Ultra Budget Brews - Kethis, the Hidden Hand
Hide Yo Kids, Hide Yo Hands
Hello and welcome back to another edition of Ultra Budget Brews, the monthly article series that builds entire EDH decks containing no card (commander excluded) that costs more than $1! Every week, I give you, the people, the choice of which commander will be next. Last month's poll went as follows:
I can't say I was surprised by Chulane being at the bottom of the barrel. That crap is like glitter. It gets everywhere, and once it has infested an area, it's nigh impossible to get rid of without resorting to extreme measures.
That being said, Kethis won, and frankly, Kethis is a fun card that has flown a bit under the radar, in my estimation. In fact, if you check out the Core Set 2020 page on EDHREC, you'll find it comes in a distant 6th among all eligible commanders from the set. I think it should be significantly more popular than it is, because Kethis is one spicy meatball. Let's break him down.
- 3/4 for three mana is great stats
- Making all legendary spells cheaper is gas
- Built-in recursion
- Samuel L. Jackson cosplaying as an Elf, presumably scribing Ezekiel 25:17 in Elvish, is incredible
- No protection or evasion to speak of
- Exiling cards from our graveyard to use his ability isn't ideal
- Very specific deckbuilding restrictions
- Abzan colors, which are abhorrent to my personal (and obviously superior) taste
If you go to Kethis' EDHREC page, you'll notice a ton of fantastic legendary cards among the suggestions. You'll also notice a ton of cards that cost more than $1. The general strategy seems to be to play a bunch of powerful legends with powerful abilities, relying on the fact that Kethis makes them cheaper and maybe doing graveyard shenanigans with cards like , , and .
I don't say this dismissively. In fact, playing a plethora of undercosted legends is a strategy that is as fun as it is effective. The problem is, we won't be able to do that, at least not with the normal cards you'd expect to see. Popular, powerful cards, especially cards that are a bit older, are often expensive. Who knew?
Obviously we're still going to be using a whole host of legends, as Kethis is pretty useless without a deck full of them. It's simply going to be different legends then are normally played. Let's get into it.
[deck list = Kethis' Good Vibes]
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Legendary Spirit tribal, engage! Honestly, outside of the fact that Kethis isn't a Spirit, himself, he makes about as much sense as anyone. Sure, he doesn't work particularly well with non-legendary Spirits, but have you seen how many legendary Spirits there are, just in Abzan colors? Spoiler alert: there are a ton. The whole of Kamigawa block was seemingly created for just this moment in history.
One of the things that is a bit unfortunate with some of the mechanics from Kamigawa is that they are a bit parasitic, meaning that they don't work terribly well with cards from other blocks. Energy counters from Kaladesh is a more recent example of this. The Arcane subtype is all over the place in Kamigawa, but doesn't show up anywhere else (with the exception of a few cards in Modern Horizons), though Spirits fare a bit better, with a handful usually showing up in each set.
This is important because our deck is first and foremost a legendary Spirit deck, but it just so happens that Spirits, especially the Spirits from Kamigawa block, love Arcane spells.
If my first go-through of this deck was a recipe, it would probably look something like:
- Every legendary Spirit
- A bit of artifact ramp
- Other assorted legendaries
- 37 lands
- Fervently praying that you draw every piece of ramp in your deck and that opponents absolutely ignore you and your average CMC of five
In short, it was bad. A quick look through of all of the Spirits in my deck revealed that many of them had a clause in their text box that allowed you to do something whenever you played another Spirit or an Arcane spell. For Kethis to be at its most effective, you need a lot of legendaries, but we don't need every card in our deck to be a legend for it to function, so running some number of Arcane spells makes sense. Also, these same creatures don't particularly care if the Spirits we play are legendary or not, so it also make sense to include a number of nonlegendary Spirits in the deck, as well. The balance between legends and nonlegends is admittedly difficult to find (and I'm not sure I've found it here), but all of the above creates the deckbuilding tension that makes Kethis equal parts interesting and rewarding.
If it wasn't obvious, our deck aims to win by beating our opponents into submission with a bevy of critters. This plan is straightforward, but that doesn't necessarily mean that playing the deck will be. The most difficult decisions will almost always involve Kethis' ability. Normally, graveyard players are often a bit too precious with their graveyards. Sure, you don't want to treat it as an entirely expendable resource, but exiling cards for value is something that is totally acceptable. Knowing when you should and when you shouldn't use Kethis' ability will separate the best pilots from the rest.
