Commander Showdown – Kethis vs Captain Sisay

Kethis, the Hidden Hand by Yongjae Choi | Captain Sisay by Magali Villeneueve

A Legendary Tale

Commander has a few very simple rules. 40 life. 21 commander damage. 100 cards. All singleton. The leader of your deck must be a legendary creature (or a planeswalker that makes an exception).

That legendary piece serves as much of the format’s overall flavor. These are the decks befitting a lore character of great renown, the army and spellbook they’ve brought with them to vanquish their foes, the story they choose to tell in every game. I’m not usually much of a Vorthos, but this flavorful dynamic is evoked so well by that single word: legendary.

And as it happens, there are a few commanders out there who love legends more than anything:

Kethis, the Hidden Hand joined the fray in Core 2020, reducing costs and reviving legendary permanents from the graveyard. Captain Sisay has been around since ‘Legend’ was a creature type instead of a supertype, and has the stunning ability to tutor for any legendary card in her deck. She was revived in Modern Horizons as Sisay, Weatherlight Captain, who can run the full cast of characters from the Weatherlight saga as a five-color deck.

But if you’re not in the market for a five-color deck, Kethis and Captain Sisay are two of your most potent choices for a legend-driven deck. So… how do these decks play? How do they differ? What strategies or play patterns shift around between this white-green legends deck and this black-white-green legends deck?

Let’s find out on this legendary edition of Commander Showdown!


I Wanna Hide Your Hand

I usually begin with the older commander, but I’d actually like to begin with Kethis, the Hidden Hand this time. Folks may remember Kethis enabling a combo deck in Standard last year by looping Mox Amber, but the Diligent Excavator card isn’t available to us here, so I’ll forgo attempts at Kethis combo. Rather, I want to evaluate Kethis based on what I think might be his trickiest problem: timing.

Kethis reduces the cost of legendary cards by one mana. In other words, he’s ramping your legends. We’ve seen from The Ur-Dragon and Ethrium Sculptor that this simple reduction can put in a lot more work than people usually expect, so this is a pretty great ability. Plopping out those Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobites or Dragonlord Dromokas a turn early can really devastate the field. This indicates that our desired play pattern is to play Kethis as early as possible, to get the mana reduction right away.

However, Kethis’s other ability is quite useless in the early game. Since we have to exile two cards to activate it, we need at least three legendary cards in the yard before it can do anything, and we’d rather revive multiple cards anyway, not just one.

This is what makes Kethis’s timing somewhat odd; he wants to come down early, but he also wants to make a big splash much later on. This is just slightly at odds with the actual legendary cards available to him, as many of the powerful legends out there fall into the ‘midrange’ style.

Powerful cards indeed. We’re definitely planning on winning the game by smacking our opponents with heavy-hitting legends.

However, Kethis isn’t just about the creatures. Kethis cares a whole lot about those noncreature legends too.

Kethis Washes his Hidden Hands

Commander (1)
Creatures (22)
Artifacts (19)
Sorceries (9)
Instants (9)
Enchantments (4)
Lands (36)

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Kethis doesn’t want to exile his amazing legends. If they die, he wants to cast them again and again and again. The fun part of building his deck comes from finding the unexpected legends. We know some legendary Kamigawa lands like Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers and Shizo, Death’s Storehouse, but I didn’t know Kor Haven and Geier Reach Sanitarium were legendary before now, nor Arguel’s Blood Fast and Journey to Eternity.

Importantly, an increased number of nonbasic lands has ripple effects on the rest of the deck. For instance, Signets become more desirable forms of acceleration because they help paper over the colorless mana that is supplied by several of these legendary lands. All these nonbasics also make Hermit Druid much more appealing. With the right suite of spells, Kethis could be on board for some massive reanimation. And as it happens, Primeval’s Glorious Rebirth is exactly the right spell to make it happen.

