, even though it stops her attacking.
Pile 6. Wizard Sub-theme
When digging around you’ll notice a lot of pretty cool 2/1 wizards, some that fly and some that don’t. The prince of this lineup is Voidmage Prodigy, and they want you to have a bunch of other wizards, wizards you don’t mind throwing away to trade for very important spells.
What I like about a Wizard package is that you already have some incidental wizards that show up in other piles. If you include cards like, you’ll have a few wizards, and then it only needs a few things to give wizards a bit of extra oomph.
You don’t want to include a lot of wizards for their own sake, though.
Pile 7. Runechanter’s Pack
If your deck is already leaning spell-heavy, and you can include cool tutors or cantrip-driven card draw, you can make something with Runechanter’s Pike. It’s not too hard to find if you’re looking at a lot of cards, and the Pike is capable of turning a creature into a dreadfully lethal threat. Think of it as ‘Pike and 7 cantrips’ as a pile to fit alongside other spell piles.
Pile 8. Mop-Up
Also, sometimes you just need a creature that can serve your opponent to death in one or two turns. In this category, I favour Thassa, God of the Sea, Nezahal, Primal Tide, Supplant Form, Deepfathom Skulker, Mirror-Mad Phantasm, and Glyph Keeper. Really, any sufficially tricky big blue idiot will do the trick, but get the ones you like. You don’t need a lot of them and you don’t need them to be perfect alongside Tetsuko. You want a card that’ll work without her, after all!
Pile 9. Countermagic
If you’re in blue, you kind of want some countermagic, you know? Just in case? There’s a fairly standard kind of nice countermagic, usually related to how much money you have to spend on them. If you’ve got Force of Will and Pact of Negation, they’re good. Counterspell is good, as is Mana Leak, Negate, Essence Scatter and all that family. You know the counterspells you can afford and that you like, so use them if you put in a counterspell bundle. I feel that the countermagic works well alongside the piles that want to control some creatures on the board, but still want to protect from some other things. This does mean sometimes you’ll be caught with removal when you want countermagic, and vice versa! But that’s life in Magic.
Pile 10. The Blue Swarm
It’s not easy for blue to do a swarm strategy, but it is doable. There’s at least one I think is particularly adorable – Homeward Path alongside Hunted Phantasm lets you generate a swarm and recur a creature too. You can also make some mileage out of Homarid Spawning Bed – I know! – and Master of the Waves (who is pricey). I also like the artifact options – Efficient Construction, Akroan Horse, and Thopter Spy Network all let you steadily increase your board presence, turn by turn.
Pick your Piles
And that’s that! I left out the Infect Package – you can probably see all the cards that go into that just fine, and I don’t want to play that way if I can avoid it. Infect always seems kind of tedious in a deck designed to be multiplayer!
Tetsuko’s a wonderful little puzzle. I don’t know if I can solve her, but I know I’m still enjoying tinkering with what she’s meant to do and what she wants to do.