One of the things we most want to be doing in the early game is filling our graveyard. We have a number of ways to do so, though not as many as I'd like. If there were one thing I'd look at to add more of, it would likely be this. Cards like, , and are all incredibly efficient, but as they aren't legendary, they take up some of the aforementioned non-legendary space, but the tradeoff is worth it. We have a few clever legendary ways to fill our graveyard, namely and .
Like most EDH decks, we also have a number of cards to help us ramp. We have the usual suspects (and ) as well as most any mana rock that comes under budget. Normally, green decks can avoid using artifact ramp, but since we are on a budget, we miss out on some of the green ramp spells that allow decks to skimp in that area.
Most of the game will be spent slowly accruing advantage over time with cards like, , , and . These are all late-game ways to absolutely bury your opponents and are as fun as they are powerful.
I probably love the Hondens more than they deserve (I run all five in mydeck and is probably my favorite non-Maze win condition in the deck), but they fit incredibly well in this deck. The fact that Kethis makes them cheaper makes them significantly more attractive, and creates Spirits, which synergizes with our deck, as well.
This is a card I was very iffy about putting in here, as my personal experience with it begins and end with mydeck, which is full of legendary Dragons, where it consistently disappoints. During the creation of this deck, I ran this card by a number of Kethis players, and they all assured me that the card is bananas in the deck, so I figured I'd talk about it here in case others had had similar experiences as I had with this card and were nervous about being burned by it again.
While the art gives me the willies (the number of times I've almost stepped on a snake while hiking is higher than it has any right to be, and this reminds me of all of those instances), the effect is everything I could ask for in a deck like this one. If you are looking for lands, or to fill your graveyard, this card does the job incredibly well. If you desperately need a nonland card, this will help with that, too. This card deserves a second look for a lot of decks.
Despite its high casting cost, this is one of the more powerful cards in our deck. It's a legend, which jives well with Kethis, and basically any time you cast anything in this deck, you are getting a 3/3 Spirit for your trouble. If you can dodge removal for a turn or two, this will take over the game in the fairest way possible.
As mentioned previously, Arcane spells are great in this deck, so I did an advanced search on Scryfall to find any Arcane spells I might have missed. Turns out, there are a bunch I had never heard of, not to mention seen in a game (many for good reason). This one happened to be my favorite and is one I think is a bit underplayed. While this may end up dead some amount of the time, I think the upside of 'draw a card' is high enough to give it a go.
As always, these are cards that I'd add if I were looking to up the power level of the deck, wasn't concerned about a strict budget restriction, or had easy access to a copy.
When I first set out to build this deck, this was the first card I typed in to Archidekt to add to the list. Should I have known it would be too expensive? Probably, but I'm cynical by nature and trying to work on being more optimistic. Writing a regular column about budget EDH likely runs counter to this goal, but I'm willing to become a shriveled husk of a person that is unable to experience joy or happiness so that you can build decks for cheap.
All of that to say, this card is perfect in this deck. Run it if you can.
Of the Abzan-colored legendary Dragon Spirits, we get to run the worst one (), but the one I really hoped I would be able to use is Yosei. Its ability to tap permanents is an incredible rattlesnake ability. While it may not be as blatantly powerful as (who is great in this deck, as well), Yosei is arguably more dangerous and almost certainly more interesting.
While this would seem to interact poorly with Kethis, as it keeps legends out of the graveyard, I think it still deserves a slot for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's a legendary Spirit, which is the deck's entire schtick. Secondly, you simply won't always have access to Kethis. Sometimes it will be boardwiped into oblivion, and other times he will become a land and sit on the battlefield impotently (thanks for helping us ramp,and !). When things go sideways, you want a backup plan, and Yomiji provides that.
A cheap legendary artifact that can only be attached to other legends is perfect for this deck. It should be noted that this does stone cold nothing if it isn't attached to a creature (or if your opponent runs out aduring combat, like a true sociopath), so care should be taken with this card. The upside is plenty high, though, so if you can run it, you should.
If you've ever wanted to play a bad, have I got a card for you! It comes in to play tapped and only works with legendary spells, but is a bit like pizza: even bad pizza is still pretty good.
What did you think of the deck? Is legendary Spirits something that interests you, or is it just a bit too janky for your tastes? Let me know below! As always, the poll for next month is below, so vote for which legend you'd most like to see get the Ultra Budget treatment. If you want to see more content from me, follow me on Twitter (@BrewsMTG) where I regularly talk about cheap, underutilized cards and why having a full 1/3 of your personal decks be Izzet is entirely reasonable.
Until next time!