(Toshiro) Umezawa's Jitte, my friends, is a very impressive card.
One of the greatest things about playing Magic is the sheer multitude of ways you can play it. I regularly draft for fun, I play all of the constructed formats that might be relevant for a Qualifying Tournament or Grand Prix I might intend to attend, I play Mental Magic, and I play 5-color. If you intend to keep your Magic-mind as sharp as you can, the more formats you play seriously, the more it will give you ideas of what will be valuable in other formats. A trick or a card that is potent in one place will often end up being similarly useful in another. Of course, there are relative power levels to consider (a card powerful in Standard might not be able to compete in Legacy), but be that as it may, things transfer.
Bringing the Jitte to the fight
When I put Umezawa's Jitte into my sealed deck, I thought it might be neat. Once I'd finished playing it, I couldn't believe how well it had performed. As I drove home, I began to think that this card was so good that I wanted to try it for constructed.
Obviously, as fairly cheap equipment, the Jitte requires some creatures to support it, and as a Legend, it does somewhat self-limit. As far as playable equipment goes, costing two isn't bad at all, but a cost of two to equip could certainly slow it down some. The thing that I didn't notice right away (and I've found that most people miss the first time they read the card) is that Umezawa's Jitte gains counters whenever it does combat damage to anything, not just a player or just creatures. Essentially this means that if you get a Jitte in a fight, it will accumulate two charge counters.
In addition, only one of the abilities of the Jitte actually requires that it is equipped (losing a counter to give its user +2/+2). Even this ability is great, meaning that it is increasingly hard to justify blocking a Jitte-user but increasingly dangerous not to do so. The other two abilities can be done at any time, as an instant, even if the Jitte is all on its lonesome. Being able to pack creature elimination so effortlessly is great. Even gaining life with the Jitte is fine – creature races can become very hard for an opponent to win if you can not only use the Jitte to pick off their best creatures but also suddenly gain life if a burn spell tries to hit you.
Upon further reflection, what does this mean about the Jitte? Well, in a combat war, even a mediocre creature is likely to trade during the combat with anything that blocks it. This will give it two counters that can be immediately used to potentially kill yet more creatures. But even after this potential three-for-one, the Jitte is still sitting on the table. If you've even gotten in one swing with a Jitte-wielding critter, a Viridian Shaman might be able to destroy it on the following turn, but your two charge counters can immediately be used to kill that Shaman right back! If you have the mana available and the creatures to boot, you can send in with some of your creatures, get two charge counters, and re-equip the Jitte to a defending creature. Almost any opponent will find themselves hard-pressed to actually send back in against a defending Jitte.
And all of this without even trying to exploit the card…
From there, things just get more exciting. Auriok Steelshaper is the first and best equipment-based creature that can come to mind. Reducing the cost of equipping by one is incredibly powerful, as it allows you to accomplish more in a single turn. It becomes far easier to equip the Jitte, play a new creature, and then move the Jitte to the new creature for defense without running out of mana. The Soldiers/Knights bonus of the Steelshaper is just a tiny little bonus.
The other really exciting card here is the Leonin Shikari. The Shikari's ability to move equipment is more powerful with the +2/+2 effect simply because it can allow you to punish players for their block selections. One of the other nice things about the Shikari is dodging small amounts of creature kill. A Jitte can be foiled if you can simply keep the creature using it from hitting you or your creatures. With a Shikari, an opponent will have a hard time doing even that.
