With the five new flip cards, we were introduced to what have been called “the Betrayers”, the humans who moved into the world of the Spirit. There was a solid 2/2 for three mana in every color and it could easily be argued that they were even more powerful than any of the heroes from Champions. In arguments between my friends (or debates, if you prefer) we went back and forth between which card was the best of them, but in the end most of us couldn't convince anyone else and we each settled on our own favorites. Whichever is the best, if any of the cards deserves the handle “Betrayer”, though, that card is the Cunning Bandit. After all, when the Cunning Bandit becomes Azamuki, Treachery Incarnate you do get to steal away the loyalty of creatures that belong to your opponent.
All on its ownA repeating Threaten? Not quite. At least, not on its own…
When we were first introduced to the Cunning Bandit, I read the card and thought it was a lot more powerful than it actually is. I'm guessing I'm not the only one that misread the Bandit and thought that once it became Azamuki, Treachery Incarnate, the card actually used ki counters to cast mini-Threatens. I had visions in my head of ridiculous turns: opponents never able to attack as long as you had a ki counter unless they were down to one creature (and even then, only being able to attack if you let them); turns spent with them losing every possible defending creature and having them swing in for a huge kill.
But Azamuki, as good as he is, isn't that good.
When you steal a creature with Azamuki, it doesn't get haste. When you steal a creature, it doesn't untap. So, without a little bit of help, what you'll be using Azamuki for is to get a blocker out of the way or to steal a creature before their attack to maybe make them think twice about it. That's still pretty good. Think about what would happen to your play if you were faced with either of these possibilities – generally, every time you attack you'd be likely to attack with every creature you controlled, or you wouldn't attack with any creature. Azamuki doesn't even have to use a ki counter to get the opponent to play this way. If you know that your opponent is going to be encouraged to send with everything, that Hold the Line is going to completely destroy them.
As a 5/2 (presumably with friends joining in), Azamuki can be a formidable attacker. Only the most aggressive of decks are really going to want to go into a pure race situation with this guy by simply attacking with all of their creatures every turn. Sure, he's only got a 2 toughness, flipped or no, but that doesn't mean he can't be a big threat.
Making it Threatening
Of course, the Cunning Bandit doesn't exist in a vacuum. Lucky us, we get to choose what cards we want to play in our decks! I've talked to enough players who misread the card the same way I did when I first saw it, so what are the big things that we're missing to get the card to do what we thought it did? The first is haste. The second is untapping the creature. Those are pretty easy tricks to pull off.
The first significant haste card that I can remember is Concordant Crossroads. Now Concordant Crossroads has only a wee bit of goodness going for it: it's cheap. But the problem is it's a bit hard to find and it does affect both players (even the updated easy to find version hits both players!). At first you'd think that In the Web of War would solve your problems, but unfortunately it doesn't. In the Web of War does give haste to creatures that come into play on your side of the table, but stealing a creature doesn't suddenly make it come into play, it just brings it to your team. What you're looking for is a card like Fires of Yavimaya. In a pinch you can sack it to give any of your creature +2/+2 (especially good if you need to protect your 5/2), and it keeps giving the gift of haste to everything you might play or steal. For the extremely budget conscious, you probably could find a Battle Rampart, or for a temporary haste fix, Unnatural Speed. Hey, at least it is an Arcane spell!
On the other end of things is the untapping. Where the haste lets you be aggressive versus an opponent that refuses to attack, untapping lets you really wreck people's plans to attack. In conjunction with Haste, it really becomes ugly, turning any tapped creature your opponent might have hoped to keep from the fray into a potential attacker.
When it comes to untapping, there are simple cards like Twiddle, of course. Teardrop Kami can be your personal walking Twiddle, or Turnabout can really pull a mean trick. With enough mana, a Staff of Domination could be used to untap a whole slew of creatures, but it really doesn't take all that much to simply get the one or two creatures you might steal. For cheaper, reusable untapping, Seeker of Skybreak and Aphetto Alchemist can do the trick here.
Keeping Treachery Incarnate Alive
Whether he's a Bandit or a Spirit, a 2 toughness guy is hard to keep alive. There are a few options, though. Red isn't so good at helping to keep a Cunning Bandit alive, leaving you only the option of a few creature enchantments (like Giant Strength), but nearly every other color is. We'll cover Black's major option of reanimation and Blue's of bounce, but there are others.
Blue can also use Countermagic of various sorts, of course. Blue is known as the color that most interacts with what an opponent's plan is, fiddling with it this way and that. Try out Veil of Secrecy (which can double as a great way to get a 5/2 in during an attack) or go old-school with Reality Ripple. My favorite option in Blue, though, has to be Kira, Great Glass-Spinner. Especially if this card is backed up by tricks, it can be nearly impossible to kill your Azamuki.
Green and White have similar options here. White can provide protection effects either by stopping damage with a card like Shining Shoal or by simply protecting its creatures with Blessed Breath. Green will usually use a pumping effect like Giant Growth or Kodama's Might. Either way, you can use a simple trick to make sure this cheap threat sticks around.
Well, I'm sorry to say, he has to go away. You'll need to recast the Cunning Bandit, and the two paths to do that are bounce and raising the dead. In a sense, there is a kind of irony here, as story-wise, the Cunning Bandit became Azamuki after his death, but that's neither here nor there.
A card like Curfew is great here, letting you slightly set back your opponent's development and bringing back the Azamuki to your hand that you wanted back anyway. Other cards that are reusable are great options. Don't forget Crystal Shard or an older card like Tradewind Rider. Consuming Vortex shows up as another great choice simply because of the Arcane, given the kind of deck you're likely to run here.
In the reanimation department, Stir the Grave keeps you in the Kamigawa block, but it isn't nearly as cheap as a lot of other options, anything from Raise Dead, Animate Dead, or Exhume. A flipped Nezumi Graverobber can easily bring back a Bandit. Personally, I like Soulless Revival a lot here. In a deck that will already be including Arcane, being able to splice is nice, plus it can help trigger your Bandit into an Azamuki in the process.
So, blue, of course, has the most ways to bounce. Black is generally the path you'd take to bring back the dead. What they both have is an amazing way to reset an Azamuki: Ninja. The Ninja are already packed with great potential, but with Azamuki, they are even more powerful. I've already talked about how Azamuki strongly encourages an attacking opponent to choose all of their creatures to attack with. What a perfect opportunity for a Ninja! Even if they choose not to attack, Azamuki is greatly suited to making sure there aren't any blockers available to stop your attackers. Go on in, and if you're in the mood, turn your Azamuki into a Ninja and then recast the Cunning Bandit for more fun later on.
The Cunning Bandit (as Azamuki) can really do some pretty cool things to the way the game gets played. When you think about the effect all by itself, it doesn't do very much other than change the way your opponent has to play. That in and of itself makes the card interesting. Once you try to exploit the card, even more can come of it. This week, here is a Block Constructed deck with the Cunning Bandit.
This deck can get out an aggressive start and use the cheap removal to take care of most of the smaller creatures. Other than a creature like Kodama of the North Tree, the Azamuki can steal big creatures out of the way if need be and use a Throat Slitter to take care of the problem. There are no cards that make use of haste or untapping in this deck, but it does have the Ninjas to reset the Bandit, and Blood Rites to turn those creatures into damage. Throw in a couple copies of Unnatural Speed for fun if you want to attack with your opponent's critters.
I hope you enjoyed this week's column. See you next week!