Historic Kethis Combo Deck Guide

Mox Amber Art by Steven Belledin
Mox Amber Art by Steven Belledin

Historic is wide open, unexplored, exciting and just got tons of new cards injected into the format with the release of Jumpstart. With the Arena Open just around the corner and after that, the Mythic Invitational, it’s the perfect time to dive headfirst into Historic and I can’t think of a better way to do that than with arguably the most broken deck remaining in the format, Kethis Combo.

My name is Ginky, I’m an eighteen year old from Toronto, and for my first article here, I want to teach you all everything I know about my favourite Historic deck, Kethis Combo. Without further ado, let’s jump right into it!

DECKLIST

THE COMBO

The three most important pieces of the combo are Diligent Excavator, Mox Amber, and Kethis, the Hidden Hand. The simplified idea is to have a Kethis and a Diligent Excavator on board with two Mox Ambers anywhere – whether they’re on the board, or in your hand or graveyard – along with a bunch of other legendary cards in your graveyard. You cast Mox Amber (or first activate Kethis if both Mox Ambers are in the graveyard) and you target yourself with Diligent Excavator’s ability, then you play the second Mox Amber and sacrifice the first one due to the Legend rule. You then have the option of playing other Legends in your graveyard: Emry is the ideal for this, because she only costs one mana and puts 6 cards in your graveyard including the Excavator’s ability. Teferi is also a great option due to his ability to bounce a Mox and replay it which means, with Kethis in play, Teferi only leaves you with one less mana than when you started, while drawing a card and triggering the Excavator three times. You then repeat this loop, while exiling two legendaries to replay the Moxen when you have no other beneficial plays. Continue this until you have no cards left in your library, then you can cast Jace, Wielder of Mysteries, and activate him for the win. If you have taken Jace out or he is exiled, you have two other options for the kill. One involves getting multiple Diligent Excavator in play, mainly with Lazav, and then milling your opponent out. The other one involves looping Oath of Kaya and burning your opponent out with that.

The rest of the slots in the deck are not part of the main combo, though they serve our deck’s ultimate goal. Like all Combo decks, our goal is to assemble all of our pieces while surviving our opponent’s onslaught, because sadly they’ll be trying to win too.

Lazav, the Multifarious: The silver bullet of our deck, he can become Excavator or Kethis if they have been milled, which allows us to combo off without them. He can turn into Emry to recur artifacts out of our graveyard, or the extremely powerful synergy of becoming an Uro for only three mana, which allows us to draw cards, gain life, and put on an extremely fast clock. 

Fblthp, the Lost: A legendary chump blocker who cycles is a great fit for our deck; it’s important to be aware of the synergy between him and Teferi, which allows you to draw even more cards.

Oath of Kaya: A great removal spell that keeps us alive and is usually able to deal with Scavenging Ooze, which is the scariest card that is regularly in our opponents’ main decks. Looping two of them is also a win-con, if our opponent exiles our Jace. 

Teferi, Time Raveler: Perfect in our deck in so many ways. He draws cards, stops our opponent from interacting with us, slows our opponent down by bouncing their creatures, bounces hate pieces that could stop us from comboing off, and bounces our cards back to hand to reuse them. Useful bounce targets are Fblthp for the draw, a tapped Mox Amber to make more mana, and Oath of Kaya for another use.

Emry, Lurker of the Loch: Perfect when comboing, because it cheaply puts tons of cards in the graveyard, allows us to make more mana with Mox Amber, and is amazing in combination with Chromatic Sphere, which creates an engine that draws an extra card each turn.

Chromatic Sphere: Not the coolest card to come out of Jumpstart but this tool slots neatly into our deck, and makes Emry so much better, while fixing our mana, which can be a huge problem in our four-colour deck. I’m not running the full four copies in the deck only because it’s weaker in multiples and I don’t want many cards that aren’t legendaries in the deck, because they can make comboing off more difficult. 

Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath: Good tool to have access to in our deck, because it’s free value out of the graveyard without needing other cards to help it. Also is usable by Lazav to create a strong early threat.

Tamiyo, Collector of Tales: Sometimes gets strong cards out of the graveyard, often just used to put four cards in the graveyard, and occasionally draws a combo piece we need. Insulating against sacrifice and discard is something that comes up occasionally. 

Jace, Wielder of Mysteries: Most common win condition that is sometimes played on four against slower decks. 

Phyrexian Tower: Land that is legendary for Kethis purposes, and sometimes provides that last boost of mana we need to go off or sacrifices another legendary for an additional Kethis activation. 

THE SIDEBOARD

Ashiok, Dream Render: Fuels the graveyard while being insanely strong against any graveyard deck or deck that needs to search the library, which is mainly Field of the Dead decks. 

Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle: Great in long games: allows us to rebuild multiple times and is very easy to get value out of.

Mystical Dispute: Cheapest way to interact with blue disruption cards, helps us force Teferi into play.

Tormod’s Crypt: Rebuy it with Emry for a win in the mirror match. Access to more graveyard hate is useful.

Cast Down: Best removal spell at dealing with Ooze and also hitting the most common creature deck, which is Goblins. 

Oath of Kaya: Additional copy against aggressive decks.

Urza’s Ruinous Blast: Deals with so many scary cards, from hate pieces to aggressive creatures; does miss planeswalkers and some key creatures, which are its only shortcoming.

Tamiyo, Collector of Tales: Good to have in slower matchups; makes sure you don’t run out of ways to access Kethis.

Massacre Girl: Excellent way to clear the board. It’s important to be aware that, on the turn you cast it, it triggers any time something dies for the rest of the turn. A common play pattern is to play Massacre Girl, trigger once, then play a second of any creature you have on the battlefield, which causes you to sacrifice one to the Legend rule and triggers Massacre Girl again.

HOW TO PLAY THIS PILE

When playing a combo deck, it’s easy to hyper-focus on executing your game plan, but there are two things you need to be cognisant of on the other side of the board: interaction and clock speed. Interaction is quite simple to think about: try to be aware of how much removal they have, as knowing this can help you decide whether you can put your important creatures down without being worried they will die. Other important pieces of interaction are counterspells and hate cards. In game one, the main hate card you will see is Scavenging Ooze, and in games two and three, cards such as Necromentia / Unmoored Ego, Tormod’s Crypt, Linvala, Keeper of Silence, and even Bojuka Bog out of Golos decks will all be fairly common sightings.

Clock speed is another important factor to consider: in a perfect world, we can set up everything to make sure we can never have the combo fail and the ability to play around every card in our opponent’s decks. This is where being able to understand our opponent’s clock speed comes in. If they aren’t applying any pressure to us, we have a lot of time to assemble our combo and hold our pieces until the opportune times to play them. Against faster decks, we need to play our creatures quickly for two reasons – the first is that we often won’t make it to the late game when we can play all our cards at the same time, so we won’t have the luxury of best playing around removal. The second is that the vast majority of them are great blockers; the deck is chock full of defensively-statted creatures that can stymie early aggression well.

The ways to deal with hate pieces are either removing them or to jam through them. Removing them is quite simple, as is countering them with Dispute before they resolve. The one-shot answers (Tormod’s Crypt, Soul-Guide Lantern) are good but can be dealt with. The key is to give your opponent some cards to exile and give them value with their cards without fully committing, such as by activating Kethis for a bit of value and making them want to pull the trigger, or assembling the Emry + Chromatic Sphere combo and forcing them to prevent you from drawing two cards a turn.

MATCHUP + SIDEBOARD GUIDE

Goblins

They have no interaction (other than sometimes Gempalm Incinerator) pre-board and they can just race us. Oath and Teferi to stop their haste lords from sticking on board is useful. Just try to make them stumble a bit while you combo off. Post-board, they gain access to some form of graveyard hate and Goblin Ruinblaster. The matchup stays mostly the same, with them getting a bit of interaction and us getting some more removal. Be aware that Urza’s Ruinous Blast doesn’t hit some of their creatures. Match-up feels slightly favoured, though it largely depends on how many slots they dedicate to us in their sideboard.