On First Strike
If you are fortunate enough to have a Shikari on hand, you could deal your first-strike damage, gain the charge counters, and then move the Jitte to another creature for a double-dose of Jitte-ing. Double strike can do the same thing, but without the need for a second creature plus a Shikari. While obviously expensive, the image of a card like Raksha Golden Cub sweeping through a field of dying soldiers wielding a Jitte is great. Not only would the 5/6 Raksha be able to gain an impressive amount of counters, if you were ever in the position that you were getting through to the player, some truly terrible stuff could happen indeed. Even two charge counters on Raksha would mean that you could sweep away an X/1 blocker, get in and pump the Raksha to 7/8 power, accumulate two more charge counters and uses them both to make Raksha an 11/12 before normal damage. A card that lets someone attack a second time, like Godo, can pull of the same task. Godo, incidentally, can actually search for Umezawa's Jitte, so maybe there is something going on there…
Vigilance is another good ability to watch for when looking for creatures that might be using a Jitte. The Leonin Den-Guard is a great example of this. On its own, the 1/3 Den-Guard can potentially be a reasonable defender, but with a Jitte, that 2/4 body can suddenly be incredibly impressive. Four toughness is hard to kill in combat or with burn spells, and the moment a Jitte gets going on it (i.e., one attack), using burn or creature combat to get rid of the Den-Guard is unlikely to be very effective. Since it can attack and defend, you can expect that it will soon actually not need to defend: the mere threat of the Den-Guard blocking and the tokens that it has already accumulated should wear away the offense of nearly any opponent in very few turns. If they can't kill the Jitte, they'll most likely have to turn to Black for elimination if they hope to survive. If your opponent keeps attacking into your Den-Guard, it can deal twenty damage in two turns (2 damage a turn, and 4 possible +2/+2s a turn) if left unblocked.
This is the case with any creature with Vigilance, even far more powerful cards like Serra Angel. What Serra lacks in speed, she does make up for in size, and her other ability…
On Flying (and other evasion)
Earlier, I mentioned Skyhunter Cub as a card that gains a bonus from being equipped, but really, there are far better options for fliers to put a Jitte on. A general rule in Magic is to go for cheap and efficient creatures. Lantern Kami and Suntail Hawk are virtually the same creature for the purposes of an aggressive White deck. Thieving Magpie already gives you card advantage, but now it can be a colder, more brutal killer. Leonin Skyhunter is just the faster, better version of the Cub. Is it hard to block? Perfect.
You might have noticed that nearly all of the cards named thus far have been white. Well, there are several reasons for that. First of all, many of the abilities that work the best with the Jitte (Vigilance, First Strike, Flying) are easier to find in efficient creatures in white than in any other color. Secondly, white is the only color to really deal strongly in equipment. Perhaps most importantly, white doesn't really have much in the way of targeted creature elimination. Sure, you have mass-effect options like Wrath of God, but that tends to be more effective the fewer creatures you have yourself.
When you're dealing with a color like red, for example, being able to kill a creature is nice, but not incredibly special. The same holds true for black. Each of these colors can already play cards that help it kill creatures and kill them well. A card that suddenly grants this ability is fine, but it isn't exactly monumental. Red and Black also lack an abundance of efficient flying, first striking, vigilant guys. While the Jitte can certainly find a home in decks of those colors (and hopefully will find its way into Toshiro Umezawa decks as a great means of triggering his ability), it shines in places where creature kill is scarce.
All of that said, I suppose it is no surprise that the deck I'm going to use this week is White Weenie for Standard. Now, I've spent a bit of time working on White Weenie for Standard for States, with my fellow co-columnist Nate Heiss and I briefly having a fairly large affection for the Bushi Tenderfoot in our initial builds (quoth Nate Heiss, “He's like a one-mana Moat”). At first glance, Bushi Tenderfoot seemed great, but one of the problems that kept on being run into was that you'd have to work really hard to make him survive combat and flip. Now all you need is a Jitte with a counter on it, and it becomes very easy. And if he does flip, oh man! (P.S., he starts out as a Soldier…)
About the only thing that this deck doesn't have is the Den-Guard (I couldn't figure out how to find room…). With fourteen one-drop creatures, and a slew of solid two drops, it can actually get the beats going incredibly quickly. For the first time since Swords to Plowshares, White Weenie can stay a single color and have really incredibly efficient creature elimination. I know that my last major Standard deck would get owned by any Jitte that manages to stay on the table. The Steelshaper's Gift makes it like you are running 5 Jitte, 3 Bola, and 3 Mask of Memory, with the non-Jittes giving you some options while still making it very likely you'll have a Jitte when you want one. Finally, Hokori is a great fit here in a deck that includes Chrome Mox and has a very low curve. This deck is still in the honing stages, but I think it certainly has the stuff to take on a wide field.
I hope you enjoyed this week's column. See you next time!