Ultra Budget Brews – Kethis, the Hidden Hand

(Kethis, the Hidden Hand | Art by Yongjae Choi)

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.

To be clear, I’m not advocating burning all copies of Chulane you can get your hands on. I’m also not not advocating for it.

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.


Our Commander

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • 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 Saffi Eriksdotter, Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle, and Kokusho, the Evening Star.

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]

WGB Kethis

Commander (1)
Creatures (28)
Sorceries (10)
Artifacts (14)
Enchantments (4)
Instants (6)
Lands (37)

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Cost: $39.46


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 Satyr Wayfinder, Grapple with the Past, and Grisly Salvage 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 Geier-Reach Sanitarium and Hazoret’s Monument.

Like most EDH decks, we also have a number of cards to help us ramp. We have the usual suspects (Farseek and Rampant Growth) 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 Baku Altar[el] and [el]Desecrated Tomb[el] as opposed to exploding in one giant turn. There are a few exceptions to this, most notably [el]Devouring Greed, Twilight’s Call, Primevals’ Glorious Rebirth, and Kamahl’s Druidic Vow. These are all late-game ways to absolutely bury your opponents and are as fun as they are powerful.


Notable Inclusions


Honden of Life’s Web

I probably love the Hondens more than they deserve (I run all five in my Maze’s End deck and Honden of Infinite Rage 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 Honden of Life’s Web creates Spirits, which synergizes with our deck, as well.


Kamahl’s Druidic Vow

This is a card I was very iffy about putting in here, as my personal experience with it begins and end with my The Ur-Dragon deck, 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.


Winding Way

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.


Oyobi, Who Split the Heavens

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.


Rending Vines

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.


Notable Exclusions

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.


Blackblade Reforged

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.


Yosei, the Morning Star

Of the Abzan-colored legendary Dragon Spirits, we get to run the worst one (Jugan, the Rising Star), 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 Kokusho, the Evening Star (who is great in this deck, as well), Yosei is arguably more dangerous and almost certainly more interesting.


Yomiji, Who Bars the Way

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, Imprisoned in the Moon and Song of the Dryads!). When things go sideways, you want a backup plan, and Yomiji provides that.


Konda’s Banner

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 a Rend Spirit during 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.


Untaidake, the Cloud Keeper

If you’ve ever wanted to play a bad Ancient Tomb, have I got a card for you! It comes in to play tapped and only works with legendary spells, but Ancient Tomb is a bit like pizza: even bad pizza is still pretty good.


End Step

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!

Andrew is a life-long gamer and has been playing Magic since 2013. He works as an ASL interpreter, enjoys running, and sitting on his porch reading, while simultaneously silently judging his neighbors. He lives in Joplin, MO with his wife.