Mechanically Minded - Legendary

(Weatherlight | Art by Jaime Jones)

We Need a Hero

Legends are everywhere. There are Legends of Zelda, Zorro, Tarzan, Sleepy Hollow, El Dorado, and—according to my Google search—something called Bum-bo. Today, let's add some more.

Welcome back to Mechanically Minded, the article series where we build EDH decks around keywords and mechanics with the assistance of EDHREC’s amazing stats. In this week’s column, we’ll be focusing on legendary.

No, legendary isn’t technically a mechanic. It’s actually a supertype that designates permanents (and now some sorceries) as famous characters, places, or events in Magic’s history. If two legendary permanents of the same name are ever in play at the same time under the control of the same player, that player must put one of them into the graveyard. Aside from that, legendary cards usually don’t have much other in-game application.

Usually. Let's see what we can dig up.


A Brief History of Legendary

You'll never believe this, but legendary cards first entered the game in a set called Legends. That happened in 1994, so legends have been part of the game for a very long time.

At first, “legend” was an actual creature type. For example, the original printing of Nicol Bolas reads, “Summon Elder Dragon Legend.” With 2004’s Kamigawa, legendary switched to a supertype and has remained there since.

Additionally, the "legend rule" has undergone quite a number of changes over the years. It used to be the case that whomever got their legendary card in play first would prevent the opponent from casting their legendary card; if you got your Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero onto the battlefield before your opponent did, they would be unable to cast their own, making mirror matches somewhat of a race to get the legend out first. The rule later changed to make legendary cards implode whenever they saw a copy of themselves in play; Clone was, for a long time, a removal spell for people's commanders! It took many years for the legend rule to change to what we know today.

(For a more detailed history, I highly recommend this video by Rhystic Studies.)

Last year’s masterpiece of a set, Dominaria, added a new wrinkle to legendary cards: legendary sorceries. These may only be cast if you control another legendary creature or planeswalker. Additionally, with the release of Ixalan in 2017, all planeswalkers became legendary permanents and therefore subject to the legendary rule. We like that, especially for today’s deck.


Commanding Legends

Ever since it was spoiled, there was only one commander I had in mind for this mechanic:

A powerful commander in an excellent color combination who has impeccable penmanship...and he's a fellow lefty? What more could I ask for in a leader? Let's get our legend on!

Kethis demands a critical mass of our titular mechanic. What’s more, he wants them in the graveyard for extra value. Let’s start by heading over to his commander page.

We see many easy inclusions for Kethis littering his Top Cards and High Synergy sections. Reki, the History of Kamigawa rewards us for playing our mechanic, as does Arvad the Cursed.

Meanwhile, powerful cards that happen to be legendary slip smoothly into this strategy with powerful abilities we'd probably want even if they weren't attached to legendary body. Shalai, Voice of Plenty protects our team, Tymna the Weaver provides us with some nice card advantage, and the ever-bothersome Anafenza, the Foremost helps hose graveyard players and keeps them from going too berserk, plus she provides solid production on offense.

Here are three more standouts on Kethis's page:

What I like most about these three cards is that they put legends directly into the graveyard. Yawgmoth, Thran Physician, for example, allows us to either sacrifice or discard our legends. The discard effect works especially well with legendary lands, which we might want to discard anyway in case of mana flood. Saffi Eriksdotter is a decent creature that offers some combo potential, while Sidisi, Undead Vizier fits nicely into any black deck. Plus, she can sacrifice herself to fill our graveyard.

This isn't even counting some of the latest additions from Commander 2019. We have some other fun new members to add to our value squad: K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth is plenty strong even outside of mono-black decks. Grismold, the Dreadsower looks funky, but as we'll soon learn, we have lots of token-makers at our disposal when playing around the legendary mechanic.

These are just a few of the legendary creatures we’ll include in the deck, and we’ve got plenty more to cover. Onward!


Take a Planeswalk

Since all planeswalkers are now legendary, Kethis loves 'em. They’re powerful enough that most decks want them anyway, so it’s cool to get some upside out of already powerful cards.

Since our deck is composed of mostly creatures and planeswalkers, Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord should play a strong role. Furthermore, since we’re a somewhat graveyard-based deck, his reanimation ability offers bonus redundancy with our commander. 

Liliana, Death's Majesty plays nicely for several reasons. First, she costs five mana, meaning Kethis’s cost reduction clause allows you to curve into her the turn after casting him. Second, she provides a consistent source of self-mill (more on that later). Third, she's got a reanimation effect similar to Sorin’s. Nice addition there.

Finally, Ajani Unyielding. This guy has always seemed underplayed to me, and he’s especially strong in this deck. His first ability will often draw us two or even three cards (our deck is mostly nonland permanents). His second ability fits well because, when activated twice, Ajani immediately goes to the graveyard. From there, we can replay him with Kethis or exile him to play something better. Thanks for never yielding, pal.


Thanks, Dominaria!

Remember how I mentioned Dominaria’s legendary sorceries? These are premium with Kethis.

Yawgmoth's Vile Offering is nasty in most black decks. The only sad part is that it exiles itself and therefore can't be replayed from the graveyard with Kethis. Oh well. Still a powerful card, and still costs one less to cast thanks to our commander.