InOut
1 Oath of Kaya
2 Cast Down
2 Urza’s Ruinous Blast
1 Massacre Girl
2 Fblthp, the Lost
1 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales
1 Chromatic Sphere
1 Lazav, the Multifarious
1 Jace, Wielder of Mysteries (if you struggle with the Jace-less kill, you can take out a second Tamiyo instead)

Gruul Aggro

They have some ways to remove your creatures in game one, but not enough to dissuade you from jamming your creatures onto the board to block their stuff. The banning of Burning-Tree Emissary lowered the speed of their nut draws a lot, which helped us immensely in this matchup. They have Ooze for graveyard hate, which means they are unlikely to have more dedicated graveyard hate cards in their Sideboard, since those often slow down their primary plan.

InOut
1 Oath of Kaya
2 Cast Down
2 Urza’s Ruinous Blast
1 Massacre Girl
2 Fblthp, the Lost
1 Chromatic Sphere
1 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales (or 2 if you struggle with the Jace-less kill)
1 Lazav, the Multifarious
1 Jace, Wielder of Mysteries 

Field of the Dead

Natural prey for us. They try to survive and execute their gameplan, but we win the vast majority of the time if both decks are left to goldfish. The best tool they have access to is Bojuka Bog, and that should be the piece of interaction you have on your mind as much as possible. Apart from that, this matchup is quite simple and heavily favoured. 

InOut
3 Ashiok, Dream Render
2 Urza’s Ruinous Blast
2 Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle  
2 Fblthp, the Lost
2 Oath of Kaya
1 Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
1 Lazav, the Multifarious
1 Chromatic Sphere 

Mirror / Breach Combo

Pure race game one; just make the plays that maximize the cards you get to draw and put into your graveyard. You rarely get to wait so if you are unsure if you can go off or not, the answer is to go for it because your opponent often has the potential to just go off next turn. Post-board, Emry, Lurker of the Loch looping Tormod’s  Crypt can win the game. Be on the lookout for whether you can mill your opponent out, since that comes up surprisingly often post-board.

InOut
1 Tormod’s Crypt
2 Mystical Dispute
3 Ashiok, Dream Render 
1 Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
2 Teferi, Time Raveler
2 Lazav, the Multifarious
1 Fblthp, the Lost

Rakdos Lurrus

This matchup isn’t too problematic, as they lack the giant power swings of Mayhem Devil, and they are playing a very grindy and relatively slow gameplan. If we can gum up the board, they rarely can kill us fast enough. Removal spells should be used on Priest of the Forgotten Gods and Lurrus of the Dream Den. They are also very graveyard reliant, so our hate for them post sideboard is excellent. Tamiyo prevents sacrificing and discard from Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, though this will force you to take three damage from Kroxa so it’s important to be aware of that interaction.  

InOut
2 Cast Down
2 Urza’s Ruinous Blast
2 Ashiok, Dream Render
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Oath of Kaya
1 Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
2 Fblthp, the Lost
4 Teferi, Time Raveler
1 Lazav, the Multifarious

Radkos and Jund without Lurrus

Much worse matchup than the version with Lurrus, for a few reasons. The first is that Mayhem Devil gives them access to better ways to clear our board and increases their clock; the second is that Citadel gives them a combo element that puts more pressure on us to kill them fast. They are also less graveyard-reliant, so our hate is much weaker against them. Still important to apply lots of pressure on them and hope they miss a key turn of development; developing all cards aggressively is the way to play. Kethis is the exception, because the goal is to force them to deal with all our creatures and slow down their gameplan. Once we have assembled a large graveyard and a bunch of mana, we can Kethis and either rebuild, or just combo them straight up.

