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We will cover two Standard decks and one Historic deck that use legendary cards to the max.
Hello fellow gamers. Its that special time of the year again, a holiday of sorts for those of us who belong to this congenial community of spell slingers. Yes, once again, spoiler season is upon us. We are returning to a plane that we have often visited, a plane where word on the street is two brilliant brothers have gotten into a slight spat. Things have and haven’t changed since we last stopped in.
On that list of things that have not changed is Historic (that is artifacts and legends, not the format) cards are still integral to the identity of this world, even if they are not called out as keyword this time around. We also have seen the return of Sagas which seemed to have become a welcome mainstay since they debuted a few years back. What is different this time around in Dominaria is of course a slew of new toys, and an even greater emphasis on legendary cards (also the return of iconic, creepy, corrupting bad guys but that is a story for a different article).
With that in mind, we are going to put on our brewing caps, and dive into three theory-crafted decks with a common theme of legendary spells. As always, our disclaimer on theory-crafted decks must go here, these decks are built in the vacuum of a yet unformed meta. This vacuum is especially empty this time around, as this new set coincides with a giant rotation in Standard.
Our card pool is shrinking nearly in half. Some of the menaces of the format, like Goldspan Dragon are going to flap off into the sunset on stubby wings. Its is certainly a bittersweet feeling. I will, no doubt, be glad to see some cards go. Still, there are many cards that I will never tire of, such as the Pathways (Brightclimb Pathway, etc), and the utility of other Modal Double-Faced Cards (MDFCs) like Jwari Disruption. That said, it is exciting too, because we are entering a new frontier. While some archetypes will keep chugging away there is bound to be a few entirely new and viable decks that emerge.
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Deck 1 – Standard Five-Color Jodah Legends
The first deck I am going to present to you today is in that entirely new category. It is by far the most experimental of three and therefore the mostly likely to fail. The best way to assess the viability of a strategy is to jump right in. In brewing, failure is not only an option, it is a required part of the learning process. Here is the list:
Yes, you may have noticed our plan here is entirely about legends. One might even dub this a legends-tribal deck. Dominaria United has given us three new cards that make legends matter more than ever before (not to mention a ton of new legendary creatures and planeswalkers). Two of them are enablers and one has the potential to be a sizable payoff.
Let’s start with enablers. On the surface, Relic of Legends is an innocuous enough looking card. 3-drop mana-rocks have certainly been leveraged to success in Standard before. Most recently, The Celestus comes to mind. Just like The Celestus, the bonus for Relic of Legends really comes on the second line of text. Being able to tap an untapped legendary for mana will let you deploy your hand and accelerate your game plan that much quicker.
As we shall see later in this article, that is especially true with older formats where we have access to even cheaper, more efficient legendary creatures. This new mana rock also gives us the confidence to splash for a full five colors and run a curve that is a bit on the hefty side.
Plaza of Heroes is the next enabler on our list. It does much of the same work as the Relic of Legends. I love everything about this land. It is balanced because it needs legends to operate, but it’s not completely dead without them, since it can still tap for colorless mana. Best of all, it fixes our mana base without taking up additional spell slots.
In a way, this card reminds me very much of Mox Amber: A supremely potent enabler, with one limitation that keeps it from getting the ban hammer. Plaza of Heroes, much like Mox Amber, will only continue to get better as time goes on, since it seems that Wizards has no intention to stop making legendary cards. In fact, if anything, they seem to be accelerating their pace of these printings.
Now, onto the part we have been waiting for, the payoff. Jodah, the Unifier is one of those cards that demands your full attention. It will not be something casually placed in any deck, it is definitely a build around, largely because it has two pretty hefty hurdles.
First, and most obvious, is that it is five colors. That has not stopped cards from being good before; I am looking at you Niv-Mizzet Reborn. At the same time, it’s something that cannot be taken lightly. Luckily, we have those enablers we just referenced above, not to mention we still have access to Triomes and other dual-colored lands. It would have been nice to have a single copy of The World Tree, but alas it has joined Goldspan Dragon in retiring to some warmer place than Kaldheim.