I think it’s important to differentiate Kethis’s strategy from Muldrotha, the Gravetide. Kethis won’t be able to out-Muldrotha a Muldrotha. Focusing on the more explosive plays will help Kethis truly shine. Not just that, but it allows Kethis to plan for these moments in advance. With one Gaddock Teeg in the mix, Kethis can protect all that resurrection from swift retribution. Akroma’s Memorial will help make a big new board a fast one, too. And Heroes’ Podium isn’t the only way these legends can power each other up; an Odric, Lunarch Marshal can share their strengths too!

I have a few other observations about Kethis, but they’ll have to wait. It’s the Captain’s turn to steer the ship.


Light Weather

We move now to Captain Sisay. Sisay has had a pretty tumultuous time as a commander. She experienced a creature type update that set ‘legend’ from creature type to supertype. She witnessed a shift in legendary status for planeswalkers, allowing her to tutor up a brand new type of permanent.

And of course, an important piece of her high-level strategies was taken away when Paradox Engine got banned.

In other words, Sisay’s already had quite the journey, and as it turns out, I’m here to send her on another one. In scouring her data, especially the lists that are more ‘tuned,’ a pattern quickly emerges. Cards like Seedborn Muse help Sisay find multiple legends per round… but they also help Sisay avoid the downsides of one particularly nasty legend: Hokori, Dust Drinker.

This staxy legend shows up in 81% of the expensive Sisay decks, along with other lockdown legends like Linvala, Keeper of Silence, Kataki, War’s Wage, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Sisay can find any of these, and also find the untappers like Seedborn Muse with a myriad of green tutor spells, from Eladamri’s Call to Worldly Tutor. From there, victory is all but assured. Only she can cast spells, while everyone else’s resources are shut down.

I have to admit, I was extremely, extremely tempted to lean into this strategy. Sisay’s a tutor, so why not run more tutors? And it’s wise to have a plan in mind. I adore players who know their sequencing really well, and who understand which cards they need before they start searching their libraries, rather than searching without a clue what they’ll go get, because it saves tons of time during a game.

Ultimately, though, this is what I went with:

Sisay That Walk

Commander (1)
Creatures (23)
Planeswalkers (4)
Sorceries (9)
Instants (7)
Enchantments (8)
Artifacts (12)
Lands (36)

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I don’t play Selesnya very often, but when I do, I just wanna smash! Captain Sisay runs the same risks as Prime Speaker Vannifar. They both appear to be a toolbox-y commander, able to find you whatever you need in the moment. However, as you grow more familiar with them, that toolbox effect begins to feel too reactive, and the desire for a more proactive plan will inevitably emerge. This makes it not just tempting to default to a combo or stax lockdown, but downright easy to slip into that style, because it simplifies your lines of play, and knowing the sequence of cards you’ll tutor for minimizes the amount of time you spend searching your library.

I find Sisay to be fun when she maintains the toolbox identity, for two reasons. First, it varies her lines of play. Stax or combo decks can sometimes be a little ‘samey’ from game to game, which isn’t the exact experience I typically treasure in a game of EDH. Second, it’s kinda fun in the deckbuilding process to force your commander to be a little restrained.

This is why I like the idea of using Sisay as a ‘get what you need when you need it’ commander. Afraid of a Fog effect? Grab a Dragonlord Dromoka. Board too crowded? Urza’s Ruinous Blast has your back. Need to swing for lethal? God-Eternal Rhonas is practically a pump spell. Need lands? Sisay can find you those too!

And to be clear, this deck does still contain some powerful ‘lockdown’ style cards. We still have things like Gaddock Teeg in the above decklist. Even if the goal isn’t to Hokori, Dust Drinker everybody, when Selesnya wants to smash some face, it’s nice to find some legendary cards that make it super difficult for our opponents to disrupt our stampede!


Cards to Consider

Before we wrap up, here are a few cards for each commander that I think could be worth some additional consideration.