Next up is Primevals' Glorious Rebirth, which doesn’t need much explanation. There is some tension with this and Kethis’s exile clause, but I think we’ll have enough legends that it doesn’t become too problematic. Well, not too problematic for us, at least; if we manage to cast this it will be very problematic for our opponents!

Lastly comes Urza's Ruinous Blast, which might be the best card in our deck. I’ve seen this thing do amazing work even in decks not fully optimized to play it. Sure, it occasionally won’t exile the most problematic permanents on the board. But in our deck of legends, it should hurt everyone else much more than us.

There’s one legendary sorcery we haven’t touched on yet…

This was a perennial junk pick of Dominaria Booster Draft. However, with Kethis at the helm, this card is actually pretty sick. I even used a fancy hypergeometric calculator to check!

Kamahl's Druidic Vow hits legendary permanents and any land card. I’m guessing at least 70 cards in our deck fit that criteria. Now, pretend we cast the Vow for X = 5: according to my calculator, we have an 85% chance of hitting three or more cards that we can cast for free (assuming those cards cost less than five mana).

Granted, getting more lands after we already have seven mana seems trivial. However, Kethis can do something with those lands: his second ability allows us to play as many legends as we want from our graveyard during that turn. Therefore, we could ostensibly cast two or even three legends from the graveyard in a single turn. That requires tons of mana.

All this is to say that yes, we are playing Kamahl's Druidic Vow. Take that, Dominaria Booster Draft!


Mill Yoself

I mentioned self-mill earlier. This is an important subtheme because it provides fodder for Kethis to both exile and to play from the graveyard. We already mentioned Liliana, Death's Majesty. Here are a few other important self-mill outlets:

Grisly Salvage and friends often see the most play in Golgari decks like Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis and Izoni, Thousand-Eyed since they want to put a bunch of cards in their yard very quickly. Hey! Us too! Other helpers like Underrealm Lich are also good at this. Not only will these put cards into our yard, but they'll help us find exactly the cards we need in our hand, too!

Now, okay, Buried Alive isn’t technically self-mill. It does, however, put any three creatures from your deck into your graveyard. I recommend selecting three legends.


History Lessons

Dominaria provided our deck with more than just legendary sorceries. It also gave us the "historic" moniker!

Like legendary, historic is not technically a mechanic (geez, I’m really going off-brand with this article). It simply refers to a specific grouping of card types, namely legends, artifacts, and Sagas, which are a category of enchantments found only in Dominaria. Since legends make up a big chunk of that pie, Kethis definitely wants some historic synergies. Here are some of the best, straight from the Historic decks tab on EDHREC:

The cost reduction clause on Jhoira's Familiar is especially nice since it stacks with Kethis’s. That means that when it’s time to cast legends from the graveyard, we’re more likely to be able to cast several cards. Weatherlight is obviously going to do some work too, and Traxos, Scourge of Kroog will basically have pseudo-vigilance in our deck.


Miscellaneous Good Stuff

Since Kethis is an unusual commander, he offers some unusual deckbuilding options. For example…

Exile two legends with Kethis, shuffle one back with Riftsweeper. Normally I wouldn’t include such a cute interaction, but we have several ways to search for the card that we shuffled in, including Captain Sisay, Thalia's Lancers, and Sidisi, Undead Vizier. Get in there, Riftsweeper!

Oath of Nissa is a legendary card, it functions as a green Ponder, and it helps us cast our numerous planeswalkers. What's not to like?

There are several legendary lands we want, and of the ones we could be agonizing over, including Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth seems like the easiest decision to make. Notice that Kethis’s second clause lets us play legends from the graveyard, not cast them. That means we can play legendary lands like Urborg from our graveyard, so long as we have an available land drop. Pay close attention to the Utility Lands section on Kethis's EDHREC page, since it's full of great fodder for his abilities. There are some phenomenal lands you won't even remember are legendary, from Phyrexian Tower to Geier Reach Sanitarium!


Playing the Deck

Priority number one: cast Kethis as soon as possible. Turn one Birds of Paradise into turn two Kethis is probably the best case scenario, but a turn three Kethis is still good.

After that, we want to cast some legends, which Kethis of course helps us do. If you've played against The Ur-Dragon before, you know how powerful it can be for big important creatures to come down a turn earlier than everyone expects! I wouldn’t worry about overextending into a board wipe because our commander can salvage any lost legends. Build out a board, establish some threats, and force your opponents to answer them.

This deck will likely win through attrition. While opponents spend resources to defeat our threatening legends, we’ll bring them back with the power of Kethis. Exile effects will obviously be problematic, so it can’t hurt to target the players who are more likely to have them.


The List

Here it is! I can't wait for all the epic and (dare I say it) legendary moments this deck will produce. See you next time!

The Legend of the Left-Handed Elf Advisor

Commander (1)
Creatures (34)
Instants (4)
Sorceries (8)
Artifacts (8)
Enchantments (5)
Planeswalkers (6)
Land (34)

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Kyle A. Massa is a writer and avid Magic player living somewhere in upstate New York with his wife, their daughter, and three wild animals. His current favorite card is Wilson, Refined Grizzly. Kyle can be found on Twitter @mindofkyleam.