The second hurdle presented is that we want a critical mass of legends to even bother with Jodah, the Unifier. Otherwise, it is just a difficult to cast 6/6 for five mana (notice it buffs itself as well as its friends so by default it is actually a 6/6).
As you can see from the list, we have got legends in spades. You may have realized that Jodah’s legendary cascade ability is not just limited to creatures either, it works for any legendary spell thus we have a whole cadre of planeswalkers that get to join the fun, as well as a few spicy legendary artifacts too.
We have broken down the three key cards in our deck, now let’s get into the game plan. Early on, we are going to be a little on the slow side. We have handful of two-drop legendary creatures that can offer distractions to our opponents as well as a few efficient removal spells. On their own, however, our small creatures are not too scary. On turn three, we have cards like Kaito Shizuki and Liliana of the Veil, as well as the opportunity to drop a Relic of Legends. On turn four, if we get a chance to untap with Relic of Legends, we can really start to accelerate and pull away from our opponent.
Five mana is where the magic really starts to happen, ideally Jodah, The Unifier has made an appearance around this time and we can get down to the business of cascading our cards for value. Barring that, even cards like
All in the all, the strategy is not complicated, this deck on the surface seems like a pile of good stuff (which can be a winning strategy), but when Jodah hits the board suddenly we are transformed into a cascading value engine. With Relic of Legends in play, we may even be able to chain a couple of cascades in a row because summoning sickness is no impediment to this rock’s mana ability. Furthermore, decks that have damage-based removal are really going to struggle against us. Jodah, the Unifier is going quickly grow your army to an unmanageable size.
To that end, I wanted to highlight another card that synergizes very well with this deck: Drag to the Bottom. We are playing a five-color deck, so it will be very easy for us to get a large Domain bonus built up. With even one Raffine's Tower in play, and the rest all non-basic lands, Drag to the Bottom gives creatures -4/-4, putting it on par with Languish.
Add in a copy of something like Jetmir's Garden and suddenly we are hitting for -6/-6, which will usually be enough to clear most boards. That being said Jodah, the Unifier with enough legendary creatures in play could withstand this effect making it a devastating one-sided board wipe.
I suspect the largest threats to this deck will come in two ways:
- Control heavy decks that features lots of black or white based removal spells. We can still win the game when Jodah, the Unifier doesn’t stick, but it’s going to be an uphill battle.
- Hyper-fast aggro decks such as Mono Red or Mono Green. I am actually somewhat less worried about these because we have Drag to the Bottom and new-comer Cut Down as a way to blunt some of this aggression. Also, are five drop creatures can certainly rumble, provided we can live long enough to see them.
This is a style of deck that will certainly get better as more legendary creatures are made available in the Standard block. The mix of legendary spells could be different for Standard even right now. I decided to go with an Esper base because that seems like a strong shard at the moment, especially in the category of Planeswalkers. In any case, if this concept doesn’t pan out in Standard, I am sure Jodah, The Unifier will make a superb commander in Commander or Brawl. It’s probably not as oppressive as Niv-Mizzet Reborn or Golos, Tireless Pilgrim, but explosive and powerful in way that embodies the spirit of those formats.
I want to call out that I have excluded Mirror Box from this deck, which might seem like an obvious add. I want to like this card and have certainly experimented with it in other builds. However, my two biggest hesitations are, first, the blowout potential – in a situation where you have multiple copies of the same legendary and Mirror Box is destroyed, suddenly your opponent has gained a huge advantage.
Second, on its own Mirror Box is bit of a do-nothing card. It relies on having anything else on the board, making it feel bad off the top in a post board wipe situation. I think its better to have a wide variety of legendary creatures, that way we lessen the chances of cascading into a duplicate card already on the board. For this reason, Jodah makes us want to build something closer to a singleton deck.