Kethis

  • Painful Truths: Commanders that reduce mana costs have the habit of running out of cards in hand pretty quickly. Don’t hesitate to look for some extra card advantage.
  • The Gitrog Monster: Good way to get some legendary lands into your graveyard for Kethis to have exile fodder. Oh, and it’s also a 6/6 with deathtouch that draws cards.
  • Generous Gift: Something pretty curious is occurring on Kethis’s EDHREC page. A lot of the classic removal spells have extremely low numbers; Beast Within only shows up in 21% of his decks, and Generous Gift only appears in 14%. Kethis needs a lot of legendary spells, but don’t let that get in the way of some much-needed interaction.
  • Mindslaver: Yeah, I didn’t know this was legendary either. Casting this in the late game even just one or two extra times can totally close things out.
  • Selvala, Heart of the Wilds: Like many legends, this card is absurdly expensive, so don’t go breaking the bank for it. There are a ton of expensive, splashy spells in the lists above, but Kethis doesn’t need the high-roller cards to be fun or to play well. I just want to point Selvala out because she’s not on Kethis’s EDHREC page at all. Kethis wants a lot of mana to recast a lot of cards from the yard, and that’s exactly what Selvala provides, so if you are in a place to start upgrading your list, don’t forget about about this one.

Captain Sisay

  • Defense of the Heart: This is the Collected Company of EDH. Is that an outlandish thing to say? Probably! But it’s still a great card in a deck that plays so many heavy-hitting creatures.
  • Aura of Silence: Selesnya is famous for Aura Shards but this thing can be just as devastating.
  • Farseek: With the ban of Paradox Engine, Sisay had to make some changes, but not all players have updated their lists online. I think this is why we see a lot of mana dorks like Avacyn’s Pilgrim still populating her EDHREC page, since they were a big piece of that combo engine. Exchanging mana dorks for some land ramp can be useful for a more stompy version of Sisay.
  • God-Eternal Rhonas: Like I mentioned above, this is basically a fetchable pump spell.
  • Vedalken Orrery: I know, this one’s infamous by now. I don’t believe this is good in every single deck, but I do think it shines very bright in two specific types of decks: first, commanders with mana sink abilities (think Kenrith, the Returned King or Syr Konrad, the Grim), because you’ll always have a use for your extra mana; and second, decks that run an extremely high density of permanents. Feather the Redeemed doesn’t need Orrery because she plays like 50 instants, but Sisay? There are like 7 instants in her list. Not only that, but she already wants to play Seedborn Muse anyway, to activate her own ability multiple times per round. You aren’t just making your own Prophet of Kruphix, you’re casting any instant-speed legend you want on every single turn. That’s gas.

I am Legend

Kethis, the Hidden Hand and Captain Sisay represent two very dynamic methods of gameplay. Kethis gives legends a degree of persistence that makes them very problematic for his enemies; a powerful legend that won’t go away will certainly spell someone’s doom. Basially, Kethis is Theros’s Escape mechanic in the command zone.

Captain Sisay, on the other hand, is a balancing act between toolbox and sequencing. Despite her enormous journey through bannings and rules changes in EDH over the years, she’s proven time and time again that her tutoring ability is not to be trifled with. I think this is the exact same type of journey folks will go through if they build and play her, too. Sisay is a resilient commander and proud captain who will teach her pilots to change and grow over time, and it’s up to those pilots to figure out how fast they want that ship to go.

So, which of these legend-focused legends do you prefer? Oh, and which commanders are you excited to see on the next Commander Showdown?

Til next time!

Joseph Schultz works in a library by day and shuffles libraries by night. He hosts the EDHRECast with Matt Morgan and Dana Roach over at http://edhrecast.libsyn.com/ and has recently taken over as Editor for the articles here on EDHREC! He was also born exactly one year before Magic: the Gathering, which he thinks is probably some kind of sign. Follow @JosephMSchultz on Twitter!