InOut
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Oath of Kaya
2 Cast Down
2 Urza’s Ruinous Blast
2 Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle
1 Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
2 Fblthp, the Lost
3 Teferi, Time Raveler
1 Chromatic Sphere
1 Lazav, the Multifarious

EVERY GAMEPLAY TIP I CAN THINK OF:

  • You don’t need Diligent Excavator to combo off; looping Emry, Lurker of the Loch is another way to do it, though it is less consistent and more prone to missing. This is often a way to start the Combo turn, before hitting a Lazav, the Multifarious which you can turn into a Diligent Excavator
  • Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle can repeatedly bring back Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath; this is a good way to get value even without a large graveyard.
  • Using the Legend rule, putting the second legendary in the graveyard triggers dying effects (like Massacre Girl’s) but does not trigger any sacrifice abilities.
  • If you need a card off Tamiyo, Collector of Tales, but it doesn’t matter whether it goes to the graveyard or hand, select a different card with her +1
  • Over half the deck is Legendary cards; you are around 75% to hit at least two legendary cards when milling four cards, and around 75% to hit at least three when milling 6 cards.
  • You can cast Emry, Lurker of the Loch with two non-blue lands and a chromatic sphere – if the sphere is used to cast Emry, then she keeps the cost reduction even if you no longer have the artifact on board.
  • If you have lots of mana, you can transform Lazav, the Multifarious into a Diligent Excavator, and then later into Kethis to combo off, while having only one creature on board.
  • Teferi, Time Raveler bouncing Mox nets you one extra mana if you need it.
  • You can mulligan quite aggressively, while keeping two factors in mind: a) you need to be able to cast your spells and b) keeping a hand that doesn’t either have your combo pieces or allow you to look for them is generally a losing strategy.

KETHIS IN BEST OF ONE (BO1)

The first half of the Arena Open is best-of-one and I know many of you are looking for some insight on that. I think Kethis combo is extremely potent in best of one, possibly even better than in Traditional Constructed, because you will see essentially no hate cards or meaningful interaction against our deck, except for Scavenging Ooze. Best of one is much more aggressive than best of three generally, so the changes I suggest are -2 Fblthp, the Lost for +1 Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and +1 Oath of Kaya. If other creature decks that aren’t Goblins become more popular, I could see the inclusion of an Urza’s Ruinous Blast.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I hope you enjoyed my first article here on MTG Arena Zone. I love to talk about Magic about as much as I love to play it, so please leave any questions, comments, or criticisms in the comment section. I am always learning more about Magic and about writing, so I appreciate every message I get. I post decklists and other fun stuff on my Twitter, and I plan on getting back to streaming once the construction at my house stops. Happy comboing and I hope you all have an amazing day!

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Runi12
18 days ago

Great article
Have you tried cry of the carnarium/pestilent haze on the sideboard?
From playing with the deck I think aggro decks are the challenge, and you can combo faster than the control and ramp decks can stabilize. Plus, against any slow deck teshar is a house and wins by itself. So I dedicated some slots in my sideboard to beat aggro. Both options are targeted at goblins, but cry is better against cat-oven, while haze can hit planeswalkers.

ajh158
15 days ago

Thanks for the great article! I’ve played against this deck a few times, so I see the potential for it to go off. I tried playing it in the MTGA FNM event today but just kept losing. I have a couple thoughts. I feel like knowing when to mulligan is important and it add a lot of value if you would add a mulligan guide to the deck. This deck requires some amount of skill or practice to play effectively. The one time I got the combo going I was too slow and ran out of clock. Any suggestions for… Read more »

Regulus1010
9 days ago

Little late to the party here but how do you side against Wilderness Rec decks? Really surprised to see that not included since it’s easily the most popular matchup I’ve encountered. Also seeing a fair bit of monoblue tempo lately as well. Thanks in advance!

evarre
7 days ago

Or just play breach and stop being brainless pepega