Deck 2 – Historic Kethis Combo
My next list is a well-established archetype in historic. Omrithopter did an excellent update on this list that features the delicious combo of Displacer Kitten, Teferi, Time Raveler, and Mox Amber. I encourage you to read it here.
In case you do not have time to check it out, I am going to briefly cover how Kethis, the Hidden Hand decks function in general. The idea is to cast cards that mill yourself, primarily Diligent Excavator and Emry, Lurker of the Loch. Legendary items in your graveyard acts like a resource for Kethis, the Hidden Hand. The next step is to get Kethis in play, and we have some redundancy here to ensure that happens, including the following:
Once Kethis, the Hidden Hand comes online, the key card we want to recur repeatedly is Mox Amber since it cost zero to cast it and it nets us one mana. As long as we keep filling up our graveyard with triggers from Diligent Excavator, we can form a loop to the point where can gain a bunch of excess mana.
Generally, the win con (win condition) for Kethis, the Hidden Hand decks is to either self-mill and cast something like Jace, Wielder of Mysteries with an empty library or to direct your copies of Diligent Excavator to our opponent’s library once you have a sufficient number of legendary permanents built up in your own graveyard at which point you can just mill them out. I have glossed over some of the finer details of this deck, but that is the general gist of it. It is also a notoriously difficult deck to pilot so I again encourage to check out Omrithopther’s article for some pro tips.
Here is our version of the list with new additions from Dominaria United.
I feel like we were contractually obligated to receive some gas for Kethis, the Hidden Hand in a return to a plane that put this Elf Advisor on the map and Wizards did not disappoint. The same two enabler cards that help Jodah, the Unifier get of the ground allow Kethis, the Hidden Hand to absolutely soar.
One of the biggest issues with Kethis, the Hidden Hand decks is the color requirements are quite steep. As a result, we have to play a combination of painful “shocklands” (Overgrown Tomb) or slow Triomes (Zagoth Triome). With the exception of the blue pip on Diligent Excavator, Plaza of Heroes can be tapped to play any card in our main board.
I haven’t even spoken about the third ability on this new legends-centric land, though I am not sure it will come up too often, but being able to protect a Kethis, the Hidden Hand or another key combo piece will probably be relevant at least some of the time. Truly, that extra ability is just gravy to a land that really almost has no drawbacks given the flexibility it provides.
Likewise, Relic of Legends help us fix our mana, but it also allows for a degenerate loop that some of the writers at MTG Arena Zone have speculated might lead to a ban. With a Kethis, the Hidden Hand in play and two copies of Emry, Lurker of the Loch, you can infinitely loop this Merfolk Wizard.
Relic of Legends will allow us to tap an Emry for one blue mana, Kethis, the Hidden Hand will allow us to recast Emry, Lurker of the Loch from our graveyard (provided we have two legendary cards to exile) the legend rule will destroy one of the two Emry, Lurker of the Loch copies as a state-based effect (ideally the tapped one). Emry, Lurker of the Loch then will mill you for four cards, hopefully to turn over a few legendary targets to repeat the loop.
Mox Amber provides a very similar loop especially in multiples, but now we have gained an important piece of redundancy for a deck that already tends to be quite resilient with the addition of Relic of Legends. All of that sounds like a lot of moving pieces, but Kethis, the Hidden Hand decks excel at deploying and or recurring everything you need.
I want to point out another win con that was recently made possible by
With the loop described above, enabled by Relic of Legends, we can now continually drain our opponent for two life points by getting this perpetual ability onto our own Emry, Lurker of the Loch. This is doubly huge against burn type decks as sometimes you can fizzle as you are trying to combo off (generally from a lack of legendary cards to exile with Kethis, the Hidden Hand). This way, if you have to pass the turn back, you might be able to pad your life just enough to bring you out of the danger zone.
This can also play around something like a Nine Lives / Solemnity lock, especially if they have brought in Leyline of Sanctity to prevent you from targeting them with Diligent Excavator, as the life drain is non-targeting and thus ignores both Nine Lives and Leyline of Sanctity. It is true a similar loop is available with Oath of Kaya but the mana required for this is much more intensive and it has to target the player.
You might be asking why I have cut the Displacer Kitten portion of the deck. I know from experience that this is a viable secondary combo and it feels right at home in the Kethis, the Hidden Hand shell. I even think that this sort of version too can benefit at the very least from the Plaza of Heroes, if not the Relic of Legends. I might experiment with incorporating it back in. Perhaps it might even be fun as surprise sideboard card in game two as the other two pieces of the combo (Mox Amber and Teferi, Time Raveler) are mainstays anyway.
All that said, four mana seems like a lot for a card in historic, especially since in order to get off the combo, you have to have the A-Teferi, Time Raveler and Mox Amber, ideally, already in play. This usually means Displacer Kitten cannot be safely deployed until turn 4 or 5. That is a long time for such a fast format. I feel like returning to a more traditional Kethis, the Hidden Hand deck with these added pieces of redundancy will lead to more consistency, allowing us to combo out through heavy disruption.
Deck 3 – Standard Mardu Sacrifice
The last deck we have today certainly features a bevy of new legendary creatures. I would say, while these legends are important, unlike the last two decks, they are not the focal point of the gameplan.
Here is the list:
The DNA of this list probably looks very familiar to many. Oni-Cult Anvil decks and sacrificed based decks in general will likely fare better than most archetypes, post-rotation. Many of the pieces are still intact, with the glaring exception of Deadly Dispute (runner up goes to Eyetwitch and Shambling Ghast), which will surely be sorely missed.
Alas, not all is lost, Dominaria United is providing an injection of cards that will fill the Deadly Dispute sized hole in our hearts. I think the main difficulty will lie in determining what candidates make the final 60 for an optimal sacrifice-based list. We have the option of going Rakdos, Orzhov, and Mardu. Among those color pairings, tough decisions on who stays and who goes remain. Let’s break down these choices and see how they fit into our plan.
The main idea here in is that our resources are cheap and expendable. We can throw our blood tokens on the grinning face of the Oni-Cult Anvil to provide constant stream of pings and bodies to quickly nibble our opponent to death. Basically, we wage a war of attrition and gain an edge over our opponent with recursive threats, efficient removal and card advantage.
Let’s break the parts of this deck down by categories. First, we have our chaff, our expendable pawns so to speak. For choices here we still have reliable standbys Voldaren Epicure and Bloodtithe Harvester, and new-comer Cult Conscript. Also in this category are the tokens generated from Wedding Announcement, Lagomos, Hand of Hatred, Squee, Dubious Monarch, and Oni-Cult Anvil triggers.
The next category is removal, and for that we have Eaten Alive, Rite of Oblivion, The Meathook Massacre, Bloodtithe Harvester, and perhaps to a lesser extent, Braids, Arisen Nightmare. All of these synergize with the deck in some way. For example, the sacrifice-based removal (Eaten Alive, etc) provide death triggers which we have many ways to profit from. Bloodtithe Harvester, on the other hand, can provide us blood tokens to fuel our Oni-Cult Anvil.
Next, we have payoffs. As mentioned, we have lots of ways to take advantage of death triggers and even a few enter the battlefield triggers. The Meathook Massacre is perhaps the most iconic of these, with this we delight in sacrificing our own creatures and killing our opponent’s as either way we get that little extra bonus life-swing. These incremental life changes begin to quickly add up.
One of the most exciting cards to come out of Dominaria that really excels at this is Elas il-Kor, Sadistic Pilgrim. This type of card is known as an aristocrat, the most archetypal of these is probably Blood Artist. Essentially, just like The Meathook Massacre we deal damage to our opponent when each of our sacrificial pawns kicks the bucket.
However, Elas il-Kor, Sadistic Pilgrim also gains life when a creature enters the battlefield, which when combined with Oni-Cult Anvil, can be extremely devastating. Each time we sacrifice a 1/1 artifact token to Oni-Cult Anvil, the anvil deals 1 damage to our opponent and we gain 1 life. Elas il-Kor, Sadistic Pilgrim will then deal an additional damage on the death trigger plus a new 1/1 token enters the battlefield and we gain 1 additional life.
If you insert The Meathook Massacre into this virtuous circle we are looking at a total of 3 damage dealt and 2 life points gained. Essentially, its almost the equivalent to casting a Lightning Helix at our opponent every turn. It is a shame that Elas il-Kor, Sadistic Pilgrim is a legendary creature, because in multiples it could be downright scary.
The last major category comes in the form of card advantage and sustain. Here is the place where Dominaria’s cards are making the biggest impact. This legendary does not provide card advantage per se, its more of a card quality issue. That is, the chaff that we are sacrificing is worth less than whatever our opponent decides to sacrifice (or the two-life lost plus card drawn).
The biggest knock on this card is that it is a “May” and not a “Must” ability and most skilled opponents will always pick the path that favors them the most. Still, it is a threat that will eventually be too painful to ignore, especially if we are pressuring their life total in other ways and gaining all sorts of advantages on death triggers.
Speaking of death triggers, another fascinating legendary card that Dominaria brings us is Weatherlight Compleated. I guess Wizards could not resist corrupting this iconic vessel. You may have noticed it is missing a pretty fundamental line of text for a vehicle: No crew ability! The result is actually quite an interesting card. Good news is, we are perfectly positioned to turn this thing on quickly.
We have a lot of expendable bodies that we are only too happy to put into the graveyard. The ability to draw cards doesn’t kick in until 7 tokens have been reached. However, it becomes a massive beater at just four tokens, which is a scary thought to have a 5/5 flyer for two mana. The ability to constantly scry on death triggers before 7 tokens is reached is not to be underestimated either. I have heard it said that scrying two cards is almost the equivalent of drawing one.
We have few more cards in the sustain category. Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is an army onto itself, while we are perhaps not abusing its draw trigger as much as other decks (again really missing Deadly Dispute here), we can certainly benefit from its ability to damage our opponent each turn. Also, this praetor could offset the life loss from Stronghold Arena which I think can be a fine card too, but benefits most from evasive creatures.
Luckily, the card that helps us sustain a board presence the most has Flying. People are calling Serra Paragon the next Lurrus of the Dream-Den. However, I think the exile clause was a way to make sure this is not the case, not to mention Serra Paragon is not a companion, which is a big deal too.
Still, if left unchecked this creature will quickly overrun your opponent. One fun trick is to use Rite of Oblivion or even a Braids, Arisen Nightmare trigger to sacrifice your Wedding Announcement then recast it with Serra Paragon to a receive fresh trio of human tokens.
As mentioned, there is definitely other directions to take this deck and other mixes of cards to try. For example, I have excluded Experimental Synthesizer which seems like a mainstay in Anvil decks. My reasoning is that I wanted a critical mass of creatures. I am also curious if a Azban or Naya sacrifice could be viable it seems that Green has some interesting token generation cards to consider from Dominaria United.
Final Closing Thoughts
Thanks for joining me on this visit to Dominaria. I am certain that legendary creatures and artifacts are going to impact the format in a big way. It might take some time to find the right mix and homes for these cards. In the meantime, it also seems that mono-colored decks got a nice boost with the defilers.
When a format drastically shakes up, I find that streamlined and more aggressive decks tend to have the upper hand at first. That of course doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try something that doesn’t fit that MO. Play what makes you happy and have fun. Thanks!